MR. DAVID GREGORY: This morning, a special edition of MEET THE PRESS, from the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida. Now delayed by the approaching tropical storm Isaac. Still, this convention week could be Romney’s big moment to reshape the race.
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MR. MITT ROMNEY: I believe if we get off the track that President Obama’s put us on you’re going to see America’s economy come roaring back.
GREGORY: The Romney roll-out is our big focus today. How will he try to rebrand himself, and even his party, after distractions like Congressman Akin and the abortion fight? As well as his own fumbles, like Friday’s joke aimed at the president.
MR. ROMNEY: No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.
GREGORY: This morning, my exclusive interview with a commanding figure in the GOP, a man many hope would seek the presidency himself, Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Also, we’ll turn to the party’s nominee four years ago, Senator John McCain, to weigh in on this state of the party Romney now leads. Finally, insights from our political roundtable on the job ahead here in Tampa for Romney. Plus, the fight for women voters, and the issues, like the debt and immigration, that will occupy the fall. Joining me, Florida Congresswoman and Chair of the Democratic Party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz; the Republican Governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer; Republican strategist Mike Murphy and NBC’s political director and chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd.
Announcer: Live from Tampa, Florida, and site of the Republican national convention, this is a special edition of MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
GREGORY: And good Sunday morning from Tampa and our perch here at the Republican convention where the story this morning is not politics, it is the weather. Here’s the front page of the Tampa Bay Times, I think it says it all, Isaac intrudes. The convention is now delayed until Tuesday because of this approaching storm. And that’s where we’re going to begin this morning. Joining me now overlooking Tampa Bay, just about ten minutes from where I am, our expert on severe weather, the weather channel’s Jim Cantore. And Jim, they’ve cancelled Monday, they hope to be able to get in Tuesday afternoon, but based on this track, do you think that could be delayed further?
MR. JIM CANTORE (The Weather Channel): Yeah, it’s going to be a close call. And even if we begin to ramp things back up here Tuesday, and improve in Tampa, on many, many people’s minds is what’s going to be happening in the Northern Gulf Coast. Are we going to be looking down the barrel from New Orleans or Mobile at a category two or three hurricane? But here I am on the eastern end of the causeway, the same water that eventually leads up to you, David, but the problem is we’re only three to five feet from that causeway. Thousands of delegates are out there toward clear water beach. So the decision certainly to cancel all activities starting Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning is a wise one because that’s when we’re going to feel the impact as the storm goes by and the wind begins to push the water.
It’s a very interesting situation when you look at this cone here, you think, well okay, Tampa, if you’re not if that red cone, why are you so concerned? It’s because when you drop a rock in a pool the wave that it produces is going to go all the way to the ends of the pool and the wave, which is Isaac, is going to affect Tampa in the way of water, first of all of, and then the wind which will come out of the southwest, it’s going to push that water up in through here. So the surge as we call it is going to be as high as three to five feet and that is going to what, you know, is going to be what’s going to close this causeway down. So even though our conditions are going to improve we think, as we get into Tuesday afternoon, as they’ve planned on, many, many people will be focused on what’s going to be happening upstream from New Orleans all the way to Pensacola.
GREGORY: All right, Jim. Thanks so much. We’ll obviously be monitoring the storm all day, into tomorrow and into Tuesday. But now back to politics. In just a minute you’re going to hear my exclusive interview with former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, including his reaction to when President Obama blames his brother, former President Bush, for the state of the economy right now.
FMR. GOV. JEB BUSH (R-FL): I think it is time for him to move on, I mean, he look, the guy was dealt a difficult hand. No question about it. But he’s had three years. His policies have failed. And rather than blame others, which I know we were taught that that was kind of unbecoming over time, you just can’t keep doing that.
GREGORY: That full conversation is up next. But first, let’s go live to Washington this morning to talk to the one man who knows exactly the pressure that Mitt Romney will be under this Thursday, the 2008 Republican nominee for president, Senator John McCain. Senator, welcome back.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ, 2008 Republican Presidential Nominee): Thanks.
GREGORY: Let’s talk about the weather Senator because it’s ironic, but four years ago as the nominee of the party, you were in this very same position with Hurricane Gustav barreling toward New Orleans, there was a real perception problem with you and the Republicans going forward with a convention. You cut short the convention as well. Do you think there could be a further delay down here?
SEN. MCCAIN: I-- I trust the judgment of your weather expert on that, David. I certainly hope that we can begin the real business of the convention on Tuesday. Those are the important three days and so I hope we can move forward with it. If we don’t I think it will be very unfortunate, not just for the Republican Party, but a long standing tradition of three or four days of intense political campaigning so that the Republican Party and the nominee can make their case.
GREGORY: Senator, you’ve dealt, as I say, not just with the practical concerns that they’re dealing with here, real safety concerns--transportation, power and otherwise--but also the perception of beginning a big convention for a party when you’ve got, you know, what could be a huge disaster that’s brewing for even other parts of the state. How sensitive, in your judgment, do they have to be about the optics of this, the politics, the perception of it?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, obviously, I think they have to be and I think they are, that’s why they very early on canceled the first day so that people can make arrangements. But David, as you know, it’s Wednesday and Thursday night that are the big moments. Now people have these things called channel changers so it’s not that there’s-- that we don’t want those that first night, but I don’t think it will be damaging if we lose the first night, but it could be harmful if we lose more than that.
GREGORY: There’s been another distraction this week and it’s political in nature. The Missouri Congressman Todd Akin with his ill-informed comments about rape and abortion. You were astounded by it. Mitt Romney said he should get out of the race, the reality is, he said no. This was his response on Friday.
