'This Week' Transcript: GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum

PHOTO: Rick Santorum

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."

Game change.

AUDIENCE: Newt can win! Newt can win!

STEPHANOPOULOS: South Carolina shakes up the GOP race.

GINGRICH: We've proved here in South Carolina that people power with the right ideas beats big money.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Newt Gingrich pulls off a stunning and sweeping upset. But does he have a path to the nomination? Can Mitt Romney recover? Is the Republican contest headed for a long fight, even an open convention?

ROMNEY: Now this race is getting to be even more interesting.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Questions for our headliner this morning, Iowa caucus-winner Rick Santorum.

SANTORUM: Three states, three winners. What a great country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And our powerhouse roundtable, with George Will, Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation magazine, Ron Brownstein from the National Journal, and ABC's political pros Matthew Dowd and Amy Walter.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. It's your voice, your vote. Reporting from ABC News election headquarters, George Stephanopoulos.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. And overnight, it is a brand-new race for the Republican nomination. After finishing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich surged to a strong win in South Carolina. Look at those numbers: 40 percent of the vote to Mitt Romney's 28 percent, with Rick Santorum third at 17 percent.

And in his victory speech last night, Gingrich struck a populist chord.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: The American people feel that they have elites who have been trying for a half-century to force us to quit being American and become some kind of other system. And the reaction -- people completely misunderstand what's going on. It's not that I am a good debater. It is that I articulate the deepest felt values of the American people.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: After congratulating Gingrich, Mitt Romney attacked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: In recent weeks, the choice within our party has also come into stark focus. President Obama has no experience running a business and no experience running a state. Our party can't be led to victory by someone who also has never run a business and never run a state.

(APPLAUSE)

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STEPHANOPOULOS: Yesterday's vote wasn't the only loss for Romney this week. On Friday, the Iowa Republican Party took away his eight-vote squeaker in that state's caucuses, announcing after a recount that Rick Santorum was the winner.

And we begin this morning with that candidate, Rick Santorum. He's down in South Carolina this morning. Thanks for coming out this morning, Senator.

Third-place win -- third place in South Carolina, not a win at all. And you're going to be facing right now enormous pressure from many conservatives to get out of this race so they can rally behind one alternative to Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich. Any chance you're going to buckle to that?

SANTORUM: No, in fact, a lot of conservatives are very concerned about the choice between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, because in their opinion and in mine, that's not a choice between a conservative and a moderate. It's a choice between a moderate and an erratic conservative, someone who on a lot of the major issues has been just wrong.

For example, the government-mandated health insurance that is at the core of Obamacare is something Newt Gingrich has supported for 20 years. The big bank Wall Street bailout, something that Newt Gingrich supported. Sitting on the couch with Nancy Pelosi during a very critical time when we were trying to fight off the cap-and-trade bill, immigration and a path to citizenship. I mean, these are core issues of the Republican base where Newt Gingrich is absolutely wrong and, by the way, Mitt Romney is wrong.

And, really, the race is a three-person race, and there's one strong, consistent conservative in this race. There's one candidate that can rally the Republican base, one candidate you don't have to worry about what he's going to say or do. He's going to, you know, criticize Paul Ryan's plan as right-wing social engineering. You know, his campaign staff's going to leave him, you know, en masse. This is not, you know, the old Newt. This is the last six months. So there's a big, big difference between these three candidates.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator, you've been making that case for some time right now. But looking at the exit polls coming out of South Carolina, among the voters who thought that electability, who can beat Obama, was more important -- there were a lot of them, 45 percent -- Newt Gingrich got 51 percent of them, Romney 37 percent. You were way down at 7 percent. And then of candidates looking for a very conservative candidate, a lot of those, as well, 36 percent, but Newt Gingrich gets almost -- more than double what you got.

So if you're not winning among the very conservative and you're not winning among those who want to beat Obama, what's your rationale?

SANTORUM: Well, look, we -- if you look at the numbers in Iowa, they were just the opposite. You look at the numbers in New Hampshire, they were -- they were tilted in a different direction. I mean, Newt put his flag here in South Carolina. It's a state that he knows well. It's a neighboring state for him. He spent all of his time and money down here. I spent a lot -- most of my time and money -- and certainly time, not money -- in Iowa.

And this is -- you know, these three races, in many respects, were -- are baked much more than the races going forward. And now we're going to have an opportunity for folks who haven't had the kind of exposure to the candidates that the three early primary states have, and we're going to see a very, very different dynamic.

George, there's one thing you know, that if you don't like the state of the play of the race right now, just wait until the next race. And we're going to see a completely different story. And that's the dynamism of this race.

So this idea that, because one person did well, Newt finished fourth and fifth. Where was everybody calling him to get out of the race? You know, we finished a very -- you know, we came from single digits in the last week and -- and really had a strong finish, a good debate. You know, we won Iowa, got really no bump from that because it happened the day before the primary.

There's a lot -- there's a lot of races to go. We're going to Florida and beyond.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think this year you're right, expect the unexpected, every single week. I take your point on that. Senator, you started to make the case against former Speaker Gingrich in your first answer there, talking about him being erratic. At the debate on Thursday night, you said he was grandiose. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: I don't want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and looking at the paper the next day and figuring out, what is he -- worrying about what he's going to say next (inaudible) you know, worrisome moment that something that's going to pop, and we can't afford that in a nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you saying that Newt Gingrich is too unstable to be the Republican nominee?

SANTORUM: I think if you look at -- look, Newt's a good friend of mine, and I'm -- period. He's a good friend of mine, and I like Newt, and he's -- he's a brilliant guy who has tons of ideas. The issue is discipline. The issue is leadership.

