OTR Interviews

Is It Appropriate for Donald Trump to Moderate a GOP Presidential Debate?

Is controversy over 'The Donald's' fitness to moderate the debate a distraction to the White House race?


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 5, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight: Going for the gold! Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich takes his surging campaign to Trump Tower. The prize at stake, Donald Trump's endorsement.


QUESTION: Mr. Speaker...


QUESTION: ... GOP presidential candidates.


QUESTION: Did you ask for his endorsement?

GINGRICH: Not yet. He's got to do this debate.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, why is it that the GOP presidential candidates all come to see Mr. Trump (INAUDIBLE)

GINGRICH: Why wouldn't you?

QUESTION: Well, I mean, what is it? Is it like an audience?

GINGRICH: No. Look, I -- I think -- some of this -- I want to pick up with something Herman Cain said a while back. Sometimes we have to get a certain sense of humor in politics. "The Donald" has had the number one show in the country, OK? He is a genuine American icon in his own right. Why wouldn't you want to come out and hang out with him?

DONALD TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: It was a great honor to have Newt up here. It's amazing how well he's doing and how it's really resonated with so many people.

GINGRICH: Donald Trump is a great showman. He's also a great businessman. If we're trying to figure out how to create jobs, I think one of the differences between my party and the other party is we actually go to people who know how to create jobs to figure out how to create jobs. And so when I was asked whether or not I'd be willing to be in that kind of debate, I automatically said yes.


VAN SUSTEREN: Well, Speaker Gingrich may be courting Donald Trump, but he is blasting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Congressman Pelosi threatened to dish dirt about Gingrich from a House ethics probe in the 1990s. She told a reporter, One of these days, we'll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich. I know a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year, a thousand pages of his stuff.

Gingrich fired back.


GINGRICH: First of all, I want to thank Speaker Pelosi for what I regard as an early Christmas gift.

QUESTION: And what's that?

GINGRICH: Well, if she's suggesting she's going to use material that she developed while she was on the Ethics Committee, that is a fundamental violation of the rules of the House, and I would hope that members would immediately file charges against her the second she does it.

I think it tells you how capriciously political that committee was that she was on it. It tells you how tainted the outcome was that she was on it. And I think what she said to you today should -- should explain a great deal about what happened in the ethics process when Nancy Pelosi was at the heart of it and is now prepared to totally abuse the House process.

So I regard it as a useful education to the American people to see -- to see what a tainted political ethics operation Nancy Pelosi was engaged in, and I would hope the House will immediately condemn her if she uses any material that was gathered while she was on the Ethics Committee because it would be a total violation of the committee.


VAN SUSTEREN: A busy day for the current GOP front-runner. How will it all impact the race? Karl Rove joins us. Good evening, Karl. And boy, what a firestorm between Leader Pelosi and former Speaker Gingrich. It almost looks like she thinks he's the candidate, the nominee, while the Obama campaign is focused on Governor Romney.

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR/FORMER BUSH SENIOR ADVISER: Yes, look, she clearly dislikes the former speaker, two former speakers who don't like each other. But he -- the Speaker Gingrich is absolutely right. If Nancy Pelosi were to take the private hearings of the Ethics Committee and draw on that material to make political charges against Newt, she would be in violation of House rules and ought to be sanctioned immediately.

And it would show the essential political nature of the Ethics Committee process and would ill serve the House and ill serve the country. You know, if she gets her wish and Newt Gingrich becomes the Republican nominee and she does this, she'll be doing him a great favor and the country a great disservice by doing this.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I'm not sure whether or not -- I mean, she hasn't done it, or at least not yet. She hasn't done it. I'm not so sure how much she's sort of trying sort of, you know, do a little saber-rattling and sort of the political game that, you know, we spectators think is a little rough around the edges.

ROVE: Well, with all due respect, if I say I think I'm going to rob a bank but I haven't robbed it yet, that still means I've got the intent to rob the bank. She has -- she has announced her intention to violate the rules of the House, the rules that govern the Ethics Committee, and subject herself to being in a place where she could be sanctioned. So I mean, she may not have robbed the bank yet, but simply announcing that she's interested in robbing the bank doesn't mean that it's OK.

