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August 19: Bob McDonnell, Martin O'Malley, Ted Cruz, Kasim Reed, E.J. Dionne, Peggy Noonan, Chuck Todd

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This morning, on MEET THE PRESS, where does the race for the White House stand, just one week after the Paul Ryan pick?


WOMAN:  You just cut Medicare.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  On the trail the Medicare debate has erupted.


MR. MITT ROMNEY:  He has raided that trust fund and you know what he did with it, he has used it to pay for Obamacare.

(End videotape)


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  I’ve strengthened Medicare.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  What is the future of the program for seniors?  It’s a big question at stake in the election.

And, the tax debate.  Team Obama still wants more from Mitt Romney.


MR. ROMNEY:  But I did go back and looked at my taxes.  And over the past ten years, I never paid less than thirteen percent.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  With us for a debate this morning, two influential voices in their party.  Chair of the Republican Governors Association, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and the Chair of the Democratic Governors Association, Martin O’Malley of Maryland.

Plus, we’ll hear from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Then, the campaign’s tone, how nasty it has become.


MR. ROMNEY:  So, Mister President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago and let us get about rebuilding and reuniting America.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  Our political roundtable on the road ahead, Democratic Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed; Tea Party backed GOP Senate candidate from Texas, Ted Cruz; NBC’s political director and chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd; and columnist, Peggy Noonan from the Wall Street Journal; and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post.

Announcer:  From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

GREGORY:  And good Sunday morning.

We’re a little more than a week away now from the Republican convention and the campaign has turned even nastier with a big focus, as you know, on Medicare.  Romney’s new VP pick Paul Ryan campaigned in Florida with his mother, and President Obama kept up his attacks in New Hampshire.


PRESIDENT OBAMA (Windham, NH, Yesterday):  You think they’d avoid talking about Medicare given the fact that both of them have proposed cuts to voucherize the Medicare system.  But I guess they figure the best defense is-- is-- is to try to go on offense.

(End videotape)


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI, Romney’s Vice Presidential Running Mate, The Villages, FL/Yesterday):  I want to introduce you to my mom.  This is my mom Betty.  Here is what Mitt Romney and I will do.  We will end the raid of Medicare.  We will restore the promise of this program, and we will make sure that this board of bureaucrats will not mess with my mom’s health care or your mom’s health care.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  That back and forth on the campaign trail just this weekend.  Joining me now governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley and governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell.  Governors, welcome both of you.  Hold your fire on Medicare…

GOV. BOB MCDONNELL (R-VA, Chair, Republican Governors Association):  Thank you.

GREGORY: …because we’re going to get to some of those specifics in just a minute, but I want to ask more generally, Governor O’Malley.  What is the Ryan effect on this race, one week after he was selected?

GOV. MARTIN O’MALLEY (D-MD/Chair, Democratic Governors Association):  Well, I think it’s still shaking out.  But clearly now, if we did not-- if the voters of the country had not already a real stark difference of choices in terms of approach to job creation, like growing the middle class, expanding opportunity, now we see the leader of the Tea Party Republican Congress, their-- their budget chief, actually stepping up and so we have a real clear contrast now when it comes to basic commitment like the commitments we’ve made to seniors in Medicare.  So, I think that as this shakes out you’re going to see a very clear contrast between President Obama’s vision of an America with more opportunity, and the Romney/Ryan vision of less.

GREGORY:  Governor McDonnell for all of the energy and the excitement on the Republican side that you have talked about you do have Republicans talking about risk, risk politically, and the fact that a Ryan budget that a lot of Republicans have been running away from, ever since he first introduced it.

GOV. MCDONNELL:  Good morning, David.  And good to be on with my friend, Martin.  This is a serious election.  And it calls for serious candidates that have real solutions.  So, we are in debt 16 trillion dollars.  We have a horrific economy with the president’s policies--8.3 percent unemployment, over eight percent in 42 months.  It takes big ideas, and-- and things that are going to take some sacrifice for a lot of people in order to get our country back on track.  Paul Ryan has been honest about what it’s going to take.  Medicaid is in trouble.  Medicare is going to go broke in twelve years.  And it takes some real changes in the spending habits of the United States of America to get our country back on track.  So I think Paul Ryan’s a serious candidate with real solutions.  Time for rhetoric is over.  There’s plenty of rhetoric out of this administration.  And now we need real answers about how to get America out of debt and back to work.  And Paul Ryan’s got some good ideas on how to do it.

GREGORY:  As you both know, his counterpart, the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, created one of the more emotional moments on the campaign trail this week, raised a lot of eyebrows, got a lot of back and forth going.  He was talking, Tuesday, in Virginia about Romney/Ryan policies with regard to financial regulation, and this is what he said.

(Videotape: Tuesday)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN (Danville, VA):  Romney wants to let-- he said in the first hundred days he’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules.  Unchain Wall Street.  He’s going to put you all back in chains.

(End Videotape)

GREGORY:  Governor O’Malley, put you all back in chains.  What was the Vice President doing there?  Was he over the top?

GOV. O’MALLEY:  I think it was an indelicate play on the Republican words of shackling the economy with regulations and shackling small businesses, and so it was-- it was certainly an-- an indelicate choice of words.

GREGORY:  He wasn’t injecting race into the campaign?

GOV. O’MALLEY:  There’s not a racist bone in Joe Biden’s body.  I’ll tell you the injection of race into this campaign has been coming from the false allegations, allegations that PolitiFact and others have said are totally false on a very racially-- racially imbued issue of welfare reform.  The false attacks on the President, I think, are-- are far more out of line than the indelicate choice of words of the Vice President.

GREGORY:  Governor McDonnell, your former governor in Virginia Doug Wilder had a different view.  He spoke this week and took issue with the Vice President and the President, as well.  This is what he said after those remarks.


FMR. GOV. DOUGLAS WILDER (D-VA):  When he says they are going to put you all back in the chains, what he means, you were there.  I wasn’t.  And when you go back, I won’t be going with you.  Biden’s remarks brought race into the campaign, and they were not necessary.  Cool it.  Back up.  And there’s nothing wrong with saying I was wrong.  I had never intended to do this.  What I said was inappropriate, it was wrong.  You can’t defend it.

