MSNBC hosted a one-on-one debate Monday between former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a Mitt Romney supporter, and former U.S. Rep. Bob Walker of Pennsylvania, a Newt Gingrich supporter -- and boy, did it get heated.
At first, the discussion was tense but civil. But it escalated quickly, and by the end of the program, Sununu and Walker found themselves in an all-out shouting match, speaking loudly over each other while moderator Chuck Todd watched in amusement.
You can read the full transcript below. For added entertainment, see if you can count how many times Walker says, The fact is.... (Warning: it would probably be a bad idea to make a drinking game out of it.)
CHUCK TODD: I want to ask you about the issue of turnout and Newt Gingrich's historical point that he makes that in the one place he won turnout was up, but when you look overall turnout's been down. Are you concerned about conservative enthusiasm inside the Republican electorate because turnout overall in the first five states, collectively, is down 3 percent from four years ago?
SUNUNU: Look, to look at a win in Nevada where Mitt Romney got more votes than all the other candidates put together as having some kind of a negative in there is certainly a spin effort by the opposition that did so badly. This process is a long process. The timing of these primaries is a little different than they were in the past. I think for example when Iowa and New Hampshire started so early because the Florida moveup came in, everybody is starting earlier than they expected. I think you're going to see turnout increase as we move into the process.
TODD: Well, actually, the calendar looks pretty similar to what it was four years ago. Iowa's the same date as it was four years ago, New Hampshire I think only two days' difference, Florida on the same day, so --
SUNUNU: But last time you were chasing an open seat, this time you're chasing an incumbent. Look, why spin numbers when the real issue is issues? And what we're looking at is a campaign by Republicans that recognize we want to replace Obama. In an odd sense when turnout is down, it means contrary to what you're hearing from a lot of people, people are satisfied with the candidate that's winning, and they're satisfied with Mitt Romney.
TODD: Congressman Walker, that's obviously not what Newt Gingrich thinks --
WALKER: No, I don't think so, and the fact is, if we want to defeat Obama, the fact is that the Romney campaign in Florida spent 100 percent of its time beating up on its fellow Republicans, mostly on Newt Gingrich, and I do think that anytime negative campaigning, it drives down the vote, that's the purpose of negative campaigning, to drive down the vote, so I see that being reflected in some of the numbers that you're now seeing. I would agree. What we want to be doing is running against Barack Obama, and the fact is that the candidates have very different kinds of ideas about how we improve the economy, how we do some of these things. That's what we ought to be debating.
TODD: Senator [sic], you wanted to jump in.
SUNUNU: Yeah, look. If you want to talk about something negative, take a look at the Gingrich news conference in Nevada. There's a guy who absolutely went through a meltdown. If you can't handle the pressure of a bad caucus, how are you going to handle the pressure of being president? And that rambling set of attacks after saying he was going to be positive just shows you the schizophrenic approach that this guy has to the politics of destruction.
WALKER: Once again, John is on the attack mode here on this program this morning, but the fact is that Newt Gingrich answered the questions that the press posed to him. The fact is that we see very --
SUNUNU: Irrationally --
WALKER: We see very -- we see very little in the way of Gov. Romney putting himself out in press conferences like that, because he is a candidate that has to be handled, because every time he goes out, there seems to be some kind of a misstatement that gets him in trouble.
TODD: Congressman, what is the rationale for the Gingrich candidacy, though? I say this because it doesn't -- I could not figure out what his message was last week, other than wishing that --
SUNUNU: He can't either!
WALKER: I think the question was for me, John. The fact is that the rationale for this candidacy is that the future belongs to people who can define a program that balances the budget, that creates jobs and produces a future where opportunity is the watchword, and those are the things that we've been discussing.
SUNUNU: And that's --
WALKER: We've been discussing how you create additional jobs in our society --
SUNUNU: And that's exactly the agenda Romney put out!
WALKER: -- we've been talking about how you create -- well, that's not -- the fact is, John, Wall Street Journal called your economic program for doing this timid. They called the Newt Gingrich plan strong. They --
SUNUNU: You guys are going to editorials that are six months old --
WALKER: We are -- we are -- well, his economic program hasn't changed, and neither has Newt's.
TODD: Gov. Sununu, in fairness, there is a criticism what I would call among the conservative elite in Washington, the conservative intelligentsia, who do wish that Mitt Romney's tax plan were quote bolder, wish that his economic plan were something that was new and different rather than say a 59-point plan where he has X, Y and Z but they can't really get their arms around it. Is that a fair criticism?
