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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
Romney Wins Maryland, D.C., Wisconsin
Aired April 3, 2012 - 23:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: This is a special edition of PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you to Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C. We won them all. This really has been quite a night. We won a great victory tonight. In our campaign to restore the promise of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: And losing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's half time. Half the delegates in this process have been -- have been selected. And who's ready to charge out the locker room in Pennsylvania for a strong second half?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Both to speak out in three primaries. What it all means for the GOP and whoever runs against President Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The problem is our policies. And that's part of what this election and what this debate will need to be about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.
Breaking news tonight. Mitt Romney's clean sweep. The frontrunner wins all three primary contests tonight in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Wisconsin. Crucial victories for the candidate, and Romney was beaming as he spoke to supporters in Milwaukee this evening. Listen to a bit of his victory speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Out-of-touch liberals like Barack Obama say they want a strong economy but in everything they do they showed they don't like business very much. But the economy of course is simply the product of all the businesses in the nation added together. So it's a bit like saying you like an omelet, but you don't like eggs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: So does Mitt Romney finally have the momentum he needs to nail this thing down?
Joining me now is "Politico's" Mike Allen and "Newsweek's" Evan Thomas who covered this wild race in the new e-book, "Playbook 2012: Inside the Circus, Romney, Santorum and the GOP Race." Jon Meacham, editor, and all three join me now.
Welcome, gentlemen. Let me start with you, Mike. Is this a done deal? Are we all just watching the final vestiges of this race when actually Romney has already crossed the line?
MIKE ALLEN, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Well, I can tell you that both Obama and the Romney campaigns think that. In fact some Republicans are arguing to me tonight that the general election started today. That the president's caustic, personal, very political language today in his speech here in Washington.
If you look at Romney's remarks, they are all focused on Obama. We're told in the days ahead Mitt Romney will never mention Rick Santorum. Any response will come from some spokesperson, Mitt Romney from now on is going to act like the nominee the Republican Party with the sole focus of defeating Barack Obama.
MORGAN: Yes, he certainly looked and sounded pretty presidential tonight, I thought, Mitt Romney. He's clearly positioning himself now for the straight fight with Barack Obama.
Did it seemed, Mike, any way that Rick Santorum can get back in this? He keeps saying, look, you know, May will be a very different month for me. I'm going to win in Texas, et cetera, et cetera. But say he lost in Pennsylvania, doesn't his dignity then say he must pull out then?
ALLEN: That's a great point. And that's why there's some buzz that if the polls keep trending against him, that Rick Santorum might pull out even before Pennsylvania. That he does not want to be humiliated at home in order to preserve his future in the party, in order to preserve his future for 2016.
So there's a debate in the Romney campaign. Some in the Romney campaign are arguing spend a bunch of money in Pennsylvania, crush him. Others are arguing that nature is going to take care of itself there and they don't have to worry about him anymore.
MORGAN: Let's turn to Evan Thomas and Jon Meachem. You've written this fascinating e-book, "Playbook 2012: Inside the Circus," as you call it. "Romney, Santorum and the GOP Race." And it has been a circus in many ways. But a very enjoyable circus and not necessarily an unhelpful circus to both the Republican Party's chances of beating Barack Obama and also to the American political process.
So Evan, what was your conclusion so far about this race in terms of its merit as a political challenge?
EVAN THOMAS, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, NEWSWEEK: Well, it is entertaining, and if you read the book, you'll see it's for the camps very tense and scary. Was it good for the public? I mean, yes, I agree with you that these campaigns are test candidates. That's a good thing. They have to run the gauntlet by the time they get to November, they really have to prove their metal.
However, I'm sure at the Romney camp at times didn't quite feel that way. He was losing altitude. The theory that you've made stronger by a campaign, for a lot of this campaign it has not felt that way for the Romney folks. They felt that he's been a bad candidate. Look at this polls. He has very high negatives. I -- not since Bob Dole has there been a Republican candidate with such high negatives and low approval ratings.
MORGAN: Let me turn to you, Jon Meacham. There were some great nuggets in this e-book. The one I like was apparently Mitt Romney is addicted to organic peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Is that true?
JON MEACHAM, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, RANDOM HOUSE: Well, if Mike Allen reports it, of course it's true. I like it, too, that he takes the knife and cleans it himself so that he leaves no mess. So he's a --
MORGAN: A wonderful detail.
MEACHAM: He's a thoughtful, bus-riding, peanut butter-eating candidate.
MEACHAM: I think the reason we're doing this project is to bring out some of the human drama here. You know Teddy White back in 1960s started this genre of treating presidential campaign as Arthurian quests, or if you want to shift to pagan literature, you see it as a Homeric drama, everybody trying to get home. All great stories are about somebody trying to get home.
