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Barone and Barnes on the State of the Race

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Confused by the fact that the polls look good for Romney but Manhattan-Beltway pundits are intoned his demise?

Wondering how last week could have been good for the president when it was very bad for the country?

Asking yourself how Mitt Romney’s press conference was a “stumble” when you and most of the country agreed with him, and how the president can be thought a foreign policy president whenhis U.N. ambassador is obliged to declare “We are not impotent” on a weekend news show?

Confused over how Mitt Romney’s speech at the concvention –widely and rightly regarded as very good in the aftermath of the convention, is now being derided by the Obama fan section at Politico with a straight face?

I’ll get the real take from America’s walking, talking decision desk, Michael Barone, in the first hour of today’s program and post the transcript here.

I’ll also be joined by Fred Barnes, Joe Kernen, and Arizona Congressional candidate Vernon parker as well as by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn in horu three, talking about the new, free online course on progressives and the U.S. Constitution.

The transcripts of the Barone and Barnes interviews are below:

HH: The so-called struggle for the narrative is underway. That is a highfalutin way of saying each side wants you to believe they’re winning. And there’s only one guy I trust in this, and it’s Michael Barone, our own personal decision desk, the national decision desk, the walking, talking Washington Examiner genius when it comes to all matters political. Michael, welcome back, good to talk to you.

MB: Well, it’s good to be with you.

HH: As you know, Rasmussen has Mitt Romney two points up in a likely voter national tracking poll. Gallup has him three points down in a registered voter seven day tracking poll. State polls are all over the place. Mostly, they’re tied. In North Carolina, Mitt Romney’s pulled away, and in Pennsylvania, it looks like Obama’s pulled away. But generally speaking, how do you see the race today, Michael Barone?

MB: Well, I see it as a very close race in which Mitt Romney may or may not be behind. But you know, if you look at the Rasmussen and Gallup tracking polls that you’re talking about, for example, it’s very clear that there’s, two things are very clear. Number one, any so-called convention bounce for Barack Obama is pretty much over. Number two, if you’ve got registered voters showing Obama up three, and you narrow that to likely voters, it would look a lot like Rasmussen’s Romney up two, which is of course based on likely voters that he checks out. I think we need to keep our eye here on the party identification in the polls, of the polling samples, because in some of these, you get what appears to be, to me to be a skewed Democratic sample. Rasmussen’s poll is plus two Democratic in terms of party identification. So that’s one benchmark that you can look at. Other benchmarks are of the 2008 election, which was 39-32 Democratic, plus seven Democratic, and the 2010 off year election, which was 35-35, dead even.

HH: Now I had on the head of the Marist poll last week. I don’t know if you had a chance to read that, Michael, but I asked him about his Ohio poll, because they had a plus ten Democrat sample.

MB: Yup.

HH: And I asked him again and again how that could be justified. And maybe he didn’t understand me, maybe I was inelegant. But I never got an answer to it. Do you think there is a world in which that is justifiable at this stage in the election sampling business?

MB: Well, I have to say that there’s some evidence that the big enthusiasm gap that existed with the Republicans being much more enthusiastic than Democrats about voting, which existed in 2010, most of 2011, that may have narrowed somewhat. I think the Democratic convention, the Clinton speech, the Michelle Obama speech, could have contributed to a narrowing of that. So let’s keep that in mind. Republicans can’t count on that enthusiasm, balance of enthusiasm in favor of them. They’ve got to make it happen. Having said that, it seems to me that a ten point Democratic edge in Ohio sounds improbable to me for the general election, and without going back and checking on the ’08 and ’10 samples in Ohio, it seems to me to be out of line with what we’ve seen with previous things in Ohio. I’d expect a Democratic ID edge of half that or less.

HH: And that would mean, in all likelihood, a tie race in Ohio right now. Now Michael Barone, there is a lot of buzz today, on Monday, about a Politico article that points to infighting at the Romney campaign. Two weeks ago there was infighting at the Obama campaign. It’s just the season for infighting stories. Do these matter at all in the narrative in the election cycle? Or is this just what we have to do to pass 50 days of deadlines?

