tv Washington Week PBS August 31, 2012 9:35pm-10:00pm EDT
stretch. joining me tonight in charlotte, john harwood of cnbc and "the new york times," karen tumulty of washington, d.c., jeff sell eny of "the new york times" and alexis simmon dinger of real clear politics. >> this is a special election 2012 edition of "washington week" with gwen ifill. produced in negotiation with national journal. corporate funding for "washington week" in charlotte, north carolina, is provided by -- >> this rock has never stood still. since 1875 we've been there for our clients through good times and bad. when their needs changed, we were there to meet them. through the years from insurance to investment management, from real estate to retirement solutions, we've developed new ideas for the financial challenges ahead. this rock has never stood still.
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thank you. once again from robinson hall on the campus of the university of north carolina-charlotte, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: hello, charlotte. hello, charlotte, and thank you for joining us here at u.n.c.-charlotte. this city will be the epicenter of the political universe next week when democrats gather to renominate president barack obama. we arrived this morning straight from tampa where republicans may still be partying tonight after sending their new ticket, mitt romney and paul ryan, on the road. >> unlike president obama, i will not raise taxes on the middle class of america. as president, i will protect the sanctity of life, i will honor the institution of marriage. and i will guarantee america's first liberty, the freedom of religion. president obama promised to
begin to slow the rise of the oceans. [laughter] and to heal the planet. my promise is to help you and your family. [applause] gwen: that speech and the rest of the g.o.p. convention showcased the party's leading light and energized debate. can democrats do the same thing next week, karen? >> this is interesting because the two conventions are back to back with a holiday weekend in between. but one thing -- gwen: oh, a holiday? i forgot about that. >> for everyone but those of us that are here. and one thing that i think they have done is laid down some premises that the democrats are going to have to address. and in particular this line that we heard over and over and over again, which was sort of mocking the president, you call it a gaffe or out-of-context
statement where you didn't build that. again and again at the convention the republicans were saying, we did build it. so i'm wondering if there will be a bit of damage control. that line, by the way, was from a rally that the president did some weeks back where he was -- the point he was trying to make was when somebody is a success, a lot of things go into it. when businesses succeed, somebody built the road, somebody has done the infrastructure. gwen: did romney -- was he able to shift his fortunes this week? he went to tampa planning to say this is who i am, and this is why you should like me better because the race is, what, tight as a tick as dan rather used to say. >> it is tight as a tick. we saw dan rather at the convention hall. but i think he probably improved his fortunes at least a bit in the short term. it's going to take a while to see how this actually settled in out in america. the most important audience were not delegates screaming and holding up signs.
the most important audience here were the voters in key swing states including north carolina, ohio, virginia, iowa. so it will take a while to find out if the people who still aren't sold on him were sort of won over by this humanizing of him. that's what we saw throughout the whole week. an effort to highlight every chapter of his life. he's had a hard time sort of doing this himself. all of his advisers say he does not like to talk about himself. he's uncomfortable in that respect. so he summoned all kinds of people from different walks of his life to give testimonials. so i think in that respect, i think he did sort of improve the perception of himself. but we will find out at the end of the day if that's enough to get people to vote for him. it was kind of a joint message, fire obama, hire romney and we have 67 days to see if it worked. gwen: but who's counting? >> right. gwen: i want to get back to the fire obama part. we're here in charlotte to watch
the democrats but i was cure ow, humanizing part which he and ann romney seemed to some way resist doing too much of, so they got others to do it for them. and then there was emphasis on the convention floor, diversity of voices, especially latino voices. mr. romney is losing to barack obama among them and it was a big focus on women voters. so did they break threw on those fronts? >> i think they did. not on the african-american front. i think it's possible they did on the women front, which was the most conspicuous focus. white women were the audience they were trying to talk to here. hispanics to a lesser degree. they can't be moved as much -- they're not locked in as much as african-americans are. gwen: seemed more like they were talking about the future of his panics in the party rather then the president. >> exactly. i agree with jeff. i think there were moments especially in romney's acceptance speech when he showed emotion, he talked about family, he talked about his parents. all of those are universal characteristics like the one ann
