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Fallout from the first presidential debate. A first look at September unemployment numbers. And Pennsylvania’s voter ID law is blocked. Diane and her guests discuss the week’s top stories, what happened and why.
- John King chief national correspondent, CNN
- Major Garrett White House correspondent, National Journal
- Karen Tumulty national political reporter, The Washington Post
Friday News Roundup Video
Our panel discussed why incumbents lose presidential debates, and how President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are likely to prepare for the second debate.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney sparred over a range of issues in the first presidential debate. The U.S. created 114,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September. And a Pennsylvania judge barred that state's new voter ID law from taking effect in the upcoming election.
MS. DIANE REHMHere for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Major Garrett of National Journal, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post and John King of CNN. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Hi, everybody. Good to have you here.
MR. MAJOR GARRETTGood morning.
MS. KAREN TUMULTYGood morning, Diane.
MR. JOHN KINGGood morning.
REHMKaren Tumulty, the U.S. had 114,000 jobs. In September, the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent, the lowest since January 2009. And here we have a tweet from Jack Welch, who says "Unbelievable job numbers. The Chicago guys will do anything. Can't debate, so change numbers."
TUMULTYI think that what needs to be known is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they are -- these are statistics that are put together by career professionals, that the numbers themselves are unimpeachable, but that, you know, digging a little bit deeper into these numbers, there is the fact that a lot of these jobs are part-time, that BLS does a couple of surveys, one of households, another one of employers, that the employers' survey shows basically, you know, what we've seen which is that the recovery is under way.
TUMULTYBut that it is not as robust as, I think, anybody would like to see it. But this is, you know, obviously, good news. And I think the psychological, the political good news is the fact that the unemployment rate fell below 8 percent.
REHMWhat do you see in it, John King?
KINGI think Karen's right. The headlines, the political psychology are probably good for the president. A lot of Americans probably would be happy to see the rates below 8 percent first time since before 2009. But if you look deeper into the numbers, the economy has to create 150, really closer to 200,000 jobs a month for the rate to start to go down in a sustained way for the recovery to be good.
KINGIf you look at where a lot of these new jobs are coming from, more and more Americans are starting their own businesses at home, small businesses at home that are either part-time jobs or not at the pay scale they used to get because they're so discouraged. They can't find jobs out there. So does it help -- it's -- there's only two left: this one and one more before the elections. So in that sense, when people look just at the headlines, it probably helps the president politically. If you look deep, this can't make you terribly optimistic about the strength of the recovery.
GARRETTAnd, Diane, it's worth pointing out -- and we had a cover story that I co-authored at the National Journal this week about the president defining economic gravity -- it wasn't that the old numbers were killing him. I mean, let's be real. The president was over 8 percent and running competitively, not only competitively but ahead of his Republican challenger, whose entire campaign philosophy is built around the strategic insight that these numbers are going to ultimately bury the president. And they hadn't been.
GARRETTSo this number, as John and Karen has said, is helpful to the president. But it is not a robust recovery. It is a very weak, grinding, low-wattage recovery. And the rate that Karen mentioned a moment ago -- technically, it's called the U6 unemployment rate or the rate of part-time and full-time workers -- it remained unchanged. OK? Those who were part-time who were seeking full-time employment and the full-time employed, it remained unchanged.
GARRETTOne interesting statistic about this unemployment situation or recovery: if you have a bachelor's degree, right now in America, the unemployment rate is 4.1 percent. If you have a high school diploma, it's 8.7. If you don't, it's 11.3. The relationship in our economy and the globalized competitive economy between education achievement and job placement has never been tighter.
TUMULTYWell, I also think that, you know, again, people are going to argue over numbers. But the fact is Americans know how this feels in their lives, people out in the country. And I think people, if you talk to political scientists, will say they basically made up their minds about how they feel about Barack Obama's economic performance probably late last summer. I think that pretty much people's expectations and assumptions about the president are already sort of, as I said, baked into the cake at this point.
TUMULTYI don't think a really good number is going to help him that much. I don't think a really bad number is going to hurt him that much between now and the election.
KINGI'm interested in that question because historically, that's true. This election is so close. Gov. Romney did turn in a strong debate performance. He went into the debate, if you looked at any of the national polls, tied with the president on the question of who would better handle the economy. And to Major's point, that's stunning. He's the challenger. He's supposed to be Mr. Fix-It when it comes to the economy. This president, forget he's a Democrat. Forget his party label. Forget his name.
KINGHe's an incumbent president who's had a horrible economy for three years. And history says he gets beat. Nobody since Franklin Roosevelt has been reelected with the unemployment rate this high, and yet the incumbent president is not only competitive. He went into the debate a little bit ahead in this election. The question is, you know, I remember, 1992, George H. W. Bush had 4 percent growth three quarters in a row.
KINGBut the American people, their legs felt so tired, they didn't believe it. The question is, how do they feel about this president? Do the numbers sway them or, as Karen said, their own personal experience?
