'This Week' Roundtable: Presidential Politics

ABC's George Will, Cokie Roberts, and Amy Walter analyze the week in politics

ByABC News
May 15, 2011, 12:20 PM


FORMER GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE, R-ARK.: Only when I was alone, in quiet

and reflective moments did I have not only clarity but an inexplicable

inner peace, a peace that exceeds human understanding. All of the

factors say, go. But my heart says no.


AMANPOUR: Mike Huckabee announcing that he will sit out 2012, and

there's no shortage of Republicans clamoring for his endorsement now.

Here with me to make sense of it all, ABC's George Will, Cokie Roberts

and political director, Amy Walter.

So let's start, George. The fact that he's out, what does that say

now about the Republican field?

GEORGE WILL, ABC NEWS: He was a potential first-tier candidate for

the following reason. In every contested Republican nomination scramble

since 1980, candidate A has won Iowa, candidate B has won New Hampshire,

and either A or B has won South Carolina and the nomination. He won

Iowa last time. He is ahead in the polls in South Carolina. In 2008,

he won more convention delegates than Romney did. So this does open the


AMANPOUR: And how does it change it? I mean, it opens it, but is

there a gaping hole now?

COKIE ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: No, because the people who are right there

are ready to fill the hole. Michele Bachmann is there ready to fill the

hole. Newt Gingrich to some extent is there ready to fill it. I mean,

the hole is the evangelical Christians who show up in huge numbers. 60

percent of the Iowa caucuses. And now where do they go? That's the


AMANPOUR: Where do they go? Michele Bachmann?

AMY WALTER, ABC NEWS: Maybe. Look, I think you have a whole lot of

people who minutes after actually he dropped out, the press releases--


WALTER: That's true, the press releases started to go out. You

know who was one of the first people to send out a thank-you for all

that you've done? Donald Trump. Which he is actually going to South

Carolina this week. He will be with Nikki Haley actually at a Tea Party


So, look, Mike Huckabee's problem, though, has been that since 2008,

a lot has happened. First of all, his record has gotten a little more

scrutiny. And even for Tea Party conservatives, the ones who are real

fiscal conservatives, his record in Arkansas does not really fit. He's

not a small-government Republican. And then finally the money.

ROBERTS: Huckabee from a poor state.

WALTER: There you go. That's right. And that was not necessarily

going to play well in a primary.

AMANPOUR: Let's talk about Mitt Romney. He gave a big speech on

health care this week. He's having to run away from that program for

obvious reasons. Nobody likes at least in the Republicans, Obama's

health care. Many people expected him to apologize. Let me just play

what he did say in this speech and then we'll discuss it.


ROMNEY: A lot of the pundits around the nation are saying that I

should just stand up and say, this whole thing was a mistake, that it

was just a bone-headed idea and I should just admit it, it was a mistake

and walk away from it.

But there's only one problem with that. It wouldn't be honest. I

in fact did what I believe was right for the people of my state.



ROBERTS: Well, of course the people of his state think it was right

for the people of the state. So he's got that on his side, and

particularly the doctors think so. And he's been accused of being --

switching sides too much, and so he has to be at least somewhat


WILL: That's precisely the problem. The Romney of 2012 cycle is

hostage to the Romney of the 2008 cycle. When he changed on an array of

social issues, stem cell research, gay marriage, right to life, all that

stuff. So, now, you can't win for losing here. And the tense of his

verb was everything. He said I did what I believe, present tense, I

believe was right for the people of my state, not that I believed.

WALTER: And even Nikki Haley jumped in--

AMANPOUR: I was going to say, yes.

WALTER: She made a comment in that interview with you--

AMANPOUR: She didn't think he'd gone far enough.

WALTER: You know what, we like candidates who are courageous and do

the right thing, but also admit when they've made some mistakes. But I

do think that George is exactly right, that it's the perception more

than the policy that's the issue.

ROBERTS: But you know, Mitt Romney's problem is not health care.

Mitt Romney's problem is that he's a very stiff candidate that voters

don't relate to. And that's something that he -- I don't think can


AMANPOUR: So generally, we hear that in the Republican Party,

there's sort of a pecking order, and it's sort of viewed as so-and-so's

time next. Do you think that that will be the case next time?

WILL: No, this is the most open scramble on the Republican side

since 1940, when Wendell Wilkie came out of the woodwork and swept the


I think people are complaining that this is not off to a brisk

start. I think that's wrong. I think we know with reasonable certainty

that standing up there on the west front of the Capitol on January 20th,

2013 will be one of three people. Obama, Pawlenty and Daniels. I think

that's it.


WALTER: But, let's just -- but we do have to remember, too, that

we're talking about Mitt Romney in a vacuum right now, without other

candidates around. So we can put the spotlight on him, but we also have

to put it in context, which is those other candidates and all their

baggage, and we'll get to that.

AMANPOUR: Let's talk about Daniels, because you heard Nikki Haley,

she couldn't say enough about him. Many people are urging him to jump in.

WALTER: Of course they are urging him to jump in. He is--


ROBERTS: George.

WILL: Guilty.

ROBERTS: Mitch Daniels is a very appealing guy. He was in

Washington for years, which probably will work against him. But it was

something so that -- we all know him, and that sort of helps at this

stage of presidential, you know, wannabe. He's from a state that

matters, and much more quietly than other governors, he has done the

things that are going on in Wisconsin in terms of the public unions. He

has just signed a bill that's cut off aid to Planned Parenthood in his

state. So that even though he said he didn't want to put social issues

front and center, the truth is he's more out there on that issue in

terms of actual policy than anybody else.