If you look at his leadership, when he was in the House of Representatives, there was a conservative coup within three years of him becoming the speaker and eventually was forced out because of, well, you know, issues of being able to focus, execute, discipline, order, not taking -- you know, not doing things that -- that are coming out of left field. You see this repeatedly. This is not the kind of leadership we need to take on Barack Obama.

We have to have a stark contrast. We have to have someone who makes Obama the issue in this race, not the Republican nominee. If -- if the Republican nominee is someone that the Obama -- can -- can drop $1 billion on ads on top of and make him the issue, then we're going to be in tough shape to be able to win this election.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you like Newt, but you don't think he can be trusted with the nomination or trusted with the White House?

SANTORUM: Yeah, I think he's -- he's -- he's a high -- a very high-risk candidate. That's -- I mean, I've said that from the very beginning. Again, a lot of ideas, brilliant in that respect, but as far as focus, as far as being able to rely on him to come out and -- and deliver that consistent, strong message and not undermine our -- our folks in the House and Senate, not undermine some of the basic things -- look, sitting on a couch with Nancy Pelosi is not a particularly -- not a particularly solid conservative thing when you're out there, as I was, fighting this -- this -- this junk science of manmade global warming and cap-and-trade, and Newt was on the other side. This is -- this is the kind of behavior that we cannot have out of a nominee.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What about Mitt Romney? He may not have the momentum right now, but he does have the money, and his super PAC is already spending it in the big state of Florida, taking aim at you. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): Barack Obama knows four facts about Rick Santorum that you don't. Santorum pushed for billions in wasteful pork, voting for the Bridge to Nowhere, a teapot museum, even an indoor rain forest. Santorum voted to raise the debt limit five times, increasing spending and debt by $3 trillion. And he even voted to let convicted felons vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And I know your campaign says you like to live off the land, but how are you going to compete with those kind of resources in the huge state of Florida?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, we're going to -- we're going to run everywhere. This race isn't going to be over next week in Florida. It's not going to be over the week after when we go to Colorado and Minnesota and Missouri. Look, this is going to be a long race. There's going to be a lot of opportunities for the rest of the country -- I hear this all the time -- why should three states decide who our nominee is? Well, in this race, it's not going to happen. In this race, we're going to have a long campaign, Florida will have its say, you know, Nevada will have its say, and we keep going from state to state.

And I feel very, very comfortable that as people continue to focus in and examine the candidates, who's the best person to win -- you know, that campaign ad, first off, the felon part -- Mitt Romney even admitted that that was wrong. The second part, the spending -- there's been nobody better that -- in cutting entitlements and reforming spending -- those projects he mentioned, none of them were ever built. The reason that -- that we go through this process is to propose things that -- here in the federal level. And the states have a say as to whether they're built or not, and then none of them were.

So this is -- you know, this is the best he has. Why don't we talk about my record on Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, what I've done on welfare reform and transforming the system? We've got the strongest record on spending, and I'm anxious to match that up against Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Where do you plant your flag? You mentioned Nevada. Mitt Romney is pretty strong right there. We know that Ron Paul is going to go play in all of those big caucus states. Your own home state of Pennsylvania doesn't even come up until late April. Where do you get your next win?

SANTORUM: You know, I -- to be honest with you, people asked me that before. Where do you get your first win? And we were able to pull off a big upset. Our feeling is that, you know, we go out and compete. This is a long haul. We picked up delegates today -- excuse me, yesterday. We're going to pick up delegates in the coming weeks. And we're going to have an opportunity, as states in this race evolves, we're going to have opportunities to win states. That's what we believe. We believe that our message is the best and that conservatives have and are starting and will increasingly start rallying around us when they look at the choices.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How big a blow was yesterday to Mitt Romney?

SANTORUM: Oh, huge. I mean, four days ago, George, he was 2-0, about to become 3-0, and this nomination in his and the minds of the media, anyway, was over. He's now -- I've beaten Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich has beaten Mitt Romney. The idea that conservatives have to coalesce in order to beat Mitt Romney, well, that's just not true anymore. Conservatives actually can have a choice. We can't -- we don't have to rush to judgment. We can actually look at the candidates.

The longer this campaign goes on, George, the better it is for conservatives, the better it is for our party. We stay focused on the issues, which is going out and taking on Barack Obama. The Republicans are the focus. I know why the media would love to have this race over, because they'd like to -- and the Obama administration, because they'd like to take aim on whoever the nominee as quickly as they can and start carpet-bombing them. I don't think that's going to happen, and I don't think it's a good thing that it does happen.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it looks like it's going to be a long one. Senator Santorum, thanks for your time this morning.

SANTORUM: Thank you very much, George. Appreciate it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And with that, let's get straight to our roundtable. I am joined, as always, by George Will, Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation magazine, ABC's Matthew Dowd, and Amy Walter over here on my right, editorial director of the National Journal, Ron Brownstein.

And let's get right to it, George. Boy, what a difference a week makes. Last Sunday, Mitt Romney looking to do something never been done in Republican primaries, get a clean sweep, three in a row. This week, something else we haven't seen before: three primaries and caucuses, three winners.

WILL: Yes, the old pattern has now been broken, and that is, for five consecutive times -- beginning with Reagan in 1980 -- Candidate A wins Iowa, Candidate B wins New Hampshire, and either A or B wins South Carolina and the nomination. That's over.

Mitt Romney's going-in trump card was electability. If you go back now to his 1994 Senate primary, he's been in 25 races. His record is 6 wins and 19 losses.

