A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump are out. Newt Gingrich is off to a rough start. The field of potential GOP candidates for the 2012 presidential race.
- Neil King, Jr. National reporter, The Wall Street Journal.
- Doug Heye Republican strategist; former communications director of the Republican National Committee.
- Stuart Rothenberg Editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report.
- Brendan Steinhauser Director of federal and state campaigns for FreedomWorks.
- Linda Chavez Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The run up to the 2012 presidential election season has begun. Today, we talk about the GOP field. Some candidates have already declared to have dropped out. Other candidates are exploring their chances. Joining me in the studio to talk about the key players, key issues, Neil King of The Wall Street Journal, Republican strategist Doug Heye, independent analyst Stuart Rothenberg and Brendan Steinhauser of FreedomWorks.
MS. DIANE REHMWe'll take your calls throughout the hour. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on the people you've seen thus far, what your thoughts are, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. NEIL KING JR.Good morning.
MR. DOUG HEYEGood morning.
MR. STUART ROTHENBERGGood morning.
MR. BRENDAN STEINHAUSERGood morning.
REHMNeil King, who are emerging as the serious players?
JR.Well, I think it's pretty clear the carnage of the last week with two of the big players having dropped out, Huckabee -- Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump -- I mean, both of them were uncertain about whether they would even run. A lot of people discounted whether they would. But for a while, particularly Donald Trump ate up a lot of oxygen, and you put the two together. They were averaging about, you know, 30, 35 percent of the polls. So that's gone away.
JR.A lot of their supporters seem, in early polling, to have gone over to Mitt Romney. I think, at the moment, he's clearly the frontrunner. But historically, we have a totally bizarre situation where -- Stu would be able to probably elaborate on this better than I -- but we've never seen a time where the entire field was, essentially, under 20 percent. The Republicans tend to nominate frontrunners, and they tend by this moment, you know, this far away from the election to have somebody who's pulling in a 25, 30 percent with somebody close behind.
JR.At this point, we have basically everybody either in the teens in terms of national opinion polls or well under the teens, you know, in single digits. And that's what's particularly strange about this field.
REHMDoug Heye, was Donald Trump a serious candidate?
HEYENo. I think you talk to most Republicans, they would tell you that they took his candidacy or, you know, media circus as it were about as seriously as they took his involvement in "WrestleMania," which is to say not seriously at all. It certainly made a lot of noise, but there was nothing substantive about it, nothing to suggest that he would do the hard work that needs to happen to be a candidate.
REHMAnd were you surprised that Mike Huckabee dropped out?
HEYEIf you'd asked me two weeks ago, I would say, I wasn't surprised. If you'd asked me six months ago, I'd say very surprised. Huckabee has a very strong following. And so one of the things that we'll have to follow over the coming days and weeks is where his supporters really go. We're just not sure yet.
REHMStuart Rothenberg, who is heading to New Hampshire?
ROTHENBERGWell, everybody is going to New Hampshire, Diane. Where they're not...
ROTHENBERG...not necessarily going is Iowa. You have an interesting split developing between candidates who believe that Iowa is the jumping-off point for this contest. They want to gain credibility, momentum, respect. If Michele Bachmann gets in the race, for example, Iowa is her launching pad because they have certain kinds of voters, culturally conservative voters in Iowa. Evangelicals made up 60 percent of Republican caucus attendees last time.
ROTHENBERGFor other people, probably Mitt Romney, certainly, Jon Huntsman, they're going to go directly to New Hampshire. So we have this strange field now where, without a frontrunner -- as everybody seems to agree here -- where people are looking for the place to begin their campaign to generate excitement, they don't want to be tested early in places where they don't think they couldn't do well.
ROTHENBERGSo that adds to the uncertainty of the dynamic of the race because, remember, we talk about this Republican contest as if there are, you know, six, eight, 10 people in the race. But it's really individual contests that will winnow the field.
REHMAnd, Brendan Steinhauser, it would seem that Newt Gingrich got himself into a little problem this week.
STEINHAUSERHe did. And he's been doing this for the last couple of years. And kind of the conventional wisdom was that he would have, you know, Tea Party support or conservative support out there. But I never met a Tea Partier that supported him for president anyway, mostly because of his record of backing Bob Bennett in Utah against Tea Party candidate Mike Lee, backing Dede Scozzafava over Doug Hoffman in upstate New York 23, his support for the Wall Street bailout, which essentially created this wave that became the Tea Party movement.
STEINHAUSERAnd, now, you've got them out there talking about a support for the individual mandate and criticizing Paul Ryan, who is trying to actually do something serious about the budget and the deficits that we have and entitlement reform. So Newt really stepped into it this week, but he's got a pretty long history of doing that.
JR.I mean, Newt Gingrich is an interesting and tragic figure in a variety of ways. But I think his main flaw, in a lot of ways, is that he's just a hyperbolist. I mean, he is a arch, overstatement maker all the time. And what was fascinating about this week is that in the midst of regretting and retracting his overstatements, then last -- yesterday, his spokesman, Rick Tyler, sent out this extraordinary email that made the rounds -- and it's worth reading 'cause it makes great radio -- where he described everybody opening fire on his boss and then saying -- and the kind of fire that would kill almost any candidate.
