MR. DAVID GREGORY: This morning on MEET THE PRESS, the pressure is on as Mitt Romney stumbles and polls show the president is widening his lead six weeks before the election. Where is the debate headed? Romney looks for a comeback ceasing on the president’s admission that Washington cannot be changed from the inside.
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MR. MITT ROMNEY: He said he can’t change Washington from inside. He can only change it from outside. Well, we’re going to give him that chance in November, he’s going outside.
GREGORY: But it’s Romney who spent perhaps his worst week of the campaign, on the defensive after the release of his 2011 tax returns and this now infamous recording from a May fundraiser.
MR. ROMNEY: There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on the government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them.
GREGORY: A debate this morning about the 47 percent, taxes and government dependence with two top surrogates for the candidates: Democratic Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick and Republican Senator from New Hampshire Kelly Ayotte. Ayotte and Patrick square off.
Then our political roundtable on the Romney campaign under fire from fellow conservatives. What is the turnaround plan? Are Romney’s troubles overstated? And what to look for as the candidates prepare for the debates?
With us, senior adviser to the Romney campaign, Bay Buchanan; Democratic Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed; Host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough; columnist for The New York Times David Brooks; and Democratic strategist Dee Dee Myers. Plus, NBC’s Chuck Todd on what new polls in the battleground states tell us about the race?
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
GREGORY: And good Sunday morning. Election Day is 44 days away, but early voting starts soon in several key battleground states like Iowa, Ohio and Florida. Polls showing a very small pool of undecided voters left. It’s particularly important then for Mitt Romney as he tries to steady his campaign before the all-important presidential debates begin October 3rd. Joining me this morning, for a debate of their own, two top surrogates--Democratic Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick and the Republican Senator from New Hampshire Kelly Ayotte-- excuse me, Kelly Ayotte. Welcome to both of you.
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R-NH): Thanks, David.
GOV. DEVAL PATRICK (D-MA): Thank you.
GREGORY: Good to have you here this morning.
GOV. PATRICK: Good to be with you.
SEN. AYOTTE: Good to be with you.
GREGORY: A-- a lot to get to. Let’s start with the issue of taxes. And Mitt Romney’s tax returns that he released showing that in 2011 he paid an effective tax rate of 14 percent. He didn’t have a job. This was interest income. Governor, should this end the debate or should there be more?
GOV. PATRICK: Well, you know, I understand people’s interest and-- and, in fact, curiosity about Mitt Romney’s tax returns. I think it was his dad who said that tax returns should-- for presidential candidate should-- should be produced way back many years and I think he produced 20 years worth of tax returns or more when he was being considered for vice president. But the more, I think, important issue is what is it he plans to do with my taxes and yours and everybody-- everybody else? He has a tax plan out there where he’s talking about five trillion dollars in-- in tax cuts, adding to the-- to the deficit, no way to pay for that and no idea about how-- what the impact is on the middleclass and that needs to be told.
GREGORY: So, but you think-- the question of more returns and what some of his overseas holdings were, you don’t think that’s really an appropriate place to delve into further?
GOV. PATRICK: I-- I think it’s perfectly fair question. But I think the bigger question is what is that he plans to do with everybody else’s taxes…
GOV. PATRICK: …and he has not been forthcoming about that.
GREGORY: Ezra Klein, Senator, asks a bigger picture question as well in his column in The Washington Post and I want to put a portion of it up on the screen for our viewers and have you react to it. Here was a headline, “In 2011, Romney made 14 millions dollars while being unemployed.” Klein writes, “Compare Romney to a single mother of two who works full-time at Wal-Mart, who takes the Earned Income Tax Credit and whose children get health insurance through Medicaid. Romney says she’s not taking personal responsibility.” Going back to the 47 percent comments. “He says he couldn’t get her to take personal responsibility if he tried. And yet, Romney is someone who doesn’t even have to take personal responsibility for earning money anymore. He’s beyond all of that. …And he’s carried that belief into his policy proposals. His policy platform matches his comments: He won’t raise taxes on the rich, but he wants to cut Medicaid by over a trillion dollars in the next decade.”
SEN. AYOTTE: Well, David, I think what Governor Romney wants, he wants to make sure that that mother has a good job, a better paying job. And where we are right now with this economy, think about it, we have added 15 million-- billion people to-- to the food stamp rolls-- excuse me, millions during this presidency. We now have 47 million people on food stamps. It’s really unfortunate. These people want to get off of food stamps and have those good jobs. But where the economy is right now, so many people have lost hope. In fact the last jobs report show that for every job added four people have left the workforce because the president, let’s not forget the president and Democrats were in-charge the first two years. The policies they passed didn’t deal with where we’re as the economy. Think about the stimulus. His team represented we would be below six percent right now.
GREGORY: I would get to that. I want to talk specifically about tax returns, 14 percent in an effective tax rate. Does that make it harder for Governor Romney to reach out to average Americans and say I get you? I'm empathetic toward what you’re going through, vote for me.
SEN. AYOTTE: Governor Romney is reaching out to average Americans with a plan to get people working again because the president’s policies have not worked. He tried, but we talked about the stimulus. His team represented we’d below six percent right now. We have had 43 over 43 straight months of over eight percent unemployment. In fact, the lowest labor participation rate, people are leaving the workforce. So what Governor Romney is saying to people, he wants opportunity, he wants that upward mobility for that mother. The opportunity--
GREGORY: All right, but you talked about upward mobility, that’s not something that we-- we saw out of his speech that he gave back in July at a fund raiser to wealthy donors. This is where the 47 percent came from and in-- in context here let’s play a portion of that to see exactly what his-- what his vision was. Watch.
(Videotape; May 17, 2012)
MR. ROMNEY: There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that-- that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they’re entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing. To you name it. But that’s-- it’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
GREGORY: Senator, they see themselves as victims. He now says that he’s really for the 100 percent in America. Is anybody going to buy that given that dim vision of half the country?
