Yesterday, Tina Korbe and I had an opportunity to sit down with the new Republican frontrunner in the nomination race, Rick Santorum.  He had just finished giving his well-received CPAC speech, and we started off by asking Santorum about his request to voters gathered here at the convention to vote with their honor in mind.  Santorum talked about the importance of ensuring that the GOP puts its “best foot forward” in the nomination process as well as the general election.  Tina asked about how Santorum plans to appeal to millenials, and as I write this, a CPAC panel is addressing the larger issue of winning the youth vote for Republicans.  “It should be easier this time,” Santorum replied, “to make the case to a generation that’s facing double-digit unemployment — high double-digit unemployment coming out of high school and college — that’s facing an extra $5 trillion debt burden that they’re going to have to pay.”

We didn’t let the issue of the HHS mandate go unremarked, either.  I asked Santorum about Barack Obama’s “accommodation” announced yesterday and asked if this episode didn’t validate the concerns of social conservatives about Obama all along — and Santorum quickly noted, “This isn’t a social-conservative issue.  This is a First Amendment issue.  This is a freedom of conscience issue.” Santorum noted that the concept of insurance is to protect against serious financial risk, and yet the mandate forces employers to pay for relatively minor and routine maintenance strategies involving voluntary activity.  “They’re using insurance to impose their will,” Santorum replied, “and crush the freedom of religion that Catholics used to be able to exercise.” In fact, the accommodation makes the problem worse, Santorum says, because “you’ve now just eliminated every faith-based insurer.  If you have a Catholic insurer who offers health insurance, they’re not going to be able to do that.  This is the Obama administration being too cute by half,” Santorum concludes, “and so in my opinion there is no substantive difference” between the two positions — and Santorum accurately predicted that the Catholic Church would reject this “accommodation.”

I then asked Santorum to offer a bit of political analysis and ask him how the Obama administration could have bungled this so badly in an election year. “This is who they are,” Santorum replied.  Indeed.