The McLaughlin Group Host: John McLaughlin Panel: Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek; Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner; Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report Taped: Friday, March 16, 2012 Broadcast: Weekend of March 17-18, 2012

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Afghanistan End Game?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) It is a great honor to welcome my friend and partner, Prime Minister David Cameron. The leadership of the United States and the United Kingdom is more important than ever. The alliance between our countries is a foundation, not only for the security and prosperity of our two nations, but for international peace and security as well.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: (From videotape.) The relationship between Britain and America is the strongest that it has ever been. And I believe that's because we're working together as closely as at any point in our history. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: At a joint press conference, this question was put to Prime Minister Cameron by one of Rupert Murdoch's Sky News TV reporters regarding Afghanistan.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

Q: Why do you think it is that people feel that you talk a good game but they don't buy it? Why do you think it is that the British and American people look at a situation that they think is frankly a mess -- they see terrible sacrifice; they see two men who are unable to impose their wills, and they just are not persuaded by your arguments? Compare where we are today with where we've been two, three years ago.

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON: The situation is considerably improved. The level of insurgent attacks are right down. The level of security is right up. It's been very hard work. The sacrifices have been very great. And I think what we're trying to do by the end of 2014 is achievable and doable.

(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What the U.K. and U.S. are trying to do by the end of 2014 is bring combat troops home. Mr. Cameron believes by then Afghanistan will be able to police itself.

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON: (From videotape.) With the Afghan government, they're capable of taking care of their own security in a way that doesn't require large numbers of foreign troops and that country isn't a threat in the way that it was in the past in terms of a base for terrorism.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But a series of horrors have increased NATO- Afghan tensions and upped political pressure on the two leaders to end the war.

Item: Army kill team that took body parts as trophies, the commander being now in prison.

Item: The photos of U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban snipers, photos that went viral on the Internet.

Item: The accidental burning of the Quran at a U.S. base that brought Afghans to the street. Six U.S. soldiers were shot and killed as a result.

Item: This past Sunday, the massacre by a U.S. sergeant of 16 Afghan civilians -- nine children, three women, four men. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the slaying, quote-unquote, "impossible to forgive." Question: Are the British still committed to the timetable set in the 2010 Lisbon agreement to keep troops in Afghanistan until the end of 2014? Pat Buchanan.

PAT BUCHANAN: John, the British are committed to keep troops there as long as we keep our troops there. We are coming out together. My guess is we're going to be coming out a bit earlier because of what you pointed out -- the Quran burnings, the shooting of those American officers in the ministries. You got the massacre and all of that.

The support for the war in the United States has collapsed or is collapsing. It also is in Afghanistan. The hostility is growing. I think everybody realizes you can't sustain a war that the country doesn't want.

The problem is, I think, John, what's going to come is this is going to collapse after we leave, but it'll be in Obama's next term or Romney or Santorum's first term. And the real disaster, I think, comes then, and that once the Islamic extremists take over Kabul, they will begin to move, I think, to take over Pakistan and to aid --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.)

MR. BUCHANAN: -- resistance there. When Pakistan falls, if it's got nuclear weapons, you've really got problems.


ELEANOR CLIFT: Well, that's a lot of ifs, and they're all pretty gloomy. But I don't think you necessarily have to spin it forward into that entirely negative outlook.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was quite a treatise, wasn't it?

MS. CLIFT: Right. Exactly. Now we've got the Taliban taking over Pakistan and using nuclear weapons, and Pat got that all done in about 35 seconds; pretty good. (Laughs.)

I think Cameron sure sounded committed to the mission. And I think these two leaders really went out of their way to kind of reinforce each other's leadership. I think they feel the weight of history going back to FDR and Churchill and Reagan and Thatcher, and even Bush and Blair.

But the British have gone through some tough moments with Afghanistan as well. They had the single biggest loss of life. Six British soldiers died just 10 days or so ago. And the British public -- that reawakened their hatred of this war.

