Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s decisive victory in the Illinois primary puts him closer to the number of delegates needed to win the Republican presidential nomination. He argues that he is better prepared than his opponents to take on President Obama in the general election. A new group called Americans Elect is trying to bypass the primaries altogether. They are turning to the Internet to choose a bipartisan ticket as a third alternative on the ballot in November. Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, John Farrell of the National Journal and Andrew Romano of Newsweek/Daily Beast join Diane to discuss the race. Governor Christine Todd Whitman calls in to talk about Americans Elect and her role on its board of directors.

Guests

  • Norman Ornstein resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and coauthor with Thomas Mann of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks" (May 2012)
  • Andrew Romano senior writer, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.
  • John Farrell congressional correspondent, National Journal,author of "Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned" (2011).
  • Christine Todd Whitman co-chair, Republican Leadership Council - a group that supports fiscally conservative, socially tolerant candidates; former EPA Administrator (2001-03); former governor of New Jersey (1994-2001)

Transcript

  • 10:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Mitt Romney's decisive victory in yesterday's Illinois primary puts him closer to the Republican nomination. If efforts by a new group called Americans Elect are successful, the Republican candidate will face a third bipartisan candidate in addition to President Obama in November. Joining me in the studio: Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and John Farrell of the National Journal. Senior writer for Newsweek and The Daily Beast Andrew Romano joins us from the NPR bureau in New York.

  • 10:07:43

    MS. DIANE REHMYou are welcome to be part of the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

  • 10:08:03

    MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINMorning, Diane.

  • 10:08:04

    MR. JOHN FARRELLGood morning.

  • 10:08:05

    MR. ANDREW ROMANOGood morning.

  • 10:08:06

    REHMAnd to you first, Norman Ornstein, did Illinois seal the deal for Mitt Romney?

  • 10:08:13

    ORNSTEINNo, it didn't, Diane. It's a nice big step for him. He won another nice bundle of delegates. But we know, as you project ahead looking at the delegates, that if he wins every single contest and sweeps the field, he won't have 1,144 delegates -- the magic number -- until the end of May. And if he continues to split delegates with Santorum, even if he wins 60-40 or a little bit more, it won't be until pretty close to the end of June. And, of course, he has to improvise and make peace with conservatives along the way. And when he improvises, he tends to make big mistakes.

  • 10:08:53

    REHMJack Farrell, do you agree with that? We just heard an AP reporter on the NPR News say that, with this win, Mitt Romney really has the delegates he needs to sew up the nomination.

  • 10:09:11

    FARRELLI don't think he has the delegates, but I think that he's done something that's really important if you look back from the beginning of the primary -- the beginning of the primaries. I was reading The Washington Post Sports this morning. And they asked Ian Desmond about his year last year, the short stop. He had a very bad first part of the year, but he had a good second half. And he said, to fight through that, that's what a big leaguer does.

  • 10:09:34

    FARRELLAnd I think that what Mitt Romney is showing us is that he's a big leaguer. He has organization. He has fundraising, and he's got grit. He's been doing this for a long time since he took on Teddy Kennedy in Massachusetts for a Senate seat. And I think that, over time, people will respect that.

  • 10:09:50

    REHMIs grit going to carry him through, Andrew Romano?

  • 10:09:57

    ROMANOYou mean in the general election?

  • 10:09:58

    REHMYeah.

  • 10:09:59

    ROMANOWell, we'll have to see. I mean, one thing that I've been looking at is Romney's favorable ratings, and I did sort of a study of the past 36 years. And he compares not so well to previous nominees. In fact, his unfavorable ratings are higher, and his favorable ratings are lower at this point than any previous nominee. And so this primary is really doing him some damage. So whether grit will be enough, we'll have to see. He has to make people like him more.

  • 10:10:28

    REHMDoing him some damage, Jack?

  • 10:10:32

    FARRELLYes. But one thing that has struck me, going to my own set of statistics, is that he's doing very well with the kind of swing voters that he's going to need in the fall. He's doing extraordinarily well against Santorum in the suburbs and among Catholics, among people who have college educations who make more than $100,000. And part of the Obama coalition are those swing voters who live in the suburbs and are highly educated, so if that pattern carries over into the general election, then you could have quite a fight.

  • 10:11:00

    REHMSo what about Rick Santorum? What does his strategy do going forward, Norm?

  • 10:11:07

    ORNSTEINWell, you know, Rick Santorum doesn't have a strategy at this point other than trying to be the one who becomes the non-Romney and hope that Romney somehow self destructs along the way. What continues to be true is what -- Jack is right, that Romney's got support from affluent suburban voters who tend to be core Republicans in this case. He has done extraordinarily badly in rural areas and among those making less than $100,000.

  • 10:11:33

    ORNSTEINNow, these working class whites have been key swing voters, and they have not gone particularly for Obama. But they've supported Santorum on the Republican side. He has to hope that he can simply stay alive and wait for Romney to stumble or hope that -- remember, Saturday, coming up, he has Louisiana. He's likely to do well there to win it, which at least keeps him alive, and hope that something better happens.

