3:00 P.M., EDT
NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MS. GRUNDER: Good afternoon. I’m Alyson Grunder, the Director of the New York Foreign Press Center. This afternoon we’re really pleased to have NYU senior fellow, political consultant and also journalist Robert Shrum with us this afternoon. You’ve all received our media advisory and seen his bio, so in order to maximize the time that you have with him, I will turn over the mike right away. Thank you. Thanks so much for coming.
MR. SHRUM: I got to be a senior advisor and journalist the hard way; that is, John Kerry lost and before that, even though I thought Al Gore won, he didn’t get inaugurated.
I thought I would talk for seven or eight minutes and then just answer questions. The first thing - and I normally turn my cell phone off - just before I came over here, the Democracy Corps, which is run by Stan Greenberg and James Carville, and Stan, whom I’ve known – I’ve known both of them forever – but Stan, whom I’ve known for a very long time, is one of the toughest minded pollsters in America. And he’s just come out with a new poll, just before the debate, that shows the president winning nationally 49 to 46. And his explanation of the difference between his poll and some of the others is that his poll now consists of 33 percent cell phone respondents. He actually told me on the phone that you might need to get to 40 or 45 percent to be sure that you are right, but a lot of polls are not calling cell phone people at all, or they’re calling many fewer cell phone people because it’s expensive. And it’s especially expensive if you do the methodology right.
The larger point I would make about polls, as I turn this [cell phone] off, is that there are so many polls now that my friends – Democrats, Republicans, everybody – they’re all going crazy. They spend all day looking at these polls, many of them created by folks no one ever heard of. If I had some advice about how to look at this race in terms of polling in the last two weeks, – number one, I would look at the battleground state polls, because what matters is who wins those battleground states. Number two, I would look at polls from people in it – I’m not saying that if someone is a Republican-affiliated or a Democratic-affiliated pollster they should be thrown out, because I would look if the Democracy Corps if they were doing those kind of polls, but CBS, Quinnipiac, New York Times, NBC-Wall Street Journal, NBC-Marist, those are the polls I would look at. There’s some new group called Gravis Communication that I never heard of before that’s been giving Romney gigantic leads in places that he is surely going to lose.
So I think that’s part of a belief that some people have in the two – more the Republican than the Democratic Party, that if you think your guy is going to win, you’re more likely to go out there and vote. I think the Obama people have the opposite theory because they keep sending out emails saying this is close, this is tight, this is tough, new poll shows that we could lose, send us money, get out there, organize, vote. So – and I don’t know whose theory is right.
As background to all of this, let me tell you what I think happened that led up to where we are now. Romney had to go very far to the right to win the Republican nomination. Now, what he believes himself, I have no idea. I mean, maybe the best description I’ve heard of him was Senator Kennedy’s description in 1994: You’re not pro-choice, you’re multiple choice. I just don’t know what he believes. But to get the nomination, he had to go far to the right. And he then believed that the summer was not going to be a fundamentally important period, that what counted – and this would have been true in the old days – what counted was the advertising at the end.
So he basically allowed the Obama campaign to define him over the summer with a whole series of ads in the swing states. His theory might have been true 10 years ago. The problem is that with Citizens United and with both presidential candidates being out of federal funding, there is now so much money flooding the airwaves that if you live – and you don’t see it in New York, but if you were in Ohio, you could see 98 ads a day, or 120 ads a day, and it all becomes wallpaper. So that it may be that the early media was more powerful than the later media’s going to be, although I think the later media will be powerful.
Secondly, the Romney campaign didn’t buy time the same way the Obama campaign did. They buy it on a week-by-week basis; the Obama campaign bought way in advance. So there are lots of spots the Obama campaign is paying, say, $100 for a 30 second spot that the Romney campaign is paying $500 for. Then the SuperPacs have to pay much more money.
So Romney ended the summer with the only negative rating of a presidential nominee in modern history, and went to his convention to define himself. I won’t spend a lot of time on that convention except to say that what happened was that Clint Eastwood defined the empty chair, and it became the most memorable of the convention. The very idea – and I talked with a Republican who had run presidential campaigns, and we both said that in all of our own experience, nobody got up from the podium and said anything that we didn’t see in advance. I mean, otherwise you wouldn’t let them on the podium. And the very idea that you would do that, and that you would give away prime time hours, or prime time minutes for something like that and not have people in the country see the folks who wanted to testify to what a good guy Mitt Romney was, was an unbelievable political mistake.
The Democrats then followed with an exceptional convention. Bill Clinton was exceptional. But from the moment the convention started, the tribute film to Senator Kennedy all the way through the end, the convention, I think, worked very well.
