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The Back Of The Republican Pack Weighs Options

Jan 4, 2012
Originally published on January 4, 2012 1:16 pm
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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Concord, New Hampshire. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul will debate who won last night, but as usual, the Iowa caucuses provided much more clarity on who lost.

This morning, Michele Bachmann ended her campaign. After returning to Texas to reassess, Rick Perry decided to skip New Hampshire and go directly to South Carolina. Newt Gingrich is already here in New Hampshire with plans to get even for the negative ads that pummeled him into fourth place in Iowa.

NEWT GINGRICH: We are not going to go out and run nasty ads. We're not going to go out and run 30-second gotcha ads. We're not...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

GINGRICH: But I do reserve the right to tell the truth.

CONAN: Political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in New Hampshire to help us figure out what happened to the three one-time frontrunners and what that tells us about the Republican Party and the race for the presidential nomination. Matt Bai of the New York Times also joins us. Plus later in the program, one of the Iraqi interpreters who faces death threats because he worked for U.S. troops.

But first, the other candidates in Iowa. If your candidate finished out of the top tier in the caucuses, where does your support go now? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in the studios at New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Neal.

CONAN: And Matt Bai of the New York Times with us from Studio 3A back in Washington, D.C. Hey, Matt.

MATT BAI: Hi, Neal, how are you doing? Nice to talk to you.

CONAN: Good to have you back on. Each of the Iowa also-rans led the GOP field in opinion polls at one point or another. Ken, obviously Michele Bachmann is out. Do any of the others have the resources to get back into serious contention?

RUDIN: Well, Rick Perry's shown that he does have the resources. As a matter of fact, he blanketed Iowa with a multi-million-dollar ad campaign, but it didn't do him very good, obviously - a poor fifth place.

I think a lot of the voters got their initial impression of the candidates through the debates, and Rick Perry stumbled - once he began stumbling and stumbling, he never recovered. Whereas Rick Santorum was completely ignored during the debates. He was, you know, the outlier. Most questions did not go to him.

And while everybody was focusing on the so-called frontrunners, the Michele Bachmanns, the others, Santorum was out in the field raising funds and getting votes.

CONAN: Matt Bai, you did a really interesting piece on Newt Gingrich in the New York Times Magazine, and I wanted to ask you, he was feeling the hand of destiny a little bit, of greatness, as you put it. But he's been seemingly angered by what happened to him in Iowa and, as we just heard, seemingly vowing to run a scorched-earth campaign here in New Hampshire.

BAI: Yeah, he is, Neal. I don't really know what's going on. He - you know, he was saying - he was telling everybody, and he was telling me in Iowa that not only, you know, did he want to run this positive campaign, but the one time he'd gone negative, when he stood up at a debate and said about Mitt Romney, you know, the only reason you're not a career politician is because you lost to Ted Kennedy, his numbers dropped.

And he seemed convinced that actually being the positive candidate was the thing that was fueling him. It may be that he's decided that was not the right way to go and that in fact you can't answer negative attacks by just being positive. It may just be that he was just emotionally really angry last night.

You know, I think, you know, my own sense of it is there's probably a value in fighting back. You can't say negative campaigning doesn't ever work. But I'm not sure there's a value in telling people you're going to be negatively campaigning.

And even though he said he wasn't going to run negative ads, I think he certainly left the impression, as you say, that he's going to come out full-bore in New Hampshire. And I think to the extent that that underscores the old image of Newt Gingrich as kind of a guy who will get down and personal, it probably doesn't benefit him with a lot of the people who might otherwise support him.

CONAN: And as you point out, as we look forward to those two campaign debates before - between now and primary day here in New Hampshire, there are few better at withering scorn than Newt Gingrich.

BAI: Yeah, I mean, that's his milieu, and don't forget not only the two in New Hampshire and then a very big one in South Carolina, which will be closely watched, too, and I think he intends to stay at least through there. So that is a great, you know, forum for Gingrich. The question is: Does he come out and be that confident, positive guy who can dominate a debate, simply because he's incredibly articulate and can sort of heap scorn on the president or on the moderators, in a way that Republican voters find compelling?

Or does he - you know, does he use that quick mind-to-mouth ability that he has to start attacking the people around him? And I think it's possible - I've always felt that New Hampshire was the danger zone for Gingrich, because it's - as you know, Neal, and you're there now, both of you are, it's a cauldron, it's a week-long cauldron.