And, you know, will meet the snare overcome the demon in the woods and actually get to the White House. And I think what -- to go to your point a second ago, I think that what you see, from what Mike and Evan have done, is that Romney probably could have used in his own mind less of a time of testing. But ultimately what does matter in a primary, obviously, is if you win, and it doesn't seem to me anyway that the downside of this is that I think the independents who decide presidential elections and the electoral college are probably not coming out of the Republican primary feeling particularly warmly toward the Republicans.
MORGAN: Now, Mike, let me bring you back in here, Mike Allen. You've obviously collaborated on this e-book. I was fascinated by Romney's gym ritual. Let's take a look at these pictures of President Obama, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. All on vacation. It's quite revealing, I think.
ALLEN: That's right. You know, most people when they go into the gym, they sort of trust that the person before them has wiped down the equipment. You sort of make sure that you do it after you've worked out. Not Mitt Romney. When he was in the Mesa Marriott and Mitt Romney almost always stays in Marriotts when he was on the road. He was on the board there.
Right before a debate, when he comes into a gym, he wipes down the equipment before he uses it and after he uses it. Very fastidious. When he's making those organic peanut butter and honey sandwiches also, he doesn't use a napkin because he thinks it's wasteful.
MORGAN: See, I love this kind of thing. It's a classic very rich guy's way of behaving, isn't it? Look after the pennies, the cents, the dollars look after themselves.
ALLEN: Right. They fly JetBlue.
MEACHAM: One of the great -- one of the great stories -- one of the great stories that Mike and Evan have here as well is Tag Romney, Governor Romney's son, talking about how his father will come over and instead of, saying, watching football or hanging out, he'll say, why are your trees dying? Is your boiler working? You know, let's go down to the Home Depot and come back and literally, apparently, if you are a Romney child, you look out the window and your father will be on a riding mower trying to move rocks around.
MORGAN: But you see, I like all this. You see, this is -- this is one of the reasons I wish Mitt Romney would come on the show and do a more personal interview because these kinds of details that some people will laugh I think would resonate much better with the average American than him talking about $10,000 bets or the rest of this stuff which positions him as a very rich guy disconnected. Don't you think?
THOMAS: I think that, but listen, there's a fight within the Romney campaign because some people do want him to come out and show a more human side. But a lot of his handlers fear his propensity for gaffes, for (INAUDIBLE) statements particularly about his wealth. As you were saying, he's like a lot of rich people that's really kind of uncomfortable with money. He's a cheapskate and there's something about him that just makes him blurt.
I do want to tell -- say one thing, though, in defense of Romney, who's easy to poke fun at. He's, by all our reporting, a good boss. This is not an insignificant thing. His campaign does not leak much. It does not have a lot of backbiting and infighting.
Remember the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008? That was an embroiled mess of people trying to do each other in. That's not Romney's campaign. It does suggest that he is a good boss. He's fair-minded, he cares about the date. And that's relevant because when you are president of the United States, you're boss of the White House and the whole country. And if you are a fair-minded guy that your staff actually likes, that counts for something. And I don't think Romney gets credit for that.
MORGAN: I agree with that. And, Mike Allen, I mean also he -- from a personal point of view, he's pretty well unimpeachable, Mitt Romney. I mean if you interview him, you look at his life, you know, he's been with the same woman almost his entire adult, he's been an excellent husband, father, not a whiff of scandal in his personal life.
He doesn't drink, he's never taken drugs, never smoked. I mean he's a pretty good guy when it comes to basic normal human values, isn't he?
ALLEN: No, that's right. And in our elections, one of the most important qualities is do people relate to you. In almost every election going back to at least Jimmy Carter, the more obviously likeable person has won the presidency. So now their challenge is, how do we translate that to people? How do we -- as you point out, get people to see that?
So I think in the next few weeks, the next few months, we're going to see a Mitt Romney, this is your life, we're going to see a tour of him, traveling around the country. We're going to see -- bring back people he helped when he was in the Mormon Church, to try and personalize him. But there are risks in that. In the book one of his advisers calls it opening up the kimono. And they've been very, very reluctant to do that.
He still hasn't done a lot of interview shows as you point out. And so they're going to try and find this balance of how do we make him more human, how do we help people connect with him. And yet not fall for efforts by Democrats that are going to try to portray him as aliens. Just today President Obama talked about how -- talked about Mitt Romney as being someone who was very different.
In Mitt Romney's remarks we just heard on CNN, he was talking about how Obama was the one who's out of touch. So we're going to have an argument here between two Ivy League guys, about who's more out of touch.
