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JOHN KING, USA

Romney Campaign in Trouble?; Herman Cain In or Out?

Aired December 1, 2011 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

Tonight: a busy day in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, and a day defined by this question: Are we now witnessing the unraveling of the candidate many more months have described as the all but inevitable Republican nominee? As of now, being Mitt Romney means being a "TIME" cover story with a whiny headline -- quote -- "Why Don't They Like Me?"

I picked the word whiny because it fits the moment and mood of team Romney. FOX anchor Bret Baier says Governor Romney himself complained after their interview the other night that he didn't like the questions or the tone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: He said he thought it was overly aggressive. And as we were walking in the walk and walk and then after we finished he went to his holding room and then came back and said he didn't like the interview and thought it was uncalled for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And the Romney staff was particularly whiny after CNN's recent national security debate, so much so that it made me wonder if they knew something we didn't.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Here's tonight's "Truth."

If there is a Romney collapse, you will trace the roots of the unraveling back to this week. Whining is not synonymous with winning. The truth is, to borrow a little "Star Wars" lingo, Team Romney is acting as if it senses a disruption in the force.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, that was a week ago. And things aren't getting better from the Romney perspective. A new Florida poll out tonight shows Romney 30 points behind Newt Gingrich. Herman Cain's campaign is teetering and its collapse could help Gingrich consolidate the anti-Romney vote in those early key GOP battlegrounds.

If you need any more proof the Republican race has a new front- runner, watch here, Ron Paul turning his attention to Gingrich. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that he's getting a free ride. And I have worked with him for a long time and I think that the points that I made on the various issues, and he's a flip-flopper. So he can hardly be the alternative to Mitt Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ouch. Were you listening closely there? Even as an afterthought in that sound bite from Ron Paul, Governor Romney gets labeled a flip-flopper.

The irony, perhaps a sad irony for Governor Romney, is that to see him campaign his cycle is to see a candidate determined, at least most of the time, to put principle ahead of political expediency.

Consider this from that "TIME" magazine cover story. He seems to have discovered an ancient buried truth of American politics. You gain credibility, you see more real if you don't try to please all of the people all of the time.

Joe Klein wrote this excellent "TIME" cover story. Joe joins us now from New York.

Joe, I want to read a little bit more from your cover piece.

"Unfortunately, all Romney's calculations, all of the improvements in his stump and debate performances, all of it has left him in the same old place, uninspiring to moderates and untrustworthy to conservatives, an unloved, forlorn front-runner. The vast majority of Romney's potential supporters have suffered a series of malarial fevers and chills, warming and cooling on his opponents, desperate to find a candidate to take his place."

Ouch. That's a pretty tough assessment and yet he's still, if not the front-runner, the top alternative. Is he now the top alternative to Newt Gingrich, I guess?

JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME": I guess he is.

And -- but this is a week, John, I think where things have really suddenly gotten very tough for Romney. Up until this point, he could kind of get away with skating by with maybe 20 percent, 25 percent of the Republican electorate support. Now we're getting down to crunch time.

And suddenly Gingrich is putting together the kind of coalition that the other Republican candidates could have only dreamed about. He has become the un-Mitt. And in some states like South Carolina, Florida, the poll numbers are just extreme.

KING: So, part of it is you question then the Romney strategy, how did they get to this point, because they have had a play it safe strategy. He doesn't do many interviews. They have had a pretty -- run a level campaign and they have stayed pretty level in the polls, but they haven't addressed in a smart way most Republican strategists would say the big fundamental question. You talk a lot about it in your piece, and that is his reputation, his history, and the label of a flip-flopper.

And you write this: "Sometimes a flip is justified as with Romney's position on ethanol. But all too often his switchbacks have been so expedient as to make you wonder how stupid or shortsighted he thinks the electorate is."

And that is the label, right, that he has just -- for Massachusetts governor he ran as a moderate, and now as president he's trying to run as a conservative. He's not been able to shake that.

KLEIN: You know, you get the sense with Romney, he's a very smart guy. And in the old days he used to talk to me. He didn't talk to me this year. But he's not talking to anybody.

This strategy has been disastrous for him because you look at his interview with FOX News this week, which was very uncomfortable. If you choose not to ever confront issues like these flip-flops, then even FOX News is going to ask you about them when they finally get a shot at you.

That's what happened this week. That's what's going to happen every single time Romney makes himself available to the media. And if he doesn't make himself available to us, he's going to suffer as well, as he has been.

KING: So they come up with their first TV ad in Iowa. The calculation seems to be they need to play there in an aggressive way because of what you just noted.

It gets worse. He's leading in New Hampshire, but then you look at South Carolina, Florida, and it's beginning to look bleak. In camp Romney they think we better make a try in Iowa, we better try hold our lead in New Hampshire. He's a smart candidate, as you just said. He's a seasoned candidate from last time around and he has a deep and experienced campaign team around him. What are they missing or what haven't they done that they need to do?

