Etch-a-sketch Romney and potty mouth Santorum

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times (March 26, 2012)

On Sunday, Rick Santorum spat out the B and S word at New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny, who had asked him an annoying question. The testy exchange demonstrated how candidates, reporters and, very likely, the public, have grown weary of the unending Republican primary campaign.

Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have been giving variations of the same stump speech at least since January. Journalists who have been trailing the candidates have heard it all so often they can recite the lines themselves. That's why any shift in the message, no matter how meaningless, can clang like a cowbell in a reporter's ears.

For months, Santorum has insisted that Romney is not the best choice to go up against Barack Obama because the president's healthcare plan was based on the Massachusetts healthcare plan that became law while Romney was that state's governor. Santorum believes "Obamacare" is the root of all evil and the architect of "Romneycare" is steeped in the same sin.

At a Sunday campaign rally in Wisconsin, Santorum shortened his critique, saying of Romney, "He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama."

After the speech, Zeleny came up to Santorum on a rope line. "You said that Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country," he said. "Is that true?"

Santorum tore into him. "What speech did you listen to?" he demanded. He accused Zeleny of lying and not caring about the truth. If he wrote this stuff in the newspaper, Santorum said, it would be "bull----."

Santorum figured Zeleny should have understood that his comment had to do with Romneycare because he had made the same point in a thousand speeches that Zeleny had heard. Zeleny, of course, was just wondering why the script had varied.

Bottom line: The only thing this tells us is that no one has said anything new on the campaign trail in weeks, the candidates are getting sloppy and reporters are getting desperate for something novel to write about. Meanwhile, the public may simply be tuning out.

The contest for the Republican presidential nomination is in a rut. Another week, another slip of the lip, another candidate outburst, another primary that ends it all, only to be succeeded by a primary that blows everything wide open. Someone needs to shake this Etch A Sketch pad and come up with something new to look at.