OTR Interviews

Dick Morris's Path to Winning the GOP Nomination in 2012

Dick Morris offers insight on how presidential hopefuls can win the GOP nomination


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," August 25, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: All right, we're going to switch gears now to the road to 2012. It is really tricky to figure out the right strategy. A candidate's strategy is dependent on so many things -- polls, money, place of birth, prior jobs, gaffes and even spouses. Everything is in the mix. Right now, 12 Republicans in the race.

Joining us is Dick Morris, former adviser to President Clinton, author of the book "Revolt." Dick, I wanted to talk to you. I want you to tell me the different strategy for the different candidates because it's so varied, if you were advising. Let's start with Governor Rick Perry. If you were advising him, what's his path to victory to get that nomination?

DICK MORRIS, DICKMORRIS.COM, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, it feels so weird to be talking politics with this disaster unfolding. I hope the viewers forgive us.

Rick Perry is fighting a two-front war. On the one hand, he's opposing Bachmann for the votes of the evangelical religious right. And on the other hand, he's fighting Mitt Romney for the votes of the Club for Growth economic conservative job-creating people. And those are very different constituencies. They overlap in their ideas, but they're -- as main voters, they're different.

And what Perry has got to do is to make inroads into Bachmann's social conservative vote -- not an easy thing to do against a woman -- and to make inroads into Romney's fiscal conservative vote. Also, his big test is that he's gained enormously after announcing, probably artificially. When people actually see him performing for an hour-and-a-half or two hours three times during the month of September, they might have second thoughts about him. And what he has to guard against is a drop that would deflate his momentum and have people feel that he's a has-been.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me turn now to Representative Bachmann, who -- who won the straw poll in Iowa. And now from what you say, she has to worry about Governor Perry trying to steal her religious vote. I mean, now she's got someone who's new to the race and is going to try to rip off those votes, essentially. What is her strategy? How does she hang onto them? And how does she -- you know, what's her path to the nomination?

MORRIS: Well, she's also fighting a two-front war. On the one hand, as you said, she's fighting against Perry for the evangelical vote. But then she's fighting against the candidate who isn't there, Sarah Palin, who may well announce on September 3rd in Iowa. And if she does, she's going to be in all three of the debates in September.

And what Bachmann has to do vis-a-vis Palin is she has to preserve that charisma, that feistiness, that originality, that iconoclastic approach that has been so effective in the two debates so far, but at the same time, show that she's more substantive, better informed, more experienced and better educated than Palin. That's going to be a tough mission for her.

She also has to focus on Iowa. She needs to win Iowa. And the latest Iowa poll taken just yesterday shows Perry at 24, Bachmann at 22, Romney at 19, essentially a three-way tie. And Bachmann has got -- now that Pawlenty is out, she's got Iowa to herself and she's got to win that.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, if she -- it seems like she is sort of an easier sale in South Carolina than -- that she would be in New Hampshire. The New Hampshire political base seems much different. The Republican in New Hampshire seems different than Iowa and South Carolina. Am I right? And if so, how does she try to beat Governor Romney there?

MORRIS: Well, first of all, if she hits -- it's like one of these hurricanes. If she hits New Hampshire as a Category 4 because she wins Iowa, she could be very strong in New Hampshire, probably not enough to beat Romney, but maybe enough for a second place finish. The problem in South Carolina is that she's running against a regional candidate, a Southerner with the right kind of accent, in Rick Perry, and a lot of evangelical convictions. So she better win in Iowa to be able to survive past South Carolina.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Governor Romney -- he's now got -- the new business guy. He's got to compete now, as you said, with Governor Perry, who just joined the race two weeks ago. Now he's got to worry about Governor Romney trying to steal his business votes. He's got -- Romney -- I mean, Perry's got the whole business about all the job growth in the state of Texas, and he's also hammering Governor Romney about Massachusetts health care.

So how does he make -- what is his path to victory?

MORRIS: Well, what Romney has to do is to inject a brand-new idea into this race, which is to say, What do you want, a governor who presided over the creation of jobs in his state or a businessman who actually got his hands dirty and knows how to create jobs? Merely having a president where it happened on his watch -- or a governor where it happened on his watch -- and he had general policies that encouraged it -- is not enough.

