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The remaining candidates in the G.O.P. race battle it out in South Carolina’s primary. Join us for analysis of the outcome, its impact on the rest of the race, and a look ahead to November.
- Karen Tumulty national political reporter, The Washington Post.
- Todd Purdum national editor, "Vanity Fair"
- Mickey Edwards Former Congressman (Oklahoma 1977-1993)and member of the House Republican leadership; vice president of the Aspen Institute Author of "The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans”, which will be published this summer by Yale University Press
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. With three contests and three different winners, this Republican primary race is one of the most uncertain in years. Florida's primary is just eight days away, and anything can happen. Here with me in the studio to talk about the Republican race as it moves forward: Todd Purdum of Vanity Fair, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post and Mickey Edwards. He's vice president of the Aspen Institute.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us. I'll be interested in your reactions, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MS. KAREN TUMULTYGood morning.
MR. TODD PURDUMGood morning, Diane.
MR. MICKEY EDWARDSGood morning.
REHMKaren Tumulty, what turned this race in South Carolina around for Newt Gingrich?
TUMULTYOne word: debates. I was really struck. I mean, most of us coming out of New Hampshire, Newt Gingrich was essentially limping into South Carolina. He was behind in the polls by double digits to Mitt Romney. He had not placed better than fourth in either Iowa or New Hampshire. But it was, I believe, you know, one electrifying moment in the Monday night debate where he and Juan Williams had a big showdown. This, mind you, was Martin Luther King's birthday.
TUMULTYJuan Williams asked him whether his -- asked Newt Gingrich whether his characterization of Barack Obama as a food stamp president might have been racially tinged. Newt Gingrich struck back not only with an attack on the media, which always works in these Republican debates for him, but also with a very, I think, spirited denunciation of both political correctness and a defense of the work ethic. And it just electrified the audience. And I was with him the next morning, and it was -- just the amount of energy you were seeing in those audiences made it very clear that things had changed.
REHMTodd Purdum, Karl Rove now says that Newt Gingrich should send a thank you note to John King. What do you think?
PURDUMWell, of course, John in the second debate, later in the week in South Carolina, began by asking Newt Gingrich about his marital -- past marital problems, his second wife's assertion that he wanted an open marriage. You never want to -- I certainly don't want to criticize a colleague. And John's a very smart reporter. But at The New York Times, we used to say you could put anything you wanted in the paper as long as it wasn't in the lead. And I think there's a lot of possibility that maybe that question could've come in the middle of the debate. It still would've had an impact.
PURDUMIt might not have been quite so electrifying at starting off the debate. Of all the topics you could pick, to pick that one, I mean, it was a big, fat slider over the plate for the speaker.
REHMSo, Mickey Edwards, is the race now wide open?
EDWARDSWell, I don't know if it's wide open. It depends on whether or not Gingrich can continue this momentum when he goes into different kinds of states. Florida doesn't look like South Carolina. The states that are coming up next don't have as big a percentage of evangelical voters. So, you know, it's hard to know. Romney still has a big advantage in terms of money, in terms of organization. And I think that he -- if he gets his message straight about getting back on the economy, you know, I think it's still his to lose.
TUMULTYIt is, though, such a fluid Republican field, and the fact is that Mitt Romney has yet to make the sale with the activist Republican base. And we saw this in -- when Florida earlier, last -- in last fall had their straw poll, it was won by Herman Cain. So -- and I think there is just a lot of fluidity in the Republican base right now. And that's one reason these debates were so important for Newt Gingrich because the exit polling shows really dramatically how many people were making up their minds in the final days.
TUMULTYAnd I do think there's the potential for, you know, continuing to roil of this race. And once again you're hearing establishment Republicans talk sort of wistfully about getting another candidate into the race.
REHMWell, that brings me to the question of just how divided the GOP actually is or may be, Todd.
PURDUMOh, I think it's really quite divided. And I think we've seen that all year long. You know, what happened in South Carolina buttresses Speaker Gingrich's theory of the case. He felt all along that he could be the reliable, conservative alternative that would be attractive to voters who couldn't stomach Mitt Romney. And, you know, when his whole staff quit in a mass exodus last summer when he was on this cruise of the Greek islands, I think his feelings -- I'm gathering strength, you know, by cruising the Greek islands when I'll need it -- the whole thing happened in one week in South Carolina.
PURDUMI mean, it really does show you that people pay attention when they have to. But I think Congressman Edwards is right. Going forward, the rest of the country doesn't look like South Carolina. It looks more like Florida. Florida is, so far, the state that's most typical of the whole country. It's a big swing state in the general election, so, you know, we'll see what happens.
