RNC Chairman defends Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum frequently rails against the Republican establishment. Yet that establishment — at least, one high-profile member — is going to bat for him.

On Monday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney‘s campaign attacked the former Pennsylvania senator for declaring that he “doesn't care about the unemployment rate.” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus sided with Santorum.

“I think that Rick Santorum’s right,” Priebus told CNN. “This election is about big things. It’s about liberty and freedom.”

His statement echoes Santorum’s own words.

"We need a candidate who's going to be a fighter for freedom. Who's going to get up and make that the central theme in this race because it is the central theme in this race," Santorum said Monday. "I don't care what the unemployment rate's going to be. Doesn't matter to me. My campaign doesn't hinge on unemployment rates and growth rates. It's something more foundational that's going on."

Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul pounced, calling the statement proof that Santorum is “an economic lightweight.”

But Priebus’ comment suggests top Republicans are starting to worry that Romney’s campaign’s message is too focused on economics.

Romney’s entire pitch is that President Obama’s economic policies aren’t working and that he can do better. The more the economy improves, the weaker that message is.

The bind he is became clear in an interview with radio host Laura Ingraham last week. Asked if “Obama is making the economy better, but vote for me” was a winning argument, Romney responded, “Do you have a better one?”

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.

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