KLEIN: Well, I think that what they're missing is that the presidency is the most intimate office that we have.

Running for president is the most, the closest that any politician ever gets to the American public. And you have to make yourself available. You have to make yourself available in every which way. And every last position you have ever taken, every last change that you have made comes under scrutiny.

They have underestimated the importance of that. And it becomes more important every last campaign because the breadth of the media gets greater. We have Internet, we have tweeting, we have all kinds of stuff now. KING: And we see front-runners have this problem sometimes. Maybe the specifics of this one are al the different, but every front- runner hits a bit of a ditch. John McCain, last time around, he was written off as dead, and he had personally in him, John McCain, like him or not politically, a tenacity, a fighter. He refused to die and when he was written off he fought back.

Does Mitt Romney have them that in him?

KLEIN: Well, we haven't seen it so far.

And in fact it's really kind of striking how much Gingrich's campaign resembles McCain's campaign last time. Gingrich fell apart in the spring when he went for a trip to the Greek Isles and spent $250,000, more or less, at Tiffany. And he just didn't seem to be running very smart or very hard.

Now he comes back, and you have to wonder, here's a guy, Gingrich, who has made many of the exact same policy flip-flops as Romney, and yet he can get away with them, I think, because he's far more passionate and bombastic in a way that Republicans, who have become the party of passion, respond to.

KING: A very smart take on state of the Romney campaign in this "TIME" cover story, "Why Don't They Like Me?"

Joe Klein, thanks for your time.

KLEIN: My pleasure, John.

KING: It was the flip-flopper label that annoyed Romney most about that FOX interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's no question but that people are going to take snippets and take things out of context and try and show that there are differences where in some cases there are not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In that conversation Governor Romney conceded a change of heart and change of position on the abortion issue. But he says other flip-flop critiques are either dead wrong or grossly exaggerated.

To steal a line, we report, you decide. We showed you a then and now on immigration last night. Gun control is another favorite of Romney's critics. Then:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts. I support them. I won't chip away at them. I believe they help protect us and provide for our safety.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And now:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I do not support any new legislation of an assault weapon ban nature.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, all front-runners, as I noted a moment ago, hit a rough patch. The big question is, can Governor Romney recover and regain not only the momentum, but the calm confidence that of late has given way to whining?

Former New York Congresswoman Susan Molinari is a Romney backer. And our CNN contributor Dana Loesch is an ally of the Tea Party movement that, well, has deep doubts about the former Massachusetts governor.

Congresswoman, to you first.

As a lead surrogate, one of the leading surrogates of the Romney campaign, you guys have conference calls all the time, and when you talk to the campaign, what is it that you folks on the outside are telling them at a time it's pretty obvious they're in a bit of a ditch and they're struggling?

SUSAN MOLINARI (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, you know what? The truth is, I'm not an official surrogate. I am an official supporter. I'm not on a lot of phone calls.

But I think if I were to give advice, I would talk about, and particularly to somebody like Dana Loesch, who has some concerns about the conservatism of Governor Romney, is his record in Massachusetts of cutting taxes, of increasing employment, of what he was able to do change an entire culture in the way this nation needs to changed in the bluest of blue states.

I think when we talk about conservatism, it's really going back and looking at the type of governor that he was and how he governed under the most difficult of liberal circumstances.

KING: And, yet, Dana Loesch, if you look at the polling data right now, if you talk to Tea Party activists in a place like Iowa -- I was just in South Carolina the other day -- there's a steady and a firm and to Governor Romney's credit a deep organization in all of these states. The question is, is it deep enough? What has the last week or two done to the Zeitgeist, if you will, the buzz about Romney?

DANA LOESCH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think the Romney buzz has kind of died down.

I think it's also because of his record. Someone like me and other grassroots individuals that obviously speak for themselves, they look at Governor Romney's record on Massachusetts and one of the things they see is the increase in fees. We all know that there are different buzzwords that different politicians like to use when they discuss tax increases and Governor Romney, the word that he liked to use was fees.

He raised them hundreds of millions on businesses, on first- responders, gun owners for licenses. We look at his record and then we couple that with this oversensitivity that we have seen this week and it just doesn't play out well.

Just atone for your record. And if you're really repentant about some of the things that you have done before, then say so and don't go back.

KING: Here's one sign to me that they get it in team Romney and they're trying to fix it, in the sense that a lot of his early speeches, a lot of his early campaign appearances and some of the Web videos they have done, and even their first ads have been about how he -- put me up against President Obama, running as if you're already the nominee and you're a general election candidate.

Look at this ad in Iowa. Mitt Romney's very well-known, probably has 100 percent name identification among Republicans yet his first statewide TV ad in Iowa essentially is getting to know you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN AD)

ROMNEY: I spent my life in the private sector. I have competed with companies around the world. I have learned something about how it is that economies grow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That, to me, Susan, is a sense that they're saying, OK, all right, I will get back to running as a Republican primary, Republican caucus candidate. Let's hit the reset button.