REHMTalk about Florida's population, its make-up, how it is so different from South Carolina, Karen.
TUMULTYIt is, but it's important to remember that Florida is a closed primary state, which means only Republicans will be -- unlike, say, New Hampshire where independents could vote, only Republicans will be voting in this Florida primary. So, on the one hand, it is a far bigger state, and it is a much more diverse state than we've seen the race insofar. But it is also a state that just elected a Tea Party governor.
REHMA Tea Party governor.
TUMULTYWell, Gov. Rick Scott was -- ran very much as the Tea Party candidate. Sen. Marco Rubio defeated an incumbent governor. You know, it's Charlie Chris, the previous governor of Florida, actually had to leave the Republican Party and run as an independent. So this is a state that has also seen its Republican politics very much in flux over the last couple of years.
REHMMickey Edwards, I've heard commentators over the weekend say that the Tea Party has actually lost its influence in this race. How do you see it?
EDWARDSWell, I think the Tea Party has never been quite as powerful a force as a lot of the people in the media thought it was because a lot of the people who got elected so-called Tea Party candidates were people who already had long records in their own states in public office long before there was any kind of a Tea Party, you know? But I think the real issue here about what's roiling the primary debates is the one person who's not on the stage, and that's Barack Obama because, ideally, you know, in the ideal world, you're sizing up these candidates to say who should be president.
EDWARDSWho has the temperament to be president? That's not what debates do. And the Republican electorate is so determined to get rid of Barack Obama, you know, that they're looking for a lot of the ones in South Carolina who can give Barack Obama a bloody nose, who can give him a real battle in November and not thinking about what happens after that, just like chasing the car. If you catch it, you know, what have you got?
TUMULTYYou know, I also -- you know, people who are writing that this is the demise of the Tea Party, I see it a little bit differently. I think the Tea Party has won. All of these candidates are running, to some degree or another, as Tea Party candidates. And one of the reasons that Mitt Romney was sort of prospering was that there were so many candidates claiming the Tea Party can't mantle, that the opposition was divided.
TUMULTYBut as the field narrows, I think the insurgent energy, the anger is increasingly focusing on one candidate, and I think that that's Newt Gingrich's best thing he has going for him now.
REHMIs the Tea Party happy with the idea of Bain Capital and Mitt Romney, Todd Purdum?
PURDUMNo. I think you have to argue at some level they're not, and that's part of why he's having trouble closing the sale. I agree with Mickey that, you know, what Newt Gingrich found in South Carolina was that he was appealing to voters who wanted some hyper-articulate, bright, brainy person who could take on Barack Obama in a debate and not look the worse for it. But those skills are not the same skills that involve, you know, running the country, running anything, really.
PURDUMSpeaker Gingrich, you know, ran the House for the four years and was thrown out by his own members. So I don't think he could really make a case that he has run a large and complex organization.
TUMULTYBut to Congressman Edwards' point, in fact, I was at an event the morning after that Monday night debate in South Carolina, and a gentleman in the audience stood up and actually asked the question. He said, what I'm looking for in a candidate is someone who can bloody Barack Obama's nose. At which point, Newt Gingrich said, I'm not going to bloody his nose. I'm going to knock him out.
EDWARDSYeah. I think that's -- in the general election, it's going to be about Barack Obama, and it's going to be whether or not there is a credible alternative to Barack Obama. And the people -- and when you get in general election, they're not just not looking for somebody who's going to bloody Barack Obama's nose. They're looking for somebody who can be a credible alternative to sit in the Oval Office.
REHMSo as you have the economy making slight improvements, how is that going to play into the narrative against Barack Obama, jobs, the increased outlook, Todd?
PURDUMWell, it's a very good question. I mean, in some ways, the South Carolina showed that the economy is improving a little bit, and voters took the luxury of returning to some of these hot button issues, some of these social issues, some of these coded issues, whether it's race or media bashing or whatever.
PURDUMYeah. So it's possible that if the economy is doing better, then the general election campaign will turn on other issues of, you know, greater volatility, including, you know, the first African-American president and do we want to keep him? I mean, it wouldn't shock me at all if those issues come to the fore.
TUMULTYBut South Carolina's economy is in worse shape than either Iowa or New Hampshire's. And so -- and Florida is in even worse shape still. I mean, you go down there...
TUMULTYYeah, you see, you know, one vacant house after another in a lot of places, huge, empty condo buildings. So I do think the economy is going to be a major force there. And, you know, that's an opportunity for Mitt Romney to, you know -- to demonstrate his economic expertise, which really is his singular calling card in this race.