MB: Well, one argument that’s made by candidates on occasion is that the way they run their campaigns gives you an indication of how they would manage as executives. Obama said that he’d manage his campaign well in 2008, he should be a good executive. Gee, you read the Bob Woodward book, The Price Of Politics, and you sure won’t get that impression. I think my experience in campaigns is that the hard part about running a seriously contested campaign is that you need to distinguish between…you get all sorts of advice. You should change your strategy, you should change your tactics. You have to be able to distinguish between the eight or nine times out of ten when you should ignore that advice, and the one or two times out of ten where you should pay attention to it. I take it that the Romney campaign is paying attention to some advice that it’s gotten, for example, to make set stage speeches where he sets out some of the specifics of his program, makes the argument how his policies could produce the kind of results that voters want. That’s an argument that’s been made by, among other people, Washington Post Right Turn blogger, Jennifer Rubin, who ordinarily provides us with about 6,000 words a day, but is taking the Jewish holiday off. And I see evidence that the Romney people are to some extent making adjustments. They’ve got a new round of ads going up. They want to not just be even, but ahead. So that’s the tricky part of a campaign. If I were advising President Obama, I would have advised him a very long time ago, like on the 3rd of November, 2010, that he needed to do a pivot on public policy approximating what Bill Clinton did in 1995 and 1996, in which helped him, enabled him, really, to win reelection in 1996. If you look at the last three presidential cycles, you’ll see that the winning candidate in each case has gotten exactly the same percentage, or within one percentage of it, of what his party got in the off year election two years before. Well, Obama’s party got 45% in the House elections.

HH: Wow, ouch.

MB: …two years before. That’s a pretty clear signal to change his course. He’s decided not to do that, so we heard a lot at the convention about saving GM and dispatching Osama bin Laden. Didn’t hear much about the stimulus package or…

HH: Yeah, that was the famous…

MB: …Obamacare.

HH: bin Laden is dead, GM’s alive, to which I replied that the threats are growing, the economy isn’t. Let me ask you about last week as we close, Michael Barone. The Romney press conference was the occasion of universal derision of the Manhattan-Beltway media elite. At the same time, the President’s policies led to the spectacle of the U.N. ambassador saying we are not impotent on the weekend. Chris Cillizza wrote this afternoon that look, it’s simply not fair that the media sets the narrative of the campaign and decided wrongly that a single Romney statement mattered more than the broader indictment of Obama’s policies from last week. Who won last week?

MB: Chris Cillizza, of course, that does The Fix political blog for the Washington Post.

HH: Yes. So who won last week?

MB: Pardon?

HH: Who won the week?

MB: Well, I think we saw, again, a media frenzy that certainly gives the appearance of being as coordinated as those attacks on Benghazi, where we saw Paul Ryan lied in his speech, when it wasn’t actually, there weren’t actually any lies that they could cite. But they repeated the story over and over again, and they repeated the story that Romney made a horrendous mistake and showed great error of judgment, when in fact the immediate response of the administration was to adjust the statement of the embassy in the direction which Romney said it should be adjusted at, although they changed course on that again next week. Look, there’s, when you’ve got foreign policy crises and so forth, sometimes there’s a rally around the flag, you know, around the incumbent president, particularly when he’s taken resolute action. But when…you can also have the world in disarray, and we’ve seen what that looks like in 1979-80. And we’ve seen what the response to that is. When you have the Obama people telling you that well, this was, these attacks on Cairo and Benghazi and multiple other locations, attacks on U.S. facilities, murder of a U.S. ambassador were spontaneous attacks in response to a film, and they’ve got everything planned out, have they got the 310 million people covered in the U.S., and somebody’s going to make an anti-Muslim statement that’ll be used as a pretext to whip up mobs to commit acts of war against the United States? I don’t think so. I think that looks like a potential for disarray there.

HH: Not a good week for President Obama. Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner, thank you.

End of interview.

– – –

HH: We begin this Monday hour with Fred Barnes, the managing editor of the Weekly Standard, and of course, a long suffering sports fan. Fred, before we go to politics, I just have, you’re sort of objective on sports when the SCC and the ACC aren’t involved. Isn’t it ridiculous that USC is still ranked above Ohio State in the AP?

FB: Yeah, I would say so. I mean, Stanford, this isn’t exactly Andrew Luck’s Stanford team that they lost to, and they can blame some bad call, and of course, they are. But I can think of several teams besides Ohio State that ought to be ahead of them. I mean, I would put USC certainly in the second five, not in the top five.