VAN SUSTEREN: See, I -- what I think has been problematic (INAUDIBLE) is not that she's messing with his head with that, but that she's saying that she's in a position to have confidential information. And boy, there's a whole lot of stuff...

ROVE: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... there, is the insinuation. So even if it never goes one step further, it's just sort of like, I really know, and boy, it's really bad. I think that's the problem.

ROVE: Well, there's a word for that. It's called sleazy. And we just saw the former speaker do that and she shouldn't be doing it.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, let's move to another topic, the Trump debate. Two people, Huntsman and Paul, have said no, and Bachmann's in, Santorum's in and Gingrich is in. If you were running a campaign for one of these -- any candidate for this, would you say get in or get out of this debate?

ROVE: Well, they're all going to get stuck going to it. But to me, this is weird. On "Hannity" earlier tonight, Trump, in an interview, said, in essence, he's already leaning toward somebody. He's not going to say who he's leaning to. So how can we have any confidence he's going to be impartial in his questions?

And he's also announced that he may run yet next May. It depends on - - he said on an earlier program it depends whether or not his program gets taken back up by NBC. So we got a guy who is not only saying, I'm already -- I'm going to make a decision about who I'm going to endorse based on this -- shortly after this debate, and I'm already leaning some way, and I may run myself, and we expect him to be the impartial moderator of this debate?

Could you imagine what would happen if MSNBC was hosting the debate and the moderator said, Well, I'm going to endorse one of the Republican candidates after this debate?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, we had the...

ROVE: Everybody...

VAN SUSTEREN: But we had that a little bit...

ROVE: ... would say, We're not showing up.

VAN SUSTEREN: But we had a little bit of that. I remember Gwen Ifill had a book coming out on President Obama, and she was a moderator for the presidential debate, and it made a big difference...

ROVE: And all -- absolutely. And all heck broke loose because of it.


ROVE: And I'm just saying this is even worse. I mean, Ifill...

VAN SUSTEREN: I think people...

ROVE: ... hid the book. She -- you know...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it was in Time magazine. She didn't exactly hide it. But the point -- but everyone had an opportunity to examine her questions to see whether they were fair. And once she performed her job, there weren't any complaints. It was just sort of a lot of, you know, people were upset beforehand.

ROVE: Yes. Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: And people -- and -- when -- her book had been in Time magazine.

ROVE: Yes. You mentioned questions. Let's talk about that for a second. Is Mr. Trump going to ask the candidates whether they agree with him that Barack Obama was not born in the United States?

Is he going to ask them if they agree with him that what we ought to do is tax Chinese imports 25 percent, setting off a trade war? Today he said trade war would be a good thing. Let's ask and see if all the candidates agree with him on that. Does -- do the Republican candidates are with him that all we need to do is tell the Saudis we're not paying the world oil price? Do they agree with him that George W. Bush was, quote, "evil," end quote, and that Nancy Pelosi was, quote, "great," end quote?

These are the kind of questions we might have from Mr. Trump. These are all views of his. Let's see if he has wide agreement among the Republicans.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I don't know if he's going to be asking questions or not. I don't know if he's going to be moderating or not. I do think -- I do think...

ROVE: He's moderating the debate. He's moderating the debate.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean whether he's -- whether he's moderating or he's going to ask questions, I mean. I do think that the -- I do think it's -- the American people are smart enough to know if it's a loaded question or not, like do you -- a question being loaded like, Do you agree with me on whatever it is. But I -- I don't -- I'm...

ROVE: Well, that's not a loaded -- that's not a loaded -- that's not a loaded -- that's not a loaded question. That's him saying, Here's my view. What's your view? I mean, look, I mean, this is not a newsman. This is not somebody who's going to sit down and meticulously prepare for this, like a Bret Baier would do or some of these other anchors would do. This is a guy who is an active actor in this. He's already indicated he's leaning towards endorsing somebody.

You know, he could do a lot of damage to somebody, and I suspect it's not going to be to the candidate that he's leaning towards. This is a man who says himself that he is going to run -- potential run for the president of the United States starting next May. Why do we have that person moderating a debate?

