More GOP Candidates Announce Run For Presidency

The once-dormant race for the Republican presidential nomination is beginning to heat up. Earlier this week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich officially declared his candidacy, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas announced his candidacy Friday morning.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Let's bring in our political brain trust, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And our political editor, Ken Rudin. Ken, welcome back.

KEN RUDIN: Good morning.

INSKEEP: We bring you back once again.

RUDIN: Why?

INSKEEP: We take the chance of doing so.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Okay, so we heard what Mitt Romney had to say in Michigan. How are people responding to this?

LIASSON: Well, judging from the initial reaction from conservative pundits, Romney has not solved his health care problem yet. The Wall Street Journal wrote that he should either apologize for his bill or knockoff Joe Biden and get on the ticket with Barack Obama.

INSKEEP: Ooh.

LIASSON: Ouch. For a lot of conservatives, this a fundamental debate about the role of government. And while Romney gave a very articulate defense of the individual mandate - it's necessary to stop free riders in the system - conservatives, and certainly the Tea Party people - who are going to vote in great force in the primaries - see this as a matter of first principles. And to them, the individual mandate violates individual freedom.

INSKEEP: Ken Rudin.

RUDIN: And one of the reasons Romney can't walk away from his views on health care is because he's been accused of walking away from his positions of the past. He was pro-choice on abortion when he ran against Ted Kennedy for the Senate. When he ran for the governor of Massachusetts, he was pro-civil unions. So he has a reputation of shifting positions to run for president and he certainly can't do that with this issue.

INSKEEP: You know, the most sympathetic commentary that I've heard about Romney, suggests that he attempts to explain nuance positions and that he ends up sounding like he's waffling and talking out of both sides of his mouth. That's the most sympathetic description of him that I've heard.

RUDIN: Well, you remember the famous speech he gave in 2007 about his religion. It's really not religion that's going to hurt Mitt Romney, it's really Mitt Romney's past.

INSKEEP: Well, Mitt Romney has yet to formally jump in the race, but Newt Gingrich, of course, became a candidate this week. Congressman Ron Paul, of Texas, became a candidate today. How do they affect the race here?

RUDIN: Well, not much if you look at the polls. I mean what's interesting about Ron Paul is that, of course, we always talk about how much money he can raise and he can raise a ton of money. And he has a very serious, fervent following on the internet, but it doesn't translate into votes in the primaries and caucuses.

However, this is a different Republican Party in 2012 than we saw in 2008. It is more anti-government, more distrustful of government, and perhaps Ron Paul, at age 75, could still make a difference. Still the negatives on Newt Gingrich have not gone away: the three marriages, the two divorces, the ego. Yes, he is a man of ideas, of course he's been out of public office since 1998 when he resigned as Speaker, but he's showing, really, no much movement in the polls.

INSKEEP: Mara Liasson:

LIASSON: But, you know, I do think that, even though are huge questions about Newt Gingrich's personal life, and whether he has the discipline to conduct this kind of a campaign, he is going to be a big force in the field, an intellectual force, and I think he will be in the debates. I mean the joke about Gingrich is that he has 100 ideas every day and 99 of them are terrible, but one of them is really good, and I do think that he will be an intellectual force in the GOP primary.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another possible candidate who has yet to jump in, Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana, was on this program not long ago. We asked him how he was going to decide to run or not, and he said maybe flip a coin. Do we know anything more about his decision process here?

LIASSON: We don't know anything more about what he's going to do, but last night his wife, who was very reticent about participating in politics, Cheri Daniels, she did speak at an Indiana State Republican Party dinner. We found out that she's smart, and funny and charming. We didn't find out if her husband is going to run for president, although he says he's going to decide very, very soon.

INSKEEP: Can I just mention Peggy Noonan, former President Reagan speech writer, had a column in which she discussed some of the candidates. The only candidate she seemed to be really get - really, really get enthused about was Chris Christie of New Jersey, the New Jersey governor who has said he's absolutely, definitely not going to run, and yet he seems to have more enthusiasm behind him than the people who are running or considering running.

RUDIN: Well, that's one of the reasons everybody loves him, because he's not running. He's really not that much of a conservative. He's really - on many issues he's not a strong conservative like others in the field. However, you know, he's the kind of guy who's angry, who's tough, who's combative, he stands up to the unions, and a lot of Tea Party folks really like that anger that we've seen a lot in 2010.

INSKEEP: One other quick...

LIASSON: You know, that's...

INSKEEP: Go ahead.

LIASSON: No, I was just going to say that that really symbolizes something else that's happening in the Republican field. It's not unusual at this point, but people are not happy with their choices, Republican voters aren't. They're looking for Chris Christie or they're looking for a Paul Ryan, the Republican budget chair, or they want Mitch Daniels to come in as an establishment alternative to Mitt Romney.

RUDIN: It was a Donald - remember the Donald Trump moment that lasted for about 10 seconds.

LIASSON: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Or days even, days. People are casting around for candidates. That's what you're saying.

LIASSON: People are definitely casting about for candidates. This field has not formed yet.

INSKEEP: We've just got a couple of seconds here. There's a special election, May 24, western New York where a Republican Congressman in a scandal had to resign. Could that indicate anything about the way the public is thinking?

RUDIN: Well, in previous special elections, it's always about the referendum on the president - now President Obama in this case. But now it seems to be a referendum on the Republican Party and Paul Ryan's plans to change Medicare. Republicans are nervous about this.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much Ken Rudin, appreciate it.

RUDIN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks to you.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Our political brain trust on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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