This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," December 14, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST: We are on the eve of the biggest debate of this Republican primary season. Tomorrow night in Iowa, we will be there. The Republican presidential candidates will collide right here on the Fox News Channel. And ahead of that all-important showdown, some new polls are shaking up the GOP field. And they are showing us just how volatile this, well, nomination race really is.
First, we begin with the view from a nationwide poll where according to the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich leads Mitt Romney by a stunning 17 points. Now, they are followed by Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman.
But the story on the ground, in Iowa, very different. In a survey conducted by the left-leaning public policy polling group, Speaker Gingrich is leading by only one percentage point and surging now in to second place is Congressman Ron Paul with 21 percent of the vote. They are followed by Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.
And joining me now right here in studio with his take on all of the latest developments in 2012 race, the author of the bestseller, "Book of Man," nationally syndicated radio talk show host, friend of the program, Bill Bennett. How are you?
BILL BENNETT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Hi, Sean.
HANNITY: Last time I called you Bob. I thought you were going to kill me.
BENNETT: That's right. Yes. I don't get his rate either. Anyway, Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas.
HANNITY: That is true. Well, it's good to see you again. What do you make of Ron Paul?
BENNETT: Let me just -- can I tell one story --
HANNITY: Yes, sure. Go ahead. Absolutely.
BENNETT: -- from "The Book of Man"? Because on the ground in Iowa, as you say, there is a place, you may know the story but I got profiled in "The Book of Man." A guy Ray Sorenson, there is this huge rock in Menlo, Iowa. And it used to be used for graffiti. In the late '90s, Ray Sorenson started to paint patriotic pictures on it, Marines putting up the flag at Suribachi. This year he did the Navy SEALs.
HANNITY: I notice the Marine pen on your lapel there.
BENNETT: Yes. We have a young son who's second lieutenant Marine Corps, we're very proud. Anyway, no one touches the rock anymore because of the patriotic pictures. That is the kind of stuff that comes out of Iowa. You know, that is what I hope we'll come to see from the citizens of Iowa. What I make is, I think Ron Paul could win this, because of organization, he has put it all in to it. And he could win this. I think it's very possible that with Perry coming on a little bit, everybody says Perry is coming on a little bit. It's tightening between Romney and Gingrich that Paul slips in with 22, 23 percent.
HANNITY: Yes. And look, Paul's followers are passionate.
HANNITY: Look, all the candidates have received scrutiny. The latest one to get the most scrutiny is Newt Gingrich who has been surging in the polls.
HANNITY: Mitt Romney has had his chance, Bachmann, Perry, we know what happened to Herman Cain. One of the things I think, for example, I like the idea that Ron Paul says, we're going to -- I'd cut a trillion dollars immediately. I do not, I have a very -- I cannot reconcile with his foreign policy.
BENNETT: No. There is none.
HANNITY: But did he get a pass? He's had this newsletter in '80s and '90s and some unbelievable things written in it. You know, order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for blacks to pick up their welfare checks. Now, this was in his newsletter.
HANNITY: He says, he has no idea who put the newsletter together. No idea who wrote it. And he said, he sort of, I'm surprised when I read this, that this is not become an issue.
BENNETT: There is a way in which he is not taken seriously. And so people do not delve into details. But they should. I had a caller today say, just make him head of the Federal Reserve and be done with it.
Look, there is no foreign policy. There's no commander in chief. Because his notion of foreign policy is impossible. There is also other stuff. Conspiracy theories about 9/11 and so on.
So, the candidacy isn't going anywhere, except if he wins Iowa. And the reason that could be important obviously, he leaves things undecided. But he may then get a big hit and decide after several more states that he's going to go in to be a third party candidate. And then you're giving the election to Barack Obama.
HANNITY: Listen. Ron Paul does that, he splits the anti-Obama vote. And he will single-handedly, be responsible for the re-election of Obama which you would think is the very thing that he doesn't want.
BENNETT: And I hope the myopia is not such that he thinks these other guys are just like Barack Obama because they're all big government.
HANNITY: That's what he said -- look, he called me Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin statists.
HANNITY: And I had him on our radio program, I confronted him on it, and on this TV show I confronted him on it.
BENNETT: Well, if you guys are statists --
HANNITY: Yes, we're in trouble.
BENNETT: -- there's a problem.
HANNITY: I have been called a lot of things.
BENNETT: Yes. Socialist Hannity.
HANNITY: All right. So, explain to me as you look at Newt and Romney, who is going to take that battle. I mean, Newt's winning in Iowa over Romney. Romney is winning by a big margin now, new poll out today in New Hampshire. Romney is winning in New Hampshire. Newt is winning in South Carolina and Florida.
BENNETT: I think Newt may well finish ahead of Romney in Iowa. I think Romney will finish ahead of Newt in New Hampshire. And I think it goes further. Remember, we have proportional representation. But taking the big picture, let's remember what we want this election to be about. We want this election to be about big issues. The big questions, the questions before the country right now. And mainly, what Barack Obama has done to this country. We do not want it to be about personalities. We do not want it to be about --
HANNITY: But it is getting personal. I mean, Romney and Newt have been going at it now. There's been a back and forth. We saw it a little bit in Saturday night's debate. I would expect tomorrow night right here it's probably going to be pretty explosive.