HH: Well, they’re ranked 13th, and Ohio State’s 16th, and I just think it’s…

FB: 13th? Did USC drop that much?

HH: Yeah, they should have dropped to the…

FB: Well, they’re better than that.

HH: They ought to go below Ohio State. They’ve got to drop to the people below them who are undefeated. I know that the whining always works for them, but go and check that out. All right, Fred, I want to go to the polls. I just talked to Barone last hour, and here we’ve got Rasmussen, Romney up two in likelies. We’ve got Gallup where Romney is down three among registereds, which you wash it together and you get a very, very close race. And yet, out of the Beltway-Manhattan media elite is this meme that seems to want to say the race is over. I think that’s foolish. What do you think?

FB: Well, I think it’s foolish, although I do think the Romney campaign needs to do better and run a stronger campaign. When I saw the ad they put on the air over the weekend in Virginia, it was one of the worst ads I’ve ever seen, Hugh. And you know these ads are produced in state, or rather in house by the Romney campaign. It was an ad that could have been in any presidential campaign ever. It was on taxes, and he’ll raise taxes and I won’t, and so on. You’ve seen that. Obama says the same things in his ads. None of the urgency that makes this campaign important, that we’re at a crisis. And so I’m not particularly optimistic at the moment, but I think…and you said there seems to be an effort to say the race is over. There is an effort by a lot of the media to say it’s over, Obama’s won it, Romney’s terrible, and that’s it. But I mean, that’s not true, but I think Romney’s going to need to do better to win.

HH: Yeah, now Politico stepped into the phone booth wearing their Clark Kent glasses, and they came out with a sign, a big suit with an O on it, in light blue and red. And it’s really absurd the level to which they have gone in the Obama cheerleading. Today’s story, I think the short form is, Romney writes his own speeches, and didn’t want to use a Pete Wehner draft. And out of this, they’ve attempted to craft a narrative of disarray. What did you make of this story, Fred?

FB: Well, I certainly read it. It wasn’t just the Pete Wehner draft. It was a draft also done by the two speechwriters, Matt Scully and…

HH: Yeah, John McConnell.

FB: Yeah, John McConnell, who did the speech for Paul Ryan at the convention. And that was thrown out, too. And then a speech was put together by Stuart Stevens and Romney himself. They made a lot out of it. I thought it was a well reported story, and does show some of the weakness at the Romney campaign in putting together a strong message. I just don’t think, look, I think Obama’s gotten pretty much of a free ride, and for as unsuccessful as his presidency has been, but he could wind up winning unless the Romney campaign is stronger than we’ve seen so far.

HH: But Fred, I went back and…

FB: But the fear is there’s going to be so much more thrown at Romney. We’re going to hear stuff on Mormonism, we’re going to hear stuff on race. Just wait.

HH: I went back and read all the assessments of the Romney speech, and they were all very positive. Yours, and…

FB: Mine was.

HH: And everybody liked it. And so my guess is he just spoke in his own voice, which is not strident. And I do think he needs to amp up the comparison to look, this is 1932, this is 1941, this is 1980, this is 2001.

FB: Yeah, exactly.

HH: These are important times.

FB: Yup.

HH: But that come in, and the idea of reverse engineering a bad convention…he had a very good convention. It was…

FB: Yeah, I know. I mean, that’s ridiculous. And the only reason there wasn’t a bounce, I think, coming out of the Republican convention was the story was swallowed up immediately because the Democratic convention began immediately the next week.

HH: Yes.

FB: Normally, there’s a week in between, and there wasn’t this time.

HH: And now that, and now the Obama bounce is gone, and we are up with a week of disarray. Now I just saw you on Special Report saying that the last week represents the collapse of Obama’s sweet talk policy, and that’s very well put. How does that matter in people’s opinions of the president, Fred?

FB: One word – weakness.

HH: Yup.

FB: He has been weak in his foreign policy. He tried something, you know, the theory of his policy was that George W. Bush and other presidents, not Jimmy Carter, but they’ve been mean to these Muslim countries, these Islamists, and I’m going to be just the opposite. Remember, he said in his speech in Cairo, Islam is a part of America, and he said he would help stamp out all negative Islamic stereotypes, and on and on and on. And he got a big round of applause in Cairo. The affect on the Islamic countries is that America is hated more than ever, and that’s why we have had these very violent demonstrations at American embassies. I don’t think President Obama understands the definition of the word pretext.