JR.And then he went on to say, but out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia, emerged Gingrich, who, once again, ready to lead those who won't be intimidated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges of America's forces.
REHMHe forgot to mention the glitter.
JR.Yes. Well, it was a nightmarish week, or it has been, for him because, you know, he has various encounters that didn't go very well in Iowa, his lead off to -- you know, trip to Iowa as an actual candidate, then he ducks up to Minnesota to do some things up there for a night. And while he and his wife Callista are signing books, somebody comes up -- I think he was a gay rights activist or something like that -- and dumps glitter all over him and his wife. And it was just another embarrassment. Certainly, it wasn't his fault, but added to the sense of strangeness that this week has had for him.
HEYENow, every Friday, Chris Cillizza -- no stranger to your audience from The Washington Post -- announces who has the worst week in Washington. I think we know who -- that that'll be Newt Gingrich this week. But following Newt over the past week, I'm really struck -- there's the old F. Scott Fitzgerald comment that there are no second acts in American lives. And the fact that we're still talking about Newt Gingrich, after being dumped as speaker years ago, proves that that's false.
HEYECertainly, Richard Nixon had a million political lives. But I look at Joe Biden's first week when he announced for president four years ago. It was the same week that he said Barack Obama was articulate and clean and so forth. It was a devastating comment, yet he survived. I think Vice President Biden would tell you now that he's doing pretty well. So is it possible that Newt could come back from this? Certainly, anything's possible in politics. But, certainly, the odds are stacked right now.
REHMWhat do you think, Stuart Rothenberg?
ROTHENBERGI think it was remarkable that there were no immediate defenders of Newt coming out to talk about how he had contributed to the party over the years. I mean, this is a man of substantial stature. He was speaker of the House of Representatives. He was the leading figure in the 1994 Republican Revolution. And, now, he just does seem like yesterday. I mean, I think that's his big problem.
ROTHENBERGIn an attempt to relaunch himself, we're all reminded of the fact that Newt -- for Newt, everything is a clash of Western civilization versus something else. And it's just too much. He's kind of over the top. And it's really strange because Newt is a thinker. He's an idea guy. And you'd think that he would understand his own strengths and weaknesses. I mean, if you're analytical, you ought to be able to look at yourself. And he seems unable to do that in many ways.
REHMInteresting, that I've heard a couple of people say on this program that Newt comes out with a thousand ideas in five minutes and one might be a good one. Would you agree with that?
ROTHENBERGOh, that's been a joke about Newt for many years. Yeah, he just -- he spits out ideas, generate ideas. But, often -- even his friends roll their eyes at some of them. So I think he really hurt himself coming out of the gate here. He is trying to reintroduce himself. He is trying to redefine himself, and I think he did it in a very, very unfortunate way.
REHMBrendan Steinhauser, one person who hasn't been mentioned is Mitch Daniels.
STEINHAUSERMitch Daniels has an impressive record as governor of Indiana. And, remember, he was reelected pretty overwhelmingly in 2008 when Barack Obama carried Indiana. Mitch Daniels just finished his up his legislative session. Everybody is looking at that record: a tax refund bill that gives tax dollars back to the taxpayers, a massive school vouchers program that conservatives are excited about.
STEINHAUSERYou know, he has a pretty strong record. And I think if he gets in, he's going to make this race very interesting. And one of the biggest strengths, I think, that he has is electability. I believe he can beat Barack Obama in 2012.
REHMAnd one of his big weaknesses, Neil King?
JR.Oh, wow, a pop quiz. Well, certainly, one of his big weaknesses is that he was George Bush's budget director. He was supervising the budget when we went from a big surplus to the deficit that we're now running. He was there when we did -- when they pushed through the Medicare tax benefits or, anyway -- and, you know, when the tax cuts went through and so on and so forth. So that, I think, when -- he is very much of a fiscal hawk when it comes to Indiana. He has a very proven track record there.
JR.I think Democrats and even maybe some -- no, I guess the Republicans wouldn't go after him so much on that, but Democrats certainly will if he goes forward. But, I think, in a lot of ways, the White House, when they look out over who they would least like to go up against, I think it's possible to say that Mitch Daniels is the person they would least likely -- like to go.
JR.He's very affable, he's nice, he's funny, he's sort of, in some ways, the anti-Obama, to the extent that he has no particular physical stature, but he's an extraordinarily gifted retail campaigner. Actually, anybody that has spent time in Indiana could tell you that. And he's good on the substance, and he has a record that he can run on.
REHMWhat about his personal life, Stuart?
ROTHENBERGWell -- yeah, I would say that he has a couple of big question marks. And his personal life -- you're alluding to the fact that he's married the second time to his wife, and they obviously had a -- it was an unusual relationship for most people. Most people don't remarry their ex-wives. So that's unusual, but I don't think that's his big problem. I think there are a couple of things. One is people say, Americans want a truth teller.
