What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
Guest Host: Susan Page
GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney now heads west. Following his resounding victory in Florida’s GOP presidential primary yesterday, his campaign is focused on the caucuses in Nevada Saturday. His Florida win is largely credited to a barrage of attack ads unleashed in the days before the vote. The target of those ads, rival Newt Gingrich, had hoped to build on his stunning win in South Carolina last month, and despite his poor showing in Florida the former speaker vows to press on. Join us for analysis of yesterday’s vote, what it means, and what’s ahead
- Beth Reinhard reporter, National Journal.
- Craig Shirley republican strategist, Reagan historian; president and CEO, Shirley & Banister Public Affairs; and author of the new book, “December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America And Saved The World.”
- David Frum columnist, Daily Beast/Newsweek,former speechwriter and special assistant to President George W. Bush and author of "Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again"; and co-author of "An End to Evil: What's Next in the War on Terror."
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is attending a memorial service for Tony Blankley, a friend and frequent guest on our show. Florida primary voters handed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney a big win last night. His campaign for the Republican presidential nomination moves on to Nevada today, but his chief rival Newt Gingrich was defiant in defeat.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me to discuss the results from Florida and the contest ahead: Craig Shirley, Republican adviser and Reagan historian, David Frum, a former aide to President George W. Bush, and Beth Reinhard, a political reporter for National Journal. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. CRAIG SHIRLEYThank you.
MR. DAVID FRUMThank you.
MS. BETH REINHARDThanks.
PAGEWe're going to invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Beth, you were, until about a year ago, a political reporter for The Miami Herald, so a real expert on Florida politics. We saw Newt Gingrich score a big victory in South Carolina 10 days earlier. Then Mitt Romney really turned it around in Florida last night. What happened?
REINHARDIt was amazing how quickly that changed. I was in Florida over the weekend and Monday. And as of Tuesday, most everyone I talked to thought Newt had it in the bag. The crowds for Newt were so much bigger than the crowds for Romney, and the enthusiasm was there. And then things started to change. You remember the first debate in Florida, Newt turned in sort of a lackluster performance. You know, the ad war was really heating up.
REINHARDI mean, Romney and his allied super PAC pounded Gingrich on television, which is really the main way campaigns are waged and won in Florida 'cause it is such a big state. And the momentum totally shifted in Romney's direction. He turned in another strong debate performance, and that was, you know, the place where Gingrich had shined in the past. And, you know, there are a lot of people that, I think, just sort of rode the wave toward Romney.
PAGEYou know, I wonder to what degree this is a victory of a candidate or of negative ads. You know, David Frum, Jonathan Karl of ABC had this very interesting point that he made this morning. He said that, of the $15 million spent on TV ads for Mitt Romney, $15 million, there was one positive pro-Romney ad, and it was in Spanish.
PAGEWhat does that tell you about what happened in Florida?
FRUMWell, Newt Gingrich and his -- I wouldn't call it a concession speech, but as you say, in his defiance speech last night, compared himself to Gettysburg. But if you're looking for Civil War analogies, this is more like Cold Harbor. That he just -- Newt Gingrich walked into a wall of money, and it tore his army apart. And what you also saw was Newt Gingrich -- you know, he's getting towards 70. He's someone who's always been very emotional, and he did not bring his best game with him to Florida.
FRUMThat debate performance was really weak. And after his strong performances in South Carolina, I think a lot of Republicans were -- saw in Newt Gingrich a kind of revenge figure against President Obama, not a president, but somebody who would really put Obama in his place in all senses of that word with all kinds of meanings attached to that word. And in Florida, they had to confront the possibility, OK, we'll -- after he scolded President Obama for you, then he has to actually get elected.
FRUMAnd then he has to govern the country. And the problem is he probably can't get elected, and he very likely can't govern the country.
PAGECraig Shirley, you know Newt Gingrich. Well, you're working on a biography of him now, I believe.
SHIRLEYMm hmm, yes.
PAGESo did he seem off-balance here in Florida? What do you think happened on the Gingrich side of things in the Florida campaign?
SHIRLEYI agree with everything that has been said before. It's just that Romney got his act together after South Carolina, raised and spent just a boatload of money. He had candidate -- or a congressman stalking Gingrich at his campaign rallies, refuting his comments. It really -- you know, from -- just from an academic standpoint, he ran an extraordinarily good campaign. His problem going forward -- and you touched on it -- is he gave no rationale why people should be for him. That's one problem.
SHIRLEYAnd it has increased his negative ratings among Republicans, and voters nationwide have gone up dramatically. There is no rationale right now for a Romney campaign. He's -- he went after Rick Perry. He went after Michele Bachmann. Now, he's going after Newt Gingrich. And he's, I think, potentially playing with fire because Newt Gingrich, for all of his flaws and all of his mistakes, is still a family member of the conservative movement. It was there in the old days and has been there all -- for 30-some odd years.
SHIRLEYAnd you don't come into a family the way Romney's come in and trifle with the member of the family without it having long-term consequences. And Romney's campaign is -- as I said, I think they're playing with fire by so viciously going after Gingrich. And it could have long-term repercussions in the primaries coming down -- up -- down the line.
