Swing state governors talk entitlement reform; top political operatives talk campaign strategy

Written by Brit Hume / Published July 15, 2012 / Fox News Sunday

Special Guests: Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa, Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., Karl Rove, Joe Trippi

This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Sunday," July 15, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRIT HUME, GUEST HOST: The race for the White House intensifies as President Obama and Mitt Romney trade charges over who best can run the country.

(MUSIC)

HUME: We'll talk battle ground state politics and the impact of health care reform with two influential governors, Rick Scott of Florida and Terry Branstad of Iowa.

And then, campaign strategy. We'll talk with Karl Rove, the so- called architect of two presidential victories, and Joe Trippi, who redefined running for president in the Internet age.

Also, are the Obama campaign attacks on Mitt Romney's time at Bain effective? We'll ask our Sunday panel if the latest round of negative ads is working.

All right now on "Fox News Sunday."

And hello again from Fox News in Washington.

From the changing of welfare reform work requirements to implementing the new health care law, there is concern in some key states where the 2012 presidential election could be determined.

Joining us now are governors from two of those, Rick Scott, who comes to us from San Francisco, and Terry Branstad of Iowa, who's attending the National Governors Association meeting in Virginia.

Welcome to you both, gentlemen.

Let me start with this question that steered so much interest at the end of the week, which is a new -- a set of new possible waivers by the federal government of work requirements under welfare reform. This would appear on the surface to be simply a case of the states getting some more flexibility in how they administer the work requirements for receiving welfare benefits.

Let me start with you, Governor Branstad. How do you see these waivers? Some people are saying that it's going to gut the law.

GOVERNOR TERRY BRANSTAD, R-IOWA: Well, unfortunately, I think this is a huge step in the wrong direction.

I was governor along with Tommy Thompson from Wisconsin, John Engler from Michigan, when we worked with the administration back when Bill Clinton was president, to get the welfare reform passed, to move it from an entitlement program to a program that focused on job training and work. And we helped to move millions of people off of the welfare rolls into permanent employment. We reduced the cost of welfare and Medicaid as a result of it. It was very successful.

And now, we see this administration trying to gut it. I think it's illegal because it is in the law. I don't think they have a right to waive it. I know Tommy Thompson is saying he's thinking about suing them over it. I think it's absolutely wrong and a move in the wrong direction. The focus needs to be on helping people to move from welfare to work, not making people permanently dependent on the government welfare program.

We know that didn't work back in the '70s, '80s. And, finally, we changed it in the '90s. This program has worked.

It's absolutely a terrible step in the wrong direction.

HUME: But, Governor, isn't it unusual for a Republican like yourself to be arguing that the federal bureaucrats in Washington, with the rules they have laid out for this, know better than the governors in the states across the country and their subordinates about to how best to implement the law?

BRANSTAD: Well, actually, the governors are the ones that wrote the law in the first time. We're the ones -- I mentioned, Tommy Thompson, John Engler, you can talk to those governors that helped to pass this law and we saw it work effectively in our states. Welfare rolls went down substantially. We helped a lot of people moved to a higher standard of living and more opportunity.

And this guts it. This goes back to the kind of entitlement mentality, and that's --

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: Well, Governor, they haven't limited the work requirement that there be activity underway that lives to it to work. They are simply allowing the states to have more flexibility in how to implement that, aren't they?

BRANSTAD: Well, I would like to see more flexibility on the Medicaid program. I chair the health and human services committee for the national governors. We'd like more flexibility instead of these maintenance of effort requirements that the federal government has imposed us on Medicaid.

HUME: Governor, forgive me --

BRANSTAD: If you want more flexibility, do it under Medicaid.

HUME: I'm going to -- I'm going to come to Medicaid in just a moment.

Let me turn to Governor Scott.

Governor, how do you see this adjustment in the government's rules -- federal government rules on the work requirements for welfare?

GOVERNOR RICK SCOTT, R-FLA.: Well, Governor Branstad is right. I mean, first off, it'd be great if they gave us more flexibility on Medicaid, because that's just killing our state's budgets. With this, I mean, personality responsibility is very important. In our state, unemployment -- the number of people on unemployment in the last 18 months has gone from 568,000 to 321,000. And part of it is personal responsibility. People need to be going out and looking for a job.

If we -- we don't want people to stay on welfare. We want them to get back to work and that's what governors want. We want our states all busy and more jobs.

HUME: But, Governor, aren't you now in a position with the flexibility granted to you by the federal government to set the welfare to work requirements pretty much however you want it done?

SCOTT: Sure. We'll look at this, but we're going to keep the responsibilities in our states. I mean, I just wish they'd do this for everything. Do this for Medicaid.

Medicaid in our states is growing three and a half times our general revenues. Give us more flexibility on Medicaid. Give us a block grant. That's what they ought to be doing.

But this, we believe in personal responsibility and we're going to continue to have personal responsibility in our state. We want people to go look for a job and get back to work.

HUME: I assume, Governor, you'll do the same thing in Iowa -- keep the requirements similar to what you go, correct?

BRANSTAD: Absolutely. And I've got Chuck Palmer running the Department of Health and Human Services for us again. He helped me. And he ran it back in the '90s when we were able to dramatically reduce the welfare rolls and keep Medicaid under control.

Medicaid is growing dramatically in every state.

HUME: Let's talk -- let's talk --

BRANSTAD: And it's a program that we can't continue to afford.