(End Videotape)

GREGORY:  Now look, the President, the Vice President have said there was no racial connotation here that he meant.  This is over scrutinizing what candidates say when there are so many words that are said in this day and age on a campaign trail.  How do you see it?

GOV. MCDONNELL:  I-- I agree with Governor Wilder.  And President Obama and the gov-- Vice President Biden have doubled down on those remarks.  Listen, in the last couple of weeks you’ve had that incendiary and way over the top remark, you’ve had allegations about Mitt Romney not paying taxes, you’ve got a super-PAC ad that says that Mitt Romney actually killed somebody’s wife.  I mean this is way over the top.  Honest debates about issues, I would say, whether it’s welfare reform or other things that are based on policy, that’s fair game.  We can disagree on that respectfully.  But these character attacks about the other side are just horrific.  But I understand it, because if you’ve got a record where you’ve got 16 trillion in debt, and no energy plan, and a jobless rate over 40-- 42 months over eight percent, of course you can’t run a campaign on the issues and you’re going to have to resort to that.  I think it’s way beneath the dignity of the American people.  Very different than the hope and change campaign, very optimistic in 2008.  Now it’s negative and divisive.  And I think the more we focus on serious issues like debt and Medicare reform and these issues, it will be better for the people.

GREGORY:  You talk-- you--- you have Governor Romney talking about a campaign of hate on the part of the President of the United States, strong words.

GOV. O’MALLEY:  Well, he-- Governor Romney’s is a sort of guy, David, that you’d never want to play pickup basketball with.  He’s always fouling and he’s always crying foul.  Governor Romney himself has launched a-- a series of attack ads falsely accusing the President of unwinding welfare reform.  It’s been determined false.  Governor McDonnell himself was labeled as false by his own PolitiFact in Virginia for saying that-- that-- that the President’s trying to do that.  So I think what we’ve seen telegraphed here on this hyper scrutiny of Vice President Biden’s remarks is the intention of the Romney campaign to do everything in their power to rough up the President, to go after him with a huge money advantage and to attack his character, and if necessary, to do it on grounds on an impasse have been fraught with racial tensions…

GREGORY:  All right.

GOV. O’MALLEY:  …and racial resentments.

GREGORY:  Let’s talk about the effort to rough up both sides.  This issue of Mitt Romney’s taxes came up again this week.  The Obama campaign putting pressure on him to release more of his tax returns, even saying this week just release five years and we’ll let the-- the issue alone.  Mitt Romney, Governor McDonnell, spoke about this on Thursday, an impromptu event where he was talking about Medicare and then he answered a question about his tax returns.  Here is what he said.

(Videotape; Thursday)

MR. ROMNEY:  I did go back and look at my taxes.  And over the past ten years I never paid less than 13 percent.  I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like-- like that.  So, I've paid taxes every single year.

(End Videotape)

GREGORY:  Well, a direct question related to that answer, was that 13 percent in federal income tax?  Is that what he paid?  Why won’t he answer more?  Should he?

GOV. MCDONNELL:  This issue is not about Mitt Romney’s tax returns.  That’s not what Americans care about.  They care about their own tax returns and the whopping increases in taxes and regulation that this administration has put on the American people and what they’re going to put on.  Here’s what we know about those tax returns.  He’s paid his taxes.  He’s released more documents than he needs to.  He’s made a lot of money.  He’s been successful and he’s a very generous guy.  Now I’d say let’s talk about what the American people are going to vote on and that’s jobs, debt, spending, energy, and the American dream.  Mitt Romney’s laid out a five-point plan for the middle class focusing on debt reduction and small business and trade and workforce development.  I mean, these are the substantive issues Martin and I think we both agree…

GREGORY:  All right, well, Governor O’Malley do you think Mitt Romney…

GOV. MCDONNELL:  …that Americans care about.  Not tax returns.

GREGORY:  Is he lying about his tax returns?  Do you think he didn’t pay taxes?

GOV. O’MALLEY:  I don’t know.  It’s hard to imagine that he would continue to hide and-- and make the big secret of the campaign whether or not he paid taxes.  The only thing we know for sure is one year of returns.  We know that he had Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts and we know under Paul Ryan’s plan he’d actually pay not 13 percent, but he’d pay less than one percent.  So I don’t know why Governor Romney won’t come out with his fax returns.  Certainly when he was reviewing the tax returns of vice presidential hopefuls like Governor McDonnell or indeed Paul Ryan he asked for more than one year tax returns.

GREGORY:  But there is no-- is there any evidence to suggest that Mitt Romney did not pay exactly what he should have paid in taxes under the law?

GOV. O’MALLEY:  Well, look, this is what we know.  We know that he has…


GOV. O’MALLEY:  …that he has been engaged in tax avoidance schemes with offshore accounts, with-- in the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas and the…

GREGORY:  You’re not suggesting anything unlawful.

GOV. O’MALLEY:  …Swiss bank account…

GREGORY:  There is no evidence to say anything is unlawful.

GOV. O’MALLEY:  Not unlawful, but it is tax avoidance.  At a time when our country needs everyone’s help to accelerate our nation’s recovery he’s hiding his money in offshore accounts and betting against the future of the United States.  Hardly the credentials of a person that we should elect to lead forward.

GREGORY:  Governor McDonnell, quick response on that.

GOV. MCDONNELL:  That-- that’s just flat wrong, Martin.  I mean this is the same reckless and slanderous remarks that Harry Reid said in-- a couple of weeks ago.  And that’s, you know, this is not what the American people care about.  This is below their dignity.  This is about how do we get the greatest country on earth out of debt and back to work?  And Obama’s just flat failed.  Nice guy, bad policies.  Hasn’t got the job done.  It’s time for a change.  And I’d say the Ryan/Romney ticket is positive and optimistic and believes in the American dream and want to get people-- get people back to having an opportunity to succeed.  That’s what we need to talk about and these other diversionary issues on accusing Ryan and-- of throwing grandma over the cliff, and Romney of killing somebody’s wife, and not paying taxes, these are diversions.  Let’s talk about the issues.

