Palin: We're Still Looking for the Candidate Who Will Rise to the Top, Be the Frontrunner ... Gingrich Would Clobber Obama

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 18, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, we have a blockbuster new show. The Republican candidates for president -- well, they're all revved up over issues and over each other. And in just minutes, three of them go "On the Record" right here, live from Las Vegas. We have Speaker Newt Gingrich, Representative Michele Bachmann and Mr. Herman Cain. They are just minutes away.

First, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin joins us. Good evening, Governor.


VAN SUSTEREN: I'm very well. OK, we've just had -- debate number eight has just happened, so let me ask you a two-part question. What were you looking for as a voter? And what do you think most Americans were looking for?

PALIN: I was looking for candidates to start telling us actually what their plan is, not just, you know, verbalize this idea that they have a plan and that they'll present us with a plan on how to deal with a housing market that's in the tank and these jobless numbers that are just atrocious, but actually present in detail their plan.

Herman Cain, thankfully, although a lot of people are criticizing his plan, he does have some specifics that he laid out. And that was appreciated. That's what I was looking for. Didn't get a lot of that.

Certainly, I think Americans in general are looking for, eventually here, that top candidate to start rising to the top so we can start concentrating on preparing the GOP candidate to face Obama in the debates in a general election and make sure that he's a one-term president.

We didn't get that out of this debate, to be honest with you, Greta. I don't -- I think Americans would agree with me that we're still looking for that candidate who will rise to the top and be the frontrunner.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I find myself, I confess, you know, sort of paying more attention when they're bickering and fighting, and I know that's wrong because I know that's not where the substance is. But you know, I -- you know, that's what I -- you know, I'm embarrassed to say that when that happens, you know, it piques my interest. And I sort of wonder if that's what grabs the American people's interest, as well. You know, or are they more adult and they're more interested in the substantive issues?

PALIN: I think we are more interested in substance. And that's why, like, tonight Newt Gingrich again I think did the best because he seems to be above a lot of the bickering that goes on.

Let me confess, too, that we're four hours behind you guys in time zone, so when the debate started, a couple minutes into the debate, my kids started walking through the door after school and after play dates, and they're kind of griping and bickering amongst each other, then the debate in my other ear, the candidates are up there bickering and fighting amongst each other.

And I honestly for a minute or two there didn't know which group I be listening to and which group was making more sense. Thankfully, the candidates kind of calmed down and started talking more about detailing the things that -- serious -- an electorate that is very serious in these serious times needs to hear.

But for a while there, Greta, it was that bickering and some of that infighting that really turns a lot of people off from campaigns and from politics, that kind of gets in the way of us being able to decide who it should be to rise to the top to face Barack Obama in the future debates.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you raise one of the issues that I was hoping to hear from tonight, and there was one question on it. It's actually an issue that I wrote on my notes beforehand because I think it's the issue that matters a whole lot to the American people, is that so many American people, their homes are underwater, that they owe more than the homes are worth. And it really is a crisis because even if you can get a job in another town, chances are, you can't sell your house to move to another town to do it. Plus, you got the bank breathing down your throat.

And you know, I guess that's -- you know, that's sort of -- I want to know what someone can do about that or what someone plans to do. And I don't think we got quite deep into that.

PALIN: We didn't get deep enough into that. We also didn't get deep into issues like China's rise and the EU and other very important issues that are international that do affect America and our economy.

But as for the housing market, that is why we like to hear from Santorum and Cain, who talk about personal responsibility and living -- not just government living within its means, but we as individuals living within our means and not becoming so indebted to, you know, this permanent financial class of those who make decisions for us that can ultimately hurt us. We like to hear about personal responsibility.

But ultimately, what we need to hear from these candidates is detailed plans about how jobs can be created, about how it is that we are going to attract industry and production and reward for work ethic again in America, and natural resource development in order to create more jobs in America so that people don't have to worry about how in the world are they going to pay their mortgage, how is it that they will pay their bills? They will have jobs because we will have industry here again.

We get that, of course, by -- I think we need to eliminate the corporate income tax that is currently highest in the industrialized world, chasing jobs offshore. We reduce that, eliminate that. That's one step that we can take.