Now, he's associated himself with a first-rate news organization, Newsmax, good group, puts out a terrific magazine, has a wonderful set of programming. But let's not kid ourselves. This is all about Donald Trump. And I just think it's odd.

And as I say, it doesn't matter. Everybody's going to -- it's December 27th, so everybody's going to have to bust up their holidays and go down and go to Iowa and do this debate. And I suspect most of the candidates, the rest of the candidates will get stuck going, but I just think it's weird.

VAN SUSTEREN: In light of where we are and what you think, and the state of affairs (INAUDIBLE) and let me get back to the original question. If you were advising a candidate at this point -- he's going to have this debate on the 27th and he's going to have at least three candidates show up. It's going to get a lot of attention, a lot of exposure, probably people watch it who ordinarily might not watch that number, would you advise your candidate to go or not go?

ROVE: Well, I think -- I think, as I said several times before, I think they're all going to end up going except the couple who've said that they're not going to go. I'm not certain how dispositive it's going to be. I would suspect this will have the smallest viewership of any one of the debates this year.

It's on Ion, which is not as -- as -- it doesn't have the viewership of a Fox or a CNN or a CNBC or any of these others. So it's going to be the smallest watched debate in the cycle, and it's going to (INAUDIBLE) and it's going to -- on the 27th of December. I mean, people are still going to be digesting their turkeys and playing with their new toys.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. The Iowa polls certainly show a different picture, a bleak picture for three candidates, for Ron Paul -- or for Bachmann, at least, and Santorum. They're down at the bottom. Do you think that the American media, the pundits, are underestimating Ron Paul, Congresswoman Bachmann -- Congressman Ron Paul, Congresswoman Bachmann and Senator Rick Santorum for this Iowa caucus?

ROVE: Well, they could be underestimating Santorum and Bachmann, who have the advantage of, in Santorum's case, of having visited every one of the counties in Iowa and been a constant presence and developed a lot of personal friendships as a result, and Bachmann, who was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and represents an adjoining state. They could be.

I do know they're underestimating Ron Paul. Look, Ron Paul is going to be well organized. His people are going to come out, whether it's rain, shine, snow or not. And we saw this four years ago. In fact, the key example was Missouri. In Missouri, I think Ron Paul ran a distant fifth and the primary was won by McCain. Yet the delegates were elected by, in essence, not the primary, they were committed by the primary, but the delegates themselves were elected in congressional and state conventions, and the Ron Paul people came within a handful of votes of sweeping the delegation.

Now, they would have been obligated to go and vote for McCain for a certain number of delegates, but they would have been Ron Paul people. And this is a caucus, not a primary. There'll be -- probably one quarter of the people who turn out in a normal mid-term gubernatorial primary in the state of Iowa, will turn out and vote in the caucuses. So the organization and passion of his Libertarian flock is going to matter.

And remember, Iowa's a state with a strong isolationist strain going back over 100 years, and that's going to help him, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, ordinarily, I don't think that endorsements are that potent. They give you sort of an -- I mean, people pay attention to them because you get sort of media attention and maybe get a little money bounce from them. I don't think they're that potent. But I did -- I was struck by the fact that Governor Sununu, who is a Governor Romney surrogate and has endorsed him in New Hampshire, has said rather bold -- rather -- I don't know, he -- well, let me tell you what he said about Speaker Gingrich. He said he's inconsistent, erratic, untrustworthy and unprincipled.

And I'm trying to think how that will play out in the state of New Hampshire where he was the governor.

ROVE: Yes. Well, it depends on -- you know, when you get an endorsement from somebody, it helps you with most of their friends and hurts you with all of their enemies. So the question is how many people, you know, fall in what category for Governor Sununu.

But the other point is, is that his statement was based upon not just simply, I like Newt -- or excuse me -- I like Mitt or I dislike Newt, but he was very specific about it and he touched a vein. You saw this this Sunday when Senator Tom Coburn, who served in the House with Newt, raised some questions about it.

But you know, look, right now, these are -- that's all out on the edges. There's a Newt mania going on right now in Iowa, and The Des Moines Register poll showed that he is the front-runner there. He is -- if the election were today, he would come in first.

