Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Texas Congressman Ron Paul; President Obama Pushes for Tax Cut Deal; Interview With Rick Santorum

Aired December 20, 2011 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

Tonight: broken government. Your taxes are set to go up as House Republicans and President Obama play the blame game.

Also, one of the Republican Party establishment's biggest nightmares. We will ask Congressman Ron Paul what happens if he actually wins the Iowa caucuses.

Plus, this warning. Washington's budget-cutters may be leaving us unprepared to face a bioterror attack. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here to explain.

Let's start though with today's big news here in Washington. This afternoon, the House rejected a two-month extension of the Social Security payroll tax holiday. That's the only option that was left on the table by Senate Democrats. That means the government could start taking a bigger bite out of your paycheck starting January 1.

That caused the president to make a rare appearance in the White House Briefing Room this afternoon to blast House Republicans, blaming them for the gridlock.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And let's not play brinkmanship. The American people are weary of it. They're tired of it.


KING: Minutes later, the House speaker, John Boehner said, no, this is the Democrats' fault for refusing to pass a yearlong extension. The Republican speaker called on the president to order Senate Democrats back to Washington.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I need the president to help out, all right?



KING: CNN is working its sources on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin will join us in a second.

Let's go first though up to Capitol Hill and our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, the president seems to think he has the upper hand here. Let me ask you this from a policy perspective. The House went home after this. They think they're on the high ground. Do they have a plan B?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Plan B right now, John, is to have the Republican conferees, the negotiators that the House Republicans appointed today to have them out front and center as much as possible, to be in front of the cameras and try to put the pressure on Democrats to show maybe the House went home in general, but the people who they want to negotiate, they're still here.

But beyond that, I'm told by Republican sources not so much. And the reality is that Republicans some of them I talked to, very quietly, around the corners and in the hallways here, they are concerned. They are concerned about getting the blame for taxes going up. That's why the vote you saw today, John, Republican leaders crafted it very carefully so that Republicans didn't have to vote for what was effectively a tax increase.

And you're also seeing Senate Republicans more and more, John McCain on CNN just a short while ago saying to their colleagues in the House, come on, guys, we think that you should just pass this two- month extension and then we can deal with a longer-term one-year that almost everybody agrees on.

KING: Dana, stand by.

Let's go down the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

Jessica, simple question. Will the president heed the speaker's call and say, hey, Senate Democrats, come back, or does he think he has the upper hand here?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Quite simply New York. There's no indication the president will call the Senate back. The feeling here is why should they? It's not their place and it's the House's turn to act.

Their view is that the politics on this are very clear and the policy is clear because 89 members of Senate have voted to pass a compromise. That's very rare these days, as we all know. You even have four Senate Republicans, all of whom are up for reelection, calling on the House of Representatives to agree to this compromise.

And so, the White House's view is that they can keep the pressure on the House of Representatives and as the clock keeps ticking, that enough members of the House are likely to peel away that they will pass this measure perhaps after Christmas and in the worst case, if they don't, then Republicans are going to take the blame, John.

KING: Jess, stand by.

I want to go back up then to the Capitol.

Dana, what do House Republicans say about that? In an important election year, do they want to take the blame for raising taxes, even if it's only temporary? And what is the changed dynamic here? I get the speaker's point, and he has a point. Why a two-month extension? Why can't you get it done on a one-year extension?

However, in the old days especially with eggnog in the glasses most Congresses would have taken this deal and then dealt with it in January.

BASH: It's such a great example, maybe just the latest example, of how much things have changed here in Washington. If you look at public opinion, they think, for the most part, not for the better.

And that is, you're right, usually the culture and the dynamic here is when we get this close to Christmas and to the holidays at the end of the session, people just take the deal and they go home. It may not be the perfect, but they do it.

There's so many new members, especially of the House Republican Conference, who they say this is not what we came here for. I was told by several Republican lawmakers about one of the conference calls and even a two-hour meeting that they had yesterday, where so many people stood up and said, forget it, we're not going to do two months, we're not go doing it, because they believe that this on a policy level hurts small businesses, but, politically, they want to take it all. And they're not going for anything less than that.

Throughout the year, Republicans have had the upper hand and Democrats have caved. Let's be honest. They admitted that they have caved. In this instance, they insist that they won't do it because this issue they believe really hits home because it really hits people's pocketbooks, pretty much more than anything else that they have had a stalemate over and they have had many, many over the past year.

KING: Back to the White House, Jessica Yellin. Dana makes an important point, the Democrats have in the past blinked. Sometimes they blame the president for that. If he's going to plant his foot on this one, he seems to believe as you report he thinks he has the upper hand now. What is their presidential election year calculation on this? Are they worried at all?