REHMKaren Tumulty of The Washington Post. The phones are open. We'll take your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your email, email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd, of course, we've got an email here from Diane. She's in Brick, N.J., who says, "It's astounding to me that so-called South Carolina evangelical voters could select Newt Gingrich as their candidate. He's an admitted serial adulterer, who had the gall to ask his second wife to engage in an open marriage. He's a consummate Washington insider, a well-paid lobbyist, despite his assertion to the contrary, and a legislator who was thrown out of Congress because of financial misdeeds." Karen.
TUMULTYWell, in fact, he did beat -- evangelical voters went for him in droves. He beat both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum by better than 2-1 among evangelical voters.
REHMAnd women voters?
TUMULTYYes. He had a seven-point margin among women voters, which is not as big as the margin, the 16 points he had among men voters. But he -- Newt Gingrich also carried, you know, a strong majority of them as well.
EDWARDSWell, that's the John King factor because, had this issue not been brought up the way it was, what would have happened is that story from Marianne would have just seeped through the electorate. And people would have thought about it, and they would have come to a very different conclusion. The King interview gave Newt Gingrich an opportunity to turn it into an attack on the press and totally diverted it from what Marianne had said.
EDWARDSAnd so I don't think that when you go forward and you have that debate fading into the background, that, I think, Marianne's claims are probably going to be more resonant going forward than they were, you know, in that confrontation.
REHMAlso, she talks about Newt being a well-paid lobbyist despite his assertion to the contrary. I have my own questions about lobbying and what it is that legally, or, in fact, constitutes, lobbying. Todd.
PURDUMWell, the legal definition is complex and involves how many hours and what percentage of your effort you spend on it. And it's picayune about, you know, just whom you call and what you do. So some of the most prominent people who do lobbying in Washington, or who advise clients on how to deal with Congress or the government, are not registered lobbyists. Former Sen. Tom Daschle, Vernon Jordan has never registered as a lobbyist, and he's widely regarded as one of the most important kind of influence-makers over the past 25 years or so.
PURDUMSo Congressman Gingrich is undoubtedly within the legal definition when he says, I wasn't a lobbyist. But what he did on behalf of his clients, I think, in most people's layman's definition would constitute lobbying, working on their behalf.
REHMAnd Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Congressman Edwards?
EDWARDSWell, I think he -- the problem has always been with Newt Gingrich that you could say he's inconsistent. You -- but I would tend to say he's more opportunistic. What he was trying to do was to help a client, you know, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, make money doing it and then somehow reframe it, reshape the argument so that when he goes out to the public, you know, but I wasn't a lobbyist, I wasn't a lobbyist.
EDWARDSYou know, the problem is that Newt is a great actor. He's a great actor. He can put himself into any role he wants to put himself into, and he does it very well. And I think that's what he did with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He tried to walk the line and then kind of configure for the public what he really did, what he really didn't do. And, you know, the truth is he helped them. He helped them, and, at the same time, he was attacking them. And it's a very strange mix. But people don't seem to catch on.
REHMHow was he helping them and attacking them?
EDWARDSWell, he was helping them, you know, by giving them, as he calls it, strategic advice as a historian and an expert in everything. You know, he's compared himself to Pericles, you know? So, you know, very, very brilliant guy. But -- and they were paying him to do it. At the same time, he was criticizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, you know, as blights on the system. And he...
EDWARDSIn public, in his speeches and in his debates.
TUMULTYThe major source of his income -- and I've looked into this -- he built a conglomerate that generated over $100 million in revenues after leaving the speakership. But the single major source of his income was a for-profit think tank, which -- get your head around the fact, a for-profit think tank called the Center for Health Transformation. And what would happen was corporations would become members of this think tank, sometimes paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to do that. And he would arrange conferences where they could meet and rub shoulders with decision-makers.
TUMULTYAnd, for instance, there was a company called Novo Nordisk, makes big diabetes treatments, and Gingrich would go around the country as an advocate for them. He would be the -- now, mind you, diabetes is a huge problem, and controlling it is a -- you know, would be a great thing for health care cost in this country. But he would appear as the keynote speaker at their conferences.
TUMULTYHe would appear in their news releases, you know, commending them for their leadership in the fight against diabetes. So it was -- you know, he was able to take this advocacy role and -- which did not, you know, necessarily contradict anything he believed in, but also make a lot of money off of it.
REHMBut did he cross any lines doing that, Todd?
