The all-important midterm elections are just a few days away, with control of the Senate up for grabs. Ahead of Tuesday's vote, we'll get the Republican party's closing arguments exclusively from former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
David Axelrod and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa defend President Obama's economic record
Written by Chris Wallace / Published September 02, 2012 / Fox News Sunday
Special Guests: David Axelrod, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Sunday," September 2, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: I'm Chris Wallace.
The Republicans make their case. Now, it's the Democrats' turn here in Charlotte.
Can Barack Obama recapture the magic of his convention four years ago? We'll discuss the plan for this week with David Axelrod, top strategist for the Obama campaign. It's a "Fox News Sunday" exclusive.
Then, how will Democrats defend the president's economic record? We'll ask the convention chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Plus, the Romney/Ryan ticket takes its convention momentum on the road. We'll ask our Sunday panel if they've been able to shift the dynamics in the campaign.
All right now on "Fox News Sunday."
WALLACE: And hello again from Fox News, today in the Queen City, Charlotte, North Carolina, site of the Democratic National Convention.
Our Fox News skybox is high up in the Time Warner Cable Arena, home of the pro basketball Charlotte Bobcats. Starting Tuesday, the first two days of this convention, and happy Labor Day weekend, everyone.
Well, this holiday used to signal the start of the fall campaign, both sides have been hitting each other hard for months. As Democrats prepare to nominate Barack Obama for a second term, we are joined by top strategist, David Axelrod.
And, David, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."
DAVID AXELROD, TOP STRATEGIST FOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN: Thanks, Chris. Good to be with you.
WALLACE: Anyone who is at that Democratic convention in Denver four years ago remembers the magic there, the sense of hope and endless possibilities. How do you recapture that magic this week?
AXELROD: Well, I'm glad you have such warm memories of that convention, Chris, first of all. I share them.
I think we are going to have a good week in Charlotte. Our party is -- we don't have the problems that the other party has. We're not divided. We don't have to worry about, you know, what people are saying on the side or about their affection for the president or -- we don't have those problems and we don't have the reinvention convention.
We are a unified party. We believe strongly that we have to move this country forward around policies that lift the middle class, that that's how you grow the economy, and we're going to point the way to the future this week and everybody is very excited about it.
WALLACE: But at the Republican convention, Mitt Romney said the president's real problem is his record. And let's take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Every president since the Great Depression who came before the American people asking for a second term can look back at the last four years and say with satisfaction, you're better off than you were four years ago -- except Jimmy Carter, and except this president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: David, can you honestly say the average American is better off today than four years ago?
AXELROD: Here's what I can say, Chris -- I can say that we're in a better position than we were four years ago in our economy in the sense that when this president took office, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. The quarter before he took office was the worst quarter that this country has had economically since the Great Depression, and we are in a different place, 29 straight months of job growth, 4.5 million private sector jobs.
Are we where we need to be? No. But the problem with what Governor Romney said is for three days, they never offered anybody a plausible alternative. He spoke for 45 minutes and never really offered real ideas for how to move the economy forward, for how to lift the middle class and in that sense, I think his convention was a terrible failure.
They -- he never talked about the principle planks of his own plan. He never talked about his $5 trillion tax cut skewed to the wealthy, never talked about turning Medicare into a voucher program.
There are so many things that he didn't talk about. And people walked away, those voters who are trying to decide, and they said, what alternative exactly is he offering?
WALLACE: But you keep talking about Romney. I'd like to talk about the Obama record and I want to put statistics up on the screen.
Unemployment was 7.8 percent when the president took office. It's now 8.3 percent.
Median household income was almost $55,000. It's now less than 51,000.
Gas was a $1.85 a gallon when he took office. Now, it's $3.78, almost doubled.
National debt was $10.6 trillion and it may go past $16 trillion this week.
So, just looking at the president's record and those statistics, David, is the average American better off than four years ago?
AXELROD: Chris, as I said to you before, I think the average American recognizes that it took years to create the crisis that erupted in 2008 and peaked in January of 2009. And it's going to take some time to work through it.
So, you know, you say I talk about Mitt Romney. I keep talking about Mitt Romney because all Mitt Romney does is it talk about Barack Obama. And this election is a choice.
What you're going to hear this week in Charlotte is a president who is going to present a clear agenda for the future talks, that talks about how we build a sound economy and lift the middle class in this country. You didn't hear those kinds of things from the Republican Party. Their platform was locked up in the same vault as Mitt Romney's tax returns. They simply don't want to talk about their ideas, because their ideas are not ideas about the future. They are derivative of what we did in the last decade, that brought our economy to its knees.
WALLACE: But, David, again, going back to the president's record. He's the one seeking reelection. He famously said, if I don't turn this thing around, I'll be a one-term president. The economy has 300,000 fewer jobs, net-net, 300,000 fewer jobs now than in February 2009.
AXELROD: Every single month for the last 29 months, I've heard Republicans give that talking point, and every month, that number gets smaller and smaller, Chris, because we gained 4.5 million jobs in the last 29 months.