So the President had a pretty comfortable lead by most polls, even polls I wouldn’t trust, even polls that I thought weren’t that all predisposed toward him. And then came the first debate. I’m not into psychoanalyzing why the President did what he did in the first debate. I think it’s irrelevant. There seems to be a history. Seven of the – six of the last seven times that an incumbent president has debated, they’ve lost the first debate. Now that suggests to you that there’s some reason for that, and it may be that four years as president you’re given an awful lot of deference, people don’t argue back with you as much, although my sense of Obama is that he encourages that kind of argument in the White House and encourages people to come back at him and to argue alternatives. Certainly that’s what Vice President Biden did in the case, for example, of policy in Afghanistan. So I don’t know what happened. But it was an inflection point in the campaign.
I don’t believe it fundamentally changed the structure of the race, and I’ll finish on that in a minute, but it was an inflection point where people said, “Oh, we could really consider that guy Romney. And it may be we want to have someone new and go in a different direction; we should look at him.” And so Romney gained. If the President had performed as well in the first debate as he did in the second, I think the election would have been effectively over. And Romney came into the second debate thoroughly prepared for the first. That is, he had the same lines, often in the same words, often with the same argument. So the President knew exactly what he was going to say and was entirely prepared for it.
The third debate tonight, it will have a big audience. I don’t know that the audience will reach the 65-66 million that the first two debates did because the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants are playing for the right to represent the National League in the World Series. And people say, well, foreign policy is not the big issue this year. It isn’t. But you have to pass a threshold if you’re going to be president of the United States. You’re the guy who’s walking there and walking behind you is some fellow or some woman holding a little briefcase that has the nuclear codes in it. And people want some sense, if they’re going to turn the office over to somebody, that they’re up to this.
So I think this debate tonight will be interesting. There’s a big challenge for Romney in it. The challenge is to be presidential and not to back down, but not to come across as through he’s trying to exploit a situation like Libya, because if he looks like he’s exploiting it for political purposes, I think that could hurt him. But we’ll see, because predictions about these debates have been pretty off the mark, and mine may be too.
Right now, I think the President continues to enjoy a real, if somewhat diminished, advantage in the swing states. I think that Romney has not cracked Ohio, though he’s gained a little bit. If he does not win Ohio, he has to nearly run the table of the other swing states to get to 270 electoral votes. There are three possible outcomes, I think. There should only be two, right? But I think there are three. And actually there are four.
One is that the President wins a three-point victory, somewhere in that range, in the national popular right and wins the electoral vote fairly comfortably, over 300 – around or over 300 electoral votes. The second possibility is that there’s a tipping point and people just say we want to move on and they move to Romney. This didn’t completely happen with Reagan in ’80. What happened in ’80 was that Reagan was at about – probably going to win the election by three points or so, and then he had the debate with Carter and it was a big tipping point and he won by 10 points. I think that’s the least likely scenario. I think Romney could win, but I don’t think it’s going to be a big win if he does.
The third possibility is that for the second time in 12 years, we could have a split between the winner of the popular vote and the winner of the Electoral College. There are two campaigns going on in America right now – or rather, a campaign and a non-campaign. If you’re in New York, there’s no campaign going on except for what you see in the news and you watch the debate. If you’re in Ohio or Wisconsin or any of these states – Virginia – that are on the line, you’re seeing intense campaigning, both in terms of television ads and in terms of everything that’s going on on the ground, in addition to all the news that you’re seeing.
So you could have Obama, for example, carry enough of the swing states to win, but lose in states where he’s not doing very well by such margins that he loses the national popular vote. The Gallup Poll, which shows a 6-point advantage – I think it’s 6 today – for Romney has been showing Obama winning three of the four regions of the country, but losing the South by 30, 35 points. So that’s the third possibility.
The fourth possibility, which I do not believe will happen and which, for the sake of the country and the world, I pray does not happen, is that they’ll tie in the electoral vote. And if – since there are 538 electoral votes, you can tie. You can split them down the middle. If that happens, the election of the president goes to the House. The House does not vote by individual member; it votes by state. Each state has one vote. If states are evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, it has no vote, unless one of them decides to defect to the other side.
And the Senate then votes, but they vote by individual members. So in that case, you could end up with a president and a vice president of different parties, for example. It’s a little ambiguous in the Constitution, but I think pretty clear that it’s the new Congress that votes, which means you couldn’t even know who the president was going to be until after January 3rd.
The framers of the American Constitution, living in a very different time than ours, obviously never contemplated this possibility. And I don’t think it will happen. I pray it doesn’t happen. It would be bad for the world.
Anyway, that’s my sort of view of it. I don’t know whether that’s very helpful to any of you, but I would be happy to take questions.
MS. GRUNDER: Can you wait for the microphone, please? And please remember to state your name and media organization.
QUESTION: I’m so sorry. I’m I.K. Cush with New African Magazine. Should President Obama lose, what would the American economic landscape look like in terms of job growth, green energy, outsourcing, relationship with – trade relationship with China, et cetera?
MR. SHRUM: Well, my – a very close friend of mine who’s a Republican says that Romney would actually make a deal, a grand bargain. I don’t know that he can do that because he’s not Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was Mr. Conservative, and whatever he did, the base was going to let him do. I think that a President Romney would be on a very short leash. And if he made agreements with Democrats, for example, that included even a modest tax increase, he might very well face – or fear that he would face a challenge for re-nomination in 2016.