BROWNSTEIN: (OFF-MIKE)

WILL: Newt Gingrich won, it seems, at least 43 of 46 counties. He carried women and evangelical conservative South Carolina. He carried evidently all seven congressional districts. So here's what we now know. We all thought going in that the big problem for Romney might be his Mormonism. It might be the Massachusetts health care plan. That's not it. Mitt Romney's problem is somehow his Romney-ness, that is the fact that people are just not connecting with him, not just that he's the first candidate we've ever had from the financial sector, which turns out to be a problem, because finance is, A, mysterious and, B, disliked, but there's something about him that is not connecting.

DOWD: I think the most -- the most consistent thing in this inconsistent race has been the -- Mitt Romney's inability to sell himself in this race. He came in this race as the establishment candidate. He came in this race that most people thought was the odds-on favorite. He came in this race, as we've presented argument, with the best organization, best campaign, and best money.

And as we've seen this entire process unfold, the problem has been -- maybe not his Romney-ness, but maybe his Mitt-ness, because he cannot sell himself as an authentic, competent conservative in this field. And now he's back to -- we thought they broke the lid. He's back to the 28 percent, 25 percent. And that's a huge problem. And it's going be a huge problem in Florida.

VANDEN HEUVEL: He's bleeding, because he has not been able to deal with the tax issue, with the fundamental unfairness that he is an MRI of, and so amateurish.

But George mentioned that we're seeing old patterns or we aren't seeing old patterns. I think we're seeing some truly old patterns emerge in this race, if you think we now have the surge of a street fighter with a history of poisonous politics.

And we heard very clearly in these debates in South Carolina a replay of a 2012 version of Nixon's Southern strategy, this playing on the racial grievances and resentments, attacking a mythic liberal media, attacking now Obama's otherness. This is very dangerous for the country.

And I know some Democrats are cheering because Newt Gingrich has historically unfavorably high ratings, but you have a party taking this country into an abyss of poisonous grievances, when this country desperately needs solutions to economic problems...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Those Democrats include those in the White House looking for Newt Gingrich. They do want him.

VANDEN HEUVEL: ... of this country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you -- you brought up two points that really harken -- a big thing that led to Newt's surge this week, two debate moments. And I want to show both of them, and then we can talk about it. The first one, when he got into that tussle with Juan Williams of Fox after Williams suggested that Newt's talk about food stamps was insulting to African-Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: It sounds as if you're seeking to belittle people.

(BOOING)

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And then the night of "Nightline's" interview with his former wife, Marianne Gingrich, Newt Gingrich in Thursday's debate goes right after John King of CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office, and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a topic like that.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Ron, we've been talking a lot about Mitt Romney, but we also saw this week in South Carolina the debates mattered a lot.

BROWNSTEIN: We saw the conservative opportunity -- Newt Gingrich from the 1970s was a back-bencher at the far reaches of the House who was, you know, talking in very vitriolic language to get noticed.

Look, the formula that had been working for Mitt Romney until now was divide and conquer. In Iowa, New Hampshire, in the national polling, he was consolidating the center of the party behind him more than anyone was consolidating the right of the party against him. That has now broken down.

If you look in South Carolina, evangelical Christians, strong Tea Party supporters, very conservative, voters under 50,000 and non-college Republicans, all strands of what could be called the populist wing of the Republican Party, Newt Gingrich got up to 40 percent among them by articulating, I think, that kind of core anger they feel at both Washington and elites in general.

And that's a much higher number than anybody was able to get in Iowa or New Hampshire among those voters. And so the risk that Romney is facing is that, even with Santorum in there peeling away a part of that vote, that you now have this kind of coalition, the downscale populist coalition that is mobilizing around Gingrich, Romney is still pretty strong in that managerial, upscale side of the party, but this is a race that could go a long way if Gingrich has the financial and organizational resources to harvest it.

WALTER: Right, and that's -- he has to have that. He also has to have the discipline. I mean, there is a reason that Rick Santorum came in and called him erratic and he called him a high-risk candidate, right? Because what we've seen -- while I think it's true that Mitt Romney has had a problem really being able to be consistent from -- from debate to debate, from primary to primary, so has his opponents. That's why we've had three different winners. And I think Newt has to do that, as well, if he's going to survive.

The other issue here, when we come to the issue of Bain Capital, and -- and the financial sector, and Mitt Romney's ability or inability to answer for it, you know, it reminds of -- it's not the crime, it's the cover-up, right? And that the issue isn't Bain. It's his believability, the believability on the tax issue, the believability that he can go up against Barack Obama and defend who he is. And that's where his real problem is, because...

(CROSSTALK)

WALTER: ... wishy-washy...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: I think the issue is not Mitt Romney. I think, again, coming back to saying -- this campaign is giving us an MRI of the fundamental unfairness of the system in this country, and the impact of Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent, and the idea that income inequality and fairness has emerged as a central theme has brought Romney's problems -- his father -- never forgets -- his father, who filed 12 tax returns in 1967, paid a 37 percent federal income tax rate. We see the dissent (inaudible) tax system and the unfairness. And even when Mayor Bloomberg said we should...

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: Let's go back to the debates and go back to what we see in this process to me. While there's been -- people have seen some troubling nature of it and some ways they've said -- I think there's actually -- in my vantage point, some great developments that we've seen in this process that we've not seen before.

First, debates matter. And that is a big difference in -- it used to be I'm going to buy a bunch of media, I'm going to pay a bunch of people, and therefore, I'm not going to have to have a conversation. So debates matter, because people are looking for an authentic conversation in this environment, which they don't feel they've had before.