But let's talk specifically about you say -- are people better off? I think those autoworkers whose industry would have collapsed if the president hadn't intervened are certainly better off. I think that the millions and millions of young Americans, young Americans, who have health care today, who wouldn't have had it if the president hadn't acted are better off.
I think the millions of people who had been able to renegotiate their mortgages so they are paying lower interest rates are better off.
So, there are plenty of people in our economy who had been impacted in a positive way by the decisions that the president has made. But we have a lot of work to do. And, remember, this is not just about reclaiming the jobs we've lost. It's about reclaiming the economic security that the middle class has lost over a long period of time.
And we're not going to do that with another multitrillion dollar tax cut for the wealthy. We're not going to do that by turning Medicare in a voucher program.
So, that's the choice the American people are going to face on November 6th and it's one I think that will resolve in the president's favor.
WALLACE: Well, as everybody always said, it's a cliche, elections are all about the future. So, let's talk about the future and what is the president offering, his economic plan to jumpstart the economy and to get more jobs created.
Let's put it up on the screen.
Cut payroll taxes in half, $140 billion for new construction and to hire teachers and first responders and $62 billion to extend unemployment benefits and to train workers.
Question -- how many jobs will that create?
AXELROD: Well, the estimate that the independent analysts have given is that it will immediately give us a million more jobs. But the point is that we need to take those steps in the short run to accelerate the recovery. But we also need to take steps to grow the economy in the long run.
The question is, do we do that by cutting taxes for the wealthy or do we pay down our deficit and invest in things like education and training, research and development and innovation, clean energy technology, infrastructure -- the things we know we need to grow the economy.
The president has a balanced plan for the long term, as well as the plan for the short term.
Governor Mitt Romney has neither. Moody said if we enacted the Romney plan, that it would actually ratchet down the recovery in the short term and would balloon our deficits in the long term. And his plan, according to the Bookings Institute, would actually raise the tax burden on the middle class by $2,000.
This is not a prescription for building a stronger economy.
WALLACE: But, David, again, I want to focus if we can on the president's plan. According to Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's, it would create 1.9 million jobs. According to a survey I think 24 economists by Bloomberg, it would create a quarter of that, about, 250,000 jobs, actually an eighth of that. You know, that's about a 100,000 jobs a month or less, which is nowhere near even keeping up with the population growth.
The point is that they are making is that this doesn't really solve the unemployment problem at all and I think you'd be hard pressed to find anybody that would say increasing taxes on the wealthy -- I mean, maybe a good answer for the deficit. But it isn't going to jumpstart the economy.
AXELROD: Well, first of all. That's 100,000 on top of the growth we have. We are already creating on an average of 100,000 jobs a month. We are talking about on top of that.
But -- and most of those folks who -- all the analysts suggested it's something that we need to do. We need short term plan, but we also a long-term plan. The president has a plan that would reduce the deficits by $4 trillion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office and still allow foreign investments in those things that we need to grow the economy.
Governor Romney has no such plans.
WALLACE: David, let me -- let me -- David, let me pick on that and I ask you --
AXELROD: Then it's clearly, clearly, you should go with the person who has a plausible plan.
WALLACE: David, let's talk about that plan, when does the president balance the budget?
AXELROD: Yes. I know, this is the question that Paul Ryan couldn't answer about the Republican budget. The president's plan would do what the Simpson-Bowles would do, which is cut the deficit by $4 trillion, reduce it under -- our debt -- our deficit to under 3 percent of the gross domestic product, which is what everybody agrees, we need to stabilize the debt. And then with growth, we'll be in the position to begin reducing it further.
So, you know, we have a plausible plan here.
WALLACE: But David my point is, the Congressional Budget Office --
AXELROD: Let me just say one thing about this, Chris -- go ahead. You'd make your point and then I'll make mine.
WALLACE: All right. Well, it's not a point, it's a question. The Congressional Budget Office, nonpartisan, says that the president's 2013 plan never balances the budget. They also say that he does nothing to deal with long-term structural problems of entitlement.
So, if you talk about long term dealing with our economy and our debt, the president never balances the budget.
AXELROD: Chris, as I said to you. We agree with Simpson and Bowles and others who have looked at this. What's necessary is to stabilize the debt and then work from there.
You can't balance the budget in the short term because to do that would be to ratchet down the economy. We just have a discussion about what's needed --
WALLACE: Never is not short term. Never is not a short term and --
AXELROD: Go ahead.
WALLACE: The Simpson-Bowles, that was your presidential commission and you ignored it.
AXELROD: Yes. Well, I notice that Congressman Ryan made that point in his speech without mentioning that he was on the commission and voted against it, and why did he vote against it, because it called for tax cuts -- tax increases on upper income Americans --
WALLACE: No, David. That's not why he voted against it.
WALLACE: Listen, it's a fair point that he didn't mention it. But that isn't it why. But the point is, it was the president's commission and he let it die on the vine.
AXELROD: His party took another position. But -- he didn't let it die. Chris, it helped shape his proposals. He's got a plausible, credible $4 trillion plan. The Congressional Budget Office has said it was a plausible, credible plan. Everyone agrees if it were enacted, it would have a very positive impact. We would stabilize the debt.