PURDUMWell, years ago, our colleague Mark Shields, referring to Sen. Al D'Amato, said, the moral high ground is a place where he's subject to nosebleeds. And I think that's definitely true of Speaker Gingrich as well. And it's interesting, the sort of dissonance now that voters are not, in the short term at least, seeming to make connections between his past and, you know, his current rhetoric and the reality of his life. So we'll see going forward.
REHMHere's a tweet from Jody, who says, "Can you guys explain why Democrats are so happy about Newt Gingrich's win? Why are they so sure he won't be elected?" Todd.
PURDUMWell, you have to be very careful about that because Democrats in 1979 badly wanted Ronald Reagan to run against Jimmy Carter, and they had their, you know, head handed to them. I think memories -- Democrats who have memories of Speaker Gingrich dealing with President Clinton, by and large, President Clinton got the better of him in most of their encounters. And I think that people feel that Speaker Gingrich cannot put together two or three good months to run a disciplined general election campaign.
PURDUMThis new book about willpower, it's fascinating. My New York Times colleague John Tierney co-wrote it. But science has shown that the two best predictors of success in life are high intelligence and self-control. Speaker Gingrich has very high intelligence, and I think it's fair to say that he lacks fundamental self-control, as he's shown over and over again.
EDWARDSWell, I think that one reason that the Democrats are happy is because they assume that with all the baggage that he carries, that Gingrich would be easy to beat. But as I said before, you know, the elections can be about Barack Obama. And I think the danger here is that unless Obama's popularity picks up, some Republican, you know, if that person's credible, can win the election. And I don't think Newt Gingrich is who they want in the White House so...
REHMWe should note that Barack Obama's popularity is picking up, Karen.
TUMULTYAnd another reason Democrats would like to see Newt Gingrich go as long and as far as possible is that the more he knocks Mitt Romney around, the better from their point of view, assuming Mitt Romney is the ultimate nominee. It's one thing for Democrats and Occupy Wall Street people to say that Mitt Romney was opportunistic and, you know, to talk about his business practices at Bain Capital as being, you know, a blight on capitalism, but it's much better for them if they can get that sound bite coming out of Newt Gingrich's lips.
REHMAll right. We've got lots of callers waiting. Let's open the phones. First to Prince George's County, Md. Good morning, Samuel. You're on the air.
SAMUELGood morning, Ms. Diane. How are you doing today?
REHMI'm fine. Thank you, sir. Go right ahead.
SAMUELI just wanted to comment on Newt Gingrich's win. I think voters in South Carolina don't like Mitt Romney, so they just don't like him. It don't matter what you said 'cause, for me, he's the better candidate than Newt Gingrich is. Not about the debate than nothing else, but they don't just like Mitt Romney. And a lot of conservatives have a bad stomach thinking that Mitt Romney is going to be their representative. They just don't like the guy.
TUMULTYOh, I think that is absolutely true. And the main reason, I think, that the biggest thing he had going for him, Mitt Romney, that is, was the idea that he was the strongest opponent in the fall against Barack Obama. Well, what Newt Gingrich managed to do was puncture that as well, at least in South Carolina, among that part of the electorate that said their highest priority was a candidate who could defeat Barack Obama. Newt Gingrich won those people, 51-37, and that is almost half of the South Carolina electorate, said that was their biggest priority.
EDWARDSI think that's true. It's also true that in a state that is so heavily populated with evangelicals, that Mitt Romney's religion probably hurt him a great deal in South Carolina, and that it may not be as damaging to him in other states that are more diverse.
REHMAll right. To Greenville, S.C. Good morning, Scott.
SCOTTGood morning, Diane, and everyone.
SCOTTI wonder if there is polling or other data to show the extent to which independents and Democrats in our open primary may have voted strategically, thinking that Gingrich was likely to lose in the general election against President Obama.
TUMULTYAs a matter of fact, I have those figures right in front of me. There were so few Democrats voting in the primary -- only 4 percent of everybody voting -- that they weren't a factor at all. Among independents, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were a lot closer than they were among Republicans. So I don't think there was any strategic voting going on. In fact, it does appear that it was a huge margin among Republicans that carried him over the line.
PURDUMI think most political scientists and most practical politicians think that strategic voting is really more a myth than reality. I think it very rarely happens...
PURDUM…'cause people don't want to waste their vote.
REHMYeah. To Houston, Texas. Hi, Jim.
