This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," April 11, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MITT ROMNEY, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOV ERNOR: From my vantage point in business and in government, I've become convinced that America has been put on a dangerous course by Washington politicians and it's been even worse during the last two years. But I'm also convinced that with able leadership, America's best days are still ahead. That's why today I am announcing my exploratory committee for the presidency of the United States.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Mitt Romney today in New Hampshire with an announcement that everyone expected. Perhaps they didn't expect it today, though. Tomorrow marks the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Massachusetts state health care plan which fell under Governor Romney back then. Today the conservative "Boston Herald" had a stinging opinion piece in which it wrote quote with "If Republican voters know anything about Romney is that it he is responsible for Massachusetts health care law, and that is toxic in a Republican primary. Romneycare is viewed as Obamacare lite, and Republican voters believe nominating Romney takes the health care issue off the table against Obama."

What about all of this? We're back with the panel. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well my question is, what's happened to that great American tradition where you launch your candidacy for the highest office in the land on the steps of the state house in Springfield and announce you are going to revolutionize America? Everybody sort of leaks it out in a YouTube or in a press release. It's just a big change. I'm a little nostalgic for the old ways.

But at least is he announcing he is getting in. Look for Romney, it's clear what the issue is. He is a serious guy. He could be president. He has got the right history background, experience. He is serious on policy. If it were not for one thing, he wouldn't only be leading in the polls, he would be the prohibitive frontrunner.

But, unfortunately it's a big thing. It's Romneycare. For Republicans to win in 2012, it has to be about one large issue, the size, scope, the reach of government, of which Obamacare is the big symbol, and the actual policy which is at stake.

Romney, unfortunately, introduced something that is like it in Massachusetts and he has to explain it away. The way he explains it away today is on federalist grounds. Well, every state ought to be able to experiment, but you can't have this on a national scale. Unfortunately, that isn't exactly a ringing way to make your case. It's extremely defensive and it's weak. I'm not sure how he explains it away.

BAIER: Mara, it doesn't fit on a bumper sticker, but Romney supporters will tell you that the fact that Democrats are holding thank you Mitt Romney for health care and the president has mentioned him numerous times is an indication that Democrats fear Mitt Romney. That's what they say.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well yeah, I mean Romney is a formidable opponent. I mean I agree he has an albatross and he has what might end up being a fatal flaw. We don't know if he can get the nomination because of it. But look where he is in the polls. He's up at the top of the pack, and some of these hypothetical head to head matchups Obama only beats him by a couple points. But where you see that list of potential nominees he is up at the top. The other people probably aren't going to run, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee.

BAIER: Well here's the Fox News poll we just did, he comes in a point behind Mike Huckabee.

LIASSON: Yeah and we don't know if Huckabee is running. We don't know if Sarah Palin is going to run. And I think he is in a pretty good spot.

I also think that if the Republicans feel that Obama is vulnerable, they are going to want to nominate somebody who can win, not just somebody who agrees with them on everything. And I think they might be willing to overlook something like Romneycare.

KRAUTHAMMER: Republicans would, but would the country if that's the central issue of the campaign.

LIASSON: Well we don't know. We don't know. We don't know what the election is going to look like -

KRAUTHAMMER: It's pretty problematic.

BAIER: Bill?

LIASSON: -- what the economy is going to look like.

KRISTOL: Look, I think Romney, Pawlenty, [INAUDIBLE] I'm struck -- I wrote a little editorial this week saying people should keep their powder dry. There will be time to get into the race late. Something like a Ryan-Rubio ticket would be very exciting.

BAIER: You love the Ryan-Rubio ticket.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I'm, yeah, I'm open to Christie-Rubio, Christie-Ryan. I have many versions of tickets of people who as yet are not running. But I'm going to convey to Paul and to Chris Christie, that Charles' notion that's it's really cheesy these little YouTube announcements. And if Paul Ryan announces, he should do it in a scenic backdrop in his hometown.


LIASSON: They are going to have a big hoopla when they actually announce. This is just the exploratory committee.

KRAUTHAMMER: I want to see it on an aircraft carrier. That's the way to give an announcement.

BAIER: Why today though -


BAIER: -- why do you think it happened today? Because most, ya know, political junkies said, well, he is going to wait a little while? He is going to delay this whole thing and he is not going to get even into the exploratory pool yet.

KRISTOL: I mean people I talked to, people who are pretty close to all Republican candidates, donor types, operative types did not expect this. So if they planned it for a while, they kept it a pretty good secret. Maybe they thought they had to hurry up. Trump was getting a little momentum. Tim Pawlenty was hiring some well-respected Republican operatives. There was talk of Barbour and Gingrich getting in very soon, and people like me are talking too much about Paul Ryan, and maybe the Romney campaign thought, ya know, it was time to get him out there.

Look he got a lot of votes last time. And he's an impressive man. And maybe he thinks enough of this playing around. If I'm going to run, there is no mystery about me, and I might as well just get in and make my case.

BAIER: Right, because Donald Trump is sucking a lot of oxygen out of the room.

LIASSON: Yeah, look this is a marathon, not a sprint. It's a long way to go. And I don't really think it matters that much when Romney opens his exploratory committee. I do think it's a little strange he would call attention to Romneycare, which is what announcing today does since the anniversary is tomorrow, but he can't really escape that. He just has to have a plausible explanation and he is settled on this state's rights interpretation and hope that it helps.

KRAUTHAMMER: I want to see the big speech on the ski jump at the winter Olympics in Utah. That's where I want to see it, right at the tip. That's where he should be standing when he gives it.

BAIER: If Romney had come out and had an explanation that said "Listen, I was wrong. This didn't work" three months ago.

LIASSON: He doesn't think that he is.

KRAUTHAMMER: A year ago. Well, perhaps he doesn't. But to explain it away on the grounds of federalism is not going to work. If he is going to reject it, it should have happened a year ago or two years ago.

BAIER: That is it for the panel, but stay tuned for what really may be happening at all those tense budget meetings at the White House.

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