What Would Reagan Do in 2012?

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," November 28, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT REAGAN: I will propose removing the roadblocks that have slowed our economy and reduced productivity. Steps will be taken aimed at restoring the balance between the various levels of government. Progress may be slow measured in inches and feet, not miles but we will progress. Is it time to reawaken this industrial giant, to get government back within its means, and to lighten our punitive tax burden. And these will be our first priorities, and on these principles, there will be no compromise.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Some things never changed. A clip from President Ronald Reagan's inaugural address back in 1981. Maybe President Obama can learn a thing or two from him.

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    And here with me now to explain what Ronald Reagan would do if he was the GOP contender trying to restore the country's faith in America once again. The author of the new book, it's called "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood," nationally syndicated radio talk show host, former secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan, the one and only Bill Bennett. Good to see you. How are you?

    BILL BENNETT, AUTHOR, "THE BOOK OF MAN: Thank you Sean. I'm great.

    HANNITY: We appreciate you being here.

    BENNETT: He's in the book. Reagan is in the book.

    HANNITY: Yes, well, he is in the book. It's phenomenal.

    BENNETT: Thank you.

    HANNITY: You know what's interesting to me though. The things are so -- I know, things changed but they really remain the same. It's the battle between the state and Utopia if you will. To quote my buddy Levin, "Statism versus liberty."

    BENNETT: Yes. Ronald Reagan, the way I tell it and I've served with him as you know, I was the secretary of education and I have another job, too. He wanted to do two things. Restore America and destroy the Soviet Union. You know, he was just straight forward about it. Here's -- you talk about things being the same. Carter, you remember Jimmy Carter, what the country was like under Jimmy Carter. It's kind of the way we are now. Maybe worse. It may be worse. But the country was feeling bad, worried about the future, we know what the misery index was.

    Ronald Reagan came in, sunny, optimistic and with a plan. Said we're going to restore America.

    You know a lot of people forget, we talked about lowering taxes. It was not part of Republican Doctrine until Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, my former partner --

    HANNITY: Kemp-Roth tax bill.

    BENNETT: -- made it a part of Republican Doctrine and now it is.

    And so, he told America, get up to lift up, he didn't say we were lazy


    HANNITY: He didn't say we're lazy or soft?

    BENNETT: No, he didn't say we were the problem.

    HANNITY: Wait, wait. He didn't say we were angry or bitter clinging to God, guns or bibles and religion.

    BENNETT: He actually didn't think we were the problem. You know, he actually thought the problem was elsewhere, and then looking abroad, he always held up the better freedom and always held up the better of America. Whether it's Nicaragua, whether it was China, whether it was Soviet Union and boy, it was the Soviet Union. How many stories are there from the Reagan era? But how about Sharansky? You know, hearing the tap. You know, Reagan is president. Things are going to change. We knew change was coming. And it was the real change, not the kind this guy --

    HANNITY: But it really is, when you make the comparisons, what could any GOP candidate glean from the way Reagan ran his campaign. Because here's what we know is going to happen. Obama can't run on his record. It was in The New York Times this weekend.

    BENNETT: Right.

    HANNITY: They're going to run a really negative campaign.

    BENNETT: Right.

    HANNITY: They're going to eviscerate whoever the GOP nominee is.

    BENNETT: Yes.

    HANNITY: Spend a billion dollars doing it. Unprecedented amounts of money. Mr. Hope and Change is going to be Mr. Negative.

    BENNETT: Yes, that's right.

    HANNITY: And he already says Republicans wants dirtier air, dirtier water. How would Reagan handle that?

    BENNETT: Well, you know, another similarity, you say, the president is like the past An article today pointed out, they may avoid the white working class Democrats and put their strategy somewhere else. They will be more campaign to the left, they will go to the left. I don't think they think they can win the white working class. Reagan won the white working class. Catholics, you know, Catholics, the Reagan Democrats, I mean, this is, I think.

    HANNITY: That was a coalition.

    BENNETT: Key part of the election and the key part of the coalition.

    And I think this can be repeated. But I'm looking forward is not just the idea, so we have some guys with ideas, and gals. I'm looking for the lift.

    This is America, what are we talking about? We are the greatest county on--

    HANNITY: All right. Assess where we are right now. Frontrunners at this moment. Romney and Gingrich.

    BENNETT: Right.

    HANNITY: What do you think?

    BENNETT: Well, you know, someone told me about three months ago it was going to come down around Newt Gingrich. It could. They're both very good in the debates. I think they're both done a very good job. Newt has really come into his own and he's become the spokesman. The kind of coach, you know, team captain, I'll take that question. And he goes after the media of course which --

    HANNITY: Yes, but he's also said, nothing but nice things about all the other candidates.