JIMHi, Diane. Thank you for having me on the air. I was just calling, asking about what y'all think about Jimmy Carter's comment about Newt Gingrich using subtle racism in terms of interviews and stuff like that, you know, things like welfare mamas and getting kids to work. Newt Gingrich is originally from Georgia, you know, and there are things that people say that you bring up a certain image of a person to mind. I'll take your call off the air. Thank you.
REHMThanks for calling. Mickey Edwards.
EDWARDSWell, I don't personally think that Newt is a racist, but I do think that Newt is not above trying to figure out what kind of an issue will play well in front of an audience and finding a way to use it. But I think I would stop short of thinking that he himself is a racist.
PURDUMRemember, it was Speaker Gingrich, though, who first voiced the criticism of President Obama as a radical, anti-colonial Kenyan, you know...
PURDUMHe's -- this is not a new trope for him.
TUMULTYYou know, I've actually -- in the middle of all that, I had done an interview with Newt Gingrich and asked him, well, have you actually read "Dreams from My Father," which is President Obama's autobiography, before you make this charge? And he said no.
REHMHe hadn't ever read it. Interesting. All right. To Casey in Cincinnati, Ohio.
CASEYIt's a pleasure to speak with all of you today. I voted for Barack Obama in the last presidential election, and this time I'm definitely not. And I can tell you why if you're interested. I'm concerned about civil liberties. I'm concerned that he reinstated the Patriot Act, and on the first of this year signed the National Defense Authorization Act, particularly Section 1021. So that's the main reason why I consider myself a Ron Paul supporter, and I'm going to do everything I can for him.
REHMAll right. Todd Purdum.
PURDUMYou're not alone, Casey.
PURDUMI mean, I think that's what -- that's what's fueling a lot of the support for Congressman Paul, and it's what is making, you know, Obamacons and other people like that who went for the president four years ago. It's why they're up for grabs this year, and why the White House is, you know, correctly worried.
TUMULTYOh, I agree. And the thing you have to remember about Ron Paul is that he has the enthusiastic support and the money to go in this race all the way.
EDWARDSYeah. I think that, for one thing, Ron Paul has taken the hardest line against our foreign involvements, about going to war, and I think that has a certain resonance. And I think that a lot of the people who -- a lot of the Republicans who voted for Barack Obama in the last election did so because of civil liberties issues. That's a live issue.
REHMFormer Oklahoma Congressman Mickey Edwards. He is currently vice president of the Aspen Institute. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Saugatuck, Mich. Good morning, Mike.
MIKEGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
MIKEIt appears that Romney and the others, none of them are going to be able to get a majority of the delegates. I understand that the Republican -- in the Republican Party now, many of the states are not winner-take-all. It seems to me that this is an opportunity to have a big floor fight at the convention, and they'd use another candidate.
REHMA lot of people are wondering about that, Todd.
PURDUMWell, it's every reporter's dream. I mean, it's every reporter's dream. I don't find -- I think I'm...
REHMIt's not those of us ordinary folks. I'm not sure we'd be happy to see that kind of fight.
PURDUMI think I'm correct in saying -- correct me if I'm wrong -- that the last time a Republican candidate did not win on the first ballot was Eisenhower in 1952 when they had to have a ballot before he got a majority. So it's been, really, a 60-year phenomenon that we've -- it's been pre-cooked. You have to say, though, over American history, the smoke-filled room did OK. I mean, it did OK.
REHMWhat do you think, Karen? What are the odds?
TUMULTYWell, the odds, I think, are still fairly low. But as Todd says, every reporter is rooting for it because these conventions have become such a -- you know, it's just an infomercial.
REHMMitch Daniels is going to deliver the response to the president's State of the Union address on Wednesday. What do you think about Mitch Daniels?
EDWARDSWell, you know, I talked to Mitch. And I called him, and I told him I thought he should get in the race. That was a while ago. And I still think Mitch Daniels would be a very good candidate, and I think that he could embody what people are looking for in terms of management, in dealing with the economy and also without being quite as crazy as Newt Gingrich. But I don't know -- you know, the problem last time was that his wife was very strongly opposed to him getting in the race.
EDWARDSAnd, you know, that's a big factor. And so I don't know if he's going to do it. Jeb Bush's name has been mentioned. So I'm not sure that it would be bad to have somebody else get in. It doesn't have to be at the convention. It could be before that, but the -- with the changes in the rules, it is going to be very hard for somebody to accumulate all the delegate votes they need to be able to win on the first ballot unless they win enough primaries to force somebody else to just give up and drop out.
REHMThe fact that we're even talking about this says to me just how strongly opposed to Mitt Romney most of these Republicans seem to be. Todd.
