'This Week' Transcript: Newt Gingrich, John Boehner

Before the Florida primary, Newt Gingrich appears on 'This Week.'

ByABC News
January 26, 2012, 1:07 PM


TAPPER (voice-over): Good morning. Welcome to "This Week."

Up for grabs.

GINGRICH: This is the desperate last stand of the old order.

TAPPER: Just 48 hours until Florida goes to the polls. A fierce and largely two-man battle.

ROMNEY: The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive.

TAPPER: Can Newt Gingrich recapture the big mo? Has Mitt Romney regained his footing? And has the fury in Florida gotten so nasty it will hurt the GOP's chances this fall?

GINGRICH: You cannot debate somebody who's dishonest.

TAPPER: Questions this morning for our headliner, the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.


BOEHNER: Let's point the finger where it belongs.

TAPPER: ... the current speaker, John Boehner, on the Republican race and the president's agenda.

Plus, analysis of all the week's politics with our powerhouse roundtable, George Will, Laura Ingraham, Donna Brazile, and former Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. It's your voice, your vote. Reporting from the Newseum in Washington, Jake Tapper.



TAPPER: Good morning, everyone. George Stephanopoulos has a well-deserved morning off.

With just two days until Tuesday's critical Florida primary, it has been a wild weekend of campaigning in the Sunshine State. Two pieces of breaking news for you overnight from Florida, first, an endorsement from Tea Party favorite Herman Cain.


CAIN: I hereby officially and enthusiastically endorse Newt Gingrich for president of the United States.

Speaker Gingrich is running for president and going through this sausage grinder. I know what this sausage grinder is all about.


TAPPER: The pizza man knows about the sausage grinder. And the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times released a new poll of the race. Mitt Romney has opened up his lead over Newt Gingrich into double-digits, 42 percent to 31 percent, while Rick Santorum trails at 14 percent, Ron Paul bringing up the rear at 6 percent.

This intensely competitive race is where we begin the show this morning. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich joins us from the Tampa area.

Mr. Speaker, welcome. Thanks for being here.

GINGRICH: It's great to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: So as we pointed out, last night, you held that rally in which you received the endorsement of the Hermanator, Herman Cain, but around the same time that poll was coming out indicating that, even though at one point in Florida you were neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney, he seems to have opened up his lead. Why do you think your poll numbers in Florida have collapsed?

GINGRICH: Well, I think that they haven't quite collapsed. And the fact is, when you combine the Santorum vote and the Gingrich vote, we clearly are -- the conservative combined would clearly beat Romney.

I think he's run a relentlessly negative campaign. Negative ads have an impact. We have not been as effective in telling the truth as he has been in running ads, some of which have had to be pulled because they were so inaccurate.

But the fact is, this race is going to go on. The conservatives clearly are rejecting Romney. He is nowhere near getting a majority. And the fact is, once you get beyond Florida, these are all proportional representation states, and he's not going to be anywhere near a majority by April.

And so this is going to go on all the way to the convention. I think clearly the conservatives and the grassroots are increasingly angry about the way in which the Washington establishment has rallied in many ways with complete dishonesty, as Rush Limbaugh pointed out the other day. Some of the articles, some of the attacks on me have been breathtakingly dishonest. And I think as that deepens, the conservatives are going to come together and decide they do not want a Massachusetts liberal to be the Republican nominee.

TAPPER: I want to follow up on two items you just said there. First of all, I'd like to get some clarification. Yesterday and this morning, you said you'll go all the way to the convention. You obviously expect to win the nomination. But are you saying you're going to stay in the race no matter what, even if someone else amasses more delegates than you? Or are you just -- is this just more rah-rah, that you're going to win, you're going to go to the convention?

GINGRICH: Well, I'm saying, first of all, that there's no evidence anywhere that Romney's getting anywhere near 50 percent. Gradually, conservatives are consolidating. I was very grateful to have Governor Rick Perry's endorsement. I was very grateful last night to have Herman Cain's endorsement. Governor Sarah Palin's comments have been very helpful. Todd Palin's endorsement has been helpful. Monday, Mike Reagan is going to be campaigning with me here. Fred Thompson has endorsed me.

So as you look around, you see an awful lot of grassroots conservatives coming together. Rudy Giuliani made some very strong statements yesterday, pointing out that I am much more the Reagan conservative and that Mitt Romney is not a conservative.

So I think you're going to see a continued movement that basically says -- I mean, we're down basically to the fewer conservatives there are, the better we're doing. The clearer the debate gets, the more obvious it is that you've got a -- look, you have a governor of Massachusetts who was pro-abortion, he was pro-tax increase, he was pro-gun control. He can't even remember his own voting record. The debate the other night, what he said was just plain false. He voted for a Democrat in 1992, the most liberal Democrat. He gave money to Democrats. He was never part of the Reagan movement, never part of conservativism in America.

As that becomes clearer, I think that he's not going to get the nomination. And my hope is that gradually conservatives will come together and decide that a Newt Gingrich conservativism is dramatically better than Mitt Romney's liberalism.

TAPPER: In many ways, you are where you are because of your debate performances. Last week, you had a couple that were not your strongest, to say the least.


TAPPER: Why do you think that was? What happened?

GINGRICH: I was amazed. I mean, I'm standing next to a guy who is the most blatantly dishonest answers I can remember in any presidential race in -- in my lifetime. And I've seen, I think, every presidential debate -- presidential campaign debate or virtually every one. And, you know, he would say things that were just plain not true.

