BURBANK, Calif. – We finally know what Mitt Romney really thinks of Rick Santorum.
That he should be a press secretary.
Romney was joking, of course, making a light-hearted reference on late-night television to his rival’s Sunday night squabble with a New York Times reporter. It came during a taping Tuesday for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” Romney’s fourth appearance and first of the 2012 campaign cycle on the NBC show.
From the moment the Republican presidential front-runner stepped out on stage in his suit and tie (he left the Gap jeans in his suitcase), Romney was mostly all business. He began by talking about delegate math -- “I actually sent my son Matt to go to the Northern Mariana Islands, we got nine delegates there, to go to Guam, nine delegates there”-- and the war in Afghanistan and health care policy and federal spending.
Riding with Romney in an SUV on the way to the NBC studios in Burbank, campaign aide Garrett Jackson videotaped Romney saying: "I just got off the phone talking to my colleagues back in Boston and they said, 'Uh, don’t try and be funny. Just answer the questions straight.'"
"I’m rarely funny on purpose," Romney added. "So we’ll see what happens tonight.”
But the conversation got interesting when Leno asked Romney to handicap his vice presidential short list -- which Romney, naturally, denied having.
“It would be presumptuous, alright?” he told Leno.
“Not even, like, with the wife?” Leno replied. “You know, ‘Honey, this guy…’ Really? It’s never come up? I’m not even running and I discuss it with my wife.”
Romney, avoiding a real answer, made a joke: “I’ll tell you what. I can do a favor with this. I’ll choose David Letterman. We can help us both out.”
But the host wasn’t having it. Leno kept pressing: “I’ll give you a list of candidates. You give me one word on each person.”
Leno’s first candidate: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“Indomitable,” Romney said.
“Indomitable?” Leno asked, puzzled by the word choice.
“Yeah,” Romney said. “He’s a man of strong will. Great strength. Indomitable.”
“Man of girth,” Leno joked.
“Well, if you attack Chris Christie, you’re gonna get more than you bargained for,” Romney said. “He comes back hard, strong. Indomitable.”
Next: Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.).
“Um,” Romney said, thinking. “The American dream.”
Leno pooh-poohed him for using three words, not one.
Then he asked about House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.
“Um, um, creative,” Romney said.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley?
Real estate mogul Donald Trump?
Finally, Leno asked Romney what word comes to mind when he considers Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator.
“Um,” Romney said. “Press secretary.”