Republicans: Who's Your Candidate for 2012?

NPR's political editor Ken Rudin talks about the week in political news, including President Obama's nuclear summit and Sarah Palin's GOP agenda. And NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea talks about the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Bart Stupak bows out in Michigan. Andy Stern said to bow out at the SEIU, and in NOLA, Sarah Palin sets the GOP agenda.

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Republican Governor, Alaska): Party of no? Na, we're the party of hell no.

CONAN: It's Wednesday and time for a straw poll edition, make that a bendable straw poll edition, of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Ms. PALIN: Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us. Republicans throw the hell-no gauntlet down on financial reform. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vows to tackle immigration, then un-vows. In Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson reportedly will not run against Russ Feingold. In New York, George Pataki won't challenge Kirsten Gillibrand. Upstate, Massagate metastasizes. Downstate, Adam Clayton Powell IV will test Charlie Rangel in Harlem. And we know one person who will not be nominated for the Supreme Court seat.

Later, the skinny on last weekend in the Big Easy, plus Nicholas Kristof back from a family vacation in Zimbabwe. But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here, as he does every Wednesday. As usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Okay, well, there's a lot of speculation on whom President Obama will pick for the Supreme Court.

CONAN: Except Hillary Clinton.

RUDIN: Except Hillary Clinton, right, but there's some talk about elected officials, and the names of Janet Napolitano, the former Arizona governor. Jennifer Granholm, the current Michigan governor, has been named. Who was the last Supreme Court justice who ran for statewide office?

CONAN: After leaving the court.

RUDIN: Well, it doesn't matter.

CONAN: The last Supreme Court justice to run for political office, before or after.

RUDIN: Statewide office.

CONAN: Statewide office. If you think you know the answer, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And the winner, of course, gets a fabulous no-prize T-shirt, and Ken, we actually had votes cast yesterday.

RUDIN: We did, but we're not sure what it amounted to. Of course, this is about extending unemployment benefits, and of course, you need 60 votes for anything to happen in the Senate, and they actually got four Republicans to vote for it, including Scott Brown, once the Tea Party favorite. We're not sure if he's still the Tea Party favorite.

But anyway, it was an agreement to end debate - or to begin debate, basically, on extending unemployment benefits. Republicans felt it was they were not being paid for. There was no way to pay for it. So a lot of conservatives were opposed to it, but they got enough votes to pass it. The vote was 60 to 34, and so now they're going to debate whether to extend it.

There was another preliminary vote today that they didn't get the 60 votes to pass. So we don't know...

CONAN: Because Pat Leahy wasn't there.

RUDIN: Pat Leahy wasn't there, but the four Republicans are Scott Brown, George Voinovich, who's retiring, and the twins from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and that's the only four Republican votes they got.

CONAN: So we'll have to see. The Democrats are expected to win that vote as soon as Pat Leahy returns to the Senate, as soon as this afternoon. Nevertheless, the president is going to confab with the Senate and House leadership on the question of that Supreme Court vacancy and indeed talk this is sort of pro forma. Every time there's a vacancy, they meet with the leadership and the heads of the chairman and the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.

RUDIN: Right, just the Senate, not the House. Of course, so it'll be Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, and then it'll be Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on Judiciary, and Pat Leahy, the chairman. Of course, with John Paul Stevens announcing his retirement, not a surprise last week after 34 years on the bench.

We expect that there'll be some kind of a nominee, perhaps by the end of May. And of course, the likely candidates, we've heard over and over again, the solicitor general, Elena Kagan, and two federal appeals court judges, Merrick Garland from D.C. and Diane Wood of Chicago. Diane Wood, by the way, was my prediction last year when it was ultimately it went to Sonia Sotomayor.

So but it may be a very a longer list. The White House is hinting that it may be the Jennifer Granholms and the Janet Napolitanos, other judges. Of course, some progressive liberal groups would like somebody more liberal, less mainstream, but it depends on how President Obama wants to weigh in and how much of a fight he wants to have with the Republicans. I suspect either way, there's going to be a fight. The question is whether he wants to have it extend to something as far as a filibuster.