So Cameron is dealing with the same pressures that Obama is. Karzai will be in Chicago when NATO meets there in May. There'll probably be some re-evaluation of the mission. But the essential question is, do we really need 100,000 troops there for another couple of years when there are virtually no al-Qaida left in the country and the notion that we are going to somehow conquer the Taliban -- the Taliban happen to live in Afghanistan. That's not going to happen. And so I think, you know, there's some serious rethinking. But right now they're sticking to the timetable of withdrawal.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you going to put that in writing and send it to Barack?

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) I think he's gotten the message.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, Afghanistan -- let's take a look at this polling: Brits, 73 percent say the Afghanistan war is unwinnable; Americans, 60 percent say it's not worth the cost.

Welcome, Susan. What are your thoughts on this?

SUSAN FERRECHIO: I agree with a little bit of what Eleanor and Pat were both saying. Afghanistan is a mess. But I think if you look at that polling number, that itself is going to govern the speed with which we pull these troops out if it's going to be faster than 2014.

I think the public opinion is going to drive this, especially with it being an election year. I wouldn't be surprised if we were out of there a little sooner, not just because of the polling numbers, but because if you look at the package you just showed, these horrible events, unfortunately that's probably not the last tragedy we're going to see in Afghanistan. And that, too, will really push both governments to get the troops out faster.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How soon do you think it could be? Not before the election, certainly.

MS. FERRECHIO: It can't -- I don't think they can do it before the election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This year.

MR. BUCHANAN: He's got 20,000 coming out by September, and they're talking about another 20,000 next year and an end to combat operations in 2013.

MS. CLIFT: And you're not going to hear the Republicans complaining that that's too fast. That argument's over.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The fundamental question, is there daylight between -- in opinions between Obama and -- MR. BUCHANAN: Cameron?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the prime minister of the U.K.?

MORT ZUCKERMAN: If there are -- if there is any daylight, you will never see it in public. I don't believe there is that kind of daylight. They're both -- they get along very well. I think they're both trying to reinforce each other's position in what is almost a totally indefensible and untenable position in Afghanistan.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The worst of it is that Karzai has now said American troops cannot go out and fight in the countryside. They have to pull back, which means what is our mission there at this stage of the game?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about a pre-emptive strike against Iran? Who stands the stronger against that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I don't think the British at this stage of the game are standing very strongly for a pre-emptive strike.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: My note here is that Cameron and Obama -- Cameron takes the position that there is no justification at this time for Israel to strike Iran. He says the U.K. will not support unilateral Israeli action at present. Do you think Obama is taking that position too?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't want to -- since I don't know what Obama is saying privately as compared to what he's saying publicly --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, wait a minute. Do you mean more than you're saying by that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Of course. That's the way we all speak on these issues. (Laughs.) Who knows? Look, I think what Obama has said is that it is unacceptable that Iran has nuclear weapons. And the question is, what will he do about it and when will he do it? And that is not clear.

And the question is, the Israelis say it's unacceptable for the Iranians to have a nuclear capability, which is a step before having the nuclear weapons. So they have a different timetable and a different assessment of the risk.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: For the Israelis, it's an existential risk. For the United States, it's a political risk.


MR. BUCHANAN: -- the United States -- Obama does not want the Israelis to launch a pre-emptive strike that would draw us into war. But he is not going to say something like that. And I'm sure he's told -- he's told --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Netanyahu.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- Netanyahu that we don't want it done. And the real question is, is Obama committed to take the United States to war in the event these negotiations really don't go anywhere but Iran still does not have a bomb? They have what Mort calls a capability, which frankly they have now.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, they don't.

MR. BUCHANAN: They've got a -- they can refine the uranium. They could do it over a period of time, but they just don't have the absolute ability right now to build a bomb.

MS. CLIFT: Well, in that press conference in the Rose Garden this week, the president said the window for diplomacy for solving this problem is shrinking. And he was speaking to the Iranians --



MS. CLIFT: -- as much as anyone else.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MS. CLIFT: And David Cameron said everything is on the table. He repeated that line, which I thought was quite a strong statement, because the British are very opposed to Israel acting.