And the reason it won't pass is because the Republican Party and the Congress, what Mitt Romney supports, they won't raise taxes on anyone in this country including the super wealthy even by $1. They are not credible on the deficit.
Paul Ryan stood on that platform and he looked up at that deficit, at that debt clock, and he made no mention of the fact that he voted for every single one of the policies in the last decade that are at the root of the explosion of the debt -- two unpaid wars and unpaid tax cuts and unpaid Medicare prescription drug program.
They have no standing to talk about deficits and their plans today would explode them in the future -- $5 trillion of tax cuts Mitt Romney wants, $2 trillion more in defense spending, and no credible plan to offset those cuts. So, they can talk about being bold. They can talk about facing up to these problems. They just don't do it.
WALLACE: Listen, I can go back at you and I'd love to do it. We are running out of the time.
I want to talk just a little politics now, not issues.
WALLACE: The tracking polls, there aren't many of them, seem to show that Mitt Romney got a three to five-point bounce out of his convention according to one poll. He's now leading by three points, he was trailing by two.
What does your polling show in terms of the bounce the Republicans got?
AXELROD: I don't see. I don't really see any bounce, Chris. I actually -- no, I haven't seen numbers this morning, but throughout the week, I saw absolutely no movement, and I don't think there would have been because people are looking for answers. They were looking for solutions and what they got were snarky attacks for the base and bromides for the base.
And so, I think people walked away unsatisfied from that convention. I think the race is exactly where it was before they walked in and now it's our turn.
WALLACE: And in less than a minute, where is this race now?
AXELROD: I think we have a lead in this race. It's a slight lead. It's going to be a close race. I think we're ahead in all of these battleground states. There are slight leads in those battleground states. But I'd much sooner be us than them.
That said, we expected a close race. We're going to have a close race, we're doing everything that we can to make our case to the American people. And Charlotte is gong to be a big part of that.
WALLACE: David, thank you so much. Thanks for talking with us. And we'll see you down the campaign trail.
AXELROD: Look forward to it. Look forward to it.
WALLACE: Up next, the chairman of the Democratic convention, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
We'll be right back from Charlotte.
WALLACE: And we are back now in the Fox News skybox in the Time Warner Arena here in Charlotte.
The mayor of one of the nation's largest cities will have a big role this week.
Joining us now, the chairman of the Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Mayor, welcome to "Fox News Sunday."
MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, CHAIRMAN OF THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION: Good to see you again, Chris.
WALLACE: You may be the chairman of the Democratic convention. But you like to say and I'm going to read the quote, "You take on stupid wherever it exists."
So, what's stupid about Mitt Romney and the Republicans?
VILLARAIGOSA: I don't want to describe either Governor Mitt Romney or the Republicans as stupid, but I will say this -- if you look at their platform, the 2012 platform, it looks like it's from another century and maybe even two. It looks like the platform of 1812.
When you see that they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, providing 32 million people with health care, with no alternative plan of their own. They call for the self-deportation of 11 million people. No country in the world has ever done that. They don't believe in abortion, even in the case of rape and incest.
It's a platform that's from another century.
WALLACE: I just want to point out, it doesn't matter, that Romney does support the exception for rape and incest.
But since you say that you take on stupid, wherever it exists, what's stupid about Obama and the Democrats?
VILLARAIGOSA: Again, if I was going to call Romney and the Republicans stupid, I'm certainly not going to call the Democrats and President Obama stupid.
But I will say, I think there are some Democrats that don't want to address pension reform. I have taken on the issue of seniority and tenure. I think we have to address entitlements and the president has done that in his budget.
I think we have to extend Medicare and the president has done that. But also reinvest in that program.
WALLACE: He doesn't have any major entitlement reform?
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, he has made it absolutely that he's prepared to work on a bipartisan basis to address things like Social Security even though --
WALLACE: But he's had four years to do that.
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, every time he tries to work with them, they listen to Senator McConnell.
VILLARAIGOSA: What does Senator McConnell say? His number one issue is to block the president, is to stop him --
WALLACE: But in fairness, for the first two years, he had a filibuster-proof majority in Senate and the big majority in the House.
VILLARAIGOSA: And for the first two years, he was dealing with the biggest recession and worst hemorrhaging of jobs since the Great Recession.
Look, you're not going to get me to say that Democrats don't make mistakes. We do. I mentioned two areas -- pension reform and seniority and tenure. I've done both -- I've advocated for both. I've advocated for -- seek for reform as well.
We're not a homogeneous party, anymore than the Republicans are. But we are a party that I think has a plan to take us forward.
And if you look at the Republican plan, it's a plan that want to resurrect the Bush tax policies and economic policies that got us here in the first place.
WALLACE: All right. But let me interrupt for a second.
VILLARAIGOSA: You can interrupt as much as you want.
WALLACE: Put aside Romney and the attacks on Romney for a second. Let's just talk about the president's record. He is seeking reelection. There is his record, his economic record.
Eight-point-three percent unemployment, 23 million Americans out of work or unable to find full-time jobs, $5.3 trillion added to the debt.