Look, it's a little bit like yesterday's L.A. Times report. I mean, we now have found 23 foreign accounts he never reported until he released his taxes. He would say -- he would say thing after thing after thing that just plain wasn't true.

And I had -- I don't know how you debate a person with civility if they're prepared to say things that are just plain factually false. And that's going to become a key part of this. I think the Republican establishment believes it's OK to say and do virtually anything to stop a genuine insurgency from winning because they are very afraid of losing control of the old order.

We tried a moderate in 1996 for president. He lost. We tried a moderate in 2008 for president. He lost. It's very hard to take Romneycare and Obamacare and have a debate and have the Republican win that debate. You need to have a conservative who is a very big distance away from Obama, because you've got to have the space so that, in fact, you can communicate with the American people.

TAPPER: I want to follow up on some of these comments you're making about Mitt Romney. The race has taken something of a nasty turn. Here's an ad that you are currently running in Florida.


(UNKNOWN): What kind of man would mislead, distort and deceive just to win an election? This man would, Mitt Romney. If we can't trust what Mitt Romney says about his own record, how can we trust him on anything?


TAPPER: It sounds as if you're saying in that ad, and here this morning, that Mitt Romney is unfit and does not have the character to be president.

GINGRICH: I am saying that he would not be where he is today, the debates this week wouldn't have been where they were, if he had told the truth. And I think that's a very serious problem for somebody. I think that you look at -- again, he's supposedly a great manager, yet he can't explain 23 different foreign accounts that weren't reported. He's a great manager. He can't explain being on the board of directors of the company which got the largest Medicare fine in history for fraud?

Somehow, every time it's bad, he didn't know about it or he wasn't aware about it. He didn't really understand the Planned Parenthood by law, the largest abortion provider in the United States, is in Romneycare? Romneycare literally defines Planned Parenthood in a key -- in a part of the bill. He didn't seem to quite know it.

Every time you turn around, this great manager consistently doesn't understand whatever it is that would have hurt him. And you just have to look back and say, why can't you be candid with the American people? You cannot be president of the United States if you cannot be honest and candid with the American people. And that's compounded, frankly, by a number of the ads he runs, which are just plain false.

TAPPER: So you're saying that he does not have the character to be president of the United States, because he's, in your view, not honest.

GINGRICH: I'm saying it is a very -- it's a -- it is a very serious problem when you have somebody who on item after item after item -- I mean, the clip you had just now, he knows what he said in that clip is not true. I did not resign in disgrace. I did not pay a fine. And, in fact, CNN ran an entire piece recently in which they pointed out that on every single substantive count in the ethics investigation, every single one, that I was vindicated, including vindication by a federal judge, vindication by the Internal Revenue Service, vindication by the Federal Elections Commission. Now, Romney knows that.

TAPPER: Well, the clip -- the clip...

GINGRICH: So he's run a campaign of vilification.

TAPPER: The clip I just played was actually one of your ads, but let's get to that Romney ad that you're talking about...

GINGRICH: No, no, but I'm talking about the earlier -- I'm talking about -- I'm talking about the clip you showed of him campaigning yesterday.


GINGRICH: What he said yesterday, this wasn't true.

TAPPER: There...

GINGRICH: And so at some point, I don't quite -- I don't quite -- to be honest, Jake, I don't quite know how you deal with an opponent, because you want to deal with them with civility, you want to deal with them in a positive way. I want to talk about big issues.

I talked about space this week, which I think is important for the country's future. I talked about housing. I talked about creating jobs. I talked about the record I had working with Ronald Reagan to create jobs and the record I had working with Bill Clinton to create jobs. We talked about welfare reform as the first great entitlement reform.

There are all sorts of positive things. We have a proposal on Social Security which would allow every young American the option of having a personal Social Security account on the model of Galveston, Texas, and the country of Chile. So there are a lot of positive things.

And if you'll notice, when you get outside the zone where Romney carpet-bombs with Wall Street money, and you look at what's happening in the rest of the country, I'm ahead in all three national polls that were released this week. I'm ahead by a big margin, because when you come to positive ideas, I represent real change in Washington, I represent unleashing the spirit of the American people to get us back as a country, rebuilding the country we love. And when we get to a positive idea campaign, I consistently win.

It's only when he can mass money to focus on carpet-bombing with negative ads that he gains any traction at all.

TAPPER: Let's talk about one of those big ideas. You in Florida gave a big policy speech in which you called for a colony on the moon by the end of your second term. As you know, that speech has become fodder for some late-night comedians. Here's Jon Stewart.


STEWART: A moon base? Your solution to being accused of grandiosity is "Give me eight years and I'll have a (bleep) moon base"? What did you -- did you start with Death Star and you got kind of reined in?


TAPPER: OK, and on a more serious note, here's Mitt Romney at the debate responding to that idea.


ROMNEY: I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, "You're fired."


TAPPER: I wanted to give you -- I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond to the criticism. This is a side of you, that grandiosity that Rick Santorum referred to you, that does make some Republicans uneasy, people who want to support you but who think that you open yourself up to ridicule with ideas like this. Do you have any response to the criticism?

GINGRICH: Sure. First of all, Greta Van Susteren I thought had the most interesting insight. She said, you know, in 1961, when John F. Kennedy offered a similarly big, bold idea, there was remarkably less skepticism, remarkably less doubt, remarkably less rejection. And she raised the question, what does it say about the culture of our elites that somebody who wants to get America moving again, somebody who wants to do something big and bold, somehow they can't quite imagine breaking out of the timidity and the decay?