    BENNETT: Right. He's been gracious about that.

    HANNITY: He's been very gracious. Do you think, I asked him, I said, what's the difference between you then when you were speaker and you today? And this was his answer. He said, number one, I've been out of government nearly what, 15 years, I'm a grandfather, I've learned a lot, my faith, he said, he wrote "Rediscovering God in America."

    BENNETT: Yes, that's right.

    HANNITY: Do you see a different man than you saw as speaker?

    BENNETT: I do. He was on my radio show. I hit him pretty hard. Real hard on the show live about the criticism of Paul Ryan. You know, Paul Ryan.

    HANNITY: Right. Sure.

    BENNETT: And I said, you know, you really shouldn't have done that, that was terrible and you may have just damaged your campaign. We have this discussion on air. The other day he was on, he said, thanks for that, I learned from that. One thing I now have learned is to listen to criticism. I think he needs another occasion to go before the American people and talk about the so-called baggage. I mean it is real.

    HANNITY: I'll have him for an hour, Wednesday night.

    BENNETT: Great.

    HANNITY: Full hour.

    BENNETT: But you know, people know the personal stuff. It's not news. This is not like Herman Cain, some news.

    HANNITY: Does that resonate that he's a grandfather? Does that -- that he's learned from his mistakes?

    BENNETT: Yes. I think the policy baggage Sean, may be more of a problem but I think he can address it.

    HANNITY: Wait a minute. Policy baggage of welfare reform, balanced budgets?

    BENNETT: No, no, no. Take the man to the totality of his actions and I think he is a conservative hero. But you have this global warming thing with Nancy Pelosi.

    HANNITY: He told me it was one of the biggest mistakes.

    BENNETT: Biggest mistakes, no, I mean, he has to say that on a couple of other topics, too. And that's good.

    HANNITY: What about, I interviewed Mitt Romney last week for an hour. He's an impressive figure.

    BENNETT: Very impressive.

    HANNITY: And I suspect -- I can't get him to say it. And I'm maybe reading into this, that he had to adopt more liberal positions to get elected as governor in such a blue state. Is that more implausible or is it that, maybe he's not as conservative as -- because there's suspicion among some conservatives.

    BENNETT: One of the things I have never understood, and I've been around a long time, is why people don't just say, I made a mistake. You know, I was just wrong about that one. And I think he should have said, he was wrong at least about aspects of Massachusetts health care.

    HANNITY: He says, he was.

    BENNETT: Well good, he should say it more emphatically. And he should say that he's absolutely changed his mind on some things, that he was wrong about other things. But, you know, those two, it's kind of interesting. But it seems to be with Romney, you may have a better chance getting more than moderates and independents. But he is not firing up the base at least today, as you know. With Gingrich, he's firing up the base, at least a lot of the base. I'm getting calls from the evangelicals on the show. I'm sure you were too, saying, you know, I forgive him on that. He seems genuinely penitential about it.

    HANNITY: Did you hear his interview with Dr. Duberstein?

    BENNETT: I didn't.

    HANNITY: It's worth listening to.

    BENNETT: I will listen to it.

    HANNITY: Because Dobson is like you, he asked him a lot of hard questions and he wrote -- I don't know, did you read, "Rediscovering God in America?"

    BENNETT: Yes.

    HANNITY: He talks a lot -- it's obviously, I've known him since '94. I think it is almost coming down now. Here's where the surprise can happen. Somebody pops or outperforms expectations in Iowa or New Hampshire. It's a new ball game.

    BENNETT: Yes, and I was -- I was talking to Byron York today, one of your guests --

    HANNITY: Colleagues.

    BENNET: Yes. Colleagues. I can't remember where I am.

    HANNITY: You're out of exile, Bob -- Bill. That's your brother.

    BENNETT: He was saying the Iowa leaders are trying to coalesce you know, around one figure, which is very interesting and we'll see if there's some surprise. But yes, I think Newt is a different figure. I think he's more reflective. He has come to life in these debates. It may be his moment. It's now up to the American people to make that decision.

    HANNITY: Fascinating time.

    BENNETT: Fascinating time, you bet.

    HANNITY: All right, great book.

    BENNETT: Thank you.

    HANNITY: Good to see you. Thank you. I've called you Bob that's like calling you a liberal. That's almost one of the worst things I could say even though your brother is a nice guy.

    BENNETT: Yes, and I don't get paid what he gets by the hour, especially on this show.

    HANNITY: Ouch. I would invite you out of exile. Look at what I get.

    All right, good to see you, Bill Bennett.

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