CONAN: And indeed, the president ducked a fight with his nominee to head the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, and she bowed out, fell on her sword after a year of nomination because apparently the president didn't want two fights with Republicans on judicial questions.

RUDIN: Right, that's Dawn Johnson of the University of Indiana Law School, and also, there's also the judgeship up in San Francisco for the Ninth Circuit. It's basically a big fight. What Harry Reid says is what he really wants to get done in the next couple of weeks is really deal with some of these judicial confirmation battles that the Republicans have been holding up all these months.

CONAN: Well, let's see if we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and the question again: The last Supreme Court justice to run for state-wide political office, again 800-989-8255, email talk@npr.org. And Albert(ph) joins us from Lake Havasu in Arizona.

ALBERT (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Albert, you're on the line.

ALBERT: Thank you. I'm going with Sandra Day O'Connor from my state here.

RUDIN: Well, Sandra Day O'Connor did run for state legislature. She was a Republican leader in the state legislature before she was picked to the Supreme Court, but the question here was statewide office. That was the key.

ALBERT: Oh, I'm sorry.

CONAN: Okay, nice try, though. Let's see if we can go next to this is Tom(ph), Tom with us from Sioux City, Iowa.

TOM (Caller): Earl Warren?

CONAN: Earl Warren, the former governor of California.

RUDIN: That's correct, he was former governor of California, but he was not the most recent person to run statewide.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Tom. Let's go next this is Casey(ph), Casey with us from Cleveland.

CASEY (Caller): I was going to guess Taft.

CONAN: Which one?

CASEY: From Ohio.

RUDIN: Well, actually William...

CONAN: William Howard.

RUDIN: William Howard Taft was never, I don't think he was ever elected to statewide office.

CONAN: But he was elected president.

RUDIN: He was elected president, and of course, he was Supreme Court chief justice, chief justice of the United States, but never elected statewide in Ohio.

CASEY: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: Thank you, Casey. Let's go next to this is Bryant(ph), Bryant with us from Grand Rapids.

BRYANT (Caller): Good afternoon. My guess would be Judge Clarence Thomas.

RUDIN: Clarence Thomas never ran for office. No, he's always been a judge.

BRYANT: All right, thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to this is Bob(ph), Bob with us from Rochester, Minnesota.

BOB (Caller): Hi, this is Bob from Rochester, and it's Bill Brandenburg(ph), I believe his first name is. He ran for governor of New Jersey.

CONAN: Bill Bradley ran for governor of...

BOB: No, no, no, not Bill Bradley, Brandenburg.

RUDIN: Brendanburn(ph)? No.

BOB: No, not Brendanburn.

CONAN: He's in the right arena.

RUDIN: Yeah, the first Italian governor, Brendanburn Arena(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: I think what we're talking about is a long, long time ago, but I'm talking about something much more recent than what you're referring to.

CONAN: That's a concerto, "Brandenburg." Anyway, let's see if we can go next to go to Scott(ph), Scott with us from Kansas City.

SCOTT (Caller): Yes, I believe Arthur Goldberg ran for New York governor in 1966.

RUDIN: Well, you're right about the answer. The answer is Arthur Goldberg. The year was 1970.

CONAN: We're going to give it to you anyway.

RUDIN: You get it anyway.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding, you get a T-shirt.

RUDIN: Yeah, but he'll get the T-shirt four years later.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: He lost to Nelson Rockefeller, and the interesting thing is that Arthur Goldberg's running mate was Basil Paterson, who was the father of the current New York governor, David Paterson.

CONAN: Interesting. Anyway, Scott, stay on hold, and our producer will pick up and get your particulars. You will get a no-prize T-shirt in exchange for the promise to have a digital picture taken of yourself that we can post on the wall of shame.

