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The McLaughlin Group Host: John McLaughlin Panel: Rich Lowry, National Review; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek; Tim Carney, The Washington Examiner; Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune Taped Date: Friday, December 2, 2011 Broadcast Date: Sunday, December 4, 2011

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Traveling Man.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From video.) It is good to be back in Scranton.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Traveling man and incumbent presidential candidate Barack Obama was on the road this week in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Mr. Obama hit the road to whip up support for a cut in payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare. But the Scranton trip was widely regarded as a de facto campaign stop.

Pennsylvania is one of the 12 battleground states that are pivotal to winning the White House in 2012: Pennsylvania, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and New Hampshire.

Why are those 12 states so important? All 12 are battlegrounds, which could go either to President Obama or his Republican challenger. Since September, Mr. Obama has also visited four major cities in the state of California: San Jose, Mountain View, San Diego, Los Angeles.

Those 12 battleground states and California collectively have 206 Electoral College votes, nearly all of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency. In other words, the Electoral College trumps the popular vote, meaning you could lose the popular vote and still win the presidency. This happened 11 years ago in the presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Gore won the popular vote, the votes cast by the American people. But Mr. Bush won the Electoral College vote, 271 to 266.

Question: Will President Obama have to consider a strategy of winning the presidency through the Electoral College vote versus the popular vote? Rich.

RICH LOWRY: Perhaps eventually. But the big picture here, John, he has flat-lined at 43 percent in Gallup over the last three or four weeks. He's cratered among the working class. He's cratered among independents. He's lukewarm among Hispanics. He's lukewarm among young voters. With that sort of configuration, he is not going to win in any shape or form.

What he needs is steadily improving economic numbers or some game-changing event overseas or a third-party candidate from the center who will enable him to win without 50 percent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

ELEANOR CLIFT: Well, I think demography is destiny. If you look at the electorate that's shaping up for 2012, there are going to be some 16 million more young people who tend to vote Democratic. And the white working class, which Obama does not do well with, they're declining in numbers.

And I think that map that you're looking at has expanded. You could probably even throw in a state like Georgia, because added minorities and young people are giving this president an opportunity in many places that Democrats have traditionally not been able to play in. And if Romney is the -- Mitt Romney is the Republican, I don't know that he relates well to a lot of the electorate.

MS. CLIFT: And if it's Newt Gingrich, you can forget independents and a lot of women. So this is going to be a very competitive election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're going to get into both of those in a minute. OK, Friday's good jobs news.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From video.) The unemployment rate went down. And despite some strong headwinds this year, the American economy has now created in the private sector jobs for the past 21 months in a row.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The U.S. unemployment rate last month, November, is 8.6 percent, roughly a half-point drop from the October unemployment rate, and a new 140,000 jobs in the private sector were created last month.

Question: Is this news as good as it sounds, Tim Carney?

TIM CARNEY: There is certainly an asterisk to go along with this, which is that there is massive decrease in workforce participation. In other words, lots of people just aren't working anymore. Maybe it's the baby boomers retiring. It's, you know, stay- at-home moms deciding to stay at home or people giving up on jobs.

But I do think that what matters electorally for Obama is the trajectory of unemployment. In other words, if unemployment is 8 percent and on a steady downward trend --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

MR. CARNEY: -- by the election, I think he wins. Even though 8 percent is horrible historically, I think that if it's looking like it's getting better, then, no matter what, that's good news politically for Obama.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with that?

CLARENCE PAGE: I agree with that. The key to victory that hasn't been mentioned, though, is turnout. Demographics are important. Registration is important. But what vote gets turned out? Older folks more -- twice as much as those under 30. Obama mobilized the under-30 generation -- (audio break) -- this year. He hasn't really begun yet, although they've got a lot of campus operations and that sort of thing. But the economy does have to be going in the right direction.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it now? Are you impressed by the numbers?

MR. PAGE: Oh, I'm sure the White House is breaking out the champagne in the private offices there. But they've got to keep it going. Like Rich said --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's got to become a trend before it's going to be productive --

MR. PAGE: -- it's got to be a trend. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- in the election.