YELLIN: Not worried at all because -- well, there's always a little concern, but, John the big picture here is that, for the president, you have heard him paint this picture over the last three months of a -- quote -- "do-nothing Congress," essentially tagging the Republicans in Congress as dysfunctional and to blame for gridlock. So if this payroll tax cut is not extended, that builds on this theme of a do-nothing Congress in the president's team's view, and then the idea is they could attach the Republican opponent, whoever that is, to this Republican do-nothing Congress and make them a pair, a unit, and this Republican presidential candidate would be aligned with a dysfunctional gridlocked Republican Party.

If, on the other hand, the payroll tax cut does pass, then the president would take credit for it. The big caveat to all this, the big warning is, if it doesn't pass, that would be a big hit on the economy. If the economy goes into recession, the person who takes ultimate blame is the president.

KING: That is a risk the president is taking.

Jessica Yellin at the White House, Dana Bash on Capitol Hill, thank you.

For more perspective on the day's events, your broken government at work, let's turn to our senior political analyst, David Gergen. He's in New York today.

David, I want to follow up on this point because you have a tough economy, you have a vulnerable Democratic incumbent. And here's my question tonight. Are the House Republicans even if they're right on the policy, are they somehow helping, are they unwittingly or right out in the open helping the president of the United States get his standing back?

Let's look at the polling date. If you ask do you have more confidence in President Obama or the Republican Congress, 50 to 31. The president wins this one this hands down. And, here, take a look at this next one. The president's approval rating is back up near the 50 percent range. Why? The biggest jump is among middle-class Americans.

Look at those making between $50,000 and $75,000 a year. The president's numbers are up by a striking, a striking, from -- they 57 percent approval now, up from 36 percent.

David, are the House Republicans playing into the president's hand?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Absolutely. On the merits, I think the Republicans in the House have a very good point. Of course, it should be a one-year extension instead of two months. That's very bad policy.

But on the politics, the Republicans have been outmaneuvered on this one, John. The president working with the Senate has put the Republicans in the House into a position where they look like they are clearly obstructing. And they are adding fuel to the fire from the Democrats that the Republican Party has now become hostage to the Tea Party and that whoever gets nominated by the Republican Party at the end of this primary season is also going to be hostage to the Tea Party, and we're going to be -- and that's what you're going to get in the next four years.

I think from the Republican standpoint, they may be right on the merits. I think there's a lot to be said for their position on the merits. But in terms of the politics, they have got to find a way out of this really fast.

KING: A lot of Americans, as you know, David, think Washington is broken anyway.

GERGEN: Sure do.

KING: But if they have been focused on the holiday shopping, let's just go through for them the process. Maybe they have been focused on the holidays, maybe they thought just this once that Congress would get it right.

Here's your Capitol Building. Here's what happened here. On Friday the Senate leaders agreed on a short-term deal, that's the two- month extension. They said we will come back in January and figure it out for the long haul. Then the Senate voted in favor of that long- term deal, a two-month extension of the tax cuts, of unemployment benefits as well.

What happened? House GOP members, the rank and file, David Gergen just mentioned a lot of them Tea Party members, they revolt. They say they don't like that. Then by Sunday, the House speaker, John Boehner, he says, no, we're not going it pass the Senate plan. Let's have a conference committee.

That's when if you remember your fifth grade civics class, the House passes a bill, the Senate passes one that is a little different, they have a conference committee to work things out. Then on Monday the House comes in, and they don't even vote on the Senate plan because the Republicans there don't want to be voting in favor essentially of a tax hike.

And then today, that's what happens. The House says we will have a conference committee. We're going home. The president says, no, come back and do this.

Here's my point, David. Washington is broken. Speaker Boehner says let's have a conference committee. In the old days and in every civic book in American schools, that's how it works, House, Senate, then you have a committee to merge them. If you look at 2000, 2001, 2002, even in our relatively recent history, you had a lot of conference committees. But Speaker Boehner may say this is the way the founders wanted it, but under his leadership and under Nancy Pelosi's in recent years it just hasn't happened in this Washington.

Two conference committees in all of 2011. None last year in the election year, one in 2009. Yes, he's right by the Constitution, but it's a cop-out, isn't it, by recent Washington history?

GERGEN: It is.

And you're right to point this out. On the constitutional basis, of course, the House shouldn't be dictated to by the Senate. But when it comes down to the 11th hour of the 12th month, you know, with the clock ticking the way it is, and they worked out a compromise in the Senate which did after all get majority Republican support in the Senate, you would think that that would have been wired with the House.

What's stunning to me is where was the conversation between John Boehner on the Republican side in the House and Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate? How did the House members let the Senate get that far out in front and vote for this, and then come back and pull it down in the House?