Why does a president with that record deserve reelection?
VILLARAIGOSA: Because he's also created 4.5 million jobs. More jobs during his tenure than all the jobs created during the Bush administration. Why? Because he's got a plan to cut $4 trillion in the next decade out of our deficit. He's got a plan to extend Medicare by eight years. He's got a plan that will say let's take taxes on the top 2 percent of America back to where they were under President Clinton when he had an economy that generated 23 million jobs and importantly, that started with deficits and ended with surpluses.
WALLACE: OK, you talk about addressing the long-term problems. Let's take one example. The president appointed his own commission, Bowles-Simpson commission, which came up with a bipartisan plan to take $4 trillion out -- came out with its recommendations, the president ignored the recommendations and let them die. You said, if you would have been a member of Congress, you would have, quote, "absolutely voted for Bowles-Simpson," the president took a past.
VILLARAIGOSA: Actually, as president of the Conference of Mayors, we passed the Simpson-Bowles plan as a template, as a template, as a frame work for moving forward and the president has done the same.
But let me just say something, because you talked about the Republican convention. You know, Mr. Ryan raised that as well. What he didn't say is, he was a member of that commission and didn't vote for it.
WALLACE: I understand. It's the president's commission and he did nothing with it.
VILLARAIGOSA: What the president has done, he's also cutting $4 trillion out of this deficit. Now, he's not cutting --
WALLACE: But in a way that Republicans are going to never buy. This other plan had bipartisan support.
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, actually, he didn't have Mr. Ryan's support and you are right.
WALLACE: Or other Republicans.
VILLARAIGOSA: It wasn't exactly reflective of Mister -- or it did have Republicans and had Democrats as well, not enough of them. It should have had a unanimous support for it as a frame work, not for everything in it. And what the president has done, he's adopted $4 trillion in deficit cuts in the next 10 years. What he didn't do is he didn't want to cut defense as much.
And he actually went beyond them in terms of tax cuts to the middle class. He doesn't want to cut taxes for the middle class. He'd prefer closing tax loopholes and importantly, allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for the top 2 percent.
WALLACE: Let's turn --
VILLARAIGOSA: Because we believe that you got to build the economy from middle out and not from the top down. You know, Bush 41 called that voodoo economics. And this is voodoo economics on steroids, Chris.
WALLACE: Reagan had a better growth rate and a lot lower unemployment than Barack Obama.
VILLARAIGOSA: Reagan would be turning in his grave to hear some of the words that come out of the people at the Republican convention --
WALLACE: I wonder how he would feel about this group.
VILLARAIGOSA: He wouldn't be too happy.
WALLACE: OK, let's turn to the Hispanic vote, which may play a key role in this election. Here's what you said about the Republican convention. "You can't just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect people are going to vote for your party or your candidate."
But the Republicans have two Hispanic governors that spoke in the convention. The Democrats have none. Senator Marco Rubio who introduced Romney is one of the rising stars of the Republican Party. That's more than tokenism, sir.
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, first of all, let me be absolutely clear, I said in the make up room that I thought Susana Martinez and Marco Rubio gave the two best speeches of the convention. Marco Rubio was exceptional. I was never directing my comments toward him.
I was directing it toward -- in fact, he actually agreed with me. The only thing he said is, if that applies to Republicans, it also applies to the Democrats. And I don't disagree with that.
The difference between us that he has a party platform that calls for the self-deportation of 11 million people. They didn't just have Susana Martinez and Marco Rubio. They also had Kris Kobach, the author of the Alabama and Arizona laws. They trotted out Sheriff Arpaio. They were prominently there as well.
So, when you have the kind of rhetoric that they have, that scapegoats and demonizes immigrants into the way that they do, when they say --
VILLARAIGOSA: -- they are going to repeal the Affordable Care Act, just so you understand, 9 million of the 32 million people that will qualify for the Affordable Care Act are Latinos.
WALLACE: OK. But you talk about the rhetoric. Let's talk about the economic record of the president when it comes to Hispanics.
Unemployment among Hispanics is now 10.3 percent. It hasn't been below 10 percent for Hispanics since this president took office. And when you include discouraged workers, unemployed and underemployed, it's 19 percent for Hispanics. That's a record to run for reelection?
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, what you didn't say -- and I'm not contesting your numbers. But what you didn't say is that his policies also brought 2 million Latinos out of poverty. A hundred -- his policies making it easier for kids to get student loans, allowed 150,000 kids to get a college education. So, yes, this is the worst economy since the recession. We've created more jobs. We had 29 straight months, consecutive months by the way, of private sector job growth, 4.5 million jobs, we still got to do a lot more.
According to Moody's Analytics, if we keep down this path, we'll create another 12 million jobs in the next four years.
WALLACE: That's what Mitt Romney says he's going to do, too.
VILLARAIGOSA: Moody's Analytics said it about us. That's where he got the numbers.
Four years ago, Obama got 67 percent of the Hispanic vote. McCain got 31 percent. What do you think it's going to be this time?
VILLARAIGOSA: I think it's going to be closer to 70 percent. It's somewhere between 67 and 70. I just don't see them getting many, much more beyond that.
