Exclusive: Paul Ryan plays off latest poll numbers, exudes confidence ahead of debates

Written by Chris Wallace / Published September 30, 2012 / Fox News Sunday

Special Guests: Paul Ryan

This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Sunday," September 30, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: I'm Chris Wallace.

The Romney/Ryan ticket turns to the debates, to try to narrow the gap against President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE (voice-over): With 37 days until the election, we go on the campaign trail with Paul Ryan.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-WIS., GOP VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: This is a high stakes election. We are giving the country a very clear choice.

WALLACE: And we sit down for an exclusive interview in which we discuss the economy, the new focus on national security, and, growing criticism of the Romney campaign.

Paul Ryan, only on "Fox News Sunday."

(on camera): Then, we'll preview Wednesday's first Obama-Romney debate. We'll ask our Sunday panel what each candidate needs to do to win the first face off.

(voice-over): And our Power Player of the Week has spent almost half of his life telling the inside story of how a president rose and fell from power.

All, right now on Fox News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And hello again, from Fox News in Washington.

With just five weeks until Election Day, a new poll showing President Obama leading in key swing states, the presidential debates may be Mitt Romney's last, best chance to turn the race around.

And so, we wanted to find out what the Romney-Ryan plan is when they face off against Obama and Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE (voice-over): We caught up with running mate Paul Ryan Saturday in Derry, New Hampshire. Before we sat down for an exclusive interview, we spoke briefly as he was about to take the stage for a campaign town hall.

(on camera): What do you think? Just before you go out on stage, each time?

RYAN: President Obama is taking us in the wrong direction. Mitt and I are offering them a different direction and I'm excited at the opportunity to give people the chance to pick that choice. That is what gets me excited about this.

Thank you so much for coming out, everybody.

WALLACE: Congressman, welcome to "Fox News Sunday."

RYAN: Great to be back with you, Chris. Welcome to New Hampshire.

WALLACE: Thank you.

What does Governor Romney need to do Wednesday night in that first debate?

RYAN: He needs to give the American people the choice that we're offering. That's what we're doing. We owe the country a very clear choice of a different future. You can either have a dynamic growing economy that produces opportunity, or you can have a stagnant economy that fosters dependency.

We can stick with the failed policies of the last four years or the next four years -- we need a brighter future. Stagnation versus growth, dependency versus opportunity and upward mobility. That is the classic choice, clear difference that we're offering.

And so what we hope people get out of this debate is that choice.

WALLACE: Well, it's interesting, because for the last -- I don't know -- six months, the Romney campaign has said this is the referendum on Barack Obama's record. Now, you're saying it's a choice.

RYAN: It's not a change in strategy. It's a phase of the campaign that we've now entered into, because I think it's important. The president is trying to paper over his problems.

The president has been trying to mislead and distort a record. It's a failed record. We think it was very important to point that out.

Look at unemployment. Look at our poverty rates. Look at the 23 million people struggling for work.

But now, at this phase of the campaign, we think it's critical that people understand it doesn't have to be that way. We can get our country back on track. Mitt Romney is offering the leadership and the policies and the principles that enable us to do that.

WALLACE: It is clear that you two, you and Romney, are trailing in the polls, especially in the key swing states. And there are a growing number of top Republicans who say that Romney needs a clear victory, not a wash, a clear victory on Wednesday or else the donor support will dry up and so will the grassroots support.

RYAN: First of all, the polls are close. This is going to be a close race.

Second of all, I don't think --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: But you are trailing.

RYAN: Well, we're running against an incumbent president. We're running against an incumbent president with incredible resources. But more importantly, I don't think one event is going to make or break this campaign.

Look, President Obama is a very -- he's a very gifted speaker. The man's been on the national stage for many years. He's an experienced debater. He's done these kinds of debates before.

This is Mitt's first time on this kind of a stage. I think what people --

WALLACE: Yes, but he did 23 debates during the primary.

RYAN: I think what people are going to see who is Mitt Romney, what kind of president is going to be and what are the choices I have. That, to me, is what matters in this particular debate and all the debates; which is I know what President Obama has done, I know all of these empty promises and broken promises, I know about the ugly stagnant economy. What is Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan offering to get us back on track?

And I think that's what we get out of Wednesday. And if we get that out of Wednesday, then the country understands the choice they have to make.

WALLACE: I understand that Governor Romney plans to make a major foreign policy speech in the next few days. Do the two of you think that the president has engaged in a cover-up in his and the administration's explanation of what happened at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi?

RYAN: Well, I'll let others decide that. I mean, there are Republicans and Democrats in Congress that are calling for an investigation, as we need to have.

I mean, their response was slow, it was confused, it was inconsistent. The first said that it was a YouTube video and a spontaneous mob; we now know that it was a planned terrorist attack. If this was one tragic incident, that would be a tragedy in and of itself. The problem is it is part of a bigger picture of the fact that the Obama foreign policy is unraveling literally before our eyes on our TV screens.

And so what Mitt Romney is going to do is lay out a very different vision for foreign policy, one that is a policy of American strength versus what I would articulate or claim the president's policy is one of weakness.

We are seeing the ugly fruits of the Obama foreign policy unravel around the world on our TV screens. Syria, we've got 20,000 dead people. Iran is closer toward a nuclear weapon. The Middle East peace process is in shambles. And we have our flags being burned all around the world.

Russia is thwarting us at every stage in the process. This is a weak foreign policy with terrible results which makes us less safe.

WALLACE: Let me just pick you up on a couple of those. Syria, Governor Romney would not put U.S. troops on the ground in Syria. Iran, Governor Romney's red line seems to be about where Barack Obama's is. There is no big difference...

