MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, another Capitol failure. In a clash over spending cuts and tax increases, the supercommittee fails to reach agreement on a plan to reduce the deficit, setting in motion a trigger for across the board spending cuts to go into effect in 2013. Now some lawmakers want to rewrite the law, but the president vows to block any effort to change the rules after the fact.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to, to domestic and Defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one.
MR. GREGORY: So what now? Is there any hope for compromise in the Senate? And will the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of the year be extended? We'll ask the senior senator from New York this morning, Chuck Schumer. Plus, the other side of the debate, as Democrats assign blame for the supercommittee failure.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): Grover Norquist, a lobbyist, got a whole bunch of people to sign a pledge that became more important, I think, than the pledge that we take to full and faithfully execute our duties as senators and uphold the Constitution and defend it against everybody. I believe that that was the 13th member of this meeting, of this committee.
MR. GREGORY: We will hear from the man behind the taxpayer protection pledge, Grover Norquist.
And our political roundtable this morning, what is the fallout from the supercommittee failure? Why is it so hard to get anything done in Washington? Would politicians rather have the issue in this election year than a deal?
Plus, only 37 shopping days until the Iowa Caucus. Will the Republican field remain volatile up until the votes are cast? And what are the big leadership tests for the president's re-election efforts? We'll ask author and professor at Georgetown University Michael Eric Dyson; editor of the National Review Rich Lowry; former editor for Newsweek magazine, now executive editor at Random House Jon Meacham; and presidential historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning. Big political news this morning from New Hampshire, the first primary state in the 2012 election. A key endorsement and big boost of the candidacy of Newt Gingrich from the conservative New Hampshire Union Leader saying in its editorial this morning that the former speaker of the House "has the experience, leadership and vision to lead this country in trying times." The endorsement was a blow to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The newspaper saying "We'd rather back someone with whom we may sometimes disagree than one who tells us what he thinks we want to hear." The jockeying on the campaign trail comes as Washington is still trying to manage fallout from the failure of the supercommittee to deal with the government's budget deficit. Here with us live this morning to continue that debate and find out what is next, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, whose anti-tax pledge played a key role in the supercommittee showdown.
Senator Schumer, I want to begin with you.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Sure.
MR. GREGORY: I hope you had a good holiday.
SEN. SCHUMER: I did.
MR. GREGORY: Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS. Let's talk about the fallout and what comes next from the supercommittee failing to get a deal. One big question before the end of the year is the payroll tax holiday. The president would like to see it extended. What's going to happen in the Senate?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, the first thing we're going to do when we get back this week is put the payroll tax holiday on the floor of the Senate. It would give middle class families about $1,000 extra in their pockets. The average family would get that. It would boost the economy. And we pay for it with a small surtax on incomes over $1 million. It's essential that we do this. We're going to keep at it and at it and at it because it's so important for the economy.
MR. GREGORY: Why do you, why do you think the Republicans will go along with that in the Senate?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well...
MR. GREGORY: Do you have the votes?
SEN. SCHUMER: ...it's hard to believe the Republicans would oppose this, for two reasons. First of all, they've spent so much time fighting to preserve the Bush tax cuts for the millionaires, it's hard to believe they wouldn't want to preserve a tax cut for the middle class. That's number one. And number two, most of them have supported things like this in the past. They say the way to get the economy going is cut taxes. They don't like increased spending on infrastructure, things like that. And, in fact, certain people have made favorable noises about this, Marco Rubio, Mike Simpson, and even Newt Gingrich, whom you just mentioned. On the other side, of course, is the man who has a great deal of clout who you're going to have on the show right after me, Grover Norquist. He believes that raising this tax or letting this tax expire does not violate the pledge that people signed, even though raising the Bush tax cuts, letting those expire would. It's hard to understand the logic of saying one is a tax increase and one isn't.
MR. GREGORY: So you predict passage?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I would hope we would pass it. I think it's very hard for Republicans to vote against this, given their past history of defending the tax cuts for the wealthiest among us. If they don't--if it doesn't pass once, we're going to put it on the floor again and again, and we would be open to other ideas of paying for it if this one fails.
MR. GREGORY: The other prospect is unemployment benefits, emergency unemployment benefits that would expire at the end of the year. Will you push for those to be extended as well?
SEN. SCHUMER: Yes. Those are very, very important. The economists tell us that unemployment benefits give the most bang for the buck to get this economy going because, obviously, unemployed people don't have much other money and they spend it and pump the money into the economy. That's essential, and it's also humane. I have so many constituents, David, who have been searching and searching and searching for jobs. They're not lazy, they've worked their lives, 20 years, and then lost their job. And to now put them down and out would make no sense at all.
MR. GREGORY: Do you support a work around on these Defense cuts, nearly $600 billion? The president says no easy off-ramps. Republicans are saying we can't gut the Pentagon, even though that's what the failure of the supercommittee always said would happen.
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, let me say this. That would be a huge mistake, and it would basically make deficit reduction impossible. The whole purpose of what was put in place in July with the debt ceiling vote was to have very sharp knives hanging over the heads of each party. And the fear that those knives would come into effect is supposed to bring us to an agreement, and I think actually we can get an agreement in 2012. That's contrarian. I'll talk about that in a minute if you want me to elaborate. But if you take one of those knives away and one side or the other can sit back and say "I'm fine" without the fear of sequestration, you lose it. So the president is right to offer a veto threat, and I believe we Democrats would fight to take any piece of this--of these, of these sequestration cuts off the table because it will mean no deficit reduction at all.
