Conservatives To Rally For Presidential Candidate

Tuesday's New Hampshire primary is unlikely to settle the question of who will be the GOP's consensus candidate. Conservative leaders plan to meet in Texas this weekend to try to identify a candidate to coalesce around, and experience will not be an essential factor. Host Michel Martin discusses the GOP hopefuls with Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative leader, author and lawyer.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, if you shop at Wal-Mart, then you already know that you cannot only shop for groceries and clothes, and print photos, and get your eyes checked by an optometrist - and now, you can add banking to your to-do list, sort of. We'll talk about the pros and cons of getting that check cashed at Wal-Mart. That's our Money Coach conversation, and it's coming up in a few minutes.

But first, the nation's first primary is today, as you probably know, but no matter who gets the nod from New Hampshire's voters, it's unlikely to decide just who the consensus candidate will be for Republicans. And it's precisely this dissatisfaction with the overall GOP field that has prompted a group of Christian leaders and social-conservative strategists to call an emergency meeting in Texas this weekend, to try to come to consensus about the presidential hopeful that they can all support.

We wanted to talk more about this, so we've called upon the conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly. She's a lawyer, mother and writer who has authored or edited some 20 books, including the book we talked about with her recently, "The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know and Men Can't Say." She has also been named one of the 100 most important women of the 20th century by Ladies Home Journal.

Welcome back, Mrs. Schlafly. Thank you so much for speaking with us once again, and Happy New Year to you.

PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY: Well, Happy New Year to you, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, you know, the polls all show that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is being touted as the front-runner. He's expected to take New Hampshire. Now, he says he's pro-life, he's pro-business. He says that he has what it takes, especially to address the issues that voters are most concerned about now. What's so terrible about Mitt Romney?

SCHLAFLY: Well, I don't think there's anything terrible about him, but if you look at all these polls - and there are dozens of them almost every day - you find that he doesn't get above 50 percent. And so while they do say he's the front-runner, the majority are for other people.

MARTIN: Is there a candidate that you particularly like right now? I do recall that Michele Bachmann was your preferred choice until she came out.

SCHLAFLY: Well, Michele Bachmann was my favorite in the Iowa caucus, and I thought she was the most articulate on the debates. She was able to discuss all the issues - even the fiscal issues because she had been a tax attorney. And I'm sorry she dropped out, but then that's the way it is. The voters speak.

And there are a number of other candidates. I have not made another choice, and a lot of people still haven't. You notice that there are people walking in to vote in New Hampshire and - as they were in Iowa - and saying they didn't know how they were going to vote till they got in there.

MARTIN: Well, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum made what to some people was a surprisingly strong showing in Iowa, so he heads into the current - sort of series of contests with some momentum. What about Rick Santorum?

SCHLAFLY: Well, I think he's a great candidate. And I do think he was overlooked, bypassed in a lot of those televised debates. He's right on all the issues for Republicans. Republicans want somebody who is strong on the economic issues, and strong on the social issues. And he fills the bill all the way up and down the line, and I notice a number of people are now endorsing him. And he is in his surge.

MARTIN: What about Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House? He says that he is the most electable. He says that he has experience at this level, having served as former speaker. He says he'd be the strongest candidate to beat Barack Obama. What about Newt Gingrich?

SCHLAFLY: I'm not sure we're looking for experience. You know, I tell people the most experienced presidents we ever had were Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, but that's not necessarily what we want. We want somebody who is a leader, who will be right on the issues, and who will lead us out of this trend that Obama's taking us on - which is really, as he said, a fundamental transformation of the United States. We want to re-establish American prosperity and freedom.

MARTIN: And you don't think Newt Gingrich has the right - what? The right set of policies...

SCHLAFLY: Well, Newt Gingrich is clearly the best speaker and so he has shined in the debates, and you're going to talk me into making a choice and endorsing somebody today. I think we just have to wait a little longer. And I don't think either Iowa or New Hampshire are dispositive of who's going to be the nominee. I don't think that anybody will have the required number of delegate votes until about April.

MARTIN: We're talking about the GOP race for the presidential nomination as the country holds its first primary today in New Hampshire - ahead of South Carolina, which is at the end of next week. We're speaking, of course, with the conservative icon, activist, author Phyllis Schlafly. She's headed to Texas this weekend for a meeting of conservative strategists like herself, to talk about who they might all be able to support.

