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September 2: Rahm Emanuel, Newt Gingrich, Carly Fiorina, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Tom Friedman, Tom Brokaw

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This morning, on MEET THE PRESS, the direction of the country is at stake in November.  Convention time makes the differences between the parties so clear.  So what is the choice?  Mitt Romney has spoken in Tampa, arguing the president has fallen well short of his goals.


MR. MITT ROMNEY:  President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans, and to heal the planet.  My promise is to help you and your family.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  Now, it’s the president and the Democrats who will counter in Charlotte.  The issues: taxes and spending, debt and entitlement programs like Medicare, and key voting groups like women, and Latinos.

Making the case for the White House this morning, an architect of Mister Obama’s first term, now the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel.

Also, a special discussion on the politics and strategy of the race.  By showcasing Ann Romney and offering more personal details about himself, did Romney forge a new connection with undecided voters?

And how will President Obama defend himself and his record this week when he takes the stage Thursday night?

With us, former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich; NBC’s Tom Brokaw; New York Times’ columnist Tom Friedman; presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; and the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard now working to get more Republicans elected to the senate this fall, Carly Fiorina.

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

GREGORY:  And good Sunday morning.  The Democrats staged their convention in Charlotte, starting on Tuesday.  But the president is on the campaign trail this weekend, and he has fired up his attack lines against the Republicans, calling the GOP convention nothing more than a TV rerun, joking, that you might as well have watched on, quote, “Black and white TV.”

(Videotape; yesterday)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  When-- when Governor Romney had his chance to let you in on his secret sauce he didn’t offer you a single new idea.  It was just the retread of the same old policies they have been sticking it to the middle class for years.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  Let’s turn now to the man who served as the president’s chief of staff until October of 2010.  He’s now, of course, the mayor of Chicago, and he joins me live from the Windy City this morning before he heads to Charlotte on Tuesday.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Mayor, welcome back.

MR. RAHM EMANUEL (Mayor of Chicago/White House Chief of Staff (2009-2010)):  Thank you, David.

GREGORY:  As we assess Mitt Romney’s performance coming out of his convention, is it-- the reality is this is a deadlocked race.  The president’s approval rating is under 50 percent.  Unemployment is still above eight percent.  Why does Mitt Romney have to come out of that convention any better than being the lesser of two problematic choices?

MR. EMANUEL:  Well, first of all, I mean you got to go wind that a little back.  And that is, you have a convention speech, and I think the president’s absolutely correct here, I mean he’s basically laid out the policy of groundhog day which is we’re going to go back to the very things that led to a recession, led to a middle class that for the first time in American history in a decade actually saw their economic security decline.  That has never happened as it did in the last presidency.  And I also think it’s interesting in that speech, when you think back at other convention speeches, George Bush, read my lips.  Bill Clinton, the new covenant.  George Bush also said the compassionate conservative, 43-- George Bush 43.

There is nothing memorable.  The reason we’re debating, and even discussing Clint Eastwood is because there is nothing memorable about Geor-- about Mitt Romney’s speech.  There’s not a memorable line, a memorable philosophy.  All he advocated was the policies that led to the economic recession, the financial meltdown and auto industry that collapsed.  And the American people know that the president inherited those things and through tough, hard work has begun to turn the corner on exactly what he inherited.  The economy is not in a recession, not growing as fast as it needs to grow.  The auto industry isn’t near collapse, but actually it’s thriving.  The financial industry that was once facing a meltdown is now actually starting to, slowly but surely, lend again to homeowners, small businesses and kids going to college.  And do we stay on that course or the course that led to the-- to actually the disaster that he inherited on day one.

GREGORY:  And we’ll talk more about the choice.  You mentioned Clint Eastwood, I-- I want to bring that up as well.  It’s certainly overshadowing what was a critical hour for Mitt Romney.  Here’s a portion of what he said at the convention.

(Videotape; Thursday)

MR. CLINT EASTWOOD (Republican National Convention):  What do you want me to tell Romney?  I can’t tell him to do that.  Can’t do that to himself.  You’re-- you’re crazy.  You’re absolutely crazy.  You’re getting as bad as Biden.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  A highly scripted convention, and then an impromptu moment that struck many as at least bizarre if not totally counterproductive.  But here’s the thing, Mayor, I’m sure to much to your delight and to the Democrats you want to make some hay of this at the Democratic Convention.  Romney advisers are saying, hey, not so fast.  This is still an American icon who is endorsing Mitt Romney.  How do you react to it?

MR. EMANUEL:  No, it’s-- two things on what-- what I really believe.  The fact-- coming out of a convention, they didn’t want a debate about Clint Eastwood, they wanted it about Mitt Romney’s ideas.  We’re not having that debate.  Not even that discussion.  People are talking about, as you-- using your own word, the bizarre Clint Eastwood performance.  And the reason you’re doing that is because Mitt Romney’s speech was so devoid and vacuous of any ideas.  If there was a read my lips, or for those who work hard and play by the rules as Bill Clinton said in ’92, anything that said here’s my philosophy, a compassionate conservative philosophy.  There was nothing there.  So the space post the convention is being about Clint Eastwood…


MR. EMANUEL:  …or the fact that Paul Ryan’s speech was factually challenged.

GREGORY:  Let’s talk about…

MR. EMANUEL:  That is what’s coming-- that-- no.  I mean, wait a second-- that is a critical point.  Nobody’s debating Clint Eastwood is a great director, great writer.  I love his movies.  But that moment in time is a commentary be-- on Romney speech.  And I think the Romney people, I know this, you have a convention, you want it about your candidate’s ideas, not about a bizarre performance.

