The following is a rush transcript of the March 18, 2012 edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: I'm Bret Baier, in for Chris Wallace.
Mitt Romney looks to lock up the nomination. But many key tests remain.
We'll talk with the GOP frontrunner about the primaries ahead and get insight to do his policy solutions for America.
Mitt Romney, a "Fox News Sunday" exclusive.
Then, actor George Clooney brings awareness of a war-torn region to Washington. He opens up about what he saw along the border of Sudan and South Sudan, about how people there need help. Chris Wallace sits down with George Clooney and the Enough Project's John Prendergast.
Also, the president and vice president both hit the campaign trail hard. We'll ask our Sunday panelist if the timing is right for the White House to ramp up reelection efforts. And we'll take a look how the candidates are scrambling for delegates on the trail.
All right now on "Fox News Sunday."
BAIER: And hello, again, from Fox News in Washington.
It's another a busy campaign weekend, Missouri continues the process of selecting delegates, Puerto Rico votes today. Then, on Tuesday, all eyes will be on Illinois.
Joining us is now from Moline to talk about where the race stands now is Mitt Romney.
Governor, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."
MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks, Bret. Good to be with you.
BAIER: Let's start with Afghanistan. Tensions in the U.S. and Afghanistan appear to be very high at this point. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has accused the U.S. of stonewalling the investigation into the killing of 16 Afghan civilians. In fact, they even suggested there might be more than one shooter.
He angrily said Friday, quote, "This has been going on for too long. This is all by means the end of the rope here." Thursday, he demanded all NATO troops get out of the villages and stay on the major bases there.
President Obama, as you know, has publicly said to stay the course until our withdrawal at the end of 2014.
Would President Romney do anything different? And if so, how?
ROMNEY: Well, first of all, I would exercise leadership. And by that I mean I would speak with President Karzai. I would speak with President Karzai regularly, day-to-day. We have troops in harm's way. We have almost 1,800 men and women who have been killed in Afghanistan. We have real interest in making sure that this ends well and that our mission is successful there of having a Afghanistan that is able to maintain its sovereignty against the Taliban, against ultimately al Qaeda as well.
Look, what's happening right now is an example of failed leadership. The president put out a specific time table for withdrawal for our troops, a time table for the end of combat operations. That is leading Mr. Karzai to take action that is self preservation in nature.
The president needs to be more engaged and interacting with -- not only our commanders there but also with leadership in Afghanistan.
BAIER: But would you exercise the withdrawal?
ROMNEY: Well, the timing of withdrawal is going to be dependent about what you hear from the conditions on the ground. That you understand by speaking with commanders, as well as, of course, the people of Afghanistan and their ability to maintain their sovereignty and to have the capacity -- to have a military that can stand up to the challenges they face.
The timetable, the guidelines that continue to be in effect, unless, of course, there are changes and conditions to suggest a faster withdrawal.
But recognize that, ultimately, the independence and security of Afghanistan is going to have to be secured and maintained by the Afghans themselves. We're not going to stay there forever.
BAIER: Your Republican opponents have a different tone they have been sounding. Speaker Newt Gingrich said we're risking lives on a mission that may frankly not be doable. Rick Santorum said we either have to make a full commitment which he said this president has not done or we have to decide to get out sooner. And Ron Paul, of course, has maintained his long held position of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan immediately.
So, are you taking a stand here while much of your party is souring on Afghanistan?
ROMNEY: Well, before I take a stand at a particular course of action, I want to get the input from the people who are there. General Allen is going to be coming to Washington and testifying this week about what the conditions are. I think it's very plain to see that the conditions are not going very well.
And the -- and I lay part of the blame on that on the lack of leadership on the part of our president, both in terms of his interaction with Karzai and with leaders there, as well as his relative detachment from our military commanders there and the fact that he published a specific date for a withdrawal, published a date for withdrawal of our combat operations there, did not oversee elections in Afghanistan that would have convinced the people there that they had elected someone that they could have confidence in, did not put enough troops into the surge, as what's requested by the military. He certainly takes part of the blame for the failure there, and we're going to get our troops out soon as we possibly can.
But this does have the indications of a similarly failed withdrawal or fail would completion effort on the part of this president, just like we saw in Iraq. He likewise failed in the way we left Iraq. And this is a president simply does not have experience in tough situations -- not negotiating experience, not leadership experience -- and it's showing once again the result that one might have expected from lack of leadership.
BAIER: Let's talk about Iran. What you are seeing and hearing, where do you put the chances that Israel will strike Iran in coming months?
ROMNEY: Well, I can't begin to speak for what Israel will do. I think they recognize that Iran's nuclear weaponry presents an existential threat to them. Ahmadinejad has said that he would consider Israel a one bomb nation. So, Israel's timetable may be different than our timetable.