Left alone right now, the economy, most of the models show will probably create about 12 million jobs over the next four years. So you can get in the way of that.
Look, if – everything we know suggests – or everything I know; I don’t want to be arrogant about this – suggests that if Romney actually did the austerity policies that the Republican platform talks about, we might share the same experience as, say, Britain has shared since May of 2010, when austerity policies were imposed in an economy that was actually recovering and its GDP going up and was gaining jobs at a fairly rapid clip, although the electorate didn’t know it when they went to the polls. That economy went into reverse.
Romney, I think – he did take Economics 101 somewhere along the way. And he made a couple of comments in the primaries, well, you can’t cut the budget too fast too soon because that would really hurt the economy. He then had to back – walk those comments back because people got very angry.
I mean, that’s a longwinded way of saying I don’t know. And I don’t think we know what Romney would do, except that he will be beholden to a very conservative portion of the GOP which now constitutes two-thirds of the GOP, in my view. And his economic policies would tend to favor the notion that the wealth creators – I’m trying to be neutral in this description – that the wealth creators at the top deserve the most breaks because they’re going to create the most jobs.
In the 1990s, when we had slightly higher tax rates, we created 23 million jobs. In the Bush years, when we had lower tax rates, we created net zero jobs. So I think it would be a period of uncertainty.
There’ll be a lot of people in the stock market that would like because there’ll be a lot less regulation.
MS. GRUNDER: I’m going to go to Fernanda first, and then --
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Fernanda Godoy. I am from O Globo, Rio de Janeiro. My question is: With two weeks to go in such a tight election, what should we look out for? Turnout, sort of the ground operation, or is it more like – is there still a possibility of convincing those so-called undecided? Is that what’s going to be decide or is more like the turnout?
MR. SHRUM: Well, turnout is critical. And the Obama people have always believed this, and they have a huge network of field operations and field offices all over the country. The Romney people are now saying they’re matching that. I don’t know that you can match that over a few-month period. I think you’ve got to root it more deeply. But – and they don’t have the kind of issue they had – the Republicans in 2004, which was gay marriage, to turn out a lot of voters who otherwise might not have voted. I mean, if you had told me in 2004 that 118 million people or whatever it was were going to vote, I would have said, well, then Kerry’s going to win. It’s why I think the exit polls were wrong on the election day, because they assumed the same kind of thing I did, and that the composition of the electorate would be the same as I thought.
They don’t have that advantage this year. So I think the ground game is critical, especially in states like Virginia. Virginia’s close. The ground game can matter a lot.
Never underestimate the capacity of an intervening event to have a big influence. It was the Friday before the 2004 election that Usama bin Ladin suddenly popped up on Al Jazeera, telling people they shouldn’t vote for Bush. Now, I don’t think he was a dumb cookie; I think he knew exactly what he was doing. The last person in the world people in this country were going to take advice from was Usama bin Ladin.
There can be other events. There could be economic events; there could be events in foreign policy that will matter. And both candidates will make very strong closing arguments. Romney will go back, while trying to appear more moderate – will also go back to his central argument, his thesis in the campaign, which is this is just a referendum. If you’re really unhappy or you’re kind of dissatisfied with the way things are in the economy, why not give me a try? That’s what he wanted the election to be about.
The Obama people will press very hard on the dimension of choice. And they’ll say the critical question in this election is: Who’s going to stand up for the middle class? Who’s going to fight for you? However it’s put. If you notice, the President said middle class very frequently in the second debate. Romney said it as well as he tried to appear moderate.
And the President’s other message - leitmotif, like Romney’s "I’m-a-little-more-moderate-than-you-think" - is: Look, I inherited a mess, we’ve made some progress, we have a lot more to do. So there’s a little [inaudible] when he’s saying, for example, that we saved the auto industry. But those will be big message pushes, and there will be big rallies to try to turn people out in these swing states.
One thing I would watch for is where they go. If a state gets entirely neglected, it means that it’s probably not in play. Take Pennsylvania, for example, which some Republicans keep saying, well, you know, that Pennsylvania’s in play. I will not believe that until I see a very large Romney ad buy in Pennsylvania. So far, there’s been none. There’s been none from either campaign, actually.
QUESTION: Martin Burcharth, Information, Danish newspaper. You ran the 2004 campaign for Kerry, as far as I remember. Correct me if I’m wrong.
MR. SHRUM: Well, I was the strategist, yes. And I’m – and I don’t run away from it. So that’s fine. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That’s good. And at this point in the campaign, the polls showed a tie, 48-48. You remember that well, I’m sure. And it’s the same now. It’s 47-47. And Kerry ended up losing by two and a half points, something like that. And so is that an indicator of might – of what might happen this time? And we can we – are we going to see the same thing play out in Ohio as we saw in 2004?