GARRETTAnd the other thing that we also know from political scientists who have done research, not in the presidentials because we have only a few but in gubernatorial elections, which is the election this country that most similarly represents the kind of decision-making process voters make. And political scientists at the University of Michigan looked at 305 gubernatorial elections and economic trajectories.
GARRETTAnd as long -- whatever the numbers were, as long as the trajectory was viewed by the electorate as positive, that was the key determining factor for their willingness to give the incumbent, whomever it was, whatever party, another shot. And so that's one embedded belief that the Obama campaign has had, not only was he likable, have more trust, the president, that is, in relationship to Mitt Romney, but trajectories are very important. And in that sense, today's number will help the trajectory metric which very well may help the president.
REHMMajor Garrett of National Journal, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, John King of CNN. Do I understand correctly, John King, that there is some movement between Senate leaders on closing the deal for not going over the fiscal cliff?
KINGThey are in rough agreement, my understanding, on a process to start to deal with this. That doesn't mean they've resolved the questions. It doesn't mean the Republicans have raised taxes. It doesn't mean the Democrats have agreed to cut Medicare or other programs. Look, there's a reflection in the leadership of both parties that we will not go over the cliff is what they will both tell you. Again, they haven't resolved any of the issues.
KINGSo the question is, now, we're going to have an election. They're not going to do it before the election. And the election, both the presidential race, first and foremost, but then how they'll races for House and Senate? Will the Republicans still control the House? Probably. Who will control the Senate? That's a great question. Now that, of course, doesn't take effect until January, and then they'll have the lame duck session knowing the results of the election.
KINGSo whatever happens in the election will greatly influence the trajectory of those talks. If Romney wins, for example, he'll have impetuous momentum. He'll say he has mandate to get more in the cut side. If Romney losses, the president will say, give me my taxes, Republicans.
TUMULTYBut I don't think that, you know, at this point, I think nobody is expecting either these candidates to have some kind of big landslide victory. And as a result, I don't think there is a lot of hope that either party is going to move off of its basic ideological fixed position.
REHMDo you agree?
GARRETTWell, look, the fiscal cliff covers a lot of pending decisions that the Congress has to make, not just on the Bush tax cuts but on the alternative minimum tax, on the extender's package that are continuously and ritualistically every year gets extended. Small business is another variety of tax cuts. There's an entire thing dealing with Medicare reimbursements that go to Medicare doctors. There's all sorts of other legislation.
GARRETTAnd we reported at National Journal this week that what's going on right now apparently between the Senate side and even with some slight help from the Republican side on the House is a conversation that simplifies the fiscal cliff and the lame duck to two issues: the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and the defense sequestration or the across-the-board cuts for defense. These two things are aligned -- and The Washington Post, give them credit. They reported this first, Paul Kane did -- that that's where the caucus are most focused on right now.
REHMBut it was my...
GARRETTSo the president wins, then he gets his upper income tax.
GARRETTThose are not extended. And that there is some arrangement made, and Republicans trade votes to make the defense cuts, set to begin Jan. 1, less intense. And that's where the conversations are. But as John said, this is a hugely important point. House Republicans have signed off on nothing. And they've got to find the votes. Senate Republicans, we listed in National Journals this week about 12 Senate Republicans who are primed to make some sort of dip...
GARRETT...and the leadership is a bit wary of that as our House Republicans. Because if you see a big shift to Senate Republicans during the lame duck, then the House Republicans have much less legislative leverage. So there's a lot of fluidity about this process, and it will be influenced dramatically by the magnitude of what happens on Election Day. I mean, he (unintelligible), the Republicans lose...
REHM...not just to win...
GARRETTRight, but the magnitude.
REHMAnd that's -- this whole question of who's going to give what, whether defense spending gets cut somewhat, whether taxes go up somewhat, that's still very much in play then.
GARRETTAbsolutely. And that seems to be because that's where the rhetoric and the positioning of both parties has been most staunch. And I think all of us would agree watch parties on how they talk when you find out what they want to deal on first. There's a lot of other things that underlying, but what's being talked about most and what the point of rhetorical sphere for the Republicans and Democrats is the president wants to raise taxes on the upper income, and Republicans legislatively and rhetorically want to protect defense spending. And so it seems to me that's the vortex of the conversations right now.
KINGAnd the magnitude question is the question because, you know, we talk about, look, Washington and the Congress is sometimes like a day care center. And we make fun of them all the time, and we criticize them all the time. And a lot of that is fair. However...
TUMULTYA day care center, by the way, where nobody has had a nap.
KINGYes. Yes. Sometimes I think I'm not being fair to children when I say that. But the American people also have a big say in this and a big responsibility for this. If you send an evenly divided Congress and, you know, a lot of people out there listening, probably a very critical of a lot of the new Tea Party members, well, they came to Washington and did exactly what they said they were going to do.
KINGIf you look at their campaigns, if you look at their ads, you look to the speeches, they said they're going to come to Washington and sit in front of the train. Usually, we give credit to politicians who actually keep their promises. So what happens in those elections? What the people decide will have a big influence on the lame duck.