ROTHENBERGI've heard that a lot over the years, and I'm not entirely convinced that's the case because American people don't seem to be willing to choose between the programmatic cuts and additional revenue tax increases that everybody really thinks we're going to have to do to deal with our financial problems. So do they really want a truth teller? And the second thing -- and, Diane, I know there are going to be listeners that are now going to be screaming at the radio, throwing stuff when I say this, but it's true, even though people don't like to hear it.
ROTHENBERGMitch Daniels is short. He is bald, and he has no charisma. And the question is whether the American public will take him seriously as president of the United States.
REHMStuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report. Short break and we'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're talking in this hour about the Republican field of presidential possibilities with Neil King of The Wall Street Journal, Doug Heye -- he's a Republican strategist -- Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report and Brendan Steinhauser of FreedomWorks. A number of people have written in to ask about Ron Paul. Should he be thought of as a serious candidate here?
STEINHAUSERI think Ron Paul is a serious candidate in that his message resonates. He was right about the financial crisis. He was right about the Federal Reserve and monetary policy. He was the guy sort of making these arguments years ago, and the political culture has now caught up to this. So I think that his message resonates with a lot of people. He was actually my congressman back in Texas. He was the first chairman of what later became FreedomWorks. So we have a lot of ideas in common.
STEINHAUSERAnd I think that he's going to do very well in terms of getting a following like he did last time and driving this message of limited government. So I think you have to look at Ron Paul and say, this is a guy whose message resonates, and he is authentic.
HEYEAnybody who goes to the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, in Washington knows that Ron Paul not only gets the loudest applause, but, like Space Mountain, has the longest line of anybody who goes there. And he's a serious thinking person and talks about serious issues and has a following. But there's also, if you step back, the question of what really is a serious candidate. We saw in the Democratic primary last year -- last cycle, Chris Dodd, certainly an accomplished senator, got nowhere.
HEYETom Vilsack, governor of Iowa, got nowhere. Dick Gephardt, who was the former majority leader in the House of Representatives for the Democrats, when he ran previously, went nowhere. These are serious accomplished people, yet their candidacies weren't really taken seriously. And that's -- you know, that's a challenge that Ron Paul is going to face from a lot of people who just want to look down their nose at him and his campaign because of his supporters that they liken to Trekkies, almost.
JR.Ron Paul has, certainly, the most fervent following by far. I mean, it's no surprise to me that they're calling in or emailing here. When there's a debate, as there was in South Carolina a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like there was a large proportion of people in the audience that were followers of her -- of his. But it seems to me -- one thing that's interesting, if you look at the field, to the extent that there is one now, and you look at it in Iowa, we have all the -- what I would call, like, solid 10 percenters that -- these people that maybe are a little below or thereabout.
JR.But he's kind of a 10 or 12 percent guy. Gingrich is around that. Michele Bachmann if she comes in. She could take off. I actually think she could possibly win Iowa for a bunch of reasons. But, you know, Herman Cain, who's the former Godfather's Pizza guy, who's now in the 2 or 3 percent, but I think he could be around 10 percent. So we get to where, in the end, the guy who wins Iowa could be 25 percent, which is what Mitt Romney got last time around. But there are a lot of people that are fighting with these sort of small fervent followings that are around Ron Paul's size.
ROTHENBERGI think that Doug actually put it well. He asked what I call the Bill Clinton question. It depends on the meaning of a serious candidate. This is a person who's been a longtime member of Congress. He is serious intellectually. He's thoughtful. He's interesting. There is no way he will win the Republican nomination for president of the United States.
ROTHENBERGHe is a libertarian. The libertarian wing of the Republican Party exists. It's vocal. It's passionate. There are resources there. He can raise money. It's simply not broad enough. His position on the free market fits a lot of the Republican views. But his position on foreign policy, which is somewhat -- I think we could call it isolationist, and his position on some lifestyle issues, cultural issues, drugs, things like that, legalization, just very out of synch with the Republicans. So he's an interesting guy. He's a thoughtful guy. He has his constituency. But it's just not big enough within the party.
REHMWould you go that far, Doug, as to say he's simply not going to win this nomination?
HEYEHe'll stay in for a long time, but I don't see a path to the nomination.
REHMOkay. Here's an email from Barbara in San Antonio who says, "We, in Texas, hear that Gov. Rick Perry might run. What do your panelists think?" Brendan.
STEINHAUSERWell, Rick Perry was governor in 2000 when I graduated from high school. He's been governor of Texas for a long time. Texas has grown economically. We've created jobs. He's kept taxes low. He has a pretty proven record. I don't think he'll seek the nomination. I think, maybe in 2016, he's someone to look at. I do think he has a lot of support among the Tea Party movement, the groups in Texas. He was one of the first elected officials around the country to actually see the power of this movement.
STEINHAUSERAnd he went to their meetings, and he spoke with them. And I think that a lot of them support what he's done as governor. So I think that he's a strong candidate maybe in 2016, but probably won't run in 2012.
