Peter King hopes Santorum and Romney can combine to squash Ron Paul

peter-king-hopes-santorum-and-romney-can-combine-squash-ron-paul
Pete King. ()
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

If there had to be a second candidate standing after Iowa's caucus last night, Representative Peter King said, it's good that it turned out to be Rick Santorum.

"I think if we had to have it come down to two main candidates, I think [Mitt] Romney and Santorum are probably the best of the group," said King, the Republican congressman from Long Island.

King told me in a previous interview that he favored Romney of all the Republican candidates, but he has yet to make an official endorsement.

"It probably would have been better if we had one candidate emerge, but it's better that we have two plausible candidates, whose positions are not that far apart and represent what I consider the mainstream of the Republican Party," he said.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

For defense hawks like King, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee in the House, last night's third-place finisher, Ron Paul, doesn't qualify as either "plausible" or "mainstream," given his desire to call home all the American troops serving abroad.

King said he hoped that a robust foreign-policy debate between Romney and Santorum would help quash Paul, and what King sees as a growing isolationist strain among Republicans.

"I think Rick has much more of a familiarity and working knowledge of foreign policy and that will be important to counter that Ron Paul element in the party," King said. "So I would hope that one real positive aspect coming out of this is, because Rick does know a lot about foreign policy, that we can have more of an intelligent debate about foreign policy. Obviously Romney is smart, he's knowledgeable on foreign policy, I don't think he has the working knowledge that Rick has. It'll make for a good debate, and help, hopefully, isolate Ron Paul." 

King said Santorum has now emerged as "the non-Romney candidate," a designation that might help him overcome an almost total lack of money or organization.

"Sometimes it's like being the nominee of the party," King said. "Even if you yourself don't have a large organization, the party provides it for you. And in this case, he just may get the anti-Romney forces behind him. So he could inherit, or acquire, at a reasonable cost, not a ready-made, but a pre-existing group of people who are anti-Romney."

And King feels Santorum is better able to weather the vetting process than the last non-Romney candidate to bubble up in the polls, former House speaker Newt Gingrich. (Gingrich and King are, historically, enemies.)

"It's not like Newt, there's not people who actively dislike Rick Santorum," said King, who overlapped with Santorum for two years in the House. "There's not a trail of baggage behind him. There are some little issues you've got to confront. But nothing of the scale that Gingrich did."

King told me he's still leaning toward Romney, but that he doesn't consider himself that far apart from Santorum, who he thinks might be able to appeal to northern Republicans and swing voters.

"I would say a lot of my positions are similar to Rick's," King said. "He's sort of a working-class background. I think he could inherit what's left of the Reagan Democrats, that group who are basically Catholic and conservative Jewish ethnics who you know rallied to Reagan, traditionally they're Democrats, but switched. I think they could feel comfortable with Rick. So he could be a formidable candidate."

Asked how Santorum's very outward brand of Christian conservatism might play in the Northeast, King said he had to "convey them in a commonsense logical way, not as if it's a divine calling."

King said he would have endorsed Romney today if Gingrich had won Iowa, but since that didn't happen, he's in no hurry.

Also, he said: None of the campaigns has been beating down his door about going to New Hampshire as a surrogate, and for the record, he's OK with that.

"I did spend time in New Hampshire with Giuliani," King said. "It's cold."