PURDUMWell, you know, four years ago, John McCain's mother Roberta said that the party was just going to have to hold its nose and take him. But the truth is, in the 19 contested primaries and caucuses, Sen. McCain really never got above 32, 33 percent of the core of Republican support, and he paid a price for that in the fall. So it looks, at the moment, like Gov. Romney is having even a harder time making the Republicans hold their nose.
PURDUMAnd I just -- I don't know. It's -- I think it's really a sign of how deeply divided the party is, and, you know, in a larger sense, how deeply divided the country is.
REHMTodd Purdum. He's national editor of Vanity Fair and columnist, Purdum on Politics, published weekly by Vanity Fair. And we're going to take a short break. When we come back, more of your calls and comments.
REHMOne of the statements that Newt Gingrich has made several times during his campaign for the GOP nomination is that he would ignore the Supreme Court. How would he do that, Mickey Edwards?
EDWARDSWell, you know -- well, what he would do is to simply -- and what he has said he would do is instruct people in his administration, including in the military, you know, just -- whatever the Supreme Court says, just ignore it. Before that, he said he would take the idea of the independent judiciary. He would have members of the courts, federal courts, you know, summoned to -- before Congress to explain their decisions.
EDWARDSI mean, what is amazing to me is that the Republican Party, which keeps talking about being the party of the Constitution, would vote for somebody who seems to have no regard whatsoever for the Constitution.
REHMHe also has made mention of his strong identification with Ronald Reagan, Todd Purdum.
PURDUMWell, I mean, you know, Gov. Romney got off a pretty good line the other day, saying that Speaker Gingrich was mentioned precisely one time in the Reagan diaries. So I think there's, you know, a lot of evidence that he was a very junior backbencher in the Republican House at the time, and I don't think anyone thinks he was very influential.
EDWARDSYeah. In 1980, I chaired the policy task forces for the Reagan campaign, and Newt had nothing to do with it. He was a non-player.
EDWARDSA non-player. He -- you know, he was not significant in any way.
REHMAll right. To Tampa, Fla., good morning, Tom.
TOMHi, good morning. My comment is about the -- these debates in general, particularly the atmosphere of the debates. And many of the comments that your guests have made, and one of the other callers made about him, is playing the -- on my thoughts quite well. These debates, particularly the ones in South Carolina, have almost taken on the atmosphere of reality TV. And one of your comments -- one of your guests made a comment in regards to Newt Gingrich being a good actor. And this atmosphere plays in his campaign so well, and I think that's why he did so well in South Carolina.
TUMULTYI agree. There are -- in terms of this feeling like a reality TV show at times, you know, it feels like there are a lot more of these debates. And so I went back yesterday and looked. In fact, there are -- it's not that there are more debates this year, but it's kind of the intensity around them that is unusual. And we've seen these debates have just made or broken candidates. I mean, Rick Perry is never going to forget the oops moment. Tim Pawlenty was undone by a single line in a debate.
TUMULTYDebates were the reason that Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain each enjoyed their moments in the sun. It's really been extraordinary, the degree to which these things have determined the shape of this race.
REHMSo, in your view as a reporter and as you see people reacting to these debates, have they been worthwhile?
TUMULTYThey have not been worthwhile if you assume that the role of a debate is to eliminate differences among the candidates. They haven't been because the fact is that, on policy issues, most of these candidates are pretty close in their issues, stances on just about everything.
REHMExcept foreign policy where Ron Paul is so decidedly different. Mickey.
EDWARDSWell, you know, my view on the debates is that they're not really debates anymore. They're opportunities for TV personalities to challenge the candidates as though they were press conferences. And I would love to see real debates without the press trying to dominate them.
REHMHow would you have done them?
EDWARDSWell, I -- what I would do is have a major topic, whether it's foreign policy, whether it's war, whether it's, whatever, the economy, and have a general question presented to one candidate. Then present it to -- the same question to another candidate, let them question each other, give us an opportunity to hear them, do more than a sound bite in response to an interrogation, you know, from a reporter.
TUMULTYYou know, the closest thing we've had to that was the so-called Lincoln-Douglas style debate between Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman, remember him, in New Hampshire. It really -- you know, the format was essentially exactly that.
REHMAnd you think that would be more worthwhile?
TUMULTYWell, if, in fact, what the voters are looking for is a deeper sense of what these candidates would do on policies. But you know what? I don't think that's necessarily what the Republican electorate is looking for.
REHMAll right. To Little Rock, Ark., good morning, Jet.
