This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 23, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm a guy who has live d in the world of business. If you don't balance your budget in business you go out of business. So I've lived balancing budgets.
RICK SANTORUM, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you look at my record on spending, I'm taking on entitlements, never having voted for appropriation bill increase. You look at my record of never having raised taxes.
GINGRICH: I think that the fact is that the American public are really desperate to find somebody who can solve real problems.
RON PAUL, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just recently there was a poll in Iowa and it matched all the four of us up against Obama. Guess what? I did the very best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The debate, last night, Mesa, Arizona, there were four positive sound bites from each of the candidates. But a large portion of that debate was going after each other, and specifically ganging up at times on former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. We're back with the panel. Thoughts on the debate and the fallout, Bill?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I'm not sure it changed much -- I think there was a lot of sniping at each other, but actually they don't disagree much on fundamental issues. What was striking is how socially conservative Mitt Romney sounded, I thought, and how basically entitlement reform, curbing spending, they can snipe at each other's past record. Rick Santorum wasn't tough enough in the Senate or Mitt Romney wasn't good enough as governor. But going forward, I think they make a reasonably conservative alternative to President Obama.
BAIER: Federal funding for contraception came up, Title 10 funding. There was an exchange, take a quick listen.
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SANTORUM: As Congressman Paul knows I oppose Title 10 funding. I've always opposed Title 10 funding, but it's included a larger appropriation bill that includes a whole host of other things including the funding for the National Institutes of Health, the funding for Health and Human Services, and a whole bunch of other departments, a multibillion dollar bill.
PAUL: This demonstrates the problem that I'm talking about. There is always an excuse to do this.
ROMNEY: Senator, I just saw a YouTube clip of you being interviewed, where you said you personally opposed contraceptives but that you said that you voted for Title 10. You said this in a positive light, "I voted for Title 10."
SANTORUM: I think I was making it clear that while I have a personal, moral objection to it, even though I don't support it, that I voted for bills that included it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: That was a firing line there, Chuck?
CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Poor Rick Santorum, he sounded a little bit too much like John Kerry back in 2004 saying I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it. Remember that? He is in the same trap that you can always put a senator in, which is tying them to every little vote they took, and they take countless votes. Santorum is getting nailed for doing something that's normal in our Senate, which is, ya know, having to make tradeoffs among your various interests when you vote.
It was poorly anticipated, I guess, by him. He should have seen this coming. He should have had a better response to it, because now he is getting drummed by Mitt Romney today, about how he sort of admitted well it wasn't consistent with my principles but I had to vote for it anyway. And I just thought it was a weak moment for him.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: And I think he encapsulated that error in the phrase he used when he tried to explain why he voted for No Child Left Behind, which the conservative spectrum looks at it as a huge government intrusion. And he said I did it. I didn't really support it but I did it because I had a president who wanted it. He was a Republican president. And politics is a team sport.
Now this is a guy who wants to claim the mantle of the Tea Party. And their central objection to Washington and what is happening among Republicans and what they call RINOs is they play a team sport and abandon principle and their ideological roots when they become members of Congress. And that is the weakness in the Santorum case for himself for the presidency. And I think he unfortunately, for his campaign, he reinforced it.
BAIER: Mitt Romney hit on that today on the stump.
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ROMNEY: We saw it, in this case, Senator Santorum explained most of the night why he did or voted for things he disagreed with. He talked about this as being taking one for the team. I wonder which team he was taking it for.
ROMNEY: My team is the American people, not the insiders in Washington.
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BAIER: Did he change the dynamic there, Bill?
KRISTOL: No. The team he was taking it for was President George W. Bush in his first year in office. Maybe No Child Left Behind is bad legislation. Rick Santorum said last night "I made a mistake." Mitt Romney has never said about Romneycare "I made a mistake." And as a conservative, I think Romneycare is a lot bigger a mistake than the No Child Left Behind bill. And Rick Santorum said he made a mistake. And Mitt Romney has never said he made a mistake.
KRAUTHAMMER: Bill, I grant you there isn't any question that Santorum in his career has been a consistent conservative with occasional deviations. Romney has come late to his ideology. I'm talking about the damage Santorum did to himself last night, whether or not it's a true reflection of who he truly is. He made a mistake in explaining away all the votes he did in saying, well I opposed it on principle. His appeal to Michigan is to the Tea Party. He is the one who says I'm the authentic guy. And when he says I'm playing a team game, then you get Ron Paul on the side snickering at him. And I think he made a tactical error in doing that.
BAIER: Chuck, did Newt Gingrich change his dynamic heading in to Super Tuesday?
LANE: He certainly changed his comportment. They were all sitting down there. It was sort of a lower key affair, and Newt was kind of leaning back in his chair and seemed more professorial and calmer than he has in recent debates. He was more strident about Barack Obama than he was about the other guys. He didn't sort of take aim at Santorum and Romney. So I viewed his performance as sort of a wash in terms of advancing himself among the other Republicans.
KRISTOL: Yeah, I think in Michigan and Arizona, Romney and Santorum will run one, two, or one-two in whichever direction. I think it's gonna be hard for Newt Gingrich to get back in the race honestly. I say, that since we've all been wrong a million times he'll probably surge now to 42 percent in the polls somewhere on Super Tuesday. But it felt last night like a Romney-Santorum, like it is going to be a Romney-Santorum race.
BAIER: And Ron Paul is helping Romney at this point?
KRAUTHAMMER: Yeah, objectively speaking. And Newt had, I think, a great night. He was, as you say, genial, avuncular, and really good. When he is bad, he is awful. But when he's good he is really good.
BAIER: Cheerful. That's it for the panel, but stay tuned for an update on one dignitary's fashion statement.
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