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JOHN KING, USA

President Obama Pushes Income Equality; Newt Gingrich: GOP Front-Runner; Interview With Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards

Aired December 6, 2011 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

Tonight: A defiant President Obama retraces Teddy Roosevelt's steps to what is now the reddest of red states to make his case that government must be a tool in fighting America's alarming income inequality.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. Because what's at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That speech was a clear rebuke of Republicans, especially the Tea Party, and music to the ears of Democrats who too often find their president too timid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: And their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.

I am here to say they are wrong.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here with more on why the president decided, Jess, to borrow a catchphrase from his speech, to up his game today. Clearly framing the campaign. Why today?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, he is framing the campaign. And it's because essentially it's heating up now, and he has to get in -- he has to get in campaign gear before the frame is set for him, John.

The Republicans as you know are on the campaign trail every day and trying to make this a referendum on the president's leadership on the economy. They think they will win if it's simply a referendum on how the economy is right now and on the president's current job performance.

But if the president can turn this, the thinking goes here and on the campaign, into a debate about where the country's headed on contrasting visions of the nation's economic future, the Obama team thinks that that's their sweet spot and that's where they can win.

And so the president today was trying to lay out his vision in this argument that the president can take the country into a better place if he's given another four years. You will see this extend out once there's a Republican opponent with the vision that he was sort of suggesting here that the Republicans, he's saying, stand for a future where the middle class does not have as much opportunity, as much window for equality, et cetera.

KING: Jessica Yellin live at the White House tonight.

The question many Democrats have is, will the president extends it out? Sometimes he plants a flag and doesn't come back to it. We will see how that one plays out.

The Republican race also took another and an important shift today. Four new polls, four new polls confirm a changing of the guard. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is your front-runner, ahead by double points now, double digits nationally, and in Iowa and South Carolina. Those are the first and the third stops in the Republican nominating calendar. Count one-time front-runner Mitt Romney among those taking notice and hoping if the race drags on that support from conservatives like the former vice President Dan Quayle in later states like Arizona might make the difference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN QUAYLE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Eighty percent of the American people say the country is headed in the wrong direction. America around the world over the last several years has lost respect and credibility.

My friends, Washington is a mess and we need to send Mitt Romney to Washington to fix the mess out there.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here.

And, Gloria, if Gingrich is a back-to-the-future candidate, I guess Quayle is back-to-the-future endorsement as well. There is no reason to call Mitt Romney the front-runner anymore when you look through all of the polling. Four weeks from tonight, Iowa reshuffles the race. Where do we stand today?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think today Newt Gingrich looks like the front-runner. I keep wondering if Mitt Romney is criticizing Newt Gingrich as being the career politician in this race, which is what he's doing, why is he standing next to Dan Quayle getting an endorsement from a career, establishment politician?

And that's what a lot of conservatives feel is wrong with Mitt Romney, that he's just lining up folks in the establishment, that he is not truly fighting for this nomination, that what he's been doing is waiting for the other folks to destroy each other and then presume that he will emerge victorious.

And one thing voters don't like is when you tell them you know what? I'm standing in the wings and in the end you're going to decide you really like me. They tend to make up their own minds.

KING: Playing it safe, you might call that in short. We will see if it works for Mitt Romney.

Gloria, thanks.

There's important overseas news tonight, including a white- knuckle drama for the Pentagon. It now believes sensitive stealth and other U.S. military technology from a specialized drone is in Iranian hands and perhaps, perhaps soon to be shared with Russia and/or China.

Chris Lawrence is at the Pentagon tonight.

Chris, this drone, whether it was shot down or whether it failed and crashed, the Pentagon now believes it is in the hands of Iran. What next? What might they have done to try to either get it back or destroy it?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, a U.S. official now telling us this was a CIA mission, looking for bad guys along the border.

And he says they did have satellite surveillance of that drone when it went down. And immediately they considered all options, everything from sending a ground team in to try to get it back over the border or bombing the wreckage from the air, as they have done many times when drones have gone down in, say, the mountains of Pakistan or Afghanistan.

But all of those options were ruled out as impractical to do actually in Iranian land.

KING: So if they have this drone relatively intact, it has among the latest U.S. technology, what can Iran do with it, and perhaps more importantly, how likely is it Iran would share it with China or someone else?

LAWRENCE: Officials tell me highly likely. Iran probably can't do all that much with it by itself. Countries like China are much further along in that technology. And they say, why would Iran even bother? What they can do is give it to China, let China unlock its secrets, everything from its coating, its paint, so to speak, its radar that makes it seem something other than what it is.

Let China unlock all those secrets, reverse-engineer it, and then they can just sell it back to Iran fully completed.

