This past Tuesday, Mitt Romney came out ahead of Rick Santorum in the Arizona and Michigan Republican presidential primaries, but not by much. Greg Lebel, presidential campaign veteran and assistant professor of Political Management at the George Washington University, joins us to re-cap the race up until now, and preview Super Tuesday, when people will go to the ballot box in 10 different states. Find out if either of the leading GOP candidates is doing anything right – or if they each are holding themselves back.
Click the “play” button above to hear the extended interview. Click here to download it. Scroll down to read the transcript. Click here to listen to Greg Lebel’s previous appearances on State of Belief Radio.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: GREG LEBEL
[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: This past Tuesday, Mitt Romney came out ahead of Rick Santorum in the Arizona and Michigan Republican presidential primaries, but not by much. Is either of them doing something right? Are they each holding themselves back? I’d like to hear George Washington University Assistant Professor of Political Management Greg Lebel answer those questions, and tell us exactly what’s going to happen come Super Tuesday on March 6th. (Now, he may not be able to answer that last question, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to ask it!) Greg’s in the studio, back with us to offer the insights gleaned through years of working inside Presidential campaigns – thanks for joining us again on State of Belief Radio, Greg!
[GREG LEBEL, GUEST]: It’s great to be back.
[WG]: There was a lot of talk going into last Tuesday’s primaries about how big a win Mitt Romney was going to need, for it to really count as a win and allow him to reassert his front-runner status. I guess what I want to know is: did you subscribe to that way of thinking, and if so, did he make it?
[WG]: I guess what I want to know is: did you subscribe to that way of thinking, and if so, did he make it?
[GL]: To answer the first question, yes, he needed a win. To answer the second question, by the skin of his teeth. He won, but by a really narrow margin – and I think this continues to point to the problem that Mitt Romney has about his appeal to the Republican base.
[WG]: Both Romney and Santorum strike me as a campaign manager’s worst nightmare.
[GL]: Separately or together?
[WG]: Well, together – unbelievable. When Romney goes off-script, he winds up talking about the trees in Michigan being the right height, or about his wife’s two Cadillacs; and I can’t believe anybody in the campaign is vetting Santorum’s outburst against Barack Obama’s theology, or about how John F. Kennedy’s profound speech on Church-State separation makes him sick. Greg, are these two rogue candidates – or maybe all four are way outside the traditional controlled political messaging campaign style?
[GL]: They certainly have their rogue moments. You know, Romney is certainly a guy who we’ve learned that you need to keep on-script, because he just says these things that reflect a complete disconnect from the lives that most Americans live. Santorum is making his name on these rogue comments, though. I think it’s part of his nature. We saw that when he was in the Senate; but this is how Santorum has decided he’s going to stay in the race. I agree with you, I’m not so sure that the people around him agree or are quite thrilled when some of this stuff comes out of his mouth, but there is a rogue quality to some of the stuff that we’re hearing.
[WG]: What if you were the campaign manager?
[GL]: Well, first of all, with Romney, you’ve just got to make him stop talking off the cuff, because there is this lack of understanding, this lack of connection with the lives of ordinary Americans. “My wife drives a couple of Cadillacs.” That’s so close to John McCain’s comment about “I don’t know how many houses I own” back in 2008, that it’s mind-boggling. I think it’s possible – at least on paper – to get Romney under control. I don’t think you can get Santorum under control. That’s the nature of this guy. He believes this stuff, and he thinks that this is going to get him where he wants to go.
[WG]: You know, I never in my life – and I’m not exaggerating – I never in my life thought I would hear a candidate for the highest office in this land say what he said about religious freedom, about Church-State separation, and the necessity of the President’s role in that.
[GL]: Yeah. It’s much like the contraception debate that came up, that we talked about the last time I was here. The question is: are we really talking about this, is this really what we have to deal with now – with all of the things that we’re facing in this country, are these the issues we really want to be talking about? But again, this is a combination of the Santorum worldview, and what he wants to be talking about in the context of this race. Each new statement sort of eclipses the previous one in its imponderability.
[WG]: The Washington Post has indicated they think that perhaps Santorum now will get back on a more mainstream message, and talk about the economy and that kind of thing. Do you think that’s true?
[GL]: Well, I think that’s probably the intent. And I think his folks have probably sat him down after this last cycle, and tried to get some logic in there in terms of what he should be talking about, because clearly, that is the message. This is what the general election is going to be about, and they need to get him there, so that may be the intent. But I’m not convinced that he’s either capable, or actually, when push comes to shove, inclined to do it. He just seems to want to go to these issues.
[WG]: Greg, two questions, one about Santorum and one about Romney, which puzzle me, in the sense that though Santorum is directly responsible for the story I want to tell about him, Romney’s not directly responsible – and I’m just interested in how you would manage this. I think that Santorum has been helped by the outrage in some quarters over the administration’s contraception coverage mandate, because it parallels his conservative, borderline-theocratic message, and conservative Catholics that he identifies who’ve stayed in the spotlight as they oppose the White House, so, on the one, I want you to talk about that; but on the other, at the same time, there’s been a Mormon scandal – not a Romney scandal, but a Mormon scandal, the posthumous baptism story that’s now been confirmed by reliable journalists – that hasn’t touched Romney, which suggests to me that maybe his faith is kind of out of the picture for most. So you’ve got one that seems all about faith, the other is kind of ignoring that. What is the prominence of religion among these two Republicans?