GREGORY:  Let’s talk about Medicare then.  There’s been so much noise and back and forth on Medicare.  Let me try to boil it down this way.  There are still questions out there about each side and how they would approach it.  This is what we know.  Let me start with the President’s approach and I want to put it up on the screen for our viewers so we can have a basic understanding of this.  The President wants to leave the program in place the way it is.  It’s a defined benefit program.  He does, already passed under the health care law, will reduce payments to hospitals, to health care providers, and private insurers to the tune of 716 billion dollars.  You’ve heard that figure a lot this week.  And he claims that he would extend the solvency of Medicare eight years until 2024.

Here is the Romney approach as we understand it so far.  Beginning not until 2023, he would change the program.  He would offer premium support or a voucher so that seniors could buy private insurance through competition.  There would also be a choice, Romney says, that you could have the option of keeping traditional Medicare.  He says he would end the President’s health care plan, take that 716 billion dollars that was moved out of the program and put that back in to the Medicare program.  So, Governor O’Malley, that’s the approach.  What are the key differences that people need to understand?

GOV. O’MALLEY:  The-- the differences is really going to the heart of what kind of country we want to become.  I mean Governor Romney’s plan is for a country of less where we actually cap what we-- what we do to protect the security of seniors.  We give them a voucher and we tell them, good luck, you’re on your own to cover whatever the difference is.  And the congressional budget office has estimated that this will lead to our nation spending anywhere from 5900 to 8,000 less per seniors.  Those are dollars that are going to have to be covered by senior citizens themselves.

GREGORY:  But to be fair, that was scoring of the Ryan budget which would not necessarily be the Romney plan.  I mean, that sixty…

GOV. O’MALLEY:  Actually Governor Romney said that there’s really very little difference.

GREGORY:  He did say there’s very little difference.  Though, let me have Governor McDonnell respond to that point.  The argument is if you put seniors in a position where they’re exposed to the vagaries of the private market they’re going to have to pay more, again we’re not talking about current seniors or current beneficiaries, but down the line, that’s what folks would be forced to do.

GOV. MCDONNELL:  Well, all you need to know is that we’re going the-- the Medicare trust fund is going broke in twelve years, and President Obama’s not only for the status quo, but he wants more spending without reform.  That’s just irresponsible and reckless.  Every governor in the country is reforming their pension systems because it’s a defined benefit and the-- the numbers just don’t work.  I think Romney and Ryan are honest in saying, look; we’re not going in the right direction.  If you want money there for future generations, you need reform.  Paul Ryan-- and I think you’ve accurately descri-- described the differences.  Paul Ryan doesn’t touch any benefits for people over 55.  But after that, yes, gives people some choices.  Do we not trust people to make good decisions for their own health care or do we believe government’s got to make every decision for you?  That gets to the heart of it.  But if you get rid of Obamacare and take that 716 billion dollars back, you can do an awful lot to shore up the solvency of the system and that’s what they’re going to do.

GREGORY:  But one of the-- one of the claims out there, and Paul Ryan has made it, is that the President has robbed the Medicare fund of 716 billion dollars.  Now Democrats have attacked Republicans in the past for doing the very same thing.  But these are not benefit cuts.  And indeed Ryan made those same cuts in his own budget.  In fact, he is denying payments to hospitals, providers, trying to get to the idea of more efficiency in the health care system instead of just paying for volume.  Don’t you think that that criticism is over the top by the Republican ticket?


GREGORY:  I know Governor O’Malley does-- Governor O’Donnell-- Governor McDonnell first.

GOV. MCDONNELL:  What I think is-- what I think is-- we-- we’re broke.  And they’re being honest about the fact that we’re broke.  And Obamacare is the-- the largest expansion of the federal government, I think, in our lifetime and as well generally not acceptable to the American people.  So, we need to get rid of the 21 taxes and the 500 billion dollars of new taxes in the Obamacare system.  Use the free market approach.  And then some of those savings can be plowed back into Medicare reform.  But, to say that this is being-- that we’re taking seniors and literally throwing them over the cliff, is the rhetoric from the-- from the left in the Obama campaign, is-- is really disingenuous.  If we don’t reform it, David, here’s the bottom line, and Martin I hope agree, if we don’t reform this Medicare system-- Martin and I, when we get to 65, it’s not going to be solvent and our families won’t be taken care of.  That’s the biggest difference.  We have rhetoric of Obama and we have serious, hard talk and real solutions from-- from the Romney/Ryan ticket.  We’re in trouble in the country.  We’ve got to make changes.

GREGORY:  Governor O’Malley, I want to end on this point just to shift it a little bit and talk about the broader economy.  The reality for voters as they go to the polls in swing states and all states is the unemployment situation.  And here were some of the state by state numbers that came out this week, and we’ll put it up into a graphic.  All of those in yellow, the unemployment rate ticked up in all of those states.  I should point out that one blue section between Indiana and Pennsylvania, that’s Ohio, it did come down slightly.  Still, pretty tough picture for a president running for re-election.

GOV. O'MALLEY:  Well, there will be ups and downs on this road to recovery.  But there are some things that you cannot debate.  And most important in my mind is this.  We’ve had 29 months in a row of private sector job growth in our country.  That’s the longest stretch we’ve had since 2005.  There were more jobs created last year in our country during the entire presidency of George W. Bush.  More jobs created the year before than during the entire presidency of George Bush.  The unemployment rate can and must be driven down, but that’s only going to happen when we make some changes in Congress, remove the obstructionist Tea Party Congress.  I mean, to what end talking about the country’s solvency down the road, as Governor McDonnell was, to what end and what does it help to give five trillion dollars more in tax breaks to people like Mitt Romney and his friends?  Look, our country is a country that can create greater opportunities and a better life for our kids.  But it’s not going to happen if we continue to give away huge tax cuts to the wealthy.

GREGORY:  And the tax debate, the Medicare debate, it’s all going to continue.  Governors, as always, thank you both very much.

GOV. O'MALLEY:  Thank you, David.

GOV. MCDONNELL:  Thanks David.

