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Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are the current front-runners in the contest to become the Republican candidate for president. It was only months ago that former House speaker Gingrich was written off by many as unelectable. In recent weeks he has surged in the polls. This week Gingrich is seeking gains in New Hampshire, an early primary state where Romney enjoys widespread popularity. Gingrich debated third-tier candidate Jon Huntsman on national security issues. On the sidelines, Gingrich broke his vow to stay positive and traded barbs with Romney. Diane and her guests discuss the shifting dynamics in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.
- Major Garrett Congressional correspondent, National Journal.
- Lisa Lerer Politics reporter, Bloomberg News.
- Juan Williams Political analyst, Fox News.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The 2012 presidential election is more than 10 months away, but with key Republican primaries and caucuses around the corner, the pressure is on. Polls indicate Newt Gingrich's star is rising, but many party insiders questioned whether the former House speaker has broad enough appeal. Joining me here in the studio to talk about the changing dynamics in the race for the Republican nomination, Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News and Juan Williams of Fox News.
MS. DIANE REHMWe are expecting Major Garrett of National Journal. If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, Juan.
MR. JUAN WILLIAMSGood morning, Diane.
REHMAnd good morning, Lisa.
MS. LISA LERERGood morning.
REHMThank you both for being here. Juan, you saw last night's debate. Give us a sense of what happened between Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman.
WILLIAMSWell, it's a little bit of a love fest. What you had here was a Lincoln-Douglas style debate. You know, they don't really go at each other. It's that the moderators introduced topics for their discussion, and the only sort of newsy item to come out of it, Diane, was a discussion of Iran and how the U.S. is dealing with Iran and whether or not the U.S. should launch an attack -- approve of an Israeli attack.
WILLIAMSAnd Gingrich was of a mind that pretty much the U.S. has to take some action and that a decision as to whether or not to agree with an Israeli action may be shortly forthcoming, as he put it.
REHMAnd were there two different opinions on that?
WILLIAMSNo. Huntsman also...
WILLIAMSNot really. Huntsman was of a mind, too, that the U.S. should be taking some action. Huntsman seemed a little -- they didn't engage the whole military act by the U.S. or Israeli in the way that Gingrich did. But it's interesting to me, is that, you know, they're playing to two different crowds. And even in that slight modulated response, what you see is Gingrich playing to the base, I think, to the more hawkish aspects of the Republican base, and Huntsman playing to those who are thinking more in terms of diplomatic strategy sanctions and the like.
REHMLisa, what I'm interested in is the fact that the debate took place at all. Gingrich had everything to lose. Jon Huntsman had everything to gain. Why did Gingrich agree to it?
LERERWell, while the differences between the candidates were pretty much, as Juan pointed out, nonexistent, the politics of this were pretty clear. For Gingrich, debates are a format that -- where he really shines. He feels very comfortable in that format, particularly this type of debate where he is really just speaking extemporaneously on various topics. That's a great format for him, and it's really one that's fuel to surge.
LERERHis campaign was left for dead after his staff left back in the summer. And the number of debates -- excuse me -- and the Republican primary has allowed his numbers, his polling numbers, to go up and has put him at the top of the race. So this was a great opportunity for him to just sort of speak in a format he's really comfortable with. For Huntsman, Huntsman seeks his entire campaign on New Hampshire. So any opportunity -- and he hasn't -- so far, he's still in single digits in that state.
LERERSo any opportunity he has to get his message out in New Hampshire is one he's going to want to take. He's a former diplomat, also very comfortable on foreign policy. This was a great opportunity for him to get a little more publicity and go head-to-head with the frontrunner in the race.
REHMPeople keep calling Jon Huntsman a third-tier candidate, Juan. How important is he, really, in the whole hierarchy?
WILLIAMSHe's not important at all at this point.
REHMNot important in your view.
WILLIAMSI mean, you could talk about potential, I suppose. But from a hard ball, real politic aspect, he has -- he barely registers. He didn't even qualify for the last debate. And in terms of money, he's spending very little. He has very -- raised very little money, spending some of his father's money, I guess, but that's about it.
LERERWhen -- still, I wouldn't dismiss him completely. I agree with what Juan said, but in New Hampshire, he could have a bit of an impact. It's really crucial that Romney does -- wins New Hampshire, does -- or does extremely well in New Hampshire. He's -- was governor of the neighboring state. He has a vacation home in the state. He's been campaigning there for -- basically for five years, so he has to do extremely well.
LERERHuntsman spent a lot of time up there. And the type of voter who -- his opportunity to pull voters is likely going to be pulling voters from Romney. So if you have Gingrich in the state weakening Romney and Ron Paul has a measure of support of a New Hampshire, and then on top of that you have Huntsman providing this extra little push to pull voters away from Romney, it could have an impact for Romney, I think, in New Hampshire.
REHMAnd joining us now is my friend, Major Garrett...