PAGEI saw that David Frum wrote last night a column on -- that was on Political Wire saying, "I can't remember when I've ever seen a least gracious concession speech than Newt Gingrich's tonight." And, in fact, he didn't concede. He didn't say Mitt Romney's name. He didn't congratulate him on his win. He didn't make a phone call to Mitt Romney.
FRUMYeah. I saw Romney whining about it on TV this morning. And I would say to Romney, he has to take his own advice, is that he has to stop whining -- what he told Gingrich after New Hampshire. Stop whining. He's got to grow some shoulders, and if he can't take the heat, you know, get out of the kitchen. But he shouldn't be whining because Newt Gingrich didn't call him.
PAGESo Craig Shirley makes a point that Romney has not made a rationale for people being for him. He's made a rationale for people being against the various people who have risen. But, Beth, walk us through the calendar that comes up in -- during -- in February, this month. And where is the opening for Newt Gingrich to take a stand and turn this narrative around?
REINHARDThere are very few openings in February, which is one reason why not only was this victory in such a big state, you know, not only does that accord Romney such bragging rights, but he has such a favorable forecast this month. I mean, he has every reason to be in the best mood. The one opening Gingrich does have in February is Minnesota where one poll did show him ahead. And I'm told there's a strong anti-abortion movement there that could help him.
REINHARDBut the most of the terrain in February is very favorable to Romney. Nevada, which votes Saturday, has a large Mormon population. He won that caucus in 2008. I think you tweeted this morning that -- was it half the states in February that -- that vote where states that he won in 2008. He didn't win that many states in 2008. He dropped out of the race after Super Tuesday. But he does know -- he does have February on cruise control.
PAGENewt -- Mitt Romney won 11 states in the 2008 contest. Five of them vote in February. So the terrain is pretty friendly for him this month. But, David Frum, do you agree with Craig that he has yet to kind of make his affirmative case to Republican voters?
FRUMWell, Mitt Romney has the benefit of the generic Republican affirmative case, the generic cases. Look, we're at a fork in the road here. And a second President Obama term means a drive toward a permanently expanded government, that the emergency measures that have been put in place temporarily during his first term as a way of dealing with the depression, will harden into permanent realities. And the Republicans offer a course correction.
FRUMAnd so Romney has that generic case, and then he can say, I can execute it better and more capably and more responsibly than any of the other people because this is a weak field full of people who've been cast out by a very angry party and who have lacked the political talent. He -- and I agree with Craig also in this sense. He is cut off from a non-generic. There is a specific pro-Romney case.
FRUMBut he's cut himself off from that, and that is that Mitt Romney is the inheritor of a somewhat different Republican tradition, a tradition that stands for bringing universal health care to the people of the state he governed, which I think of as a feature, but a lot of Republicans seemed to think of as a bug. That's the guy, I think, who could have been a positive force. As it is, he's going to benefit from being the most competent of the generic Republicans.
REINHARDJust a side note. You bring up, of course, universal health care. And, you know, we've heard Newt Gingrich talk about the Massachusetts moderate, and, I think, he's even called them a liberal on occasion. But yet this Massachusetts moderate won in a state where, I think, seven out of 10 Republican voters describe themselves as conservative. And that's a even more conservative electorate than chose Romney -- excuse me, chose McCain in 2008. So that's sort of striking.
PAGEBut, you know, we saw in the exit polls that were done of voters as they left polling places that Romney won among somewhat conservative voters, but Gingrich won among very conservative voters. Gingrich won among strong supporters of the Tea Party. Is this a warning flag, do you think, Craig?
SHIRLEYOh, it's very much so. It goes back to the point David made earlier is that he is making a very narrow appeal right now within a Republican electorate. He's not broadening his base, and there's going to be a residual there of people. The Tea Party is all about principles. They don't care about Washington insiders. They don't care about access. They don't care about, you know, whether or not somebody can manage the government or do all these things that Romney, you know, more moderate liberal programs Romney is associated with.
SHIRLEYWhat they care about is that somebody's going to come in and challenge the actual establishment. It's hard to challenge the establishment when you're actually a part of the establishment, or Romney is perceived by these people as being part of the establishment.
PAGEOf course, Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House. I mean, it's hard to argue he's not really part of the Republican establishment, isn't it?
SHIRLEYBut, you know, the -- I've gone through -- I've had this discussion before with other people. Ronald Reagan was head of the national government for eight years, and yet nobody ever saw Ronald Reagan as part of the establishment. You can be in Washington without being of Washington. And I think you can make the case whereas Gingrich was never of the Republican establishment here in Washington.
FRUMWell, I would just say, you know, there's a sense in which that's true, and there's a sense in which it's false. I mean, Gingrich, if by Washington, you mean the system of self-dealing and self-reward and being paid for influence (unintelligible) Gingrich is absolutely part of that. But if what you mean is that people who have a concern for putting the government on a sound institutional basis and running it in an effective way and have some regard for the institutions of the country, well, in that sense, Gingrich has always been a challenging force.