SEN. AYOTTE: You know, David that certainly was a political analysis at a fund-raiser, but it’s not a governing philosophy. He absolutely has a vision for a 100 percent of America and that is very different from this president, really getting our economy moving. We have to look back at the policies of this president and where we are as an economy.
GREGORY: But before-- before we get to that particular argument, do you see 47 percent of the country that receives government dependence, do you think they see themselves as victims?
SEN. AYOTTE: What I see is what the Governor sees. I see 15 million more people on food stamps that don’t want to be there. I see 47 million overall Americans on food stamps that want a good job. They want-- they don’t want to be on unemployment. But where we are with the policies under this administration, the tax regulatory policies, the more government spending, we have five trillion dollars to the debt. Those opportunities aren’t there for them and that’s what this election is about.
MR. PATRICK: May I just say David that I-- it’s just shocking to me that a candidate could aspire to be president by turning his back on half the country. And-- and I-- that’s what came-- came through. I think-- I can tell you as someone who grew up on welfare, who-- who spent some time on-- on food stamps, my mother was just the kind of person that I think the senator is describing, who was aspiring to get to a better place, to get herGD-- GED, to get a job, to stand on her own two-- two feet. And the notion that she or we or people like us would be belittled while we needed some help to be able to stand on our own two feet is exactly what I think Governor Romney is conveying and exactly what we should reject in this-- in this election.
GREGORY: Is this really any different, do you think the President Obama has not said to a group of donors, look, there are certain segments in the Republican electorate that are just not going to vote for me? Why should this just be seen as-- as the senator says political analysis and not a governing philosophy.
MR. PATRICK: Actually, I don’t think that’s at all what the president has said or has ever said. What he has done most importantly is govern for all of the people. And the president has, you know, he’s-- he’s advanced policies that are not popular with his-- with his base, but he did them because he thought they were important for the future of this country and that’s the kind of leadership we need.
GREGORY: Let’s talk specifically senator about some of the-- the issues, the 47 percent gets to. This question of government dependence, as you referenced, here are just couple of the snapshots of government dependence nationally that have raised some eyebrows and that indeed Governor Romney has talked about. You talk about food stamps now, nearly, 47 million Americans on food stamps up dramatically from four years ago. And here is a broader picture from the Wall Street Journal and the Census Bureau. Over time, if you go back to the early ‘80s and you look at that trajectory upward, 49 percent now receiving some kind of government benefit. Is government dependence at a place where it’s out of control?
SEN. AYOTTE: Well, David, I think where we are is that too many people have to rely on food stamps or unemployment benefits instead of a good job, I mean, that's really what this comes down to, to think that so many people have left the work force when you look at the August report where every job added four people have left, qith over 43 straight months of over unemployment. And let’s not forget the president and the Democrats had two years. What did they do? They passed health care reform where the president represented that premiums would go down, they have gone up. This week we got a report from CBO that six million middle class Americans will get hit by the tax penalties in the president's health care reform. So the policies that he pushed when they were in charge did not address the problems and that’s why we need new leadership of making sure that we get people working again and-- and someone who has that private sector experience to turn the economy around.
GOV. PATRICK: I want to agree with some of what the senator has said about the fact that there are more people on food stamps because we’re in a terrible economy and more people need a way forward. I would submit that most of those people, if not all, want a job and that we have to be about strengthening this economy. I think adding some 4.6 million private sector jobs in the last two years as the president has more in that time than George W. Bush added in eight years is a-- is a definite and indeed a profound example of the progress that we are making and the policies that are-- are on offer by Governor Romney are policies that have shown themselves to fail. So this notion of benefiting the very fortunate exclusively and letting it trickle down to everybody else is something that has been shown to fail in the past. We should not go back.
GREGORY: Senator, there’s a-- there’s a-- there’s a bigger question and partly this is a political question. I know that you’re a supporter of Governor Romney, you’re campaigning for him in New Hampshire. But here’s the reality--he offered political analysis but policy analysis on forty-seven percent of this country, including a lot of Republican voters, people who see entitlements through social security and Medicare that they paid into and he’s talking about this group of people will not take personal responsibility. It portrayed a lack of understanding of how the government works, how America works, the American work ethic, do you think he needs to go beyond saying that this was inelegant to saying that he was flat wrong?
SEN. AYOTTE: Well, I have to say this, David. I fully disagree with your analysis of this. You know, I campaigned with him. I know that he cares about every single American in this country and that he has the vision, unlike this president, where we are today, we are declining. We need to come out of this to think about where we are with forty-three-- this president has more months of over eight percent of unemployment than the last eleven presidents combined. And this-- you think about Governor Romney, he wants opportunity, he wants upward mobility. He-- he wants people to have that good-paying job. And that is what his whole campaign is about. And by the way, think about the policies the last two years, all they brought us is more unemployment. What we need is people to have a good paying job. The right-- I hear from small business every day, the right tax, regulatory policy, these are mom and pop businesses that feel really burdened by this administration instead of wanting to put people to work.
GREGORY: Part of what he was talking about forty-seven percent Americans who pay no federal income tax and who are too dependent on the government. His words, to do everything for them, housing, food, etcetera. You’re not really being responsive to that point. But on the tax question, I pose this question in the senate, excuse me, the Virginia Senate debate between Tim Kaine and-- and George, excuse me, and George Allen. And they were talking about whether there should be a minimum federal income tax. And this is how Tim Kaine answered the question.
(Videotape; Virginia senate debate)
GREGORY: Do you believe that everyone in Virginia should pay something in federal income tax?
MR. TIM KAINE: Well, everyone pays taxes. I mean, the-- the-- the statistics that are coming out.
GREGORY: I'm asking about federal income tax?
MR. KAINE: I-- I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax for everyone.
GREGORY: Would you be open to that, governor?
GOV. PATRICK: Maybe. It’s first time hearing about it. But I-- listen, I think--
GREGORY: Should everybody have skin in the game in other words through the federal income tax?