REHMJohn King of CNN. When we come back, we're going to talk about the fall out after the debate on Wednesday night, the first of the 2012 election. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Some 67 million watched the middle segment of the debate on Wednesday night from 9:30 to 10 across 12 networks. That's according to Nielsen data. Apparently, not only pundits, but ordinary folks agree that President Obama did not do very well. Here's an email from Ellen, "Was President Obama really off in the debate, or was he simply preoccupied with the job of being president? That very morning, Syria invaded Turkey, killed five citizens. The president would have been watching that situation all day, doing the job of president while Mitt was practicing." Karen.
TUMULTYWell, I would just -- that theory, and I have no idea what was going on, you know, across the world. But I do know that this is a president who, a couple of years ago, as the raid to get Osama bin Laden was being put together and on the verge of being underway, was able to stand up in front of the White House Correspondents' dinner and tell jokes for an evening. So, I mean, I do think he is capable of multitasking, which he has proven before.
TUMULTYBut I think that the prize for predicting the future may have gone to one of Major's colleagues, George Condon, who wrote a wonderful piece last week, saying incumbent presidents don't do well traditionally in these settings.
TUMULTYHe had a number of reasons. One is they are out of practice. Another is that debate prep. When you're a president of United States, you are surrounded by people who don't sort of get up in your face and challenge you all the time. And George was able to go through a number of instances with Jimmy Carter, with Ronald Reagan at one point telling David Stockman, shut up, when he was playing his opponent in a debate because presidents just don't have a lot of tolerance and patience for just this whole process.
GARRETTJust briefly, George had a wonderful story in that piece where he talked to Samuel Popkin, who's at University of California, San Diego, now, but he was kind of a Reagan expert in 1980. And the White House brought him in. They took him up to Camp David to do the -- to be prepped with President Carter, and they got 11 minutes into it, and Carter said, I'm done. I'm quitting. I'm stopping this, and he stormed out. And the staff was like, shuffling, running around, said Mr. President...
REHMHe can't do this.
TUMULTYAnd he said, Mr. President, what's going to happen to you?
TUMULTYYou have to listen to this. You have to engage on this. And if you don't, bad things will happen. This is a common experience for incumbents who just have to get back into this cycle of having someone stand up and say, you know what? You're destroying the country.
TUMULTYWait a minute, I'm president.
KINGRight. A -- yeah, look, 23 hours a day, what he's hearing in the White House, any president...
REHMIs yes, sir.
KING...I'm confused, are you excellent or extraordinary?
KINGAnd so you're in this different environment. And this president, if you talk to his friends, would tell you, they would describe him as particularly thin-skinned sometimes, and you could see that in the debate. You know, Al Gore blamed it on the altitude and the president showing up late in Denver. Look, he's been -- yes, he's the president.
KINGYes, that job is like no other job in world, but he's been out campaigning a lot. He's been out raising a lot of money. He had plenty of time to prepare. It looked like he thought he didn't have to. And, you know, he's a very competitive guy. I suspect the only thing they need to do to get him ready for the second debate is showing the tape of the first.
REHMBut look at what happened yesterday in Colorado. Karen, he surely adjusted his message.
TUMULTYWell, it's one of those things, that you always have the great comebacks the next day. And, by the way, I think we're not giving Mitt Romney enough credit here because the White House seems to have not been prepared for that guy who showed up on the stage, who was, you know, not the Mitt Romney that we have seen over the past months. I mean, this is the guy who was softening his edges, who was making an appeal to the middle class.
REHMChanging his message?
TUMULTYI've certainly heard that. I mean, he was, again, very much trying to portray himself as, you know, someone who would be looking out for the middle class, who would not be cutting education funding. And the president missed so many opportunities.
TUMULTYHe didn't bring that up. He allowed Mitt Romney to say -- I think I counted eight times Mitt Romney accused the president of cutting $716 billion from Medicare, and the president missed the opportunity to point out that Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, would reduce the program by exactly that amount.
GARRETTIt struck me, Diane, that I was happy watching the president yesterday because I thought, well, at least someone else has that moment where the next day you say, I wished I'd said that.
REHMRight. Yeah, yeah, and that's what happened.
GARRETTBut there are, like, 10 things he left off the table that his own campaign has been prosecuting against Gov. Romney, and not just 47 percent: Bain, contraception, China, outsourcing, Cayman Islands, Swiss bank account. I mean, the list goes on and on and on.
KINGAnd on and on and on. He looked -- at times, you know, he looked listless. Again, he looked, like, almost like, I'm not going to answer that. The American people aren't going to believe that. Well, he did come back with the lines at a campaign rally yesterday, a lot fewer people watching him at any given campaign rally.
KINGBut the test of any campaign -- George's point and the points made here by the incumbents are true. George W. Bush had a horrible first debate against John Kerry back in 2004. The test of any campaign, it's a long process. You are going to make mistakes. They all do. And Obama, in 2008, was very good at recovering from his mistakes. Romney has been a big-game player, so let's go round two.