FRUMI don't think that's a good thing about him. Just one more thing about the Tea Party, that -- Craig, I don't think you're right when you're talking about broadening the base. You're talking about narrowing the base. I mean, the Tea Party is a tiny and shrinking fraction of American life. And let's remember, Gingrich lost overwhelmingly among women. He lost overwhelmingly among voters under 40 that he represents -- he is the candidate of the old...
SHIRLEYYou know, 10 days ago, he won those in South Carolina.
PAGEAnd we're going to...
FRUMHe's the candidate of the old who depend on Medicare.
PAGEAnd we're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about the other two candidates still in the race, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. And we'll take some calls. Give us a call, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email at email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm, and with me in the studio: Beth Reinhard, a reporter with National Journal, Craig Shirley, Republican adviser and author of "December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World," and David Frum, who's recently become a regular columnist for the Daily Beast and Newsweek. We're talking about the Florida results and the implications ahead.
PAGEInteresting that we saw Ron Paul last night speaking to his supporters, not in Florida where he invested very little time and, I think, virtually no money, but from Henderson, Nev. because he is really focused on these caucus states that come up this month in Nevada, Colorado, in Maine, in Minnesota. Why focus on caucus states, Craig, if you're Ron Paul?
SHIRLEYSmall, tightly organized. He has very passionate followers. It will -- you know, it could do -- suit him very well. The libertarian base, you know, we've seen it all before, is very much motivated by ideas and very much motivated against the establishment, more on the outside of the traditional party establishment. So -- and these caucuses tend to have -- be low turnout affairs, so it will -- if you have a small, devoted following, it helps you very well.
PAGEHe's gotten some huge crowds in Nevada. He was up in Maine last week, got 1,000 people at a rally in Freeport, which in Maine is pretty substantial. Beth, do you think that Ron Paul is running for the nomination? Does he think he has a chance to get that?
REINHARDI mean, you could make a case that anyone who doesn't campaign in Florida, the biggest swing state in the country, you know, isn't really campaigning for the nomination. He is campaigning, though, to collect delegates, and that's why Florida wasn't worth his time. It's a winner-take-all state, so second place doesn't get you any delegates. In Nevada, if he comes in second or third, he walks away with a handful of delegates.
PAGEWhat -- how much influence, David, do you think Ron Paul could have either on the course of this nomination fight or at the convention in the general election to follow?
FRUMWell, he's had already an enormous impact on the fight. I mean, he has driven almost every one of the candidates, including some who are not in the race, Rick Perry, to mouth repetitions of his crazy monetary call. I mean, this is a guy who wants to give -- you got a patient who's got an infection, and he thinks leeches and purges are the way to go. He's got this...
SHIRLEYHe is a doctor.
FRUM...Medieval tool kit that he wants to prescribe for an -- to disregard everything we know about modern monetary policy. That said, he's got candidates, even Mitt Romney, saying that we -- you know, that he thinks the Federal Reserve has been too loose at a time when interest rates are -- the United States can borrow money for 10 years at under 2 percent. So he's had that impact.
FRUMBeyond that however, as a person and as a force, I think, no more. He got -- he had calamitous night in Florida. Not only did he only get 7 percent of the vote, but Romney crushed him among voters under 40. That's supposed to be his group. I don't have the -- I was just checking it. I think it's like 18 or 19 points he beat Ron Paul among the under-40 sets. And it -- and so the argument is when Ron Paul says, I'm riding this wave of young people, you know, it's a very selective group. And that is going to become more and more evident.
FRUMSo in that sense -- and one last thing, I don't think Ron Paul is in it for -- to win, and I don't think he's in it for delegates. This is a fundraising operation. Ron Paul is a businessman above all that what he is interested in is expanding his mailing list, raising more funds and then keeping as much of that money on hand after the election with which you can hire people, like nephews and grandchildren, to be campaign spokesmen. It's a family business, and they're building the family business.
PAGEAnd is it a family business so because he is such a sincere advocate for a cause, or do you think it's something less high-minded than that?
FRUMI think it's way less high-minded. I don't think he's a sincere advocate for a cause. If he were a sincere advocate for a cause, he would be able...
SHIRLEYWhat is your evidence that he's not a sincere advocate? Can I -- I'm going to just jump in here, OK? Dave and I have been friends for many, many years, but we come from different parts of the jungle. I'm from the conservative. He's from the liberal side of the jungle.
FRUMWithin the Republican Party.
SHIRLEYWe -- when -- within the Republican Party. The problem with the moderates and liberals in the Republican Party is that when they attack conservatives, they always go to motives, and they always go to personal attacks. You just got an example of personal attacks.
FRUMOK. Let me footnote it then.
SHIRLEYBut the same thing with Romney going after Gingrich, with the same thing going after Santorum, with the same thing Michele Bachmann, with the same thing with Rick Perry, is that...
SHIRLEY...we -- this has been the history...
SHIRLEY...of moderates and liberals in the Republican Parties that...
SHIRLEY...they will not argue ideological philosophy. I...
FRUMDon't filibuster, don't filibuster the point. I will prove it to you.
