The McLaughlin Group

Host: John McLaughlin

Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist;
Eleanor Clift, Newsweek;
Michelle Bernard, The Bernard Center;
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report

Taped: Friday, October 19, 2012
Broadcast: Weekend of October 20-21, 2012

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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Town Hall Testosterone.
The second debate between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney this past Tuesday drew a TV audience of 65.6 million viewers. The debate was at Hofstra University on Long Island in New York, town-hall style -- testy, tense, and quite riveting throughout.

Here's the president pressing Governor Romney on Romney's tax plan and how he'll do what he claims he will do.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend $7 (trillion) or $8 trillion and we're going to pay for it, but we can't tell you until maybe after the election how we're going to do it, you wouldn't have taken such a sketchy deal.

And neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn't add up.

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R, Republican presidential nominee): (From videotape.) When we're talking about math that doesn't add up, how about $4 trillion of deficits over the last four years -- $5 trillion? That's math that doesn't add up.

We have -- we have a president talking about someone's plan in a way that's completely foreign to what my real plan is. And then we have his own record, which is we have four consecutive years where he said, when he was running for office, he would cut the deficit in half. Instead he's doubled it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mr. Romney also noted that under President Obama, the national debt has gone from $10 trillion to $16 trillion, as shown here by the continuously accruing national debt clock.

Question: Are President Obama's debate performances damaging his brand? Pat Buchanan.

PAT BUCHANAN: John, if Mitt Romney wins this election, the debate performances of Barack Obama will be responsible for his victory. In the first debate, Barack Obama was listless. He looked like he didn't even want to be president again.

In the second debate, he depreciated his two most priceless assets. One is the dignity of the Oval Office, and the second is his likability. He came down out of that pulpit -- that bully pulpit, TR called it -- and got into a big brawl with Mitt Romney. And I think he depreciated those assets.

On Romney's part, John, the debates have served one critical function. The country has seen him, and it has come to believe that the caricature of him created by the effective ads by the Obama campaign all during the summer -- that he was this super-rich guy, uncaring, you know, cheating on his taxes, all this --

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

MR. BUCHANAN: -- is false. And so, I'll tell you, history will say, if Mitt Romney wins this election, that he won it in the debates.


ELEANOR CLIFT: Well, Pat is right in the extent -- to the extent that the Obama campaign -- they're victims of their own success, because they did caricature Romney over the summer, and all he had to do was show up and to seem sort of reasonable, and a lot of that caricature was wiped away.
But to say that the president damaged his brand? Who started the brawl the other night? The president was supposed to not fight back? I thought the president acquitted himself very well in the second debate. I think he stopped the bleeding that occurred after the first debate.

And I certainly would agree the first debate was a disaster for the president. He's -- he has acknowledged that and said that he was rested and ready for the second debate because of that nice long nap he had in the first debate in the jokes at the Al Smith dinner.

So I think we've got a very close race here. I think the president still maintains a small but apparently durable lead in the three states that will get him to 271 -- Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michelle, let me give you this tracking poll by Gallup. In the two days following the debate, Gallup's daily tracking poll of likely voters shows Romney rising from 50 to 52 percent and Obama falling from 46 to 45 percent. What's significant about that poll?

MICHELLE BERNARD: Well, I mean, the fact that the polls are changing to Governor Romney's favor even after that debate performance on Monday -- and it's interesting to listen to Pat and Eleanor speak, because I think when you talk about how people actually viewed the candidates, this is exactly the problem that both candidates have.

I think white males looked at Mitt Romney's performance in the last two debates and saw something completely different than most people -- than African-Americans, Latinos and women saw it. So you didn't -- I think you don't see a lot of people thinking, for example, that Barack Obama depreciated the presidency. They were happy. They saw him as a leader, and they felt that he was finally showing leadership skills during that last debate performance.
So it is interesting to see that Mitt Romney's numbers are ticking up. But if you look at favorability ratings, his numbers are still not good.


MORT ZUCKERMAN: Look, I think the debates really have been the pivotal moments in this entire campaign. And the first debate was pivotal, A, because Obama unfortunately did not do well, to put it mildly. But more importantly, from Mitt Romney's point of view, he came across as being presidential. He came across as being knowledgeable.

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

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He came across as being articulate, logical. So I think he transformed his image to a lot of people.