MOLINARI: I think it's also that, but I think it's also we want to get in people's minds.

What is the discussion going to be when we enter the general election? Jobs and the economy, that is going to be the overriding issue. And it's going to be the one that President Obama has to defend against somebody like Mitt Romney who, in his former lives, has done an awful lot to create jobs, left a rainy day fund when he was in government and increased employment, so to get back to not only the Republican roots, but what the overall country wanted to discuss, which is this stagnant economic condition that President Obama continues to boast.

KING: He also says in that ad, Dana, you know, you can't just grow the -- you have to cut spending, you're not just going to have jobs come back and grow the economy. You have to cut spending.

Again, I take that as a sense they realize they have some doubts out there at the grassroots and they're trying to go straight at them. Is it too late? LOESCH: I don't know if anything is too late at this point.

Again, you know, I look back at his record. When he left, he left his predecessor I think it was over a $1 billion budget deficit. Continuing to reach out to grassroots can't hurt anything. Continuing to say I really think that we have to reduce spending, this is what I would cut, these are the steps that I would take, I don't think that can hurt him.

But he has to do an awful lot of pressing the flesh in order to really kind of come across -- to make up that ground that he's lost with record to conservatives.

KING: Iowa votes a month from Tuesday and the question is, there's been so much volatility in this race, I think Dana's right to say, who knows if ever it's too late. There's been so much volatility.

But let's look at the moment. Let's look at the moment. We know Gingrich has surged in the Iowa polls, and we know he's doing better in South Carolina. Governor Romney so far seems to be holding his lead in New Hampshire.

Look at these numbers from Florida today. These are the kind of things that make you say, whoa, what's in the water? Gingrich, 50, Romney, 19. In October, it was Romney 28, Gingrich 11. That's 39 points for Newt Gingrich in a month, which tells you there's something happening out there.

And it has Speaker Gingrich so confident, bordering on cocky, he said this to ABC's Jake Tapper a short time ago. "They are not going to be the nominee," meaning his rivals. "I don't have to go ahead around and point out the inconsistencies of people who are not going to be the nominee. They are not going to be the nominee."

So Jake Tapper asks, "You're going to be the nominee?"

And Speaker Gingrich says: "I'm going to be the nominee. It's very hard to look at the recent polls and not think the odds are very high I'm going to be the nominee."

MOLINARI: It's such a shock that Newt Gingrich would present himself with such an ego. So uncharacteristic of the man that we know.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: You would be pretty confident if your polling in Florida went from 11 to 50 in a month.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: But maybe it wouldn't be the best political strategy to exercise that. And that's what the overall concern to those of who know and served with Newt -- I was part of his revolution -- was that, that ego, that inability to deal with what were the more politic things to say and do, and that is what concerns a lot of us were he to become certainly the Republican nominee and especially if he were to become president.

KING: So Dana, we have watched the anybody but Romney ball as we call it pass from Donald Trump to Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry to Herman Cain. Speaker Gingrich has it right now. What is the conversation at the grassroots level? Do they want to pass it around some more or are they happy with it staying there?

LOESCH: I think the ball's going to get passed around quite a bit.

And I think it will be until the point where it looks like, this is what we have. We're at the end of it, it's time to pull the cord, do or die time. I think there's still a lot of decision making to be made. I also think there's a lot of the conversation that -- I had this conversation with a couple of activists today and we were discussing how we can't believe that now we're looking at Newt Gingrich, who is soaring in the polls and who is becoming the leader.

You never thought you would have this conversation 10 years ago or five years ago or even a couple of years ago. It's been pretty extraordinary. And I think it's just proof that anything could happen, and anything definitely could.

KING: Volatility is the catchword of our politics today.

Susan Molinari, Dana Loesch, thanks for coming in. We will see you again soon.

Still to come here, consider this question. Is your new iPhone a new ally for the anti-abortion movement?

And Herman Cain gives a New Hampshire newspaper new details about whether he will stay in the GOP race. That newspaper's publisher joins us live next.

And take a look at this. Over on the Ellipse behind the White House, tonight, that is Kermit the Frog. That was anyway. President of the United States, they lit the Christmas tree, the holiday tree, some want to call it, across from the White House today. The president and his daughters leaving the stage at the White House tonight. You hear a lot of merry Christmas.

We will be back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Herman Cain says he will talk with his wife face to face for the first time on Friday about a Georgia woman's allegation the two had a long-running extramarital affair.

Cain told "The New Hampshire Union Leader" today his wife, Gloria, was unaware of what Mr. Cain insists was a friendship and nothing more, unaware he said until Ginger White went public with her allegation. The Friday conversation back home could determine whether Cain stays in or drops out.

Let's get some more details of that conversation from the "Union Leader" publisher, Joe McQuaid, who is with us live from Manchester tonight. Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger with me here in Washington.

Joe McQuaid, I want to get to your take on the conversation. But first we're just getting the video of some of the key parts of it in. I want to let our viewers hear what you experienced today when you were asking Herman Cain about just what happened and who knew what about this Georgia businesswoman. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My wife is comfortable with the explanation that I told her regarding having to help her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did you tell her finally? Was it after the fact?

CAIN: Yes, after she...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After this woman came out.

CAIN: Yes, after she went public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why didn't you tell your wife during the time it was going on?

CAIN: Well, you know, there are some things that you -- it may appear now that why didn't I tell her about this when it was going on? You're absolutely right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In retrospect.

CAIN: Yes, in retrospect, but retrospect doesn't necessarily change what we're dealing with now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Retrospect doesn't change what he's dealing with now.

Joe McQuaid, give me your gut sense from having this conversation. He's going to have this first face-to-face with Gloria Cain. He's been on the road with this week dealing with all this. Is this candidate, do you believe, will he be a candidate come Monday?

JOSEPH MCQUAID, PUBLISHER, "THE NEW HAMPSHIRE UNION LEADER": Monday or Tuesday, I don't think so.

I genuinely feel for the guy. But this was an astounding interview. This was the one, John, that was blown off a couple of weeks ago, because, A., he didn't want it taped, and then, B., it could only be 20 minutes.

Timing is everything. He came in today. And I threw him a couple of softball questions about the Federal Reserve, but good on my reporter, John DiStaso, who asked him about the text messages back and forth. And Herman answered and said, yes, she hit me eight times with texts. I responded 17 times.

And John said, what were they? She was asking for help. I was responding trying to help her. Did you give her money? Yes. How much? I can't tell you on advice of counsel.

It was just -- it was astounding.

KING: And I want to read a little bit. John posted a story online, John DiStaso, your fine political reporter, after the conversation, in which he said -- he says: "Cain said he will leave the race if his wife asks him to do so" -- quote -- "But my wife couldn't ask me to get out. I would make a decision based on how all of this stuff is affecting her."

Gloria Borger, it's a decision time for Mr. Cain. And let's take him at his word that the most important calculation is his family. But he also knows, as he sits down with that conversation, that he is sliding precipitously in the polls just about everywhere.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He is.

First of all, I have to say I'm kind of astounded he hasn't had that conversation before this moment since these charges came out on Monday. But I do think that there is a decision that's got to be made on the personal side and also on the campaign side. If he's running out of money, number one, he can't continue.

If he's losing support among women, which he wasn't strong to begin with, he can't continue. Then he's got his family and his wife. He could continue in this race to be some kind of a spoiler. But it's clear to me he's not going to get the nomination. And that's also something else he has to take into consideration.

KING: And, Joe McQuaid, you mentioned this was on again, off again, Mr. Cain didn't want to do it went the cameras were going to be there before. He wanted to do in 20 minutes.

To his credit, and I want to give him credit, he came in there at a tough time in the campaign, sat down with the "Union Leader" editorial board and reporters who asked tough questions and pulled no punches and he let the cameras in there. And we just played first video we're getting from it.

He also said this here. He said in this -- about how this all came about -- "But I have very strong speculation that someone offered her a lot of money. I was helping her with month-to-month bills and expenses and somebody, this is speculation only, offered her a lot of money. One of my objectives is to clear my name and my reputation."

He said it's speculation only. He didn't have evidence of that; that's just his gut?

MCQUAID: That's his gut. And I took from that that he thought it was somebody who was trying to injure him in this race.

He said later on that he's discovered politics is very, very dirty and that there are three groups in the country. There's the media, there's the political establishment, and there's the voters and supporters. And he thought he still had the third, but the other two weren't going to give him a break.

KING: What's your sense in New Hampshire? Does he have the third? Is there a deep enough reservoir for Herman Cain that he can have a credible showing in the New Hampshire primary?

MCQUAID: I don't think so.

John DiStaso said to him, this is the place where you can meet face-to-face with the people. Are you going to be here? And he and his staff pulled out some ledger that said they'd been here 22 times. But if he's going to make a dent, he's got to be here the next 22 days. And there was no indication that that was going to be the case.

KING: One more quick one, Joe.

Did the fund-raising at all come up? Because one of the questions was he said he's reassessing his campaign and he will see how he does financially. After the sexual harassment allegations they were very quick to rush out the next day, look at all of the money we raised online. They have been silent so far.

MCQUAID: Yes, he didn't say what he'd raised. But he said that after family, fund-raising was the most important consideration that he'd be taking into account this weekend.

KING: So family and fund-raising, Gloria. We haven't heard anything about the fund-raising.