KING: A major intelligence loss for the United States there.

Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon, Chris, thank you.

In Afghanistan today, dramatic images from two bomb attacks targeting worshipers observing a Shiite holiday.

Nick Paton Walsh is live in Kabul tonight with the latest on the death toll.

And, Nick, the scale here is what is so rare. There are bombings all too frequently, but the scale of this one, the depth of the death toll, what do we know about it?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is quite remarkable. We haven't seen mass casualty attacks like this in Kabul or really in many parts of Afghanistan for a number of years now, the insurgency seemingly focusing certainly in Kabul here on sustained attacks against precise targets to show their sophistication and their reach.

This obviously terrifying many because of the fact it's targeting the Shia faith here as well, something you would more hear Sunni-Shia violence stemming from Iraq or in neighboring Pakistan. Afghan officials though quite happy to blame the Taliban and say they their affiliates for this, although accepting the body of the bomber is severely damaged, which will slow their investigations, John.

KING: In terms of the claim of responsibility, what do you know about the specific group in Pakistan that says it's responsible?

WALSH: This is a phone call made to a radio station in Pakistan by a fringe group of an offshoot of a group called the Lashkar-e- Jhangvi, who we have heard of before, a claim that has not been validated.

But, frankly, we have been talking about a minor operation here, somehow managing to penetrate the secure heart of the capital of a neighboring country. If they did this, which we're not clear at the moment, they would have needed some kind of assistance, many will argue.

If it was them or the Haqqani Network, another sophisticated part of the insurgency, or another part of the Taliban, there will be people still pointing to Pakistan, its military and intelligence services as being the people who fundamentally facilitated that, something, of course, Pakistan would deny -- John.

KING: Nick Paton Walsh for us live in Kabul, Nick, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper now on the day's top political story, a speech by President Obama that Democrats are cheering as finally many say an economic battle cry for the 2012 campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: We simply cannot return to this brand of "you're on your own" economics if we're serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We know that it doesn't result in a strong economy. It results in an economy that invests too little in its people and in its future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's take a closer look at that have, have-not gap the president is talking about.

If you go back in time and look the income graph, we're going back to 1980 here, the bottom 20 percent of Americans, that's the dark red. The middle is this deeper red. The green, the top 1 percent is the bright green. Watch how this plays out if you go back through the '80 and the '90s.

You see a bit of a gap here. Here's the lowest 1 percent. There's the top 1 percent. If you come across, you come across, look at this up here. You see now the bottom 20 percent here, you got a big spike here, then you have a bit of the recession. But now watch this and watch recent years. This is what the president's talking.

The upper 1 percent here, way up here in terms of their income gains and losses, the bottom 1 percent down here. Now, how does that play out over time?

This is what it has done to the United States of America in terms of the distribution of wealth. From 1980 to 2007, the bottom 90 percent had about half of the wealth of the United States was in the bottom 90. Look at this just from the last few years. You see the top 1 percent, the green, look at what has happened just in the last four or five years, the bottom 90 percent, its portion of its hold on America's wealth shrinking dramatically.

CNN contributor Ron Brownstein is with me here and on Capitol Hill, one of the Democrats happy to see the president be more aggressive in the debate over the economy and the role of government, Democratic Congressman Donna Edwards of Maryland.

And, Congresswoman, I want to start with you, because the president planted an important flag today. It's a flag many Democrats have been waiting for him to plant aggressively. And it is important because since the Tea Party rise, since the Republicans took back the chamber you serve in, the president, at times, has shied away from saying the government must be important, the government must have a role here.

I know you welcome him to this debate. Why do you think it took so long to get him there?

REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: Well, I don't know about that. What I do know is that I think the president has -- really what drew me to his candidacy in 2008 was really striking this chord that says that we have to work hard a higher order to look out for what's good for all Americans. And I think today we heard that articulated in a way that it has taken time to come together, but I know that I received it really well.

KING: She received it really well.

But am I wrong in that right after the election, a lot of Democrats -- the president put a priority on deficit reduction, on spending reduction. Here, he's not saying those things are not important, but he planted a flag and said, you're wrong. When it comes to taxes, you're wrong. When it comes to saying the government cannot be an instrument to change this gap, like Teddy Roosevelt said 100 years ago, between rich and poor, you're wrong.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, this is a case about the economy the activist base of the Democratic Party has wanted not only President Obama, but President Clinton to make really.

This is the closest thing we have heard to I think the kinds of arguments that emerge in the Democratic base about what the meaning of the past four decades have been since we started to experience a slowdown in the growth of living standards for average Americans.