REP. TODD AKIN (R-Missouri): We’re going to be here through the November election, and we’re going to be here to win.
GREGORY: And just this morning, senator, your former colleague, Olympia Snowe from Maine, Republican from that state who’s now left the senate, she writes an op-ed in which she says that the comments from Akin reinforce the perception that we in the Republican Party are unsympathetic to issues of paramount concern to women. How big a hole did Akin dig that Romney now has to climb out of?
SEN. MCCAIN: It’s a big problem. There’s no doubt about that. And Mr. Akin should recognize that having the nomination of your party is a privilege and if you abuse that privilege then you are not eligible for-- to keep it. What he did was unaccept-- what he said was unacceptable. And we Republicans have to consider all options and-- and to start with, making sure that Mr. Akin knows he will not have the support of the mainstream Republican Party or any of our organizations. It’s-- it’s one of those things.
But you know, David, you-- you were talking about it earlier what the Republicans have to do. I’m surprised that we are neck that, "we," Romney-Ryan ticket are neck and neck in the polls right now particularly given a couple of the setbacks that we have experienced, which means to me that this attack strategy of Obama not being able to defend his record is wearing a little thin with the American people. So I’m overall optimistic. I, like others, urge Mr. Akin to abandon his quest for the United States Senate because, frankly, he would not be welcomed by Republicans in the United States Senate.
GREGORY: Are you concerned when you hear the-- the birther joke, the birth certificate joke that Mitt Romney made the other day, that that’s indicative of Romney trying to placate a part of the party that he doesn’t hold sway over and that he does so at his peril when he reaches out to undecided voters, the middle of the road voters?
SEN. MCCAIN: No. I think it was an attempted humor. And one thing I regret about American politics is that nobody seems to have a sense of humor anymore. It was an attempted humor. And so sometimes these speeches even become more dull and boring by all candidates if you’re not allowed to have a little humor.
GREGORY: Well, let me ask you about the speech that he’s got to give. I wanted to speak to you this morning because you have unique insight into that pressure of going into a convention, connecting your vision and a roadmap for the future with the American people. You mentioned something significant--this is a tight race because of the state of the economy, but you also know that Governor Romney has some image problems, about his business background, about this issue of his tax returns, his standing with average voters, with women, with Latinos. Does he need a game change in this convention?
SEN. MCCAIN: No, I don’t think so. I think what he needs to do is try to reinforce his message. The reality is that he’s been heavily outspent by President Obama campaign up until now where he will now have some advantage. But up till now, the-- the negative ad campaign by President Obama has been much more heavily outspent Mitt Romney’s. Second of all, we have to appeal, as you say, to Hispanic voters and to women. We have to point out that the unemployment rate amongst young women is now 16 percent, that the unemployment amongst Hispanics is very high, that jobs and the economy are more important perhaps than maybe other issues. We are a big-tent party. We have to give that message and we have to repeat that message over and over again. And jobs and the economy are the best way we can help both of those groups of Americans who obviously we have an uphill task and it is a tough task, but I’m confident we can do it.
GREGORY: Senator McCain, thank you very much. We appreciate you on this show, as always.
Up next, my interview with former Governor Jeb Bush who talks about Mitt Romney, the Republican Party and the Bush legacy. Right after this.
GREGORY: And we’re back. We want to take you to the former Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush. The son and brother of Presidents, of course. He was considered a favorite this year for the GOP nomination, but he decline to run. Nevertheless, he remains an influential voice in the party and in this race. That’s why I sat down with him late this week.
GREGORY: Governor, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
FMR. GOV. JEB BUSH: Great to be here. I am excited that the convention is going to be in Florida.
GREGORY: It’s going to be a bit moment. Let me start by asking you about the race. Here we are, you look at our polling, the national race, is a four-point advantage for President Obama but he’s under fifty percent. You said when Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan, it ensured their victory in November. Why?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Well, I-- what I said was that it was about-- it would change the campaign about big things. This should be a campaign of substance and big things rather than distractions and little things. And I think the Ryan choice, of all the people in Washington, he’s the one guy that has had the courage to lay out plans with great substance that are big and broad and I think the debate will change and it has. It’s already started to change towards these bigger things the country needs to fix. And I think Mitt wins when it’s about these big things and if it’s about the constant distractions, it-- it will be a very, very close race.
GREGORY: As we sit here later in the week, it’s actually not about big things, big issues, fiscal issues, one of the big debates right now is over abortion within the Republican Party. Is this a constructive topic for Republicans to be talking about in a presidential year?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Well, look, life issues are always important. It’s a powerful moral issue. People have deeply held beliefs. But it’s not going to change the economic climate of our country. We’re not going to create jobs by having a discussion about this. I think-- I think Republicans really need to be disciplined to stay focused on sustained economic growth as our objective and here’s how we’re going do it and here’s why the President’s failed.
GREGORY: But one more on that Todd Akin again, as we sit here is still in the race, made controversial comments about, in his terms, legitimate rape, that he apologized for. The party platform in Tampa will focus, in part, on abortion. What does this say about internal rifts in the Republican Party that he’s been tried-- tried-- Mitt Romney and everybody else tried to force him out of the race and he hasn’t gone?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Well, I think the reason why he’s been asked to-- to consider leaving doesn’t relate to his views on the life question, it relates to his misguided views about rape. It’s a totally different subject. And so he’ll make that decision himself. The path-- the platform of the party hasn’t changed. It’s the same as it’s been for a long while. And Mitt Romney has a slightly different view and he’s our party nominee. But I know that the Romney campaign would prefer to talk about the things that are on the minds of the American people. I mean you ask every poll shows that seventy percent of the people are concerned about economic growth, job creation, deficit, debt. And that’s where I think we have the winning-- where Mitt has the winning philosophy, for sure.