MORGAN: And Even, some interesting detail in the e-book also. I like the fact that Santorum doodles when he was taking part in debates. Or actually quite religious themes. Tell me about that.
THOMAS: HS. The Holy Spirit, he writes. I mean Santorum is nothing if not sincere. You know, he may be a politician and all that but he believes what he's saying. It may be pretty far to the right, but he does believe it. He is a, you know, Catholic who is animated by it. And you can't doubt that sincerity. And that's one reason why he's done as well as he has. I mean talk about long shots. He was a guy -- we write about this. He's just driving around in a pickup truck with a cell phone. Basically that was the campaign. In fact he was so far under the radar screen that the Romney campaign, which is a pretty well-prepared group. When they were getting ready for Iowa, the Romney campaign loves negative advertising, they loved to have a book of opposition research.
And they said where is the Santorum book? There was no Santorum book. They weren't even prepared for him. They just didn't take them seriously. That was a mistake. Santorum came out of nowhere and has hung in there and the reason I think is because people think he is -- because he is sincere.
MORGAN: And, Mike Allen, I mean if you were to create a perfect opponent against Barack Obama, it would probably mean Mitt Romney infused surgically with a dash of Santorum's sincerity and authenticity, with Mitt, and consistency on his statements about issues. Because the big problem for Mitt Romney when it gets to the real battle will President Obama is going to be the flip-flopping.
ALLEN: No, that's right, and of course, Mitt Romney has the opportunity to do just what you're saying there in picking his vice president. And one of the debates within the Romney campaign now is, do we pick someone who helps us with the Christians, who helps bring together the base. Maybe Mike Huckabee, maybe the Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell, or do we pick someone who's a little safer and helps us with the middle? That will be Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.
There's even some talk about trying to get some -- a youthful excitement with a Paul Ryan, the budget chairman of Wisconsin. Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida. And so as the campaign shifts into the general election mode, as they start thinking more about running against Obama and leaving behind the Republicans, this is one of their big chances because something you and I have -- do not have the chance to do has a second chance to make a first impression.
Mitt Romney now has that as he becomes the nominee. People who were tuned out are going to get curious, they're going to tuned in and with this VP choice can say a lot about himself.
MORGAN: Well, it certainly will be fascinating to see what happens in the e-book, "Playbook 2012: Inside the Circus." "Romney, Santorum and the GOP Race" is also fascinating.
Mike Allen, Evan Thomas, Jon Meacham, thank you all very much.
ALLEN: Thank you, Piers, great coverage.
MORGAN: It's a pretty huge night for Mitt Romney but his competitors aren't giving up just yet. The Santorum and Gingrich campaigns fire back in just a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTORUM: Let's not make the mistake of 1976 again. Let's bypass that error and move straight to 1980 and let's defeat a Democratic incumbent. And you can help me here in Pennsylvania. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Drawing comparison to what Reagan did back in 1980. That's Rick Santorum tonight. He's lost all three primaries this evening. But he certainly doesn't sound defeated. He is not backing down either. And nor is Newt Gingrich.
Joining me now John Brabender, is senior team member of Team Santorum, and Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to the Gingrich campaign.
We start with you, John Brabender. I mean you've taken a good old kicking tonight. A shellacking. How do you come back from this?
JOHN BRABENDER, SENIOR SANTORUM CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, look, I mean, two weeks ago I was here with you and you were talking about our big wins and then we went on to win Louisiana and we've won already 11 states. There two that we've tied in the delegates and we're not going to win them all. But we do get to move on to much friendlier territory. One being Pennsylvania. There's about half the states left to go. And what you do is you look forward to those and realize that you can kick his butt right back. And that's what we intend to do, quite frankly.
MORGAN: If Mitt Romney kicks Rick Santorum's butt in Pennsylvania, in his own backyard, isn't that game over?
BRABENDER: Well, let's put it this way. Rick Santorum is an Italian kid from a steel town in Pittsburgh. We know a little bit about winning. You can see that in our sports teams. And so frankly I think we're going to do quite well in Pennsylvania. But I will say this. I've always said that whoever wins Pennsylvania is probably going to be the nominee and I think it's very critical to us as well as Mitt Romney that we win the nominee, and I'll make a prediction for you. If Rick Santorum wins both Pennsylvania and Texas, he will be the Republican nominee this year.
MORGAN: Let me turn to Kellyanne Conway. I mean, no one was really talking about Newt Gingrich tonight or indeed for the last few days. He's become the forgotten man. How many times did he come last in these primary battles now and retain credibility as a candidate?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISER TO NEWT GINGRICH: Well, Barack Obama himself called out Newt by name today. He's keeping Newt relevant and Rick -- and Mitt Romney tonight stands in an awful like Newt Gingrich, and I think he's been stealing some of his best lines and deepest held beliefs like government-centric society, that comes right from Newt.