GREGORY:  Let’s talk about the president’s own record, because there is a lot of deflection that goes on by Democrats, and even you this morning talking more about Mitt Romney, his speech, or what he didn’t say than the president’s own record.  The president goes into Charlotte having to deal with a lot of disappointment in the country about what he has not achieved in the course of his first term.  This is how Mitt Romney described it on Thursday.  Watch.

(Videotape, Thursday)

MR. MITT ROMNEY (Republican National Convention):  Hope and change had a powerful appeal.  But tonight I’d ask a simple question--if you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama?

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  And here is some of the polling, as I know you’ve seen, Mayor Emanuel, which is this--the question of are you better off or worse off?  Look at our poll: 69%, nearly seven in 10, saying things are either the same or worse than when the president came into office.  You inherited a recession, you’ve tried to fix parts of it.  But what do you say to Americans who think you just can’t deliver, that the president can’t deliver the better economy that they want and they expect?

MR. EMANUEL:  No, first of all, let me flip back.  This is an election about a clear choice.  One person who said when it came to the auto industry that had literally two weeks left before it was going to collapse and implode, let Detroit go bankrupt.  The president had another four-letter word-- or four-word-- four-word statement, not on my watch.  One guy who said I want to give tax cuts to the best and well-off in our country, another president-- a different view, the president, I’m going to make sure kids who got going to college get tax credits and support so they can go to college.  One person who said when it came to home-- homeowners who were struggling to hold on, middle class who were trying to hold onto their home, let it bottom out.  Another pre-- another view, by President Obama, which was no we’re going to help you try to refinance to hold onto your home.

Those are clear distinctions of philosophy.  I-- the president clearly understands the frustration the American people feel: A, that the economy is not moving to the pace and the ability that it needs to.  And he is working on that because this economy is focused on the middle class.  B, they are very frustrated with Washington and the determination of some to tear down policies rather than try to build up this country.  And that to me is where the frustration is, both one on economics, one on I would say on Washington’s inability to move forward and address it.  And I would also say third, a value space.  They’re frustrated that we have a-- a society and an economy as well as a culture that is-- has kind of two sets of rule books and two sets of values--one for those that are most fortunate, who operate by a different set of rules; and another set of rules for everybody else.  Think about it, when a business fails sometimes people get a golden parachute, other people get a pink slip.  Those aren’t the same rules.  Those aren’t the same values.

GREGORY:  But Mayor…

MR. EMANUEL:  So they-- so they have…

GREGORY:  …there is still the president’s record.  I mean he’s got to reckon with his own record...

MR. EMANUEL:  Of course.

GREGORY:  …which is he-- he set about to do one thing, he didn’t deliver.

MR. EMANUEL:  But, David…

GREGORY:  A lot of Americans think that Mitt Romney’s got better ideas on how to deal with the economy than this president.


GREGORY:  You can’t just frame it in terms of a binary choice and not deal with the president’s own record, can you?

MR. EMANUEL:  No, fact is, if pe-- people want to know about the first term, very simple.  General Motors is alive and well and Osama bin Laden is not.  And that’s what got done because the president did deal.  And they know, in fact, what he inherited and what he is trying to fix.  And the question before the American people will-- will we go back to the policies that actually took to middle class, gave us the recession, gave us an auto industry about to implode, gave us a financial meltdown of historic proportion, or the person that led the country during those troubled times to get its feet back on the ground?  And it is a choice because that is what elections are.  Yes, they’ll be looking at the president.  And they will make that judgment.  And it’s incumbent upon us--explain the choices and direction we’re going.


MR. EMANUEL:  But all Romney has to offer, David, is actually to go back to the very policies that got us into the rut we were in when the president was sworn into office.  And remember day-- the first month he was sworn into office he took a baton in which an economy was shrinking at the highest rate since the Great Depression.  Eight hundred thousand Americans were losing their jobs.  Today, there’s over four million private sector jobs that were created on his watch, more on his watch in the first term than all of two terms of under George Bush.  And yet, it is not moving fast enough, but I do believe the American people don’t want to go back to the very policies that created the economic mess

GREGORY:  Let-- let me ask you about one of the attacks on President Obama…


GREGORY:  …that you dealt with when you worked in the Clinton White House and that has to do with welfare reform.  Newt Gingrich, other Republicans, Newt will be on the program in just a couple minutes, the former House speaker, leading the charge at the Republican Convention about this change to welfare to work rules that the President acquiesced to at the request of some Republican governors around the country.  This is what Gingrich said at the convention this week, and I’ll get your response.

(Videotape; Thursday)

MR. NEWT GINGRICH (Republican National Convention):  Obama’s waiving of the work requirements in welfare reform is just one example of his direct repudiation of President Reagan’s values.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  This is striking a chord with a lot of people who feel a lot of resentment in this economy.  How do you respond to it, mayor?

MR. EMANUEL:  Well, first of all, I was in the room on behalf of President Clinton negotiating that welfare bill, one.  Two, Newt Gingrich sent President Clinton two welfare bills that he vetoed because actually it was the wrong course before the actual bill got signed.  Three, President Clinton’s entire goal was to move people off of welfare to work, from dependence to independence.  And change the entire philosophy of a system to one to help people move to work.  The work rule reforms in the states, and the requirement of giving states the ability of flexibility is we have one goal, work.  Fifty different creative ways to achieve it.  Governor Romney asked for actually a waiver.  But you had to make sure your plan for Massachusetts, which is different than Mississippi or Alabama’s or California’s, achieves the goal of work.  And it was every governor, regardless of party, who wanted to be creative in their own way to achieve a single goal.  And that is exactly how it’s supposed to work.