Second, the idea that you can go and write checks to consultants and all that and hire media folks and pay for organizations.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Newt fired them all.

DOWD: Newt fired them all. And then we've seen the ones that have had the most of it haven't been the most successful in this. Rick Santorum wins Iowa with basically no paid organization and no money on television.

WILL: But saying (inaudible) debates, however, deserves a minor dissent. Conservatives and Republicans generally are saying, let's nominate Newt because for four-and-a-half hours of debates with Barack Obama, he'd be the best. You're talking about giving a guy nuclear weapons for eight years perhaps.

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: Actually, I don't think that's why they're saying that. What -- what I think they're saying is -- what the voters want is a strong, decisive, authentic conservative. And what -- what Newt Gingrich has revealed -- and whether he's in -- his entirety of his life is true or not -- what he's revealed in the course of the debates and what Mitt Romney has shown is that Mitt Romney has shown is he's not a strong, decisive, authentic conservative, and Newt Gingrich feels and looks that way to the folks in the debate.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: What Gingrich has been is not ideologically consistent through his career, but he has been consistently a partisan warrior. The Gingrich you saw on stage this week was the Gingrich who called the Clintons the enemy of normal Americans in the '90s or the language he used about Jim Wright in the 1980s. And that is connecting with Republicans.

I will have a dissent, though, from Amy, because I think there is more -- it's not only Mitt Romney's answers that are causing him the problems. The Republican Party is changing. It is becoming more blue collar, more downscale. They're winning an awful lot of white working-class voters, and Romney has always had difficulty connecting with those -- even in the first two states when he was doing well, he did much better among better educated and more affluent voters than he did with...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: So did Senator Barack Obama four years ago.

BROWNSTEIN: That's absolutely right. And as he moves forward...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: As he moves forward, that constituency is very challenging for him. Newt Gingrich beat him by a substantial margin, 18 points, among voters without a college education in South Carolina.

WILL: Ron is pointing to the Republican base. In the 2010 elections, whites without college education, Republicans got 63 percent of that vote.

BROWNSTEIN: Sixty-three percent, yeah.

WILL: And the question is -- now, it's not that Professor Obama is going to connect with those people any better than perhaps the man from Bain Capital, but the question is...

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: And that's the thing about this...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: ... by what he's saying...

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: ... oh, Newt Gingrich shouldn't be attacking Bain, he shouldn't be doing that, there's going to be a bad reaction to it. It's the people that still thought the Republican Party is based on Wall Street, when it's based in rural America.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: While we're talking here...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... Mitt Romney seems to believe that it is his tax returns that are part of the issue. He has just announced this morning that he is going to release two years of tax returns this Tuesday, following Jeb Bush's call for him to release them before Florida.

And, Amy, this gets to the question I think a lot of us were mystified. You knew this question was coming all year long, yet you've seen a series of four or five different answers from Mitt Romney. Now we know we're going to see two years on Tuesday.

WALTER: That's right. And he has to be able to answer for them confidently. I mean, that seems to be the bigger issue here, which is, he puts it out there and then he backs up a little bit. And that goes to the heart of the problem, I think, we're all getting at, whether it's his Mitt-ness or his Romney-ness, the sense that there is not a core there and people can't hold onto it.

Listen, I think that -- that he can defend himself and his record and his wealth and his -- his record on Wall Street, but he has to look confident doing it. And he has to look as if he can do that with Barack Obama, not just in a Republican debate.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But last night, Mitt Romney abandoned the job-creation argument. It was really an argument for success and the ability to make wealth in this country. His job-creation numbers have been repudiated. His tax figures will now be raked over. He has offshore banking accounts via Bain. This is a moment not of populism in this country...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... pays a full U.S. tax on.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But he has -- but he has now entered a moment which I think his team never anticipated. There was a smugness and arrogance about being the inevitable candidate that led them to sort of be unaware of the mood in this country at this moment, which is about a view that the elites -- there are elites in this country, that the government is rigged against you and that you need to find a way to open it up out of the special interest money.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you explain why Mitt Romney is having so much difficulty with this issue? What is it that he's trying to hide? Where does the discomfort come from?

WILL: You mean on the taxes?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah.

WILL: I don't know. We'll know when we get, perhaps, more than two years, because once you start from, "Maybe I'll release one year," then you say, "I'm going to release two," the call will now go up, "What's in the third year?" And if you release the third, what's in the fourth? So he's going to have to have a large...

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: I don't think -- I don't think it has anything -- I've been with enough candidates, George, and you've been with enough candidates, and we've all been with enough candidates -- I don't think it's that he has something to hide. I don't think that's it at all. I don't think there's like, whoa, what's -- what's all this?

What I think it is, is a typical candidate that decides they don't think they need to do it. And in 1994, he said I'm not doing it, he never released them. In 2002 running for governor, he never released them. As governor, he never released them. He runs for president, never released them. He gets in his head, "I don't need to release them," and no matter what anybody tells him, that's the problem.

BROWNSTEIN: Here's where -- I have to give an anonymous shoutout to one senior Romney supporter in South Carolina who said to me Friday, "He can release his taxes before or after he loses the South Carolina primary," that basically, that once he lost, they were going to come out, and why not release them beforehand to give yourself a better chance to win?

But, you know, I think the -- where the taxes fall into a larger issue for Romney is the electability concern and his eroding performance on that measure, because he has looked so unsteady on his feet in the last two weeks. You know, we had this bizarre period through the fall and early winter, where the other candidates were really jostling to become the alternative to Romney and so were focusing their fire on each other, rather than him.