MS. BERNARD: Mitt Romney?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, Mitt Romney.

MS. BERNARD: I thought he came across as being incredibly rude --

MR. BUCHANAN: No, the first debate --

MS. BERNARD: -- and disrespectful of the presidency.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm talking about the first --

MS. BERNARD: Oh, the first debate.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, that's just the first debate. In the second debate, if I may say so, if there's one person who really, in a sense, unbalanced the way the two of them were speaking, it was Candy Crowley. I mean, she --

MS. CLIFT: Oh, please. She was doing her job.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm sorry. You have a version of her job. I have a different version of her job.

MS. CLIFT: I have a journalist's view.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: As far as I'm concerned -- well, no, I don't think it was the right -- she was the moderator of the panel. She wasn't to be a journalist in the sense of taking sides in the debate, which is what I thought.
But having said that, OK, I think, in a sense, Obama clearly -- the president clearly did better. He was a lot more forceful. But he may have been too forceful. I felt that the issue of likability was really important. I thought that's what Joe Biden lost --

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- in his debate because of the way he handled it, where he was, you know -- everything was a laugh for him.

MS. CLIFT: You know, every focus group shows that the voters are concerned that President Obama isn't tough enough.

MS. BERNARD: Exactly.

MS. CLIFT: He needed to show backbone. He needed to rally his base. And he certainly did that in the second debate.

MR. BUCHANAN: He did that. He did that.

MS. CLIFT: And Joe Biden did that as well.

MR. BUCHANAN: He did it -- all right.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. I want to finish here. And the debates -- I agree with Mort. They are -- you don't need to smirk at me, Mort.


MS. CLIFT: They are very --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He was smirking at Buchanan.

MS. CLIFT: OK, good.

Well, the debates are very critical. In this Internet age, these face-to-face encounters are really important. Otherwise we might have had Governor Rick Perry as the Republican --


MR. BUCHANAN: John, let me talk --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Hold it, John. Let me make a point.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, go ahead.

MR. BUCHANAN: Biden and Obama both did rally their base -- Biden in the second -- I mean, the president in the second debate; Biden. But by rallying their base, just like Republicans in their primaries rallied their base, they damaged themselves in the center and among women. Look at how Mitt Romney has moved among women in these two debates and how the president and Biden have --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, we're going to get right into that now.

Another tender trap -- equality for women.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I mentioned three and a half million women more now in poverty than four years ago. What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy. And they brought us whole binders full of women.

I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) The first bill I signed was something called the Lilly Ledbetter bill. And it was named after this amazing woman who had been doing the same job as a man for years, found out that she was getting paid less, and the Supreme Court said that she couldn't bring suit because she should have found out about it earlier. Well, she had no way of finding out about it. So we fixed that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Are Mitt Romney's binders full of women the equivalent in this debate of the Big Bird in the first debate, a line Obama supporters will leap to lampoon but a really trivial pursuit? What do you say, Michelle?

MS. BERNARD: I don't think it's trivial at all. Look, Mitt -- that statement was incredibly clumsy and stupid. The Republican brand and the damage that has been done to the Republican brand -- the Republican Party's brand over the last year in terms of people talking about women putting aspirin between their legs for contraception, a state legislator in Wisconsin saying that one could argue that money is more important to men.

And all of you are laughing. It's not funny; that money is more important to men than it is to women. It is a very serious problem.

But you know why I believe Mitt Romney's numbers have climbed since the debate, because of -- not because of his statement, but people on the left have made the mistake of saying that any conservative woman who votes for Mitt Romney is stupid. And you're seeing red-state feminists who are rising up and saying I'm not stupid because I'm a Republican.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michelle, Pat was laughing at you. I wasn't laughing.

MS. CLIFT: I wasn't laughing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: OK, getting --

MS. BERNARD: I know you were not laughing. I was looking at them. (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Can we get a male view in here, John?

MS. BERNARD: No, we can't.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MS. BERNARD: We don't even want to hear it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She was not laughing. Pat was laughing. You were mildly laughing.

MR. BUCHANAN: He was laughing his head off. (Laughs.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's go. Let's go.

MS. BERNARD: There's absolutely nothing funny about it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's go, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: The Romney campaign --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I was listening in good temper.

MS. BERNARD: Thank you.

