It was a historic moment: Mitt Romney came reasonably close to criticizing Rick Santorum for being too conservative, something he’s never done before. Indeed, he and his surrogates have spent an extraordinary amount of time and money suggesting that beneath Rick’s theocratic surface, he’s a tax-and-spend man, and in fact, part of the “liberal wing of the Republican Party,” which would be an interesting indictment if such a wing actually existed.

In remarks in Michigan, here’s what Mitt had to say about his rival–and himself:

Romney…made an indirect reference to Santorum’s series of provocative comments on hot-button social issues in recent days, including his remark that President John F. Kennedy’s speech about the separation of church and state made him want to “throw up.” Romney said he believes the United States is “one nation under God” and that religion “certainly has a place in the public square,” but that he respects Kennedy’s speech and believes it was an indication of those views….

“It’s very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments,” Romney told reporters. “We’ve seen throughout the campaign that if you’re willing to say really outrageous things that are accusatory and attacking President Obama that you’re going to jump up in the polls. You know, I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am.”

Ah, yes, the Popeye defense again!

You’d think Romney would be a bit wary of that lin, since who “I am” has been a topic of considerable debate throughout the 2012 contest.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.