MR. MAJOR GARRETTGood morning, Diane.
REHM...of National Journal. Good morning to you. In your view, how important was last night's debate between Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich?
GARRETTNot as important as I think many in New Hampshire thought it might be. It was so tame, so indirect in its ability to differentiate any important differences or to lay down kind of established world view Republicans bring to foreign policy. And the Huntsman and Ron Paul dynamics in both Iowa and New Hampshire presented interesting question for modern American presidential politics in my opinion.
GARRETTDoes retail politics matter anymore, or we are entirely in a wholesale, televised debate, presidential politics mode? Jon Huntsman has done the old-fashioned, long-established retail method in New Hampshire, shooing Iowa and going all around New Hampshire, house parties, town halls, meetings with as many as 50, 100 and as few as five or six in New Hampshire. That's the old style way of winning New Hampshire.
GARRETTThat is the way for those who don't remember the way Jimmy Carter won Iowa back in 1976 and created an entire cottage industry of American presidential politics that Iowa and New Hampshire put a premium on intimacy, contact and not only access but touchability. What we've seen in this presidential campaign, at least on the Republican side, is less retail, more wholesale. Evaluate me based on my debate performance and what you hear me in a speech or some other set piece kind of political presentation.
GARRETTIf Ron Paul, as I suspect he will, does well in Iowa but can't translate it anywhere else, people will say, well, retail in Iowa is of some use but not of national use. And if Jon Huntsman does OK in New Hampshire but doesn't really break through, the people will begin to really seriously question the value of retail politics.
GARRETTAnd for those of us who love presidential political coverage and who grew up as I did -- my first campaign was in 1992 -- thought of Iowa and New Hampshire as one of the few places where you could actually see voters constantly interact with presidential candidates test them out, test out their personality, test out their knowledge of the issues and just test out their ability to function in a less-than-controlled atmosphere.
GARRETTThis might not be such a good thing because the atmospherics now have been largely controlled, and those who have used almost exclusively those controlled atmosphere, those controlled environment have done better than those who've gone in the less controlled, more intimate settings.
REHMWhat do you think, Juan?
WILLIAMSWell, I think the times have changed. I'm a little older than Major, I guess. My first campaign was not in the '90s. I'm back, you know, when Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan...
REHMI was in Iowa in 1988.
WILLIAMSOh, no. I can't believe it.
REHMYes, I was.
GARRETTWe all remember.
WILLIAMSSo -- but, you know, I would differ only in this very specific point that I think that the debates have been revealing and have had tremendous impact. And so it's like you have to say, wait a second, you know what, we have learned something about the candidates from the debate. And you've seen the ups and downs on the Republican side and who's able to handle issues and who's not.
WILLIAMSI think what's really distinguished this campaign is, of course, the fact that you have two very clear base or a set of constituencies in the Republican Party and that people are playing to one or the other, and it's almost like a competition for two nominations. And at the moment, with Gingrich and Romney holding the top positions, you see who are the winners of the separate primaries. And now, we're headed into, well, who's going to win the overall primary?
REHMAnd how important is Iowa, Lisa?
LERERWell, Iowa, of course, is extremely important.
REHMBut don't forget that Hillary Clinton won Iowa in last election.
GARRETTNo, no. Barack Obama won.
LERERNo. No, no. Obama won.
GARRETTBarack Obama won.
REHMForgive me, my problem.
LERERWhich underscores the importance of...
LERER…Iowa. That was a surprise win for him. They had been quietly organizing, and the way they did it was they expanded the number of people going to the caucuses. They brought in all these new people, younger voters, who weren't traditionally being targeted as caucus voters. And, actually, our pollster at Bloomberg News, Ann Selzer, should get a shout out.
LERERShe was the only pollster to correctly predict that Obama would win, and she was able to -- it was all in how you measured the people, the likely caucus attendees. So by expanding that world, (unintelligible) win, and that gave the campaign the momentum moving into the next set of primaries.
WILLIAMSWell, I think the other key here, though, about Iowa is, you know, people always say Iowa's kind of an anachronism. It's -- doesn't -- it's not very diverse, very small, middle America, you know, based on agriculture, not -- it doesn't represent really what's going on in terms of all of America. And one of the things to pick up on Major's theme is that the retail politics that you would see there now has been reduced because, you know, the impact of these televised debates.
WILLIAMSSo people don't feel the need, in some cases, to go there. Newt Gingrich is just basically building an organization in Iowa as we speak, and he doesn't have much money. And Ron Paul has built a base there. And Ron Paul, I think, has the capacity to surprise a lot of people in Iowa. But you also have to keep in mind, Iowa is a just a caucus at this point. It doesn't even count in terms of delegate votes.
