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Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol with debate advice for Mitt Romney

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HH: Joined now by Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. Hello, Bill, welcome back.

BK: Hey, Hugh, how are you?

HH: I’m great. I’m looking forward to Wednesday, and that’s really what I wanted to speak with you about. What do you expect to see? What do you hope to see on Wednesday night from Mitt Romney?

BK: I hope to see Mitt Romney come out there, look across the stage at Barack Obama, and see in his mind’s eye, Newt Gingrich, the way he saw him on, what was that, January 27th in Jacksonville, Florida? And then he proceeded to demolish Gingrich and basically ensure his path to the Republican nomination that night. And I hope he has that attitude and really does the same thing, frankly, to Barack Obama. Every liberal I’ve run into, liberal journalist, a couple of liberal professors I’ve read about, are all giving Governor Romney the advice to be nice, be presidential, be respectful, you’ve got a likeability problem with swing states with voters who are these women who really want you to look like a really good person, so if anything, don’t go on the attack. I hope he ignores all that, and explains why, and does it directly to Barack Obama, I think he has to be in the second person. You have failed, and unfortunately, if you are reelected, the next four years will be even worse, here’s why, and here’s what I’ll do instead.

HH: What do you expect the President to do either in response or ab initio, Bill?

BK: I think Romney can get under his skin. He’s so vain, the President, and he’s so unused to being challenged at this point. I think he’ll go very much into his standard talking points. I think he’s very comfortable in the same things he’s been doing on the stump. I assume he’ll taunt Romney a little bit on the 47% or something like that. But I think Romney just has to come out and really go after him, and of course lay out his own case, too. Ignore Jim Lehrer, pretty much. Don’t get trapped…the thing that got me the most scared a week ago was when I read some story about how Romney’s going to fact check Obama, and he’s going to really point out the lies and the misleading statements that Obama makes, which I think on the whole is a mistake. You know, he’s got to prosecute his case against President Obama.

HH: Now Bill, how would you have him describe the times in which we are right now, because my view is he’s got to underscore again and again that we are tipping back into recession, and that our foreign situation is desperate, actually, and that he do so with great clarity and great specificity, not fact checking the President, but saying look, we’ve got terrible economic situation right now, and our foreign policy is collapsed, and this happened on your watch. Would you encourage him to go big that way?

BK: Yes, yes. I mean, I think he needs to be alarmed about the state of the country at home and abroad, and bring home that alarm to voters, and make clear that things will get worse. If the last four years have been bad, the next four years will be worse, which I really believe, incidentally. If you believe that Obama’s policies are on the wrong track domestically and abroad, the truth is we haven’t paid the full price for them, yet, certainly not abroad, where the bill often comes due, you know, a year, two years, three years later for weakness. And even at home, we’ve in a way been able to have a little bit of a comeback from the depths of the financial crisis. But we’re going to have, as you say, a double dip, and we’re going to start paying the price, of course, for the huge debt that Obama has run up. So I think one price Romney has paid for following Stuart Stevens’ advice, that he has to be reassured, I remember visiting the Boston headquarters two, three months ago, the word I heard over and over was reassuring. We’ve got to reassure the swing voters. There’s maybe some truth to that, you know, that you are up to being president. But the price of being reassuring is you’re not alarming. And I do think he now has to be alarmed and alarming about what another four years of Obama would mean.

HH: Now in terms of the fact that he’s the president of the United States, and it’s easier to be the president in these things, because people have to invade space that is reserved for the president, and that means that you cannot be disrespectful to him, or you cross the line. You cannot touch him, as he did, for example, Rick Perry in the course of the debate.

BK: Right.

HH: And the president gets a certain amount of ability to stretch time limits and filibuster, and this president is inclined to filibuster more than any than I’ve seen. How do you get through that aura that we give not to a particular individual, but to the office?