And I have to say Mitt Romney tonight in his sort of quasi- general election speech sounded like a hybrid of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. So I think our campaigns are rubbing off on him. He realizes frontrunner or not that he's going to have to be a little less allergic to conservatism to actually become a very convincing nominee.
And you know what I learned tonight, Piers? I also -- I learned two things. One is mathematical and geographic. That we are at half time. We do have these big states coming up, Texas could easily become a winner-take-all state. So that's a big enchilada in one day. And so we've got a lot of contests ahead of us.
The second thing I learned is that Mitt Romney can no longer whine and complain that he doesn't have a free shot at Barack Obama. He gave a 10 or 12-minute speech tonight and never mentioned Gingrich, Paul, or Santorum. He took it right to Obama. So he's got his clear shot. I think he said a lot of great things that conservatives and (INAUDIBLE) people like me would love to hear.
However, it all seemed very cut and paste, it seemed all kid tested, mother approved, and focus groups have string it all together and try to eke out some type of general election strategies. So he's going to have to polish that. But he had his opportunity tonight to go after Obama. We'll see how that works out in the polling.
MORGAN: John Brabender, would it be helpful to your man if Newt Gingrich just quit the race and put his support firmly behind Rick Santorum now? The reason it's a serious point, because combined, their traditional conservative support could actually give Mitt Romney a genuine run for his money now, whereas it seems that a part they're spending that vote and Romney is basically getting a clean head of steam away.
BRABENDER: It's a critical question. I mean you basically have two conservatives in this race, and one moderate, Mitt Romney. And what's happening is, if you take the delegates that the two conservatives have, add those together, and then add potentially winner-take-all, as Kellyanne said, in Texas where you could have another -- I think it's 159 delegates, all of a sudden you have a completely new ball game.
And I do think it's time that conservatives get serious about uniting together and standing up for our principles and understanding that it's conservative values that will win in November, not by basically compromising what -- with the moderate.
MORGAN: OK. Well, look, this seems to me like we've now made progress.
Kellyanne, a clear offer, I would suggest there, from John Brabender. Time to join forces.
CONWAY: John is among the most compelling, charming salesman I've ever encountered. So we'll take it straight off the food chain and get back to him on that, Piers.
MORGAN: Well, you said take out the food chain. It's not a very long food chain. He's just going to call you and say, look, you're getting your butt kicked all over the place in these primaries. Santorum is clearly way ahead of you in the conservative vote. The game is pretty much up the (INAUDIBLE) in major concern.
But you could actually together be a very formidable force against Mitt Romney and you could end up with the conservative candidate that Newt Gingrich actually really wants. Even if it's not him.
CONWAY: Well, he's been that way for quite a while. About open convention or going for -- going for the entire prize and the nomination certainly with the conservative. But that's precisely why John and I are here tonight because, although he is clearly the frontrunner, even after these critical endorsements from Tea Party favorites, from "Home State Heroes," he never quite can convince a critical mass of the voters that they should hang it up and just sort of lean in to us follow a Romney candidacy.
But let me just say, Rick and Newt also comes a whole slew of conservative stars. I bet they would all line up for that type of open convention, that type of unity ticket, if you will, because they are there. I mean Sarah Palin said she voted for Newt in Alaska. Rick Perry is with us, all gave great things to say. Those who have actually been out the (INAUDIBLE) this year, none of them with the exception of Tim Pawlenty, I guess out of the race and endorsed the sort-called so --
MORGAN: But Kellyanne, here's the deal. Here's the deal. Here's the deal. I totally agree with you. And I think you both agree with each other. The question becomes who backs who and surely all the polls tell you and all the momentum tells you that Newt would have to throw support behind Rick Santorum, doesn't it?
CONWAY: That's what all the pundit say, but Newt Gingrich has been counted out before and we're going to have a three-week lull now with -- I think for some it's a law, for others it's an opportunity to have a conversation to make sure that we continue to unify at least a message, at least in principle, if not in process at the moment.
MORGAN: John Brabender, it sounds to me that is the nearest I have heard the Gingrich camp basically giving you guys a green light to stop proper talking. I mean this is crying out for now. This is the big moment.
BRABENDER: Well, for have them --
MORGAN: This is a moment that conservatives have to rally.
BRABENDER: If it happens, certainly you get to get the kudos for being the matchmaker, but Kellyanne said something very important. We can make this about something even bigger than Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. If we can bring all the superstar conservatives together, and we unite as one team, we campaign as one team and promise to govern as one team, we could light a fire under Tea Party and conservative supporters around this country like has never happened before and take a critical step in taking back this country.
