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Interview With Reince Priebus; Inside Look At Fox News; The Iraq War 10 Years Later; Fifteen Candidates Face Off in Bizarre South Carolina Election

Aired March 18, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much. You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the Republican Party performs an autopsy on itself. There are lots and lots of proposed fixes, but the dissecting the 2012 defeat reveals some deep divisions within the GOP. The Republican Party chairman, Reince Priebus, is standing by live this hour.

Ten years after the invasion of Iraq, a Bush White House insider is here to reveal the secrets of how America was spun into war.

And from GOP power broker to cable news kingmaker, a new book pulls back the veil on the controversial Fox News boss, Roger Ailes.

We want to welcome our viewers from the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: In an extraordinary look inward, Republicans think they figured out what went wrong back in November. Dissecting the election defeat, the GOP has found that it is viewed as narrow-minded, out of touch, and full of stuffy old men. A 100-page (ph) calls for major changes in style and strategy, but how do they go about repairing a deeply divided party?

CNN's Brianna Keilar is here in the SITUATION ROOM. She's taking a closer look at this report and some fascinating material inside.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fascinating material inside, and one of the things that we're seeing in the Republican Party, what it's planning to do, is invest some serious money to build the Republican brand in areas that are not Republican strongholds, sending Republicans, basically ambassadors, to participate in events in minority communities and to even visit historically black colleges and universities.


KEILAR: The math in Jay-Z's campaign trail anthem was a little off. 219 problems is more like it, if you're talking about the GOP's failure in the last presidential election. REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: There's no one reason we lost. Our message was weak. Our ground game was insufficient. We weren't inclusive. We were behind in both data and digital. And our primary and debate process needed improvement.

KEILAR: This morning, RNC chairman, Reince Priebus, unveiled the autopsy of what went wrong for Republicans in 2012 with a long list of fixes.

PRIEBUS: I think that we have to be a welcoming party.

KEILAR: Among then, a $10 million outreach effort to talk to women, minorities, and young people.

PRIEBUS: The debates multiplied and were out of the control of the RNC.

KEILAR: Fewer primary debates with party leaders more involved in them. And then earlier, convention, so the nominee can dip into the party's general election war chest sooner.

PRIEBUS: So, no more August conventions.

KEILAR: This GOP mea culpa comes as the party faces a civil war -- conservatives versus establishment Republicans. This weekend, Sarah Palin slammed Republican strategist and Super PAC head, Karl Rove.

SARAH PALIN, (R) FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: If they feel that strongly about who gets to run in this party, then they should buck up or stay in the truck. Buck up and run.

KEILAR: Rove hit back on "Fox News Sunday."

KARL ROVE, GOP STRATEGIST: I say if I did run for office and win, I'd serve out my term. I wouldn't -- i wouldn't leave office midterm.

KEILAR: And John McCain recently called rising Republican star, Rand Paul, a wacko-bird. Paul responded at the conservative CPAC conference.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered.


PAUL: And I don't think we need to name any names, do we?



KEILAR (on-camera): Now, these divisions have become personal lately in the GOP, and I think a way, Wolf, that we don't normally see, but they're substantive divisions as well. How to tackle these issues like immigration reform, things like same-sex marriage, something that's becoming increasingly popular. And, also, how to tackle women's issues in a way that doesn't repel women as Mitt Romney did in November.

BLITZER: Lots of work ahead. Thanks very much, Brianna, for that report. The report, by the way, was prepared by the Republican National Committee. It is remarkably blunt in discussing the party's problems. The RNC chairman is blunt, as well. Reince Priebus is joining us now live from party headquarters. Reince, thanks very much for coming in.

PRIEBUS: Hey, Wolf. Thanks for having me. I told you it was going to be big and bold, and I know a lot of people didn't expect it this way, but that's what we delivered this morning.

BLITZER: Certainly did. In fact, I've got a copy of it right here, and it's a lot of pages. And the type is pretty small. The font, we should say. You know, let's talk a little bit about what the big problem -- is it a problem of messaging? Is it a problem of organization? Or is there a substantive policy issue that you got to change?