You're at a point in the campaign -- he has run, as Joe notes, an unorthodox campaign. He was in Ohio yesterday. It is Iowa and then New Hampshire that vote in 33 and 40 days. I think I have my math right. If I'm off, it's just a day or so. So I don't know why you would be in Ohio.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Selling books. Selling books.

KING: I love the state of Ohio, don't get me wrong.

Just right now -- family and fund-raising, we have seen again they were very quick to rush out after the earlier allegations, look at the money we were getting.

BORGER: Yes, millions. They were raising millions of dollars.

Newt Gingrich is doing well talking about how much money he's raising. After the sexual harassment allegations, the money started pouring in, because people believed Herman Cain. His supporters really believed him and they said this is a conspiracy. Cain at that point charged it was another Republican campaign that was leaking the information.

They denied it. Now he's saying it's people who want to do him in, whether it's Democrats giving her some money. You know, at a certain point, John, people have to decide whether or not they believe Herman Cain because you have to trust someone you're going to vote for, for president.

KING: Gloria Borger, Joe McQuaid.

Joe, thanks for coming in quickly after that interview. We will see you up in New Hampshire soon.

And if you're sitting at home and you want more of that interview, go to the "Union Leader"'s Web site. And you will see there's a fine posting up already, more to come, I'm sure. And we will bring you more of the video here at CNN as soon as it comes in.

And still to come here, President Obama says he is the best friend in the White House Israel has ever had. Safe to say many Republicans are taking issue.

And next, the new iPhone can get you to the nearest gas station, even find a strip club if that's what you ask it to do. But is it true that it won't help you if you're looking for contraception advice or an abortion clinic?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Tonight's "Number," let's show you straight up front, three, as in three languages that are spoken by Siri.

That's the new application that helps you if you have a new iPhone. English, French, and German, that's what the Siri will speak now or respond to now. But, by 2012, Apple says it will add Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Spanish.

And guess what? When you ask people who bought the new iPhone 4S, 49 percent, nearly half, say it's their favorite feature, Siri, ease of use, 40 percent and others. So about half of the people say this is probably why I love this phone the most.

No matter what language Siri speaks, some abortion right activists think she has an agenda. This controversy surfaced first in the blogosphere. People started posting complaints that Siri either can't find abortion clinics when asked or gives directions to pregnancy crisis centers. "The New York Times" noticed an Apple spokeswoman blamed technical glitches, not intentional omissions in Siri's programming.

Let's talk this over tonight: via Skype, Dan Simon, CNN's Silicon Valley correspondent; on the phone, technology journalist Robert Cringely. He used to work for Apple. And with us here in Washington, the ACLU's legislative director, Laura Murphy.

I want to go straight to this, because this was buzzing around today. We heard about this controversy. We decided to put it to the test right here. Right here in D.C., got an iPhone 4S with Siri and?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is the nearest abortion clinic?

ROBOTIC VOICE: I found two abortion clinics a little ways from you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A little ways from you, it says. A little ways from you there are at least three abortion clinics in D.C., according to Google. Siri told us the closest were in Pennsylvania, 74 miles away, and Virginia, 28 miles away. So it did give us clinics; it didn't give us the closest clinic.

Let's try this once more. Once more -- we have a third one. Let's do the second one. Dan Simon, you're in San Francisco. We head out there. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any abortion clinics in California?

ROBOTIC VOICE: I didn't find any abortion clinics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: All right. Laura Murphy, you come in at this point. Now, there are plenty of abortion clinics in the San Francisco area. Apple says it's a glitch, that this is a beta, that this is technology that's still being developed and improved, and they'll fix it. You think?

LAURA MURPHY, ACLU LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR: I think it's more than a glitch. I think it's a values issue, and I think that their software provider or someone gave them information that was biased.

You should be able to find out about birth control. You should be able to find out about safe and legal abortions. And we shouldn't have women's issues stigmatized by software and technology providers.

KING: Robert Cringely, is that feasible that this is just a technical glitch or for this to happen and for this function to be able to do so many other remarkable things, that somebody, somewhere wrote the software with a political agenda?

ROBERT CRINGELY, TECHNOLOGY JOURNALIST (via phone): Well, it's always possible that there's a political agenda. If there is one I don't think it's at Apple. I think it would be at Yelp, the supplier of this data to the Siri system. So, you know, the question is whether someone at Yelp has this bias. It could be -- surprising that no one seems to be asking Yelp.

KING: Well, we'll ask the question of Yelp. That's an excellent point. But Dan Simon, Apple knows how important this product is to it. You would think that Apple itself might have done some work. Maybe they don't have a political group to ask these kind of questions. I want to bring you into the conversation, but first I said we have a third example. New York City, New York's one of the more liberal communities in the United States of America. Yes, there are abortion clinics in and around New York City. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where can I get an abortion?