GREGORY:  We’ll take a break here.  Coming up, a campaign as polarized as we have ever seen.  What does it mean for Election Day and beyond governing the country?  Joining us the Republican candidate for Senate in Texas, Ted Cruz is here.  Democratic Mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed.  Our own Chuck Todd.  Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan and The Washington Post E.J. Dionne.  Our political roundtable is up next.


GREGORY: Perspective from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is still ahead and a look at how the Ryan pick is affecting the battleground map with our own Chuck Todd.  The roundtable is here up next right after this brief break.



REP. PAUL RYAN:  The president, I’m told, is talking about Medicare today.  We want this debate.  We need this debate.  And we will win this debate.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: Clear indication the Republican Party is trying to go on offense on Medicare and red-- remove it as a liability.  We’ll talk more about that in just a minute.  And we’re here with our political roundtable.  Joining me columnist for The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne; columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan; our chief White House correspondent and political director, Chuck Todd; Democratic mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed.  And we welcome to MEET THE PRESS for the first time, Tea Party-backed Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas, Ted Cruz.  He’ll be one of the main speakers at the upcoming Republican convention in Tampa.  Welcome to all of you.  And Mr. Cruz, let me start with you.  Big deal when you won your primary fight--one of the biggest political stories of the summer--big party down in Texas, obviously, as you won.  There was a big rally for you.  Because of the Tea Party’s strength here in another campaign, this was the headline The Dallas Morning News: Party crasher, it said, Cruz rides the anti-establishment wave, surges past your opponent.  I want to start with you because you heard Governor O’Malley talking about Paul Ryan as part of the Tea Party ex-- obstructionist House of Representatives.  Is the real Ryan effect to you that we have seen the Tea Party re-emerge now in this campaign, and occupy the real space in the campaign?

MR. TED CRUZ (Republican Nominee for U.S. Senate in Texas):  Look, I think the biggest Ryan effect is that this race is going to focus on issues.  I am thrilled with the pick of Paul Ryan.  And-- and my view for months has been if this presidential race focuses on issues, if it focuses on the economy, on President Obama’s abysmal economic record, Republicans win.  If it’s a battle of personalities, Republicans will lose.  And the terrific impact of Paul Ryan is for the next three months we’re going to be talking about economic issues, about how to get the 23 million Americans that are out of work back to work, and I think that is great going into--

GREGORY:  Well, Mayor Reed, we’re also going to be talking about what the role of government is, what government should do particularly in a distressed economy.  And Mr. Cruz is right.  I mean, there’s a clear contrast here which is what President Obama has wanted all along on his team.

MR. KASIM REED (D-Mayor of Atlanta, GA):  Well, you know, the bottom line is I think that the Republicans made a decision to run for the second time a right-right election.  And my dad said, you know, Republicans do well when they do dog leg left.  If you go out to the Senate and you come-- you go out to the right and back to the center.  Democrats go out to the left, come back to the center.  This is the second time they’ve gone right-right, which means they’re going to go in the woods.  I mean, the fact of the matter is McCain picked Palin, right-right.  And now Mitt Romney who is a moderate is picking a person who is right-right.  He’s just a better salesman at it.

GREGORY:  Well, E.J. and Peggy, here’s the Weekly Standard cover story this week.  It’s got Paul Ryan on the cover, the assault on Paul Ryan.  E.J., have they landed any real blows?

MR. E.J. DIONNE (Columnist, Washington Post):  I think they have.  I mean, Mitt Romney made in Paul Ryan the one and only decision he’ll make in this whole campaign that made both liberals and conservatives really, really happy, because conservatives like it for the reasons Senator Cruz said they think that if we put our issues…

GREGORY:  He’s not a senator yet there.  He’s-- he’s happy (Cross talk).

MR. DIONNE:  I-- I-- I-- I like to make mistakes once in a while.  The-- the-- Paul Ryan has made conservatives happy for all the reasons he said.  And the liberals believe, and I think they’re right, that when you put some issues on the table such as the steep cuts in taxes for the wealthy at a time when we need to balance the budget, the voucherization or a premium support on Medicare, that these issues are going to move people away from the Republican ticket.  And it is doubling down on the conservative side, as the mayor said, and he is the mayor.  The other thing that I think is going on here is an attempt to say that somehow in Steve Benen (ph) in a liberal blog, I think he said a perfectly the Republicans are trying to argue right now on the one hand that Barack Obama is a socialist who wants to socialize health care through the Affordable Care Act and that he’s a right wing brute who wants to cut Medicare, which is the one effectively socialized program we have.  I think the contradiction there, between those two arguments, is not going to work.

GREGORY:  Peggy, initial thoughts here on-- on the assault on Paul Ryan?

MS. PEGGY NOONAN (Columnist, Wall Street Journal):  Uh, look, I think the choice of Ryan was admirable, you know.  And I think Ryan himself is an admirable and accomplished person, and a serious man.  He talks about serious issues.  He does focus things on the budget, and on entitlement spending.  But I also think this is a little bit delicate for Republicans.  This is a stressed nation.  This is a tough context in which to talk about things that people will hear as cuts.  I respect the road the Republicans are going down.  I think so far in the past week the real news has been they’ve been talking Medicare, and they’ve been winning on it.  But long-term I think the Republican issues are growth, jobs, the economy, those are the things people trust the Republican Party on.  So this is all very delicate.  It’s strong, but it’s delicate.

GREGORY:  We’ll come back to Medicare as I say, Chuck, in-- in a few minutes.  But, there’s a dynamic here, and you see it playing out, we’ve got some pictures from around the country, in terms of just how polarized the-- the electorate is.  And even different from four years ago, there was plenty of polarization.  But here you do have a very clear choice.  And the high-minded campaign has not really shown up yet.  What you’ve got is a lot of anger on both sides.

MR. CHUCK TODD (Political Director, NBC News):  No.  And that’s going to stay.  I mean, I don’t think we’re going to have a high-minded.  I don’t think the debates will be interesting to watch and it could be high-minded.  But I want to go back to another point about sort of the Ryan effect.  I believe we’re on day 25.