MORGAN: I feel like a cross between Kofi Annan and Cupid tonight so thank you both very much indeed.
BRABENDER: Always a pleasure, Piers.
MORGAN: Thanks. Always good to talk to you, guys. I would just have -- I have a phone call tonight. You know it's going to happen.
Anyway, next, Mitt Romney's 3-3 night. Is he ready to take on his rival-in-chief, President Obama?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I don't want to transform America. I want to restore to America the economic values of freedom and opportunity and limited government that made us the power house of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: A forceful speech for Mitt Romney. It's been a very good night for him. And joining me now is Bob Ehrlich. He's the chairman of Mitt Romney's Maryland campaign. He's a former governor of that state, too, and the author of "Turn This Car Around: The Roadmap to Restoring America."
And Bob Ehrlich joins me now.
Bob Ehrlich, a great night for you. Great night for Governor Romney. What is the roadmap ahead for the Romney campaign?
BOB EHRLICH (R), FORMER MARYLAND GOVERNOR: You know what, it's a power of delegates, it's the power of wins, it's to cut the burn rail a little bit on the spending. And it's to get -- to use a sports analogy, to get the JV season over. And call the equipment manager and get everybody back on the same team for the general election.
MORGAN: And let me ask you -- let me ask you this. At what point do you think other candidates should pull out of this race?
EHRLICH: You know, Piers, it's not my call. It's not Governor Romney's call. It's their call. I'm not -- I think it always sounds weak when you say that guy has to get out and threaten folks. It sounds weak and Governor Romney is strong.
I do think, however, when you think about it, and Wolf was talking about the math. Once the math begins to be so tough, so difficult, the fundraising dries up, the delegates aren't there. You really have to think about why I'm in this race.
MORGAN: Obviously Governor Romney's got a problem in the polling with women, not entirely surprising given that the social issue debates that have been raging the Republican Party have been pretty negatively received. How does he rebuild trust in the female vote?
EHRLICH: I think that's more of a function of the Santorum campaign quite frankly, and the Democrats are using some of Senator Santorum's verbiage to their electoral advantage, to their partisan advantage. I think when the general election, again, when you have one-on-one general election, and they see again or reminded of Governor Romney's real views, that gender gap will dissipate rather quickly.
MORGAN: Does Governor Romney want to get stuck in to Barack Obama right now? Is he fed up with waiting? He's obviously had a go before a years ago. He's back in there now. He's clearly the frontrunner.
MORGAN: Everyone assumes he's going to win. Is he champing it a bit to get in?
EHRLICH: I think a little bit. Obviously, no doubt about it, this campaign was built for the long haul. But quite frankly there's a great philosophical divide. It's what you want. You want great contrast to the presidential elections. It's going to be a big, big time race. Obamacare, immigration, energy, taxes, spending, deficits. They have very profound differences on these issues. So I like philosophical differences between the candidates. It's what the people have a right to expect. They're going to get it come November.
MORGAN: Tell me about Mitt Romney's mood at the moment. How is he feeling in himself, do you think?
EHRLICH: You know what? I was with him last week, as you know, he's here in Maryland. And I asked him, you don't look tired. You know, I have been through state-wide campaigns, you've got to look worse, Mitt. He looks good. He's confident and look, quite frankly, I'm a person who believes that this prolonged campaign has helped him. It's made him a better debater, he made him a better candidate.
The burn rate obviously on the dollars is the downside, but clearly he's a sharp candidate. He has to think President Obama as a great debater and all that, a tough candidate, but Mitt Romney is there. I mean he has the skill set not only to compete, but to win. He has the skill set I believe the country is looking for particularly when it comes to creating private sector jobs.
MORGAN: I mean nobody disputes he's an intelligent man. He's been a very successful businessman. What they say is, there seems to be a slight disconnect still between Governor Romney and the average American in the street. Because he's so wealthy, so successful, he keeps making repeated silly little mistakes which kind of lends sucker to the argument that he is slightly out of touch.
Does he accept that? And what do you think, as one of his friends, he needs to do to stop making those kind of mistakes?
EHRLICH: The media tends to play you the Etch A Sketch stuff. It's the collateral issue of the day. But if you have a kid who is 22 years old with $150,000 in debt and he's a smart kid and that kid -- how he can't get the job he or she needs, you don't really care about the Etch A Sketch or two Cadillacs compared to one Cadillac. All that stuff. The press loves it. It's a 24/7 feeding frenzy. You know that. It helps pay your salary and I'm not -- I'm not criticizing you. But it is what it is these days.