  • 10:12:00

    ORNSTEINThe problem for Santorum at this point, as much as anything besides not having a strategy, not having the money, not having delegates in many places where he can them even if he wins support, is that he's relying on his very conservative message. And that very conservative message has led him to have trouble even with Catholics, for example. And he is as strong a Catholic as you'll find out there, and, of course, Mitt Romney is not. So he's floundering, but that doesn't mean it's over.

  • 10:12:32

    REHMFloundering, Andrew?

  • 10:12:35

    ROMANOWell, I wouldn't say necessarily floundering. I think that he's been vastly outspent in this race. No one expected much from him, and he's done a pretty well -- a pretty good job, considering those facts. But there really isn't a clear path to the nomination right now for him. What's keeping him alive, actually, more than any other demographic group is Evangelical voters, which is interesting, given that he's Catholic. And, you know, only not so long ago, we were talking about, you know, could we even elect a Catholic president. So it's Evangelical voters that are keeping him alive.

  • 10:13:08

    ROMANOHe has won every single state where they comprise more than 50 percent of the electorate. There are some more states like that coming up, but there are also really big delegate prizes where that's not the case. And so, basically, there is this kind of pattern that's set where Santorum tends to win in the Evangelical heavy states, Romney wins elsewhere, picks up more delegates, and there's -- really, I don't see a way for him to break out of that pattern now. And it's sort of inevitable that he's not going to reach the magic number.

  • 10:13:34

    REHMWhat about Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, Andrew?

  • 10:13:39

    ROMANOIt'll be interesting to watch. You know, obviously, he's a native son. He grew up in Butler in Western Pennsylvania. He served there as senator, although in his last race, he lost by, I believe, 16 or 18 percentage points. Romney has some strength there. What we saw in the Illinois race yesterday was that he did very well in the ring suburbs outside of Chicago, and the demographics there are very similar to the suburbs of Philadelphia, which deliver a lot of votes in Pennsylvania. So I think it's going to be an interesting battle.

  • 10:14:09

    REHMJack.

  • 10:14:10

    FARRELLOne thing that Santorum could do for Romney -- and I'm really speculating here -- is give Romney a string of very happy Tuesdays between now and the end of the primary season. And I'm going back to the experience in 1988 when Dukakis all of a sudden broke out and started beating Jesse Jackson regularly. And every Wednesday morning, everybody around the country, when we were still reading newspapers, we'd get up and see the front page saying, Dukakis wins, Dukakis wins, Dukakis wins.

  • 10:14:38

    FARRELLIf Romney can put together a big string, and if he can breaks through in a big southern state or a state where the Evangelical vote is strong, then I think that you could make the case that having weak opposition for the rest of the primary campaign is not going to be such a bad thing for him.

  • 10:14:54

    REHMNorman.

  • 10:14:54

    ORNSTEINWell, I'm kind of smiling because I remember that contest, and I remember that the price that Dukakis paid, however, was to give Jackson a showcase at the convention in Atlanta. And that showcase, which was not a very supportive speech for Dukakis, was the beginning of the end for him. For Romney -- assuming that he can limp through to the 1,144 delegates -- and he may not reach that level by June 26 when Utah, fortunately for him, is the last contest -- he may have to pull in uncommitted delegates and some of the super delegates.

  • 10:15:27

    ORNSTEINBut he's going to have to give Gingrich and Santorum showcases at the convention. He'll do it for Ron Paul with whom he already has an alliance, and nobody will pay as much attention. But then it becomes a question of whether Santorum gives the same kind of speech that Pat Buchanan gave George Herbert Walker Bush's convention or Jesse Jackson gave, and that wouldn't be terribly helpful to Romney.

  • 10:15:49

    REHMYou know, you're saying -- pardon me -- nobody's going to pay much attention to Ron Paul. At the same time, he's gotten a lot of support in this primary season.

  • 10:16:06

    ORNSTEINAnd more enthusiastic support than almost anybody else, and from young people interestingly...

  • 10:16:11

    REHMYes.

  • 10:16:12

    ORNSTEIN...where the Republicans otherwise have a problem. What I meant by that is simply that, at the convention, you know, one question is going to be whether he gets booed by a lot of people as he takes a set of stances on foreign policy, for example, that are very much the polar opposite of Romney's and most to the Republicans there.

  • 10:16:30

    ORNSTEINBut I think Paul, at the convention, is not likely to give a kind of speech that's going to set out markers that will be more difficult for Romney to have to deal with. Santorum will give a speech that is red meat to a lot of very conservative troops out there.

  • 10:16:45

    REHMJack Farrell, what happens to Newt Gingrich now? Can he really hang on, and what is the means by which he does?

  • 10:16:56

    FARRELLWell, I think Newt can and will hang on because there's sort of two campaigns. One is the fight that's going on for the Republican nation -- the Republican nomination, and the other one is tour Gingrich. And tour Gingrich is a very appealing lifestyle. You go from place to place. People hang on your every word. They applaud you. And, really, the only downside to it is that you have to put up with some questions from the press thing, when you going to get out, when you going to get out?

  • 10:17:18

    FARRELLSo I think that Newt's ego is sufficiently large enough that he'll stick around, try to make a speech at the convention and try to put the whole year as a success.

  • 10:17:28

    REHMBut what about the Republican establishment, Andrew? Are they going to reach a point where they might say it to Newt, you're really hurting all of us?