HUME: Well, let's talk a little bit about Medicaid. The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government cannot require you to take on additional Medicaid patients in order to get the new money that would be available for that. You now have the flexibility to say no to that.

What are you going to do, Governor?

BRANSTAD: Well, first of all, think of this -- the federal government has a $16 trillion national debt, 40 cents of every dollar they're spending is borrowed money. And what they want to do? Add another 15 million to 17 million people to the Medicaid rolls. It's unaffordable, unsustainable at even the federal or state level. And if we buy into it, then we have a maintenance effort requirement and when the federal government can't afford to do it, the burden gets dump on the taxpayers of our state.p>

HUME: So, what are you going to do?

BRANSTAD: What we're doing is -- well, I've already embarked on a goal to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation. We are working in a public-private partnership with private sector businesses like Wellmark, our the largest health insurance provider and with Hy- Vee, our largest supermarket chain, identifying ways to help people do health risk assessments and identify how they can reduce their risk factors.

And so, our goal is to partner with the communities, partner with the private sector to help reduce the health care cost. Not buy into a government program that's unaffordable and unsustainable.

HUME: So, you're not going to accept -- you're not going to expand your Medicaid program the way the health care reform law contemplates and, therefore, you're not going to get the extra federal money that at least for a while goes with it, correct?

BRANSTAD: Well, our concern is the federal government can't afford it and we don't think that the state of Iowa can do it. And I think if you look at it realistically and you look at what they ought to be doing, and quit digging in a deeper hole, we've got to reform this whole entitlement programs.

At the health and human services committee yesterday, we talked about things that can be done to manage the Medicaid better instead of expanding it. So, that's what I want to do. I don't want to embark on something that's unaffordable.

HUME: Governor Scott, what are you going to do in Florida about this?

SCOTT: We've got the same concern. The federal government can't afford this. We can't afford it. It doesn't make sense to do this expansion.

What they ought to be doing is -- what they ought to be doing is creating more choice, creating more competition. Give individuals the same tax breaks as employers so you own your own policy and reward people for taking care of yourself. Those are thing that help people to get back to work. So, they can afford their own health care.

This is -- this is just another government program where the federal government will run out of money and they'll put it on the states again.

We can't afford in Florida. Medicaid in our states is growing at three and half times our general revenue. And it's a big program. It's over a $20 billion program. We can't afford it.

Now, what we're doing in our state with Medicaid is we're going to statewide managed care program. But even with that, we are waiting on the federal government for a waiver.

So, you know, give us the flexibility to fix our Medicaid program but don't force us into a program that the federal government we know can't even afford.

HUME: Governor, you are knowledgeable about this as a former hospital executive. Hospitals are saying now what you're required in most states by law to accept whatever patients arrive, whether they have insurance or not, that if you don't have Medicaid expansion, uninsured people are going to continue to turn up in large numbers in hospital emergency rooms, expecting and by law required to get treatment. That money is going to come out of the people who do have insurance or out of the hide of the hospitals.

So, if you don't expand Medicaid, what are you going to do about that problem?

SCOTT: Well, the way to fix that is what we've already proposed -- we are waiting for a waiver from the federal government -- is a Medicaid expansion across the state where the Medicaid population will be taken care by managed care organizations which will help make sure they get to a primary care doctor, or get to a special, so they don't end up in emergency rooms.

That's the way to fix it. Don't take money from the federal government that we know long term they're not going to be able to give to us.

HUME: All right. Let me turn to one question. Let me start with you, again, Governor Scott.

I was looking at the latest Florida poll on the presidential race shows, it's a pretty -- it looks like a poll of 800 likely voters and it shows a very slight, well within the margin of error lead for President Obama.

One wonders about this. This is a state that the president carried by a small margin against John McCain four years ago. It's a state with an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent unemployment. That's 4/10 of a percentage point above the national average. It's a state where you have a lot of elderly people who are presumably one age group that tends to favor the Republicans in the race.

Why is it that President Obama is doing so well in Florida?

SCOTT: Well, as you said unemployment rate come down dramatically. And we had the largest drop in the last 18 months of any state but one. But this race is going to be just like my race in 2010. It's 100 percent on who's got the right jobs plan.

I think President Obama is going to get hurt unless the economy continues to get better. I think Governor Romney, if he has the right jobs plan, he gets his message out, he'll be the winner here. It's going to be about jobs, who's got the right plan for jobs.

HUME: Governor Branstad, the state of Iowa suffered less than many states in the economic meltdown. The unemployment rate I guess got as high as 6.3 percent is down to 5.1 percent. That's well below the national average. President Obama, in current polling averages out in Iowa -- we can perhaps take a look at one of those polls, yes, here were go -- is enjoying a 2.5 percentage lead. That's a Real Clear Politics average of a number of polls.

It strikes me that this state looks like a tough state for Governor Romney, wouldn't you agree?

BRANSTAD: Well, Obama carried it by 10 points last time. But he campaigned as somebody who's going to unite people and he's been the most divisive president. So, there's a lot of independents that voted for him last time that really feel betrayed. They feel that he has been -- he spends all of his time attacking other people.

Contrast that with Ronald Reagan. When Ronald Reagan ran for reelection 1984, his theme was "Good Morning in America". He talks about the things he's doing to revitalize the American economy and revitalize the American dream and reducing taxes and regulations. That's what I'm doing as governor. That's what Republican governors are doing all over the country.

Contrast that with Obama and his Illinois friends. He's from Chicago, and the Democrats control Illinois. What have they done? They've got the highest debt of any state in the country, per capita.