[GL]: Well, collectively, it’s much higher than any of us ever imagined it would be when this thing started out, and I think that’s in large part because of Rick Santorum and the stuff that he has wanted to talk about. But, you know, the interesting thing, I think, is that Santorum lost the Catholic vote in Michigan, and that says a great deal, I think, about the shelf life of the messages that he’s putting out there. Going back to the contraception thing, I think if you look at the numbers now that contraception controversy is actually breaking heavily in the favor of the administration. Once that initial, kind of, shock passed, we found ourselves getting to an even keel, and Americans who are looking at that say, you know, “This doesn’t make a lot of sense, this argument that Santorum and other folks are making.”
With regard to Romney, the Mormon thing is interesting. There are reports that the leadership of the Mormon Church are basically trying to, sort of, keep quiet about Romney’s faith. They don’t want to be front-and-center on that, because they think it will be a negative for him. So they’re, sort of, trying to stay away from that. It’s interesting, I don’t know how these stories about these posthumous baptisms will, sort of, roll back onto Romney, or if they will. It seems, probably, at some point they will, but you’re right: there seems to be a separation right now. People don’t seem to be making that connection; but it could happen, I suppose.
[WG]: OK. Super Tuesday is coming, and I need to know what’s going to happen.
[GL]: Well, don’t we all. I can tell you a little bit what I think needs to happen.
[GL]: Gingrich needs to win Georgia. I think Newt Gingrich, probably, is in the most prominent, sort of, live or die position. If Newt Gingrich doesn’t win Georgia, he’s going to have a hard time staying in the race. It’s his home state. He’s got to be able to pull that off. There’s no question that there’s going to be a mix, nobody’s going to walk away with everything here. I think that, probably, one of the more interesting states is going to be Ohio. Ohio is a lot like Michigan; what Romney doesn’t have in Ohio is the fact that his father wasn’t governor of Ohio. There isn’t a built-in name recognition there. The polls show Santorum ahead in Ohio and a couple of other states, but we haven’t seen any good stuff coming since the Michigan and Arizona primaries the other day, so we’re still waiting to see that. It will probably tighten up; but some of the numbers indicate, if they hold, that they’ll probably be squeakers but Santorum stands to win a few races on Super Tuesday.
[WG]: They’re in a part of the campaign now where, to use a much-overworked term – multitasking – multitasking is essential; I mean, they’ve got to work in a lot places at once. Which candidate is best equipped to do that?
[GL]: Oh, Romney, because this all comes down to money. Believe me. I’ve been there personally; lots of us have been there in campaigns, when you get to Super Tuesday and all your best efforts sort of fall apart because of the lack of money, which leads to organization. To be able to function at that level in that many states with that many delegates up for grabs is really very difficult, and very expensive. Now, Romney has had the money. He has far outspent all of the other candidates, including president Obama today, combined, he and his super PAC – particularly his super PAC – so there’s a lot of money there; but Romney’s beginning to run into some challenges with money himself, because he’s dealing with big givers, they’ve maxed out, there’s not a broad base of financial support there, so this is going to begin to be a challenge for him – but possibly not until after Super Tuesday.
[WG]: Well, what are you going to be looking for on Super Tuesday?
[GL]: Well, actually I’m going to be looking to see how many states Romney loses, and the numbers inside, in terms of whether he continues to be as unattractive as he’s been to the Republican base, to the Tea Party base, and particularly to the religious conservative base because that continues to be…
Romney will still be the nominee. I’m still pretty sure of that. The road is going to be a long and bumpy one, and the question is: how much damage is done, and how damaged is he as a candidate when he goes into the general election; but also, how does he begin to get that Republican base to be excited about him – because if they’re not excited, it’s going to be hard to get them to vote.
[WG]: Greg Lebel is Assistant Professor of Political Management at George Washington University and a veteran of several presidential campaigns. I was sitting here thinking, Greg, in asking you these questions, you know, asking if you were running this campaign for Romney – and it just occurred to me, that that is almost impossible even to hypothesize about. If you ever indicated you were going to do that, I would be the first one to get you in the hospital.
[GL]: I’m having trouble imaging it too.
[WG]: Well listen, thanks as always for sharing your insights and your expertise with us, and we’ll talk again soon.
[GL]: Thank you.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
The host of State of Belief, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, leads the national nonpartisan grassroots and educational organizations, The Interfaith Alliance and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and serves as the Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana. Welton is one of 20 international religious leaders on the Council of 100 Leaders, a group created by the World Economic Forum to improve dialogue and understanding between the Western and Islamic worlds.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Welton emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is the immediate past President of the Alliance of Baptists and is a twenty-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, Welton served in many leadership roles in the SBC including membership on the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-1984 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-1977.
Welton received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.