BENNETT: Oh, it's going to be rough. It's going to be very rough. But when we get to the general, what's the general going to be about. And I think the biggest weakness Newt has, is that we don't want the general election to be about his idiosyncrasies, whether he's the new Newt or the old Newt. And there will be Newt stories. There will be endless Newt stories. I like Newt. I think he's a fountain of ideas and I think he's a meteor (ph). But I also think that it will be about him. I also don't think he can beat Barack Obama. I wish Mitt Romney had a better conservative history, had a better record. But I think right now, he's a better candidate.
HANNITY: You are endorsing Romney?
BENNETT: I'm not endorsing Romney.
HANNITY: Then your analysis is Romney should be the nominee?
BENNETT: Well, I think Rick Santorum is probably the closest to my views and I think actually Jon Huntsman when it comes to the economy has the most conservative economic policy. National Review had an editorial which they said very much the same thing. But I think right now, as you match up with Barack Obama, and it is Barack Obama who must be defeated, you tell me who defeats Barack Obama and I probably will --
HANNITY: Let me ask you this. What is it -- because you are critical of Newt. What is it that you fear? Because you worked for a guy by name of Ronald Reagan.
BENNETT: That's right.
HANNITY: Reagan wasn't leading in the polls until September of 1980 when he won election against Jimmy Carter. Running against I think somebody with not quite as bad a record as Obama. He has a record also with the contract, helped balance budgets, get surpluses and welfare as we know it. Welfare reform. What is it that you fear? Do you not think he's changed? Do you not buy that?
BENNETT: That is correct.
HANNITY: You don't think he has changed?
BENNETT: I think he has changed some. I think he is a good grandfather, I expect he is a faithful husband. But I think the idiosyncrasy of the ideas, the grandiosity of the ideas, the accusation on Romney. Now, I know they both do it, but the accusation on Romney the other day, about Bain Capital, that when he went to Bain Capital, they were destroying jobs.
HANNITY: I asked him. He said he was joking.
He said -- well, that is what he said. I played it for him. Well, but he also said he is not going to fall into that trap. He's going to go positive and that he felt he got sucked in because he was attacked by Romney. I'm just telling you what the narrative --
BENNETT: Newt has more ideas in a day than most people have in their lifetime, but a lot of them don't touch the ground. They're too grandiose. I have known Newt very, very well for a long time. Newt has to be the smartest guy in the room. It's very, very important to him. George Washington didn't have to be. Ronald Reagan didn't have to be. Abraham Lincoln didn't. Newt has to be.
HANNITY: Do you think -- you're saying his ego's too big for him?
BENNETT: I think the election is going to be about Newt if Newt is a candidate. That is my worry. Not about the big ideas. Not about what Barack Obama has done.
HANNITY: Is it worry or is it something that -- obviously these polls are pretty significant. If he gets the nomination, do you think he has the potential to be a good president, a great president?
BENNETT: Well, yes. In a sense that almost everybody there has the potential to be that. What you're asking me is predict. I have to base it on the guy I know, and the guy I know I like. I think he's full of ideas, but I think a lot of those ideas don't make any sense. A lot of those ideas frankly are --
HANNITY: What ideas don't you like?
BENNETT: -- leftist ideas. You know, obviously, the Pelosi thing which he wanted to disown.
HANNITY: He said was stupid.
BENNETT: Right. The attack on Romney. I think a lot of his stuff about education doesn't make any sense at all. I've talked to him about it. The business of attacking Paul Ryan was as I said before, almost unforgivable. He now says, that was a mistake. But then the other day he said, no, actually I think I was right the first time. There is an inconsistency there that's very, very troubling. We want a steadiness.
HANNITY: Is that also one of the main charges against Mitt in fairness?
BENNETT: Yes, it is one of the main charges against Mitt. But the main charge against Mitt, I think is not so much inconsistency as insufficiency. Insufficient conservatism. But you know, it's a center right country. It's not a hard right country, and by the way, I think Newt is not a hard right guy. I think his ideas are all over the map as I've said. But I think it's a center right country and I think we want to put someone up there who is going to beat Barack Obama and where the campaign is going to be on the issues, not on the personality.
HANNITY: I think this process is healthy.
HANNITY: I think the American people have followed it. They've made adjustments. Tomorrow night I think is a big night I believe because I think that narrative will carry through the Christmas holiday and then we're right into the caucuses after.
BENNETT: People will take a good hard look. The people of Iowa will, you know, give it a lot of scrutiny. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. And that's what we're putting on now, a lot of sunlight.
HANNITY: All right. By the way, I love "The Book of Man." It's a great book. And good luck to you. And a great Christmas.
BENNETT: Thank you very much. Merry Christmas.
Content and Programming Copyright 2011 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2011 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.