ROMNEY: It's time to stand up to the cheaters and make sure we protect jobs for the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: So, Mary, let's first talk about the merits of the Obama trade sanction for -- against China for subsidizing its automobile industry. Fair?
KISSEL: Yes, isn't it terrible, Paul, that Chinese citizens are subsidizing cheaper automobiles for millions and millions of American consumers, which is what neither ad would acknowledge. Look, it may be a compare complaint. That's what the WTO is there to do --
GIGOT: World Trade Organization.
KISSEL: World Trade Organization -- is it arbitrate these complaints? But the problem is that the Obama administration has politicized this process, as we saw today or with the announcement, made that announcement in Ohio. The administration has been politicizing trade since 2009 when they launched their first case against China at the behest of the United Steel Workers. So when that happens, it's hard to tell if it's a fair complaint. Because the way that they've prosecuted these cases is --
KISSEL: -- it's very political.
STEPHENS: Blame has to be equally apportioned to Mitt Romney, who -- this is a guy who really ought to know better. When he's talking about protecting jobs, that's a Democratic talking point. He should be talking about creating jobs.
KISSEL: And opening markets.
STEPHENS: And opening markets, and that's exactly it. And this is why, I think, so many voters are uncomfortable with Mitt Romney, because he's not presenting an alternative. He's presenting a kind of "me too" populism, which we haven't seen, by the way. I don't know if we've had two protectionist candidates for the presidency since 1920s.
GIGOT: You call Mitt Romney protectionist, but this is the contradiction of his message. On the one hand he says expand trade opportunities as one of the five pillars of his job-creation agenda and then he turns around and contradicts that by saying, well, except for China, where we're going to slap them with trade sanctions. It doesn't really connect.
HENNINGER: Yes. It doesn't really connect.
Let's look at the simple politics of this. This is obviously aimed at the auto-producing states around the Great Lakes. So Mitt Romney goes into Ohio and says, the Chinese are cheaters, all right? He lays his cards on the table. Then the president comes in and says he's launching his WTO complaint, and talks about the things he's done on China. And it seems to me that it's basically like Chess. Mitt moved in, the president moved in, you default to the president, because it's a very complicated subject. I think it was a complete waste of political capital and time by the Romney administration.
GIGOT: It takes a difference of opinion to make a horse race, as they say. And if you don't have a difference in the campaign --
GIGOT: -- there's no real advantage, particularly if you're the opposition, who is trying to make a case, find some issues with which he can criticize the president instead of the president saying, I'm just as tough as Mitt.
KISSEL: And meanwhile, what's happening in global trade -- well, a lot of free trade agreements between the countries of the Asia Pacific but absolutely zero in the United States and the EU? So you have all of these countries in the fastest-growing part of the world creating markets and, meanwhile, the Obama administration is doing nothing, but implementing what the Bush administration inked.
GIGOT: But --
STEPHENS: The Romney campaign also has an opportunity to educate American voters to say that even when we have Chinese imports, and they're not always -- sometimes they're what's, quote, "made in China," isn't really made in China. Those are creating hundreds of thousands of jobs along the value chain in the United States. There was a Heritage Institute study that came out just a couple of weeks ago that said that clothing and toy manufacture alone, we're talking about half a million or so jobs that were supported in 2010. So, again, this is a chance for Romney to do what Reagan did, which was educate people about the benefits of free trade, of capitalism, of prosperity, of opening markets, and it's his inability to do this.
GIGOT: All fine and good, Bret, but he would say, look, what about the voters who don't have college degrees. What about those folks who are struggling who rely on manufacturing, and I've got to speak up for them. And that's fine for you college-educated folks, but I've got to not only get those voters, but I have to speak to their aspirations.
STEPHENS: By all means, do that as part of the aspiration of a growing economy that's creating job. Also there's a manufacturing renaissance in the United States largely due or increasingly due to the domestic energy supplies, another point he can raise against Barack Obama. This is a guy who is cutting off Keystone. I want to increase our domestic energy sources.
GIGOT: All right.
Thank you all.
Still ahead, with new swing state polls showing President Obama ahead, even some Republicans are ready to pack it in. But is the surrender premature? GOP pollster, Whit Ayers, takes a closer look at the numbers when we come back.
GIGOT: Was the Obama convention bounce a bust? Much has been made this past week about the president's lead in the polls, with pundits on the left and the right, suggesting that Republican rival, Mitt Romney, is headed towards certain defeat. But GOP pollster Whit Ayers has taken a closer look at the numbers and he sees something else.
So welcome back to the program, Whit. Good to see you again.
WHIT AYERS, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Paul, great to be with you.
GIGOT: Let's take the question first about the bounce. Has it faded?
AYERS: This rush to judgment is truly breath taking.
There's so many people who've basically declared the Mitt Romney campaign over six weeks before the election, before four debates, before an October jobs report. I think if you really want to get a sense of where this race is, Paul, you need to forget the headlines and look at the data. There are a number of good web sites that aggregate the data -- RealClearPolitics, Pollster.com.
AYERS: If you do that, what you'll discover is that the Obama lead over Romney in June, as an average of all polls, was 2.3 percent. In July, it was 2.5. In August, it was 2.4. And in September, so far, it's somewhere between 2.5 and 3, depending on the day you look. So essentially, this race is no different now than it was throughout the summer.
GIGOT: OK, but --