When it comes down to the general election, however, again, clear philosophical differences on Keystone, or an ANWR, on energy independence, on taxes, on spending, on deficits. This is the stuff that really counts but I do believe, Piers, ultimately this election is about who is best for my kid to secure that job? Who do I trust best to create private sector jobs in this country today?
Who has done it? Who understands the private sector economy better? The president or Mitt Romney? If that's the paradigm, if that's the question people ask themselves, I'm pretty confident that he'll prevail on Election Day.
MORGAN: Thank you, Governor.
Next, my all-star political panel joins me to talk about Romney's big win and Santorum's refusal to bow out.
MORGAN: On another big night for Mitt Romney, I want to bring you my all-star political panel, Amy Holmes, from Glenn Beck TV, Ben Smith, editor in chief of BuzzFeed, also writes briefly for "Politico", Dana Loesch, editor of Bigjournalism.com, and Carol Roth, author of the "Entrepreneur Equation."
What an exotic lineup with incredible titles as always. Let me start with you, Carol. You've always been a Romney girl. Are you feeling like the wedding is on its way here?
CAROL ROTH, BUSINESS STRATEGIST, NY TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHOR: Well, I've always seen this as almost like a prize fight, Piers. And there's certain fighters who go for the knockout punch and there are certain ones who just do a really good job every round, and after 12 rounds, you go to the cards. It's a little bit more battered and bloody in the latter scenario, but I think that that's Mitt Romney's strategy. He stuck to it and that's what we're going to see here. And so I do think that that prize belt is on the way and I think if you -- if you think about, Rick Santorum is from Pennsylvania. So he's kind of like Rocky. He was the underdog but Rocky won, he lost at the end. And that's what's going to happen here.
MORGAN: Well, he did, but of course he then came back and knocked everybody else out. I mean what I liked about Mitt Romney's speech is this line. "If the hill before us is a little steeper, we have always been a nation of big steppers." So he sees himself as the big stepper here.
What do you make of that, Amy Holmes?
AMY HOLMES, NEWS ANCHOR, GLENN BECK'S "THE BLAZE": I think there was a song called "Big Stepper." I'm not sure. But what I really noticed behind him was the "Believe in America" banner and when he said that he doesn't want to transform America. He wants to return America, restore America.
And that was such a contrast to the tone that you've seen coming from the White House for the past week and many observers have said that the White House has had the worst week yet in its presidency and tonight Mitt Romney was blanched, he was loose, he was relaxed and he was clearly focused -- to borrow Carol's analogy, metaphor -- on the prize. And you didn't hear any words about his competitors. No Rick Santorum, no Newt Gingrich, no Ron Paul. It was directly targeted at President Obama and trying to project, you know, an air of optimism and moving forward.
MORGAN: Yes, I mean, Ben Smith, there's no doubt that he's gone back to the Mitt Romney, which he wasn't at the start of this primary race, when he refused to talk about his competitors, he just talked about Obama all the time. He's now able to do that again and come through with social issues, a scroll, I suspect the Romney can't see.
But let me paint to you a picture. I was talking to John Brabender there and also to the Gingrich camp about a potential linker between the two camps to form a conservative proper candidate with proper support, and to my surprise, they began to be very flirtatious about this idea. And so of course you could bring in all the big conservative big guns and the Sarah Palins and so on. Is this feasible or has the horse bolted?
BEN SMITH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, BUZZFEED: Yes, the horse has bolted. You saw Paul Ryan sort of the -- maybe the key conservative big gun on stage there with Mitt Romney tonight in Wisconsin. And I think these are the pipe dreams of these guys which are increasingly minor candidates. They don't together have enough to beat Romney. You know, it's not -- even if they teamed up now, there's not -- they're increasingly fighting over the same scraps.
MORGAN: Dana Loesch, let's assume that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee. Clearly he's not massively popular even in his own party. How is he going to turn around the perception of himself in tough economic times that he's simply out of touch with the average American?
DANA LOESCH, EDITOR, BIGJOURNALISM.COM: Well, I think he needs to do a better job at fighting back against the media. And if that's anything that the Republican nominee has to get better and the Republican Party as a whole, is that they have to stop fighting while lying down. And that's what they did in 2008. They did it in 2010 as well and had it not been for grassroots, they would have just continued to do so.
Going into the general election here in 2012, they've got to get better at offense. And they're not incredibly great at it. And that's one of the reasons these populous narratives have been allowed to float around about Mitt Romney. For instance, when they were asking about his earnings statements and all of this, he could have shut it down right there and he could have had a Newt Gingrich barn burning moment by simply saying, are we not conservatives? Do we not reject this populous rhetoric?
And he didn't do it. In fact he just kind of went along with it. And that's -- I want to see more fire in the belly from my candidate. And he's got a long way to go in terms of being able to have that kind of fire and take that to the general election.
