On Friday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer highlighted The Boston Globe endorsement of Jon Huntsman, and noted how, "Joe Klein in Time magazine wrote this about him...'He has proposed the most thoughtful roster of policy initiatives of any candidate in the race.'" Lauer then wondered: "People say this guy is a great candidate. Why hasn't he broken through?...why aren't more people talking about him?"
Lauer directed that question to Meet the Press host David Gregory, who explained: "I just think that a lot of people view him as slightly discordant in this particular primary season. He doesn't have Tea Party support, he's certainly not a favorite among the conservative base." Gregory added: "A lot of people like him who are taking a hard look, are enough people taking a hard look?"
After gushing over Huntsman's struggling campaign, Lauer proceeded to dismiss Newt Gingrich's candidacy: "David, Newt Gingrich at this moment in your opinion, is he still a viable candidate or is he simply playing the role of spoiler?" Gregory replied: "Republicans I've talked to at kind of all levels do not believe that he can be the nominee."
In a report prior to Lauer's discussion with Gregory, correspondent Peter Alexander quoted from the Globe's Huntsman endorsement: "The editorial read, 'While Romney proceeds cautiously, strategically trying to appease enough constituencies to get himself the nomination, Huntsman has been bold.'"
Later in that report, Alexander tagged Gingrich as racially insensitive: "Gingrich, who has criticized Obama as quote, 'the food stamp president' for his welfare policies, said he wants to be the paycheck president. But his focus on African-Americans, who make up only one-fifth of food stamp recipients, raised some eyebrows."
Here is a full transcript of Lauer's January 6 discussion with Gregory:
MATT LAUER: NBC's David Gregory, moderator of Meet the Press, has a timely candidate debate coming up on Sunday. Hi, David, good morning.
DAVID GREGORY: Good morning, Matt.
LAUER: Talk about the debate in a second, but let's talk about Mitt Romney's strategy, saying, "Okay, I've got momentum coming out of Iowa. If I believe the polling in New Hampshire I have a sizeable lead there, I'm going to go to South Carolina and try to deliver a knockout punch." Is it risky or smart?
DAVID GREGORY: Well, I think it's where the evidence takes him, frankly, at this point. Nobody's ever won Iowa and then New Hampshire. He becomes a prohibitive favorite going into South Carolina if he goes 2-0. He knows it's a super bowl for super – social conservatives down in South Carolina but Rick Perry still being in the race dilutes the field, he's still going up against Gingrich, Santorum and Perry and Paul, and they're going to attack each other a bit along the way, particularly in South Carolina.
LAUER: But if he eases up in New Hampshire and another candidate has a surprisingly strong showing, someone like a Jon Huntsman, doesn't that renew the doubt in the minds of people who are already sitting on the fence about Mitt Romney.
GREGORY: No question about it. And look, as we saw in Iowa, Huntsman has made a decision to really camp out in New Hampshire, so we can't say before the voting starts what kind of a connection he's had. We see he's still farther down in the polls and it seen to be a long shot. And remember that Romney has a network in New Hampshire that's been building for a long time, which is why he's got such a sizeable lead. Also note, what is Romney doing in terms of attacking the others? He hasn't really gone after Rick Santorum, he's poised to do so, both himself personally and the super-PAC that could do it on his behalf. We may see a lot more of that in South Carolina. Until then, you don't see the Romney camp overly concerned about Santorum yet.
LAUER: Let me go back to Huntsman for a second, when you start to read the things the pundits are saying about him, when you listen to him on the campaign stump speech and you hear what he has to say and here he has The Boston Globe endorsement, Joe Klein in Time magazine wrote this about him, that quote, "He has proposed the most thoughtful roster of policy initiatives of any candidate in the race," end quote. Goes on to say he has, quote, "Flipped none of Romneys flops on social issues." People say this guy is a great candidate. Why hasn't he broken through? I know he didn't spend a lot of time in Iowa, but why aren't more people talking about him?
GREGORY: I just think that a lot of people view him as slightly discordant in this particular primary season. He doesn't have Tea Party support, he's certainly not a favorite among the conservative base. He worked as President Obama's ambassador to China. He hasn't really even taken off within the establishment, where Romney's really been able to absorb all of that support. I think it's a question of how you get defined in a race. You define yourself, others define you. Very little of either is happening for Jon Huntsman. It's kind of a threshold question. A lot of people like him who are taking a hard look, are enough people taking a hard look?
LAUER: Alright, Newt Gingrich turning his attention to Mitt Romney, the frontrunner, new ad, let's take a look.
AD ANNOUNCER: Romney's economic plan, timid. Parts of it virtually identical to Obama's failed policy. Timid won't create jobs and timid certainly won't defeat Barack Obama. Newt Gingrich's bold leadership-
LAUER: David, Newt Gingrich at this moment in your opinion, is he still a viable candidate or is he simply playing the role of spoiler?
GREGORY: Republicans I've talked to at kind of all levels do not believe that he can be the nominee. He certainly has a lot of fight in him and we've got two debates, including ours coming up on Sunday, where I think he will try to regain some momentum here. He wants to cast Romney as a moderate, here he's casting him as timid, trying to link him with President Obama. There's been a quality to his campaign where he's casting about back and forth, he's not being as focused as he, himself, said he needed to be. He still thinks beyond New Hampshire, South Carolina is a place he could have some impact. But even if you're Gingrich, again, you look at this diluted race. There is not one alternative to Romney who has yet to emerge. That hurts those who are trying to be that person and makes it a little bit easier for Romney.
LAUER: David, before you go, so Sunday you're going to be moderating this candidates' debate. There have been a lot of debates so far, I think 16 by the last count. So what's your approach going to be?
GREGORY: Well, I want to try to break some new ground where I can. I also recognize that unlike the other debates, the clock is now actually ticking, voters are going to the polls. So it's a time to really pin these candidates down on some areas where there is still some doubt and where they face obstacles to the nomination. I think there are so many Americans who are anxious about where the country is headed. It's an important debate to try to allow them to know the candidates better.
LAUER: Alright, good luck with that. We will be watching. David Gregory, thank you very much.
GREGORY: Thanks, Matt.
LAUER: And you can catch the NBC News/Facebook Republican presidential candidates debate, that's this Sunday on Meet the Press.
ANN CURRY: Alright, sounds interesting.