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Video: Panel reviews veep debate; Colbert shares his thoughts

updated 10/14/2012 2:29:25 PM ET 2012-10-14T18:29:25

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This morning on MEET THE PRESS.  The fight next time.  Obama-Romney, round two, this coming Tuesday, as the race has tightened.

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Our Issues This Morning.  The debates in the closing weeks of this campaign, the economy, the looming fiscal crisis by year’s end and the debt fight.  With the big entitlement programs center stage.  They were the backdrop of a feisty debate between the VP candidates, Thursday.

(Videotape)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:  Nobody is being shut down.

MR. PAUL RYAN:  Mister Vice President, I know…

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:  No, this is not…

MR. RYAN:  Mister Vice President, I know I know you're under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don't keep interrupting each other.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  What did swing voters think of the high-octane face-off?  Will the president after a poor showing channel the aggressiveness of his running mate?

And what about the escalating political battle over the Obama administrations’ handling of the 9/11 attack in Libya?

(Videotape)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:  We weren't told they want-- wanted more security.  And we did not know they wanted more security there.

(End videotape)

(Videotape)

MITT ROMNEY:  When the vice president of the United States directly contradicts the testimony-- sworn testimony, of State Department officials, American citizens have a right to know just what’s going on.  And we’re going to find out.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  We cover it all this morning with our own debate.  Joining the conversation, Virginia’s Republican Governor Bob McDonnell; former Democratic Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm; Atlanta’s Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed; Republican strategist Alex Castellanos; and NBC’s Tom Brokaw.

And later, politics, satire, and lots of laughs.  I go one-on-one with Stephen Colbert in character.

(Videotape)

MR. STEPHEN COLBERT:  I don’t really watch the news so much.

GREGORY:  You don’t.

MR. COLBERT:  I come in around 6:30 and then I just say the opposite of whatever Rachel Maddow said the night before.  And I’m usually good.

GREGORY:  And…

MR. COLBERT:  Comedy just helps an idea go down.  That’s all.  And-- and it’s in-- and it just makes you listen for a minute.

(End videotape)

ANNOUNCER:  From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

GREGORY:  And good Sunday morning.  It is a critical time in the race for the White House now.  Over the next eight days, think about it, we’ll see the final two debates as polls show Mitt Romney now improving his standing in key battleground states of Florida, Virginia and Ohio, just look at those polls.  Meanwhile, this weekend, people are still debating who won the vice presidential face-off as SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE had some fun with the vice president’s over the top performance.

(Videotape; SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, Last Night)

WOMAN: Congressman Ryan, we begin with your opening statement.

MAN:  Thank you.  First of all, I want to thank Center College for hosting us this evening.

MAN:  Oh, Boy.  Here we go.  Oh, Man.

MAN:  Four years ago, President Obama made a promise…

(Laughter)

MAN:  …that he would bring down unemployment below six percent.

MAN:  Oh, this guy.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  Joining us now for our own debate of sorts, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, he is a Republican Governor of Virginia, and he is seen frequently on the campaign trail with Mitt Romney; the former Democratic Governor of Michigan and now host of Current TV’s The War Room, Jennifer Granholm; rending out-- rounding out the roundtable for the hour, the mayor of Atlanta, Democrat Kasim Reed; Republican strategist Alex Castellanos; and NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw who by the way moderated the town hall style presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama back in 2008, so we’ll have some perspective on what to expect on Tuesday from that point of view.  Welcome to all of you.

Governor McDonnell, let me start with you.  The framing of this is that things are moving in Romney’s direction.  If you look at the polling in the battleground states, there has been a movement toward him after that first debate.  What makes you think at this point that is sustainable?

GOV. BOB MCDONNELL (R-VA, Chair, Republican Governors Association):  Because it was based on, I think, a sharp contrast between the vision of Mitt Romney and the record of Barack Obama.  It’s the first time that 60 million Americans live got to see the two and another 60 million or so through social media got to see him.  So, I think that it is a sustainable trend and in Virginia, I think that it’s-- it’s all about jobs and energy and the economy and debt.  That’s what the independent voters, that last seven or eight percent of swing voters are going to vote on, and I think Mitt Romney did a great job to show why his ideas for the next four years are going to beat the record of Barack Obama over the last four years.

GREGORY:  Governor Granholm, here’s the-- the cover of The Week magazine, which seems to sum up a lot of the anxiety among Democrats--Game Change, has Obama lost his mojo and the election.  I imagine you don’t see this movement toward Romney as being sustainable.

FMR. GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D-MI, Host, Current’s The War Room):  No, I think it’s temporary.  I think that it was a question of Mitt Romney’s style that, I think, got a lot of people looking again, but honestly, when you-- when it comes to this choice that Governor McDonnell has pointed out.  The choice is so clear, and I think the momentum will be slowed, not just by the president’s performance at the second debate, but by the economic numbers that are coming out that demonstrates that there has been clear progress.  When we have got the lowest unemployment rate since the president took office, and you’ve got-- you’ve got a huge boost in consumer confidence, highest in five years, highest housing starts in five years, the lowest foreclosure rate in that amount of time, the number of jobs that have been created.  I think that will seep in.  Now, granted, we’re not arrived at the promise land yet.  No one has said that.  But we’re on the right track, and we can’t go back to the-- to the same policies which Romney has been espousing that got us into this mess in the first place.

GREGORY:  So you see this back and forth.  Tom Brokaw, as you step back and you look at where the race is, we talk about a lot of critical moments, this really is, with two more debates in the last eight days.

MR. TOM BROKAW (NBC News):  Yeah.  We’re moving rapidly to the second and third act to find out how this is all going to play out.  Talking to both campaigns, they thought that-- that the vice presidential race was probably a draw on substance, but the Republicans think that Joe Biden’s kind of over the top behavior helped them because the country is not happy with the division in politics and the lack of respect that one shows to the other.  I don’t know how that plays out.  I have always believed that vice presidential debates are kind of a separate factor.  One doesn’t move the other.  The president has got to be on his game in this next debate.  Or it-- it could slide even more for him.  On the Democratic side, they do think that some of the movement is although overstated at this point.  On the other hand, look at what they’re going to do next week in Ohio.  They’re going to have the big dog and the boss tour.  They’re going to have Clinton and Bruce Springsteen appearing together.  So that’s an attempt to really kind of stop whatever movement there is toward Governor Romney in Ohio, which is going to be a battleground state as it always is.

