WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2011 -- AMANPOUR (voice-over): This week -- the fighting front-runner. Newt Gingrich, target of the night at the ABC News debate in Iowa. Taking hits.
FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA.,), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need people from outside Washington, outside K Street.
AMANPOUR: And returning fire.
FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The only reason you didn't become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994.
AMANPOUR: Under pressure, Mitt Romney wages big.
ROMNEY: I tell you what, 10,000 bucks, a $10,000 bet?
AMANPOUR: But will his gamble backfire? And did Michele Bachmann outflank the front-runners with her conservative attack?
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MINN.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Newt Romney, they were for Obamacare principals. Newt Romney. Newt Romney.
AMANPOUR: Also, Rick Perry gets personal.
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TEXAS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partners.
AMANPOUR: The ABC News debate, a turning minute in this roller-coaster campaign.
This morning, complete coverage. Analysis from the moderators, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos. Reaction from Jon Huntsman, the other Republican in the race. Our ABC News political team is standing by in Iowa to break down the spin. And our roundtable is on hand with the long view of this unpredictable race.
AMANPOUR: Good morning, and welcome to the program. We'll have all the highlights of last night's showdown in the Hawkeye State. But some news since your morning papers. Iran has announced that it won't return the American surveillance drone now in the hands of the country's military. A top commander of the Revolutionary Guard called the drone's incursion into Iranian air space a hostile act and warned of a bigger response if it happens again. The spy plane was put on display earlier this week, and it's considered a trove of sensitive information.
In Russia this morning, another day of unprecedented protests against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who wants to become president again. Tens of thousands took to the streets yesterday, and today crowds numbered in the hundreds. These are the largest demonstrations in the post-Soviet era, as Russians rally against voter fraud and call for Putin to step down.
And here in the United States, all eyes are on Iowa, where six Republican presidential candidates did battle in the ABC News debate last night. The showdown was the clear highlight of this week in politics. And of course, our man Jon Karl was there to take us through the highs and the lows.
JON KARL, ABC NEWS: Newt Gingrich said he would stay positive. But when Mitt Romney suggested he was a career politician, Gingrich couldn't resist.
GINGRICH: Let's be candid. The only reason you didn't become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994.
ROMNEY: Now, wait a second. Now, wait a second.
KARL: Gingrich took fire from everyone on the stage. Bachmann said he was no different than Mitt Romney on the big issues.
BACHMANN: If you look at Newt Romney, they were for the $700 billion bailout. You just heard, Newt Romney is also with Obama on the issue of the payroll extension.
ROMNEY: He and I are not clones. I promise. That is not the case.
KARL: The oddest moment of the debate?
PERRY: You were for individual mandates, my friend.
ROMNEY: You raised that before, Rick.
PERRY: It was true then. It is true now.
ROMNEY: Rick? $10,000 bet.
PERRY: I'm not in a betting business.
ROMNEY: Oh, OK.
KARL: Romney probably would have won that bet. But who bets $10,000?
Even before the debate, this was the week Gingrich became target No. 1. There was Ron Paul's blistering attack ad accusing Newt of serial hypocrisy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's demonstrating himself to be the very essence of the Washington insiders.
KARL: From the Romney super PAC.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Gingrich record, 30 years in Washington, flip-flopping on issues.
KARL: And from Romney himself.
ROMNEY: I have been married to the same woman for 25 -- excuse me, I'll get in trouble -- for 42 years.
KARL: A not subtle reminder that Gingrich is the guy who has been married three times.
In Iowa, so they say, it comes down to the ground game. How is that looking? If you want evidence that Romney has not taken off here in Iowa, look no further than this. His Iowa state headquarters. They won't let us in. But looking in, there's nothing doing.
Over at Gingrich headquarters, we found them still setting up. Where's the energy? With Ron Paul. His office is smaller, but buzzing with activity.
As for President Obama, he took a populist turn this week with a speech in Kansas. Even if he seemed to forget for a moment where he was.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's great to be back in the state of Texas -- uh-oh. State of Kansas.
KARL: He was at no loss of words, however, when asked to respond to Republicans who say he appeases America's enemies.
GINGRICH: Consistently engaged in appeasement.
FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Appeasement.
ROMNEY: Appeasement strategy.
OBAMA: Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement.
KARL: Trending, Newt, up. He's peaking at just the right time. Donald Trump, down. He offers to host a debate in Iowa and almost all of the candidates turn him down. Rick Perry down. Another oops. Who was that Supreme Court justice?
PERRY: Uh -- not Montemayor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sonia Sotomayor.
KARL: Bachmann, up. The debate her best day since the Ames straw poll.
KARL: And those hoping for Newt Gingrich to implode last night were sorely debated. He faced his first debate as the prime target of everybody else's attacks, and Christiane, he emerged unscathed.
AMANPOUR: Jon, thanks. And you'll be back with us in a moment. We'll talk more about all of this.
But right now, let's bring in the moderators of last night's debate, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos. Good to see you both this morning. It was a long night for you all.
Diane, let me ask you. Viewers were really expecting a rumble. How do you think it stacked up in the fisticuffs department?
