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Shields, Brooks Look to South Carolina Vote as N.H. Primary Numbers Roll in

January 10, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss what to look for in New Hampshire as the results roll in, the state of the GOP field and how Tuesday's primary could affect South Carolina's primary next week.
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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, we come back to the campaign for some thoughts from “NewsHour” regulars Mark Shields in New Hampshire and David Brooks.

Welcome to you both.

Mark, what do you think is going to happen?

MARK SHIELDS: I think Mitt Romney is going to make history tonight by becoming the first non-incumbent Republican in modern history to win back to back Iowa and New Hampshire.

GWEN IFILL: David, do your expectations match Mark’s?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, that would pretty much end the race, if you got those two, especially if he follows in South Carolina.

I guess the minds of the great mentioners have decided that if he gets up around 40 percent, then he’s the Crimson Tide, he’s rolling on to victory. If he’s down to about 30, then we all think he’s a little weaker. If he’s in the 20s, then we all think he’s just this limping giant.

And that’s not only a matter of us pundits. I think it actually does matter to the millionaires out there who are thinking about funding a super PAC on behalf of Huntsman or Gingrich or Santorum or whoever. If they see him as vulnerable, in the 20s and the 30s, or low 30s, then they think, well, this attack on Bain Capital probably works, and I may want to pour a little more money in there.

So the perception game, up around 40, down around 28 to 30, it actually could have some effect on the race going forward.

GWEN IFILL: Mark, let’s talk that Bain Capital attack. He hasn’t had the best final 24 hours of this campaign, Mitch Romney — Mitt Romney, as everybody began to jump on him for his past business background.

Four years ago, he lost to McCain, and he won 32 percent of the vote. So, presumably, he has got to do better than that as the leader tonight. But a lot of people have been taking after him.

MARK SHIELDS: Yeah.

No, I agree. Listen, I think if Mitt Romney wins by double figures or somewhere in there, he’s won. Winning is coming in first, to state the obvious just once again.

But there’s no question that we are seeing a new development in American politics this year, in large part because of the Supreme Court — I just wish one of those justices had never run for sheriff — their decision on the Citizens United campaign, the Citizens decision, and then other court decisions, as well as President Obama’s decision in 2008 to privately finance his campaign.

Money is king like it’s never been before in American politics. This makes Watergate look like chump change, quite honestly, in terms of money. I’m not talking about evildoing or breaking the law. I’m talking about money and in many cases unreported money.

The super PACs are now the political story. David put his finger on it. The question is, is it going to be $3.5 million spent by a super PAC of Mitt Romney’s, his supporters, to absolutely destroy Newt Gingrich in Iowa, and now Newt Gingrich coming back to do the same with Sheldon Adelson’s money, a mogul from Las Vegas and a longtime supporter of Newt Gingrich’s, $5 million to do that in South Carolina? That’s the real political story coming out of here in 2012.

GWEN IFILL: David, we already have — are privy to some of the first waves of interviews that some of the networks did tonight with — and Associated Press — with 1,700 voters at the polls today.

We’re not going to talk about the numbers, who’s ahead or who is behind, because it’s still early yet and the polls haven’t closed. But who are the people who are going to the polls and what are their concerns?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes.

The basic view seems to be the independents are showing up in decent proportion. You would expect that. Last time, the independents could — you could vote in Democratic, Republican. Now there’s only really a Republican race, so they’re probably swinging over there.

And so that would seem to favor the Paul, the Huntsman and the Romneys. And then Stu mentioned earlier you have this phenomenon where Romney was the conservative last time. And now he’s the favorite of the moderates. And that’s, I think, a symbol of how the whole party has shifted to the right.

And so the positions he took which were — then qualified him as the conservative guy now qualify him as the moderate. I do this Bain issue is the only thing that could scramble all this, because the Bain attack on these — on Wall Street shenanigans or what is seen as exorbitant profits, on destroying people’s jobs, that’s something that doesn’t hit left, right, center, moderate, conservative.

That’s something that could scramble the whole race. Romney has based his whole campaign on the idea that this experience at Bain qualifies him to be president. I think we actually should have a good discussion on whether that kind of experience does qualify you to be president. Did it qualify Jon Corzine to be a good governor of New Jersey to have worked at Goldman Sachs? Not necessarily.

Is all capitalism equally right? This has actually, I think, begun a good debate. I doubt it’s going to hurt him in the polls tonight, but it’s begun a good debate where Romney really has to explain what exactly he did at Bain and why exactly that qualifies him to be president.

GWEN IFILL: Okay, Mark, let’s talk about the next tier.

Assuming that you’re right and Mitt Romney cannot be caught up to tonight — we have seen surprises before, but assume that for a moment — what about the next tier? Does Jon Huntsman live to fight another day if he comes in number two, or does he have to pull out if he comes in number three?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know where Jon Huntsman goes from here, Gwen.

He’s invested all his time, effort, energy and resources in one state. And to claim that a third-place finish qualifies him as the silver medal behind Ron Paul, if that’s the case, and Mitt Romney, I don’t think that’s a compelling case to go forward, especially when all your resources have been tied up here.

Just one point, Gwen, on the point that David raised. Going after Mitt Romney on Bain is really quite comparable to going after John Kerry, as the Bush campaign did in 2004, on his military valor record. In other words, you’re going after your opponent on the strongest possible argument that he has for his own election.

That has been the case for Mitt Romney, that he’s been a businessman. You sabotage that, or at least raise questions about it and what kind of a businessman he was — and I think it is going to be part of the debate — and especially when it’s being raised by Republicans, it has to be nothing but good news for President Obama’s campaign, that they’re not raising it for the first time, that it’s actually Republicans doing it.

GWEN IFILL: So, David, let’s assume it’s one, two, three somehow with those three, that’s to say, Romney, Huntsman and Paul, and shake that around.

Let’s go to the next tier. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum ran pretty vigorous campaigns here, but neither of them had a dime to spend on television. Are they just looking forward to South Carolina and hoping they get out of here without embarrassing themselves tonight?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. They’re all praying to be the one person left to be the one anti-Romney. They’re all praying all the other anti-Romneys drop out and it becomes a one-on-one race.

The problem is, as long as they all think they can be the one remaining anti-Romney, they are all going to stay in, so you never get that one-on-one race. And so that’s more or less what we’re looking at.

There was another bit of data which came out in some of the national polling among Republicans which wasn’t who do you like, but who can you accept, who can you live with?

GWEN IFILL: Yeah.

DAVID BROOKS: And Romney was really the only candidate who most — who the majority of Republicans can accept. The majority of Republican voters cannot accept any of the others. So, that makes you think it’s still very much Romney’s to lose.

GWEN IFILL: So, electability becomes the turning point tonight, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: It’s important.

And I think you’ll see this. If Mitt Romney does win, as expected, here tonight in New Hampshire, his own national poll numbers will continue to rise. And as that happens, the sense of inevitability will, in fact, increase.

But South Carolina always wants to play a part and have a voice in these things. And I’m sure they will.

GWEN IFILL: Okay, well, we’ll be waiting for South Carolina, but, most importantly, we will be waiting for tonight’s results.

Thank you, Mark.

Thank you, David.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.