MR. SHRUM: Ohio is – the truth of the matter is I didn’t care whether or not we won the popular vote in 2004. I cared whether we won the presidency. I had already been with the candidate who had won the popular vote in 2000, and you don’t get the job. That election was fundamentally decided – no, not fundamentally – that election was utterly decided by 60,000 people in Ohio.
So – but I think your question is, in essence, right. I think this could become a – I think it is right now – it looks like a very close race. As I said, I think there are structural advantages for Obama in the swing states. And unless, in the next week, you see, for example, Romney crack through in Ohio, those structural advantages remain. The problem for Kerry in 2004, the way the electoral votes fell, he picked up New Hampshire, which Gore had lost, but he had to carry either Florida or Ohio to win the presidency.
And the polling, by the way, from almost everybody just before the election showed that we were going to carry both Florida and Ohio. The difficulty was that polling did not take into account the final weekend, which I think was really – did not help us at all. I mean, the whole – the Usama bin Ladin tape came out and the whole election shifted back to the issue of who’s going to keep you safe and sort of the terrorist threat. And there was an ad that was broadcast in Ohio, not by the Bush campaign but by a pre-SuperPAC, of a little girl whose mother had been killed on 9/11 who had met Bush, and they had pictures of the meeting and Bush put his arms around her, and they actually had the little girl in the ad talking, saying, “Now I know I’m safe.” It was a very powerful ad, and it totally fit with the external events and the free media.
QUESTION: You can (inaudible) question. He actually asked my question, so thank you, though. The gentleman before.
QUESTION: I’m Louise With. I’m also with the Danish newspaper Borsen. I’m interested in what you said earlier about ad buying and how Romney’s paying five times the price for the --
MR. SHRUM: In many cases, not all cases.
QUESTION: Could you elaborate a little bit? That’s new to me. I didn’t know about that.
MR. SHRUM: Yeah. If you reserve your ads early, then you – you always get, if you’re the candidate, what’s called lowest unit rate. So that means you get the lowest price they’re charging anybody for the same ad bought at the same time. So if you buy way in advance, you’re going to get a lower rate because the ads aren’t all bought up and the rates haven’t gone up and the Ford dealer down the road is still being able to buy ads and he gets the lowest unit rate, so you get the lowest unit rate.
If you wait until mid-September to buy the ads for the end of September, the Ford dealer down the road isn’t even on the air anymore. He’s been driven off by all the political ads. The inventory has shrunk and the prices have gone up, so the lowest unit rate, which you get at that point, is not the same as the lowest unit rate you would have gotten months before.
MR. SHRUM: Wasn’t a gamble. I think it was a very smart decision. I think it was the right thing to do. I don’t – frankly, if you asked me why did the Romney campaign do it the way they did, I don’t know. I would not have done it that way.
QUESTION: Stephane Bussard, Le Temps newspaper, Switzerland. I have a question about the Romney five-point plan. He actually – he was saying that what – he’s going to reduce the deficit with his plan, he’s going to bring the country back to work and things like that. But he doesn’t come up with specifics. To what extent will this hurt among the voters? That’s my first question.
And the second is about undecided voters. How do you – how can we be undecided now at this point of the race? And has it to do with single-issue voters in the sense that they still think about how they’re going to vote because they take – they pay attention to one single issue? Thank you.
MR. SHRUM: I think the Romney campaign decided that specifics would hurt them, that if they went beyond saying, “We’re going to give you a 20 percent tax cut and balance the budget,” and they explained how, people were going to suddenly say, “Wait a minute, they’re going to take away my home interest mortgage deduction,” or, “Wait a minute, I’m going to have to pay more in taxes,” or, “Wait a minute, the guy at the top is getting too much,” which is why you saw Romney in the first debate deny that he even had a $5 trillion tax cut. What he was saying is, “I don’t have one because I offset it,” but people say, “What are the offsets,” and he doesn’t answer.
Do I think it hurts him a little bit? It certainly hurts him with the elites who press and press and press for the specifics. It would have hurt him a lot more with both his base and a lot of voters if he had offered specifics. The undecided voters at this point I think are pretty low-information voters. But understand there are weak and soft voters, soft and weak Obama voters and soft and weak Romney voters. There are not very many of them, but there are enough who could shift that it could determine the outcome of the election.
And the campaigns believe – that’s why there’s such a relentless focus on states like Ohio and Florida and Iowa, states that the campaigns believe that they got to find every voter they can there, and then they got to – to go back to an earlier question – turn them out. I mean, there’s no poll in which Obama doesn’t win among registered voters.
And there’s a lot of controversy about these likely voter screens. My wife and I would not get through a likely voter screen, even though we vote all the time, in the Gallup Poll because one of the Gallup Poll’s questions is “Have you changed your residence recently?” Yeah, we have, and we went and reregistered to vote. But their assumption is if you did, you’re not likely to vote.
MS. GRUNDER: We’ll take one more from New York, and then we’ll go to D.C.