romney was talking about are respect to mitt romney as husband, father, grandfather. so i think in some way millions of people who had not been exposed to those messages got them. now we will see whether or not as we watch the polls, whether it actually seeped in and mad a difference. >> probably -- the context here and reason it was so important is that at least according to our pollsters at "the washington post," mitt romney now stands as the most unpopular major party nominee in modern history. his favorability is somewhere in the 30's. and that is a pretty deep hole to be digging out of. now, his advisers will say, this isn't a popularity contest. and this time around people are looking for somebody who can fix the economy. but the country has at least in the history of polling never elected the candidate that it likes least. gwen: yet the country has also never elected a president
presiding over a floundering economy. >> that's true. how can either of these guys get elected? gwen: i don't know. we will stay and find out. what the ron paul people were thinking. true. let go back to obama -- democrats didn't take this lying down. earlier in the week hurricane was threaten, vice president biden was going to go to tampa. i don't know about you, but i ran into obama surrogates everywhere i went. they stayed off the floor. i don't think they much let them on the floor of the convention but they were around in a lot of skyboxes talking to reporters as much as humanly possible. what's the point of that? >> the counterprogramming is not new in the hall. we've seen that for many, many, cycles before. and that's an effort to constantly be pushing back in the news cycle that we're all in or news minute that we're all in. one of the things that i was doing though during the republican convention was following president obama. we noticed he was not what they call down. he was not resting during the period of the republican convention. he was trying to appeal to younger voters, making visits to
campuses. that's not a brand new iteration to watch the sitting president aggressively campaigning during the republican convention but it was a very interesting thing to watch because he was whacking mitt romney pretty hard at every stop along the way. and teeing up the arguments that we're going to hear here in charlotte. gwen: you mentioned the fact he chose to go after young voters this week, i was actually kind of interested some of the most effective lines in some respects in all of the speeches was one from paul ryan's speech where he said, people who supported obama are now sleeping in their childhood beds, watching the fading posters on the wall. it seems to me that that was by design they're going after those voters who don't dislike him but are disappointed. >> i think that's exactly right. but if you unpack that statement a little bit, the posters are still hanging on the wall, which is one of the sort of central issues here. that the romney campaign is trying to create this permission structure, if you will, for
people to say you know what, i'm proud of my vote four years ago. i don't mind what i did in 2008 but i'm not going to vote for him again. so there's a lot going on in there. but i'm told by one speechwriter who said that there was a big discussion about having that line in the speech. several people said, oh, we don't like it but paul ryan said no, i like it. it speaks to people and he was right. it was probably the line of the night or one of the lines of the night. gwen: maybe because he believed it. delivered it there as well. what is the white house prepared to do then in this kind of case? do they see huge holes they can drive a truck through in this convention? or did republicans deliver a fairly air-tight argument? >> before i forget at some risk of my credibility, my answer may get downgraded. i have to say since i'm in charlotte, one -- go, duke! and two -- gwen: oh! [laughter] >> and, two, happy birthday, avery. my daughter turns 2 in
washington when i'm here. gwen: go duke thing first. >> i think what democrats have to do is two things. one, they've the good to go very aggressively at what the republican agenda is. romney, interestingly, he did not talk at great length about his agenda in his acceptance speech. democrats believe if they look at the ryan budget, which mitt romney more or less embraced, if they can get people to understand what is involved in that over the long term, 40% cut in all functions of government other than medicare, social security and defense and big cuts in medicare, that they can win that argument. so one is a takedown of that. the other is they have to give some vision of what an obama second term will be like. one of the things you heard from republican speakers over and over and karen talked about responding to some of the predicates laid down by republicans was president obama has no plan for a second term. he just wants to hold power and plays golf all the time. he's got to give a sense of exactly what he hopes to accomplish and give people some reason to believe given the
divided government we have, he can get it done. gwen: that does seem to be a big question. i feel judy woodruff and i asked the questions of every republican we interviewed during our coverage. ok, assume you go to washington. it's narrowly divided. assumes democrats even lose control of the senate. how do you get anything done? i think don't we got one satisfactory answer. >> one of the things president obama has been saying that's interesting is the theory of what he calls either bursting a blister or in some way -- >> i wish he would find another word. >> not pretty. >> exactly, yucky. the idea the fever breaks and his argument is that if mitt romney and republicans running for the oval office lose, that something about washington will change because an argument has been made, a mandate has been discovered and that congress and the white house will sit down because the problems are so enormous and that they have laid down arguments on both sides to come together.