MR. GREGORY: A lot of blame about why the supercommittee failed. You mentioned Grover Norquist, who'll be my guest in just a moment.
SEN. SCHUMER: Yes.
MR. GREGORY: Senator John Kerry said, in effect, he was the 13th member of the committee, that his taxpayer protection pledge is a stranglehold on Republicans and they don't dare defy him. Is it a little easy to blame an anti-tax advocate in the failure of Congress to do what it said it would do?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, he does have a great deal of clout, and one of the members of the supercommittee, Democrat, said to me that when they started talking about revenues, the Republican members all said, "We'll never pass anything with any revenues in either the House or Senate because of the pledge." But let me take a step back here, because I think it's important to outline this, the one good consensus we have on both Democratic and Republican sides is that we have to reduce the deficit. We're sort of like a blindfolded man walking towards a cliff and, if we keep walking, we're going to fall off and die. Some may argue the cliff is 50 yards away, some may argue 500, but we all agree if you keep walking, you die. Now, how did we get into this problem? First, there is the growth of entitlement programs, Medicare and Medicaid. In 20--in 2000 we had a surplus. In 2010, we have a deep deficit. What changed? First, the growth of the entitlement programs, as I mentioned. Second were the tax cuts put into place by President Bush. And those are the two leading reasons. Third, lesser importance, but still important...
MR. GREGORY: Well...
SEN. SCHUMER: ...is the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. You have to deal with both of the first two to get this done.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let me ask you about that because there's--you say there's orthodoxy, other Democrats say, "There's this orthodoxy on the right, they'll never pass anything that has to do with tax increases." What about the pressure the Democrats are under from orthodox elements of their own party having to do with entitlements? You talk about Grover Norquist. What about the AARP, which ran ads like this, warning members of Congress not to mess with Social Security and Medicare. Watch.
(Videotape of AARP ad)
Unidentified Man #1: So, Washington, before you even think about cutting my Medicare and Social Security benefits, here's a number you should remember: 50 million. We are 50 million seniors who earned our benefits, and you will be hearing from us today and on Election Day.
MR. GREGORY: So Senator, isn't it true that, in fact, Democrats wanted to make the price so high for tax revenues, so high for actually touching Medicare and Social Security, that there was no way you were going to get a deal?
SEN. SCHUMER: Absolutely not. First, we put a reasonable amount of tax revenues on the table, and when the Republicans said that was too high, our people lowered the amount. But second, we were willing to put significant entitlement savings reform on the table. The amount of entitlement savings that was proposed by Democrats on the supercommittee, Senate Democrats, exceeded the amount of savings proposed by Simpson-Bowles, and everyone said that's a very, very serious measure. Yes, there were some Democrats who didn't like it, but we knew we had to do that, and we did. And just one other point, everyone in the room agrees that Democrats put entitlements on the table. Rob Portman, one of the Republican supernegotiators said, when asked did Democrats put entitlements on the table, he said, "Yes, I give them credit for that." That's his words, not mine.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, let me ask you about Simpson-Bowles. This, of course, was the panel that was convened that was set up by President Obama--Alan Simpson, former senator of Wyoming; Republican Erskine Bowles, former White House chief of staff, a Democrat. It did call for tax increases. It did call for cutting benefits to Social Security and Medicare. It did call for sweeping tax reform. Is there a prospect of some revival of Simpson-Bowles now?
SEN. SCHUMER: Yes. I believe--this is a contrarian view--but we have a good chance of actually getting the big package, big deficit reduction in 2012 for two reasons--three reasons really. First, the knives that I mentioned that were over our heads, the Bush tax cuts expire in 2013. Sequestration goes into effect in 2013. Now that seems a year and a month away. But as we get closer and closer and closer, the pressure on both parties to come together in the middle, provided we don't remove one of those knives, like taking defense off the table, is going to be stronger and stronger. Second, the Republican primaries will end. Right now, the Republican primary pushes the candidates and then their Senate and congressional supporters to the right. You know, all of them said they wouldn't be for $1 of revenues for $10, in return for $10 of spending cuts. But once you get a nominee, they have to move to the middle.
MR. GREGORY: Well, let me...
SEN. SCHUMER: That's where the American people are. And third, as people go home, they're going to hear from their members, "Solve this"--their constituents--"Solve this problem." So my view is we have a really good chance, basically along the outlines of Simpson, the broad outlines of Simpson-Bowles--you couldn't vouch for any specific--but the broad outline of $1 trillion in revenues, $1 trillion in mandatory savings, and $1 trillion in discretionary savings to get that done.
MR. GREGORY: Let me do quick--two quick ones on politics. Does President Obama stand to gain politically after the supercommittee's failure in your judgment?
SEN. SCHUMER: Yes. Here's why I think 2012 is going to be a very good year for Democrats, because the big political landscape plates are changing. Last year, "Cut the government. Cut the government. Cut the government," and the tea party was ascending. That's being discredited by the American people now. They don't agree with the tea party, they don't like the tea party, and what has come to the fore is income inequality and helping the middle class. That puts the wind at our back, and I would predict that President Obama is going to win. That's very likely, and it's very, very likely that we're going to keep the Senate because the whole battleground has changed away from just cutting the government and towards helping the middle class and dealing with income inequality.
MR. GREGORY: You've always respected and admired Newt Gingrich, as you've said publicly.
SEN. SCHUMER: Yes, I have.