Somehow, that communication broke down or Boehner really didn't know he had a revolt on his hands in his own caucus.

KING: And now we will see if the president blinks, if Speaker Boehner blinks or if we just go into a horizon where just 11 days plus a few hours from now everyone's taxes go up. We will see. They say they will work this one out. We will keep an eye on for it.

David Gergen, thanks.

GERGEN: Thank you.

KING: Our thanks to Dana Bash and Jessica Yellin as well.

Coming up here in three minutes, presidential candidate Ron Paul right here to talk about his campaign's latest surge in Iowa and to register a strong complaint about his party's establishment.


REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What they want to do is say I don't count.



KING: It's a sentence that gives the Republican establishment heartburn: Ron Paul is in contention to win the Iowa caucuses -- that voting in Iowa just two week from tonight.

And Congressman Paul is looking to build his already strong base in that state with this new TV ad.


NARRATOR: It's the story of a lost city, lost opportunity, lost hope, a story of failed policies, failed leadership, a story of smooth talking-politicians.

Ron Paul, the one with the plan to cut a trillion dollars year one, eliminate the waste, balance the budget.

Ron Paul, the one we can trust, the one who will restore America now.


KING: So, is Ron Paul the one?

The Texas congressman and presidential hopeful joins me today from Hampton, New Hampshire.

Congressman, it's good to see you.

Iowa votes two weeks from tonight. And the establishment here in Washington and the Republican establishment in Iowa has a case of the jitters right now. I was just in Iowa last week. There are some people who think you have the possibility to win that state. If not, they expect you to be very strong, in the top two or three.

I want you to listen to this editorial in "The Des Moines Register" just the other day: "The torpedoes are now in the water for Paul. And one of them is labeled a Paul win hurts the Iowa caucuses. I have heard similar worries from GOP leaders in Iowa, who fear that Paul's crazy train will haul the caucuses out to the political fringes and derail forever, stranding Iowa's coveted status."

Why are they so worried about you?


PAUL: It's sort of entertaining. So much for democracy. As long as democracy goes their way, it's OK. But if you get enough support from the people, and you win an election, then it doesn't mean anything.

So I think they see me as a challenge for the status quo. There's a lot of people I challenge, everybody from the military industrial complex, to the banking system, to the bailouts, to our foreign policy. And it's a big deal because I want changes.

But that's what the American people want. The American people are with me, and that's why I believe I'm going up in the polls.

KING: We have had this conversation a few times during the campaign, and it is fair to say that you are less out there, if you will, this campaign than you were in the last campaign. And you get amused by this and watching it in the debates.

However, there's still a question of whether, even if you perform well in Iowa, even if you win Iowa, can you grow to the point of being the Republican nominee? I ask in the context of this. We had a new poll, national poll this week, and we asked Republican voters, who would you vote for under no circumstances? In other words, which Republican would you never support?

You, sir, topped that list -- 43 percent of Republicans said they could not support you under any circumstances.

Does that number suggest while you're growing in popularity, you can't grow enough to win the nomination?

PAUL: No, it doesn't mean that. And those aren't permanent numbers.

But you might say, what about the young people coming into voting now? How do I do? Exceptionally well. What about independents? Exceptionally well. What about the willingness of a Democrat to vote for me vs. the other ones? All of a sudden, there is the coalition.

What surprises me is, really, you know, parties are supposed to try to build, and the Republican Party would like to build so they don't have to fight for these elections all the time. So, I have young people, I have independents and a lot of Democrats who will come my way.

Why wouldn't they ask me a question and say, what is it they like about you, because we would like to build our party? But they never do. What they want to do is say I don't count and lock me out and say, oh, if you're elected, it's just a fluke. We don't want your people in our party. We have a close-knit party. And if there's these new, young, energetic people, if they come in, oh, that's bad for the party.

I don't really understand that. So, I don't understand their rhetoric about building the party and then saying, well, we don't want Ron Paul's people coming in, because they might take over the party.

Well, what if we have an influence? And what if we believe in liberty, and peace, and prosperity and sound money? What's so dangerous about that?

KING: Some of those young people -- I was struck by it when I was in Iowa last week -- it's a lot like it was for President Obama back in 2008. They support you, not necessarily the party. It's more personal than it is the party.

And a lot say of them, if you don't win the nomination, they would like you to run as an independent, as a third-party candidate. Would you rule that out, sir?

PAUL: Well, I have no intention of doing it, because I'm concentrating on doing very well in these early primaries.

So, I don't have plans to do that. It doesn't even cross my mind as planning to do that.

KING: But you don't say never?

PAUL: Well, I'm not an absolutist to say nothing, I will never do this, I will never do that.