SCOTT: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much. So I push the hold button. For once, I got that right. Anyway, interesting, mentioned Basil Paterson, one of the great political leaders in Harlem, and indeed the king of Harlem for many, many years has been Charlie Rangel, the...

RUDIN: Forty years.

CONAN: And now he gets a challenge from a name that resonates very strongly in Harlem.

RUDIN: The person Charlie Rangel defeated in the 1970 Democratic primary was a very famous congressman by the name of Adam Clayton Powell. Now Powell's son, Adam Clayton Powell IV not sure why he's the fourth but he's a city councilman. He is running against Charlie Rangel in the September primary. Of course, he ran against Rangel once before in I believe 1994 and got crushed two to one, but obviously, Rangel is no longer Ways and Means Committee chairman. He's under a lot of ethics investigations, and perhaps he might be vulnerable to a challenge.

CONAN: Staying in New York, former Governor George Pataki says he will not run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

RUDIN: Not a surprise, I mean, his name has been out there, and his name if you look at these polls, these hypothetical polls, Pataki, the predecessor to Governor Eliot Spitzer and then now David Paterson, Pataki leads Kirsten Gillibrand in all the polls, but he said he's not going to run, and nobody ever thought he wanted to come to Washington.

CONAN: Speaking of political comebacks that aren't, Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin.

RUDIN: Well, there's also a poll that shows Tommy Thompson defeating Russ Feingold in this year's Senate race, but there's a Milwaukee radio station, WTMJ, reporting unnamed sources, saying people close to Tommy Thompson say he's ultimately not going to run for the Senate. Thompson has not confirmed that.

CONAN: And there was an election yesterday in the state of Florida for the House of Representatives.

RUDIN: It was the seat that Robert Wexler gave up. He's a former congressman, a seven-term congressman from, I guess, the West Palm Beach-Boca Raton area. He's overwhelmingly re-elected over and over again. He left in January to head-up a Middle East think tank. It was won by another Democrat, Ted Deutch. The Republican candidate there tried to make this a referendum against health care and against President Obama's views on Israel.

CONAN: Seemed to work in some other places.

RUDIN: Yes, but this was not the right district to do it. The guy, Ed Lynch, the Republican, got creamed when he ran for Congress two years ago, and he tried to get Jewish hostility about Obama's positions on Israel to his advantage. But Ted Deutch, who is Jewish and who is a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, won handily.

CONAN: We have some other special elections coming up.

RUDIN: We do. We have a bunch of them. In May, we have three of them, for Nathan Deal from Georgia, who resigned, to run for governor of Georgia; Neil Abercrombie, who resigned to run for governor of Hawaii; and Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, who died, a special election in May, as well.

There's also going to be a special election, we think, but we don't know when, to replace Eric Massa in upstate New York. David Paterson has to call a date, but he may not call a date. It's a very ticklish situation for David Paterson.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Thank you.

CONAN: And indeed, the Massagate continues to expand, more revelations this week that his staff was apparently spending most of their time trying to keep him out of trouble, in the end, unsuccessfully.

RUDIN: Right. A lot of people were giggling about this scandal, thinking it's very cute and very funny, but ultimately, it's about sexual harassment. Many male members of Massa's staff said that they were touched, or they were sexually propositioned by the congressman, and the question, as was the same question that we've asked of Republicans in 2006 with Tom Foley, that scandal in Florida, what members of the House leadership, Democratic leadership, knew about this, and if they knew about it early, what did they do about it?

CONAN: And by the way, we found a copy of Ken Rudin's tech rider in our garbage here at TALK OF THE NATION, and it turns out he does require a Learjet and bendy straws.

RUDIN: Well, this is so strange. I mean, there's an institute, a college, the college system in California, of course, is suffering financially, and apparently, there were some negotiations going on to get Sarah Palin to speak there. Among the things she demanded were bendable straws.