  • 10:17:43

    ROMANOWell, I think the establishment is sort of saying that already. I mean that's the trend we're seeing. I mean, I think one interesting question with Gingrich is the money question. Obviously, Sheldon Adelson has been keeping his campaign afloat with donations. He's not raising any money, and, in fact, he's very deep in debt. I think the last numbers I saw were $1.5 million in debt compared to Romney being at zero.

  • 10:18:05

    ROMANOSo you're going to see this process of, you know, how long is the money going to hold out and how long can he keep touring around and promoting his book and visiting zoos and, you know, to trying to preserve his reputation? You know, I'd be surprised if he went all the way to the convention, but, I guess, you know, nothing should surprise me when it comes to Newt Gingrich.

  • 10:18:25

    REHMAndrew Romano, he is senior writer for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He joins us from NPR's New York bureau. Short break, and when we come back, we'll talk with Gov. Christine Whitman. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:04

    REHMAnd joining us now is former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. She joins us from Miami. She's on the board of a new group called Americans Elect. Good morning to you, governor. It's good to have you with us.

  • 10:20:23

    GOV. CHRISTINE TODD WHITMANGood morning, Diane. It's a pleasure to be with you again.

  • 10:20:25

    REHMTell me what the idea is behind Americans Elect and why you agreed to serve on its board.

  • 10:20:34

    WHITMANWell, the whole purpose is to open the process. I came to it, as did all the supporters, saying, there's something just wrong. We're not -- we don't like what we're seeing. There are so many people who are walking away from both of the parties saying (unintelligible) on both your houses. That's why you see independent registrations going up. In this particular cycle, it's -- we're getting nothing done in Washington.

  • 10:20:56

    WHITMANWe've got to break the partisan gridlock that we have in Washington so that we can address some of the issues of crucial importance to the nation and putting a bipartisan ticket together because that's what it will be, Republican-Democrat, Democrat-Republican. It could be an independent and then a member of one of the two parties, but probably Republican-Democrat on the ballot, in every state in the nation, which is what we'll do. We'll give people a third option, not an ongoing third party. We're not there, but it's to give people another option.

  • 10:21:24

    REHMYou're among the draft candidates on the Americans Elect website. What's the difference between a declared and a draft candidate?

  • 10:21:36

    WHITMANWell, anybody can put somebody's name up, and that's what happened. I guess somebody's put mine up, and I've already said that, as a member of the board, I don't think it's appropriate that I become a presidential candidate because this is too important in my mind. And I don't want there ever to be any allegation to get you offline that says this is an inside job. And to have a board member as one of the presidential nominees, I think, would be a real mistake.

  • 10:21:58

    WHITMANSo when it comes down to answering the questions, which each presidential candidate will be asked to answer, choosing a running mate, I'm not going to be playing in that.

  • 10:22:06

    REHMSo how are final candidates going to be chosen?

  • 10:22:10

    WHITMANThe delegates -- and there are over 400,000 of them now -- will have an opportunity. First of all, they're having the opportunity now to nominate qualified candidates or to look at the list of people who put themselves forward. And then in April or May, we are going to start the first round to get that list down to six. Those candidates must pick a member of the other party to be their running mate. They have to answer questions that are being developed now by all those delegates.

  • 10:22:38

    WHITMANSo this is a hugely open process, the kind of thing we haven't seen before. And then in June, we'll have a runoff, a convention to pick the top slate, and that will be the one that represents Americans Elect on the ballot on every state in the nation.

  • 10:22:53

    REHMWhere is the funding coming from?

  • 10:22:56

    WHITMANThe funding started initially with some big donors. We have a limit. No donor can be more than 20 percent of the total. Now, it's coming. We're really getting donations from people who are coming on the site, who are the delegates and others who are supporting it. But it was -- that's one of the raps against Americans Elect is that, because we're a 501 (c)(4), the donors do not have to declare their names.

  • 10:23:22

    WHITMANAnd, I mean, I've already said that I'm one of them, not a big one, but I'm of them. And Peter Ackerman has said that he is a big one, and we hope the others will come forward. But, you know, they're taking on their parties, and that is problematic for them. So they'd rather not be out there right now. But if there's one thing that doesn't matter me as much about it, even though I'd like to have everybody open, you want to have full transparency, is this isn't about a single candidate.

  • 10:23:48

    WHITMANThere's no way -- the thing you worry about in these big donations and a certain one person giving a lot is their relationship to the candidate and their ability to influence that candidate once they're in office. This way -- we don't have a candidate yet. There's no way the candidate will know who the givers are. So it's not ideal, but it's not as big of a problem as I see with super -- some of the super PACs.

  • 10:24:10

    REHMGov. Whitman, here is an email from Charles, who says, "Americans Elect would use the Internet as the technology for creative destruction of the party system that, with an exception or two, has served our political life extremely well. What would Gov. Whitman and former Gov. David Boren erect, some kind of popular front?"

  • 10:24:43

    WHITMANWell, I don't think this is going to wreck the party. As we say, the candidates have to maintain a relationship with the parties. You have to have a bipartisan ticket. The object here, though, is to make it more difficult for those in Congress to say the minute something comes from the executive branch, if it's not executive branch controlled by their party, to immediately say, we're not going to play. We're not going to listen to this.