GARRETTRight. And the other thing is we need to differentiate between the Iowa experience for Democrats and the Iowa experience for Republicans. The Iowa experience for Republicans has not been largely predictive for the overall Republican nominee. Iowa's choices infrequently become the eventual Republican nominee also. I was there in 2007 and 2008, covering the Democrats. Everyone hit their mark in Iowa, except Obama expanded the mark and expanded the potential ability to draw people to caucuses that's why he won.
REHMMajor Garrett, he is congressional correspondent for National Journal. Short break and we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the Republican presidential candidacy field so far. Major Garrett is here with me. He's at the National Journal. Lisa Lerer is with Bloomberg News. Juan Williams is with Fox News. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Juan, there are an awful lot of questions about Newt Gingrich from within the Republican Party. What's happening?
WILLIAMSWell, this weekend, I think, is telling. You know, it's as if the big guns suddenly realized, oh, my gosh, he really has the lead. And he not only has the lead in Iowa. If you look at the polling numbers, he has the lead in Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and he's within single digits of Romney in New Hampshire. So I think he was down to nine points. So what you have is now lots of kind of establishment Republicans suddenly aiming their fire at Gingrich in a way that he hadn't been subjected to before.
WILLIAMSBecause they see him now as really someone who has a chance to come in and take this thing away from Mitt Romney, and so many...
REHMBut why don't they like Gingrich?
WILLIAMSSo, you know, for a long time -- well, think about the kind of attacks that we've seen. One is, oh, you don't remember Republicans rebelled against him and forced him out when he was the speaker of the House.
WILLIAMSAnd they say that he is an egotist. He's always -- in the language of someone who is a Romney surrogate, he's always comparing himself to Reagan and Churchill. He's always presenting himself as the smartest man in the room, the bright politician with all ideas. So you've seen people come out and say, you know, this guy is really a gas bag. And don't forget about all the marriages. All of this has been coming out this weekend in a roar, and it's very clear that the Republican establishment is uncomfortable with Newt Gingrich.
LERERBut as much as the Republican establishment here in Washington doesn't like Gingrich, voters really like him a lot. They -- based on his poll numbers, that's for sure, and also based on talking to folks in these early primary states. They want someone who's a fighter, who can really go head-to-head and just take it to President Obama, and they see that in Gingrich. And that's largely based on his debate performances, and that's something that the Romney camp recognizes as well.
LERERI was just with them yesterday up in New Hampshire, and they acknowledged that Republican voters -- there is an appeal to Gingrich to Republican electorate and it is that fieriness. And that's not something that comes very naturally to Romney, I think.
GARRETTThe Gingrich story is a long-running story. It has many components to it. I wrote in National Journal last week, describing what Juan was talking about a moment ago as almost feral anxiety over Newt Gingrich becoming not only the nominee, but potentially a president of the United States, and here is why. Many Republicans have great affection for Newt Gingrich as a leader of a movement. He worked with Tom DeLay, Bill Paxon, Dick Armey, John Boehner, Republican politicians none of whom liked each other at the time that they led the Republican majority in 1994.
GARRETTBut they subsumed and swallowed all of their distaste for each other for a larger goal, in large measure because Newt Gingrich pointed the direction. And the direction was the first Republican majority in 40 years in the House, which Republicans understood was a means by which to control the appropriations process, the tax writing process and to have an argument with a sitting Democratic president about the future of this country. And they had the argument. And they lost the politics, but they won much more the policy than most Americans readily appreciate.
GARRETTRemember, Bill Clinton as president, at first, did not even conceptually embrace the idea of a balanced budget. Then he embraced it over 10 years. Then he went to nine. Then he went to eight. Then he went seven. Then he agreed to something no American president had ever agreed to before, allowing the Congressional Budget Office to count the beans, not the Office of Management and Budget, not the executive branch, but seeding as a president what constitutes a balanced budget to the Congressional Budget Office.
GARRETTThis is why, ladies and gentlemen, the Congressional Budget Office is the obsessive scorekeeper of everything in Washington. It happened in 1995. Republicans have deep affection for all of those hard-won gains -- welfare reform, telecommunications reform. Much of it would not happen without Newt Gingrich. And yet with all of those accomplishments, they remember Newt Gingrich as the manager, the egoist, the flamethrower, the person who veered radically right to left in sort of a careening way with their own leadership of the Republican congressional majority.
GARRETTAnd they found themselves exhausted by this process. Newt Gingrich left. He resigned after the midterm elections in 1998. But I remembered -- and I was reminded of this -- when he was first up for re-election in January of 1997, in the teeth of the ethics scandal related to his GOPAC efforts before he became speaker, agreed to pay a fine of $300,000 -- the first sanctioned speaker in the history of the United States Congress -- Newt Gingrich (word?) that election, his first as speaker.
GARRETTAnd his closest aides, to this day, tell me they weren't sure they had the votes to be re-elected speaker the very first time. This is six months before the aborted coup against Newt Gingrich. So those who worked closest with Newt Gingrich remember how difficult it was to follow him and how hard it was to understand his executive leadership approach. And they think about him holding all that executive power as president, and they quaver.