PRIEBUS: Well, I think that, you know, here's where I kind of focus in as chairman of the party, and it make sense. This is where I would first go. And I just think that we have to have a permanent campaign, Wolf. I will tell you that I believe -- and I think what's been clear -- is that the quality of our voter contacts have been very poor.

In other words, the Romney campaign, it's true, they did make more voter contacts than we ever made at any other campaign, but we're comparing ourselves to ourselves.

The other side, however, is in communities across America, coast- to-coast, with Barack Obama's campaign, by the hundreds of people, going to community events, going to swearing-in ceremonies, going everywhere imaginable, and then establishing those real authentic contacts that no five-month campaign -- no matter how big -- is going to be able to overcome.

And that's why we're committed to hiring hundreds of paid people into African-American, Hispanic, and Asian communities across America, even in 2013, which, for our party, doesn't really like permanent politics, is something very new.

BLITZER: But is there also a messaging problem there that folks aren't liking the message that you're delivering?

PRIEBUS: Well, I think it's a matter of, you know -- it's kind of like, you know -- it's not -- our moms used to say, it's not what you say, it's how you say it. And I think it's a lot of that. Now, look, one of the issues that I think really cut pretty badly within the Hispanic communities, when Mitt Romney talked about self- deportation.

And, you know, it's a concept that really doesn't -- it's not our party's position, but it was something that I think hit every Hispanic kitchen table across America. On top of that, Wolf, if you're not -- if you don't have a year-round, multiyear presence in Hispanic communities, you really -- you don't have a real authentic way of trying to dispel some of the narrative that's out there.

So in a vacuum, with no presence over the long haul, the narrative and the caricature end up becoming reality. And so, that's why I think we need to do a couple of things. One, we need to go back to Reagan's words when he used to say, my 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy. We need to be in the community. And we need to accept, I think, different voices within our party in order to grow our party.

And that's why I've stood up for Rand Paul. No one's throwing Rob Portman under the bus if he disagrees with someone over his position. And so, I think it takes leadership to build the party. And we need to do less dividing.

BLITZER: Here's a poll we just released, CNN/ORC poll. We asked which party favors the rich. Sixty-eight percent said the Republicans, 24 percent said the Democrats. Is it because Republicans are always trying to protect taxes or wealthy people? Is that a problem out there with the rank-and-file voters?

PRIEBUS: No, i mean -- I don't think so. I think that's obviously a misperception that's become a real perception by the public. But I think we have to talk about things in ways that people can relate to.

So, I mean, if you're talking about taxes and taxing small businesses, you have to talk about the fact that if -- if -- if our small businessman has to pay more money to the government, then he's going to have less money to pay to his employers and the employees are going to have less money to send their kids to the school of their choice.

I think it's a matter of talking about the debt differently. Not just we are in imminent danger in a debt crisis in this country, but what does that mean to people? It means that our government is growing so fast and it's becoming so expensive that we're making payments to our credit cards that we can't afford, which means that we have to keep -- we'll keep having this debate about needing more revenue to the government.

Well, that means less money in people's pockets. It means less money at home, less money to put in your car. We have to tell the history of our party. The history of freedom and opportunity and equality, which we're not doing. And in your report earlier, -- I think -- go ahead. Sorry.

BLITZER: Yes. I was going to say, listen to Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee back in 2008, what she said at CPAC this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PALIN: The next election is 20 months away. Now is the time to furlough the consultants and tune out the pollsters, send the focus groups home and toss the political scripts, because if we truly know what we believe we don't need professionals to tell us.



BLITZER: Your report suggests we need more professionals. You're going to spend $10 million hiring professionals to go out and help.

PRIEBUS: Well, we're talking about actually going to places like, you know, Hialeah, Florida, and finding people that are willing to work for us in Hialeah, who grew up in Hialeah, and can meet standards and metrics and voter registration community events and other activities. So, actually, we're talking about more grassroots hiring and not so many professionals.

I mean, I would say that I think Sarah Palin's an important voice in the party so is Rand Paul and so is Rob Portman. So, I mean, my point is, I don't think we should throw anyone under the bus. I think that we need to have the attitude, let's build.

We're not compromising on our principles, but let's have a bigger party that can still advance the revolutionary ideas of freedom and opportunity, and that's what our party's all about and that's the attitude that we're trying to bring to the table.