GREGORY: You-- you understand the role of biography in presidential races as well. And our polling revealed something that-- that’s pretty striking. And that is that Governor Romney has a twenty-point deficit when it comes to this issue of caring about average people. He’s twenty points behind President Obama. Why do you think and how big of a liability is that?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Well, it’s an advantage the president has temporarily. But as the president goes on the attack, constantly attacking, constantly using negative messaging, I think his connectivity with people will drop. And Governor Romney has a chance at this convention and then going forward to reconnect with people to set the stage for the general election and-- and show who he is, what’s in his heart. And I think the acceptance speech is a great place to start and when he does that, I think those numbers will get better.
GREGORY: You’ll also speak-- you’ll have a prominent role. One of the things you said, when you’re not running you could be listened to more. What is it that you’d like your party to hear from you?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Well, I’m going to talk about education, which is something that is not necessarily a federal program but it’s something that is of great national priority. It’s actually a place where it’s not as the partisan divide is not as sharp. But if a third of our kids are college and or career ready by the time they reach 12th grade, that’s a tragedy. Because there’s no amount of government programs that could ever fill that void. And we have this big debate now in our country about class warfare. The president is constantly trying to divide the country by saying rich people need to pay more and they didn’t build what they built. It was a communal effort, I guess. And the fact is, if you don’t build capacity in people, they can’t pursue their dreams, no matter how hard they work. If they don’t have the power that comes from knowledge and the college education, they can’t do it. So, that’s what I’m going to talk about. It is not necessarily going to be a driving political issue at the time. But I’m-- I’m passionate about this because I think American political-- the American political system has become so short run in its nature. And we need to be much longer term in our thinking and begin to solve problems.
GREGORY: You’ve-- you’ve talked about wanting to see-- for the Republican Party to lead a nation of converts, the people who become Republicans based on ideas, based on leadership.
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Yeah.
GREGORY: You look at the gender gap right now between the president and Governor Romney. It’s in the president’s favor. Among Hispanics, he’s got two-thirds of the Hispanic vote. The younger viewers-- our polling on African-Americans zero for Mitt Romney. Are you concerned that the Republican Party is not making much progress toward becoming a nation of converts, politically, philosophically?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: I’m concerned about it over the long haul, for sure. Our demographics are changing. And we have to change not necessarily our core beliefs but how we-- the tone of our message and the message and the intensity of it for sure. I don’t think that’s going to have an impact in this election though. I mean, so there is a gender gap in favor of President Obama among women. And in a dead heat, there’s obviously going to be a gender gap in favor of-- for men in favor of Romney. This is going to be a close election. But long-term conservative principles if they’re to be successful and implemented, there has to be a concerted effort to reach out to a much broader audience than we do today.
GREGORY: You talked about the importance of the race and how tight it’s going to be. Florida, yet again, is going to matter hugely. We did some analysis based on where we look at the electoral map right now. And if President Obama is able to win Florida under this current model, he’s just four electoral votes short of two hundred and seventy. Yet again, it could all come down to here. What tips the balance, do you think?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: I think it is the economic issues again. And if the campaign is about how do we restore confidence and greatness in our country by a climate of sustained economic growth, an energy policy that’s true to our, you know, patriotic that’s-- that’s going to invest in our own resources. And the immigration policy that allows people to stay when they get a PhD or a masters and they can become the next generation of entrepreneurs. A regulatory system, that doesn’t try through command and control to create prosperity, but recognizes that you can get the desired benefits without creating huge compliance costs that right now make it impossible to work. An education policy that-- that reaches out to everybody so that they have built capacity. A fiscal policy, that isn’t just nuts where you’re spending forty cents on every dollar through debt in a growing budget, entitlement reform, tax reform, these are the things that will create sustained economic growth.
GREGORY: Well, let me break down that a little bit. Let’s talk about taxes. This is going to be a big fight in November over all of our taxes…
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Yeah.
GREGORY: …whether they should be going up or not. Do you think the Republican Party, if it’s going to help reach a solution on our debt, is going to have to-- to break some of the orthodoxy about raising revenue through eliminating deductions or other loopholes or raising taxes? Will Republicans have to give, do you think at some point, on this?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: I don’t think there are-- there are-- right now I don’t think that there is disagreement about that in terms of the deduction. Raising rates, I think would be foolhardy and Republicans oppose that but, tax reform could yield the opportunity to find common ground on entitlement reform. And…
GREGORY: But you’ve been in favor of being willing, at least, to break-- you-- you said there is too much orthodoxy in the Republican Party. You got to take a serious look at raising revenue.
FMR. GOV. BUSH: I’m saying there’s too much orthodoxy in the political process, that we’re yapping too much instead of trying to find common ground which is why I’m excited that Mitt Romney is our nominee because he is a practical person who’s had life experience based on solving problems. And in that kind of environment rather than this ideological fight that is existing right now that’s turned off the American people across the spectrum, if you have a leader like that you could see how you could get common ground done on revenue where, you know, do you raise-- is it a tax increase if you increase the-- the eligibility or the-- the cap for Medicare-- Medicare? You know, if people pay a tax today but it’s capped at 103,000 dollars. If you raise that, is that a tax increase? I don’t know. I don’t really care because I think if you could get enough of consensus around solving problems, you could get the country moving again.