GOV. PATRICK: Well, that’s where-- that’s exactly-- that’s where I was going. I-- I think we go to this question of-- of taxes, tax cuts, tax increases and so forth too fast. We-- it seems to me the first question ought to be what is it we want government to do and not do. And then what’s the sensible way and fair way to pay for that. I really believe in this no-- notion just as the president does of common cause and common destiny that we all have a stake in educating our kids. We all have a stake in ensuring that this country is well defended. We all have a stake in investing in the infrastructure that creates a platform for economic growth and-- and opportunity and indeed we all have a stake in the American dream. And we used to come together around that, the kind of sharp, poisonous political discourse that characterizes so much of what goes on in the Congress. I-- I mean no disrespect, Senator, a personal disrespect in-- in-- no disrespect at all, in fact not just personal, in-- in-- in saying that, but I think that the-- the country is hungry for a kind of a conviction base leadership, and frankly the kind of leadership this president has--
SEN. AYOTTE: David, the irony of this, of course, the president ran as someone who’s going to unite people. But everything when you listen to the way that he’s trying to divide us, you know, whether it’s rich versus poor, have versus have not and-- and wanting to bring people together and even just blaming Republicans or blaming at all the problems on other areas or other people. I mean, think about the comment this week about you can’t change Washington from the inside. He had two years in charge. I agree with the governor, we do need leadership that unites and we do need leadership of someone who’s thinking about making sure that we have those opportunities so that we’re not in a position where forty-seven--
GREGORY: You’re not see-- you’re not really blaming the president for pitting classes against each other after-- after Governor Romney talked about forty-seven percent of the country that are-- are freeloaders who won’t take personal responsibility.
SEN. AYOTTE: --well, I have-- I have to tell you, David, I just-- just to hear, well, I just have-- just to hear what the governor is saying here, you know, I certainly respect what he’s saying but if you look at what the president has said and what he has done, where we are, this-- his leadership and his policies have failed and he has not been the united force that we need to get things done.
GREGORY: I want to pin you down Governor on-- on one point, if I can on this issue of the president’s record and it has to do with high unemployment...
GOV. PATRICK: Mm-Hm.
GREGORY: …and something that caught our eye this week as we were looking. This comment from the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Emanuel Cleaver Congressman of course from Missouri. He spoke to the group on Monday. This is what he actually wrote. “I’m supposed to say he doesn’t get a pass, but I’m not going say that. Look, as the chair of the Black Caucus, I’ve got to tell you, we are always hesitant to criticize the president. With 14 percent [black] unemployment if we had a white president we’d be marching around the White House.” Pretty-- pretty stinging criticism from the chairman of the Black Caucus.
GOV. PATRICK: Well, I respect the chairman of the chairman of the Black Caucus and-- and the fact that there is 14 percent, if that’s the right number, unemployment among black people. I can tell you that among-- among young people, the unemployment rate is higher than the national average as well. Nobody is prepared to-- to declare victory. We-- we’ve had the worst economic environment in a generation or two, since the Great Depression. And that was caused, by the way, by some of the very policies that Governor Romney is urging on the country today. This president has turned that around. This president has shown that he is able to swim against the current and make some change. And so we see more people with health care in this country than ever before, more people-- more private sector jobs in the last two years than in the previous eight. We’ve seen-- we’ve seen the automobile industry saved. We’ve seen the financial industry saved. We’ve seen the country brought back from the brink of depression. Are we done? Of course not. Of course not. But we’re certainly on a better course and-- and pointed in the right direction.
SEN. AYOTTE: David, I guess what I heard was that this president needs more time. But, where we are, if you think about it, this is the worst economic recovery since World War II. And it’s been an anemic recovery because when they had full charge of the Congress, they pushed forward a health care bill where people are paying more for premiums. In fact, people are going to be hit, middle class hit with that tax penalty where the regulatory climate for this country, small businesses feel strangled. They’re not going to create that job. And the governor has a plan to make sure that we simplify lower rates, make it a better tax climate for everyone-- for everyone and make sure that we get people to work, our regulatory climate where small businesses want to thrive and grow. It’s been the opposite with this president. I would say he tried, but his policies failed.
GREGORY Let me end on-- on one issue that’s certainly important to us at NBC News that’s the issue of education. A big summit that we’re beginning, Education Nation Today--
GOV. PATRICK: Thank you for doing that.
GREGORY: And it’s-- it’s important, we certainly are committed to it. Part of that is a conversation with President Obama that TODAY show’s Savannah Guthrie conducted. I want to play a portion of that about where the political debate is now.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Mitt Romney said that President Obama has chosen his side in this fight that you sided with the unions. At another time last spring, he said he can’t talk up reform while indulging in groups that block it.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, you know, I think Governor Romney and-- and a number of folks try to politicize the issue and do a lot of teacher bashing. When I meet teachers all across the country, they’re so devoted, so dedicated to their kids. And what we’ve tried to do is actually breakthrough this left, right conservative liberal gridlock. And that’s what my key reform has been all about, race to the top.
GREGORY: More of that Education Nation interview with President Obama Tuesday and Wednesday on the TODAY show. Plus, a live conversation with Governor Romney at Education Nation that summit on Tuesday. Quickly, from both of you, Governor have we moved beyond this union-- pro-union, anti-union debate in this political discourse?
GOV. PATRICK: We better. We better. We are-- in Massachusetts, our students are number one in the nation in student achievement and have been for each of the last few years. We are in the top three in the world in math and science. And we have the most unionized education system I think in the country. The unions have been at the table with us on reform for more than a decade. And indeed, we moved the build just a couple of years ago to try to close that achievement gap and they were right there with us.
SEN. AYOTTE: I guess I would ask Mayor Emanuel whether he’ll be on the unions where we are right now. I think this is clearly an issue…
GREGORY: In Chicago. That's true. Yeah.
SEN. AYOTTE: That’s still a very important issue with Chicago strike and obviously Governor Romney believes kids first, unions last. But most importantly, I think, where Condoleezza Rice really hit it at our convention that giving parents, empowering parents with school choice in underperforming schools, minority students, poor students, that is a Civil Rights issue of this time. And I think that unfortunately, the president in the areas like DC Opportunity Scholarship turned his back on that. That’s really where we need to go and Governor Romney supports that.