MR. PAGE: And also one thing we haven't mentioned -- people have to feel it in their homes, their kids sleeping in the basement instead of out working on his or her own, those kind of personal --

MS. CLIFT: Well, it gives the president some --

MR. LOWRY: His numbers --

MS. CLIFT: It gives the president some credibility to say we were in a terrible slump. It's getting better. It's going to take some time. If he can show some evidence that the trend is going in the right direction, it gives him credibility to be out there and saying give me more time.

MR. LOWRY: We can't be too fooled, though, about this top-line number, because, as Tim alluded to, it is a factor of people leaving the labor force. And a lot of those people are discouraged and still don't have jobs. You look at the labor force participation rate; it's still awful. We've basically been stagnant over the last two years. And that's one of the reasons, Clarence, young people are not so excited about this guy anymore, because you may be young and as idealistic as ever, but if you don't have a job, that makes a big difference.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there a --

MS. CLIFT: But --

MR. PAGE: Jobs happen in recovery, though.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on.

MR. PAGE: It hasn't been totally stagnant.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Is there also Christmas hires due to Christmas shopping increase, and therefore it's a temporary -- that's part of the unemployment picture?

MS. CLIFT: It's not terrifically great news, but it is good news. And it's really (funny ?) to watch the Republicans on Capitol Hill, you know, try to say something nice. Because they can't stand to give this president any credit. You almost get the feeling they're hoping for the economy to get worse.

MR. CARNEY: The problem, Eleanor, is that Obama promised so much. He said he was going to remake America. He said unemployment was going to be below 8 percent. If we had the labor force today that we had when Obama came into the office and the same number of people working as we actually do today, it would be 11 percent unemployment.

MR. PAGE: And Republicans were willing to cooperate at first, and then they promised to get him de-elected. And that's an issue. The public can see the obstructionism going on that's prevented Obama from --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Certainly it's good press for Obama.

OK, other features on the current economic picture.

Item: U.S. retail buying up. Purchases on the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, reached an all-time record, $52.4 billion.

Item: U.S. auto sales up. November was the best month for sales of U.S. cars in two years.

Item: Home improvement up 3 percent from last year, the second increase since 2006.

Question: If we are seeing signs of a real economic recovery, what does this mean for President Obama's 2012 election chances, going over this ground one more time? Rich.

MR. LOWRY: Well, it's very good for him, obviously. But John, with all due respect, you have not mentioned the most important factor in the U.S. economy today, which is the euro crisis, which has a real potential to unspool the entire currency there, which would drag them into a horrific financial crisis and drag us into another recession. That is the most important story in the world today.

MS. CLIFT: Well, the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's coming up, by the way, in a meeting that's going to occur midweek next week.

MR. LOWRY: Yeah, you'll --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But there is already a staying power that has been introduced into that equation.

MR. CARNEY: No, but, I mean, there's not a staying power, those economic figures you're showing there. What you're glossing over is that U.S. savings rate keeps dropping. The personal indebtedness rate keeps dropping. We are not building the foundation of a strong economy. We're sending people out to the store to buy, creating the same sort of problems we had before.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about --

MR. CARNEY: And that's fine politically for Obama. If Obama --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking about the banks being back in the picture in the European crisis.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, the central --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The banks are back in.

MS. CLIFT: The central banks --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that's going to a further resolution this coming week.

MR. LOWRY: It's a Band-Aid.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?

MR. LOWRY: It's a Band-Aid, John. It doesn't get to the fundamental problem of having a single currency --

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Eleanor. You can work it into your answer.

MR. LOWRY: -- when you don't have a single country, and the indebtedness of all these countries.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: On a probability scale of one to 10, what is the likelihood that the U.S. unemployment rate will fall below 8 percent by election day, November 2012, 11 months from now? Rich Lowry.

MR. LOWRY: I think it's pretty unlikely because of the damper that Europe will represent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, the administration has very marginal control over Europe. And setting aside -- I think Europe is finally beginning to get a grip on what's happening. I think there's at least a 50 percent chance it can drop below 8 percent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Into the 7 (percent) range.

