As exchanges from last night’s debate go, this one certainly wasn’t the most important, but it did strike me as vaguely bizarre.

Q: Senator Santorum, I’ve got one for you. You said that you were, quote, the Tea Party before there was a Tea Party. But a top Tea Party goal, particularly in Iowa, is to revert back to the gold standard, something you oppose. How do you consider yourself in line with the Tea Party without agreeing on this major issue?

SANTORUM: Well first off, I didn’t say that; the Washington Post said it. I simply commented on what they said. I don’t take the claim, the Tea Party organization is flat and it should stay that way. It should support ideas not candidates. And people who stand up and say they lead it, well, I think most of the Tea Party people think their leadership is among the people not anybody is a member of congress or anywhere else.

What I’ve said is that I agree with Newt — I think there’s some reforms we can do at the Fed. And I agree we need to audit the Fed. Disagree with most of what Ron Paul said. Just because he’s mostly wrong, doesn’t mean he’s always wrong.

Just so we’re clear, in the 21st century, we have a major-party candidate for the presidency being asked in a nationally-televised debate why he doesn’t support the gold standard.

Worse, when Santorum conceded that he doesn’t support the gold standard, he heard quite a few boos from the audience.

Is it me, or is the fact that this exchange happened at all rather surreal?

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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.