When I left Congress a long time ago, I had no intentions of coming back. But if I would have said, I'm never coming back to this place, 15 years -- 12 years passed, and then I ran again. But I had no intention of coming back. So I don't think it's good to say I absolutely won't do anything. KING: If you look around the Internet, because you are now rising in the polls, you are being taken more seriously, not only by your rivals for the nomination, but a lot of things that have maybe come up in past campaigns, but are being regurgitated, just like they are for Speaker Gingrich, like they are for Governor Romney.

And some of them are some pretty provocative and outrageous statements that have shown up in newsletters under your name under the years. And one that has made its way around the Internet from the "Ron Paul Political Report" back in 1992 was this: "Order was only restored in Los Angeles when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks."

I know you have said this is not you, this is someone writing in your name. But I want to give you an opportunity, because this is making it on the rounds, how do these things appear under your name?

PAUL: Everybody knows I didn't write them. Everybody knows that is my nature. Everybody knows that is -- that is not my position.

It's 20-some years ago, and that's the best they can do? And they don't -- and they have to discredit me on that, rather than talking about the Federal Reserve and the foreign policy and the welfare and the debt?

No. It's something -- I was a publisher of a letter. And they appeared. They shouldn't have appeared. But, you know, it was just not me that wrote them. And I have disavowed them. So, you would think, after 20-some years -- but nobody's going to believe that stuff. People who know me know it can't possibly be true.

KING: Congressman Paul joining us tonight from New Hampshire, sir, appreciate your time.

PAUL: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

In a few minutes, we will hear from another Republican who is risking everything on Iowa. We will ask Rick Santorum about a big endorsement he picked up just today.

Also, big changes in the storm that dumped two feet of snow on New Mexico -- the latest forecast next.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: Tonight, we have a warning that Washington's budget- cutters may be leaving the country at risk to bioterror attacks. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be here to tell us more. That's next.

We will also ask Rick Santorum about the significant endorsement he picked up in Iowa today.

And also tonight, we're counting down this year's top political videos posted on YouTube. The video with the third highest number of hits, the Texas Governor Rick Perry's commercial "Faith Made America Strong."

Take a look.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian. But you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.



KING: Welcome back.

Let's first give you a sense of what we have coming in the next 30 minutes. Rick Santorum picked up a big endorsement in Iowa today. He'll be here live in just a few moments to tell us why he hopes it will change some minds.

The Republican establishment may not like tonight's "Truth," but, like it or not, it's why Ron Paul is a force to be reckoned with this year.

And just as the United States get out of Iraq -- gets out of Iraq, could war with Iran be just over the horizon?

Up first this half-hour: a sober warning about your health.

A new report says Washington's budget-cutters may be crippling the country's ability to respond to new disease outbreaks and bioterror attacks.

CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us tonight. Sanjay, what capabilities do we stand to lose?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're talking about preparedness in response to lots of different things, including some of the things we've seen this year: natural disasters, like the tornadoes in Joplin, you know, the flooding, the Red River Valley, but also things like H1N1, which you know, cost a large amount of money, about $8 billion to respond to and then, of course, the concerns about bioterror attacks.

The good news is, John, is that we are better prepared for a potential bioterror attack than we were ten years ago when the funding really spiked after 9/11. But over the last three years, things have started to -- the amount of money available has started to decrease, and we're seeing the effects of that, as well. This report was really detailed, John. They got into the specific city level, for example. They talked about 51 cities that had funds -- their funds decreased. They wouldn't be able to distribute vaccines as well. They wouldn't be able to sort of track viruses or pathogens, as well. They wouldn't be able to test for these things.

So someone described it to me as sort of like trying to train new workers in the middle of an outbreak or some sort of problem, which is what these public health people are worried about. We'll wait too long before we ramp up again.

KING: Some of these risks are hypothetical, hard for people to wrap their minds around them, but people may have seen the movie "Contagion." I know you're quite familiar with it. Realistically, what effect could a scenario like that have on patients?

GUPTA: Well, you know, with "Contagion," you know, I think specifically they talked to folks at the CDC. They talked to -- you know, to bioterror experts to say, is this a plausible scenario? And the answer came back, this was possible.

Obviously, it was a global pandemic and, you know, it was very frightening to see unfold in this fictional movie obviously. But that's the big concern.

But I'll give you a more real-life example, John, something that you and I have talked about, and that is listeria. Not nearly as sexy, as you will, as contagion, but that was held up as an example of success. They were able to trace the source of this pathogen within just a few days. But still, 30 people died, John, as a result of that outbreak.

They want to improve their abilities to track these pathogens even faster, get that food off the shelves even quicker, and reduce the number of deaths. The concern is that, if you take away funding, you're not going to be as good at doing exactly that, John.

KING: Great perspective. Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Doctor, good to see you. We'll see you tonight on "AC 360," as well.

