WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Some of the leading Republican governors are coming to President Barack Obama's defense against charges from former Senator Rick Santorum that the president's push for universal higher education amounts to intellectual and political snobbery.
Speaking to reporters outside of the White House after a meeting between the nation's governors and the president, Gov. Bob McDonnell went out of his way to praise the administration's education policy, calling it one of the few areas of bipartisan consensus. He added that the pursuit of a college education was something that all lawmakers should push students to consider.
"I wish [Santorum] had said it differently," said the Virginia Republican. "I'm pushing in Virginia this year 100,000 new degrees over the next 15 years. I want more college graduates. But that means community college and four-year universities, but not to the exclusion of realizing that some people are going to graduate from high school and be in the trades. What we say is we want somebody to be career ready or college ready. If we haven't done one of those two things for the young people, we have failed you."
McDonnell's comments represent the second time in as many days that a surrogate for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney sided with the president over Santorum. On CBS' "Face the Nation," Gov. Chris Christie was characteristically blunt in downplaying Santorum's criticism of Obama as a "snob" for wanting "everybody in America to go to college."
"I think that's probably over the line," said the New Jersey governor, adding that if Santorum was against the proposition of ensuring children are college educated or career ready, "I don't think that makes any sense."
Despite the pushback, Santorum hasn't wavered from his original objection. Appearing on several Sunday shows, the former senator distinguished his support for educational opportunity with what he argued was the president's belief that every student had to go to college to advance in life (something Obama has never appeared to have said). Adding a conspiratorial twist to the plot, Santorum argued that the president's encouragement of college education was being done as a form of political base building. Colleges, he said, were "indoctrination mills" for the liberal elite.
The fact that few, if any, governors have been willing to back this point underscores both its outlandishness and how education policy remains one of the few wellsprings of bipartisanship. McDonnell and Christie may be Romney surrogates -- they also may run states with moderate, if not progressive-leaning electorates -- but they are hardly the only ones siding with Obama.
"Bob is right," Gov. Phil Bryant (R-Miss.) told reporters as he stood next to McDonnell, just yards away from the West Wing. Arguing that students who didn't pursue college degrees shouldn't be stigmatized, the newly elected Mississippi governor (who hasn't endorsed Romney) explicitly acknowledged that the president wasn't doing anything of the sort.
"[I]f a child decides that he does not want to go on to higher education, we should not somehow think he has failed," said Bryant. "He or she can do a great job contributing to this economy coming out of community college. The president was behind that. I believe today he said he would help with the bully pulpit of encouraging more folks who want to go into that type of training, and I think we should all do that."