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: You know, I think they came to engage, and they knew they had to, 23 days now until voting begins. But as Jon was saying, it was Newt Gingrich who was in the testing zone last night. And George was telling me that the Democratic National Committee this morning has already decided to target him, which means they think he survived it and survived it well.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: It's the first time they have done that. And you know, they're out there trying to define him the way they were defining Mitt Romney before. They clearly think he won last night and now has a legitimate shot at being the nominee.
AMANPOUR: You know, everybody, the big question was, how was Mitt Romney going to deal with the frontrunner insurgent Newt Gingrich, who has now stormed past him. George, you did open the door a little bit for him. Let's hear and watch how he handled it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker Gingrich crystallized his argument a couple of weeks ago. He said and I quote, "I'm a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney and a lot more electable than anyone else." I know you don't agree with that. Why?
ROMNEY: Of course, I don't agree with that.
ROMNEY: I don't think most people agree with that. Speaker Gingrich and I have a lot of places where we disagree. We'll talk about those.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why don't you name them?
ROMNEY: Places where we disagree? Let's see, we can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon. I'm not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that. He said that he would like to eliminate in some cases the child labor laws so that kids could clean schools. I don't agree with that idea. His plan on capital gains, to remove capital gains for people at the very highest levels of income is different than mine. I would eliminate capital gains interest and dividends for people in middle income. So we have differences of view point on some issues.
But the real difference, I believe, is our backgrounds. I spent my life in the private sector.
GINGRICH: I'm proud of trying to find things to give young people a reason to study science and math and technology. And telling them that some day in their lifetime, they could dream of going to the moon, they could dream of going to Mars. I'll stand by the idea young people ought to learn how to work. Middle-class kids do it routinely. We should give poor kids the same chance to pursue happiness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, George, how do you think Mitt Romney measured up in this sort of aggressive tactics that people talked about? How did they both measure up against each other?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I have to say I was a little bit surprised right there at the top. I thought Governor Romney was not going to hesitate at all in trying to draw these distinctions between himself and Speaker Gingrich. His team had been telegraphing for the last week or so that he was ready to take on the frontrunner with the momentum, but he seemed to be struck between trying to be -- draw the differences, but also be the grown-up, sober, likable guy on the stage, and so he finally did lay out those differences, but that led to that pretty devastating comeback by Speaker Gingrich on you would have been a career politician if you hadn't lost to Ted Kennedy back in 1994.
Overall, I think that, you know, Gingrich, clearly, because this was the first time he was in the hot seat as the frontrunner, handling himself very well. It didn't feel like any of the attacks last night really drew some blood. And I think that overall, Mitt Romney actually had a pretty decent debate. Engaged very well with Gingrich on this whole issue of whether the Palestinians are an invented people. But and I think, you know, Diane and I were talking about this, everyone's been talking about it all night, the moment everybody is going to remember out of this debate is that $10,000 bet. And it's going to be interesting to see how the Romney team handles that.
SAWYER: And just a small note, our stage, from sitting right up there, you know, I could see Speaker Gingrich looking down and making his notes during Governor Romney's first adversarial challenge to him. Apparently he had on the podium notes from his grand kids, and the first one said, "smile" and the second one said "keep it short." So I'm thinking as he's looking down writing his notes, those were his two instructions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that was the most important thing for Speaker Gingrich last night. He knew that everybody was going to be watching to see if he would blow his top, at some point, to see if he would lose his cool, and that did not happen last night. And that's another reason that he had such a strong debate. In fact, at one moment, during one of the commercial breaks, he came up and talked to Diane and I. He was making a little bit of fun of us. He said, if you guys were better prepared, you wouldn't be doing your homework during the commercial breaks. But what he then said, next was most interesting. He said, listen, I think everybody is having a good debate tonight, everyone is having a solid debate tonight. And the fact that he could kind of pull back and get back to that statesman, I'm the senior Republican on the stage, feeling again, I think really helped him. And he showed during the debate.
AMANPOUR: And you could actually see, as you mentioned, you could see a lot of winks, a lot of sort of nods and smiles, particularly at you two, as well, as you were moderating there.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Diane, about Michele Bachmann, because she did come out, you know, pretty powerfully. Her whole Newt Romney mantra was quite interesting. Do you think, you know, there are so few people that can actually emerge victorious from Iowa, did she do what she has to do? Does it matter any more for her?
SAWYER: As you know, she stays concerted. She stays on her point and she stays pretty fearless in these debates. I was struck actually by something else, on the question about the payroll tax cut, which if it lapses would ensure that most American working families have to pay an extra $1,000 in taxes, but she's in favor of letting it lapse because she says it doesn't work, blows a hole in Social Security. And instead of backing away from that and trying to couch it, she came right into it and defended her position as something that's untenable in these economic times. And you know, we're kind of used to the long-winded approach, and instead she went straight to --
STEPHANOPOULOS: And it was interesting, what she also did in that answer was try to tie those who were for the extension, Romney and Gingrich and Ron Paul, as allies of President Obama. Which is of course in the Republican party is pretty much the kiss of death.
