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Dionne, Continetti Discuss The Iowa Caucuses


Now, some thoughts on the Republican race post-Iowa and pre-New Hampshire from our political observers. Columnist E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution is in Concord, New Hampshire. And Matthew Continetti, contributing editor for The Weekly Standard, is with me in the studio in Washington. Welcome back to both of you.

E.J. DIONNE: Thank you.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI: Good to be here.

SIEGEL: And, Matt, as we just heard, Michele Bachmann was eliminated in Iowa. Conservative evangelical Christians preferred Rick Santorum to Bachmann, who's one of their own, and she's Iowa-born to boot. Why do you think? What was it that Santorum had that she didn't?

CONTINETTI: Well, there are many reasons. One, I think Bachmann's case shows the difficulty of running for president from the House of Representatives when you have relatively small name I.D. Another reason is Bachmann, despite being a very socially conservative woman, stressed the economic issues. She talked about ObamaCare, she talked about the debt, she talked about the economy.

And the truth is, if you're an Iowa voter and the economy was the most important issue to you, you voted for Mitt Romney. Whereas, Rick Santorum kind of framed the economics in this larger cultural critique about the breakdown of the family and social values. I think that's what attracted the religious conservatives to him.

SIEGEL: E.J., you see in Rick Santorum a coherent worldview that some of his rivals don't possess. What is it?

DIONNE: And by the way, I should disclose that I'm sitting here in a sweater vest, but that does not bias me toward Rick Santorum, who's made them famous. Rick Santorum is a particular kind of conservative Catholic who, as what renowned analyst Steve Wagner called the social-renewal Catholic. Unlike social justice Catholics, which is kind of what I am, they sort of look upon the government skeptically, abortion is their driving issue, and you really heard it in that very powerful speech he gave last night when he linked the dignity of the unborn to the dignity of working people.

He speaks for a working-class Republican who's largely been ignored by the party. The man who had hoped to speak to them, actually, was Tim Pawlenty who called himself a Sam's Club Republican. And I'm wondering if he has second thoughts about dropping out, given what Santorum did. But I think Santorum has both a coherent worldview and a way of speaking to that kind of Republican who are very important to the coalition.

SIEGEL: I want to hear from both of you about Mitt Romney. Last night, 30,015 Iowans cast caucus ballots for Mitt Romney. Four years ago, 30,021 Iowans did that. Matt Continetti, what does that consistency say to you?

CONTINETTI: Well, if I were Romney - and I know he's not a gambling man - but I would play the number eight in the lottery because it's...

SIEGEL: It's his lucky number (unintelligible).

CONTINETTI: It's the margin he won by yesterday. When I look at Mitt Romney, I see a failure to expand beyond the traditional groups that have support him; moderates, rich Republicans, highly educated Republicans, non-evangelical Republicans. The question is there weren't enough of those people in 2008 to get him the nomination. What's changed in four years to think that he can do it this time?.

SIEGEL: E.J., you've described that slice of the GOP - the one that Mitt Romney won - with a nod to Coca-Cola, as a Republican classic. What's a Republican classic?

DIONNE: Indeed. I mean, these are classical fashion Republicans. They were substantially older than the average of the population. They were more likely to be somewhat conservative in their own self-description, rather than very conservative. They were affluent. These are what we use - called country club Republicans.

And I think Matt's right. I think that's his problem is that he has held the same vote he's always had, but he hasn't been able to expand it. And now, there is at least some consolidation of the conservative vote with Bachmann dropping out, with Gingrich looking weaker and with Gingrich going on the warpath clearly less interested, it seems, in nominating himself than in going after Mitt Romney. So while he is definitely the favorite, still, I think he's going to have some rough water over the next few weeks.

SIEGEL: In today's aftermath of the Iowa caucuses, Newt Gingrich clarified his charge of lying that he made against Mitt Romney. He said today Romney is a liar because he doesn't tell the truth. That cleared that up.


SIEGEL: And Ron Paul called Gingrich a chicken hawk who had a draft deferment during the Vietnam War but sends others off to war. Matt, you first. Am I being hypersensitive, or is this is getting kind of harsh, even for presidential primary politics?

CONTINETTI: Robert, you may be a little sensitive.


CONTINETTI: I love it.


CONTINETTI: You know, we've gone through this year-long, invisible primary where the media speculates but nothing actually happens. Finally, last night, we have the first voting and the actual voters get to decide. And this is where it gets interesting, and I'm at the edge of my seat.



DIONNE: I feel like calling everybody names just in honor of Matt's response.

I do think that it's getting to the point where there is some danger in - to the Republicans. There's a lot of tape and footage being created where some very nasty things are being said against other Republicans that could well be used by the Obama campaign come the fall.

SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne in New Hampshire and Matthew Continetti here in Washington. Thanks to both of you.

CONTINETTI: Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.