MR. BUCHANAN: If you're going to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But also you want to point out that Obama is really setting a bad example there, because he's mixing his metaphor. He says the window is shrinking. Shrinking is a term of laundering.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)


MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And closing is a term of -- window is a term of architecture. MR. BUCHANAN: But I can't -- John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why is he mixing his metaphors?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, he can't launch a war --

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) Because --

MR. BUCHANAN: He can't --

MS. CLIFT: Because I think the Iranians were going to get it, no matter what metaphor he used.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, he can't launch a war against Iran without enormous -- look at the buildup we had to go to war against Iraq, which is a country one third as strong, one third as large as Iran. To go to war, he's going to have to bring ships and planes and troops --

MS. FERRECHIO: And we're in the process of shrinking our military right now. We're shrinking the military right now.

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly.

MS. FERRECHIO: So how would they do it?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The end date that Obama has proposed is by the end of 2014. That's clearly too late for the Brits. The Brits are going to start moving earlier. Would you agree?

MS. FERRECHIO: Are you saying moving troops back out of Afghanistan?

MS. CLIFT: Afghanistan?


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, sure.

MS. FERRECHIO: Look at the poll number you just showed. I think it's very likely. MS. CLIFT: They have --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: So will we.

MS. CLIFT: They have a tenth of the troops we have.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We're going to move a lot of troops out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If 73 percent of the Brits think that the war cannot be won, you know, he's got to get out of there.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And so do -- I don't know what the specific poll numbers are in the United States, but I'm sure over 60 percent in the United States oppose this war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: What's the state of the Anglo- American relationship? Is it still oh, so special? Very special, Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: It is special, John. But the inequality between us has never been greater. When it was Churchill and FDR, there was a measure of equality; even Thatcher and Reagan. But now the inequality is so great that they're really almost a minor partner.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's an interesting point -- very interesting.

MS. CLIFT: Inequality in what --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that point Pat's made?

MS. CLIFT: Inequality in what sense?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, they are not a great power. They're a second-rate -- they couldn't have beaten Libya without our help.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, they --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me, but when Thatcher --

MR. BUCHANAN: They don't have an aircraft carrier.

MS. CLIFT: When Thatcher was forced to fight over the Falklands, I don't think the great British empire was going then. And I think, you know -- I think it's important. David Cameron is from the Conservative Party, but he's not like the conservatives we have in this country. And I think he and the president really got along on a number of issues around the world.

MR. BUCHANAN: He's a RINO. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: And I think they really do reinforce each other. I think it's a very positive relationship. And in a world as full of hot spots as this one, we need Europe. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, do you realize that --

MS. CLIFT: And Cameron epitomizes Europe.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- Cameron is in the process of losing --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He doesn't deliver Europe at all.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- Scotland?

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And there are those who think that he's responsible for Scotland's declaration of independence.

MS. CLIFT: I think the loss of Scotland probably doesn't upset that many British people either. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what is left of the British Isles? What's left?

MR. BUCHANAN: England.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: England. That's it?

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: God save the king.

MS. FERRECHIO: It's a special relationship, but it is becoming less special because -- for those same reasons Pat just mentioned. I think Great Britain is becoming a less important player in the world and just less important. If something happens with Israel, then you're going to see the two sides really not getting along very well, if something happens.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's also one of the few relationships and very few relationships where there's a real chemistry between the prime minister of England and the president of the United States. Obama lacks that kind of relationship with most of the world leaders. And so this really helps him in that regard.

MS. CLIFT: I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it's as real as it has been portrayed?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I think there is a real relationship there. And it started when Obama made his first visit to England.

MS. CLIFT: They're both intellectuals, actually. I mean, I think they do approach these issues and probably talk them through at great length. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, they're intellectuals, and let somebody else clean it up.

Issue Two: George Takes the Hill.

