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Special Report

Challengers Take Aim at Romney 'Firing' Comments

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 9, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Governor Romney owes a ll of us a press conference where he explains what happened to the companies that went bankrupt and why did Bain make so much money out of companies that were going bankrupt?

RICK PERRY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips, whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out.

MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Things can always be taken out of context. And I understand that that's what the Obama people will do. But as you know, I was speaking about insurance companies and the need to be able to make a choice, and my comments entirely reflected that discussion, which is we should be able to choose the insurance company of our choice. We should not have to have one foisted upon us by the president and Obamacare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Governor Romney talking about not only the Obama administration but his fellow opponents. Here is Governor Huntsman saying "Governor Romney enjoys firing people, I enjoy creating jobs. It may be that he's slightly out of touch with the economic reality playing out in America, and that's a dangerous place for someone to be."

This whole back and forth was a comment that was made in a discussion about health insurance in which Governor Romney said that he likes to have the ability to fire people providing him services in the context of health insurance, he says, and not only Republican candidates but the Democrats jumped all over this today.

Let's start with the New Hampshire polls, the latest before I bring in the panel. WMUR, this poll has Romney at 41 percent, Paul at 17 percent, and there you see Huntsman at 11 percent, that's WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll. Then you look at the Suffolk poll. This has Romney slipping to 33 percent, Paul at 20 percent, Huntsman at 13. And then we'll take a look at the average of polls, this has the average of all the recent polls, the Real Clear Politics average, and there you see the breakdown.

So that sets the table for us. Now let's bring in our panel, Jonah, Goldberg, at-large editor of National Review online, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard. I like to call this our goatee panel. Not you, A.B.

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: A.B., let's start with you, non-goatee, what about this attack from Romney's opponents about Bain Capital and how he operated that company?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, what is so interesting, is if he had not mentioned pink slips yesterday and then woken up today --

BAIER: Well, explain that.

STODDARD: He said I at one point myself worried about a pink slip and worried about being fired, and that caused his rivals to pounce. So did the comments, perhaps taken out of context, definitely taken out of context, about the fact that he believes as a consumer you have the right to fire someone who provides goods or services depending on their performance. And he said I like to fire people, meaning I would drop and insurance company if I wasn't pleased with it.

BAIER: Even in the context it's OK for an employer to say I like to have the ability to fire someone if they're not performing. Correct?

STODDARD: That is true. The problem is if he hadn't said those two things, it wouldn't be as easy for Governor Perry and former Governor Huntsman and others to jump on him. They're not jumping on the pro-Gingrich super PAC ad about Romney's record at Bain Capital and all the job loss. They were jumping on what he said because they would prefer to jump on his own comments.

When it comes to this battle over his record at Bain Capital which will move voters in South Carolina and might move them tomorrow here in New Hampshire, he's going to have to act swiftly and aggressively in his own defense or through the use of surrogates because this will move votes. It scares people to know that he was, you know, a private equity guy who would come in, wipe out a company and revitalize it but without the benefits, without the full time wages the previous employees enjoyed and that they were moved out of their homes, et cetera. It's very gripping, the testimony. But he has got to fight back immediately on this and ask the members of the Republican Party, who among you are going to put capitalism on trial? Just as he did at the debate on Saturday night. If he doesn't do that soon, the ads will really take a big effect.

BAIER: Perhaps Jonah, that's the reason we saw a press avail today. The first one since January 1st in Iowa.

JONAH GOLDBERG, AT LARGE EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: Right. It was the end of the "Mitt-ness protection program" or whatever they call it. I find the spectacle of the attacks on Bain -- I don't feel sorry for Romney because he plays fast and loose with some people's quotes out of context too, but it's dismaying for me to say conservatives, free market conservatives, defenders of free enterprise, attacking Bain, attacking the record of Bain, sounding like Dennis Kucinich. And if Romney is the nominee it's gonna hurt him terribly because these guys have all legitimized, what I find to be an intellectually bankrupt argument. What Bain did was not go around trying to hurt companies. It went around trying to save companies that would have died entirely. Was it better to have fewer benefits and fewer employees and a surviving company or zero benefits and zero employees at a dead company? And that's what Bain went and did.

BAIER: It has been characterized as "vulture capitalism" and there were some instances where they went into companies and unleveraged and scrapped -- let go of a lot of people. And they made a lot of money, they took it out and then that company went under eventually. But this is business. We get that, but it is a compelling story at least politically for the short term.

GOLDBERG: I think it has the potential to do a lot of damage to him. And I think what I simply find dismaying is that it is hard enough for conservatives to defend capitalism in this political climate. It is hard enough to defend capitalism in this political climate. You don't need Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and these guys going out sounding like it is outrageous to fire people or to streamline a company.

BAIER: What about this, the super PAC candidate, the difference, the firewall that's supposed to be there. You heard Newt Gingrich talking about pretty extensively what this super PAC is going to do with this 27 and a half minute presentation about Bain capital. Where is the wall there between a candidate and a super PAC?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well that's a good question, it's hard to know. And ya know, Mitt Romney did the same thing. He seemed to have at least a nodding acquaintance with what his super PAC ad was saying about Newt Gingrich. So, I think, these are -- ya know, with this new world that we live in, in campaign finance, these are among the things that we're going to have to find out and ultimately will be litigated, literally, potentially litigated.

I agree with Jonah on the nature of these attacks though. And what's interesting is if you're a conservative and you've depressed about the presidential race, you think the field hasn't been strong and you see people come up and go down, this has to be sort of the nadir of the Republican presidential election season. You have three conservatives who seem to be in it as much as to stop Mitt Romney as anything else.

Jonah is absolutely right. Mitt Romney, you can't feel sympathy for him. He claimed that Rick Perry was going to end social security. He's placed fast and loose with quotes of other people as well. And so what you have now is this scrum based on intellectually dishonest arguments, things that may or may not actually even be true. The suggestion that Mitt Romney actually likes firing people is silly, and this is what voters in New Hampshire are going to go to the polls and make decisions about.

GOLDBERG: I don't for a moment believe that Newt Gingrich believes these attacks, agrees with them. Remember Newt Gingrich was on the board or advisory board to Forsman Little, which is a leverage buyout firm that does the exact same thing as Bain. He's never been embarrassed about that.

BAIER: A.B., quickly, isn't there some other silver lining here if Romney is the nominee, that he could say he went through the fire of this time ready for the Democratic attacks, and I dealt with that months ago. This is such old news.

STODDARD: It is true. I mean, everyone said that Barack Obama in an extended primary race with Hillary Clinton would be crippled by all of the Bill Ayers stuff and everything that he had to answer for. But when you go through the fire, you're better able to come up with a response. The Democrats are drooling over this. If Mitt Romney can survive this and come up with a narrative about Bain and why he knows small businessman medium and large alike need to be protected from regulation and other Democratic policies, he's gonna be better off as a general election candidate.

HAYES: But the fact that this came from somebody who used to work for Mitt Romney, it's being launched by another Republican campaign, it will be played in the loop by the mainstream media, and the Obama administration has tremendous cover in making these arguments and distorting them even further.

BAIER: Panel, as always, thank you very much. Next up, experts from here in New Hampshire tell us what they expect in tomorrow's primary. Stay here.

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