HUME: I know. But you don't.

(CROSSTALK)

BRANSTAD: We don't.

HUME: Your state is doing better, doesn't that help the president?

BRANSTAD: It helps Republicans because they can see with a Republican governor, we've turned it around, so has Wisconsin, so has Michigan, so has Indiana. But Illinois hasn't.

And Illinois is following the Obama rule of raising taxes on corporations and individuals and driving and attacking the very people that you need to invest and create jobs.

In Iowa, we're doing the opposite. We're reducing taxes and regulations.

HUME: Let me ask you both very quickly, one question. And that is the Obama campaign has mounted a very pretty intense attacks on Governor Romney on his record of Bain Capital and questions of whether he was still there when outsourcing was allegedly being done and so forth.

Does it appear to you now; based on the polling we're seeing with president ahead even in states like Florida and certainly in your state, that those attacks are having some effect, Governor Scott?

SCOTT: I think -- look, I think it's going to come down -- what Governor Romney needs to do is just keep talking about the plan he's got to get our economy back to work. When you go to the polls, and you decide in November, it's going to be -- who's going to help me get my job back? Who's going to help me keep my job? They're not going to worry about some attack on Bain. They're going to worry about who's got the right jobs plan.

HUME: All right. Governor Branstad, your thoughts on that?

BRANSTAD: Well, it's pretty pathetic when the president of United States, instead of running on his record -- as Ronald Reagan did with "Good Morning America" -- is spending his time attacking other people, attacking Romney, attacking the entrepreneurs and the businesses that we need to have the guts to invest in great jobs and grow our economy.

That's what Republican governors are doing. That's why our states are doing better than states like California and Illinois where the Democrats are continuing to raise taxes and regulations. That's the wrong direction. We need a new leader and new direction I feel.

At the end of the day, when the American people look at the choice, obviously, Romney with his experience in background in the private sector and having rescued the Olympics is a better choice than the president and incumbent --

HUME: All right.

BRANSTAD: -- it's the blame game. And that's the wrong thing to do for the president of the United States.

HUME: All right. Governor Branstad, Governor Scott, thanks to both of you for your time.

Up next: two political heavyweights debate the accusations against Mitt Romney and the harsh attacks flying from all sides out on the campaign trail.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUME: Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital was the focus this week of an intense back and forth on the campaign trail. Here's what President Obama said Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Whereas my opponent in his private business was investing in companies that The Washington Post calls pioneers of outsourcing. I believe in in-sourcing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: And here are some of the ads out by the Romney campaign that challenges the president on that point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: When a president doesn't tell the truth, how can we trust him to lead?

The Obama outsourcing attacks -- misleading, unfair and untrue. There was no evidence that Mitt Romney shipped jobs overseas.

Joining us now to discuss all of this are two top operatives with years of experience running presidential campaigns, Karl Rove, founder of the big Republican super PAC, American Crossroads, and Joe Trippi, who among other things was Howard Dean's campaign manager. Both are Fox News contributors.

Gentlemen, welcome.

JOE TRIPPI, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Good to be here.

HUME: All right. The question that seems to be raised by these Bain attacks is, of course, whether they are having an effect and whether they're eroding Mitt Romney's standing with the voters. And secondly, whether the Romney camp is wise to hold back as it has with its spending on ads at this stage.

Karl, your thoughts.

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, let's go to white board. These attacks begun on May 15th with ad from the Obama campaign. And they've continued ever since. On May 15th, the Gallup poll had the race at 45-45. We're now two months.

HUME: It's got 45-46.

ROVE: I'm sorry, its 45-45, I'm sorry.

HUME: That's quite all right.

ROVE: Corrected right there, 45-45. And in mid-July, last Friday, the race is 46-46. So --

HUME: That's nationally. Isn't it the case, Karl, that some of these swing states, you see the president ahead. He's ahead in Virginia in some polls. He's ahead in Florida.

ROVE: But we're talking about, has it had an effect? If you take a look at it, the movement since April 11th has generally been in the battleground states towards Mitt Romney.

ROVE: Virginia has tightened up. Florida has gone from Obama with a lead outside of the margin of error to essentially dead even.

And national polls have essentially showed this race is dead even. If there was going to be a big effect, we'd see it.

Now, I do think that this is not something to be dismissed. Right now, there is not big movement available to either candidate.

HUME: Why is that?

ROVE: Well, because are spending -- people are not feeling like they need to make a decision and the voters are up for grabs in the election. Independent voters are spending lot less time paying attention to politics and a lot more time paying attention in their lives.

Now, later on in this fall, the question would be whether or not this information becomes a part of their calculation when it comes to their vote.

HUME: Joe, your thoughts?

TRIPPI: Well, I think, what's shocking to me is how unready the Romney people seem to be for this attack. They had to know that these documents existed, that say that he was the CEO and chairman and sole shareholder of the company.

HUME: what we are talking about is the claim that Romney has repeatedly made, that he left Bain capital with a leave of absence in 1999 to go run the Olympics. We know he did go run the Olympics.

TRIPPI: Right. And --

HUME: Documents thereafter however filed with the SEC continued to show his name as CEO and sole owner of the company, suggesting that while he was doing the Olympics, he may also have been active with Bain.

TRIPPI: Exactly. In the defense of the ad, is that he wasn't there when all of these bad things happened.

HUME: Right.

TRIPPI: And so, one, we don't know what the affect of this last week is. We haven't seen data. But I suspect we may look back at this and say, why weren't they ready?