GEORGE CLOONEY (actor and activist): (From videotape.) The government of Sudan, led by Omar al-Bashir, Ahmed Haroun and Defense Minister Hussein, the same three men who orchestrated the atrocities in Darfur, have turned their bombs on the Nubian people. Now, these are not military targets. These are innocent men, women and children. Now, that is a fact.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Actor and activist George Clooney appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week to urge the United States deal with China to end the bloody conflict in the Sudan. Over a 19-year period, 2 million Sudanese have been slain, with 500,000 fatalities last year alone. Mr. Clooney recently returned from Sudan, where he saw the raw violence first-hand and took a video he made of the trip, which he showed to the senators when requested at the hearing.

Clooney told the senators that one remedy that might do much to end the violence would be to involve China. The People's Republic has a huge appetite for oil, and oil is plentiful in both Sudan and South Sudan, two new countries formed by one former country, and both now officially recognized by the United Nations as of last year.

China's demand and world demand, including that of the United States, would produce vast returns that would go far to relax tensions between the two nations, previously mortal enemies of each other.

MR. CLOONEY: (From videotape.) We can take this moment and engage with China, I think, for the first time. It seems to me that we could use this opportunity, this window of opportunity, before it gets too long -- too late -- by sending a high-level envoy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What's the current status with oil in the Sudan and China, Susan? And what do you think of the treatment of Mr. Clooney being arrested? MS. FERRECHIO: Sudan and South Sudan are not producing oil right now. They've stopped producing. South Sudan's not producing the oil. North Sudan, which controls the pipeline, is not pumping the oil out. So it's just stopped.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's a pipeline problem?

MS. FERRECHIO: It's the two sides can't agree.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a marketing problem?



MS. FERRECHIO: It's that they're not getting along, and they've called it quits on the oil production until --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But they can't get it out unless they're in unison. Is that it?

MS. FERRECHIO: That's correct, yes.


MS. FERRECHIO: It's important because China uses -- of their oil, 6 percent comes from that region. So they're taking it from the rest of the oil market.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If they can put it on the oil market, they will both become booming economies. Is that right?

MS. FERRECHIO: Improved economies.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Improved.

MS. FERRECHIO: And there won't be as much strife and perhaps less the government attacking its own citizens.

MR. BUCHANAN: You know, John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's Clooney's point, and why did he do what he did?

MS. FERRECHIO: Because he wants to elevate the issue. And the reason I think it's important is because, yes, he's a Hollywood actor, but just the way, you know, the culture works in this country right now, people are paying attention to it. He was arrested on Friday in front of the embassy of Sudan in Washington, D.C., and the Twitterverse exploded. It was all about Clooney's arrest. That's important, because it elevates in the public eye what's happening in Sudan. And let's face it; the public is weary of all these world crises, and -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about elevating the continent? What about elevating Africa?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hillary did a good job up there in the north, right?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But are we paying enough attention, particularly in view of the Chinese almost appropriation of that continent? Is that true?

MS. CLIFT: Well, Clooney -- Clooney's point is that China not being able to get its oil from that area has driven up gas prices. So he's saying that we have a vested interest, and now is the time to engage with China and try to bring peace in this region.

I don't know that necessarily engaging with China -- maybe we ought to go in and build a refinery there and help South Sudan get the oil out.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, wait a minute. You think --

MS. CLIFT: But his real agenda is the humanitarian crisis. That's what he wants to bring attention to.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Clooney was arrested rather dramatically in Washington on Massachusetts Avenue near the Sudanese embassy. He was over there. And a lot of dignitaries were with him, important people. Do you think that that takes really some of the bloom off the rose of his having given the Senate -- referred the matter to the Senate? Did it cheapen that effort, or did it exalt that effort?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, look, there is a sense that people see sort of publicity-seeking. But I do agree with this. He's calling attention to one of the most horrible situations in the world.


MR. BUCHANAN: The difference between Sudan and South Sudan is Arab versus African. It is animist-Christian in the south. It is Muslim in the north. It is tribal in that whole thing. You go across the 16th Parallel. Africa is in flames, John. Nigeria's got horrible problems. The Christians are being driven southward. And you're right; this is a horrendous situation.

But what we can do about it, I do not know.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should we care?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, you should care. But I don't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What, from the humanitarian point of view?

