The McLaughlin Group

Host: John McLaughlin

Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist;
Eleanor Clift, Newsweek;
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report;
Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune

Taped: Friday, October 5, 2012
Broadcast: Weekend of October 6-7, 2012


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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Election Game Changer.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) Governor Romney's proposal that he has been promoting for 18 months calls for a $5 trillion tax cut on top of $2 trillion of additional spending for our military. And he is saying that he is going to pay for it by closing loopholes and deductions. The problem is that he's been asked over a hundred times how you would close those deductions and loopholes, and he hasn't been able to identify them.

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R, Republican presidential nominee): (From videotape.) I'm not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut. What I've said is I won't put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. Middle-income Americans have seen their income come down by $4,300. This is a tax in and of itself. I'll call it the economy tax. It's been crushing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why did President Obama seem thrown off balance? Did he underestimate Governor Romney, Pat Buchanan?

PAT BUCHANAN: Well, he certainly did. Governor Romney performed better on substance than any candidate in any presidential debate in history. Reagan would have beaten him on style in 1980, but on substance I've never seen anybody better prepared than Governor Romney. He did a magnificent job. He was on offense.

The question -- the real question is why did Barack Obama, the president, do so badly? John, he didn't come prepared for what he found there. He seemed diffident. He seemed almost disinterested, sour. When they had the two pictures together, he was looking down at his notes and the governor was talking as though he was lecturing him.

I don't know. People have talked about it. Some say he's lost his enthusiasm for the battle. He looked like he's weary of the job and weary of what he was saying. I think it may have something to do with him having been out on that road for one year, just saying the same things, and that he really -- he didn't seem to be intellectually stimulated by being there in that debate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he's overstating that -- (inaudible)?

ELEANOR CLIFT: No. I think Mitt Romney far exceeded expectations. He turned in a boffo performance. And I think everybody agrees with that across ideological lines.

The president checked out. Now, why he did that, I have my own theory. I think he was overcoached -- three days in debate camp. I think he was probably told don't take the bait. Don't let this guy get under your skin. Be calm. And he overcorrected.

And I think when you're president, he talks about all these issues every day. He could have gone in there cold and he would have brought more passion and authenticity to it than sitting there sort of calculating what he should be saying and shouldn't be saying.

It actually reminded me of the first debate of President Reagan against Walter Mondale where Reagan's aides had stuffed him full of so many facts and figures that he completely wandered down a California highway and lost his train of thought. And the second debate, where he joked with Mondale -- he was himself; I won't take advantage of your youth and inexperience -- brought him back.

I think the president certainly can come back here. There are two more debates. There's still weeks of campaigning. Plus we had some pretty nice job numbers on Friday morning with the unemployment number dipping below 8 percent, the number of jobs created brought back up over the last couple of months. So the economy is looking a little better. So I think Obama is really lucky that he got a good jobs report to at least somewhat temper what was a very disappointing debate performance.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Romney signed a pledge that he would not make any tax cuts that would add to the deficit. Do you think that left no place for Obama to go?

MORT ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think it certainly was a place for Romney to go. What he said and what a lot of people have written about for a long time was to eliminate a lot of these special tax benefits and tax entitlements and special tax treatments across the entire code, which distorts the economy, and use that money to lower tax rates. And that, it seems to me, was a very effective political stand.

He articulated extremely well, as Pat says. It was a very substantive performance. He had a lot of numbers to back it up. He said it in a very organized and clear way. So I think he was extraordinarily more effective than anybody anticipated. And the president, for whatever reason, was just not in the game.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why was Obama thrown off balance?

CLARENCE PAGE: Well, I call it the second-term blahs, John. I think that you've seen this happen with other presidents running for reelection. It's the kind of a job where you're constantly having people -- really yes men and yes women surrounding you. And you kind of get out of practice on standing up there and confronting somebody who's telling you to your face that you're ruining the country.