MR. GREGORY: Is he going to be the Republican nominee?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, who knows? He's clearly a smart guy. And, look, I give him some credit for not just blowing with the winds on an issue like immigration. That showed some real courage, and I think people are looking for courage and leadership. But, you know, to me--for me a little Democrat from Brooklyn, New York, to predict what's going to happen in the Republican primary...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
SEN. SCHUMER: ...I'm not messing in.
MR. GREGORY: But you know him well. Would he be a good president, senator?
SEN. SCHUMER: Well, I'm not--I think Barack Obama would be a much better president.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
SEN. SCHUMER: He's got too much ideological baggage to the right.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it there. Senator Schumer, thank you very much.
SEN. SCHUMER: Thanks. Bye-bye.
MR. GREGORY: Let me turn to the man now in the middle of the debate over taxes and spending, anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform.
Mr. Norquist, welcome to MEET THE PRESS. Your name has been mentioned prominently throughout the week here in Washington. And in profiles done of you, Alan Simpson, who we've been talking about, the head of the Simpson-Bowles commission, he was interviewed in a profile about you for "60 Minutes." And this is what he said.
(Videotape, November 20, 2011)
FMR. SEN. ALAN SIMPSON (R-WY): He may well be the most powerful man in America today. So, if that's what he wants, he's got it. You know, he, megalomaniac, egomaniac, whatever you want to call him, if that's his goal, he's damned near there. And he ought to run for president because that would be his platform, no taxes under any situation, even if your country goes to hell.
MR. GREGORY: What do you say to that?
MR. GROVER NORQUIST: Well, look, the tax issue is a very important issue. It's odd some people have tried to personalize it, but the American people have had their taxes raised in the past. In 1982 the Democrats said, "Gee, if you let us raise taxes, we'll cut spending $3 for every dollar of tax increase." Taxes were raised, spending didn't go down, spending went up. Same thing happened in 1990 although George Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, was promised $2 in phony spending cuts for every dollar of tax increase. Taxes went up, spending actually increased. It wasn't cut. Twice the Democrats have said, "Let's raise taxes and cut spending." Twice taxes were increased, spending was not reduced at all. So the American people aren't falling for that again. We know that if you raise taxes the politicians in Washington simply spend it. And they can promise anything they want, but Lucy and the football, Charlie Brown just isn't going to fall for this again.
MR. GREGORY: But, Mr. Norquist, don't times change? Isn't that what Alan Simpson is saying? I think his conservative bona fides are pretty well established, and he's saying, "Look, times change. There requires a balanced approach, and in this kind of economy, after a financial crisis, revenues have to be part of the picture."
MR. NORQUIST: No. Raising taxes slows the economy. Raising taxes kills jobs. Government spending does not create jobs. The idea that if you take $1 out of the economy and then--from somebody who earned it, either through debt or through taxes, and give it to somebody who's politically connected that there are more dollars around? That if you stand on one side of the lake and put a bucket into the lake and walk around to the other side in front of the TV cameras, pour the bucket back into the lake and announce you're stimulating the lake to great depths. We just wasted $800 billion on stimulus spending that added to debt that killed jobs. There are fewer jobs than before.
MR. GREGORY: But the notion, but the notion that tax cuts or tax increases somehow impact economic growth, we know historically that's simply not the case. President Clinton raised taxes during boom times. President Bush lowered taxes did not spur great job creation. Isn't that one of the falsehoods that's pedaled in Washington?
MR. NORQUIST: No. If you take a look at when you cut marginal tax rates, the strong growth in the last six years of the '90s started the day the Republicans captured the House and Senate. Didn't happen in the first two years, certainly didn't happen with the tax increase, and there was a cut of the capital gains tax that helped stimulate economic growth there.
The Bush tax cuts 2001 were not designed to be stimulative to the economy. There were a lot of tax credits in there, they weren't real reductions in rates. The 2003 rate reductions you had on cap gains and others, that gave you four years of strong economic growth that lasted until the Democrats won the House and Senate, and you knew those tax cuts were going away.
MR. GREGORY: Here's the reality in terms of how Americans feel about taxes and, indeed, how Republicans feel about it, which seems to be at odds to where you are. Marist polling out earlier this month indicates 53 percent of Republicans agree, yes, taxes should be raised on higher income Americans as part of a debt deal. I mean, this is also against the backdrop of history of Ronald Reagan raising taxes, a conservative icon.
MR. NORQUIST: Yeah, and my point was that when Reagan did it in '82 as part of a deal, the Democrats never actually cut the spending. Taxes went up, spending didn't go down. It's just for a number of reasons tax increases are what politicians do rather than reform government, rather than make tough decisions.
MR. GREGORY: Do you--well, do you think in this case, then, that Republicans are wrong to seek some sort of work around on automatic cuts in Defense spending after the failure of the supercommittee?
MR. NORQUIST: Well, remember the supercommittee was supposed to come up with $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over a decade. Not a lot, but a start moving in the right direction. Because they couldn't come up with a list, it goes to a sequester. That's not a failure. That was option two. The politicians couldn't come up with a list so you go to an across-the-board sequester. That's not as good as the Paul Ryan plan, which the Republican House has already passed. That was a $6 trillion spending restraint. We're not arguing with nothing on the table. We've actually had one body, the House, pass a responsible budget that cuts spending, doesn't raise taxes. Senator Schumer is the leader of the Democrats in the Senate. The Senate didn't do a budget this year. They didn't do a budget the year before. They didn't do a budget the year before that. So, if they would write down a budget, not talk about it--remember Obama gave a speech and the Congressional Budget Office says, "We can't do an economic score of a speech." OK, if they'd knock off with the talking points and write a budget and get it scored, then we could have something to look at.