Everything's very close together. There's a huge media crush everywhere. It's all very compact, and if you're going to break down or give in to exhaustion or make a mental mistake, it's probably going to be there. That's where things happen.

You know, and I think it's a danger zone for Gingrich because he is given to speaking rashly, off-the-cuff. He is given to impulse, and I think that's where that discipline issue that people often raise with him, you know, poses him more danger, perhaps, than it did in Iowa.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Yeah, Matt, I agree with you completely. I mean, I think one of the most amazing stories of this campaign year was the rise of Newt Gingrich, the fact that we all had such negative opinions of him. By the time he left Congress in early 1999, he probably was the most unpopular politician in America.

And yet during the debates, we saw him insist that he would not attack his fellow Republicans, and he got - he moved up and up and up in the polls because of it. And so for him to go - now his ads won't go negative, but for him to go negative in...

CONAN: He doesn't have any money for ads.

RUDIN: Well, there's that, too, but I mean, but he has the opportunity to go negative in Saturday and Sunday's debates, and if that's the case, perhaps the specter of the old Gingrich comes back to haunt him.

CONAN: And this, the Gingrich who you compared in the piece, he compared himself to figures like Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Ronald Reagan re-emerging from the wilderness to feel the hand of destiny guiding him toward greatness and pulling his country out of the abyss.

RUDIN: And remember when he couldn't get on the Virginia ballot, his campaign likened it to Pearl Harbor.

CONAN: Well... But he - go ahead, Matt.

BAI: No, I was going to say, I think that - you know, I think in a sense that is what drives Newt Gingrich and what makes him formidable. It's - you know, he could have gone away. A lot of candidates would have gone away. It was a dark period. Tim Pawlenty got out, you know, and probably regretted it, with less to be humiliated about than Newt Gingrich, who went through a complete drubbing and writing-off by all of us, and a lot of Republicans.

The thing that keeps him going is this inner sense of his own value on the historical stage. People make fun of it and lampoon it, but he believes it. It keeps him going. It makes him - it's always made him resilient. And I don't write him off. I mean, he had a bad showing, certainly, in Iowa, given where he was a few weeks ago, but not given where he was a few months ago.

New Hampshire is a different state. He's a good political tactician, if not a great retail candidate, and I still feel that the field is very unsettled and fluid.

CONAN: If you supported someone who did not end up in the top tier in Iowa, of course that's Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, where does your support go now? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Barrett(ph), Barrett's on the line with us from Casco in Washington.

BARRETT: Hi, yes, I - thanks for having me. So really I'm a young conservative and just right of center, though. I feel like this race is, if anything, making me more of a moderate. Because the choices in front of us, if you're a GOP voter, basically we have a bunch of guys leapfrogging out of a clown car. I mean, they're terrible.

Keep in mind that the end game is that we've got to elect someone who can beat President Obama in a general election in this country, and we don't have that person. I was most inclined to support Jon Huntsman. That's a guy I know, I feel strongly, that he could pull in moderates.

And, you know, he is not looking like a viable option. Look what happened in Iowa. We have Mitt Romney by eight votes - over Rick Santorum? You know, so this thing is changing week to week. It's fluid absolutely, but the endgame is we're probably going to end up with Romney, and he's terrible. I can't get excited about any of these other candidates.

The most sensible, the most credible, the most genuine, I think, has been Jon Huntsman. You know, Romney is a moderate squish from Massachusetts. He's basically like the lost son of the Kennedy clan.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BARRETT: You know, this is a guy who's a flip-flopper, and to me, he appears like a Manchurian candidate. He's not very genuine. He doesn't connect well with people. And I...

CONAN: It was interesting, there was an ad that Newt Gingrich ran in the Manchester Union Leader this morning, Matt Bai, who called Mitt Romney a timid moderate Massachusetts - a timid Massachusetts moderate. But the word moderate these days in the Republican Party is a little bit like calling him a terrorist.

BAI: It is. I mean, there's nothing - being timid and moderate are about the worst things you could be in this Republican field. Somebody ought to give Barrett a radio show because I think he's - I liked his summation. I mean, look, that is - that is the story of this season.