Why hasn't he released -- you know, why hasn't Romney released the minutes of the meetings during the Bain Capital's meetings during the three years or something? Something proactive to say this isn't true. This isn't right.

HUME: Your view then that these attacks are now have had an affect?

TRIPPI: Yes, I -- my own view is look, is I think this is really hurting Romney right now. I don't think --

HUME: Where do you see the evidence in polling or elsewhere?

TRIPPI: I haven't seen it. I'm talking about, as somebody who's been in a presidential campaign. You can't let this stuff go unanswered. You've got put the proof in the facts out there. I don't think -- it doesn't seem like they are ready to do that.

This is an attack that Newt Gingrich did in the primaries. They're just seemed to be flatfooted with it. I don't know why -- but that's how it seems.

HUME: Karl?

ROVE: Two different attacks. We just talked about one, which was that he didn't take a leave of absence to go run the Olympic Committee and continue to run Bain. Total baloney. Even The Washington Post said that this was baloney.

The fact of the matter is, look, when Steve Jobs was the CEO of Apple and took a leave of absence of medical reasons, nobody continue to say, well, you're the guy who's making the day-to-day decisions. Romney was busy running the Olympics. And they were for this particular attack.

I agree with you that they weren't ready for the earlier attack on the six companies that Obama raised up and said these companies all outsource jobs. It took them a week to respond to say four of these companies didn't outsource jobs, move a single job overseas. They created jobs at home and two companies were brought by Bain after Romney left.

But the fact of the matter is, if the president continues to make this charge, this outrageous charge his campaign had that Mitt Romney is guilty of felonious activity, who committed a felony, that's a big mistake.

Remember who's up for grab in this election, independent voters. They were drawn to Obama in 2008 because he was going to change politics and raise and elevate the political discourse.

This is gutter politics which Chicago (INAUDIBLE).

TRIPPI: This is it a trap that they set for Romney. I don't think he is a felon. I don't think he did anything that was a felony or perjury. I don't believe anybody in the Obama administration or Obama campaign believes that.

But if you're going to come back as hard and say I'm not, I didn't, then you saw Romney fall into this trap and there was nothing wrong if I had been the CEO and chairman and actively managing the company. And that means he's bought all of the stuff that was wrong, the outsourcing and some of these companies that they invested in. Some of them are going to create problems with the base when the ads are run that shows what these companies were doing.

So, I think he's really been caught flat footed and stepping on both sides look like flip flopping -- all of the things people question about Romney. The Obama campaign has set the trap for him and he's falling into it. I really believe that.

ROVE: Each one has a challenge and has a problem. The president's problem is he is not the candidate of 2008 that won the support of American people. He's a cheap Chicago pol taking attacks that even The Washington Post and other news organizations are saying are misleading, unfair and untrue.

The problem for Romney is he can't get stuck in the mud -- in the gutter with Obama.

HUME: That's a trap.

ROVE: Well, wait a minute. There's a way out of the trap, which is to refute and flip. And to say, this is unfair, untrue, third party sources say this is wrong. The president is untrue, unfair, misleading.

And why is he doing this? Because his policies have failed us on getting the economy going and bringing down unemployment.

HUME: Let me get to a broader question. And that is this -- Romney has held back out of his campaign coffer spending and some money he has that he can't spend unless general election officially begins and so on.

But what we really haven't seen from the Romney campaign is kind of an introduction of him, reintroduction of him to the voters who are perhaps not paying attention to the Republican primary season. And in the meantime, you have, as Joe has pointed out, this intense effort to define him by the Obama campaign.

Isn't it a possible and isn't it a risk that the Obama team will succeed in defining Romney in a way, and you see it in some of the polling, where people think he's out for himself and so forth, you see that in some of the polling, that he's more out for himself than he's trying to fix the economy and so forth -- that he will be defined in a way that is indelible by the time he finally gets around to trying to reintroduce himself in the convention or whatever.

Your thoughts, Karl?

ROVE: I don't agree. I do think there's plenty of time for him to define himself. He faces a conundrum, though. One of the best ways to define yourself is to describe what it s you'll do. The more he describes now what it is he will do when he becomes president --

HUME: Do you think he's doing that enough?

ROVE: I don't think he is. But I understand there's a very serious question here. How much you lay out now, because people in the news business, you lay it out now, by Labor Day, they'll say that's old news. And right now, remember, we've had this sort of intensive attack as you say. The intensive attack hasn't had an impact.

So, what they are trying to make a decision about is, how much they hold back and lay out later and how much do they lay out now in order to keep the developing image of who Romney is.

HUME: Joe?

TRIPPI: Look, I think he's -- two mistakes. They haven't defined him.

And I think they need to do two things. One, refute these things -- I mean they're not releasing tax returns, not releasing the minutes of the Bain meetings. I mean all these things that could put all this stuff to rest, or is there's something they're hiding?

That's going to be something the Obama campaign continues to push. And if Romney waits and waits and waits and finally caves to the pressure and release these things, that's going to create a bigger problem as people are looking at who they're going to --

HUME: Now, what are the risks on the Obama side? He's spending a lot of money. His burn rate is huge. He's got a gigantic campaign structure. He's got offices I guess now in every state. He's going through an awful lot of money. He's frantically raising money everywhere.

You think there is a risk that he overdoes it early and doesn't have enough left late?

TRIPPI: Well, I think there's two things. I think they didn't see this race broadening out in as many states, as it's broadening out --

HUME: The Obama campaign?