HEYEI mean, I've talked to his -- I called his camp actually yesterday 'cause these were -- all these sort of rumors start building about who's the next guy that everybody can look to. And I talked to one of his main people. He said there's absolutely no way. The governor said that to me himself a few months ago. It's similar to, you know, the kind of wishful -- wistful, even -- thinking that's headed towards Chris Christie in New Jersey. There's, you know, delegations going there, hoping to bring him in, et cetera.
HEYEHe's saying, up, down, sideways, he's not going to run. I think it's pretty clear he's not. I think at this point we're not going to probably see too many surprises come running over the -- charging over the horizon right now.
REHMAll right. Stuart, tell us about Jon Huntsman who's on the front page of The Washington Post this morning. Lots of people talking about him, former ambassador to China in the Obama administration. Lots of folks said that's why the Obama administration sent him to China...
REHM...to get him off the scene. What are your thoughts?
ROTHENBERGWell, I just did a column on Jon Huntsman on Tuesday's roll call. Look, there is a -- there's an opening for somebody like Huntsman. Huntsman has plenty of assets. He's good-looking. He's from a wealthy family and has some personal wealth. He has -- he's generally seen as having a -- been a good governor of Utah, a popular governor, successful governor. And, of course, he has a lot of foreign policy experience.
ROTHENBERGSo -- I mean, there are lots of reasons why he should be taken seriously. And he's put together a team: John Weaver, a number of strategists, operatives, consultants, Fred Davis, the...
REHMHow conservative is he?
ROTHENBERGNot as conservative as the Republican Party. He has a number of problems, obviously. Not only did he technically work for Barack Obama as ambassador to China, but he's also -- apparently, The Daily Caller wrote that he -- there are a number of letters, effusive letters about how wonderful Barack Obama is. And Republican caucus goers and primary attendees -- primary voters won't like that. But not only that. He has talked about the need to address the carbon issue, raising the question of both the carbon tax and cap and trade.
ROTHENBERGRepublican voters don't like that. He has supported civil unions. Republican voters don't like that. So, you know, he -- Diane, he looks like a really nice package. But to those of us who've been around, it kind of smells like a bunch of guys have gotten together and sat around a room for three hours, drinking beer and wine, come up with this...
ROTHENBERG...this scenario, this guy. And let's do -- and he doesn't really quite fit the party. So he has some personal skills and abilities and assets. But he's got these huge liabilities that, I think, when critics start focusing on his positions in the past, a lot of primary voters won't like it. He has one thing going for him: He's a happy candidate. He's upbeat. He's not negative. He's not mean. He doesn't bash everybody at every moment. And, kind of, voters like that.
HEYEThe Washington Post article that you referenced earlier, the headline said GOP moderate. And that's a real obstacle for him because that's something that Republican primary voters, Republican caucus goers, don't want to see. We're a conservative party. We're going to nominate a conservative. So part of how Gov. Huntsman will have to tailor his message will be to conservatives about how he will govern in a conservative manner. Spending will be a topic on that.
REHMBrendan, how would Tea Party folks feel about Huntsman?
STEINHAUSERWell, I think there's a lot to learn about him still. It's quite early. I don't know that he has a lot of name ID right now. But I do agree with what the other two guests said. I think he is much more moderate than the Republican Party is right now. And, frankly, I don't think that he'll energize the Tea Party groups in the way that other candidates would. I wouldn't count him out.
STEINHAUSERI know that he was popular in Utah when I spent some time there. But I also know a lot of conservatives and Tea Partiers in Utah who backed Mike Lee didn't like some of the things that the governor did. So it's going to be interesting.
JR.I think the guy who had probably the best week this week is one person that we have not mentioned at all, which is the former Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, 'cause by sitting back and watching various people either flame out or get close to flaming out, starts to validate what his -- his whole campaign strategy, which is to be the other guy, the alternative to Romney. If the party or voters decide they don't like Romney at whatever juncture, they'll turn to, you know, this man that has so much going for him but still can't seem to break beyond 3 or 4 percent support.
JR.This is a similar position that Huntsman's in. It's basically this sort of race among the good-looking, you know, establishment guys as to who will be the fallback to Romney. And it's Huntsman and Pawlenty sort of fighting it out for that second place. And I think Pawlenty -- it's interesting 'cause he has, so far, done nothing to break out, nothing to show that he's gaining traction.
JR.And yet there's -- he is having two big fundraisers or has this week. He had a very big one last week. And the establishment, the big money people, the bundlers are really starting to look to him as an alternative to Romney. And that's sort of his whole game plan, as to whether he'll -- it'll actually break out or work is another question.
REHMDoug, do you see Michele Bachmann as a serious contender?
HEYEIf she gets in the race, she'll be able to raise a lot of money very quickly. And it's a strength that she'll be able to bring, too, you know, with Neil saying that he thinks that she can take Iowa. That being a neighboring state, she can be very serious candidate who goes very far. One thing I'd like to ask of Stu because you -- I think you'll know this better than I -- her congressional district is not a slam dunk. And there's redistricting going on this cycle.