REHMI want to ask you all about that 47 percent because speaking to Sean Hannity, now, Mitt Romney says he apologizes for that remark. And our email from Karen says, "Obama was wise again to not give Romney the opportunity of the debate forum with millions of voters to make that apology."
GARRETTLook, there are some people who believe -- and the campaign was trying to articulate this in the spin room after the debate -- that there was an element of playing the long game in this first debate, knowing that Romney was going to go out, be aggressive, maybe change some of his big positions. And, in fact, he did on the $5 trillion tax cut, his criticism of Dodd-Frank.
GARRETTHe was even a little bit softer on China subject, I think, we're going to get into in a little bit. If and when they cheat, not that they're constantly cheating, which was sort of the dynamic you were getting out of his rhetoric earlier -- and the long-game playing the Obama campaign believes is now they can position.
GARRETTThey came very quickly out yesterday with an ad, saying whatever Romney said in that debate doesn't match with what he said before, which is part of their larger thematic construct about Romney that you can't believe him. That he is not trustworthy, and he will say anything and do anything to win the highest office in the land. That seemed to me at the time -- and we'll see how it plays out -- a nuance and a dexterous spin because there wasn't much else to talk about that was on the positive side of the ledger.
REHMYou know, Jim Lehrer got an awful lot of criticism in the media about his handling. Seemed to me, he was in something of an impossible position. They kept overriding him. What did you think, John?
KINGYou're always going to be criticized in that job.
REHMOf course. It's thankless.
KINGSo Jim faced a choice. Jim faced a choice, insert himself more in the debate, tell them to shorten the answers, try to steer the conversation more and take more time for him -- or to let the president of the United States and his Republican challenger have the stage and have the time and do it their way. He made the right call. Is it perfect? No, it's never perfect. You leave the studio every time saying, I wish I had done that differently. I wish I had done that.
KINGBut, you know, he a choice to either try to take control of the debate by putting himself in the middle of it and making it about him, or letting them go at it. And that's the right choice.
REHMAnd then be criticized for doing exactly that.
TUMULTYI also think the design of the debate was such -- it was designed to be an open exchange, and I think, you know, especially Mitt Romney was very aggressive in taking advantage of that, which, by the way, I can't fault him for that.
REHMAt one point, Mitt Romney said he was going to kill off Big Bird. And, by the way, that was going to hit Jim Lehrer as well. I want our listeners to know that Big Bird was here in the studio this morning.
GARRETTAnd I missed him.
REHMWe have lots...
GARRETTI missed him.
REHM...of photographs, and I hope you'll get a chance to see them.
TUMULTYOh, I think we probably, though, ought to be clear.
GARRETTI'm so depressed.
TUMULTYThis is -- there's a local radio station here, WPGC, which is going around town with a fellow dressed as Big Bird. So I did, on my own Twitter feed, take a picture of him, "putting in a job application" here at WAMU.
REHMAbsolutely. He was...
GARRETTAnd I will say this one thing about Jim. All of us have experienced being up there, and we know how very difficult a task it is to prepare and to execute.
GARRETTOne thing I would say, I -- there were times I wished that Jim had been a little bit more well-versed in the candidate's own positions and injected some notes of skepticism or journalistic foundation.
REHMAs opposed to the open-ended questions.
GARRETTYeah, yeah. I -- 'cause I do think that's a helpful role that the moderator can play and not wait for the opponent to do it, but say, wait a minute, these are not contestable facts. These are things you've said or done, and press the argument a little bit more that way. That would be my only observation.
REHMAnd he might have been criticized for doing exactly that so...
GARRETTWe can all say this because we've been up on that stage...
GARRETT...you'll be criticized no matter what you do.
KINGNo matter what.
REHMSo where are we as far as the current count for the Electoral College?
GARRETTWell, it's close. I mean, the president was leading going into the debate in most of the swing states. The only place that Mitt Romney had an advantage. And it wasn't even outside the margin of error, not even close to being outside of the margin of error, and the RealClearPolitics average was North Carolina, 0.07 percent. Everywhere else, the president was at or slightly above the margin of error, give or take, in most of the important swing states, which was leading to the thematic assessment of the campaign, going into this debate, that Romney really has to shake up this race.
GARRETTNow, there are those who will tell you state polls tend to lag a little bit behind national polls, and national polls have had this race very tight, fundamentally tight, and I've said this before. You know, Gallup had it in February 49-47. Washington Post-ABC, in July, had it 49-47. Gallup had it before the debate 49-47. A lot has happened, but not much has changed.
KINGAnd that's the fascinating part of this. The Republican primaries were so volatile, up and down, and different leader every minute, let alone every week. This race has been static from the beginning. The one change was you did see several of those battleground states go from two points to four or five points, some of them six points, in favor of the president. The question is -- we'll know this next week -- did the debate move them?
KINGYou'll see Ohio polls. You'll see Florida polls. We had the president going into the debate at strong or leaning 237, Gov. Romney strong or leaning 191. You need 270 to win. That means, you know, the president, if nothing else changed, the president would only have to win Ohio and Florida, and it's game over. Forget the rest of the states. So it tells you Romney has a much narrower, tougher path to 270. We'll see if the debate changed it.