And fourth, I want to say this, when I came back after leaving President Clinton’s side, that’s what the system was.  And in a historic change and it’s now moving more people to work.  The first-- one of the very first conversations I had as a congressman with then state senator Barack Obama, he was the sponsor of the welfare-to-work policies here in Illinois.  We-- our first discussion, one of our first on policies was on welfare-to-work policies and how to best achieve it.  He has a long record on this, a commitment, and the waiver was-- increases peoples rather in placement by 20 percent in jobs.  The philosophy got changed because President Clinton led the way.  And one of the states that was actually created in achieving it was Illinois, and there was a state senator at the time by the name of Barack Obama who was crafting the Illinois’ program in a bipartisan way to move more people from welfare to work.  And I remember that distinctly in both places.  And Newt Gingrich, when he was speaker of the House, said two bills to President Clinton that had to be vetoed because all it was about was tearing people down, not lifting them up out of welfare.

GREGORY:  Yeah.  Let me ask you final question on policy.  Here’s the cover of The Economist this week that really gets to the President speaking down in Charlotte and it says, “There’s one question, Mr. President, just what would you do with another four years?”  What is the takeaway from this convention--the tangible idea about how to turn this economy around that he has not been able to achieve in four years?

MR. EMANUEL:  It’s very-- that’s-- that is the crux, and he has, and I believe he will do, is lay out an agenda and a clear vision of the next four years in which you have an economy built on the middleclass.  You can-- the middle class cannot afford like the last decade where they see their economic security and their economic position decline further.  They have to participate in the economic growth.  They have to be able to own a home, send their kids to college, save for the retirement, and not be one sickness away from bankruptcy.  And they have to be the bedrock.  And building this country means building the middle class.  And he has to lay that vision, and how we will specifically get there.  And that will stand in contrast to Mitt Romney’s speech because there was none of that.  The entire agenda of the-- of both the first and second term are about strengthening the middle class, not weakening, strengthening the economy by strengthening the middle class.  And he has to be specific to how he’s going to do that and I believe he will do that.

GREGORY:  Mayor, before you go, I want to ask you about a huge crisis in your own city, and that is of course the murder rate, it’s up 31 percent from a year ago.  Forty shootings just last weekend, nine left dead.  A couple of people shot, even near the President’s home on the south side.  What are you doing to address this?

MR. EMANUEL:  First, we put more police on the street.  Getting kids, guns and drugs off the street.  Our crime rate is down 10 percent.  And our, in fact, our shootings have declined from what was basically we lost the early part of the first quarter of the year, and we brought them dramatically down.  We have a-- a gang issue on parts of the city.  Overall, overall crime down 10 percent.  And we’re making efforts actually to reduce the gang conflicts because it’s gang-on-gang issues.  It does not affect the whole city.  But anywhere it happens we’re going to be dealing with it.

GREGORY:  Is this not a crisis in your estimation?  Is it something that’s being overblown or is this something that you have a hard time containing at the moment?

MR. EMANUEL:  No, we’re containing it and the-- and the question I have is not whether people say a crisis or challenge, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure every child when they’re going to school can think about their studies not their safety regardless of where they live.  And that’s my first priority.

GREGORY:  Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, thank you as always.  We will see you down in Charlotte this week.

MR. EMANUEL:  Thanks, David.

GREGORY:  And coming up here, our all-star panel to talk about the Republicans’ report card.  Did the convention do anything to reshape this race and what are the big to-do items for the president as he and the Democrats head down to Charlotte?  Joining us, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Tom Friedman of The New York Time, Newt Gingrich and the former head of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina.  Our roundtable is coming up.


GREGORY:  Coming up here, did Clint Eastwood overshadow an otherwise successful effort to reshape the race?  Our all star panel is here, coming up next after this brief break.


GREGORY:  We’re back with our political roundtable.  Joining me, New York Times columnist and co-author of That Used to Be Us, which is now out in an expanded paperback edition, Tom Friedman; former Republican presidential candidate and Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich; presidential historian and author of Team Of Rivals, a new paperback edition will be out in October, Doris Kearns Goodwin; former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, now vice chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee Carly Fiorina; and NBC News special correspondent and author of The Time of Our Lives, Tom Brokaw.  And I’m here having just written an e-mail about five to ten minutes ago.  Welcome to all of you.  So much to talk about.  Speaker Gingrich, let me go right to you and have you respond to Rahm Emanuel who said a lot of nothingness, no new ideas and a return to the past.  That’s what you’re hearing from the president this weekend.  That’s what you just heard from his former chief of staff.  How do you see the Republican Convention and the effect on the race?

MR. GINGRICH:  Well, I mean first of all, let me just talk about the lot of nothingness and return to the past.  He’s right at one level.  We believe in free enterprise.  That’s been around a long time.  We believe in balancing the budget.  That’s been around a long time.  We believe in work requirement for welfare.  That’s been around a long time.  All those things are better than what Obama’s done for four years.  So, I mean, if he wants to set up a test between say, Reagan’s 1984 campaign where he didn’t mention Jimmy Carter, he didn’t explain the failure, he ran-- it was called leadership that is working, was his title.  I mean, I think Obama has a hard sell over the next two months.  And I think the biggest event next week won’t be his speech Thursday.  It will be the Friday morning jobs’ report.  And if that Friday morning jobs’ report is bad, it will drown his speech.  Much-- they want to talk about Eastwood.  Friday morning jobs’ report is a lot bigger event next week than Clint Eastwood was last week.

GREGORY:  Well, and I want to talk about Eastwood, too.  But Tom-- talk about record because I asked Rahm Emanuel, did you see the Democrats run very fast from the sense of are you better off now than four years ago.  That’s where Mitt Romney wants to keep this race.