GREGORY:  You know, Alex Castellanos say sometimes it’s criticism and sometimes it’s fair, that there’s too much focus in these debates on style over substance.  As a substantive matter, Mitt Romney is getting a second look.  And we’re talking about the economy.  We’re talking about the fiscal cliff.   There’s a lot of focus on Libya, which we’ll get to in just a moment.  What do you think Romney is doing with this second look?

MR. ALEX CASTELLANOS (Republican Strategist, CNN Contributor):  I think something big happened in that first debate that’s beyond President Obama not showing up.  And that was that, you know, President Obama hasn’t really been trying to get elected again.  He’s been trying to stop Mitt Romney from getting elected.  And that cracked.  Mitt Romney was not the guy that Barack Obama had been painting for the past few months.  He’s not this radical baby eating, grandma killing Republican, a very reasonable, practical, problem solver.  That campaign collapsed.  So, you know, I-- I think President Obama is likely-- he can’t put out the fireman so he’s trying to break the other fireman’s knees.  Mitt Romney showed up and was a very acceptable Republican.  Barack Obama now has no campaign for the future why he’s indispensably needed.  Now his campaign against Mitt Romney has cracked.  This is a man with two empty holsters.  His campaign could collapse.

GREGORY:  We-- we talked about the vice presidential debate, Mayor.  And a lot of focus here on the vice president and his demeanor.  A lot of liberals thought, hey, he was taking it to Ryan and that’s what people wanted to see, that’s what the president do-- didn’t do the first time.  But then there was the issue of the laugh.  We’ve captured some of that just in video form as you see him laughing at all these different points throughout the debate.  I-- I thought at the time maybe he was watching, you know, something like "Meet The Parents" on the side that was making him crack up throughout the-- throughout the 90 minutes.  John Dickerson from Slate magazine wrote the following, which I thought really captured what we saw.  “In the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden found a way to be both a participant and the guy in the Barcalounger at home yelling at the television.  He interrupted Paul Ryan, moderator Mar-- Martha Raddatz, and even himself with interjections, sighs, and quips.  He appealed to the heavens, he looked to the floor.  With all the activity, he surely shed calories.  When he wasn’t engaged in those antics, Biden laughed and smiled to himself as if Ryan had sold him something illegal that he’d just consumed.  At times his treatment was so dismissive, he seemed only a few threads of restraint from reaching across the table and patting Ryan on the head.”  Does it matter?

MAYOR KASIM REED (D-Mayor of Atlanta, GA):  I think it matters and that I don’t agrees-- I heard all of it, and I don’t-- I don’t agree with it at all.  I think it’s the most manufactured theme for a guy who clearly won the debate among independents.  That’s what counts here, people who are in the middle and who are undecided.  Joe Biden won 51-30.  He dominated the guy.  I thought he offered him an internship after it was all over.  The fact of the matter is he dominated him.  Now people can talk about Joe Biden.  But what I think people like about him is he’s authentic.  The one thing about Joe Biden is you believe what he was telling you.  The only thing we-- we really know about Mitt Romney, this unchanging is that he wants to be president of the United States of America.  At a time when people are craving authenticity, I think Joe Biden delivered for the president.  I thought that he activated the democratic base.  And I think you’re going to see it in this week’s numbers.

GREGORY:  Well, what-- what-- governor, what do you think we learned about Paul Ryan?

GOV. MCDONNELL:  Well, let me first say, Joe Biden is authentic.  And last week he said two things that are really important on every independent voter and undecided voter should remember, one, that the middle class has been buried during the last four years, of course, he’s been in charge the last four years.  Number two, that absolutely Obama and-- and Biden are going to raise your taxes about two trillion dollars over the next couple of months-- over the next four years.  So what I would say is what we learned about Paul Ryan is he is thoughtful, he understands the budget better than anybody else, and that the top issue facing the country is-- isn’t Bain Capital, it isn’t Mitt Romney’s tax returns, it isn’t Big Bird, it’s how do we get the greatest country on earth out of work-- out of debt and back to work.  And when you look at 23 million Americans unemployed, 16 trillion in debt, doubling gas prices, no coherent energy strategy, it’s clear to me that the Romney-Ryan ticket had the only blueprint to get us-- get us out of this mess.  We’re not going to-- a four more years of the same policies, it’s going to get us four more years of the same results.

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  I think what we learned about Paul Ryan was that he is as good as his boss at obfuscating what their plan is.  He could not answer how he was going to pay for this five trillion dollar lowering of the tax rates.  He couldn’t list a single deduction, a single loophole that they would close except he said we would go to Congress.  Now, what they’re saying is that we’re not going to tell you, we’re going to go to Congress and, surprise, we’ll see it after the election. 

GOV. MCDONNELL:  But Jennifer…

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  It’s the same-- it’s the same stuff that there--

GOV. MCDONNELL:  …where’s-- where’s the Obama plan?  He said four years.  He can’t even get a budget passed.

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  Because why…

GOV. MCDONNELL:  Three and half years and the Virginia and the Senate.

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  …why, because you have a-- you have a Congress that has signed pledges not to cooperate.

GOV. MCDONNELL:  The Obama budget was killed five hundred and thirty-five to nothing because it raises the debt by about seven trillion.

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  That is not-- that is not true.

GREGORY:  This issue, Tom, the-- the issue of the debt, the issue of taxes, I think it’s important to get to one of the big issues here.  We have got to in these final few weeks, try to reach some resolution about this revenue issue whether we raise revenue to deal with the debt because whether it’s Medicare or whether it’s dealing with the debt level at the level that it’s at, without agreement on both sides, we’re not going to be able to tackle some of these more difficult issues, Tom.