In one way, this did herald back to Teddy Roosevelt's great speech in 1910 that he was talking in that he affirmed a very important role for government in trying to create a fair economy. It was different, though. It departed in another respect, because Roosevelt's speech also had a big component in which he talked about national unity being critical to solving our problems. That was once a central component of President Obama's message, much more secondary today.

KING: You make that.

I want to read something else you wrote in your column, because you make an important point about that.

"As president, Roosevelt chafed against, but largely deferred to the intensely partisan politics of his era. Out of office, he started to think and then write and speak more explicitly about the unique role the president could play in bringing the nation together."

Congresswoman, first to you. I know what Ron is going to say.

Isn't that also true, that first sentence also true about President Obama? He hoped Washington would be different. But as president, couldn't you insert Obama, chafed against, but largely deferred to the intensely partisan politics of his era, at least up until now?

EDWARDS: I would not say deferred.

I think what has happened is that the president also came into an environment in which we face really tremendous economic challenges and so he had to balance against what he wanted to achieve as a vision for us as a united America with the real live situation of having to rescue us financially and fiscally over this last couple of years, in addition to trying to play out that vision.

And so I think part of what excited me today about hearing the president was also a message about what kind of economy we could grow that could work for all Americans, one that is based on research and development and innovation and technology, and all the things we know are going to be a hallmark of the 21st century economy that we have to build on as Americans so that we retain our status in the world and our preeminence, and that we close those income gaps, so that each of us as members of Congress know that across our communities you don't have to go very far to know that that income gap isn't just a pie chart or a bar graph.

It's reality for so many Americans.

KING: It is reality for so many Americans.

The question is can the president convince the American people his way is the right way to deal with it?

You mentioned the income gap. Let's listen to a little bit more from the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: These aren't Democratic values or Republican values. These aren't 1 percent values or 99 percent values. They're American values. And we have to reclaim them.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: To reclaim them, he says the government has to be an instrument of doing that. He is going to make this case now if he stays consistent to this in an election that will be two years after the American people said something very different.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely.

KING: What do they believe has shifted that puts him on solid ground to make that case, or is it a gamble?

BROWNSTEIN: It is a gamble, because it's the essential argument that Democrats or conundrum Democrats have faced for decades, in that when you get down to the specifics of many individual government programs, by and large, they are popular. The public accepts many of the things that government does.

When you get to the overall question of the size and role of government, most Americans usually, but especially now, say it's too big and too intrusive. So, the broader the argument, the betters it is for Republicans, the more narrow and specific, the better it is traditionally for Democrats.

But I think, as Jessica Yellin said before, the White House belief is the more prospective the argument, the better off they are. It's hard for them to win a retrospective judgment about where we are after three years, unless this one-month improvement in unemployment is the beginning of a sustained trend.

KING: Ron Brownstein, Congresswoman Donna Edwards, thank you for joining us tonight.

EDWARDS: Thank you.

KING: And if you didn't see the president's speech today, find it online. Find the transcript of it or find the video online, whether you're a Democrat or Republican or in the middle. It's an important speech by the president today. And I think you will hear a lot of the themes in the months ahead.

Still ahead here, he is a voracious reader, but tonight's "Truth" is found in books we bet Newt Gingrich, well, doesn't quite like.

But next, why it's time to call the former speaker front-runner and why for him that isn't necessarily a good thing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In just 28 days, that is four weeks from tonight, Iowa votes. And we begin to learn if the Republican nominating contest will be a sprint or a marathon.

What we did know tonight is that the proof is now indisputable that Newt Gingrich, not Mitt Romney, is deserving of the title Republican front-runner. A new Gallup tracking poll has Gingrich up double digits nationally, look, a 15-point edge there over Romney. And state polls matter more. Look at these. A CBS/"New York Times" poll in Iowa has Gingrich at 31 percent, with Romney in second at 17 percent, Ron Paul a close third.

The new ABC News/"Washington Post" of Iowa Republicans is about the same, Gingrich 33 percent, Romney 18 percent, Ron Paul also at 18 percent. And in South Carolina, which votes third, a brand-new Winthrop poll has the Republican race at 38 percent Gingrich, 22 percent Romney, and 9 percent for the Texas governor, Rick Perry.

It is crystal clear Congressman Paul views Gingrich, not Romney, as the man to beat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you want to put people in jail, let's look at the politicians who created the environment, the politicians who profited from the environment, politicians who profited from the environment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newt Gingrich on the defense for taking $1.5 million.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After he left Congress, Freddie Mac paid Gingrich at least $1.6 million.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One-point-six million dollars, some of it just before the housing market collapsed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything that Gingrich railed against when he was in the House, he went the other way when he got paid to go the other way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's demonstrating himself to be the very essence of the Washington insiders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about serial hypocrisy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: After months of ignoring others to savage Governor Romney, well, team Obama suddenly open to taking aim at Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: He's running an ad in Iowa starting today that talks about how he's going to bring the country together to solve problems.