MR. TODD:  It’s been 25 days since the Romney campaign had a coordinated push on the economy.  Everything, and that was basically the day before he left for his overseas trip, the overseas trip got caught up in some things, having to do with the Olympics, what he said in Israel.  Then, the V.P. speculation, and the Ryan pick shifts the issue area to Medicare.  You know, looking back, are they going to wish they had these 25 days back in talking about the economy, in trying to make the case that they have a be-- better the economic?  The Romney campaign will argue, hey, that's baked in.  We’re already winning that.  We can talk about other issues.  But it seems as if, if you ask the Obama campaign, hey, would you like to take 25 days off from talking about the economy, they’d have said yes.

GREGORY:  Well, but Ted Cruz, I mean, do you not argue, again, somebody who’s aligned with the tea party, hey, all to the good.  Let’s talk about debt, let’s talk about taxes, let’s talk about role of government.  Work for us in 2010 in the midterm race?

MR. CRUZ:  Well, that’s exactly right. These issues aren’t disconnected.  The reason the Tea Party arose, the reason we saw a tidal wave in 2010, and I think we’re seeing a tidal wave in 2012 is-- is that the American people are fed up with politicians in both parties in Washington who keep spending money we don’t have.  We’ve got a 16-trillion dollar national debt, larger than our gross domestic product.  And the-- the great virtue of the Paul Ryan pick is Paul Ryan a serious, substantive man who spent a lifetime in Congress working to roll up his sleeves and tackle these problems, and you want to turn the economy around, get the boot of the federal off the back and the necks of small businesses.

GREGORY:  Peggy, I come back to this tone though, because it does-- this polarization does matter. It does seem even more polarized and it’s got to have some impact on A, you know, are there moderates who actually show up and vote, and who do they vote for, and then how you govern after this kind of condition?

MS. NOONAN:  Yeah, that’s a problem.  Oddly enough, the-- while it’s so good in so many ways to focus on Medicare, by making people over the next 60 days take very definite points of view, you may make it harder to make a Medicare deal down the road.  But overall, it seems to me, I’m not sure the American people themselves are so polarized.  I, sort of, have a sense that they know-- they tell pollsters, I think I’m going this way for the president, I think I’m going this way for Mr. Romney, there’re so few undecided.  But lately I have a feeling, the un-- there’s a sort of feeling of dissatisfaction among a lot of voters with the choices that they have.  They are open to persuasion, they are open to listening for the next 70-80 days to a point of view that is serious and not low.  They want hope.  It’s a big group of Americans who are feeling cynical and disaffected.  If somebody could reach in to them and say I can help, that would be very powerful.

MR. TODD:  David, the upside of the Ryan pick I think in this case about governing is actually do you think it, sort of, widens the-- the width of this election.  Instead of a 51/49 race, we might have a 53/47 in either direction, which means, it’s forcing-- by having the Medicare debate, you’re forcing that large argument about that role of government…


MR. TODD:  …so you’re forcing everybody to take a side.  You know, where do you the government to be?  And the winner might actually have a governing mandate for a smaller-- for a small window, but might actually have a governing mandate on role of government.

(Cross talk)

MR. DIONNE:  See I think if you talk about-- oh I’m sorry.  I-- I agree with Chuck on this that, I think, for all the talk about how nasty the campaign is, even before the Paul Ryan pick, this was a very substantive choice and a substantive argument about the role of government in the future of our country.  The Ryan pick, sort of, accelerates that process or makes it even stronger, but it was there already.  And I think that the issue, one of the arguments we’re going to have is, is Ryan about balancing the budget?  He’s been passed as a budget balancer.  His budget doesn’t balance till somewhere after 2030.  Mister Ryan is primarily about reducing the size of government and cutting taxes.  And I think at the end of this election, the one issue we’re going to decide, at least, is does-- does the government need more revenue?  Yes, tax increases, in order to balance the budget or not?  And you have a very clear difference on that.  The voters are going to know that.  And we’re going to ask--do we raise taxes on the wealthy, at least, to balance the budget or do we cut taxes further?

MR. REED:  I want to push back on this notion of Paul Ryan as a serious man.  He b-- he voted for every budget b-- busting measure under President Bush.  He voted for TARP.  He asked for money under the American Recovery and Investment Act.  He voted for both wars.  He put Medicare on a credit card, and then all of a sudden in last 24 months, he’s developing the stature as a serious guy, so I want to push back on that…

GREGORY:  Well, so why…

MR. REED:  …and then in terms of this week-- and then in terms of this week, he has underperformed Sarah Palin.  He’s contributed about a one percent bump, and according to Gallup, the Republican pick for Vice President typically performs at about five points.

GREGORY:  So should that be-- Mr. Cruz, should that be part of the record here?  I mean, why is the Tea Party so supportive of a guy who is part of, what the Tea Party thinks, was profligate spending under his predecessor, under-- under President Bush?

MR. CRUZ:  Look I think the reason is simple.  It’s because Paul Ryan has been serious about talking about these issues, about getting serious about solutions.  You know, it’s ironic…

GREGORY:  But votes-- but votes matter.

MR. CRUZ:  And-- and I don’t-- and I don’t agree with all of his votes.  But-- but…

GREGORY:  Do we have…

MR. CRUZ: …let’s be-- let’s be clear.  Let’s contrast the leadership Paul Ryan has shown…


MR. CRUZ:  …with President Obama’s lack of leadership.  The Senate for three years hasn’t had a budget.  And so it’s very difficult for Democrats to complain, how dare the other side actually get serious about fixing these-- these problems when they don’t even pretend to fix the problems.

MR. REED:  He wasn’t serious under President Bush.  Why wasn’t he serious when we were funding the war in Iraq?  Why didn’t he say America should pay for the war in Afghanistan?  Why didn’t he-- why didn’t he say that when we have a TARP program, it needs to be available to folks on Main Street?  He was for the automotive bailout.

MR. CRUZ:  And, you know, I’m curious, did-- did Barack Obama say any of that?

MR. REED:  He-- he was for that.  No, no.

MR. CRUZ:  Did the Democrats say any of that?

MR. REED:  The Democrats did not.  But I tell you what, we’re not walking around talking about a guy who has a career doing something completely different.  He has a budget that doesn’t balance, and he’s-- he claims that he’s a budget balancer.  He’s using supply-side economics.  They have a 20 percent tax policy that’s a five-trillion-dollar tax cut.