TRIPPI: The Obama campaign. So, I think they thought by now, they will be trimming field organizations and some of their television spending as this got down to four or five or six states. And instead it's expanding out to nine or 10 states.

HUME: It's a sign of weakness, isn't it?

TRIPPI: Well, it's a sign of the race getting tighter and not being able to put Romney away.

But I do think if we -- I do think there's a chance, when you look back, it's going to be this week where Romney, things started going wrong for him, unless they can get on track. I mean, I think -- if I were giving advance to the Romney campaign, it will be to release the tax returns, and release minutes of meetings and get some proactive ideas out there about the economy and fight.

ROVE: I agree with the last one. I do think he needs to step up the forward looking agenda.

But, look, let's be honest. Nothing is going to satisfy President Obama and his team. A Democrat, who is a partner at Bain Capital, in fact, he sought the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2010 came out and said, wait a minute. I was one of the people in charge of Bain. Romney took a leave of absence and had no involvement in our decision.

That didn't do anything to satisfy the Obama --

HUME: Your organization, Crossroads GPS has a lot of money and is in a position to step into what you may perceive as the breach here with an ad campaign that would deal with some of these things. What are you going to do?

ROVE: You ought to turn on your television more. Between May 15th -- between the 1st of May and end of July, I've seen numbers that indicate Obama and his allies are about a hundred -- they will spend about $115 million to $116 million on television. In that same period, Romney and his outside allies will spend roughly $152 million.

We spent $22 million last month. We're spending $25 million --

HUME: And the message?

ROVE: The message is: President Obama's politics are not --

HUME: I know. But that's not a positive message --

ROVE: Look, Romney can develop the positive message. Somebody needs to remind the American people of the explicit failure of the president to deliver on his promises and to get the economy going, do something about the deficit, put Americans back to work, and change the tune in Washington.

HUME: What do you think about this --

TRIPPI: Look, I think the American Crossroads and super PACs are what's keeping Romney -- what has been keeping Romney...

HUME: Do you think in their approach is right not to do positive...

TRIPPI: It is very hard for an independent committee or a Super PAC I think to do good positive on a candidate. I mean, I'm just talking as a operative. It is a lot easier to do the negative and to make that case and I expect that's going continue happening.

The issue here is do similar Super PAC spending, does that ramp up on the Democratic side? It hasn't as of yet. It started to, but not in the way that they have on Karl and the guys on the other side.

HUME: Democratic Super PACs are...

TRIPPI: Yeah, absolutely. And Obama doesn't have that.

ROVE: Let's be clear. President Obama and the DNC have raised $512 million; Mitt Romney and the RNC have raised $389 million. These Super PACs on the Republican side and outside groups are evening it up, but the president still has a financial advantage.

HUME: All right. Karl and Joe, thanks very much for sharing your thoughts.

Coming up our Sunday panel on the continued speculation surrounding Mitt Romney's possible vice presidential pick. Back in a moment.

Very good guys. Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: You know, in the current environment I don't want to make comments about the vice president process or anything associated with it. I stand by the comments I've made in the past, but I'm not saying anything about the vice presidential process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Yeah, but we will. That, of course, is Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney trying to tamp down speculation about his possible VP pick which somehow believed to be made in the near future. Oh, boy.

Time for our Sunday group. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard and Jeff Zeleny from the New York Times, Fred Barnes also from the Weekly Standard and Fox News Analyst Juan Williams.

Well, OK, let's look at this -- one of these graphics that's got some of these potential vice presidential choices posted to include Marco Rubio -- you see them all -- they're Condi Rice, Tim Pawlenty, Rob Portman, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal. I'm not sure how anybody knows that is very close to Mitt Romney, but everybody is talking about this. We might as well join in. Bill, your thoughts on where this all stands in terms of when and who?

BILL KRISTOL, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Mitt Romney has spent the weekend thinking about this at his country house in New Hampshire. After talking to people on the campaign, pretty senior people on the campaign, they say they really don't know. And I think they're telling the truth. And I think Mitt Romney will make this decision with surprisingly little input from other political pros or advisers or other governors or whatever. And maybe that's fine. It will be his pick. HUME: So what is the percentages just in terms of politically speaking of a pick now or within the next week or so which is abnormally early. Jeff, your thoughts on this.

JEFF ZELENY, THE NEW YORK TIMES: One of the upsides of choosing someone early, at least according to the Republicans inside the campaign who are making the argument is that it would give someone -- it would give the campaign some help. It would give Governor Romney someone else to travel around the country doing fundraisers and making news in all these small towns across Ohio, across Iowa, across Virginia, across Florida.

As we have seen right now, Governor Romney is not doing that much campaigning. He usually has one event a day. And the Obama administration, the vice president, the cabinet members, other people, they're really outflanking them in terms of on the road local news coverage. So it would give -- if a vice presidential candidate was picked early, you have them sort of some more bandwidth out here.

HUME: You get reinforcements.

ZELENY: At the same time, though, it takes out whatever excitement there is in this the campaign hopes to save for August.

So I am not sure how exciting of a pick this is going to be anyway? It's going to be a governing pick. We sort of know the structure of this election right now. So the people arguing to do it early say why not there is no down side. But we'll see.

FRED BARNES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yeah, but there is a down side. And the down side is this, Brit, the down side if you announce it now or over the next week and a half or so before he goes on his trip to the Olympics and to Israel and to Poland, what's going to happen with that trip, which is a very important one for Romney? It will get snowed under with -- overshadowed by whoever his vice presidential pick is.