I don't think there's any single person in this country who did more to create the discord in Washington that we see today than Newt Gingrich. He's really the godfather of gridlock.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN contributor Mary Matalin knows Speaker Gingrich very well, as does the former Republican Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia.

Mary, the challenge now, the challenge for Newt Gingrich is now that he has the front-runner football, is, can he hold it? Will he fumble it or will somebody strip it away in the four weeks to Iowa?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we have seen that he's Lazarus, so now we have to see if he's Icarus. The old Newt would fly too close to the sun.

This Newt seems to be demonstrating a great maturity, that he's learned from his mistakes and he's grown a lot. He earned this ascendancy, and it's not a hollow ascendancy, and it's not the flavor of the month. If you look deeper in those polls, it's not just the top lines.

These voters believe that he can lead on the number-one issue better than any other candidate in the race, which is economics. And Gloria said something very insightful at the top of the show, which is these primary voters, in particular, wanted somebody who can fight. So every time all of these negative attacks, ostensibly negative attacks, show Newt Gingrich fighting, it's reinforcing what to them is a positive. They want a fighter who can take the message to the president. And he's embodying that and his baggage is -- seems not to be holding him back.

KING: And that's an interesting question, because now his rivals are taking sharp aim at him. We played that pretty scathing ad from Congressman Ron Paul.

Listen to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who needs to do well in Iowa and is trying to find a way to convince voters there to peel off Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: His offices are located on the Rodeo Drive of Washington, D.C., which is K Street, and that's what he's been doing for years is being an influence peddler and he's the consummate insider.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You might think, Congressman Davis, that in this Tea Party, grassroots driven, that those kind of attacks would stick, and yet as Mary notes, so far, so far, people aren't peeling off Gingrich.

TOM DAVIS (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: I don't think so. I don't think they're going to in this case.

Look, this is already baked into the cake. People know Newt Gingrich, they know about the ethics violations, they know about the marriages, and as the left and the president continue to attack him, I think this just solidifies him with the conservative base.

KING: Solidifies him to be attacked, Mary, but he also has had issues with independent voters in the past. That is not his challenge at the moment. That could be the challenge down the road.

I want you to listen to Governor Jon Huntsman here. He's nowhere in the polls. He's not even playing in Iowa. And he's trying to lump Gingrich and Romney together in a bad way. Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm running against a conservative flip-flopper. I'm running against a grandiose conservative. And people are now coming around to the reality that I'm a consistent conservative.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If you are advising a Republican on how to get at Gingrich, is that it? MATALIN: Every time I hear Governor Huntsman, who is a fine man, but let's remember he started his campaign saying, I'm not going to run a traditional campaign, I'm not going to attack my opponents.

These are mosquitoes on an elephant's butt, I'm telling you, John. You have seen this before. This is a message campaign. It is not a messenger campaign. You can rip up the messenger any which way you want. And the Obama people have telegraphed they're going to do that no matter who's the nominee, but the message, including among independents, is one of -- you know what the big message is, less government, more effective government accountability, and the policies are tax reform, regulatory reform, all the rest of it.

Independents side with Republicans on that. And Newt, again, earned this ascendancy. He was the clearest and the most concise and most consistent in these debates. He needs to stay on message and not be more of a messenger. He shouldn't be all of the messenger that he can be. Let's put it like that.

KING: And the question is -- Mary used the apt term earlier. You have been around Newt back in the day. She raised the parallel of the fable of Lazarus, if you will.

You have watched Newt get pretty high in the sky and then decide to make the run for the sun many times in his career. What is different? Do you see a different Newt Gingrich now, or are you sitting there counting the clock waiting for it to happen?

DAVIS: No, he's very, very disciplined and very focused right now. And if this becomes a race of contrasting visions of the country, there probably isn't a better spokesman for a contrasting view to the Obama administration.

KING: You believe he can beat Barack Obama in a head-on-head contest, given his historical baggage with independents?

DAVIS: Well, look, Netanyahu got elected with baggage, Berlusconi.

When it's becomes about contrasting visions of the country, the baggage doesn't count as much. If it becomes about personalities, then obviously he has a problem.

KING: Congressman Davis, Mary Matalin, appreciate your insights.

Again, Iowa votes in 28 days. So, then why is Mitt Romney in Arizona? We will take a closer look at the crowded calendar for Republicans.