ROBOTIC VOICE: I'm checking your current location. I didn't find any abortion clinics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What does Apple make of this, Dan? Do they think it's a controversial that hurts them or do they just need to quickly fix the software?

SIMON: Well, it's a good question. First of all, Apple is very image conscious. So you would think that pretty much everything they do is deliberate.

And there's also a bit of a contradiction here, because if you ask Siri for an escort service, guess what? It provides you with one.

So, you know, they say that this is still in beta mode and that they're still working out some kinks, but one would have to believe that this was a deliberate feature that Siri put into its system.

KING: And so it's an interesting point. You can find a strip club. You can find an escort service.

MURPHY: Viagra provider.

KING: You can find a Viagra provider. So it's not a -- I don't know -- hard to lump things together -- but it's not like somebody who is so conservative who is trying to be so moralistic to cut off just about anything that some conservative might find objectionable. So you think it was deliberate to one issue?

MURPHY: I do. I think that there is a hostility toward contraception, towards safe and legal abortion, and I think that we've got to make sure that these providers give us unbiased information. That's the best business model for them, especially as libraries disappear and the yellow pages is no longer used. We increasingly rely on them for unbiased, neutral information. And when they harm women's health this way, this is a problem.

KING: And so Mr. Cringely, help me out here, because a lot of people are jealous. Apple gets out with this technology. It's one of the big appeals for this phone. Technology is changing in a way that we are going to ask our homes to do things for us. We're going to ask a lot of our devices to help us do things. What is the lesson here for the entire industry about making decisions, introducing new products that may lead you into the political quagmire?

CRINGELY: Well, for Apple, the lesson is how to handle damage control. They have a -- they have a great sense of privacy and an innate need to control the message so much, that right now I'm sure in Cupertino they're just banging heads and scrambling, trying to figure out how properly to respond to this.

They'll fix it immediately. But an interesting point is, suddenly today they talk about it being beta software where they didn't do that before.

KING: That's an interesting point there. Maybe that's a little bit of -- in politics, we call that spin maybe. We'll see how they handle this one.

Robert Cringley, Dan Simon, Laura, thanks for coming in. Laura Murphy, here with us.

Still ahead her, the truth about today's bold prediction from Newt Gingrich. And next, remarkable pictures from Hillary Clinton's visit to a long-isolated country whose leaders may be about to join the modern world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now.

Former presidents Clinton and George W. Bush joined President Obama via satellite this morning to mark World AIDS Day. This evening, the president joined the first family -- you see him right there -- to light the national Christmas tree. Nice scene there.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today saw the sights in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and encouraged that country's leader to continue reforms and promises U.S. aid in return. She also had dinner with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, a leading opposition figure in the country. A few week ago she might have gone to jail for this, but the two talked politics.

A very popular visitor stopped by the Pentagon today. We're told people poured into the corridors to see J.R. Martinez, who overcame severe burns from a 2003 roadside bombing in Iraq to win the latest "Dancing with the Stars." Among his fans, you see right there the defense secretary, Leon Panetta.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is coming up at the top of the hour. Erin is here with a preview, and here's the question: how does the super committee feel about its super fail?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: You know, it seems, John, that they feel happy. That's what some reports have said today. No shame, right? Pretty depressing how they've been going back to their bases and blaming the other side. But you know what? We're an eternal optimist here on "OUTFRONT," John. So there could be a Hollywood blockbuster coming this holiday season called "Super Committee II." Just imagine that. It would be a real thriller.

But yes, there could be a super committee 2. We have the senator who's in charge of that, and he is going to be with us today explaining exactly what that means.

Plus, a billionaire who uses colorful language that would be Richard Branson. He's going say why he named his company Virgin, to begin with.

See you later, John.

KING: Looking forward to that. Wait, wait, don't go just yet. Richard Branson, I talked to Richard Branson around Thanksgiving last year. And it's also -- always a great interview. I'm looking forward to that.

Before you go, I wanted to wonder if you saw this today. Wolf Blitzer with a friend. I want to show you here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You look good, by the way.

KERMIT THE FROG, MUPPET: Thank you very much. It's even more important in those countries because the voltage is higher.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

KERMIT: I don't know. It just sounded interesting. I'm trying to sound studious and intelligent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So I start thinking, who's Wolf's booker? And then somebody brings this up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Elmo, you could solve the world's problem right now.

ELMO, MUPPET: Really? How?

BURNETT: OK. So, in Washington...

ELMO: Yes.

BURNETT: ... everybody hates each other. Nobody will do anything together.

ELMO: Really?

BURNETT: And it's hurting America. How do you fix it, Elmo?

ELMO: Play dates.

BURNETT: Play dates?

ELMO: Yes. Everybody has play dates.

BURNETT: Like put a Democrat and a Republican play dates?

ELMO: Play dates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Cookie Monster and the Grouch. I have exclusive rights to Cookie Monster and the Grouch. That's it. I'm laying down the law right now.