RYAN: Oh, sure there is. Look, first, let's go to Iran. That's probably the most important. That's the biggest threat we have today. The difference is credibility. The president's Iran policy lacks credibility.

What I mean when I say that is, the ayatollahs in Iran, they have to make a decision to stop pursuing a nuclear weapon and pursue a peaceful resolution, but they are not doing that.

And I would argue they are not doing that because the president doesn't have credibility. He fought and resisted tough sanctions until the last moment. He was silent for too long on the Green Revolution while we had a chance for a peaceful uprising for democracy, they cracked down.

When he puts the military option on the table, he does it in a way that doesn't have credibility because his administration sends out mixed signals such as, they are more worried about an Israeli attack than Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

WALLACE: Let me give you an opportunity to establish instant credibility and a difference. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, gave a very dramatic speech at the U.N. this week. He had a drawing of a bomb. He drew a red line.

RYAN: I saw that.

WALLACE: And he said, if Iran amasses that amount of medium enriched uranium, which would be enough to make a bomb, we have to strike. Would you and Governor Romney put the red line the same place that Benjamin Netanyahu did?

RYAN: So what Mitt Romney and I have said is a nuclear weapons capability is what we have to stop. Now we have to speak with credibility. That means a Romney/Ryan administration will be one of credibility where we don't establish daylight between our allies, especially Israel.

Where, when we say what we are going to do, it is believed. That is the issue here. The ayatollahs, by virtue of the conduct, don't believe the president when he says his interest is to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

WALLACE: But you're not putting the red line any place different than the president.

RYAN: The president has moved his rhetoric a bit to look more like ours, and that's good. But the problem is it is built upon a mountain of non-credible actions. I have been in Congress for a number of years. We have been fighting for tough, crippling sanctions since 2009 on Iran.

The administration resisted us. Tim Geithner tried to stop us from doing this until overwhelming bipartisan support for these crippling sanctions, then the administration came onboard.

When we are sending those signals overseas, the ayatollahs don't think we are that serious because they are racing toward a nuclear weapon. They are four years closer toward a nuclear weapon.

Syria is a good example. When you hesitate, when you don't speak with clarity, and when you don't project your confidence in American values, it projects weakness and equivocation.

When you gut the military, as the president is proposing to do, that shows that we are weakening our resolve, we're weakening our military. And when you project weakness like this, bad things happen, and look what is going on around the world.

WALLACE: Wednesday's debate is not going to focus on foreign policy, by the rules, it's going to focus on domestic policy, especially the economy. Looking back over the historical record, the question is, why aren't you guys running away with this race?

Let me put up some statistics. Unemployment is 8.1 percent. No president has won reelection with unemployment that high since FDR in 1940. GDP growth in the second quarter, just announced, 1.3 percent. We checked, no president has won reelection with GDP growth that low since they started measuring growth in 1930.

Question, given all of that, why are you and Romney losing at this point?

RYAN: We are going to win this race. Given that, we are going to win this race.

WALLACE: But you are not at this point. You are losing.

RYAN: Look, we can debate polls. I can tell you this. The president is offering four more years of the same. And the president has been very good at distorting the issue, at disguising the truth. He has been very good at distracting the people.

He can't run on hope and change any more. So he is running on division, on distraction, on distortion to try and win an election by default. Mitt Romney and I are going to give the people a very clear choice.

Here's what you need to do. Here are the pro-growth policies to get this economy growing, to get economic opportunity, to increase more take-home pay for the middle class, to get out of poverty into the middle class, to get economic opportunity, to get job security.

We're going to show the country, here's what you need to do to tackle these problems.

WALLACE: But, Congressman, Mitt Romney has been campaigning for two years, there are only five weeks left in this campaign, forgive me, but I want to look at a couple of polls here.

According to a Wall Street Journal survey, 42 percent of Americans now think that the economy will get better in the next few years, 18 percent think it will get worse, 32 percent say it'll stay the same.

And in a New York Times poll, when asked who can handle the economy better, Obama now leads Romney by six points in Ohio and five in Florida.

With five weeks left, with months, years of campaigning past us, isn't Romney in danger of losing the rationale to his campaign that he is the better steward of the economy?

RYAN: Well, you know, in these kinds of races people really focus near the end, and that's happening now. The president has done a very good job of trying to distort our record. Look, our pro-growth tax reform, it cuts tax rates by 20 percent, higher take-home pay for middle class, pro-growth economic policy. That right there creates about 7 million jobs.

So in the final analysis, people are going to realize all the president's offering is more of the same but with another round of stimulus and higher tax rates on job creators.

We're offering very specific reforms. How do you save and strengthen Medicare and Social Security? How do you prevent a debt crisis? How do you grow jobs? How do you have an energy policy that unleashes American energy and has energy independence?

WALLACE: OK, well, here's my question. The fact that the message hasn't gotten through as effectively as it did so far, is that your fault, is that the Romney campaign's fault? Or is it the voter's fault?

RYAN: It's not the voter's fault.

It's -- look, I think the president has done an effective job at trying to confuse the issues, at trying to distort our positions, at trying to distract people. But at the end of the day, I just don't think that's going to work because --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Do you take any of the responsibility that --

RYAN: Look, we are going to prosecute this campaign in the way in which we've always planned, is which we're going to give this country a very clear choice. You want stagnation and dependency, you want growth or opportunity? And so, we're offering those specifics.

The problem that we've had is that not everybody knows all these specifics that we've put out there. Not everybody knows these plans -- our five-point plan for a stronger middle class. Not everybody knows that we have these solutions that will get people better job security.

WALLACE: Let's talk specifics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: No matter how many times they tell you they are going to talk specifics, really soon -- they don't do it! And, the reason is, because the math doesn't work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: You're the master of the budget, so briefly, let's go through the plan.

The Obama camp says independent groups say if you cut those taxes rates for everybody, 20 percent, it costs $5 trillion over 10 years -- true?

RYAN: Not in the least bit true. Look this just goes to show if you torture statistics enough, they'll confess to what you want them to confess to. That study has been so thoroughly discredited. It wasn't even a measurement of Mitt Romney's -- his policy.

Here's what we're saying --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Well, how much would it cost?

RYAN: It's revenue neutral. It --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: No, no. I'm not talking about the -- we'll get to the deductions, but I'm talking --

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: No, no.

WALLACE: -- about the tax rates.

RYAN: So the cut in tax rates is lower all American taxes rates by 20 percent.

WALLACE: So how much does that cost?

RYAN: It's revenue neutral.

WALLACE: Look, it's not revenue neutral unless you take away the deductions.

RYAN: That's -- that's --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: I'm looking to get to that in a second. The first half, lowering the tax rates, does that cost $5 trillion?

RYAN: No, no. Look, I won't give you a baseline with these, because that's what a lot of this is about. We're saying, limited deductions so we can lower taxes rates for everybody. Start with people at the higher end.

Here's the way it works, I've been on the Ways and Means Committee for 12 years -- both parties, Republicans and Democrats, have junked up the tax code with so many giveaways and special interest tax breaks. What we're saying is, you keep you money in your pocketbook, in your business, in your family in the first place.

The way it works today is you send more of your money to Washington and then if you do what Washington approves of, you can have some of it back.

We're saying keep it in the first place. And every time we've done this, whether it was Ronald Reagan working with Top O'Neill, the idea is from Bowles-Simpson commission on how to do this. There's been a traditional Democrat and Republican consensus lowering tax rates by broadening tax rates works, and you can.

WALLACE: But I have to --

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: Let me just -- let me just --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: You haven't given me the message.

RYAN: Well, I don't have the -- it would take me too long to go through all of that, but let me say it this way. You can lower tax rates by 20 percent across the board by closing loopholes and still have preferences for the middle class for things like charitable deductions, for home purchases, for health care.

So what we're saying is people are going to get lower tax rates and therefore, they will not send as much money to Washington and they'll keep it and decide for themselves.

WALLACE: All right.

RYAN: When we've done this, we've created economic growth.

WALLACE: If, just suppose, that the doubters are right, President Romney takes office and the math doesn't add up.

RYAN: First of all, we've run the numbers, I've run them in Congress, they do. We've got about five other studies that show that you can do this.

WALLACE: OK, but let's assume it doesn't. The question is, what's more important to Romney? Would he scale back on the 20 percent tax cut for the wealthy? Would he scale back and say, OK, you know, we're going to have to raise taxes for the middle class?

I guess the question is what's most important to him in his tax reform plan?

RYAN: Keeping tax rates down. By lowering tax rates, people keep more of the next dollar that they earn. That matters. That is incentives. That's pro-growth policy. That creates 7 million jobs. And what should go first...

WALLACE: So that's more important than...

RYAN: That's more important than anything. And more importantly, it's not what deductions are in the tax code but it's who gets them. And don't forget that the higher-income people have a disproportionate amount of the loopholes that they use. So when you close a tax write-off or a tax shelter for a higher-income person, more of their income is subject to taxation so you can lower tax rates.

That's where we begin. So where we go is by denying those deductions and loopholes to higher-income people, which allows us to lower tax rates for everybody across the board and still afford important preferences for the middle-class taxpayers.

WALLACE: Governor Romney has taken heat for the 47 percent video, where he told big -- big donors that 47 percent of the country -- it's actually 46% -- don't pay federal income taxes and view themselves as victims.

Fox News did a poll this week and they found that 79 percent think all Americans should pay at least some income taxes. Do you think it would be good if -- if every American paid federal income taxes, had -- even if it's a dollar, even if it's $2 -- had some skin in the game?

RYAN: We don't think that imposing new taxes on anybody is a good idea. Don't forget, Chris, the only person running for president who's proposing higher taxes is President Obama.

So our point is we don't want to...

WALLACE: Because he would end the Bush tax cuts for the -- for the wealthy.

RYAN: Yeah, tax rates -- he already passed all these ObamaCare taxes. About a dozen of them hit middle-income taxpayers, breaking that promise. He's proposing a massive tax increase on job creators in January.

But to go to your question, we don't think the idea or the solution is to impose new taxes on low-income people. We want to get people out of poverty, back to the middle class. And that's why our economic policies are designed to create jobs and opportunities so people can get higher take-home pay.

The key is this, get people from not paying income taxes because they have bad incomes to the middle class so they have jobs that have higher take-home pay so then they pay taxes.

We want to create more taxpayers. We don't want to tax more people with bad tax policy. We want to create more taxpayers by growing the middle class, by getting people back to work with higher take-home pay.

The secret to this is economic growth, Chris. Look, the premise of these conversations; the premise of your tax reform point is as if the economic pie is fixed and that it's governments job to redistribute the slices. That's not true. That's not how the world works. We want to grow the pie. We want economic opportunity. We want people to be able to get a better job, have more income security and higher take-home pay. And you can do that through economic growth. That is what we're trying to provide. That's what we can get if we put these pro-growth policies in place.

WALLACE: A number of top Republicans say that, when Romney picked you as his running mate a little over a month ago, that they thought that this indicated that you guys were going to run a bold reform agenda campaign. And they are now expressing some frustration that instead of you changing Romney -- you've heard this -- that they feel that Romney is changing you and you're running a much more cautious campaign.

And even your own good friend and Wisconsin home state governor, Scott Walker, has gone on the radio to complain about this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GOV. SCOTT WALKER, R-WIS.: I just haven't seen that kind of passion. I know that Paul has transferred over to our nominee, and I -- I think, a little bit -- it's a little bit of some pushback from some of the folks in the national campaign.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WALLACE: Walker says he doesn't see passion. He doesn't see reform. He doesn't see fire in the belly.

RYAN: Scott's a good buddy of mine and he's always been a good backer of mine. Come out to -- with Mitt and myself to Ohio, to Iowa, to North Carolina, to Virginia, to Florida. Attend our town hall meetings. Look at how we're walking people through how we fix Medicare, how we fix Social Security, how we create jobs, how we reform the tax code, how we have an energy policy, an education policy, a trade policy.

Mitt Romney has put out more specifics on how to revive this economy, on how to get people back to work than the incumbent president of the United States has. So I hear the handwringing in Washington -- and Washington likes to talk about process. Come out into these states with us and see what we're talking about. See the forceful case we're making for economic opportunity. See the specific plans we're putting on the table, the bold solutions.

Mitt Romney has never once asked me to temper anything down. He said go out there and sell this.

WALLACE: Well, you talk about the handwringing. There was a report this weekend that you have been talking to conservative commentators and trying to get them to stay on board, not to jump ship, not to get too discouraged. But in the course of those conversations, you've admitted the campaign has made missteps.

Question: What missteps?

RYAN: I think -- I think -- first of all, 47 percent, Mitt acknowledges himself that was an inarticulate way of describing how we are worried that in a stagnant Obama economy, more people have become dependent on government because they have no economic opportunities. It was an inarticulate way to describe what we are trying to do to create prosperity and upward mobility, and reduce dependency by getting people off welfare back to work.

So, yes, those -- we've had some missteps, but at the end of the day, the choice is really clear and we're giving people a very clear choice. We have these pro-growth solutions for opportunity and upward mobility and a dynamic economy. You've got the president promising basically four more years like the last four years of stagnation, of dependency.

So yes, here and there we have -- we have not been able to frame that choice as clearly. I really believe, by the end of this day, people are going to understand exactly what they've got and the choices they have.

WALLACE: Do you think the mainstream media is carrying water for Barack Obama?

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN: I think it kind of goes without saying that there's definitely a media bias. We've -- look, I'm a conservative person, I'm used to media bias. We expected media bias going into this.

That's why we're trying to cut through and go straight to people. That's why when you hear people in Washington complain about media bias, come out into these states with us and attend out town hall meetings.

WALLACE: But where have you seen it? Where have you seen it in this campaign where you feel they're judging you and Romney by one standard and Obama and Biden by another?

RYAN: I don't think -- I'm not going to go into a tit-for-tat or litigate this thing. But as a conservative, I've long believed and long felt that there is inherit media bias. And I think anybody with objectivity would believe that that's the case.

WALLACE: Do you think mainstream media wants Barack Obama to win?

RYAN: You'll have to ask mainstream that.

WALLACE: No, what do you think?

RYAN: I think most people in the mainstream media are left of center and therefore, they want a very left of center president than they want a conservative president like Mitt Romney.

WALLACE: So they want Obama to win and they want to lose?

RYAN: I don't know. I'll let you decide what people want, what's in their hearts, what's in their minds. But obviously, we are offering conservative reforms that are proven ideas to work to grow the economy. We want to reapply our nation's founding principles to fix the problems. I would argue the president is replacing our founding principles.

WALLACE: We've been talking about the presidential debate on Wednesday, but the following week, you have your own debate, vice presidential debate against Joe Biden. And I know you've been watching tapes of Joe Biden and I know you're going to play the expectations game and say he's the greatest debater since -- who? -- Daniel --

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: You want me to start now?

WALLACE: No, no, I don't want to hear that. What I do want to hear, though, is, you know, you watch tapes of games.

RYAN: I do.

WALLACE: What are his techniques? What are his tricks? What are his strengths?

RYAN: He's fast on the cuff. He's a witty guy. He knows who he is and he's been doing this for 40 years.

So you're not going to rattle Joe Biden. Joe Biden has been on the national stage. He's ran for president twice. He's a sitting vice president.

What I hope to achieve is to give people an alternative. A very different governing philosophy, different policies.

And Joe is very good on the attack. Joe is very good at trying to confuse the issues so that the person who leaves the debate confused about who stands for what. My job is to make sure that they are not -- they are not confused about what we stand for and what they stand for.

WALLACE: Now, you have Ted Olson, perhaps the most respected --

RYAN: Very smart guy.

WALLACE: -- lawyer, Supreme Court Appellate lawyer in the country. The guy who won Bush v. Gore as your stand-in.

What other similarities between Ted Olson and Joe Biden?

RYAN: They're about the same age, and Ted Olson is one really good debater. I hope -- I hope Joe Biden shows up more than Ted Olson, because I tell you, he's one of the best litigators in America.

But what Ted has done is he has studied Joe Biden's tape, Joe Biden's record, Joe Biden's, you know, style. And Ted, as you know, is one of the best litigators in America, he's pretty good at adapting to that.

WALLACE: Have you got lines already prepared? A tax line?

RYAN: No, I'm not really a line guy. I'm more of a gut guy. I'm more of a you know me well. I don't try to be anybody other than who I am. I believe in what I believe. I do what I do. And I really believe in the policies that we're providing, that we're pursuing. And at the end of the day, I'm just going to go in there and be me.

WALLACE: And are you hoping that Joe Biden makes one of his occasional gaffes?

RYAN: I don't think he will. You know he doesn't do that in debates. You know, gaffes, he's kind of legendary for this, that's not in these kinds of situations. He does not -- he's a very disciplined person when he speaks in these kinds of situations.

He doesn't produce gaffes in these moments. Those are when he's off the cuff, you know, on the stomp, on campaign speeches.

WALLACE: So you're not counting on one of those.

RYAN: I'm not counting on a gaffe, no.

WALLACE: Thank you so much so much for talking with us. Safe travels on the campaign trail.

RYAN: You bet. Thanks, Chris. Appreciate it

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: With that interview, we have now talked with both men on the Republican ticket.

But, it has been a different story with the Democrats. Each week, for years now, we have invited President Obama and Vice President Biden to join us here on "Fox News Sunday." When we last sat down with Mr. Obama he said he would be back soon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Senator Obama, thanks for talking with us.

OBAMA: I enjoyed it.

WALLACE: Don't be a stranger.

OBAMA: I won't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: But that was April 27, 2008. It has now been 1,617 days since the president's last appearance. And although Senator Biden appeared on "Fox News Sunday" 35 times, it has been 1,841 days since the vice president last talked with us. In the meantime, we and you have had a lot of questions that have gone unanswered. We will invite them again for next Sunday.

Up next, with the first presidential debate now just three days away, we will ask our Sunday group what to look for Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: He is trying to fool people into thinking that I think things that I don't, and that ends, I think, during the debate.

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA SENIOR CAMPAIGN ADVISER: We know that Governor Romney has been practicing for months. I think the invasion of Normandy took less preparation than he is putting into these debates.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: That was Governor Romney and top Obama adviser David Axelrod playing the expectations game ahead of Wednesday's first presidential debate. And it's time now for our Sunday group. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard. Liz Marlantes from the Christian Science Monitor. Syndicated radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, and Fox News political analyst Juan Williams.

Well, Bill, you just heard Paul Ryan say that Romney will offer the country a clear choice of two different economic futures. Is that what Romney needs to do Wednesday? Is that enough?

KRISTOL: I think it will be good to just win the debate, that's my main advice to Governor Romney. And it's sort of time to begin Panicking a little bit, and I think that means offering his own way ahead, and really explaining why the next four years under President Obama will be disastrous. Shouldn't focus on the last four years, focus on the next four years. A clear choice, but really lay out what four more years of Obama policies in terms of debt, in terms of no economic growth, in terms of a failed foreign policy would look like, lay out the Romney alternative, and I think he needs to go right at Obama. My main advice would be ignore Jim Lehrer, ignore the moderator, sort of like Juan does with you. You know when Juan argues with me and just ignores all that - all your questions and all that? He's got to take - do not get - do not answer Jim Lehrer. Go after President Obama directly, speak to him in the second person, say, you have failed unfortunately and here's what we can do differently, and really make it a sharp contrast.

WALLACE: Interestingly enough, Liz, when I talked to Congressman Ryan about the fact that Romney needs a clear victory because of the state of the polls, he pushed back very much against that.

Does he need a clear victory?

LIZ MARLANTES, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Yes. He does. I mean, I think there's pretty universal consensus at this point that he's got to do something to shake up the trajectory of this race and that a safe performance probably isn't going to be enough at this point.

Having said that, I think it might not be that hard for Romney to get a win in the first debate, challengers tend to get the win in the first debate against the incumbent.

WALLACE: Just by the fact that they're on the same stage with the president.

MARLANTES: Yes. And I think there's something where, you know, presidents sometimes feel on some level a little irritated that they're having to go through this and sometimes it customs across. And -- so, I think the dynamic, actually, in some ways, favor Romney.

And I think, really, all Romney has to do -- I sort of disagree with Bill that he should go after Obama hard in the sense that his likability has been such a problem for him that if he comes across as too negative, I think that could be risky.

But I think Romney could win this debate with one genuinely good human moment, which is something that people have been hungering to see from him throughout this entire campaign. If he could have one moment where he gives voters the sense that he is throwing the talking points out the window and telling them, what he really believes -- and it doesn't matter what the issue is. I just think, you know, he should connect with voters in some way that, that would actually, probably get him a win.

WALLACE: Laura, how do you see the debate? What do both -- because we keep talking about Romney -- what do both Obama and Romney need to do?

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: One point on the debate is the be all and end all, there is not universal consensus there has to be a clear, you know, resounding victory for Romney. Romney has to do well, no doubt about it. But this -- laying the benchmark, it's the debate, it's the debate, falls into the media meme of Romney has to perform and if he doesn't it is an excuse of another round of in my mind disgustingly bias pieces against Mitt Romney.

I believe Bill is exactly right. When Barack Obama was challenged in that Univision interview, last week, by Jorge Ramos, he was challenged pretty hard, Obama very looks uncomfortable when he's really confronted with facts and very simply worded question. I think if Mitt Romney reminds people that we have really 11.7 unemployment, not 8.1 percent, that America's best days have to be in front of her, I think he wins, not by having a, quote, "human moment". I think that is a fool's errand, but having a moment of real leadership and maturity. Contrasting that with a celebrity president who seems much more comfortable with Ellen or any of these late night hosts, than he is talking to the families of these insider attacks.

I think Romney has to be mature, and forceful. Yes, this idea that it's all in this debate, I think that's a little too convenient for the media.

WALLACE: Juan, talk about it. But also, because we kind of keep forgetting about Obama -- what does Obama need to do?

JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think for President Obama, he's leading in the polls, nationally now. He's leading in the swing states. So, the question is, how do you reaffirm the existing status quo? You know, the sense that the sale has been made and he's there, not to seek any sort of dramatic moment, he just wants it to happen and, be history.

And, for Mitt Romney, I think the problem is, I think it came out in your interview, Chris, suddenly to hear the Republicans talking about a choice election, not a referendum on Obama. Bill Kristol's suggestion was, look, you've got to go at Obama, about his record, you got to make it about what Obama not only has done in the past but what he's likely to do in the future. That's their -- that's but what the prescription would be for the Republicans.

You know, but the fact is, most people who are going to watch this debate and a lot of people are going to watch. They think it's about 50 million people. It's going to be a huge audience.

If those people coming to the table are going to make up their mind, that will be one thing. But most of those people have already made up their mind. So they are watching -- I think they are watching for the human moment and watching for the zinger. I think that's what people will take away.

WALLACE: I want to talk about the question of media bias that Lara brought up and, Paul Ryan discussed it in our interview. And what he said is he thinks that most of the mainstream media, Bill, are left of center and they would prefer a very left, as he put it, a very left of center president, to a conservative like Mitt Romney.

How clear do you feel media bias has been in this campaign, pro-Obama, anti-Romney.

KRYSTOL: Pretty clear, but I don't think conservatives use it as an excuse. Conservatives have won plenty and, they've won campaigns before, and, look at the landslide in 2010, and, they demonized the parties.

And here's why I disagree with Liz. The like -- every liberal professor I read, his advised, or her advice to Mitt Romney, be likable. You really got to take care of your likability deficit. Forget it. Forget it. It's too late for that. Maybe there was a time he could have done it in the summer.

He's got to be tough. He's got to go right directly at President Obama. And, if the media narrative the day after the debate is, you know, they both did well, it was so nice to have a respectful debate, Jim Lehrer, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, they all got along, there was such a high tone...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's over.

KRISTOL: Right. Then it is over. He has got to get under President Obama's skin and really clarify the choice ahead.

WALLACE: I want to talk about media bias because I saw a couple of cases this week that struck me. First of all, this is the cover of TIME magazine. Mitt Romney has been running for president two years, and five weeks before the election Mitt Romney's -- they decide, TIME, that they are going to do a story on the Mormon identity. Not about tax reform, not about the economy, not about foreign policy, the Mormon identity.

And I want to also point out I have been busy on this, but I just have been struck by it this week. This is Wednesday's Washington Post, and my wife pointed this out to me. So there's a story up here on the top. It's "At U.N. Obama Issues a Challenge." Fair enough, the president spoke to the U.N. That would seem to be a big news story.

Here is the lead story: "Ohio, Florida Give Obama an Edge." Here is the sidebar story: "For Obama, the Buckeye State May be a Bulls-eye." My wife turned to me and said, well, I guess the race is over according to The Washington Post.

I mean, am I overreacting to this? And more importantly, is my wife overreacting to this, Liz?

MARLANTES: Well, I mean, reporting on polls, there has been a lot of discussion in particular about the polling and whether the polling is oversampling Democrats and all of that. And, you know, to some extent political reporters report on polls and that drives the narrative.

I would say that to some extent the biggest problem Mitt Romney has in terms of media bias is less an ideological bias than the fact that they are covering him like he is losing.

And if you think about the way they covered George W. Bush, I don't think any ideological biases have really changed a whole lot since then, but they never covered George W. Bush like he was going to lose.

WALLACE: Laura, you look like you are going to come out of your chair.

INGRAHAM: Well, look, the media has been covering this year's events as if the only thing matters is who wins in November. We've actually had a president of the United States for the last year who has spent, I bet if you go through his daily schedule, I bet he has spent about 80 percent of his time running for reelection.

I submit if that were a Republican president, on a day like we had last week at the U.N., that appeared on a more entertainment focused show but could not meet with our most important ally in the Middle East, and not with a single member of a family who has been hit by one of these insider attacks in Washington, I believe the media would be going nuts.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Wait, Juan?

WILLIAMS: I mean, clearly the president went to the ceremony for Ambassador Stevens, he met with the family. I mean, I think this is Republican conspiracy. Look, if...

INGRAHAM: The FBI still isn't in Benghazi.

WILLIAMS: If you give the media the 47 percent statement, if you give the media Clint Eastwood, if you have offshore accounts, guess what, people are going to write about them.

INGRAHAM: If you have 11.7 percent real unemployment, they would be actually having that as the headline, not Mormonism in the United States.

WILLIAMS: And people know about the economy, and, as Chris pointed out earlier, the confidence in the economy and the president's ability to handle the economy he has been surging.

WALLACE: All right. Well...

INGRAHAM: Yes, because the media has been all over that.

WALLACE: ... we are not going to focus on media bias any longer. We are going to talk about issues. We are going to take a break here. And when we come back, the terror attack that killed four Americans in Libya. There are growing questions about what the president knew and when knew it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The reason that I think it pretty clearly was a terrorist attack is because a group of terrorists obviously conducted that attack on the consulate.

SEN. BOB CORKER, R-TENN.: This is turning into something not short of Benghazi-gate. I mean, what's going on here?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Defense Secretary Panetta finally calling the Benghazi assault an act of terrorism, while Republican Senator Bob Corker joins a growing number of officials questioning whether the Obama administration was involved in a cover-up.

And, we're back now with the panel.

The director of national intelligence issued an extraordinary statement Friday afternoon, that their initial information was, that it was a spontaneous protest, but that since then they got new information, they revised their assessment, and they now believe it was a deliberate, quote, "deliberate and organized terrorist attack".

Question, Bill: Does that get the Obama White House off the hook in their shifting explanations of what happened in Benghazi?

KRISTOL: Well, it shouldn't because it was clear, it was a terrorist attack and Leon Panetta said it was obviously an attack, before Susan Rice came on the show and others and said, oh, no, it was a spontaneous protest about a video.

The president has a big investment in the narrative that not only is Osama dead, but al Qaeda is finished. And, it turns out al Qaeda is capable or al Qaeda affiliates, Ansar al-Sharia are capable of launching terrorist attacks on American embassies, and in this case quite a sophisticated in Benghazi. Also attacks incidentally on the same day or the day after in Sudan and Tunisia and Yemen.

So, we have a -- you know, there's war on terror going on and the president doesn't want to discuss that and so they tried to pretend this was just a spontaneous reaction to a video.

WALLACE: Liz, the timeline that the DNI, the Department of National in -- director of national intelligence, and Panetta said was, we have early information and then got information that changed. But before Susan Rice did her famous round of five interviews, including "Fox News Sunday," the first Sunday after the attack, there was a lot of information released, allegations including the president of Libya and I specifically asked about that and I said it was a pre-planned terrorist attack and yet, they were insisting, she was, no, it was spontaneous.

MARLANTES: Yes, it was kind of amazing. I think I was on the panel that weekend. And we were just all surprised that she didn't leave wiggle room, it would have been pretty easy for them to come out and say, we're investigating. We don't really know much yet. I mean, she could have been a lot vaguer.

WALLACE: How big a problem is this?

MARLANTES: And they created a bigger problem because of the way that he handled it. I mean, I think the danger for the Obama administration is not so much voters are suddenly going to think, oh, he's weak on national security. I mean, he's got a big, big cushion in the polls right now in terms of how voters view his national security policy.

But I think there are two dangers for him. One is the honesty issue, which the Obama campaign has been hitting hard and trying to come at him in different directions on that. The idea that maybe, you know, they were deliberately dishonest or went with something they had reason to believe might not be true.

And then, I think the other real problem for Obama is the appearance of acting politically, which is, of course, what they accused Romney of doing when he issued his original statement about Benghazi. But, you know, voters will start to think, well, maybe the president is acting more in the interest of his campaign when it comes to national security issues, than really what's in the best interest of the country.

So, I think those are the two potential weak spots, coming out of all of this.

WALLACE: Laura, as we reported and as it came out in the course of our interview with Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney plans on a major foreign policy speech and a major critique of Obama's foreign policy in the next few days, probably after the debate.

How vulnerable do you think Obama's foreign policy is and how important is it for Romney to go after it?

INGRAHAM: That mantra "Usama is dead but GM lives" -- that was a pretty powerful kind of way to sum it up for him, and I think that was a smart thing for them to do.

I think today we see things a little bit differently. I mean, we see this thing unravel in Benghazi. The guess is why did they send Susan Wright out -- Rice out? Why was it necessary for her to go out on five shows and say it was spontaneous? Why not just say we have an ongoing investigation and I'm really not going to say anything more; we're going to learn more? Why is it that the FBI still can't get into the Benghazi site? They're saying it's too dangerous for the FBI.

Well, we have troops all over Afghanistan in Taliban strongholds. They're able to move and maneuver and do so at their own peril. Why are we not in Benghazi today?

I think President Obama is enormously vulnerable on this point. Because I think most Americans today question whether we are going to be the world's sole superpower five years from now or maybe three years from now.

But it's incumbent upon Mitt Romney to do the same thing, in a way, that Netanyahu did at the U.N. with that chart, you know, the bomb and the 90 percent red line. He needs to tie that all together in a really visual way. What is the world going to look like; what are we going to live like if America is not the unquestioned superpower in the world? And how is this vulnerability translating to the lives of everyday Americans?

Does it matter? I think most people want America to be the strongest and they want competence on these issues.

WALLACE: Juan?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think this is obviously taking place in a highly politicized season in the runup to the campaign. But when you look back at the timeline, I think Susan Rice, when she spoke to you, Chris, gave you the best information she had at that time. And what you see now coming from the DNI office; you later saw coming from General Petraeus at CIA and Leon Panetta at Defense, was that's what American intelligence was indicating at the time.

So I think Susan Rice was being forthcoming with you. But subsequently, according to the DNI; according to Petraeus and others, different information has come in and therefore the story has changed.

But in the current political environment, it's made out to be this is distortion, or as Laura said, they're vulnerable on this. And if you look at the polls, the American people are saying, well, what's going on over in the Middle East?

And now more and more Americans are saying we're not sure about how President Obama's approach to the Muslim world has worked. And I think the Romney campaign therefore thinks we can gain some traction on this issue in the midst of their...

INGRAHAM: Well, there's a record, right? There's a record...

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: ... very difficult and stalling campaign.

WALLACE: I want to move to one last subject. And we have a couple of minutes left. Bill, Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the U.N., which, if nothing else, will always be remembered for the stagecraft of him with that crazy-looking little bomb -- it looks like a cartoon bomb -- drawing -- literally drawing the red line.

But some experts read Netanyahu's speech as actually softening his approach to Obama. He said he appreciates the Obama administration's stance towards Iran. He seemed to be putting off any possible attack against Iran into next spring or summer. Is that the way you read his speech?

KRISTOL: Well, I think he's responsible. He's not going to go and insult the president of the United States. But I thought it was a very effective speech. I thought it was a classic example of how the media so often gets things wrong. The media narrative on that Wednesday afternoon and Thursday were, oh, how silly, that cartoonish bomb, even the front page of every newspaper...

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: ... in the U.S. and a lot around the world. And his core -- and everyone had talked vaguely about red lines, and he explained very clearly why you cannot allow them to get beyond a certain point; you can't let them get to the -- you've got to stop them before they can just flip the switch and go to a nuclear weapon.

So I thought it was a very effective speech. I think -- I agree with Laura. Mitt Romney should give an effective foreign policy speech that clearly explains -- forget about the cover-up. Talk about reality. What is happening around the world? What is happening in Afghanistan? What is happening in the Middle East as a result of our weakness?

I don't -- I think there's too much focus on the media, a cover-up, who said what when. Talk about the reality of the effects of Obama's foreign policy.

WILLIAMS: And talk about the fact that Netanyahu thanked President Obama for his speech...

INGRAHAM: On the phone.

WILLIAMS: ... saying, you know what, there's a limit to our patience, but the president said we do believe there's time for negotiation. And even Netanyahu said he doesn't think anything is going to happen until next summer at the earliest.

WALLACE: Well, part of that may also be he got some blowback for appearing to go too anti-Obama...

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

WALLACE: ... in managing that relationship.

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 web site, foxnewssunday.com. And we'll post the video before noon Eastern time. And make sure to follow us on Twitter, @FoxNewsSunday. Up next, our Power Player of the Week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Still to come, our Power Player of the Week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT CARO, AUTHOR, "THE PASSAGE OF POWER": I don't like him or dislike him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: He says he's not a biographer. He's a student of power -- how you get it and what you do with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARO: You are in awe of him because you are constantly saying, look what he's doing now!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Stay tuned, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: He is one of our most celebrated historians who has spent decades telling the story of an American president. And, yet he writes his books in long hand on legal pads, to force himself to go slower, and think more.

Here's a special "Power Player of the Week".

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARO: You want to know how political power works in America in the last half of the 20th century, studying Lyndon Johnson's life, watching him exercise power is a way to see what a president can really do.

WALLACE (voice-over): Robert Caro has spent almost half his life telling the story of LBJ. But he says he's not a biographer, he's a student of power, how you get it and what you do with it. And, Johnson, he says, was a genius at both.

(on camera): How long did you think it was going to take?

CARO: I threw in about 10 years.

WALLACE: And now, we're, what 36 years into this?

CARO: Something like that.

WALLACE (voice-over): The breadth and depth of the work is stunning. Since 1976, Caro has written four books, 3,400 pages, winning almost every award there is starting with the Pulitzer and he's not yet to Johnson and Vietnam.

Why has it taken so long? When Carol looked at how Johnson was first elected to the senate in 1948, by 87 votes, he ended up writing a book about it.

CARO: Nobody has ever looked at a stolen election from beginning to end. And say, this is where the stolen election is.

WALLACE: And his latest, "Passage of Power", tells how Johnson succeeded John Kennedy and saved his agenda.

CARO: He takes legislation that Kennedy introduced, that was stalled. It really wasn't going to pass, civil rights, the tax cut bill, and in an instant, Johnson gets it moving towards passage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very, very, very much.

WALLACE: Last week, Caro took part in the Library of Congress Book Festival on the National Mall. And it was clear, he's made Johnson come alive for many readers.

(on camera): Do you like him?

CARO: I don't like him or dislike him. You were in awe of him, because you are constantly saying, look what he's doing now.

WALLACE: He got excited talking about Johnson's rise to power. But as we turned to the final book he's writing now, about Johnson's presidency and Vietnam, his demeanor has suddenly changed.

CARO: The story is going to turn very dark as soon as Vietnam enters the picture. It's sort of a tragic story. It's the story of his great dreams that are destroyed by a war.

WALLACE: You're 76 now. Do you ever worry that you're not going to have time to finish this last book?

CARO: Well, sure, but you know, it's not productive to think like that.

WALLACE: How long do you think it's going to take you to finish?

CARO: Well, I could say three to four years, but why would you believe me?

WALLACE: After all, Caro's latest book took nine years. But there is at least one part of the final chapter of the Johnson's story that is already written.

Is it true that you already know the last sentence of the book?

CARO: I always have to have a last sentence to write towards. I have to know what the conclusion is.

WALLACE: Can you tell us?

CARO: No.

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: Is it a doozy of a last sentence?

CARO: Well, I hope so.

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: While Caro feels the time pressure to finish up the Johnson story, he also has plans to write another book on a different subject after that. As a big fan of his work, I can't wait to read it. And we'll have a final note in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Finally, this program note. Stay tuned to this station and Fox News Channel for complete coverage of the first presidential debate in Denver. That's Wednesday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. And that's it for today. Have a great week and we'll see you next "Fox News Sunday."

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Sunday December 21, 2014

The FBI has confirmed that North Korea was behind the recent cyber-attack on Sony Pictures, and now the entertainment company has announced that it will no longer release the controversial comedy “The Interview” on Christmas Day, amid threats of violence and pressure from theater owners. Have we underestimated North Korea’s cyber capabilities? We’ll discuss exclusively with Rep Mike Rogers (R-MI), Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who was a prisoner of the Cuban government since 2009, was freed this week in a deal many hope signals a new era in diplomatic relations between the two countries. President Obama announced plans to “normalize” ties with the Cuba, beginning with re-opening the U.S. embassy in Havana, easing travel restrictions and reviewing the country’s label as a state sponsor of terror. We’ll debate whether or not this is good policy with two members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Sen Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Sen Ben Cardin (D-MD).