HEYESo I'd be interested to know where Stu thinks that direction may take her. I remember, 1996, Bob Dornan had a very competitive congressional district. I don't think he's withdrawn from the presidential campaign of '96 yet. But it ended up hurting him very badly, and he ended up losing that seat.
ROTHENBERGObviously, redistricting has an effect on either -- these are strategic politicians. These are folks that -- this is a career for many of them. So you had in Indiana, where Congressman Donnelly's district was made dramatically more Republican, he decided to run for the Senate. So the question is what will happen to Michele Bachmann's district? I think she's in a pretty good part of the state, where her district is going to be okay.
ROTHENBERGBut I think that -- I think she can't resist, frankly. I think it's near road, and I believe that she's really moving toward running. And I do think she can win Iowa in a very strange way. She grew up -- she was born and grew up in Iowa till she was, like, 12 or 13.
ROTHENBERGSo she can make that connection. This is a caucus that's going to be dominated by social conservatives, the pro-lifers, the -- and she speaks so passionately to them. So -- now, again, does that make her a serious contender for the Republican presidential nominee? Well, I have a hard time imagining that they will nominate her for president, but in Iowa...
STEINHAUSERWell, we've worked with -- FreedomWorks has worked with and known Bachmann since she was a freshman in Congress. She's voted the right way in all the major economic issues that we follow. And one of the things that's given her a lot of credibility with the Tea Party movement is that if you remember some of the big rallies on Capitol Hill that we were planning and involved in, she was one of the congressmen that actually went out and said, you know, join me, come to Capitol Hill and work with me to try to defeat this health care bill.
STEINHAUSERSo a lot of folks around the country, who are now funding her campaign or funding her congressional campaign -- and I believe she is in the race for the presidency -- those folks remember being on Capitol Hill when she was speaking to them and calling them to come and work to defeat the Obamacare bill. So I wouldn't count her out. I absolutely think she could win Iowa.
REHMBrendan Steinhauser, he's director of federal and state campaigns for FreedomWorks. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And joining us now from Virginia is Linda Chavez. She is chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity. Good morning to you, Linda. Linda, are you there? I'm afraid we've lost her, and we'll...
MS. LINDA CHAVEZNo, I'm here.
REHMIs she there?
CHAVEZYes, I am here.
REHMOh, good. Glad to have you with us. Talk about the so-called hard-edged conservatives. You, apparently, don't think they have much of a chance. How come?
CHAVEZWell, I think everyone recognizes that the single, biggest issue facing America right now is our debt and getting control of the federal budget. And so the hard-edged conservatives that are focused particularly on the social issues, I think, are going to have to make a decision about whether or not they're going to push the social issues to the forefront or whether they're going to concentrate on the issue that is more likely to result in victory.
CHAVEZAnd I think that's why a candidate like Michele Bachmann -- although she does talk passionately about the deficits, I think her base is really much more among social conservatives, the Evangelicals, other religious rights. And I think the other question is whether or not the candidate that emerges is someone who's going to be able to appeal to independents because getting the nomination is only the first part.
CHAVEZActually, winning the election means being able to reach out and get voters who do not identify with each and every one of the parties' platforms to cross over and to vote Republican. And I think that's where the social conservatives are going to end up having to decide whether or not they want to win and, therefore, focus on a candidate who can reach out to those independents.
REHMAnd, Linda, tell me how badly you believe Republicans have hurt themselves with Hispanic voters on immigration.
CHAVEZWell, it's interesting. I think Republicans are, right now, benefiting from the fact -- with the exception of some places like Arizona where immigration continues to be a very hot-button issue -- the issue has died down somewhat as a salient issue, politically. People are much more focused on the deficit. They're more focused on the size of government. They're more focused on whether or not we should repeal Obamacare. And so I think that actually works to the benefit of Republicans.
CHAVEZAnd we actually saw in the fall elections that a surprising number, about a third, of Hispanics did, in fact, cast their votes for the Republican candidates in the various races. And, you know, it's a question now whether or not Republicans can discipline themselves during the primaries, not to say things that are going to absolutely turn off this growing part of the electorate. It's still a group that primarily votes Democratic, but in past elections -- going back to Richard Nixon in 1972.
CHAVEZRichard Nixon got a third of Mexican-American votes in the 1972 election. Ronald Reagan in '84 got over 40 percent of Mexican -- of Hispanic votes in that election, so...
REHMSo looking at the Republican field as it stands now, is there anyone about whom Hispanic or Latino voters are getting excited?
CHAVEZWell, I don't know that there is any candidate that they're getting excited about. I think it's going to depend on, you know, who emerges and whether that person basically, you know, is disciplined enough not to, you know, have the kind of rhetoric that's going to turn off Hispanic voters. The big issue with Hispanics is going to be turnout. And the turnout could very well be very low. They're disappointed in President Obama.
REHMLinda Chavez, she is chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
REHMAnd when we come back, time to open the phones.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones as we talk about the Republican presidential hopefuls. First to Christine in St. Petersburg, Fla. Good morning. You're on the air. Christine, are you there? Well, Christine said she had a prediction that it's going to be Jeb Bush. Any thoughts, Stu?