MR. BROKAW:  You know, I think that both campaigns have failed to say to the American public this is going to be hard.  This is a real crisis in America.  You look at the IMF projections about where the global economy is now.  They’re saying you got to get your act together.  We could be in another recession next year at this time.  They’ve got to level with the American people about everyone’s going to have to give something.  And there is going to have to be some revenue raised at some point as well.  I do think that the governor is right and we’ll expect to hear Governor Romney go after President Obama this time about I want more details about your plan.  You keep harping on me.  I haven’t heard the details in your plan as well.  I looked at that debate that we talked about a moment ago, it was playing last night on C-SPAN, and governor, now President-- now President Obama was saying look, we’ve got a deficit of half a trillion dollars.  I’m going to get that under control.  Well, this week that deficit is 1.1 trillion dollars and it happened on his watch.  He’s going to have to answer for that.

MAYOR REED:  David…

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MAYOR REED:  …we also have a debate-- what we’ve now had two debates with the vice president and president where Mitt Romney and his running mate have said that they will not put new revenue on the table.  And one thing that did come out of the debate between Mitt Romney and between Barack Obama was that Mitt Romney stood by his raising of the hand where he said he wouldn’t take ten cuts for one new measure revenue.  Paul Ryan said the exact same thing.

(Cross talk)

GREGORY:  Well-- well, let me stop you on that point because I would say that-- but that is a fact. 

MAYOR REED:  That’s a fact.

GREGORY:  We-- we-- they are not willing to raise revenue as far as we know except for broadening the base, dealing with some-- elimination of some deductions, but nobody seems to wants to cross that Rubicon in terms of actually raising new revenue.

MR. CASTELLANOS:  But there’s a difference between raising revenue and raising taxes, isn’t there?  You know…

GREGORY:  Right.

MR. CASTELLANOS:  …John F. Kennedy cut taxes and raised revenue because of the growing economy.  The word that Democrats don’t seem to understand is growth and which is what the country is looking for, growth in jobs.  Two very different philosophies.  You now, it’s like a house and I think the-- the Obama strategy seems to be why rich people who are in a nicer room than poor people.  Hispanics are not in as nicer room as Anglos.  Women are not in as nicer room as men and you back up and the house is burning down.  Somebody here needs to put out the fire, grow this economy.  That’s what we’re talking about.  I think that’s what voters are seeing in this debate.  Romney has a plan for growth.  Democrats have a plan to kind of redistribute what we already have.  That’s not enough.

MAYOR REED:  We shouldn’t misrepresent the John F. Kennedy tax cut.  The taxes when John F. Kennedy was-- was president were cut from 91 to 71.  The taxes were skewed towards the middle and lower class.  The tax base was at 91 to 71 for the top margins.  The tax rates for the top earners right now are fundamentally different.  They’re in the mid to high thirties.

MR. CASTELLANOS:  So you’re saying paying on higher classes there?

MAYOR REED:  So-- so radically, wait, wait, wait, wait a minute, wait a minute.  What I’m campaigning on is solving the fiscal crisis.  And you know that if we don’t have new revenue, that doesn’t engage in tricks, the congressional research service says your tax cutting policy hasn’t worked one time.

GREGORY:  All right.

MAYOR REED:  Paul Ryan couldn’t cite an example.

MR. CASTELLANOS:  Can I do a Biden laugh here?

MAYOR REED:  Oh, sure, you can do it.  You look terrific.  You got teeth as good as his.

MR. BROKAW:  So-- so I was just going to say I talked to a lot of major business leaders who want Romney to get elected, but almost to a man and a woman, they say-- but you know what, we’re going to have to pay some more taxes in our category.  What they want to do, however, is to benchmark them against spending cuts so that they can get spending down to 20 percent of GDP.  There’s going to have to be a combination in their judgment.  And these are private business leaders who run big companies, and entrepreneurial people.  And to a man and a woman, they were saying I can afford to pay a little more if I think it’s going to go for the right formulation about getting spending and tax revenue back in line…

GREGORY:  They’re not-- they’re not burdened by these ideological fights.  Often they’ll say look we don’t care.  I want to move to a different issue that’s-- that’s about leadership as well and about foreign policy and it’s getting a lot of traction this week and I think we ought to talk about it.  And that is this issue with how the administration has handled-- handled the attack on 9/11 in Libya.  We’ve seen in this past week, there was testimony on Capitol Hill from the State Department folks saying indeed they had asked for additional security that-- that was not in place in Benghazi at the consulate when our ambassador Chris Stevens was killed.  This came up in the vice presidential debate and Biden answered and then Romney answered the following day based on that answer.  Let me play both of those now and we’ll discuss it.

(Videotape)

WOMAN:  And they wanted more security there.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN (Thursday):  Well, we weren’t told they wanted more security there.  We did not know they wanted more security again.

MR. MITT ROMNEY (Friday):  He’s doubling down on denial.  And-- and we need to understand exactly what happened as opposed to just have people brush this aside.  When the vice president of the United States directly contradicts the testimony, sworn testimony, of State Department officials, American citizens have a right to know just what’s going on.  And we’re going to find out.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  It sounds, Governor Granholm, you have the-- the vice president and the White House saying the next day, well, the request didn’t come directly to the White House.  There were other people who handle all of that.  The White House is saying one thing, State Department another.  The White House saying the intelligence community gave them this information kind of distancing themselves from that.  This was an attack on 9/11 that killed our ambassador.  Is it sloppy the way it’s being handled?

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  Let’s be clear.  First, on the attack on 9/11 that killed our ambassador and three others, the president has launched an investigation to get to the bottom of it and no one is more concerned about tracking down those killers to the end of the earth than the president is.  The investigation and the knowledge of what’s happening is an evolving process.  You don’t know everything on day one what you eventually find out.  That’s why you launch an investigation.  But what was said at the debate is not inaccurate.  There was testimony in Congress asking for more security, but that security that was requested was for Tripoli, which is the embassy, not for Benghazi, which is 400 miles away.  The fact that the Romney team doesn’t distinguish between an embassy and a compound, I think, is indicative of perhaps their lack of information.