you know, there are many, many very smart people in washington who have watched this over the years who are doubtful about this because we haven't seen any evidence of that so far. >> alexis, on that point i have to say i had a conversation recently with senator alan simpson, former senator simpson who served on the simpson-bowles commission. he said if the president was re-elected there would be that moment, and the reason would be that republicans had spent the last four years trying to stop him, trying to get him defeated and once they fail -- if they fail to do that, they are going to have a difficult time resuming that posture immediately. not necessarily the same story mitt romney selected from the democrats. >> this is a very different kind of election dynamic. the last four presidents in a row, you know, bill clinton, george bush, barack obama, were all elected on this premise washington was broken and i'm going to be this president who can bring the two sides together
and bridge the differences and i think now we've reached the point where we say no, washington is broken and somebody has to win this argument. gwen: the argument, at least when it comes to the voting booth is driven by enthusiasm or lack thereof. so assuming that part of what mid-romney did this week was selling himself to other republicans who were concerned for various free-floating reasons about thinks warmth, his ability, his mormonism or whatever, so does barack obama. four years ago there was a coast of excitement that surrounded his election. so who has the bigger enthusiasm gap? >> i think that is the central question. one of the things that i was thinking when i was in the hall last night writing my story, watching governor romney speak, the fact he was even sort of being accepted by this republican party was pretty extraordinary. because he -- gwen: the words tea party never got mentioned from the podium. >> exactly, which was by design. people in the crowd, all of the
delegates you talked to, all of the republican activists probably were more excited about defeating president obama then they were electing mitt romney. also, it really doesn't matter. a vote is a vote. so i think without a doubt republicans are motivated to defeat this president but democrats next week, i mean, the obama campaign has been i think a little bit shocked by i don't know how many people here received e-mails from the campaign send in $3, $5. the reason people are getting so many is because people aren't doing it. gwen: i'm about to block them. >> right. the excitement i think will be fascinating to watch on thursday night at bank of america stadium to see if his reception is as booming as it was four years ago in mile high stadium. >> in terms of the so-called enthusiasm gap, up until this point barack obama had in our polling and "the washington post," we poll with abc, had a
double-digit advantage over mitt romney in terms of his partisans being enthusiastic about him. we did a poll last week that suggested that romney has closed that gap quite a bit and there's one reason -- paul ryan. >> i was going to say, if you talk about enthusiasm gap, look at the gap between top and second guy on the republican ticket. this is the second straight republican convention that is -- that fell in love with its vice presidental nominee and thinks the nominee is just ok. >> now very conservative voters are as enthusiastic about the romney ticket as very liberal voters have been about obama. gwen: as paul ryan a great help to mitt romney as joe biden was at this time four years ago for barack obama? >> oh, yeah. i definitely think so. gwen: you do? his speech got some criticism for being selective in its facts, is what -- >> that's a whole other interesting dynamic of where we are in this race and that is do facts matter? watch at the white house or with
the obama campaign the frustration that they feel because as the president, there's a feeling that we can have our campaign surrogates tell you some whoppers but the president is somewhat more wedded to something related to the facts. and they're concerned that the direction that the campaign has gone in both ways, directions has been what shall we say, whopper laden, right? and maybe it doesn't matter or we're seeing so many voters made up their minds. they already believe that they know how they're going to vote, that maybe that is what is feeding this idea of keep stoking those fires. gwen: now we have to talk about clint eastwood. why? because if we didn't, we would be the only people on television not talking about clint eastwood tonight. what was that about, jeff? >> some people are trying to fill -- trying to answer that question. and those people are in the romney campaign probably beginning with an romney.