  • 10:25:05

    WHITMANI mean, I think we all recognize that today in Washington, issues are looked at through the partisan political prism, not through the policy prism, and that's got to stop. It's bad for our country. This, as David Boren has said, is an effort to provide a shock therapy. Now, having said that, David and I have both said -- it remains to be seen who the candidates are. And if we don't like the candidates that come through this process, we will be supporting them.

  • 10:25:29

    WHITMANBut this is giving people -- I mean, Diane, you know, 400,000 delegates has probably more than we've seen in -- and if you put all the history of our nominating process together over its entire lifetime, you probably have not that many delegates. This is really opening a process using the Internet, and, frankly, I think that this is something you're going to see more of in the future. But, right now, it's about giving the public a choice, a third opportunity come the fall, so they're not relegated to what see now.

  • 10:25:59

    WHITMANBut it is not undermining the parties. In fact, the hope is that the parties are going to understand. They have got to stay in the middle. They can't keep allowing the extremes to control the dialogue.

  • 10:26:08

    REHMAll right. And here's another email from Elizabeth in Ramseur, N.C. She says, "American Elects' board is self-selected by the founders of the organization and, according to the bylaws, will remain self-selected in perpetuity. In addition, it's my understanding," she goes on to say, "that the AE policy and platforms are to be decided by the board regardless of the position of the delegates." Is that so?

  • 10:26:46

    WHITMANNo. The delegates are actually going to have -- first of all, there isn't going to be a platform. What we're doing now, when you go on the site, the first thing that you're asked is, what are the most important issues to you? Those then -- and then we go into more detail, and you can see where you come out based on how everybody else answers the question, where are they and where you are, where those answers are coming from in the country.

  • 10:27:06

    WHITMANBut it's based on those questions that we -- that we'll develop, go to experts in the fields, and it will be health care, environment, education, the economy, jobs, and sets the same set of questions, will develop questions based on what the delegates are asking and ask each one of the presidential candidates to answer those questions. They have to put up a video response as well as a written response.

  • 10:27:29

    WHITMANThey all get the same question, and it's not going to be changed from one to another the way you get in debates where the moderator starts to inject themselves into the debate and ask what they want to ask. So this will be the -- everybody gets the same question, same opportunity to answer, published on the website, and then you can pick from there who your preferred candidates are. But there's not going to be a platform per se.

  • 10:27:54

    REHMNorm Ornstein has a question for you.

  • 10:27:57

    ORNSTEINGovernor, I -- you know, you say it's a hugely open process. I'm more concerned about the reasons why the organization moved from a tax status that allowed donors or required donors to be identified to the 501 (c)(4). But also, I was assured by the founders of the organization that, while the donors would be allowed to remain secret, no donor would, in the end, give more than $10,000. Now, they've switched, as you said, to no donor giving more than a fifth of the money, which means, of course, that five big donors could do it. What's going on here?

  • 10:28:34

    WHITMANWell, part of it is, as you well know, when you're trying to start something new and it's not about a candidate and it's not about an individual issue, it's tough to raise money. And you are going to be taking on the two parties in the sense that you're saying, we don't like the way this process is working today. We don't believe that Congress is functional and really responding to the needs of the nation. We need to do something different.

  • 10:28:56

    WHITMANBut there can be repercussions, and they don't want to wait to see what those repercussions are. Now, we're starting to get -- as we get better known and get more publicity and more people coming on to the site over -- it's 2.8 million people now signed petitions across the country to get a -- to get Americans Elect on the ballot. They're starting to donate, and you're getting a wider spread of donations. But this is something that was new and in order to get it up and started -- it really started back at Unity08 in 2008, but it wasn't ready for primetime then.

  • 10:29:26

    WHITMANNow, it really is and it's beginning to catch on, and we're trying to spread those donations around and ensure that we do have a broad base. But, as I said before, since we don't have a candidate, it's hard to say that there's -- well, I personally would love to have it totally transparent. I can understand why some people are reluctant to have that. And, frankly, since the -- we don't have a candidate. The candidate can't be banking on one rich person who -- or series of people or business or labor union that's supporting them, that they're going to feel beholden to when they get into office.

  • 10:29:58

    REHMAll right. I think Andrew Romano of Newsweek has a question.

  • 10:30:05

    ROMANOGovernor, if you look on the website at the list of the declared and draft candidates, right now, draft candidates include Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, all people who are very unlikely to accept these draft movements. Declared candidates, the leading candidate there is Buddy Roemer, a person who was unable to get enough support in the polls in the Republican primary to appear in debates.

  • 10:30:34

    ROMANOMy question is, do you expect anyone to emerge, who's going to be able to inherit this ballot line, that will actually be able to garner significant support in the general election? And have there been any discussions with other people about declaring?

  • 10:30:49

    WHITMANThat's a real challenge, and that's the big challenge that we face, is who are the candidates going to be? And is there going to be someone of credible stature that'll be willing to stand up and take on their party and say, I will be part of this, and constantly talking to people? There are a lot of people who have indicated an interest, but are just hesitant to take that next step. But we're hopeful, certainly by the end of next month, that we'll have the candidates that will garner the kind of support that we hope to see. But that's the big challenge that you face with something new like this. It's a challenge.