QUESTION: Astrid Doerner with Germany’s business daily Handelsblatt. There’s one thing I cannot get my head around, is that how Romney managed to get to such a close state in the race after being far behind and after having a campaign for months and months full of mistakes and bad strategy, and now after 90 minutes of good debate, everything is good?
MR. SHRUM: Well, I probably would dispute the argument that he was far behind. He might have been five or six points behind. That’s not far behind. And you can actually make that up.
So – but the fundamental underlying reason is it’s a closely divided country. And there is, whether we like it or not, in my view, a lot of enmity toward President Obama. And we can assign various reasons for that. Some of it, I think, has to do with people who have a hard time dealing with the change in the character of America as we become a majority minority nation, which is what we’re headed for over the next 20 or 30 years. And probably 40 percent – 41, 42 percent of voters would vote for that microphone over President Obama. So in that sense, there was always a constituency – unless they had done something completely goofy like nominated Newt Gingrich, this was not going to be a runaway race. If you look at the landscape of 2000 and 2004, then you recognize how unusual 2008 was because of the financial crisis. Romney’s operating within that fundamental landscape.
But I agree with you about why – I don’t know if I agree with you, but the reason the first debate was so critical is precisely because Romney went into it with such low expectations, had had such a bad foreign trip, such a mediocre convention, that suddenly when he appeared to be strong and authoritative and had something to say and the President appeared to be less engaged than he probably should have been, there are people who – I mean, the focus groups almost immediately identified the folks who were moving to Romney as undecided voters lean Republican who voted for McCain. That’s the first tranche of voters he got. But it’s a closely divided country.
That will change over time, by the way. The one thing I haven’t talked about that I think is critical is the Republican Party, if they don’t win, I think there will be a civil war inside the Republican Party between the Jeb Bush Republicans and either the Paul Ryan or Mike Huckabee Republicans for control of the party. And Jeb Bush, for example, understands that the Republican Party is backing itself into a demographic cul-de-sac. If you alienate Hispanics in overwhelming numbers, if you see the gender gap become a gender chasm, it’s going to be very hard to win a national election.
So my – even though I suppose I’m standing in a room that she has some jurisdiction over, so I should take her at her word – Hillary Clinton says she’s not going to run in 2016. I think there’s a very real possibility, and I think there would be a lot of pressure on her, that if Obama wins, she will run in 2016, and I think the Republicans would face a very difficult situation if that happened.
MS. GRUNDER: And over to Washington.
QUESTION: Hello, and good afternoon. My name is Antonio Olivie with Confidencial in Spain. My question is: Why do you think that the campaign is more focused on TV or traditional media that in social media or in Twitter and internet?
MR. SHRUM: The election is a market in the following sense, that it responds to market forces. There’s a lot of use of social media by both campaigns. The Obama campaign did it in 2008. Kerry, and before Kerry, Dean raised a huge amount of money in 2004 on the internet. But to reach the voters who are probably going to determine the outcome in these swing states – and if you, for example, want to define your opponent as Obama wanted to define Romney – your best bet, the market would tell you, is still TV ads.
That may change in the next five to ten years; probably will. First of all, people are going to start watching more television on their computers, which are going to have the same high quality of pictures. But it’s a market, and I don’t mean that in the sense that some people have criticized Romney for saying he has a business plan to be president. That is, he’ll figure out what the consumers want to buy and he’ll give it to them. I mean when you’re trying to decide how to spend your money, you spend your money in the most effective way to deliver your message.
There are a lot of people in the Obama campaign who I think wish that it was more effective to channel more money from advertising and put it in social media. But we haven’t yet reached that point.
QUESTION: Francesco Semprini from the Italian daily news La Stampa. President's weak performance during the first debate is in your opinion the only factor that made him losing ground in the poll, or there has been some structural problem in his campaign, in his political platform, and it will reverse completely the trend with this third debate, or we will have a tight run until the end, until November 6?
MR. SHRUM: Well, in my head it will certainly be tight. I think the Obama campaign has run a brilliant campaign. Here’s someone who inherited this incredible financial mess, has – things are actually getting better, but the old theory was they had to – people had to know they were getting better in the spring. It’s – all the indices now are indices that reflect the fall. I mean, housing, for example, is a lot better. The employment picture is better. And it was a, in my view, pretty much an uphill climb in some ways. And the Romney of 2008 who had not been forced so far to the right would have made it an even bigger uphill climb.
The debate mattered because when you have a country that thinks it’s on the wrong track, even though that number is getting better too, and you have an election – I mean, basically outside of Australia where it was a tie, I don’t think a single leader of a G-8 country who’s had to go to an election since the financial crisis has gotten reelected. So it’s kind of a tough order.
The President, as I said earlier, decided to make this a choice. And that definition held for a long time. Romney went into the first debate and said, “Hey, by the way,” – he didn’t use these words – “I’m a lot more moderate than you think, and I’m actually kind of likable, too.” And that helped him, especially given the fact that the President didn’t push back against him. So I don’t think it was a 90 minute debate; it was a 90 minute debate in the context in which this debate took place that really mattered.