I do agree with this, that we've got our work cut out for us. This is going to be a very close election. We've got the most comprehensive and deep ground effort than we've ever seen.
In fact, this convention is not only going to be the most diverse, open and accessible. It's also going to be a working convention.
WALLACE: Why do you think this is going to be a tough election?
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, it's going to be a tough election for a lot of reasons. One, the country is evenly divided, and has been for a long time.
Two, we had a banner year in 2008. Obviously, we're not going to have that kind of year this time around.
They've got a lot of money. They are raising a $1.3 billion, you know, in these super PACs that engage in super smears.
And so, we are going to have our work cut out for us. I think in the end, we're going to win.
WALLACE: Mayor, we're going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you.
VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you.
WALLACE: Thanks so much for joining us. Good luck this week, sir.
VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you, Chris.
WALLACE: Up next, President Obama campaigns his way to Charlotte. We'll ask our Sunday group what he and his party have to do here to boost their chances for another victory in November -- as we continue from the site of the Democratic National Convention.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What they offered over those three days was more often than not an agenda that was better suited for the last century.
Yeah, it was a rerun. We'd seen it before.
You might as well have watch it on a black-and-white TV.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: President Obama at a campaign stop Saturday offering his review of the Republican convention.
And it's time now for our Sunday group, Brit Hume, Fox News senior political analyst; Kirsten Powers of The Daily Beast website; Bill Kristol from The Weekly Standard; and Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times.
So President Obama's big challenge this week may not be how he compares to Mitt Romney in Tampa, but as I suggested to David Axelrod in our first segment, Brit, how he compares of Barack Obama of Denver in 2008. Is that possible?
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: No, I don't think that's possible. This is going to be, I suspect, a very different kind of convention. I mean, I'm sure there will be an attempt to have some uplift and some -- and sense of hope for the future, but, you know, the president is burdened in this by his record, as your entire interviews with both David Axelrod and Mayor Villaraigosa indicated. And, as you noted, in both cases, particularly in the case of David Axelrod, it always came back to an attack on the other side.
And I think that is going to be a big part of what we hear this week. And I think a central argument that you will hear from many of the speakers, perhaps from the president himself but certainly from Bill Clinton, is that all the Republicans want to do is take us back to the policies that got us in this mess before.
I don't -- you know, there's a lot wrong with that argument, perhaps, but I think it is perhaps an effective argument and I think it's one that the Republicans have not yet found a way, really, to counter.
WALLACE: Kirsten, Is hope and change and the promise of Denver 2008 dead?
KIRSTEN POWERS, THE DAILY BEAST: No, I don't think so. but I think it will be a very different convention, obviously. Obama already is talking about the Republican convention as a rerun, that, you know, you've lived through this before; you don't want to go through it again is what he just said on his latest campaign stop.
And I think that there will be a lot of that but also a lot of laying out what he wants to do in the next -- in his next term.
And I think that they also will -- I've heard, at least -- are going to focus a lot on foreign policy because that's an area where he is very strong and has a lot of approval. And while it's not the issue that Americans are necessarily voting on, it does really reinforce the fact that people see him as a strong leader.
And so I think that we'll probably see more of that than perhaps people are expecting.
WALLACE: You know, Bill, we're talking about the attacks by the Democrats on Romney, and I'll get back to that in a minute, but let's talk about the Republican attacks on the president and how they have to deal with it.
Because what's interesting to me, in Tampa, that the Republicans didn't attack Obama so much as they shared the disappointment of people who voted for Obama four years ago and don't feel they got what they hoped and expected that they would get.
How big an issue is that for Democrats here, to deal with the disillusionment of Obama voters?
BILL KRISTOL, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think the Democrats and I think President Obama personally will say that he understands people's disappointment. He shares a little bit of their -- feels their pain, to use Bill Clinton's term, that things haven't quite improved as much as they should have, but -- but he will say they're better than they were in September, October 2008.
I very much agree with Brit that Republicans perhaps have underestimated -- well, we'll see if they have or haven't -- the potency of that argument by President Obama, that, you know, things haven't been great the last three and a half years.
If he were a little less vain, he might do better to, sort of, acknowledge that he's made mistakes -- as Mayor Villaraigosa was willing to do about the Democratic Party -- acknowledge he's made some mistakes but say, "What was the worst moment, Mr. and Mrs. Middle- class America, of your adult lifetime? September, October 2008, when it looked like we were just going off a cliff. And who was president then and who had control of Congress for most of the decade? It wasn't me; it was George Bush and the Republicans."
I think that is a strong argument for them to make. It's a backward-looking argument, but it gives him then the permission to say "I haven't quite improved things as much as I hoped, but it's a lot better than the alternative," if the alternative is a backward-looking -- if they can characterize the alternative as back to Bush...
WALLACE: Jeff, how -- from your reporting, how concerned are they in Chicago, the headquarters for the Obama campaign, about -- because I'll tell you, the Republicans were focused entirely on the Obama voters who are now on the bubble. How much of a concern is that group, that voting bloc and the disillusionment they feel?