MR. TOM BROKAW (NBC News):  Well, absolutely he does.  And I think the speech that we ought to be talking about as well as in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Ben Bernanke said we’re probably going to have to stimulate the economy again, because this unemployment situation is a lot more grave than it’s getting the kind of attention that it does.  However, to respond to the speaker, even the lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal says, by not explaining his agenda, he left an opening for the Democrats, speaking of Romney, so our point is, not so much to throw cold water on Tampa, the afterglow, so much as to point out that sooner or later Romney and Ryan are going to have to make the case for their policies. My own impression is, David, that out in the country, if anyone’s looking to give voice to the frustrations that are there, it would be Cuba Gooding, and Jerry MaGuire, Show Me the Money.  People feel a sense of betrayal after the last, not just last four years, but the last twelve years.  They feel a sense that they’ve been buffaloed and that they can’t believe anything anymore because it always seems to be bait and switch.  One quarter it’s going to get better.  The next quarter, it’s worse.  So I think that’s what both campaigns have to address this time.  They have to restore the confidence to the American people that they have big ideas.  They’re going to the advance the entire country.

GREGORY:  You know, Carly Fiorina you hear Mitt Romney say I’m going to create twelve million new jobs.  You have to know there’re so many Americans out there hearing that, to Tom’s point who were saying, really?  You really think you’re going to do that?  How, because nothing is going to change in Washington?

MS. CARLY FIORINA (Vice-Chair, National Republican Senatorial Committee):  Yes, but let’s talk about a very specific difference.  I actually find this critique that Romney hasn’t put forward any specifics wrong.  Whether it’s the Wall Street Journal or someone else and example, President Obama talks about an all of the above energy strategy and then stands in the way of the pipeline.

GREGORY: The Keystone Pipeline.

MS. FIORINA:  The Keystone Pipeline.  Romney talks about an all of the above energy policy and lays out crisp specifics.  And one of those is to approve immediately the Keystone Pipeline.  Most people estimate that would produce over a million jobs right there.  Is twelve million a big number?  Yes.  Is it a reasonable and achievable number?  If the tax code is dramatically simplified and every rate is lowered, certainly, if the pipeline is approved, certainly, if states are given more control over their energy policy, certainly.  President Obama, and you’re right, Rahm Emanuel ran as far away from that record as he could.  Interestingly, when he started talking about the middle class, what did he not talk about?  The fact that the middle class has suffered more in the last four years of President Obama’s administration than in the previous 12.  That they don’t want to talk about.


MR. TOM FRIEDMAN (Columnist, New York Times):  Well, I think it’s unfair to say that Romney wasn’t specific.  He was very specific.  He said he’s going to balance the budget, cut taxes, raise defense, protect Medicare and preserve all the institutions of the federal government that we need from the FBI to the FAA.  You can’t possibly do all of those things.  That was my problem.  How-- how does the math add up?  So to me, he’s still at war with math.  And I think that’s where the Wall Street Journal editorial is quite opposite.  How are you going to do these things?  I believe this-- I believe this time is different.  I think the American people really do want a plan.  They want one from Romney.  They want one from Obama.  And I think they will reward someone who they feel has laid down a credible plan, and please, please, don’t tell me it isn’t going to hurt.  There’s no way we get out of this hole without working.  They want it to be real.  They want it to be fair.  The wealthy pay more.  Everybody pays something.  And they want it to be aspirational.  They want it to be not just about balancing the budget, but making this country GREAT.

GREGORY: Doris Kearns Goodwin, there is this appetite for substance for a credible plan, but campaigns are still, in many cases, about style over substance.  Here’s the Week magazine and on the cover it says unveiling Mitt 2.0 the GOP convention’s bid to make Romney more likable.  It got you thinking and us thinking about an old button from a previous campaign and the whole idea of Eisenhower I like Ike.  Did he achieve that?  Did he come out of the campaign being better liked and seen as more of a credible figure to then get into some of the substance?

MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN (Presidential Historian):  In fact the song was I like Ike because Ike is easy to like but what’s interesting about the 20th century is before that, likeability was not something that you were running around trying to do.  It’s the media that brought that about.  You have to feel comfortable with the person in your living room. That didn’t really start till the mass market, newspapers, the radio, and the television.  And I think the problem is the convention may have achieved making him more likable, may have achieved making him more decent.  But the time that was spent on that probably takes away from a how-to plan.  And there is something different between likability.  Likability is the outward manifestation of personality.  It’s different from whether or not you can get in the framework of another person.  What Lincoln had famously was that empathetic understanding of I can understand that person.  I know what they’re going through.  And therefore, I’ll bring policies that will help them.  So yes he may become more likable.  But that deeper problem of relationship with the people, and understanding them, which was brought up again and again in a campaign, has not yet been addressed.

GREGORY:  And you know what you need at a good convention, what you need is a bit of a surprise.  You need something to catch people off guard.  Maybe a celebrity, like Clint Eastwood, to come in, and what I was wondering was whether-- whether the folks at THE DAILY SHOW and Jon Stewart sat around and looked at each other and said, you’ve got to be kidding?  Did they really do this just for us because this was Jon Stewart’s take on it on Friday night?

(Videotape; THE DAILY SHOW)

MR. JON STEWART:  Yes.  Amidst the tired rhetoric, empty platitudes and overwrought attacks, a fistful of awesome emerged in the night, where it spent twelve minutes on the most important night of Mitt Romney's life yelling at a chair.  Yes.

(End videotape)

MS. GOODWIN:  You know, David…

GREGORY:  Discuss.

MS. GOODWIN:  …all I could think of-- all I could think of was after the 1948 election for Truman, if there had been at that convention cameras, they had an equal distraction.  They had pigeons up in the Liberty Bell, and they let them loose right-- right before he was supposed to speak and they were so tied up that they went swooping down.  They landed on Speaker Rayburn’s head. It was a mess.  But we didn’t have the media, the Twitter then.  That would have taken away from-- from Truman’s speech just as this took away from Romney’s decent speech.

