On This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Republican strategists Mary Matalin and Nicole Wallace spin, spin, spin about the GOP primaries. Is Mitt Romney the inevitable nominee or, as Jake Tapper seems to think, will Newt Gingrich force a floor fight in Tampa? Stay tuned:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Everyone's in place right now. George Will off today, but we're happy to welcome Republican strategist Mary Matalin, Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, but, Eliot and Mary, you also host "Both Sides Now," a new radio show. Glad to have you here today. We also have Nicolle Wallace, Republican strategist, veteran of the Bush White House, McCain campaign, Austan Goolsbee, the former chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, and our own White House correspondent, Jake Tapper.
Welcome to all of you. And, Mary, let me begin where Lindsey Graham left off in this delegate hunt in the Republican primary. Let me show the board right now. You see 454 delegates for Mitt Romney, more than double what Rick Santorum has right now. Is Romney right, is the campaign right when they say it's going to take an act of God? Lindsey Graham seemed to pretty much say so, yes.
MATALIN: I wouldn't throw God into this equation at this point, given what's happened. But Mitt Romney's won the most states, he has the most delegates, he has the best organization, he has the most money. He's -- he's getting it done where he needs to get it done. He's the only candidate that's broke 40 percent. I mean, he's just getting better. He's closing better.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How does this end?
MATALIN: It just -- well, let me say this, that it goes on is not a bad thing. That is a big myth, that 90 -- the last campaign of y'alls, the liberal campaign, they went into June and Hillary was screaming at Obama for being an elitist, for talking about bitter clingers, and saying shame on you, Barack, so, you know, that went into June, they did fine. The short campaign is not necessarily a good campaign. McCain and Kerry were the last nominees from a short campaign. So I think it goes on. I don't think that's bad.
SPITZER: But there's a fundamental difference, and that is the passion and energy in the campaign, which is totally lacking behind Mitt Romney, and the reason for that is there's three Republican parties. There's the theological party. There is the libertarian party, obviously, theological party being led by Rick Santorum right now, Paul leading the libertarian party. Mitt Romney has what remains of the sort of corporate party, but the three don't go together very well. And Mitt Romney -- and I agree, he'll probably be the nominee -- but when he emerges, there won't be any energy and passion behind him. Hillary and Barack, there was energy that you have never seen before.
WALLACE: That romanticized 2008, you know, to a point where -- where...
WALLACE: Well, I mean, the major animating force in 2008 was their anger at the Bush legacy and the Bush years. It was not passion, love, and affection for Hillary and Obama. So this -- the romanticizing of that election has to stop.
I think what -- what Mitt Romney has going for him is people want him to do well almost with as much intensity as -- as -- as anything else. So people are pulling for him, and people are desperate for him to look stronger, to do better, and to put this away. So inasmuch as I think -- I accept that -- the fact that it goes on and on may fortify him for the general election. People want to see him stronger. They want to see him win races. And they want to see him look like our nominee.
Wallace is indulging in either major spin or wishful thinking. No one in their right mind can claim that Clinton and Obama backers were only passionate because they wanted to reject the Bush era. You can make a strong case for that with the 2004 Kerry campaign, not with 2008. Naturally, she wants people to think it's no big deal that Republican voters don't seem to care much for Romney.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And he has picked up points in week by week from traditional Republicans. Let me bring this to you, Austan Goolsbee, this idea of romanticizing 2008. One thing you saw coming out of the long fight in 2008 was a lot of talk about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton getting together on the ticket, and that brings me to the question of what Rick Santorum is going to be able to demand if he continues to pick up delegates every single week.
GOOLSBEE: I think that's a good point. I mean, the -- the -- the conundrum, the puzzle of this race compared to 2008 -- and I think it's right. We shouldn't over-romanticize. But if you looked at the numbers, it wasn't like this. It wasn't debilitating the candidates. Their favorability wasn't plunging among independents as it continued.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, but Hillary was upside-down around this point in 2008.
GOOLSBEE: Yes, but it wasn't getting worse. What's happening in the Republican primary is that as it's gone on, it still remains interesting, but they're -- it's just chewing them up, and it's not clear whether that's because what they're proposing...
MATALIN: Well, I don't know what data you all are looking at. The enthusiasm among Republicans is greater than among Democrats, and it's greater than it was in '08.
GOOLSBEE: No, the data is independent voters.
WALLACE: ... that that which makes you weak in a primary strengthens you in a general.