Obama's conflict-averse anyway when it comes to directly confronting people. And I noticed this with questions and issues he should be well familiar with from being out there on the stump. He was giving these elongated answers, complex, compound sentences, instead of just saying, Mr. Romney, you're wrong, and here's why; you know, just remembering that you've got to reach, what, that 5 percent of undecided voters who are out there, who aren't that familiar with these issues and the intricacies of the tax code, et cetera.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.)

MR. PAGE: Mitt Romney gets criticized for not giving enough details, but that worked in his favor on the debate stage, because details just kind of get you bogged down.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's impossible to follow.

MR. PAGE: Yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Romney was (fluent ?), he was analytical, and he was easy to grasp.


MR. PAGE: Well, yeah.

MS. CLIFT: Well -- (laughs) --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He was very --

MR. PAGE: Even when he was giving falsehoods. (Laughs.) It didn't matter.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What falsehoods did he give?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, I think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I didn't hear any falsehoods.

MR. PAGE: Well, you didn't hear them, right, because he kept on talking.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tell me what falsehood there was.

MR. PAGE: It was very --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tell me what falsehood --

MR. PAGE: For example, he said that Obama doubled the deficit. He didn't. He's brought the deficit down during his time.

MR. BUCHANAN: What are you talking about? (Laughs.)

MR. PAGE: He said Obama had --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: What are you talking about? That is absolutely --

MR. BUCHANAN: We've had $5 trillion worth of deficits under -- look, what the president should have done --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute.

MR. PAGE: (Inaudible) -- $1.4 trillion, and it's now --

MR. BUCHANAN: One-point three (trillion dollars), $1.2 (trillion).

MR. PAGE: -- $1.1 (trillion) at the end of this fiscal year.

MR. BUCHANAN: It's $5 trillion in all.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's get into that. OK -- attention, the deficit disorder.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) The president said he'd cut the deficit in half. Unfortunately, he doubled it -- trillion-dollar deficits for the last four years. The president's put in place as much public debt -- almost as much debt held by the public as all prior presidents combined.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) When I walked into the Oval Office, I had more than a trillion-dollar deficit greeting me. And we know where it came from -- two wars that were paid for on a credit card, two tax cuts that were not paid for, and a whole bunch of programs that were not paid for, and then a massive economic crisis.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: President Obama's gambit has been to blame his predecessor, Bush, for his $4 trillion string of deficits. Why didn't that pay off, Pat?

MS. CLIFT: It does pay off.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, frankly, President Bush is an argument that Obama has used which has been somewhat effective, that he inherited a very tough situation.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He knew what he was inheriting.

MR. BUCHANAN: But he didn't mention -- he didn't mention Bush's name. But it is true what both men said. Public debt is only -- it's not $16 trillion. It's about $10 trillion that's held by the public. And Obama has doubled it. There have been four straight deficits of over a billion -- a trillion dollars. There's one scheduled now, and according to CBO, three more scheduled.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. You know, the American -- the American people are not that stupid to think that they're going to lay the whole debt on the president -- on this president's doorstep, because they know what he inherited; plus the bank bailout, which is what irritated a lot of people, was begun under the Bush administration. So I don't think this is an argument that Romney can win.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Here is --

MS. CLIFT: Romney -- if Romney's going to win, he's got to win on what he's going to do in the future, not about how bad Obama has been about debt and deficit.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Here is what the American people will say, OK? We had the most stimulative fiscal policies in our history by far, the most stimulative monetary policies in our history, and we have not in four years been able to get it out of this recession, which is still plaguing the country. And in part it was because the stimulus program was badly structured. You've seen that argued by many --

MR. PAGE: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you talking about TARP?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm sorry?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you talking about TARP?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Not just TARP. The whole --

MR. BUCHANAN: Stimulus.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- fiscal stimulus was badly structured, OK?


MR. ZUCKERMAN: By this administration.


MS. CLIFT: Well, this wasn't just --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It didn't work.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the Fed?

MS. CLIFT: Mort, you know better --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, the Fed did whatever they could. I mean, look, we have the lowest monetary levels -- the biggest monetary stimulus, the lowest interest rates, in our history.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, nothing is working.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And it's not working.