SUNUNU: Look, he's committed -- he's said it dozens of times. Not only is he committed to reducing the taxes on the middle class, but the next step is to bring taxes down across the board, to flatten the tax structure and to get rid of the loopholes that prevent you from flattening the tax structure. I think that is absolutely consistent --
WALKER: But those things aren't in his --
SUNUNU: -- that is absolutely consistent with what the conservative part of the party really wants, and frankly, the most important thing to do is to cut the spending, cut the growth of this government that has occurred under Obama, and he has absolutely been specific that that's what he's going to do. It is easy for folks to nitpick that this one is a slightly better plan than that one --
WALKER: No --
SUNUNU: -- or this one's more aggressive than that one, or this one is slightly this and slightly that -- the fact is that Mitt Romney has put a package out there that is going to deal with the Obama mess, and he is running a campaign that people are moving towards and supporting, and they are convinced that the only way to beat Obama in November --
WALKER: You're filibustering, John --
SUNUNU: -- is to nominate Mitt Romney.
TODD: Governor, let me let Bob Walker --
WALKER: -- because, because you don't have a good answer to this. The fact is that The Wall Street Journal is absolutely correct. The way in which you change the economy is to change the dynamics of the economy and so on. It is a 15 percent flat tax. It is eliminating capital gains taxes. It is in fact providing a corporate tax rate that makes you world competitive. Those are the things that are in the Gingrich plan that are bold, and they are the way in which we will dynamically change the economy from the direction in which Obama's been taking us. Those --
SUNUNU: And Romney --
WALKER: -- are the things we've been discussing --
SUNUNU: -- is flattening the taxes.
WALKER: -- and it would be very, very good if we could have a program here where we really debate those issues, because the 59-point program of Mitt Romney simply doesn't measure up to the changes that we need.
TODD: Gov. Romney -- excuse me, Gov. Sununu, is this Republican primary campaign hurting Romney's standing? Right now it looks in this new Washington Post/ABC poll that that is indeed the case.
SUNUNU: There's a long campaign ahead of us, the polls are going to go up and down. Once Mitt Romney is confirmed as the nominee, the process of differentiating with Obama will be very clear, and at that point you're going to see the differences move in the right direction. Look, this is wishful thinking on the part of the Gingrich campaign. He is absolutely down. He has -- his news conference was an unbelievable rambling of a candidate who expressed the irrationality of being unable to be president. The public has seen that. It is perhaps --
WALKER: John, you're trying to make the case that this is an erratic and irrational --
SUNUNU: -- it is Romney versus Santorum.
WALKER: -- candidate for months now, and you haven't made your case --
SUNUNU: I didn't have to make it! Newt Gingrich made the case --
WALKER: No, Newt Gingrich --
SUNUNU: Just take a look --
WALKER: Newt Gingrich --
SUNUNU: -- at that news conference!
WALKER: Newt Gingrich is being very, very clear about where he stands, and he is making his case very well. You've tried to knock him out now --
SUNUNU: The politics of destruction --
WALKER: -- in several states and you haven't been able to do it, and so now you're very frustrated about the fact --
SUNUNU: That's why he's losing!
WALKER: -- that you cannot knock him out. If you --
SUNUNU: He's losing!
TODD: If you win this, are you concerned that the Republican primary campaign, Congressman Walker, is hurting the Republican effort? President Obama's numbers have never been better.
WALKER: I think that the fact that it has been a highly negative campaign -- we tried to run a campaign in Iowa that was totally positive, got knocked out by negative advertising -- I think the negativity of this campaign is in fact driving down voter totals and that is rebounding against the Republican Party. I think it's a shame. We ought to get back to debating the issues, and we ought to figure out how we're going to beat Barack Obama.
TODD: Gov. Sununu, you want to be --
SUNUNU: There's one candidate -- there's one candidate in this campaign who has a reputation for being involved in the politics of destruction. That's Newt Gingrich.
WALKER: That's not true. The fact is that his campaign is very much a campaign where all the advertising by the Romney campaign has been negative against Newt.
TODD: Congressman Walker, Gov. Sununu, I've got to leave it there. Thank you for a lively discussion. I won't need a second cup of coffee. Thank you both.