MS. GRUNDER: And over to Washington for a question.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Ivica Poljik. I’m from Al Jazeera. Thank you for this opportunity. I have two question. First is money in the 2012 election, especially because of SuperPACs. And second is religion in 2012 elections, especially we have two vice presidential candidates, they are Catholics, Mr. Romney is Mormon, is really a rare situation. We didn’t have that before, as I know. Thank you.
MR. SHRUM: I don’t think that the religious issue, at least as it pertains to Mormonism, matters in this election. Americans are, on the whole, very proud of the fact that in 1960, the barrier against a Catholic president came down. And I think the idea of a religious test for public office bothers most Americans. And those who it may not bother, some of the religious right, dislike the President so much that they will vote for Romney even though he is a Mormon.
I don’t know if you noticed, but the Reverend Billy Graham endorsed Romney the other day, but his website first had to scrub from the website the denunciation of Mormonism as a cult. So, I – no, I don’t think that will have a big influence.
I’m sorry, what was the first part of your question?
QUESTION: Money in the elections. I mean, especially because of SuperPACs.
MR. SHRUM: Yeah. As I said earlier, I think that there’s so much money and there are so many ads and the SuperPACs are doing so much, that if you live in Steubenville, Ohio, you turn your TV on in the morning and you kept it on all day, you’d see nothing but ads. You would see ads from the SuperPACs, you wouldd see ads from Romney, you would see ads from Obama. The SuperPACs have leveled the playing field from where it was in 2008. Obama so out-raised McCain it was extraordinary. And SuperPACs, because Sheldon Adelson can spend $100 million if he wants, have tended to level that playing field. But in an atmosphere that is just so filled with ads that they probably have, per-ad, less impact than they would’ve in earlier years or in earlier months. But unless you get a new Supreme Court, all this money washing around our politics is here to stay because of the holding in Citizens United.
In the end, I don’t think the money will be determinative. I think the Obama campaign has enough money to do what it has to do, the Romney campaign has enough money to do what is has to do, and there’s a lot of extra money just washing around the system.
QUESTION: Hi. Martino Mazzonis from Iunita. Let’s go back to the Republican Party and what it becomes, both if Romney wins and if Romney loses. I’ve got, like, the idea that in both cases, there’s going to be a huge fight inside the Republican Party. Yeah, either if one wins or the other loses because of the – yeah, the conservatives are going to claim the victory or claim the party because of the loss (inaudible).
MR. SHRUM: If Romney wins, he will, in my view, generally do what he has promised his Republican base he will do. He will try to modulate some of it. I mean, the idea of cutting $500 billion or something like that out of the federal budget in the short term, I think he understands would be a disaster. But he may have to do that; who knows? He will certainly move toward austerity. And he’ll be supported by his party. As I said earlier, he is not Reagan. Reagan could negotiate saving Social Security with Tip O’Neill; could negotiate immigration reform with Ted Kennedy; could, after saying that the Soviet Union was an evil empire, decide Gorbachev was a guy he could deal with and he could make peace. And there might have been some carping among the Republican sort of intellectual establishment, but the Republican base went along totally with Reagan. They identified with him completely. That’s not the case with Romney. So I think he has to do basically what he’s told the base he’s going to do.
If Romney loses, there will be a narrative from the more conservative elements of the Republican Party, and that is the majority of the Republican Party, as I said earlier, that “they did it to us again. They made us nominate Bush -- the first Bush. They made us nominate Dole. They made us nominate the second Bush. We kind of thought he was conservative, and then he spent all this money. They made us nominate McCain. Then they made us nominate Romney. Next time we really have to nominate one of our own.”
And I think you would see, as I’ve already suggested, that you would have a big fight between the Jeb Bush wing of the Republican Party – I don’t have any better word for it – and conservatives. And I don’t think Santorum would be the point of the lance on that. I think it would be Paul Ryan or Mike Huckabee, who’s earned a lot of money at FOX and could come back into the political field.
Look, in California, the Republican Party used to be the dominant party, and people used to talk about an electoral lock, a lock on the Electoral College for president, because California was such a reliable Republican state. And then Pete Wilson, who was the Republican governor of the state in 1994, to get himself reelected, sponsored something called Proposition 187, which basically said that the children of illegal immigrants could not go to school, could not receive medical services, et cetera, et cetera. It was held unconstitutional and never went into effect, but it had a huge effect. It drove Hispanics in that state to the Democratic Party in droves. California is now a reliably Democratic state. It’s a state that’s probably fiscally conservative in some respects but socially liberal, but there’s no Republican Party that represents that.
So the reaction of the Republican Party to repeated defeat in California so far has been to get more conservative or move further to the right, especially on social issues as well as economic issues. That makes their situation even worse. My friend Steve Schmidt, who ran the McCain campaign and who you may all be familiar with from Game Change, has a prediction that unless this changes, the Republican Party in California could soon be the third political party, after Democrats and Decline-to-State. What this means at a national level if you have this fight is it may take two or three cycles, if the Republican right is unsuccessful, to move the party back to the middle, to do something of what Bill Clinton did with Democrats in 1992.