I want to hear things like that from these candidates, details, specifics on how it is that we will attract industry here, create jobs, letting the private sector keep more of what they earn and create in order to create jobs, and not just kind of these nebulous "Someday I'm going to have a plan that I'm going to present to you all, voters. Stay tuned, and hang in there for the next debate. Maybe you're going to hear it then."

VAN SUSTEREN: I wonder how -- to what extent debates become a little bit sort of like beauty contests or even sporting events, where we have, you know, our favorite, you know, candidate or favorite jersey, and to what extent, you know, we really do learn something substantive, new, because as I go through it, I probably -- now that we're at the eighth debate, I probably could have answered each question for each candidate because I've heard them say it. And they haven't strayed from it. Not that it's a criticism, it's just that we've been over this.

And so I'm wondering, you know, what is sort of the value, although I find them very engaging to watch.

PALIN: They are still so valuable, though, because this is the conventional tool that we have to help vet candidates before they reach that general election. And as I've expressed before, we learned our lesson in electing an individual, Barack Obama, who wasn't vetted. And here this go around, Barack Obama with no primary opponent on the Democrat side, he again will get to skate through into a general election.

And it's kind of a necessary evil, I think, in some respects, parts of these debates. But again, it is necessary. We need to have these candidates vetted, but we also -- and the commentators, the hosts of these debates, maybe they can press a little bit harder on detail.

It amazes me that the candidates so often get to escape actually answering the question. They get to spin and pivot and go off onto their sound bites that they want in the 10 seconds that they have to make a point. I think the hosts need to kind of dig a little bit more and come back to that candidate and say, No, that's not what I asked you. Here's what I asked you. Please answer it.

VAN SUSTEREN: I guess one of the complexities -- and far be it from me to defend another network, but it's sort of complicated in the sense you've got so many candidates up there, and you've got some sort of sense, like, you've got to give everyone sort of equal opportunity. And you ask a question and they spin you and you can't really sort of zero in and be a jerk. And you've got have all these people expecting to have the same amount of time.

I mean, there might be a wiser way to do it if these debates are broken down into teams of three or four so you could really effectively do that because otherwise, you know, you really are sort of forced into almost having a game show aspect of it with so many up there and trying to accommodate them. So I can understand sort of the difficulty in trying to really zero in and get those answers.

PALIN: Yes, that's a good point. Well, that's where the journalism needs to -- the journalists really need to exercise their talents and make sure that the questions are being asked precisely by the candidates whom they are questioning.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it actually -- you know, one of the perfect examples of what you raise is even the question that was asked about foreign policy -- you know, what do you do about foreign aid? I mean, which countries are you willing to cut back on? Which ones are you not? I mean, those are enormously complicated topics. And what we sort of do to these poor candidates is we say, OK, you've got 60 seconds to answer. What are we going to do about Pakistan? They hate us, and we're giving them a lot of money. So you got 60 seconds. And now that my question's been so long, you only have 40 seconds.

PALIN: Well, and that's why it's refreshing to hear somebody candid and blunt like Michelle Obama -- or Michele Bachmann -- I'm sorry -- tonight. She came right out and she said, no, she would not cut foreign aid to Israel because they are such a strong ally. We appreciate that candidness and not, you know, spinning around and pivoting around and trying to get too many answers into one 60-second sound bite. Appreciate the candidness in that respect.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, the one thing that I -- well, I don't -- when you talk about the spinning, I think that we did get spun around with -- as a viewer -- and I was taking notes and trying to do a million things getting ready for the show, so I may have missed it, but was the whole question about illegal immigration and about the people in this country and what to do about the situation, those who are here illegally.

And it -- you know, it's an enormously difficult and complicated topic and sometimes prone to sound bites. But you know, we really haven't gotten a really strong sort of plan about what to do because this affects, you know, the lives, families, and has all sorts of problems. We didn't get that answer. I'm not sure you can in 60 seconds.

PALIN: We can't in 60 seconds. Look at Rick Perry trying to explain that he's worked for 10 years as a governor of a border state trying to get the federal government to do its job in protecting and securing our border. And yet especially under Barack Obama, the federal government will not do that. And he certainly had his hands full.

And yet he's seen as somebody who's incentivizing, actually, illegal immigration by providing in-state tuition for those who are not residents of his state because the illegal immigrants who are there, they're not even -- you know, obviously, they're not residents of America legally, much less the state of Texas. So he's seen as being kind of a contradiction in policy is what he's embraced there.