MORGAN: Yes, I mean, is he -- is he -- I'm going to ask you again, Dana. Is he nasty enough? Is he just a bit too nice, Mitt Romney? You know, he's squeaky clean. He's never had an alcoholic drink.
MORGAN: A drug, a cigarette. He's been with the same woman for a thousand years. You know, is he just too nice a guy?
LOESCH: Well, I think those are all great things, but I think there's a difference between being nasty and campaigning dirty which I think you could argue that he kind of does, but also being an aggressive campaigner. Aggressive politics is part of politics. Politics is a blood sport. He knows how to play it well. I think with Republicans, he needs to also play it just as hard with Democrats. And that's something we have to see from his campaign because one of the reasons why Newt Gingrich exploded after South Carolina is because he was aggressive and he articulated what conservatives really want to hear on their candidate.
If Mitt Romney is really going to cinch this thing, he has to be able to do both of those things.
HOLMES: Pier, if I could just jump in.
MORGAN: OK. Let's take a short break.
MORGAN: You can jump in in a moment.
MORGAN: We're going to take a very short break, Amy. But hold your thought. It looks powerful, it's look evocative. Hold it there. In a few moments, we're going to come back to you. Calm down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We're already in the beginning months of another long lively election year. There will be gaffes, and minor controversies. There'll be hot mikes and Etch A Sketch moments. You will cover every word that we say and we will complain vociferously about the unflattering words that you write. Unless of course you're writing about the other guy in which case, good job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: President Obama, with all those gaffes we've come to know and love. And you can be quite sure, as he says, there'll be plenty more on this campaign to come.
Back with me now, Amy Holmes, Ben Smith, Dana Loesch and Carol Roth.
Amy, you've been champing here. Get in. What do you want to say?
HOLMES: Well, I was going to remark that if you were to ask Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, they would tell you that Mitt Romney is plenty nafty when it comes to pummeling his opponents and, you know, trying to win that prize. So your question as to whether or not Mitt Romney can kind of get down and dirty to be able to then rise above his competitors, I think, in this last primary season so far has been I guess a little bit prudent.
MORGAN: Yes, I think you're probably right.
SMITH: And I think you know -- I think, you know, conversely, Romney -- Dana suggested you should play back harder against the media. You know casting him as the out-of-touch rich guy. And that is what Rick Santorum has been pounding day after day after day. And he does not yet work for the media, though I assume within a couple of months, he may have -- he may have a media gig.
I think, you know, that's probably a big problem for Romney which will hopefully end at this point which is his fellow Republicans picking up storylines, many of them, you know, concocted in Chicago by the Obama campaign and running with them.
MORGAN: Carol, let me bring you in here. I mean, if you are President Obama, there's two schools of thought. Today he launched his campaign proper. He's in great shape and the economy is recovering, et cetera, et cetera. The other school of thought is that today was a terrible day for him because Mitt Romney is clearly now the frontrunner. He's going to be the nominee. He's got his gander up and he is coming for it.
Which camp are you -- and I know you like Romney, but if you're President Obama, are you feeling vulnerable or confident tonight?
ROTH: Well, I think, Piers, we've seen that President Obama is having a little bit of a mini meltdown. He went after the Supreme Court on the health care ruling and said you dare not turn it over. He started throwing around words like Trojan horses against Paul Ryan's budget. So it seems to me he's almost having a falling down moment here. He doesn't seem particularly confident. And so for my gatherings, it seems like he is having a little bit of a worry around what's going on right now.
MORGAN: Yes, let me ask you, Amy Holmes. I mean, he -- obviously President Obama is a very skilled campaigner. He's going to be very well-funded. He's a formidable opponent and yet I don't -- I think only one president in history has ever had this kind of unemployment figure and been elected, been reelected.
HOLMES: Well, certainly --
MORGAN: What do you think (INAUDIBLE) White House? How do you deal with that?
HOLMES: Well, the White House is hoping in terms of unemployment that the trend is going in the right direction for them. That is that unemployment is dropping as they had toward November, but of course that's a number that at this point they have very little control over.
And as Carol mentioned with the Supreme Court, that's out of their hands as well, and judging from the arguments last week, a lot of court watchers thought that what they saw was the White House getting pummeled, the White House getting clobbered on the individual mandate. And we've already seen that the White House are getting clobbered on that issue with the public, with a majority of the public believing that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.
So right now it looks like the White House is feeling vulnerable. They're feeling defensive. They're lashing out. They're even suggesting that they might run against the Supreme Court specifically which draws a very negative comparison to FDR when he packed to the Supreme Court or attempted to and, you know, that was a big fat failure for FDR. That's a bad comparison to be -- to be drawing.