JEFF ZELENY, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think it's a central concern. And the Chicago headquarters, they're focused on those Obama voters, too. I mean, they are trying to motivate much more than persuade people.
But I think one thing that President Clinton is trying to do is, sort of, take that permission slip away that Governor Romney was trying to give people to, you know, you liked President Obama four years ago; you supported him; here's your permission to vote against him.
He's going to try and say, look, everything is not as rosy as it should have been, but stick with him. So if you look in the suburbs of some of these cities, the suburbs around Columbus, Ohio and Cleveland and Cincinnati, these suburban women, these independent voters, Chicago is paying extreme attention to them. And even here in North Carolina, it's all the Obama voters who are at the center of this here, though.
But I think the president is going to probably do his best humble act that we've seen -- and we'll see how much that is -- but, I mean...
WALLACE: Humble act from Barack Obama?
ZELENY: I mean, we'll see how successful he is at that, but...
WALLACE: What do you mean humble?
ZELENY: Humble by saying, look, I was not able to do everything I hoped to do. I think he's going to try and make these Democrats feel better about themselves and to give him a chance for four more years. We'll see if it works or not. But I would think there will be a little bit of humility. We'll see how much humility he has in his veins.
I'm not sure the answer to that question.
WALLACE: Kirsten, you know, as you saw from my interviews with Axelrod and Mayor Villaraigosa. There is the Obama record. There is a weak recovery. There is continued unemployment over 8 percent. The national debt is going to exceed $16 trillion this week. How do they handle that? Do they ignore it?
POWERS: Well, I think that they could do a much better job. Frankly, looking at David Axelrod, he has had some successes, and they don't really talk about them. I mean, he alludes to the auto bailout. But I think they need to talk more about the specific things that have gone well. They need to talk about the fact that a majority of economists say that, without the stimulus, we would -- we would be in worse shape than we are.
You know, I do think it matters to talk about where we started out. I don't think they should belabor it. I don't think they should even mention George Bush's name. But they should remind people that he has dug us out of a pit, that we are on the right track, and you don't want to change horses midstream.
That -- and basically, you know, if you go back to the Republicans, you're going to go back to exactly what you had before. Do you want to do that or do you want to keep moving in the direction that we're moving in?
HUME: I think that constitutes a significant challenge for the Republicans because it's not easy to ask people who voted one way just a few years ago, making a significant change, to say -- to say to themselves, gee, I made a mistake.
You know, there's some Republicans who voted for Obama. I don't think he's going to get any of them this year, to speak of, almost none. But among centrist voters and among independents, you know, these are the -- these are the people who will decide this election, and you're asking them to admit that they made a mistake and to turn in another direction.
But if the argument is made that this isn't really a new direction, that this is just back to the same old policies that polls show people think brought us into this under President Bush, that really does helps the president.
Now, look, there's a lot of things wrong with that argument. There's a lot of things wrong with the idea that, you know, Barack Obama dug us out.
HUME: The truth is, the worst of the recession was over by the time Barack Obama took office.
The economy began to grow again in June of 2009, before the stimulus spending had really begun to take effect. So these are arguments that are available to the Republicans. Oddly, though, we haven't heard them made very effectively, so that leaves this open for the president to...
WALLACE: Bill, how tough do you expect the attacks here on Romney to be?
And where do you expect them to come from?
What will they hit hardest?
KRISTOL: Well, that's a very good question. You know, it wasn't the theme two weeks ago. "Republican war on women" -- they were just hammering that, both in paid advertising and in speeches by senior Democrats. I don't think I heard that phrase from Axelrod or Mayor Villaraigosa.
WALLACE: And why not?
KRISTOL: Well, I wonder. I wonder if that was, a little bit of a, you know, (inaudible) and the base loves it and they have -- they spent a week or two doing it, and then the polling showed no one really believes the Republicans are waging a war on women.
The Republicans, sort of, half-believed that it was a threat. They certainly rolled out a ton -- the theme of the Republican convention was we love women; we're not engaged in a war on women. I wonder if that was a little bit of misdirection by the Democrats or they perhaps reconsidered...
KRISTOL: And it seems to me they're going to go with the middle -- the economic argument. Taxes -- you're cutting taxes for the wealthy and you're not doing anything for the middle class. That's going to be their core argument, not the social issues, I suspect.
WALLACE: The thing I want to finish up on, on this, Jeff, President Obama's speech Thursday, obviously, is the headliner, but I think a close second for a lot of us, at least, is Bill Clinton's speech on Wednesday. What do you expect him to say and what does, in that never-ending soap opera, what does it say about the relationship between President Obama and President Clinton?
ZELENY: It's the most fascinating part of this. I mean, if President Obama was in better shape, there's no chance that Bill Clinton would be speaking in such a prime slot on Wednesday evening. Look at Vice President Biden. He's, sort of -- he's introducing the president, sort of, on Thursday.
But Bill Clinton has to be loving this. I mean, he is needed again by his party. We know what he's going to say, since it's already playing on television ads throughout battleground states and here in North Carolina. He's going to, sort of, give his seal of approval, or try to give his seal of approval, to this president on the economy.