REHMOK. So you got Washington insiders, leadership people who are very nervous about Newt Gingrich. But apparently, people out there are saying, we like what he says. We like the way he sounds. We think he is the one to go up against Obama and win. Lisa.
LERERI also think there's another piece of this, which is that Americans love a good reinvention story. And that's part of what Gingrich is doing here, and you're seeing that particularly on the issue of his personal life, right? He's on his third marriage. He had affair while he was dealing with the Clinton impeachment proceeding. So he's someone that hasn't always had the type of personal life that you think would appeal to social conservatives, to evangelicals. But a lot of those voters, when I have spoken to them in Iowa or in South Carolina, say, listen, you know, he's come out. He said he's changed.
LERERHe's now a grandfather. He's a -- he took this -- yesterday, he took this pledge that he would be faithful and not cheat on his wife. He's certainly -- I mean, I sort of thought that's what marriage was, but there was also another pledge put out by a conservative group that he signed. And so that's -- you know, and some evangelical voters have told me that that's sort of a part of their faith that you can find forgiveness, and you can, you know, approach this differently.
REHMI think you just answered this email question, a statement more than a question. It says, "It's beyond my comprehension how so-called values voters could endorse the candidacy of Newt Gingrich. He's an admitted serial adulterer. He bought his annulment from the Vatican to marry his former mistress after having converted to Catholicism. He's a Washington insider who, while he denies it, is a lobbyist. How can these voters subscribe to Gingrich as president?" Juan.
WILLIAMSWell, let me add to the indictment a point of humor, which is to say that, you know, from the perspective of someone who's been watching Gingrich for a while, it's kind of unbelievable that he has been the principal beneficiary of the fall of a man who was accused of sexual harassment and philandering, which is Herman Cain. And all those votes seem to have gone to Newt Gingrich without missing a beat. So that's kind of funny.
WILLIAMSBut I think the reason is that he is viewed as the true conservative, Diane, the true conservative, especially as contrasted to Mitt Romney. Now, over the weekend, again, as part of the onslaught of attacks coming from the establishment Republican Party against Newt Gingrich, you've seen claims that, you know, he's not a real conservative. Don't forget he was sitting next to Nancy Pelosi on global warming.
WILLIAMSDon't forget he was doing deals with Bill Clinton. Don't forget, on and on about, you know, individual mandate, all the rest, the flip flops in Newt Gingrich's career. But that's not what the voters see. They see someone who is far clear as a conservative, someone who led a conservative revolution successfully in the past than Mitt Romney.
GARRETTAnd I think there's also a component of what Republican voters are not allowed to evaluate. I wrote about this last week, and I had a headline for my column said "Newt by Proxy." And I said one of the reforms that Newt Gingrich bought in when he was speaker was no proxy voting in a congressional committee, meaning the powerful chairman couldn't vote on behalf of 20 Democrats who didn't show up, so that's ironic because a lot of Republicans didn't show up to this race. And by not showing up to this race, they have, by proxy, elevated Newt Gingrich.
GARRETTImagine a debate platform thus: Paul Ryan, Haley Barbour, John Thune, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney. I would suggest to this audience -- and I've suggested in my column -- that Newt Gingrich simply does not find the traction and the purchase he has in this campaign, running against these contemporary Republican politicians who have real time relevant success and have fought with the issues of today in real time electoral processes. But they didn't run.
GARRETTAnd because they didn't run, Newt Gingrich, against a field that is not populated with these kind of heavyweights, has been able to rise.
LERERYou know, I think he's certainly, as Juan point out, flip-flopped more the same amount, if not more, than Mitt Romney. He's changed positions on the individual mandate. He's changed positions on government bailouts and a host of things. But Republican voters, they know him. They've seen him on Fox News for years. They bought his books. Maybe they've seen his documentaries.
LERERA lot of them have heard him speak, you know, in, you know, live and in person. So they feel like even though he has changed positions on all these issues, even though he's had a relatively turbulent personal life, they know him. They see him as authentic, and they've seen him sort of in this conservative universe for a very long time.
REHMJuan, let me ask you about Newt Gingrich's statements regarding the Palestinians. It seemed to come out of nowhere and seemed to shock everybody.
WILLIAMSHe said the Palestinians are an invented people, Diane, which is -- I mean, well, first of all, it's just not historically true. You know, what you have here is a situation where you can go back through various eras and hierarchies, but, you know, the Palestinians have been there. And you can say, oh, they're part of Jordan or they're part of the Saudi empire, whatever, but, clearly, there was a Palestinian people.
WILLIAMSBut when you stop and think about why he's doing this, again, it's playing to the conservative base that says, you know what, we have to be strong supporters of Israel in every case, and we are Israel's friends, and we are going to be Israeli supporters. And that's all it is. But it is -- the history of it and the way that he would dismiss it, as someone wrote in the paper the other day, you know, the United States is an invented people. There are lots of invented people.