  • 10:31:22

    REHMAnd, finally, Jack Farrell of National Journal has a question.

  • 10:31:27

    FARRELLGovernor, I was reading a column by Ezra Klein in The Washington Post. And he said that one of the beneficial aspects of this organization is not so much the presidential campaign this year or even presidential campaigns in the future, but the way that it could shelter moderates in cases where, like, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska where the primary base has gotten far off to one wing or the other, and they want to stay in, but they need to expand and move towards the center. Is that part of the thinking as well?

  • 10:31:58

    WHITMANRight now, we're just focused on the presidential. We haven't taken that next step to decide whether we reconstitute ourselves. As you know, with the 501 (c)(4) status, the money we raise can only be used for putting on the Internet convention and for securing ballot position. It can't be to support a candidate or a particular issue. And so we have to decide whether we're going to -- once we're through this cycle, whether, in fact, we want to take it to congressional level or not, and whether we want to reconstitute and go forward.

  • 10:32:30

    WHITMANBut, you know, certainly, if you look at the people who've responded where they are and the questions that they consider the most important, this is the center of the country. These are the people who are not on the fringes on either party. And I worry that the Democrats are doing the same things themselves that Republicans have done for years, and it's gotten us to this place where we're dysfunctional. And this is a way to see if we can't shake that up.

  • 10:32:51

    REHMAnd, finally, realistically, what do you think the chances are of an Americans Elect ticket winning the White House?

  • 10:33:02

    WHITMANYou know, Diane, it's hard to say 'cause it really depends on the candidate. If we get someone who has the kind of stature that attracts people's attention, the background that gives them a confidence that they can run the country, we can be very competitive. We will be on the ballot in every state. We are now, actually.

  • 10:33:18

    WHITMANBut, interestingly enough, working on a process to ensure that if we do win in some states and have delegates, have electoral votes, but we're not going to be able to win the presidency, we're working on a process now to ensure that the presidential candidate, the nominee of Americans Elect, work with the delegates, all those who have already signed up as delegates, to determine how to direct their electoral vote, so it won't go to the House. That's something we feel very strongly about.

  • 10:33:47

    REHMThank you so much for joining us. Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. She's on the board of a new group called Americans Elect. Thanks again.

  • 10:34:00

    WHITMANMy pleasure, Diane. Good to talk to you.

  • 10:34:02

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have lots of callers waiting. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Randy in Mantua, Ohio. Good morning to you.

  • 10:34:21

    RANDYGood morning to you, Diane. I think the obvious answer for the Republicans is a Romney-Santorum ticket. I don't -- I'm sure behind the scenes -- I hope behind the scenes that this is being talked about, and I'd like your panel to comment on that.

  • 10:34:39

    REHMWhat do you think, Jack Farrell?

  • 10:34:41

    FARRELLI think that's unlikely. It doesn't seem the kind of running mate that Mitt Romney would like to have going into the fall.

  • 10:34:49

    REHMWhy not? Why not?

  • 10:34:50

    FARRELLBecause I think Santorum is just a little bit too extreme in his views among -- that might alienate women and moderate voters.

  • 10:34:59

    REHMDo you agree with that, Andrew?

  • 10:35:02

    ROMANOI do agree with that. I don't think that he would do what a vice presidential nominee usually needs to do for a candidate, which is sort of expand his support. He wouldn't perhaps help motivate those evangelical voters that he's been turning out in the primaries who aren't too excited about Mitt Romney, but I agree that it's unlikely.

  • 10:35:22

    REHMAll right. To Foster, R.I. Good morning, Christopher.

  • 10:35:28

    CHRISTOPHERGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 10:35:30

    REHMSurely.

  • 10:35:30

    CHRISTOPHERI wish the governor was still on the line. I believe this American -- is actually a sham because you need to get control of the Congress. It doesn't matter who's the president. If you don't get control of the Congress -- President Obama couldn't even get his own party to completely deal with the health care issue. They took off reform. And you ask any doctor. They have to practice defensive medicine, which is driving up the cost. You need to get control of the House and the Senate by regular citizens, pass a constitutional amendment, the term limits...

  • 10:36:09

    REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Norm.

  • 10:36:12

    ORNSTEINWell, it's certainly the case that if you're going to create a movement that has any meaning, it's going to have to compete at the congressional level, and that's been the bane of third parties or independent movements for a long time. One of the difficulties here, I believe as well, is there's almost no chance that an Americans Elect candidate could win. There are more independents, but most of those independents lean to one party or the other. And they behave the same as partisans do.

  • 10:36:37

    ORNSTEINBut if you did win, you'd end up with a Congress with nobody having an incentive to support you. So you'd be pretty much -- instead of being able to transcend the process, you'd be in exactly the opposite position.

  • 10:36:49

    REHMBut what about his point, Jack Farrell, that you've got to get the Congress? That's all there is to it. Put aside the Americans Elect. No matter who wins the White House, if you don't have major support in the Congress, it's going to be tough.