MS. CLIFT: The Romney campaign has an ad up, which is actually a good ad, of a former Obama voter who says she looked into these charges that Romney is extreme on abortion and she discovered that he accepts exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. And Mitt Romney is trying to have it both ways on the abortion issue. He wants women and moderates to think he's the Massachusetts -- moderate Massachusetts governor. He wants everybody to forget what he said --


MS. CLIFT: -- during the primaries when he --

MR. BUCHANAN: Now can we get in, John?

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me -- when he said he would sign a personhood amendment and when he supported the Blunt amendment on Capitol Hill.


MR. BUCHANAN: But let's get back to Lilly Ledbetter, OK?

MS. CLIFT: And he will support the -- yes, let's get back to Lilly Ledbetter.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor finish, Pat.

MS. CLIFT: Mitt Romney --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are you doing, interrupting the women on this panel?

MS. CLIFT: -- doesn't support it. (Laughs.)

MS. BERNARD: Being a troglodyte.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, quickly, quickly.

MS. CLIFT: Mitt Romney does not support the Lilly Ledbetter. And I know you're giggling about Lilly Ledbetter as well, but a lot of women know who she is and what it stands for. And equal pay is a huge issue --

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you have seen on this panel --

MS. CLIFT: -- for working women in this country.

MR. BUCHANAN: You have seen on this panel -- I mean, excuse
me -- semi-hysteria over this issue. The feminists are running after this. Mitt intended nothing wrong. He has a terrific record up there. He was given a binder. They said, well, they gave him the binder. They are -- the feminists are chasing this thing like some rabbit, and you're losing --


MR. BUCHANAN: -- you're losing sight --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Also provably --

MS. CLIFT: It's retro, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: They're losing sight of the big --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- he did populate his cabinet, when he was
Massachusetts governor --



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- with women.

OK, getting personal.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

MR. ROMNEY: Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust. And I understand they do include investments outside the United States, including in Chinese companies.

Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?


MR. ROMNEY: Have you looked at your pension?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours, so it doesn't take as long.
MR. ROMNEY: Well, let me -- let me give you some advice.


MR. ROMNEY: Look at your pension. You also have investments in Chinese companies. You also have investments outside the United States.

(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Why can President Obama afford to be blase about his pension, Michelle Bernard?

MS. BERNARD: I actually thought it was funny. And he can be blase about it because his pension is not nearly as large as Mitt Romney's. I mean, I think that was the point that he was trying to make, and it probably did very well with his base, if they were watching.

MS. CLIFT: Well, at 51, he thinks it's a long way in the future as well.


MS. CLIFT: But I thought the exchange -- it was a funny exchange.

MS. BERNARD: It was just funny, yeah.

MS. CLIFT: But it does point up the hypocrisy on Romney's part about China. He's this big tough guy on the campaign trail about China, but he's investing in China. At Bain --


MS. CLIFT: At Bain & Company, he did a lot of work with China.


MS. CLIFT: So --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, wait a minute. Mort, do you have investments in China?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, yeah. No, I sell magazines in China. We've got at least eight people who subscribe to the magazine over there --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How come they didn't bail out --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- out of -- (inaudible).

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- your magazine? You're only now on the Net, like you --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- Newsweek. Can you imagine that? Newsweek is going to be exclusively --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Chinese --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- on the Net.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Chinese do not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No printed edition.

MS. CLIFT: Yes. But it's so much easier --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Chinese do not bail --

MS. CLIFT: -- to reach millions on the Net. (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Chinese do not bail out magazines or newspapers. The only thing that bails out magazines and newspapers are advertising. And advertising has basically drifted away from print products, and that's why they have to go on the Web.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's what we did.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want Romney to do anything about that when he becomes president?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I do not. He's got a lot of other issues that are a lot more important.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: And I hope he follows them. And one of them, I might add --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, let's not underestimate --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And the most important one is the economy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the importance of the printed newspaper and the printed magazine.

MR. BUCHANAN: But there is a serious issue here.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MR. BUCHANAN: Both these candidates are getting very tough on the Chinese, on their exports and stuff.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MR. BUCHANAN: And they're roughing up relations with the Chinese. Frankly, this is a consequence of the whole globalization. That's why you've lost all those factories in Ohio and Michigan.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Time Magazine is going to be next?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All-digital?