Turning our attention now to presidential politics. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, she's out on the campaign trail in Iowa. Two weeks from tonight, 14 days before that state's kick-off caucuses.

And Gloria, you met with the state's veteran Republican governor, Terry Branstad today. Let's hear a little bit about what he had to say about expectations for the first contest.


GOV. TERRY BRANSTAD (R), IOWA: I will just say that we've always said there are three tickets out of Iowa. So it's all about expectations. Who beats expectations? So it's not just about Ron Paul. It's about who else beats expectations. Does somebody else beat expectations? Does, let's say, Santorum come in a surprising second or third? That could be significant. Or does Romney come back and come in a strong second, let's say? That could be helpful to him in New Hampshire.


KING: Interesting, Gloria, he mentioned the potential of a Rick Santorum surge there. We're going to speak to Senator Santorum in just a moment, but the first thing he mentioned was it's not just about Ron Paul. Is Governor Branstad a bit on the defensive?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. You think so? You think I was being spun a little bit, John?

Look, they -- they're clearly hearing what Republicans are saying in states other than Iowa which is, if Ron Paul wins, and they basically consider him not to be electable, doesn't that make the Iowa caucuses irrelevant?

And of course, the governor of the great state of Iowa was saying to me, we are not irrelevant. We're the ones who ended up making Barack Obama the Democratic nominee, so we're very important.

And even if Ron Paul were to win, and by the way, John, he made it very clear to me that he thinks that's a possibility, even if Ron Paul were to win, what about the others? This will also determine their place in the race. You know, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Perry, Gingrich. So I was getting spun a little bit there.

KING: A little bit.

BORGER: There's some truth to it.

KING: That's his job. That's his job. He wants to -- his cherished caucuses, he wants to protect them. So two weeks out, Gloria, this is when it gets really interesting and really fun, the TV ads, and the mail and the like. You're talking to all the senior party leaders out there. What do they expect this fight, this very contentious fight among the Republicans to come down to?

BORGER: Well, you know this, John, better than anyone. It comes down to organization in Iowa: 1774 precincts. You have to know where your voters are. You have to identify them, and you have to get them to those caucuses.

That's one of the reasons, for example, Newt Gingrich has been having such a hard time capitalizing on his own surge. You know, he went up in the polls, but he didn't have the money to put out ads or a lot of ads. He's gone positive, but he hasn't responded to the negative ads, and he doesn't have the organization to identify his voters at this point.

He's having conference calls with potential voters saying, press one if you want to be a precinct chairman, whereas these other folks, like Ron Paul, have been out here organizing. One Republican leader said to me, you know what? Ron Paul has taken a page from Barack Obama's playbook. He's gotten out there, and he's identified new people to bring into the caucuses. That's what Paul was telling you earlier. And this Republican official said, you bet he has. And that's good for the Republican Party.

KING: Fascinating. Two weeks to go. Gloria Borger in the center of the action in Des Moines. Gloria, we'll see you tomorrow.

Now it's time for the second-most popular political video this year posted on YouTube. You make these selections by watching them. It's from last April's White House correspondents dinner when the president was, well, being professorial.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some people now suggest that I'm too professorial. And I'd like to address that head on, by assigning all of you some reading that will help you draw your own conclusions.

Others say that I'm arrogant. But I found a really great self- help tool for this: my poll numbers.



KING: Important day in Iowa today. A pair of evangelical leaders endorsed the former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum, for president and dropped a strong hint they'd like some of his Republican opponents to give up.

Rick Santorum is joining us live now from Davenport.

Senator, you are -- if you look through the field here, you're the one guy who hasn't had at least a mini surge yet. Bob Van Der Platts ran the Huckabee campaign out there in 2008. Is this enough?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is certainly a big help. We've had some other endorsements, too, but this is certainly the strongest endorsement we've had to date of a leader of an organization and someone who, as you mentioned before, ran the Huckabee campaign out here in Iowa.

We feel very good today that the conservatives are starting to coalesce behind our candidacy. We felt that momentum for the last couple of weeks, as I think I told you when you were here in Iowa, and we're continuing to see that momentum pick up. We've picked up a big talk show host in northwest Iowa, Sam Clovis, and we're hopeful for even more endorsements later in the week.

KING: And yet, if you go through the numbers, and you know them all too well, I'm going to go to our poll. Now, this poll's a little bit dated, but it just does show you one of the dynamics of this race campaign. Support among Iowa evangelicals for president, Gingrich gets 29 percent; Ron Paul, 17; Mitt Romney, 15; Rick Perry, 13; Michele Bachmann, 11. And this poll, which is -- admittedly, it's a week or so old, you're down at 5 percent. You say you're on the upswing. Is it enough, and why is it, why is it, Huckabee got a big -- pretty big chunk of that vote last time which propelled him to victory. Why is it so split this time?

