Is Newt Gingrich Emerging as Alternative to Mitt Romney?

New poll puts GOP presidential hopeful in second place


This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," November 11, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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JUAN WILLIAMS, GUEST HOST: In the "Impact" segment tonight: interesting results from a brand-new Republican primary poll. According to the latest McClatchy-Marist poll, 23 percent of Republicans support Mitt Romney; Newt Gingrich is in second place with 19 percent support; and Herman Cain stands at 17 percent, running third; Rick Perry is at eight percent. Is Newt Gingrich emerging as the alternative now to Mitt Romney?

Joining us to discuss this: from Long Island is Chris Hahn, a former aide to Senator Chuck Schumer; and with us Dee Dee Benkie, a member of the Republican National Committee. Dee Dee, are you surprised to see Newt Gingrich emerging in this way?

DEE DEE BENKIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Not at all. Newt Gingrich is always the smartest guy in the room. He's a walking encyclopedia, a walking Library of Congress. And you know he's been doing a wonderful job and people really like the fact that he gives the press a hard time. I actually think he should be the White House press secretary because every day it would be a fun show for him to give the press a hard time. And no, he's really fantastic.

WILLIAMS: You know, but remember, Republicans did not like it when he's talked about Republican or right-wing social engineering with regards to Paul Ryan's budget. Then there was a whole business about Tiffany's and the wife and his own staff fled from him.


WILLIAMS: So Dee Dee, I am wondering is that really -- is it really the case that people have forgotten it?

BENKIE: I think he has emerged though. He was sort of the grumpy old man to begin with but you know he's softened up and I think that he has warmed up to everyone. And he is just doing better and better with each debate. And people really want someone who understands government. He has an institutional knowledge like no one else and very, very impressive.

WILLIAMS: All right. Well Chris, I am just wondering, are Democrats sticking out there licking their chops saying, oh, yes, bring on Gingrich?

HAHN: I think he is Obama's dream. Let's not forget, he's one of the most divisive figures in American political history. His reign as speaker of the House was very negative. The Republicans themselves forced him out. And let's not forget: Republican voters value social values over anything else and Newt Gingrich has a lot of flaws in that areas. And remember, Mitt Romney -- his campaign is basically being run by someone who made his living in opposition research, and I'm sure they've got a book a mile wide on Mr. Gingrich.

WILLIAMS: Oh, so Dee Dee, what Chris is saying is he thinks Republicans will take out Newt before Obama even gets close to him.

BENKIE: Well look, any one of the three that you've mentioned are way better than Barack Obama and will beat Barack Obama. I think Barack Obama is going to have the same problem as President Bush 41: "It's the economy stupid." James Carville is right. The economy is so bad, it doesn't matter if Barack Obama deserves it or not, he's going to lose.


HAHN: Well, it matters if you've got a guy like Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich, who the American people just don't trust. I mean Mitt Romney, they don't know which one they are going to get with him. And Newt Gingrich, he's…

BENKIE: Well gosh, you know, I'd would rather have a flip -- a little bit of a flip-flop than just a total flop.

HAHN: A little bit?

BENKIE: Because the economy -- a little bit -- and Obama is a total flop. I mean, the economy is just a total disaster. He is going to lose -- there is no way he can win.

HAHN: You know…

BENKIE: I mean, his polling is what counts. He's under 50 percent at that point.

WILLIAMS: Well, Chris, Chris, go right ahead?

HAHN: You know, Dee Dee, I mean Mitt Romney makes Jimmy Buffett look like he wear shoes -- he's flipping and flopping so much. He's all over the map on the issues. And I -- I think that's going to hurt him in the general. It's hurting him right now. He's been stuck at 23 percent with Republican primary voters for a year. Republican -- Republican voters value consistency and Mitt has not been consistent.

WILLIAMS: All right, let me -- let me just go -- let me just ask the two of you, though. When you look at this -- you look at Gingrich's rise, he is getting votes that were going to Herman Cain. He is getting some votes…

HAHN: Right.

WILLIAMS: …also from Mitt Romney. And so it's as if he is pulling this together. It's coming out as some out of the establishing caucus but also some out of the Tea Party anti-establishment Republican ranks. So Chris, when you look at this, do you think, hey, wait a second, we may be seeing a mind meld take place among the Republicans. This maybe the candidate that brings the two sides together, in which case you're dealing with a momentary phenomenon that you really can't anticipate where it's going and how big it's going to grow?

BENKIE: Yeah, and there are so many people running. Go ahead, Chris.

HAHN: Well, you know, put aside what I said a minute ago. Really the timing is right for Gingrich. He is peaking at the right time. I think he is the alternative to Mitt. He looks to me a lot like John McCain did. Again, I think he's a very flawed candidate in a general election. But who knows? I could see him winning Iowa. He's not going to win New Hampshire, and then it's anybody's game after that. But I think that in the end, Romney's the most electable of the group. And I think Republicans value beating Obama more than anything else. So they are probably going to turn to Romney at the end of the day. But I could see Newt winning Iowa.

WILLIAMS: All right. Wait, wait, hold on. Dee Dee, you heard that description from Chris. And Chris is saying, you know what? Nobody's going to beat Obama. But you can see them turning from Romney to Newt?

BENKIE: Well, the primary election is so different from the general. I'm an "anybody but Obama" person. So I am all for Mitt Romney. And I think him holding on with that percentage is a good thing. Why is that a bad thing? There are several other candidates running, so for him to hang on to that percentage I think is a big accomplishment for Mitt Romney. But Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, they are all going to beat Barack Obama. So any of them would be fantastic.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know…

HAHN: But Dee Dee and Juan.

WILLIAMS: Go ahead, Chris.

HAHN: You know, I mean, when he's been stuck at 23 percent for so long, when he's been clearly winning these debates. He's the class of that stage. He looks like a guy who you would look up to in general casting to make the presidential candidate. He has worked hard. He's raised more money. He's been everywhere…

WILLIAMS: And he's stuck. He's stuck at -- all right. We get that idea. Let me ask the two of you for quick comments on two other candidates right now. Rick Perry, down in single digits. He's had a very rough time, as you know. Is Rick Perry done, Dee Dee?

BENKIE: Absolutely. I don't see how in the world he can recover from this. And the strategy for the last 24 hours is terrible. He should have been talking about veterans, military and his strengths, instead he was on "David Letterman."

WILLIAMS: All right. Chris?

HAHN: He needed a flawless performance at the debate. He failed miserably. It's over for him. He should get out of the race before he damages the other Republicans.

WILLIAMS: All right. Dee Dee, I saw a poll today that indicated now half of the female support among Republican women for Herman Cain has gone away; that's what is the cause of his drop in the polls although he has the lead in some. You, as a Republican woman, are you having trouble with these allegations?

BENKIE: I feel bad for Herman Cain. I think that he's been treated very unfairly. And I stand by Herman Cain. These allegations are unfounded and I don't believe it.

WILLIAMS: Well, I hope you are right.

BENKIE: I think he's been terribly mistreated.

WILLIAMS: And Chris, do you think Herman Cain is done? Or do you think he's going to come back again?

HAHN: I always thought he was -- I never thought he was a serious candidate to begin with. I always referred to him as the Max Bialystock of the field.

WILLIAMS: Yes. But he looks pretty good for a guy who is not a serious candidate, Chris. He's doing pretty good.

BENKIE: Cain is able.

HAHN: Well, you know, I think worse than the problem -- thanks for having us, Juan.

WILLIAMS: All right. Thanks.

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