BLITZER: The old guard, the John McCains or the new guards, shall we say, Rand Paul?

PRIEBUS: Listen, I'm for everybody. I think that we've got great horsepower in our party. I think we're a young party. I spoke at CPAC, too, Wolf. So, I think that the guys -- the young faces in our party are the future of our party. But we can still honor heroes like John McCain, too. So, I don't think we're in any position, Wolf, to start cutting people out of our party.

We're in no position to build by subtraction. We have to build through addition. Stay true to our principles and talk about our issues and relate to voters in a real detailed way and a long-term way.

BLITZER: Reince Priebus is the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Excellent report. We'll see how it works out for you. Thanks very much for coming in.

PRIEBUS: All right. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, our latest approval poll might be a reality check for President Obama. Should he be surprised at the results?

And up next, look who's playing Satan in the popular mini-series "The Bible." If you think there's a resemblance, you're not the only one. Is it deliberate? What's going on? Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton says she now supports same-sex marriage. Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, Clinton made the announcement in a video produced by the prominent group, the Human Rights Campaign. Take a listen.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Marriage, after all, is a fundamental building block of our society, a great joy, and, yes, a great responsibility. A few years ago, Bill and I celebrated as our own daughter married the love of her life. And, I wish every parent that same joy.

To deny the opportunity to any of our daughters and sons solely on the basis of who they are and who they love is to deny them the chance to live up to their own God-given potential.


SYLVESTER: Clinton avoided taking political positions as secretary of state but says her time traveling the world, quote, "inspired and challenged her to think about the values America represents." Clinton stopped short of endorsing same-sex marriage during her 2008 presidential run, the same position of then-Senator Barack Obama.

A public opinion has definitely shifted. A brand-new CNN poll shows that 53 percent of the public says marriages between gay or lesbian couples should be legally recognized as valid with 44 percent not supporting same-sex marriage.

And class has resumed at the University of Central Florida after a student apparently shot himself in a dorm room. Authorities found an assault weapon on the scene, but also found the bag of improvised explosive devices. The dorm was evacuated and morning classes were cancelled. The FBI (INAUDIBLE) campus and Orlando police in that investigation.

And President Obama is closer to filling out his second-term cabinet. He's officially nominating Thomas Perez to be his labor secretary. Perez heads the justice department's civil rights division. He has been criticized, though, by some conservatives who think he's too partisan, but he is considered a civil rights hero by others. If confirmed, Perez would be the only Latino in Obama's cabinet.

And take a look here at this actor who's playing the role of Satan in the History Channel mini-series, "The Bible." All right. So, if you think it looks anything like President Obama, you are not alone. Social media blew up after the scene aired. There were nearly 20,000 tweets containing the words Obama and Satan.

The producer of the show is vehemently denying that it was intentional, saying, quote, "This is utter nonsense." The actor who played Satan, Mehdi Ouzaani, is a highly acclaimed Moroccan actor, and he has previously played parts of several biblical epics, including satanic characters long before Barack Obama was elected as our president.

The History Channel weighed in, too, releasing this statement, quote, "History Channel has the highest respect for President Obama. The series was produced with an international and diverse casts of respected actors. It's unfortunate that anyone made this false connection."

The silver lining in all of this, though, is that a lot of people noticed the resemblance, because a lot of people are watching that show. So, the network can certainly take some comfort in that. Yes, the ratings for the History Channel have been in itself epic.

BLITZER: Amazing.

SYLVESTER: Yes, pretty amazing.


BLITZER: They do look alike, though, you got to admit.

SYLVESTER: They do. I had not -- I have to admit, I haven't been watching the series, but when I saw the pictures, you could see. 20,000 tweets on that one subject, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.

Up next, as President Obama tries to find common ground with the Republicans, some fellow Democrats may be refusing to give much ground. Do they think the president is ready to give away too much? One of those Democrats are standing by to join us.

And for the first time in six months, the president's job approval rating dips below 50 percent. Our new poll shows why.


BLITZER: He's worked behind the scenes for decades from Republican political operative to power broker, maybe even a kingmaker. You may know him as the head of the highly successful highly partisan Fox News Channel, but now, a new book pulls back the curtain on Roger Ailes.