The clear, I think, lesson from this are that, one, the president should have put in place crippling sanctions from day one instead of waiting three and a half years. Two, he should have spoken out when the dissidents took to the streets in Tehran. Instead, he was silent. And three, he should be less worried about Israel taking military action to stop Iran from having a nuclear weapon and more worried about Iran actually having nuclear weapon and have fissile material.
And he should make it very clear that the United States of America will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, and that we will take action, including military action if necessary, to prevent that from occurring.
BAIER: The president said two weeks ago that you and Speaker Gingrich and Senator Santorum are speaking casually about war with Iran, saying, quote, "If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so. They should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk."
ROMNEY: Well, it's quite clear that the president wants to avoid in any way a discussion about a military option. But, of course, we have to recognize that if all else fails -- and he's failed on so many dimensions, it's possible that all else will fail. But I hope not.
I hope that crippling sanctions will now that they're finally beginning to be employed there will have an impact. I hope that if we aggressively support dissident voices in Iran, that will have an impact. And I hope that showing a military commitment on our part, and a recognition that we have a military option, that that will change the minds of the Iranians towards their nuclear program. But there is nothing casual about Iran having a nuclear weapon. There's nothing casual about Iran having fissile material they can give to Hamas or Hezbollah. And Hezbollah is now in many parts of South America. Look, they are in our hemisphere. Fissile material in our hemisphere with Hezbollah able to potentially bring it into this country? There's nothing casual about that.
The president needs to recognize this is a very serious threat to America and to the world. And that, of course, we have to have military options. Israel has obviously developed those options. I hope our president is listening to our military and developing those options as well.
BAIER: Governor, obviously, volatility in the Middle East affects oil prices. Do you believe President Obama is to blame for high gas prices?
ROMNEY: Well, there's no question. But when he ran for office, he said he wanted to see gasoline price go up. He said that energy prices would skyrocket under his views, and he has selected three people to help him implement that program. The secretary of energy, the secretary of interior and EPA administrator.
And this gas hike trio has been doing the job over the last three and a half years, and gas prices are up. The right course is they ought to be fired because the president is apparently suffered election year conversion. He's now decided that gasoline prices should come down.
While the gas hike trio is going in the other direction, time for them to go, probably hand in their resignations if he's really serious about and start drilling for energy here. That's, of course, our oil, our natural gas, take advantage of our coal resources for power generation. It's a very different policy that he's now talking about, and I hope it's a real conversion. Time will tell.
BAIER: You obviously feel that the president is vulnerable on this issue. Looking at the headlines over the past few days, you've been hitting this hard. A number of different headlines suggesting that you've been talking about it a lot. This has obviously become a focus now of your campaign.
But less than a month ago, in your speech at the Detroit Economic Club, you didn't have one word about energy policy. And same was true in your victory speeches in New Hampshire and Florida and your speech in CPAC. Why not a word about that and those speeches? And does it talk to a change in message and the power of this issue?
ROMNEY: You know, I've been speaking about energy policy I think pretty consistently throughout all of my stump speech. Maybe not every single speech I give. But I've been talking about the need to develop our coal, our oil resources, our natural gas resources.
ROMNEY: But the reality is that as I've gone across the country in the last several weeks in particular, I'm seeing more and more people, particularly women for instance, that say to me, you know, it's hard getting kids to school and to soccer practice when you don't know if you can afford to fill up the car. I spoke with a teacher in St. Louis who was out of work and she's staying on unemployment because she said in part, the cost of getting to and from work at a temporary teaching assignment was just so expensive, given gasoline. She couldn't afford to go back to work.
Look, these gasoline prices are hurting American families, and that pain and the result of president's policies to turn down the pipeline, the Keystone pipeline from Canada, and at the same time put $500 million into Solyndra, these policies are not working. His policies are hurting the American people. And they want to have someone that will finally take advantage of our energy resources and I will.
BAIER: Governor, one of the standard lines in your stump speech is on spending and the test that you would apply in a Romney administration is a program so critical that it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it. At the FOX/Google debate in September, you said without qualification, quote, we need to get the federal government out of education. Does this mean eliminating the Department of Education?
ROMNEY: Not necessarily. It may be combined with other agencies. There will be a rule, meaning that, for instance, the federal government provides funding to local school districts for care of disabled children, that will be maintained.
But the reach of the Department of Education into the states has to be pulled back. Education has to be managed at the state level, not at the federal level. Will there be any flow through of funds to the states? Yes. But the role I see that ought to remain in the president's agenda with regards to education is to push back against the federal teachers unions. Those federal teachers unions have too much power, in some cases, they overwhelm the states, they overwhelm the local school districts. We have got to put the kids first and put these teacher's unions behind.
BAIER: Do you still support No Child Left Behind?
ROMNEY: I support the principle of having states test their kids, and one of the things President Bush did that I supported, and I did support No Child Left Behind and do support continuing to test our kids. I want to know which school districts are succeeding and which ones are failing and where they are failing. I want there to be action taken to get the teacher union's out and to get the kids once again receiving the education they need.