  • 10:37:10

    FARRELLOh, absolutely. I mean, say -- Bob Reich, former Labor secretary, sent out a tweet yesterday, asking whether or not he should allow his name to be put forward on Americans Elect. Well, say, he, through some magical way, got elected to be president of the United States, and he goes into the White House. He has a Republican vice president, and he turns and there's Eric Cantor, and there's Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi saying, uh-uh, you know? We're right where we were.

  • 10:37:34

    REHMIt ain't going to happen. And that is the voice of Jack Farrell of National Journal. Short break here, and we'll be right back.

  • 10:40:04

    REHMAnd we're back. Here's an interesting question from Jack in Columbia, Mo. He says, "I'm having a lot of trouble finding news about the results of the caucuses held here statewide last Saturday. I've heard no news about this on NPR, CNN and other news outlets. Which candidate received the most delegates to send to the district conventions?" Norm.

  • 10:40:36

    ORNSTEINThe answer is we don't have any idea, Diane. These caucuses, which are the first step in which you choose people who go then to District conventions and then you move on up to the state, are, in many states, set by rules that are utterly convoluted. There are enormous questions raised. You get people chosen who don't necessarily have commitments that are firm and ironclad to particular candidates. And these are going to drag on until at least June. You have contests and disputes in places like Maine.

  • 10:41:09

    ORNSTEINIowa remains a little bit opaque as well. One of the arguments that Santorum has made is, you don't understand. I've got a lot more delegates than you think. Now, you know, you accumulate them, and Romney still has a huge lead. But it's another factor that complicates matters in terms of getting a nominee.

  • 10:41:24

    REHMBut is this because the counting has not been completed or there are questions about the counting?

  • 10:41:33

    ORNSTEINBoth. The counting hasn't been completed. There are questions about the counting.

  • 10:41:36

    REHMOK.

  • 10:41:37

    ORNSTEINThere are also issues about, when you've counted, who still goes forward to the next level. It's a bizarre process, to tell you the truth.

  • 10:41:45

    REHMAll right. And here's another question in regard to delegates from Tom in Ann Arbor, Mich. Good morning to you.

  • 10:41:56

    TOMGood morning, Diane. I love your show.

  • 10:41:58

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:42:00

    TOMThis -- the delegates -- what I'm questioning is this new party that's coming up, Americans -- they have 400,000 delegates. Is that correct?

  • 10:42:13

    REHMThey're working online, and that is the number that Christine Todd Whitman says are currently signed up.

  • 10:42:26

    TOMAnd so what is a delegate exactly?

  • 10:42:29

    REHMWell, I think that's a good question. Norm?

  • 10:42:32

    ORNSTEINYeah, that is a good question. Presumably, you're going to have the ability, as a delegate, to vote on -- first, to choose the slate of six and then, from that slate of six, to try and frame where they stand on issues and then choose a nominee. How that's done and how you can avoid having a Donald Trump-type celebrity or some movement done in a nefarious way by a group to basically flood the process remains to be seen. They swear they have safeguards, but we'll see.

  • 10:43:07

    REHMAndrew, what do you see as the biggest problem for Americans Elect?

  • 10:43:14

    ROMANOWell, one interesting point that I wanted to make about the delegates is that if you look at the draft candidates, Ron Paul is leading. Now, if Ron Paul were to drop out of the Republican primary and enter the Americans Elect primary, he would have the -- by far, the most online support and so those 400,000 delegates. I don't know how many of them are actually going to vote. But he's got a very avid fan base, very active supporters online, and he could actually win that nomination.

  • 10:43:43

    ROMANOI think that if he were to enter in, that would be the likeliest outcome. He'd have to pick a running mate of another party, so a Democrat or, I guess, an independent. But that is what I think is the biggest potential disruptive force for Americans Elect in terms of interrupting, kind of, the process of the Democratic and Republican contest going forward.

  • 10:44:06

    REHMJack Farrell.

  • 10:44:07

    FARRELLYeah. The problem with seeing it as a big danger, though, is that a very healthy independent movement, like the libertarian movement behind Ron Paul, they're going to probably go out and get on the ballot in a lot of states and cause trouble anyway. And so what this organization does, at least this year, is give people a structure that allows them to get on the ballot rather easily. There is always going to be that danger, though, that some popular movement like this can just take over that structure and use it to very easily get on the ballot.

  • 10:44:38

    REHMWhat's happening to our political process? It would seem that this organization could wreak havoc or it could create a foundation for some new emerging third way.

  • 10:44:56

    ORNSTEINWell, there's clearly anger and disaffection out there, Diane. In terms of what's happening, I will tout the book that Tom Mann and I have coming out on May 1 called "It's Even Worse Than It Looks." I fear that a movement of this sort is much more likely to wreak havoc than it is to create a third-party movement. It's really difficult to sustain something like that in America. And what it will do is, as we've seen, forces an independent movement -- Ross Perot actually did help to change the dialogue. It is true.

  • 10:45:28

    ORNSTEINBut if you look at what Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader did in 2000, they, even with 1 or 2 percent of the votes, can swing an election away from what otherwise would be a rightful winner. So the ability to sustain this in some fashion is a questionable one, and it can so easily be taken over. I mean, I'm having visions now of a Ron Paul-Dennis Kucinich ticket.

  • 10:45:54

    REHMJack Farrell.