GREGORY: But raising revenue, the government raising res-- revenue is something you think should be on the table.
FMR. GOV. BUSH: It should. The first step though is to create a climate of economic growth where revenue comes in because people are creating jobs and investing and are being taxed because of it. That’s, by far and away, the most important way of doing this. And if-- if our-- you know, look at it from this perspective. We spend 25 percent-- our gross domestic product or economic activity goes through government today. That is-- that is much higher than it used to be. It used to be around 20 percent. And our revenues are like 15 percent which is much lower. The reason why that is, is the demands placed on government grow when there’s no economic activity and revenue drops. If we’ve created sustained economic growth, which this President has not done, you could create a-- the imbalance goes away. And that’s-- that has to be the first step. And that changes the whole context of the debate in Washington when that occurs.
GREGORY: You mentioned Medicare. Let’s-- let me ask about the politics of it. Can Romney/Ryan win Florida, taking on Medicare? You saw what your brother went through as president trying to…
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Yeah.
GREGORY: ...inject the private sector and private competition into the Social Security system. It failed. And he later said it was a mistake to-- to try to do it in that order that he tried to do it.
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Well, you have to persuade. You can’t just say I’m for Medicare reform and leave it at that, because then the attack machine on the other side says that you’re throwing granny off the cliff with a, you know, wheelchair. It's just outrageous. So, yeah, I think you can. In fact the polls show that the Romney/Ryan ticket is doing significantly better amongst elder voters than younger voters. Up-- up double-digit in Florida for voters over the age of 65. But you have to explain that the Romney plan does not change anything for anybody that is 55 years old and-- and older. Doesn’t-- it allows people to opt out of the traditional Medicare plan to these new plans where there’ll be more choices. That it's not some kind of radical experiment. It’s the right thing to do to create some cap on the explosive growth of the Medicare program.
GREGORY: Immigration. I quoted a moment ago the reality in our polling right now, the President’s polling is two-thirds of Hispanic voters in the country.
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Yeah.
GREGORY: After all the gains that-- that President Bush, your brother, made among Hispanics. You see such a decline which I know troubles you. And now you have the immigration debate over this temporary measure the President has put into place to allow children of illegal immigrants to get on a work path, if not a citizenship path.
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Yep.
GREGORY: Governor Perry of Texas saying it’s a-- a slap in the face to the rule of law. Governor Brewer of Arizona saying she wouldn’t allow driver’s licenses to be issued. Should they continue with that opposition to the president’s plan?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: My personal view is that we need to get beyond where we are. We need to create a climate of border control. And that’s begun to happen, if you look at the number of illegal immigrants coming into the country, it’s net zero. It’s been that way now for almost two years. And if you say, well, we’ve gotten a much better grasp on the number of people just coming in without-- without papers, then you could develop a strategy that’s part of economic growth. That’s-- that’s where we need to be focusing. We need young aspirational people to come to our country so that we can grow over a sustained period of time in a high rate that will allow us to create jobs without raising taxes, balance the budget, do all the things that we want do. So changing the debate to those issues is I think where the majority of Americans want. Now is it, you know, is it a useful tool politically for some Republicans to stay focused on the political issue, the wedge issue?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: It might be, I don’t know. But I don’t think that’s right for our country.
GREGORY: Well, and given that view, I mean just bare knuckle politics here-- is the Hispanic vote gone? Is it Democratic until Republicans change the way you’re suggesting they should in the national debate on immigration?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: I think-- I think Governor Romney can-- can make inroads if he focuses on how do we create a climate of job creation and economic growth. And that’s what I think this fall campaign is going to be about for their campaign. And I think people will move back towards the Republican side. But we’ve got to have a better tone going forward over the long haul for sure. We’re-- we’re not going to-- you can’t ask people to join your cause and then send a signal that you’re really not wanted. It just doesn’t work.
GREGORY: Let me ask you about yourself, private citizen, I know. Recent headline I saw that says elder statesman or 2016 candidate. And how about this--THE DAILY SHOW marketing their coverage in Tampa says, RNC 2012, Road to Jeb Bush 2016. Would you like to be president some day?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: You know, I don’t think about it. I’m-- I’m not motivated by it. It takes an incredible amount of discipline and ambition to-- to even think about aspiring to it. And I’m not there yet in my life, so.
GREGORY: But you have said that this is probably your time politically?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Yeah, it would have been a good time to run for me because of my tenure as governor ending in 2006, my age, the fact that there’s, you know, the challenges of the country, this was-- this would have been the time to do it. But it wasn’t the right time for me. So I’m excited about supporting Mitt Romney. He’s a great guy. I look forward to working on his re-election in 2016 and making Jon Stewart awfully upset during that period of time.
GREGORY: How-- how much do you get your back up when you hear this president blame a lot of our economic condition on your brother, on his predecessor?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: I think it’s time for him to move on. I mean, he-- look, the guy was dealt a difficult hand, no question about it. But he’s had three years. His policies have failed. And rather than blame others, which I know we were taught that that was kind of unbecoming, over time you just can’t keep doing that, maybe offer some fresh new solutions to the problems that we face. But that’s not going to happen between now and Election Day, so.
GREGORY: I want to end with this. I want to ask you about the-- the Bush legacy in American political life from your tenure as governor to your brother as president, to your father as President, what is that legacy? What do you think it’s-- where do you think it stands right now?
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Look, I don’t know. I don’t know, the "L" word is not used much in our-- in our family, so we don’t have a lot of people trying to organize it or plan it. I think in the case of my grandfather and my-- my dad and my brother, I think they all served with honor and distinction. They love this country and they always put their country first.