MR. CRUZ:  And I agree with you.

MR. REED:  That doesn’t make any sense.

MR. CRUZ:  I agree with you but…

MR. REED:  Doesn’t make any sense.

MR. CRUZ:  …that Republicans spent too much…

MR. REED:  And we’re sitting around here, acting and being polite and it doesn’t make sense.

GREGORY:  E-- E.J., quick point on that one.

MR. DIONNE:  I was just going to say President Obama put a plan on the table that would balance the budget in 12 years, which is quicker than the Ryan budget.  I’m a liberal.  I didn’t even agree with all-- everything that was in that plan.  But this notion that the President hasn’t put down budget proposals…

MR. REED:  That’s true.

MR. DIONNE:  …he tried to reach a deal with John Boehner and that deal fell through.  But he was willing to put a lot on the table.

GREGORY:  Well-- well…

MR. CRUZ:  And how many votes did that plan get?

MR. DIONNE:  Well, that’s-- that is a side issue because…

MR. CRUZ:  It got zero votes.  Not a Democrat…

MR. DIONNE:  No, no, Obama…

MR. CRUZ:  …in the Senate voted for it.

MR. DIONNE:  Yes, because…

MR. CRUZ:  Not one.

MR. DIONNE:  …the vote was put up there as a political matter.  The fact is it was a serious plan and serious budgets get voted on…

MR. CRUZ:  He got zero votes in the Senate.  That’s not…

GREGORY:  Let me…

MR. CRUZ:  …a serious plan.

GREGORY:  …let me come back to the effect of Paul Ryan.  We know and we learned this week that the Republican Convention, which is coming up, is going to have a high profile keynote speaker.  That, of course, is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  Another prominent speaker, of course, will be Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  I, this week, sat down with another keynote speaker from four years ago.  Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and I asked him about what we’re discussing--the Ryan effect on the race.  This is part of what-- our discussion.


MR. RUDY GIULIANI (Former New York City Mayor):  First of all, here’s the-- here’s the good news for Mitt Romney, no major problem.  When you think about it, that already puts the vice presidential choice at 75 percent range of vice presidential choices.  It’s in that first week…


MR. GIULIANI:  …that the problem start to-- to-- to emerge.  I don’t want to mention former people, but you remember what I’m talking about.


MR. GIULIANI:  Second, I think it’s-- it’s been a positive effect for both sides in the sense that the selection of Paul Ryan was like selecting an issue, as much as selecting a person.  He-- he was selected not for his home state, not for any per-- perceived political advantage, not for some ethnic group he was going to connect to, but because he can speak very powerfully on a particular issue which is how to rein in the federal go-- government, how to deal with our budget, how to deal with our economy.  And whether you agree with him or not, I think in a very-- in a very powerful way, Romney, rather than the President, should be setting the agenda, has now set the agenda for the campaign.  Maybe a-- maybe a bad gamble, maybe a good gamble.  But I think it’s going to make it a better campaign.

GREGORY:  But you’re actually worried that it’s too much of a gamble.  When you said one issue I thought you meant Medicare because Paul Ryan certainly wants to…


GREGORY:  …overhaul how Med-- Medicare is run.  And Romney would make those decisions at the top of the ticket.  Are you worried that the gamble on Medicare is tough for Republican to win?

MR. GIULIANI:  Yeah.  Well, sure, yeah.  I am worried about it.  I’m worried-- I’m worried that the gamble might not work.  Every gamble might not work.  Do I think it should have been done?  Yes.  Do I think it will work?  I believe it will work.


MR. GIULIANI:  But I can’t guarantee that.

GREGORY:  Is it a mistake for Governor Romney, he said he-- he paid no less than 13 percent in taxes.  He was talking about Medicare at the time, he-- he answered the question about that.  And now there’s new focus on whether he should release more tax returns.  Is this an issue that means something?  Do you think voters hear this and say, you know, I’ve got a problem with that?

MR. GIULIANI:  I think it’s a tradeoff.  And I think-- and I’m guessing.  I don’t know the inside answer on this.  But, you know, being a lawyer and representing a lot of clients, representing a lot of people with very big, big tax returns, having pretty big tax return myself, if you take ten years of somebody’s tax returns who’ve made the kind of money that Mitt Romney or anybody, you can spend three months making that person look bad and getting them off message.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with his tax returns.  I don’t think there’s anything like a crime or a fraud or anything like that.  This man’s an honest man.  He’s been an honest man all his life.  I think it’s the feeling that this will give them the opportunity to divert this campaign for three or four more weeks if they give them too much more material.

GREGORY:  You-- you mentioned the thrust and the parry of the campaign this week and Vice President Biden raising a lot of eyebrows talking about how Romney/Ryan would put you all back in chains.  It was his quote.  He went out of his way to say there was no racial implication and all that.  You’ve been tough on Vice President Biden.  You said he doesn’t have the mental capacity, should he become president that he’s not too bright.  What’s the impact of something like this this week?

MR. GIULIANI:  Well, I-- I was astounded by his remarks.  When I-- when I first heard it, I didn’t see the-- I didn’t see the-- the-- the tape.  I just heard it.  And I was really startled by it.  I thought this is a really dumb remark.  And that’s why I said he’s not so bright, and you wonder.  And it is just not that comment.  I mean, Joe-- Joe is-- Joe is a laugh line on-- on Jay Leno.  He’s not a vice president.  I mean, he's just taken as a joke.  You never know what he’s going to say.  In one week, he-- he thought he was in the wrong state.  He thought he was in the wrong century.  He didn’t know that Paul Ryan was a congressman and of course he said this awful thing.  The other three I don’t know.  Everybody makes mistakes but Joe seems to make a disproportionate number of mistakes.  And I really do believe and-- and don’t get offended because Republicans believe this, we all believe this, we believe we’re treated more unfairly by the media than Democrats.  I truly believe if that were a Republican, Sarah Palin made that level of mistakes, Dick Cheney, he’d be plastered all over the media, The New York Times would go nuts, they’d be raising questions about is he smart enough, what’s going on?  How does a guy make so many mistakes?  Is he fit to be president?  That’s really why I said it because I want to even up the-- even up the score.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  You can see our entire conversation with Rudy Giuliani on our-- on our blog, by the way,  Chuck Todd, the Biden effect.  We talked about the Ryan effect.  The Biden effect.  I mean, you heard Republicans this week saying he’s a joke that he should be dumped from the ticket.  Is he doing more harm than good to the president?