GREGORY: We will leave it there. Thank you both very much.
SEN. AYOTTE: Thank you.
GOV. PATRICK: Thank you.
GREGORY: Appreciate it.
A note to our viewers now, a question that comes up a lot. We have a long standing invitation for President Obama to appear on this program and share his views about this important campaign, and we hope he will choose to do so before the election. If you missed Mitt Romney’s appearance two weeks ago, you can watch the full interview on our website meetthepressnbc.com.
Coming up here, our political roundtable weighing in on the rough week for Mitt Romney. Can he turn the campaign around? Is there time to reshape the race, particularly with early voting started? Joining us on the round table, Romney senior adviser Bay Buchanan, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, David Brooks of the New York Times and Democratic Strategist Dee Dee Myers. Plus, NBC's Chuck Todd will join us to break down new polls in the battleground states and what they’ll mean for the race ahead.
GREGORY: Coming up, what the new polls in the battleground states tell us about the state of the race. Chuck Todd starts off our roundtable right after this brief break.
(Videotape; Saturday Night Live)
SETH MEYERS: Good evening. I’m Seth Meyers. And here are tonight’s top stories. Mitt Romney on Friday released his 2011 tax returns which showed he paid a 14 percent tax rate, so just a little less than what restaurants add on for parties of six or more. The 14 percent tax rate Romney paid is less than the 20 percent paid by the average American. How did he pay such a low rate? He claimed 47 percent of Americans as dependents.
GREGORY: And we’re back. That was Saturday Night Live having some fun with Mitt Romney and the tax debate. We’re going to get into all of that with our roundtable. Joining us, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough, celebrating five years on the air, five great ones; senior adviser to the Romney campaign Bay Buchanan; Democratic strategist and former White House press secretary for President Clinton Dee Dee Myers; New York Times columnist David Brooks; and the Democratic mayor of Atlanta, always great to have, Kasim Reed. But first, you saw him lurking in the background of Dee Dee Meyer’s shot; our political director Chuck Todd is here with some of the new polls in the battleground states. So when team Romney says that the head-to-head matchup nationally is tight, that’s not the full story, Chuck.
MR. CHUCK TODD: It isn’t. And-- and when you look at here, look at these battleground polls. This is everything that has come out in the last week in different states. And I just want to highlight a couple here. Look at Michigan, 14-point gap here for the president. Obviously, the Republicans would like to try to put Michigan in play. Doesn’t look like it’s the case. Look at Iowa, and I highlight that because Iowa has been a toss-up state, something that has been in the middle of the battleground. Well, guess what, we’ve decided it is no longer in the battleground, that eight-point lead. You now put it in President Obama’s column. So he sits there, 243. What does that mean? It means now he’s just one state away from 270. If you just give him Florida, he sits at 272. But then if you look and if you look at Virginia and Co-- excuse me, Virginia and Ohio, two states the president had seven-point leads, and you give him those two, excuse me here, and it puts him at 274. So he’s now sitting-- we’re sitting there, we’ve shrunk the battleground, David. We have put-- president obviously sitting there with a tough lead. And what has all of this done? It’s all because of one thing here, and that is economic optimism. I want to show something from our last NBC Wall Street Journal-- excuse me. 42 percent now have optimistic views that the economy’s going to get better in the next 12 months, the best number in almost three years, David.
GREGORY: All right. Chuck Todd, thank you very much. From the numbers, you also have the narrative. Here’s a Detroit Free Press after that tape recording about the 47 percent. Here was the headline. Romney’s 47 percent remark, will it sink the campaign? Joe Scarborough, how much trouble is the Romney campaign in this morning? And what changes it?
MR. JOE SCARBOROUGH (Host, MSNBC’s Morning Joe): Well, they’re-- they’re in a lot of trouble this morning, but thank God for them that the election’s about 45 days off. They are tied in national polls and we Republicans believe, we conservatives still believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. So, you know, we’ve got four debates coming up. I personally think Romney is a very calculating da-- data-driven guy. You tell him you got 90 seconds to answer a question on Libya, he’s probably going to have a good answer. He’s going to do well in the debates. I think Ryan is going to do well in the debates. We’ve got a long way to go. So it’s not over. That said, the trajectory of the campaign has to change. This has been a horrific week for him, even the Romney people behind the scenes will tell you, the Libya press conference was a nightmare for them. Even worse than this 47 percent video. They’ve got a right-- they’ve-- they’ve got a right to ship. If they do, long way to go.
GREGORY: The Romney campaign, in fact, the-- the candidate himself, telling 60 Minutes tonight, there is no need for a turn-around in this campaign. David Brooks, you wrote a pretty stinging column that got a lot of attention this week. And the headline was, Thurston Howell Romney, referring to Gilligan’s Island, of course, the millionaire on that program. Here’s part of your-- your comment about the-- the six-- 47 percent in your column. This comment suggests that he doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the VA? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on social security or Medicare? Personally, I think he is a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he’s pretending to be something he’s not, some sort of cartoonish government hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mister Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?
MR. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times): Yeah, you know what, a couple of years ago I had a chance to have dinner with Tom Clancy and he was enthusing over some gun he had just seen on a naval battleship. And I’m sitting there while he is talking, thinking, you can’t fake it. If you don’t really have the passion for those kind of guns, you can’t write Tom Clancy novels. Mitt Romney does not have the passion for the stuff he’s talking about. He is-- he is a problem solver. I think he’s a non-ideological person running in an extremely ideological age and he’s faking it. So if I were him, I’d go to what he’s been for the last several decades of his life. He’d be-- be a power point guy. Say, I’m making a sales pitch to the country. Here are the four things I’m going to reform. You don’t have to love me, but I’m going to do these four things for you. And so, I’d do a much more wonky and detailed thing than he’s done so far.