GREGORY: Governor Bush, thank you very much.
FMR. GOV. BUSH: You bet.
GREGORY: Appreciate it.
And coming up here from Tampa, how does Mitt Romney reconnect with voters as Governor Bush said he must. And did the recent back and forth over abortion rights do some lasting damage to his prospect with women voters. Out political roundtable is here. DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Republican strategist Mike Murphy, and NBC News political director and White House correspondent Chuck Todd.
GREGORY: We are back. Our special edition from Tampa, site of the Republican Convention with our political roundtable. Joining me Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She’s in unfriendly territory here for the moment; Republican governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer; our chief White House correspondent and political director Chuck Todd; and our friend Republican strategist and columnist for Time Magazine, Mike Murphy. Welcome to all of you. Chuck, I-- I think we should start with some news. We were talking about the weather, we were talking about potential delays, what are you learning about whether even Tuesday afternoon holds as the start?
MR. CHUCK TODD (Chief White House Correspondent; NBC News): Well, okay. I think they seem pretty determined to do something on Tuesday. They have to do some business of the convention, but I’ve already been talking to some officials who indicate there will certainly be a tone change, if you will. What does that mean specifically? Does that mean Ann Romney’s speech which is scheduled for Tuesday, and now moved from Monday to Tuesday? Does that get moved? That’s unclear. But clearly-- but they know that they are watching this storm, and if it’s in the middle of battering, essentially part of the Gulf Coast as it-- as it looks that, you know, they will take some measures here. But as of right now, they seem I’d say ninety percent certain they’re going on by Tuesday.
GREGORY: Mike-- Mike Murphy, the-- the business of this convention, a lot of people like to knock these as infomercials. The reality is this is a-- a really big opportunity for a candidate and a party to connect their vision for the country to a much wider audience. Mitt Romney is thinking a lot about his mission this week. What-- what does it need to be?
MR. MIKE MURPHY (Republican Strategist): If-- if you’re running for president, particularly as a challenger, there are really four hours that count. They are the highest level of your opportunity to persuade the country to vote for you. One is the acceptance speech at your convention. And then you’ve got the three debates. So yeah, this is prime-time. It is key that Romney reach outside the convention and persuade voters by reframing himself. You know, it’s a great opportunity to get through the filter. So, hopefully, he’ll grab and-- and seize the most of it. We do have the hurricane. There’s a joke going around that the Tuesday night theme is not going to be, you built that ark. Yes, you know, who knows what it-- what it could do to Tuesday, but the key is Wednesday and Thursday. And in particular, Mitt Romney’s speech is a huge opportunity for him.
GREGORY: And-- and, you know, Governor Brewer, the-- the timing and how much time you have at the convention does matter because there is a lot to accomplish here. This is really about biography--Romney’s biography, who is he? What does he stand for? How does he deal with some of the negatives that have been built up by the Democrats, and team Obama? Look at some of our polling that shows some of the liabilities that Romney now faces. I’ll put it up on the screen. Polling that’s in President Obama’s favor right now, dealing with issues of concern to women, issues of concern to seniors. You see a 28-point advantage, 12-point advantage; caring about average people, 22%. He’s up against it. He’s got to deal with a lot of negatives. Doesn’t he?
GOV. JAN BREWER (R-AZ): Well, there’s a lot of issues out there. But, you know, we’re here at the convention, and I believe that that is our great opportunity to unite Republicans behind Governor Romney, and then to be able to reintroduce Governor Romney to the American people, to the Republicans, and the Democrats, and the Independents. That’s our opportunity…
GREGORY: I am skeptical by this word. Forgive me for interrupting. Reintroduce and reconnect. And that’s the word that Jeb Bush used. It suggests that the-- the connection either was never established from Mitt Romney or he lost it. How?
GOV. BREWER: Well, you know, in elections, a lot of time with a lot of money, you know, there’s a-- there’s a perception of-- of-- of political parties hammering away at political candidates. And so, they have spent a lot of money focusing on so many issues that are not really too much important to the American people today. I think we’re more focused on jobs and the economy, rather than all these peripheral kinds of things that they’re hammering away at. So, you know, I know Governor Romney, he’s a wonderful person. And this is our opportunity to let us connect with him to the public. I’m looking forward to it.
GREGORY: Congresswoman, mission accomplished then, right? If you’ve battered his image as the Democratic Chair, and also, you know, affiliated with the Obama campaign, been a keen focus on tearing down Mitt Romney. Fair?
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): David, first let me just say as a Floridian that I want to commend the Republicans, my counterpart Reince Priebus. We know here in Florida in Hurricane Alley that we make plans and God laughs. So it’s good that-- that they’ve made the decision to put safety first and we want to make sure that everybody, our visitors and guests, as well as our residents stay safe. But, you know, I mean, I think the words redo, reintroduce, are-- are-- are just code words for what we expect, no matter how long the convention is, to be a convention reinvention. I mean this is the big ektch-a-sketch-- etch-a-sketch moments for-- for Mitt Romney, and they’re going to do their best, because not only has he not connected, but he’s alienated large groups of important voters that are going to be important to determine whether or not we can continue to have a president in the White House who fights for the middle class and working families, or whether we have a president that Mitt Romney proposes to be, to take us back to the failed policies of the past that nearly crashed our economy, and that would focus our economic policies on millionaires and billionaires, and people who are already doing really well, make sure they can do even better. That-- that’s not the direction that we need to go. We need to continue to make progress.