AMANPOUR: So do you think, George, that anybody could say, mission accomplished? I mean, it's interesting. We have seen the polls. We know Newt Gingrich is ahead of Mitt Romney. We've got Mitt Romney and Ron Paul in a virtual tie, neck and neck. But about two-thirds, according to a New York Times poll, say -- those who plan to attend the Iowa caucuses -- say they still haven't made up their minds.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, from last night, no question, Newt Gingrich had mission accomplished. He has one more debate between now and the Iowa caucuses, 23 days to go, as Diane said. And nothing happened last night that would make it -- that would stop his momentum. Nothing we saw right now, and I think he also effectively handled the question that's on the minds of Iowa voters, the question of his marriages. The way he talked about redemption, I think certainly helped him last night.
I think Michele Bachmann was mission accomplished last night. We'll see if she's going to be able to capitalize on this Newt, I mean, Newt Romney attack. And no one, I guess with the exception of Romney -- we'll have to see how this bet plays out -- I think really hurt themselves. What you'll have to watch now is see whether of the three, Bachmann, Santorum and Perry, which one of them really starts to galvanize the conservative support, can any one of them get enough support to jump into that top tier?
SAWYER: And again, Ron Paul.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He's steady, he's steady right at 18 to 20 percent.
AMANPOUR: So, Diane, for you finally, what was do you think the take-away, the most revealing moment for you?
SAWYER: The vitality on the stage. We said at the beginning the marathon run it is to run for president. But I have to tell you, first of all, they have great immune systems. Somebody is coughing and hacking their way into the debate, because they came out strapping, they came out ready, and they have been on the trail a long time and this is the end of this long, winding road into January.
I think you can't always experience on television just the sheer physical vitality of all these candidates.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, there was a lot of energy in the room last night. I think both Diane and I were surprised, it must have felt a little bit different on television than it felt in the room, by how that whole bet exchange took off online. You know, because in some ways, Governor Romney was just so aggressive with it. It seemed like it might have been a strong moment, but boy, that $10,000 online really popped.
AMANPOUR: All right, both of you, thank you very much indeed, George and Diane. See you all later.
And up next, the man who wasn't there, Jon Huntsman joins us next from Manchester, New Hampshire, where he's gunning to be the real comeback kid of 2012.
AMANPOUR: Six candidates faced off in Des Moines last night, but Jon Huntsman wasn't one of them. The former Utah governor, who entered this campaign with enormous fanfare, has failed to qualify for a spot on the debate stage. Iowa isn't part of the Huntsman strategy, though. He has put all of his firepower into New Hampshire. And he joins us this morning from Manchester. Governor, thank you for joining us. Let me quickly ask you, I'm sure you do not want to get into who won, who lost, but who do you think won on the stage last night?
HUNTSMAN: Well, Christiane, thank you for having me, first and foremost. I think with respect to last night, all I can say, with all due respect to your terrific network, was I was delighted to be here in New Hampshire having a town hall meeting. We have four town hall meetings today. We have a debate with Newt Gingrich on Monday. And this is a state that is incredibly important for us.
And on the debate stage last night, I believe that the most important issue of all confronting the American people wasn't even touched upon, and that is the deficit of trust that we have in the United States. In fact, it may have -- it played right into the trust deficit. That is, nobody trusts Congress anymore. We need term limits in Congress. We need to close the revolving door that allows members of Congress to move right on into the lobbying profession. No one has trust anymore toward the executive branch. No one trusts Wall Street, with banks that are too big to fail. So the -- I would argue that the issues that are most salient in our political dialogue today weren't even touched upon last night.
AMANPOUR: So then how do you explain the phenomenal rise of Newt Gingrich? You say people don't have trust, and yet he does seem to be speaking, at least to Republican voters, in a way that you aren't, for instance.
HUNTSMAN: Well, listen, there have been so many ups and downs in this race, I'm getting whiplashed, quite frankly. We've had six front-runners in the span of about six months. And all I can tell you, having spent a whole lot of time here in New Hampshire -- we have had 116 public events in this state -- is that the voters will begin to coalesce around a candidate about a week to 10 days out. The marketplace is still open. People are shopping. They are listening very, very carefully. And all I can say, Christiane, is the two messages that we're delivering to the people here on the ground, the economic deficit which is the cancer metastasizing in this country and one that is a national security problem, I would say, and the trust deficit are the two biggest issues we face today. And we're getting people showing up to our town hall meetings in numbers I never would have imagined. They're signing up afterwards, they're taking lawn signs home.
I feel very good about their trajectory here in this great state. And this is always the state that upends conventional wisdom. So let's not fall back onto conventional wisdom. That never holds true in the end.
AMANPOUR: All right, but people are trying to figure out how you're going to really break out, because you are at the moment at the bottom of the pack, despite the fact that some independents, for instance in New Hampshire call you the sanest one running. Our George Will has said that you deserve a searching second look from conservatives. Ross Douthat of the New York Times calls you the most electable conservative remaining in the race. And yet as I say, what you are offering doesn't seem to be resonating. It appears that the Newt Gingrich, sort of bombast and brash, in your face against Obama is what's resonating.
HUNTSMAN: Christiane, we're doing better in New Hampshire than half the people on that stage last night when you look at the recent polls. We're going nowhere but up. We started as a margin of error candidate. I'm no longer a margin of error candidate because our messages are working.
