The McLaughlin Group

Host: John McLaughlin

Tim Carney, Washington Examiner; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek;
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report;
Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune

Taped: Friday, September 21, 2012

Broadcast: Weekend of September 22-23, 2012 

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Romney Video.

Video recording of Mitt Romney addressing a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida four months ago created a firestorm this week. It was posted on the Internet by a liberal media outlet named Mother Jones, named after the revered union organizer.

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R, Republican presidential nominee): (From videotape.) There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. But that's -- it's an entitlement, and that government should give it to them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The number quoted by Mitt Romney in the address is correct. U.S. Census Bureau data published by The Wall Street Journal reports that 49 percent of American households received some type of government benefit in 2011. That's up from 30 percent in the 1980s.

Social Security benefits -- 16.2 percent of Americans receive them. Medicare coverage -- 14.9 percent receive it. Food stamps -- one in seven households get them. Income tax -- Americans in 2010 who paid none, 46 percent, up from 27 percent 20 years ago. Unemployment -- 23 million Americans unemployed or underemployed today.

Question: The Obama team is trying to spin the video as meaning Romney only cares about the top 53 percent, not the 47 percent who get government benefits. Is this damaging to Governor Romney? Tim Carney.

TIM CARNEY: It's absolutely damaging to Governor Romney, because he is writing off a portion of the population. It's not just that he's talking down to them, like Barack Obama did four years ago when he talked about the bitter clingers who cling to their guns and their religion. Obama said we can win them over.

But Romney is saying I can't win over this bottom 47 percent of the population. And anybody who's running writing off 47 percent of the population, well, I don't see where he's going to get to the 50 percent to win.


ELEANOR CLIFT: The irony is they aren't all slaggard (sic) Democrats. A lot of them are Republicans. They're veterans. They're people who receive veterans' benefits, Social Security. People do not think they are undeserving. And so he is insulting, basically, much of the electorate.

It's also a window into his soul. This is how Mitt Romney thinks. And when he was speaking in that mansion in Boca Raton, this is, I think, how rich people talk when they're among themselves. They want to protect their benefits and they see themselves as in something of a war against the hordes of undeserving people.

And a lot of the benefits that he's talking about were expanded by Republican and Democratic presidents. The child care tax credit was doubled under George W. Bush. This is part of the reason a lot of people do not pay federal income taxes. But, boy, they pay a lot of other taxes, and they feel stressed. And they don't see that Mitt Romney is someone who's on their side. It's devastating for him politically.


MORT ZUCKERMAN: Well, I do think it's hugely damaging to him politically. I have to say, I don't believe this is the way all wealthy people talk. I mean, I've been to many -- I was --

MS. CLIFT: You know better than I do. (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I was a waiter at these dinners, and I've listened to those conversations.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: I've never heard them talk that way. And even when they tipped me, when I got a couple of bucks, they never said, you know, you really deserve this. They basically said I didn't deserve it, because I wasn't serving.
But I do want to say this. I think there's something -- there's a blind spot in Romney that is really astonishing in the sense that there is something about him that is not coming through. I don't know if it will before the campaign is over, but if it doesn't, he's going to be in real trouble.

This did him immense political damage. And the fact that it came out this way -- the fact that he said it and wasn't aware that you can't do anything or say anything like this today in this age of cameras and all kinds of -- so I find it really astonishing. It's done him enormous damage. Whether he recovers or not will depend, in my judgment, on how well he handles the debates, because he's going to have to answer to this in the debates. And he'd better have a very good answer.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, some people say this is actually an improvement from previous Democratic attack lines, which accused Romney of caring only about the top 1 percent. (Laughter.) You ever think of that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That is not true. Listen, he was a very effective governor of Massachusetts. He was not focused on the wealthy. He was focused on health care and a lot of very good things. I think that's just an unfair judgment about him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, now he's got the interest of the majority.

MS. CLIFT: Right. Exactly. (Laughs.