REHMI said that this morning, yeah. Yeah.
LERERI mean -- but this is exactly the kind of statement that the Romney campaign is jumping on in their hope to portray him as someone who's erratic, as someone who sort of speaks out of turn and says statements that can get him in trouble, particularly when he's up against the big fight, against President Obama. And they've come out that stronger and stronger in the past couple of weeks.
LERERThey've rolled out a number of surrogates who just whacked the heck out of Gingrich on conference calls and in speeches. And yesterday in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney came out for really the first time I've seen in a -- in front of voters in a town hall meeting and just took a big couple of swings at Gingrich. He's, you know, he whacked him for the -- taking the $1.6 million from Freddie Mac for his work consulting for the company.
WILLIAMSAs a historian.
LERERAs -- right. Gingrich, of course, says he wasn't a lobbyist.
GARRETTBest paid historian in American history.
LERERThat's exactly, of course, what Romney said. So they hit him for that. They sort of tried to paint him as a K Street insider. And they used that critique to make him more even -- what I thought was even more devastating argument, potentially devastating argument, which was that he doesn't understand the economy.
REHMLisa Lerer of Bloomberg News, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about all these other people on the stage? What about Ron Paul? What about Michele Bachmann? What about Rick Perry? What about all of these others?
GARRETTWell, Rick Perry may have a moment in Iowa. He is certainly doing everything he possibly can to restructure his campaign and have a moment in Iowa. And it's, I guess, theoretically possible that he could have a moment in Iowa, but it needs to be a big one. He needs to finish in the top three, and that's going to be very difficult to do because you're going to have Gingrich, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.
GARRETTAnd if Rick Perry finishes a close fourth, that's simply not enough to credibly carry himself on to New Hampshire. Rick Perry started so aggressively. The Romney campaign had a well-thought out five- or six-point plan to completely kneecap Rick Perry. They did so. He certainly helped them in that process. And what I've always thought in the last couple of weeks is if Romney has a five-point plan for Gingrich, they better set it in motion.
GARRETTI haven't seen it set in motion. And I would say to Lisa's point about Romney's surrogates against Gingrich, for anyone who is in the conservative movement who has a sense at all of institutional knowledge, sending out former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu and former George Herbert Walker Bush -- significant John Sununu -- to attack Newt Gingrich is about the least effective mechanism humanly imaginable...
LERERWell, they also...
GARRETT...because Sununu and Gingrich clashed over...
GARRETT...George Herbert Walker Bush, breaking his solemn pledge, the 1988 Republican convention in New Orleans...
GARRETT...read my lips, no new taxes. And Gingrich made a political calculation that would be death to the long-term interests of the Republican Party, fought the White House on that and won, not in '92, but won in '94. And for Romney to rely on Sununu to carry that argument against Gingrich in this context is beyond imaginable.
LERERWell, it's a New Hampshire play.
GARRETTIt's just -- it just doesn't work.
LERERIt's -- I mean, he's also -- it's in New Hampshire. It's a -- you know, he's playing in New Hampshire. But he also, of course, sent out Chris Christie, which is probably a more...
GARRETTMuch better. Much better.
LERER...better surrogate. But I think the larger advantage that the Romney campaign has in this fight is structural. They have been running for five years. They have a massive organization in practically every state. They have a -- you know, they have the Internet component. They have everything sort of laid out there. Gingrich really just started hiring people in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, really the first and most important contest in October.
LERERHe was -- he ended the last financial quarter in debt. They're still trying to recover from that. You know, obviously he'll have more money this time, but he just doesn't have the structure in place that Romney has. And if you are going to get into a protracted nomination battle that could go into February and beyond, that takes that kind of structure.
WILLIAMSYou know, it's the -- the whole notion is, to get back to this point, that Gingrich somehow, for the Republican establishment, is not trustworthy. He's the guy who said, of Paul Ryan's budget plan, this is right-wing social engineering and the like. But when I think of Gingrich going forward, I think that, for the voters, he is trustworthy. They see him as reliably conservative, whereas they don't see that from Mitt Romney.
WILLIAMSSo we're not -- you know, that's why when he -- you know, Mitt Romney came out with this thing about return the money from Freddie Mac, Gingrich was immediately able to say, well, what about all the money? Again, from a more populist Republican stance, what about all the money that was earned by Mitt Romney from Bain Capital when Mitt Romney was running that and closing companies, putting people out of work and the like?
WILLIAMSNow, again, the Republican establishment has shot back at that in the last day or so by saying, oh, my gosh, that's a liberal critique of capitalism because the hedge fund is taking risk. And sometimes the risk profits, and sometimes it doesn't for shareholders. What is he now, you know, adopting some kind of progressive argument against Republicans? So it's very interesting to watch because it's a -- it's like an internal fight among a very small group of people -- the Republicans at this point, especially the Republicans who are deciding who will be their nominee -- but it's fascinating.