People want to know if they're going to have a president who's going to call for term limits for Congress. They want to know they're going to have a president who will take on banks that are too big to fail. And it doesn't matter if we fix taxes or create a more streamlined regulatory environment or move toward energy independence. If we're stuck with banks that are too big to fail, with this implied guarantee by the taxpayers, we're setting ourselves up for disaster.
So we've moved from zero to now double digits, and in the weeks ahead, I do believe we're going to move right up toward the top of the pack, understanding full well that people simply don't make decisions until days out, from in this case, January 10th.
I like our position. They want an honest, honorable, trustworthy person in this race. They want someone whose core they can trust going forward. We're putting ourselves forward as that person. And I like our position.
AMANPOUR: I just want to put up a graphic, because, again, talking about New Hampshire, you are back in fourth place there. So given how important New Hampshire is to you staying in the race, tell me honestly where you have to come in order to stay in the race?
HUNTSMAN: We have to beat market expectations, Christiane. And I have every expectation that we're going to beat market expectations.
AMANPOUR: Where is that, second, third? Where do you think you'd be?
HUNTSMAN: I'm not going to play the numbers game. I am not going to play the numbers game, but we're going to be right up toward the top. We have done nothing but climb in every poll since we entered this market, and our message is connecting with people. I can feel it on the ground. I have a very good visceral sense of where this campaign is going. And we're going to surprise and upend conventional wisdom, I can tell you that right now.
AMANPOUR: All right, let me ask you about where this campaign is going. I read to you a few comments from people before, including one who called you the sanest one still running. But it appears that you're reversing some of your own eminently sensible positions, for instance on climate change. You in August tweeted that "to be clear, I believe in evolution, and I trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy." You have been tweeting about this sort of rightward swing, you've been jabbing at the base. And yet last week, you sort of rolled that bit back on climate change. You sort of said there isn't enough science. I mean, what are you doing?
HUNTSMAN: Well, Christiane, I'm not changing at all. I have said all along that I put my faith and trust in science. When you have 99 out 100 climate scientists, you have members of the National Academy of Sciences who have weighed in on a body of research on the subject matter, I say that's where I put my trust.
Yes, there might be one percent of scientists who still are questioning some of those assumptions, and that debate and discussion will continue. But as for me, let me make it crystal clear. I'm on the side of science in this debate. I don't know a whole lot of people on Capitol Hill who are physicists or climate scientists. I think this is a discussion that needs to be taken out of the political lane and kept in the science lane.
AMANPOUR: One more question, you have said that you will endorse and support whoever's the nominee. If it is Newt Gingrich, will he get your endorsement?
HUNTSMAN: Well, listen, I don't have to worry about that, because we're moving up in this great state of New Hampshire. We're going to be the nominee, and I don't have to worry about anything beyond that.
AMANPOUR: Jon Huntsman, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
HUNTSMAN: Thanks, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: And up next, the debate moment that sent the twitter-verse on fire. Our ABC correspondents on the ground in Des Moines on how the campaigns are responding to Mitt Romney's big bet.
AMANPOUR: Even as the candidates sparred on stage at last night's debate, social media was exploding with real-time reaction. To take the pulse of the Twitter-verse, we teamed up with Bluefin Lab, a social TV analytics company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They spent the night combing Twitter, and here is what they found. These animations powered by Bluefin Labs. Look at all the tweets about the ABC News debate. Some 236,000 of them. So which candidate got the most mentions? Mitt Romney, with 25 percent. And it was largely brought on by this moment. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: You know, I'm just saying. You were for individual mandates, my friend.
ROMNEY: You know what, you have raised that before, Rick and...
PERRY: It was true then. It was true now.
ROMNEY: Rick, I'll tell you what, 10,000 bucks. $10,000 bet.
PERRY: I'm not in the betting business.
ROMNEY: Oh, OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That moment triggered a tweet frenzy. This graph shows the volume of debate commentary on Twitter, you can see the spike in yellow when Romney made that bet. The Fix commented, quote, "I bet you $10,000 Romney would like to take back that line right about now." And you can see how that was retweeted far and wide.
And so that's how the Romney bet reverberated online. But how did it play in the debate hall? And more importantly, how it will play on the campaign trail?
I want to bring in our ABC team in Des Moines. Chief White House correspondent Jake Tapper, senior political correspondent Jon Karl and the intrepid John Berman.
Let me go to you John Berman first, I bet that is the moment that Mitt Romney and his team want to take back, I would assume. How is it playing in the spin room?
JOHN BERMAN: Well, the morning the Romney campaign is claiming to me that it wasn't a gaffe. And they're making a two pronged response to the frenzy over it. They say number one, Mitt Romney was right. And on the facts, he probably would have won that bet. Rick Perry was misquoting Romney's comments in his book.
And the second spin that the Romney campaign is giving me is that it's only the Democrats who are making a big deal out of this $10,000 bet. And it just proves, so says the Romney campaign, that the Democrats are obsessed with Mitt Romney and it proves that Mitt Romney is the most electable candidate to kind of very complicated jujitsu they're playing here. And it may be a tough sale.