You know, Romney's run for six years, and his message on the Space Coast this week was he would assemble a group of experts to think about what he might do as president, some day, possibly.

I'm very different. I think that we can, in fact, fix Social Security with a bold new plan. I think that we can, in fact, re-launch the country with an American energy plan that lowers the price of gasoline and generates huge amounts of revenue for the federal government, creates millions of American jobs. I think we can, in fact, use the private sector and modern science to have a bold program in space.

I never said it would be a government program, but I do believe a president who's visionary, a president who believes in America's greatness, a president who's willing to do -- launch big projects and rally the American people to big ideas -- you know, Eisenhower launched the interstate highway system. We all drive on it now. I suspect if I had proposed that, Mitt Romney would have said, "Oh, that's way too expensive. Let me study carefully two-lane highways."

This is a perfect example of the difference in the two candidacies. He is a manager who will manage the decay. I am a leader who has a vision of a bold, exciting American future where we change Washington decisively. And there's a good reason the Washington establishment is afraid of me. I will, in fact, lead the American people to change Washington. Romney will, in fact, hang out with his establishment friends, managing the decay, and explaining to the rest of us why that's the best hope we have.

TAPPER: We're running out of time, but I do want to get your response to a couple other things in the news. One is this new campaign ad from the Romney campaign, which deals with ethics allegations lodged against you while you were speaker of the House. Take a look.


BROKAW: Tonight he has on his own record the judgment of his peers, Democrat and Republican alike. By an overwhelming vote, they found him guilty of ethics violations. They charged him a very large financial penalty. And they raised -- several of them raised serious questions about his future effectiveness.

ROMNEY: I'm Mitt Romney, and I approve this message.


TAPPER: Now, Mr. Speaker, of course, as you already pointed out, what that ad did not point out is, two years later, the IRS investigated the matter and cleared you of any wrongdoing, but at the very least, does this ad not illustrate that, if you were the Republican nominee, President Obama would have no shortage of ammunition with which to attack you?

GINGRICH: Sure. Look, whoever gets to be the Republican nominee is going to be attacked by Obama's billion-dollar attack campaign. That's going to happen to Romney. You're not going to get by with Swiss bank accounts and not be attacked by Obama. It's going to happen to Gingrich. It would happen to Santorum. It would happen to Ron Paul. Whoever we nominate, Obama's going to attack.

The question is, can you withstand that attack better as a solid conservative or as a moderate? I would argue that a Massachusetts moderate is very unlikely to be able to withstand the attack. A conservative would have a better job.

But to go back to that example, NBC, of course, is asking to take it down and said he didn't have approval (ph) to use it. And it's fundamentally false. It's typical of his whole campaign. He knows -- and CNN has reported in great detail -- and the Wall Street Journal editorial on Saturday -- that this is a purely phony charge.

I was attacked 84 times by the Democrats because I led the Republican Party out of the wilderness, and for the first time in 40 years, we were a majority. Every single one of the substantive charges was ultimately thrown out, period.

And after that was done -- and I asked the Republicans to vote yes, because we had to get this beyond us. After that was done, we passed the first tax increase -- first tax cut in 16 years, the largest capital gains tax cut in history, got unemployment down to 4.2 percent, passed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, as a result of which there were four consecutive balanced budgets, the only time in your lifetime we've had four consecutive balanced budgets.

All of this is wiped away by Romney's totally phony history, which he maniacally continues to repeat. And I can assure you that all the way to the convention we're going to have a fight over whether or not somebody can be fundamentally dishonest and try to hide their liberal record in Massachusetts and try to hide their past, in terms of voting for Democrats, and get to be the nominee.

I think he -- in the end, he can carpet-bomb me with millions and millions and millions of dollars of Wall Street money. That's what he's done here. But in the end, I think the American people are going to want somebody who's a conservative, somebody who's been consistent their whole career, somebody who tells the truth, and I think that they're going to want somebody who is a visionary who wants to change Washington, not somebody who wants to accommodate it.

TAPPER: Speaker Gingrich, just for the record, I think two of those four balanced budgets were under you. But moving on, we have time for one last question, and that is, you...

GINGRICH: Well, just for the record -- just for the record, Jake, all four of those came out of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.

TAPPER: OK. You took a lot of heat about a week ago for calling President Obama the food stamp president. It's not a new charge, but here's what President Obama had to say to Diane Sawyer this week when asked about that charge by you.


OBAMA: The American people are going to make a judgment about, you know, who's trying to bring the country together and who's dividing it, who is, you know, tapping into some of our worst instincts. And, you know, that's ultimately going to be a judgment for the American people.


TAPPER: Last question, sir. Amidst many of President Obama's allies suggesting that food stamp president is using racial code, President Obama is suggesting that charge is, quote, "tapping into our worst instincts." How do you respond, sir?

GINGRICH: Well, for -- for a president who runs around the country attacking people and who runs around the country being divisive to describe worst instincts is to describe a large part of his own presidency. I described something which is factually true. His failed economic policies have forced more Americans to apply for food stamps than any president in history.

I worked twice, once with a Democrat, Bill Clinton, once with a Republican, Ronald Reagan. In those two cycles, 27 million jobs were created. I would like to campaign this fall as a paycheck president, offering the American people a program to create jobs.