REHMOne more point, Major Garrett. You brought up China. Henry Kissinger had something to say about that?
GARRETTYes, he did. He was critical both of President Obama and Gov. Romney for injecting China in a hostile and negative way into this campaign. However, it's worth pointing out he said, I've seen this before. Bill Clinton did it. Ronald Reagan did it. George W. Bush did it. He said, I've watched eight administrations since Richard Nixon, who I worked for, made a great opening to China, go down this road.
GARRETTAnd yet eight administrations have essentially -- when taking office, upon looking at the dossier we have with China, even before it was the economic powerhouse that it is now -- maintained essentially a continuity about our approach to China. And I think -- and what's interesting about Henry Kissinger is that he is on Romney's general staff, gives -- or not his staff, but he's a supporter of the -- of Gov. Romney and yet critical of him and his tone about China, and yet I thought it was interesting.
GARRETTAs I mentioned earlier in the debate, Gov. Romney said, if and when China cheats, which has been -- which was a softening of his last six months, saying, China is a cheater and a currency manipulator and a hostile force economically.
KINGLook, they're playing. The candidates, both of them, are playing to the economic anxiety out, especially in the manufacturing states. It used to be NAFTA, Ross Perot, the giant sucking sound, jobs going to Mexico. Now, if you ask people why, a lot of Americans will say China. Major's dead right about the point, though. You know, Bill Clinton ran against the butchers in Beijing and the dictators in Damascus then had great relations with China and Syria.
KINGI do have a question going forward, though, about how long this will play out. In the next administration, the next four years, China will pass the United States in terms of its GDP, become a bigger economy. Does that, by the very nature of the math and the economics, force at least a more candid and sometimes tougher relationship? We'll see.
REHMJohn King of CNN. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Karen Tumulty, Pennsylvania's voter ID law was blocked? How come?
TUMULTYBecause the judge said that he could not be convinced that this was not going to disenfranchise people. So you're left with a little bit of a confusing situation there in that people will be told that they have to produce ID -- they will be asked for ID -- but that if they do not produce that ID, they will be allowed to go ahead and vote anyway. I think that this was a very sort of Solomonic, if confusing, resolution of this.
KINGThere's a similar -- in Wisconsin, the courts have blocked implementation. Some 30 states in all have some form of this. Sometimes it's a photo ID. Sometimes it's a -- you just have to show a utility bill. You know, Pennsylvania, at the moment, isn't closed, so I think a lot of these things will be litigated after the election. In a state like Pennsylvania, it's probably not going to be determinative. There are a couple of states with these laws that could potentially be, you know -- if we have a very close Electoral College race, we could be in court after the election.
GARRETTFor those who are critical of this law, this lifts a veil of uncertainty, they believe, that the old methods in Pennsylvania -- you could vote if you brought a bank statement, a utility bill. You didn't have to have a photo ID. That now applies, and so all the old rules will apply. And so, for this election, what was previously true is still true. However, those who support the law in Pennsylvania say the judge did not invalidate it, did not invalidate this process going forward, did not say it was unconstitutional.
REHMJust said it could not...
GARRETTJust for now, it is too complicated and too destabilizing to implement it now.
REHMAll right. We're going to open the phones. Let's go first to Allison, who's in Jacksonville, Fla. Good morning to you.
ALLISONGood morning. Actually, you opened the show with Jack Welch, an icon of business, basically questioning the integrity of the Chicago gang and their fixing of numbers, and yet nothing is said about basically the fiction that Mitt Romney asserted with the $5 trillion tax cuts that he plans to give. And I'm just wondering how Obama is going to rebut that. And basically I think you touched on it before, but I'd like to hear what the panel has to say about that.
REHMSure. Thanks for calling, Allison.
TUMULTYWell, I think a lot has been said since the debate, including on the front page of my own newspaper this morning, an excellent analysis by Lori Montgomery. Basically, here's the issue. Mitt Romney has promised these reductions in tax rates, and he has promised that they will come and be paid for by closing loopholes. What he has not done is told anyone what these loopholes would be.
TUMULTYSo a number of independent analysts have looked at this -- the joint Tax Center being one of them -- and they have said that there is no way to do this unless you either get rid of a bunch of politically untouchable deductions like...
TUMULTY...home mortgage, health insurance, things like that, or basically it's going to leave a $5 trillion hole. And, again, Mitt Romney has not yet explained how he is going to fill that hole.
REHMDo you want to add, John King?
KINGWell, he just -- he spent a lot of time in the debate trying to sound more pragmatic and reasonable, saying that that is my goal, but I will not sign anything that increases the deficit. And the job of a president, probably, in a divided government, is to negotiate with everybody. So he tried -- he did -- Major used the term backed away from it, I think, earlier. He took a few steps back.
REHMOK. Here's the question: Did he take a step back just for the debate, or is he -- now that he's got the nomination, that he's finished with the primaries -- is he really moving toward the center?