CLARENCE PAGE: Well, that's what he says now, you know. I mean, the problem is, you know, our other colleague, Rich Lowry, who's been on this program numerous times, editor of National Review, said that Romney sounded like he was repeating something he had overheard --


MR. PAGE: -- from a couple of real conservatives, of which Romney is not. He's a come-lately conservative trying to sound like one. He talked to Arthur Brooks over at American Enterprise Institute, who's written a book on this topic about the serious issue of having almost half the working population --


MR. PAGE: -- not paying federal income taxes. But that's one for a longer discussion. He really -- he was more than correct when he said his answer was not as elegant as it might have been. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, what about Obama the redistributor?

MR. ROMNEY: A tape came out a couple of days ago with the president saying, yes, he believes in redistribution. I don't. I believe that the way to lift people and to help people have higher incomes is not to take from some and give to others, but to create wealth for all of us.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mr. Romney is citing video of then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama speaking at the Jesuit University Loyola in Chicago in 1998, 14 years ago.

THEN-STATE SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): (From videotape.) I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution -- because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody's got a shot.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is the idea of redistributing wealth popular with middle-class voters, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: No, it's a toxic phrase, which is why the Romney campaign has unearthed this video from 1998. But what Barack Obama was talking about was redistributing so that you have a -- to create a safety net. And if you played the rest of that tape, you would hear him go on to talk about the private market. And he gives a wonderful exposition in defense of capitalism. So he is not for a classic socialistic redistribution of wealth.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, he just said he favors redistribution.

MS. CLIFT: Well, to create a safety net so that -- you know, that's what it's about. But if you think this is going to rescue the Romney campaign, this is not going to do it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, I think -- does anybody think that this is anything else but dynamite?


MR. CARNEY: Obama --

MR. PAGE: John, how is this any worse --

MR. CARNEY: Obama's redistribution is not just a bottom safety net. The "Obamacare" subsidies go to the middle class. You've got cash for clunkers, cash for caulkers. You've got bailouts for banks. Everybody -- middle class, big banks, millionaires -- they're all getting the money redistributed.
And Paul Ryan said it very well once. He said this, instead of a safety net, becomes a web that ensnares people. And, no, middle-class people don't like this.

MS. CLIFT: It was Ronald Reagan --

MR. CARNEY: They want American --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute.

MR. PAGE: Don't complain about --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who does this remind you of?
Hold on, Clarence.
Who does this remind you of?

MR. CARNEY: Who does this remind me of?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Well, what does it --

MR. CARNEY: Karl Marx?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- remind you of?

MR. CARNEY: No, it reminds me of a web that ensnares everybody. It reminds me of Karl Marx.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you ever hear of Joe the plumber?

MR. CARNEY: Yes -- spreading the wealth around, exactly.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Spread the wealth around.

MR. PAGE: And how is this --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He said it to Joe the plumber.

MR. PAGE: How is this any worse?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now we see that this has been --

MR. PAGE: How is this any worse than that?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This has lived with him for years.

MR. PAGE: How is this any worse than that flap? We're just rechewing the same discussion we had four years ago around Joe the plumber. I mean, have you heard of the progressive income tax? Have you heard about the $10 million assistance that Bain received from FDIC? The companies that Bain owned were receiving tax breaks as well. I mean, redistribution is the way government operates.

MR. CARNEY: And we don't like it.


MR. PAGE: The political issue is who pays and who benefits. That's the real political debate.


MS. CLIFT: I'm going to invoke President Reagan, who created the earned-income tax credit --

MR. PAGE: Right.

MS. CLIFT: -- which Bill Clinton then expanded on. And that probably is classic redistribution. It's not over-the-top Karl Marx, though, however.

MR. PAGE: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why did we become -- lapse into, what, solipsism? Why can't you say something at this point?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: John, I have the feeling you think I have to defend the 1 percent, or something like that. (Laughter.) I don't defend the 1 percent. I actually believe in higher taxes on the wealthy.
I supported it when the president introduced it in this particular thing. I do think we need to do things that require the participation of the wealthy. Otherwise the politics will never let us do anything to get our budgets under control --


MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- and our deficits under control.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- let's sober up a little bit -- $16 trillion in debt. Six trillion dollars has been added to the national debt since President Obama took office four years ago, when the debt clock was at $10 trillion. David Letterman slipped Mr. Obama this sly one.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

DAVID LETTERMAN: Now, do you remember what that number was? Was it $10 trillion? Was it --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don't remember what the number was precisely.

