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GOP Politicians 'Nervous' About Gingrich's Campaign


Joining us now for some analysis of this ever-changing primary season is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: So after his big South Carolina victory, Newt Gingrich, as we've just heard, is trailing in the polls in Florida. And I'm wondering if you've ever seen Republican politicians and pundits pile on, like they have, Newt Gingrich?

ROBERTS: No, it is really remarkable to see how politicians and former politicians in the Republican Party are really going after him. But he is a unique candidate, and has been since he showed up in Washington after winning for Congress in 1978. He's a bomb thrower and they all know that, and they're very nervous about having such a person be the nominee.

And, you know, it looked for a few minutes, after his big win in South Carolina, like people were - in the party - were beginning to make peace with him, but then he, you know, started making speeches in Florida, then they started realizing, though, this is the Newt we've all been worried about.

And so Bob Dole, who was majority leader of the Senate when Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House, has issued a really remarkable letter in opposing him. And I was at an event with Alan Simpson, who was assistant Republican leader in the Senate, who make similar kinds of comments about how unreliable Newt Gingrich is. It is just a full court press of politicians who are very nervous about the prospect of a Gingrich candidacy.

MONTAGNE: And if – but if the Republican establishment is as opposed to Gingrich as you've just described, what about Mitt Romney? Why does he continue to have such a tough time?

ROBERTS: Because he still hasn't made the deal. You know, people in the party are not that fond of him, and Newt Gingrich makes the case that conservatives just won't get behind him. And he says that look, even though he's, at the moment, trailing in the polls, that if you put his vote together with Rick Santorum's that they win, that conservatives just aren't rallying behind Mitt Romney.

And of course, he's making it hard for them to do so by saying, you know, that he's a Massachusetts moderate and that Obamacare and Romneycare are – don't have any difference between them, those kinds of things. And Gingrich, who is a fighter, is vowing to fight on all the way to the convention. So, you know, it's going to be a long haul here, even if Romney wins big in Florida tomorrow.

MONTAGNE: Well, Cokie, given all this division among Republicans, what about the Democrats? Should they feel as confident as some seem to be about next November's elections?

ROBERTS: Well, the president is certainly out on the campaign trail himself and he knows that he has big problems ahead. The economy is still very shaky. You could have, at any moment, an enormous foreign policy crisis.

But also the administration is creating problems of their own. The health care law is, as you know, already unpopular in the polls, and the administration has issued regulations that now - that say that Catholic or religious institutions that hire and serve people outside of their own religion have to cover contraceptive services and sterilizations in the health care bill.

It's got the Catholic bishops furious. There was a letter in church yesterday, calling this an attack on religious liberty, and that's a problem for the president's allies - the social justice Catholics - and it could be a problem with Catholic voters. And that becomes a huge issue if the president really starts to lose Catholic voters, because he can't win without them.

MONTAGNE: All right. NPR's Cokie Roberts. And you are listening to Cokie on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.