GARRETTWell, I don't think you can really detect movement on this until you see some actual proposals and numbers. I mean, rhetorically, he's saying, look, I don't -- that's not my plan. He must have said that five or six times. And I will tell you, if there was one point of anxiety -- I talked to Republicans afterwards about the debate, about Romney's performance -- is that he did more to distance himself from his plan than from George W. Bush.
GARRETTAnd they still are awaiting that. They believe that's an important dynamic for Gov. Romney to do, somewhat. If they fundamentally believe that, then I'm different from George W. Bush in two or three substantive and memorable ways because they still believe George W. Bush is blamed by many voters for what the president inherited, or at least that's part of his struggles. And, two, that's a central indictment against him by the Obama campaign that he wants to echo Bush policies.
REHMMajor Garrett of National Journal. More of your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We'll go right back to the phones, first, to Indianapolis. Good morning, Steven. You're on the air.
STEVENGood morning. Thanks.
STEVENI think one of the things I think about is there's two sides to all this: There's the politics of the economy versus the real numbers. And the large public sees the sub-8 percent and not what the number is made up of. And Obama's political image for the large public will be netted because of that, and it's the same thing as the debate. You know, you see Romney being the aggressor and then comes and attacking somewhat the president, but when the substance of his words are measured, you know, have he really set himself up, you know, for, you know, later Romney versus Romney comparisons?
STEVENAnd -- but the public, when you have that large of audience, the public only see the theatrics of the debate, you know, and "who's the winner." And so one of the questions I wonder is, you know, when you're looking at what swaying -- what's going to make the differences in, you know, swing states and whatnot, who are the undecided voters? You know, are these analytical-type votes or the sensational voters? And, you know, how is that really going to judge how this ends out?
TUMULTYYou know, Steven has a really good question there, who are the undecided voters? And at this point, they are a very small slice of the population. And pollsters and political scientists will tell you that they are people who have -- by and large, they're undecided because they basically have been disengaged from this entire process.
TUMULTYSo the idea that they are going to sort of sit down and dig deeply into the fine print of what these two candidates had to say, I think, is not likely. These are people who are likely to get their opinions from, you know, what their friends are saying at the end or, you know, what they hear in the media.
REHMWho is going to work with President Obama on his debate style? He's been working with Sen. John Kerry.
KINGThere are no indications they're going to change Sen. Kerry's role. I do think it's very important to note, number one, the president is a competitive person. He will watch the tape, and he will learn from his mistakes, I believe. Number two, the format for round two is very different. It's town hall. My colleague Candy Crowley will be the moderator of that debate. But you have real voters in there.
KINGRemember 1992, a woman was asking George H.W. Bush, how has the debt personally affected you? And as she was asking the question, he looked at his watch, really sent the signal, I don't want to be here, why do I have to be here? That was a horrible moment for him. He was probably not going to win anyway, but that was the slamming door on that one.
KINGSo it's very different environment. And, again, is the president rusty? Most candidates have town halls or voters ask them questions on the road. We haven't had as much of that. Romney did a lot in the primaries. You don't see as much of it now, but it's a very different environment. When you have an undecided voter asking you, you can't pivot. You know, they -- we could ask them about A and they answer X because that's something they want to talk about. It's hard to do that when you have a voter looking in your eye.
REHMAll right. To Dallas, Texas. Sally, you're on the air.
SALLYYes, thanks for taking my call.
SALLYI actually had a comment about the dynamic of the debate. I really felt strongly that Mitt Romney was coached from the very beginning of the debate to go out and go after Jim Lehrer, to completely ignore him as moderator. And I was totally distracted by that. It happened with such consistency, in my opinion, the entire debate. And I was kind of appalled at that dynamic that was sort of brought to the table.
REHMInteresting. What do you think Major?
GARRETTWell, I think clearly Gov. Romney was looking at that format, looking at the possibility that it might be loose and to drive a truck through every opening he possibly could, to dominate, to keep the issue focused where he wanted to be and to move his message forward, which is what you're supposed to do in these presidential debates. And I spent time before this debate re-watching all the 2008 debates.
GARRETTAnd it's really -- it struck me how different President Obama was in this first debate as compared to how he was against John McCain in the first debate. If you go back and look at that first debate against John McCain, every answer was an opportunity that then candidate Obama seized to drive his larger campaign message. He would ask -- answer it with a specific or two, but then he would always wrap it around a larger thematic message he was trying to trying to drive through the continuation of the debate.
GARRETTAnd the beginning of the debate and the end of the debate all were wrapped together. The big difference in this debate for the president was his answers were oftentimes rooted in deep, dense specifics. They didn't have a larger thematic core, and he didn't have a beginning and an end.
REHMBut Sally's concern is about what she perceived as rudeness on Romney's part.
TUMULTYWell, the president ran over Jim Lehrer at least a few times as well, including at one point where Lehrer tried to stop him, and then he said, I've got five seconds. But I do think that you don't -- compared to what we saw in the Republican primary debates where essentially Newt Gingrich would walk out practically every debate and pick a fight with the moderator...
