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2012: Santorum on defense

“Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum ripped into one another at Wednesday night's GOP presidential debate in their last joint appearance before a chain of make-or-break contests,” The Hill writes. “Romney was helped out in his attacks by his GOP rivals, which left Santorum, who has surged in the polls recently, playing defense most of the night.”

The Arizona Republic: “Republican presidential combatants Mitt Romney and Ron Paul pounded GOP rival Rick Santorum as a phony fiscal conservative who indulged in wasteful earmarks in an at-times tense and at-times humdrum faceoff Wednesday at the Mesa Arts Center in advance of the high-stakes Arizona and Michigan primaries.”

“Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum last night took their campaign fist fight back to prime time, clashing on the auto bailout, earmarks and ‘RomneyCare’ in a testy debate just days before the make-or-break Michigan primary,” the New York Post writes. “Santorum, riding a wave in the polls but facing a withering assault by Romney, struggled to explain past votes for spending programs and Bush-era legislation at last night’s CNN debate in Arizona, which like Michigan votes Tuesday.”

The New York Daily News: “Republican debate: Rick Santorum comes off looking ‘like a fourth-place candidate’.” From the story: “[R]ather than capitalizing on the center-stage spotlight that his recent surge provided, the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania delivered a performance that amounted to a lost opportunity.”

The AP fact checked last night’s debate and leads with this: “Twenty Republican presidential debates later, the head-scratching claims kept coming… There was something old, something new in the misstatements of the candidates Wednesday in what was possibly the last GOP debate.”

Romney claimed that “They finally realized I was right,” on the auto industry/bailouts. The AP writes: “[T]here was a tremendous difference between the course he advocated and the one that was taken. GM and Chrysler went into bankruptcy on the strength of a massive bailout that Romney opposed. Neither Republican President George W. Bush nor Democratic President Barack Obama believed the automakers would have survived without that backup from taxpayers.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential VP pick, speaks to Time about why Republicans need to adjust the messaging on immigration policy: “What’s the Republican legal-­immigration plan? And that’s a problem, when all they hear from you is what you’re against and not what you’re for. The Republican Party has to become the pro–legal immigration party. It has to be a party that puts out two things: a common­sense, compassionate yet law-based response to people that are here without documents, and a robust legal-­immigration system that ­emphasizes border security, worker security and an workable visa program. We have to have a proactive policy in that regard, and we haven’t.”

Yet he defended his opposition to the DREAM Act and accused Democrats of supporting it for political purposes.

GINGRICH: Newt Gingrich's home-state Atlanta Journal Constitution notes that in last night's debate "Newt Gingrich, the former Georgia congressman, arms folded and legs crossed under his chair, mostly stayed out of the crossfire."

ROMNEY: Here was a stunner from Romney. The Hill: “Mitt Romney said that reelecting President Obama would guarantee a nuclear war with Iran.” Romney said, “‘We must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. If they do the world changes, America will be at risk and someday nuclear weaponry will be used. If I'm president that will not happen. If we reelect Barack Obama it will happen."

The Detroit Free Press endorsed Romney today, but grudgingly: “This endorsement should be a slam dunk for Mitt Romney,” it writes in its opening. It adds: “[F]or the past 12 months, Romney has been refashioning himself as something other than what his record suggests. He has made gestures toward economic and social radicalism, and eschewed the common sense of cooperative governing that made him a success in Massachusetts. Romney was also dead wrong when he opposed government bailouts for the auto industry (Michigan’s most vital economic engine) in late 2008. And he has since adopted a recalcitrant and, at times, revisionist defense of his position in the face of overwhelming evidence that the bailouts he opposed were necessary.”

And this: “To compete with stauncher conservatives of lesser achievement and stature, Romney has essentially played down to their level. He is chest-beating and straining to prove his ideological bona fides (recently, he called himself “severely” conservative), rather than focusing on the nuanced, sophisticated strength of his record. That’s a mistake he will need to correct if he becomes the GOP nominee and hopes to even compete with President Barack Obama in the fall. But Romney, unlike the zealous Rick Santorum, the impulsive Newt Gingrich and the backward-thinking Ron Paul, is preferable to the rest of the field.”

“A Detroit newspaper editor is criticizing Mitt Romney's campaign for its selective editing of the paper's endorsement,” The Hill writes. The editorial page editor was miffed that Romney’s campaign edited out the paper’s criticism of him for not supporting the auto bailout: “They should have run the complete, original version,” Detroit News Editorial Page editor Nolan Finley said in an interview Thursday evening with media critic Jim Romensko. “It’s a bit inappropriate to edit out the mild criticism.”

The Wall Street Journal likes the latest iteration of Romney’s tax plan: “One oddity of this Republican Presidential primary season is that front-runner Mitt Romney has had by far the least inspiring tax plan. That changed yesterday when the former Massachusetts Governor took a dive into the deep end of the tax reform debate with a proposal that includes a 20% across-the-board cut in income tax rates. Now we're getting somewhere.”

But it didn’t like this: “Mr. Romney made the mistake yesterday of distinguishing between deductions for "middle-income families," which he said would be preserved, and for the ‘top 1%,’ which he said would be on the table. This sounds like a pollster's bad advice. It merely plays into Mr. Obama's class-war theme when Mr. Romney should be stressing growth.”

The New York Daily News: "Anne Frank— the most famous of all Holocaust victims — has been posthumously baptized at a Mormon temple, fueling the growing controversy over the bizarre practice. The rite was conducted Saturday in a Mormon temple in the Dominican Republic, according to Helen Radkey, an excommunicated church member turned whistleblower."

SANTORUM: The Boston Globe headline: “Rick Santorum admits a lot of mistakes during choppy GOP debate.” The Globe’s Johnson writes: “Santorum struggled with the frontrunner’s mantle and the barrage of attacks that come with it.” The debate “was perhaps most noteworthy for Santorum’s repeated concession of past political mistakes and his repeated pledges not to repeat them.”

“Santorum was targeted throughout the debate in Mesa, Arizona, as he shared the stage with rivals for the first time since he unseated Romney atop national polls of the Republican race,” Bloomberg writes. “Joining Romney in the attack on Santorum -- which included questions about the anti-abortion stances that have defined his career -- was U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas.”

And Byron York, per GOP 12, notes Santorum’s frustration last night in the spin room with the emerging Romney-Paul bromance: “You have to ask Congressman Paul and Gov. Romney what they've got going together. Their commercials look a lot alike, and so do their attacks." "They've got something going on?" a reporter asked Santorum. "You tell me," Santorum said.

Bloomberg notes that Santorum’s transformation to leadership in the Senate “required him at times to compromise his conservative ideology to fulfill political ambitions. Along the way, Santorum built a bipartisan roster of critics. Only one of his former Senate colleagues has endorsed his Republican presidential bid -- and former Ohio Senator Mike DeWine did that only after endorsing two other contenders first. Twenty-seven former and current senators have endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.”