Marcus and Gerson on Negative Campaign Ads, Polling Shifts

Uploaded by PBSNewsHour on 10.08.2012

bjbj"9"9 JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Ruth Marcus and Michael Gerson. Both are
syndicated columnists whose columns appear in The Washington Post. Mark Shields and David
Brooks are off tonight. And we welcome both of you. RUTH MARCUS: Hi. MICHAEL GERSON: Good
to be here. JUDY WOODRUFF: So we just heard that really fascinating interview with the
author of the book about Michelle Obama. Michael, how is Michelle Obama seen by the American
people? MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think she's clearly the president's single best surrogate.
She's a mix of grace and toughness of a kind that Americans really like and respect. I
would say the same, by the way, of Ann Romney, who is a tremendous advantage. It says something
that I think both of these women are probably better natural politicians than their husbands.
And -- but the warning here, of course, is that, just like your vice presidents, the
first lady is not determinative in the outcome of the election. Otherwise, George H.W. Bush
would have been reelected as president, because Barbara Bush was a beloved figure in America.
But she is a tremendous advantage to the president. JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see, Ruth, the role
of Michelle Obama and Ann Romney? RUTH MARCUS: Well, I think, as Michael said, they're not
going to be tipping the balance, but they are the first surrogate. They are, first of
all, validators of their spouses, in the cases that we have had mostly, their husbands' personas.
They help humanize them. And these are men who both in some ways need a little bit of
humanizing and warming up. (LAUGHTER) RUTH MARCUS: People want to know that their presidents
are family men or women. They're also -- look, this is a -- campaigns these days are all-hands-on-deck
extravaganzas. So what we need from the spouse is also the willingness that Michelle Obama
has demonstrated in this campaign to go out, not just to campaign, but also to fundraise.
And one of the interesting things about Mrs. Obama is her popularity has actually grown
since she was first introduced to the public. She's done a very good job in the White House...
JUDY WOODRUFF: With the obesity project. RUTH MARCUS: With the obesity. Nobody -- she's
picked noncontroversial subjects, so nobody except for my children can argue with being
told to eat their vegetables. (LAUGHTER) RUTH MARCUS: And she does particularly well in
an area that is very important to the president, which is independents. She polls significantly
better than he does in favorability among independents. That's her attraction. JUDY
WOODRUFF: Which is interesting. And speaking of polling, Michael, several new polls out
this week that show the president with a, what, seven- to nine-point lead. There still
are a couple of polls out there that have him either tied or even have Romney ahead
by a point or two. And I realize it's the middle of August. But what is the significance
of this kind of lead for the president at this point? MICHAEL GERSON: Whatever the level
is -- and that's unclear -- the trend is not good for Romney. He's lost support among independents,
clearly. He's lost support among women, particularly women -- working women without children, where
he does really badly. His unfavorables are much higher in these polls than they have
been, or significantly higher than they have been in the past. And that, I think, indicates
that this onslaught, this blitz of negative advertising may be working in part on Romney.
Now, there are some -- some good news here, in that these are probably outliers. Gallup
has it -- their daily tracking has it much closer. There are still big events coming
up, the vice president, the convention, the debates... JUDY WOODRUFF: Very big events.
MICHAEL GERSON: ... very large debates. JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes. MICHAEL GERSON: And these polls
get more accurate the closer you get to the election. So, right now, they should be a
warning for Romney. I don't think they're a source of panic, but he needs to take them
quite seriously. JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see the polls? RUTH MARCUS: Very similarly.
I don't get too worked up about a few things, national polls, OK? Let's look at the swing
state polls. Look at the polling in Ohio, in Colorado, in Florida, in Virginia. JUDY
WOODRUFF: Where it's still close in some of these states. RUTH MARCUS: Where -- those
are places, actually, where Gov. Romney has some reason to be concerned. But I also don't
get too worked up about polling in August before all sorts of things have happened that
are going to shape the minds of the actually very small number of undecided voters who
haven't really tuned in yet here. That said, these polls -- that Gov. Romney is not doing
well overall in a number of polls is not good news for his campaign, given where he should
be, simply based on the economic numbers that the president is facing. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well,
I made a promise to myself we were not going to spend much time on the vice presidential
pick, because we don't know who it's going to be. But does the -- just quickly, Michael,
does the polling in any way put pressure on Romney to go in a certain direction? MICHAEL
GERSON: It does, I think, clearly. It encourages him to take a bolder choice. He needs to run
as though he's behind. And he is behind, whatever the level is. That leads to candidates like
Chris Christie, the kind of guy you want at your side in a fight, and Paul Ryan, who is
the intellectual leader of his party. I think that those are narrowing to be the main choices
here, rather than a status quo choice. And it may come down to the meetings where Romney
meets these two men and decides who he's more comfortable with. RUTH MARCUS: I actually
see it completely differently, and we will find out soon enough. But that he's behind
in the polls now maybe a little bit doesn't suggest sort of throwing caution to the wind
and picking somebody like a Paul Ryan, who I think would be very interesting, would bring
a lot of energy and intelligence and substance to the debate, but would be, from the Democrats'
point of view, like the second coming of Sarah Palin, just a constant series... JUDY WOODRUFF:
Really? RUTH MARCUS: Yes, in a different way than Sarah Palin, but just a huge number of
opportunities for nonstop 30-second attack ads. I think that everything we understand
about Gov. Romney suggests a much more, if I'm going to use an old Bush word, a much
more prudent choice. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, from everything we're hearing, we may learn
something in the next few days, or we may not learning something. But, Michael, you