And of course it may not be a good thing that Mitt Romney was engaging with Rick Perry in the first place there. It sort of brings Mitt Romney down a little bit.
AMANPOUR: So, kind of it's a good thing.
Jake, is that right? Is it just the Democrats? Is it other Republicans who are now sort of trying to capitalize on it? Do you think too much attention is being paid to that bet comment?
JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, probably in the scheme of all that matters of import that were debated last night, it probably is getting a little bit more than its fair share of attention. But I agree with the Romney's campaign argument that the Democrats are most focused on him, because they consider him to be the biggest threat to the re-election of President Obama. I think there's no question about that fact.
The Democrats put out a web video today attacking Newt Gingrich. The only problem is, it basically -- it calls Gingrich a three decades of Tea Party politics. It's basically an ad that could help Gingrich in a Republican primary. It could have been produced by Newt Gingrich. And the argument, of course, is that they would rather -- Democrats would rather face Newt Gingrich than face Mitt Romney. And I think that's a salient argument.
One thing about the $10,000 bet. I should fully disclose, one time I was interviewing Chris Van Hollen the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee before the 2010 elections. And he said the Democrats were going to hold the House and I too offered a $10,000 bet to him. He did not take it.
So I know kind of what was going through his Mitt Romney's head. I don't have the wealth that Mitt Romney has, but I was...
BERMAN: You would have won that bet.
TAPPER: I would have won the bet.
AMANPOUR: In other words, anybody could do it.
TAPPER: ...made the bet.
My point was, I knew that I was right. Put $10,000 on the line. And I think that's what Romney was trying to do. Obviously, it doesn't...
AMANPOUR: It's a rhetorical flourish, so to speak in the betting world then you're saying.
Jon, so the spotlight of course was on Newt Gingrich, and everyone wants to know can he keep his cool, is he going to say something strange? Is he going to, you know, lose it? How did he stack up last night?
KARL: Well the first thing is he didn't bet anybody $10,000. We'll give him points there.
TAPPER: He has it, though.
KARL: The thing is, yeah, especially after all of those speeches. Look, the thing that Gingrich has going for him here is that in these debates, including last night, where he was the target of at tacks, he actually looked like the one that was the steadiest. I mean, look, Romney needs to have his boot to Gingrich's throat. He needs to show that Gingrich is temperamentally not fit to be president. He tried to do that rhetorically last night, but looking on the stage Gingrich was the steadiest. He was the most measured. He did not look like a guy who was about to fly off the handle.
TAPPER: And Christiane, the attacks that -- there is a lot to attack about the Gingrich record. I think even the Gingrich people would acknowledge that. But the attack that Romney leveled against him yesterday was just really poorly done. He could have gone after him on any number of policy issues including Gingrich's assailing of the Paul Ryan plan for Medicare, but instead he just recited a litany, a list. And Gingrich just shot them down one after the other. And I think Gingrich did himself a lot of good last night.
That said, when I went back out to the car after the debate, this was on my windshield. This is an attack flyer. And this is an example of what Gingrich is going to face over the next 23 days here in Iowa, a below the radar attack against everything he's ever done.
AMANPOUR: And that's kind of been going on ever since he sort of zoomed to the front-runner position.
So let's play another moment from the debate, sort of the elephant in the room.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think a candidate that breaks his marital vows is more likely to break faith in voters?
PERRY: If you will cheat on your wife, if you will cheat on your spouse, why wouldn't you cheat on your business partner or why wouldn't you cheat on anybody for that matter?
SANTORUM: I think character issues do count. And I think all of your record, personal as well as political record, is there for the public to look at. I would not say it's a disqualifier. I wouldn't go that far. I think people make mistakes. And you are held accountable to those mistakes.
GINGRICH: And I think people have to render judgment. In my case, I have said up front, openly, I have made mistakes at times. I have had to god for forgiveness. I've had to seek reconciliation. But I'm also a 68-year-old grandfather and I think people have to measure who I am now and whether I'm a person they can trust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So John, obviously, Newt Gingrich was prepared for that. Do you he diffused the issue? And can you all help me to understand how in a state that's socially conservative people seem to be rallying around a candidate with these kind of issues? John?
BERMAN: It was an uncomfortable -- it was an uncomfortable moment when they were going down the line of marital fidelity and everyone is all looking at Newt Gingrich out of the corner of their eye. But secretly and not so secretly, I think Newt is thrilled that it happened. It has now been asked and answered. He had a very smooth response. I thought he looked dignified. Callista in the audience there looked like she was agreeing with everything he was saying. So this was a very strong moment, I think, for Newt Gingrich.
And I think that the social conservatives here in Iowa who might care about it, either already do care about it or they have decided they don't. And they're making the candidates here. They're making a decision based on a number of different things. And these debates seem to be the one thing they're looking at more than any other. And Gingrich has just performed so well in them that they might be willing to look beyond this other issue that might otherwise drive their decision.
AMANPOUR: So Jon Karl, probably the only one who sort of made Gingrich really squirm a little bit was Ron Paul, particularly when he talked to him about the money, Freddie Mac, this and that. He had a strong night on that stage. He has got money, he has got the organization, could he pull off an upset, Ron Paul?
