This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," December 22, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
MARK STEYN, GUEST HOST: Tonight, although we’re just three days away from Christmas, the Republican frontrunners are not likely to exchange cheerful holiday greetings any time soon. Good evening. I'm Mark Steyn in tonight for Sean with the eyes on Iowa.
Both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are sharpening their attacks on one another. And while the former House speaker has called on the negative ad campaign to cease and desist, Governor Romney has reminded Mr. Gingrich that this is merely a warm-up for what the Obama reelection machine will churn out next year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can go out and say, hey, please, don't do anything negative, but you know, this is politics. And if you can't stand the heat in this little kitchen, wait until the Obama hell's kitchen turns up the heat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEYN: Well, this morning, Speaker Gingrich responded in a big way. Let's take a look.
NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have challenged Governor Romney to meet me for 90 minutes in Iowa, next week, anywhere, anytime, time keeper, no moderator.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
GINGRICH: And we'll bring all of his negative ads and show them for free and he can explain them.
GINGRICH: And we'll find out tomorrow how he likes the heat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEYN: Meanwhile, today, former president, George H.W. Bush made headlines by announcing he's backing Mitt Romney in 2012. The former president told the Houston Chronicle, quote, "I think Romney is the best choice for us," adding, quote, "I just think he's mature and reasonable, not a bomb thrower." Hmm. He also said of Newt Gingrich. "I'm not his biggest advocate."
Here with reaction is somebody who knows the former president very well. He's the author of Courage and Consequence, Fox News contributor, the architect, Karl Rove. Karl, let's stick with George H.W. Bush for a moment. If you remember, back in 1988, Bob Dole snarled to President Bush, quit lying about my record. Does complaining that the other guy's being mean to you generally work out to be very effective?
KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: No, not really. It makes you sound like a whiner. On the other hand, if you take up things that are in the ad that you find offensive and hammer those, specifically, to show how untruthful they really are, then you begin to get some purchase, then you begin to get some leverage, but simply to say stop saying bad things about me, it doesn't work. That's why you know, this week in Iowa; let's take a look at this just to give a sense of this.
ROVE: In Iowa this week, Mitt Romney is spending $829,000 on ads, both he and his Super PAC. Rick Perry again, his campaign and his Super PAC, spending $718,000 this week. Ron Paul, all from his campaign, $344,000. Newt, all from his campaign, $222,000, and $164,000 from Santorum. So, $2,277,000 being spent.
That is a lot of money in a small state like Iowa. If you were buying television buy on the same level nationwide, you'd be spending $200 million in one week on television. And a lot of this ads -- and part of these ads, part of these ads are all aimed at this guy. So, he's being outspent by a significant margin, spending one-tenth of the money that's being spent this week in Iowa and having about four times as much spent on ads against him as ads for him.
So, the speaker would be better off by not simply whining, but instead, saying, you know what, here's how Romney's lying about me in my ads or here's how Rick Perry's lying about me in my ads. The problem is his ads are principally focused on things like Freddie Mac where it's hard for him to give that kind of point-to-point defense.
STEYN: Instead, he came out and he's challenged Governor Romney to a 90-minute debate about his attack ads, and Governor Romney basically said, get lost. I ain't going to do it. Who wins that one?
ROVE: Well, it helps Newt in the sense that it reminds people that he's done well in the debates this year, but it's a one-day story. I mean, you can't go around and say, why won't he debate me? Why won't he debate me? Particularly, when there've been 13 debates this year.
And speaking of debates, remember, Newt Gingrich failed to show up at the first Fox debate held earlier this year, I believe, in South Carolina. So, there've been a lot of debates. If there hadn't been a lot of debates, this might have a great deal, more salience than it has, but it was a good way for Newt to say, hey remember, everybody, I've been good on those stages.
STEYN: Is this the traditional -- the return of traditional politics? I mean, Newt circumvented the process. He had with no staffers, he had no money, he had no ads, he had no consultants. He was out there tap dancing through the debates brilliantly. Now, its days before the caucuses and its come back to old-fashioned things like money, organization, advertising.
ROVE: Sure. I think you're absolutely right, and that's what it always comes back to. Message matters most of all, more than the three things that you talked about. But it does matter in a state like Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina, whether you've got an organization behind you and the money and the resources necessary to fight the battle.
Newt, today, gained 15,000 signatures to get on the Virginia ballot. It took his personal involvement, and as you said, and they were scrambling to do it. Mitt Romney and other campaigns had previously qualified for the Virginia ballot with ease because of their organizations. That's a sign of the difference here.
We're now at a point in a primary where every single moment matters. You cannot imagine how many demands there when you have so few days, 12 days plus, you know, including Christmas day and Boxing Day, and New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
When have you 12 days left until the primary, it really causes you to be worried about every single moment and having to worry about, am I going to get on the ballot in Virginia by click and signatures is not the place where you want to be.
STEYN: You stunned me, Karl. I didn't know they celebrated Boxing Day in Iowa.
ROVE: Steyn, I did that specifically for you, and I'm glad you picked up on the cultural reference.
STEYN: Yes. I'm sharp of these things. Let's go back to something else you said before the Boxing Day reference, message. Mitt Romney has stayed on message, soporifically so, if you happen to follow the Romney campaign. Newt seems to have a like zillion messages.
One minute, he's talking about brain science, then he wants U.S. marshals arresting federal judges. He's got a thousand messages, and that was fun during the debates. Is he honing his message sufficiently now?
ROVE: I don't believe so. In fact, it's interesting is take a look at the messages here. Romney goes and gives a speech this week in which he basically says, here's the choice that we have in the 2012 general election, between an entitlement society and a merit society. Here are the big issues and the big differences between me and Barack Obama.
And then, we have Newt talking about, you know, last weekend on “Fox News Sunday,” I was going to send U.S. marshals or capitol police in order to drag liberal judges in front of the Congress to account for their bad decisions. I thought initially Newt's judge attack was a sound short-term gambit because, you know, look, Republicans are concerned about liberal judges and an imperial judiciary.
But this has been one of those issues that I think, over time, has not worn well because it's caused people to say, wait a minute, if we want the Congress to have that kind of power, the president to have that kind of power, how would that power been wielded by President Obama and a Democrat Congress against conservative judges in 2009 and 2010?
And rather than, you know, finding a way to exit, he sort of doubled down on Sunday by saying, I'm going to send the marshals out, to gather them up, and drag them before the congress. I don't think that's where he wants to be right now. He wants to be back, focused on Obama and on things in which that -- you know, every argument in politics has a counter- argument.
ROVE: You can say, for example, the sky is blue, and I would say, well, it's mostly blue, but it has a couple of white clouds in it. When Newt says, I'm going to go after the judiciary, but he says yes, but then the counter argument begins and the counter argument has not been positive, I think, for the former speaker.