MR. BUCHANAN: Is your pension portfolio --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Let me answer on that.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- China-free, John?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Benghazi Bruiser.

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) The day following the assassination of a United States ambassador -- the first time that's happened since 1979 -- when we have four Americans killed there, when apparently we didn't know what happened, that the president, the day after that happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser, then the next day to Colorado for another event, another political event.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror. And I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime. And then, a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.

And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

MR. ROMNEY: (From videotape.) I think it's interesting the president just said something, which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That's what I said.

MR. ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden, the day after the attack, it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed.

MR. ROMNEY: Is that what you're saying?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.

MR. ROMNEY: All right. I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Get the transcript.

CANDY CROWLEY (debate host): He did, in fact, sir. So let me call it an act of terror --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?

MS. CROWLEY: -- (inaudible) -- used the word. (Applause.) He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take -- it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You're correct about that. (Applause.)

MR. ROMNEY: The administration indicated that this was a reaction to a video and was a spontaneous reaction.

MS. CROWLEY: They did.

MR. ROMNEY: It took them a long time to say this was a terrorist act by a terrorist group. And to suggest -- am I incorrect in that regard? On Sunday the -- your secretary --

MR. ROMNEY: Excuse me. The ambassador to the United Nations went on the Sunday television shows and spoke about how this was --


MR. ROMNEY: -- a spontaneous reaction.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- I'm happy to --

MS. CROWLEY: Mr. President, let me --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'm happy to have a longer conversation --

MS. CROWLEY: I know you --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- about foreign policy.

MS. CROWLEY: Absolutely.
(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I hope this doesn't muddy up the waters, but the CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington within 24 hours of last month's deadly attack on the U.S. consulate that there was evidence it was carried out by militants, not a spontaneous mob upset about an American-made video ridiculing Islam's Prophet Mohammed. U.S. officials told that to the Associated Press. That came out Friday noon by the AP.

Now, where is this settling down?

MR. BUCHANAN: Here's what -- Romney messed it up terribly. The day after the attack, in a generic statement, the president talked about acts of terror. He didn't say Benghazi was an act of terror. Not only the CIA reported that. Fox News the day after said intelligence guys say it's an act of terrorism. Yet two days later, Carney goes out and tells the press spontaneous protests --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In the airplane.

MR. BUCHANAN: Carney went out and told the press, whether it was in the White House -- whatever it was. And five days later, Susan Rice goes out on five television shows --


MR. BUCHANAN: -- with a script saying this is a result of a spontaneous protest. It was not preplanned and not premeditated. The president said we didn't mislead anybody.
They did mislead the country. The question is, did they deceive the country, or was the intelligence so bad, did not get to the top guys, but -- and it did not get out to the country? So it was utter incompetence or deceit and deception.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there criminal --

MS. CLIFT: Well, first of all --




MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is not criminal.

MR. BUCHANAN: No. They lied -- they may have lied. We don't know. I don't think Susan Rice did. I think she was sent out. I think Carney was sent out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's no legal rap here.


MR. BUCHANAN: They were used. They were used.

MS. BERNARD: Absolutely not.

MS. CLIFT: There will be an opportunity for a longer discussion about this in the foreign policy debate on Monday. The president said let's have a longer conversation.

Secondly, Romney did blow it in the debate. There was an opportunity there. Maybe he could have made the case, as egregious as it is, that you just made in a short amount of time.

But what are you trying to claim here, that there's some sort of a cover-up? That's what you're --


MS. CLIFT: Cover-up of what, and for what reason?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think the --

MR. BUCHANAN: I'll tell you why.

MS. CLIFT: Susan Rice can point to the intelligence --

MR. BUCHANAN: It's a cover-up to keep his reputation as the great terrorist killer -- no acts of terrorism on my watch; al-Qaida's on the run --

MS. BERNARD: But he --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The enigma is --

MS. CLIFT: He is correct --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- Susan Rice not knowing anything about it; in fact, testifying to the contrary.

MS. CLIFT: If you would have the grace to play what she said, she conditioned her remarks. She said this is what we know at this time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, which was --

MS. CLIFT: And this is what --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- totally erroneous.

MS. CLIFT: So she -- no, it wasn't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And she must have known --

MS. CLIFT: -- totally erroneous. She was --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did Susan Rice know, and when did she know it?

