(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Newt has a ton of baggage.
NEWT GINGRICH: It'll be nice not to have orchestrated attacks to try to distort the history of that period.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: RINO Romney is the least electable.
MITT ROMNEY: Over-the-top rhetoric that's characterized American politics too long.
GUY RAZ, HOST:
Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich from Thursday's debate and some of the superPAC ads that provoke them. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us now, as he does most Saturdays, for a look behind the headlines. Jim, hello.
JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Guy.
RAZ: Jim, I want to get to some of the things we've been talking about on the program in a moment. But first, Thursday's debate. Of course, all eyes were on the Gingrich-Romney showdown. But there was a moment, slightly less noticed, I think. It was when Rick Santorum called Romney out on his health care plan when he was governor of Massachusetts.
FALLOWS: Yes. I thought that if Mitt Romney goes ahead to become the nominee, which is what the odds are favored all the way along, I thought that exchange might prefigure something we're going to hear a lot more about in the summer and the fall. Because what Rick Santorum was able to do was to induce Mitt Romney to give a better, shorter definition of the need for an individual mandate in health care insurance than Barack Obama has ever done.
Essentially, Governor Romney is saying, if you're going to care for people eventually in emergency rooms, you can't have them free riding on the system. So people either have to get covered or they have to pay to be exempted from the system, which is essentially the national plan, known pejoratively as Obamacare by the Republicans, and it's what Governor Romney enacted in Massachusetts.
And so squaring that in equation that why something was great in Massachusetts, and as Governor Romney pointed out, is still very popular with people there, but would be a terrible socialist menace for the country, I'm sure that this won't be the last time we're going to hear it.
RAZ: Probably not. I want to ask you about this other issue, this anti-Newt Gingrich phenomenon. Recently, as you know, the conservative establishment has been circling the wagons against him, you know, from Bob Dole to John Sununu to opinion shapers in the conservative press. I mean, they are all on the attack against Newt Gingrich. What do you make of all that?
FALLOWS: I think it is a real challenge to Newt Gingrich. And the two most problematic aspects of the attack being made against him by other people in the party are, number one, the people who know him best and have worked with him most closely, whether it's Tom DeLay or Bob Dole say, we know this man and we don't like him and he'll be bad for the party.
Second, there's an argument from a lot of the sort of (unintelligible) of the party saying that if you nominate Newt Gingrich, you re-elect Barack Obama. Republican primary voters seem to feel that Newt Gingrich would be as electable as any other candidate, including Mitt Romney. But polls of the general electorate do not show that. And he trails Barack Obama badly.
RAZ: Let me ask you finally, Jim, about the president's State of the Union address. We've been talking about American manufacturing on the program today. President Obama's tone was America is back. You know, we are full steam ahead here. What did you make of that tone?
FALLOWS: I thought the tone was probably the most significant aspect of the speech, because of the positioning for the president in a re-election year. Over time, Americans may be angry, they may be dissatisfied, they may grumble. But finally, we like happy candidates.
We like the happy, confident Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter in 1980 or Walter Mondale in 1984. We like the happy, confident Bill Clinton in 1996 against the more acerbic Bob Dole. And so if the president can be the happy warrior this year and the Republicans are the more negative-sounding ones, that puts him just in a better position.
RAZ: That's James Fallows. He's national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can find his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much.
FALLOWS: My pleasure, Guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.