KARL: Yes. Ron Paul can win in Iowa.
Look, Ron Paul is the campaign here in Iowa that has the most energy. You saw it, you know, in my opening piece, I went to all of the campaign headquarters, the only one buzzing with activity is Ron Paul's. And when you see the events that are happening out here, you're not seeing big crowds at Romney's events, you're not seeing big crowds even at Gingrich events yet, but you are seeing huge crowds show up for Ron Paul.
So Iowa caucuses, there's now question Ron Paul could pull...
BERMAN: There was a key piece of spin from the Romney campaign at the debate last night. They went out of their way to say that Ron Paul had a great night. It seems as if they're saying right now, look, it's not going well for us, if we can't win, it better not be Newt Gingrich, let's build up Ron Paul.
TAPPER: There is a ceiling, though, Christiane, which is -- in the same way that Mitt Romney has a ceiling, Ron Paul has a ceiling which is he has a very energize, roughly 20 percent of the Republican base. And then after that, it's not just that the other 80 percent don't like him that much, they disagree with him.
Ron Paul is a pure consistent libertarian.
BERMAN: But that 20 percent is going to show up on caucus night. I mean, there could be a blizzard, there could be -- whatever...
TAPPER: And Mitt Romney will be driving them to the polls.
AMANPOUR: Again, according to the "New York Times" two-thirds of those who say they're going to go to the Iowa caucuses still say they haven't made up their minds.
Let me ask you, Jay, quickly about Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, the two real social conservatives did they break out?
TAPPER: I think they both had decent nights, especially Michele Bachmann. And this is a state where in the past she has proven she can garner support. The question for them is over the next 23 days, can they be seen as credible? What are people going to be saying about them.
If their support starts to rise, if there is a poll that comes out that indicates either Perry or Bachmann is rising in the polls could be a contender. I could see people going to her, not in droves, but I could see her garnering support.
The support here for Gingrich, at least according to Iowans with whom I've spoken, they like him. They think he's experienced. They like his ideas. They don't like his personal life. They don't like the baggage that comes with that, or as one Iowan put it the luggage that he brings with him. And I think that that could undercut him ultimately, but right now he is still in a very strong position.
AMANPOUR: I like luggage.
All right, gentlemen, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
Up next what made Mitt Romney declare that he's not a bomb thrower? The most fiery exchange of last night's debate is coming up next. And George Will and the roundtable are here to discuss the campaign endgame with the Iowa caucus just 23 days away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When was the last time you had a personal financial strain that forced you not only to give up a luxury but also to cut back on necessity?
PERRY: Didn't have running water until I was 5 or 6 years old.
PAUL: ...during the depression and World War II and we didn't have very much, and I worked my way through college.
SANTORUM: I can say that I grew up in a very modest home.
BACHMANN: We're still coupon clippers. We still go to consignment stores today.
GINGRICH: When I was young, we lived in an apartment above a gas station on the square in Homestown, Pennsylvania.
ROMNEY: I didn't grow up poor. And if somebody is looking for someone who has grown up with that background I'm not the person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Another stand-out moment from last night's ABC News debate in Des Moines, Iowa. For the candidates on that stage, time is running short. The Iowa caucuses are just around the corner. And closer still, Christmas, a time when the political world goes into hibernation so breakout opportunities are now few and far between.
So let's bring in our roundtable. George Will, Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and joining us from Iowa Des Moines Register columnist Kathy Obradovich.
Thank you for joining us.
George, did last night change the dynamic in the race?
GEORGE WILL, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: It reinforced it in the sense that we now have a solid front-runner in Newt Gingrich. And he's arguing with Mitt Romney over who is the most electable. So it comes down to this right now with the clock ticking and as you say, favoring Newt Gingrich, Newt Gingrich was a shooting star in this town, the most prominent Republican from 1994 to 1998. He was at that point he was the most disliked politician in America. He says I'm the most electable
Mitt Romney said that he's the most electable. I refer people to Jonathan Last in the Weekly Standard today, says Mitt Romney has been in 22 contested elections, not counting caucuses -- primaries and general elections. He's won five. He has lost 17.
AMANPOUR: And yet you, George, have been saying that they should give a Jon Huntsman a serious, second look. I mean, you're not happy that are you that Gingrich is as you say now the solid front-runner.
WILL: I don't have a dog in this fight. I have a wife in this fight who is surprising...
AMANPOUR: Another conservative.
WILL: I do think that, in fact, if the clock allows enough time and the Republican rules have been changed to stretch this out, people are going to have to say we may need a third candidate.
AMANPOUR: Well, let's get that in a moment. Let me ask you, Donna, what do you think Mitt Romney and team Romney are thinking this morning after last night's performance?
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all he had a silver foot in his mouth moment with that $10,000 wager. And that comes on the heels of course making that comment months ago about $1,500 in payroll tax cuts as a little band aid. Mitt Romney's problem is that Mitt Romney doesn't know how to transition himself from a general election strategy where he was focused on President Obama to trying to appeal to the so-called self-identified Christian conservatives in the state of Iowa.
His other problem, of course, is that he doesn't really have a big organization on the ground. He's trying to play catch-up because his goal is not to come in fourth place.