SHIRLEYWhy can't I filibuster?
FRUM'Cause you're not a senator yet.
FRUMOK. Look, Ron Paul made, in the middle '90s, $1 million a year by -- with racist, anti-Semitic, inflammatory newsletters that championed the Southern cause and the Civil War. He was -- and he did that year after year after year and in a tiny little operation. Every one of those -- he's now offered a series of explanations of those events that are facially laughable and that have since been contradicted by witnesses.
FRUMSo when -- now, people tell us, well, he himself is not a racist person. So then you say, well, if you are not a racist person and you use racism to raise money, then I guess you're not a sincere person, that the suggestion or that the one that -- Ron Paul's insincerity is his best excuse for his biggest problem.
PAGEBeth, we've heard two strongly held views on Ron Paul and that they really go to views of the Republican Party and what it stands for. In the battle between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, are we seeing a divide between, really a chasm between more conservative Tea Party supporter-Republicans and the Republicans -- establishment Republicans like John McCain and Bob Dole and George H. W. Bush?
REINHARDI mean, we have been seeing that though, I think, Florida allowed Romney to kind of break through that a little bit 'cause he did well pretty much across the board. Though, as you point out earlier, the most conservative and the strongest Tea Party supporters, he still didn't get. But he did well among people who are somewhat conservative, somewhat Tea Party. So that argument that Gingrich has been making about, you know, I've got the grassroots populous and you just have the establishment, that's going to start wearing thin.
PAGEAnd let's talk just briefly about Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, still in this race. Is there a place for him?
REINHARDYou know, Gingrich prefer -- would prefer there not be. He -- you know, his speech last night indicated he's not going anywhere anytime soon. He's still got about $1 million. And the argument that he made last night was, well, Gingrich had his shot in Florida, and he proved he couldn't topple Romney. So let's give someone else a chance. Now, I...
FRUMCan I say -- just in contrast with what Craig said a minute ago, I'm going to now praise Rick Santorum. I think he's the candidate, the one candidate who is a non-winner who's going to come out of this with a substantially enhanced and improved profile within the Republican Party that, I think, people have -- there's been a -- this is a very capable person with a lot of a very appealing message.
FRUMI mean, some of his social messages may be a little reactionary, but on economic issues, what's happened to the American working class, he's got something to say. And, yeah, he lost in 2006, but, you know, all that -- when the hurricane is big enough, all the houses get swamped, both the badly-sided ones and the well-sided ones. I think he comes out of this race -- if he doesn't get a spot in the future Republican cabinet, I mean, he certainly will have a much more of an audience in the Republican Party than he had before. I think he's earned it.
PAGEHe's definitely performed well in this endless series of debates that we've covered, 19 so far -- only one more on the schedule now on the 22nd of February in Arizona. Well, let's let some of our listeners join our conversation. We'll go first to Neil. He's calling us from Pensacola, Fla. Neal, did you vote yesterday?
NEILYes, ma'am, I did. I wanted to kind of put a new perspective on what you guys are looking at Florida. If you look at the colors, the southern part of Florida is one color, and the northern part of Florida, from Pensacola to Jacksonville, was overwhelmingly for Gingrich. Whereas the southern part of Florida was overwhelmingly for Romney. They're two different colors because -- it's like Florida is two different states. Most of the people who are in northern Florida are transients like myself, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, which are just on the borderline of Florida.
NEILAnd they were raised in the Bible Belt as evangelicals, and that's why they voted for Gingrich. Whereas the southern part of Florida are mostly military people who are from the north, who, after they retired -- and then are retiring in South Florida down to Miami (unintelligible) and that area. So that's why Florida is really like two completely different states. And the southern part, you'll see as almost completely one color, whereas the northern part is completely -- I just wanted to add a new perspective
PAGENeil, thanks so much for your call. Beth.
REINHARDI mean, just -- I would just say that, you know, diversity that you're describing is exactly why this was such a big victory for Mitt Romney because he did win in a state that has -- you know, the panhandle, which is very much like the south. South Florida feels like Latin America in some parts. You know, the middle of the state can feel like a suburb anywhere. So you're right. That's what makes it such a big prize.
PAGEBut, you know, if you look at the exit polls in those -- in the panhandle, it was an even divide between Gingrich and Romney. And I wonder -- we saw the Gingrich people pointing at some other Southern states ahead as a place where Gingrich can get back in this race, including Super Tuesday states like Georgia.
SHIRLEYRight. And I think that he's got -- there's a valid point, is that -- let me -- I'm going to be -- intercept some of these bouquets that are being thrown at Mitt Romney, is that he only got 45 percent of the vote, having spent $17 million and having run for, you know, office for -- now for six years. He is -- and the caller is right. There is a cultural division inside the Republican Party. There's an ideological division, there's a philosophical division, and it showed up geographically in Florida.
SHIRLEYAnd that is part of the national problem of the Republican Party, is that the Republican Party is, for all intents and purposes, bipolar. There is the conservative Reagan populist wing, and then there's the insider/moderate Bush-Romney wing. And this has been manifesting itself ever since the days of Robert Taft and Dwight Eisenhower. And those years when, like, Gerald Ford decided to try to decimate Ronald Reagan in '76, he couldn't put the party back together.