BLITZER: Joining us now from New York, Zev Chafets, he's the author of the brand-new book, "Roger Ailes: Off Camera." Zev, thanks very much for coming in. Congratulations on what I'm sure is going to be a best-seller.

ZEV CHAFETS, AUTHOR, "ROGER AILES: OFF CAMERA": Thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Roger Ailes right now. He's the Fox News president, obviously, as we all know. He's done amazing things over there, but give us a little insight. Who is this man as far as politics is concerned? Because he's been described as a political machine.

CHAFETS: Well, as you know, Roger got his start in politics working for Dick Nixon in 1968, and then did some work for Ronald Reagan and for George H.W. Bush. So, he's really -- he started out as a political consultant. He's certainly a Republican. He's certainly a conservative. That's reflected in Fox News.

I did a quiz with him that a professor at UCLA had cooked up to measure conservatism versus liberalism, and he took it and so did I, by the way. And it turns out that he is more conservative than the network. And he agreed that that's probably true.

BLITZER: So, he's obviously very conservative in that position he has, it filters down, I assume, on the network. I want to play a clip. This is Sarah Palin. She used to be a Fox News contributor until the last election. This is what she said at the Conservative Political Action Conference that took place in Washington this past weekend.


PALIN: If these experts who keep losing elections, yet keep getting rehired, raking in millions, if they feel that strongly about who gets to run in the party, then they should buck up or stay in the truck. Buck up and run. The architect can head on back to --


PALIN: -- they can head on back to the great lone star state and put their name on some ballot.


BLITZER: The architect, the clear reference to Karl Rove who still is a Fox News contributor right now. She no longer is. What happened? Why was she either forced out, resigned, dumped, what happened there?

CHAFETS: Well, I think it's fair to say that she lost some of her appeal as far as Fox News is concerned. And, I think that they couldn't get together on how much money she was going to earn, speaking of the millions that she thinks Karl is earning. And so, she left.

BLITZER: Because they didn't want to pay her as much as they were paying her, before they offered her a more modest contract, is that what you're saying?

CHAFETS: That's what I understand, although, I can't tell you for sure. I'm not really an expert on what happened in her negotiations. I do know that Roger -- even a few months before the election -- was already thinking in terms of a post-Palin network.

BLITZER: Because he obviously lost her, Dick Morris, some of the presidential candidates like Rick Santorum was a Fox News contributor, Newt Gingrich. I see a pattern here, but maybe you see something differently.

CHAFETS: Well, you know, they come and they go at Fox and at other networks, too. Some people have suggested that Ailes was trying to buy the Republican nominee in 2012 by hiring Gingrich and Santorum and Palin, and he laughed at that. He said that he knew Huckabee couldn't raise the money to run. He knew that Palin didn't have a shot, and he knew that Santorum who didn't even win his own state wasn't going to get the nomination.

And in my book, I think that you may have heard what he said about Newt Gingrich. So, I think it's fair to say that he just wanted to get a fresh set of faces.

BLITZER: Zev Chafets is the author of the new book, "Roger Ailes: Off Camera." Zev, thanks very much for coming in.

CHAFETS: Thanks a lot, Wolf.


BLITZER: Up next, as President Obama tries to find common ground with the Republicans, some fellow Democrats may be refusing to compromise on some of the most important issues. Do they think the president is ready to give away too much? One of those Democrats standing by to join us live right here in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The president's charm offensive has been the talk of the town here in Washington, and he spent three days personally meeting with lots of Republicans, trying to find common ground on reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security among other critically important issues. Some Republicans appear to be willing to compromise, but it's some House Democrats who may put the brakes on the president's plans.

One of the Democrats who says he won't budge on cuts to Social Security is Congressman Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, who's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: You're uncomfortable with what the president is saying when it comes to entitlement reform, Social Security, Medicare, in particular. Why?

ELLISON: Well, I am uncomfortable with it. I do respect the president has a tough job. He's trying to get a deal done here to remove sequester, which I support.