CONAN: Bendable straws. It's not quite the case of Southern Comfort that some rock musicians demanded, but nevertheless. We'll talk more with Ken Rudin when we come back from a short break, and we'll focus on a who's who of the Republican Party that descended on New Orleans last week to talk about the future of the GOP. Don Gonyea was there. He'll join us next. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The political junkie, Ken Rudin, joins us every week on TALK OF THE NATION. He's NPR's political editor and prolific political blogger. You can head to npr.org/junkie to see that. You can also download his podcast, and if you have political brainteasers on the mind, there's the ScuttleButton puzzle that's there every week.

Last weekend, Republicans gathered in New Orleans for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference to hear from Michael Steele, Newt Gingrich, Mike Pence and Sarah Palin, among others, from men and women who shape the party's platform and some of whom may have an eye on the GOP nomination for president in 2012. One of them, Ron Paul, encouraged Republicans to narrow what he called a credibility gap.

Representative RON PAUL (Republican, Texas): We talk a good game, but when we get the chance to do something, we haven't done the job that we should have.

CONAN: At the end of the conference, there was a straw poll. Mitt Romney came out on top, barely. We want to hear from Republicans in our audience. Who's your candidate for 2012? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea joins us here in Studio 3A. Don, nice to have your new title to stumble over, and welcome to the program.

DON GONYEA: Thank you. I've stumbled over it myself a few times.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Now, this is the first major gathering of the GOP since the health care bill passed and became law. How are they looking at that, as an opportunity or as a defeat?

GONYEA: Oh, absolutely as an opportunity. Those words repeal, repeal, repeal were I don't think there was a speaker who did not use those words.

CONAN: Did any of the speakers manage to count to, you know, the veto level?

GONYEA: Here is the plan they lay out. It's a multi-step process. First you take over the House of Representatives and the Senate, this go-around, and no, they're not going to have a veto-proof majority. Even in their wildest dreams, they're not thinking of that. But they talk about starving the funding for key provisions of the bill so they simply...

CONAN: Chip away.

GONYEA: ...cannot be enacted. And then, two years later, they win the presidency. It was interesting to see Newt Gingrich talk about cutting off funding because you think back to his time as speaker, and cutting off funding for the government was something that actually got him into a little bit of trouble.

CONAN: It kind of backfired on him, yeah.

GONYEA: Yeah.

RUDIN: Helped re-elect Bill Clinton, exactly.

GONYEA: But anyway, it is the rallying cry for 2010, and it will be the rallying cry beyond. And they do acknowledge that President Obama has made the point, you know, that many of these things, once people see them, will be popular once people get used to having them.

CONAN: And so they really think that they can campaign on the idea, those, you know, pre-existing conditions that don't count anymore, we're going to put those back in?

GONYEA: They will not be that specific.

CONAN: I see.

GONYEA: They will not be that specific, and they absolutely were not that specific at this event. It's that the bill is huge, it is costly, it is driving up the deficit. They are pointing to polls that initially show that the public hasn't, you know, warmed up to this yet. There is still, you know, general opposition, even though as the president points out, it hasn't really been...

CONAN: Kicked in as yet. This conference of Southern this is the base of the Republican Party.

GONYEA: Yes. And even though it is called, you know, the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, you have Republicans there from all across the country. I mean, it's essentially called that because they are the ones who host the party. But it is. It is a chance to energize the base in a place where the base has traditionally lived.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some listeners in on the conversation. A straw poll was taken at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, and the winner was...

GONYEA: A surprise, somebody who didn't even bother to show up, Mitt Romney.

CONAN: And who came in second?

GONYEA: Ron Paul came in second, but we have to say it was a virtual tie. They each had 24 percent. I think Romney's vote total, it was 439 votes, and Ron Paul's vote total was 438. And then the next tier, again a tie, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, each with 18 percent, and nobody else broke double digits.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Don, you're talking about enthusiasm and excitement. Could you compare just briefly the comparison between the reception Sarah Palin got and Michael Steele got?