  • 10:45:55

    FARRELLThe only thing I would say is you should never, never, never underestimate the potential of the Internet to change things.

  • 10:46:01

    REHMYeah, yeah.

  • 10:46:02

    REHMSomebody is going to figure out someway to do this in a structure that works the way that Facebook works or the way that AOL work, and it could have an impact further down the line. I don't think this year.

  • 10:46:11

    REHMAt the same time, here's Marianne (sp?) in East Green -- I guess it's Greenwich, R.I., isn't it, Marianne?

  • 10:46:21

    MARIANNEHi.

  • 10:46:22

    REHMHi.

  • 10:46:23

    MARIANNEI don't know if you can hear me proper with the static. I'm on a landline, so what I called -- I just want to make a couple of comments. One is that I feel very disenfranchised from this whole process if it was ever to come true because I do not have a computer. And there are many at my age -- I'm an elderly -- that don't have computers. But then I was told, well, you could just go up to the library. Well, there aren't always libraries available right next door.

  • 10:46:52

    MARIANNEAnd not only that, how would they even accommodate everybody on Election Day if ever? And the biggest thing I have against this is the possibility of fraud galore. I mean, who's to say? How are they going to know it's me that's, you know, voting online?

  • 10:47:11

    REHMSure, sure.

  • 10:47:13

    MARIANNESo it -- I -- and I don't like the idea that they don't allow donors and need to be, you know -- and, you know, anyone could put anybody up. But it's like when they do this, what, "Dancing with the Stars" or whatever, and they go by vote. Well, my heavens. Someone could jam the lines with votes...

  • 10:47:32

    REHMThat's for sure. Andrew, you want to comment?

  • 10:47:36

    ROMANOWell, I believe they do have some processes in place to prevent voting fraud, that one person, one vote sort of thing, kind of online verification systems. But you're right to be suspicious of it, wary of it. And I think that that kind of skepticism is good, you know, going forward. Do I think there's going to be some sort of, you know, wide-scale fraud that puts someone on the ticket who then disrupts the presidential election? No. I don't think that's going to happen, but it is something to watch out for.

  • 10:48:09

    REHMBut, you know, this country has never been easy about any kind of third-party entrance into the election structure. What makes this any different from a third party, Jack?

  • 10:48:25

    FARRELLI think what you're doing is you're adding the technology and the money of whoever the donors are to smooth the way to get on the ballot. I can remember John Anderson -- help me here if I'm wrong, Norm -- had, you know, ran as a third-party candidate, had difficulty getting independent, had spent a lot of money to go to court. And if you've got this little place that you can just plug in and, wham, you're on 50 ballots in November, that's just quite a valuable tool.

  • 10:48:52

    FARRELLThe big question I have is what -- you know, when you go on this site and you register as a delegate, you give them an awful lot of political information about yourself. And this database that they're accumulating is going to be very valuable for somebody at some point, and I'm interested to know what they're going to do with it.

  • 10:49:06

    REHMAll right. Let's go to San Antonio, Texas. Hi, Joe.

  • 10:49:12

    JOEHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 10:49:13

    REHMSure.

  • 10:49:14

    JOEI've been curious to hear your panelists' thoughts on what I perceive to be more of a threat to an Obama re-election, and that is the ability to pick up swing voters. I don't think Romney, the inevitable, can do it. He's just -- I don't think a lot of people identify with him. But if you look at Santorum, for instance, and, you know, not withstanding -- or if you -- aside from his -- some of his extreme social views, if you look at his speech, for instance -- I'm a swing voter, by the way.

  • 10:49:40

    JOEAnd, you know, I look at his acceptance speech or his winning speech after the Iowa caucuses, and he came off rather likeable, you know, and is someone who could, I think, more swing voters can identify with and maybe even dare to say compassionate conservative. And I would think that would be more of a threat in the Obama reelection than just let, you know, than the inevitable Romney again.

  • 10:50:05

    REHMJack.

  • 10:50:06

    FARRELLYou know, the problem with that speech in Iowa, which I think is a little has been -- a little bit over-hyped, but that, you know, he went right to New Hampshire and immediately branded himself as the guy who wanted to speak for an hour-and-a-half about how gays shouldn't be allowed to marry. And so I think that's been his problem, is that he's never been able to take the economic message and stick to it because his base is the evangelicals, and they want to hear about these divisive social issues.

  • 10:50:30

    REHMIs it true that even his wife urged him to get away from those issues, Norm?

  • 10:50:38

    ORNSTEINYeah. And I think, for pragmatic reasons, although these are the motivating forces, they were his motivating forces when he was in Congress as well. And, you know, I think he's -- we get back to the point that his base is evangelical voters for whom these are more important. But if you're not going to move beyond that base, you're going to have some real trouble.

  • 10:50:56

    ORNSTEINJust a word on what Joe said, too. You know, it would be more compelling to have an Americans Elect force here if you -- if we knew we were going to get two candidates for president who are way off at the left and right ends of the spectrum, but we're not. Now, Romney is trying to move over there to accommodate his primary electorate, which is a very different one than we have had for Republicans in the past. It's moved very sharply to the right. But the idea that Obama is some crazy leftist is just sort of ridiculous.

