DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
Mitt Romney had hardly won Illinois when his campaign gave opponents another handhold to pull him down.
GREENE: A Romney adviser turned up on CNN yesterday. Eric Fehrnstrom was asked if the Republican front-runner has moved so far right to win the primaries that he'd lose independent voters in the general election.
ERIC FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.
GREENE: Etch A Sketch promptly received its biggest burst of publicity in years - or maybe ever. Rick Santorum had himself photographed supposedly studying Romney's shifting positions on the plastic, kids' toy.
INSKEEP: And Newt Gingrich waved an Etch A Sketch at a campaign event in Louisiana. Gingrich got on the phone with us as he was on his way to mocking Romney at that event.
NEWT GINGRICH: What his communications director was saying is, they can jettison every pledge they made to conservatives to get the nomination, then go to the center. That's a level of cynicism that's both pretty sobering and frankly, pretty foolish.
INSKEEP: The criticism forced Romney to insist he will not change positions this fall. But Gingrich faces the same problem as before: Romney's lead in delegates to this summer's Republican convention, delegates who decide the nomination. Gingrich's only hope is to keep Romney from a majority. That would prompt a contested convention where Gingrich says he might win or open the way for, quote, brand-new players.
GINGRICH: It's clear that conservative voters deeply worry about Gov. Romney. And it's also clear that Gov. Romney has so much money that he can grind his way towards the nomination despite all that. And the question is, can he, in fact, put together a majority of the delegates before he runs out of primaries on June 26th?
Santorum is not going to get to a majority. I'm probably going to come in third with - in terms of total delegates. But the question is, until Romney actually has an absolute majority, I don't think anybody is inclined to give him the nomination.
INSKEEP: Mr. Speaker, some people have noted a quote you made in an earlier presidential race - in 1996, when Bob Dole was heading for the Republican nomination but still faced some challengers. And you advised one of them to get out, at that time. And the quote from Time magazine in March of 1996 was you saying: When you're down 8 or 9 percent, the strategy of waiting for Dole - the front-runner at that time - to wear out is not going to work.
What makes you different in this situation than the people who were running from behind in 1996?
GINGRICH: Well, you're raising a really good point. Dole lost.
INSKEEP: In the general.
GINGRICH: McCain lost. I mean, that's part of the concern I have - is, I think this is the most important election in our lifetime. And I think we'd better find somebody who can beat Barack Obama. I think a conservative can beat Barack Obama. I think a moderate is going to have a very hard time beating Barack Obama. And I think that what Romney's communications director said this morning makes every conservative in the country wonder exactly what's going on.
INSKEEP: But will you reach a point where - as you said of other candidates back in 1996 - that as a guy from behind, you have to just realize that what you're trying is not going to work?
GINGRICH: Well, you can, sure. I mean, look, everybody's got to be realistic in this business. And one step would be if Romney actually gets the majority. Nobody who cares about the future of the party has any incentive to get out because you have no reason to believe that he is - you know, even in Illinois, where he outspent Santorum by a huge margin, he still is below 50 percent. By the way, it was sobering in Illinois; they had a lower turnout than in 2008. And that's not a good sign for the fall.
INSKEEP: I want to ask you a couple of substantive questions, if I might, Mr. Speaker. You have made a major issue - as other candidates have as well - of gas prices in recent weeks. And I just want to get down to a basic question of the power of the presidency. Given that there is a global market for oil, there's a global market for gasoline, what power, specifically, does the president of the United States have to really move gasoline prices all that much?
GINGRICH: You know, I'm astounded at the elite media's passionate refusal to deal with supply and demand. We have had an explosion in production of natural gas. The price of natural gas has dropped from $7.97 a unit to 2.35 this week. A comparable reduction in the price of oil would mean $1.13 a gallon in gasoline.
INSKEEP: A comparable...
GINGRICH: Oh, no. Let me just go down this this for a second. All right?
GINGRICH: So supply works. The fact is, even the Obama administration is reluctantly conceding that supply works. But their solution is to bait the Saudis to pump more oil. And my question is, why not Louisiana? Why not Texas? Why not North Dakota? Why not Alaska?
INSKEEP: Well, if you'll forgive me, Mr. Speaker. You mentioned North Dakota. You mentioned Texas. You mentioned other places. The Energy Information Administration - U.S. government figures suggest that oil production actually has been going up every year during President Obama's administration. Oil production - domestic oil production has been going up. Reliance on foreign oil has been going down. And the trends were the opposite under the previous administration. Isn't there already a move toward greater supply?
GINGRICH: There is a move towards greater supply, and that move is led by private property despite this administration. Production on government lands has gone down under Obama. Production on private land has gone up despite Obama. If we had a serious effort to maximize production of American oil, we would be the leading oil producer in the world.
INSKEEP: Aren't analysts saying, though, that we're already on track to become a gigantic supplier of oil again? And analysts are also saying the reason for high gas prices now is the high price of oil, which largely has to do with tensions in the Middle East?
GINGRICH: But they wouldn't have to do with tensions in the Middle East if we were deliberately producing enough oil that we didn't care about the Middle East.
INSKEEP: Coming back to the notion of a contested convention - which, it sounds like that's what you're hoping for; that's your best hope, at this point, to...
INSKEEP: ...win this nomination. Why would you seek that? Why would you not, at some point, say the preponderance of voters seem to be going for Mitt Romney, and it's time to move on to the general election?
GINGRICH: Because I believe that the preponderance of voters are, in fact, very reluctant to nominate Mitt Romney. And I think if you look at a guy who has spent six years, $40 million of his own money, 16 billionaires in his superPAC, and he still can't quite close the deal, my question would be, why is there incentive - you know, he may get there. And if he gets there, I will support him. But I have no incentive to get out of the way and presume he's going to get there.
INSKEEP: Are you fighting on hoping that you, eventually, will be the nominee? Or are you fighting on to keep open the possibility that in a contested convention, some new candidate who hasn't even run, might be brought in, in the end?
GINGRICH: I think the possibility is very real that we could get to an open convention. I think in an open convention, nobody knows what it would produce. And in that process, I may well end up either as the nominee or having a significant influence on the nominee.
INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Speaker, thanks very much for taking the time. I enjoyed it.
GINGRICH: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Gingrich spoke with us by phone yesterday as he traveled across Louisiana.