MR. BUCHANAN: Nothing is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why? Why? Why?

MR. BUCHANAN: Nothing is working. We've also had the Bush tax cuts for four years. You've had the huge stimulus package. You've had the monetary policy exploding more than it's ever been. Nothing is working. The growth in the economy is slowing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does this exonerate Obama?

(Cross talk.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, it does not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does it exonerate Obama?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, it doesn't.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, it does not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, it doesn't. He knew what --

MR. BUCHANAN: He's a failed --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He knew what he was inheriting, did he not?

MR. BUCHANAN: He's a failed president.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he know what he was inheriting?

MR. BUCHANAN: He's a failed president.

MS. CLIFT: Oh --

MR. BUCHANAN: He got a bad situation and he failed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why? Why? Why?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Because --

MR. BUCHANAN: Because --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him in.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Because there was a major --

MR. PAGE: We're having a slow recovery, but we are recovering.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Excuse me a second.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him in. Then I'm going to go to you.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Because the stimulus program --

MR. PAGE: (Inaudible.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- in the first year or two should have been larger, not smaller. And it should have been spent not just on supporting labor unions and things of that sort through supporting --

MS. CLIFT: No, you got --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor in. Let Eleanor in.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor in, and then I want to go to you.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Let me just finish. You have to invest this money and get a $2 return for every dollar you spent. He spent the money on things where you only got a dollar return. This was not -- I was not the only person who commented on it. Many, many people did.

MS. CLIFT: You guys are so --

MR. PAGE: A lot of people commented on both sides.


MS. CLIFT: You guys are so eager to bury Obama.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I was an Obama --

MS. CLIFT: It's way too soon --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I was an Obama supporter and I was working with him on that.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you hear what he said? He was working with Obama.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MR. PAGE: Yeah.

MS. CLIFT: He has said everything since then to denigrate what the president's policies --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Because --

MS. CLIFT: -- have done.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right, because --

MS. CLIFT: And the American people basically, again, if you believe the polls, believe that he has, for the most part, put in place the right policies; that we had a business downturn that was extraordinary because of the greed and the irresponsibility of the 1 percent --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, that's ridiculous.

MS. CLIFT: -- and that the economy is now beginning to come back. It's not coming back as forcefully.

MR. BUCHANAN: Eleanor --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to know --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That is just ridiculous.

MS. CLIFT: And Romney has not made the case that his tax plan, which rewards people at the top, is a better alternative --


MS. CLIFT: -- going forward.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- the economy --

MS. CLIFT: The president still wins this argument.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- the president will inherit in a second term is as bad as the one he inherited from George Bush.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MS. CLIFT: That's not --

MR. PAGE: It's getting better. You know, all this doomsday --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Clarence in.

MR. BUCHANAN: It is not getting better, Clarence. The growth rate has gone down.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Clarence in.

MR. PAGE: Pat, we're on a slow recovery, but we are recovering.

MR. BUCHANAN: One percent growth?

MR. PAGE: The numbers are getting better. Hey, you know, the economic conditions now are much worse than they were in the Reagan years. We've got a global recession to deal with. We're doing better than Europe. I mean, there's all kinds of positive signs. But there's no way you're going to be able to rush this through.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to get out on --

MR. PAGE: And Romney hasn't shown how he's going to do --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to get out --

MR. PAGE: -- on the job than Obama has.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to get out on a question that is reasonably neutral but something I want to figure out. The exit question is the shadow of Bill Clinton has been hanging over this presidential campaign since the Democratic convention, when Clinton came to the rescue of Obama.
Has Governor Romney now dispelled that shadow --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of Clinton? Yes or no?