MR. GREGORY: But you mentioned Lucy and the football.
MR. NORQUIST: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: You heard Senator Schumer about the payroll tax cut extension, which Democrats would like to do; Republicans, including yourself, are opposed to. Look, when people talked about the Bush era tax cuts expiring, Republicans described that as a tax increase. These were on a 10-year time horizon. Why is it that a payroll tax extension that is not extended, why isn't that a tax increase?
MR. NORQUIST: Well, two things, I'm not opposed to extending the payroll tax particularly. I think it's destructive to, to extend it and raise some other tax the same dollar amount, matter of fact, in a more destructive economic policy. But the other piece to this is the reason why people view the one-year tax holiday that Obama put in a year ago, as a temporary tax increase was that President Obama said it was going to be temporary when he put it in. When the Republicans in the House and Senate passed the '01 and '03 tax cuts, those were, as, as their advocates said, intended to be permanent. They weren't for reasons of, of Democratic filibusters, but they were always intended to be permanent tax reductions. Obama was the guy who said that this was a tax holiday. Calling it a tax holiday kind of suggests they viewed it as temporary. Holidays aren't permanent.
MR. GREGORY: As for the supercommittee failure...
MR. NORQUIST: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...Republicans did propose some revenue increases, and yet you said publicly you were assured by the leaders of Congress there would never be anything to pass with a tax increase. Was that a sham proposal?
MR. NORQUIST: No. I--several things. One, I think it was put on the table, and it did one thing. It made it clear that the Democrats had no interest in tax reform because they put it in one night, two senators said this is intriguing. The next morning they came back and said no to tax reform, no to reducing rates. And then they also said no to any deal that didn't have at least $1 trillion of tax increases. So the Dem--people say the Republicans said "Don't raise taxes." Correct. Two hundred and thirty-six Republicans in the House have signed a commitment to the American people, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, that they would not vote for a tax increase as long as they're a member of Congress, and 41 senators have made the same commitment. Those are important commitments. Those are public commitments. But the Democrats have the secret agreement, which they've announced every once in awhile on TV, they want $1 trillion in tax increases. So who's being unreasonable? The guys who want $1 trillion more of your money to waste, or the people who say, "We're spending too much of your money now. Let's bring spending down to normal levels, not try and get to where Greece is."
MR. GREGORY: What makes you so sure that you will triumph by targeting politicians who raise taxes, by going to the voters and pointing out that they've done that? What if the next Republican president comes along, like Reagan, and says, "Grover, sorry, times have changed. I'm going with a different approach. I'm throwing away your pledge, and we're moving forward." You still think you'll prevail?
MR. NORQUIST: Look, I don't think a Republican would be likely to win the presidential election in the general if it wasn't clear that he wanted to go in a different direction than Obama. If you want to raise taxes to pay for Obama's bigger government, then you vote for the Democrats, for crying out loud. If you think we should bring the size of government down to what America can afford, then you would vote for the Republican. All of the Republican presidential candidates, with the exception of Utah Jon Huntsman, have committed, in writing, to the American people, not to me, to the American people, that they won't raise taxes. What they say is, "I'm going to go to Washington. You know what I'm not going to do? I'm not going to raise your taxes. I'm going to fix the mess." It's the Democrats whose position is that the only problem in Washington, D.C., is the peasants aren't sending enough cash in for the king to spend.
MR. GREGORY: And if a Republican raises taxes after taking the pledge, as president of the United States...
MR. NORQUIST: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: ...iron clad, one term president in your view?
MR. NORQUIST: Well, we have some history here. George Herbert Walker Bush had a very successful presidency. He managed the collapse of the Soviet Union, he threw Iraq out of Kuwait, didn't get stuck occupying the place for a decade. He had one small hole in the bottom of his boat. He said he wouldn't raise taxes and he did, and he lost the presidency. The American people don't like people who lie their way into office. They do like people who keep their commitments and say, "I'm not going to raise your taxes because you're not the problem, America. We're going to reform Washington's overspending. That's the problem."
MR. GREGORY: Is Newt Gingrich the likely nominee of the party?
MR. NORQUIST: Boy, Newt has sure shot up quickly, and the New Hampshire endorsement, I think, is--I'm originally from Massachusetts. The Union Leader endorsement is very important. I think highly of Romney, and he's been the front-runner. Newt, Romney, one of those guys is, is moving forward.
MR. GREGORY: Who...
MR. NORQUIST: They've both looked you in the eye and said they're not going to raise your taxes.
MR. GREGORY: Who's got the better conservative credentials?
MR. NORQUIST: On taxes, they're both fine on their commitments not to raise taxes. And Newt's put together a fairly radical, robust tax reform proposal. I think the most written-out one is now Rick Perry's of Texas. His 20 percent top rate, kill the death tax, kill cap gains, that's great. I think Romney put his plan in very early, needs to update it to catch up with sort of where the debate's going.
MR. GREGORY: We'll leave it there. Grover Norquist, thank you very much.
And coming up, Decision 2012, the key newspaper endorsement in New Hampshire for Newt Gingrich. Is he the new Romney alternative conservatives have been looking for? And what will it mean for the rest of the field, with so much at stake in the Granite State on January 10th? Plus, fallout from the supercommittee failure. Is there a leadership deficit in Washington? Why is it so hard to get anything done? And what does it mean for the 2012 campaign? Our roundtable weighs in: Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, National Review's Rich Lowry, Jon Meacham, and our presidential historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, the state of the race for the White House. After a big New Hampshire endorsement for New Gingrich, will it change the state of the race? Joining me, the roundtable's here: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jon Meacham, Michael Beschloss, Rich Lowry, and Michael Eric Dyson up next after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We're back with our political roundtable. Joining me, editor of the National Review, Rich Lowry; author and professor at Georgetown University, Michael Eric Dyson; presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; executive editor of Random House Jon Meacham, and presidential historian Michael Beschloss.