BURNETT: If you get Oscar, that is the big get. No question about it.

KING: My staff thinks I am Oscar.

We'll see you in just a -- see you in just a few minutes.

BURNETT: See you in a few minutes.

KING: And when we come back, if you're listening to Newt Gingrich today he thinks we don't need to have the Iowa caucuses. Don't need to have the New Hampshire primary. He says, "I'm going to be the nominee." That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Every good politician is full of confidence. Newt Gingrich, well, even more than most.

Listen to this. I'm going to be the nominee, he predicted in a conversation with ABC's Jake Tapper today, "It's very hard to look at the recent polls and not think the odds are very high I'm going to be the nominee."

Well, here's tonight's "Truth." Speaker Gingrich would be wise to mix in some caution with his confidence. The history of this Republican campaign is a wild one, one of wild volatility. Yes, he's surging and thriving at the moment, but Rick Perry and Herman Cain, real-time lessons in the value of caution and humility.

Plus, Speaker Gingrich has his own history. As a close friend told me the other day, he surprises you by climbing these high mountains and then again when he blows them up under his own feet.

The friend is a big fan and thinks he sees evidence of a new, more disciplined Newt. And there's no doubt the wind right now is at the former speaker's back. But truth is, we've had plenty of proof this year already that what goes up can quickly come crashing down.

Speaker Gingrich would be wise to dial it back. Confident, yes, but his own history suggests when he gets cocky, he gets in trouble. CNN contributors Alex Castellanos and Donna Brazile are here with their own thoughts on what Gingrich likes to call "Newt mentum," And Alex, this confidence has been growing. He tells Jake Tapper today "I'm going to be the nominee." Listen to him here with Sean Hannity last night, where he's doing a little bit of chest thumping.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think, whereas I would have thought originally it was going to be Mitt and "not Mitt," I think it's going -- it may turn out to be Newt and "not Newt." And that's a very different formula than frankly -- so we're having to redesign our campaign strategy because we're at least 60 days ahead of where I thought we'd be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Confident, bordering on cocky, is there a risk there?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I think Newt's in love with his wife's husband again, and that's always a mistake in politics.

You know, I've been down here in Florida for the last couple of days talking to a lot of Republicans, and it's interesting. There's unanimity almost. They tell you that they love Newt, they like Mitt Romney, but that Newt is the bachelor party while Romney is the wedding. Newt is the fun. They're going to enjoy that for a while, and that's where their hearts want them to go. But their heads tell them, yes, it might still be Mitt Romney that -- that we take home at the end of the day.

And I think a lot of that is Newt is undisciplined, and we've just seen a lot of that. He's a great ideas guy, and we want one like that so badly at times as Republicans we even turn to Newt Gingrich for that ideas guy. But he's undisciplined and at the end that blows him up.

KING: He's been disciplined so far in this campaign, so much so, Donna Brazile, that Ron Paul, who has steady numbers in Iowa, steady numbers in New Hampshire, to be an impact candidate, we've yet to see any evidence that he can grow to be a threat for the nomination. But an impact candidate, as of now, he's turning not on Romney but on Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he's getting a free ride. And I've worked with him for a long time, and I think that points I made on the various issues, he's a flip-flopper. So he can hardly be the alternative to Mitt Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Congressman Paul says on climate change, on TARP, the bailout program, and a couple of other issues, health-care mandate, Newt has flip-flopped. He's at the top now, so he's going to get attention. Is he for real?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, no one knows better than Newt Gingrich that this so-called wave can be a very short crest. And that's because his campaign has already died once before. He's back in action now. He's a contender.

But you know, John, the goal here is to try to get delegates, and already, he's missed an important deadline in the Missouri primary. So let's see if he can ride this wave and if he becomes the anti- Romney candidate.

KING: And it's -- a lot of people think if it's not Newt, somebody will get another try at it. Cain was the anti-Romney. Bachmann was the anti-Romney. Governor Perry was the anti-Romney. He has struggled fiercely. Some think he might get a second act, Alex.

And there's a "Vanity Fair" article today about the Perry collapse, written by Bryan Burrough, and it says this, quote, "The most intriguing explanation for Perry's collapse has been quietly circulating in Austin for weeks. This theory suggests that the governor's suffering from the aftereffects of his low back surgery in July six weeks before he announced his candidacy. Ever since, and you saw this at the very first debate, he just seemed to be very uncomfortable, you know, twisting his torso, observes the dean of Texas political writers, Paul Burka of 'Texas Monthly.'"

Goes on, Alex, to describe that surgery, where he not only had his spine fused, he had some stem cells injected into him.

The campaign lashed out at this article, but there is some buzz among conservatives that this somehow is planting the seeds of a Perry exit strategy.

CASTELLANOS: That's what we're hearing. And that is that this is the beginning of the Perry exit strategy.

