Romney told the group he had thought Gingrich’s surge would be the last challenge in the primary campaign, only to see Santorum surge with victories in Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri last Tuesday. Now, with Santorum the man of the moment, Romney joked that it is time to get the oppo research up and running again. He quickly added: No, no, I’m only kidding.

But Romney’s remarks suggested he wasn’t entirely kidding. “He said Rick has to be held up to the same scrutiny as everyone else,” says one meeting participant. (This account is based on conversations with three people who were in the room.) Romney specifically mentioned hitting Santorum on his record on earmarks and other federal spending.

It’s not clear whether Romney’s answer satisfied the group. In general, a number of participants don’t want to see a repeat of the Romney-Gingrich attacks because a) they feel Santorum doesn’t deserve it, and b) they believe the negativity has been bad for Republicans overall. Romney told the group that the attacks on Gingrich were not his doing but rather the work of the super PAC that works on Romney’s behalf but not under his control.