Starting in that Sunday before -- that debate the Sunday before New Hampshire, he has been in the crosshairs, and he has not done well. He had a very bad week in South Carolina.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, George -- I mean, it's clear. And, George, they are banking on Florida being the backstop, big state, money can work for him there. Already 200,000 people have voted. He's been working the absentees. It's a closed primary.

But Jeb Bush -- I think the Romney campaign had been counting on Jeb Bush giving them an endorsement. He said last night he's going to stay neutral.

WILL: Yeah. Well, remember, we're going to go down the road and we're going to find, I think, Newt's not on the Virginia ballot. He may -- is he on Missouri? I can't...

WALTER: Nope.

WILL: He's not on Missouri, so he's not competitive everywhere. Here's a small sliver of a silver lining for Mitt Romney: All across the country this morning, people are waking up who running for office as Republicans, from dogcatcher to Senate, and they're saying, "Good god, Newt Gingrich might be at the top of this ticket." And that can't make them...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to stop everybody there, because we have to take a quick break, but I want to come back, and we're going to focus this question of where the Republican nomination goes next, also look ahead to the president's State of the Union. Could a third-party candidate -- the chances of that going up this time around. And finally, that Internet blackout this week that had the late-night comics buzzing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIMMEL: Wikipedia was one of 7,000 websites that went black today, along with Craigslist and Reddit, and even Lolcats, Lolcats. I -- I was unable to see any cats dressed like Hitler today.

(LAUGHTER)

That's when it hit you the hardest, you know?

COLBERT: Nation, now, you may have noticed today that some of your favorite websites, like Wikipedia, Reddit, and BoingBoing, have all gone dark, which means, Internet users, the blue screen of death you were looking at this morning, that's the sky.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): We all know about Solyndra, the White House e-mails, the FBI raids. Solyndra investors raised campaign money for Obama. The government gave Solyndra half a billion in taxpayer money. Politics as usual.

(UNKNOWN): Secretive oil billionaires attacking President Obama with ads fact-checkers say are not tethered to the facts, while independent watchdogs call this president's record on ethics "unprecedented." In America's clean-energy industry, 2.7 million jobs and expanding rapidly. President Obama kept his promise to toughen ethics rules and strengthen America's energy economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: In some states, the general election ads have already begun. We're going to get to that in a moment. But I'm back here right now with our roundtable, still a lot to talk about on this Republican nomination fight.

And, Amy Walter, I want to go to you. We were just talking about Florida. This has become something, I guess, of a must-win for Mitt Romney. One of the reasons it's so important, unlike all these other states, whoever wins Florida, even if it's by one vote, gets all the delegates.

WALTER: That's right, although, remember, we still are a long way from the 1,044 that we need to get to, to win this nomination. Listen, I think the Florida model traditionally has been -- well, it's a big state. You spend a lot of money. That's how you can win the state. And so Mitt Romney then goes in with an advantage.

There are absentee ballots that he's been organizing. He's been doing all the things traditional frontrunners do, except for the fact that we have two debates before those primary ballots are cast on the 31st. We have one on Monday, and we have another one on Thursday. So we go back to where we started this whole conversation, which is the role of debates in shaping these elections. So there -- you're coming off of a big win if you're Newt Gingrich, but Newt Gingrich I still think -- and this is the other -- the issue here -- there's still a lot of baggage here that Newt Gingrich has yet to deal with.

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: And which I think -- in order for Mitt Romney to win Florida at this point, and he was ahead, I think by Tuesday -- the race will be tied in Florida by Tuesday. And if -- I did a little math last night. And people say, well, Florida's different than South Carolina. If you take the demographics and say Newt Gingrich gets exactly what he did in South Carolina, among the same demographics he wins by 6 to 8 points in Florida.

So in order -- Mitt Romney has to change the dynamics of this race.

BROWNSTEIN: But having said that, I mean, Florida is constituted more favorably to Romney than South Carolina. And the Republican Party, if you look at it nationally, as we were saying, it divides about in half now between an upscale, economically focused, more secular, pragmatic, managerial wing, the downscale, populist, evangelical wing. South Carolina clearly tilted toward the populist side. Two-thirds of the voters almost were born-again Christians. In Florida, it's only two-fifths. About 60 percent are those non-evangelicals.

And Romney did, we should note, still win them in South Carolina, non-evangelicals, despite one of the worst weeks that anybody has ever had. So there is still a foundation, but clearly it's cracking.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Now, these candidates, who are all across entitlements -- and Mitt Romney's signature issue is attacking Obama for his entitlement society -- I think forget that Social Security and Medicare are entitlements. I think they're rights. They're coming into Florida, where I suspect there are millions of Americans, including Republicans, as polls show, who don't want their entitlements taken away.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, but the debate -- could I just come back to what Amy said, though? Because we've been having a spirited debate here about the importance of debates. And I think debates have mattered in this election, which is great. They would matter a lot more if we didn't see those shadowy super PAC kind of ads, which, on the second anniversary of Citizens United, have to remember, they have been unleashed on our landscape in a way that has taken elections out of the hands of ordinary people and put them into...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the things we saw is that Newt Gingrich got hurt by the super PAC ads in Iowa, but fought back in South Carolina and his super PAC ads in South Carolina...

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: I take an entirely different view of this issue, completely different view of this issue. I think everybody likes to say, "Wow, these super PACs, all of this money out there, and all these ads out there," they are very little effect in this race. Advertising -- television advertising in presidential politics, over the last 15 years, it's diminished in importance. And...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: In the general election.

WALTER: In the general.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: I think it's hard to argue it didn't matter in Iowa in the primary.