And next, a leading Tea Party voice in Congress responds to President Obama's take on what ails the middle class.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Boil it all down, and what the president said in Kansas today is this: Republicans and especially Tea Party Republicans are dead wrong when it comes to the economy and the role of government.

For example, to Republicans who oppose raising taxes on millionaires to help pay for extending a payroll tax cut the president says will help the struggling middle class, there was this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This is about the nation's welfare. It's about making choices that benefit not just the people who've done fantastically well over the last few decades, but that benefits the middle class, and those fighting to get into the middle class, and the economy as a whole.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And to Republicans who want to repeal new banking regulations and consumer protections, well, there was this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Consumers deserve to have someone whose job it is to look out for them.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And I intend to make sure they do.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And I want to hear -- I want to you to hear me, Kansas. I will veto any effort to delay or defund or dismantle the new rules that we've put in place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So how does that message sit with its intended targets of Capitol Hill? Let's ask one: conservative Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

Senator, it's good to see you. If you listen to the president, he sounds more aggressive, more defiant, more confident that he can go to the American people and say the Tea Party is wrong.

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is Obama's economy, John. He's gotten all of his major policy initiatives for three years. The Democrats have controlled the Senate for five years, four out of five years in the House. This is their economy, and they desperately need something to blame Republicans on next year.

Republicans are all for lowering taxes for the middle class. But not for temporarily continuing to raid Social Security and say we're helping the economy. They're trying to help people with -- get a little more money who already have jobs when his policies are hurting the economy.

KING: Let's talk about the payroll tax for a minute, because that is the fight at the moment. There are a lot of bigger and broader questions, as you well know.

The payroll tax, there are some who say we would extend it if we find spending cuts, not a tax increase to pay for it. There are others, and I want you to listen to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, one of the candidates for president. It sounds to me like you're more in her camp, that I've supported in the past but I don't see evidence that it's stimulating the economy, and it hurts Social Security. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He said he wanted to lower that -- the payroll tax cut because it would create jobs. Even the administration admits it didn't create jobs. It hasn't helped to turn the economy around. Why would we continue something that isn't working and that is taking 111 billion away from senior citizens when they need that money in the Social Security trust fund?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, Senator, are you no because you don't think this works period?

DEMINT: John, last year I voted against the temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts, and that included the payroll tax cut, because I said that this is not a temporary economy. We don't need temporary tax policy.

I was right. It did not help our economy. Either extending the Bush tax cuts or the payroll tax. There's no evidence that doing this is going to create more jobs, but it will add to our debt, and it will make our Social Security system less solvent.

So I'm all for lowering taxes, and whatever we do, we need to make sure it doesn't add to our debt. But the president, John -- I think this is the most important issue here -- does not appear to want to continue the payroll tax deduction or even the unemployment insurance extension.

He seems to want it as a political issue, because if he wanted to sit down with Republicans and Democrats and work out an extension of the payroll tax, it would be easy to do, because there are plenty of Republicans who support it, a lot of Democrats. But the president seems to want the issue. He doesn't seem to really want the policy.

KING: A new Winthrop poll in your state today, Senator. Is it possible to address the national budget concerns without any tax increases? Thirty percent in South Carolina say possible; 63 percent say not possible. To get 63 percent in South Carolina, you're getting a lot of Republicans.

Is the Republican Party and the Tea Party on the wrong side of this issue?

DEMINT: Well, I'd have to admit, we're probably losing the public relations battle, but it really does depend on how you ask the question.

Pat Toomey created a budget that we all supported as Republicans that balanced the budget in ten years without cutting Social Security or Medicare and without raising taxes. All we have to do is keep spending at today's level and not increase it past inflation.

We don't have to raise taxes on those who are creating jobs, and that's what the president is talking about. Business people know that he's all politics and no real policy right now. And this is a debate we're going to have to figure out how to win with the American people, because promising them more money is something that most people want. So it's a battle that we're going to have to take to the American people and hope we can win.

KING: It's a battle that in some ways begins four weeks from tonight in Iowa, 45 days from the primary in your state.

I want you to listen, Senator, to a conversation we had the morning after the election back in 2010. You're a Tea Party favorite. A lot of conservatives follow your lead. Back then you were quite high after the Republican victory. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEMINT: I think everyone who campaigned and won as Republicans this time understands that we've got to do what we promised, and that means less spending, less borrowing, less debt. So I think you're going to see a new Republican Party that will re-earn the trust of the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's November 3, 2010. Does it surprise you in early December, 2011, when we look at the two leading candidates right now for the Republican presidential nomination, yes, they are right of center, but I don't think anyone would describe either Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney as sort of hard-core Tea Party grassroots anti- government conservatives? Does that surprise you?