SHIRLEYAnd that's the risk that Romney is -- the game he's playing right now. He might end up with the nominee, if he is the nominee, of a badly, badly divided party that he'll never be able to put together again.
PAGEAnd, of course, this is an issue Romney talked about in his very carefully crafted speech last night. While Gingrich got up there last night and kind of talked for a while and made the point he wasn't speaking from a teleprompter, which was no surprise to those of us who were listening to him, you saw Romney get up there and give what I thought was a very careful speech.
PAGEHe said Democrats are taking comfort in the idea that this primary is going to divide and weaken us. It's not. It's going to prepare us. What do you think, David? Does it leave scars that will hurt the GOP in the fall?
FRUMI don't think it leaves scars. I think parties overcome these things. But here's -- I think it exposes a problem. I'm going to agree in part and dissent in part from what Craig just said in a slightly different way. I think there is a divide in the Republican Party, that the people -- that rank-and-file Republicans see that the people who led the party from 2001 to 2009 did not lead to good results.
FRUMSo the people who have historically claimed the right to lead, they really failed. I mean, I always said about the 2000s that it started with Pearl Harbor. It ended with the great crash, with Vietnam in between. I mean, it was not -- so that rank-and-file -- you know, we need new leaders. You guys did not deliver. And Mitt Romney is close to the Bush family and all of that. The problem is that these protesting and angry rank-and-file people produced no alternative of their own, not a Ronald Reagan, but they produced the Tea Party and a lot of very...
SHIRLEYAnd won the Congress in 2010.
FRUMIf you believe that's why Republicans won the Congress in...
SHIRLEYNo. It's empirical data that they won in 2010. They took control of the agenda and nationalized the election. And the Tea Party won the Congress in 2010.
FRUMThen you would have to ask -- say when there's bad news and the incumbent party loses -- as happened in 2006, as happened in 1994 -- I mean, that does seem to be kind of a pattern of American politics. But this -- what you got was the inability of this movement to generate a governing alternative presidential nominee. And that's why there was a space for someone from this elite that is so suspected to do as well as he's done.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls at 1-800-433-8850. Let's take another call, this one from Michigan. Karen is calling us from Ann Arbor. Michigan, of course, a state that will have a primary at the end of the month, on the 28th. Hi, Karen. Thank you for joining us.
KARENYes. I'd just like to say I wish people could see into the heart and soul of Romney. He has done everything in his life to help other people. He didn't -- he isn't -- his wealth isn't all just for himself. He really believes he can help the American people. He's putting his money where his mouth is. People in his situation, a lot of them would be out on their yacht somewhere, just living it up.
KARENHe is putting his heart and soul into this, and I just wish people could see that. And there's also negativity. I mean, Gingrich is like a bulldog biting at his heels. What is he supposed to do? He's going to turn around and bite at him. I mean, what else could he do?
PAGEAll right. Karen, thank you so much for your call. It's interesting, your perspective. You know, as Karen was speaking, I was thinking, in talking to voters, which we do all the time, Beth, it's -- you often don't hear this kind of enthusiasm and support for Romney. Often, it's, I think he's the one most likely to win. That's why I'm supporting him.
REINHARDRight. I've described it as more admiration than enthusiasm. You know, the applause is there, and they think he's a wonderful businessman and manager. But rarely do you hear people talk about, you know, where his heart is. One thing that I was thinking of while the caller was speaking was Gov. Romney has tried to talk about his charitable contributions -- which are considerable, millions and millions of dollars -- when his tax records have come up.
REINHARDAnd, you know, he wants, of course, to distract from a conversation about how, you know, obscenely wealthy he is. And he has tried to sort of veer the conversation toward, well, I've given millions to charity.
PAGEYeah. Let's go to an emailer who writes us. Richard writes us quite critically. He says, "'The Diane Rehm Show' continues to be part of the problem. Rather than having a substantive discussion about Romney, Gingrich and Obama's positions, policies, truths and falsehoods, 'The Diane Rehm Show' continues to blather and babble about who's up, who's down and what's the strategy in the calendar."
PAGEWell, it's certainly true, Richard, who writes us from Birmingham, Ala., that we've been focused on the horse race here. The horse race is always interesting. But, you know, I take his point. And one thing that struck me about the Florida campaign itself, moving beyond the criticism he has of this particular show, is a place where seventh worst rate, highest rate of home foreclosures, the worst place in America to be a long-term jobless person, and yet that was not what even the candidates focused on. Why is that, David?
FRUMWell, my own interpretation of it, especially from the Romney point of view, is because the kinds of things that are true, the kinds of things that you would have to discuss to make real solutions are things you can't say in the context of Republican primary. I mean, when we're talking about housing foreclosures, if a Republican candidate stands up and says, you know, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they added a little fuel to this fire, but they didn't cause it, you're out. You're out of the game, even though that's profoundly true.