ROTHENBERGWell, she can probably make a lot of money if she goes to Vegas and bets on that. I think a lot of us think Jeb Bush would be a terrific candidate, maybe the best candidate the party had if he had just had a different last name. I mean, he's an incredibly impressive guy, a successful governor, a thoughtful guy, a good speaker. People meet him. They like him. But I think the last name is just too big a problem.
STEINHAUSERIf it was 2000 and we were talking about that election, Jeb Bush would definitely be a great candidate, 2016, maybe. Jeb Bush does have a great record in Florida, especially when you contrast that with Charlie Crist. Jeb has a lot of -- he built kind of a Republican Party that looks like the conservative Republican Party of today nationally. So I don't think he'll get in the race, maybe in 2016. But I wouldn't bet on it.
REHMGo ahead, Doug.
HEYEI think one of the attributes that Jeb Bush brings also -- as going back to Linda Chavez's call -- is his real outreach. He speaks Spanish fluently, has gotten a lot of support from Hispanics over the years. And Neil wrote a piece yesterday that -- the headline, I may get word for word wrong -- was, As GOP -- as field thins, Republicans look elsewhere. And so Jeb Bush is part of that. Fortunately, we're having that conversation in May.
HEYEIf we were having that conversation three weeks before the Iowa caucus, Brendan and I certainly would be very nervous. Stu and Neil would be excited probably.
JR.I mean, the looking elsewhere, there's a lot of that that's going on. I think, well, if it's a prediction about Jeb Bush, I think he definitely doesn't get in. I think one thing that's always interesting, every election is about the next election, too, and there are certain people like Michele Bachmann we were talking about. Pawlenty might well be in that camp. You run in order to build your name recognition, establish your track record, get an organization in place, et cetera, for the next time.
JR.And there'll be -- there are a certain number of people we could easily identify that are more 2016 people than they are, really, 2012 people. I think Jeb Bush could afford to wait around and be a fresh 2016 person and...
REHMOkay. All right. To O'Fallon, Mo. Good morning, Jerry.
JERRYGood morning. I think the whole slate of Republican candidates is in lockstep with the Tea Party wing and some of the social conservatives. But I think they're kind of out of step with mainstream America when you look at most polls. And, I think, essentially what it will take to get the nomination will eliminate someone from, I think, seriously competing in the general election, where you don't have such extremes of opinion about things. Thank you.
REHMThank you. Brendan.
STEINHAUSERWell, I think the lesson of 2010 was that the Tea Party movement and the values it represents and the message won the day. And I think if we stick to that same message, if we focused on the national debt, we focus on the deficits and jobs and the economy, we'll absolutely have a chance to be very successful in 2012. And one thing we haven't mentioned is that the Republicans and, I think, conservative Republicans will take back the Senate pretty easily in 2012.
REHMStu, do you agree with that?
ROTHENBERGWell, I would say -- two things. First, I would say to Jerry that I think if the 2012 election is about Barack Obama and people are unhappy with the president's performance at that time, including unemployment, economic growth or the lack of it, then I think a Republican who has broader appeal -- and there are some in this party: Romney, Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels -- then I think they could win. So I wouldn't dismiss them so quickly.
ROTHENBERGAs to the Senate, there are lot of the Democratic Senate seats that are vacant or in play, and I think the Republicans have a very real chance of taking the Senate. The Senate is absolutely in play.
REHMDo you agree, Neil?
JR.Well, just go back to Jerry's point, I mean, it is interesting. I think the primary caucus system that's in place does Democrats well because Iowa is a good sort of testing ground for Democrats as Obama proved. I think it's much more problematic for Republicans and tends to cause this kind of warping effect. And South Carolina, which tends to be the third big one and the really -- kind of the must-win state, also has a similar effect.
JR.So these -- a lot of times, the Republican candidates have to kind of warp themselves to the right and then try to swing back to the center once they're nominated. And that causes, I think, more difficulties than is the case among Democrats going through the same process.
REHMTell us about Herman Cain, Doug.
HEYEHerman Cain, a very successful businessman, ran the Godfather's Pizza chain successfully for many years, is somebody who's been very involved in politics in Georgia, but also nationally, has been a Tea Party leader and has some very vocal support within the party. It may be small support, but it's very vocal.
STEINHAUSERHe's real. He's authentic. He's a businessman. He comes from the private sector. That's very attractive. He's a great speaker. He connects with people. He has this deep, booming voice. You believe him when you talk to him. And I definitely think he's someone that we should look at. And I think we'll get a second look as people start to pay closer attention when this thing heats up.
ROTHENBERGI probably interviewed Herman Cain the first time, maybe -- I don't know -- 10 years ago. He was running for the United States Senate in Georgia, and I heard about this businessman who I had to meet. And he came in. He is a charismatic guy, and that's -- you know, there are people we're talking about as credible candidates who lack that personal charisma and excitement. Herman Cain has it.
ROTHENBERGThe question is, does a guy who's never held elective office, who has never demonstrated an appeal -- an ability to run a national campaign -- running for president is a national campaign. Should I really believe that at the end of the day he's going to be the Republican omni? Look, everybody is worth watching now. We give everybody a chance. I think our job is to look at everybody and let the voters decide. He's an interesting guy, but he has a really long haul.