No matter which way you cut it, no matter who emerges or rises, it is dissatisfaction among Republican voters with their choices. There are a lot of Republicans who woke up this morning and thought that Iowa should just lose its license to caucus for having, you know, basically elevated Ron Paul and Rick Santorum alongside Mitt Romney, who very few, you know, conservative activists feel they can support.

So, you know, I think it was a good night for Romney, and I think he's the guy, you know, I think he would have taken that scenario in a heartbeat. But - and I think a lot of Republicans will ultimately rally around him if he, you know, tears through New Hampshire as we think he will.

But I think there are a lot of conservative voters today feeling like Barrett does.

CONAN: But before we completely forget about her campaign, Michele Bachmann was on the cover of Time Magazine this past summer, winner of the Ames straw poll and has, today, bowed out of the race. What mark does she leave on this campaign, Matt Bai?

BAI: Well, I'm grateful that the Iowa straw poll has lost its credibility in this process, because it's one of the more shameful processes in American politics, I think - in terms of just plain buying votes and not being representative of a whole lot.

I mean, you know, I was down in South Carolina last week, where Bachmann had a pretty strong organization. It's there she would have gone, not to New Hampshire. She wasn't really - she had, you know, an organization there, but she wasn't really polling well or catching on.

I think, you know, like all of these candidates have been - have shown some real flaws from the beginning of the process. And I think if you talk to people about Michele Bachmann, the fact that she said a bunch of things half-cocked that turned out not to be true, the lack of experience, I think for Republican voters that was a real problem in her credibility and a real problem for envisioning her as someone who could run against Barack Obama. And I don't think there was a path forward for her.

CONAN: We're talking about the other candidates in Iowa. If your candidate finished out of the top tier in the caucuses, where does your support go now? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Matt Bai of the New York Times is with us, also political junkie Ken Rudin. 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, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, broadcasting today from the studios at New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord. Jon Huntsman this morning called the results in Iowa kind of a jumbled-up outcome. The former Utah governor and current candidate for the Republican nomination says the race is still wide open. He's not giving up.

Newt Gingrich, for his part, promised a more aggressive campaign and vowed to go after frontrunner Mitt Romney every day. Texas Governor Rick Perry will skip New Hampshire and focus now on South Carolina. We're talking about the other candidates, other than those who finished in the top tier in Iowa.

If you backed one of those who didn't finish in the top tier in Iowa, where does your support go now? 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are Political Junkie Ken Rudin, with us here in the Granite State, and Matt Bai, chief political correspondent for the New York Times magazine. And let's get another caller on the line. We'll go to Steve, and Steve's on the line from Flint, Michigan.

STEVE: Hello.

CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, please.

STEVE: Yeah, basically, I really love the character of Michele Bachmann. I think that she demonstrated a principle of service, adopting so many children and taking care of them. You don't find that in a politician. The closest thing I think you've come today in the mix is Mitt Romney, and Mitt Romney, I believe, has similar acts of great character, whether it is his service or devotion.

You know, he stepped out of business to run the Olympics, not to make money, but to help that organization recover from its chaos and corruption. He's demonstrated over his lifetime, whether it's his service as a young man going away and serving his church for two years, it's consistent with the traits of Bachmann, where she - you know, she does - I don't know. She lives a life that she says that she's going to do. It's just not hype. It's not - it's just not an image. It's the real person behind the act.

CONAN: And Steve, I understand you would have preferred Michele Bachmann to Mitt Romney. Your support goes to him now. But she spent a lot of time saying, you know, he wasn't a true conservative.

STEVE: I think that's fair. And if you want to pick the true conservative, I think you have to go to Rick Santorum, and he's also, I think, a fine man. But I think at the end of the day, you know, this country needs a leader who has character more than it does somebody who's at a polar end of any spectrum. And I think that's what we have today, a person at a polar end of a spectrum.

And you look at Romney, who's a very wealthy man, and in this environment that kind of plays against him, but he's given millions to charities. On the other hand, you have Obama who, basically, while serving people all his life in the acts of service, has managed somehow to become a millionaire. And I don't know how people who are genuinely serving are able to do that.

I understand how a businessman can be successful and make millions and then turn around and give it away, but - and that's what Mitt has been doing, and Bachmann not so much giving money away but giving her time and devotion to others.

CONAN: I think the president wrote a couple of bestselling books, and that'll do it for you. But Ken Rudin, I think what Steve is talking about is electability, and I think that's going to becoming more and more of a focus.