Other candidates have come back from, you know at the very bottom of the well, but Perry's situation is unique, because he disqualified himself on ability, not on a position on an issue. Voters came to doubt that he was really capable of doing the job. That's hard to fix. So, we don't see him coming back.

But, the word is now, that he did actually have -- this is not just spin. He did have some serious health issues, that the back surgery did not go that well. And therefore he just wasn't really up to the campaign.

Now that's bad news for Mitt Romney. Because what that means with Cain going away, with Perry going away, the right is consolidating. And Romney has been staying ahead of the pack, not because he's doing well or running a great campaign, but because the pack is fragmented. And now that's beginning to change.

KING: A fascinating time. You guys stay put. Alex Castellanos, stay right there. Ahead, President Obama said Israel has never had a better friend in the White House. And Joe Biden is still opening doors with a smile.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Alex and Donna are still with us. Israel became a flash point in the presidential campaign today. It all started last night when President Obama was at a fundraiser hosted by the chairman of the American Jewish Congress, Jack Rosen.

And President Obama said this: "I try not to pat myself too much on the back. But this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any other previous administration. And that's not just our opinion. That's the opinion of the Israeli government."

Well, a lot of the Republicans fired back today and said that wasn't true. Among them, Massachusetts governor -- former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who said this: "Unfortunately, under the Obama administration U.S.-Israel relations have hit a low not seen since the Jimmy Carter years. Words uttered behind closed doors in a campaign fundraiser in New York are one thing. Actions that have repeatedly thrown Israel under the bus are another."

One of the exhibits Republican critics of the Obama administration's handling of the relations with Israel used is a conversation that was caught on open microphone during the recent G-20 summit in France. President Sarkozy of France, President Obama having a conversation.

Sarkozy said, "I cannot bear Netanyahu. He's a liar," referring to the Israeli prime minister.

President Obama responded, "You're tired of him? What about me? I have to deal with him just about every day."

And here's one more example. Some Republican critics say, and we do know this, that while relations between the U.S.-Israel tend to be solid, relations between Netanyahu and Obama suffered when the president of the United States said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We believe the borders of Israel and Palestinian should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves and reach their full potential in a sovereign and contiguous state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does this matter, Donna, we know again there have been testy relations between Netanyahu and Obama. Does it matter to the American people? Is it a political fund-raising because of the Jewish vote in the United States? What is it? BRAZILE: Well, first of all, let's look at the real issue, John. That is Israel's security. What President Obama was saying he has been and the United States is a strong friend of Israel in terms of Israel's security. Under his leadership, we've increased the amount of money that we've given Israel. Prime minister Netanyahu praised president Obama for his handling of the Egyptian crisis when Israeli diplomats were -- had to be rescued. And let me also take it another step further. Joe Lieberman said, because he was questioned about this, he said, yes, it is true when it comes to Israel's security, President Obama has been very strong.

So I think the evidence points to United States/Israel strong ties there. The evidence also points that President Obama is rallying international support for strong sanctions against Iran, something that Israel is supporting indeed.

KING: So Alex, you're in a state where the Jewish vote can be a swing constituency. Does this dispute matter?

CASTELLANOS: Of course it matters. There's a reason Obama shouldn't be campaigning for his base right now. He should be campaigning for swing votes.

But ever since there was a special election in New York 9 for Congress not long ago where the Democrats lost a good portion of the Jewish vote, it's clear that President Obama has problems there.

Only 22 percent of voters in Israel say that they're happy with the work this administration is doing in the Middle East. Voters here in his base, Jewish voters are having problems with him. He's having difficulty raising money from them.

So this is a big problem, but it's not even just a Jewish issue; it's an arrogance issue. We just heard Barack Obama say how hard it is not to pat himself on the back for all the great stuff he's done.

That's comparable, comparable to Newt Gingrich's I think, sense of ego there.

BRAZILE: Hey, Alex, what matters here is Israel's security. And on that issue, the president and the United States stands with Israel. And when it came to the United Nations vote on the Palestinians seeking statehood, it was President Obama who showed leadership.

So the rhetoric is, it is hot, but 51 percent, 51 percent. There's a new poll out, Alex, Brookings, 51 percent of Israeli Jews support this president.

CASTELLANOS: Yes, I understand. But if that were the case -- you know, if that's the case the president wouldn't be fighting for his base. Democrats wouldn't have had...

BRAZILE: He's going to fight for every vote.

CASTELLANOS: In fact -- but within his base?

BRAZILE: We're going to fight for every vote.

CASTELLANOS: It will be a lot closer than the last one, and he doesn't have that much room for error.

KING: I can't broker peace between the Democrats and the Republicans, but I am going to call a time out right now. Detente, anyway. We'll see you both back here tomorrow, and we'll get to that Joe Biden sound we couldn't get to tonight.

Hope to see you right back here tomorrow night. That's all for us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.