GREGORY:  Tom, I was sitting next to you.  I-- I had the pleasure of seeing you genuinely shocked.

MR. BROKAW:  I immediately sent a message to Lorne Michaels from SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and said, you’ve booked him, right?  And he wrote back and he said, no, but you’ll be seeing him.  Four years ago the Republican Convention gave SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Sarah Palin.  This time we’ll be seeing a lot of Clint Eastwood, obviously.  Was it a distraction that we’re paying too much attention to?  I rode up in an elevator with a group of Michigan delegates right after that and they were very unsettled by his appearance.  Not just the manner in which he conducted himself, but some of the routines that he had about the president.  You want me to tell him to do that to himself, and the next day we’re all talking about it. If that had happened, Mister Speaker, at a Democratic Convention in which Barbra Streisand came out and did something similar to a sitting Republican, it would have lit up Fox News and Rush and everybody else.  They would have been outraged by it.  So it was something that went awry.  How long it takes them to get beyond it, I don’t know.  But it’s going to be in the fabric of this campaign on Jon Stewart and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE for a long, long time.  And I think, unfortunately for Governor Romney, it did take away a little bit from his big moment coming in because people were still talking about it.

GREGORY:  Right.  Do you see it differently?

MR. GINGRICH: No, not particularly.  I mean, I like Eastwood.  I think it was at one level fun to have him there and it broke up the norm.  But I also think you’re right to say that you really wanted to build the whole evening around Mitt Romney, to Mitt Romney, through his speech etcetera and to some extent it was-- it was a distraction.  I think in the long run it’s almost irrelevant.  But, it’s the sort of bump that gives everything something to tweet about.  And it provides lots of fodder.  On the other hand, if you’re Mitt Romney and your choice is to have SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE decide to pick on Clint Eastwood or pick on you, I think-- I think I’d give them Clint Eastwood for every night for the rest of the campaign.

GREGORY:  Right.  Right.  Although they have this amazing ability to make room for both I'm sure.  Tom Friedman, there’s something else that-- that I think a lot of people are taking on about the-- the Republicans whether there was the building of, you know, the myth, factual errors or the myth that somehow President Obama failed to achieve change because he simply failed and it wasn’t Republicans who stood in the way.  And just this morning, there’s an interesting set of articles looking at this.  I’ll just put up the headlines. The Huffington Post with the headline, who killed the hope? Obama’s descent from renegade outsider to D.C. establishment man. And also The Washington Post, who stood in the way of change? The cynicism we’re talking about does come back to sort of who lost Washington?

MR. FRIEDMAN:  Yeah, you know, David, I-- I’ve read all those articles this morning and I find them interesting, because, in one of the critiques I’ve had of President Obama myself is that, one of the lines you get to the White House is, you don’t understand how bad those Republicans are.  They’ve been trying to block us from day one.  To which I say I totally get it.  It’s-- it’s, you know, it’s obvious to me.  I have one question, why are they getting away with it?  Why is the American public not sharing your view?  And one of the things I’ve never understood is why the president never leveraged the American people.  The last time he leveraged the American people for his big agenda was the day he got elected.  And that has been one of the absolute mysteries to me of this administration--a man who’s incredibly articulate, who is a great campaigner, who I think had big ideas, that he was trying to get through, they have a fight, him and Boehner, over a grand bargain.  The-- the-- the thing fizzles out.  It’s he said/she said, and the president never goes to the American people and says, here was the grand bargain we were going for, here is why it is so important, here is why it will lead to jobs, here is my friend Warren Buffett, who says this is the right thing to do.  We never had that.

GREGORY:  But on the other side of that, Speaker Gingrich, you-- you were quoted in a book talking on election night, hours after the president’s inauguration, laying a foundation with other Republicans about how to block the president’s agenda.  That’s not exactly a down payment on-- on bipartisanship in Washington.

MR. GINGRICH:  You know, this is-- but this is one of the great myths to this city.  The president got the stimulus plan he wanted with no elected official having read it.  He got every single dollar, every single power.  The President rams through Obamacare, the largest change in the size of government in modern times, got it done.  The-- the reason people say he didn’t get anything done is it is failing.  I mean, Liberals can’t get up and say, gee, we passed everything we wanted to under-- under the Democratic House and Democratic Senate, and in 2010, we were repudiated and by the way, none of it worked.  So-- so it’s just not the (cross talk).

MR. FRIEDMAN:  I don’t think you can say the stimulus hasn’t worked.  I think that the-- the book is still very much out to that.  And-- and we just, in fact, have a new book by Michael Greenwald from TIME magazine marking just the opposite and health care hasn’t been implemented yet.  So I think in fairness you can’t simply say everything he did was fair.

MS. FIORINA:  But I think what is absolutely fair is to say that President Obama, for two years, had a Democratic-controlled Senate and a democratically controlled House.  So it wasn’t a question of Republican intransigence.  They didn’t have the power to stand in his way.  In 2010, he lost control of the House.  He retains control of the Senate.  It is President Obama and his administration, who have failed to put forward a budget that even members of their own party can support.  What I find so curious about this line of reasoning, from President Obama and his administration is, it makes him look small.  Is he really saying that he is only as powerful as Congressman Ryan?  I don’t think that’s what the American people expect of their president.  I think they expect their president to lead, to rise above.  And he has manifestly not done that.  I think what’s going to be interesting, whatever you think of the Republican convention, I personally think Clint Eastwood was a mistake before he came out.  What I think the Republicans did was offer a performance-based critique of Obama.  Here’s what hasn’t worked.  Here’s what we think will work.  I think what’s going to be interesting about the Democratic convention is, is it a performance-based defense?  Is it an idea-based program going forward?  Or is it a bunch of adjectives which is what they’ve been majoring on recently.  Adjectives like, mean and out-of-touch, and extreme--usually more adjectives means less ideas.