MORGAN: Ben Smith, I want to give you $1 million for you to put it on Barack Obama or Mitt Romney to win the election in November. Where is your money going?
SMITH: You know, I'm not a -- I'm not a gambling man, but I do think --
MORGAN: It's my money.
SMITH: -- the conventional wisdom right now -- your money.
SMITH: The fact is, I'd put it on Romney.
LOESCH: You're kind like the government now.
HOLMES: We've heard this song, lottery tickets before it never works out.
ROTH: I'm going 50-50, I'm splitting it down the middle, Piers.
SMITH: If it's your money, Piers, it's middle all the way.
MORGAN: But serious point, Ben, I mean, I mean, at the moment, where would you think the momentum really lies here? Because Mitt Romney is not beloved even by his own party. So he's a skilled man, he's a good businessman, he's intelligent, but he's got a real uphill battle, doesn't he?
SMITH: The conventional wisdom surely right now is that Romney is a pretty weak nominee, that -- but these things that we saw go back and forth. There was a moment last year that I think a lot of people would have told you -- you know, Romney is going to win 40 states, and I think, as Amy said, there are factors out of Obama's control and there's going to be -- there will be a moment between now and September when the conventional wisdom reverses itself again. It's very hard to predict this thing.
MORGAN: OK. I want to ask you all -- this is my favorite part of these panels late at night in a twilight zone, for a one-word answer. So it can only be a surname to this question. I'll start with you, Amy. Who should be Mitt Romney's running mate?
MORGAN: Interesting. Ben?
SMITH: Very likely to be Rubio.
MORGAN: Well, that wasn't one word. So try again.
MORGAN: Two for Rubio. OK. And let's come to you, Dana.
LOESCH: Rubio probably.
SMITH: You know --
SMITH: Romney is sort of in a box here if he doesn't nominate Rubio at this point if it becomes an issue.
HOLMES: No, I wasn't suggesting that, I'm predicting that Eric Cantor should be the vice presidential candidate, however, I think he could be an interesting choice. Virginia, as we know, is a purple state that is in play. (CROSSTALK)
LOESCH: Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, so they're both positioning themselves for such a future. And I think Rubio was VP, that sets him up at least, you know, for 2016 and beyond, too.
MORGAN: Is it completely crazy to think that Rick Santorum wouldn't be a bad option given that he could hoover up --
ROTH: He will be -- yes.
MORGAN: The Christian vote --
HOLMES: Completely crazy.
ROTH: Completely crazy, Piers. Absolutely insane.
LOESCH: Beyond. Beyond. Yes.
MORGAN: Well, OK, that settles that.
MORGAN: Why is it so crazy?
SMITH: Well, he -- you know, he didn't do the Hillary --
SMITH: He didn't do the Hillary Clinton -- he didn't do the Hillary Clinton thing and fight Romney hard enough and long enough that he's forced to put him to the ticket to unite the party.
SMITH: And he doesn't have anything in common with Romney. There's no other reason Romney would want him.
LOESCH: Well, and you need someone --
LOESCH: If you're going to have someone as a VP, you need to do what McCain did, and pick kind of like a Palin. Now who would be -- who would be someone who could bridge that gap between Mitt Romney and grassroots because he cannot do this without grassroots. He cannot do this without the conservative base.
MORGAN: Let me throw another -- let me throw another crazy thought, then. What about Sarah Palin?
LOESCH: OK. MORGAN: She's better this time than last time, right?
ROTH: Absolutely not.
HOLMES: Right. At this point she's far too polarizing. And we saw in 2008, that in some of those suburban areas where George Bush had done well, particularly in Pennsylvania, for example, John McCain and the Sarah Palin ticket did very poorly. So when it actually came down to Election Day, a lot of the promise that Sarah Palin genuinely had to make that connection with the grassroots just didn't show up at the polls.
SMITH: Well, she connected with the grassroots. The problem was he didn't connect with swing voters.
HOLMES: The swing voters and the independents.
SMITH: And I think -- right. And you know the sort of magic trick is to do both.
MORGAN: Well, we've got to leave it there unfortunately. I think it's appropriate we should leave it with me having two crazy thoughts. My prediction is there will be other crazy thoughts and craziness is what this campaign is all about. So I'm going to go crazy for a while.
Amy, Ben, Carol, Dana, thank you all very much. We'll be back.
LOESCH: Thank you, Piers.
MORGAN: That's all for us. We will be back at our regular time later tonight actually at 9:00 when I go one on one with Motor City mad man and political fire brand Ted Nugent. That'll get lively, plus Steadman Graham and the latest on the Trayvon Martin case.