But all of that may not matter. Because Friday morning, nine hours after President Obama gives his speech, the new jobs report comes out. So that is going to bring reality back into this campaign.
WALLACE: We're going to pick up on that. We have to take a break here. But, when we come back, how did the Romney-Ryan ticket do at their convention in Tampa and have they shifted the dynamics of this race?
We'll get some answers when we come right back from Charlotte.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: He made a lot of promises, and I noted that he didn't keep a lot of promises.
One of the promises he made was he was going to create more jobs, and today 23 million people are out of work or stopped looking for work or underemployed.
Let me tell you, if you have a coach that's 0-23 million, you say it's time to get a new coach.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: That was Mitt Romney Saturday, pressing his attack on President Obama's record these last four years.
And we're back now with the panel.
Well, there hasn't been much polling since the Republican convention, but the Rasmussen tracking poll indicates a modest Romney bounce. Let's take a look at that if we can. A week ago he trailed the president by two points. Now he leads by three points. Brit, what do you make of that?
HUME: Well, I'll you one thing about that is that the Ryan announcement pre-convention spent some of the force that you would normally get.
I mean, you think of a convention that had a huge bounce. One of the biggest I've ever seen was four years ago, when the Sarah Palin announcement and her performance into and in the convention gave the McCain team an inestimable lift and propelled them into a significant lead, completely stepped on the bounce from the Obama convention.
I don't -- this convention, of course, goes first. If Ryan had been announced on the eve of the convention, gave the speech he gave, I think that the effect of it would have been -- would have been bigger. But I think he got a little help -- they began to come up a bit in the polls after Ryan, so part of it was spent.
And the other thing is that the coverage now is so diminished in the length of time that it's on everywhere. I mean, 10-11 is one hour a night, really. And the convention was shrunk to three nights and so on. So I think, you know, we're in a new age here, where convention bounces may not be what they used to be. We'll see.
WALLACE: That's what I was going to ask you, Kirsten. I mean, particularly now and since 2004, this has been the case, where you have the two conventions one right next to another, with three days, not a month, separating them.
Is the whole idea of a convention bounce outdated?
POWERS: Yeah, it's somewhat outdated, but the average is about five points. So this is around what you would have expected. This is a very, very polarized electorate, also. So I wouldn't have expected a huge bounce, anyway, because most people already, kind of, know where they are.
But Reuters found that there was an increase among independents from 34 percent to 45 percent in terms of Romney's likability, which is not an insignificant thing. That really was his key goal in this -- this convention, was to convince people that he was more likable. People already think he's competent. So in that since, I think it was successful.
WALLACE: Which brings me, Bill, to the question, what did Romney need to do in Tampa and to what degree did he succeed?
KRISTOL: I think they did what they thought they needed to do. And the question is was their theory of the race right? Their theory was, A, we could afford to make this a backward-looking judgment of the four years.
The quote we just played, you'd fire the coach if you were 0-23 million.
I mean, you don't need to make that much of an affirmative case for the new coach. You just make -- re-litigate and make clear to people that Obama has been a disappointment. They did a pretty good job on that.
I thought that they should do more of a forward-looking emphasis on the next four years. They thought -- they're comfortable with -- with making -- asking voters to pass judgment on the last four years and -- Kirsten's right -- just reassuring people about Mitt Romney.
If you talk to the top Romney strategists, they use that word an awful lot. We have to reassure voters about Mitt Romney. He doesn't hate women. He's a likable guy. He's a generous guy. The Republican Party is diverse. That's enough, plus the case against Obama.
That's their theory of the race and they had a convention that fit with their theory of the race. If you believe -- and I am more inclined to this other belief that you need to actually convince voters by making a positive case for the Romney-Ryan ticket, there was much less of that.
WALLACE: Exactly that point, did -- do you believe that he reassured voters that he offered a credible, reassuring alternative for a president? And is that enough?
ZELENY: I don't think we quite know at this point. It takes a while to settle in. But the reporting I have done, talking to Democratic strategists and the Obama people who are focus-grouping the Romney speech, they believe that his introduction of himself, all these personal qualities, you know, from the speech on Tuesday with Mrs. Romney giving, you know, a powerful testimonial, all the way through, they believe that it's sort of filled in Governor Romney in a positive way. But those same people said that we are not exactly sure what he is going to do. So I think that remains an open question. I think Bill may be right. If the Romney campaign over the next 65 days or whatever it is doesn't add something more to it and what more will he do, I think it may be a problem for them. But in the short term, the Chicago headquarters, David Axelrod said what we said, but people believe it was a fairly successful convention from the standpoint of introducing Mitt Romney a little bit more, humanizing him. I think he came out of Tampa as a more broader, more humanized figure, if we can use that word, humanized.
WALLACE: You can use it.
ZELENY: I'm kind of sick of that word, humanized, but was sort of the theme of what they were doing.