MS. CLIFT: Ask Hillary Clinton. She talks about the fog of war and when things are unfolding on the ground. And as the events became clearer, the administration developed a fuller story. Maybe they should have said right off the bat we don't think it's related to the film. But, you know, embassies were aflame in many places because of the film, and so there was a kind of a natural tendency, I think, to link it. But in the end, what have you got here? What have you got here? Nothing.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've got deception. That's what you have.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You have --

MS. CLIFT: For what reason? For what reason?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who knows? Who knows?

MS. BERNARD: We don't know. But the bottom line is, if you just look at the sequence that we just looked at during the debate, Mitt Romney made a colossal mistake. And he is fighting tooth and nail for the presidency, and he gave the president the opportunity to demonstrate to the entire country that he is the commander in chief.

When you talk about that image of him greeting the caskets and saying very strongly that the acts of terrorism are not going to happen on my watch --

MR. BUCHANAN: Why, John --

MS. BERNARD: -- Mitt Romney gave him that open.

MR. BUCHANAN: Why is the key point Eleanor raises. Look, al- Qaida, the president said, is on the run, on the path to defeat. It is all over the Middle East now.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's right.

MR. BUCHANAN: It is in Mali.


MR. BUCHANAN: It is in Libya. It is Syria. It is in Iraq. It is in Saudi Arabia. It is in Pakistan. It is far more -- the cancer has metastasized.

MS. CLIFT: These are al-Qaida-inspired people, if you will. Nobody --

MR. BUCHANAN: They've got an area --

MS. CLIFT: -- is claiming --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- the size of France in Mali.

MS. CLIFT: Nobody is claiming that this president or any president can stamp out all of the rage that exists in the world.


MS. CLIFT: And the Republicans are going to --

MS. BERNARD: And Osama bin Laden is gone. All of a sudden neocons think that that doesn't matter.

MS. CLIFT: Republicans are going to pay a price --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, that's not -- that is not the case.

MS. CLIFT: -- if they try to politicize --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: There's been an overstatement of what they have accomplished in dealing with al-Qaida, and we all know it. It's all over the place, as Pat said. You follow any of the real intelligence reports now from many countries, and they will tell you that. So that's the only thing that's being said. And what Susan Rice said, if I may say, was misleading. Now, maybe she didn't know it. Maybe nobody knew it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How could she not --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: But it was --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- know it?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm not going to answer that question because I don't have an answer to that question.

MS. CLIFT: Why would she --

MR. BUCHANAN: I don't think she lied.

MS. CLIFT: -- deliberately mislead? It makes no sense.

MS. BERNARD: Yeah. There's nothing to gain from it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible) -- the direction of the White House.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, but I don't think she lied, John. I think the --

MS. CLIFT: The White House isn't going to send her out there with a story that's false, that they would then know --

MR. BUCHANAN: Why did they send her out with a false --

MS. CLIFT: -- would be revealed --

MR. BUCHANAN: That shows incompetence on the part of the intelligence community that they didn't know five days later.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about Hillary?

MR. BUCHANAN: Right. Why didn't Hillary go out? Susan Rice is not in the chain of command.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hillary's answers have been perfect --

MR. BUCHANAN: That's her ambassador.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- perfect.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's her ambassador and the president's ambassador. Why did she not go out --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Perfect, but there is a -- (inaudible) -- in what she has to say.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: As the president's ambassador, she's his closest adviser and friend when it comes to foreign policy.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: So she's beyond being a normal ambassador.

MR. BUCHANAN: But why didn't she go on those five TV shows?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And she's --

MS. CLIFT: Boy, this is --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Hey, I don't disagree with you, because it doesn't -- the answers of the administration do not fit, as far as I'm concerned.

MS. CLIFT: This is a hunt for conspiracies, though, when, in fact, people acting sort of with the knowledge that they thought they had --

MR. BUCHANAN: You're a journalist, Eleanor. Look behind all this.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president --

MS. CLIFT: I look behind, but I don't look behind and invent corners and invent --

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MS. BERNARD: (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: -- dots to be connected.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On Tuesday, the president said that the situation is spiraling out of our control. And yet, in the light of that, she goes out there and says that -- she said what she said in front of the U.N., which obviously contradicts what he said. How could she go out and say that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't know what the -- it doesn't make sense. I can't fit the pieces together.

