HH: Joined now by former Missouri Senator, Jim Talent. He is part of Team Romney, and today he and former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu did a conference call to talk about Newt Gingrich. Senator Talent, welcome, it’s great to have you.
JT: Hey, thank you, Hugh. How are you?
HH: Great. What was the message today? What was the attempt to get Newt in focus?
JT: Well, what we did was we contrasted the records of the two leading candidates as leaders. With Romney, you have a person who has been effective as a leader in turning around private businesses and non-profits and Massachusetts government, disciplined, and can beat Obama, and make Obama and Obama’s policies the issue. And then with regard to Speaker Gingrich, what I said, and I said it with reluctance, because I served with the Speaker and under him, but I just said look, he’s not a reliable conservative leader, because he’s not a reliable leader. And we talked about his reaction to the Paul Ryan plan, which is just classic. I mean, that, Paul’s Medicare plan was the heart of his budget, which was the heart of conservative attempts to turn the government around. And the Speaker just out of nowhere said it was radical, right-wing social engineering and the conservatives’ version of Obamacare. And it just, it was a dagger in the heart of that measure, and an outrageous statement. And that’s the whole point. He has good ideas. Sometimes he has bad ideas. But then, he’ll just say outrageous things that undermine the agenda.
HH: It’s interesting you use the analogy of the dagger, because today I wrote a column over at Townhall that quoted the columns by George Will, Charles Krauthammer, the comments by Tom Coburn, a column by Ann Coulter, interviews with Mark Steyn. Lots of high profile conservatives have all said the same thing about Speaker Gingrich. I think it’s what you said. Reliability is at issue. But that’s a pretty…
JT: Well, look, see the silence is deafening on the part of so many others who served with him. And I think we’ll probably hear more about them. And look, all of us are reluctant to say it because all of us have an affection for the Speaker. But this is a serious choice that has to be made. I mean, look, the Democrats know if this election is about Barack Obama and his policies, which is what it will be about if Mitt Romney is the nominee, then Obama loses. If this election is about the Republican nominee, which is what it’s going to be about if it’s Speaker Gingrich, then Obama wins. And that’s why the Democrats are running ads against Mitt Romney. It couldn’t be clearer, you know?
HH: So why do you run into what people call the 25% ceiling with Governor Romney in places like Iowa and other places out there? What do you, Jim Talent, think explains that ceiling?
JT: Well, I believe that there’s a big block of people in the party who aren’t sure yet what they’re going to do. And so what they do is they park for a while with somebody. You know, it was Bachmann and then Perry and then Cain, and now it’s Speaker Gingrich. Now on the other hand, see, what I’d say is the one person who’s got a solid core of hard support that believes in him, and it’s across all segments of the party in the country, is Mitt Romney. And that to me is a sign. So now the next few weeks in the early states, the decisions are going to be made. And so people are going to have to come down one place or another. And I think and hope and believe that they’re going to come down with the guy that we know can win, the guy who is such a strong advocate for free market economic policies and can turn the economy around and the budget around, and that’s Romney.
HH: Now yesterday, or actually two days ago, I had your old colleague, Jon Kyl, on, and Senator Kyl, of course, very concerned about the sequestration of the Defense Department funding. And he said something which sort of surprised me, because I’d read the Citadel speech, and I know you’re one of the Department of Defense advisors for Governor Romney, which is he had not yet seen any of the Republicans stand up for Defense. Do you think that’s a fair criticism of Governor Romney?
JT: I really don’t. Now I don’t blame Jon. I mean, look, he’s busy. But I think one of the problems here is that you look, when people say in these polls that they’ve seen a lot of Mitt Romney directly, they’ve watched him, they’ve read his speeches, they’ve watched him give his speeches, those people tend to support him. And I think this is a situation where the people in our party get their hands around new leaders slowly. And it think it’s a process that’s working slowly, but I think it’s going to come out the right way. I think we’re going to win this election and turn the country around. But it’s a very serious choice we have to make, and we cannot fumble it.
HH: Now John Thune came out last week for Mitt Romney, Chris Christie, of course, the week before. Are you rolling out endorsements…and Dan Quayle this week, are you rolling out endorsements on a schedule? Or are these decisions which are being made solely by long time party leadership?
JT: I would say it’s a little bit of both. How’s that for a political answer. But what I mean is it’s generally, my experience is, we just last week, for example, rolled out a bunch of new endorsements in Missouri, a lot of really strong conservatives around the state that came out for Governor Romney. Now we had those endorsements the whole time, but we waited until the Governor was in the state. So I think we generally tend to roll them out when we get them, but if there’s an event, or there is scheduling it or holding it for a little bit of a time is a good idea, that’s what we do. But we’ve been getting endorsements all over the country, because people recognize, I mean, look, if you just step back and forgot about who is running, and said what kind of candidate we need, who do the people want and what do we need, it would be a strong executive leader who has a lot of experience in the private sector, and can talk articulately about the economy, and doesn’t have a lot of baggage that the White House can attack. And I just described Mitt Romney.
HH: Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about the Evangelical vote, which has always had a reservation, I’ll call it the Mormon reservation. And one of the bloggers over at Article 6 blog has said that look, it’s not a bigotry so much as it’s suspicion or not understanding what Mormons are versus Newt’s narrative, which is very, very Evangelical-friendly, although he converted to Catholicism. What do you find, as you go out there and talk to people, especially in Iowa, about this LDS issue?
JT: Well you know, I think, I’ll tell you what, it doesn’t come up a lot when I talk to people. But I’ll give you my view on it, and it was just personally reaffirmed earlier this year. I had eye surgery, and I wanted the best eye surgeon in town. The guy happened to be a Mormon. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to say oh, well, you know, you’re a Mormon, and so I don’t want you to operate on my eyes, even though I think you’re the best, because these are, being a doctor, being a lawyer, being a president, it’s a secular position of trust, so you want somebody with good character. Now nobody has said Mitt Romney doesn’t have good character. I mean, he lives the Judao-Christian ethic, and he’s responsible. He’s a person that you would put in charge of your affairs, or put into a position of trust. And so that’s what I say to people, and I don’t think at the end of the day that religion is going to move very many votes one way or the other.
HH: All right, last question about Speaker Gingrich, and we’ve got about a minute left. Do you expect him to sort of, people say he lives with his finger fifteen seconds from the button at any given time. In the next 30 days, do you expect old Newt to resurface? Or is he going to stay the disciplined new Newt?
JT: Well, I don’t know, but I think people should consider the import of that question, and that’s exactly why I did the press interview today. I didn’t like to do it. I was reluctant to do it. But I mean the Speaker is a person who for various reasons, Governor Sununu gave reasons today, I didn’t speculate on motives, but will jump up and say really outrageous things, and we gave a big example of that today. And people have got to understand, I mean, that Medicare plan was the heart of our agenda, and the heart of our agenda going forward in health care reform. And the Speaker’s comments sabotaged it. It’s why, you know, it’s why I said what I said, it’s why Pete King has said what he said about him, and Susan Molinari, and Tom Coburn, and why these other people are endorsing Mitt Romney. And I just hope people listen and consider the import of that, and ask themselves who Barack Obama wants to run against. And I think that’ll tell them who we need to have as the nominee.
HH: Senator Jim Talent, always a pleasure, look forward to talking to you about Defense issues down the road, Senator.
End of interview.