FRUMIf you were to say something like, you know, you're calling President Obama the food stamp president. I'm very glad we have food stamps because otherwise, in a depression of this magnitude, people would be hungry. And what we want to do is, you know, move away from food stamps as rapidly as possible, but thank God for food stamps. You're out. And yet I suspect that those are things that not only Mitt Romney, but even in some parts of his mind Newt Gingrich may actually think.
PAGESo the solutions are too hard, and that's why they talk about other things.
FRUMAren't exact about the solutions. They're not hard, but they're -- the Republican Party, and I think this is where -- it's trapped by this -- and this is a thing Craig and I will disagree with, but this alternative knowledge system that has been created by the talk system, the talk radio, where thing -- the things that you actually need to base your governing on are unacceptable to say within the context of a primary.
PAGEWe're going to have to take another very short break. And when we come back, I'll give Craig Shirley a chance to respond to David Frum's comments. We hope you'll stay with us, and we'll go back to the phones, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're talking about yesterday's Florida primary and the path going forward for the GOP. With me in the studio, David Frum, a columnist for Daily Beast and Newsweek, a former speechwriter and special assistant to President George W. Bush. He's the author of "Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again" and co-author of "An End to Evil: What's Next in the War on Terror."
PAGEWe're also joined by Craig Shirley. He is a Reagan historian, president and CEO of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs and author -- working now on a biography of Newt Gingrich. He's previously written a biography of Ronald Reagan. And also with us is Beth Reinhard, a reported with National Journal. Well, Craig, right before the break, David Frum was making a point. You didn't have a chance -- time to respond. Let me give you a moment to do so.
SHIRLEYI think the gentleman who sent the email from Alabama, I think, was -- had a very valid point, and we all become trapped in Washington speak. And it's mainly driven by the political consultants. The consultants have really taken over the political parties. They've drained ideology out of it. They've drained passion out of it. They've drained intellectual discussion out of it. And they've made it into a formulaic exercise where you raise a lot of money, you hire opposition researchers, and you produce commercials, and you destroy your opponent.
SHIRLEYAnd that was the formula that Mitt Romney followed to a T in Florida and will continue to follow because that's what he does. His consultants were in The New York Times the other day, bragging about how they ran his mind. They ran his campaign. He did what he was told. And this is how -- but let me just say, from a Tea Party standpoint, a Gingrich-conservative-philosophical standpoint, to address the emailer and to David, this is a nation of 310 million people. It is big. It is vast. It is broad. It is diverse. And just set aside ideology for a second.
SHIRLEYIt's simply incomprehensible to think that you can govern this nation from one corrupt city by the Potomac River. Federalism is the core philosophy of conservatism, sending power back to the states and localities and individuals and giving the states 50 chances to get it right instead of Washington one chance because, inevitably, the argument of liberal Republicans, like David and others, is simply to grow government, add government programs, and all you end up is -- with the morass that we have today where Washington is completely dysfunctional, serving only itself.
PAGEBeth, you know, I have one other thought on why perhaps the debate in Florida wasn't focused more on substantive issues and more focused on Gingrich's temperament or Romney's tax returns. And that is, is there a big divide on policy terms when you talk about things like what to do about the economy between Romney and Gingrich?
REINHARDThere really isn't a lot of divide between them on a lot of issues, and, you know, the candidates, of course, tend to go where there's conflict. And so, for example, we've seen a debate about immigration 'cause there are some nuances between them on that. But, you know, for the most part, you know, there's a lot of similarities between their tax plans, their policy plans.
PAGEWe've gotten an email from Michael. He writes us from San Antonio, Texas. He says, "Please ask your guests to explain a term that was used: Keep Obama in his place. What does this mean? It definitely has racial connotations to my ears. Please elaborate." David, I believe you used the phrase, something like that. What did you mean?
FRUMI did. I intended racial connotations, that I thought that -- what I said at the -- I think the sentence or the paragraph in which I embedded that phrase was that I thought that one of the reasons that Gingrich had done so well in these debates in South Carolina, especially in that encounter with Juan Williams, was that there is an appetite for -- in the Republican Party for someone whom Republican voters see can cut -- not just defeat Obama and not just govern the country, but can really, on a stage in front of the country, expose him and put him in his place.
SHIRLEYSo you're calling millions of Republicans racists?
FRUMI think that they -- I think people respond to things for reasons they don't understand. I -- but when...
SHIRLEYDavid, I think you need to be careful.
FRUM...Newt Gingrich consistently says Barack Obama, whatever you think of his policies, is one of the most personally impressive people ever to have held the office of the United States, when you continually suggest that he can't express himself without a teleprompter, what are you saying? Barack Obama can't express...
SHIRLEYYou're saying he uses a teleprompter. He uses a teleprompter.
FRUMAnd why is that an interesting fact? I mean, if I...
SHIRLEYBecause, unlike most other presidents, he's very reliant on teleprompters. That's all. It's just a fact.
FRUMWhy does Newt Gingrich come back to it, and unlike most -- unlike many presidents before him, he also has struggled with nicotine addiction. That's also a biographical fact. Why choose that one biographical fact? Because we know what he's doing, Craig. Don't treat us like we don't know -- we can't hear what's being -- what's in the air all around us.