Welcome, everybody. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving. And you know, the great thing about Thanksgiving is you get everybody around the table and, unless you decide to just talk about the food, you might actually get into politics and the big issues that we're discussing. So let's get into it.
Politics, and, boy, this Republican race is getting very, very interesting. We mentioned it all morning, the Union Leader of New Hampshire endorsing Newt Gingrich in New Hampshire. This is what they say, "America is at a crucial crossroads. ... We're in a critical need of innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing. He did so with the Contract with America. He did it in bringing in the first Republican House in 40 years and by forging balanced budgets and even a surplus despite the political challenge of dealing with a Democratic president. A lot of candidates say they're going to improve Washington. Newt Gingrich has actually done that, and in this race he offers the best shot of doing it again. ... He has the experience, the leadership qualities and vision to lead this country in these trying times."
Rich, this is a big shot in the arm for his candidacy.
MR. RICH LOWRY: Yeah, it's a big deal. And the Union Leader, it doesn't just endorse, it really drives that endorsement. You showed the front page, and they have it there in a blaring headline. And I think they're attracted to Newt, he had an editorial meeting with them recently, for the same reasons that he's done so well in the debate. His boldness of expression and his command of the issues. I tend to think Newt is a little bit like watching an episode of "MacGruber" on "Saturday Night Live." He has this explosive device with him constantly, which is his propensity to say things that are incredibly impolitic, but if he gets through the next six weeks and if he wins Iowa, he is now set up for a hell of a run.
MR. GREGORY: You look in New Hampshire, he's still got a ways to climb. You look at the latest poll, WMUR/UNH, it's still Romney on top at 42 percent to Gingrich's 15. And, and the difficulty that Romney still faces, though, is conservative credentials, Jon Meacham, and that's what this endorsement is, in part, addressing.
MR. JON MEACHAM: Totally. He--there is an "anybody but Romney" phenomena, and Gingrich has, I think, finally become sort of, you know, Bush had his Dole, Reagan had his Bush, Bush had his McCain. I think Romney and Gingrich now are the two. But people don't trust Romney in the Republican Party because he has seemed to be all things to all people. And when he was the Massachusetts governor, he was a Rockefeller Republican. When he wanted to be the Republican nominee, he became more conservative. And I think that there's a great unease here that continues and shows no sign of abating.
MR. GREGORY: Well, and in fact the Union Leader gets to that. Later on, in this endorsement for Gingrich, there was, as well, kind of dig at Romney, Doris. We'll put it on the screen. "We don't back candidates based on popularity polls," as they indicate in the endorsement, "or big-shot backers. We look for conservatives of courage and conviction who are independent-minded, grounded in their core beliefs about this nation and its people, and best equipped for the job.
"We don't have to agree with them on every issue. We'd rather back someone with whom we may sometimes disagree than one who tells us what he thinks we want to hear."
MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: It's a devastating dig, I think. You know, it's usually the Democrats who talk about the flip-flop of Romney and assume they're going to take it big when it goes into the big election campaign, but the Republicans are looking for somebody who's tried and true. Especially that conservative group that's going to be in the primaries, they care this time about ideological purity, and there's no way if the other candidates start putting up what Romney has said over and over time. Unfortunately, he should never have come from Massachusetts. It's our state that will have done him in because, if you're going to win in Massachusetts, you cannot be that conservative.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Well, but, but, I mean, in the White House, all they think about is Mitt Romney, Michael. And really, you think Newt Gingrich is the one they're going to now start pivoting and saying, "We've got to deal with Newt Gingrich"? You know, here the president talked about getting past the fights of the '90s, and he could face Newt Gingrich?
MR. MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Anything can happen. You know, John Kennedy said in 1963, "I want Barry Goldwater. I'll never have to leave the White House during the campaign." And I think probably the Obama people may be saying the same thing. But, you know, the other thing in New Hampshire that really works against Romney and what this Union Leader endorsement plays into, they love to overturn front-runners.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Mm-hmm.
MR. BESCHLOSS: Edmund Muskie, even Lyndon Johnson, almost, in 1968. George W. Bush in 2000. Mitt Romney has invested so much in saying, "I'm, I'm really from New Hampshire, not really from Massachusetts."
MS. GOODWIN: (Unintelligible)
MR. BESCHLOSS: "I've got a house in New Hampshire. Think of me that way." If he gets anything less than this overwhelming number that he's gotten in the polls right now, not going to help.
MR. GREGORY: Michael, you're not exactly a conservative Republican primary voter.
MR. DYSON: Wow.
MR. GREGORY: But how do you...
MR. DYSON: That's a revelation of myself I didn't know.
MR. MEACHAM: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: So how do you...
MR. DYSON: Happy Thanksgiving to you.
MR. GREGORY: How do, how do you assess this field and what we're seeing? Up and down, up and down for so many different candidates.