mentioned the onslaught of negative ads, and, in fact, a lot of conversation this week about
a pro-Obama super PAC ad that has been running that features a man who worked at a steel
plant in Kansas before it was bought and then shut down by a firm that -- Mitt Romney's
firm, Bain Capital. Let's look at this ad. And then I want to ask you about it. We're
also going to see the response from the Romney camp. JOE SOPTIC, steel plant worker: When
Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care. And my family lost their health
care. And a short time after that, my wife became ill. I don't know how long she was
sick. And I think maybe she didn't say anything because she knew that we couldn't afford the
insurance. And then one day, she became ill, and then I took her up to the Jackson County
Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia, and that's when they found the cancer. And by
then, it was stage four. There was nothing they could do for her. And she passed away
in 22 days. NARRATOR: What does it say about a president's character when his campaign
tries to use the tragedy of a woman's death for political gain? What does it say about
a president's character when he had his campaign raise money for the ad, then stood by as his
top aides were caught lying about it? Doesn't America deserve better than a president who
will say or do anything to stay in power? MITT ROMNEY (R): I'm Mitt Romney, and I approve
this message. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Michael, we should say that the pro-Obama super PAC,
Priorities USA, spot, that was just an excerpt of it. Was that over the top? MICHAEL GERSON:
Well, I think the standards of accuracy in a lot of ads in this election have been pretty
low. I think this ad is in its own dismal category. I think it's factually inaccurate,
if you look at the details involved about Romney's involvement in this matter. I think
that the arguments are absurd. I think that the message is slanderous and genuinely unfair.
We're no longer arguing whether -- what standards we should apply to political advertising.
We're starting to argue whether there are any standards whatsoever for political advertising.
And this is really a shameless ad that no one seems to be ashamed of. RUTH MARCUS: Yes,
except that this... JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, it's over the top? RUTH MARCUS: Yes, it's over
the top, shameless that nobody seems to be ashamed of. But when the tagline of Governor
Romney's ad, "You deserve a president who would say or do anything," I think I have
to say, that seems these days to be applying to both campaigns. I think this ad is scurrilous
in suggesting, insinuating that Gov. Romney was somehow responsible, through some series
of events, for this woman's death. And it's just -- it goes too far. But I was equally,
I think, upset about the Romney campaign ad this week about welfare reform, suggesting
-- and I think in some ways that really had some racially troubling overtones... JUDY
WOODRUFF: Criticizing the president for rolling back the welfare... RUTH MARCUS: ... criticizing
the president for abandoning welfare reform and suggesting that he was simply willing
to hand out checks, while white people shown in the ad worked hard. And this similarly
had absolutely no basis in the reality of what his change is. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what
about the question you just raised, Michael? Are there any standards anymore? MICHAEL GERSON:
Well, this is the problem, is that every one of these incidents, where you get in the gutter
and then you go lower than the gutter, is -- becomes an excuse for the next round of
escalation. So, partisans on both sides say, well, he did that. And you end up with a terrible
dynamic taking hold. I think it's a reflection of some deeper problems in our political culture
and it may be a reflection of our Internet culture, where these kinds of attacks are
common, where there are no standards, where there are no limits. And people just seem
to be adopting, you know, a situation that's just utilitarian, where facts don't seem to
matter. Fact-checkers don't matter. Nothing matters. RUTH MARCUS: No, there's that sort
of pride in your Pinocchios. They don't seem to be dissuading anybody. And I think one
thing that may explain this is that not just we're in an Internet culture, but we're in
almost a substance-free zone, where because we're not arguing about ideas and we're not
arguing about policies and we're not having the debate about serious issues, it creates
this space for these -- first the ads, and then the argument over what -- the content
of the ads, and did you know about the ads, and will you repudiate the ads, instead of
talking about the serious things we need to be talking about. JUDY WOODRUFF: And should
-- should the Obama campaign or the White House repudiate it, call on this super PAC
organization to pull it back? RUTH MARCUS: The super PAC organization that they raise
money for and desperately need the money to be raised for? Yes, they should. No, they
won't. JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, quick final question. You wrote a column this week urging
Gov. Romney to be more -- to talk more openly about his faith. MICHAEL GERSON: Right. JUDY
WOODRUFF: Why did you make that point? MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think it's less risky than
he thinks it is, because, if you look at the numbers, most Americans are not concerned
about Mormonism in that way. And even the ones that are concerned, it's not leading
to their voting behavior. It's really more partisanship than religion. But it's very
important for him to tell his story. You know, without that element, it's really just Bain
and boardrooms. And this is a humanizing element of Romney's story that, if he doesn't tell,
there's a significant gap in his biography. So I hope, in his convention speech -- he
doesn't need to be preachy or sectarian. He just needs to talk about his deepest values
and motivations and the way it affects the way he would govern. I think Americans expect
and want that. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we hear you here, Michael Gerson. Maybe the governor
is listening. MICHAEL GERSON: Well, could be. JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Gerson, Ruth Marcus,
we thank you both. RUTH MARCUS: Thanks a lot. JUDY WOODRUFF: And a postscript, our NewsHour
colleague Gwen Ifill is speaking with presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney this weekend.
We will post an excerpt on our website and we will have the full interview on the NewsHour
Monday. hONT gdONT gdONT h ^W h ^W hONT gdONT hONT h ^W gdONT :pONT urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
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