So talk to me, if you would, a little bit about this meeting. Do you think it's important to try to come to consensus? And if so, why? I mean, as you said, you know, the voters are having their say now. It's their turn.

SCHLAFLY: Well, it's good that the voters are having their say and yes - but there are a number of different factions in there. There's a group that still wants Governor Rick Perry of Texas, and a group for Gingrich, and then a group for Santorum. And I think, in order to get the required number of votes, they're going to have to agree on somebody, and somebody's going to have to emerge.

Iowa and New Hampshire are a lot of fun to watch, but I don't think they're dispositive of who's going to be the nominee.

MARTIN: But what about this? I guess I'm asking, what is the purpose of this meeting, though, at this juncture? I mean, I'm not judging it. I'm just wondering why the people...

SCHLAFLY: It's to look over - have people make the case for the different nominees, and see who they really want to back because, as you have seen from these interrogations of people walking into the caucuses in the ballot place in New Hampshire, people are really, honestly undecided. They don't like what's going on. They think America is going in the wrong direction. They don't want to be fundamentally transformed. They don't want to go down the road of European socialism, but they're simply not yet sure who's going to be the leader who will be able to do that.

MARTIN: And, of course, we haven't mentioned former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Texas congressman Ron Paul, who also have their own constituencies and followings.

SCHLAFLY: They have their own, devoted following. That's true. But I just don't think either one of them is going to be nominated.

MARTIN: Is the fear here that, particularly with these third-party groups and large political donors being able to make large contributions at this stage and particularly, to make ad buys, is there a fear, then, that the field will savage itself before the November contest with President Obama? Is there a fear that the eventual nominee will be so damaged by this process that it needs to be short-circuited in some way?

SCHLAFLY: Well, if you look at - Michel, if you look at the some 14 TV debates that we've had, it's clear to me that the media really want Romney. But more than that, they have used these debates to get the Republicans to fight each other. And that was particularly true in the last couple of televised debates.

And I'm not sure that the Republicans made a good choice in going on these debates because the point is not to attack each other. The point is to show why we're going in the wrong direction, and to get our message out. And just as an example, in the last two televised debates just this past week, there was not one mention of Obamacare. Now, Obamacare is a big issue with the voters. It's one of the big issues - maybe the biggest issue - why Obama has fallen so much in the polls.

And I think we have seen that the media have been using these debates to get Republicans to fight each other but most important, to keep them from putting their message out.

MARTIN: But don't Republican voters need to understand who these candidates are so that they can make choices for themselves?

SCHLAFLY: Yeah, but it's more important that they get their message out. And you look - even some of them are now apologizing, sort of, for the way they treated Santorum in the early debates, when they kind of put him at the end of the line and sort of ignored him - and never gave him anywhere near as much time as they gave other candidates. And now they find that whoops, a lot of the people do like Santorum. We just don't think the media should be selecting the Republican candidate.

MARTIN: But couldn't the same argument be said - and forgive me, Mrs. Schlafly, of course - but couldn't the same argument be made about the people who are having this meeting in Texas? Why should they be selecting the nominee for the American people? Why not let the process go forward?

SCHLAFLY: Well, they're not opposed to the process. They're all participating in the process. But it is perfectly natural for some of the grassroots groups to get together and decide to agree on somebody. I wish they'd agreed on Michele Bachmann early on because I thought she was just simply so articulate and so strong and, really, she was kind of the leading one in saying that we must repeal Obamacare, which - that's kind of been lost in all this other debate ever since.

MARTIN: Do you have a deadline for selecting this consensus candidate, or do you have some sense of a process or...

SCHLAFLY: No. I'm telling people...

MARTIN: You know what I mean? Just exactly how do you think you'll - what do you think you'll do, going forward?

SCHLAFLY: Well, I think we'll evaluate the candidates. Now, this group did meet before, and they were very sweet on Governor Perry of Texas and somehow, he has disappointed a lot of them. And so they've got to make another evaluation.

MARTIN: Phyllis Schlafly is a conservative activist icon, if you will. She's the author of - or editor of - some 20 books, most recently "The Flipside of Feminism." And she was kind enough to join us from St. Louis, Missouri.

Mrs. Schlafly, thank you so much for speaking with us once again.

SCHLAFLY: Well, thank you. And I have a wonderful website, EagleForum.org.

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