DEMINT: Well, all of our candidates carry the main principles of cut cap and balance, balance our budget, limit the size of government.

And I think people use the Tea Party now as trying to marginalize the folks like me and say we're far to the right. We're talking about what's best for America. We're generally talking about common sense. And mostly what we're talking about is balanced budget and limited government. And I think all of our candidates are doing that.

The real battleground for me is in the Congress, and especially in the Senate. Because any of these candidates for president who are Republican would sign good bills if we could get them out of Congress.

So my focus is on electing senators through the Senate Conservatives Fund. We've got to have five, six, eight more solid conservatives in the Senate who will help us balance our budget and keep us from going over this economic cliff. KING: That Winthrop poll we talked about a few minutes ago has Newt Gingrich at 38 percent; Mitt Romney, who you backed four years ago, at 23 percent. I'm getting from this conversation you are going to stay out of the presidential race, no endorsement at all, or given the stakes so late, might you jump in?

DEMINT: I don't plan to get in, John, right now. My focus is totally on the Senate, because if we can win the Senate and have a good group of solid conservatives in the Senate, then I think we can send the next president some good legislation for a change.

KING: Are you comfortable with a President Gingrich or Newt Gingrich as the nominee?

DEMINT: I'm comfortable with any of the ones that we are running right now relative to who's in the White House.

KING: Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Sir, appreciate your time tonight.

DEMINT: Thank you, John.

KING: Just ahead, guess who's coming home for the holidays?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know right now.

A short time ago, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration resigned. Randy Babbitt, you might recall, was arrested on a drunken driving charge over the weekend.

The U.S. embassy in Iran was shut down more than 30 years ago, but today the Obama administration opened the virtual embassy of the United States in Tehran. It's a Web site intended to reach out directly to the Iranian people.

Hundreds were arrested in Moscow today during protests against Sunday's parliamentary elections. Those protesters allege the results are fraudulent. Those elections put Prime Minister Putin's party back in power.

Home in time for the holidays. About 170 soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state who have been serving a long time in Iraq, returned home tonight. It's expected to be the final chartered flight for soldiers from that base who have been on the ground in Iraq.

Up next, tonight's "Number." We know Iowa votes in 28 days. How will we know and what will the number be if the Republican race turns into a marathon?

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KING: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin is here with a preview. You're speaking to an old House colleague of Newt Gingrich tonight and, of course, the question would be, does he support the former speaker for president?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, obviously, the devil will be in the details, as in who is it? And you are absolutely right about that. It's Peter King, and Representative Peter King was in the House for two years before Newt Gingrich came in and became the speaker.

Well, you know what? He has very strong words to say about the Gingrich candidacy, John. He is not a fan. He talks about Newt's inconsistencies. He talks about how he cuts himself off at the legs. He talks about what he thinks is his egotism. We have all of that from Representative King to find out why he's concerned at this -- if Newt Gingrich is the nominee he won't actually become president of the United States.

So interesting to start to see some of these splits in divisions in the Republican Party of people coming out and talking like this. So we'll have that interview with Representative King, top of the hour. Plus, a whole lot more. Back to you.

KING: Can't wait. We'll see you in just a few minutes, Erin, thanks.

And the campaign, of course. The campaign, we know, Iowa is 28 days from today, but that's not -- that's not tonight's "Number." Tonight's "Number," 84 days. Why 84? That's the date of the Arizona primary.

Mitt Romney was in Arizona today. He was once the front-runner. You'd have to say Newt Gingrich is now. Why might Arizona matter? Well, if this turns into a sprint or a marathon, that's the question.

If it's a sprint, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, we'll have a nominee. Somebody wins two out of three, that happens a lot. Usually, you know it's over.

If not, Iowa votes January 3; New Hampshire a week later; South Carolina 11 days after that; Florida, that wraps up January. If we go into February, that's when things get interesting. The 4th is Nevada, a big Romney state, so far anyway, and he's trying to make Arizona on the 28th. You see the days right here. Will we know the nominee in 45, 46 days? Will it take 84 days or more? Well, that depends.

Joining us from Manchester, New Hampshire, to talk about this, Newt Gingrich New Hampshire campaign chairman Andrew Hemingway. Here with me in Washington, Cornell Belcher, Democratic pollster who's working for the president's re-election campaign.