The one problem he faces is, is that it may raise expectations too high for him in Iowa. And you know, he's got to temper those expectations because he really just -- he opened his first headquarters there.

You know, organization does matter in a state like that. You can't simply win on momentum alone. You can't certainly stretch your vote to as big as it ought to be. You need the -- you need the incremental additional support that gets generated by having county organizations and precinct organizations and people saying to their friends and neighbors, I'm helping Newt, will you come out and help me, too?

And this will -- you know, where he is in the polls may not end up being where he is. He'll still -- likely to run first if he's anywhere near where he is today. But having an organization helps you stretch that number high, and not having an organization causes that number to fall a little bit.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, he has a new ad out they started running with the white picket fences, stars and stripes. He doesn't take a whack at the president. He doesn't take a whack at his competitors for the Republican nomination. And I'm sort of curious, sort of looking back -- and I don't remember him taking a strike at any of his colleagues, Republican colleagues who are also seeking the nomination. I know he's had a dust-up with Congresswoman Bachmann. But I'm trying to think, you know, has -- has he -- he been aggressive towards his colleagues in this at all?

ROVE: No, not unreasonably so. But look, he did take a whack at Governor Romney last week after saying he was not going to do so. He did take a whack in an interview saying that he was more conservative than Romney and that we should not nominate somebody whose views were prone to change and who is undependable. So I mean, he took a pretty explicit whack at him.

But look, that's what it's about. We're not -- that's not unfair. That's not unreasonable, entirely within the bounds of fairness. And you know, I suspect we'll see tougher language on the part of all the candidates towards each other. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. It didn't hurt the Democrats to have a very tough contest within a certain bounds that lasted all the way to June in 2008.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, here -- it's interesting that Governor Romney has taken, at least -- at least now and are -- tonight he said something about President Obama and his vacation, so his attention is a little bit at President Obama. Let's listen to that sound bite.


MITT ROMNEY, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... going off for 17 days in Hawaii. He'll be playing a lot of golf. He told Congress that they need to stay in session and pass his tax break for the payroll tax and that they shouldn't leave for vacation until they did that. And yet he's going off for 17 days for golf in the sun. And I just think it's time to have a president whose idea of being hands-on does not meaning getting a better grip on the golf club.


VAN SUSTEREN: It's sort of interesting, Karl, is that Governor Romney is going after the president. That's the first question. The second, you know, is it a fair criticism he's going off to Hawaii for a Christmas vacation of 17 days?

ROVE: Yes. I thought it was a good line there, particularly, you know, the hands-on president doesn't mean you're getting a better golf grip. So I thought that was good. Seventeen days does seem a little excessive. I mean, I don't begrudge the president having a vacation during the holidays, but you know, you'd think he would be able to stick around until the 21st or the 22nd or the -- and then head off and then come pack the 2nd or 3rd.

But the interesting thing is I think Governor Romney has it right. We don't have a budget yet. We've got this battle over the payroll tax. And the president is saying, You guys stick at it and get it done. And when you do, FedEx it out to me in Hawaii and I'll stop in between golf matches and sign it. I mean, that's -- that's -- if it's important, stick around and get it done, Mr. President.

VAN SUSTEREN: Isn't it, though, in part that it's sort of almost a PR mistake, is like, we see him too often playing golf when on these vacations, presidents do work. They do get briefed every day. But what comes out of this White House is sort of the impression that there isn't any work on the vacation, when there is for these presidents.

ROVE: Yes. Yes, no, and look, remember, we had a couple of bad experiences on this. He was off on vacation when we had the underwear bomber. He was off on vacation at Martha's Vineyard this summer when the job -- when the economy looked like it was deteriorating, and he upped and said out of nowhere, I'm going to have a second jobs bill. Well, you remember the announcement was when he was at Martha's Vineyard.

And I'm sure there was no preparation done in advance with the Democratic leadership on the Hill. In fact, I suspect there were people over at the OMB and the Council of Economic Advisers inside the White House that said, What? What jobs plan are we laying out?

So the president has a tendency when he gets off on these vacations not to be, you know, as on top of it as much as he should. Remember the underwear bomber? We had -- we had, you know, several days before we finally heard from the president on that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, thank you.

ROVE: Thanks, Greta.