RUDIN: Well, polls show, coming out of the Iowa caucuses, those who feel that beating President Obama is - those Republicans who feel that beating President Obama is the number one priority, Mitt Romney did by far the best. But those who adhere to true conservative principles, Mitt Romney's numbers on those were very far, you know, short of that.

CONAN: And Matt Bai, there's the - we're talking about the cap back in Iowa. Mitt Romney got the same 25 percent in Iowa he got four years ago, when he could not convince people he could break through that limit. Obviously, he'll do better than that here in New Hampshire. Are you going to be looking ahead to South Carolina?

BAI: I am looking ahead to South Carolina. In fact, I really enjoyed listening to you down there. There's a lot of driving around the state. It was good to have that to entertain me.

You know, I don't think it's a problem - I don't think the percentage is a problem if you're Romney. I understand why people will jump on him for it, and I understand why the president's people want to call him, you know, the 25-percent man and all this.

The fact is Mitt Romney's basically run a general election campaign to this point. He's made a calculation - and I think a smart one to this point - that there's nobody in that field who can actually beat him. And, in a sense, the best thing that can happen to Mitt Romney is to survive the primaries rather than make a convincing statement in all these states, get by with a percentage of the vote that's not very impressive to political insiders, but come out without having taken positions or gone on the offensive in a way to earn the respect of the right wing of his party.

That leaves him well-positioned to take on the president. Very few candidates can get away with that, and Romney doesn't get away with it because he's so obviously the guy or because he's this great politician. He's getting away with it because he has a very weak field of rivals.

And to this point, he was nearly beaten and closely followed last night by two guys who can't beat him in the nominating process, I don't think. And so if you're Mitt Romney, and somebody says to you, you can keep getting beat up by the media for getting low percentages and not being able to pull in the far right of the party, but you can have the nomination and face the electorate and the broad center of the American public having not marred yourself as a candidate, I think he would take that deal in a heartbeat, and I think he'd be right to.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Matt, before we coronate Mitt Romney here, I want to talk a little bit about Jon Huntsman's strategy. John McCain, we saw twice, he boycotted or bypassed Iowa, went to New Hampshire directly and won it both times. Other candidates like Wesley Clark, Joe Lieberman have tried that and failed. What do you make of the Huntsman strategy, and does he have to do - what does he have to do here to continue?

BAI: Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, I heard you say earlier, Jon Huntsman says he's not giving up. I don't know why he should. He hasn't run yet, right. I don't write Huntsman off. I mean, look, I don't think Romney can't be beaten in this process. I just think if you're looking at the people who've so far challenged him, right, if you're looking at the two people who came out of Iowa up there with him, I don't think those are the guys who are going to beat him.

He's got a bigger problem if he were right now facing - let's say if Rick Perry had gotten traction, which he just didn't. If Huntsman surges in New Hampshire, if Gingrich surges in New Hampshire, these are bigger problems, I think, for Mitt Romney. But that hasn't happened.

And I don't write Huntsman off. I was with him, you know, when he first came to New Hampshire on his first trip. He has, you know, obviously made his entire strategy to stay there. His numbers have gone up. I mean, if you're going to make that your whole bet, I think certainly you would want to see your polling doing better than he's done.

And I think Huntsman's problem has been an inability to articulate a very clear message about why he's running and what kind of alternative he offers. But the window was there and probably is still there, and if he had a good showing in New Hampshire, my sense is in South Carolina and some other states, he could get a lot of people interested very quickly.

CONAN: Let's go next to Rob, and Rob's on the line from Grand Rapids.

ROB: Hey, guys. You know, I'm a Gingrich supporter, and I have been for a little bit now. But if Gingrich implodes, I really think I'm going to go towards Santorum for two reasons, one just because I believe that Gingrich's speech last night, he was almost saying in code, you know, I'm going to get negative, and there may be a chance I implode.

So Santorum's a great guy. I think he gave him a little bit of a nod there. Two, I think it's because Santorum's speech last night at midnight, it was an amazing speech, and it really blew me away. He seemed extremely sincere.

CONAN: And Rick Santorum has that effect on a lot of people who get to meet him. But Matt Bai, not everybody has a chance to meet the candidates outside of Iowa and maybe New Hampshire. Once you get to South Carolina and certainly to Florida, organization, money, advertising, that becomes the premium.

BAI: It does. I mean, I think this is - I'm not saying anything terribly original here, but this is the million-dollar question - or maybe, you know, the $20 million question around Rick Santorum, which is: You know, can he consolidate? No one's been able to consolidate the anti-Romney vote.

Is he a guy - coming out of Iowa, very unknown to a lot of people, polling very poorly in South Carolina and New Hampshire - is he a guy who can quickly, you know, consolidate that support? And I don't know. I think it's a really tall order.

I think the danger for Santorum, if you've watched the debates - because as you said, not everybody's going to get to meet him in his pickup truck. He can come off as very angry and very petulant. He did a lot of complaining in the debates about being ignored. I'm the - he kept saying I'm the only guy on the stage who's done this, and I'm the only guy on the stage who's done that.

I think, you know, there's this sincere, very likable side of Rick Santorum, which I think did come off in that speech last night, and I agree it was a good one. But then there's the kind of debating Rick Santorum, who seems a little whiny and immature. And I think that - you know, like Gingrich has now a danger zone in New Hampshire, where I think he has to control certain impulses and be a disciplined campaigner.

I think Rick Santorum has probably - again, I'm not a political strategist, but I think if I were talking to Rick Santorum today, I would say it's time to step back for a minute, if you can catch your breath, and think about what it is you want to project to people, because you are, as you say, getting into those mass-media states, and you have to think about how that comes across to people.

CONAN: Rob, are you going to be watching these debates here in New Hampshire?

ROB: I have been the whole time. I will be again, yeah.

CONAN: Good luck. Thanks very much for the call. Ken?

RUDIN: Matt, with Newt Gingrich finishing fourth and Rick Perry finishing fifth, is - two candidates we thought would be the strongest challengers to Romney - was Rick Santorum finishing second good news for Mitt Romney?

BAI: Shows you what we know, huh, Ken?

RUDIN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAI: Oh, I really do think it's good news for Mitt Romney. I mean, look, I've learned not to prejudge. We never know what's going to - if you'd asked me three weeks ago, can Rick Santorum win Iowa, I'd have told you I might have a better chance of winning Iowa. You know, it's - and here he is, and he did - he ran a fantastic campaign there. So we really - I mean, you need a crystal ball.

But I think if you're Mitt Romney - and you have to game it out because that's your job - you know, I think if someone had said to you six months ago, hey, you can actually basically draw in Iowa, you'll pretty much be almost an exact tie, and the guy who's going to tie is going to be Rick Santorum, behind that is going to be Ron Paul, what are your odds of getting the nomination? I think he'd be jumping up and down and saying 99 percent.

I mean, for Romney, the question has never been is he going to get challenged? He's going to get challenged. There's no such thing as a Republican or Democratic front-runner who doesn't face, you know, a serious challenge. The question was going to be, by whom, and is it someone who can beat him? And I'm sure the Romney people, in fact, I know, are betting that neither Rick Santorum nor Ron Paul can realistically beat him.

And as you say, the people who, I think, they would have been more concerned about, you know, lacked the resources or lacked the message or haven't been able to get it going. And we haven't even talked about Rick Perry, who's apparently changed his mind and is going back to South Carolina.

CONAN: Let's go next to Rachel, and Rachel is in Detroit.

RACHEL: Hi there. When I first decided or, you know, got engaged in this election, I had an open mind to the entire field of candidates. And, you know, they were asking me, did the Iowa straw poll change your mind about who you think the - who you're going to be voting for? And I thought about that, and it did.

For me, being avid in politics, watching the polls, Santorum has been, you know, consistently below fifth place, and here he comes up with this mysterious surge, you know, his philosophy of which really hasn't been elaborated on in the debates. So I see him as a flimsy candidate at best.

And the fact of the matter is Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama in the last election. I'm not sure he has what it takes. And so, for me, the only consistent and clear front-runner I see is Ron Paul because he's the only one substantive enough, I think, to challenge an intellect like Barack Obama in the debates.

CONAN: Of course Mitt Romney lost to John McCain for the Republican nomination last time around. He didn't face Barack Obama. But Ron Paul - where do you go - how do you respond to those, Rachel, who say Ron Paul is - can't get the nomination? He's unelectable.

RACHEL: Well, I think that that is for the American people to decide. And many can do speculation, but speculation is not what is written in the sands of time and does not control the fate of the American people.

And, also, I would like to comment to the guest that you have on, that anyone who sees delight in the discreditation(ph) of the electoral process, you know, the Iowa caucus, I think that you should question that philosophy because that is the American people speaking with their vote.

CONAN: He wasn't talking about the Iowa caucuses, but about the Iowa straw poll, which was held last August and is a very different process. But, Rachel, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

RACHEL: Oh, OK. OK. Well, I'm glad then you could provide that clarification. Thank you.

CONAN: OK. Appreciate it. We're talking about the other candidates other than the top tier in Iowa. Matt Bai of the New York Times Magazine is with us, Political Junkie Ken Rudin as well. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Matt Bai, as you mentioned, we have not mentioned Rick Perry. Last night, after he decided to reassess and go back to Austin, people thought, well, that's just about it. He still does have resources. He's got a lot of money but does he have anything else?

BAI: He does have money. I mean, I can tell you, I haven't been down in South Carolina, which is where he's headed next. You know, he - and spending a lot of time with Tea Party activists down there. He has virtually no Tea Party support that I could discern down there. I mean, he has a lot of work to do, although, you know, I still think he has life. And he's a fellow Southerner, and, you know, if he can - if he runs a strong campaign down there, I'm not going to write him off.

I think it's very strange. I'm not sure. Ken may remember better. I don't remember a candidate going back to reassess their campaign in their home state, cancelling a campaign trip on this kind of abbreviated schedule and then changing his mind and going anyway. I think that's actually going to make it harder for him because I think once he said he wasn't going to South Carolina this morning, a lot of people down there probably tuned him out. And so, you know, I think that's only going to add to the troubles he has.

You know, I want to say one thing real quick, Neal, about Ron Paul from Rachel, your last caller. You know, the Paul people are always saying, you media, you don't write about him. Why don't you include Ron Paul? You're biased. You know, I think they're right. It occurred to me somewhere as we were getting on the Iowa that we don't say enough about Ron Paul because we do think, oh, he's just at the same old thing. But his campaign matters, and he hit on something and is hitting on something that we missed, I think, and that is this real frustration in the Republican base with the militarism of their party.

And the traction he got, really talking about no more wars and no more getting involved and minding our own business, that isolationist streak, which really manifests itself now as a frustration with the cost we've paid for these wars over the last 10 years or so, I think that's a real issue. I think it's sneaking up on the Republican Party, and I think Ron Paul has illuminated a trend that they're going to have to deal with, and that could propel his candidacy further than we think.

CONAN: Yet, Ken, most Republicans - certainly Newt Gingrich and a lot of the other candidates - would say Ron Paul is so far out of the mainstream of the Republican Party on precisely those kinds of issues, foreign policy and the military.

RUDIN: Well, he's certainly outside the mainstream of the Republican members of Congress because he often has a vote and he'll be the one naysayer. But Matt Bai is making a good point. There's a lot of dissatisfaction and anger out there. And I think - I don't know if Ron Paul has moved closer to the mainstream. I think the Republican Party and many of its adherents have moved more to the Ron Paul point of view, that the war - think of Iraq, Afghanistan. Were the loss of lives worth the cost, you know, that we paid for it? So I don't know if that's a majority Republican view, and I think, as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum say, it is outside the mainstream. But there are a lot of voters, Democrats and Republicans, who are coming around to that point of view. And that's why we talk about this a lot, but the thought of Ron Paul running as a third party Libertarian candidate if he doesn't get the nomination is a possibility, and I think he could make a big difference in November if he does choose that course.

CONAN: And, Matt Bai, just a few seconds left, but hard enough to reconcile the Mitt Romney practical moderate wing of the party, if you will, with the social conservatives. What do they do with the Ron Paul supporters?

BAI: Well, it does depend, obviously, if he thinks about going outside as he did. People forget he ran as third party candidate, as a Libertarian candidate, a couple of times before he was in Congress, so you can't say, you know, he'd never do it. You know, I think when it comes to all - you know, the conservative activists, the Tea Partiers, the Libertarians, Campaign for Liberty, this is a party that wants to beat Barack Obama. And I think for electoral purposes, if Mitt Romney is the nominee, he can use that to his advantage. Governing a coalition, governing with people who are that suspicious of you, that might be an - that might be a hard order, actually.

CONAN: Matt Bai, New York Times Magazine. Thanks very much. Political junkie Ken Rudin, thanks to you too. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.