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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript

Interview

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CROWLEY: And presidential candidate Rick Santorum joins me now from Des Moines.

Senator, thank you for joining us. Let me talk to you about the topic of the day and get your take on why you think at this point Newt Gingrich is doing so well.

SANTORUM: You know, think people are looking for a strong conservative leader and that's what we've been out talking to the people of Iowa about. Newt's done well at the debates. I think that's been his forte. His forte is glib, and there's no question about it.

Newt is full of ideas and has a professor-teacher mentality, if you will, an ability and I think he's connecting with the audiences out there.

I think people are also going to look at his leadership ability and look at his record and whether what he says he's going to do is actually what he did when he had the opportunity to do it. And I think that's where as people start focusing a lot more on those details, I think that's where we're going to rise and in fact are rising here in Iowa, that if you look at the leadership difference between the two of us, you know I was able to lead and successfully get a lot of things done when I was in Washington, D.C. and had the respect of my colleagues, was elected to leadership positions.

And I think Newt had, let's say, a much more difficult path once he was in leadership. It wasn't just about ideas, it is about executing those -- on those ideas and I was successful in doing so. And I would say that Newt had a bit of a problem that caused him to not have a lot of support among his colleagues and had problems as speaker.

And I think that's going to be a difference between the two of us.

The other thing is, the issue of being a consistent conservative. Someone -- trust is a big deal.

CROWLEY: Sure. And the consistent conservative is something that you've hit very hard on, saying, look, I'm the real conservative in the race. You have suggested that Newt Gingrich is not. And yet in poll after poll, what we're seeing is that members of the Tea Party, which I think you would agree are the most conservative element of the Republican Party, overwhelmingly are supporting Newt Gingrich at this point.

SANTORUM: Yeah. I would still say it is, believe it or not, still early. I mean, there's still three weeks left even before Iowa. A lot of information is yet to disseminate out. And I think as it continues to get out there and settle in people's minds, they're going to see a very different record.

It is interesting if you watched the debate last night between Romney and Gingrich, they were back and forth on some peripheral issues but the core issues, whether it was the Wall Street bailout or cap in trade and globe global warming which is a huge government takeover. And the same thing with individual mandate. And again, another big top-down government takeover of a sector of the economy, Gingrich and Romney are in the same place. That's not -- heck, the Tea Party was formed as a result of big government and the health care issue and Gingrich is on the wrong side.

I think we need -- and I think the Tea Party people are going to realize we need a clean, clear contrast. We need this race to be about Barack Obama and his record, not with Republicans agreeing with that record. I mean, that would be the last thing we should be nominating is someone who has a bad record on some of the most important issues that we're going to be dealing with, like bailing out Wall Street, like climate change, like the Obamacare.

CROWLEY: On the substance of things that you talked about, but you also mentioned earlier the idea of leadership, what kind of a leader would Newt Gingrich be, what kind of a leader has he been. I want to play you sort of a montage of what some of those who worked with him in the House had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRM. REP. SUSAN MOLINARI, (R) NEW YORK: Most of us are terrified to death that he would become the Republican nominee. We know that he has these visions of grandiosity.

SEN. TOM COBURN, (R) OKLAHOMA: I'm not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich's, having served under him for four years and experienced personally his leadership.

REP. PETER KING, (R) NEW YORK: He's too self-centered. The time he was speaker was one crisis after another and they were almost all self-inflicted. He puts himself at the center of everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Susan Molinari, Tom Coburn, Peter King, all names familiar to you, I know. You have, in fact, praised Newt Gingrich, though, along the line saying he was an inspiration to you, sort of getting you on your conservative path in politics. Will the real Newt Gingrich stand up, which is it? Is he a man you say has some questions about his leadership or is it the guy who's been kind of a far-away mentor to you?

SANTORUM: Well, he is a great teacher. I mean, that's what he is. He is a very good teacher. He was a teacher before he came into politics and he's a very bright man who has a lot of ideas. The question is, can you stay focused on those ideas, can you execute those ideas and can you motivate the American public to able to support those ideas. CROWLEY: Well, the question is does he have the temperament to be in the Oval Office? Do you think he has the temperament to be in the Oval Office?

GINGRICH: Well, I would just say, look at the experience he had as Speaker and look at my experience I had when I was in leadership in the United States Senate. CROWLEY: And what do you think?

SANTORUM: Three years into his -- well, I would just say, three years into his speakership there was a conservative revolution to try to get rid of him as speaker. You know, that doesn't happen very often where you have the Speaker of the House in a time when Republicans are on the ascendancy and the person who led them in large respect to that would have that kind of rebellion within the ranks among conservatives. I think that should tell you something.