BK: Well, obviously Mitt Romney, by his nature, is going to be respectful of the office, and isn’t going to be rude. But I think at some point, you just say Mr. President, that was three minutes of nice talk. You’ve talked a lot over the last four years. But you’ve just failed. You failed in your actions, and here’s how you failed, and just go right to the indictment. Ignore everything you say…no, I wouldn’t listen, honestly. If I were Mitt Romney, this sounds kind of crazy, and of course I’m exaggerating when I say this, I wouldn’t listen too closely to what the President says. I would just let him talk. It’s going to be a lot of, you know, cloudy stuff and vapor and nice, happy talk about how, scare talk about how bad things were under Bush, and happy talk about how everything’s getter better, and then just go back to being pretty relentless on the offense. I think if the media accounts the next morning are you know, a respectful debate, both of them made their points, I think that will not be particular good for Mitt Romney. If the media accounts are Mitt Romney was aggressive, surprisingly aggressive, even at times on the verge of rude to the president of the United States, I actually think that would probably be a good thing.

HH: I am glad to hear you say he ought to use the F word, and I think failure is the best word he can use at this point, because you’re allowed to say that to a president, and in the second person. You have failed, you are a failure when it comes to this. It’s tough stuff, Bill Kristol, but I think people will give him the right to do that and wouldn’t react negatively. But it is very tough to call a sitting president a failure.

BK: It is tough. You and I have been in a million debates. It’s tough even to do it to some other commentator you’re debating. You know, but I think he’s got to bring home to people how alarming the next four years of President Obama is, really more so, even, than how bad things are now. People know kind of the current situation. But you know, they could probably be taught, because we see from the polls some of them are being talked into well, maybe it’ll get better, and President Obama, kind of, he’s going to be a little better the next four years, he’s learned something, and I’m not so comfortable, maybe, with Romney. But he’s got to alarm people about the next four years of Obama, and then lay out his own case, obviously. I don’t minimize that at all. I think he needs to be pretty forward looking in his reform conservatism, but I do think he can’t, to the degree he pulls back and doesn’t use the F word as you put it, the failure word, then he sort of legitimizes voters’ thinking that Obama’s not a failure. And if voters don’t think he’s a failure, and if Romney doesn’t tell them he’s a failure, then voters will say well, I guess he’s not really a failure.

HH: Exactly.

BK: And if he’s not really a failure, he’s kind of an okay guy, so why not give him another chance?

HH: Exactly. Now today, you mentioned polls, today the ABC/Washington Post poll has it a two point spread between Obama and Romney with Obama ahead. Politico/GWU/Battleground, two points, Rasmussen, three points. They’ve closed up as we all expect they would. They’ll stay close for a while now. What do you make of the map that Mitt Romney has in front of him?

BK: Look, I think the state level polls are a little worse. I think some of that may be an artifact, but some of it may be, I do think that Obama is running a better campaign. I live in Virginia in a swing state. His ads are powerful. There are more of them. I don’t think the Romney ads have been very strong, very crisp, very clear. But I think he can correct that, and the swing states will close up, too. Your state of Ohio, your home state of Ohio looks a little tricky, but the truth is, I mean, it would be better to win with it, obviously. No Republican’s won without Ohio. But I can also write a scenario where Romney wins the presidency with Colorado, Iowa and Wisconsin, even if Ohio falls a point or two short, not that he should give up on Ohio. I assume you’re moving the show to Ohio for the last two weeks?

HH: I am. I’ll be there a lot in the last two weeks.

BK: I just made that up. You’re going to camp out there, you’re going to be at the Ohio State games, you’re going to be, you and Paul Ryan. He’ll do the Miami of Ohio side, you’ll do the Ohio State side. It could be…

HH: It is in fact where they’ve got to go, and they’ve got to talk about energy, and they’ve got to talk about fracking, because this President’s got draft regulations, Bill Kristol, that will shutter fracking in Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania as soon as December rolls around. In terms of the sway of these things, we’ve got a minute left, does the first one decide the spin of them all, Bill? Or are we in a five act play now, four debates and the closing sprint?

BK: Yeah, five acts, but the first is the most important, the way these debates work. And I’d say the first third of the first debate. That first 30 minutes is really crucial. I was talking with Brett O’Donnell, who’s a very good debate coach, who was with Governor Romney before the Jacksonville debate where he clobbered Gingrich, and he feels strongly that voters tend to make up their mind about what they think in those first 30 minutes, and then watch the last hour as kind of confirmation. So come out of the box hard, Governor Romney. That’s my thought.

HH: Bill Kristol, great to talk to you from

End of interview.


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