SANTORUM: Well, you have other candidates that are vying for it that have legitimately good records. I mean, Michele Bachmann's record's good. I mean, I differentiate myself from Michele's experience and being able to win in tough states, and run in Democratic districts instead of Republican districts and having experience on the campaign trail, and not making those mistakes that, you know, have plagued her campaign.

So, you know, we just -- we just say, you know, look, there are legitimately good choices here for us to make and as conservatives, we think we're the strongest one to run the campaign. And when we do get, as we are, I believe getting the surge, we'll be able to hold onto it and be able to take it to victory not just here in Iowa but also, most importantly, against Barack Obama in those swing states that we need to win in order for us to win the presidency.

KING: You mentioned that Bob Van Der Platts runs a social conservative -- Christian conservative group in Iowa there today. Don Wildman (ph), who runs the national organization, the American Family Association, today endorsed Newt Gingrich. That has to sting a bit.

SANTORUM: No, I mean, look, there's all sorts of groups out there that are going to be, you know, weighing in. You know, the one that matters right now for us is we have to win Iowa. We hope to get the endorsement of, you know, the next group in New Hampshire and going on from there.

National leaders are going to be all over the map. We've gotten some support from national folks. But they don't matter. What matters is Iowa, and the people here are focused on this race. They're paying attention, and I think you're going to -- we're going to like what they have to say.

KING: The governor, Terry Branstad, told our Gloria Borger today he views this campaign as three tickets out of Iowa. He says you have a chance at one of those three. Will you get one of them?

SANTORUM: I feel very confident that, you know, our campaign is on the rise. And Governor Branstad told me early on, he said you can't buy Iowa. You've got to work it, and we've done it. We've done over -- we actually had 349 town hall meetings which we'll finish at the end of the week.

KING: Top three finish?

SANTORUM: You know, I'm not predicting any order of finish. We're just going -- look, we're in the bottom right now of your poll. Now you're telling me top three finishes. We're going to do better than everybody else projects. We're focused on trying to win here in Iowa. That's where we want to go.

KING: Two weeks from tonight we'll know the answer. Senator Santorum, appreciate your time tonight.

SANTORUM: Thanks, John.

KING: And here's a question for the Republican establishment. If Ron Paul is such a fringe out-of-the-mainstream gadfly, what are you all worked up about? In Iowa, veteran GOP players worry a Paul victory to weeks from tonight would doom their cherished caucuses to ridicule and obscurity.

And because of his Iowa surge, Congressman Paul suddenly gets the attention of his rivals. They say his world view, keep U.S. troops at home and out of other countries' affairs, is naive and dangerous.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just the power of his statement from the standpoint of allowing the mullahs and a mad man to come into possession of a nuclear bomb and somehow or another that we should not care about that.


KING: Here in Washington, Republican Party regulars can't fathom the thought of Paul as a major player and voice in the nomination process. They look in the GOP field and think, well, remember this?


LORETTA LONG, ACTRESS (singing): Three of these things belong together.

FRANK OZ, VOICE OF GROVER: I know the answer.

LONG (singing): Three of these things are kind of the same. One of these things just doesn't belong here.

OZ: I got it already.


KING: But with a smile, here's tonight's "Truth." One reason Congressman Paul is more of a force this cycle is that it's not as easy to say he just doesn't belong here anymore.

After ten years in Afghanistan and eight in Iraq, more and more Americans are war weary. And the giant budget deficits here in Washington when Paul mentions them, he gets more nods when he says it's time to pull back, focus more at home.

Four years ago it was routine to see his GOP rivals roll their eyes when Paul launched into one of his trademark attacks on the Federal Reserve. And now, well Ron Paul was against the Fed in bailing out the banks before that was Tea Party cool. My money says he's still too isolationist, too anti-Wall Street for most Republican regulars. That would suggest he will influence the nominating process, but in my view, not likely to win the prize.

Still, truth is the establishment and his rivals could learn a lesson or two from Dr. Paul. Above all, he is authentic at a time most Americans view politicians as poll-driven panderers. On that point, the authenticity test, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad begrudgingly gives Paul credit.


BRANSTAD: Ron Paul has had a consistent record of voting against all the spending and wants to radically reform the whole budgeting process in the Federal Reserve and all of those things.

And a lot of people, especially a lot of young people, just feel the country's going the wrong direction. We need new leadership.


KING: The young people referenced there is important. Paul's appearances on college campuses almost always standing room only. And his young supporters are Internet and social media savvy. And much like Barack Obama four years ago, this campus loyalty to Paul is more about the person than the party.