Ron Paul has an organization. And George and I were talking in the green room, if there's a foot of snow and you have to get your people to the 1,600 precinct, guess what; Ron Paul will have a driver to bring you to those precincts.
AMANPOUR: So interesting. Let me bring in Kathie Obradovich from the Des Moines Register.
Kathie, what Donna just said and what we've been talking about, does -- do all of the indicators favor Ron Paul in Iowa right now?
OBRADOVICH: Ron Paul has a very strong campaign in Iowa. And you have to remember that he has the experience of having come in, in fifth place, in the Iowa caucuses four years ago. He -- his campaign never really went away. He kept a presence in the state for these last four years. He had key people on the state Republican Central Committee. So he has been building up to this for a long time.
Ron Paul has energized new caucusgoers. He energizes young caucusgoers. Now, typically, those are not the most reliable people to go to the caucuses. You usually want old, established people who are veterans of the caucuses. You know, 65-plus is usually the demographic that you want.
But Ron Paul has a unique ability to not only energize those people but inspire a lot of loyalty. So, yeah, he is in a very good place.
I won't -- I won't discount, though, Mitt Romney's organization. He's got an experienced crew and he has been working on his organization, even though the candidates...
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about responding to Donna, evoking Ann Richards and what she said about George Bush, "silver foot in his mouth." This bet -- is that -- how is that going to play in Iowa?
OBRADOVICH: I think that Mitt Romney made a mistake there because it was a false note. It is an indicator to people that he's not quite like us. The average median income in Iowa is less than -- is less than $50,000 a year.
So a bet like that, $10,000, even though it was an off-the-cuff thing, it's one of those little false notes. And because Mitt Romney has not been here; he has not campaigned here in person; he has not made a personal connection with Iowans, that kind of thing matters.
AMANPOUR: Leslie, Newt Gingrich, solid front-runner, good for your party? And does he have the organization to turn into a win in Iowa?
SANCHEZ: Organization -- lot of people would say it's not there yet. The question about him is does he have the intensity and passion in those caucusgoers, in those early primary voters. We don't really know. Is it still that soft level of support?
The interesting thing about him, if you go back to Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, he said he was the only true revolutionary. And that was what he hearkened to. And he said he was somebody who took on Bill Clinton at the height of his popularity. He had welfare reform -- it took three times to do it; telecommunications reform, he battled on; truth in sentencing.
There were a lot of things and markers and milestones that he's using now to say that he is that revolutionary candidate.
AMANPOUR: And do you think, like many in the Republican establishment, that, despite their records of winning and losing, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, that Gingrich might not be as electable in a general election against Obama? Do you think that's a problem?
SANCHEZ: It -- there is a strong possibility that he will do the foot-in-mouth disease that we've seen with other contenders. It's a long road to get to next November, many possibilities. And he speaks his mind, and it's not so eloquent. And sometimes it's a very abrasive tone.
WILL: Mitt Romney has another problem, and that is he has -- he might be in the position that Dick Gephardt was in, in 2004, in Donna's party. Howard Dean came in and surged to the top. Dick Gephardt had to take him down, so he went negative, and he certainly raised Howard Dean's negatives, but he also raised his own while doing that, and John Kerry right up the middle, again, your third candidate.
AMANPOUR: Talking about some of the things Newt Gingrich says, of course we are all focusing because he is the front-runner, and we want to know how this is going to play out. He does say some pretty alarming things, some might say outrageous things. He said this week that the Palestinians were an invented people. And it came up in the debate last night, no surprise. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Do you agree with that characterization, that the Palestinians are an invented people?
REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS: No. I don't agree with that. And that's just stirring up trouble.
Technically and historically, yes, you know, under the Ottoman Empire, the Palestinians didn't have a state, but neither did Israel have a state, then, too.
FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Was what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes. Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth. These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools. It's fundamentally time for somebody to have the guts to stand up and say enough lying about the Middle East.
FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I happen to agree with most of what the speaker said, except by going out and saying the Palestinians are an invented people. That, I think, was a mistake on the speaker's part. You -- you'd -- I think the speaker would probably suggest that as well. I don't think we want to...
ROMNEY: Maybe not -- I...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: No, he didn't want to take it back. And he ratcheted it up. He doubled down and basically called the whole Palestinian people terrorists.
So do you think that this is going to be a problem for him as he goes forward, these kind of statements?
Look, he's out of step with not only the Israeli leadership but the U.S. leadership and -- any everybody on this issue.
WILL: There is a difference between pedantry and prudence, and he was erring on the side of pedantry here.
That said, I'm not sure this will hurt him. What all people take away from that is he's read his history, and that's fine. And it reinforces his -- his position as the House intellectual, smartest man in the room, all that other stuff.
BRAZILE: No, it's pandering. It's pandering. It's absolute pandering.
More than a third of the caucusgoers are Christian evangelicals. They are very supportive of Israel. And Newt Gingrich understands that, while historically, maybe incorrect; diplomatically, terrible, this is about pandering to that base.
AMANPOUR: And it is historically incorrect. Because, you know, way in the 1800s, they were called the Palestinians.
