CBS's Smith: Will Conservative Turn in NY-23 Race 'Kill' GOP?

Interviewing Mitt Romney on Monday's CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith alluded to the special election in New York's 23rd congressional district and the success of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman: "There's a battle going on right now for the soul of the Republican Party. Conservatives say there's no room for moderates there. Will this tactic save or kill the Republican Party?"

Romney argued: "Well, the Republican Party has always had a lot of voices and we are going to continue it be a big tent party. The New York 23rd race had a very anomalous situation." Smith could hardly contain his smugness: "That's not a big tent." Romney replied: "I disagree with you. You look across the elected Republicans in Congress and Governors offices, they represent a pretty wide perspective of issues."

With Democrats poised to potentially suffer across-the-board electoral losses on Tuesday and health care reform continued to be stalled in Congress, one wonders why Smith is not more focused on the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.

At the top of the interview, Smith asked Romney about the situation in Afghanistan and worked to tow the White House line: "...this headline out of Afghanistan, that there's not going to be a runoff election....As the President is trying to decide whether or not to send more troops, how much should that weigh on his decision? He doesn't really have somebody he can do business with there."

Romney pointed out: "You really have to ask yourself why, with all at stake, this administration didn't take a more careful role in making sure the election was a fair election, supported by the people of Afghanistan. And by the way, this - this Hamlet performance that we're seeing out of the White House is very, very disconcerting. The President has known about this issue for a long time....This is very, very unfortunate for the people there and for our troops."

Smith still tried to defend Obama's inaction: "Is it important to get this decision right, though - or should you take the time to contemplate it?" Romney fired back: "He's had the McChrystal report for four months, and during the same time period, by the way, he's had enough time to do 30 campaign trips around the country. Look, with men and women dying in U.S. uniforms, the President ought to be focusing on getting them home, getting them home safely, and stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan rather than trying to reelect his friends."

Smith turned to the economy and credited the Obama stimulus package with staving off disaster: "The stimulus has helped stabilize the economy to a degree, but it's the public spigot that has helped, sort of, keep it afloat. At what point do you turn it off and say this economy's got to live or die on its own?"

Romney pointed out the ineffectiveness of the stimulus: " Well, first of all, you have to recognize that the stimulus that the President and Congress passed is not what's helped this economy. As you recall, the - the scenario they forecast would occur without the stimulus is now the very scenario which they're forecasting is going to occur. So the jobless rate is going to hit 10%....That's what was supposed to happen without the stimulus."

Just prior to Smith' interview with Romney, White House correspondent Bill Plante reported on the Governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey: "And a Democrat now has that job in both states. But that seems likely to change in at least one of them, maybe even both. And that would be bad news for President Obama." Plante managed to pinpoint the reason for the possible losses: "Part of the problem for both Democratic candidates is that the President isn't on the ballot. His personal approval ratings hover in the mid-50s. And he's still very popular among the Democratic Party faithful."

Plante later concluded: "So what happens tomorrow will be seen, fairly or not, as a referendum on the President's policies. And that could affect the way voters make their decisions when they go to the polls next year."

Here is a full transcript of the segment:
7:00AM TEASE:

HARRY SMITH: President Obama on the campaign trail. Are elections in New Jersey and Virginia referendums on the Obama presidency?

LARRY SABATO: The White House hopes for a draw. They would be happy to lose only one of these.

SMITH: We'll talk with former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

7:02AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: First, a big week for President Obama as voters head to the polls. He's not on the ballot, but the results of some key races may be seen as a referendum on his policies. CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has the latest. Good morning, Bill.

BILL PLANTE: Good morning to you Harry. New Jersey and Virginia hold elections for governor tomorrow. And a Democrat now has that job in both states. But that seems likely to change in at least one of them, maybe even both. And that would be bad news for President Obama. The President was in New Jersey Sunday, campaigning for the state's embattled one term Democratic governor, who's in a virtual tie with his Republican opponent. And in Virginia, the latest poll shows the Republican challenger leading his Democratic rival by 11 points about.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: High Stakes; Obama Campaigns For Dems in Two Key Gov. Races]

LARRY SABATO [PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA]: The White House hopes for a draw. They would be happy to lose only one of these.