MS. CLIFT: Yes. And I would say the other thing we haven't mentioned is the fight going on on Capitol Hill, which the White House is certainly winning, cornering the Republicans into being against a tax cut for working people. And they're trying to now squirm out of that position. He's finally got the high ground on a political fight with the Republicans.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have the impression that the public has moved away from Obama to such a point where they recognize him as an international success but he's really not doing -- they've kind of written him off?

MR. CARNEY: No, I don't think they've written him off, in part because the Republicans aren't offering a great alternative.

I think the question is, are you going to hold Obama to what he promised he would be, what he had to promise he would be, in order to win? Or are you going to hold him against the alternative?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Clarence.

MR. CARNEY: If it's the former, he loses.

MR. PAGE: Well, people are going to hold him to improving the economy from that recession we're just pulling out of before. I think you were asking a scale of zero to 10 chances of going below 8 -- 50- 50. The international scene, we had some good news this past week, actually.

Band-aid? At least Wall Street thought it was -- with an almost 500-point surge, they didn't think it was just a band-aid. They're moving in the right direction, and mainly if you try to wall off the European crisis from our American and the rest of the world. It's going to be a step-by-step process.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you remember Shakespeare and when Banquo's ghost was in the room?

MR. PAGE: Ah, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there a Banquo's ghost here, the ghost being the immense national indebtedness right now?

MR. PAGE: I thought you were describing --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got a national debt of $14.2 trillion. Isn't this really kind of just peanuts in that bowl?

MR. PAGE: I'm not a deficit hawk, John. You know that. You know, I'd like to see more indebtedness. I think it'll help bail us out --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much of that $14.2 trillion --

MR. PAGE: -- of this situation right now.

MR. LOWRY: (Laughs.) MR. CARNEY: (Laughs.)

MR. PAGE: Yeah, you guys are laughing.

MR. LOWRY: All of a sudden it needs yet more deficit spending?

MR. PAGE: I want to thank -- Keynes lives. We're all Keynesians now. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that $14.2 trillion?

MR. LOWRY: Well, we're spending more than we ever have before.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who spent the money?

MR. LOWRY: Everyone spent the money. Bush spent too much, and then Obama doubled down on it. We've had a deficit over --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Meaning what?

MR. LOWRY: -- a trillion dollars for three years in a row.

MR. PAGE: He spent more.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Meaning he spent more.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Obama taking the rap for any of that immense debt that the United States has?

MR. LOWRY: Yeah. No, it's hurting him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that hovering over him like a --

MR. PAGE: (Inaudible) -- recover the economy. We'll pay it back. That's all -- debt is just debt. You've got to pay it back. We've done it before.

MR. LOWRY: Well, you'll have to cut spending, Clarence. You will have to cut spending.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How long do you think it's going to take --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How long do you think it's going to take to eliminate that debt?

MR. PAGE: Well, right now it's zero, the way we're moving.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fourteen-point-two trillion (dollars). Issue Two: Newt Rising.

FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER AND NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA) (Republican Presidential Candidate): (From video.) I'm going to be the nominee. I mean, it's very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I'm going to be the nominee.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Newton Leroy Gingrich is now the front-runner to represent the Republican Party as its presidential nominee. Gingrich now leads former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney -- Gingrich, 26 percent; Romney, 22 percent.

Gingrich is also the front-runner in the GOP's first contest, Iowa, four weeks from this coming Tuesday, January 3 -- Gingrich, 27 percent; Romney, 20 percent. South Carolina, January 21 -- Gingrich, 38 percent; Romney, 15 percent.

MR. GINGRICH: (From video.) I don't mind telling you my strategy. It's very simple. It is performance and ideology. What you have today is a radical who's incompetent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The radical being, of course, Barack Obama.

Question: Is the Gingrich surge a flash in the pan, or has he elbowed out Mitt Romney as the GOP's nominee for president, with the Republican convention still almost, by the way, a year away, nine months away? I ask you.

