Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney talk following a Republican presidential...

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney talk following a Republican presidential debate in Mesa, Ariz. (Feb. 22, 2012) Credit: AP

Should we pretend to like people we don't?

They're coming around very slowly this bitter campaign year.

There on Friday were Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, locked in a room together for an hour and a half -- no cameras, no aides, not a whiff of actual affection in the air. This is what passes in politics for "quality time."

The two of them certainly seemed to be trying. But the disdainful quotes from the primaries were piled up outside, waiting to be snipped into Democratic attack ads.

"If Mitt Romney's an economic heavyweight, we're in trouble," said a zinger from March, picked more or less at random. On his way to the expected Republican nomination, Mitt said plenty back at Rick.

And when the two ex-combatants said their goodbyes, they didn't even linger for a grip-and-grin photo shoot. Any endorsement that is coming -- and one eventually will -- wasn't coming yet.

Michele Bachmann swallowed hard on Thursday, throwing her tea party support behind her former rival. The former governor of Massachusetts, the Minnesota congresswoman said, is "the only option" against Barack Obama.

Newt Gingrich remains the slowest to hug his former nemesis. He suspended his campaign last week but is sounding nowhere near ready to let the bygones be. The best he could manage was this to Wolf Blitzer: "This is a comparative business . . . Our choice isn't Mitt Romney or Ronald Reagan."

With friends like these, who needs former rivals?


1. Cops and firefighters

2. Hillary and Barack

3. Army and Navy

4. Mangano and Bellone

5. The girls on "Girls," the women on "The View"

ASKED AND UNANSWERED: Does anyone in East Hampton still think all those deer are cute? Traffic deaths, Lyme disease, garden maulings -- Councilman Dominick Stanzione has now declared a "deer emergency" . . . Prefer the weather THIS weekend? . . . MS-13, 18th Street Gang -- do all LI street gangs now have to have numbers in their names? Pagans, please come home! . . . How many "disabled" LIRR retirees weren't faking it? The list allegedly grows shorter again . . . The $227,000-a-year question for Philip D'Angelo, just hired from the Skaneateles Central School District near Syracuse to be superintendent of the Wantagh Union Free School District: Compared to Skaneateles, isn't Wantagh a real breeze to spell? . . . How cool was this? Two New York Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters with 660-gallon "Bambi buckets," scooping water from Sarnoff Preserve Lake on Thursday morning, then dumping it back in? Brush-fire training -- for next time.

THE NEWS IN SONG: I'd kinda like to be the president: "Why Can't We Be Friends?" by Smash Mouth, tinyurl.com/befrenz


In all, seven separate governmental entities -- local, state and federal -- are investigating the 1,100-acre brush fire that left such a scar on Manorville: The Suffolk County police, the state Forest Rangers, the fire marshals of Riverhead and Brookhaven, the Ridge and Manorville fire departments and the Brookhaven National Laboratory. The Forest Rangers, who are part of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, have now termed the blaze arson, though they aren't quite saying what they mean by that and not all the other agencies seem yet to have signed on. Multiagency probes often disintegrate into political turf battles. This one hasn't yet. But it's a huge case and a vital one. Here's hoping they all keep playing nicely -- and that we get some solid answers soon.

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