SHIRLEYAll right, all right. Now, you've said -- you've accused Gingrich of race baiting. You've accused millions of Republicans of race baiting. I'm working on a book about Newt Gingrich. All the years that he was in Congress, he was endorsed every two years by the Atlanta World, which was an African-American newspaper in Georgia, warmly endorsing him. He -- just to -- you know, nobody gave him credit a couple of weeks ago because he talked about finding jobs for inner-city children.
SHIRLEYWell, we don't -- President Obama doesn't talk about the plight of the inner cities or the plight of children in the inner cities. Nobody has addressed this in a serious way. And Gingrich raises just the idea of somehow addressing this problem, and the intelligentsia takes his head off.
FRUMI didn't talk about what Gingrich is because -- I didn't talk about what he is because I don't know. I talked about what he did on that platform. And what is in Gingrich's heart, I mean, that's sort of inaccessible to me. And he's said and done so many contradictory things over 17 years. And who knows which of them is the real man? But that's what happened in South Carolina.
PAGEBeth, one of the things that struck me in the exit poll data was that four out of 10 Republican voters in Florida said they wished somebody else would run for this nomination. Now, these aren't voters generally, Floridians generally. It's Republicans who bothered to go to the polls, and yet 40 percent, almost 40 percent said they wanted somebody else to run. Is that still possible? Is it possible that someone else will get into this race?
REINHARDI think it's highly unlikely. It's wishful thinking on the part of a lot of Republicans. But, of course, the Obama administrations or the campaign, I should say, seized on that figure, on exactly that with a memo this morning that laid out, you know, basically arguing that folks voted for Romney just because he made everyone else look so bad. It wasn't a vote for Romney. And that's the case they'll, of course, continue to make.
PAGELet's go to the phones, talk to Frank. He's calling us from Cleveland, yet another swing state in the fall. Frank, thank you for giving us a call.
FRANKHi. I wanted to say a few words about the Republican conservatives, moderates and the liberals. OK? I've been a conservative -- consider myself a conservative, but I'm called a liberal because I'm very pragmatic in the way I think as a Republican. The conservative end of the Republican Party -- and I've called on the Congress for 23 years. I'm retired now. Ideologues, demagogues, racists and bigots, I mean, they're -- it's a pure Southern party, the conservative end.
FRANKThe moderate end are more pragmatic and really are the businessmen. And then you have, like, what I call the liberal end, sort of like George Wills, (sic) the closest thing to a philosophical person in the Republican Party. The party and the whole mirage of our total political system is broken. It's broken. We're no longer a republic. We're an oligarchy. And look up the word oligarchy. It -- we -- that is what we are, you know? I'm in the 2 percent. I'm not in the 1 percent. I'm a fairly wealthy man.
FRANKBut I am pragmatic. I joined the Republican Party when I was a soldier in Korea, and Eisenhower was going to end the war. And that's a very pragmatic statement. I have absolutely no philosophical background. And so what the party is really screwed up in is money. They're stealing it. That's really all I have to say.
PAGEAll right, Frank, thank you very much for your call. What do you think, Craig?
SHIRLEYI think he has a point. I think that a lot of people do believe that there's a disconnect between the insulated money power elite and the rest of the people and that there is an oligarchic collectivist government that's running things before its own purposes. I want to go back, though, to something that David touched on or talked extensively about. You know, for many, many years, the welfare system was and has been broken in this country, and Ronald Reagan talked about welfare queens. Was he also appealing to racist...
PAGEYou know, Craig, that's an interesting point, but I don't think that's the point of this particular show where we're talking about other things. And, you know, one of the tweets I got last night when I sent out a tweet saying I was going to be guest hosting today was, "Please talk about the implications of the Florida primary in the general election." You know, we've had a bunch of callers today from the states that will matter in the general election: Ohio, Florida, North Carolina.
PAGEAnd I wonder, looking at Florida, perhaps the nation's quintessential swing state, Beth Reinhard, what did we learn about the general election from the primary that we saw there yesterday?
REINHARDYou know, probably the point that the Romney campaign would want you to look at was how well he did among Hispanics. I mean, it was very striking. He did -- I think he got 9 percent of the Cuban vote in 2008. McCain just, you know, swept that. But yesterday, he did very well among Cubans and other Hispanics. He got over 50 percent of the vote. Now, whether that translates into general election is a debate. I posted something about that yesterday saying, you know, that his campaign could take that as a good sign for winning Florida.
REINHARDAnd I got an email from Obama's Florida director from 2008 saying there was no correlation whatsoever. It's true that the Hispanic vote in general election is much more diverse than the Hispanic vote that voted yesterday, which was predominantly Cuban-American. Of course, in general election, we're going to see a lot of Mexican Americans and other Latin Americans and Puerto Ricans as well.
PAGEBut, you know, when you think about the issue of immigration as it goes to a general election audience, you've seen the candidates pivot a bit. Not Newt Gingrich so much, which was taken a position that is, you know, lays the possibility of a path to legal status for long-term illegal immigrants here. But in -- we saw Mitt Romney take a kind of really harsh anti-immigration stand in South Carolina and then tried to pivot a bit, I think, when he got to Florida.