GARRETTNobody here has any memory of that.
REHMYeah. Right. Here's an email from...
KINGMonths of therapy down the drain.
REHMYeah. Here's an email from Pam, who says, again on this Jim Lehrer question, "I think Jim carried out his job as moderator pretty much as he envisioned it and as he intended. He's a gentleman. He moderated the debate in a self-effacing manner that's been more or less traditional for presidential debates."
KINGLook, we touched on this earlier. He made a decision. He could've interjected himself all the time. I think Major made some valid points earlier about places where he could've steered the debate or show them their own records or history. But he made a choice as to the first debate in a very close election. If these guys want to just talk the whole time and essentially break the format they agreed to, so be it.
GARRETTBut it's consistent with the modern form of the presidential commission debate format. It is not consistent with the 1960, '76, '80 format where you have a bank of reporters -- '88 through -- caucus where you -- where it was more aggressive and not a single moderator. I mean, the presidential commission has changed the formatting of these debates. The League of Women Voters opted out of it because they thought it was not nearly as contesting as the previous formats.
REHMAll right. To Eton, N.C. Good morning, Jared. Jared, are you here? I guess not. Let's go to Miami, Fla. Hi there, Rob.
ROBHi. How are you doing, Ms. Rehm?
ROBIt's a pleasure. You know, I want to say if -- when I listen to the experts and everything and particularly the one -- the person that's commented and said that he heard that President Obama is thin-skinned, you know, I really would like for them to stop doing that. They -- if they had not talked to the president, not good friends with the president or spent any time with the president, stop making comments, and it's your opinion about what -- who the president is.
ROBThat's number one. Number two is, as the job reports came out and it's 7.8 percent, now, you have individuals out there suggesting that somehow the administration has cooked the books with -- to make it look good. You know, we have to have some kind of -- we have to have someone, hopefully someone in the media start saying, you know, push him back and say, it is what it is. Stop looking at the glass half empty, and let's look at it half full. And let's move on and have some positivity in this election.
GARRETTWell, Rob, Karen opened this morning saying these numbers aren't cooked. The numbers aren't cooked to be your labor statistics...
REHMAre not cooked.
GARRETTAre not. No. They are run through an elaborate process of adjustment and readjustment, OK? And it's a very transparent process. So that's number one. Number two, Rob, I think I only speak for myself. I've interviewed the president a number of times. I know the president. I've covered the president. I know people who work very closely with the president. There are times when this president, whether you like to hear it or not, is thin-skinned. That's not unusual for presidents of the United States.
GARRETTThey're under pressure, and they apply that pressure to themselves and to others to make big decisions. That's not an inaccurate statement, and I know it personally. So I'll just put that on the table.
REHMAll right. The...
KINGAnd I said that earlier, I just want to quickly say I said that even some of his friends describe him that way. It was not my opinion. It was reporting.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Moaz, (sp?) who says, "Everybody agreed most of the facts Romney presented in the debate are not true, or at least he changed his mind about them, and everybody is saying Romney did great in the debate. Are you telling me that people are attracted to a politician who will say anything good even if it's not true? So performance is more important than substance."
TUMULTYWell, I do think that media organizations have been fairly aggressive in the last 36 hours or so in pointing out where his proposals don't come together. But it's really interesting because this idea that he will change, that he will flip-flop, is one that the Obama campaign has not wanted to use. And here is why.
TUMULTYThey are afraid that the idea that he's a flip-flopper would actually be sort of reassuring to swing voters because they would say, you know, all that conservative stuff he said in the primaries, he didn't mean that. So the Obama campaign wants to continue to paint Mitt Romney as a hard-line right-winger.
KINGYou did see in the debate, suddenly he was in love with the Massachusetts health care plan. During the Republican primaries, he didn't want it brought up. And he was trying to use that as an example of, I can govern in this environment. As governor, I had to work with Democrats. As president, you're going to probably have, you know, something like what we have now, a divided government of some sort or close parity in the Congress. And suddenly it was a good thing, and it was a states-based thing.
KINGHe talked about the 10th Amendment and states should do this, not Washington. But he was much more complimentary of his signature achievement as governor in this debate than he had been in those (unintelligible).
GARRETTLook, in the process after the debate, what -- some of the things that Gov. Romney said were put through the fact-checking filter as were some of the things the president said. The president said, he has endorsed Simpson-Bowles. That's not true. I mean, that's just factually incorrect. And he has a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan that based on one trillion that's already on the books and a trillion that was never going to be spent in Iraq and Afghanistan and almost another trillion in debt repayments that are going to be lower because we have lower interest rates.
GARRETTI mean, that's not actually changing the size and scope of government. And the president said things that were contestable, that you could look at as embroidered, boasted.
REHMLet's go to Jeff in Ann Arbor, Mich. Good morning.
JEFFGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
JEFFOne of the points of the debate was health care and the cost of health care and efficiency of health care. And Mitt Romney and the Republicans' position is, well, we think the private sector can do it more efficiently and more affordable. Well, I'd like to see the media follow up with that question and say, well, why hasn't the private sector make it more efficient and more affordable? That's why it is a big issue. And why doesn't the media follow up, you know, more points like this?