GREGORY: Chuck Todd, we’ve been looking at some of the history of conventions and convention bounces in the polls. We've put it up on the screen. It’s an interesting graph to look at in terms of how candidates have fared over time. And look what jumps out at you. It is Clinton in ‘92 a 16-point bounce. He, too, comes into a convention in ‘92 with an image problem, battered by the other side and by his own mistakes. And we all remember this line that concluded his acceptance speech.
(Videotape, Democratic National Convention July 16, 1992)
GOV. BILL CLINTON (D-AK): I end tonight where it all began for me. I still believe in a place called hope.
GREGORY: There was this introduction of his heart, and his persona into this race. Talk about that and talk about how it compares to Romney and the party today?
MR. TODD: Well, first I'm going to credit. That ’92 Democratic convention might be the best organized, best presented convention, reinvention, if you will, of somebody that we’ve ever seen. That’s when they debuted the famous photo of Clinton and Kennedy shaking hands. I mean, that was-- and from a production standpoint by political party, still an unmatched convention in the modern era. Let’s just say something though about bounces. There’s not going to be any. There are no bounces. These conventions are too late. That convention was at the end of July. You had Ross Perot drop out so he got more of a bump, frankly, than he probably would have had Perot been-- still been in the race. These conventions now are so late, and there’s been so much money. This is not August. It’s October. Let’s not pretend, five hundred million dollars have been spent by both sides in this presidential election. This is, you’re not going to see more than a one to two-point bump as we saw with Ryan. This isn’t a reflection on Ryan. This is a reflection on the amount of money--
GREGORY: Respond to the Congresswoman though, Mike does Mitt Romney have to rebrand himself? And is that-- is that a big vacuum to fill.
MR. MURPHY: What I think he has to do is break out of the cage of the couple hundred million dollars of negative television advertisement from the Democrats who have done to him. I’ve been in politics for a long time. This is the first year I’m seeing presidential commercials implying the-- where public was involved in indirect murder. I mean, it’s reached a new low. Here’s the tell though for the-- for the home audience watching the show, the convention shows, both of them, the battle ground of this election is the war to provide new information about Mitt Romney. The Romney campaign is trying to fill out a story, trying to break through, trying to point things forward on jobs. The Democratic strategy is very simple. Can't run on a record, debt is horrible, we got to destroy Romney. So this year both conventions are going to be about Romney. There’s going to be a convention here trying to break him through, looking forward connecting on the economy and jobs. And then you’re going to have a Democratic election which is I don’t think going to be about President Obama. They’ve thrown in the towel on that. It’s going to be about ruining Romney. So we won’t really know what’s going on in the polls and all this I think until late September after we go through all this. And I frankly think if Romney can use his speech to put a positive vision on creating jobs forward, it will be a good contrast to the tone of the campaign where Governor Bush got to. That will do him a lot of good.
GREGORY: And Governor Brewer, you also have-- if there’s a lot of work for Romney to do, to break through some of the negative advertising, as you say, and Mike says, there’s also some issues that the party has right now. I mean, here you have Congressman Akin with his comments about rape, that talks about abortion, doing a lot of damage. The entire Republican establishment, including Mitt Romney saying get out, and he says no. You have a fight on immigration that you have, in part, led that has created fissures even within the Republican Party. I want to underline something that Jeb Bush said, that Governor Bush said, about both of those issues in our interview with him.
(Videotape, earlier this morning)
FMR. GOV. BUSH: Our demographics are changing, and we have to change not necessarily our core beliefs but how we-- the tone of our message and the message and the intensity of it.
GREGORY: Do you agree with that? When it comes to-- let’s start with women and outreach to-- to women and what they care about after this Akin incident?
GOV. BREWER: Well, I think that, you know, everybody wants to divert the real issues. I think that, of course, there’s been a plummeting, if you will, of Republicans because the Democrats have certainly tried to wage a war against women, a class warfare. Bottom line is, is the Republican Party has rejected Akin’s statement, president-- Governor Romney has rejected that statement, as-- as have I, you know, he made a-- a serious, outrageous statement. And now everybody wants to pile on to that statement, trying to make it a Republican statement. It has nothing to do with the Republican platform or where the party is. And as far as immigration, you know, Arizona has been the battleground, if you will, regarding illegal immigration. Yeah, we live in the Southwest. We’re a very diverse population. And we believe in the rule of law. We believe in the rule of law. Certainly those kinds of issues are going to have to be discussed, moving on into the future. We’re going to have to determine collectively and legally and lawfully how we’re going to deal with those issues. And we’re all willing to do that, but we can’t just all of a sudden, according to the current administration, to-- to rule, if you will, by fiat. It’s just absolutely is the un-American way. You know, we have a congress there. We have lawmakers there. We have a president that ought to be upholding the constitution.
GREGORY: Well, and this is the battle over immigration and tone that has frankly alienated a lot of Hispanic voters, if you do look at the polls which is an opening for the Democrats politically. You no doubt want to keep a focus not only on Romney but on problems you see with the party, whether he’s really in control of the party.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I think Todd Akin’s outrageous comments and Mitt Romney’s position on immigration and, you know, he’s really the most extreme candidate for president in modern times on immigration that we’ve seen, give you a window into the soul of the Republican Party. I mean, it’s not just that Todd Akin-- Akin made some really outrageous comments. It’s that Mitt Romney chose a candidate for vice president who co-sponsored legislation that would narrow dramatically the definition of rape to only mean forcible rape. Their platform embraces a human life amendment with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. On immigration, while President Obama has made it a priority to rapidly, and significantly increase border security, particularly on the southwest border in-- in the governor’s home state, he’s also focused on making sure that we don’t ignore the fact that we have 12 million undocumented immigrants who are an important component of our economy, and who we’re-- we’re hurting our future if we don’t recognize that this should be a comprehensive immigration reform approach to dealing with them, instead of allowing-- instead of Mitt Romney’s approach, which just says let’s just have those 12 million self deport. It’s an unrealistic and extreme position.