So, I like the idea of testing our kids. No Child Left Behind needs to be changed, I think in some pretty significant ways before it's reauthorized. But I do support the testing that's been associated with that program, and I'm glad that President Bush pushed for that.
BAIER: Governor, on the stump, you criticized Rick Santorum for his answer in a recent debate, taking one for the team. That was casting his vote for No Child Left Behind. But you have been on that team?
ROMNEY: Well, I have no problem supporting things I agree with, right? So, I'm not -- I wasn't criticizing Senator Santorum for supporting No Child Left Behind. I'm criticizing Senator Santorum for saying that he opposes it, that it's against his principles, but he voted for it anyway. That in my opinion is not the kind of leadership we need to have in this country.
Look, we have a couple of guys running against me in this contest who spent their life in the legislature. Nothing wrong with that. This is not the kind of executive leadership we need to have in Washington today. I actually think this campaign is going to come down to whether we have someone who can go up against President Obama who has real experience as a leader, who understands how the economy works because -- not because he's debated in Congress or in a subcommittee, but because he's lived it in the private sector. And I have.
I think that's going to be the fundamental difference between me and President Obama. And I hope that's why people continue to vote for me in this process and give me the nod to be the nominee.
BAIER: In this race, you pointed out many times that you've received a lot more votes. In fact, you've received more than 1 million more votes than you're nearest competitor, Rick Santorum, and there you can see the break down on the screen. Your campaign has reportedly raised about $63 million, spent about $55 million. That means in a cost per vote on campaign spending, you've spent $15.83 per vote, Newt Gingrich $7.76, Rick Santorum, $2.28. And if you also add the spending from the super PAC that supports you, you've spent roughly $26 per vote, Newt Gingrich $15.5, and Santorum $5.14 per vote.
So, you've recently criticized Rick Santorum for being an economic lightweight. But clearly from the business perspective, Governor, is he getting a lot of votes for his money?
ROMNEY: There is no question. But in a campaign, one of the things you recognize from day one, is that you need to organize a financial operation to make sure you can run the campaign. By the way, I've also had Herman Cain to battle, Rick Perry to battle, Tim Pawlenty to battle. It's been a long, long process, and ultimately, if I become the nominee, I may be going up against President Obama and he's put together an organization he says will raise a billion dollars.
We have to have a nominee who has the capacity to -- and the organization necessary to raise money to be competitive. I intend to be very competitive with President Obama, to make sure that we get our message out, we defeat him. This is -- this is not about a shoestring operation. This is about an operation that could be competitive with the president of the United States and beat him, because, by the way, we've got to get him out of office.
BAIER: Your campaign --
ROMNEY: His failed policy on energy, on the economy, internationally. We've got to get him out. And that's one of the reasons we've organized such a strong campaign
BAIER: Last thing, Governor, your campaign has been aggressively pointing out that it's becoming mathematically very difficult for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich to get to the 1,144 delegates needed to get the nomination. But they -- you need to get 48 percent of the delegates left to get to 1,144. They are talking about preventing you from getting to the number.
What do you make of that strategy and what happens if they succeed?
ROMNEY: Well, I think the people of our party want to make sure we have a nominee that can beat Barack Obama. And I know a lot of people will talk about delegates and strategies and math and that's all very interesting to the insiders. But I think the American people want to see someone who has the leadership, skill and experience to beat the president, and a vision of conservatism that will get America on track again.
I want to restore the values that made this country great. President Obama is transforming us into something we wouldn't recognize. So, you know, I can't tell you exactly how the process is going to work. But I bet I'm going to become the nominee, I sure hope I'm going to become the nominee. And if I am, I'm going to be a strong nominee and I believe defeat President Obama, get American back on the track of creating jobs, seeing rising incomes again, gasoline prices that are more reasonable, and an America that's respected around the world.
BAIER: Last thing. My NCAA bracket is toast, almost as much as my voice from this allergy.
But do you have any favorite teams in the NCAA tournament?
ROMNEY: I'm afraid I have not followed the contest as closely as I have in the past, so I'm not going to make any guesstimates here. You know, I rooted for my alma mater Brigham Young University but we haven't made it as far as I'd like in the last years.
BAIER: OK, Governor. Governor Romney, thanks for talking with us. Safe travels, we'll be watching to see what happens in the coming days.
ROMNEY: Thanks, Bret. Good to be with you.
BAIER: Up next, George Clooney and the Enough Project's John Prendergast bring attention to war-torn Sudan. Chris Wallace's interview after the break.
BAIER: All of the news out of Afghanistan and Iran overshadowed another foreign troubled spot that is until this week, when a witness with star power appeared on Capitol Hill. Actor George Clooney told a Senate hearing about his recent trip to the dangerous border area between Sudan and South Sudan. He testified about the targeting of civilians there by the Sudanese government forces and how hundreds of thousands of people have been driven from their homes.