MR. BUCHANAN: Clinton made an argument that nobody could have done better than Obama. But Mitt Romney in that debate suggested -- and I think he convinced a lot of people -- I can do better.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Eleanor? Did he dispel the --

MS. CLIFT: No. Romney won on style, but he still has problems with substance. The American people still don't know how his arithmetic is going to come out. And President Clinton framed that argument in the best way possible. It's a question of arithmetic. And that's still the problem going ahead. One debate win does not a victory make.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has Romney dispelled the shadow of Clinton?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I think he has. I think he showed himself to be presidential, really presidential. And he had something we haven't seen in a long time -- a mastery of both the substance and the facts of a case that he was making. He did it brilliantly in this debate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why don't you go to work for Romney, since you worked for Obama?

MR. PAGE: (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I started off with Obama. I'll see what happens going forward. It's too early to tell, John.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: I've been a Democrat all my life.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there's loyalty for you.

What do you think?

MR. PAGE: The first half hour they talked about Romney's tax cut plan, which he cobbled together during the primaries. And he denied that it's going to cost $5 trillion over the next 10 years. But the numbers aren't on his side. And he didn't come up with any alternative figures. And it's going to tax the middle class more than the wealthy, according to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the Clinton question I asked?

MR. PAGE: -- the Tax Center, by $2,000 per household.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That is --

MR. PAGE: On the Clinton question, the Clinton question -- you know, Romney showed, like Bill Clinton, who energized the Democratic convention, Romney has energized his base that was about to abandon him. And he has shown that he is a contender now, no question about that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Contender.

MR. PAGE: You can't take that away from him. He's a contender. But the more the fact checkers -- and there are fact checkers out there -- the more the debate really goes on --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you mean --

MR. PAGE: -- the more people find --

MR. BUCHANAN: Why wasn't Obama the fact checker?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you mean --

MR. BUCHANAN: Why wasn't Obama the fact checker?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that incumbency has its value, and Obama's the incumbent?

MR. PAGE: Well, I thought I made that pretty clear the first time around. Yes. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do believe that.

MR. PAGE: It's not just incumbency, though. Romney --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's the president.

MR. PAGE: John, have you forgotten all the problems Romney has had for the last few weeks maintaining his credibility?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think part of Obama's problem was his coaching, and I also think he was leaning too much on his incumbency instead of getting out there and assuming he was on the same level with Romney and treated him as such.

MR. PAGE: He forgot how to debate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Romney has --

MR. PAGE: I think he's going to do much better from now on.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Romney has voided any advantage Obama might have had with incumbency. It's gone.

Issue Two: Medicare and "Obamacare."

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) What I support is no change for current retirees and near-retirees to Medicare. And the president supports taking $716 billion out of that program. I want to take that $716 billion you've cut and put it back into Medicare. By the way, we can include a prescription program (if we need to ?) improve it. But the idea of cutting $716 billion from Medicare to be able to balance the additional cost of "Obamacare" is, in my opinion, a mistake.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) If you repeal "Obamacare" -- and I have become fond of this term, "Obamacare" -- if you repeal it, what happens is those seniors right away are going to be paying $600 more in prescription care. And the primary beneficiary of that repeal are insurance companies that are estimated to gain billions of dollars back when they aren't making seniors any healthier. And I don't think that's the right approach.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is it a fair rap or a bum rap to charge President Obama with cutting $716 billion from Medicare? Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: Technically, he's right. The president did take $716 billion out of Medicare -- out of the payments to insurance companies who are creating these Medicare Advantage plans. And what he used that money for is he put it back into the program. It extends the life of Medicare another eight years. It also closes the donut hole, partially closes the donut hole for seniors on prescription drugs.

And seniors now get free preventive care. So seniors have actually benefited from this. The insurance companies took a cut.

And when Romney says he will take that money back, he wants to give it back to the insurance companies. That's not a good deal for seniors. But Romney's gift is mixing facts and falsehoods, putting them together in a PowerPoint presentation, so that the president was left standing there, for the most time, looking pretty flummoxed. He didn't know how to combat this sort of rapid-fire delivery of facts and falsehoods together.