MS. GRUNDER: Over to Washington.
QUESTION: Hi, Narayan Lakshman of The Hindu from India. My question is about the swing states, of which there are quite a few. And you mentioned earlier structural advantages that might exist in some of them for one of the candidates. Could you talk us through some of the scenarios? We hear that Ohio is important. How do you see it playing out, and which states might actually be deciders and the factors behind that?
MR. SHRUM: Well, almost any of these states could be deciders, but I think some of them are pretty much decided. Mark Mellman, who was the only person who called Nevada right in the Senate election last time and said Harry Reid was going to win and win by 4 or 5 points when everybody else thought he was going to lose, has the President with an 8-point lead in Nevada. I think Nevada is probably already gone for the Republicans.
Look, if Romney does not win Ohio, then he’s got to do well in Iowa, Colorado, New Hampshire, Virginia. If the President wins Ohio, he can win one other state and basically he’s at 270. And what I mean by a structural advantage is that Romney has to win more of the undecided states – or the swing states, excuse me – than Obama does. If you look in almost anybody’s estimate, whether it’s Nate Silver on 538 on the – in the New York Times or Talking Points Memo or the Daily Kos, or Politico’s estimate, Romney is always like sitting there 40 or 50 electoral votes behind Obama in how they allocate the electoral votes as of today with this other – with this big block of states in the middle. That means he has to win more of those states. That’s what I mean by a structural advantage.
In Ohio, I think the Obama structural advantage – it’s not structural; it’s a message advantage. Ohio is the state where I think Romney was most effectively defined by Obama during the summer, and it’s been very hard for him to break through. He’s narrowed the margin there. The CBS-Quinnipiac Poll today, which I trust is – has the President at 50 and Romney at 45, and that’s 95 percent of people made up their mind. Now, some of those undecideds aren’t going to vote; but even if they all voted, Romney would have to get all of them or there has to be an intervening event or an intervening mood or an intervening message that moves some of the President’s voters over to Romney. Could happen.
QUESTION: Yes, I was just wondering – there’s been a lot of criticism of Obama, especially after his convention speech which followed Clinton in which he really explained better than Obama Obama’s policies, that Obama’s convention speech did not really lay out a vision that would claim him a mandate if he got elected. And we really haven’t heard him pull all those strings together that you would need to kind of put it, like, in a nutshell how you argue with the swing voters that they should vote for you. Where is it, and what consequences will there be if he doesn’t pull that out of his basket?
MR. SHRUM: Well, first of all, Clinton’s job was, as I put it in my column, to take out the trash, and he did it brilliantly. He explained all of the stuff about the last four years. That was not Obama’s job. Obama’s job was to talk about where the country was, give a sense that he thought we could do better, and lay out some specifics that indicated where we might go.
Frankly, I think he’s gotten an unfair rap on this. He’s laid out more specifics with actual policies to make them happen than Romney has. I mean, a million more manufacturing jobs, talked about how to do it. Investment in infrastructure – he’s talked about how to do it. 100,000 new teachers. Now, is it a bolt of lightning from the sky that solves all the problems all at once? No. Having been involved in several of these enterprises, I don’t think that the President just sat down at a desk and wrote his acceptance speech and said, “I think I’ll go give this.” I think the ideas in that speech were tested and they had every reason to believe that they were persuasive. The press corps wasn’t enchanted with it because they wanted Denver 2008 or another – or a reprise of a 2008 speech. But I think the numbers afterwards would indicate that the President did pretty well. I mean, as I said earlier, I think if he’d done in the first debate what he did in the second debate, the election probably would have been effectively over.
You can tell, by the way, I reject this political science nonsense that campaigns don’t matter. And as I said --
MR. SHRUM: Pardon?
QUESTION: That debates don’t matter?
MR. SHRUM: Campaigns. There’s a whole theory that campaigns don’t matter, that it’s all determined by the economy or a set of other factors, foreign crises, things like this. And of course, the only way we’ll ever find out whether that can actually be true is not by tweaking your model so that it accommodates all past victories – in fact, people don’t quite know what to do with 2000 in these models – but by having somebody going to somebody and saying, “Look, you’re going to win the election, so why don’t you not run a campaign and then see what happens?”
MS. GRUNDER: Let’s come to Gabriel.
QUESTION: Thank you. Gabriel Mellqvist, Dagens Industri, Swedish business paper. Taking up on what you said about California, do you see the same scenario in Texas? Do you see Texas swinging to a blue state because of the Latin American population growth?
MR. SHRUM: Over 15 years or so. Yeah, 12 to 15 years. Although it happened faster in California than most people thought it would. Look, you have Karl Rove and Jeb Bush and a lot of smart Republican consultants who will say to you, “We’ve got to fix this Hispanic problem.” Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in ’04. McCain, I think, got like 38 percent. Romney is headed for getting, like, 25 percent, in which case he has to get, like, 65 or 66 percent of the white vote to win. This – and the demographics keep moving. They’re irresistible.