MR. TODD:  You know, I don’t think so.  We have to remember, Rudy and Biden have a-- have a-- have a little bit of a history.


MR. TODD:  It was Biden that came up with that hit four years ago.  All you hear from Giuliani is noun, verb, and 9/11 and it really sort of had a-- had a weird impact on Giuliani.  He got the comedians all up, so I think there’s a little bit of a personal vendetta between the two.

GREGORY:  Sounds…

MR. TODD:  But I-- I’ll say this about-- about Biden.  I mean, I think what they like him for is what he does in the hand-to-hand campaigning.  I think what’s been interesting here is there’s a lot of bravado coming from conservatives and Republicans.  They-- they can’t wait until Ryan wipes the floor with Biden at the debate.  Just be careful, Joe Biden’s been around the block…


MR. TODD:  …a few times in the United States Senate.  I-- wouldn’t be cocky.

GREGORY:  Peggy, what did you make of this whole episode this week?

MS. NOONAN:  Oh, well, I thought everything Rudy Giuliani just said was true.  If it had been a Republican vice presidential candidate who had made those gaffes one after another, so comically, and all on tape, the subject today of the panel would be how stupid is this person?  Can this person possibly govern?  That having been said, I think there’s something to what Chuck just said about the debates.  You know, Joe Biden is an American politician.  He’s been around forever.  He’s a big, garrulous, warm, fleshy person-to-person pal.  That has a certain power and he can play this sort of daffy old grandfatherly thing who everybody thinks he’s going to make 15 mistakes, but he says two or three acute things…

GREGORY:  Right.

MS. NOONAN:  …that can work in a debate.

GREGORY:  Kasim Reed, did you hear race in those remarks?  Is there a racial appeal?  Doug Wilder did as we showed the governors before.

MR. REED:  I-- I didn’t hear it.  I mean, I watched the entire presentation, got a copy of the transcript.  I didn’t hear it.  I think that this is a small ball.  I think that he was talking about the Wall Street recovery, and-- and that was the context of the message.  When Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan stands up to Rush Limbaugh, when-- when-- when they’re disparaging Georgetown law student or stands up to Ted Nugent, really stands up to anybody or stands up to Donald Trump, then I’ll be willing to have a conversation about a comment that the vice president made.

GREGORY:  All right, we’re going to take a break here.  When we come back, we’ll have more from our roundtable.  We’re going to talk about Medicare, the politics of it, the facts of it, also this tax debate.  And Chuck is going to be at the map.  We want to put this through the filter of the battleground map and how it’s being affected by all of this.  Our roundtable is back right after this.



PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  Their analyses show that Governor Romney’s tax plan would actually raise taxes on middle-class families with children by an average of $2,000.  Now, ask Governor Romney and his running mate when they’re here in New Hampshire on Monday, they’re going to be coming here on Monday, ask them if he-- ask them if that’s fair.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  That’s the-- the president in New Hampshire talking about the tax debate, talking about battleground states being in New Hampshire.  Chuck Todd is over at the-- the big screen with his device that he keeps by his bed each night looking at the battleground map.  Because I want to look at these issues as we look ahead, Chuck, through the prism of the battleground map and that all-important road to 270 electoral votes which is what you need to be president.

MR. TODD:  Well, today-- and we’re going to look at it just through the prism of Florida and the most Medicare, I think, sensitive state.  But let me just let you in on how to follow this.  Here are the electoral numbers.  What these numbers stand for, 237 electoral votes are in states that we think are already lean in the Obama column, 191 electoral votes already lean in the Romney column.  As you’ll see here, we have nine toss-up states--four in the Atlantic Coast here, three in the Midwest, and two out West.  But I want to show you the power of Florida in this battleground.  If the president is able to ride Medicare to Florida, look at this, his 237 goes to 266.  David, he is four short.  You just give him New Hampshire where he was yesterday.  Romney can win everything else, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, and look at that, he’s too short.  This is the power of Medicare and the power of the state of Florida.  And this is why you take Florida out of the Romney column, and he needs to do a clean sweep of the rest of the battleground, including every small state like New Hampshire.

GREGORY:  It’s-- it’s fascinating.  Chuck, come on back.  And as you do that, we want to put up the exit poll numbers from 2008 that showed the senior vote.  This is something E.J. you wrote about in a column this week:  McCain has that eight-point advantage over President Obama back in 2008, then-Senator Obama.  It shows you Medicare, Florida, if he can cut into that number, it could be the end of the election.

MR. DIONNE:  Right.  Over 65s have become a very big part of the base of the Republican Party.  We forget these aren’t the old new dealers who have gone on to their (Unintelligible), this is a more conservative generation.  And I was talking to an organizer in North Carolina where I was last week who said, look, we don’t have to carry that vote, it’s a democratic organizer.  If we can cut the Republican advantage among seniors by, say, two or three points, it becomes very hard to beat Obama.  And by the way, in North Carolina, McCain had a 13-point advantage among seniors.  So, Medicare is one of those issues that allows Obama potentially to cut into the vote that Romney needs to put together some of these states.

GREGORY:  You know, I talked to Republicans Mr. Cruz who think that this may be a year, just the fingers crossed, and they are still sweating when they say this, this could be a year when you could argue Medicare differently as a Republican.  Do you believe it?

MR. CRUZ:  Look, I do believe it.  And I think we’re going to see that tested.  I think people are ready for serious leadership.

GREGORY:  But you did work for President Bush who tried these private accounts into Social Security.  He wrote in his own memoir he regrets that.  He would have tried for something else coming out of the gate in his second term.