He killed jobs as recently as last week with the Keystone pipeline decision. I think he doesn't want to defend his record of killing jobs. He doesn't want to defend his record of putting people on food stamps. But paychecks versus food stamps is a totally legitimate choice to offer the American people and one which I am determined to make a major part of the fall campaign.

TAPPER: Speaker Gingrich, thank you so much for your time, and good luck on Tuesday.

GINGRICH: Thank you. Thank you.


TAPPER: From the former speaker of the House to the current speaker of the House, we're joined now by House Speaker John Boehner. Thanks so much for joining us.

BOEHNER: Good to be here.

TAPPER: So I want to get to presidential politics in a second, but let's start with the State of the Union address. President Obama spoke this week. And you said that his message is, quote, "running on the politics of division and envy," and to you, it's almost un-American. What do you mean by that?

BOEHNER: Well, the president double down on the same failed policies that have not worked. As a matter of fact, they have made the economy worse, higher taxes, more spending, more regulation.

And what I'm talking about here is the politics of dividing America, the politics of envy. This is not the America way. And, you know, if the president won't work with us to help create jobs, I'm sure the American people will elect someone who will.

TAPPER: Let's talk about what can possibly be achieved in this very bitterly divided environment. Here's Vice President Biden talking to George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" just a few days ago.


STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the one bill President Obama must have on his desk, must sign into law this year, and how will he work with Congress to get it done?

BIDEN: The extension of the middle-class tax cut, single most urgent thing to do, no excuse, should be done now, should be done immediately.


TAPPER: Can you commit to that legislation? And will it be a clean bill?

BOEHNER: Well, I don't know exactly what he's referring to, but extending the payroll tax credit that the president has called for, the House has already passed the -- the year-long extension. We are in a formal conference with the Senate. And I'm confident that we'll be able to resolve this fairly quickly.

TAPPER: In any of the president's proposals, tax proposals that he introduced at the State of the Union, including the one that would discourage manufacturers from moving overseas to take advantage of lower taxes abroad, did you hear anything that you could support and House Republicans would vote for?

BOEHNER: Well, the president has got an awful lot of good ideas. But, you know, the president's own jobs council has endorsed many of the Republican ideas. We have passed 30 bills in the House that would help get our economy moving again; 27 of them are sitting over in the United States Senate.

TAPPER: One of your own members, Republican Congressman Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, said this about the remark you just made about 30 jobs bills already having passed the House and not having passed the Senate. He said, quote, "We need to quit passing bills over here and cheering for ourselves when we know they're dead on arrival over there in the Senate." His point is that, without coordinating with the Senate to make sure that there is momentum for these bills and that these bills cannot only just get through the House, but can also get through the Senate, it's meaningless. Doesn't he have a point?

BOEHNER: Well, we have a bicameral system. You know, we have the House of Representatives, 435 members from all 50 states. You've got the United States Senate. We can't control what the Senate does or doesn't do.

TAPPER: Yeah, but you can talk to them.

BOEHNER: But we do talk to them. And I've talked to Harry Reid about moving these bills. But the House has to do its job. And the House has done its job. We've moved these bills. We've sent them over to the Senate. It's time for the Senate to do their job.

TAPPER: But isn't the point that, without coordinating with the Senate before they pass the House, knowing that there's a chance that they will get a majority vote, can get the 60 votes needed to come to the floor...

BOEHNER: But how do -- how do you know you're going to -- you have 60 votes or you don't have 60 votes in the Senate unless the House does its job and moves this bill over there?

TAPPER: Well, next week, you're introducing the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act. Will you attach the Keystone bill to that?

BOEHNER: If it's not enacted before we take up the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, it will be part of it.

TAPPER: Let's turn to presidential politics. I know you're very eager to plunge into the waters.

BOEHNER: Oh, I can't wait.

TAPPER: Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole warns that nominating your predecessor, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, could drag down the whole party in November. He writes that when he ran for president in 1996, quote, "The Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad. He was very unpopular, and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it cost House seats that year."

BOEHNER: Well, I think you know that Newt and I have been friends. We've worked together closely during the mid-'90s. And -- but we've got four great candidates. And I just think that the process has to play out and out of this process we'll get a candidate. And I'm confident that whoever that candidate is will be someone I can support and that our team can support

TAPPER: You were in the House leadership when Gingrich was speaker. You had some well-documented clashes with him. I understand that you guys have buried the hatchet since then, but you had some clashes with him. Do you think he has the managerial skills and the temperament to be president of the United States?

BOEHNER: Listen, I am -- you know I'm not going to talk about this presidential primary race, because I've made it clear to everyone that it's just not -- I'm the speaker of the House. I've got a big job to do up on the Hill. That's where my focus is. And this primary process will take care of itself.

TAPPER: Last question for you, Speaker Boehner. You got pretty emotional this week during the farewell to Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Tell us what it was like to accept her -- her resignation letter.

BOEHNER: Well, she's been through an awful lot. And her constituents, those who lost their lives about a year ago -- and it was -- it was -- I've never seen quite a farewell in the House like this, a bipartisan effort. All of the members were there. A sad day for the House.

TAPPER: Sad day for you personally?

BOEHNER: Yep, but a very brave lady.

TAPPER: Speaker Boehner, thanks so much for joining us.

BOEHNER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, our powerhouse political roundtable weighs in and all the week's politics on the fight in Florida, the president's State of the Union agenda, and that finger-wagging photo of the week.