WILL: The idea that he's the Hamlet of Indianapolis is absurd.

He's taking his time and he knows that, given the new fund-raising

reality, you can take your time.

He was in Washington recently, and someone said, do you want to run

for president? He says no sane person wants to run for president. But

this is Broder's law. The late David Broder said anyone who will do

what you have to do to become president shouldn't be allowed to be


AMANPOUR: Well, no sane person, maybe, but also nobody whose wife

is so opposed to it? I mean, it's been written about all week, hasn't

it, in all these different newspapers, about how much of a nonpolitical

spouse is Cheri Daniels.

WALTER: Right. And Haley Barbour had the same issue, too, which is

when you've been in this context, they have both been at the NFL level,

they know what it takes to play at that level and they know the

consequences for their family. There's no naivete there. So I think

that is a really serious and true concern of his and his family. But

it's also hard -- I mean, I agree with George about that he does have

plenty of time. This is not -- it's not too late for him to get in.

The question, though, is, if he does decide to get in, will he still

feel as strongly, internally, once this race gets going? And it's just

very hard to be pulled into a race. I find that candidates--


ROBERTS: The fire in the belly has absolutely got to be there. I

mean, you heard Mike Huckabee, my hear says, no, no, no, it's now a

country music song I'm sure.

But on the life question, this has been part of the American

politics since the very beginning. Dolly Madison was accused of being

overly sexed and unsexing James Madison. And worse things were said but

I can't say them on a Sunday morning television show. But they are not --


ROBERTS: I'll tell you later, but they were in the newspapers,

however. So that's been part of the game from the beginning.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about that, because around the world,

people look at the American race and they see a lot of emphasis on

families, on various issues that we're talking about. Mitch Daniels and

his wife, they were divorced, she married, she came back, they

remarried. And of course, Newt Gingrich who has just got in is spending

a lot of time having to talk about his third wife and these multiple


Let me just play that and then we'll talk about whether this is

going to be an issue this year.


GINGRICH: There are things I did in the past I'm not proud of. I

have had to go to God and ask for forgiveness and to seek

reconciliation. But if you measure who I am, what I've learned, how I

live my life, and you look at my close relationship with my two

daughters, my close relationship with my grandchildren, the kind of

marriage that Callista and I have, I hope people will look at who I've

grown into, what I've learned, and decide that I'm someone that they can

trust with the presidency.


AMANPOUR: So that was to Jorge Ramos at Univision. Convincing?

Relevant? Does he have to go out there and say that?

ROBERTS: Well, he has to go out there and say that, but I'm not

sure it is going to convince anybody. You know, having three wives and

having left two of them in somewhat unpleasant circumstances, to put it

mildly, and three religions, the most recent of which is Catholicism,

and there's an awful lot of divorced Catholics who are very pained by

this situation, of their own divorce, and feeling like they can't be

Catholic. And to have this sudden new Catholic with three wives is not

going to play well with them.

AMANPOUR: And beyond that, obviously Newt Gingrich does consider

himself a big thinker and he's talked a lot about that.

ROBERTS: He is a big thinker.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. Nikki Haley said there will be a time and a

place for Newt Gingrich. Is his time up? Is his time now?

WILL: He's been out of elective office for 12 years. Now, John

Quincy Adams was out for 17 years before he became president, but he was

John Quincy Adams--

ROBERTS: And he was secretary of state, and that was the stepping


WILL: Newt Gingrich's problems are so far beyond just his multiple

marriages and all of that. His ethanol love affair right now. On 7th

of March, he said let's go get Gadhafi. On the 23rd of March, he says I

never favored intervention. He did it on television.


WILL: Yes, exactly. He is one of these people who says that to

understand Barack Obama, you need to understand his Kenyan,

anti-colonial mentality, and this is just not a serious candidate.

WALTER: I want to go -- because I think one of the other

interesting things that we talk a lot about that he was going to be the

idea person in this. You talk to anybody about Newt Gingrich, even

before they jumped in, they said, you know what, he's going to help set

the policy table for Republicans. But actually the person who is a

bigger threat to Newt Gingrich is actually Paul Ryan, because Paul Ryan

has become the idea generator for the Republican Party. He's now that

new face with the new ideas, and he's the one who sort of forced

Republicans onto that.

ROBERTS: The policy agenda for Republicans is not him. That's the

policy. And, you know, the whole question of, oh, we don't like our

candidates and all that. That happens every election cycle. And in

2008, the Democrats were looking around and they said, oh, my goodness,

the economy is tanking. If we just nominate, white bread, white guy

he'll win. And our other candidates are unelectable. Let's draft Al

Gore back, let's do all of this, and the Republicans are in the same

kind of swivet this year. And you know what? Somebody will get the

nomination, and if the economy is in the tank, that guy is likely to win.

AMANPOUR: OK, so that brings us to Barack Obama. The president we

hadn't spoken about. The bounce from bin Laden, will that propel him to

the presidency again?

WILL: It has a life, I think, of 10 points for 30 days, maximum?

And then it will be gone.

WALTER: Five thus far.

ROBERTS: I actually think it does. Not propel him to the

presidency, necessarily, but change people's view of him. It has,

beyond just the bump in the polls, he comes across as decisive, daring

and pro-defense. All of those things are good.

AMANPOUR: All right. On that note, thank you all so much.

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