MR. BUCHANAN: Listen, if you can help --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to send any military over there?

MR. BUCHANAN: No. But if you can help the people or you can do it diplomatically, I think you should. And I think Clooney's doing a good thing to say go to the Chinese. The Chinese are totally amoral.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, the Americans -- I remind you that we have a 15 percent poverty rate in the United States --

MR. BUCHANAN: But, look, they're not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and we really don't need to --

MR. BUCHANAN: But your diplomats can work with the Chinese to alleviate this, maybe.

MS. FERRECHIO: And we're not killing our own citizens either.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the Chinese have --

MS. CLIFT: Clooney is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- taken note of what Clooney is doing?

MR. BUCHANAN: The Chinese don't give a hoot about anything but oil and resources.

MS. CLIFT: I think you're right about that. But Clooney is a serious individual. He was involved with Darfur long before this. That was a genocide. That upset a lot of people. We didn't do enough or anything about it. And I think he's speaking to different populations. When he goes on the Hill, he's talking to the serious policymakers. And when he gets arrested, he's talking to the general public and wants to draw attention. And the Twitterverse pays attention.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The scheme that he set forth -- that's not the right word. The proposal that he set forth in his testimony before the Senate was to get China involved, get China buying the oil. If they choose to buy the oil, that wound will be healed between the two countries, because the money will pay off on the level of living. Do you understand?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, but Chin's prepared --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's not a bad idea, is it?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: China's prepared to buy the oil. The question is, can they get the two countries to work together to both pump the oil and pipeline the oil? That's the problem. So it's a different issue. China will buy the oil from any country that will sell it to them. That's never an issue for China.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But China can also --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: So the real question is, can you get China --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- engage these countries --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's what --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- to get them to reconcile.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's what he wants to do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When they see the dollar signs flapping around, they might want to do that.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: China's money can buy oil from all around the world, so that's not China's problem.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, is his proposal then unrealistic or without merit?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You know, listen, it's a proposal. Do I think it'll have any real effect? No, I do not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Clooney sat next to Michelle Obama at the White House state dinner for Prime Minister Cameron this week. How likely is it that Clooney has made the first lady a convert to his cause of having President Obama dispatch a special envoy highly probable, or is it highly improbable? Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: You know, I think it basically is a good idea. I don't know what the down side is. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I don't either. But I don't know that we need a special envoy. Can't we just raise it in the traditional diplomatic channels?

MR. BUCHANAN: Send Huntsman.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)


MS. FERRECHIO: I think that's a great question, and it's highly possible, because she does have some influence on him. And they're very swayed by Hollywood, I believe.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he makes up his own mind, doesn't he?

MS. FERRECHIO: No, I think he's influenced by what his wife says.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he makes up his own mind?

MS. FERRECHIO: I don't know. I'm not there to see it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's no question that --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think he makes up his own mind. And I also think he's influenced by his wife. So I'm not taking -- (laughter) --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is this, Humpty Dumpty?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Look, it's a perfectly good idea to have the United States somehow or other try and resolve this issue. We have a lot of issues on our plate. It's going to be a very difficult issue to resolve.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Chinese are not going to be very helpful. It's just --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think Obama can cut a deal with the Chinese on this particular thing.

MS. FERRECHIO: Sure. And while we're at it --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: To do what?

MS. FERRECHIO: -- can we tell them to stop manipulating their currency while we're over there?


MR. ZUCKERMAN: To do what?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To develop Sudan and everything becomes brighter in China and the pressure is kind of off in that situation over in the Sudan, and everybody's happy forever after.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: China is already doing what it can by buying the oil. Let the Sudanese --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's not on the market.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I know, because they won't -- they can't get along.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Chinese can influence them to put it on the market.

Issue Three: Santorum's South.

FORMER SENATOR RICK SANTORUM (R-PA, Republican presidential candidate): (From videotape.) As I was saying, I said this eventually is going to be a two-person race. And when it does, the conservative will win.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The conservative whom Rick Santorum is referring to is, of course, himself. Alabama and Mississippi just held primaries, and Santorum, of course, won both.