KIMMEL: President Obama gave his annual State of the Union address tonight. And the state of the union for 2012 is Kentucky. Congratulations.

STEWART: Obviously, for a speech like this, joint session, you want to ease in, you want to warm up the crowd gradually.

OBAMA (singing): I'm so in love with you...

With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.

COLBERT: Well the Jay Leno-in-chief was cracking wise, the crime rate in this country is soaring. Just yesterday, two peanuts were walking down the street and one was assaulted.


TAPPER: We'll get to the president's State of the Union in a moment, but first, the Florida primary is just two days away and here to discuss that and more, our roundtable, as always, George Will, Donna Brazile, Austan Goolsbee, the president's former economic adviser and now an ABC News consultant -- welcome, Austan -- and Laura Ingraham, host of the nationally syndicated "Laura Ingraham Show" and a Fox News contributor. Welcome to you all.

George, just in the last few minutes, we have some new polls out of Florida, a Marist poll having Romney at 42, Gingrich 27, Santorum 16, Paul 11. Romney opening up that gap with Gingrich even more than the Miami Herald poll. What's going on?

WILL: Time is not Newt Gingrich's friend, because the more time he has, the more he talks. And the more he talks, the more he says things -- as he just did here this morning -- he said, I'd love to be civil, but I'm running against a maniacal liar. Now, that's pretty strong language.

I don't know if you've ever told Longfellow's nursery rhyme to your 4-year-old daughter, Alice.

TAPPER: No, not yet.

WILL: There is a little girl, who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very good, indeed, and when she was bad, she was horrid. And we're at the horrid stage with Newt Gingrich.

BRAZILE: You know, he won South Carolina. It threw the entire Republican nomination process in turmoil. He's being outspent 5 to 1 in Florida. Mitt Romney has been on the ground for a long time in Florida. One-fourth of Floridians voted early in 2008. Once again, we're seeing a great deal of Floridians going to the polls early, voting early.

TAPPER: That's very important, that early vote, yeah.

BRAZILE: And there's one other thing. Independents, women, Hispanics, they're voting against Newt Gingrich. He has a problem. He didn't solve it in South Carolina. Florida will either make him what I call the third comeback kid or it will destroy his candidacy.

INGRAHAM: Well, look, Newt defined himself in South Carolina. He framed the debate as, "I'm the real conservative. Mitt Romney's the faux conservative. He's late to this game of conservative politics."

Became what happened is, he became -- he became the figure in "The Godfather" trapped in the revolving door, OK? The bullets were coming everywhere, and that revolving door was stuck. He couldn't get out of it.

And today on the show, he spent a lot of the time complaining about the tone of the campaign, negative ads, they're lying, they're not true. And that -- some of it may be true. But there's a rule of thumb in politics. If you're at a point where you're complaining about the other guy being mean and unfair and uncivil, that's probably a sign that you're losing. And that's what he's facing right now.

TAPPER: Austan, you're close with a lot of the Obama campaign, which is headquartered in your hometown of Chicago. Who would President Obama rather face, Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney?

GOOLSBEE: I think they'd certainly rather face Newt Gingrich. He's prone to blowing himself up. I do think Mitt Romney perhaps is learning a negative lesson or the wrong lesson from his experiences in this primary. So if you go to the movie and there's a guy -- if you've ever been -- and a guy's sitting there and his phone starts ringing, but he's too into the movie that he doesn't notice, and people are like, "Sir, your phone is ringing," shh, I'm watching the movie, that's -- Mitt Romney is that guy.

They've had -- he's been surpassed by a guy running a pizza chain, a guy who couldn't remember the three branches of government. Newt Gingrich has passed him twice on a platform of launching moon bases and having taken a million-plus dollars from Fannie and Freddie.

What Mitt Romney took from it is not that he should change his pattern. It's just sit first and do nothing and they'll blow themselves up. And then, second, if they start gaining, dump everything you have in a negative way on them. Don't turn to policy. Don't make it about ideas. But instead just try to make it about them and scandal.

WILL: I think that's right. I think Mitt Romney is still learning the great lesson, which is it's very risky to be cautious in presidential politics. I mean, this is a man who going all the way back to last fall couldn't get ethanol right. And, I mean, life's full of complicated questions. That's not one of them. I mean, Al Gore has given up on it, and he was still splitting the difference, and he's going to have to stop that.

INGRAHAM: But, George, I think we also have to remember, though, you know, the pig pile on Newt, never seen anything like it. I mean, he said it was carpet-bombing. That's pretty much what it was.

I can tell you, there are a lot of us who are in Washington today who wouldn't be here, probably, if it weren't for two people, or three people, Bill Buckley, Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. So for all these people who are -- and, George, I know you're one of them -- Newt Gingrich isn't a real conservative, and he has some ideas that truly are not conservative, but he was the fact of conservativism in the 1990s. He was vilified by the left and he was hailed by the right.

And right now, he is still connecting among independents. Mitt Romney, in the last NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, is shown to be plummeting among independent voters. Gingrich I think still has some strength there. We'll see what happens. I don't think he can withstand this -- this -- this fuselage that he's getting against Romney.

WILL: The most recent poll I've seen of his support among independents is 22 percent.

INGRAHAM: I'm talking about Mitt Romney versus Barack Obama. The metric of Romney versus Obama, the invincibility aura...

TAPPER: With independents.

INGRAHAM: ... of -- of Mitt Romney I don't think is there.