MR. DYSON: Yeah. They owe debts to children's games of going up and down and maybe to U2, we "still haven't found what we're looking for." I think that, obviously, it's, it's a difficult route here because what's interesting to me is that Republicans choose a guy, at least the, the Union Leader, like a Newt Gingrich, all of the stuff about his personal life, all of the questionable moral practices, and the reasons those have to be foregrounded is because the Republicans have been strong, especially the far right, upon character as critical to governance. If that's the case, Newt Gingrich comes in the door with a handicap. On the other hand, you've got Romney who's like a blank slate, he's like a tabula rasa. He's like a big philosophical problem that you can write your stuff on and whatever you say, he's like ideological camouflage. Wherever you put him, that's what he's going to look like.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. DYSON: And I think in that sense, the soul of Republicanism has been lost to, I think, arguments about what we're going to do with taxes, Grover Norquist, all of that stuff. They just haven't found the center of gravity for them yet.
MR. LOWRY: Well, well, Doris referred to our Republican voters looking for someone who is tried and true, and that's really so. But the irony here is Newt and Romney are very similar kinds of politicians in a lot of ways. They're both center right, both smooth talking in their own ways, they've both been prone to compromise, and they both have flip-flopped a lot over the years. Now, Romney did it in one fell swoop when he left Massachusetts for the Republican primary fight in '08. Gingrich has done it serially over time because, as, as much of a, a historian, he also imagines himself a futurist. So he's constantly looking for the hot new thing.
MR. MEACHAM: But he's also, you know, he has an incredible capacity to trip himself up.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. MEACHAM: I mean, he has, he--remember, this was going to be the age of Gingrich in 1994, '95.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. MEACHAM: And he got outmaneuvered by President Clinton.
MR. GREGORY: Well, look what, look what else is happening here. You have these debates that are, in effect, a first primary, where people are making their impressions based on how well they perform. What are all the other news headlines about? Incredible gaffes. I mean, Herman Cain having to be reminded about the Libya campaign, which happened about five minutes ago. So, I mean, this is what's dominating, and then Romney is just sort of steady as you go, steady as you go.
MS. GOODWIN: (Unintelligible)
MR. BESCHLOSS: And he may be nominated as a result of that.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. BESCHLOSS: That steady performance in his debates, but the downside is he gets to that convention, the delegates of this convention next summer are not likely to be Mitt Romney-type Republicans, and they're going to exact a price. There's going to be a platform that is probably a lot more conservative than he is.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. BESCHLOSS: They'll probably demand a vice president of that kind. You know, look how conservative John McCain looked in the fall of '08 compared to the way he did, say, in January.
MS. GOODWIN: I was going to go back to...
MR. GREGORY: Go ahead, Doris.
MS. GOODWIN: I was going to go back to what you said about the personal problems that Gingrich might face if they come up in a general election.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MS. GOODWIN: I mean, you would hope those would be problems, but there's something about our electorate right now that is so cynical about politicians in general...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MS. GOODWIN: ...that is so used to being shocked about things that that level of shockdom, if that's such a word, has come down, and I'm not sure it's going to play out as much to worry about one, two, three wives as it would've. Twenty years ago that would've been the end.
MR. BESCHLOSS: Sure.
MR. DYSON: Right.
MR. GREGORY: And character doesn't seem to count in the same way among Republicans--I don't know if it defines it as much. Interesting, one of our roundtablers, Alex Castellanos, a GOP strategist, writing on our Press Pass blog--and let this be an example to you others to contribute to our blog--"Can Newt Gingrich possibly win this nomination? Today, no. However, if Romney's balloon-thin campaign suffers the slightest prick, no one else can win it, either. Then it's anybody's game, including Gingrich's. A Palin endorsement could take Gingrich over the hump on immigration and help him congeal the right. It would compel Romney to land the Huckabee endorsement to counter. Swallow hard, Romneyites: Can you say, `Vice President Huckabee?'"
That goes to your point, Michael. I mean, Rich, might he have to do that? I mean, Mike Huckabee, in particular, to go to the South on a couple of issues, by the way, a lot of issues with his Mormon faith in the South and just his conservative credentials in saying, "This guy's OK."
MR. LOWRY: Yeah. Well, that would be quite a coup for Romney because pretty much everyone else on the stage in those debates in '08 hated Romney, but no one hated him more than Mike Huckabee. Clearly, it had become some sort of personal grudge.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. LOWRY: For--so for Huckabee to endorse him would be a pretty big deal.
MR. MEACHAM: It seems to me this is actually ultimately perhaps good for Romney because every Republican nominee has had some test early on in recent years. Reagan lost Iowa in 1980, George H.W. Bush lost to Bob Dole in 1988, George Bush--George W. Bush lost to McCain in 2000 in New Hampshire. People like the adversity.
MR. LOWRY: There's always a near-death experience.
MR. DYSON: Mm-hmm.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. MEACHAM: And it may be--this may be a good--an early wake-up call for him.
MR. DYSON: But if you become the candidate by default, I mean, the thing is that, given the scenario you've painted, if he comes to that convention and he's gotten in by default, there's no enthusiasm. They speak about the Obama enthusiasm gap. I think that Romney faces a much harder way to go because there's not the investment, and there's going to be the in-fighting. What they say about Democrats holding a firing squad in semi-circles is going to be especially true of the Republicans come the fall.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. BESCHLOSS: And that happened, if you'll forgive me, bringing in a dead candidate, Thomas E. Dewey in 1948. Republicans nominated him on the third ballot, last time they had a multi-ballot nomination, but there wasn't much enthusiasm. That probably undermined him enough that he lost to Harry Truman.
MR. DYSON: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: And it can make that contrast campaign even stronger.
MR. BESCHLOSS: Sure.
MR. GREGORY: Rich, first of all, will the National Review, will you endorse a candidate as a conservative publication?