MR. BROKAW:  One of the problems I have, in fact, was though-- was that, Carly, with all due respect, was that for example, Congressman Ryan overreached a couple of times and got caught in those overreaches.  The Janesville plant, for example, which was closed in ‘08, they ended up blaming it on President Obama.

MS. FIORINA:  President never overreached in his rhetoric.

MR. BROKAW:  And-- and the-- and the cuts in Medicare, which were very similar to what he had in mind, taking on the President for not invoking Simpson-Bowles, which I agree with him on that.  I think the president made a mistake in not playing up front Simpson-Bowles.  He was a member of Simpson-Bowles, and he voted against him, went on the floor and said it’s not a good idea to do it.  So I think that’s a problem for the Republicans in overreaching.  They can make a very good case about the last four years, but when they overreach, then the next day’s stories are all about the course corrections that have to be made.  And I think it-- it goes to their credibility some.  And I think the American people are out there looking to say, I don’t know which of these guys to believe, which is going to make those debates all the more important.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  I would have a lot more, you know, willingness to listen to some of the critiques if one speaker that was there in Tampa stood up said you know, we had a hand in this deficit.

MR. BROKAW:  Yeah.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  We had a president who for eight years, launched two wars, which is the first time in our history we did not pay for it with a tax increase but with a tax cut, passed a Medicare, you know, Drug Benefit Bill that we could not afford.  We are in this situation, ladies and gentlemen, because we Republicans, and Democrats, okay, have-- there was not an iota, history started the day Obama was elected.

GREGORY:  And Doris, you had the only person who talked about bipartisan compromise was Chris Christie…

MS. GOODWIN:  Right.

GREGORY:  …who said we can and we should achieve bipartisan compromise while still adhering to our conservative principles but no real-- this is what I thought was important.  Given everything we’re talking about, there was no road map for how we get there.  Because, we’ve-- we’ve heard about changing the culture in Washington from two presidents, both of whom have failed.  No road map of actually how you go and do the blocking and tacking-- tackling of getting there.

MS. GOODWIN:  And I’m not sure either candidate knows how to break that bipartisan problem that we have right now.  I think, however, there was a roadmap for Obama’s acceptance speech in the reference that Mister Romney made to Neil Armstrong.  And I think you talked about this earlier.  Neil Armstrong, as the emblematic notion of an entrepreneur who got to the Moon, it’s just the opposite.  It was government investment, and then followed by private innovation.  And that’s really what’s in the stimulus bill.  I mean it may be that it didn’t produce the jobs we wanted but it did invest in education, it did invest in energy.  And a lot of those projects worked.  All we know about Solyndra, Mister Obama has not made a good apology, not an apology, a defense of what he actually did, what the health care bill did, what the Dodd-Frank has done and he has to come out full throttle.  If he doesn’t believe in the government investment, he has to defend government and defend investment as a down payment for the future and say if I’m elected it will go much more forward in this direction.  But if he doesn’t do it, people can’t do it for him.  It’s up to him.

GREGORY:  Newt Gingrich, you-- you campaigned vigorously for the presidency and for the nomination.  You have a real sense of this party.  If Mitt Romney wants to make big deals, where he balances the role of government, maybe even tax increases, more spending, does he now have a vice president if he becomes president and Paul Ryan who can go to the recalcitrant elements in the Republican Party and say, look, we’ve got to do this, I can keep you in line because we’ve got to make this big deal?

MR. GINGRICH:  Well, I’m-- you know, I was part of a number of big deals in the early 1980s.  We got a third of the Democrats to vote with us in the House because Tip O’Neill was speaker.  None of them involved tax increases.  Let me just-- just give you one example.  We did an entire morning--what they had called Newt University, on energy.  And we actually had Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough come to be students which was a hoot.  The next day I did their show and they both said on the air that the briefing they got from Harold Hamm who developed North Dakota changed their entire understanding of American energy policy.  That they were blown away by the data.  Now, why is that important?  The number one item on the Romney plan for the middle class is a North American energy independence which includes Canada and Mexico.  And if you look at the jump in North Dakota from 150 million barrels to 24 billion barrels of reserve, you look at the fact the North Dakota is now the number two pro-- oil producing state in the United States.  They just announced that-- that they have 42 times, not 42 percent, 42 hundred percent as much natural gas in Ohio as they thought they did a year ago.  I mean, just the drive of the energy sector under a Romney administration generates in royalties, and in taxes on new jobs and taxes on profits a major step towards the balanced budget.  Now you’ve got to control spending.  Paul Ryan would be about as good a vice president as you could get if you wanted to have somebody-- I mean, he will know more about the budget than the director of the budget.

GREGORY:  Let me-- quick comment, Tom and then I’ve got to go to a break.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  I’m-- I’m all for exploiting our-- our natural gas.  It’s incredible bounty.  But if we don’t do it as a bridge to a cleaner energy future, we’re going to burn up, choke up, heat up, smoke up and melt up this planet okay, far faster than even Al Gore predicts.

GREGORY:  All right.  We’re going to take a break here.  I want to come back and talk a little bit about a big issue here as we go into the Democratic Convention.  Gender politics.  It was certainly big for the Republicans; it will be big for the Democrats as well.  Our political director Chuck Todd will join us from Charlotte and take a look at the map, the battleground map and explain why this is so important, the woman’s vote, coming up after this.


GREGORY:  Coming up more with our roundtable.  We’ll take a closer look at one of the key deciders of this election, the women’s vote.  Also joining me to take a closer look at the numbers is our very own Chuck Todd from Charlotte.  Up next after this brief break.