BRAZILE: I want to agree with Laura on one point, because I've gotten beaten in my life. I don't call Florida 2000 a beating. You know that.


TAPPER: We litigate that some other time.


BRAZILE: I might pinch you, George. But let me tell you something. Newt Gingrich is perhaps the only Republican that I've been in battle with as a Democratic strategist and organizer that whipped us in '94. Now, in '98, we came back and we tried to whip him. So he knows a battle.

What I don't understand is that he -- he saw the Romney campaign take him apart right before the Iowa caucuses. He knows that they have money. They're using surrogates. I was on Southwest. I fly Southwest. I was on Southwest, and I was -- and you had all these Republican members of Congress...

TAPPER: This is when you went down to the debates in Florida.

BRAZILE: I was in Jacksonville, and I was heading down to south Florida. I'm sitting in the middle, strategically, because I'm sitting between the Romney people and the Gingrich people. And I'm like, where are you going? Newt Gingrich. Well, where are you going? Newt Gingrich. The Romney people are following Newt Gingrich. They're tearing him apart. They're members of Congress that are basically saying he's unstable, he's unelectable, and it got to him.

So he is the conservative in the race, as far as I'm concerned. They both look alike to me. And I don't care who we go up against, because they represent the same policies. But there's something fundamentally wrong with Newt Gingrich's campaign that he doesn't understand how Romney is tearing him apart, and he has not responded.

TAPPER: Well, he understands that it's happening. He doesn't seem to know what to do about it.

INGRAHAM: But you have -- you have National Review, you have folks at the American Spectator, you have Ann Coulter, you have Matt Drudge, and you have people across the board who are -- who are really critical.


INGRAHAM: Well, I think they believe that, over time, he will -- as George has pointed out -- you know, destroy himself, that Mitt Romney might be too careful sometimes, but he's methodical, and he's a crisis manager, and he's a turnaround guy. He's going to go into this campaign. He's going to figure out what the problems are. And he's going to methodologically solve each problem.

GOOLSBEE: But isn't he going to try to do the same move again against the president, and then it's basically not going to work? And I don't think Mitt Romney realizes that in the battle with Newt Gingrich, yes, he's beating Newt Gingrich by just swamping him with sewage throughout the primaries, wherever he starts to rise up again, but they've opened up the issues with his tax returns, they've opened up the issues of his business record, they've opened up a number of things which the polling at least indicates independents are very concerned about, and I don't think they've been answered. He's been very reluctant to release his...

TAPPER: But does it become old news, in the same way that Reverend Wright became old news?


GOOLSBEE: ... because in the Reverend Wright case or in other cases, the Clintons released their tax returns early. They released all of them. They tried to get everything that you could get out in the beginning so that when it came -- when it would come back months later, you say, look, we've been through this. Romney did the opposite. They released -- they went back one year, and it's a circumstance in which he's got -- they just shut down Swiss bank accounts. They got $10 million in Cayman Islands. It...


INGRAHAM: But running against Newt Gingrich, who has limited resources, versus Barack Obama, who I saw last night wow a huge crowd in Washington at the steak dinner...

TAPPER: The Alfalfa Club dinner, yeah.

INGRAHAM: Yeah, I mean, a bunch of us sitting next to each other, very prominent conservatives, former Bush cabinet members, we're looking at each other going, I don't know if Mitt Romney can beat him.

TAPPER: Really?

INGRAHAM: It was -- he's got to bring his A game. And it can't just -- it can't just be, you know, the kind of thing he's doing with Gingrich, because Obama's operation is really smart, and I think they're going to run a tough campaign.

TAPPER: I want to toot your horn for one second, Laura. This is one of the most interesting bites I've heard out of Mitt Romney from your radio show, in which you talked to him about the challenge of running against President Obama as the economy is recovering, if we could roll that clip.


INGRAHAM: How do you answer the president's argument that the economy is getting better in a general election campaign?

ROMNEY: Well, of course it's getting better. The economy always gets better after a recession. The question is, has it recovered by virtue of something the president's done or has he delayed the recovery and made it more painful? And the latter is, of course, the -- the truth.

INGRAHAM: Isn't that a hard argument to make?


TAPPER: And then he says, "Have you gotten a better one, Laura? It just happened to be the truth."

INGRAHAM: Yeah, I wish I had time in that interview to go through all the other ideas that I have. It'd be a little bit better than saying the economy is getting better, but I'm the guy to take it over.

Look, again, he is a manager, and he's a really smart businessman. I think he has an acute mind, an acute way of looking at things. But if you're going to start this conversation with Obama, like there are glimmers of -- of signs on the horizon that the economy is getting better, that's going to be a hard argument to make. He's got to pivot away from that. But, look, we had the worst year for new house sales last year in 50 years. We have people who still are very pessimistic about their future. And I'm the guy to turn this around. It can't be the economy's getting better.

BRAZILE: And the consumer confidence is getting better. Manufacturing is up. The economy is on the mend. The Republicans can't find anything nice to say about the economy that is, yes, still struggling. People are still trying to find jobs. But you know what? You cannot go out there and tell the American people it's going to get better if you put me in office, because there's no signs that the Republicans will do anything to for the middle class.

TAPPER: I want to turn now to President Obama and the State of the Union, because he talked about a lot of these issues. Here's an interview he gave to Diane Sawyer on Thursday.


