Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi was interviewed by Chris Matthews Saturday at the Aspen Ideas Festival. The conversation centered on the GOP nomination process and the quality of potential candidates. See transcript below.
Chris Matthews: if you don’t have a primary opponent you have a better chance of reelection. Let’s talk about the three stages of the election coming up between now and the caucuses/primaries. Romney, it’s his turn. Bachmann is polling well. That’s one scenario. Another: Rick Perry from Texas and Sarah Palin. What in your mind is the most likely scenario?
Haley Barbour: I see the GOP nomination differently – like a typical Democrat nomination. Bill Clinton didn’t poll well this early, nor did Carter. We don’t have a frontrunner this time. Romney may be, but who knows. This process could take a long time. This will not be a normal Republican nomination. I knew this election would be unique when “Romney and Hunstman were talking about dividing up the Mormon folks.”
Matthews: So you’re saying Romney can take hits in the early rounds (Iowa, New Hampshire, etc.) and still survive? What’s the problem with Romney? “Democrats always run the new talent, Republicans always run the guy who lost last time.” Democrats shoot their wounded. John Kerry, Carter, Etc. In your party, the guy who missed the basket last time gets the ball.
Barbour: The problem with your argument is a lack of basis in fact for 2012. Romney isn’t a true front-runner. Reagan ran three times, and he was the one Dems were hoping to run against. A lot of people are crazy about Romney. People think he modified some positions to curry favor as a candidate. How does Barack Obama win when he has this record? “I’ll tell you one thing, he’s not going to run on his record.” Instead he’ll run a negative campaign against GOP frontronners.
CM: Let’s talk about how your party might split up and cause trouble. Your party has two types of people: those who grew up politically (the establishment), and the tea-party people. How do you put those alien groups together?
HB: “Barack Obama unites those two groups better than any welder I’ve ever known.” “I’ve been through the depths of Watergate, the height of the Clinton melees, but this is the first administration where people say ‘my children will inherit a worse place.’” “Did Obama inherit a bad economy? Yes sir. But a lot of people like me think [the Democrats] made it worse” with unsound economic actions.
CM: The burn rate of candidates is so fast in this election. Like Donald Trump – he put everything he had on the birth certificate, and he’s gone. Pawlenty didn’t use “Romneycare” in a debate and everyone called him a wuss. Gingrich’s Tiffany account threw him under the bus. The GOP is like a deep fryer. What do you think? You decided not to run. Is this a different environment?
HB: Of course it’s a different environment. It’s just that if anyone is going to run, they have to be vetted. But these guys you’re calling ‘french fries’ have a chance to come back. “Tomorrow’s headlines are today’s fish-wrappers.”
Q: Why didn’t you run for president?
A: This is a job that requires a 10-year commitment. And you have to be all in, or not in at all. “I was not prepared to make a ten year commitment to the exclusion of all else.”