MR. ROMNEY:  When my mom ran for the Senate, my dad was there for her every step of the way.  I can still see her saying in her beautiful voice, why should women have any less say than men about the great decisions facing our nation?  Don’t you wish she could have been here at this convention…

CROWD (in unison):  Yeah.

MR. ROMNEY:  …and heard leaders like Governor Mary Fallin, Governor Nikki Haley, Governor Susana Martinez, Senator Kelly Ayotte and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

CROWD (in unison):  Yeah.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  We’re back.  More with our panel in just a minute.  I want to go now to Charlotte, site of the Democratic National Convention.  Our political director and White House correspondent Chuck Todd is-- Todd is down there.  Chuck, you wrote in your first read blog this week…

MR. CHUCK TODD (Political Director, NBC News/Chief White House Correspondent, NBC News):  Yeah.

GREGORY:  …if you don’t think Republicans understand the power of the gender gap, this convention should have made it very clear, a big emphasis there in reaching out to women.  You talked this morning about the importance.

MR. TODD:  It is, and I can tell you it’s the single most important poll number that the Romney folks look at when they go into the field. So let me show you sort of where things stood in 2008 versus where they stand now.  As you can see in 2008, there was a 13-point gender gap advantage for President Obama.  Here in our latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll over Mitt Romney, the gap is 10 points.  That’s about where the Republicans would like things to be.  Now let me show this through the battleground states.  In 2008, the president had a larger gap than 13 points in four of these states: Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire.  In five of our toss-up states he did below that 13-point gap: Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.  So, how-- what does this mean and how does it feel on the-- on the map?  I’m going to go to our little battleground map here and as always follow along up top when I make the state changes there, you’ll see those numbers change there.  So let’s just give the president the states where he did better than that 13-point gap nationally.  Well then you'd give him Nevada, you’d give him Colorado, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire.  And look where it puts him, David.  At 266 he just needs one more state.  And I can tell you the one that they think they can exploit the gender gap and gender issues more than any other in the rest of those last five battlegrounds and that is Virginia.  And as you know, David, just watching television in the Northern Virginia market you see a lot of ads, particularly that one on Planned Parenthood, having to do they use Mitt Romney’s words.  They think particularly in Virginia, through-- as well as with Colorado, that they could exploit the gender gap and get to 270 without winning any other issues.

GREGORY:  Chuck Todd, thank you very much.  Carly Fiorina, this is so important.  Whether the issue is the abortion platform, which is ambiguous about exceptions, and the Republican platform, whether it is the issue of Planned Parenthood or Todd Akin in Missouri.  This is a real focus.

MS. FIORINA:  Yes, it is a real focus.  It should be a real focus.  I was immensely proud as a Republican woman to see these awesome women leaders that spoke last week.  I mean every single one of them is a bright and shining star in the Republican Party.  And I also must say as a woman it makes me sad that we continue to treat women as a special interest group.  Women are over half of the population, they are not single issue voters.  I know that people feel very strongly about abortion and abortion rights, but to try and pigeonhole women, which I think frankly the Democratic Party continues to milk this issue and manipulate women as single-issue voters and say all you care about is abortion, whatever their views are on abortion, women care about every issue.  In the end, the platform, frankly, doesn’t mean much.  The Republican Party has pro-choice Republicans just like the Democratic Party has pro-life Democratic-- Democrats.  The Republican Party platform hasn’t changed.  Todd Akin should go.  His comments were about rape, not about abortion.  And the Republican Party did the right thing in repudiating him almost universally.

GREGORY:  But Doris, as many Republicans as may agree with Carly, the reality is that there are also-- it’s not just Democratic women, there’s Republican women who not only hear about a Todd Akin but who hear about the-- the-- the-- the platform on abortion or hear about some of these other issues, and frankly say, look, this is just a party that’s out of step with where I am.  That’s the challenge that you see.

MS. GOODWIN:  I mean, I think in the end platform does matter because words last.  The visuals of the convention may have been very successful in portraying diverse women who were Republicans, but words last and actions last.  And I think what the Democrats are going to be able to do in the fall is to somehow talk about votes on bills that had to do with things that women care about, words in that platform.  I mean, it was interesting to me to watch Ann Romney’s very good speech, I thought, and yet even there she felt compelled to say, I love women, and talk about her husband as a father and a dad.  That is such a contrast.  The first woman who ever spoke at a convention in 1940, Eleanor Roosevelt, never talked about Franklin’s polio, never talked about him as her husband or as a father.  She simply said the president cannot be here because there’s too much happening in the world at large right now.  They were restless.  They wanted him there.  And she saved that convention.  But it’s a whole different change.  And it wasn’t just Ann Romney.  We’ve changed the whole idea, again, to go back to this likability, that we have to present them as human beings and we have to focus on the plat-- platforms, the substance.  That’s what this election is about.

GREGORY:  Well, let me show a little bit of Ann Romney with her own testimonial for her husband before I come to Tom on this question.

(Videotape; Thursday)

MS. ANN ROMNEY (Republican National Convention):  A storybook marriage?  Nope, not at all.   What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.  I know this good and decent man for what he is.  He’s warm and loving and patient.  He has tried to live his life with a set of values centered on family, faith and love of one’s fellow man.  From the time we were first married I’ve seen him spend countless hours helping others.  I’ve seen him drop everything to help a friend in trouble and been there when late-night calls of panic come from a member of our church whose child has been taken to the hospital.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  Tom, you made the point this week that we’re going to see Ann Romney, we’re going to see Michelle Obama as two of the most effective figures in this campaign.

MR. TOM BROKAW:  Not two of the most--the two most effective campaigners in both campaigns.  I don’t think there’s any question about that.  Michelle Obama will lead it off next week in Charlotte for her husband.  I happen to believe, and you know the kind of family in which I have been raised, I’m living with all women, and I have been witness to this both in my wife and my daughters and now my granddaughters, I think this is the century of women.  I really do believe.