And the question, gentlemen, is can Mitt Romney leverage all this establishment support, including an endorsement today from a guy who back in the day was an up-and-coming rising conservative star, the former vice president, Dan Quayle?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAN QUAYLE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor, I am here today to give you my enthusiastic endorsement and support. I am confident that you will be our nominee, and I am even more confident that you will be the next president of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Pictures do speak a thousand words, Andrew Hemingway. We showed Dan Quayle there. He was once a rising star in the party. You're a young star in the Republican Party. Dan Quayle represents the establishment that is so key to Romney. The establishment is running from your guy, Newt Gingrich, and he's counting on new Tea Party-type activists like you. Which strategy will work?

ANDREW HEMINGWAY, CHAIRMAN, NEWT GINGRICH'S NEW HAMPSHIRE CAMPAIGN: Well, I think that when you look at the recent polling and you look at the -- all of the evidence that's on the ground, there's definitely a surge. I mean, the Tea Party's a very real and alive group of very active, motivated voters who are going to be coming out. They're representing the American people in huge numbers.

And as one of your guests earlier on in the show talked about, this campaign, you know, run by Speaker Gingrich, is one about solutions. It's one about messaging. It's one about the principles and ideals that this country was founded on. It's a return to those things. And it's tapping into that, that has -- that we've had a lot of success here with Newt. It's resonating in New Hampshire.

You can see, obviously, from the polls that it's resonating across the country, and it's tapping into that anti-government, anti- establishment sentiment that's currently alive and well right now in the states.

KING: But Cornell Belcher, can you call Newt Gingrich -- I think he's an interesting guy. I have a good relationship with him. I think he's a controversial guy. Can you call him anti-establishment? And you're chuckling. Anti-government. He's to the right of Barack Obama.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: He was once the second most powerful man in Washington.

KING: Indeed.

BELCHER: So it's kind of hard to be anti-establishment. You know, but that's for the general election.

Right now, if you look at what's going on, actually, you know, all of these endorsements moving to Romney actually helping Newt Gingrich. If you look over the last couple of election cycles, what America don't want the grassroots, the establishment folks. You know, the establishment kiss is the kiss of death, I think, in these primaries. Newt shouldn't want them. And if I were Romney, I would slow some of them down. KING: Slow some of them down. I want to show -- Andrew mentioned the poll. Let's show the marriage poll in New Hampshire recently. Romney at 38 percent, Gingrich at 23. That's recently. And what makes it shocking is look at just in October, it was 33 to 4.

The question, Andrew Hemingway, has been asked and asked time and time again, Newt Gingrich is a surge candidate. But does he have the infrastructure on the ground? I'll go back to a great New Hampshire primary four years ago when everybody thought, when the day started, Barack Obama was going to win. And Hillary Clinton had old-fashioned organization. And in the end, she didn't win the nomination. But on that night in New Hampshire, she proved troops on the ground can matter.

Do you have them?

HEMINGWAY: We absolutely do. We've been building a very, very strong, very aggressive, fast, fast-growing organization here in the state. We have -- you know, we're using -- we're leveraging a lot of social media, a lot of the new technologies that are available to us.

We've got a really great brand-new VOIP phone system that's going to allow us to do thousands of calls in an evening. We have over 3,000 volunteers who have come on, signed up on NewtHampshire.com.

There's a long tradition of surge candidates coming out of Iowa, coming into New Hampshire and doing very, very well. I think that we are positioned very well in New Hampshire right now. We recognize that we're behind. I mean, Governor Romney has a house here. Governor Romney has been campaigning here for, you know, going on eight years, and we recognize that we have a lot of work to do.

And every single day I tell my staff, I talk to my volunteers, and I say, "Look, we've got to put our heads down. We've got to go out on the sidewalks. We've got to win one more vote. We've got to tell one more person the messages here." And that's how we're running this campaign. And I think we're in very good shape.

BELCHER: Really quickly from a strategic standpoint, this is beautiful. You know, as the numbers shrink and shrink, what the Newt team should be doing -- I'm giving you free strategy -- what the Newt team should be doing is setting expectations.

If Romney wins New Hampshire by a couple of points, it means he lost. They should set expectation. This is home state. He should blow away the field there. He better win New Hampshire by eight, ten points going away. He does any less than that, it's a loss. Set those expectations high for him.

KING: We're going to put on the screen "Cornell Belcher, advisor to -- voluntary advisor to Gingrich."

I want to play a little bit from the president's speech today. The president delivered a very important speech today in Kansas. We talked about it at the top of the program, but with Mr. Belcher, from his team here. I want to go back at it again. The president planting a flag, and saying essentially, "Tea Party you're wrong. Income disparity in this country is a problem. The government is part of the solution."

Let's listen to the president.

