Transcript: Face to Face with Vin Weber

John Dickerson: Welcome to Face to Face, Face the Nation's midweek show, I'm John Dickerson. I'm here with Vin Weber, six-term congressman from Minnesota, and also a supporter of Mitt Romney, Republican strategist, welcome. Tell me what we should think about the outcome in Mississippi and Alabama.

Vin Weber: It actually wasn't as bad as the morning-after analysis for Romney. Romney proved himself to be quite competitive in terms of total votes and of course at the end of the night Romney got more delegates than the other candidates. But, we did allow ourselves to get a little ahead of ourselves in anticipation of maybe winning Mississippi and so the spin was not as good as we liked it to be. I think Romney actually showed that he can compete in the South for votes. I don't think there's a problem going forward in terms of electability, but we are clearly now in a delegate fight and republicans need to think about the implications of that.

John Dickerson: What do you mean the implications of that?

Vin Weber: We've heard a little discussion about - quote -the numbers this week. You know Romney's talked about what the math would be to get him to the nomination and Rick Santorum has come back and said well yes I'd have to get 65 percent of the votes, but Romney would have to get a majority of the votes and he can't do that either. What Santorum is saying to us, and Gingrich even more explicitly, is that their strategy is to take this all the way to the convention. They don't have another strategy to win. They basically admit that. So the republicans have to think about what it would mean for the first time at least since 1976 to not have a nominee until basically September.

John Dickerson: Would it mean chaos?

Vin Weber: It could. But more importantly think about what modern conventions have become. They've become the main communications tool for both parties in the course of the entire campaign basically, possible exception being the debates that are held in the Fall. So there's no other better opportunity. The Democratic convention is going to be a beautifully orchestrated communications opportunity telling us why we need to re-elect President Obama. If the Republican convention is a mish mash of conspiracy theories and backroom dealings and competition back and forth and we wake up the morning after we've nominated a candidate and then have to start the campaign against Obama, we're going to start out in a deep, deep hole.

John Dickerson: Speaking of messaging. Mitt Romney won the delegates, he had a good night. But as you say, he's lost the spin war a little bit. That may have had to do with expectations setting, something we talk a lot about here in Washington. But there do seem to be two races, there's the kind of enthusiasm, momentum that seems to behind Santorum. Romney though has the math. How does he get over back to the excitement and enthusiasm side? How does he get there?

Vin Weber: I think he can do that. I've seen Mitt Romney inspire crowds. He gets people excited about it. But Rick Santorum has a story line going that says that he's the only one that touches the heart and soul of the Republicans. He basically has no campaign. I mean that's what people, Republicans need to understand this. There really isn't a Santorum campaign. There's a candidate running from state to state trying to make this emotional appeal, and it's working with some people. It certainly will not beat President Obama in the Fall. But you know I think that Romney has shown himself capable of inspiring the folks and he can do that going forward.

John Dickerson: Does he have to do anything different, or just what he's been doing in terms of that inspirational message?

Vin Weber: I don't think that it would make sense for him to try to reinvent himself. He's built a strong case for himself as a candidate who can fix our desperately broken economy, and the polling that we've seen now the last week or so shows this happy talk coming out of the Obama campaign for the last month or so was really an aberration and what we've known for the last year or more is true. And that is, the American people are frustrated and unhappy with their economy, they want somebody who can fix it, and Mitt Romney's been building that case for himself for a couple of years now. He shouldn't deviate from that.

John Dickerson: If it's a numbers game, do you foresee it going months for Mitt Romney? Is this a long slog ahead for him?

Vin Weber: I think that we probably go into late May, maybe June. We may go through all the primaries as Hilary Clinton and Senator Obama did four years ago. Clearly, it would be nice if we could lock this thing up earlier than that. But the point I make is there's a very big difference between saying okay we're going to go through the primaries and then have a nominee, and saying we're going to go through the primaries and then not have a nominee until we go two months later to the convection in Florida. That would be a real problem.

John Dickerson: Republicans who keep that in mind, the chaos of the convention, should they also keep in mind what a long nominating process would do in terms of hurting the frontrunner? Hurting the image of the party? Do you think there's any risk of that?

Vin Weber: I have no doubt that when this is all over we'll be able to get the party united again. Newt Gingrich has said very positive things about that from his standpoint and his rivalry with Romney's been pretty intense, so for him to say it matters. But there's some things only time can cure and you need a period of time to unite the party. You need that period after the primaries are over, June, July, early August, to heal the wounds, bring the party together, establish some unity and then use your convention as your platform to launch the campaign against the other party. You don't need to start out uniting the party after the delegates have all gone home and you don't have that communication opportunity.

John Dickerson: One of the ways to do that healing is to speak to the Santorum voters. What do you think Santorum is saying to those voters that's made him popular in some of these contests?

Vin Weber: I think that he's saying he's the outsider, and in this environment we've seen for a few years that's very popular to be the outsider. There's not really a big issues difference between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, or among the three candidates. They basically are conservative candidates who contrast very strongly with Barack Obama on spending, taxes, regulation, energy policy and social issues and that's fairly clear. But Rick has managed to portray himself as the outsider, meaning the guy who doesn't run a real campaign, and that's somehow appeals to some people. But it won't win us the White House.

John Dickerson: Gingrich also has tried to portray himself as an outsider, even a harder job. Do you think he should get out of the race?

Vin Weber: I wouldn't say that. You gotta' decide, people have to decide when they want to get out. The thing I'd argue with my friend Newt about is his explicit statement that he wants this to go to a convention. I understand why he thinks that, he is a historian, that would be a historic event, probably a historic disaster for the Republican party, but a historic event. But it's not a good one.

John Dickerson: You know him. Do you think he will get out even if he continues to have these non-wins?

Vin Weber: I think you've got to give him a little time to think about it. I really mean he thinks about these things historically and I'm sure in his own mind he's thought through more about what a convention would mean than most people have, but when he reflects on it I think he's going to understand it has deeply negative implications for our ability to beat Obama. At that point there's a chance that he might get out. I'm not predicting it, not calling for it, but he does - his whole legacy as a political leader and it's a great legacy is as somebody who has brought the Republican party great success and great victory: Taking over the House of Representatives in 40 years. He does not want to tarnish that by being the guy that costs us the White House.

John Dickerson: Last question about that race to the White House. Mitt Romney against Barack Obama. One of the problems that Mitt Romney's had in the exit polls, it shows when you ask people who cares about people like us, who feels the economic pain we're going through, Mitt Romney gets low numbers on that question. How does he improve that?

Vin Weber: I think that he gets, he improves - I think that Romney's argument on the economy is not necessarily that he feels your pain more than somebody else; it's that he's the guy that can fix it. We've all felt the pain for the last several years and we're afraid we're going to have to feel it for several years more. I don't want just somebody; I don't think most Americans want somebody who can simply say yes I'm going to commiserate with you while we continue with this miserable economy for another four years. They want somebody that can fix the economy and Romney's got the best argument to do that.

John Dickerson: Okay, Vin Weber, thanks so much. And that's it for Face to Face, I'm John Dickerson. Join Bob Schieffer this Sunday on Face the Nation.