And he hasn't been able to explain in 60 seconds how he can kind of coordinate his message there and be seen as somebody who does want to secure the border, not allow illegal immigrants to be hired, as of course, he made the point today in taking the gloves off against Romney for evidently having hired illegals in his personal life.

And it just sounds like Rick Perry is having a heck of a time trying to explain his position on illegal immigration when he has incentivized some to be able to really grasp a benefit that the majority of Americans would never be able to take advantage of, in-state tuition in the state of Texas, when, you know, they're not in the same boat as those who...

VAN SUSTEREN: You mention (INAUDIBLE) with Governor Perry taking heat -- he swatted Governor Romney about hiring illegal people in the country. You know, I don't -- my memory may be sort of faulty on this, but it seemed a little bit like a cheap shot. I think the story is, is that there were people who worked for a company who was doing lawn service for them and he hired the company, or something like that.

And so you know, there's a lot -- you know, there's a lot of sort of, you know, people taking swats at each other, which seem a little bit not presidential, not on the issues. And you would think in some ways, rather than swatting each other, they might want to be sort of more focused on their substance, their program and their program and how they would defeat the president, who they think shouldn't be president.

PALIN: Bingo. Exactly. And that is, too, why when I explained that scenario, I said it's evidently what had happened because I don't know the facts. America doesn't know the facts. Certainly, you'll have the pundits and the campaign staffers really dig into that issue, and truth will be revealed whether Romney engaged in hiring knowingly illegal immigrants or not.

But yes, once a bell like that is rung, though, it's tough to unring that type of bell. And yes, bottom line is we all want these potential presidential candidates who will be facing Barack Obama in the general election in the debate to start concentrating on what it is that he has done wrong in these 143 weeks that we have been underneath his failed socialist type policies that are bankrupting this country!

We want to focus on what it is that he has done wrong and how it is that the GOP can do better for this country instead of the nitpicking and the kind of the cheap shots that go back and forth. Again, maybe that's a necessary evil in this process, the primary process, but doggone, it gets tiring. I think a lot of it is a waste of resource and time. And we want to concentrate really on what really matters here.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it's interesting. As we watch the bickering, it's almost like Speaker Gingrich like the cat who swallowed the canary because he sort of waited while everyone was sort of jabbing each other, and even Senator Santorum got into a few jobs with Governor Romney. And then at the end, he had sort of the closing line, which is maximizing bickering is not the route to the White House. And it's almost like he sat there sort of waiting to play the position of sort of dad and let the children bicker as he waited.

So I thought -- I mean, to the extent that we sort of score these, and we probably shouldn't, I thought that was actually sort of an effective way to end it for him.

PALIN: Everybody could learn from Newt Gingrich and the way -- his calm, cool, collected manner. He's kind of seen it all before in this political game, if you will. Newt Gingrich would -- he would clobber Barack Obama in any debate, any forum that had to do with substance. When it comes to policy and solutions for the challenges that America faces, Newt Gingrich would clobber Barack Obama!

I don't know if he's going to be the one, though, that surfaces as the fortunate candidate who gets to face Barack Obama because, unfortunately, in this day and age -- sometimes conventional wisdom would dictate that he who has the most money, the campaign dollars, wins. I don't want to believe that this is going to be the case this go-around.

If not Newt Gingrich, hopefully, the other candidates, whether they have as much money as the next guy or not, will learn from Newt Gingrich, understand that we want to hear substance, we want to hear solutions, we don't want to hear the engagement of the nitpicking and the bickering because that just plays right on into the left handbook as they get ready for the general election debates.

VAN SUSTEREN: And regrettably, the media loves that because that does spike the viewer interest. When there are few pokes, those are the sound bites, right?

PALIN: Yes. Evidently, they do because, you know, this was what, debate number whatever it was and we...


PALIN: ... still have probably a dozen more of them. And the networks love them. Cable loves them because people tune in. And unfortunately, a lot of it's all about ratings.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, maybe we'll get some smaller ones where we can -- you know, where we're a little bit more -- where it's a little fairer to the candidates, and the candidates should be probably more willing to help the networks out and sort of do something, reducing them. But they've got rules, we've got rules. And it's not always the best system. But anyway, Governor Palin, thank you.

PALIN: Thank you.