After his appearance, Clooney and John Prendergast, an activist who also traveled to the region, sat down with Chris Wallace.
Chris began by asking them to explain what was happening in that volatile area.
GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR AND ACTIVIST: What's going on right there is exactly what we saw in the beginning of Darfur. The same people, Omar al-Bashir charged with war crimes, Harun, the defense minister, Husain.
CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: All government of Sudan.
CLOONEY: All three men charged with war crimes at The Hague are the same three who are now bombing indiscriminate innocent civilians with Antonov planes with 300-millimeter Chinese rockets. And so described in the Geneva Convention, that is a war crime. So, that's what they're doing right now.
WALLACE: So, John, why is the Sudanese government targeting these people in the Nuba Mountains?
JOHN PRENDERGAST, CO-FOUNDER, THE ENOUGH PROJECT: There is a civil war in Sudan. As many people remember, South Sudan succeeded after a referendum which 99 percent of the Southerners to leave Sudan. The Sudan that's left behind without the South is at war in a number of places.
This is sort of the periphery along the western and southern border of Sudan is on fire. And that's, you know, basically they are fighting a civil war and they are using tactics that are designed to clear people out. It's ethnic cleansing in these areas where the warzone, the active warzones are. So instead of fighting against the rebels, they go after the civilian supporters of the rebellions. The oldest trick in the book: drain the water to catch the fish. You drain the people out of an area, and it's harder for the rebel to stay afloat in there. And so, that's why we see terrible war crimes occur repeatedly throughout Sudan during the last 20 years.
WALLACE: What did you witness on the ground? What did you see happening to the people in the Nuba Mountains?
CLOONEY: Once we got into the conflict zone, you can see first of all the remnants of a fairly active war. There were dead bodies laying around. But as we got further north, where we first showed up, there's villagers who come out with signs that say, you know, no more Antonovs and all that kind of stuff.
You know, they are opening up a cargo door and rolling these bombs out. I mean, honestly, if they were trying to hit you, you probably would be safe. But what it really comes down to is that it's a program of fear. You know, the chances of -- they kill people. One village we were in, there were 34 people killed in the last two months. And that's a small village.
So, they are killing people. But more than that, they are keeping them hiding in the rocks, in the caves so that they can't farm, and they missed their planting season this year. And this is the oldest society in the world if you read the Bible. These people have been there forever. And now, they're not going to be able to feed themselves, coming up in the next couple of months.
WALLACE: While you were there, there was a rocket attack.
CLOONEY: Sure, yes.
WALLACE: And you walked up a little too close to an unexploded bomb. These aren't Hollywood special affects.
CLOONEY: No, no.
WALLACE: You were risking your life.
CLOONEY: Well, the bomb one was funny because the guy said, you want to see -- because the day before, 15 bombs hit there and we saw a kid with his hand blown off. There's really terrible things there, and we're standing on top of this bush, he pulls back the bush, and there was a bomb. Oh, there's a bomb. And so he kept messing with the bush and I thought, maybe don't hit it with the stick too many times, you know?
So, we were glad to get out of there.
WALLACE: John, what role does oil play in all of this? And is it that you would like the U.S. to put pressure on China to do?
PRENDERGAST: Well, China is dependent on Sudan for 6 percent of its daily imports. So, suddenly, six weeks ago, South Sudan getting tired of how the money from or the oil that they were exporting through the pipelines in north Sudan was being confiscated to shut off the taps. And so, there is a tremendous moment of opportunity here where China suddenly, its interest are deeply affect can't just sit back and hope things get resolved between Sudan and South Sudan, or within Sudan. They've got to get more actively involved to try to help with the United States, help bring about --
WALLACE: So, what do you want the U.S. to go to China and say stop the killing in Sudan and --
CLOONEY: We've all done that and try to throw guilt their way. That doesn't really work. It never really has. You can't appeal to someone's better angels in this situation. What you can appeal to this time, we actually have a situation where China and the United States both have economic interest in this being resolved. When China is buying 6 more percent of oil somewhere else, that's driving up our prices as well.
The president said that at the press conference the other day, we have an opportunity to sit, with high level, the president is meeting with President Hu. So, that's the perfect moment to say, listen, this a moment for China and the United States to work together to solve the problem and will get the oil turned back on so that you guys will start to get your oil again.
WALLACE: Of course, the big issue, the immediate issue is to stop the bombing, to stop the slaughter of civilians. Would you like to see the U.S. get involved in imposing, as part of an international coalition a no fly zone, or bombing the Sudan air force?
CLOONEY: Well, here's the thing -- the truth of the matter is this, and you will understand: if you're standing there and see a kid with both hands missing from some jerk, you know, 10,000 feet in the air just dropping bombs out indiscriminately on innocent people, you'd really like to see a NATO plane come and just take those guys out of the air. That's your gut reaction.