But I don't want it to be done to the most vulnerable people's expense in our society. People on Social Security make about $22,000 a year. Their Social Security allotment is probably about half of that. About 30 percent of all women on Social Security rely -- have nothing other than Social Security to rely on. And so, when we start talking about cutting Social Security, I get a little bit nervous about that.

BLITZER: But what he's talking about is a relatively modest change to the way they deal with inflation. The cost of living increases -- there will be cost of living increases, but not necessarily as high as there would have been. And it translates into a few dollars less per check.

ELLISON: Well, for a woman 75 years old, it would mean about a $650 less amount in her check per year. Now, that may seem like a small amount to you and I, but if you're on a fixed income, very limited income to begin with, that adds up. That's the difference between being able to, you know -- living --

BLITZER: So you flatly oppose any changes in what's called the CPI, the consumer price index --

ELLISON: Called the chained (ph) CPI is the term.

Now, look, there are other ways -- there are other reforms we can look at if we want to strengthen Social Security. We can raise the cap. That's something I think we should look at. There may be other ways. But to say that a beneficiary is going to get a lower amount, even if it's a few bucks, which is a lot to some people, I think we really ought to proceed extremely --

BLITZER: Are you ready to raise the retirement age?

ELLISON: I'm ready to raise the cap. So, right now, $113,000 is all people are taxed on when it comes to Social Security. I think it should be higher than that. I think what it ends up -- it ends up meaning that if you're a higher-income person, you ended up paying less overall than a person who makes under $113,000. So, I'd be for that.

BLITZER: What about in Medicare, for example? Richer people would have to pay more than poorer, retirees?

ELLISON: Well, they already do. Medicare is already means- tested. But, you know, I think the best way to deal with Medicare is to fully implement Obamacare and to have a public option. What we need to do is get ahold of the cost. What I don't want to do is just foist the costs onto seniors without really doing much on dealing with the price of medical costs, which is really expensive. And that's where we really need to go. Get more outcome-based pricing than just services.

BLITZER: You wrote a letter with about a hundred another House Democrats to the president stating this, among other things: "Raising the already heavy cost sharing burden or increasing the age of eligibility doesn't lower healthcare cost. It just shifts them to those who can least afford more financial burdens: seniors, people with disabilities, and their families."

That was written on February 15th. Have you heard back from the White House?

ELLISON: Well, you know, the president has been responsive. He's trying to do a difficult thing. You know what? But you know what, the reason the job is difficult is because Republicans are asking for things that I think are not good for seniors, people on disabilities, and people who are living on survivor benefits. The president's trying to put all this thing together, and I respect what he's trying to do. But not at the expense of the low --

BLITZER: But you haven't heard directly back from him?

ELLISON: He did answer a question I put to him at our meeting.

BLITZER: Was it a good answer?

ELLISON: It was an understandable answer -

BLITZER: What was the question, and what was the answer?

ELLISON: The question was about changed CPI, knowing it will result in a lower benefit to people? He said, well, it's a complicated issue. We're trying to get some things done here. And unless I can get the Republicans to work with me, it may not -- it may be a moot issue anyway.

BLITZER: Politico reported there was one exchange you had, and the name Charlie Brown came up.

ELLISON: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: Explain what happened.

ELLISON: Well, it was just a lighthearted thing. I mean, the president, as you know, has a great sense of humor, and I was saying he is going to be a savvy negotiator. That's -- the only point he was making, if you know, sometimes with Lucy pulling the ball up right when Charlie would kick it, and then he'd fall for that trick over and over again. The president's point was, he will be a solid negotiator. He's going to keep the interest of the low-income in mind when he does negotiation. And we should trust he's doing all he can.

And I do trust the president. But I still have an obligation to raise up the interests of my constituents who are just totally skidding by in this tough economy.

BLITZER: Keith Ellison, thanks very much for coming in.

ELLISON: Thank you.

BLITZER: The Democratic congressman from Minnesota.

Up next, a surprise for President Obama. What our latest poll shows about his job approval. Then, an insider from the Bush White House is spilling the beans about the march to war in Iraq 10 years ago. Former Bush speech writer David Frum is here live.


BLITZER: If there was ever a second-term honeymoon, it looks like it's over. President Obama's job approval rating has dropped eight points since the start of the year, and for the first time since September, it stands below 50 percent. Our new CNN/ORC poll puts it at 47 percent, to be exact.