MR. LETTERMAN: Right. But, see, now, if this is me and I got the credit-card guy calling me everyday --


MR. LETTERMAN: -- I start to get scared. I mean, as Americans, should we be scared that we owe that kind of money? Who do we owe that money to?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, a lot of it we owe to ourselves, right?

(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Get a load of that. We owe it to ourselves. Then he developed that train of thought.

MS. CLIFT: Right. He --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So even Letterman is scared. What do you think of that?

MS. CLIFT: I think Letterman can handle it. The point the president is making, that much of the debt is held internally. It's one government branch, the Social Security checks and entitlements that we owe. But some of our debt is also owned by overseas credit, the Chinese. But he made an excellent point about the fact that interest rates are so low now that borrowing money -- that now is the time where we ought to really do our infrastructure recovery. Now is the time all the rest of the world is still parking their money with us because we're still a safe harbor.

And he makes the point that the deficit is of concern, but it's not a concern for the next six months. It's something that you have to get on a pattern. But to dive into austerity is to invite the same kind of problems that Europe is going through, and it only crimps any kind of recovery that we have. So I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think --


MS. CLIFT: So the fact that the president didn't know the number of the deficit -- I'm sure Republicans are going to go to town on that. (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's not the issue.

MR. CARNEY: He's either lying or ignorant.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And that's not the issue. The issue isn't raising taxes now or putting in an austerity program now. The issue is developing a program like the Bowles-Simpson program, OK, that deals with our deficits over the longer term, because just like Europe, we will end up in the same kind of difficulty.
There's a wonderful line from a Hemingway novel where somebody says, how did you go bankrupt? He said first slowly and then suddenly. You know, that's what's happened in Europe, OK? All those governments have too much debt on their books, running deficits. We're running a huge deficit. Sooner or later it's going to burn us, and burn us badly. And we have to do something about it.

MR. PAGE: Well, we're in an election year right now.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And he would not support -- he would not support --

MR. PAGE: You can't seriously deal with this issue.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He didn't deal with it when Bowles-Simpson came in with their recommendations.

MR. PAGE: Yeah, but even Romney --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He set up that group.

MR. PAGE: -- keeps rolling back -- now he's rolling back on "Obamacare." He said, well, maybe the pre-existing condition part isn't so bad after all, like he rolled back on the Medicare theme as far as the $700 billion redirected by Obama over to "Obamacare," all of this during an election year. People are just kind of playing around these issues. You're right. We've got to deal with the deficit and the debt, but it's not going to happen now.

MS. CLIFT: Whoever is elected --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The middle class cringes at the idea of redistribution. They know that people like Mort and others --

MR. PAGE: John, give me a break.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of course can find -- they can find their loopholes.

MR. PAGE: Give me a break.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But they -- they cringe at it.

MR. PAGE: What are the two most popular programs --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They cringe at it.

MR. PAGE: -- in the federal government? Social Security and Medicare.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but we don't call them redistribution.

MR. PAGE: That's redistribution.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You have your thoughts. I have mine.

MS. CLIFT: We call them earned benefits. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible.)

MR. CARNEY: I think people know that --

MR. PAGE: You talk about political correctness. Don't use the word distribution. But it's reality. People like it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, they cringe at it, because --

MS. CLIFT: Well, we don't call it redistribution. We call it earned benefits.

MR. CARNEY: No, they know --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible.)

MS. CLIFT: You earn these benefits as a citizen and you pay into these programs. And that's how people regard them. They don't regard themselves as moochers.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They know there are loopholes and there are tax havens, and those who have the bucks --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- can get the lawyers and the accountants to find them.

MS. CLIFT: But that's the top 1 percent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But they can't do that.