MR. CARNEY: Newt Gingrich is a lobbyist who was paid to push big-government policies, like Freddie Mac, ethanol subsidies and drug subsidies. He also has had three different wives. And I think that this is the sort of thing that, under the spotlight, will cause much of his support to erode. I think he appeals because he is so good at -- people imagine -- Republicans love the idea of him debating Barack Obama, because he would mop the floor with Obama in a debate, I think. But I think, under scrutiny --

MR. PAGE: I'll take that bet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)

MR. CARNEY: Under scrutiny, I think Gingrich will --

MR. PAGE: I'd buy a ticket for it. (Laughs.)

MR. CARNEY: -- will fall.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think he'd mop the floor with Obama?

MR. CARNEY: Oh, yes.

MR. PAGE: I'd buy a ticket for that one. MR. CARNEY: I think it'd be ugly. I think Obama would have to change the rules of the debate.

MR. PAGE: Well, remember, Obama's really good with the rope-a- dope.

And Newt has a habit of talking --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the rope-a-dope?

MR. PAGE: Well, that's when -- that's when you let your opponent defeat himself, literally --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How? How?

MR. PAGE: -- by exhausting himself on the ropes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How?

MR. PAGE: Newt has a habit of talking his way --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Who's on the ropes? Who's on the ropes?

MR. PAGE: Muhammad --

MR. LOWRY: You let your opponent punch --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Muhammad Ali is on the ropes.

MR. PAGE: Muhammad Ali's opponents, except for Frazier.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He lets the opponent punch him and punch him and punch him.

MR. PAGE: Right. Right, exactly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The opponent -- he tires himself out.

MR. PAGE: He exhausts himself, right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And then Ali gets off the ropes and he attacks the opponent and he beats the opponent.

MR. PAGE: Exactly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was that a fight? MR. PAGE: That's right. That's something that -- well, there were several fights where he did that tactic.

MR. LOWRY: Foreman. That was Ali-Foreman, wasn't it?

MR. PAGE: Yeah.

MR. LOWRY: It was Ali-Foreman.

MR. PAGE: That's right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it was Foreman.

MR. PAGE: But it was also what happened with Obama on several occasions during his last campaign. You know, right when we thought he was on the ropes, suddenly he came back and his opponents exhausted themselves.

Gingrich has a habit of losing his discipline. He's been pretty good at it, on the whole, so far this year. But what's intriguing to me, John, is this shows kind of a real defeat for the tea party, because they've always been the anti-insider, anti-lobbyist -- you know, let's clean house --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're assuming --

MR. PAGE: -- and Newt's the exact opposite.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, wait a minute. Let's take a look at Newt, Incorporated.

Newt Gingrich left public office 12 years ago. He served 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, four years as the speaker of the House. The former speaker has become almost a one-man private- sector business empire.

One, health care think tank, supported by health insurance companies, generating $37 million.

Two, professional speaking, earning $60,000 and up per engagement.

Three, documentary film company, historical situations.

Four, literary agency, representing authors other than himself, including former Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum.

Five, conservative issue advocacy, calling for increased oil drilling in the United States and ending "Obamacare," $52 million generated.

Six, political consulting company, serving the pharmaceutical industry and Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation. Overall, says Mr. Gingrich's attorney, in the past 10 years the Gingrich operations have generated revenues of close to $100 million. Gingrich says these earnings are not due to political cronyism. They are due to free enterprise.

That's an incomplete list, by the way, of his achievement. Read Forbes. And, by the way, his total worth today is $6.7 million.

Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I don't know that Republican primary voters are going to hold it against him that he got rich and that he learned how to work the capitalist system. Maybe they don't know about all of this, but I don't think this is going to be disqualifying.

What Newt Gingrich has that Mitt Romney doesn't have is passion. And passion is what wins primaries. And Romney is running in a race where people really don't want to vote for him. And Newt is Newt. He's grandiose. He's mercurial. He could self-implode a week from now. But he's been pretty disciplined since the Tiffany episode and the cruise, and he's been very shrewd in how he's presenting himself. So he could -- he could at least be the foil against Romney.

MR. LOWRY: Eleanor --

MS. CLIFT: And for the first time in this campaign, Romney is looking a little bit less inevitable.

MR. LOWRY: Eleanor has hit it on the head.

MS. CLIFT: Thank you.