the look on her face when this was going on made very clear that she was not expecting this. he was supposed to speak for about five minutes. it was scripted in the program. he spoke 12 or 13 minutes. people were on pins and needles wondering what he was going to say. from my vantage point in the hall coy see teleprompter and it said eastwood vamp. boy, did he. i thought it was the only sort of odd moment in an otherwise scripted by the minute thing. my guess is this does not have huge effect in the long term here. we move on from these things so quickly, but it was in some levels disrespectful perhaps. it was probably bizarre perhaps. and i think it was a couple of rogue advisers -- actually top advisers who thought it would be amusing. but he was there speaking for a purpose. his message actually was not -- it was really interesting. the empty chair. all of that seemed to be kind of
by design. gwen: it was. but here's the thing -- and i think you're right, this is for the audience in the hall but also supposed to be for the audience outside the hall. there's something about an empty chair and invisible president that reminded me of raffle el ralph ellison. i thought do they mean to say that? i don't think so. anything that happens that overshadows what was supposed to be the big night for the romney, which this certainly did at least in the short term, seems ill advised. >> the person -- it couldn't have come at a worse moment. you have marco rubio waiting in the wings for his big introductory speech. it walked all over what was i think most people think very effective biographical video. and -- gwen: which didn't run in the 10:00 hour when the broadcast -- other than ours was on the air. >> it was just a head-scratcher. that is not what you want the moment before your nominee walks on that stage to accept the nomination. >> i would say, gwen, i agree
with jeff. i don't think this is going to be an election-deciding event. however, in a race this close with voters so dug in, really every day matters and the day after your nominee delivers his acceptance speech is a pretty important day in the campaign and for that reason, i think this has to go down as the biggest stage craft blunder i can remember in any convention that i have been covered. gwen: stepped all over in the 24 hours of coverage. i also want to ask each of you before we go briefly, what does president obama have to accomplish this week in charlotte, alexis? >> we were talking about the enthusiasm gap. one way that the -- i think the president is thinking that they can can close some of that is the -- to create a fever pitch of fear or concern about what mitt romney would do if he were president of the united states. and the president is well known, the idea is to try to scare america into thinking this is a risk.
if we watched the whole convention in which mitt romney was very softly telling everyone it was ok that you voted for this guy but he let you down, it's all right to vote for the republican ticket, then i -- my feeling is the president is going to really try to ramp up this idea that no, it's not ok. not because you like me or you don't need to know more about my biography but because of what the country is at stake. >> i think he has to reach out to some of people who supported him four years ago. if everyone votes -- or vast majority of them vote for him again, he will win. he has to rekindle that magic. he's having bill clinton speak the night before wednesday night and that will be endlessly fascinating. who knows? bring an empty chair or something. i will be watching. that will remind people why they liked him in the first place. but forward looking instead backwards. gwen: if bill clinton brings an empty chair and says nothing and keeps talking, that would be great. >> the campaign keeps telling us
we're going to be seeing a lot of the stories of ordinary people who are struggling through difficult times but who have been benefited by the policies. >> i talked to one former clinton adviser yesterday who said they have got to dissect and take down the ryan budget in a brutal fashion because they've got to make clear the stakes that you were talking about, which is why i think we can't say whether ryan is going to help or hurt this ticket until that fight is had. i agree with jeff, the other thing is he has to cast forward. give people a sense of if you elect me, this is what i can realistically expect to get done and try to get done in the second term. gwen: we're all gob to be at the edge of our seats not only at the venue but stadium, bank of america stadium on wednesday night, thursday night -- thank you. it's all running together. i appreciate you all coming out to see us. thank you all very much. so much more to talk about. it's been such a good conversation that we're not going to let it end. we're going to keep talking online and taking questions from our live audience here in
charlotte. you don't have to be here to join in. just go online and watch "washington week" election 2012 town hall, carolinas edition. our sincere thanks to the administration here at u.n.c.-charlotte and staff here at robinson hall. next week, another big one, judy woodruff and i will anchor "newshour's" comprehensive coverage of the democratic national convention every night. then we will see you back in washington next week on "washington week." have a good labor day weekend. good night.
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