In the real world, in what we're talking about, we're not going to see NATO in there, we're not going to, unilaterally -- certainly, we're not going to be acting. So, we have to look at things we have to look at things we can do realistically to try and put pressure on the government to stop doing it.
WALLACE: You are seeing President Obama to this trip. What do you want him to do?
CLOONEY: First is, obviously, to have high level meetings with the Chinese to talk about working together on getting this actually done. That's the most effective tool. China has all the levers at this point, number one.
Number two, to use all of those techniques we've learned going after terrorist to find their money and to really go after it.
WALLACE: I'm embarrassed to say this, but we would not be doing this segment, frankly, on Sudan if you weren't part of it. CLOONEY: Right.
WALLACE: Is that a point, to use your celebrity to shine a lot on atrocities, on war criminals, that frankly the world is all too willing to ignore?
CLOONEY: I'm a son of a newsman as you are. I grew up around news. I ran a teleprompter when it was pushing paper underneath the camera and when they said, cut that segment, you actually took a piece of paper and cut the segment and taped it, you know?
I'm a big believer in the importance of information and news. And I saw my father in the '70s doing really good stories and then getting bumped because there was a Liz Taylor story that was going to be out. And the story that he did that had real some social value was going to get bump. It just happens. That's sort of the nature of the world we live in.
I called my father in 2006, when I was reading those Nick Kristof articles about the Sudan. And I said, "Remember how you used to get all your stories bumped by Liz Taylor or something happened in Hollywood?" And he said, "Yes." I said, "Well, let's go to Darfur. And you be the newsman and I'll be Liz Taylor and let's get it on the air." And he said, "OK."
So, yes, I believe that. We are going and standing where people are shooting rockets at us and we're standing where there's a bomb hit the ground and didn't blow up, and that helps get attention to the story that we are trying to tell, then that's all we can do. I don't make policy. I can just make it louder.
WALLACE: While you were on this trip to Sudan, the "Kony 2012" video --
CLOONEY: I found out about it --
WALLACE: -- went viral.
WALLACE: Millions of people watching about Joseph Kony who with his guerrillas, the Lord's Resistance Army have either killed or displaced millions of people in central Africa. What do you make of it hitting a nerve? And despite the fact that people are going to watch it, why does it matter?
CLOONEY: Well, you know, I'll tell you -- an interesting thing about this is, what we do and what's important is, first of all, you need some political will to get things done. You know, President Obama sent 100 guys in to instruct people looking for Kony, right? And he some took hits from it for a period of time. There are less hits coming his way because of that video now. So that helps. It's encouragement along the way.
WALLACE: John, one thing that you have done, along with George and other people who started this Satellite Sentinel project; what is it and what do you want to accomplish?
PRENDERGAST: Well, the main objective -- we basically collect imagery from a satellite company called Digital Globe which has donated literally millions of dollars.
CLOONEY: Yeah, they've been pretty great.
PRENDERGAST: And so -- millions of dollars' worth of imagery. And we analyze that imagery, and the imagery is basically of military movements, moving troops or mass attack helicopters into position so we can basically say they're going to attack this place, and shine a light, blow a whistle and say it's going to happen; we know it's going to happen. What are we going to do about it?
WALLACE: George, how do you deal with the disconnect in your life, that last time I saw you, you're walking the red carpet at the Oscars, and a couple of days later, you are in the Nuba mountains with a kid who's had both of his hands blown off.
How do you understand that, deal with that process?
CLOONEY: Well, you know, I grew up in a family that believed that, you know, in a small town in Kentucky, that believed that your job was to be involved with your fellow man. You have a responsibility to participate in the human condition, one way or another.
I can -- you can, sort of, shut those things off. I've gone -- it's a tricky thing. There's a moment where you go -- you'll be -- when those rockets were going off and there's that moment you think, wow, that's -- that's close, those rockets. You're thinking, you know, I could actually -- I don't really have to be here right now.
There's better places to be.
But, honestly, there's not really any better place to be. It's -- it actually is -- it's cleansing your palate from doing all the other things that sometimes feel self-serving. So being able to go there and do something like that makes you feel better. So that's -- that's good.
WALLACE: At the end of the movie, and I've got to say it's very gripping, you are just standing over a dead body out in the dust, in the open area, there's no economic agenda; there's no political agenda; it's just save lives.
CLOONEY: That's it. Honestly, right now, there are helpless people who are -- there is a ticking time bomb on about 100,000 people hiding in the hills who have never had this problem before, which is they -- these aren't people who are sitting there with their hands out going, "Help us." They've always taken care of themselves, bad weather, whatever; they farm. They take care of themselves. And right now, they are hiding for their lives and they're terrorized.
And -- and we need to do whatever we can to help them. And so, yes, I think that, right now, it's just saving lives.
WALLACE: Thank you.
CLOONEY: Thank you. It's good to see you.
WALLACE: Good to see you.
BAIER: Thanks, Chris.
