This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 1, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich says he is the anti-establishment candidate. Is that true? Well, he spent decades on Capitol Hill, but he is getting weak support, even public criticism from some of his former Republican colleagues. Senator Bob Dole says Gingrich was a one-man band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway. Senator Tom Coburn called Gingrich's leadership lacking. And Congressman Peter King called him undisciplined. Is that fair, or is some sour grapes from former colleagues?
Senator Lindsey Graham joins us. Nice to see you.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Good to be with you.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, he has some support from former colleagues, but he sure is being hammered from some former colleagues. You worked with him. What was he like when he was speaker?
GRAHAM: Well, when you look at his record, he accomplished things in Washington we haven't accomplished in a very long time, very productive, Welfare reform -- Welfare as we know it ended on Newt's watch -- balancing the budget, entitlement reform, and the coup. The coup was in my office, and I was one of the guys that thought Newt wasn't -- was being too cozy with Clinton and was very erratic. And he was erratic at times.
But now in 2012, after I've sat down and tried to solve hard problems like immigration, and you know, coming up with a rational energy policy -- he was trying to lead a revolution, deal with Bill Clinton, run the government from the House perspective. I think we were probably too hard on him.
VAN SUSTEREN: So are you saying that he's -- that he's not a different man in that respect in terms of that aspect of his job as speaker, but that you have a -- you have a different vantage point...
VAN SUSTEREN: ... or a different understanding? Is that...
GRAHAM: Yes, I mean, after I've tried to sit down and govern, putting together compromise on big emotional issues, it's difficult. And what he was able to accomplish with President Clinton is now viewed as pretty historic.
But he did have an erratic nature. I think...
VAN SUSTEREN: What does that mean?
GRAHAM: I think...
VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, that -- I mean, I...
GRAHAM: Well, I think...
VAN SUSTEREN: ... hear that sort of popular word. Everyone says "erratic." What -- what do they -- what do you mean?
GRAHAM: On Monday, we would say, We're not going to give a $500 tax credit to people who don't pay taxes. We're going to give tax credits to people who have a tax liability. He goes to the White House on Tuesday, and by Wednesday, we're giving a $500 tax credit to people who don't pay taxes. That was to me -- that drove us crazy to a certain extent.
But now I understand how difficult it is to put deals together. And I think I matured and I think he's mellowed, and those who underestimate Speaker Gingrich do so at their own peril. He's been dead twice. Will he come back again? I don't know.
But when you talk about conservatism, when he's on, there is no better messenger for what we believe as conservatives. And when he's not on, he's a danger to himself and others at times. But what I see with this version of Newt Gingrich is a guy who feels more comfortable with who he is.
And if you're going to change the place behind me, Washington, if you really want to make change substantial and real, somebody's got to come and rock this place because we're going nowhere quick with the current formula. So from my point of view, Newt's candidacy is OK if he stays in. I don't mind it one bit.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you used sort of the code word of some of his critics. You said he's danger or erratic. And I mean, if you're sitting out there and you're trying decide who to vote for and you hear that, you know, you really what to know what do you mean by "danger"?
GRAHAM: Well, I think -- I think President Obama is dangerous in the sense that he's able to sell policies that are not good for the country long term. But I guess what I'm saying about Newt -- why did we lose confidence in him? Because he was changing the game plan. The last group to talk him sort of won the day.
But I can't imagine his job, the first time Republicans had the Congress in 40 years, trying to lead a revolution, taking people like me who came here to burn the place down, and governed the country and deal with Bill Clinton, a good politician.
Looking back, I appreciate how hard his job was better than I did in 1997. And I'm here to say as the guy was in the coup that looking back, we were too hard on him, and if he got to be the nominee, I think he could win. The only unelectable person running in 2012 is Barack Obama. If we make it about his time in office, there's no way in hell he's going to get rehired because there's nobody in the private sector would hire this guy, given his performance.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me switch topics to Afghanistan, news tonight that we may be getting out, at least the combat action, a lot faster.
VAN SUSTEREN: You shake your head.
GRAHAM: Well, if you're trying to win a war and negotiate with the enemy, you want to do so from strength. Bringing home the troops before the second fighting season, September of this year, bringing the surge forces home, means that General Allen doesn't have the surge forces he needs to go into the east. So we shortened the 2012 fighting season and we're punishing the Taliban. If we take combat operations off the table in 2013, that's the second fighting season we've lost, and the Taliban are being punished militarily, and I hate it for these guys and gals who are taking the fight to the enemy with a bunch of politicians who change the rules.
Don't you think the Taliban will be encouraged to hear that combat operations are going to be shortened in 2013?
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I...
GRAHAM: And that we're going to withdraw all surge forces in September? This is all local politics, domestic politics, at the expense of a military strategy that I think is sound.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, you're in the military, besides being in the U.S. Senate.
VAN SUSTEREN: You've been over there a number of times. I was there with Secretary of State Clinton, and she told the women in a room -- I remember the Afghani women -- that the United States was not going to abandon them with the Taliban. And I still -- I don't -- you know, I still don't see that in the discussion.
GRAHAM: What do you think of...
VAN SUSTEREN: What about the women?
GRAHAM: What do you think they believe after hearing this announcement that we will short -- that we will not be engaged in full-blown combat operations in 2013? If we're removing the surge forces, which makes the 2012 campaign shortened and we're not going to have a robust 2013 campaign, how do you think those women feel? How do you think the Taliban feels?
VAN SUSTEREN: Think? ..
GRAHAM: How do you think the guys and gals on the front lines who are taking the fight to the enemy feel? You -- this is a civil war between Pashtuns. It will come to an end, and I want us to lead but I want us to never have to go back. So what they did in Iraq has jeopardized everything we fought for there. This is all domestic politics. There's no military commander suggesting that we pull out in September this year the surge forces. And nobody's ever suggested we shorten the fighting season in 2013!
VAN SUSTEREN: So why is the president doing this?
GRAHAM: Because I think he is trying to send signals to the domestic electorate here who's war-weary, I'm going end these wars. And here's my message to the president. We're in these wars because Afghanistan is the place where al Qaeda was welcomed as a guest of the Taliban. And wouldn't it be a real shame to after 10 years to leave the place where the Taliban could reemerge?
What I think he should do is enter into an agreement with the Afghan government, at their request, to have military bases, three or four in the country past 2014, with air power and special forces units that could defeat the Taliban in perpetuity. Then you negotiate with them, not now.
VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you. Nice to see you, sir.
GRAHAM: Thank you.