THE FUTILE EFFORT TO DOWNPLAY BIG NEWS…. For Republicans responding to the killing to Osama bin Laden, there are a few options. The first is gracious non-partisanship, applauding President Obama and military, law enforcement, and intelligence agency officials. This response is not exactly in large supply.

The second is to ignore recent history and give George W. Bush credit for Obama’s success. Some are pretending Obama isn’t even president right now

And the third is to just pretend the news isn’t all that important.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — who’s been running hard lately as the foreign policy guy in the prospective 2012 Republican presidential field — told a reporter in Iowa today that when you really think about it, taking out Osama Bin Laden’s not really that big a deal in the scheme of things.

“Congratulations, well done, well orchestrated,” Santorum told the Des Moines Register before an event with voters. “That’s one isolated area as opposed to the president’s foreign policy and how it’s affecting our security. The president’s foreign policy with respect to our security is to make our allies less confident in us and has resulted in them in distancing themselves from us.”

Of course, the notion that allies are distancing themselves from the United States is ludicrous, but then again, so is Rick Santorum.

I’m not surprised, though, that some Republicans would downplay the news. Indeed, it fits into a larger pattern — leading GOP voices have been downplaying Osama bin Laden for many years. President Bush, for example, admitted he didn’t much care either way about the al Qaeda leader was caught.

And in the 2008 campaign, John McCain put restrictions on how/whether he’d pursue OBL; Mitt Romney said taking OBL out wasn’t especially important; and Fred Thompson said, “Bin Laden is more symbolism than anything else.”

After years of rhetoric like this, Santorum’s attempt to downplay bin Laden’s death is predictable. It won’t work — I get the sense the public considers this much more important than Republican presidential candidates do — but if Santorum wants to push the line that last night’s news wasn’t a big deal, he’s welcome to knock himself out.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.