• With: Charles Krauthammer, A.B. Stoddard, Steve Hayes

    This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 15, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney and his super PAC have spent a staggering $20 million brutally attacking fellow Republicans. Why? Because Romney is trying to hide from his big government Romneycare and his support for job-killing cap and trade. And in the end Mitt Romney's ugly attacks are going to backfire.

    MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That is the nature of politics, which is that you always accuse the other guy of what you have done yourself. So my campaign hasn't run negative ads against Rick Santorum.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

    JOHN ROBERTS, ANCHOR: You've got to give him points for creativity, at least. We're back with our panel. And let's talk about Michigan because that's a contest that's coming up, along with Arizona. It's an important state for Mitt Romney. It's where he was born. His father was the governor. Rick Santorum is outpolling him now in the latest surveys. Steve, what is your take on what might happen there? Can Santorum beat him?

    STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I think he certainly could beat him because he is making the kind argument that I think appeals to voters out state in the west and the north of Michigan. The blue collar message resonates with Christian conservatives there.

    If I'm Mitt Romney I would do something unconventional here going into the final two weeks before Michigan. I would embrace my opposition to the bailout and hug it, and shine a light on it, and say damn right, we should have opposed the bailout. It was the smart thing to do and here are the reasons why. I'm a businessman, I'm a turnaround artist. It didn't work as well as it could have for these reasons. It's created moral hazards where there weren't moral hazards before. I think it's the kind of argument that would allow Romney to overcome the two things that are keeping Republicans from embracing him more broadly, one, that he is not conservative enough, because it certainly would be a conservative argument, and two, that he is too calculating and cautious because this would be a big risk, I think, if he were to embrace that kind of an argument.

    ROBERTS: Would a bold move work A.B.?

    A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: I don't know, I mean, I think his response on the bailout with the way he's tried to explain it is really shaky at best. And he won Michigan in 2008 by pandering to the auto industry and saying don't let them tell you that those jobs are gone like old John McCain is doing. I'm not going to accept that. And of course several months later he wrote that famous op-ed in the New York Times saying let Detroit go bankrupt, and if they take the bailout, you can kiss them goodbye -- the domestic auto. So he is having to walk it back, saying that he was asking for a managed bankruptcy. And eventually, that is what happened, but it is unclear and it does sound calculated and cautious. I think that Michigan is really of enormous consequence, because I think that Santorum is not only ahead in the polls. He has a lifetime in the primary, he has 12 more days. He is going to fare better, he won last time with 39 percent. He was the more conservative option to John McCain. He now has Rick Santorum who's gonna beat him with Catholics, Tea Party supporters, white working class -- Romney numbers with them are going down terribly -- and with evangelical Christians. He has a message about the liabilities of Obamacare which Romney was the architect of. And he's really telling them what they want to hear. I'd be surprised if he doesn't pull a very close second and have a moral victory, or take it.

    ROBERTS: If we look at the contests on the 28th, very likely that Romney will win Arizona. But if he loses Michigan do you think that that could that be a trip wire to some losses the following week on Super Tuesday? Ya know, you look at states like Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Romney could potentially lose all of those.

    CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Absolutely. I think if you think of the psychological effect of losing the three states last week, Michigan -- I'm sorry, Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, which there were no delegates at stake and how it propelled Santorum into the lead, imagine what happens in a state like Michigan which is Romney's home court. He won there he's running as a native. His ads say I grew up here. I'm a Detroiter, you want to put a Detroiter in the White House. You lose on your home court to a challenger who's just coming up, that is really bad. And I think it resets the whole race. It starts all over with Santorum and Romney starting on the same point. And Romney could easily have a really bad Super Tuesday.

    I think he should go long, but not on the bailout. I think he needs to go long as a guy who has been running on nothing except the biography. I'm a businessman and now in Michigan and ads are saying I grew up here. That is not it. He has to come up with an idea, something that he can rally around, a proposal that's important, like an analogy to Reagan's supply side economics. He has nothing of that sort. He's gonna give a big speech to the Detroit economic club four days before the election. It's got to be something large, tax reform, entitlement reform, some new idea. Otherwise he is treading water.

    ROBERTS: We have some interesting polls that we want to put up here looking ahead to the general election. This is a swing state poll that Fox News did, 10 swing states. The first one is taken in the aggregate here, the average of all of those. Look at this, President Obama beats every Republican in the aggregate of the swing states.

    If you separate out Ohio, though, the numbers are a little bit different. Every Republican potential candidate beats President Obama with the exception of Newt Gingrich, who loses. Real quick as we've got about a minute-and-a-half left. What do you make of the polls?

    HAYES: Well, it's certainly a dramatic shift in the landscape. President Obama was doing poorly in those swing states, particularly in the upper Midwest section of the country. And if this in fact holds he wins the election.

    (CROSSTALK)

    STODDARD: The economy of many of those swing states are still worse than the rest of the country, housing down, terribly, especially in places like Florida, Arizona. But I think it's still a mountain to climb.

    ROBERTS: Charles?

    KRAUTHAMMER: Obama is on an uptick. The economy looks stronger. The Republicans in Congress have mishandled affairs and the presidential candidates are destroying each other. It's been a good run for Obama.

    ROBERTS: Folks, good to see you tonight. Thanks. Stay around for the online show coming up after this. That is it for the panel. Stay tuned, though. Mitt Romney in the Michigan primary where the rubber meets the road. Wait until you see this.

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