You need to understand the specifics of business, what businessmen need, what their concerns are, how they react to market uncertainty, how they need financing, a thousand details that I know because I did it, and he doesn't know because all he did was watch it happen. And he's got to sell that concept.

VAN SUSTEREN: Governor Palin, should she decide to get in the race -- and nobody knows. We all ask every time she's on the air. What does she do to a path to victory?

MORRIS: Well, Palin has a unique problem. It's not that voters don't like her. They love her in the Republican primary. It's not that they don't think she's qualified. In the Republican primary, they largely do. It's that they don't think other people think she's qualified or other people think they would vote for her.

So her problem is that Republicans are determined to elect someone who can win. And of all the candidates, she runs the worst against Obama in the polls. And if she were to get into the race, all of the media would come down on her like a ton of bricks because that's what they do for a living. And she would have a tough time dealing with that not because she has to prove her innocence. She's already done that with Republican voters. But because she has to prove that she can survive the flak and still win.

And especially when there's a softer option there in Bachmann, who hasn't had that kind of garbage and hasn't had those personal attacks yet. Voters might well, want to go with her. So I hope that Sarah does not get in. I do not think she can win. And I think she's lose the women's primary to Bachmann. And I don't think her political stature will recover from that.

VAN SUSTEREN: What if she gets in and she -- at the debates and she surprises -- I mean, that she just, you know, takes the debates by storm and everyone says that, you know, that, quote, she "won" the debate? Does that change things for her?

MORRIS: Well, that would make a big difference. But again, the concern that the Republican voters have is not that she's not good, but that she can't win. And she would need to produce some national poll numbers that show her beating Obama. Right now, you have Romney and Perry and Bachmann all either tied or ahead of Obama. And she'd have to join that club to assuage the fears of the Republican primary voters on that score.

VAN SUSTEREN: Would it make a difference, though -- I mean, she's -- I mean, people -- she's polling these numbers without being in the race. And I -- so I think -- you know, I think a lot of people don't think she's going to run. I don't know if she is or not, but would it -- does it make a difference if she's actually in the race?

MORRIS: Yes, it does in a positive way because she'll be in the debates. She'll be able to speak out. She'll be on the talk shows and all of that. But also in a negative sense because the media loves to hate Sarah Palin. She's an existential threat to the Democratic Party because she represents Republican women, and there aren't supposed to be any of those. All women are supposed to Democrat.

And they're going to unload on her, and that's going to be a very tough for her to handle. So it helps her, but it also hurts her. One of the things it does, though, Greta, is it protects the rest of the field. Right now, everybody wants to say what's the latest bad thing about Perry or about Romney or about Bachmann? Well, if Palin gets if the race, she's like a lightning rod. She'll get all the flak, and these other folks can advance relatively unmolested.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it fair to say that she's unpredictable in the sense that, you know -- you know, we apply sot of conventional wisdom when we sort of make analysis of her, and that it's, like, you know, she's -- that we just -- with her, we just don't know?

MORRIS: Well, I think that's true. We certainly don't know that about her intentions. You're closer to her than almost anyone else, and if you don't know...

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't know.

MORRIS: ... I certainly don't know.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, Dick, I have absolutely no idea. The only (INAUDIBLE) I've asked her every time she's been on the air. I have no clue. Absolutely zero.

MORRIS: Well, you're one of the only journalists who's always fair to her, and that gives you an inside track because nobody else is.

But my basic point about her is that I think that had Bachmann not gotten into the race that there would be a lot of running room for Sarah Palin. But come on, Bachmann has a master's degree in tax law. She went to William and Mary. She sits on the Intelligence Committee in the Congress. She's been in the Congress I think for six or eight years. She's the head of the Tea Party caucus. There are a whole lot of things that she's done, and even on a personal level, all those foster kids and all of that.

And I think that to a certain extent, she can portray herself as Sarah Palin without the baggage. And it's very hard to run against someone who's sort of your double but without your negatives. And that's the problem that I think she'd face.

VAN SUSTEREN: Dick, thank you.

MORRIS: Thank you.