GONYEA: Sarah Palin was really the big speaker of the weekend. No surprise there. She's the one who sells tickets. She's the draw, and she is the rock star. So the room was sold out, really standing room only, you know, 3,000, maybe 4,000 people squeezed into that room and raucous applause for her.

Michael Steele was the last speaker of the last day. He spoke at about four o'clock on Saturday afternoon, you know, after three days. And Ron Paul spoke just before him. And Ron Paul had a full house, as well. But the place didn't completely empty out. It was probably a third to half full for Michael Steele when he spoke.

RUDIN: I read somewhere that a lot of fundraisers, a lot of big givers for the party, decided to leave when Michael Steele started to speak. Do you know anything about that?

GONYEA: Nothing specifically. I'd heard that there, as well. But I mean, certainly the place was the place was absolutely full before he spoke. There was just a very short break after Ron Paul's speech. And I went out into the hallway, did some interviews, you know, this and that, gathered some tape and came back in, and the place was half full.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. We're asking Republicans to call in today and say, well, if you had a straw poll today, who would you vote for? Norm(ph) is on the line from Portsmouth in New Hampshire.

NORM (Caller): Hello, yes. When I look at the stage at this point in time, I think Tim Pawlenty is the right guy.

CONAN: Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota.

NORM: Exactly.

CONAN: And what recommends him to you, Norm?

NORM: Well, he's got the kind of executive experience that I think would play well in the White House, and I think it he brings it. Coming from New Hampshire, I mean, I'd even say that I think he brings some Midwestern common sense to the out-of-control spending that has overtaken Washington and the government overreach. I think he'd put the brakes on that quickly.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much, Norm. And Tim Pawlenty, Don Gonyea, he decided to stay home to welcome units of the Minnesota National Guard that were coming back from overseas and skipped this event.

GONYEA: Spoke via videotape, a pre-taped message that, you know, isn't quite the same. He records it in a room, and there's no audience and nobody for him to react to. And I think he spoke for something like two minutes and 56 seconds. So it was kind of a courtesy call, but he felt he couldn't be there in person.

CONAN: Let's go next to Bill(ph), Bill with us from Norwich in Connecticut.

BILL (Caller): How are you doing?

CONAN: I'm very good, thank you.

BILL: That's a good thing. My poll my pick of course would be the person who was almost totally ignored in 2008. And that would be Ron Paul, because Ron Paul would follow the Constitution, unlike all the others that have been out there so far.

CONAN: Don Gonyea mentioned that Ron Paul, once the Libertarian Party candidate for president of the United States, did great fundraising in his last time when he ran for the Republican nomination, did not get a lot of votes, though he did extremely well raising money on the Internet and gave one of the more interesting speeches.

Don has provided us with a couple of cuts of tape from Ron Paul's address to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, and Bill, you may be interested to hear this. He was talking about he was critical of planks in the Republican platform and about GOP talking points.

Rep. PAUL: The question has been as whether or not our president is a socialist. And I'm sure there are some people who believe it, and I know this conference has talked about that already, and I think it's very important, and he deserves a lot of criticism.

But, you know, in the technical sense, in the economic definition of what a socialist no, he's not a socialist. What he is what he is, is a corporatist, and unfortunately, we have corporatists in the Republican Party. And that means you take care of corporations, and corporations take over and run the country.

CONAN: And as you mentioned, he came within a vote on the straw poll, but you could hear those remarks sticking in a few people's craws.

GONYEA: And throughout his speech, you would hear the occasional shout-out in opposition from the audience. And he would just get kind of sly smile in the corner of his mouth, knowing that he had riled them up, and he would plow forward. I mean, those are his favorite moments. You can tell.

CONAN: Ron Paul also asked the audience if they'd ever heard of a place called Kyrgyzstan.