But as you know, that is not just a one day event. There will be stories for three days -- three or four days about it. And then there will be investigative reports and so on. And it will go on. And Romney's trip to the Middle East in particular -- and of course the Olympics is important for him. He wants to remind people -- he wants coverage of that to remind people of his role in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

And so for that reason it will be sometime in early August -- early to middle August when I think he'll name somebody.

HUME: So you don't think he'll wait until the convention.

BARNES: No. There is no reason to do that. You can do it a week or two beforehand. I think he probably will.

HUME: And that's it. If he did it before the convention about a week or two, then whatever suspense is left at that convention is gone, correct?

JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: My viewing schedule is totally thrown off. I don't know what I'll be watching. I will have to watch you. And that is going to be a problem.

I mean, what is the drama at the conventions anyway? And right now, the big ticket would be if he introduced his VP selection to some hoopla and all of the delegates stood up and cheered and it was a kind of embrace.

HUME: Do you think he ought to wait?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know the problem is, he's just having a bad time, Mr. Romney is, and this week the reason that they put out Condoleezza Rice.

HUME: How do we know they put that out there?

WILLIAMS: Well, it certainly went to Drudge. It didn't go to any liberal outlet.

HUME: The Drudge Report on the internet.

WILLIAMS: The Drudge Report website had it. It was the top banner, Condoleezza Rice under serious consideration by the Romney team at just the junction when I think it was in their best interest to change the conversation. So I think that's why that was done.

Otherwise we know that Rob Portman is the guy that's actually in...

HUME: Let's do -- we have got to do this, we have got to talk about names. Your thought, who would be the smart choice?

WILLIAMS: Well, smart choice at this point seems to be reliable, ready to serve Rob Portman.

HUME: So you don't think it's...

WILLIAMS: ...the senator from Ohio.

HUME: You think -- apart from the fact that Condoleezza Rice who said emphatically the she would not -- wouldn't do it, you think she wouldn't not be the best choice.

HUME: Oh, no, she'd be a terrific choice. And actually but she's given great speeches state party chairman like her, but she's pro choice.

BARNES: She did give that speech in Park City at the Romney retreat. I was there. Romney was impressed. It was the best speech -- you know, if you want to be on the ticket the best thing to do is give the best speech you've ever given while the Republican candidate is a few feet away and watching. And that was the case.

But this would break up the Republican unity. And Republicans have come together behind Romney pretty well.

HUME: Because she's a moderate on some issues.

BARNES: She's a on a lot of issues. And she's not very liberal on, but any case. So, I actually agree Rob Portman makes sense.

ZELENY: I think Senator Portman is definitely one of them -- of the finalists in the mix. He would be a good, sort of, choice for governing, working with members of Congress on the Hill. But former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, I believe, is also still in the mix. He, sort of, has a good narrative. You know, he always talked about the Sam's Club Republicans. He would provide a good balance to Governor Romney's -- you know all these questions of Bain and wealth.

So those two are in the mix. And you have to at least hold out the possibility of a Paul Ryan or a Bobby Jindal. I'm not sure how much they're still being vetted, but I would put the top four, or the last four, down to those four.

HUME: And Marco Rubio's not yet been mentioned. Bill, what do you think about Rubio?

KRISTOL: I'm against everyone who's been mentioned.

(LAUGHTER)

I think they are not good picks. They would be boring picks. Now, if you think that Romney can just run a boring race; it's a referendum on Obama, and the economy is so horrible that Romney has to have no excitement about his campaign, I suppose you can defend a Portman or Pawlenty pick.

But the people who he should pick, analytically, I believe, are Paul Ryan, the leader of the national Republican Party intellectually and a very able political -- politician as well; Chris Christie, the most exciting, dynamic reform governor around; Marco Rubio, the most exciting young senator around, and of course, Hispanic; or Condi Rice.

Analytically, I believe any of those is a much better pick than Portman or Pawlenty.

HUME: Let's assume he could talk Condi Rice into doing it. What about the fact that she is regarded with suspicion by foreign policy hawks, and with a lot of substantive reasons -- I mean, I'm not saying they're right, but they have bill of particulars -- and that she's moderately, as she puts it, pro-choice.

KRISTOL: I regard her with suspicion on both issues and I think Mitt Romney would have to explain that he's going to have a hawkish foreign policy and a pro-life administration. Condoleezza Rice would have to say, as I think she could easily, that she goes along with that; she's moderately pro-choice, pro-life, et cetera.

And I do think -- look, I would prefer -- I would prefer Ryan and Christie, just in terms of the administration I would like to see, but I think it's foolish not to say that, politically, Condi Rice would be a tempting choice. I think Ryan or Christie are the more doable choices.

HUME: What about this problem of echoes of the Bush administration -- in her case, both Bush administrations; in Portman's case, certainly the most recent Bush administration? Problem?

KRISTOL: Yeah, it could be. Yeah.

BARNES: I don't think Romney wants an exciting running mate. What he wants is a running mate who he's very comfortable with. Romney's a very cautious guy. We all know that. And so...

HUME: Well, what about the idea that, if he runs a -- a cautious guy runs a cautious race, he might lose?

BARNES: Well, that's possible, too. But a guy who takes a risk on his vice presidential nominee could lose as well. That could be -- Romney's not a guy who takes a lot of risk. We have to remember who he is.

HUME: So you think it's more likely to be Portman, Pawlenty...

BARNES: I love Paul Ryan. I don't think he's going to take Paul Ryan.

HUME: Why?

BARNES: Because he doesn't want the conservative House Republican budget to be the big issue in the campaign. He'd rather be a little vaguer. If Ryan's his running mate, that will be the big issue or at least one of them, and it will dominate it.

ZELENY: One thing that Governor Romney has said in private gatherings with fund-raisers as recent as earlier this week in Colorado -- I talked to a couple people who were there -- and he said his top criteria, above all, is that they can -- no questions will be asked about their readiness to be president.

So I think that eliminates some of those people from the list. And I think it gets back down to what Ann Romney said in an interview on the fourth of July, that the pick will be someone whose personality is more like my husband's.

(LAUGHTER)

I think that probably eliminates a Chris Christie, or makes it more difficult.

WILLIAMS: Well, I would say one wild card in this is Kelly Ayotte, who's a woman from New Hampshire and who has great chemistry with both the candidate and Mrs. Romney.

HUME: All right. Well said.

Panel, we've got to take a break here. When we come back, the Obama campaign goes all out, as we know, attacking Mitt Romney's time at Bain Capital. Question: Is it working? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: There's a looming tax hike hanging over us. If they don't act, Americans will see their taxes on dividend incomes spike, almost tripling in some cases. Whether it's on him, or her, or them, it's a ripple effect on America's economy, slowing job creation, squeezing seniors and families, and hindering economic recovery. Tell Congress to stop a dividend tax hike now. Go to defendmydividend.org to learn more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Romney only says there's no evidence that he was in charge at that point. But newly disclosed documents show Romney was sole stockholder, CEO and chairman when jobs were shipped overseas.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Because you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well, those are two ads that were part of what has to be one of the nastiest weeks so far in the 2012 race for the White House. We're back now with our panel.

All right. Question: Joe Trippi suggested in -- in the last panel that the Obama campaign had set rather a neat trap with the argument that Romney really was there with Bain with this nefarious practice of outsourcing jobs was engaged in. In the ad, he said Romney had walked right into it. Juan?

WILLIAMS: I think it's not only that he's walked into it; he has let it sit there and he has let it stew and has let it create an impression that defines him. That's exactly what the Obama team is trying to do, define him negatively in the mind of voters at a time of economic uncertainty, when people are concerned about outsourcing and the like.

And then it's been reinforced by his refusal to deal with the tax return issue. He just won't release the tax returns. And it appears either that...

HUME: What do you mean? Well, he's released the...

WILLIAMS: The 2010.

HUME: The 2010 -- and 2011 aren't done yet.

WILLIAMS: He did that under pressure during the Republican primaries, but he has not released any others.

HUME: You mean the back tax returns?

WILLIAMS: Well, everybody releases about 12 years, and actually it's a practice started by none other than George Romney, his dad, back in '68. So, anyway, he hasn't released that. And what we have then subsequently learned -- it comes like revelations in the news media -- is that he has several offshore investments...

HUME: Or had.

WILLIAMS: Well, apparently he has a company in Bermuda, or whatever, and others in Swiss bank accounts. And that just -- it's muddying the waters for him. Its hurting Mitt Romney.

BARNES: I think it is hurting Romney a little. I mean, it's taken some of the luster off the Bain experience, however much luster there was, and certainly -- and it's important to Romney's candidacy.

What it hasn't done is had any effect on the one-on-one numbers against President Obama because they're basically tied. In fact, I think Romney underpolls by two or three points.

HUME: Why do you say that?

BARNES: Because they're polling -- most of the big public polls now are polling either registered voters or all adults. And those don't represent precisely the universe of voters that we'll see -- the likely voters that we'll see on November 6.

And I think, when the pollsters start going after -- and some do right now; Scott Rasmussen, for one -- they'll find out that Romney's doing a little better.

WILLIAMS: But what about the swing states?

BARNES: Well, that's also true in swing states.

WILLIAMS: No, Obama has a lead there, where the ads are running.

BARNES: Well, the ads -- of course they're running. I -- I do think the attacks on Bain have hurt him somewhat. Romney -- I don't know what Romney's been doing, but when you're not on offense, as the saying goes, you're on defense, and he's been very much on defense the past week.

HUME: Jeff?

ZELENY: I was struck by the five interviews that Governor Romney did on Friday. It clearly was not part of the plan of the week. I mean, he said on Wednesday in an interview with Neil Cavuto here on Fox that, if you're responding, you're losing. Well, then, 40 hours later, he started responding five times.

(LAUGHTER)

And his answer to the Bain Capital question -- I mean, these aren't unsurprising questions.

ZELENY: Every time he's run for office -- when he ran for governor in 2002 and then for president in 2008, these Bain questions are out there. But of course the volume in which they're coming now in a presidential campaign are very intense. And he still cannot do a simple answer the question.

I kind of thought he would rise above it all. And so this is silliness. I was running the Olympics -- and this is not what this campaign is about -- but instead he demanded an apology from the president and he got in the weeds of what an entity is and other things.

Who knows substantively if he was actually running Bain, involved in it, but he is not...

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: ...what do you think? Was he running Bain while he was with the Olympics?

ZELENY: My guess is he was not running Bain, because he was out doing the Olympics. But he was still involved in some respects. It doesn't matter, the campaign is not on this, but he has lost the tactics war here. And another week has gone by that the Obama campaign has won the tactics on this.

KRISTOL: Listen, it's weird for Governor Romney to be saying, hey, I wasn't running Bain as if there's something wrong with running Bain. Governor Romney ran Bain extremely successfully...

HUME: Isn't that's what's meant by the trap. That's why it's a trap.

KRISTOL: He needs to defend it. This is what he did for most of his adult life. He is proud of what he did. And here's what he should do, he should release the tax returns tomorrow. It's crazy. You've got to release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns. Take the hit for a day or two and then make a serious speech on Thursday in which he says OK we've had this ridiculous picayune debate on whether or not I took my leave from Bain and when I didn't and you can now look at my tax returns.

Now let's have a debate about capitalism, let's have a debate about business, and let's have a debate about jobs. And here is what I am proud of having done. And I will defend and strengthen business in this country and businesses help make this country great. And here's my agenda going forward, which is a free market agenda.

I'm critical of crony capitalism. I'm for democratic capitalism. He has to give a big speech in defense of capitalism. And that will elevate, I think, this race above this tactical back and forth, which I think he's on the margin losing.

BARNES: I agree with that, but he has to have an agenda to talk about.

HUME: Well, he's kind of does.

BARNES: Yeah, well, no, not a -- it has to be fleshed out more. He needs to have an agenda on the fiscal policy and debt. He needs to have one on jobs. He needs to have one on taxes. I mean, we know he's in favor of a 20 percent across the board tax cut in income taxes, their rates. But what else? How does that fit in with the bigger tax plan? I think he needs to start fleshing some of that out and do it now.

We see the downside this past week where there was nothing he could turn to -- there was now counter theme in the campaign that he could turn to.

WILLIAMS: I like Bill's suggestion very much, but Bill if he puts out the tax returns, I think he has smart people working for him who have made a calculation that there's something in those tax returns that's going to set afire. And they think they'd rather not reveal...

HUME: Well we don't think -- we probably don't think he's a tax cheat, right. And we probably don't think he was -- hold it, let me just -- we don't think he was engaged probably in any illegal activity. So what could be in the tax returns in your estimation that would go beyond the point that seems to me that (inaudible) now is he's a rich guy.

WILLIAMS: No, no, no. But that's a very low standard. He didn't do anything illegal? He's running for president of the United States. The American people don't want some guy who is shading corners, putting money in Swiss accounts, Bermuda accounts...

HUME: Why not?

WILLIAMS: No, because that's just -- look, we -- if you believe -- what's Obama's message? Bet on America.

KRISTOL: While Mitt Romney was having his Swiss bank accounts, whatever, Barack Obama was worshiping at Jeremiah Wright's church. They both have things in their background that they don't want to defend.

How did Barack Obama handle the Jeremiah Wright problem, which is a much bigger problem in 2008? He distanced himself from him, but then he gave a big speech about race relations in America. It was very well received. And after that people felt -- well, coming back to the Wright issue it seems kind of petty. I mean, Obama has addressed it as much as he has to.

I think on that analogy, and it's a funny, weird analogy, but I think it's true in this case -- no one thinks Mitt Romney is fundamentally corrupt or anything like that, or even a tax dodge. There's not evidence of that at all. He needs to put it out that I think will help. It'll take two or three days of hits on it, put the issue to bed and then have a big debate going forward about capitalism...

WILLIAMS: That's a bet -- hope scenario, there's two or three days. I think the potential here -- let me put out the 2010 returns. What we discovered is there were 20 investments entities we had no idea were about previously. He was making money and seven of them were overseas, Bill.

KRISTOL: If Obama can survive Jeremiah Wright, Mitt Romney can survive Bain Capital. Bain Capital is a good thing and Mitt Romney -- look it, if people -- if the majority of the country thinks it's a terrible thing to have run Bain Capital, Mitt Romney is not going to be elected president. I mean, that's what he did for most of his life. He's got to defend what was at the core of his -- as he himself says, was at the core of his experience.

ZELENY: The Romney campaigns believes that right now the only people paying attention to this are people in the (inaudible) you know from along the Mid-Atlantic, that people in the country aren't paying attention to this. We'll find out if they're right or not.

But it is striking that the -- we haven't heard many big speeches from this candidate about his big ideas and other things. If they want to change the subject, that's the way to do it, which is one of the reason that he's going on this foreign trip. That's what they are really just hoping that this gets...

HUME: Let me go around once real quick. The Romney campaign is clearly holding back part out of necessities and letting themselves be out spent on ads. They're letting what ads they're running are mostly negative right now.

Question, how much trouble is -- will it cause Romney to have held back, or is October soon enough to be hit with a barrage?

BARNES: Brit, the truth is they're not being outspent. When you ad the Super PAC money into what the Romney campaign is spending, it's more than Obama and his Super PACs are spending, something like $150 million over a three month period here in the summer to about $115 million...

HUME: So your bottom line?

BARNES: They're spending is fine.

HUME: Thanks panel, see you next week. Don't forget to check out Panel Plus, that's coming up next, where our group picks right up with our discussion here on our website FoxNewsSunday.com. We'll post that video before noon eastern time and make sure to follow us on Twitter @FoxNewsSunday.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUME: As we discussed earlier speculation mounts about who Mitt Romney will choose as a running mate. Our friends at the Tonight Show put together a campaign commercial for one possible ticket. Have a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: And that's it for today. Be sure to tune in next Sunday when Chris Wallace will be back in the anchor chair. In the meantime, have a great week.

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Sunday December 28, 2014

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