And just the opposite, I was a leader. If you were a conservative around this country and you wanted something done in the United States Senate you came to Rick Santorum's office, because that's where it got done whether it was national security or moral cultural, or economic, or second amendment, we were the guy that was the go-to guy to get conservative things accomplished in the United States Senate.

And I just think that's a very distinct difference between a conservative revolution among House members about his leadership as opposed to conservatives coming to Rick Santorum and trying to get things done in the United States Senate.

CROWLEY: Let me move you along to something that you said last Wednesday at a Republican Jewish conference talking about the president, his foreign policy. I'm going to play that for our viewers as well as something that the president said in response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: This president, for every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, he has had nothing but appeasement.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Appeasement? I mean this is a president who's killed more terrorists than were killed in the Bush administration. He took out Osama bin Laden. He has launched more drone attacks against terrorist targets than the Bush administration did and yet you accuse him of appeasement which is a very loaded word, as you know, toward terrorists.

SANTORUM: It's a very accurate word. What President Obama was doing was continuing existing Bush policies with respect to al Qaeda and respect to Afghanistan. I was talking about the new threats that have come up under his administration. And at every single turn the president has appeased those who would do us harm.

Let's talk about President Ahmadinejad and the Iranians who are the biggest threat to Israel and to our national security. He has done nothing but appease the Iranians to say that he will negotiate -- in fact did negotiate... CROWLEY: Oh, he imposed sanctions, did he not?

SANTORUM: He opposed weak sanctions. He opposed tough sanctions.

CROWLEY: Imposed.

SANTORUM: And continues to impose any meaningful sanctions on the Iranians. He has done nothing to try to stop their nuclear program. I mean we have a nuclear program that is under way. He is refusing to do anything covertly or militarily to try to stop a weapon that will fundamentally change the national security position of this country...

CROWLEY: Essentially what would you like him...

SANTORUM: ...and the world by having this purveyor of terror who has -- just let me finish.

CROWLEY: What would Rick Santorum would do...

SANTORUM: ...Rick Santorum would be funding the pro-democracy movement which President Obama has not done. It was a bill that I passed, I was author of back in 2006 that gave money -- was supposed to give money to help the pro-democracy movement in Iran. The president has not spent a penny in Iran to try to do that, imposing tougher sanctions, which the president has opposed.

Number three, we would be using all of our assets to use covert activity to disrupt and destroy the capability of them to develop a missile technology, as well as nuclear technology.

And fourth, I would be working with the Israelis in publicly stating that Iran must abandon this nuclear weapons program, must open it up to inspectors, or else we will work with the state of Israel to take out and degrade that capability via military force -- in air strikes, not military force, but air strikes.

CROWLEY: Let me try to button this up just by saying a couple of things. First, I know the president has in fact imposed some tougher sanctions and has in fact said that nothing is off the table when it comes to Iran and its nuclear capabilities. But I have...

SANTORUM: Well, Candy, hold on. Hold on. Candy, hold on, stop, Candy. That's just not true. Ask Robert Menendez, and ask all of the folks in the United States Senate who want to impose the real sanction that will make a difference on Iran and the president has opposed it. Now that's just a fact.

He also has recognized the state of Syria, called Assad a reformer, has continued to have an embassy there when in fact this is a real thug that is a real threat to the state of Israel and to the stability of the region.

And again here's the interesting link. It is a client state of Iran, the greatest area that he has appeased is Iran, which is the greatest threat. And here he is, recognizing Assad, setting up an ambassadorship with a client state of Iran, who is a great funder of Hezbollah, a threat to Israel and the region.

You go to Egypt. Again, he supported the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, as it turns out, into overthrowing an ally in Egypt. There is a consistent pattern of contingencies that have come up under this administration where he has opposed the freedom fighters and has gone with the radical Islamists. That is a problem for the security of Israel and our country.

CROWLEY: OK. Let me move you on. I think we could probably go round and round a couple times on this, but two really quick questions here, if I could. The first is, have you in fact talked to Sarah Palin about receiving her endorsement? And do you intend to follow through, as far as you know, is the Trump-moderated debate going to happen with the two of you, Newt Gingrich and you?

SANTORUM: Well, I certainly hope so. You know, Donald Trump, I think, would be fairer than a lot of the folks that have been moderating debates over the past few months. And...

CROWLEY: What about Sarah Palin?

SANTORUM: ... I would look -- Sarah Palin? I reached out to her just to thank her for her kind comments and, you know, said I'd appreciate any help that she could give us. And she was very kind in responding. And she's going to make her decision as to when she's going to endorse or if she's going to endorse.

But I just wanted -- I did not reach out to her before she made the kind comments about me and -- but I did want to thank her for doing so.

CROWLEY: Senator and presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, thanks so much for your time today.

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