OBAMA: I think, whether it's Romney or Gingrich or Santorum, or any of these folks, the question to ask them is, we now have the lowest tax rates in 50 years. And if, in fact, we're going to reduce our deficit while still investing in those things that we know make America grow, somebody's got to pay for it.


TAPPER: President Obama talking a great deal about changes he wants to make to the tax code, George.

WILL: Tax code? He wants to criminalize leaving high school before 18. He says -- he has -- Austan, he says I'm going to get rid of some regulations that will save us $10 billion over five years. That's what the government borrows every 53 hours. I mean, this is micro politics of the worst sort.

To me, the most interesting fact about the State of the Union was the audience for it this year over last year was down 12 percent. People are tired of listening to him.

TAPPER: Austan, interestingly, one of the biggest targets of this potential Warren Buffett rule change in taxes, requiring anyone who makes over $1 million to pay at least 30 percent in taxes, would be Mitt Romney. Coincidence?

GOOLSBEE: Yeah, I don't think -- I mean, Mitt -- it is quite striking -- and if you compare -- there's never been an actual candidate who personified the pathologies of the tax code that the president's been running against for the last several years.

INGRAHAM: But they'd rather run against Newt Gingrich, right? I mean -- I mean, this is -- this is it.

GOOLSBEE: The thing is, look, I -- I think the tax returns are going to be a problem for Mitt Romney. We -- we had numerous people unable to be confirmed because Republicans in the Senate went through their tax returns and said, no, you've got discrepancies, you've got overseas accounts. I don't think Mitt Romney could be confirmed to the 400th highest position...

INGRAHAM: He could be treasury secretary. What are you talking about?

GOOLSBEE: Look, the thing is...

TAPPER: And Mitt Romney paid his taxes.

INGRAHAM: Yeah, I think that...

GOOLSBEE: If you look at the issue the president raised, I think the arguments about class warfare that you -- that you saw Boehner making, I don't think hold up as well, because over the last 14 years, the rate -- the share of income that the highest-income people have paid got cut in half. And to go back to what it was is not class warfare anymore than getting it to where it is now was class warfare.

TAPPER: Donna, who do you think President Obama would rather face? Laura seeming to express some skepticism that Newt Gingrich would actually be the preferred one, because it would be so easy to use the Warren Buffett rule and this tax code changes to go after Mitt Romney, as here is a multimillionaire several times over who only pays a 15 percent rate.

BRAZILE: Well, there's no question that Mitt Romney, in his record, his record at Bain Capital, his -- his taxes, the fact that he has to now amend his financial disclosure form, Mitt Romney would be a great candidate to run against in terms of the economy, because all of the so-called assets he had in terms of, "I'm a businessperson, I know how to run things," I mean, Newt Gingrich has exposed him -- Rick Santorum and others -- that there's really not a lot there. He couldn't even come up with a good, precise number on the number of jobs created.

But, look, I still believe that the both of them look the same to me. They're both -- they may look different to you, Laura, because I know -- because I've been hanging out with the Tea Party conservatives.


BRAZILE: Yeah, I've been going to, you know...

INGRAHAM: They like you.

BRAZILE: ... these debates, and I've been hanging out with the mainstream establishment conservatives. I know George said there's no such thing as an establishment.


BRAZILE: And I'll tell you one thing, they're all running on the same failed tax policies and economic policies that got us into the mess that we're in, you know, right now. So they're both the same to me.

TAPPER: George?

WILL: 2011, the economy grew at 1.7 percent. Now, that's not enough to keep up with the growth of the job market, in job creation. Ten months from now, eight months, three months now, we may be talking about what Greece did to Italy and what Italy and Europe have done to the United States. We're going to have big issues, big events between now and the election.

GOOLSBEE: Look, George is 100 percent right about that. And I would say, if the economy's growing the way it did in 2010, or is...

WILL: Three percent.

GOOLSBEE: ... 3 percent and above, the president is going to have major wind at his back. If it's growing less than 2 percent or if things go wrong in Europe, he's going to be facing trouble. But we're somewhere right now, splitting the difference, and so we're going to be in this -- in this close spot.

INGRAHAM: Yeah, but the record...

GOOLSBEE: But the -- the one thing I'd say is, the argument that it's all about the growth of government, the numbers that came out on Friday showed that the private sector is growing almost 5 percent a year. It's a huge boom. The thing that's dragging down the economy is the government is shrinking so rapidly that it's pulling the overall growth rate to 2.8 percent.


TAPPER: We're running -- we're running out of time. And I want to get -- I want to get...

INGRAHAM: Is this a science fiction show?

TAPPER: I want to get to the photo of the week from the tarmac in Phoenix, Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer, Republican governor of Arizona, and President Obama talking. One other bit of information. Before that confrontation, which was partly about her book and how she recreated a meeting with the president, her Amazon sales ranking for her book, "Scorpions for Breakfast," was 343,222. And on Saturday, it was number eight. So that picture for me is a Rorschach test, and I want to get your thoughts and your thoughts very quickly.

INGRAHAM: Well, look, I think it's state power versus federal power. And you talk to folks in southern states, out in Arizona, they feel like they've been pig-piled on just about enough. And they didn't much like when Eric Holder comes through and starts filing lawsuits against their state initiatives. And there's a lot of rancor and acrimony. Maybe it was just a P.R. push for the book, but I don't think so. There's something deeper there.