PLANTE: Part of the problem for both Democratic candidates is that the President isn't on the ballot. His personal approval ratings hover in the mid-50s. And he's still very popular among the Democratic Party faithful.

SABATO: The turnout is going to be so much lower this November than last November and most of the voters who aren't showing up are Democratically inclined.

PLANTE: So what happens tomorrow will be seen, fairly or not, as a referendum on the President's policies. And that could affect the way voters make their decisions when they go to the polls next year. Harry.

SMITH: Bill Plante at the White House this morning. Thanks so much. Joining us from Newton, Massachusetts this morning, former Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Good morning.

MITT ROMNEY: Good morning, Harry.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obama: One Year Later; Romney Takes on President]

SMITH: Let's first talk about this headline out of Afghanistan, that there's not going to be a runoff election, you have Abdullah Abdullah dropping out, the United States doesn't really have a partner in this country. As the President is trying to decide whether or not to send more troops, how much should that weigh on his decision? He doesn't really have somebody he can do business with there.

MITT ROMNEY: Well, it's very difficult in a counter-insurgency not have a strong government and one that's backed by the people as a legitimate government. You really have to ask yourself why, with all at stake, this administration didn't take a more careful role in making sure the election was a fair election, supported by the people of Afghanistan. And by the way, this - this Hamlet performance that we're seeing out of the White House is very, very disconcerting. The President has known about this issue for a long time. He received the report from Mr. - General McChrystal four - what, four months ago, and has not been able to make a decision. This is very, very unfortunate for the people there and for our troops.

SMITH: Is it important to get this decision right, though - or should you take the time to contemplate it?

ROMNEY: Well, of course you should get it right. And the President has been president for nine months. Afghanistan was a centerpiece of his campaign. He's been speaking about it as president. He's had the McChrystal report for four months, and during the same time period, by the way, he's had enough time to do 30 campaign trips around the country. Look, with men and women dying in U.S. uniforms, the President ought to be focusing on getting them home, getting them home safely, and stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan rather than trying to reelect his friends.

SMITH: Let's - let's move on to the economy very quickly. You're a former investment banker. The stimulus has helped stabilize the economy to a degree, but it's the public spigot that has helped, sort of, keep it afloat. At what point do you turn it off and say this economy's got to live or die on its own?

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, you have to recognize that the stimulus that the President and Congress passed is not what's helped this economy. As you recall, the - the scenario they forecast would occur without the stimulus is now the very scenario which they're forecasting is going to occur. So the jobless rate is going to hit 10%, we're not going to have any net new jobs until the third quarter of next year. That's what was supposed to happen without the stimulus. So their stimulus didn't work and the right answer is to stop the stimulus that they put in place, reform it or scrap it, because it is not what's creating jobs in this country, instead, it's the private sector. Look, anytime you try and stimulate government, you're not going to get the kind of private sector jobs you'd get if you instead stimulated the economy.

SMITH: Let me ask you this. Final question. There's a battle going on right now for the soul of the Republican Party. Conservatives say there's no room for moderates there. Will this tactic save or kill the Republican Party?

ROMNEY: Well, the Republican Party has always had a lot of voices and we are going to continue it be a big tent party. The New York 23rd race had a very anomalous situation.

SMITH: That's not a big tent.

ROMNEY: Yeah well, no, her - her - I disagree with you. You look across the elected Republicans in Congress and Governors offices, they represent a pretty wide perspective of issues. But - but New York 23rd was a very anomalous situation.

SMITH: Alright. Governor Romney, thanks so much for taking the time. Take care.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Harry.

SMITH: Appreciate it.

-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.