MR. CRUZ:  Listen, we need leadership to stand up and save Social Security and Medicare.  And I think the Democrats are being reckless.  Barack Obama is doing nothing to save Social Security and Medicare.  And what the Romney/Ryan team is doing is running on leadership to get serious and save those programs, number one for seniors, for those 55 and over, to preserve every bit of benefits that are there.  But number two, for younger folks to have fundamental reform in those programs so that they can be there…

GREGORY:  But Peggy-- Ezra Klein says this is a false choice that the only way to-- to save Medicare is somehow introducing private competition.  There’s no evidence that that necessarily works.  Even the Medicare Advantage program introduced under President Bush ended up causing premiums to rise.  You wrote in your column this week, Ryan’s got to be not a cutter, he’s got to be a saver of Medicare.  How do you do that?

MS. NOONAN:  Yeah, you-- you have to tell people I’m trying to be the lifeguard not the shark. Listen, something very interesting happened yesterday, Paul Ryan went into the belly of the beast, he went into the towns in Florida.  We all probably saw the speech where loads of people, most of them were over 55 years of age.  You can’t live there unless you’re over 55.

GREGORY:  This is a village, it is a Republican stronghold.  Yeah.

MS. NOONAN: I’m sorry, the villages-- I beg you..

GREGORY:  Yeah, right.

MS. NOONAN:  …well, it’s an interesting place.  You know, and it’s full of people who are elderly, and who seemed they showed up in great..

(Cross talk)

MS. NOONAN:   ..because you would make the point about cutting into the--

GREGORY:  Anyway making a serious point here.

MS. NOONAN:  Huge crowds, very enthusiastic, Paul Ryan brings his mother, he says she is on Medicare, I am not here to try to harm those programs, I am here to try long-term to save them.  Everybody in America does know we’re not on firm ground economically.  They know the government has to be-- to be rearranged a little bit or realigned.  I think people know that the Democrats will do nothing to save Medicare, but they will not like it if they have the sense that Republicans will harm them.

GREGORY:  Well, Mayor-- Mayor, you-- you would argue…

MS. NOONAN:  And a lot will be based on that.

GREGORY:  You would argue that this is also a myth that the President is doing nothing to strengthen Medicare.  There’s big parts of the health care law that address this and-- and the White House makes that argument very forcefully.

MR. REED:  Yeah, I mean-- I mean, I like my friend, but the President did show leadership when he made reforms that extended Medicare by eight years, not according to some partisan group but according to the CBO.  And if Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney were so serious, Paul Ryan is the chair of the House Budget Commission.  If he wanted to get his plan scored so that we could have an independent third party that would give us an opinion on what the real numbers and impact, he could do it.  And if the plan was so wonderful they wouldn’t wait ten years implement it.  They’d implement it today.  So he can go to a Republican stronghold and be embraced, but to say that the President hasn’t shown leadership is not supported by the CBO.

GREGORY:  Chuck.

MR. TODD:  --are-- are you concerned, I've talked to some other conservatives who quietly say this but won’t say it publicly right now, who say, you know what, attacking the President on his Medicare plan, the 716 billion of cuts, is a little disingenuous for Republicans to make that attack because it’s what Republicans cried about when Democrats attacked him for this in ‘96 number one, and those are all cuts, they’re cuts in future growth, they’re not cuts in benefits now.  Aren’t these some of the same cuts that you’re going to have to advocate for assuming you are elected to the United States senate?

MR. CRUZ:  Look, if you were doing fundamental reform to save the program then-- then that’s something to celebrate.  But the problem with what Barack Obama did is he took 716 billion dollars from Medicare, and he didn’t use it to reform the program, he used it to fund Obamacare.

MR. TODD:  You’re in favor of those reforms though/

(Cross talk)

MR. TODD:  You are in favor of those reforms just not what he used the money for?  Is that..

MR. CRUZ:  What I’m in favor of is leadership to step up and save those programs.  You know, it’s interesting, we’re talking about Joe Biden a minute ago.  There’s an old line in Washington that the classic definition of a gaffe is when a politician tells you what he actually thinks.  I think both-- Joe Biden makes an awful lot of gaffes, because he actually says what he thinks, and the Obama strategy is not going to be to talk about serious solutions to our debt to the 23 million people out of work, it is going to be to distract and scare people.  When he said they’re going to keep you all in chains, we’re going to see a lot of that for the next three months.

(Cross talk)

GREGORY:  I want you to respond because I know want to respond on the issue of-- of moving that 700 billion out?

MR. DIONNE:  Yeah, first of all, two-thirds of that money comes from either cur-- curtailing Medicare advantage, which is not traditional Medicare or trying to get to hospitals to behave more efficiently in treating people.  Secondly, he does move some of this money right back to seniors.  If you repeal Obamacare then seniors will be back in that doughnut hole under the prescription drug benefit.  He gives seniors the opportunity to get checkups that they couldn’t have-- free checkup so they can stay well.  I think this argument resembles that chilling old line--we must destroy the village in order to save it.  The other side doesn’t want traditional Medicare.  They never liked traditional Medicare.  They want to move it to a different kind of program.  That’s a good debate.  Let’s have it but let’s not protect--

MS. NOONAN:  Very quickly--

GREGORY:  Before we go-- but before we go, I want to end on a slightly lighter note, something that caught my attention that was not about Medicare this week.  And I want to show a poll in Time Magazine about our devices that we use, 50 percent of American say that they keep their devices, their iPhones, their Blackberries, by their bed each night, 56 percent said they’d…

MR. TODD:  And it’s a hundred percent around this table.

MR. REED:  Yeah.

GREGORY:  …rather have their device than lunch.  I actually carry two of them, and I-- I keep both of them by my bed each night.  What about you?  I don’t know.  The debate will keep going about both.  Thank you all.

MR. TODD:  And it’s a 100 percent here.

GREGORY:  A 100 percent, right?

MS. NOONAN:  Yeah.  You know it.

GREGORY:  All right.  We’re going to end it there.

MR. DIONNE:  When your kids are out at night, you want…

GREGORY:  You want to know.  Yeah.  You want to know.  Thank you all very much.  That’s all for today.  We’re going to be back next week, live in Tampa, Florida, from the site of the Republican Convention.  If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS