Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that Mitt Romney is likely to overcome resistance in the next month and rally Republicans to his presidential candidacy.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. Thank you for joining us in the studio.
HALEY BARBOUR: Thanks, Al. Thanks for having me.
HUNT: I’ll still call you Governor. A couple months ago, Republicans were salivating at their prospects in the presidential race. Since then, economic indicators look like they’re better, at least. The polls have changed. Tough primary. Prospects for beating Barack Obama are tougher than they were three months ago, aren’t they?
BARBOUR: You know, it’s interesting. The polls haven’t changed very much. Last week, two big polls came out. Obama’s job approval in one was 41 percent.
BARBOUR: Job approval in the other was 43 percent. You’re one of the few guys here that’s as old as me, Al, and you’ll remember in 1980 -
HUNT: You’re a kid next to me.
BARBOUR: In 1980, at this stage, Ronald Reagan was behind in double-digits.
HUNT: So you still feel pretty confident about the general?
BARBOUR: The incumbent president’s always the favorite.
BARBOUR: But I think our chances are very good, and Obama’s numbers haven’t been helped, despite the fact that the public’s being told the economy’s better, employment’s up, unemployment’s down. The truth is, things are a little bit better, but it’s kind of like the old country song when I was growing up, “I’ve been down so long, it looks like up to me now.”
HUNT: Right. You have said you’re not going to call on anyone to get out; that’s not your role to do. But would the Republicans do better if in the next month, say, they were able to start to coalesce behind a nominee?
BARBOUR: Well, there’s no question that in the past normally earlier than now, or maybe in March, we’ve had somebody who’s kind of broken out and there’s been a coalescence.
HUNT: Do you think that’ll happen in the next month?
BARBOUR: Hasn’t happened yet, but I think it is likely, not necessary, not absolute -
HUNT: But likely in the next month?
BARBOUR: But - I think it’s likely.
HUNT: And that - that raises the question, Mitt Romney has had all these must-win situations, must win in Florida, must win in Michigan, must win in Ohio, must win - he wins, and the resistance continues. Why?
BARBOUR: Well, he wins and then turns around and loses the next week.
BARBOUR: But what do we know about all that is, that Mitt hasn’t been able to get the party coalesced behind him, but I thought Jim DeMint’s comment this week was very - one of the most conservative guys in the Senate said he’s excited about Romney being our nominee.
HUNT: And he’s -
HUNT: He’s the prohibitive front-runner right now.
BARBOUR: Prohibitive may be too strong a word -
HUNT: But not - not that strong.
BARBOUR: - but he’s finally - he’s finally a real front- runner. And don’t ever forget, Barack Obama is a great uniter of Republicans.
HUNT: That’s right. We’re going to get to that in a minute, but in your state of Mississippi, 47 percent of primary voters said a candidate’s religion matters to them a lot. Romney lost those, I think, 3 to 1. Does that have something to do with the fact he’s a Mormon?
BARBOUR: Maybe. And the fact that Santorum and Gingrich - but Santorum particularly - is very religious and he spoke -
HUNT: But, of course, so is Romney.
BARBOUR: - he - it is - but he spoke on election night in Mississippi about his faith, and he campaigned on that, and that does - and my state, that probably makes more difference than it does in Maryland.
HUNT: Does Romney have a Mormon problem going ahead?
BARBOUR: Not in November. There are 25,000 Southern Baptist preachers that’ll vote for a Mormon before they vote for Obama.
HUNT: That’s because in Mississippi half the voters said they thought that Obama was a Muslim. They’ll take the Mormon over the Muslim?
BARBOUR: Well, I didn’t see that. But, you know, in my state, a majority of people are Southern Baptists, a literal majority. That wouldn’t be the case in a lot of other states.
HUNT: Let me ask you this. Does he have to send - if Romney is the nominee - that’s an if - if he is, does he have to send the signal with his vice presidential choice to reassure social conservatives? And what does that say about -
BARBOUR: I don’t think so.
HUNT: He doesn’t?
BARBOUR: I don’t think so. I think he - I think -
HUNT: He has pretty much freedom -
BARBOUR: I think Republicans want him to pick the person who makes it the most likely he’ll win in November. Maybe that’s somebody like Marco Rubio, who’s from a critical state, Florida, who’s young -
HUNT: Or Rob Portman?
