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Rick Santorum Walks Back 2008 Mitt Romney Endorsement

First Posted: 01/01/2012 1:20 pm Updated: 01/01/2012 1:24 pm

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who is just barely trailing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the latest Iowa poll, defended his 2008 endorsement of Romney for president on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday morning.

The former senator from Pennsylvania has recently criticized Romney in his TV ads for being too liberal, a far cry from the press release he sent out during the 2008 Republican presidential primaries calling Romney the "clear conservative candidate" who will "stand up for the conservative principles we hold dear."

When asked about his old statement endorsing former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, Santorum said he was just gunning for the most conservative candidate that he thought had a chance of stopping the relatively moderate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at the time.

"That was five days, four days before super Tuesday, and it became clear to me that there were two candidates in the race at that point," Santorum said. "I would have loved to have Mike Huckabee out there, but I made the political judgment, right or wrong, that he had the best chance to stop John McCain."

Compared to himself, Santorum said, Romney is not conservative enough.

"Everybody on that stage that is in these debates has conservative values ... and generally reflects the Republican party," he said. "The question is, are those values ones that you can trust when they become president of the United States? Is it someone who you know is gonna fight, not just for certain things, but the entire Republican platform?"

Santorum has repeatedly criticized Romney for switching sides on issues such as abortion -- which he used to openly support as governor of Massachusetts -- in order to win over conservative Republicans. But Santorum has moved to the right on abortion as well: When he was running for reelection in 2005, he told the Associated Press that he supported legalized abortion in cases of rape and incest.

Now, Santorum opposes abortion in all circumstances, and recently signed an anti-abortion "fetal personhood" pledge that commits him to supporting a federal amendment that would give legal personhood rights to an undeveloped zygote. Such a personhood measure, like the one recently rejected by voters in Mississippi, would have no exception for rape or incest.

Santorum explained that the reason he would support laws that provide exceptions for rape and incest, as he professed to do in 2005, is to "move the ball forward" on outlawing abortion.

"Today I would support laws that would provide for those exceptions," he said, "but I'm not for them."

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