DOWD: Barack Obama outspent Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas 3-to-1 on television ads and lost all three.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: This is the Ground Zero year for Citizens United.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're now looking at this -- you know, you look at history. Every Republican who's gotten the nomination, every Democrat faces one bad week where they just get trounced. And the question is, do they come back from it? Or do they start to bleed in a way they can't control? What do you think has happened to Mitt Romney here?

WILL: I think it's better to have your bad week now than later. It's good to have a bad week, because you find out how tough you are and who you can trust among your advisers and all of that. I think there's a reason you play spring training games. This is still spring training. So I think this on balance is not -- is far from fatal, and probably will be looked back upon by Mitt Romney as a toughening experience.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is he still the frontrunner?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think he's still the frontrunner, given all of his assets. But as I said, if Gingrich can find the wherewithal to organize the coalition that is around him, that coalition is large enough to contest this for a long time, because like Obama-Clinton, you have two wings of the party that seem now -- that seem to have settled on a champion.

But, actually, real quick, to your point about Medicare, I was at a Newt Gingrich event Friday in Orangeburg, South Carolina. He was asked about Medicare and what he was going to do to strengthen it by an older woman. And older whites are also now over 63 percent Republican in 2010. And he went through an entire answer without once mentioning that he would convert the program into a premium support or voucher program...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Which is his plan.

BROWNSTEIN: Which is his plan. So they're not entirely sold that they can sell this, either.

WALTER: I just want to bring up two issues, two points about Newt and his baggage. The first is, when we asked this question in the last ABC-Washington Post poll about a week ago, 23 percent of voters said they definitely won't vote for Newt Gingrich, definitely won't vote for him. The only person who had a higher number than that was Ron Paul at 26 percent. Mitt Romney down at 8 percent. So there is a core of Republican voters who are saying this...

(CROSSTALK)

WALTER: ... percent, though, also think that his past, whether he's -- as a historian or consultant is a problem.

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: Take that one step -- and begin to sort of say, where are you projecting forward and what are we going to see in the general election to me? And the State of the Union, I think, is the beginning of the start of the real general election campaign in this race.

To me, this Republican primary and Newt Gingrich's support is reflective of a broad anxiety going on in society, which people haven no idea what the future looks like and how to get there. And unless you present a vision of the future and how to get there, which the president has not done well and he might do, unless you present it, you're open to people saying, "We need to go backwards." And what Newt Gingrich has said -- there was a time in America that gives you comfort and gives you a sense of warmth. Let's go back. Because without a vision for the future...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... let me focus the question first on these primaries, because you bring up all the points that Amy just raises. Newt Gingrich has a lot of baggage. You talk to a lot of establishment Republicans who think, flat out, he cannot be the nominee of the party, yet Mitt Romney can't seem to get the love. So does that lead to a kind of situation where, as the former Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele said just yesterday, a 50-50 chance of a brokered convention?

DOWD: Well, I think what happens -- I think that is a little bit of a fiction, because what's going to happen is, is Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are going to pick up the vast majority of the delegates. And it's not like somebody can come into the process and say...

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: ... and you have a bunch of delegates, and you have a bunch of delegates, you don't deserve to be president.

BROWNSTEIN: The process tends to consolidate.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Consolidate.

BROWNSTEIN: The process -- you know, and Rick Santorum -- like many previous candidates who were the third candidate in the race -- I think they're kind of like Bruce Willis in "The Sixth Sense." I mean, they're kind of dead, but they're the only one who doesn't realize it. You know, it's very hard to see...

STEPHANOPOULOS: He seemed pretty buoyant this morning.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, he does. And he will. And he can get his 15 percent or 20 percent. But it's hard to see what would allow him now to leapfrog back over Gingrich and become the dominant choice for conservatives...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... Bill Kristol in the Weekly Standard saying maybe a draft for someone else. Is that out of the question?

WILL: Probably. We haven't had a second ballot at a Republican convention since, what, '52?

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: '52.

WILL: '52. In 1976, you had something like a convention that was on its eve at least a deliberative body...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.

WILL: ... not a ratifying body. But with a proliferation of primaries, it's very hard to believe someone isn't going to get 1,144 delegates and win.

WALTER: And there's -- remember, we talked a lot about momentum in this and debates and fuel the oxygen for these candidates. Once Florida's over, we go to Nevada, and then we have this big gap. We have some caucuses in between there, but we have a big gap. The month of February...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... at the end of the month.

(CROSSTALK)

WALTER: ... and only one other debate scheduled, scheduled after...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to pick up on what you were saying, Matthew. You talked about the State of the Union. Let me bring this to you, Katrina. The president is going to lay out what he called a blueprint...

VANDEN HEUVEL: A blueprint.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... for how to get jobs. It's also going to be the first blueprint of his presidential campaign.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What do you expect to hear? What do you want to hear?

VANDEN HEUVEL: I expect to hear -- and I want to hear -- themes that he sounded in his speech at the end of last year in Kansas, where he spoke about how this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class in this country, and began to lay out a blueprint for how we build a different economy and a vision for this country that is one that is forward-looking, that is tackling not just the fundamental income inequality -- that, again, movements have brought to the fore -- but lays out a vision for a different economy, one that is not about crony capitalism, but is about a democratic capitalism that lifts all boats.

And I think Matt is right that we're looking at a debate and a campaign and an election that could be about two fundamentally different visions of this country. We have a Republican Party that wants to take this country back, literally peddling recycled policies that brought us to the financial crisis we're still living through, millions living in economic trouble and pain...

STEPHANOPOULOS: George Will?