MR. LOWRY: If people believe he is a combative, true-blue conservative, it will trump all this Newt, Inc. stuff. The problem is there's the kind of horsemen of Newt's self-destruction that are always just a few paces behind him -- the hubris, the ego, the intellectual grandiosity. And you can already hear them catching up to Newt.

But let's be frank here. As Newt would say, frankly, he has a pretty good chance to win Iowa. If he wins Iowa, he has a pretty good chance to win South --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He has no ground operation in Iowa.

MR. LOWRY: But it's going to be driven by passion. If he wins --

MR. PAGE: He's also ahead in Florida, by the way.

MR. LOWRY: If he wins South Carolina, he is set for a heck of a run. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that this is an implicit rejection of Obama -- been there, done that with Obama, that kind of an attitude?

MR. PAGE: By Republicans.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By the American people.

MR. CARNEY: An eagerness to get rid of him, yes. But I think that if they could look at the fact that Newt Gingrich doesn't act like a presidential candidate in a lot of ways, they would be less positive on him. In other words, what he does in the debate hides the fact that right now I don't think he's in Iowa today. I've seen him --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, what happened?

MR. CARNEY: He's on this book tour. He goes on a book tour.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: His polls --

MR. CARNEY: He goes on cruises.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: His polls have not recovered, despite his obvious professional performance, to a tee, in ASEAN and in Bali and --

MS. CLIFT: Obama?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You remember those other countries about two weeks ago?

MR. PAGE: Well, Obama hasn't really campaigned here --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's gone. It's showing nowhere in the polls.

MR. PAGE: Obama hasn't really campaigned here yet. He's been to some fundraisers, but he hasn't really gone out -- (inaudible) -- yet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The American people are not that trustful of trade. That may be the answer.

MR. PAGE: The American people don't care that much about foreign policy right now, you know. And that includes trade, except they think that too many jobs --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, trade -- MR. PAGE: -- are going overseas.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, and he's also putting Marines in Australia. That's an interesting development.

MR. PAGE: I know it impresses you and me, John, but we care about foreign policy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But there is also -- there is also the bomb they have to consider, the American people, when they vote. How is this individual going to handle the bomb?

MR. PAGE: That's fine.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are they going to trust Obama?

MR. PAGE: Yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would they trust --

MR. PAGE: Well, they've been trusting him so far.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would they trust Gingrich?

MR. PAGE: Well, Gingrich, that's the question. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would they trust Gingrich? Do you think so?

MS. CLIFT: Gingrich could have a real problem.

MR. LOWRY: He has -- he has a real temperament problem. He demonstrated that as speaker. He had basically a personal meltdown, and his colleagues deep-sixed him as speaker. And every single day from now on, he'll have to show that he is different -- not just say it, but show he is more mature and more responsible in his --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is this meltdown he had?

MR. LOWRY: Well, it was the coup. It was the affair. It was everything. You read accounts of it and it was quite hair-raising.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who did?

MR. LOWRY: Newt Gingrich had a personal meltdown as speaker of the House.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh.

MR. CARNEY: And the coup was because of --

MS. CLIFT: Well, he --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Unrelated to his personal life. MR. CARNEY: No, the coup was because of personal inconstancy.

MR. LOWRY: No, related.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Related. Huh?

MR. CARNEY: The Republicans did not trust that he could be relied on to hold the same position on Wednesday that he had held on Monday. They could not count on the fact that he would follow through on what he said he would do.

Issue Three: Bad Ads.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From video.) My opponent's campaign announced earlier this month that they want to turn the page on the discussion of our economy so they can spend the final weeks of this election attacking me instead. (Chorus of boos.) Don't boo now. Just vote. (Laughter, applause.) Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Those words were uttered October the 16th, 2008, three weeks before election day, November 4, 2008, an election which delivered the U.S. presidency to then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama.

During that New Hampshire address, Mr. Obama declared that Republican presidential candidate John McCain did not want to focus his campaign on the economy, then in meltdown, in the G.W. Bush administration. Rather, he would focus on Obama and his shortcomings. That was 2008. It is now 2011, 11 months away from the 2012 presidential election next November.