So let's find out what's going on. Joining us now, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and our congressional chief correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana what do you - Gloria, I'll start with you -- this eight-point drop?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think things have not been going well for the president for the last few months. And I think it shows. And when you look deeper into this poll, we also ask the question about budget and fiscal policy, do you approve or disapprove of the way the president's handling it? Sixty-seven percent disapproved of the way the president is handling fiscal policy. And I think that has an awful lot to do with this, Wolf.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, yes. There's no question that that is a big part of it. But I went back with our pollster, Katie Holland - I was curious about what the other second-term presidents, going back in history, what their third month in, or second month in of the second term looked like. And it wasn't that much different. There was a drop from the very beginning. Honeymoon was a lot shorter between January and March.

But this president, really going back to Eisenhower, started out at a lower place. Fifty-five percent is where he started in January. It's much lower than we've seen.

BORGER: You know, I remember in the first press conference after the president was re-elected, he said, you know, I've studied those second-term presidents. The clear implication being he wouldn't make the same mistakes that they had made. And maybe he has --

BLITZER: Well, the Republicans are not doing great either. Take a look at this. The CNN/ORC poll, opinion of the Republican Party. Thirty-eight percent have a favorable opinion. Fifty-four percent, Dana, an unfavorable opinion. So how can the Republicans change this?

BASH: Well, you interviewed the RNC chair. Obviously, they're making a very big push to try to do that. What they're focusing on are all the groups that they didn't win, which are most of the groups. But what -- what frankly stunned me was one thing in the poll if you look inside it. And that is 51 percent of whites -- remember, those are the only people that they won in November -- 51 percent of whites don't have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party. So, they're not even putting the majority of the very small section of the electorate that they actually did well with in the last election. BORGER: The Republican brand itself seems to me to be in really big trouble.

BASH: Yes.

BORGER: And that's what the chairman of the RNC was talking about. They understand it. I mean, there have been situations when pollsters have given policy ideas to focus groups, of people and sai, what do you think of this idea? And they'll go, okay. But when they put the tag Republican on it, they don't like the idea. That's when you know that the party is really in trouble, and they have to figure out who their messengers are. Because they're really lacking those --

BASH: But I think what Reince Priebus was saying to you actually has merit about the fact that we are starting to see a new generation.


BASH: And that, you cannot underestimate the importance of that. You said a million times on air, that Mitt Romney was a transitional figure. And it's true. You're starting to see -- and I see it every day in the Senate and the House, new faces coming up. And they, I think, have a much more powerful way of getting through to --

BORGER: And that's where Jeb bush is interesting, because he's kind of transitional, a different generation. But still may --

BLITZER: We asked another question in the poll. You think -- who's doing enough to cooperate with each other? Forty-two percent said Obama's doing enough. Only 26 percent said the Republicans in Congress, Dana, are doing enough.

BASH: Right. I mean, that's actually not that surprising. But I think if you talk to many Republicans in Congress, like I do, one of the main reasons they say that they're not compromising is because they're sticking to their principles, and that's what their conservative base wants them to do. Except, again, in this poll, if you just sort of look at what -- what we call the cross tabs, 55 percent of conservatives -- 55 percent of conservatives said that they did not think that their own Republicans are compromising enough. That, to me, speaks volumes of maybe the fact that there is more of a desire among the Republicans' top supporters for them to actually get things done.

BORGER: Right, but this is the problem the House speaker has. He is completely trapped. He did his fiscal cliff deal. Republicans didn't like it. They know they had to kind of do it, because it raised taxes. They didn't like it. So, if he were to come out now and look like he's compromising and say, oh, by the way, I'll put everything on the table, including taxes, he could lose his speakership. I mean -- and he wouldn't, by the way, get a pass.

BASH: That's the problem, exactly. Never mind the speakership. He couldn't get the votes for it. Yes.

BLITZER: Gloria, Dana, guys, thanks very much. BASH: Sure.

BLITZER: Coming up, hard to believe that it's been ten years since the war in Iraq started. Now, an insider from the Bush White House spilling the beans about what happened in the lead-up to the war. The former Bush speech writer David Frum, a CNN contributor, standing by to join us live.