VANDEN HEUVEL: The president needs to speak to that and lay out a vision.

WILL: When Barack Obama comes out against crony capitalism, his slogan will be, what, "No More Solyndras"? I want to hear that.

VANDEN HEUVEL: We need an industrial policy not for the energy oil companies, but for green energy, George.

(CROSSTALK)

WILL: I would expect him to do several -- several things. First, I think he'll steal a plank of Mitt Romney's campaign by attacking China as a currency manipulator. Second, he has to choose sooner or later, and he might do it Tuesday night, do taxes on millionaires and billionaires -- his favorite trope -- begin with couples earning a quarter of a million dollars, $250,000? It used to be his position; we'll see what it is.

But most of all, he's going to campaign this year on his impatience with our constitutional system. He's going to say we can't wait, we can't wait for concurrent majorities in the Senate and the House and the president and the Supreme Court. We have to somehow override the Madisonian structure of our Constitution.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Ron Brownstein, is that enough for him, given the fact that this is probably the most unpopular Congress in the history of America? Or does that come back and blow back on him, people blame him for making -- for not making the system work?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think all indications are that at the core of the speech will be kind of a follow-up to the Osawatomie, Kansas, speech, and...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: And it will be kind of an economic populism that will contrast I think very sharply -- you'll have a general election in which you will have the core economic populist argument versus the core cultural populist argument that Republicans like to make, on steroids if it's Gingrich, more muted if it's Romney, but nonetheless, you know, elites in Washington trying to run your life or it's economic elites who are giving you the shaft.

And I will say to you now, I think it will give you a great, fundamental debate about the role of government, but it will not decide the election in the end, because those last 10 percent of voters who tip these things tend not to see the world in those kind of...

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: ... Barack Obama's successes that we've seen in the course of his presidency has never been, can he give a good speech at a good moment? And it's always been, can he give a good speech at the right moment, saying a projected vision forward, and then sticking with the message consistently for a period of time so the American people gets what he's saying? What normally has done, give big speech, give a few follow-ups, and he's on to something else.

BROWNSTEIN: And he's kind of sticking with this. I mean, they are kind of sticking with the Osawatomie message.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: You know, one thing that gets lost in all of this is that the ball and chain on our economy remains the housing crisis. And the president, I hope, will not cut a sweetheart deal with banks. One hopes in this speech -- no, seriously -- that he will lay out the need for a fair investigation of the bank fraud that contributed to this housing crisis, because without a revival of housing -- and there are 10 million more foreclosures...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... write down more mortgages...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: ... he needs to put together...

(CROSSTALK)

DOWD: The president's credibility on this is so diminished. He's got a chief of staff that worked at Citibank. He's got a budget director that worked at Bain Capital. He's taken more money from Goldman Sachs than any candidate in the history of the United States. And he's going to give his nomination speech at Bank of America Field.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: At Bank of America...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: That is why -- that is why we need to take money out -- that's why so many millions of people feel this government is rigged against them. That's why we need to get the money out of the system from both parties.

STEPHANOPOULOS: All those points are true, but, Amy Walter, on the other hand, he's coming into the chamber at a time, facing an unpopular Congress, when there is a fair amount of good economic news at his back, at least the beginnings of it.

WALTER: That is true. But I do think that the frustration that most Americans are feeling goes back to the point that they want to see somebody who's going to do what he says he's going to do, which is I'm -- he can't just say that he's going to transcend all of this. They want to see some actual -- something that's really coming back for them, to them. They want to see somebody who looks more like a commander-in-chief than a candidate, and that's where I think...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: You bring up an important -- commander-in-chief. And this is something we actually haven't talked too much about yet, George Will. President Obama on the cover of Time magazine this week gives a foreign policy interview to Fareed Zakaria, says he can't wait for the debate with the Republicans, thinks their arguments are going to go away. Is this going to be much of a factor in the general election at all?

WILL: I don't think so. In the first place -- as I'm sure Matt would agree -- Americans and presidential politics (ph) really don't want to think about foreign policy unless they're forced to by bad news.

DOWD: They just want it taken care of.

(CROSSTALK)

WILL: What they want of Iraq is out of Iraq. What they want about Afghanistan is out of Afghanistan. It's pretty hard to look at what the president's doing with drones and assassinating high-value targets and call him weak on...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it's not a plus for him, you're saying?

WILL: It's not a plus -- well, it's not a plus for him, but since 1968, and the riotous Democratic convention, since the nomination of McGovern in 1972, the Democratic Party has been perceived as problematic on national security. I think he is largely immunized on that.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: I was going to say that one thing we haven't talked about with these candidates, there's very little daylight between a Gingrich, Romney, Santorum. They are all drum-beaters for a war with Iran. And I think -- Bruce Laingen, who was held in the Iranian embassy in 1979, asks, how could this country, which is trying to extricate itself from two costly, bloody misadventures in this region, now contemplate heading into another war?

WILL: There is no difference whatever between Romney's position on Iran and Leon Panetta's.

VANDEN HEUVEL: I disagree. I disagree.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: No, you have around Romney the neocons who took us into these bloody misadventures...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... Rick Santorum talking about striking Iran.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: ... I want to go back to your point from a moment ago, because I think it's worth it more than in passing -- you know, while we're all so focused on the Republican race, the economic news that has come out in the last few months, if it's sustained, may be shifting the ground overall in this race a little bit. Barack Obama was not Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush. He never fell out of contention, never fell into the 30s for any lasting period in his approval rating. He's hanging around the number 45, 46, 47, and if he does get a little economic uplift, the terrain of November looks a lot different than we're seeing right now.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... Matthew Dowd, because this is where foreign policy and economics come together. When you talk about Iran, if you continue to tighten the sanctions, oil prices go up, and you're facing $5-, $6-a-gallon gas in the summer. What does that mean?