GREGORY: Do-- Bay Buchanan, do you have to look at this 47 percent comment which was detailed that frankly went beyond political analysis and do more than say, hey, this was political analysis, this is not a governing philosophy, this was inelegant. Do you have to somehow make amends in a way that he has not done yet?
MS. BAY BUCHANAN (Senior Adviser, Mitt Romney Presidential Campaign): You-- you know, David, if the m-- you know, the press is not going to change and, of course, our opponents are not. They want to mischaracterize exactly what he said. And what he was saying is the 47 percent is going to be voting. This is what it looks like, a solid base of the-- of the president. And included in those people are people I’m going to have a hard time reaching. You know, there’s people who are dependent on government. Some who even feel they’re owed something by government. And they-- many of them don’t-- don’t pay income tax. And my message doesn’t work for them. That’s all he was saying. He never said he didn’t care about them. That he’s not concerned about them. And, in fact, no…
GREGORY: His words were, I don’t have to worry about them. That’s a direct quote.
MS. BUCHANAN: No-- yes, the-- in a-- in a General Election. He can’t worry about them. He has to worry about the six percent. Sure, we’d like to take off some a little top of-- little bit of the cream on that 47. I saw one poll has-- the president down to 46. Maybe we will. But his focus in the General Election is the six percent he can get. That he has a terrific chance of getting and he will fight for them. And as president, he will fight for that-- for those who are dependent on government. This president has given us a terrible record. Americans can’t get off their dependency. And it’s longer and longer, and it’s going to be more and difficult. There’re no jobs to get them out. What Mitt Romney offers to those Americans is a way, a ladder, to climb out of that mess…
MS. BUCHANAN: …opportunity and jobs again.
GREGORY: …is that how you see his comments this week, the 47 percent?
MR. KASIM REED (D; Mayor of Atlanta, GA): I don’t even think that this is a question of mischaracterization. All you have to do is listen to the whole piece. His comments were terrible. What he implied were that there 47 percent of the people are basically freeloaders. That’s what he implied. It was offensive. So, this isn’t the case of mischaracterization. Now, what it shows basically is Republicans have a candidate that’s defective, and it shouldn’t be surprising to them. He has made these mistakes repeatedly. The best analysis of this election this year that I’ve heard was from a Republican friend that I was having dinner with. He said that this guy is defective. He said he’s like being a-- a bad NASCAR driver on a rich team. He said no matter how good the car is, no matter how bad the pit crew is, the driver has got to drive the car. And this guy puts it on the wall every single time. He puts it…
MS BUCHANAN: If he shows…
MR. REED: …no, no, no, wait a minute, ma’am, I’ll let you speak. He puts it on the wall when he says let GM go bankrupt. He puts it on the wall when he says let 47 percent of the people. I don’t have to concern-- concern myself with. He puts it on the wall when he travels across East, goes to the U.K., offends one of our strongest allies. He repeatedly puts it on the wall and makes mistakes. And that’s why where-- where we are 44 days out.
GREGORY: Dee Dee, the-- the political prism through which to look at this is what is his biggest negative that he has to deal with and that is does he connect with average voters?
MS. DEE DEE MYERS (Fmr. Clinton White House Press Secretary): Does he had any-- does he have any understanding at all life outside the bubble that he’s lived in? And, you know, there’s no-- there’s no point in his life with the possible exception of his Mormon mission to Paris where he’s intentionally gotten himself outside of his comfort zone and going to see…
MR. SCARBOROUGH: I don’t know if going to Paris-- it-- it may have been the suburbs of Paris, okay?
MS. MYERS: Right, right.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Come on.
MS. MYERS: So, I’m not saying he liked the French, don’t get me wrong…
MR. SCARBOROUGH: …may have been Normandy.
MS. MYERS: …but he-- at every turn of his life, even-- even in his generosity, he’s been extremely generous, but it's always within the context of a very limited universe and so he really has no feel for what real people are doing?
MR. BROOKS: I-- I don’t think that--- I don’t think that’s fair.
MS. MYERS: When he goes to engage in sport…
MS. MYERS: No, it’s not. It’s-- every-- every turn of this campaign when he’s spoken, how does he enjoy sport, well, he likes to sort of, you know, hang out with the team owners. You know, when he travels around, when-- he’s-- he’s most comfortable speaking to--
MR. SCARBOROUGH: And by the way, he calls it sports, sport too?
GREGORY: Some of this is caricature. But we have real…
MS MYERS: He's more comfortable talking to fundraisers. Right? He’s-- that’s where he goes off script and talks more expansively about what his plans are and how--
MR. BROOKS: No I think that's (Unintelligible) look at the people he’s helped. He’s helped alcoholic Mormons. He’s helped immigrants, frankly illegal immigrants. He’s helped a lot of people. He’s nursed kids who are dying. If you look at his private life. He gave four million dollars to charity in one year.
MS. MYERS: No, he’s…
MR. BROOKS: If you look at his private life-- if you-- all through his life, he has given a lot of money…
MR. REED: We know in-- in 2011, he…
MR. BROOKS: We know he has the perfect life story for a compassionate conservative campaign because he’s lived that life. And what’s-- the problem is he’s running a different campaign. George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, they looked at people in the community colleges and they said, okay, maybe they’re on food stamps, but they’re taking two buses, they’re working two jobs, they’re going to school, and conservatism is how those people rise...
MR. SCARBOROUGH: And David, that’s-- that’s really…
MR. BROOKS: And he hasn’t translated that.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: …the biggest problem with the 47 percent. I really don’t think that’s going to change a vote. I really don’t. I do believe, though, it is deflated conservatives at the Wall Street Journal, conservatives like David, conservatives like myself, conservatives on Talk Radio. We believe in smaller government because we believe, like Jack Kemp believed, like Ronald Reagan believed, like Margaret Thatcher believed that that’s how you help the most people. I will say still without apology I believe a rising tide lifts all boats. I believe you unshackle individuals and they can prosper in this country. What’s so disturbing about that video is like you said, David, Mitt Romney doesn’t get it. He doesn’t believe it. And that’s what comes through. Margaret Thatcher, shopkeeper’s daughter, would have never said that in a million years.