MR. BUCHANAN: The fact is that $716 billion did come out of Medicare for "Obamacare." The fact is that Governor Romney intends to repeal "Obamacare," but I don't think he can do it because the Democratic Senate -- I mean, we are not going to have 60 senators. And I think that the point is that Obama -- that's right, Obama could not respond --


MR. BUCHANAN: -- the way Eleanor's responding now. And why couldn't he do it, standing up there, and defend his own program?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we talk about --

MR. PAGE: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Hold on.

MR. PAGE: The benefits are not going to be hurt. That was the point Romney was trying to imply. And it needs to be clarified, as Eleanor said, that benefits overall are actually going to improve.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about this board that is established by "Obamacare"? Do you know what I'm talking about?

MR. PAGE: You mean the one Sarah Palin called death panels --


MR. PAGE: -- or something like that?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that, Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: No, those aren't death panels she was talking about. This is the board, an oversight board, that's going to decide, yes, you can do this and, no, you can't do that. And what Romney said is we want more of the free market in. You want more voices in there and you want more units in there deciding things, not some almighty board. And that appealed to the American people.

MS. CLIFT: No, this board would look at what in business they call best practices. Why are appendectomies on the rise here and costing too much? And they have no ability to cut care. They can make their recommendations. It's the kind of data that any businessman would have. And that's sorely needed in the world of medicine.

MR. PAGE: Which has been roundly praised, by the way, having a board that looks at best practices, because there is so much inefficiency in the system now, which is why health care is rising faster than any other --

MR. BUCHANAN: But should they decide that?

MS. CLIFT: They don't get --

MR. BUCHANAN: Should this board be the one calling the tune and deciding all these things?

MS. CLIFT: No, they don't decide it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's hear what the candidates say about this board that calls the shots.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) What were some differences? We didn't raise taxes. You've raised them by a trillion dollars under "Obamacare." We didn't put in place a board that can tell people ultimately what treatments they're going to receive. In order to bring the cost of health care down, we don't need to have a board of 15 people telling us what kinds of treatments we should have.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) Let me just point out, first of all, this board that we're talking about can't make decisions about what treatments are given. That's explicitly prohibited in the law. What this is is a group of health care experts, doctors, et cetera, to figure out how can we reduce the cost of care in the system overall?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The problem is the board controls the money. And if the doctor chooses to go with a special treatment that the board has not envisioned, they cut off his money.

MR. PAGE: Don't insurance companies do that right now?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't think so.

MR. PAGE: Of course, if they don't like the kind of treatment --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it depends on the insurance you have.

MR. PAGE: -- if they think it's too experimental or some other criteria --


MR. PAGE: -- then the insurance company is not going to pay for it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you need specialized treatment from a specialist and he is not going to stay within the recommendations of the board, which is based on 40,000 -- 40 million different bills that come in and all of that --

MR. PAGE: This is an advisory board, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah -- the doctor loses his discretion, which he ought to have over you because of the idiosyncrasy of your situation.

MR. PAGE: Yeah, but tell my insurance company that, would you?


MR. PAGE: I mean, that's -- tell my insurance company that. Insurance companies all the time deny payment for procedures they don't like.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't think that's true. I think you're being unfair to the insurance companies.
(Cross talk.)

MR. PAGE: You're going to get mail on that.

MS. CLIFT: Unless you have gold-plated insurance.

MR. PAGE: Right.

MS. CLIFT: Actually, the criticism of this board is that it doesn't actually have any teeth. It monitors the overall cost of Medicare as it's rising. And if it goes over a certain percentage, they make recommendations to Congress, and Congress can very well turn down those recommendations. So --

MR. BUCHANAN: What do you think the board should do?

MS. CLIFT: I think --

MR. BUCHANAN: Do you think it should have power?

MS. CLIFT: No, I'm saying the board is fine as is. I'm just pointing out there are people --
MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.
MS. CLIFT: -- who are saying it's too weak, while all of you are saying, oh, my God, it's going to ration care.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, Governor Romney said that.