MR. BUCHANAN: He didn't say Benghazi was an act of terrorism.


MR. BUCHANAN: What she said was not inconsistent with what the president said.

MS. CLIFT: He said it was an act of terror.

MR. BUCHANAN: Somebody fed that woman, Susan Rice, this line. And I think they've damaged her very badly, and I'm not sure she's at fault.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. She said there was a mob and there was a big conflict --

MR. BUCHANAN: Protest, not preplanned.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- and there was -- nothing was there. There was no mob.

MR. BUCHANAN: Nothing premeditated.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: There was none of that violence.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Post-Debate Polling.

A CNN poll taken after the debate questioned 457 adults -- 33 percent self-identified Republicans, 33 percent self-identified Democrats, and 33 percent self-identified independents. The poll was conducted on the telephone.
Question: Which candidate would better handle the economy in general? Governor Romney, 58 percent; President Obama, 40 percent.

Health care: Who would better handle it? Romney, 49 percent; Obama, 46 percent.

Taxes: Romney, 51 percent; Obama, 44 percent.

The federal budget deficit: Romney, 59 percent; Obama, 36 percent.

Foreign policy: Obama, 49 percent; Romney, 47 percent.

Despite these numbers heavily favoring Governor Romney, on the broad question of who won the debate, President Obama was the overall winner, 46 percent compared to Governor Romney, 39 percent.

Mort, what do you make of those numbers?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I mean, I think the debates, first place, are defining. They're definitive in terms of who's going to win the election, in my judgment. And whatever else you want to say, Romney did manage to resuscitate his campaign, particularly in the first debate.

I agree, I thought the debate was -- Obama was much better in the second debate. We'll see what happens in the third debate. But it has certainly established Romney as a credible president or possible president. He was presidential in both of those debates. And without that, he was done for, as far as I'm concerned.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about those categories that Romney clearly won?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Listen, I think -- I have always believed that the economy is the dominant issue in this campaign. The economy is very bad. The unemployment numbers are terrible. And ultimately, I think that will determine the outcome of the election. And that's why I still think Romney will eke it out.

MS. CLIFT: Well, that shows the impact of the first debate, where Romney did resuscitate himself, because he was leading in all those categories on the economy and health care before. I mean, that was his whole claim -- those were his credentials to be president. And the fact that the president, President Obama, closed that gap is what led to everybody writing off Romney.

And the reason Romney didn't win this debate -- Obama still comes out ahead -- has to do with likability and trust. And I think this is where Romney pays the price for not having really formed any kind of bond with the American people, not having done the biographical stuff earlier on. I don't know whether there's time for him to do it in the last two weeks, but I think the American people still look at him as somewhat of a mystery.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, look, ask yourself, if we were hiring a guy to be secretary of the treasury or head of the Federal Reserve or head of the economic policy council and you had the resume of Mitt Romney there, with his Harvard business, and the resume of Barack Obama, no doubt we'd all hire Mitt Romney.

The question, though, is who do you want for president of the United States? Mitt overwhelmingly is considered far -- I mean, far more able in the area of the economy. As Mort says, that may be crucial. But Barack Obama is still regarded as president of the United States.

Now, I think, contra my friend over here, I think one of his problems is Barack Obama has not given the country a vision of where he wants to take us in the next four years that's going to be different from the last two years, which have been a dismal deadlock.

MS. BERNARD: I agree with Pat's last statement in the sense that the president has to tell us what his vision for the future of the country is and how he's going to get us there.

In terms of the CNN poll, the one thing that Barack Obama has for him is that, even if people think that Mitt Romney might be better for the economy, Barack Obama is so likable, he will always do better than Mitt Romney on likability.

And contrary to what Mort says -- I agree, the economy is in absolute shambles, but again, the path to 270 electoral votes, it is much stronger for Barack Obama on demographics than it is for Mitt Romney on the economy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What'd you think of -- what'd you think of Obama's electrifying performance in the first debate?

MS. BERNARD: Well, I tell you, I think he was absolutely abysmal in the first debate. And I think the reasons that we see the polling the way we do now is because he had an enormous deficit that he had to make up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fast -- two weeks from Tuesday, who's going to win?

MR. BUCHANAN: Who wins Ohio wins.

MS. CLIFT: President Obama.


MR. ZUCKERMAN: Obama can't keep his job when so many people have lost theirs.