TUMULTYYou know, the media certainly has. I think that subject of health care in this country has gotten very deep and very good coverage starting in 2009. The Republicans will answer that the reason health care coverage is inefficient in this country is that the government places too much restrictions, that insurance companies should be able to sell across state lines.
TUMULTYThey do have a number of answers to this, and it has become, you know, as much as anything for them, I think a theological argument that is based on their idea that health care, like every other business, should be allowed to operate unfettered.
GARRETTThere was one moment in the debate where Gov. Romney said the government doesn't lower the cost of anything. And I sent out a tweet. I said, it's not a perfect analogy, but if you look at Medicare Part D, which Democrats did not like as it was being developed, but if you look at its implementation, there are heavy government subsidies on the front end to encourage private industry and private insurance or insurers to get in and pharmaceuticals to get in.
GARRETTThose subsidies have been gradually reduced, and costs, at least as to what they were projected, have gone down every year. So -- and that's a Republican idea, controversial at the time. But I thought, here is Gov. Romney looking at a program that a Republican set in motion, Republicans drafted, written and take great credit for, and he sort of said, the government can't lower the cost of anything. Well, in one instance, through a mechanism of combining government and the private sector on a key benefit for elderly Americans on a year-to-year basis, costs have gone down.
REHMAnd that's very, very important. I'm going to take a call from Providence, R.I. that maybe all of you can respond to, after I remind you that you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Frieda, you're on the air.
FRIEDAHi. Thank you so much for taking my call.
FRIEDASo I'm actually really interested in the question that was asked by the woman about Romney being trained to attack Jim Lehrer. And I study -- I'm more interested in communications and kind of facilitation, mediation rather than politics, so it took me about 10 minutes to get lost in the rhetoric and issues, which I don't really believe are what debates are for. And I was really interested in the way that both -- Jim Lehrer was treated by the candidates.
FRIEDABut I was just started getting into Twitter and was fascinated by the trending -- the global trends and also, eventually, by the incredibly aggressive attacks on Jim Lehrer by Twitter listeners at the end of the feed. There is a fake Twitter account called Silent Jim Lehrer, which was comical. But it was shocking to me that out of...
FRIEDA...the whole debate, Silent Jim Lehrer and Big Bird are what this country took away. So, one, I'd like to hear your guests comment on that, and then, secondly, what I'm personally interested in is what kinds of training do these moderators have going into a presidential debate?
KINGJim has more experience than anybody in the business.
KINGHe's done this a dozen times...
KING...and he's a gentleman, which is a rare breed sometimes in our business and in our politics right now. To the point about the polarization and the Twitter -- well, I was joking about this earlier -- everyone in our panel on CNN right after the debate said, Romney had won the debate and said various comments. And then all the tweets started going, why are you people on CNN carrying Obama's water? We live in this very polarized world where people are divided.
KINGAnd if you look in Twitter, you look in social media -- and God bless people for this. You want them to be involved. You want them to be passionate about their candidate. You want them to be passionate about the election. And, occasionally, that passion blinds them to what is actually being said.
GARRETTAnd a couple of other points -- I talked to Diana DeGette after the debate. She's a representative from Colorado, in the largest suburban Denver area. And she said, look, I know Republicans are very psyched up about this debate performance for Romney, and I'm sure the men are really psyched. She said, but I'm going to be curious to see how women internalize this debate and Romney's aggression. She said, my gut tells me they will not respond anywhere near as positively as Republicans and particularly male Republicans assume they will.
GARRETTI'm just fascinated that our small sample, non-scientific, but two callers who called in today and raised objections about tone, temperament and aggression were women. And that leads me to believe that Congresswoman DeGette was on to something, that this may be absorbed differently by different parts of our society for different reasons.
REHMYou know, someone has sent an email saying -- it's Alex, who says, "Mitt Romney said during the debate he would remove funding for public television. How much does the government really provide to public TV? What difference would this really make to the national deficit? The number, the figure provided to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is $445 million, $79 million goes for television programming grants, $69 million for direct grants to local public radio stations."
REHMThe bulk of the money from CPB does go to television and not to radio, which is why Big Bird was here this morning, touting how important it is to keep public television and public radio alive.
KINGWe had this conversation when the House Republican budget was up several months ago. Look, if you cut all that money, what is the contribution to reducing the deficit? It's about penny if you're trying to raise a million dollars. However, the country does have to have a conversation about spending priorities.
KINGAnd so it is a fair subject of conversation. Is it going to -- if you're going to cut public broadcasting money, are you going to solve the deficit problem? No.
REHMJohn King, he is chief national correspondent at CNN. Major Garrett is White House correspondent for National Journal. Karen Tumulty, national political reporter for The Washington Post, thank you, all. We will have a holiday on Monday. We'll bring you two of our favorite rebroadcasts. I hope you have a good holiday as well. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Megan Merritt. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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