  • 10:51:31

    ORNSTEINAnd as presidents do, he's governed towards the pragmatic center. It's a pragmatic progressive place, where he is. But the idea that there's a vacuum in the center at this point, which a lot of people believe -- Matt Miller, the columnist, Tom Friedman, the columnist, have been supportive of this. That's what Christie Todd Whitman is saying. Just doesn't reflect, I think, the reality of where we are, maybe in Congress. There is no senator in Congress, but they're not focus on Congress as we've discussed before.

  • 10:52:01

    REHMAndrew.

  • 10:52:02

    ROMANOWell, I think that brings up a very interesting point, which is that, my belief -- and this comes from talking to the Americans Elect folks some -- is that this is -- the presidential effort that they're making now is basically a promotional thing. In a sense, get their name out there, get on the ballot. And if they can clear the 50-state hurdle, and if they can get two to 5 percent of the presidential vote, then they're eligible to appear on ballots in the future, in 2014 and 2016.

  • 10:52:28

    ROMANOAnd I think that's when this becomes a really interesting thing because then they can kind of, as they say, try to remove the word primary from the political lexicon. If someone like Mike Castle is run out by Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, then Mike Castle can go in the general election and run in the Americans Elect line, and you're going to get a less polarized Congress that way. I think Christine Todd Whitman said she wasn't sure they were going to do that. I think that's the most interesting thing about this.

  • 10:52:52

    REHMWhat do you think, Norm?

  • 10:52:54

    ORNSTEINWell, of course, Mike Castle could easily have run as an independent and gotten on the ballot, so it's not clear to me, I'm afraid, what happens in those cases. Every once in a while, you can see an independent force that can move in that direction. Take a look at the main gubernatorial election last time. We had a very strong independent candidate who could easily have been the Americans Elect candidate. That candidate took enough votes from the Democrat that had got an extremely conservative Republican governor with a plurality elected who's bringing a meat axe to a lot of programs in Maine.

  • 10:53:23

    REHMNorman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, co-author with Tom Mann of a new book, "It's Even Worse Than It Looks." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to St. Joseph, Mich. Good morning, David.

  • 10:53:46

    DAVIDGood morning, Diane. Thank you for having me on. My question is, even though the concept of this Americans Elect sounds enticing, how do we keep the system from being even less vetted for these candidates in going through this system because we've had the experience with Sarah Palin and other Tea Party candidates that weren't very well-vetted. How do you keep them getting out of hand?

  • 10:54:16

    REHMJohn -- Jack Farrell.

  • 10:54:18

    FARRELLWell, it's one of the advantages of having established political parties like we have. They're supposed to be doing this.

  • 10:54:22

    REHMAwful lot of people think we ought to go back to the smoke-filled rooms in terms of vetting candidates.

  • 10:54:29

    FARRELLI would say -- and I had an argument the other day with somebody who was talking about the 17th Amendment, which was the one that changed the way that senators were elected. And they said they wanted to go back and let the legislators, you know, of each state elect the senators because that would be closer to the people. And can you imagine what a small town legislator would do when some super PAC comes in and knocks on the door and promises to order 70,000 widgets from his factory or just hands him $10,000? I mean, the reason we got to that was the corruption the last time.

  • 10:54:55

    REHMAndrew.

  • 10:54:57

    ROMANOYeah. No, I'm -- there is no process for betting these candidates through Americans Elect. I think the idea is, as with a lot of things online, that it will be the wisdom of the crowds that selects the best candidate. And so, again, I think people are right to be skeptical about that. And, in fact, there haven't been any candidates that have emerged so far that look particularly promising.

  • 10:55:19

    REHMAnd, finally, to you, Norm, considering this long and difficult process that the Republicans have had, is there going to be any indication of a reduction in gridlock as we move forward?

  • 10:55:39

    ORNSTEINNot at all, Diane. And, you know, one of the problems we've got here is that we're seeing an interaction between the presidential candidates and the Republicans in Congress that actually is moving us further from the center. We have a Paul Ryan budget that's submerged now, which is a starkly conservative vision. It's one that dramatically cuts all of government other than the entitlement program and cuts them back very substantially while including deep tax cuts especially at the top.

  • 10:56:09

    ORNSTEINAnd Mitt Romney and the other candidates will embrace it. And at the same time, they're going to encourage because they're appealing to the base of the base, the Republicans in Congress, to move further away through the remainder of the year. So I don't see anything out there...

  • 10:56:23

    REHMAnd that's without cutting defense.

  • 10:56:27

    ORNSTEINIt's leaving defense alone, and, you know, there's nothing out there, including at some of these primary results. We didn't talk much about what happened in Illinois there, but you're seeing the parties move further apart through this process. And for Mitt Romney, assuming he wins the nomination, there isn't going to be much time or ability to move back to the center in the fall.

  • 10:56:51

    REHMPity our process right now. Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, co-author with Tom Mann of an about-to-be-published book titled "It's Even Worse Than It Looks." Jack Farrell is congressional correspondent for National Journal, author of "Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned." And Andrew Romano, senior writer for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Thank you all so much.

  • 10:57:28

    ORNSTEINThanks, Diane.

  • 10:57:28

    ROMANOThank you.

  • 10:57:29

    REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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