It’s the same thing with young people. Young people are – and who knows if they’ll vote in the numbers they voted in 2008. They may not, although I think they’ll vote in very high numbers. Young people are generally repelled by a lot of the Republican positions on the environment and on issues like gay marriage, and they’ve got to fix that too, and that’s very tough to do because it’s antithetical to their base.
QUESTION: Thanks. Sherwin Bryce-Pease, South African Broadcasting. Why is there such a strong, heavy bias towards Democrats, particularly President Obama, from foreign countries abroad? He seems to be very popular. The GOP seems to struggle. I mean, there was an article in The Washington Post this weekend that spoke exactly to that.
MR. SHRUM: I suppose I should ask all of you that. (Laughter.) Look, I think the President has not only at home but abroad a very difficult situation. There are people who object to some of the things he’s done, but he’s done a very good job, in my view – we’ll hear this debated tonight – and done a lot to restore respect for American leadership in the world and respect for America’s place in the world. And he listens to other countries. He doesn’t necessarily do what they want, but he hears them out, and has proved very effective, I think, at getting people to move together, for example, on sanctions on Iran. So I think that’s part of it.
I think another part of it is that in some ways the President represents America at its best. And I don’t mean because of his policies, but that this country which – where racism, in my view, is the original sin of America, this is a country that keeps trying to make itself better. On some things I know people in other countries don’t understand us at all; for example on guns. I don’t necessarily understand us on this issue either. But I’m not running, so I think it’s part of – he represents, as JFK represented in some ways, America moving forward and America getting closer to its founding ideals and principles.
MR. SHRUM: Look, let me be fair to Romney, which his campaign would not necessarily think I would be. The world doesn’t know what he would be like as president. The only preview he’s given them was this trip, which was a disaster, and some rhetoric which at times invites the question, “Are you really saying you want to go to war? Do you want to have a third war in the Middle East right now?” So I think that bothers people.
It is pretty astounding to go to Britain and decide to condescend your oldest ally. Oh, I’m sorry if there’s someone here from France. I know France is our oldest ally. (Laughter.)
MS. GRUNDER: We’ll go to our colleague in Washington.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. I’m Yashwant Raj from Hindustan Times, India. What would you say about this practice of newspapers endorsing candidates? There is a sudden surge in mail from both campaigns announcing endorsements (inaudible) especially from battleground states. Do they still matter in this age of Twitter and blogs, or is this an – I mean, increasingly becoming irrelevant? Thank you.
MR. SHRUM: My instinctive reaction would be to say it doesn’t matter much, except that someone went and did a study of endorsements in 2008 in the swing states and found that the swing states, with one exception, tended to go the way the majority of the newspapers in their state had gone in the endorsements. Now, that leaves two questions or begs two questions. First, were the newspapers reflecting the states? And secondly, is this a classic case of post hoc ergo propter hoc? They did it, Obama won the state; therefore that proves they were the cause. It doesn’t prove they were the cause.
I think some newspapers have more influence than others. I think the Cleveland Plain Dealer, for example, has some impact. I think the New York Times – there’s no surprise in the New York Times endorsing President Obama. The Plain Dealer has endorsed both Republicans and Democrats and gone both ways. But whatever is going to happen to print journalism, one of the last things – one of the things that will endure is, as long as there are newspapers, they will endorse and they will have editorial boards that will endorse.
And this is different than in a lot of other countries. Despite the paranoid theories, there is, in fact, almost no seepage or there is no seepage from the editorial side of the paper to the news side of the paper. I mean, the New York Times is very generous to the President in its editorial pages the last week or so. The front page today was quite generous to Romney in terms of the picture and the story.
MS. GRUNDER: And we have time for one more question.
QUESTION: I’m Louise again from the Danish daily Borsen. Back to the Obama campaign and the first debate, you could argue, and it’s been argued, that – I understand what you’re saying about how this was really effective over the summer, this sort of caricature of Romney as this vulture capitalist and – but isn’t that – I mean, with hindsight, you could argue that’s what set Romney up for a positive surprise in the first debate, that this is a very risky strategy. If you go so much after the person, you set him up for – the Obama people set Romney up for a positive huge surprise in the first debate.
MR. SHRUM: First of all, of course, I don’t think it’s a caricature. I think it happens to be true, if I can say that. Secondly, I think if you got the Romney people in a confessional and said, “Would you be happy if the Bain ads had never run,” they would say, “Yes, we’d be thrilled.” Because Ohio, which is on the natural a more Republican inclined state, is a state that I think was deeply affected by the Bain ads, by the ads on the auto industry bailout, and I think that Romney would have had a significantly less difficult task in that first debate and the President would be in a significantly more difficult position had they not gone out and defined Romney. Sure, Romney’s fought back from it. He still has in many polls a net unfavorable. But that’s really amazing.
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