Santorum, who got a major boost by his near-victory in Iowa, is striving to become the principal alternative to Romney. Late in the debate, he appealed for support by criticizing Romney for backing an individual mandate for health care in Massachusetts and the financial bailout. He said he would present a starker choice against Obama.
“If you want someone that’s a clear contrast, that has a strong record, has a vision for this country that’s going to get this country growing and appeal to blue-collar workers in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in Michigan, in Indiana and deliver that message, that we care about you, too, not just about Wall Street and bailing them out, then I’m the guy that you want to put in the nomination,” he said.
Romney and Santorum argued early in the debate over what attributes make the better president. Santorum charged that the nation doesn’t need a CEO or manager — a knock on Romney’s private-sector experience — and said the nation needs a leader with vision.
“The commander in chief of this country isn’t a CEO. It’s someone who has to lead,” he said. “Being the president is not a CEO. You can’t direct . . . members of Congress and members of the Senate as to how you do things. You’ve got to lead and inspire.”
But Romney countered that Santorum didn’t understand what it takes to turn around the economy or the role of those who work in the private sector. “I think people who spend their life in Washington don’t understand what happens out in the real economy,” he said. “They think that people who start businesses are just manager. . . . My experience is in leadership.”
Romney also defended his work in the private sector against charges that Bain Capital engaged in buying and selling companies that resulted in substantial layoffs of workers while he and his partners made millions. “This is a free-enterprise system,” he said. “We don’t need government to come in and tell us how to make businesses work. We need people with passion, willing to take risk and help turn things around. And where that works, you create jobs.”
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich said, “I’m very much for free enterprise. . . . I’m not nearly as enamored of a Wall Street model where you can flip companies, you can go in and have leveraged buyouts, you can basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers.”