JR.You know, he has spent so much time in Iowa. He's probably been the most, you know, indefatigable campaigner than anybody out there. But what I hear from people that really like him and have met him numerous times in Iowa is that he's great the first time, he's great the second time, and he starts to wear thin a little bit on the second -- or his third or fourth time. Mainly on the issues, he's thin on a lot of things. He doesn't have the track record a lot of people have.
JR.And he -- you know, if he took a position in the South Carolina debate, where he said he would make up his mind about whether we should stay in Afghanistan and Iraq once he had all the facts. And when I talked to him later about it, he wouldn't have all the facts until he got into the White House when he had an intelligence briefing. And I don't think you can really run for president when you're saying, I'm not going to say what my position on Iraq and Afghanistan is until I'm elected, and then I'll know all the facts.
HEYEWell, that's a real issue that he has to face. One of the things Republicans talked about four years ago is -- three years ago is that Barack Obama didn't have enough foreign policy experience. And, you know, even though we've caught bin Laden, it's something that Republicans still look at. So Republican candidates -- even though the election is going to be won on domestic issues and energy prices and jobs and the economy, you'll have to demonstrate some foreign policy expertise.
REHMLet's go to Williamsburg, Va. Good morning, Rikki. You're on the air.
RIKKIGood morning. I was somewhat disappointed that your all-male panel and their previous discussions of Mitch Daniels did not think it was important to mention his denial of basic medical care to the women of Indiana because of the provider. Daniels is the father of four girls, but I find his recent withdrawal of medical care for women in Indiana to be very disappointing.
ROTHENBERGWell, I think Republican caucus attendees and primary voters are going to be focusing on some other issues. I think there are going to be plenty of things that Mitch Daniels has done recently...
REHMIncluding tolling roads and selling.
ROTHENBERGSure. That was very controversial when he first took office. The thing -- the smart thing that Mitch did is when he got in office, he did a couple very controversial things -- there's some tax issues and the roads -- and he overcame that. And, you know, he -- in what signing this bill, eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, you know, that will be controversial with some people, but probably not in the Republican Party. And that's mostly what we've been talking about so far.
JR.I mean, Mitch Daniels got himself into a little bit of a box last year when he made this famous statement that he thought there should be a truce on the social issues and Republicans should focus on what really matters, which is a funny statement 'cause I think most people already knew that and really wanted to move forward on that basis. But by saying it, he caused a big stink among the Republican Party.
JR.In some ways, I think he made a certain head fake in the direction of the whole social conservative issue by having done what was obviously a fairly big move by banning funding for Planned Parenthood, in some ways, to kind of quell that side of his party, potentially to move forward with the presidential bid.
HEYEAnd the Daniels decision came just after Congress heavily debated whether or not to fund Planned Parenthood. So Republican voters, caucus-goers, primary voters, they support this, and politically very smart for Gov. Daniels.
STEINHAUSERI just like to add, I've been to Indiana three times this year in working with grassroots conservatives. And we talked a lot, among the socially conservative voters out there, about Mitch Daniels and about what was going on politically. And anyone who had any issue or question about the truce comment now has pretty much come and said, by doing this, he shows how he'll handle these issues.
STEINHAUSERAnd there's a lot of support now, even among social conservatives in Indiana, for taking that move and signing that bill. I think that's going to absolutely help him with social conservatives and the GOP primary.
REHMDo you think that, despite the personal history that Stu talked about earlier, the fact that his wife left him and the four children went off, married someone else, then came back, said it was a mistake, remarried, do you think that's going to hurt him with the conservative voters?
STEINHAUSERI really don't. I think we all have families who have tough issues that we go through. And who hasn't known someone that's gone through something like that? So I think that actually doesn't hurt him at all. And I think to the extent someone brings that up and attacks him, it will backfire in those making those criticisms. Again, I think that this is something that all of us go through dealing with tough family problems.
ROTHENBERGWell, I would simply say that given the news that we get about politicians having children out of wedlock and affairs and Charlie Sheen having -- living with goddesses, Mitch Daniels kind of looks like white bread here. He remarried his wife. I know it's still an unusual story. But, no, I don't think it'll hurt him.
REHMDo you agree, Neil?
JR.I agree. I mean, if anything, it's a heroic story in some ways. I mean, it obviously was...
REHMBecause he took her back?
JR.Well, not only that he took her back, but anybody in the middle of their, you know, 30s or 40s -- whatever he was at that time -- having to raise four children, it was obviously a somewhat odd or unusual move for him -- her to have gone off. But if we're talking about him and what he did, I think it's pretty hard to impugn anything that he did.
REHMAll right. Of course, you know, you talk about a governor having had a child out of wedlock. Would he had likely been elected, had people known about that? We're talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stu.
ROTHENBERGWow. I don't know, but it would've had a -- it would've created a whole different discussion about who he was and questions of trustworthiness and integrity in relationships.