REHMJuan Williams of Fox News. And we'll take just a short break here. We've got lots of calls from Florida, Kentucky, Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma and Illinois. We'll get to them as soon as we come back.
REHMWelcome back. And our first caller in Ormond Beach, Fla., good morning, Thomasine. (sp?) You're on the air.
THOMASINEYes. Good morning, Diane. Many say that Romney isn't conservative enough for Republican voters. To me, that meant he's not nasty enough. For years now, conservatives have become more and more pugnacious, especially after Obama won the election. After we invaded Iraq, no WMDs were found, but Bush joked, out of (word?), about looking for the lost WMDs under his desk. Republicans called Sen. Max Cleland a triple-amputee veteran. He was a terrorist sympathizer to them because he opposed the war in Iraq.
THOMASINEAnd who can forget conservative darling Ann Coulter calling the widows of 9/11 victims -- of the 9/11 victims, Jersey whores cashing in on their husbands deaths. And look at the recent Republican debates, how nasty the audiences are. Newt Gingrich fits the bill for many conservatives as a nasty, in-your-face leader. Truthfully, I think the Republicans are self-destructing.
WILLIAMSWell, as I said earlier, it's a smaller slice, and I think much of the prime engine that's been driving Republican politics, certainly since the victories in 2010 with the Tea Party freshmen in the Congress, has been the Tea Party. And the anger over -- expressions of anger very loud at those town hall meetings over the Obama Affordable Health Care Act, that's been the driving animus, that, plus anger at President Obama. I mean, if you -- if there's any one point that they all agree on, it's we've got to get rid of President Obama.
WILLIAMSAnd they call him socialist and too much regulations and all the rest, you know, the rhetoric. So -- and I think a lot of this plays in to talk radio, anger and animus and the kind of just people want a fighter. I think Lisa might have touched on this earlier. I think, in many ways, they want someone who's going to be in the debates and really take it to President Obama and challenge him and call him out. And they see more of that from Newt Gingrich than they do from Mitt Romney.
REHMAnd would that be a successful mode of operation with the president?
WILLIAMSI think the president's a pretty intelligent guy who's quite a capable debater and speaker. So I'm not sure how it would work. I think clearly, Gingrich would come across as the hotter personality in that debate.
WILLIAMSFor me, the question is, how would it play with swing voters? In other words, you know, in my mind, I'm always saying that the person who decides this upcoming election is a suburban white woman in Columbus, Ohio, who doesn't pay much attention to politics.
REHMAll right. Let's go to a male voter in Columbus, Ohio. Good morning...
GARRETTAlmost on cue.
REHMGood morning, Michael. You're on the air.
MICHAELHi. Yes. Thank you. I think a lot of it is maybe not understanding conservatives out here in the heartland or outside of the coast. The primary reason -- first of all, there's not a great candidate, so we understand that. But then you look at what you have. And if it's Newt versus Romney, there's, hands down, no question among real conservatives that it's going to have to be Newt. And here's why. Romney is -- you just look at the guy. He's been running forever. He's a pure creature of the Republican establishment.
MICHAELI left the Republican Party 10 years ago. The Republican establishment gave us George Bush twice, gave us McCain. And now they're trying to shove Romney down our throats. And I'm not -- and a lot of my friends -- and I'm in some libertarian circles, too. If Romney gets the nomination, we're staying home, or we're voting libertarian because the guy has never governed conservatively. Newt has. Newt has got a lot of problems, but he governed conservatively for the most part.
MICHAELYes. He's given in a couple of things tactically, but Newt is a strategic conservative. Romney, it's all about the power. It's all about the packaging. He's just another country club Republican pushed on -- trying to be pushed on us by the establishment. And as much as he tries to package and as much as his high-priced consultants try to package this to us, we're not that stupid.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Major.
GARRETTMichael touched on a couple of important points. I have a blog post up on our National Journal website today on our Decoded 2012 blog that talks about the Saturday debate because some people thought it was a (word?) on savage thing for Newt Gingrich to look at Mitt Romney and say, well, the only reason you're not a career politician is 'cause you didn't beat Ted Kennedy in 1994. Ooh, wow. That was such a rough thing for him to say.
GARRETTI pointed out that, believe me, Newt Gingrich could have said far rougher things to Mitt Romney about 1994. He could have said, for example, in the course of that campaign against Edward Kennedy, the sitting Democratic senator for Massachusetts, when asked about the Contract with America, Mitt Romney said, oh, that's a bad idea. I disagree with that. No party should say what they're going to do and promise to do it. We shouldn't have Republican winners or Democratic losers.