MS. CLIFT: It's not. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is the way they operate. The panel will data-mine electronic medical records to determine what specific treatments produce the best outcomes at the lowest cost --

MS. CLIFT: Precisely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- to the majority of patient cases for a given diagnosis. Some 40,000 new diagnostic codes will be created. Standardized treatments will be applied to all 40,000-plus codes in due time. So where does that leave room for the special personal attention of the doctor, which could be quite idiosyncratic? Do you follow me?



MR. PAGE: Well, how idiosyncratic do you want to get? I mean, the idea is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want him to particularize for me, if he has to go in that direction and he has a special recommendation -- and I've seen cases of that over the experience of several years --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. That -- John --

MS. CLIFT: You pull out your checkbook, John --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: John, that is true.

MS. CLIFT: -- and you pay for it.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But there is another part of it. Best practices is critical for the organization --

MS. CLIFT: That's right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- the delivery of medical services and the cost of medical services.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why can't we establish (that with ?) the American Medical Association instead of this certified board that's made up of all of the people that he wishes to choose?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, I'm not sure what all the powers of this --

MS. CLIFT: I'm sure the AMA will be represented.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- board are, but I do think we have to have some -- I agree with you -- we have to have some way to determine best practices.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: On a shellacking scale, zero to 10 -- zero meaning zero shellacking, a bruise-free encounter; 10 meaning a thorough drubbing -- how bad a shellacking did Obama take in the first debate? Zero to 10, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Nine-point-five. Nobody thinks Obama did well.


MS. CLIFT: Eight-point-five. I must say, when I listen to him now patiently explaining these things, it's very good; if he could just do those isolated bites and eliminate all the parts where he's looking down and frowning and looking peevish.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, and also eliminating Romney's extraordinary performance --


MS. CLIFT: Extraordinary --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and his analytic skills.

MR. PAGE: And his grasp of facts, right, John?

MS. CLIFT: His analytic --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And his grasp of facts.

MR. PAGE: Yeah. (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: His analytic skills are built on a house of falsehoods.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Look, I think it's somewhere between a nine and a half and -- Romney was fantastic. He was unbelievably presidential. Obama was boring. He was dull. He was uninterested himself. He seemed to be
unengaged. You couldn't do worse in a debate at this level of national politics.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He didn't see it coming.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, he had to see it coming.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think he looked bored?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He was completely unengaged.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think he looked bored?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes. At times he was looking down.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Romney was totally engaged. What are you talking about?

MR. BUCHANAN: He wasn't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Obama's bored with the job --

MS. CLIFT: I don't think -- no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of president?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I didn't say -- I said he looked bored.

MS. CLIFT: I think he doesn't like the trappings of politics. And --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know the way intellectuals become --

MS. CLIFT: For all the talk about his rhetorical gifts, he's really not a performer. He's basically a professor who likes --

MR. BUCHANAN: He needs a teleprompter.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, professors perform.

MS. CLIFT: He doesn't need a teleprompter. He knows those issues cold.

MR. PAGE: No, he doesn't need a teleprompter, but he needs to edit himself. He thought he was prepared, but he really wasn't.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Getting Mean on Green.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) In one year, you provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world. Now, I like green energy as well, but that's about 50 years' worth of what oil and gas receives. You put $90 billion, like 50 years' worth, of breaks into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said you don't just pick the winners and losers; you pick the losers.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) The oil industry gets $4 billion a year in corporate welfare. Basically they get deductions that those small businesses that Governor Romney refers to, they don't get. Now, does anybody think that ExxonMobil needs some extra money when they're making money every time you go to the pump? Why wouldn't we want to eliminate that?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Are the energy issues of campaign 2012 boiling down into a choice between smokestacks and pipe dreams? I ask you, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: In a way, yeah. But there's no doubt the president's put this money in Solyndra, for example. Half a billion dollars went right down the tubes; these other sort of solar and wind- power things, a lot of them run by his friends. And Romney's making a very effective point.
But we're on an ideological argument too, the Republicans and conservatives -- oil, gas, coal, nuclear, hydro.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that's Romney.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, that's Republicans generally. And generally the Democrats are the ones with wind and solar. But that's a tiny, tiny fraction of the energy that's produced in this country. And you can't run a great nation on these little --

MR. PAGE: The thing that Romney -- that $90 billion was not wind and solar. It included a broad range of energy research, including clean coal, which Romney supports. I mean --

MR. BUCHANAN: Why didn't Obama say that?

