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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Fred Barnes on the polls and campaigns

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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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