JETHi, Diane. Good morning.
JETYeah. I wanted to talk about Newt Gingrich, of course, and why evangelicals are supporting him rather than Ron Paul based on his marriage record and his corporatism. It just seems like he doesn't have a great record in comparison to Paul, who has been married for 50-somewhat years and is a medical doctor and -- I don't know. It just doesn't -- it doesn't make much sense to me.
TUMULTYYou know, I was really surprised in Iowa, in particular, how many evangelicals I ran into at Ron Paul events. And it turned out that in the Iowa caucuses, he did better than any other candidate, except for Rick Santorum, among evangelicals. But I do think that in South Carolina and beyond -- first of all, you have to remember that evangelicals love a redemption story, and so to the degree that they are convinced that, you know, Newt Gingrich has reformed his ways, which a lot of evangelical leaders have endorsed that idea.
TUMULTYHe has some very high-powered evangelical supporters, people like Jim Garlow, who is the pastor who really spearheaded the anti-gay marriage initiative in California. So, you know, I do think that he's done a fairly good job of convincing at least a significant segment that he's a changed Newt Gingrich.
REHMHere's a tweet from Dave, who says, "NPR's Ron Elving said over the weekend Jeb Bush is withholding Mitt endorsement and might consider entering the race. What does the panel think?" Todd.
PURDUMWell, it's a little bit surprising that he's going to withhold his endorsement 'cause I think he'd been expected to endorse Gov. Romney. Certainly, there's no love lost between the Bush family and Speaker Gingrich. I mean, there's great bitterness over the speaker's role as a bomb thrower at the time of the budget agreement, that -- you know, when President Bush broke his pledge about no new taxes. So I -- it could just be a case of Gov. Bush keeping his powder dry.
TUMULTYI think he's also uncomfortable. Gov. Bush has been very clear that he believes that his party's future lies in reaching out to Hispanic voters. And I think he has been very uncomfortable with some of the anti-immigration rhetoric that he has seen coming out of his own party's candidates.
REHMWhat about Mitt Romney's taxes? Is he going to release 12 years as his father did? Is he going to do it little by little? Once those taxes are out there, if they are, is that issue off the table?
EDWARDSYou know, it's not just the taxes. When Romney was running against Ted Kennedy for the U.S. Senate, at the very end, Kennedy attacked him for the layoffs in Indiana as a result of what Bain Capital had done. And Romney floundered around as though nobody in his campaign had anticipated that such a question might arise. Well, the same thing has happened now with the taxes.
EDWARDSYou know, in that now infamous debate, he seemed to really not have thought through what the effect is, what his position was going to be. So he went from, I'm going to do it in April or I'll do it sooner, but I'll do it only one year. Well, maybe I'll do more. And I think it's not just the tax question. It is that -- he really has floundered on that issue much more than he has on anything else.
PURDUMWell, it's such an unforced error. I mean, it's the oldest thing that presidential candidates are expected to do, and, as widely noted, his father pioneered the act of doing that. So it's really like one of those questions about what's your favorite beverage or what sports team do you support or what's your favorite movie. If you're going to run for president, you have to release your taxes.
REHMThat will be ready. To Dearborn, Mich. Good morning, Joe.
JOEThank you. The spiritual father of the modern conservative movement, even before Ronald Reagan, was Barry Goldwater. Mitt Romney's father was the governor of Michigan, refused to support the nominee of his own party because he was too conservative. How ironic to find his son Mitt Romney jumping to hoops to prove to the far-right people how very conservative he is. Also, he was born and raised in Michigan, took the position that the American auto industry should be allowed to go bankrupt.
JOEAnd I have been driving a Mazda3. Last week I bought an American car. Michigan has been economically depressed for years and years because of the troubles of the American auto industry. So I think Mitt Romney, he professes to adore his father, but in practice he's very different from him, including his willingness to let the American auto industry collapse.
PURDUMWell, I think Joe has put his finger on a lot of the reasons that Gov. Romney is having trouble closing the sale of -- his analysis is totally correct in terms of the difficulty he's having in squaring that circle.
TUMULTYIn fact, four years ago, he made his formal campaign announcement right there in Dearborn at the Henry Ford Museum.
REHMTo Oklahoma City. Good morning, Clint.
CLINTHi. How are you? Thank you for taking my call.
CLINTBasically, as a Democrat, I am kind of excited about Newt Gingrich being sort of the front-runner, maybe because Newt Gingrich was the predominant force to try to get President Clinton impeached, if you remember, regarding the Monica Lewinsky. So he seems like he'd be a very easy target. And I don't even know how he'd even defend himself. I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Mickey Edwards?