BRAZILE: Another symbol of our breakdown in civility. Look, she's an executive. She understands that that was just totally disrespectful, disdain for the president of the United States, the contempt for the office itself. Yes, it makes her the warrior woman. I guess with Michele Bachmann now on the sidelines, Sarah Palin not in the arena...

INGRAHAM: Does she have a right to defend her state?

BRAZILE: ... no, but it's -- it was really disrespectful. It was distasteful. And I'll tell you, Laura, if it was the reverse, if it was President Obama using his finger...

INGRAHAM: He did that during the whole State of the Union, wagging his finger at us.

BRAZILE: No, he did not. He did not wag it at an executive. It was very distasteful.

TAPPER: We have about 40 seconds left. Austan, then George, quickly on the photo, if you have any thoughts.

GOOLSBEE: For the people who said the president was tense, and I guess that came from the governor, when I looked at the photo, it looked like he was almost...

TAPPER: Bemused?

GOOLSBEE: ... going to laugh, you know, a little bemused. I was -- I thought it wasn't bad.

INGRAHAM: He enjoyed it.

TAPPER: George, last word

WILL: Well, I agree. I don't think (inaudible) disagree with the president on a tarmac, waving your finger. But it looked like two grownups having a vigorous conversation. Big deal.

TAPPER: Big deal, indeed. Well, they will continue this in the green room.

And coming up, our own John Berman on the State of the Union moment that had everyone, even the late-night comics, cringing.


O'BRIEN: During his State of the Union speech, President Obama -- did you see this -- he told a joke that fell completely flat with the audience. Yeah. All I have to say is, Mr. President, welcome to my world, all right?




TAPPER: Between campaigning and governing, politicians and candidates have plenty on their plates, so why are they always trying to moonlight as comedians? In our "Close-Up" this week, our own John Berman says to those politicians: Do not quit your day jobs.


BERMAN (voice-over): Candidates walk into a bar. One says to the other, "You're not funny." The other says, "Neither are you." Get it? Actually, it's no joke. It's politics, which by and large is no joke, at least not a funny one.

Take the president in his State of the Union, discussing government dairy regulations...

OBAMA: With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.

BERMAN: That sound you heard Tuesday, 38 million groans and one stoic look from the first lady. We'll get back to that.

Mitt Romney at a New Hampshire diner.


BERMAN: Get it? The joke is, the waitress pinched his rear end. We'll get back to Romney's rear end, or he will, but, first, no one had more consistent material than George W. Bush, the master of the single entendre.

BUSH: Feeling a little older, if you know what I mean.

BERMAN: You mean you're feeling a little older.

BUSH: Washington is a wonderful place, but it's not exactly the real world, if you know what I mean.

BERMAN: You mean Washington's not exactly the real world.

BUSH: If you know what I mean.

BERMAN: Yes, we know. We always know. Trust us. And if not us, trust Ann Romney.

A. ROMNEY: Let people also know the other side of Mitt, which you might not all get to see...


Oh, dear.

BERMAN: As promised, that was Mitt Romney's rear end again, but more importantly that look on Mrs. Romney's face, the same look as on Mrs. Obama's face at the State of the Union, the same look husbands and fathers around the America see every day, the ones that say, "You're not funny."

So why do politicians keep trying, popping up on late-night talk shows more than Don Rickles? Because deep down inside, wives and kids and voters appreciate the effort, whatever the execution. Trust Herman Cain on what Washington needs.

CAIN: I would bring a sense of humor to the White House, because America is too uptight.

BERMAN: A sense of humor. No one said it had to be a good one, if you know what I mean.

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


TAPPER: That "you're not funny" look, I know that look. I'll be back to answer some of the questions you had 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 three soldiers and Marines killed in Afghanistan.


TAPPER: We're at the point in the show when you ask the questions and we answer them. All week, you've been tweeting and Facebooking us at Ask George. And since George is not here this week, I'll take a few of your questions. This is "Your Voice, This Week."

The first one's from Bill Sherrin. Quote, "I have not heard any rumors on possible running mates. Any indication that there would be a Romney-Gingrich or Gingrich-Romney or Romney-Santorum ticket or -- well, you get the question."

I do, indeed, Bill. Thank you very much. It's tough to tell if they would pick the running mate, whoever the nominee is, from within the group of their former competitors. Some of the other prospects that are being discussed right now are Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, also Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida. It all depends on what the nominee feels he needs to have on the ticket come nomination time.

Cynthia Louise Butler wonders, quote, "What's Hillary going to be doing in a year's time?"

Cynthia, we took your question to Team Clinton. And a source there told us that a year from now, the secretary, quote, "will be at the beginning of the next chapter of her life, as yet unwritten," but that will surely include continuing to work on the issues she's cared about her entire adult life. And she'll probably do so in a way that resembles what her husband has been doing since leaving the White House. As for specifics, she's still figuring that out herself.

And Jim Dedman asks a question on many people's minds. "Why isn't George Will on Twitter?"

Jim, that's a mystery to us, too. So we asked George, and he told us, quote, "I don't think in 140 characters, but in 751-word chunks." Seven hundred fifty-one words, it sounds about column length, George.

More questions next week? Send them in at #AskGeorge. And Mr. Stephanopoulos will have a special surprise next Sunday for all of you in the Twitterverse.

That's all for us today. "World News" with David Muir will have the latest headlines tonight. And Tuesday, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos will be at election headquarters to bring you the results of that Florida primary, as soon as they come in, and check out otusnews.com all week long for the latest from our political team.

Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. George Stephanopoulos will see you back here next week.


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