HUME: I'm sick of humanized, too. Imagine if people think the guy is an armadillo or something, I mean, it's ridiculous. But there was one other thing the Republicans were trying to do, particularly with the speakers leading up to Romney. You saw this in Christie, you saw this in some of the governors that spoke, you certainly heard this from Paul Ryan. And that was to address this disillusionment people have about whether things can be fixed. Which is greater than I think we have ever seen. And remember, the line Ryan repeated, we can do this, we can do this, which is striking. And I think that was something that they felt was a burden on them, because if you are going to ask people to make this big switch to the party that they just voted out of power a few years ago, you have to believe that that party and the country can turn this thing around.
WALLACE: I want to go back, Jeff, to something that you brought up in the last segment, and we are -- I got to tell you that we had an argument about this during the commercial. That's what we do during commercials. And that is that Friday, the jobs report comes out for August, and this is one -- the second to last report that we're going to get on the state of the economy before the election. How big a deal is that, and to what degree does that either muffle or enhance the bounce that the Democrats get out of here?
ZELENY: I am not sure if it affects the bounce, per se, but I think if a political convention sort of creates its own weather system. Everyone sort of leaves thinking, oh, that was such a great speech. That pops the balloon a little bit. I was talking to a Romney adviser this past weekend. I said, 12 hours later, the president gives -- after he speaks, the job reports comes out. And this aide said, it's nine hours later. So the Romney campaign is very focused on this jobs report number.
I think there would have to be some dramatic shift for it to make much of a difference, but it pops the balloon and it changes the news coverage, at least for that Friday. But it's the reality of what is really happening in the campaign. So that Friday number is important. I am not sure it changes things, but it sort of brings everyone back to ground level.
KRISTOL: The Romney camp certainly believes that. They believe it is about the economy and above all, about jobs. Mitt Romney used the term "jobs" 25 times, I think, in his acceptance speech. He didn't mention Afghanistan, he didn't mention the troops, didn't even thank the troops for their service. He mentioned debt once, deficits twice, didn't mention the Supreme Court. A lot of important issues out there in American politics. They decided -- and again, this was a self-conscious, very conscious tactical -- strategic, really -- decision. We just got to make it about jobs. Obama hasn't produced. We can produce. In my view, it is maybe a little narrow for a presidential message, but that was their decision.
WALLACE: Bill, why didn't they -- because they obviously must have known that they were not doing it and they were going to get attacked on it, why not mention Afghanistan and the troops?
KRISTOL: I guess the war is unpopular, and it raises the question of how would Mitt Romney really do things differently. Would he keep us there longer? People -- voters apparently don't--
WALLACE: But why not even say, you know, this is a president who's given our exit strategy to the enemy, or something, that everybody agrees, at least in the Republican camp, is a mistake.
KRISTOL: Why not say at least a sentence of our gratitude for the young men and women who fought over there in Afghanistan and Iraq. I think that was a mistake.
POWERS: On the jobs numbers, I think it is a little overstated, the effect. I think people are much more in tune with how they feel about things. They don't need anybody to tell them that jobs -- there are not enough jobs. They already know that. And one thing I wouldn't underestimate is Bill Clinton's speech. It is actually the most anticipated speech, more than even Obama's or Romney's was, according to Pew. And I just wouldn't underestimate that good housekeeping seal of approval from Bill Clinton and the effect that it has on so many voters.
KRISTOL; Good housekeeping, you know?
HUME: That is so remarkable. Because you look at these two presidents, who took the early trajectory of their early administrations were quite similar. Big health, big ambitions, leftish health care programs introduced. In Clinton's case of course it never passed, and then a big washout in the midterm election. And Bill Clinton made the opposite decision of how to react to that from the one that Barack Obama has made. Bill Clinton made a big turn to the center, worked with the Republicans, made concessions like (inaudible) budgetary and tax matters, all the things that Barack Obama had the opportunity to do and has refused to do. And then Clinton, by this time when he was up for reelection, the economy was moving. And it was not moving as much as it would soon come to, but it was really -- it was really pretty strong, and he won reelection overwhelmingly. It was nothing like the kind of trouble that this president is in for reelection. And my sense about this is that I trust that people will notice that these presidents took entirely different courses, and I suspect that it will certainly be pointed out.
WALLACE: Fifteen seconds, Jeff. How much do you think Bill Clinton's approval washes over and helps Barack Obama?
ZELENY: I think it helps a little bit in places like Ohio. If you look at what he did in '08, Obama, he expanded the map. We'll see if he can speak to some of those voters who are unsure about him. It is anticipated, no question.
WALLACE: We all are anticipating it. Thank you, panel. See you next week. Don't forget to check out panel plus, where our group picks right up with a discussion on our website, FoxnewsSunday.com. And we'll post the video before noon Eastern time. And make sure to follow us on Twitter @foxnewssunday. And I will be back with a personal note.
WALLACE: Finally, I have a sad personal note. My stepmother, Mary Wallace, died yesterday. She was first married to my father's close friend and legendary producer Ted Yates. When he was killed during in the 1967 war in Israel, Mary went into television and became the producer of "Face the Nation." In the '80s, she and my father found their way to each other and were married 26 years. Mary died less than five months after my dad.
And that's it for us today. We'll see you back at our home base in Washington next "Fox News Sunday."
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