PAGENow, he goes to Arizona, which is a state, again, where there's a harsh anti-immigration line by a lot of Republicans. What -- how does the immigration debate, do you think, play out in this election, David?
FRUMWell, I think the immigration debate reflects the -- actually, the insulation of the Republican Party. Immigration -- every survey, every piece of data you have -- is not the top voting issue for Hispanic-Americans. And the fact that Republicans keep thinking that it is shows how little contact the party has with Hispanic-Americans. I mean, that, you know, that they -- this is a group that has been hit extremely hard by the foreclosures, by the economic downturn.
FRUMThese are pocketbook voters to a degree even more so than the rest of the country who are also pocketbook voters. So when -- that it has been a mistake for a long time that Republicans think we can have an economic policy that does not take into account very much the interest of people in the $60- to $80,000 a year range. But if we have a more permissive economic -- I'm sorry -- more permissive immigration proposal, that will win us Hispanics. That was, I think, a lot that went wrong in the 2000s. I don't think that's good politics. I don't think it's good policy.
SHIRLEYI would just say to David's point is that 56 percent of Cuban-Americans voted for Romney in spite of the fact that he had the -- arguably, the harsher immigration program in Florida.
REINHARDThe one thing I would add about that is, you know, Cuban-Americans are not concerned about immigration the way a lot of other Hispanics are, you know? If you're -- if you come from Cuba and you get one foot on shore, you are immediately, you know, granted asylum. So it's not the issue in that community. What I think those folks look for more is the tone, and do you feel that kind of anti-Hispanic tone that you have seen from some politicians that haven't done well among Hispanics?
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going back to the phones. Let's go to Rockford, Ill., and talk to John. John, thank you for holding on.
JOHNThank you -- for taking my call. I think your email -- or your emailer earlier was right on the money about blather. I also think that Gingrich is not really trying to become the candidate. He's trying to become a kingmaker. He's trying to have enough delegates that he can swing at convention and make deals.
PAGEAll right. Well, thank you. Thanks very much, John, for joining our conversation despite your harsh words about how we've been conducting it. You know, it kind of relates to a tweet, his comment does, to a tweet we've gotten from Mike, who says, "Considering Newt Gingrich's speech last night, is he considering a third-party run?" So, Craig, you know him well. What do you think is in his mind? Does he want to be a kingmaker? Is it possible he'd run as a third-party candidate?
SHIRLEYI think he wants to be the next president of the United States, and that's why he's running. He's been a Republican his whole life, unlike Mitt Romney, I might add. But Reagan had his whole life, a conservative his whole life. He's running, and he knows the dynamics of -- and the makeup of the Republican Party in that there is a very distinct conservative majority within the conservative -- within the Republican Party. And if he can consolidate it, then he sees a path to the nomination.
SHIRLEYThe convention is going to be very interesting, though, this year because, you know, it's -- it'll be the first time since 1952 'cause I think Eisenhower had to go to third ballot before he was nominated over Robert Taft. Of course, in '76, the Galva, Kansas City, not knowing who was going to be the nominee, Gerald Ford or Ronald Reagan, 'cause neither of them at that point had enough delegates to go over the top for a first ballot nomination.
PAGEYeah. We're all hoping for that kind of convention. Reporters are hoping for that kind...
FRUMCan I say something about that kind of convention?
FRUMWe often hear the phrase brokered convention. I think that should be stricken from the vocabulary. It's not impossible we could have a non-majority convention like '76. I don't believe that will happen, but it's not possible. But you can't have a brokered convention when there are no brokers. The days when the governor of New York arrived and he had a bunch of people on his payroll, the sheriffs and so on -- and he could tell those delegates how to vote.
FRUMIf we have a non-majority convention -- these are the delegates who come -- these are important people in their communities. These are people with strong opinions, especially on the Republican side. They're not public sector employees. They're not beholden to anybody. Do not assume that there are people who can make deals and that the delegates will heed those deals.
PAGEYeah, that's a great point, David. Beth, I'm going to give you the last word. What should we look for in the next couple weeks as we try to figure out if Romney is an evitable nominee or if Gingrich is going to be able to make a stand and come back?
REINHARDI think Minnesota is an important state to watch because, if Gingrich can win in Minnesota, it will be a state -- he will disprove the notion that he's a regional candidate who can only win in the South. And I think that could be a boost for him. If he can't win there and February comes and goes without a win, that's going to be very tough for Gingrich to go on.
PAGEInteresting story in The Boston Globe this morning by Glen Johnson saying that there are conversations going on between the Romney campaign and Michele Bachmann about endorsing him. That'd be important to Minnesota. What do you think, Beth?
REINHARDWell, just glancing at my BlackBerry, Michele Bachmann has put out a statement saying that is absolutely not true.
PAGEAll right. Well, that'll be our last word. I want to thank Beth Reinhard from National Journal, David Frum from Daily Beast/Newsweek, Craig Shirley, the Reagan historian, for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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