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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

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MR. GREGORY: We are back talking about the countdown to South Carolina. Joining me now, Republican congressman from South Carolina, Representative Tim Scott, and the senator from South Carolina as well, Lindsey Graham.

Welcome to both of you. Senator Graham...

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Thanks.

REP. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): You're welcome.

MR. GREGORY: ...this is the cover of The Weekly Standard and it kind of tells the story, if you look at it, "Can the Romney juggernaut be derailed?" You know, a month ago, middle of December, you were here on MEET THE PRESS and you said if the election were held tomorrow it would be the guy you just heard from, Newt Gingrich, who would actually win South Carolina. What do you think now?

SEN. GRAHAM: I think Iowa hurt Newt. I think the super PACs have had a big impact on the race. The debates, I think, will be outcome-determinative. Newt rose because of good debate performances, we're going to have two debates, but if, if, if for some reason he's not derailed here and Mitt Romney wins South Carolina, no one's ever won all three, I think it should be over. That would be quite a testament to his ability as a candidate and a campaigner and I'd hope the party would rally around him if he did in fact win South Carolina.

MR. GREGORY: Tim Scott, Congressman, there's so much talk about social conservatives in your state, that they are going to drive the outcome. And here the social conservative leaders meet in Texas, they say, "Our guy is Rick Santorum." But you heard Speaker Gingrich, I don't think he's going anywhere, which means you still have a splintered field. What is the impact of their vote over the weekend?

REP. SCOTT: I mean, I think the, the evangelical vote is going to be huge, be a very strong turnout, but the most important part of the equation that we have to continue to consider is the fact that you have three people that are going after that evangelical vote very strongly. And without any question, that works to the Romney campaign's benefit. It's hard to find a single candidate that rallies all of the Christian voters in South Carolina, and therefore, that splintered approach will probably have a major impact on Saturday.

MR. GREGORY: So what is driving the vote? I mean, you go to your district, you're talking to people in this state, what is really going to drive this vote in South Carolina?

REP. SCOTT: Well, the--our unemployment rate in South Carolina is almost 10 percent, so the thing that I think voters are heading into, whether you're evangelical, whether you are a liberal, whether you are a libertarian, the fact of the matter is you are thinking about who will help create jobs, where's the traction in this economy.

MR. GREGORY: Senator, how, how do you answer that as well? It's the economy, yes, so we've heard a lot about the attacks, and you heard it again here this morning from Speaker Gingrich, on Governor Romney and his time as a venture capitalist...

SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: ...at Bain. Is that going to be an issue that voters are really going to vote on?

SEN. GRAHAM: I think what drives the uncertainty and the undecided vote right now is who can beat Obama? That's what I'm focused on. You know, this idea that you, you make a claim that "I've been a great businessman, I've created 100,000 jobs" I think it's fair to say, "Prove that claim." But if the attack against Governor Romney is that venture capitalism or private equity is bad for the economy, I think that's misplaced. Without venture capitalists and private equity, a lot of these companies would, would not get traditional financial backing, they would fail. But the idea of proving your claim that you've created 100,000 jobs is legit, a legitimate inquiry. Attacking capitalism is not. But the number one thing I'm looking at is who can stand up to Barack Obama and make him a one-term president.

MR. GREGORY: Well, and you talk about whether it helps the other side. Tim Scott, you were on Fox News this week, and this is what you said about the attacks on Romney and Bain. I'll play it for you.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

REP. SCOTT: One thing without any question that is true today and that is that the winner of the 28-minute commercial is President Barack Obama. Starting and feeding into the cultural war is absolutely unequivocally wrong for us as a nation and bad for the conservative movement.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: And yet that film that you heard Speaker Gingrich say had errors in it but should not be taken down, says that the record at Bain was as ruthless as Wall Street. Do you think that's fair?

REP. SCOTT: Well, look, I think that's probably inconsistent with reality. But there's no question that the story line that will play out in the fall, if Romney is our nominee, there will be numbers of ads, many ads run by the president talking about what Republicans said about our own nominee. I think that's just bad for the country because I think the country absolutely needs a new president.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think that Romney, if he's the nominee, has been hurt by this sufficiently that they are giving the president a very potent issue to use against him as a nominee?