MR. PAGE: -- the biggest -- well, why didn't Obama say that? Yeah, we already have established he could have had a better debate if he'd been more, what --


MR. PAGE: -- up on the sound bites, if you will. Yeah, thank you -- (laughs) -- and also if he didn't stutter like I do. But the fact is that Romney was giving the impression all this money was going to Solyndra. It is not. And even Solyndra itself isn't that bad, but that's a subject for another day.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: This country --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, wind and solar --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: This country is on the way --

MS. CLIFT: -- is like 1 percent --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- to energy independence because of fracking, because of the new technologies that enable us to get both natural gas and oil out of shale that we never were able to do before.

MR. PAGE: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That is going to change the whole economy of this country and dramatically reduce our dependency on the Middle East --

MR. PAGE: And that's part of the debate.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- something which is long overdue.

MR. PAGE: That's part of the debate.

MS. CLIFT: Right. Well, wind and solar is like 1 percent of that $90 billion that Romney cited. And there was also money there to -- $3 billion to clean up a nuclear plant. So, again, he played with the figures.
But the Romney that showed up the other night was not the Romney we saw on the campaign trail earlier this year. He suddenly is now a born-again moderate, talking about the need for regulation in the private markets, saying he likes green energy. I hadn't heard that before. He's against the wind --

MR. PAGE: He loves "Obamacare." (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: He's against the wind credit, and a full-throated defense of "Romneycare." Now he's standing up for his health care plan that he developed. So it was finally the Etch-a-Sketch moment that his campaign aide promised months ago, that they were going to shake everything up and he would come out with all these new positions.

So I think the president is right on the campaign trail saying who is that guy that showed up the other night? That was a moderate guy.

MR. BUCHANAN: It was the guy that beat him. (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: And you can call him -- well, and you can call him a flip-flopper, but actually the voters like the flop.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there something wrong with changing your mind?

MR. PAGE: Yes.

MS. CLIFT: Yes, if you do it --

MR. PAGE: According to the base of the Republican Party, that's a sin, isn't it?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want ideologues like Buchanan, who are predictably conservative no matter what happens?

MS. CLIFT: I think the Republican Party wanted that. And maybe Romney's timing is perfect that he's now moved to the center without inflaming the right, because they're so desperate to get the White House back, they'll take anything.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have his changes in position been that extreme?

MS. CLIFT: Yes, they have.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Like what?

MS. CLIFT: From pro-choice to anti-choice; from --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, you're --

MS. CLIFT: -- pro-health care to anti-health care.

MR. BUCHANAN: He made an excellent closing statement, I thought, of his principles and beliefs. Romney did far better. Now, here's where the president could have shown he's got his own philosophy. And Romney spoke in that statement --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did he do?

MR. BUCHANAN: -- on the Declaration of Independence --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He turned around --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- and the Constitution. The principles I believe in, here's what they are. It was excellent.

MR. PAGE: He (took the ?) short memories --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He turned around and he said --

MR. PAGE: -- about the Republican primaries.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- do you see those words behind me? Those are from the U.S. Constitution.

What did he quote from the Constitution that he wanted to emphasize? Quickly.

MR. BUCHANAN: The Declaration of Independence was the one that -- life and liberty came from --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Life and liberty.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's from the Declaration, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he spun it out from there.

MR. BUCHANAN: Spun it out from there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Great little piece.

MR. BUCHANAN: Great piece.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forced prediction: Who will be ahead in the Gallup poll on Tuesday, Romney or Obama?

MR. BUCHANAN: Mr. Romney.

MS. CLIFT: Romney closes the gap nationally but behind in state polls.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Romney will be ahead by one or two points.

MR. PAGE: Obama ahead. Romney will have a bump.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Romney leads.