Rep. PAUL: There was a revolution over there. Why was it important? Because we have an airbase there. Why do we have to have airbases in the Soviet satellites? Besides, we're running out of money. No matter how badly you would like to have them, all empires end not because they're defeated militarily. All empires end for financial reasons, and that is what the markets are telling us today.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: You could almost see former Vice President Dick Cheney trying to launch something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: Exactly.

RUDIN: Or go hunting with him.

CONAN: Or go hunting, take him invite him to go out hunting, indeed.

GONYEA: And the crowd that you can hear, they packed the place, a lot of college kids. I talked to a group of college kids from Ole Miss and some from Florida, and some from Georgia had come in, and that is how he wins these straw polls. Young people get energized. They pay the basic conference registration fee. They go to the straw poll, and it's it really is his base.

CONAN: And Ken Rudin, again, Ron Paul got a lot of support, a lot of money last time, got few votes. His son, however, is very much a viable candidate this time around...

RUDIN: That's exactly what I was thinking right now. We always talk about the potential of Ron Paul in 2008 that was never realized, certainly not with the votes. But in the latest Bluegrass Poll, in the Kentucky Republican senatorial primary, which is coming May 18th for the seat that Jim Bunning is giving up, Ron Paul's son, Rand Paul, who is a doctor, leads the establishment choice, Trey Grayson, who's elected secretary of state, by 15 points in that primary. So - I mean, Rand Paul is doing all the things that Ron Paul did, Internet, fundraising, all that stuff. But he's also touching a nerve with the voters in Kentucky.

CONAN: And, by the way, here's a clip of tape that we missed earlier when it was relevant. This is a cut of tape of a Trey Grayson spot that ran in Kentucky during March Madness, the, of course, NCAA basketball tournament.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Mr. TREY GRAYSON (Republican Senatorial Candidate): There are big differences between Rand Paul and me, but in Kentucky during March, there's one really big difference.

Mr. RAND PAUL (Republican Senatorial Candidate): I'm Rand Paul and I'm a Duke Blue Devil.

Mr. GRAYSON: I'm proud to say that I'm a University of Kentucky Wildcat. I'm Trey Grayson, and I approved this message because I will always cheer for the Big Blue.

CONAN: And you couldn't quite hear that cut of tape. It said, I'm Rand Paul and I'm a Duke Blue Devil, which, of course, could get him in some trouble in the state of Kentucky. Now, of course, Duke did win. So - anyway, let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go next to - this is Jerry(ph), Jerry with us from Concord in Massachusetts.

JERRY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi. Who's your Republican candidate?

JERRY: Well, it has to be Mitt Romney, not that I want him to be, but he's the only one close enough to the middle to win.

CONAN: Only one close enough to the middle to win. You think he can attract the votes of independents, maybe some Democrats?

JERRY: Well, I dont know, but no one else could do it better. And the ticket that would be best for the country, the two people who would really be best for the country aren't going to run. So...

CONAN: And who would those be?

JERRY: Well, I'll tell you and you'll think I'm kidding, but I'm serious. I think a nice combination Jack Welch, formerly of GE, and Oprah Winfrey would bring the country together.

CONAN: If they could decide to talk to each other. Well, she can interview him. Anyway, thanks very much for the call, Jerry. That's a little bit out there, but we'll have to see if that becomes a possibility as a third or fourth party. Ken?

RUDIN: Well, I was going to say - and Kitty Kelley for secretary of state.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see. But the idea of former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney, is he somebody who can - is he in the center of the American politics? Is he to the - I know he'd hate me to characterize it this way - to the left of some of other candidates in the Republican Party?

RUDIN: Well, he wasn't in 2008, and the problem with Mitt Romney - I always thought that he had a chance of winning the nomination had he used his business acumen to sell himself to Republican voters. But, remember, when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, when he ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, he was pro-choice, he was pro-gay rights, things like that. And then he moved way to the right on abortion, on same sex marriage, things like that, when he ran for president. The question is, which is the real Mitt Romney and whether we'll see it in 2012?