MR. LOWRY: We have not decided yet, but watch our offices for a little puff of white smoke to go up when we do endorse.
MS. GOODWIN: What about now?
MR. GREGORY: I want to have--before we take a break, I do want to ask you about immigration.
MR. LOWRY: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Newt Gingrich in the debate this week basically going pretty far out there to say, "Look, if you're here illegally right now, it's just not realistic to think that this party of family values is going to deport you."
MR. LOWRY: Yeah.
MR. GREGORY: Is he supporting amnesty? Is this a problem for him, and particularly in Iowa?
MR. LOWRY: Well, he's right that you're not going to deport 10 million people, including people who are very entrenched in, in this country. So what you want to have is basically a policy of attrition where you enforce the workplace, enforce at the border, and hope that the people who are the least attached to this country leave voluntarily. But it was a classic Newt moment. It was very adult in its way, but he also said we're going to have these selective service type local boards deciding who stays and who goes.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. LOWRY: And, and your first impression is, "Wow, that's a fascinating creative idea."
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. LOWRY: Your second impression is, "Wow, that would never work."
MR. GREGORY: I want to point something out that goes to Romney's vulnerability. Now, he said this would be amnesty. He opposed him in the course of the debate. But on this program, back in 2007, the question was what do you do with illegal immigrants here in the country? He was asked by Tim Russert. This was his response.
(Videotape, December 16, 2007)
GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA): Those people who have come illegally and are in this country, the 12 million or so that are here illegally, should be able to sign up for permanent residency or citizenship.
MR. GREGORY: Doris, there's a reason why we keep videotape here.
MS. GOODWIN: And there's a reason why these guys should be careful when they come on MEET THE PRESS. I mean, that really hurts Romney even more than Gingrich, I think, to be able to show back-to-back, he's yelling at Gingrich, "You're--amnesty!" Then, on the other hand, he's calling for something even more than Gingrich was calling for, as Gingrich is pointing out.
MR. GREGORY: All right.
MS. GOODWIN: He's calling for citizenship possibly.
MR. GREGORY: Let me take a break here. We're going to come back, talk more about presidential leadership, talk about the president himself when we come back with our roundtable right after this.
MR. GREGORY: We are back with more from our roundtable. We're talking about books about history, the Civil War and Andrew Jackson that we've been reading. And it is really--I mean, it does put in this kind of perspective, Jon, the, the idea that, you know, some of the social unrest in the country, it really sort of manifests itself in our politics in a way that dated before the Civil War, this kind of sectional politics rearing its head. And you, and you try to capture more modern history here in a setup to an ebook about the return of the Republicans. This is out on Tuesday that you're doing for Politico. And this is what you write in the introduction. "The dawn of 2009 was supposed to inaugurate a new political age. After a decade of war and a year of epic economic collapse, a young Democratic president unscarred by the cultural conflicts of the Clinton years promised a `post-partisan' ethos ... Conservatism was said to be dead.
"Except it wasn't. Beginning in early 2009, dispirited Republicans, exhausted by President Bush and that regime," you write, "decided that while the presidency may have simply--seemingly," rather, "some easily to Barack Obama, nothing else would. ...
"The rebirth of the right is an extraordinary tale. By historical standards it was a rapid shift, on par with the 1966 conservative backlash against Lyndon Johnson's Great Society after the 1964 landslide. And as conservatives well know, that drama ended with the election of a Republican president in 1968. ... How did American politics get from the `there' of a new Age of Obama to the `here' of a resurgent right?" That's a big question.
MR. MEACHAM: It's the question, it seems to me. I mean, we, we, we were all sitting around in 2009, and this was a new era. It was an entirely different time. And I think it was a implacable opposition, which is not to say it's wrong, but it was an implacable opposition. And, to my, mind the president's greatest failure has been the remarkable inability to establish an enduring emotional connection with the people. He is known as a great orator, but he has not been a great explainer. And, therefore, I think that there's no real connection, real ongoing support for him. And so politics has become a very much cafeteria.
MR. GREGORY: But, Michael, you, you have to be uncomfortable, I would imagine. You listen to Grover Norquist, I mean, you talk about that kind of anti-tax orthodoxy, and then you think about, as Senator Schumer said, what are the impact of, you know, spending cuts across the board on the middle class, on Americans who are out of work, on the poor in this country, when you talk about our politics barreling toward nowhere, frankly?
MR. DYSON: Yes. The politics of heartlessness and lack of compassion. I think, look, what happened to the notion that the people who benefitted from the dance ought to pay the cost of the band? The reality is, is that the tax bailouts, the tax bonuses, and the tax breaks have been given to those who are at the top. Thank God that the supercommittee--a lot of people are saying, "Well, they failed." I think at least the Democrats grew a spine, stood up to the Republicans who wanted to let those tax--you know, those Bush tax cuts go on, and they said, "$600 billion, well, that $600 billion infused into the economy we could help a bunch of people." Now the interest around the Defense have gone forward, and said, "Those automatic triggers, no, we're not going to let those happen." But you want to let unemployment insurance expire? I mean, this is the lack of compassion.
MR. GREGORY: But--yeah.
MR. DYSON: I'm out in the streets of D.C., I see veterans who are homeless begging for money. This is the America we think we want? I don't think so.
MR. GREGORY: But you think the, the resurgent right could explained differently?