MR. PAGE: (Inaudible) -- the home mortgage tax credit. And, believe me, people love that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. CARNEY: When you redistribute, it's the people with the best lobbyists who end up pocketing most of it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Insider Attacks.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: (From videotape.) This is a war. We're engaged in a war. And every day, when you're engaged in war, there are serious risks that confront those who fight the war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is particularly concerned about, quote-unquote, "insider attacks." These inside attacks are ones perpetrated by Afghan forces who have been trained by U.S. and NATO forces. In other words, our allies in Afghanistan are turning their fire on the American force who trained them.

Fifty-one deaths from insider attacks have occurred this year alone, an increase from 35 last year. On Sunday, September 16th, four U.S. soldiers were lured and then killed by Afghan police, supposedly on our side.
On Friday, one week ago, a particularly audacious attack occurred at Camp Bastion, a major airbase in Helmand Province. Afghan militants scaled the perimeter of the heavily guarded facility and killed two U.S. Marines. Harrier jets were also destroyed.

In response to these ongoing assaults, the U.S. military has suspended most side-by-side NATO-Afghan field operations like joint patrols. Quote: "It will apply only until the threat level returns to a tolerable level," unquote. So says U.S. Colonel and senior NATO spokesman Tom Collins.

The U.S. has been fighting in Afghanistan since October 2001 -- 11 years. As of this past Wednesday, 1,994 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan; 17,619 U.S. troops have been wounded in action. How much money has the war cost? Four hundred and forty-three billion dollars. So reports the congressional research office.

Question: The U.S. exit from Afghanistan, slated for 2014, assumes the successful training of Afghan forces to take over the security of that country. So how will this training suspension affect that exit date? Clarence Page.

MR. PAGE: It's going to be -- well, it's obviously a problem. I don't think it's going to hold up the official exit date, really. But it is something that we've had to reconfigure our troops and the way our squads now have to have somebody watching our Afghan allies, Afghan security force, at the same time that they're looking out for the visible enemy. It's a chaotic situation in that regard. But I don't think we're going to really delay our pullout.

MR. CARNEY: Because --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But the issue -- the issue there is that the joint efforts of both the Afghanis and the American forces were to train the Afghanis so that they could handle the security issues when the Americans left. You're not going to have that now. So they're not going to be able to handle the security forces. And we have made the commitment to leave in 2014. So that means that Afghanistan may become once again a base for terrorism against the United States. And this whole effort has been a disaster.

MR. CARNEY: But I think --

MS. CLIFT: Well, it undermines the trust that they hoped to build between the Americans and the Afghanis. But I think it's a little bit of an overreach to say this is the difference between leaving a relative success and a huge disaster. I think whenever we leave, whether it's in 2014, when it will be, or 10 years into the future, Afghanistan is still going to be an unsettled place. But, you know, that's -- I don't think -- we can't fix that forever.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know what percentage of NATO forces, including Americans, have been killed by reason of these insider attacks?

MR. CARNEY: A small percentage.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fifteen percent.

MR. CARNEY: Fifteen -- oh, 15 percent of deaths --


MR. CARNEY: -- are from insider -- yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: From insider attacks, this vile situation.

MR. CARNEY: This shows -- this shows exactly why what George W. Bush tried to undertake there, after driving out the Taliban and the al-Qaida supporters, just that regime, then trying to build it as a nation, that that was folly --


MR. CARNEY: -- and that George W. -- that President Obama has tried to do that too. And we're playing make-believe if we're talking, oh, 2014; maybe we won't be able to leave, because if we're going to leave, it's going to be more than unsettled, as Eleanor's saying. It's going to be a mess.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, what is wrong with doing it the way we did Vietnam? Just go.

MR. PAGE: Well, for one, thing, Vietnam --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just leave, you know.

MS. CLIFT: Because it's called cutting and running. And it would be a political disaster at the very least. It would also send --


MS. CLIFT: -- signals to the rest of the world that America --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, do you want staying --

MS. CLIFT: -- can't -- doesn't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and killing?

MS. CLIFT: No, I want staying until the determined, with our allies, deadline is met --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There comes a time --

MS. CLIFT: -- which is 2014.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There comes a time when you reach critical mass, and it is not only folly, but it's probably sin to stay there.