One update. On Friday Clooney and his father Nick and several others were arrested outside of the Sudanese embassy after protesting there.
Coming up, the Sunday panel previews the general election campaign, which, for the president and vice president, re-launched a couple of days ago. Back in a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right now, we're starting to see a lot of politicians talking a lot...
... but not doing much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: The economic theories of Gingrich, Santorum and Romney -- they are bankrupt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: That was the president and vice president in full campaign mode earlier this week. And it's time now for our Sunday group, Brit Hume, Fox news senior political analyst; A.B. Stoddard of The Hill newspaper; Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard; and Charles Lane from The Washington Post.
Brit, the RealClearPolitics average of polls of the president's approval rating is at 46.9 approve; 47.1 disapprove. This is another launch of his re-election effort this past week.
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: I'm not sure anybody will notice.
He's been campaigning with such vigor for so long and raising money in such prodigious amounts that it's all a continuum, I think. I think that poll number is -- is worrisome for the president. The president's approval rating of less than 50 percent this close to an election gives him some difficulty. I think this president is and has been and will continue to be in difficulty.
But I think you're going to see an all-out, stop-at-nothing campaign. And I think we've seen the leading -- leading edges of it now.
BAIER: And raising a money, a frenzy, A.B.?
A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL: I don't think they are embarrassed by this. You can call it cynical; you can call it political, anything you want. There's seven and a half months left. He's done himself a lot of damage to the coalition that elected him in 2008. He needs to rebuild it.
He's doing badly in battleground states where unemployment is often higher than the national average. Gas prices is a factor. He's trying to take that on the offense and get out there and explain over and over again that he has no silver bullet for bringing down prices.
They are naming names in the Republican field and insulting them. They are doing this because they need every person that they can get on board. And I think that they're not ashamed of it. It's a numbers game, and the campaign's begun.
BILL KRISTOL, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, it's nice that they're not ashamed of it, but they are doing some of this on the taxpayer dime. You know, a fair number of these trips are supposedly policy...
STODDARD: As every incumbent president does.
KRISTOL: No, but he's doing more, honestly. I mean, for example -- I mean, the degree of shamelessness here -- it's gone up in each administration, probably, in the last 20, 30 years.
When I was in the first Bush White House, Marlin Fitzwater, who was press secretary, would not mention the name of a political parity or the name of a candidate from the White House podium. He was the president's press secretary. If you wanted to get into a political fight, you go to the Republican National Committee and they would have that political fight.
That distinction, of course, has totally been obliterated. And Clinton and George W. Bush had something to do with that. But Obama's gone the extra step. Friday is the second anniversary of Obamacare. If you go to the White House website -- not the Democrat National Committee website -- the White House website, it's just propaganda for their -- for their policy achievement.
There's nothing about, you know, how you can go about getting insurance better, or nothing about policy. It's just propaganda. They have something up there about how -- the White House, on its website, invites Americans to tell their stories. "How has the new health care law made a difference for or your family? After all, it is your care."
Which, incidentally, is revealing about the Obama administration. It is our care. But they think they are responsible for it and there is no distinction anymore between government programs which might help you pay for health care and the Obama administration taking over your health care and then saying, hey, we are giving you this health care.
BAIER: Speaking of that, the arguments start in two weeks at the U.S. Supreme Court. How big an issue, do you think, health care is going to be in the general election, Chuck?
CHARLES LANE, WASHINGTON POST: Well, it wasn't very present except in the Republican primary as a battle between Romney and his opponents with them trying to blame Romney for it. But I think the Supreme Court case and perhaps more importantly, not just the oral arguments but the actual ruling, which is going to land right in June and July, will reawaken this issue, particularly depending on how it goes.
If it is -- I believe that if the court upholds it, that will turn it into an energizing issue for Republicans, because their candidate will be in the position to say, now our only shot of repealing this is to get Obama out, the Supreme Court is over.
And on the other hand, if the statute is struck down by the court, then Obama can energize his base by saying, you need me back in so we can change this conservative court.
BAIER: A slickly produced 17-minute video. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM HANKS, ACTOR: When he faced his country, who looked to him for answers, he would not dwell in blame or dreamy idealism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Narrated by Tom Hanks, not a lot in here, Brit, about the angst over "Obama-care," as you can imagine.
HUME: And he said he would not dwell on blame. I am surprised Tom Hanks was able to get the line out without coughing. This president has been notable -- and, look, politicians do this, it's not the biggest crime that ever happened, but this president has been notable and has his -- as have his associates, for blaming others.
For the longest time, of course, it was former President Bush who got all of the blame for the problems. People didn't -- the administration never seemed to understand with regard to the problems that the country faces that if they occurred or were initiated or began under a predecessor, that they were known at the time of the president's election, and he was elect to fix them, and he will be judged not on the basis of who started the trouble, but whether he finished, whether he got us out of these ditches that we are in, in a number of ways. And I think that is what has to worry the president. And, of course, all of the attempts to lay blame, I think, are politically foolish. They seem small, petty, weak. Look, winners take responsibility, losers blame others.