Here is how those same New Hampshire remarks were presented in a political advertisement produced by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney last month of this year.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From video.) If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Supporters of Mr. Obama cried foul. They charged Romney with falsification of the Obama quote. Romney says the ad is fair game.

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR AND 2012 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE MITT ROMNEY (R): (From video.) So there was no hidden effort on the part of our campaign. It was instead to point out that what's sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander. And he spoke about the economy being a huge burden for John McCain. This ad points out, guess what, it's now your turn. The same lines you used on John McCain are now going to be used on you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of the utilization of the language in the first ad in the second ad by Romney? MR. PAGE: Well, I think it's reprehensible to use a quote out of context, but it'll probably work for Romney in the primaries because he's going after voters who hate Obama. And they're going to be a lot less offended than, say, the swing voters in the general election would be.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is not a misusage. This is a deliberate falsification.

MR. PAGE: You got it.

MR. LOWRY: Deliberate is the key word, John. They did this exactly to elicit the effect that Clarence alludes to, which is if the Obama campaign and the media say, oh, you're so terrible -- you're being so mean to the president -- they think that Republican voters will like to hear this. But this is a classic too-clever-by-half kind of tactic.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it's too clever or gets into a new area, which is total falsification?

MR. LOWRY: There's nothing new -- there's nothing new about total falsification. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You have Obama quoting McCain.

MR. LOWRY: If you can't falsify in politics, John, where can you falsify?

MR. PAGE: Thank you. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And then the McCain bite is put in the mouth of Obama as Obama originating it. It was originated by McCain.

MS. CLIFT: Everything goes by so fast that he's just betting that, you know, people really are not going to hold this against him. Besides, there's so much to hold against Romney when it comes to switching position and prevaricating. And why is he always seeming so out of breath? He's always, like, in a big hurry to get to the end of the sentence.

MR. CARNEY: I hope that this -- Mitt Romney's focus -- also focuses attention generally on politicians misleading, like Obama's series of falsehoods over the last three years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: See whether this does it.

Closer to the bone. The Democratic National Committee TV ad engine fired back for Mr. Obama. The DNC released this ad portraying Governor Romney as a compulsive flip-flopper. (Begin video segment.)

ANNOUNCER: From the creator of "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake" comes the story of two men trapped in one body -- Mitt versus Mitt.

MR. ROMNEY: I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose.

MR. ROMNEY: The right next step is to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

ANNOUNCER: Two Mitts, willing to say anything.

(End video segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Clever ad. But did the DNC violate Napoleon's rule? Never interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself.

MR. LOWRY: No, this is --

MR. CARNEY: No.

MR. LOWRY: -- a common-sense play. They're desperate to run against anyone except for Romney, so they want to hurt him as much as possible. And if it's still -- if Romney is the nominee, at least you've softened him up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think about that?

MR. PAGE: That ad reminded me of an ad Ron Paul put out, which makes a similar attack against Romney for being two-sided.

MS. CLIFT: Well, Newt Gingrich is telling his people not to attack Romney. And I think the DNC -- the Democrats figure if Newt's not going to do it, they'd better start. And I think the ad is very clever. And it leaves you smiling. Whatever side you're on, it's well done.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They have plenty of material, the DNC, with the misusage, deliberately, this falsification of his --

MR. CARNEY: But that's way too -- that's way too involved.

MS. CLIFT: That's not true.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's too involved?

MR. CARNEY: To try to attack Mitt for taking --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, yeah, yeah. OK. So what's the point? MR. CARNEY: I think that Rich is exactly right, that Newt would be a better candidate, from Obama's perspective. Going after Romney is probably the smart play.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: Marijuana will be broadly legalized by 2020.

MR. LOWRY: Yes, it will.

MS. CLIFT: If not before. (Laughs.)

MR. CARNEY: Yes, it will, even quicker if you had Gary Johnson as president. (Laughter.)

MR. PAGE: Medicinal use, yes; for everything, I'm not so sure.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's where it is now.

MR. PAGE: Not nationally; no, it's not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's a little (advanced ?). Is that all you're conceding?

MR. PAGE: But federal law -- there's only about nine states.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Broadly legalized nationally.

Bye-bye.

END.