GREGORY: But-- by talking-- Mike, the challenge, if I can is still, how are you going to, you know, get beyond these base issues for the party. Is it a window into the soul of the party? Is it the Congress--
MR. MURPHY: No, no, look, here’s the rule of Republican platform, nobody reads it. I’ve been in this business 28 years. I’ve never read the darn thing. I did read the Democratic platform by the way last night because we’ve been talking a lot about platforms. It promised to close Guantanamo Bay, comprehensive immigration reform in the first year in office and a lot of other stuff they haven’t achieved. Ban assault weapons, the list goes on.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: It’s not about achievement. It’s about what you’re committing to.
MR. MURPHY: Well, committed to and failed to deliver, another reason not to reelect Barack Obama. But back to-- back to your question.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: It was the Republicans in Congress who actually prevented that from happening.
MR. MURPHY: The-- the Democrats want the election to be about trivia because they don’t want to referendum on the president. What-- what Romney’s got to do is break through all that. Now I'm with Jeb. We do need to adjust the tone of politics on both sides. And, you know, I’m a liberal on immigration in the Republican Party. I’m for the comprehensive path forward. The more we debate these side issues though, the more we don’t only take attention away from stuff I think we’re better at, we take attention away from what people are screaming at every poll. The voters are not confused. This is a jobs election. That’s the election they want. That’s what they want to hear about. And I think the traditional kickoff of the campaign, not for junkies like us, that go out at it for decades, is now, the conventions. And I think that’s what Mitt Romney’s going to do.
MR. TODD: Look, I would just say is, I-- I think this is-- the president’s trying to turn this into a values election. And there’re some people that argue, and I-- and I think Mike might be one of those, that every election is a values election on who wins the values argument. The idea of who connects more, who is more representative or reflective of who you want to be. And I that that’s the danger here for Romney is that Obama has turned this and the Democrats have turned this into a values election with women and with Hispanics, and they’ve done it in a segmented way with different-- the important parts of the group. How does Romney get a-- take his economic argument and turn it into a values argument rather than just sort of the businessman approach on the-- on the economy, because his lead on the economy-- and our polls are smaller than the president’s lead on values issues like middle-class average people.
GREGORY: All right. Let me get a break in. I want to come back and we’ve talked about the rebranding necessary for Mitt Romney. I want to talk about his strength as he comes into this convention. Why the Romney team is pretty pleased that this is such a close race? More with our roundtable and Chuck is going to break down the map as well right after this.
GREGORY: And we are back in Tampa from our perch here at the site of the Republican Convention more with our roundtable. First, I want to go to the map. But Mike Murphy I do want to talk to you about this Akin controversy, as well because…
MR. MURPHY: Sure.
GREGORY: …you know, as I’ve talked to women this week, I can’t imagine that anybody thinks it’s a good idea for Mitt Romney that you not only are going to energize Democratic women, but there’s a lot of Republican women who heard this and were disgusted by it…
MR. MURPHY: Yes.
GREGORY: …and frankly do not want to focus on what goes on with their bodies and their health, even in their own party?
MR. MURPHY: Well, like, Akin was a gift to Harry Reid. In the old days of Boss Pendergast back in Kansas City we’d lock him in the (Unintelligible) and take him to the state line. But unfortunately, now you’re-- the greater of bossism is gone. But here’s something to remember about Akin. Two-thirds of Republicans in the primary in Missouri voted against this guy. He had about seven percent of the real eligible number of all voters. So he’s got no mandate. Everybody in the party except Eisenhower has called him to get out. And that’s only because Ike isn’t with us anymore. There’s not much more we can do. The question is with time will it become what it ought to be, a local deal? Romney came out strong against it. All the leaders did. I don’t think-- it will be a flag the Democrats to wave around because again they’ve got to destroy Romney. It’s the only path for them. I think it will melt away. Particularly, if Romney can get that economic vision out there and crowd out the election on things people care about rather than trivia that some nut won is Missouri.
GREGORY: And he gets to one of his advantages. First Chuck, on the map--
MR. TODD: Yeah.
GREGORY: …I talked at the outset about how Romney reshapes this race. What they’re going to look at is the nuts and bolts of what flip states they can flip that Obama won last time around?
MR. TODD: It does--it does-- look, here are our nine battle ground states and only two of the nine in our toss-up states are states that both John Kerry and Barack Obama won and that’s New Hampshire and Wisconsin. All of the other ones were Bush in ‘04, Obama ‘08. And when you look at our toss-up states you-- you’d say the disappointment in Boston is Pennsylvania, and Michigan, Minnesota, they didn’t get to expand the map. And when you’re challenger you want to be expanding the map. And let me show you that why there are so many people who sit there and say you look nationally and you think boy this is a dead even race but when you start going on the map it’s very difficult.
And let me just remind viewers how to follow this. We will be changing the numbers here, so you can follow up top there. I’m going to go in order of where the Romney folks believe is their best opportunities. And look how hard it takes them-- how long it takes them to get to two-seventy. So, North Carolina in our battleground, that’s where they feel best about. Then you have Florida, then you got Iowa and then you got Colorado. Those first four are the ones they feel best about. The next five are either toss up or maybe even slightly in the president’s advantage here. And they’ve got to win at least two of them, one of them being Ohio to even get close, and one other state. If they don’t get Ohio, the numbers get even harder where they have to win eight of nine of the toss-ups. This electoral map is what is a hindrance to the Romney campaign.