But here's the point. The point is that that kind of brashness, that kind of conviction, is playing -- is playing, so isn't that a worry, for instance, for -- for your party?
BRAZILE: You know, if Newt Gingrich didn't have 35 years of both carry-on luggage as well as stored luggage -- he was remorseful last night. I thought he did a good job. Look, I'm Catholic. I believe in forgiveness. I won't render judgment. He showed last night he could take a punch; he can give a punch.
But the bottom line is, is that he brings a lot of baggage. And I think Republicans want somebody who is not only able to articulate that anger but beat President Obama. And Newt Gingrich cannot beat President Obama.
AMANPOUR: Let me go back to Kathie Obradovich in -- in Des Moines, there.
Michele Bachmann had a strong night. She did the whole Newt-Romney mantra. And she's obviously trying to play to the social conservatives. Is it too late for her? I mean, having done so well in the Ames straw poll, is it too late for a comeback?
OBRADOVICH: Michele Bachmann can come back, but she needs some pretty extraordinary things to happen in the next few weeks. She basically has to really unite the religious conservatives. That means that she's got to knock out Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, who has spent more time in Iowa than anybody else.
And she's got to really convince the religious conservatives that Newt Gingrich is not the guy. In fact, Newt Gingrich is drawing substantial support from social conservatives and religious conservatives, as well as a spectrum of Iowa caucusgoers.
But there is -- he has enemies. And the Samsonite, the luggage, the baggage, those kinds of things do not play well with certain evangelical groups that would like to promote somebody else.
The problem is that those groups, along with religious conservatives generally, cannot decide who they like better. So in the absence of -- if Michele Bachmann is that person, she could do well. But she has not done it so far.
WILL: All this demonstrates is that some of the interesting wrinkles out there. You talk about how the evangelicals in Iowa want to defend Israel. That puts -- that hurts Ron Paul, who doesn't want to defend much of anything.
On the other hand, according to FEC reports, Federal Election Commission, in the third quarter, Ron Paul got more contributions from active-duty military than the other Republican candidates combined.
BRAZILE: Well, look, Ron Paul won only one Southern county in the 2008 caucuses; 119,000 people showed up. If Ron Paul can enlarge the caucus electorate, get more voters to register that note as Republicans, Ron Paul can be what I call the X factor that night.
SANCHEZ: But we know Ron Paul's not going -- his caucusgoers are not going to be -- or they will dissuaded in terms of other candidates.
But I want to go back to Bachmann. Because I thought that was interesting. She worked very hard, visited all 99 counties, but that -- tying herself to Cain so transparently did not help.
AMANPOUR: Very quickly, George, Jon Huntsman thinks he's going to do well in New Hampshire. Is he?
WILL: It's going to be hard to do that because the Iowa results are going to be so interesting in imparting momentum to everyone but him.
BRAZILE: Bachmann needs to come in fourth place. She doesn't have to win.
BRAZILE: All right. And this conversation will continue in the green room. We will have that, of course, on abcnews.com/thisweek.
And coming up next, the Sunday funnies and a look at what you can expect next week in politics.
AMANPOUR: And now, the "Sunday Funnies."
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW": They say that Newt is tremendous negotiator, tremendous debater, well, you know, of course he has got three ex-wives.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Herman Cain suspended his campaign. That is a shame. He touched so many people.
CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": A reporter for FOX News said that he saw the new Muppet movie and he found it to be left-wing communist propaganda, I think he may have a point.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, all right!
(MUSIC PLAYING, "THE INTERNATIONALE")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Animal!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Stalin's drumstick!
AMANPOUR: And now for a look at what's on tap next week in politics.
Mitt Romney heads back to New Hampshire today, stumping there all week to try to hold on to his lead in the "first in the nation" primary. On Monday, Jon Huntsman steps into Newt Gingrich's front-runner spotlight, joining him for a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate in Manchester. Rick Perry kicks off a multi-day Iowa bus tour on Wednesday, traveling through Council Bluffs, Harlan, and Denison. And on Thursday, all of the GOP candidates meet again for a FOX News debate in Sioux City.
"In Memoriam" is next. We'll be right back.
AMANPOUR: And now, "In Memoriam."
HARRY MORGAN, ACTOR: I'm the friendly neighborhood cop. Well, that's like being lord mayor. Everybody brings their troubles to you.
JACK WEBB, ACTOR: Yes, I noticed that.
MORGAN: In most cases, all you can do is listen.
Sophie, this ain't easy for me to tell you, but I can't take you home with me. I sure will miss you. And I have a feeling you'll miss me, too, won't you?
(MUSIC PLAYING, "THE 'IN' CROWD")
(MUSIC PLAYING, "DRIFT AWAY")
AMANPOUR: And we remember all of those who died in war this week. The Pentagon released the names of four soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
We'll be right back.
AMANPOUR: That's our program this week, be sure to watch "World News" with David Muir tonight for all of the latest headlines.
And join us next weekend for a special program, "The Great American Debate," presented in partnership with the University of Virginia's Miller Center. Political heavyweights square off on the conservative rallying cry against the president. "There's too much government in my life," it's a debate that affects everything. Congressman Paul Ryan teams up with George Will versus Congressman Barney Frank and former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
We'll see you then.