DOWD: Well, that's the big -- that's the big problem, the question mark we have for Barack Obama. And you're right. He has gotten -- he's not dropped below, but he's not at a level he can get re-elected today. The problem is, if we look at the summer and the trajectory, he wins. If the trajectory is down, he loses. And it's all driven to a large by Europe and what's going on, on the global economy. And that's what I think the Obama folks are worried about, is they have no control over what may happen this summer.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And the question is, does he get a surprise? Fifteen seconds, George.

WILL: They do in this sense. Saudi Arabia (inaudible) seems to be ready to supplement 2 million barrels a day to keep the prices down and arguably help re-elect Mr. Obama.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's got to be the last word. This is a fantastic roundtable. Thank you all very much.

And coming up, it was 12 years ago that George W. Bush famously accused Al Gore of practicing fuzzy math. John Berman on how some things in politics never change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This is a man, he's got great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator. It's fuzzy math.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: All year long, we've seen the voters confound conventional wisdom, proving one more time that politics is a lot more art than science. But our John Berman is scratching his head over why it sometimes seems they need a math degree to keep up with the campaigns. It's in his close-up this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (voice-over): What's the single most elusive skill in politics this year? Oratory? Leadership? Charisma? Nope.

OBAMA: It's math.

BERMAN: Really, it's math. Democrats and Republicans do it.

ROMNEY: I'll do the math.

BERMAN: And if you don't do the math right, you're in trouble.

PERRY: Oops.

BERMAN: Because 2012 is the age of algebra, the campaign of calculus, the great national contest of numbers.

CAIN: 9-9-9.

BERMAN: Nine, that was a good number for Herman Cain, but 15? Problematic for Mitt Romney, especially when you're talking about a millionaire's tax rate.

ROMNEY: Closer to the 15 percent rate than anything.

BERMAN: No wonder he has the cash to make a...

ROMNEY: ... $10,000 bet.

BERMAN: How about Iowa? The Iowa caucuses might be first in the nation, but last in addition, the only state where Mitt Romney won by 8 and Rick Santorum won by 34. Hope they did better on the verbal part of the exam. They're probably saying, in the words of "Saturday Night Live"...

(UNKNOWN): It was my understanding that there would be no math.

BERMAN: There is math. There's always math. Good math, bad math, and...

BUSH: Fuzzy math.

BERMAN: And how you handle it can make or break a campaign. Just ask Rick Perry.

PERRY: It's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the -- what's the third one there?

BERMAN: Yes, there is that number three, three agencies and, say, three wives, which might be considered a negative integer, but through the little-known Gingrich theorem can be turned instantly positive.

GINGRICH: I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.

BERMAN: And for the Obama campaign, none of these numbers have greater consequence than 8.5 percent, the current unemployment rate.

In the end, fuzzy or not, all these numbers -- eight votes, 34 ballots, three wives, 15 percent, 8.5 percent, $10,000 bet, or three agencies -- do add up to something: 1600, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. With the right math, one of these men will get there. Hope he brings a calculator.

That's my close-up on "This Week." John Berman, ABC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANOPOULOS: And John's a lot better at math than I am. I'll be back to answer some of the questions you have for us this week, but first we remember and honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice.

This week, the Pentagon released the names of 11 soldiers and Marines killed in Afghanistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally today, your voice this week, where you get to ask the questions and I take a shot at answering them.

The first one today comes from McCook's Underdog. "Do you think that Donald Trump will be a third-party presidential candidate?"

I don't. I think he may flirt with it for a little while, but there are actually some rumblings this week that he might actually endorse someone in the Republican fight, maybe even Mitt Romney. It will be interesting to see if that big South Carolina win from Newt Gingrich changes that calculation for Donald Trump. But I don't think he'll be a serious third-party candidate.

We also got a lot of questions this week about last week's interview with fake presidential candidate Stephen Colbert and his super PAC crusade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you believe they are a full expression of the First Amendment?

COLBERT: Without a doubt. Do you not, George? Do you not believe that some...

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm asking the questions today, Mr. Colbert.

COLBERT: Are you saying -- well, you answer one of my questions and I'll answer one of yours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Briggette Sayegh wonders, "Were you honestly a tad irked at Colbert last week or did you appreciate the humor of the interview?"

I wasn't mad at all. You know, we were both staying in character last week. He was acting like a real candidate; I was doing exactly what I would do if a candidate were there giving those kinds of answers or non-answers to the question. It was all in good fun. Of course, Colbert also out to make a serious point about those super PACs.

And finally today, "George, what was the most surprising thing that happened to you during a political interview?"

Now, that's a tough one, because, you know, so often these candidates come in so scripted, because if I had to choose one, it would be this interview I did with President Obama just before his inauguration four years ago. We were about 20 minutes into an interview that sometimes had gotten contentious, but then in my ear I found out that Malia and Sasha, who had actually come to the interview with the president, were in the control room, and they had a question for the president. They wanted to know when they were going to get a dog. And that's where the president broke some news just a couple of days before the inauguration.

If you've got a question, send it in on Facebook, Twitter at hashtag #askgeorge or anytime on abcnews.com and Yahoo.

That's all for us today. "World News" with David Muir has the latest headlines tonight. Tuesday, Diane Sawyer and I will anchor live coverage off the president's State of the Union and the Republican response at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific, and check out otusnews.com all week long for the latest from our political team.

Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."

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