MR. MURPHY: They've either going to do better in Latino states going west, Arizona-- excuse me, Nevada and Colorado, or metal-bending states, which means reach out into Wisconsin or Pennsylvania and of course the all-critical Ohio. So they’re fighting Obama’s class warfare attack in the metal-bending states and they’re fighting the Latino stuff. They also need to do better with white women. So this convention has got to not be about extra applause in the hall. These are the voters he has for free. It’s about reaching through that camera and connecting to the voters…
GREGORY: But here…
MR. TODD: David, (Unintelligible) suburban women…
MR. TODD: …and the Akin stuff. Colorado and Virginia more races have been won by Democrats by reaching out to pro-choice suburban women who want to vote Republican on economic issues but more races, Democrats have been able to steal in those two states on the issue of abortion. And that’s why Akin is a huge problem.
GREGORY: You know, this is a real issue.
GOV. BREWER: It is a-- it’s a huge issue and something that we’re all looking at and we’re all very, very concerned about. But I truly believe that the Republican Party is the party of women. We have been really, really good to women candidates. You look at just governors alone. We’ve got more women governor-- Republican governors than we do Democrat governors. We believe in life. That is true. We believe in life. But we are very, very open and-- and supportive of women and the women’s issues. But the bottom line is-- is most women, they want to talk about jobs and the economy. They want to talk about their children’s future. And we, as Republicans, need to drive that message…
GOV. BREWER: …down-- and we will do that between the convention, reintroducing President Romney, we will be out there and we’re going to get those states and educate those…
GREGORY: Well, and let-- let me underline that advantage because Congresswoman, this is what the President is up against, and why this is a really tight race, despite some of the disadvantage. Here are Romney advantages according to our polling, you put it up on the screen: good ideas to improve the economy. He’s got a six-point advantage. Changing business as usual in Washington, a six-point advantage. And here’s the other reality that President Obama faces, are you better off now than you were four years ago? Again, this is what our polling shows, that a whopping 69 percent think it’s either worse off or the same. This is why we’re in a tight race.
GOV. BREWER: It’s the record of failure.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, as-- as a mom with three young kids, and a woman who understands that when it comes to economic policy women want to make sure that we have a President in the White House who’s committed to investing in our children’s future, like President Obama has, committing to-- committed to investing in education, in innovation, in making sure that in America everyone has an opportunity to succeed so that, you know, your kids can live the American dream. Mitt Romney, his policies would increase taxes on the middle class, make life much more economically challenging for women. Would do that to pay for-- for budget busts and tax breaks for the wealthy…
GREGORY: But-- but the record is tough. I mean the facts and how people feel are tough.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: But like you said-- like you said, David, it’s a-- it-- that-- that six-point advantage in one poll is very narrow because women understand that not only would Mitt Romney’s policies not make them better off, but he also has an extreme policy, set of policies, on their reproductive rights, on the-- the things that are important to them to make sure that their children have an opportunity to be successful.
GREGORY: Mike Murphy, there’s another big theme that I think is so important this week. I think Americans are looking for a vision, not just of leadership and where you-- where you take the country, but how you’re actually going to get there.
MR. MURPHY: Yeah.
GREGORY: I mean we’ve seen two presidents fail to change the culture in Washington. And there’s that sense that nothing is going to change. How does Mitt Romney addressed that?
MR. MURPHY: I think Mitt Romney has to sell forward results and how he’ll get there. Biography is over with. Biography is vulnerable to negative ads. I’m happy they’re doing some of that at the convention but that speech has to take us forward. I think, you know, the President has invested a lot, all-- almost all the way to national bankruptcy. The key is in the results. Who can deliver the results and what’s the plan to get the right jobs? That is the number Mitt has to move. It’s in that plus six on better ideas for the economy. When that goes into double digits, 10 or 12, Chuck made this point earlier…
MR. MURPHY: …that’s when Romney’s winning. That’s the number he has to move.
GREGORY: Do-- do you hear-- in ten seconds-- do you hear any bipartisanship from…
MR. TODD: No, and that’s the problem. Ryan’s first name is Congressman. Congress had a twelve-- our lowest ever approval rating and highest ever disapproval rating for Congress. That congressman baggage that Romney adopted with Ryan I think is something that they’re a little nervous about.
MR. MURPHY: His first name is Paul…
MR. TODD: Well, I don’t think the president has ever referred to him as…
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That would be Congressman Paul.
GREGORY: I’m-- I’m going to-- I’m going to leave it there. Thank you all very much. It’s going to be an exciting convention. A couple of programming notes before we’re done here today. You can watch a rebroadcast of today’s program this afternoon on MSNBC. That’s at two PM Eastern. And then you want to stay there because right after that at three is my friend Chuck Todd’s new documentary called Mitt Romney; The Making of a Candidate, and starting Tuesday at ten PM Eastern I will join Brian Williams and the rest of our terrific NBC News political team for live coverage of this Republican National Convention. You can also check out our press pass blog for special convention interviews each day from Tampa. And that’s all at MeetThePressNBC.com. That is all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.
And as we leave you this morning, we remember Astronaut Neil Armstrong, who passed away yesterday at the age of 82 as the first man on the moon, he was a modern-day American explorer whose words and spirit will be forever ingrained in the fabric of this country and indeed, human history.
MR. NEIL ARMSTRONG: That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.