GARRETTWell, that's a perfectly defensible, middle-of-the-road, accommodationist point of view, probably necessary in a state like Massachusetts, repellant, ladies and gentlemen, to conservatives who remember that era and remember the challenge to Bill Clinton and what came of Republicans fighting over the balanced budget welfare reform, tax cuts, et cetera, et cetera.
GARRETTNewt, I mean, Mitt Romney also said in the course of that campaign, when alleged by Ted Kennedy that you want to bring back Reagan-Bush policies, Mitt Romney said, I was an independent during the Reagan-Bush eras. I don't want to do anything that would bring back Reagan-Bush. OK.
LERERBut I think it is important to remember that while those types of statements and policies are, as Major pointed out, repellant to conservatives, once you get out of the primary, the competition becomes for independence. And the conventional wisdom is pretty much what one of, I think, our first caller pointed out. Those -- you know, those kinds of statements of working across the aisle or being willing to cross party lines are appealing to independents, and the conventional wisdom is that Romney would be a stronger candidate in the general election against Obama than Gingrich.
LERERHowever, it is important to note that the White House, with Gingrich's rise, has started preparing for a potential, you know, Gingrich being the nominee, and they do see a few areas that would make him tough. One is they think he might be more appealing to Latino voters, who, of course, are a crucial swing population, will be a crucial swing population in the general.
LERERAnd they also think it's harder to use one of their attack lines that they would use against Romney, which was that he's, you know, he doesn't understand the problems of the middle class. And he just sides with Wall Street because of his background, of course, working for Wall Street as CEO of the private equity firm Bain Capital. That's a tougher line to work against Newt Gingrich. I believe so.
REHMAll right. To Florence, Ky., good morning, Terry.
TERRYGood morning. I was just wondering if your panel would agree that Gingrich and Romney are leading in the public's opinions only because Republicans really have no real qualified presidential candidate within their party except them so that then they'd step forward.
WILLIAMSWell, I don't know how he did -- how you would determine qualified. I mean, I think it's a subjective thing. But I think that, you know, Major and others have said they don't think this is a great field. I don't think that's -- what's your argument about that. And then, of course, you go to the fact that people like Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie have decided not to run.
REHMWhat's happened to Michele Bachmann?
WILLIAMSWell, I think that Michele Bachmann had some missteps. Initially, she was quite the queen of the ball because she was the Tea Party candidate, and everyone was looking to her as almost a surrogate for Sarah Palin. Was Sarah Palin going to get in or not? But Michele Bachmann had that same energy, that same feistiness.
WILLIAMSAnd, by the way, Michele Bachmann, going back to Saturday's debate, has been advancing the argument that, you know what, it's really Romney-Gingrich as the same item, that they are the same person. They are both kind of establishment Republicans and that she's the true alternative. But it hasn't allowed her to gain any traction.
GARRETTAnd Michele Bachmann is an Iowa phenomenon through and through within the context of this presidential campaign. And on this very show several months ago, we raised a question, back when Michele Bachmann was considering a leadership race within the House Republicans. I sat here and said, Michele Bachmann will not win. She will not get 10 votes.
GARRETTAnd about a week later, she dropped out of the campaign because, much like Gingrich, people who work alongside of her, who know her, don't much like her, don't believe her and don't want to follow her. That's an institutional problem, politician to politician. It's the same thing being visited upon Gingrich now, but it was visited much earlier on Michele Bachmann. And at the retail level, she succeeded in Iowa, but she has not found traction elsewhere.
REHMAnd that same point is being raised in Galveston, Texas. Jim, you have that same question.
JIMYes. I did. Thank you. You know, I'll be looking at a do-nothing executive branch now with Gingrich. I mean, it's just like he's -- we have this turbulent history of his with not only his personal life but his political life. And that can't seem to keep up a field staff with his current campaign. And will people be able to work with him, either for him or communicate with him, negotiate with him? It sounds like he's just really an impossible person to get anything done with.
REHMThat's an interesting point, Lisa.
LERERWell, that's certainly the argument the Romney campaign has been making. But I want to jump back to an earlier point, which is that this unhappiness with the field amongst the Republican electorate, I think that's definitely true. And we saw that as it was getting sorted out as, you know, a lot of Republicans, particularly establishment Republicans, were pushing, you know, were urging Haley Barbour to get in the race and were urging Mitch Daniels and, of course, Chris Christie.
LERERAll those guys took a pass, and this is the field that they have left. The question now is whether Republican's unhappiness with not having the perfect candidate will outweigh their dislike of President Obama. And I think, just from talking to voters out there, that the dislike of President Obama is stronger than the desire to have a perfect candidate.
LERERSo when it comes to the general election, all these voters, even some who say they will stay home, will say in the end that they would rather vote against Obama even if they're not necessarily -- totally sold on voting for Romney or Gingrich or whoever, they just want to vote against Obama.
REHMAll right. To Sycamore, Ill., good morning, Hamish. (sp?)