EDWARDSWell, I mean, that -- it goes back to what we were saying before. It's one reason that a lot of Democrats are hoping Gingrich will win because they think he'll be easy to beat. He might be if the economy has picked up and if Obama's numbers have gotten better, but I don't think you can count on it.
REHMDo you all agree with that?
PURDUMYeah. I mean, I think he'll have his problems, and I think he's a tempting target. But as Congressman Edward said, the election is really -- in some ways, it's just going to revolve -- with the incumbent, it always, to one degree or another, revolves around what has the guy has done. And that's President Obama's burden.
REHMAll right, to Chapel Hill, N.C. Good morning, Pam. (sic) You're on the air.
ANNEHi. Good morning. Thanks for taking my call.
ANNEIt's actually Anne, A-N-N-E, but that's OK. I have a kind of question which I've been wondering about. I lived in Atlanta when Gingrich was speaker of the House and raised in a lifelong Republican household, although I'm not a Republican myself, and so I've followed him quite a bit. And I'm wondering why evangelicals aren't questioning his faithlessness to his faith as much as other people are questioning his faithlessness to his wives?
ANNEI mean, it seems to me -- and correct me if I'm wrong about this. But he's had adherence to a number of different Christian denominations over his life. And if I were an evangelical -- and I am a Christian -- I really often question how he can sort of bounce from one to another almost as if it were convenient. I believe he was a Lutheran as a child and then he was a Southern Baptist when he was in Georgia running, which seems very convenient, and is now a Catholic?
REHMExactly. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Karen?
TUMULTYYou know, it's funny because I -- a long time ago, and, in fact, in 1994, I had asked him about whether he even attended church. At that point, he was a Southern Baptist, and he acknowledged that he did not go very often and used the parallel of Abraham Lincoln, who said, you know, that he -- that, you know, shouldn't be challenged because of his lack of adherence to an organized religion. But, again, this has become very much part of the kind of Newt Gingrich redemption story with the evangelicals, is that he's not only become a Catholic. He's become a strident Catholic.
TUMULTYHe has written book. He and his third wife, Callista, had written books about Pope John Paul. And, you know, they've done documentary movies on this. He now talks about how, you know, our rights come to us from the creator. This is -- again, this is a very strong part of his current narrative.
PURDUMWell, what I think is actually fascinating -- and I haven't delved into the polling data in granularity. But if Gov. Romney has trouble because of his Mormonism with evangelicals, it's interesting to me why Newt Gingrich doesn't have trouble because of his Catholicism because there's just as -- there has been, historically, a good deal of anti-Catholic prejudice among fundamental Christian people. So that's a fascinating subset to me.
EDWARDSWell, I think that the voters, at least from South Carolina, looked at all of those things, and they said, giving Barack Obama a bloody nose just trumps all of that.
REHMTo Chris in Tampa, Fla.
PURDUMA very Christian thought.
REHMYou're on the air.
CHRISI absolutely adore your show.
CHRISI have a quick comment to make because as you know the Republicans will be here tonight debating in Tampa. And what I'm really concerned about, as most Floridians should be, is the environmental aspect of the dialogue that will be coming up. As the Republicans dish it out, they will be going after the president. But in the end, they'll be talking about jobs when they're debating with Obama.
CHRISAnd the job issue seems to be creating this volatile discourse about the economy versus the environment, which I personally feel can coexist, and I just want to know what your guests think about that issue as it plays a larger role in the debate to come.
REHMThe environment, how much of a role is it going to play going forward?
EDWARDSWell, I think in states like Florida and in the west, there will be a lot of concern among the voters about environmental issues. In the west, it's water issues. So I think those issues will be on the table, but I think they're going to pale beside, you know, the bigger question about...
EDWARDS...creating jobs, right. I think that's the big issue.
PURDUMYeah, I know. Totally agree.
TUMULTYAnd I think, especially with the president's decision last week on this Canadian pipeline, the Republicans have all gone after him, you know, in force saying that this is a job killer.
REHMAnd a lot of people have said that the president's decision on that was actually a wink and a nod.
REHMTo putting it off until after the election and then turning around and moving forward with it, but I don't think, in all the races I have seen since 1979, I've ever seen a crazier one. It's just bizarre, and I'll be fascinated to continue to watch it. Thank you all so much, Todd Purdum of Vanity Fair, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post and former Oklahoma Congressman Mickey Edwards. He's now vice president of the Aspen Institute. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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