MS. GOODWIN:  Hooray.

MR. BROKAW:  That-- there’s going to be more gains made by more women across every part of our lives--cultural, political and economic.  And I think that there is even among some Republican women out there, that that party doesn’t quite buy into that yet.  I mean, there are extraordinary achievements made by Nikki Haley and Condi Rice and everyone else.  But the real issue on this campaign for women will be the social issues or economic issues, will one trump the other?  Because the social issues are very important to women.  It’s their bodies, their lives, they feel that it’s not entirely embraced by the Republican Party.  That’s my own judgment.

GREGORY:  Understanding, Mr. Speaker, the difference between Todd Akin talking about rape versus the abortion plank…

MR. BROKAW:  Yeah.

GREGORY:  …in the platform, I understand there is that distinction.  Nevertheless, the question, social issues versus economic issues as being a big motivator for-- for women, is a question.

MR. GINGRICH:  Let me just take a second, I disagree with Carly, I-- I think Todd Akin was the choice of the people in Missouri, and Todd Akin has publicly apologized.  And I think that-- and the last poll show he’s beaten the Democratic senator.  I think that we ought to go on from that, Karl Rove said some terrible things on Friday for which he has apologized which should remind us, people make mistakes.  Vice president of the United States…

GREGORY:  He was joking about if he shows up and murdered someone.

MR. GINGRICH:  No.  In-- in-- in the age of Gabby Giffords, it is not a joke…


MR. GINGRICH:  …to say that a member of congress ought to get murdered.


MR. GINGRICH:  And-- and-- and-- I’m-- I’m frankly, fed up, with the one-sided bias, okay.  Let me give you two examples.  Vice president of the United States goes to a black audience and says if the Republicans win you will be in chains.  Now, where is the-- how can Biden remain as vice president?  Where is the outrage over overt, deliberate racism?  And we talk about people saying things they ought to get off tickets.  How come Biden shouldn’t get off the ticket?  Second example, the Democratic Party plank on abortion is the most extreme plank in the United States.  The president of United States voted three times to protect the right of doctors to kill babies who came out of abortion still alive.  That plank says tax-paid abortion at any moment of-- of, meaning, partial birth abortion, that’s a 20 percent issue.  The vast majority of women do not believe the taxpayers should pay to abort a child in the eighth or ninth month.  Now why isn’t it shocking that the Democrats on the social issue of abortion have taken the most extreme position in this country and they couldn’t defend their position for a day if it was made clear and a vivid-- as vivid as all the effort is made to paint Republicans?

MR. FRIEDMAN:  I’m a Planned Parenthood Democrat on-- on-- on the issue of-- of choice.  And I think that that is where the country should be.  That is where many, many women in this country are.  And I’m glad there are people running for the presidency who will defend that position.  Period.  Paragraph.  End it.

GREGORY:  Newt, I guess the question, too, is whether-- whether you’re seeking even in the Akin example of this kind of to seek an equivalency between that and say, Biden, who is using language that Republicans have used about, you know, the regulatory shackles, as opposed to making an overt racial…

MR. GINGRICH:  Biden was not talking to a black audience about regulatory shackles, okay.  But-- but I’m making-- I’m making-- let me go back to Tom’s point, because I’m-- so-- so you think it’s acceptable to have a party committed to tax-paid abortion in the eighth and ninth month?  And you think that’s a sustainable position in the United States.  If the news media spent as much time on the extremism of the Democrats as they spend trying to attack us, you would-- they would not be able to adopt that plank this week.

MR. FRIEDMAN:  Yeah, I-- I do believe that’s a defensible position but I also believe I’m-- I’m here as a journalist, I’ll let the Democratic Party defend it.

GREGORY:  Well, but also, Doris, part of this is that what-- whatever the speaker’s views are, this is not the battle that Mitt Romney wants to have.  He does not want to get into this, you know, the Democratic plank versus the Republican plank, and he certainly is not defending Todd Akin.  You’re the first Republican, frankly, Newt, I’ve heard you said that he should stay in the race.  The-- the party is very much in a different place than you are.


GREGORY:  Well, they-- well, they are.  They clearly are.

MR. GINGRICH:  Look, when-- when a majority of the people of Missouri on Friday, in the latest PPP poll said he should stay on (unintelligible) majority of Democrats, majority of Republicans, majority of independents.  He won the primary.  Now for Washington figures, remember, the same Washington figures who last time wanted to kick off Marco Rubio for Charlie Crist who will be in Charlotte, I just think people ought to be a little cautious about saying the voters of Missouri don’t count.

GREGORY:  Have you talked to the congressman Akin?


GREGORY:  You said he…

MR. GINGRICH:  But-- but-- but Akin has publicly apologized.  He has said he made a mistake.  And I’m not trying to spend the whole show on this, I’m just saying there’s a very one-sided model here.  Romney doesn’t particularly want this argument, but the argument is not going to be avoidable and I’m just making the case Republicans can win-- if Republicans communicate the Democratic Party plank on abortion, Republicans actually win their fight.  If they communicate on jobs, we win that fight.  And if we communicate on Obamacare, we win that fight.

MS. FIORINA:  But David, may I-- may I just say…


MS. FIORINA:  This is the problem.  This is, in my judgment, an extreme example, yet again of gender bias.  All we talk about is abortion when we talk about women.  Women are leaders in this economy and in our political parties.  Let’s start treating them as whole people.

GREGORY:  The debate will continue.  We’ll leave it there.  Thank you all very much for being here.  I want to mention a couple of programming notes before we go.  I’ll be joining NBC’s prime-time coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.  It all starts Tuesday at 10:00 PM Eastern, 7 Pacific on your local NBC station.  That is all for today.  We’ll be back next week.  If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.