GREGORY:  Governor…

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  But let me just say, they have-- the Romney team is politicizing this.  They are politicizing this issue for their benefit and they are-- they’ve got a lot of nerve when the Republicans in Congress actually were the ones to cut three hundred million dollars from the administration’s request for security for embassy protection.

GREGORY:  Governor, is there a larger point here beyond trying to seize on sloppiness or mistakes on the part of the administration a few weeks before the campaign and before the election?

GOV. MCDONNELL:  And I agree with Jennifer, you know, as I think Americans typically when we’re attacked, we rally together.  We don’t use it for political reasons and as a veteran I feel very strongly about that.  However, it does raise a couple of larger questions, you know, specifically is this really about some obscure video on YouTube that caused it or is it about the same people that killed our Americans on 9/11, in other words, al Qaeda.  Were we properly prepared?  Should we even have to worry about a request when-- on 9/11 in the Mid-East in Libya?  Shouldn’t we be prepared anyway?  The broader question really is has this administration’s foreign policy in the Mid-East helped somehow to contribute to an appearance of weakness of the United States of America, less secure, less strong foreign policy, weaker military, so that we’re more susceptible to being attacked and I would say that these sequestration cuts that the president put in place a year ago and his absolute failure of leadership to reverse those-- it's going to cost Virginia 200,000 jobs and weaken the United States military according to Leon Panetta, that’s the broader question.

GREGORY:  But you backed the deal that-- that was part of.

GOV. MCDONNELL:  But that’s not-- hold on-- hold on.

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  Talk to Paul Ryan about it.

GOV. MCDONNELL:  That’s not the issue.  Every-- people backed the deal because the alternative was default of the United States of America.  Everybody believed that the super committee was going to get the deal fixed, I think.  They didn’t.  So now for a year plus since last August, the president has been a bystander.  He could go in there like the House of Representatives that passed a bill last May to be able to reverse some of the defense cuts, put it more on the domestic’s side and he has just failed to lead and now here we are…

GREGORY:  I just want to-- I want to get a comment from you on this, Tom, which is it seems to me one of the challenges for Romney and for Repub-- the Republican ticket on foreign policy, beyond Benghazi, is to say, okay, where does the Republican Party want to go on foreign policy after President Bush and beyond attacking this administration for in their view being weak or not doing a good enough job working its will in a chaotic Middle East at the moment?  Because substantively, whether it’s Iran or Mideast peace for instance or handling Israel, there’s not a tremendous difference on policy?

MR. BROKAW:  Well, you know, the fact is I’ve been working in that part of the world for a long, long time, forty years.  I don’t remember when the Middle East was more unpredictable that it is right now, more fractured than it is right now.  You have got the Arab Spring, young people coming up, you got the Saudis terrified about what’s going to happen next with an aging leadership.  You get back to Benghazi, what has not been addressed enough in my judgment is where was the Intel, where was the American intelligence apparatus not tracking the possibility of that kind of a terrorist attack?  The rest of it has been politicized, but that’s how we ought to be down in the weeds looking at the Intel and how prepared we are in that part of the world.  We are not fighting conventional wars out anymore but we still prepared in a way like we’re going to go to war against (Unintelligible) state.  We’ve got have a complete review of what’s going on in the Middle East, everything politically, culturally and militarily.  And that has not been put in motion by either campaign.

(Cross talk)

GREGORY:  …but respond-- hold on.  Respond to Governor Granholm saying that Mitt Romney has politicized this in the final few weeks.

MR. CASTELLANOS: Well, I think it’s a-- that’s why we have a campaign, is to pick a strong president who can center this country’s foreign policy.  Look, some of this is policy, but some of it is the perception of American strength and strength in the Oval Office.  The world looks at this very bright president, but sometimes sees a man with a temperament more of a judge than a leader.  On the one hand and on the other hand, he weighs everything and sometimes believes in nothing.  He supports Mubarak, he undermines Mubarak.  He says we can’t take congressional action in places like Libya without congressional approval, he does that.  He-- you know, we see him leading from behind which most call following.  And the world sees weakness here and of course they take advantage of it.  So it’s not just policy, it is strength in the Oval Office.

GREGORY:  But one point that Biden made, Mayor, is really calling out Ryan and Romney in that respect but when you hear things like what Alex is talking about, which is that view that there’s weakness, is that what you’re saying you want another war?  And that really seems to call them out and it’s an important question.

MAYOR REED:  All we see right now is Bush-like bluster.  That’s what we see from them.  And it will take us to the exact same place.  This contrast the investigations around the original 9/11 attack.  There wasn’t openness.  There wasn’t transparency.  There wasn’t the kind of honesty.  When you look at what we’re going through right now, as horrific as it is, we are getting the facts out in two weeks.  We’re getting it out very quickly.  And regarding strength, are you kidding me?  The president of the United States through drone strikes and a series of other measures has been stronger than George Bush ever was.  He is the person, whether you all like it or not, who is the person that brought Osama bin Laden to justice.  That’s Barack Obama.  And they may not like his temperament or all of the rest, but Alex has to acknowledge, which way would you want this dealt with?  The president has dealt with this crisis in a transparent fashion.  That’s what matters…

GREGORY:  All right.  More-- more on this when we come back.  I want to get a break in here and I want to talk more about this next debate coming up on Tuesday.  How both campaigns are really positioning the candidates?  The candidates themselves, how they are positioning themselves?  We’ll do that and also talk about what they need to do.

Later on, Stephen Colbert meets the press.

MR. COLBERT:  I also don’t know how Mitt Romney would govern.  He might govern as a technocrat and that sort of seems to have been his career.  As like the guy from Pepsi who comes in to run GM, you know, he can’t tell us what he’s going to do because he hasn’t seen the books yet.

(Announcements)

GREGORY:  Coming up, what to look for in a rematch.  Tuesday’s debate, Obama versus Romney.  The discussion here continues right after this brief commercial break.

(Announcements)

GREGORY:  And we’re back here.  We’re talking about next Tuesday’s debate--Obama versus Romney Round two.  Who shows up, and what are the attack strategies?  If President Obama has called former President Clinton, the explainer-in-chief, it seems like Clinton, who was campaigning in-- in Las Vegas this week, gave a preview of how the campaign is going after Romney now.  Watch.

(Videotape; Tuesday)

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:  I had a different reaction to that first debate than a lot of people did.  I mean, I saw-- I thought, wow.  Here’s old moderate Mitt.  Where have you been, boy?  I missed you all these last few years.  So just show up with a sunny face and say I didn’t say all that stuff I said the last two years.  I don’t have that tax plan I had for the last two years.  Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes here?  Come on.  What’re you doing?

GREGORY:  That last line alone was worth playing the whole clip.  Governor McDonnell, look, the-- the-- the charge is that Romney is in a position where he'll say anything he has to-- to close the deal.

GOV. MCDONNELL:  That’s nonsense.  You know, Bill Clinton said at the convention nobody could have possibly fixed these problems in four years.  I think Bill Clinton said some things he doesn’t believe-- he did it working with Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress.  So I think what you have is the same Mitt Romney, you’ve had for-- for this campaign by saying listen, the president’s tried.  His policies just haven’t-- haven’t worked.  This is a-- this is a serious election about how do we get 23 million people back to work, eliminate 16 trillion in debt, do something about energy prices which have doubled.  Four-thousand-dollar decline in the average American take-home pay, more people on food stamps, one in six in poverty.  That-- that’s not a good record and we can't have four more years like that.  So here are my practical solutions.  And, David, he has laid out repeatedly now for about six months, a-- a five-point plan, dealing with debt reduction and energy and workforce development in trade and small business development that I think are practical solutions and I think that’s what people want.

GREGORY:  But, Governor Granholm, he is signaling some level of pragmatism that I think he wants middle of the road voters to hear?

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  Well, he…

GREGORY:  Why is that, you know, make him two face?

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  Well, I mean, it’s just-- it’s just so amazing.  He is like a human Rorschach test.  Actually, if I switch my metaphor, he’s like a-- a Trojan horse coming in to occupy the city of DC, but inside the Trojan horse are trickled down generals and neocons, the same people who wrote the Bush plan.  And he doesn’t want to-- he’s a good pitchman for sure, and that’s why I think in the second debate it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out because he can sell something.  That’s what sort of what he’s been doing.  But the reality is, who is this man?  And what’s really behind the façade?  You can’t say different things to all these different audiences and expect that people know your core.

GREGORY:  Alex?

MR. CASTELLANOS:  Well, I-- I think it’s kind of funny to hear Slick Willie if we all remember him who was all over the place on everything criticizing Mitt Romney for his inconsistency.  And this president who ran as a candidate that was for pay as you go budgeting, the biggest deficits in history, this president who reviled the Bush tax cuts and their, quote, “cynical philosophy” and then extended them.  This president has been all over the map.  He can’t go there.  The truth about Mitt Romney that I know is that he’s a conservative guy.  Socially, he comes from his faith and his family.  The other part of Mitt Romney, though, is a very practical problem solving businessman, and that’s what people saw in that debate.  Guess what?  We’ve got some real serious practical problems to solve, and I think that’s what makes him very attractive right now.

GREGORY:  Did he-- on the other side of this is how, Mayor, the president approaches a second debate, a third debate, and a second term.  This is a new ad-- part of a new ad that he has.  It’s kind of a closing argument here.  Watch.

(Videotape; Campaign Ad)

MAN:  The president inherits challenges.  Few have faced so many.  Four years later, our enemies have been brought to justice.  Our heroes are coming home.  Assembly lines are humming again.  There are still challenges to meet; children to educate, a middle-class to rebuild, but the last thing we should do is turn back now.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  And yet here The Washington Post just this morning has this editorial and the headline is, “Show me a policy.”  “Mister Obama has yet to say how he would solve the immense problems awaiting the next president immediately after election.  Until and unless he does, the only rationale he can offer voters is the urgency of stopping the other guys.”  That is a challenge for him, isn’t it?

MAYOR REED:  I think it’s a challenge.  I think the president has to step up.  I mean, I think of the first Muhammad Ali fight in 1971.  People thought he was going to beat Joe Frazier.  He got hit in the jaw in the 15th, but, you know what?  He went on to win the second and the third.  History remembers winners.  As it relates to Governor Romney, what we know is we said on this program three weeks ago, 15 days ago, and everybody thought that Mitt Romney was done.  He had a very strong debate performance, but it took the stench of defeat to free Mitt Romney from the far right of the Republican Party.  So, he got to move away because he was in such a desperate position that he got to say whatever he wanted to say.  So def-- defeat and the worry of defeat allowed him to run away from his 4.8-million-dollar tax cut that he wanted to provide.  It allowed him to start claiming parts of President Obama’s health care plan, and the president of the United States has got to stand up and every time sharply address him and not let him get away with it.  He’s a great salesman.  I’d buy a car from him.

GREGORY:  Tom, how do you see it?

MR. BROKAW:  I see it as good for the country.  I think if these debates have re-energized the country.  I think that the two candidates are going to have to have big ideas and they’re going to have to be explained not only coherently but practically speaking.  And they’re going to have to be candid with the American public.  I think that we’ll hear from President Obama as we did not in that first debate a lot more about the 47 percent remarks, about the auto bailout for General Motors.  I think the challenger, Governor Romney, will be saying once again are you better off now than you were four years ago?  Where is that plan?  So, this is good for the country.  And I-- I look forward to it.  Here are some things that we have not we have not talked about.  Not talked about immigration so far.  There has been no discussion of global warming.  There has been no discussion across the country, including in the State of Virginia, public pensions that are unfunded.  And that’s a burning fuse for this country and that’s going to play into the economy downstream as well as municipalities and county governments begin to look for help from the federal government because they can’t pay off whatever they’re going to do.  We’re in for a tough time here folks.  And I think the American public, as I talk to them, want detailed answers and they want candor and they say, hey, look, don’t try to smoke me this time.

GREGORY:  One-- one more on just format.  As I-- as I mentioned…

MR. BROKAW:  Yeah.

GREGORY: …you moderated the town hall format.  This is not mano-a-mano slugfest.  This is different.

MR. BROKAW:  Yeah.

GREGORY:  You’ve got to have some range.

MR. BROKAW:  This becomes very personal.  And it’s tricky for the moderator.  I said that Candy Crowley ought to get combat gear after I went through that four years ago.  And the candidates as we saw on the first debate tend to run over on their own rules.  But does it work for one or the other?  I think it’s a chance for Governor Romney to identify with the common man, the common woman if you will.  If he can do that, I think for President Obama, he’s got to go back to how he was effective four years ago and he has to offer a lot more detail than he has in the last…

GREGORY:  Good comment.

MR. CASTELLANOS:  Well, you know, Mitt Romney has been doing town halls now for five years.

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. CASTELLANOS:  He’s been doing Ask Mitt Anything and he’s very good at this.  President Obama was terrific in this format.

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. CASTELLANOS:  Maybe both these guys are good and we can actually have a debate on substance.  Who knew?  Something could break out here.

GREGORY:  We’re going to take another break.  We’re going to come back with more from the roundtable, including my interview with Stephen Colbert, the mind-- man behind the character, and what he really thinks about the political system.

MR. COLBERT:  There’s an entire industry.  There’s a political industrial complex, that is not only raising money but that is built around making money off of the fact that there is so much money in politics, and that there are almost no rules.

(Announcements)

GREGORY:  And we’re back.  This week I sat down with the host of THE COLBERT REPORT, Stephen Colbert for a rare, behind the scenes look at the man and the character from his office in New York.

(Videotape)

GREGORY:  Stephen Colbert, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. COLBERT:  It is a thrill.  I cannot wait to meet the press.  Bring them in.  Bring all of the press in.

GREGORY:  Let me ask Stephen Colbert, the character--

MR. COLBERT:  Hold on.  Hello.  I am Stephen Colbert.  Go ahead.  Please.

GREGORY:  Wait, give me your sense.  Who has the edge in this race right now?

MR. COLBERT:  Romney, obviously.  Did you see him the other night?  That guy is on fire.  He is on a rocket ride to plausible at this point.  Did you watch?

GREGORY:  I did.

MR. COLBERT:  Yeah.

GREGORY:  It was a strong debate.

MR. COLBERT:  Yeah?  What was it like?  I didn’t see it.  I didn’t see it.  I don’t really watch the news so much.

GREGORY:  You don’t?

MR. COLBERT:  I come in around 6:30 and then I just say the opposite of whatever Rachel Maddow said the night before and I’m usually good.

GREGORY:  What does the real Stephen think?

MR. COLBERT:  What?

GREGORY:  What does the real Stephen think about the race?

MR. COLBERT:  Don’t you yank my chain around.  I’m not your puppet to dance on your string, David Gregory.  The real Stephen-- the real Stephen is actually pleased as a performer that Mitt Romney got his (Expletive Deleted) because I model conservative punditry.  And if he doesn’t have-- if he’s not someone I can follow, then I’m lost.  And I have to say up until Wednesday night, I just thought, I don’t know what I’m going to do for the next month.

GREGORY:  Because why?  Because he--

MR. COLBERT:  He was just a walking, shambling mound of-- of-- of-- of-- of weakness, you know.  Even the people who liked him didn’t seem to be behind him that strongly.  People were, you know, stepping-- stepping out of his boat.  You know, they’re all saying, hey, that’s the guy?  I’ll be right there.  No, I’m just trying the life jacket on right now.  I just want to-- do I have to self-inflate or do I pull the cord?

GREGORY:  And that all changed.

MR. COLBERT:  No, it’s all-- he-- now he’s the man.  Now every-- now he’s got these long luscious coattails and everybody is jumping onboard.

GREGORY:  And is it hard for guests to-- to adapt to you in character?  What do you like to tell them beforehand?

MR. COLBERT:  I say-- I say the-- I say the same thing.  I said it to you when you were on…

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. COLBERT:  …which is that-- listen, thank you so much for coming because I’m grateful.  I know it must be like a-- it's not-- I-- kind of a tough booking sometimes because it’s not like going on Charlie Rose, you know.  You-- you don’t know necessarily what I’m going to say or what I’m going to ask because I’m an active idiot.  And-- and I say to the guests.  I say thank you for coming, have you ever seen the show?  I do the show in character.  He’s an idiot.  He is willfully ignorant of what you know and care about.  Please honestly disabuse me on my ignorance and we’ll have a great time but sometimes they forget.  I mean, I had Senator Bob Kerrey on.  It was 9/11 commission report.  I had him on-- very early on, about four or five months into the show and I said that to him backstage.  And we were about three minutes into a seven-minute interview and I don’t know what I said, but he turned to me and he said what the hell are you talking about?  But in the middle of the interview, I couldn’t explain to him what it was.  So I hope-- and then he just, mic off and then left as soon as the interview was over.  So I hope at some point someone explained to him that I was just fooling Senator and I’m very sorry.

GREGORY:  There’s a course as you well know at Boston University and-- and Professor Rodriguez has a syllabus that we got a hold of that-- that--

MR. COLBERT:  I am actually not familiar with what you’re about to talk about.

GREGORY:  You’re not familiar?

MR. COLBERT:  No.  What are you talking about?

GREGORY:  Okay.  This is the course at Boston University that’s about American satire and it-- and it references heavily THE COLBERT REPORT.  And this is what he describes in the-- in the syllabus.  Colbert satirically exposes hypocrisy with surgical precision inviting us to think more deeply about serious issues and to improve our sociopolitical conditions.  Does that about have it?

MR. COLBERT:  I do not get paid enough.  I didn’t realize I was that brilliant.  I thought I was making the occasional poop joke.

GREGORY:  But what is the-- do you-- do you-- you are a performer, but you also do make a point.  You make a point with your satire.

MR. COLBERT:  Yeah.  I’m a sa-- I’m a satire.  All satirists make points.  A satire is parody with a-- a point.  That-- that’s all it is.  And so if I-- if I was doing satire and didn’t have a point of view, then that would be truly like schizophrenic.  That would be like trying to establish patterns that aren’t really there.  I-- I always have a point of view.  I care about the news.  We do a hundred and sixty meow-meow shows a year, what, a hundred and sixty-one shows a year.  And you can’t do that unless I guess you care a little bit about what you’re talking about or I couldn’t, some people could, but I-- I can’t do that.  And so I’m interested in the news and so people often think that I’m an-- I’m an ideologue or that I have a political intent.  I think that people-- when-- when John and I did the rally two years ago, they thought that I had a political intent.  But I-- I comment on things that are in the news.  I--A--do not imagine that I’m a newsman, I really admire newsmen.  I-- I really enjoy good news and-- and I’m not a politician but I-- I like playing political games to see what really happens in them.  That’s why I formed a Super PAC.  That’s why I ran for president or formed an exploratory committee.

GREGORY:  And what did you expose about politics by the exploratory committee by-- by testifying about immigration on Capitol Hill which some people were critical of or the-- or the Super PAC?

MR. COLBERT:  Well, I think I would-- I would say everyone was critical.  Some people-- you're being very generous.  Everyone was critical of that.  But I would do it again in a minute.  You know, first of all, what an honor to be asked to go do it.  You know, once you’re asked, you know, and-- and to say, well, I’m only going to do it if I can do it in character because I’ve got no business doing something like that, but my character thinks he does.  And through him, I can say things that are hopefully in a more palatable way than-- than I-- I could have.

GREGORY:  But that’s where you’re a performer making a point.  So what have you exposed about politics through those examples we just mentioned?

MR. COLBERT:  Well, and that-- and the congressional one is that congress is like eighth grade recess.  They are so nasty to each other.  And I was just a cajole.  No, I didn’t think that he give a damn whether it was me but they saw me as a way to beat on each other.

GREGORY:  Mm-Hm.

MR. COLBERT:  Or rather Republicans saw me as a way to beat on the Democrats.  And maybe it was a-- a valid way to beat on them, but they sure knew a weapon when they saw one.  The Super PAC was an act of discovery.  I’ll give you that example.  Super PAC was an act of discovery because I didn’t intend to have a Super PAC.  I intended to make a joke about Tim Pawlenty’s unbelievable over-the-top ad, which was like a Michael Bay, you know, voice of God, you know, preaching to America from the surface of the moon, Tim Pawlenty saves our country, and I couldn’t figure out how to end it.  And at the end it just said libertypac.com.  And I said, well, just put colbertpac.com on NVRs.  And that one thing led to another and, including, you know, a lot of lawyers.  And what I found out was-- is that there’s an entire industry in politics but I didn’t know, I suspected.  There’s an entire industry.  There’s a politico industrial complex that is not only raising money but that is built around making money off of the fact that there is so much money in politics.  And that there are almost no rules.

GREGORY:  A lot of what your character does, a lot of what you do through the program, is similar to what you’re talking about the Super PAC.  You expose what’s absurd or what simply doesn’t work about politics and about our institutions of government, which I think a lot of your-- your followers and your-- and your viewers believe.

MR. COLBERT:  Well, I don’t know-- I don’t know…

GREGORY:  That institute…

(Cross talk)

MR. COLBERT:  … I don’t know if I-- I don’t know if I expose it.  But I try to be-- I try to be aspects.  I try to put myself in the news or to embody the thing.  Rather than like Jon does like what’s called pure deconstruction, where he picks apart what’s happened in the day’s news and he kind of lays it out for you like a cadaver.  You know, and like…

GREGORY:  Right.  And he-- and he…

MR. COLBERT:  …but I-- but I-- I falsely reconstruct the news.

Mitt will put the leaders of Iran on notice.

Right.  You know, and so that’s a different way of doing the same kind of job.

GREGORY:  To make a-- to make a point of the absurdity, right?

MR. COLBERT:  Right.  Exactly. Exactly.  And if-- if I do it, and something in the news is doing it, that thing, that real thing, is probably a bull.  Because if I can go out and do it, and-- and it’s happening in the real world, the closer it is to me, the less you should trust it.

GREGORY:  Why do you think so many people think you and Jon Stewart are more effective at exposing hypocrisy, getting to real truths, than the-- than the news media is?

MR. COLBERT:  I don’t know-- I don’t know if that’s the case.

GREGORY:  Well, I think there are certain people who believe that.

MR. COLBERT:  Okay.  That they’re entitled to their beliefs.  I don’t know.  I mean jokes make things palatable.  I would say that.  Comedy just helps an idea go down.  That’s all.  And-- and it’s-- and just makes you listen for a minute.

GREGORY:  We-- we’ve been talking some about the-- the absurdity of politics...

MR. COLBERT:  Uh-huh.

GREGORY:  …the political discourse.  So here comes your new book.  Well, see…

MR. COLBERT:  About damn time.  I mean the QVC guys are coming in here in a minute.  We’re going to sell my book along with serpentine chain necklaces.  Order now and you’ll get one.

GREGORY:  But this goes right to what you’re talking about in-- in this campaign.

MR. COLBERT:  Yes.

GREGORY:  America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We-- We Never Weren’t…

MR. COLBERT:  Yes.

GREGORY:  …at a time when that you write about America’s perfect, now we should change it.

MR. COLBERT:  We have to fix it.

GREGORY:  We have to fix it.

MR. COLBERT:  America is perfect and we have to fix it.

GREGORY:  Right.

MR. COLBERT:  Okay.  Because-- because America is an exceptional country.

GREGORY:  Why did you have to have a book by the way?

MR. COLBERT:  What?

GREGORY:  Why-- why write another book here?  I mean, you’ve written others.

MR. COLBERT:  You obvious-- you obviously haven’t read it if you have to ask that question.  Hey, Homer. "Iliad" was good.  Why write "The Odyssey"?  Hey God, why two testaments?  One was fine.  Really?

GREGORY:  No, but you…

MR. COLBERT:  Wow.

GREGORY:  …well, you felt you needed this

MR. COLBERT:  You’ve already found someone to marry you, right?  Because you are rude.  I understand.  Okay, please.

GREGORY:  You felt the need-- you felt the need to re-- write this.

MR. COLBERT:  Yeah, because, well, I don’t know how things are going up there in network town, but down in America, the USA, people are hurting, David Gregory and this thing-- this book has commonsense answers to people’s problems, you know.  This-- this tells you how to find a job.

GREGORY:  Does the outcome of this election change anything significantly?

MR. COLBERT:  Well, sure.  Sure.  I’m not Ralph Nader.  You know what I mean?

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. COLBERT:  I-- I don’t think that there’s no difference.  There-- there is a difference.  I-- I don’t know what the difference is though, because I think that there are-- there-- I think there is a possibility that Obama would be, say, more aggressive-- a more aggressive reformer or changer in the-- in the second act of his presidency, and I don’t really know how-- I also don’t know how Mitt Romney would govern.  He might govern as a technocrat.  That sort of seems to have been his career, as like the guy from Pepsi who comes in to run GM.  You know, he can’t tell us what he’s going to do because he hasn’t seen the books yet.  But we don’t know because he seems absolutely sincere as a moderate and he also seems pretty sincere as a severe conservative.  So that’s not a dig.  It’s act-- it’s honest confusion because he’s got a good shot of winning.  And if he does, I hope he’s a good president.  And-- and if-- if Obama wins, I hope he keeps some of the promises he didn’t keep the first time.  But I have no idea how it changes for us.  But I know there’s got to be a difference between these two men, or-- or we’re all part of a huge cruel joke.

GREGORY:  Stephen, any thought of running for political office yourself?

MR. COLBERT:  No, no.  Absolutely none.  I have said terrible things with a straight face on camera.  Can you imagine the political ads that could be run against me?  Can you imagine?

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  Stephen Colbert.  The full interview on our website, meetthepressnbc.com. 

Mayor, you know, the interesting thing about him, his comic genius, his work ethic, and his credibility as a satirist, what is the-- what is the lesson, frankly, that politicians should take away from the reach that a Colbert has and that a Jon Stewart has?

MAYOR REED:  First of all, you deserve combat pay for that.  That was a tough assignment.  But what I would say is authenticity.  People want authenticity on both Republicans, independents, moderates, that’s what I hear.  And the people who’re going to breakthrough in the future are the ones that people believe.  When they-- when you say something, they believe what you say.  That’s why Tom Brokaw is who he is.  And that’s why his voice is so valued.  I’m happy to meet you.  But I think that’s what people want.

GREGORY:  Tom, you know-- you know both Colbert and Stewart well.  And, I mean, their-- their impact is real in terms of shaping opinion, particularly how young people view the political process in government.

MR. BROKAW:  Jon came to me when he first started this.  I barely knew him.  He was a stand-up comic at the time, and he said do you think the country is ready for it?  I grew up with a tradition of Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce.  And they’re great political satirists of that time.  And what I always thought is that they brought people into the arena.  And what these two do so brilliantly is that they cut through the hypocrisy and they say, hey, wait a minute, on both sides.  And they do play it pretty much down the middle.  You know-- you know, both partisan groups will say, hey, wait a minute, they’re more unfair to us than-- than the other one, but they have lifted the idea that this is the greatest arena that we have, our political arena.  And young people are now engaged in it.  I’m not troubled by young people saying, hey, I think that’s where I get my news, because in fact they do get some news from that.

GREGORY:  Mm-Hm.

MR. BROKAW:  You know, they roll the tapes.  They-- they point out the differences between what they said yesterday and today.  So I-- I never miss them.

MR. CASTELLANOS:  And in a country-- in a country that’s atomizing itself into…

GREGORY:  Yeah.

MR. CASTELLANOS:  …into just splinters and pieces, we want things that bring us together.  And one of the functions of humor is that when we smile at the same things and laugh at the same things, guess what?  That means we look at the world the same way.  Right now, they’re-- that function used to belong to politicians who’d bring us together.  Now it belongs to humorists.

GREGORY:  I want to ask both of you governors here with a little over a minute left, Governor McDonnell, moving beyond that back to the big showdown we’re going to see on Tuesday, what’s decisive here?  Not just in the debate but in the final weeks, not just whether it comes down to the economy.  As-- as voters look at these two men, what’s going to make the difference?

GOV. MCDONNELL:  Practically, it comes down to about seven states and maybe it’s seven percent of the voters in those states.  That’s the way the math works out, including in Virginia.  But I think back to the great comments that were just made, people are hurting, and that’s what Stephen Colb-- Colbert was trying to say in a-- in a humorous way, want to make them laugh a little bit.  So people are going to say, who has got the uplifting vision that at the end of the day it’s not just going to be a rhetoric but how do I make life better for me, my family, whether it’s my gas prices, my job, my daily living.  Who really understands my middle class problems and is going to-- going to make it better?  How do we make the great generation that Tom Brokaw wrote about, how do we get that spirit of American exceptionalism back into the-- the consciousness of the American people?

FMR. GOV. GRANHOLM:  I-- I think it’s encapsulated in the vice presidential debate, when Joe Biden looked at the camera and said, who do you trust on these issues to fight for you?  If people trust that-- that person is going to go to bat for them, and I think the decision will be clearly in the president’s favor, frankly.

GREGORY:  All right.  We’re going to leave it there.  Thank you all very much.  Watch-- much to watch for here on Tuesday and beyond.  Stay with NBC News for a full coverage of the big showdown this Tuesday night.  Obama versus Romney, the rematch.  It all starts at 9:00 P.M. Eastern.  I’m going to join Brian Williams and our NBC News team for full analysis.  And remember it’s just a few days later, the following Monday, that we have that final debate with a focus on foreign policy.  So a lot to watch for, 23 days away and it all comes down to this.  That’s all for today.  We’ll be back next week.  If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.

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