MS. MYERS: Never.
MS. BUCHANAN: And, you know, this-- this is-- this is just like four to one, I should be able to be allowed to speak, you know, for each one of these gentleman-- these people here.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Wait, wait, wait, wait…
MS. BUCHANAN: …but let me-- let me make something real clear here.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: …you don’t-- you don’t-- you don’t like a Margaret Thatcher fan or a Ronald Reagan fan?
MS. BUCHANAN: Yeah. Let-- let me make-- please, let me make a point here.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, don’t-- don’t put me as a four to one because I’m not. I’m a small government conservative.
MS. BUCHANAN: But, you know, Joe, on this set, you're here today one of the four.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: I’m also with the Wall Street Journal editorial page. I’m also with-- with every conservative.
MS. BUCHANAN: All right. All right. We know-- we know that you…
MR. SCARBOROUGH: I’m with Rush.
MS. BUCHANAN: Yep.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: I’m with-- you name the conservative…
MS. BUCHANAN: Yes. All right.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: …they have my concern, Bay. So please don’t characterize me as being one of these four.
MS. BUCHANAN: Yes. Okay. Let me...
GREGORY: Go ahead, Bay.
MS. BUCHANAN: Let me-- let me make a point.
MS. MYERS: We’re not that bad.
MR. BROOKS: What’s wrong with us?
MR. SCARBOROUGH: I love them all, but I’m not one of them.
MS. BUCHANAN: First of all-- first of all, you know, to characterize the personal life of Mitt Romney as Dee Dee has is-- is to show that she does not know the man, she does not know what he has done because this is a man…
MS. MYERS: I should know what he’s done.
MS. BUCHANAN: …this is a man who has spent a life in serving others. That is the basis of what he believes, and he has given.
MS. MYERS: I’m not questioning that, Bay. That’s not my point.
MS. BUCHANAN: …number two-- no-- yes, it’s exactly what you-- number two-- number two, we have a-- we have-- we are in perilous times in this country. We are looking at financial ruin. We are looking at dependency. We’re a nation of people dependent on their government. And what-- that is what Barack Obama give us, and he promises more of that in four more years. This election will decide if we take that path or with Mitt Romney. If we take a path where we actually allow people, those who are troubled now, those who can’t make ends meet, those who are relying on food stamps to pay for their...
GREGORY: Wait a minute. They-- these are-- these are-- excuse me, these-- you can defend Governor Romney, that’s fine. But they-- this is-- this is just-- these are political talking points more than being responsive to some of the reality…
MS. BUCHANAN: No.
GREGORY: …the political reality. We can show it on the screen. The unfavorable ratings of Mitt Romney. You’re a political professional. You understand how campaigns operate. If he-- if people don’t know it, who bears the blame for that? Look at his high unfavorable ratings at fifty percent, the highest of any candidate running in recent memory. This is an image problem that his philosophical statements in this speech in May to fundraisers only exacerbates.
MS. BUCHANAN: It’s because of the way it has been falsely interpreted, deliberately so, and I might add…
GREGORY: By Da-- by David Brooks, by-- by Joe Scarborough-- by Joe Scarborough, by the way?
MS. BUCHANAN: But-- but-- the key is-- the key is…
MR. SCARBOROUGH: No, no, I’m sorry. I’ve got to cut this off. David Brooks…
MS. BUCHANAN: …the key here is which side are you on? You are taking this country…
MR. SCARBOROUGH: … Joe Scarborough, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, I can go on and on…
GREGORY: Taking on…
MS. BUCHANAN: Rush Limbaugh…
MR. SCARBOROUGH: If you want to-- if you-- if you want to blame the media for Mitt Romney’s inept campaign-- Peggy Noonan said it best; this is a nightmare of a campaign. And the most troubling thing is it’s not the-- a lot of Republicans don’t think he can win. We do believe he-- he can win. But when he says he has no need to turn this campaign around, after a disastrous week where you see Ohio slipping away, Wisconsin slipping away, Iowa slipping away, Michigan slipping away, that is a political concern, not an ideological concern. That is a political concern.
MS. MYERS: And Mayor-- Mayor Reed had it exactly right, though.
MS. BUCHANAN: We are…
GREGORY: Let me step back for just a second. David Brooks, you’re looking at both the-- the substantive debate taking place here about the records of two candidates, biographies of two candidates, but also where we are politically in a state of this campaign. If we pull back, how do you diagnose where he goes next? Where he tries to go next?
MR. BROOKS: Well, he has to look at what the president’s weakness is. He’s never going to win a popularity contest. As you said, he’s least popular candidate in history. So where is the president’s weakness? The president’s weakness is that he has no second term agenda. He’d a great-- he put out a great album in 2008, but he doesn’t have an agenda now because he’s intellectually exhausted. And so that’s why I think you have to say, okay, here’s my agenda. You have to go extremely wonky. You know, what’s interesting thing about this campaign is the best political speech of this whole campaign, Bill Clinton’s, was the wonkiest speech. There is like a hunger for that kind of stuff. And that’s what-- that should be his wheelhouse, power point. I’m going to reform foreign institutions, I’m going to reform the tax code, I’m going to reform entitlements, I’m going to reform energy, and I’m going to make the political system work. Don’t love me, but I will do these four products for you.
MR. REED: David, the-- the problem with that is-- is that you can’t run for president saying I’ll tell you later. He hasn’t told us and what we know, no wait a minute…
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, you-- you can say that Barack Obama…
MR. REED: …I’ve waited for-- I’ve waited for everybody around this table--
MR. SCARBOROUGH: …and-- and you’ve been very polite about that but you need to tell Barack Obama that.
MR. REED: --where-- where he hasn’t told us-- but he hasn’t told us. I will but I’ll tell you what. What he hasn’t told us is how do you take a five trillion dollar tax cut in this economy and then spend an additional million to two million on defense spending, expand the military by a hundred thousand troops, and pay for it without cutting…
MR. BROOKS: Mister Mayor, Mister Mayor…
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Come on. Come on.
MR. REED: …without-- without costing the middle class. He hasn’t told us that.
MR. BROOKS: Can I just ask you one question?
MR. REED: And all he says is he’ll all-- all he says is we’ll tell you later.
MR. BROOKS: What’s the most significant law Barack Obama has proposed for his second term?
MR. REED: Well, for the second term he’s been focused on jobs. For the second term-- no, no, no, no, the American job, wait-- wait a minute.
MR. BROOKS: That’s not proposal.
MR. REED: Now the American Jobs Act is a legitimate proposal that is based primarily around infrastructure, which Republicans and Democrats have traditionally agreed on. And if you go to the facts, well, I tell you it kept the country from going into a great depression.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Did it really?
MR. REED: And I tell you what-- oh, yes, it did. Well, under your guy, George Bush, we lost 3.5 million jobs in--
MR. SCARBOROUGH: By the way, let me just…
GREGORY: Just finish the point and then I’ll go to Joe.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: It would be surprised to George W. Bush that you call him my guy.
MR. REED: Barack Obama has produced more net private sector jobs than George W. Bush. And if we want to go to the facts and be patriots and put the country first, we can look at the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Ten percent of that seven hundred and eighty billion dollars spent generated thirty-five percent of jobs…
GREGORY: So what-- what are the pillars of a second term for President Obama?
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well-- well, first of all, there is no pillar of a second term. He is, you know, I used the-- the example in 2008 he was Elvis 1957. 2012, he’s looking more like Elvis in ‘77. I mean he’s singing the old hits. He doesn’t believe it himself. The president bring it-- didn’t bring up the Stimulus Act. If it was such a great boon for American workers, he would have brought it up. He didn’t bring up Obamacare. Listen, he has no plan over the next four years. And I agree with David, if Mitt Romney wants to win, he needs to come forward and tell people how he can get them back to work because we can talk about Medicare reform, which I believe in. We can talk about reducing the debt, which I-- I fought for for fifteen years. But until you tell people how you’re going to get them back to work, how you’re going to help-- help the-- the working class do better, how you’re going to help people pay for their children’s education, they’re not going to listen to you and neither candidate is talking about that.
GREGORY: All right. Bay, your comment before the break here.
MS. BUCHANAN: There’s-- there’s no question in-- in the Romney campaign knows-- we’re bringing out those details as we speak. There’s no question there. To go to this gentleman’s point, what the legacy of Barack Obama has been is quite clear. More and more debt placed on American people. Millions and millions of people now on food stamps. The only way they can pay their families and-- and embassies under siege. That’s what we got from him. Going back to the political point, this is where the Romney campaign is today. We are in a dead heat. Nationally, we have two polls showing a dead heat, a tie. And the momentum is ours. You see that the gov-- the president’s numbers have come down. Mitt Romney’s numbers are coming up. Our polls and other polls out here have-- have the one state after another, these close states, swing states, as a dead heat or within the margin of error so-- so this is where we are.
GREGORY: No need for a turn-around?
MS. BUCHANAN: No, we-- we need to-- listen, we are five weeks out. And we’re in a dead heat against the president of the United States and we have the message when it comes to the economy. That’s who the American people trust as to be able to provide jobs and get people back where they can be working and proud of what they’re doing.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: What-- what’s-- what’s the message, I-- not to interrupt, what’s the message?
MS. BUCHANAN: The-- the message is a clear one.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: How are we going to get people back to work?
MS. BUCHANAN: The-- these are the two pass here. This is the foundation, the philosophy of the two campaigns. One, towards a more and more dependent nation and the other towards a people that are self-reliant where they can be proud again of the work they do, the product they produce, and how they take care of their family.
GREGORY: All right. Let-- let me-- we want a get a break in here. We’re going to have more of this. Look forward to the debates, how this-- this debate will play out when they go head to head. More with our roundtable right after this.
GREGORY: We’re back with the roundtable. David Brooks, we’ve been talking about the need for Governor Romney to win some of these important policy debates. You’ve talked about entitlements. Paul Ryan, his running mate, appeared before the AARP convention talking about Medicare, not exactly a great reception. Watch.
(Videotape; AARP/ New Orleans)
REP PAUL RYAN: The first step to a stronger Medicare is to repeal Obama care because it represents the worst of both worlds. I had a feeling there would be mixed reaction, so let me get into it.
GREGORY: Paul Ryan doesn’t shrink from a fight. He’ll go in front of any audience to talk about entitlements. He did it there. The promise was we’re going to take on Medicare and we’re going to win this fight. Is it working?
MR. BROOKS: Well, if passivity works, you know, every time I get sick of the Republicans, then I hear the AARP and I’m glad-- I ‘m glad I’m not a democrat.
You know, the basic formula here which Ryan is laying out is the average Medicare recipient over the course of their life pays in about a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. They get out, people differ somewhere between two hundred and fifty and three hundred and fifty thousand. So that gap is being put on the next generation. That’s the essential problem he’s trying to lay out. And so that’s embedded in his plan. And I think it’s a pretty good plan. And, but they are not making the argument for that plan for reasons which I guess I understand politically. But if you’re going to embrace Ryan, if you want to take Vienna, take Vienna; argue for the plan. And the plan is a good one. And by the way, the Democrats are running sort of a false scare campaign running against a false Ryan plan from 2011, not the one they are running on now. And so I think, you know, it’s crucial to-- to solve this problem. And they have a plan which unfortunately Romney and Ryan are not talking about.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: And-- and by the way, let’s tip our hat to Paul Ryan, because you hear that he got booed at AARP, but he went through the demographics. He went through the numbers. He explained. It was not about ideology. It was about math, about how Medicare was going bankrupt. If the AARP audience wanted to boo him, it wasn’t Paul Ryan’s problem. That’s a problem of people whose heads continue to get stuck in the sand. I wish Mitt Romney would show that courage. Maybe he will.
MR REED: No, that’s the problem with people…
MS MYERS: That’s one of the complaints
MR REED: No, go ahead, Dee Dee.