HAMISHYes, good morning. I'm an independent voter. And to me, it doesn't matter what their percentages are in a vote or how much money they have. If he's got enough signatures to get on the ballot, people need to be heard. And I think Mr. Huntsman is one of those people. He's got international and domestic experience. In the news media, since the focus on the controversial people and not to what people are saying. And we're not a bunch of sheep. And I'm wondering why the news media continues just to concentrate on controversial people instead of what they're saying.
REHMWell, now here's an email from Don in Washington, who has another perspective about Jon Huntsman. He says, "Huntsman has squandered a great opportunity to be one of the frontrunners. He has the experience in foreign policy knowledge to win the nomination, but he's allowed himself to be best known for one-liners during debates and his daughter's videos." So it would seem as though while Hamish thinks that Jon Huntsman is the only dependable candidate that he, as an independent, can vote for, others feel very differently.
GARRETTYeah. And, look, this is a continuum that the media constantly evaluates. And when you have regular exposure to voters and you don't develop any momentum, it's harder to justify using finite resources to constantly cover everything you do. Now, Jon Huntsman has coverage. He's coverage every day in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina and in the national media. I would actually say that Jon Huntsman had gotten more coverage than, for example, Rick Santorum, and they're about the same place in the polling data in both states.
GARRETTI would say Huntsman has probably gotten the better of that alternative. And I want to go back to Jim's point about Gingrich as a manager, real quick. I wrote about this last in National Journal. Gingrich, as a person, as a theorist, is addicted, obsessed with management theory. Back in the '90s, he was obsessed with Edward Deming and total quality management, and he used Total Quality Management with all of his aides.
GARRETTYou guys need to read all this. He would send them to Fort Monroe in Virginia, his senior staff. Go learn about the 21st century Army fighting methods. Bring me back after-action reports about everything we did. And they did. Here's the problem. The after-action reports would be debated in senior staff meetings, and the conclusion would be, well, Mr. Speaker, what went wrong is you. And he would say, no, that's fundamentally wrong. That's a total wrong answer. Do that again. And they would all look at their shoes and like...
GARRETTOK. So this is what the manager Gingrich brings to the table.
REHMMajor Garrett of National Journal, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." One more question on Huntsman from Fred in Hot Springs Village, Ark. "Is Jon Huntsman's real goal to be a vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket?" Juan.
WILLIAMSI don't know. It's not clear to me what the real goal is. Lisa and I were talking. I said, well, maybe, he wants to be the Romney of 2016, the guy who came in second and therefore is the sort of leader -- the frontrunner going into the next cycle. I don't know. But it's not clear to me at this juncture because, I mean, on the basis of the poll numbers, you know, it's just not there.
WILLIAMSThere's going to be a fundraiser tomorrow, I guess, for Romney in New York among the big, big fundraisers the Wall Street types. And, you know, Huntsman could be in that game, but he's not. They're not taking him seriously.
REHMAll right. And to Hagerstown, Md., good morning, Leon.
LEONGood morning. I don't know if any of the -- you guy's got to watch the conversation between Huntsman and Gingrich over C-SPAN. And I thought what that did for me, being a Democrat, is it started to fill out some of the intellectual ability that Gingrich has to enunciate his vision of the world and his vision of what he would do. It's quite possible that he's all theory and not able to deliver because of his inability to control himself or whatever, but he does -- I think he presents a much more formidable candidate if he gets a nomination (unintelligible) the other people.
LEONAnd I think that he delivers a message that will begin to resonate with Democrats once they start listening to him. And it's going to be the Democrats' peril if we don't take in account the fact that he has a lot of substance to him -- at least appears to have a lot of substance.
REHMAll right. Lisa.
LERERThat is really the number one thing I hear when I travel to these early primary votes states from voters, which is that they like Gingrich 'cause they think he's smart and they think he can go head-to-head with Obama in the debates, you know, which is an interesting thing, I think, because, of course, there's only three presidential debates in the general election. And while they're really, really important, it's not like the primary process, which is -- I think there's 18 or so debates.
LERERIn this primary we've had, I want to say, a dozen or so. So they've really -- as we talked about early in the show, they've really set the agenda for a lot of this race.
REHMDo you think they've been worthwhile for the American public?
LERERI think they've changed how the race has happened, you know, in the way that we're talking about before. I think they've allowed candidates that really haven't had an infrastructure, someone like, maybe, Herman Cain who really had no operation. He literally had one guy in New Hampshire, just a guy. He was Herman Cain's guy in New Hampshire. He wasn't even going to those states very much.
LERERHe would go on bus tours of Ohio and states that don't play a role in the primary process. And they allowed him to stay in the race much longer than I think would have happened without the debates.
REHMAll right. Well, much, much more to come. Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News, Juan Williams of Fox News, Major Garrett of National Journal, thank you all.
GARRETTThank you, Diane, so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn. And the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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