BAIER: A.B., do you sense that there is a confidence in the White House about their standing for this election?
STODDARD: They know exactly where the liabilities lie and that it is going to be a very tight race in the end, which is why they are preparing so vigorously for that. Their fundraising is not as great as they had hoped. They probably won't reach a billion dollars. And that is making them nervous.
However, they are aggressively courting new voters, registering them in very significant places. Arizona is not a joke, could possibly be in play as a result of Latino registration rising their exponentially because of the immigration law.
They are numbers people. They did it in '08. And they are going to do it again. They also have a free pass right now to make all the glossy films that they would like because they are not competing with Romney or whoever the nominee is going to be.
McCain got that pass. They are going to take it. And it's going to be Biden and President Obama, and the first lady out on the trail taking credit for the improvement in the economy, you know, whatever the recovery is at this point. And that's what they will do until they are in a one-on-one fight.
BAIER: Chuck, confidence?
LANE: I think they are nervous but optimistic, is the way I would put it. They know all about Brit's point that they are kind of low favorables. But they see what's going on on the Republican side and they like the fact that their opponents are carving each other up.
BAIER: We will take you there after a quick break. But when we come back, we turn to the ongoing Republican primary battle and whether anyone will get the delegates needed to win the nomination.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This election has to be about stark contrasts.
NEWT GINGRICH, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to see if we can't reset this whole race around the idea of really big ideas and really big solutions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich making their case that their campaigns are still ready to fight for the GOP nomination. We're back with the panel as we look ahead.
Illinois is the next big primary. Here is the RealClearPolitics average of polls. There you see Mitt Romney with about a 6-point lead over Rick Santorum. Bill, today -- rather, yesterday, Santorum said, if we are able to come out of Illinois with a huge surprise win, I guarantee you, I guarantee you that we will win the nomination.
KRISTOL: I don't think he can guarantee it. But I would agree that if Romney can -- if Santorum could upset Romney in Illinois, where Romney is outspending him, you know, five or 10 to one, it's hard to tell if you add in the super PACs and all that, that would be huge.
I mean, he has fallen just short in Ohio and Michigan. If he could win Illinois, Santorum, that would be a bracket buster, I think, that would change the dynamics. He will then win Louisiana on Saturday, I think Gingrich would have to get out then.
I mean, I think every conservative in the country would say, let's just have a clear choice between Santorum and Romney. I think then Santorum would have credibility when he says, can't we have a one-on-one debate at some point in April or May?
BAIER: He is already saying that.
KRISTOL: Yes. I think he said that this morning. So I just think the dynamics would change if he wins. If he comes close in Illinois, he stays in and has a respectable -- has an outside chance still to win. But Illinois could be a game-changer.
BAIER: What about this process, Brit, about not getting 1,144, the effort by Santorum and Gingrich to prevent Romney to get to the magic number of delegates needed to win the nomination?
HUME: Well, I've looked at this analysis of this from different perspectives and it is a muddle. You can't figure it out. But it would all depend on how well Santorum does in certain states, as to whether Gingrich being in and attracting a part of the vote, part of which would probably go to Romney, although most of it would to Santorum if he got, whether that would help to deny him the 1,144 and so on.
But I think that it is time for all of us to adjust to the reality of this race, which is not really even about wins and losses, it's not about momentum, it's not about perceptions, it is simply about delegates.
So if you look at a state like Illinois and you think, well, maybe Santorum can win Illinois, but it's hard for him Illinois in terms of delegates because he doesn't have full slates mounted, and thus he is not competing for delegates in parts of that state.
BAIER: Until we get to April when winner-take-all kick in.
HUME: When winner-take-all kicks in, but even then, you know, even then, you still are in a situation where you need to grab delegates. Santorum needs delegates and he needs them by the bushel. And it's going to be very hard for him for the balance, you know, this month.
HUME: I mean, I think, for example, we had a -- we're having a contest, what, today, in Puerto Rico, 23 delegates. It doesn't appear that Santorum will get any of them. Every one of those delegates that is added to the Romney column hurts the cause of either of the two candidates who try to win outright or denying him the 1,144. And I think it gets harder and harder as time goes on.
STODDARD: Well, the voters aren't listening who keep supporting Santorum and giving him wins or close wins are not really listening to the inevitably of the delegate math.
And the interesting thing for Mitt Romney is he desperately needs a message where he gets off of the question of math and delegate numbers.
He tried to pivot in Bret's interview this morning. I thought that was interesting. That's just for inside-baseball talk, which is always talked about for 10 days.
But -- but his supporters, when you talk to them, and I have, are very concerned that there won't be a white knight at the convention, that Jeb Bush and Mitch Daniels and the grown-ups in the party took a pass on this race, are not going to come in and what really, realistically, will leave September, and that Mitt Romney -- the narrative is about him losing. It needs to be changed with a new message.