REP. SCOTT: Well, they're certainly buying into a liberal story line without any question, but I hope that what happens is whoever our nominee ends up being, that this process of choosing that nominee will actually help them be a tougher candidate, a tougher--give him a tougher opportunity now so that the ease--the road gets easier later.

MR. GREGORY: All right. When are you going to endorse? Have you made up your mind who you're going to support.

REP. SCOTT: That's a good question, you know. You know, we had a forum yesterday, David, where I had an opportunity to listen to five very strong candidates who all want to be president, and I will tell you, I walked away with a little more clarity. I'm going through the process of elimination. This is a very difficult choice because each candidate really represents something that I really like, I believe the country needs. But the question that Senator Graham was talking about is who equation of who matches my values...

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

REP. SCOTT: ...who can win, and that's the guy we'll support.

MR. GREGORY: Do you think, do you think anybody but Romney has a realistic shot at beating the president?

REP. SCOTT: I think we'll know the answer Saturday. If Romney wins South Carolina, I think the game's over. This is the last stand for many candidates. You'll see those candidates coalescing together really around one option. The option is getting Romney out of the way and taking this race to Florida with some momentum.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you both this, and, and Congressman Scott, you were a tea party-backed candidate in your state, and there's been a lot of talk about the role of the tea party. Leader Reid just talked about it, its influence in Washington. This was something that caught my eye from the Financial Times, the Ed Luce column where he says the following, "Most people expected the tea party to shape the 2012 election. It certainly dominated the Republican primary. Yet the one credible contender it has produced embodies everything the tea party despises, an even-keeled, calculating pragmatist who conveys complacency rather than rage. In an age of populist discontent, America is shaping up for a battle between two Ivy League graduates who will battle over the middle ground. It will be interesting to see what happens to all that passion beneath them."

Senator Graham, you, you've never thought that the tea party as a political movement could survive.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, what I said is that the tea party is associated with changing an out-of-control government. Most Americans associate themselves that we're too far in debt and we spend to much. The tea party movement, Tim Scott is a rising star in, in the Republican Party nationwide, not just South Carolina. He gets as much chamber of commerce support as he does tea party. The tea party people in South Carolina are basically Ronald Reagan conservatives. Yes, other--people other than Mitt Romney could beat Barack Obama. He has been a very unproductive president. And the question for the country is do you expect your life to change if you give Barack Obama a second term to keep doing the same things he's done in his first term? This is our election to lose, and the only way we're going to lose it, if we go too long in time in terms of the primary and our attacks go too far. We haven't done that yet. As long as we keep this in bounds, you know, Bush said that Reagan's politics of--economic politics were voodoo, and they wound up being Reagan-Bush and won. So we haven't done damage to ourselves yet. But Tim's right, be careful what you say. South Carolina's looking at your hard. We're going to pick the most electable conservative, and Mitt Romney is a good man the tea party people should look at closely as a--to vote for, because I think he can beat Barack Obama.

REP. SCOTT: Right.

SEN. GRAHAM: And I think that's all of our goals.

MR. GREGORY: But you're not endorsing him or are you prepared to do that?

SEN. GRAHAM: I don't even know who I'm going to vote for because I know that what happens in South Carolina that we pick presidents here, and this is the best chance I've seen in years for the Republican Party to revive itself, prove to the country that we can lead and we can govern...

MR. GREGORY: Right. All right.

SEN. GRAHAM: ...and to end this Obama administration.

MR. GREGORY: Congressman Scott, I have to ask you to be brief.

SEN. GRAHAM: So I don't know who I'm going to vote for yet.

MR. GREGORY: Be brief, 15 seconds. Is Romney, in your view, a tea party candidate?

REP. SCOTT: I would say that we have five strong candidates running for president in the Republican--in the nomination process right now. Is Romney a tea party candidate? I'd probably say that he's the least of the candidates running for president right now that would be considered a tea party candidate.

MR. GREGORY: OK.

REP. SCOTT: The question really is, can he win? Any Republican nominee is better than the president we currently have.

MR. GREGORY: All right. We're, we're going to leave it there. Gentlemen, thank you both very much. We'll be watching the vote.

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you.

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