HH: I agree, however I do think he’s also infused appeasement into every limb of the vast American government, so that when the American embassy puts out its risible statement before the riots, that Romney had his press conference, that’s predictable. They take their cues from the president, and that is, that’s our whole policy right now is to cringe and back away and retreat.

FB: And the effect of that is to encourage further demonstrations, violence, bold acts against the United States, and so on. And as you also saw on the show, Kristen Powers mentioned something that I hadn’t thought of, that what an embarrassment is that the emergence of al Qaeda in these attacks, what an embarrassment that has to be to Obama, who has pretended that the assassination of Osama bin Laden completely ended al Qaeda as anything more than an irritant to the United States.

HH: The good news about, there is no good news about losing Americans, but the good news is that Zawahiri is out of his cave somewhere and leaving an electronic trail, and out guys are pretty good at following him. And maybe that would be a good result of this. But all told, assess the week, because our friend, Chris Cillizza, who is a good guy, welcome on the show, wrote a piece, and I have been emailing him back and forth, declaring that Romney lost last week decisively, and it’s unfair to say that the media was trying to prejudice the account. Well, that’s all they did all week, Fred, was try and prejudice the idea. And Romney did not lose the week. It was a disaster for America, which means it’s a disaster for the president.

FB: Well, I think it was a disaster for America and a disaster for the president, but that is not totally clear, yet, and I think it will be. I didn’t think last week was particularly good for Romney, because the press was so unfair to him. But I think in the long run, we’re going to see that what’s happened in the Middle East all the way to Indonesia is going to hurt President Obama a lot, and particularly if Romney takes advantage of it and steps in with a strong foreign policy of his own. You know, he’s avoided it. He just never mentions Afghanistan and so on. He needs to get tough.

HH: Now in terms of when that rolls out, do they wait for the debate? Or do they…they had a good speech, not great, but it was a good speech at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce today, but nobody watches it.

FB: Right, yup.

HH: And Paul Ryan has been on talk radio very little, Governor Romney been on more than he has. Where do they pick their venues, Fred?

FB: Well, I don’t know that their venues matter. I think it’s what they use in their ads. They’ve got to start putting things in their ads. In one of their new ads, they use a part of what, of where Romney talks about the debt, and that there is a moral issue involved here in running up all this debt, and that will land on our children and grandchildren and so on, which is a pretty strong statement. They can use it that way. You know, one of the things that was wrong with the Republican convention was they didn’t put that very, very good film about Romney on in prime time.

HH: Right.

FB: …on national television. It was excellent. You know what I would do? I would buy however long it was, a half an hour or 20 minutes or something. Buy some time and put it on the air.

HH: You know, it’s interesting if Sheldon Adelson or others can do that through a superPAC. I don’t think that’s coordination to take a publicly available film and buy that because that would be a fine expenditure of superPAC money.

FB: Oh, it would be. It would be great, and put it on even MSNBC and CNN, and particularly maybe even ESPN if you can buy the time.

HH: You know, that’s an excellent idea. Last question, Fred, in terms of the seriousness of the polling, I was looking at Gallup. Jimmy Carter was up eight points over Ronald Reagan in October of 1980. That’s a weak incumbent. A strong incumbent, Ronald Reagan was never up less than 16 over Walter Mondale in 1984. We clearly have weak incumbent race going on here. Do you expect ups and downs of polls, or sort of stasis until the very end?

FB: Well, I don’t know what to expect, and all campaigns are different. A lot of people thought this would be 1980, and it would go along as a tie and then there’d be a breakout in the last couple of weeks for Romney as there was for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I don’t know. And we see there’s so many polls now. Look, a couple of the problems are these. They seem to be using, most of these polls, a 2008 sample.

HH: Right.

FB: In other words, they’re, the polls I saw, at least three or four of them last week, were ones that had six percentage points more Democrats than Republicans in the sample.

HH: Yeah, the Ohio Marist poll was ten percent more Democrats than…

FB: That’s preposterous. That’s not the way the country is politically at the moment. And then you use too many cell phones, where you call too many cell phones where you get too many Democrats.

HH: Oh, Fred Barnes, always a pleasure to talk to you from the Weekly Standard.com. Fred’s writing a lot. Go and read it all, except the football stuff.

End of interview.

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