MR. LOWRY: Well, I think there are a couple of things. One, while you saw this rise of Democrat power in, in Washington after the '08 election, you saw simultaneous with that, in opinion polls, a rise of conservative sentiment in the country. And the delta between those two created a space for the tea party, which was a reaction to Obama's agenda, partly, but also a reaction against the Republican establishment, which, let's face it, had become lazy, in some instances corrupt and unpopular and deserved to be burned down. And you have a lot of Republican sentiment now just desperate for someone who doesn't seem like the usual politician, and that accounts for a lot of the resistance to Romney.
MS. GOODWIN: But I think there's a space now for President Obama. I think the post-partisanship has to go. That is what he came in hoping for, it proved not able to work. But if you look back at Roosevelt, FDR, he first tried to be a bipartisan leader, and then he got so hurt by the rancor of the Republican right, who called him a traitor to the class, that he went right after them, and he wins in a landslide. You know, "The forces of entrenched greed hate me. I welcome their hatred." I don't think that'll work for Obama because he's not a warrior, a happy warrior in that way. But there is a model for him in Teddy Roosevelt. Similar time to our, squeeze middle class, up and down gap between the rich and the poor. And what he does is say, "I like corporations as long as they do well by us. I like union--unions as long as they do well for us. But if they start screwing around with us, I'm going after them." And he called for a square deal, fundamental fairness. And that's where the country's at right now. When Obama first talked about the failure of the supercommittee, when he put out his grand proposal, it was the idea that people want fairness, they want balance. That's what Teddy Roosevelt was all about. Every sentence was balance.
MR. GREGORY: Right. And he wants to take that fairness question...
MS. GOODWIN: I think that's there.
MR. GREGORY: ...to the ballot box next--next year.
MR. BESCHLOSS: He wants to run as the candidate of the 99 percent against the candidate of the 1 percent, be it Romney or Gingrich. That might be pretty effective. I think Doris is absolutely right. I think another part of it is temperament. You know, Barack Obama grew up in Hawaii, and Hawaiian conflicts between politicians are actually quite mild. People like each other even if they disagree a lot.
MS. GOODWIN: (Unintelligible)
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. DYSON: The weather is good.
MR. BESCHLOSS: Washington--weather is good. Weather is bad here, and Washington is not like this in other ways. So it's a different climate. But the other thing that almost breaks my heart is that last 10 years we've been through these awful shocks--9/11, two wars, biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression. I would have thought that that would have led to Americans voting in greater numbers than ever before, participating, and also Congress behaving better, which happened at crucial...
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BESCHLOSS: ...moments in American history. Hasn't happened. Leads me to begin to think perhaps this system is breaking down in a way that is fundamental.
MR. DYSON: But, you know, Obama...
MR. GREGORY: Quick point here, yeah.
MR. DYSON: ...he's in a very tough position, I think, because, you know, it--people want him to get angry. You know, people call, "Stand up." You know, and I, of course, believe that the spine should be shown. But he's in a difficult position. If he does it, then he's the angry black guy, "This is the guy we warned you against." And let's not underestimate the degree to which the right wing has been able to exploit, in very impolitic fashion, some of those racist elements that are substrata there, but that the paranoia and fear of what it might mean to see Obama have a second term, that has been a galvanizing impact that people have, I think, to this...
MR. GREGORY: All right. We, we got to go here.
MR. DYSON: ...to this day...(unintelligible).
MR. GREGORY: We'll take another quick break and come right back with our roundtable.
MR. GREGORY: Final moments with our roundtable. Let's go to our trend tracker, too. As you might imagine, the top political story this morning is Newt Gingrich and that Union Leader endorsement today. Number two, Pakistan, that border incident, NATO strikes killing some 24 Pakistanis. This is going to become a tense issue with the administration. And the Romney Iowa mailings. They're starting to do more direct mail now in Iowa.
Rich, the, the editor of the Union Leader, Joe McQuaid, talking this morning about the big players in New Hampshire, Newt Gingrich, Romney, and Ron Paul, as well, who also has a lot more support than he gets a lot of attention for in Iowa.
MR. LOWRY: Yeah, you know, it--one of the fascinating things in the base this time around is in '08, whenever Ron Paul would say something about foreign policy, he would get booed and every other candidate would gang up on him. Now, every, every time he talks about foreign policy, there is at least some applause in the hall, which I think is a sign of some shifting sentiment within the right.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. LOWRY: I just want to address Michael's last point. You know, a tea party hero is Herman Cain, and there is zero racial anxiety there among tea parties--partiers supporting an African-American.
MR. MEACHAM: Well, that's because he reinforces a stereotype of what a black man is. I mean, Obama being from Hawaii, the politics of chill. Let's just, can't we all, it's not Martin Luther King, it's Rodney King, "Can't we all get along?" I think Herman Cain reinforces certain stereotypes about what that might mean. And I can't figure Cain out. On the one hand he says there's no longer any concern in this country about racism and racial intolerance, and then three weeks later, because of the charges against him, he's talking about being the victim of a high-tech lynching. Well, which one is it? Does race make a difference? Does it not make a difference? I don't think he's been able to make up his mind about that.
MR. GREGORY: I think we got a whole nother program there to have that discussion.
Thank you all very much.
MR. MEACHAM: All right.
MR. GREGORY: Enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend here in our waning hours.
Before we go, a programming note. To wrap up the holiday weekend, check out our special Thanksgiving Press Pass conversation with assistant White House chef and senior policy adviser for healthy food initiatives--this is serious conversation, this is not just about stuffing, although we do address that. We--Sam Kass is with us. We went down to the White House kitchen last week. We talked about nutrition, healthy eating, and Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign. Of course, the job of cooking for the first family is also covered. It's all on our Press Pass blog at presspass.msnbc.com.
That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.