MR. PAGE: In reality, the only stable parts of Afghanistan, as far as we're concerned, are the capital and Kandahar, major centers like that. Most of that country is still controlled by various tribal, chiefs, et cetera.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, the president of Afghanistan has remained remarkably silent during this.

MR. PAGE: Well, I suppose --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Let's face it.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Afghanistan has been a disaster from beginning to end.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: And there were other alternatives when the president added 30,000 troops, OK, to how you would have done that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, the --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But it's too late now. We are where we are. We're going to leave it.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's going to be a disaster when it ends.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The end date is December of next year.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's -- 2014.

MS. CLIFT: `14.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: `14, yes.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's 2012. That's two years.

MS. CLIFT: And it's not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Two years from now.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think we should wait that long?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's the commitment we made.

MS. CLIFT: It's a staged withdrawal.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I agree with Eleanor. You just can't pull out, OK? It's a staged withdrawal. But the whole idea of the timing of the withdrawal was to train the Afghani troops so that they could defend themselves.

MR. CARNEY: And even now --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Now it's not going to be possible.

MS. CLIFT: Well, I don't know --

MR. CARNEY: Even now, this weekend, we're seeing the surge --

MS. CLIFT: -- if they're going to stop that completely.

MR. CARNEY: The surge -- the Afghani surge has been dropped down, our surge there. And even now there are Afghanis saying, look, the surge of troops has created more alienation there, and now they're abandoning us, so the terrorists that remain for the U.S. presence --

MS. CLIFT: It's not that different from Iraq.

MR. CARNEY: -- are free to operate.

MS. CLIFT: It's not that different from Iraq. There's -- there are bad things going on in Iraq too. It's not completely peaceable.

MR. CARNEY: But Iraq has history.

MS. CLIFT: But we're not there anymore.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The American people really are in a quasi- isolationist mood right now. They don't care for this at all.

MR. PAGE: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They don't care for it at all.

MR. PAGE: That's a big reason why --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but they're not rising up --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There are circumstances that can intervene which change plans, quite legitimately.

MS. CLIFT: Well, that's right.

MR. PAGE: There's not much to keep us there any longer than we have to stay, John, believe me.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: President Obama's aim is to transform Afghanistan in a way that is commensurate with the military and economic means that will do the job. Yes or no? Tim Carney.

MR. CARNEY: I don't think that they are going to be able to bring enough force to make Afghanistan be peaceful or anything. I think Obama's looking for an excuse to cut and run without making it look like cutting and running.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) He's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If he can find it.

MR. PAGE: Yes.

MR. CARNEY: Yes. I think he's very good at finding excuses -- excellent.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)


MS. CLIFT: He's put in place a withdrawal plan, and I think he's going to stick to it. Now, maybe after the election, if it's President Romney or President Obama, they'll reassess. But for the moment, I think that plan is pretty well set in stone.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He's put in place a withdrawal date. His plan for the withdrawal date has now fallen apart completely. He'll stick to the date without question. But let's face it, we are not going to be able to train the Afghani forces to do what we hoped they would do when we set that date, and that was when we imagined that they would be able to defend themselves.

MS. CLIFT: The date will not change.

MR. PAGE: We are the latest of many other --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I didn't say the date would change.

MR. PAGE: We are the latest of many other empire builders and semi-empire builders to go into Afghanistan, find it to be uncontrollable, and leave. We will stabilize it as much as we can and leave.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There are signs of rot here, real rot.

MR. PAGE: Rot? Well, look at the state it was in when we came in, you know, probably because we pulled out too fast from --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I'm talking about --

MR. PAGE: -- the mujaheddin, and that resulted in al-Qaida.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- this moral rot, this ethical rot.

MR. PAGE: Can you elaborate, John?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, I can -- where you have soldiers side by side, one training the other, and they kill each other.

MR. PAGE: Well, you may call it rot, but they believe they have a reason to be doing this. And that's what we have to deal with.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There sometimes can be intervening circumstances which make the original deal unbearable. That ought to be reconsidered.

Issue Three: The Bounce, Take Two.