ROTHENBERGAnd you see what happened to John Edwards. It has just totally destroyed his reputation. So I can't speak of the specific case. I can't know exactly what would have happened. But, yeah, it would've changed the whole conversation.
REHMWell -- and John Edwards kept denying and denying and denying...
REHM...and then finally acknowledged. To Birmingham, Ala., good morning, Laura.
LAURAGood morning. I was hoping your guests might comment on New Jersey Gov. Christie and what they think his chances might be in this.
REHMHe has said no how many times now, Doug?
HEYEHe said no repeatedly. I'll tell you, I was born in Red Bank, N.J., and I'm thrilled to see not only a Republican finally win. We -- Republicans have always said, this is our year, this is our year, and it's never been our year. Finally, we had our year. But he said repeatedly that he won't get in. I have no reason to doubt that he'll be true to that.
REHMWhy won't he...
HEYEI'd love him to run. I think he's a strong...
REHMWhy won't he get in?
HEYEWell, I think he's got a tough job to do as governor. And if he runs -- just politically, if he runs and doesn't win, I think the voters in New Jersey will look at him as somebody who tried to leave then.
REHMRepublican strategist Doug Heye. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Neil King.
JR.Oh, I was just going to make one comment about Chris Christie. I think it's interesting, with the dropouts of Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump, we lost the truly nice, affable guy and the bombast guy. And the interesting thing about Chris Christie is he would bring them both together. He's an affable, bombastic person, and it's one of the things that -- one of the reasons that a lot of Republicans like him.
REHMAll right. Amil, (sp?) you're on the air. Hello? Go right ahead, sir.
AMILSorry, is this me?
AMILOkay, sorry. I have to begin by first rebutting something one of your guests said regarding something your first caller said, that the 2010 election proved that the GOP is right to be enthralled to the Tea Party. It isn't. The midterm elections historically go to the opposition first. And, secondly, in 2010, quite a number of Tea Party darlings went down to defeat. So having said that, I also have to preface with my question by saying that I'm a Democrat, and I'm definitely not a Gingrich supporter.
AMILBut I sympathize with him in the storm that has hit him because the GOP must be aware that being (word?) to the Tea Party is not going to play well in the national election. So why is it that when Gingrich tried to gently tug the party back to the center, which is where national elections are won, he's branded a heretic with this kind of unanimity?
JR.I mean, I think it's a very good question. I mean, the problem that Gingrich had politically is he tried to be just too subtle and too refined at a very early part of the campaign when I don't think that's advised necessarily. But his points -- I mean, he tried to make a, you know, refined point about what sort of mandate we should have on insurance, and he kind of backed something similar to what Obama backed in terms of individual mandate. And then he had to back off.
JR.And then he went after the core achievement of the Republican majority in the House, which is the Ryan budget and Medicare, while also making an important point that that isn't this -- the be all, end all, and we need to go beyond it and do other things. And so he got savaged from the right for that. So I agree with him to an extent. I also think it was maladroit, politically.
HEYEYou know, I disagree with the comments about the Tea Party. Having been involved in the elections last cycle, I saw and met with activists who were organized, engaged. And that's a good thing. If you're a Democrat and your activists are engaged and enthusiastic, that's a good thing for you. I think in some of the primaries, we had situations where candidates -- one who, perhaps, shouldn't have -- but we also had candidates who lost who shouldn't have.
HEYEIf Mike Castle, who was the Congressman, the heir apparent to that Senate seat, had actually taken his Senate race seriously, we wouldn't have known who Christine O'Donnell was, frankly.
JR.Go ahead, Brendan. Why don't you go?
STEINHAUSERWell, I just wanted to address that as well and say the rising stars of the Republican Party are Tea Party governors, senators, congressmen. You look like -- look at folks like Nikki Haley in South Carolina, elected governor, big Tea Party support from the beginning. John Kasich in Ohio is sort of a guy that's been around a long time but has the credibility of the Tea Party. And they like what he's done.
STEINHAUSERYou look at Pat Toomey in the Senate, another guy who's been around, a fiscal conservative from the beginning, but he got a lot of Tea Party support in Pennsylvania. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, these are the people that are the new rising stars of the Republican Party, and they've all got Tea Party backings.
ROTHENBERGTwo quick things. First of all, as to the caller, Paul Ryan is not a Tea Party person. Now, the Tea -- oh, his budget may be embraced by the Tea Party, but he is not a Tea Party person. I think Newt's problem was the use of the phrase -- I think it was right wing social engineering. Conservatives generally don't use the phrase right wing. And social engineering is an explosive term with conservatives over many years, and it defines what the left -- what they think the left does, not what the right does.
ROTHENBERGSo it's -- I think it was, again, an example of Newt picking words that were explosive, and he didn't realize where the flak was going to come. And just -- second of all, I think the question is Tea Party candidates or candidates supported by the Tea Party. And I think there's a difference there.
REHMAnd you know what, I'm going to let you all off the hook and not ask who do you think is going to be the Republican nominee, Neil King, Doug Heye, Stuart Rothenberg, Brendan Steinhauser. Thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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