HUME: What narrative? Whose narrative? What are you talking about?
STODDARD: It needs -- what they -- well, you know what. They support Mitt Romney, Brit, and they want him to talk about -- about himself. They don't want him to talk about math. They want him to show independents who might not be voting in these primaries that he is worth voting for when it come to the general. Right now, he doesn't look like a person with a compelling story or a compelling message. And that's of concern to the people who are supporting him.
BAIER: Chuck, did you hear something different this morning?
LANE: Not really. I think he's still, kind of, bogged down in this march to a probable if not inevitable nomination. I must say I agree with A.B. Whether it's about a narrative or not, he -- he is going to take a long time struggling within his own party to get to wherever it is he's going.
And that just brings me back to the question we were talking about before, why Obama might feel confident right now.
He could have a right to feel confident because all the resources that Romney could be husbanding to save for a general campaign against him, he's now got to expand through this long march to get the delegates. And...
LANE: ... and the party base is sending a message that they're not that enthusiastic about him.
KRISTOL: I just think the resources are overrated. The message is what's fundamental. A Republican nominee who is willing to say to the American -- say credibly to the American public, "If you like Obamacare, which we've now had two years to learn to live with and to judge and which the public hates -- if you like Obamacare, re-elect President Obama. If you want to repeal it, elect me," and be clear and simple on two or three other fundamental issues of domestic policy and make it about liberty and about freedom and not just economic numbers, I think the Republican could win.
I actually think the Republican could win easily. I don't buy this conventional wisdom that it's necessarily going to be a close race.
I also think, incidentally, Obama could win pretty easily if we have a general election campaign that is about how are gas prices doing and how are unemployment numbers doing, and if Obama gets lucky and gas prices comes back down and unemployment comes back down, he could look strong, if there's not a fundamental contrast.
And what was striking to me about this interview was I thought Governor Romney was good in answering your questions, but when you asked at one point -- or he had brought up at one point the fundamental difference, he said, between himself and President Obama. And you remember what it was? He has private-sector experience; he has business experience. He didn't mention Obamacare, although it's the anniversary next week. I think he needs to pivot. If I -- as a Romney well-wisher, if he's to be the nominee, he needs to make Obamacare central.
HUME: Bill, I think you're right, broadly speaking, but there's one issue that is being left out of the equation. And it's the issue that drove the 2010 campaign, which is this massive accumulation of debt and spending, which is an animating issue for the Tea Party. And -- and that is an issue about which the president proposes to do absolutely nothing.
LANE: But which Romney is not talking about.
HUME: Romney, however, does have -- well, he does talk about it. And he has a plan. It's a pretty tough plan. It certainly goes far beyond anything that this president is talking about being willing to do. And it's an issue that I think will be important in the campaign.
But Bill is right. In the end, people are going to make an assessment whether they find the conditions and the results of the Obama administration agreeable. And if they don't, they look at the other person and say, "Is this somebody I could accept?" Acceptability, I think, in the end, will be the key.
BAIER: Panel, thank you very much. And don't forget to check out "Panel Plus," where our group picks up right with the discussion here on our website, FoxNewsSunday.com. We'll post the video before noon Eastern Time. Make sure to follow us on Twitter @FoxNewsSunday.
Up next, we go on the trail.
BAIER: It seems that at some point the results of a key primary or caucus will redefine the GOP nomination fight. But not so fast. Here we go again on the trail.
SANTORUM: We did it again.
NEWT GINGRICH, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I was speaker, we balanced the budget for four years, and while Santorum was in leadership, they borrowed $1.7 trillion. There's a big difference between real fiscal conservatism and politics as usual.
ROMNEY: We're not going to be successful in replacing an economic lightweight if we nominate an economic lightweight. And I'm an economic heavyweight. I know how this economy works.
SANTORUM: This election has to be about a choice, not between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.
ROMNEY: At Pancakes Eggcetera -- this is a very novel name. Who came up with this name? Was that...
Was that you?
(UNKNOWN): My name.
ROMNEY: Oh, there we go. All right. He did it. He did it.
GINGRICH: But the fact is, I love life. I love getting up in the morning. I love -- I love seeing what the weather's going to be. I love animals. I love the process of interacting with people.
And I'm staying in the race. And Louisiana is, sort of, half time.
SANTORUM: This race is, by far, far, far from over.
ROMNEY: I look forward to coming back. I hope I get to come back as president.
BAIER: After Puerto Rico today, it's on to Illinois, the land of Lincoln on Tuesday.
Now this program note. Next week, when Chris returns, "Fox News Sunday" will look an in-depth at the legal fight over Obamacare that begins a week from Monday in the U.S. Supreme Court.
That's it for today. I'll see you on "Special Report" Monday night, 6 p.m. Eastern on Fox News Channel, with full election coverage Tuesday night from Chicago. Make it a great week.
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