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OBAMA: There are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia, and their philosophy is simple. We are better off when everybody's left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules. I am here to say they are wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Important, because all Democrats, but a lot of Democrats think, especially that Democrat, were a bit timid after the Tea Party message, saying we have to get about deficit reduction. We have to get about less government. This was a case to say the haves and the have-nots, the gap's too wide. The government has to be part of the solution. Can he carry that through the election?

BELCHER: Well, it's where the American people is. If you look at poll after poll, I mean, public polling, this is what the American people is, this ideal that, you know, we've got to get back to American values, American values of hard work paying off. American values that you -- you know, one set of rules for everyone. Those are the values that we built this economy on, sort of spare, responsible.

KING: It wasn't the mood of what happened in 2010. Andrew Hemingway, your state went big Republican in 2010. It's been blue in the past. It will be one of the swing states where we test this theory next November, right?

HEMINGWAY: It absolutely will be. You know, I've just received some advice about our campaign, and I'd like to give some advice across -- across the way. And that is -- listen to the American people. I mean, the America people are saying there is too much government, there is too much regulation, there is too much spending, we are concerned about the debt. And yet we have an administration who continues to, you know, use class warfare and use rhetoric to go against that and to push their own agenda.

KING: I'm going to jump in here to save a little time for the next part. I'm going to jump in here. I do think -- I do think we have an interesting -- I do think we have an interesting day ahead.

2008 was one verdict from the American people, then there was 2010. Let's make 2012 the tie breaker.

Andrew, Cornell, thanks.

Up next, tonight's "Truth" throws the book at Newt Gingrich.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We don't know how it ends just yet, but we are watching a fascinating new chapter in the political life of Newt Gingrich. He has as good a chance as anyone now of being the Republican nominee for president. Laugh if you so choose, but whoever wins that nomination will have a pretty decent shot at winning the presidency. Which is why the earlier chapters of the Gingrich saga are getting more and more attention.

And here's tonight's "Truth." Judging Gingrich by the book, or by the books, we should say, is a fairly damning exercise. The former Texas congressman, Tom DeLay, was part of the Gingrich takeover of the House back in the mid-1990s. In his book, he writes of a speaker with a big, a huge ego and a Clinton White House that would take advantage of that by, whenever Gingrich visited, sprinkling flattering Gingrich magazine covers around the room.

Quote, "Newt would come back into leadership meetings with the White House and tell us how the White House understood his significance, and people would look around and say, 'Have you lost your mind?' I believe the Clinton people suspected they could manipulate Newt by appealing to his ego, because they were used to appealing to Clinton's ego. Apparently, the tactic worked on Newt, as well."

The veteran Republican operative Ed Gillespie, who was a very important Capitol Hill staffer back in those days, also took time in his book to paint ego as a big Gingrich weakness.

Quote, "A little over four years later, Gingrich would lose his historic speakership, largely because he forgot that it wasn't about him. He began acting on a whim, reversing decisions that his leadership team had agreed on only a day before."

Notice a trend?

Here now two doozies from the former Republican congresswoman Susan Molinari, who was married to a former Gingrich deputy, Congressman Bill Paxton: "He'd call Bill and other members of his leadership team and weep openly while talking about resigning, because saving the world was simply too heavy a burden for him to manage."

She went on to write," Newt Gingrich is one of the most complicated public figures of our day: incredibly smart and pragmatic, he is at his best when he is building a team. He is at his worst and most self-destructive when he swells with his own sense of invulnerability and moves to the front and center."

Well, "Truth" is, Gingrich is front and center again right now, and his boasts last week that he will be the nominee was, to many old colleagues and even some allies, a hint of that sense of vulnerability Susan Molinari wrote about. They think it might be getting the better of him.

But it's too soon to stay the old Newt, the self-destructive Newt is back. To his credit, he has been much more disciplined in this new chapter, but the true test is the next four to six weeks. Let's check back in with Andrew Hemingway in New Hampshire, his chairman there. Andrew, you're too young, I can tell by looking at you, to remember the old Newt. Have you read the books? Are you confident he will not self-destruct this time?

HEMINGWAY: I certainly have. And I know -- and I know Newt personally, and he is absolutely a man who has learned from his mistakes. He has taken that experience and is -- he is a much better candidate and a better man ultimately for it. And he will be a very strong conservative leader for our country as the president of the United States.

KING: Cornell Belcher, you as confident? I have here -- I didn't read, there's some great ones here in the Bill Clinton book, too. I didn't read those. For another day, maybe, but...

BELCHER: Am I confident Newt's changed? I'm absolutely sure he has not changed. When you're giving speeches and you're talking about how you're getting $60,000 per speech, that doesn't sound like someone who's changed.

KING: I'll see you tomorrow on CNN.com live at noon. See you right here tomorrow night.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.