BARBOUR: And - and - well, I was going to say, about Rubio, also, very attractive to Hispanic voters, because Latino voters are going to matter a lot.
BARBOUR: If Rob Portman gives you Ohio, if Tom Corbett gives you Pennsylvania, but, no, I don’t think that he’s going to need to pick somebody from the right to gin up conservatives in our party. As I say, our party wants a change, and they want to vote for whoever is the - whoever our nominee is to beat Obama.
HUNT: Let me ask you this. There’s no issue that riles the Republican base more than Obamacare. You and others have noted that. Rick Santorum says that’s a real problem for Mitt Romney, because there are differences, but there are a lot of similarities, too, mandate and - won’t that issue be largely off the table for the Mitt Romney nomination?
BARBOUR: Not really. I mean -
HUNT: But it makes it more difficult, doesn’t it?
BARBOUR: Big story in the Wall Street Journal, about Obamacare, talks about how the Constitution of the United States, which is a Constitution for a limited government, does not give the federal government general police power. So that’s why they claim that they are doing under the commerce clause.
HUNT: So you don’t think he’s going to have trouble making Obamacare a central issue?
BARBOUR: What I was going to say, Al, is this. The U.S. Constitution makes plain, states do have general police power. Massachusetts has the authority to require people to buy health insurance. It’s not unconstitutional. In Mississippi, in almost every state, we require people to buy car insurance.
HUNT: But you wouldn’t require them to buy health insurance, would you?
BARBOUR: No, I absolutely oppose it, but not because it’s unconstitutional, because I think it’s bad policy.
HUNT: So the -
BARBOUR: Federally, federally, it is unconstitutional.
HUNT: Was it bad policy in Massachusetts?
BARBOUR: We don’t want the system in Mississippi that they have in Massachusetts, but we don’t think Mississippi ought to be able to dictate to Massachusetts what system they got.
HUNT: Let me ask one more Romney question, Etch A Sketch. It’s been around now for about three days. Late-night comedians are having fun with it, but it plays into this sense that he’s changed positions. What does he do to get out of the Etch A Sketch stuff?
BARBOUR: Well, I think it will run its own course. And, frankly, I think we’ll look back four months from now, and the labor unions, and the DNC, and the Obama campaign will have bombarded Romney with stuff so much more negative than that that people will forget that it was ever an issue, because they’re going to carpet-bomb him to try to disqualify him or to make him unacceptable, because Obama can’t run on his record. And that’s got to be their strategy.
And so I think a lot of the stuff that’s happened in the last few months in our nomination contest has not been helpful to our winning the nomination. We haven’t talked enough about Obama’s policies and the results. But I think they’ll be pretty forgotten after the carpet-bombing starts.
HUNT: Does Romney get a fresh start, though, in the general election?
BARBOUR: Well, I think a lot of conservative Republicans who’s not - they’re not - he is not their first choice -
BARBOUR: - are perfectly prepared to support him in the fall.
HUNT: So he can start to pivot to a general election mode, if he - in the next month or so?
BARBOUR: No, no, I think - I think what he needs to stay is right where he is. This - I think where he is - he’s moderately conservative. I think that’s very in tune with the American people. But this election should be a referendum on Obama, on Obama’s policies, and the results of those policies, whether it’s all the spending, whether it’s Obamacare, whether this terrible energy policy.
HUNT: Right. Let me ask you one question. You’re very active with one of the 501(c)(4)s. This is Democrats and Republicans. This is not a - but there’s going to be an awful lot of money that’s not going to be disclosed in this election, both sides. Is that healthy for the republic?
BARBOUR: I don’t think it is. But every time the Congress has tried to have campaign finance reform, it has made the system worse. I mean, you could -
HUNT: So we’re just stuck with it?
BARBOUR: Well, what we ought to do is throw out all of this that we have done and said, look, any human being can contribute any amount of money that’s their money to any candidate, and a candidate has to report within 24 hours on the Internet, and then let everybody just -
HUNT: Make it all public?
BARBOUR: But unions ought not to be able to give, corporations ought not to be able to give. But as long as unions can give, corporations are going to give.
HUNT: Thank you, Governor, so much for being with us.
BARBOUR: Thank you.
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