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken between September 12 and 16 shows President Obama's post-convention bounce going strong, despite a week of world turmoil. Among likely voters, Mr. Obama leads GOP challenger Romney by 50 percent to 45 percent. Obama's overall approval rating is also up, hitting the 50 percent mark for the first time in six months. The bad news for Romney is that he and Obama are now tied on which man is better equipped to handle the economy.

There is also some bad news for Obama. His approval rating for foreign policy dropped 5 percent since August, driven lower by Middle East troubles. The intensity gap also persists. Among those voters who say they are very interested in the election, Romney leads, 49 percent to 46 percent.
The shifts in public opinion have led to the emergence of three new swing states -- Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin -- where polls are down to single-digit differences.

Question: Is this the tail end of President Obama's post- convention bounce, or is he now on a roll? Tim.

MR. CARNEY: I think he's on a roll, and this is his natural lead is a couple of points. And Romney is going to have to make that up somehow. Obama's low approval ratings are good, but Romney's low approval ratings make it almost impossible for him to overcome it. Given how much horrible stuff, with the violence in Libya, violence in Afghanistan, Obama not knowing the size of the national debt -- if Obama's still up by this many points, I don't know what Romney's going to do to make it up.

MS. CLIFT: All the key battleground states, the president is pulling ahead. Some of the states that went for Obama last time that should be natural gets for Republicans, like North Carolina and Colorado, are now -- at least Colorado is moving into the Obama column.

And the pathway for Romney to get to the 270 is much steeper. He's probably 60 or 70 votes short. The president is only 33 votes short. If the president captures Florida, Ohio, Virginia, almost one of those, certainly two of those -- and in Virginia, you now see the president pulling ahead and bringing along the Senate candidate, Tim Kaine, with him. I mean, the momentum is really with Obama right now. Now, whether that's going to last, we don't know. But Romney has a lot to worry about.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To whom does Obama have to be grateful for making it appear that he, Obama, pulled the chestnuts out of the fire?

MS. CLIFT: I give a lot of credit to Bill Clinton.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bill Clinton.

MS. CLIFT: He really framed the arguments against the Republicans. And he's the secret weapon in Florida. And if Obama wins a second term, look for Clinton-era triangulation to return.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort, you heard that -- what we just said here about the performance of Bill Clinton. Was there anything comparable in the Republican convention that would help Romney?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I don't think there was anything comparable. I don't think there's anybody in American politics who's comparable to Bill Clinton, frankly. So I don't think that's possible. But I think, look, the issue --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has Romney done a bad job in explaining there are five elements --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- in his economic proposal?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has he done a bad job in getting that across? And is time now on his side?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, time is now not on Romney's side. And he has not done a good job; I'll put it that way.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, how many weeks are there before the vote?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The issue is going to be determined, one way or another, on the basis of the three debates. That's when the two candidates will be up there. And if Romney does that well, he'll have a chance. If he doesn't do it well and Obama wipes him out, he'll have no chance.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's your prediction on that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think he'll do pretty well. I mean, we saw how well he did in the debates for the Republican nomination, and I've seen him debate up in Massachusetts. He's done very well. But Obama's also a very, very, very good speaker.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he doesn't have Clinton at his side.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, he doesn't. It's going to be --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he's had four years, four years, and this is where we are in the economy today.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The economy is very --

MR. PAGE: That's because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

MR. PAGE: Well, that's because -- well, considering how Obama -- well, the economy's doing so badly -- Obama, according to precedent, should be about 10 points behind right now. But the fact that he has not been, that it's been neck and neck except for those times when Obama's been a point or two ahead, indicates you've got two weakened candidates here and that Romney has not been able to get traction because he has not really articulated his economic plan. And that is his major issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Tim.

MR. CARNEY: The lame-duck Congress will avert the fiscal cliff only by kicking the can down the road.


MS. CLIFT: Both campaigns turning to debate prep, the White House bringing back former communications director Anita Dunn to oversee the prep.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Israelis will not attack Iran until after the election.


MR. PAGE: Mitt Romney will do surprisingly well in the first debate because expectations are so low.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Catalonia and Galatia, two provinces of Spain, will break away in the election one month from now and declares themselves the Republic of Catalan, whereupon the United Nations will vote to seat the new nation.