CONAN: It's Wednesday. We're talking with Political Junkie Ken Rudin. Also with us is Don Gonyea, now national political correspondent. See, I got it out that time with no stumbles whatsoever. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's go next to Sheila(ph), Sheila with us from De Peyster in New York.

SHEILA (Caller): Hi. None of them were candidate my candidates and I'll tell you why, because I would like to see Republicans stop blaming everybody else for their problems. I hear a lot about personal responsibility, but I see them blaming the media for everything that comes out or any disagreement. And the other part that bothers me is the things with Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity deciding who is an American and who isnt. I'm married to a Democrat and he's a veteran of a war. I find him very American and it's insulting to me and my family values that because he's not of that ilk, a very conservative Republican...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

SHEILA: ...or me, for that matter, that we're suddenly un-American. So until one of them speaks up about that - and I know they won't - I guess so far I haven't found one.

CONAN: Sheila, thanks very much for the call. And, of course, she's referring to the Fox News hosts there, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. And to what degree in a Republican leadership conference do people like that set the agenda?

GONYEA: Well, it's - it was a very conservative conference. And it seemed every speaker - save Ron Paul and Rick Perry, the Texas governor - spend a good bit of time talking about President Obama as a socialist. And about - I mean, Newt Gingrich used the phrase over and over and over, that the president is running a secular socialist machine; and Sarah Palin, certainly, goes there. So the rhetoric was very, very much red meat and kind of aimed at keeping the anger up, and doing that to kind of fuel the energy that they see out there. But when you get down to debating health care, if it's going to live in the details, it's harder to portray things that way.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is Matt, Matt with us from Lowell, Massachusetts.

MATT (Caller): Yeah. I was wondering if Newt Gingrich was a possible candidate, since he happened to work well with Democrats during the Clinton years and seemed to have the contract for America down pretty well.

CONAN: Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, and now a historical novelist. Ken Rudin, is Newt Gingrich a viable candidate for president?

RUDIN: Well, his name has been out there and has been out there for a long, long time. He says he'll have a decision, perhaps, by next spring. Ultimately I think he would not run but there are a lot of people who worked with him, with GOPAC, when he was speaker of the House. A guy named Joe Gaylord is basically setting the stage for a possible Gingrich candidacy. I think he has a lot of problems with the base of the party. His own personal life, it has to be dealt with if - scandals in the closets, things like that. But anyway, there is a movement out there for Gingrich. Announcements will probably be made by next spring.

CONAN: Thanks very much for that, Matt. Appreciate the phone call. Let's see if we get one last caller in. And this is Mike, Mike with us from Greenville in North Carolina.

MIKE (Caller): I'm for Haley Barbour.

CONAN: Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Haley Barbour, was he at this conference?

GONYEA: He was - current chairman of the Republican Governors Association. And Haley Barbour is certainly toying with a run, but he asked that his name not be included...

CONAN: In the straw poll.

GONYEA: ...in the straw poll. Why put your name in there and perhaps not do well and have to explain it, even if that's meaningless. But he had the message: Folks, let's focus on 2010. He says we have to remember what matters.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Also, that he was in the news this week. He also proclaimed Confederate Heritage Month in Mississippi this week. And when he was asked about the controversy with Bob McDonnell, the Virginia governor did the same thing, he said, well, the whole controversy doesn't amount that diddly. I think Haley Barbour, everybody loves him, he speaks his mind...

CONAN: And was kind enough to join us on this program.

RUDIN: Right. And that's one of the reasons he probably will not run for president.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, thanks very much for your time today. Ken Rudin, NPR's...

RUDIN: Thank you.

CONAN: ...political editor joins us every week on the Political Junkie segment. Our thanks as well to NPR's national political correspondent, Don Gonyea, also with us here in 3A, just back from New Orleans. Don, thanks very much for time.

GONYEA: Always glad to be here.

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