The breakout.

Alabama: Santorum, 35 percent; Gingrich, 29; Romney, 29; Ron Paul, 5. Mississippi: Santorum, 33 percent; Gingrich 31; Romney, 31; Paul, 4.

Yet despite Santorum's strong showing in the South, Romney won the delegate race. That's because Hawaii and American Samoa also had primaries, and Romney won both. In Hawaii, Romney won nine delegates, Santorum four, Paul one, Gingrich zero. In Samoa, Romney won all six delegates.

Tuesday's delegate total: Romney, 41; Santorum, 35; Gingrich, 24; Paul, 1.

Santorum is now framing the race as head to head, he versus Romney. And Santorum wants Gingrich and Paul off the track in the remaining 26 primaries and caucuses, so their votes will go to him. Now the pot is being split four ways. If it were a two-way race, Santorum versus Romney, Santorum says he would beat Romney. But Newt Gingrich says emphatically that he's not quitting the primary track.

FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA, Republican presidential candidate): (From videotape.) The fact is, in both states the conservative candidates got nearly 70 percent of the vote.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So Gingrich is staying in the race all the way to the Republican National Convention, August 27 to 30, five months from now, in Tampa, Florida, where the delegates and the super delegates will select the candidate and where Romney's conservative bona fides are suspect to Republican conservative spear carriers who make the convention.

Question: The presumption seems to be that if one of the two conservatives in the race was out, the other would reap the dividends in the form of a united conservative vote. Is that presumption warranted? For example, if Gingrich were to leave the race, that all of that conservative vote would go to, as he presents the case, Santorum?

MS. FERRECHIO: No. It wouldn't all go. But probably most of it would, and it would really help Santorum. But the question is, will Santorum ever have enough support to win 1,144 delegates, and win it before Mitt Romney wins it? I say no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You focused your column in the Examiner almost exclusively on Santorum within the past three columns you've written. Where did you write that column from?

MS. FERRECHIO: Probably in Birmingham.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, I think it was -- yeah, it was Birmingham, right. What did you think of Santorum? What do you think of him? Do you think he's ready for the presidency? Do you think that, you know, he has the kind of presidential mien, M-I-E-N? MS. FERRECHIO: He's gone from a candidate who was attracting two and three people to small diners in Iowa, and now he's the main alternative to the front runner, Mitt Romney. So he's come a long way. But again, the question is, can he win? Does he have the money? Does he have the organization to really outdo Mitt Romney? At this point, no, he doesn't. But he's making Romney look terrible.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --

MS. CLIFT: How much --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the public is ready to vote for United States President Rick Santorum?

MS. CLIFT: How much --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, assuming that he gets the nomination.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I do not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do not.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I do not.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Because some of his ideas are so, shall we say, conservative that the country will simply not support it. There's only one candidate in the Republican Party who has a chance to win the election, and clearly that's Mitt Romney. The core of the party might support him, but not the middle of the country. And any Republican needs the middle of the country to win.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there something significantly missing from Santorum in terms of his being -- sitting in the Oval Office?

MS. CLIFT: Well, you know --


(Cross talk.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We never know that until somebody gets into the Oval Office.

MR. BUCHANAN: You're talking is there a stature gap.


MR. BUCHANAN: Is there a stature gap?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Stature. MR. BUCHANAN: I agree that there is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean the total ball of wax?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, do we see him as president now? But I do agree that he has risen. He has done an awful lot. He's come a very long way. And he's approaching that. But I do agree with Mort. I think right now it'd be much tougher for Santorum to win.

MS. CLIFT: But the fact that Romney didn't win Mississippi and Alabama, couldn't defeat the right wingers, is no big deal. He's going to get those states in November.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Newt will drop out after Illinois, next Tuesday. Yes or no?

MR. BUCHANAN: Ridiculous. No.

MS. CLIFT: No. (Laughs.)

MS. FERRECHIO: No. He stays in.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is no.

Happy St. Patrick's Day. Erin Go Bragh.