BLITZER: A George W. Bush White House insider is revealing what really happened in the march to war with Iraq 10 years ago. The former speechwriter, a CNN contributor, is David Frum. He writes about it in the latest online edition of "Newsweek."

David is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Excellent, excellent article you wrote.


BLITZER: Very moving. Among other things you wrote -- write this in terms of the buildup to war. "You might imagine that an administration preparing for a war of choice would be gripped by self- questioning and hot debate, yet that discussion never really happened. For a long time, war with Iraq was discussed inside the Bush administration as something that would be decided at some point in the future. Then somewhere along the way, war with Iraq was discussed as something that had already been decided long ago in the past."

Give us a little flavor. Take us behind the scenes in the buildup to the war.

FRUM: Well, I was a strong proponent of the war. Both in government, then afterwards when I left.

BLITZER: You were strongly convinced they had weapon of mass destruction.

FRUM: I was firmly convinced they had weapons of mass destruction. So I spent a lot of time over the past 10 years wrestling with Iraq. And I think some of the things that happened were for the good. I think in some ways the world is better with Saddam Hussein gone. And yet it's hard to describe what happened in Iraq as a success, and that what you're putting your finger on is this process of decision-making.

You know, it's kind of a mystery when the United States made the decision to go to war with -- in Iraq. As late as July of 2002, the British government was treating this as if it were an open question. They sent an emissary to Washington to discuss how -- what were the Americans thinking. And yet President Bush seems to have made up his mind sometime earlier, probably very early.

It was something that we're talking about from the very beginning of the Bush administration, at the beginning of 2001. BLITZER: You were among the team that wrote -- helped write the speech, the 2002 Bush State of the Union address with this very, very memorable passage. Listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: This is a regime that agreed to international inspections, then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world. States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.


BLITZER: You say that the speech marked sort of a point of no return as far as the war was concerned.

FRUM: I wouldn't say point of no -- but a real milestone. Here's what I think in that speech really stands up to the light of history. You know, back in -- when President Bush spoke those words in 2002, it was considered quite shocking and bizarre to think that there might be cooperation between Hamas and Iran. Back then the conventional wisdom was, well, Hamas -- you know, espouses Sunni Islam, Iran espouse Shi'a Islam. That it's impossible that they would cooperate, except we know that they do.

It was considered impossible that a Stalinist regime like North Korea would cooperate with Iran, and yet we know now that they do. We know that North Koreans were involved in helping Syria develop a nuclear facility that Israelis bombed in 2007.

What President Bush laid out, those ways of thinking about the terrorism problem, he was saying things that had been largely vindicated, but it's also true that that speech marked a moment where the United States really did begin to move rapidly toward a war with Iraq on the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, meaning for most people nuclear weapons. And that turned out not to be true.

BLITZER: And you end the article with some soul searching. You say this, "All of us who advocated for the war have had to do some reckoning. If the case for war had been argued in a less contrived and predetermined way, it would have been different."

All right. So 10 years later, was the war a blunder?

FRUM: Ten years the war was a prize that cost more than the prize was worth, I think. And yet --

BLITZER: So the answer is, yes, it was a blunder.

FRUM: It was -- it was certainly -- when you say that, I don't want to deny that we have important benefits from the war that have to be important to the mix. And it's easy to lose sight of that. And here's the thing I would invite people to consider. I would -- two things. First is in all the years when we said Hussein was in his box, he was spending revenues that were produced by oil at $20 a barrel. Oil has been at $100 a barrel since 2005. What was Saddam Hussein have been like if he had the enormous refuge? That he would have had from the higher prices commanded by China and -- India's entry to the global marketplace the way that they've done.

And the second thing to bear in mind is that a lot of our ability now to put pressure on Iran exists because Iraq has so hugely returned to the international oil market. Iraq is now the world's number three oil exporter. It's that that makes the sanctions regime on Iran possible in a way that it was not possible back in the 1990s when Iraq was off -- oil markets.

BLITZER: And the fact that Nouri al-Malaki's regime in Baghdad is pretty much aligned with Iran right now?

FRUM: Well --

BLITZER: That was never in your vision?