MS MYERS: That’s one of the complaints that you hear from Republicans, is that people-- the base looked at the choice of Ryan and said, ok, great, now the Romney campaign is going to take it on. And instead of Romney becoming more like Ryan and getting into the details and being willing to fight for it, the opposite is happening--you saw Ryan in that clip talking about the details, but that’s not something we’re seeing the campaign do on a regular basis. So, they’d be better off if they did.
MR REED: This is about more than Paul Ryan being booed at AARP. This is about the American people not wanting to privatize and voucherize Medicare after they’ve been paying into it. So, it’s not about Paul Ryan. He can make all the presentations that he wants to make and lay out the facts, but the president did extend by Medicare by eight years. And more importantly than that, folks aren’t buying; I’m going to take care of the people who are currently on the system. But we’re going to change it forever for everybody else. So the people who are…
MR. SCARBOROUGH: But we have to do that. You know we have to do that.
MR. REED: Well-- well, we have to do it as part of an overall budget deal, a four trillion dollar deal, where we put everything on the table. We-- if we want to get a deal, let’s get an overall global deal that puts four trillion on a table that includes revenue raises. But Paul…
MR. SCARBOROUGH: By the way four trillion dollars is a drop in the bucket.
MR. REED: Whether it's…
MR. SCARBOROUGH: That's ridiculous.
MR. REED: Hold on, wait a minute before you say ridiculous whether it’s four trillion or six trillion to get a budget deal we have to have revenue raising measures. You cannot implement Paul Ryan’s plan while not allowing for any increases.
GREGORY: All right.
MS. BUCHANAN: It’s clear…
MR. REED: That’s clear.
MS. BUCHANAN: …first of all, you know, Governor Romney showed enormous courage when he pick Paul Ryan for just this reason because he’s willing to engage that battle. We know we have a President who has just this week said you can’t do it, I can’t do it that this-- it’s-- you can’t change Washington from the inside. He has given up. We know that on Medicare we have 12 years before we’re going to be facing bankruptcy. And the president took 716 billion, took it out and threw it into Obamacare.
MR. REED: That’s not true. That’s just flat out no true.
MS. BUCHANAN: Right, that it is true.
GREGORY: And Paul Ryan did the same thing in his budget.
MS. MYERS: Did the same thing.
MS. BUCHANAN: Paul Ryan did not-- it in Medicare. It’s being moved around. And what we will do is we will-- the president will put that 716 right back in to-- to Medicare.
MR. REED: No…
MS. BUCHANAN: But the key here is, when are we going to solve these problems? The president enjoys all of those perks of the office. When does he going to do the heavy lifting? We have Medicare in serious trouble, heading to bankruptcy. We have a nation heading to bankruptcy. And what’s he say? I can’t do it.
GREGORY: Hold on one second.
MR. REED: …bankrupt in two years.
GREGORY: David, go ahead.
MR. BROOKS: The mayor just laid out the solution. We’re going to have a deal at some point, probably after some sort of national fiscal crisis. The Republicans are going to agree to raise the revenue. The Democrats are going to agree to restructure Medicare. They are probably not going to do it before a big national bankruptcy because it’s politically hard, but that is the deal. And we’re going to solve it sooner or later, but probably after some big national crises.
GREGORY: We’re going to have a big national debate, not just in the campaign, but in these presidential debates. Dee Dee you have been through this with a candidate before. Look at this from Politico in terms of the anticipation of these debates. The numbers are quite high, 83 percent saying they plan to watch all or some. Is there too much being built into these debates in terms of potential game changers?
MS. MYERS: Yeah, I mean, if you look at the history of debates, they generally don’t change or at least for the longer term the dynamic of the race. But Mitt Romney is taking it very seriously. It’s possibly his last opportunity to really make a big impression. So he started preparing for this months ago. He’s spending a lot of time, as well he should. He has proven himself to be a good debater as somebody said he is a facts and figures guy. He practices, he works very hard and he won 16 of the 20 debates as the Obama campaign will happily tell you in their effort to lower expectations in the Republican primary. So I hope the president is taking it as seriously. And challengers also tend to do well just by being on stage with the incumbent they look presidential.
GREGORY: Can he still win, Joe? And Romney still win and how?
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Of course he can still win. Like I said, we’ve got four debates left. We’ve got 45 days left. Dee Dee knows better than anybody else, I mean, the old saying, I think it was Harold McMillan who said in politics a week is a lifetime. Give anybody 40, 45 days and they can change everything. Again, the biggest concern is the attitude in Mitt Romney’s head right now, when he says that they don’t need to turn the campaign around, when you have Stewart, Stevens and others basically saying full steam ahead, that’s a serious problem. If they change the trajectory, if they start getting specific, like Bay said they were going to, he can win.
GREGORY: Good point for him.
MS. BUCHANAN: Listen on the debate, this is what’s key. We are going to be able to challenge the president on his record. To make him start defending this lousy record of his to explain why he is unable to create jobs and give opportunities…
MR. REED: 4.5 million jobs.
MS. BUCHANAN: …to Americans. Let him defend one in six Americans in poverty, one in seven Americans in food stamps. That is a debate we welcome, something the media has not been willing to challenge him on.
GREGORY: I just want to feel good, can we just have a feel-good moment maybe? We got to tip a cap quite literally to the playoff-bound nationals, the Washington Nationals. First time that Washington’s had a playoff team since 1933, when I was just a boy, little painful that they clinched this against my Los Angeles Dodgers. But they have been so great to follow. FDR was president when they were playing the Giants in the World Series that he set off to sit on both sides to keep it even, Washington going all the way.
Thank you all for being here this morning, great discussion. It will continue. Before we go a program you know, you can watch my press pass conversation with Denzel Washington and Olympian Michael Phelps on our blog. We talk about the crisis facing America’s young people and also their efforts at the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. That’s at email@example.com. That is all for today. We’ll be back next week. If, it’s Sunday it’s MEET THE PRESS.