ZOEY CAMEZELL, VOLUNTEER, YOUTH FOR RON PAUL: If I don't get my civil liberties I'll have to find another way.

KING: If Ron Paul doesn't win the nomination, do you think he should run as an independent?

CAMEZELL: Yes, I do. I think he could really hold his own at it as an independent. But I strongly believe that he'll get the Republican nomination.


KING: That's one reason Paul gives the establishment headaches. It is uncertain he won't run as an independent or as a Libertarian. This chart from "The Washington Post" shows Paul's third-party run, a Paul third-party run, at least using today's polling data, would cost Republicans an election they have a pretty good shot at winning if they get a one-on-one against the president.

Would Paul do that? Probably not. But "Truth" is, just the threat of it should remind the establishment to be a bit more polite to the congressman and to his supporters.

With us to add their perspectives, Democratic strategist, CNN political contributor James Carville; former George W. Bush speechwriter, contributor David Frum; and Republican strategist Susan Molinari, former congresswoman and a Mitt Romney supporter.

You know Ron Paul. He isn't as far out there this cycle as he was last cycle.


KING: With the new proportional rules we could get to Tampa, and Ron Paul could be to this Republican Party what Jesse Jackson often was to the Democratic Party in the '80s.

MOLINARI: Right, right. Very good analogy. Dr. Paul is a really -- a genuinely nice guy. And I think that one of the things, when you see him on TV, sometimes you think he's going to be so out there. And some of his views, his social views are an anathema not just to Republicans but, I think, to most general voters.

But he is consistent. He is sincere, and I think that does resonate this year. and clearly when it comes to not his isolationist policies but his economic policies, the timing wasn't right four years ago. It is right this year. But I say as a Romney supporter and a lot of those areas the Republican Party, Governor Romney and others are right there with him.

KING: Why?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Look, Republicans and young people, young people you referenced, we are in the middle of this terrible, terrible depression. People want an explanation.

And Ron Paul has something that sounds like an explanation. It's not an explanation. And, in fact, it's exactly the wrong way to go. But you're right: it has dragged the Republican Party toward him but in a dangerous way.

He's got the Republican Party arguing for higher interest rates in the middle of a depression. He's got the Republican Party saying we need a monetary policy that repeats all of the disasters of the 19th century. And he -- his message, his economic message is one that says we should be even more indifferent to the difficulties of the bottom 80 percent of the population than the Republican Party already is.

To give -- to call him an isolationist, give him too much credit. It's not just a bad foreign policy message that he's got. It's a destructive domestic policy message, too.

KING: James Carville, he says he's not thinking about it. Do you see any possibility his supporters could convince Ron Paul to go the third party route?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know. He's 76 years old. He's run for president any number of times. He probably figures this is his last time. I couldn't tell you.

But certainly, he gives them something. He gives the Republicans, at least, as long as he's in there, something they don't have, and that's access to a lot of energy among young people. It's been a disaster for them for a long time now.

And I think David Frum hit it on the head. He gives people an answer. I agree that, by and large, it's the wrong answer, but you know, tell me why Iraq and Afghanistan were the right answer, I guess he'd say. And that gives him a lot of energy, if you will.

And the guy is anything, he is a very pleasant man. I don't know him personally but I've been on television with him a few times. And he comes across as someone who is genuine, says what he means and means what he says. It's a kind of a -- in some ways if you don't pay attention too much to what he says, it's kind of refreshing.

KING: That authenticity thing is important, because when I was in Iowa a lot of people said they were for Herman Cain specifically because he was not a politician and say they're thinking seriously about Ron Paul, because...

MOLINARI: I do think that one thing that Ron Paul probably will take into consideration this year that he didn't a few years ago was that he's not in the United States Senate, and whatever he does as an independent candidate and what the repercussions would be and the ability to maintain a Republican -- to get a Republican Senate, maintain a Republican House, some of that fallout would fall on his side.

KING: A lot of people think that if President Obama is re- elected, that Rand Paul is going to be in Iowa pretty quick. You mentioned the freshman senator.

FRUM: This would be people saying we don't want another one of these professional politicians leading a professional political dynasty, and that's why we are turning to the Paul family political dynasty with their fund-raising operation.

KING: Wait, wait. You want politics to make sense. I want to move on. I want to...

MOLINARI: And now, let's talk about the political dynasties here in the Democratic Party.

KING: I want to move on, because if you look at -- if you look at our new polling, and you know, we're 11 months up. Look at our new polling, the president's approval rating is back up near 50 percent, but one of the things making the rounds especially being criticized on conservative blogs, but a lot of liberals talking about this, too, is something if you watched "60 Minutes" Sunday night you didn't see it, but if you go onto the Web site, you see the president of the United States rating himself in historical context.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president, with the possible exceptions of Johnson and FDR and Lincoln, but you know, just in terms of what we've gotten done in modern history, but when it comes to the economy, we've got a lot more work to do. And we're going to keep on at it.