FRUM: That was not -- certainly not in my vision, but ironically while his regime is aligned with Iran, the objective facts of the energy market mean that this new Iraq is a problem for Iran, not a source of strength for Iran.

BLITZER: David Frum, excellent article in "Newsweek" magazine.

FRUM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Which is online with "Daily Beast." Thanks very much.

FRUM: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: When we come back, the most interesting cast of candidates in a political race in a long time. Ted Turner's son, Stephen Colbert's sister, and a disgraced governor all facing off in South Carolina.


BLITZER: Ted Turner's son, Stephen Colbert's sister and a disgraced former governor, they are all vying for the same open congressional seat in South Carolina. It's one of the most interesting special elections at any state in years.

CNN's Jim Acosta is watching it all unfold from the beautiful South Carolina port city of Charleston.

All right, Jim, how did this bizarre election come about?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all of this got started late last December when Jim DeMint, the very conservative former Republican senator of South Carolina, announced his retirement. The congressman from this area, Tim Scott, decided to make his name known that he would like to be Jim DeMint's replacement. He was appointed that replacement, and all of that opened up this wild and wooly congressional race as sort of a "Star Wars" bar full of candidates that includes a certain ex-governor that's found his way back on the trail.


ACOSTA (voice-over): In South Carolina, Mark Sanford needs no introduction, but after the former governor of this state famously tried to cover up an affair by falsely telling the public he was hiking the Appalachian trail --


ACOSTA: A reintroduction wouldn't hurt.

SANFORD: We can learn a lot about grace. A god of second chances.

ACOSTA: Now Sanford is asking for voters for a second chance to win his old congressional seat.

(On camera): After what you put the voters of this state through, why should they give you a second chance?

SANFORD: I think that that's one an individually determined thing, that's what a vote is about. So what I would say on the larger notion of forgiveness, some people forgave me the next day, some will never forgive me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in this race because I'm worried.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Sanford still has to win his primary against a field of 15, yes, 15 GOP rivals. Some are fixtures in state politics, another, Teddy Turner, is the son of CNN founder Ted Turner. He's been hit with negative attacks.

TEDDY TURNER (R), SOUTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: You know, it's absolutely amazing about how dirty the game is, how expensive the game is. It just doesn't make sense.

ACOSTA: And if that's not enough to grab the voters' attention --

ELIZABETH COLBERT BUSCH (D), SOUTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I thank you for your vote and thank you for the support.

ACOSTA: The winner on the Republican side will likely face Elizabeth Colbert-Busch. The Democratic favorite and yes, the sister of late-night funny man Stephen Colbert.

(On camera): And it's Colbert.

BUSCH: Colbert. Right.

ACOSTA: Not Colbert.

BUSCH: That's right.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Although she pronounces the name differently.

(On camera): This is not a joke?

BUSCH: This is not a joke. I don't think anybody would think that this was a joke. This is all too important, all too important with the condition our country is in.

ACOSTA (voice-over): CNN political contributor, John Avlon, who has some roots in South Carolina, has his eye on Sanford. Who seems to be reconnecting with voters.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: There is an affection for a guy who admits he's a sinner and asks for forgiveness, especially down here.

ACOSTA (on camera): Is this a shot of redemption, political redemption?

SANFORD: I think in some level we all hope for redemption.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Sanford says you can learn a lot wandering off trail.

SANFORD: Yes, I may not. I think some ways you learn the most in the valleys of life rather than the peaks.


ACOSTA: Now Mark Sanford is expected to win the GOP primary here in South Carolina tomorrow, but he's not out of the woods yet, because he's not expected to capture 50 percent of the vote. He'll have to compete in a runoff in a couple of weeks and then finally, mercifully, this campaign should all come to an end with the general election in May -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta working the story for us in South Carolina. Enjoy at least a night down there. We'll see back here in Washington. Jim, thanks very much.

Happening now, the president's Middle East challenge, his trip, and a dangerous new taunt by Syria.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Pope Francis threw his security detail off guard.

BLITZER: There's a plane in her house. A survivor of a deadly crash tells CNN how she escaped.

KEILAR: And America's most notorious art heist, has the mystery finally been solved 23 years later?

I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.