GOOLSBEE: No, but independent voters...
SPITZER: Independents, exactly.
GOOLSBEE: ... are turning very heavily against all the Republican candidates in a way that did not happen in the Democratic primary.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that leads to the question of -- because Mitt Romney is facing that especially, he's -- his favorability among independents is -- he's got a real deficit right there, so how does he fix it going into these next several weeks?
TAPPER: Well, he needs to win, and he needs to win strong. But that's probably not going to happen, at least in the next contests, in Alabama. And...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Although if he won in Mississippi or Alabama, that could end this rather quickly.
TAPPER: It could, but I don't see any indication that Santorum or Gingrich are going to drop out any time soon. And they -- both their campaigns make the case, look, the path might be difficult for us -- I think they have to win 60 percent or 70 percent of all the remaining delegates, but Romney has to win 50 percent of all the remaining delegates.
The Romney people will acknowledge that the campaign as it goes forward today could deny him the key number of delegates, 1,144. And if you talk to the Gingrich people, they are already talking about how Gingrich is going to go to Tampa. They're the only ones who have...
STEPHANOPOULOS: He says no matter what.
TAPPER: No matter what. And they say, Gingrich is the only one who has ever run a whip operation, when he was the House majority whip. He -- he is -- or the minority whip. And that says to me that they are actually literally preparing for a floor fight.
SPITZER: And that's the critical point, because Austan raised the critical issue. The question is, how do independent voters view these candidates? Winning the nomination isn't the objective here; it's winning in November. Independent voters will determine that. And the narrative over the next few weeks will be determined by both Gingrich and Santorum, which means the theological vote, which is driving independent voters away, will domestically.
MATALIN: Can I just -- reality zone. Reality zone. There's never been the numbers that this -- in March, nine months before the election, that were predictive of the head to head.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Bill Clinton was in third at this point.
MATALIN: Thank you.
WALLACE: And independents aren't even paying attention yet. I mean, they tune in late, and they change their minds.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... let me pose it to both you, Mary and Nicolle. How does -- and, Nicolle, you go first -- how does Mitt Romney manage to continue to try to get conservatives over to his side while reaching out to independents?
WALLACE: I think the trouble that he's having in bringing along -- really, the hard-core elements of our base will serve him well in the general. It was a little bit similar to what John McCain faced, where he had supported comprehensive immigration reform, it was a huge burden in the Republican primary, but it didn't -- some of the more difficult things to swallow for women voters who make up the majority of independents made it easier for him to make his case to those same voters in the general election. And I think that...
TAPPER: McCain did not do well with Latino voters, though.
WALLACE: Well, women, though. Women.
TAPPER: Oh, OK.
WALLACE: I mean, some of these issues that feel hard or harsh turn off women voters, and I think that Romney will have -- have an easier time. I think some of the social issues and some of the debates we've had don't attach themselves to Romney.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does he -- does he have the freedom at this point to do what a lot of people are recommending, find a place to pick a fight, show some distance from the base of the party?
MATALIN: That's a ridiculous kind of pundit strategy, OK? What -- I don't care what -- you can look at any poll, and by three to one, four to one, I don't care what kind of conservative you are, you care about the economy. I don't care what kind of independent you are, you care about the economy.
The very last thing voters say they care about are social issues. And he's not -- he is going to be running against Barack Obama, whose numbers as an incumbent closely resemble Bush I and Carter. They do not resemble LBJ's or Clintons. So this canard about it's -- this is a Goldwater or a Dole analogy is just...
All's I can say is, Mary Matalin is now a Catholic, yet she just told a big fat lie. Republicans don't care about the economy, they've already made it clear they're ready to wreck the economy to keep President Obama from getting reelected. This is not a secret, except to Sunday morning bobbleheads.
The second statement is just her using weasel words. "The very last thing voters say they care about are social issues." Yes, that's true. But all your best research shows they can easily be manipulated into letting their lizard brains take over if you push the right buttons -- and that's where Republicans excel.
SPITZER: Mary, I...
MATALIN: Opine (ph) on the Republican Party, about which you know so much.
SPITZER: Well, you know, I've run against them and beaten them, but here's what -- here's what I would say. You're right. The economy will be dispositive, and that story line will increasingly come back to the White House and be favorable for them. But on the subsidiary issues by your term of immigration, women's rights, civil rights, critical issues to get the Latino and female voters who determine that centrist middle, the Republican Party is losing and going the wrong way.