KING: He is especially lucky, James Carville, he said that last part, because the first part, even if you believe it to be true, shouldn't he be keeping that to himself right now?

CARVILLE: Probably, but you know what? Honestly, he does have some pretty remarkable legislative accomplishments and some pretty -- some pretty good foreign policy accomplishments.

I mean, you know, now, look, the politicians tend to give themselves a lot of credit and particularly in an election year and they're kind of valid. But I would suspect his people could argue that case pretty good if you go back and you look at the totality of his record.

But you're right. I was wincing until I saw the last part, because people do not feel like, I mean, this has been particularly, you know, it's been a particularly difficult time. And it's hard to talk about the economy when you're an incumbent. We couldn't talk about it until, like, you know, the beginning of '96 and the recovery was a long way under our -- under our feet by that time.

KING: And give him some advice on that?

MOLINARI: Well, first of all if he's so interesting to put -- to actually not in a debate but to actually put Newt Gingrich, president, comparing historical figures. "Well, I am more like Jefferson."

I mean, seriously, on foreign affairs when we think back to the relationship of the United States and particularly this president, on Israel, I think this has been the most ambivalent president, certainly Republican [SIC] president in my recent memory on Israel.

You know, the jury is out on Iraq right now. There is civil war that brewing now that he's pulled the troops back. The world economy is teetering on the brink. I mean, I think there's still some real major foreign affairs such as China and the yen.

KING: I suspect he'll be a little bit more humble.

I'm sorry. I need to end this one here, because we need to show the No. 1 political video on YouTube. Caught our staff by surprise today.

This isn't any of the candidates or prominent non-candidates for president. Who is it? Next, don't go anywhere.


KING: Welcome back. Kate Bolduan is back with the latest news you need to know right now. BOLDUAN: Hey there to you, again.

CNN learned this afternoon the U.S. has been in touch with North Korean officials following the death of Kim Jung-Il. We're told those discussions centered on food aid. In the North Korean capitol today, mourners filed by a glass coffin, taking a look at -- containing Kim Jong-Il's body. Kim Jong-Un, his son and the country's new leader, was among the mourners.

And then there's this. A blunt warning from the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. General Martin Dempsey tells CNN that Iran is playing a dangerous game that could ensnare the Middle East.

In an exclusive interview with our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, General Dempsey warns that the U.S. and others don't want to get into a conflict or a new nuclear arms race with Iran, but they're ready just in case.


GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS: I'm satisfied that we are, that the options that we're developing are evolving to a point that they would be executable if necessary.


BOLDUAN: General Dempsey is visiting with U.S. troops around the world, including several holiday USO stops.

And finally, the moment you've been waiting for. YouTube's No. 1 political video of 2011. Almost 17 million views so far and probably not a name you've heard before. This happened in Iowa this February and in front of a packed Iowa House of Representatives.

Here is 19-year-old college student Zach Walls' impassioned speech against a proposed Iowa constitutional amendment banning same- sex marriage.


ZACH WALLS, COLLEGE STUDENT: I'm a sixth generation Iowan and an engineering student at the University of Iowa, and I was raised by two women. My biological mom, Terry, told her grandparents that she was pregnant and that the artificial insemination had worked, and they wouldn't even acknowledge it.

It actually wasn't until I was born and they succumbed to my infantile cuteness that they broke down and told her that they were thrilled to have another grandson.

But in my 19 years, not once have I ever been confronted by an individual who realized independently that I was raised by a gay couple. And you know why? Because the sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character. Thank you very much.


KING: That is powerful stuff.

BOLDUAN: Seventeen million views.

KING: Seventeen million. You learn a lot about what people think, and it's its own little democracy on the Internet.

BOLDUAN: And we should add, though, despite his impassioned speech, the ban, the amendment passed 62-37 back in February, but clearly, he made quite an impression on YouTube.

KING: He did, and stay with me here. Finally, here's tonight's moment you almost certainly missed, what you might call a humbling moment for Newt Gingrich. It came because of this question, again, in Iowa at a campaign stop.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that -- do you feel like you have to be a little bit more humble to...

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all I work really, really hard, and I need your help.


GINGRICH: I am aware that I -- young people in fact want to be a part of where we're going, and so I try very hard to reach out to you, but I am assertive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like assertive. Go get them.

GINGRICH: But sometimes it's a little bit too assertive and comes across too strong.


KING: Sometimes he comes across as too strong. That's the self- correcting Newt Gingrich, as I call it, out there. He is good at that. He has been so far, anyway.

That's all for us. We'll see you tomorrow.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.