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Brooks and Marcus on Post-Convention Politics, Foreign Affairs, and Fed’s QE3

September 14, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
New York Times' David Brooks and the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus discuss the week's top political news including the latest election polls, which show an overwhelming majority of voters have already decided their vote, plus analysis on Mitt Romney's critique of U.S. response to attacks in Libya and Fed's recent stimulus plan.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus. That’s New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, who is filling in for Mark Shields.

Welcome to you both.

And, so, before we start, let’s share some new poll numbers out there in the last few days.

Among likely voters across the country, CBS and The New York Times finds the president with 49 percent to Governor Romney’s 46 percent. And FOX News finds the president with 48 percent to Romney’s 43 percent.

Separately, though, in three key battleground states, an NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll finds Mr. Obama ahead in all three by 50 percent to 43 percent in Ohio, and by an identical 49 percent to 44 percent in both Florida and Virginia.

So, David, recognizing that these polls are just a snapshot, the elections weeks away, what do you make of that?

DAVID BROOKS: I think Romney’s — his concession speech should be this evening at some point.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: No, he’s behind.

If you take the average of all the national polls, he’s probably behind by about 3.5, 3.6.

The NBC/Wall Street Journal, the swing state polls should be more troubling to him. It is an excellent poll. It’s a poll that is widely respected by the professionals in the field.

And it shows him behind in all three states that he really needs to win. And if you look at all the swing states, whatever it is, however many you are going to count, he is pretty much behind in all of them, usually by much smaller margins.

And to me, what is most interesting about the poll movement in the last week is that Romney is this. Romney is going down. And so the president is up a little, but the president had a bounce, and his bounce is pretty much over. But Romney’s going down.

And so — and if you look at where the movement happened, Bill Clinton was an important turning point and then maybe this week. It’s hard to believe this week will help him. But there is clearly a sense, certainly among Republican circles, that Romney is behind.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see all this?

RUTH MARCUS: Kind of the same.

Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse, put out a statement early in the week saying that nobody should pay — get too flustered by these polls, that they kind of reflected a sugar high after the Democratic Convention.

I think it’s looking more like one of those protein shakes that can keep you going for a while.

I think David’s totally right. The polls that should make the governor and his team most nervous are those polls from the three most important battleground states.

Because if you play around with those really fun interactive Electoral College maps, you cannot get to 270 electoral votes for Gov. Romney without at least two of those states. And you can get there for President Obama without them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you account for this, though? What is the behind this?

RUTH MARCUS: A bunch of things, a squandered convention by Gov. Romney. What do we remember from it? Empty chair and Clint Eastwood.

A very well-orchestrated convention for President Obama. What do we remember from it? The explainer-in-chief, President Clinton, whose poll numbers are through the roof, dismantling and unpacking and rebutting every Republican argument against the incumbent president and vouching for him.

Then you had some bad jobs numbers. They didn’t seem to trouble the president. Mitt Romney first got pummeled with his “fill in the blanks, details to follow” economic policy. I think we’re going to hear more about that, especially in debates.

And then I think he had a — you were very kind to him about this week. I think he had quite a disastrous week. Other than that, things are going great for the Romney campaign.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. And if you’re look at who is moving, it’s independent voters who voted for Obama in ’08, who drifted away, and now, faced with the alternatives they see today, they are drifting back toward Obama.

RUTH MARCUS: And more than that, it’s the movement, but there aren’t a lot of folks left to move.

One of the things that is striking when you look at these polls, in the internals of these polls, very, very few people are undecided, and even fewer say they are apt in any way to change their votes.

What we heard from the Romney campaign was, oh, well, yes, but there’s more voters up for grabs than these polls indicate. The polls are not indicating that.

DAVID BROOKS: Can I just say, to me, that is a huge story for this whole election? Over the past several decades, but especially over the last three or four years…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the small number…

DAVID BROOKS: … we have seen de-alignment.

So, we have seen people drifting away: I don’t like either party. Rise in independents.

And so that would lead you to think that, when this election came around, there would be a bunch of people in the middle swinging around, but that is not true. They are stuck to the polls just as tightly as ever and we’re seeing so little movement and so little undecided.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And why do you think that is? Is it just too early to know?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I — it is never too early to know for me.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Because I am certain.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Good. That is why we want you both here.

DAVID BROOKS: So, my theory is that they ran a very traditional Republican vs. a very Democratic traditional. If you ran orthodox campaigns, people put their orthodox alignments.

Secondly, the consultants are really good at microtargeting members of their historic coalitions. They are really bad at targeting the other side’s coalition. So they are very good at building their coherent group. They are not so great at scrambling it all up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ruth, you mentioned the events of the last week. So, let’s talk about the eruptions in the Muslim world, and you had the — Gov. Romney quick out of the gate to make a statement.

How do you size up how the candidates handled that from a political perspective?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, from a political perspective, I wouldn’t give the president absolutely 100 percent marks.

There were some issues with the handling of the tweet from the embassy and his remarks about whether Egypt was an ally that needed to be cleaned up. But by comparison, if you are grading on a curve, he’s getting a solid A.

And I am just flunking Mitt Romney. I’m in back-to-school mode, so I’m giving grades these days.

I know that the NewsHour is a civil place, but I’m going to use an uncivil word. But it is an uncivil word that Mitt Romney used about the president and the Obama administration.

I thought his comments were really disgraceful. He mischaracterized what was said. He got the timeline wrong. He accused the president of his first reaction to an attack on the embassy and the consulate being to apologize for America, rather than to condemn the attack.

And I thought his Tuesday night comments were amateurish and way too quick. His Wednesday morning doubling down was just unconscionable.

Other than that, I really liked what he did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that too strong — too strong a word?

DAVID BROOKS: Ruth is flying off the handle here.

(LAUGHTER)

RUTH MARCUS: As usual.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I wouldn’t go that far. I thought they were not good. How about that? Not good. And I would say that for a couple reasons, some of which Ruth alluded to.

First, the first news out of any international crisis is always — the first news is always kind of misleading, so wait a beat. And I think experienced hands would have waited a beat, rather than have that first Romney thing.

Second, when bad things are happening abroad, the American people want to see stability.

RUTH MARCUS: And they rally around the commander in chief.

DAVID BROOKS: And they do.

And, so, you don’t know who is dying or what is happening. Just show some stability. When the helicopters went down under Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan said, OK, I’m not going to use this politically.

That was the right instinct. Third — and this, I think, is deeply revealing of Romney — he is just not an ideological person. So, what principle is he standing for in this fight? The principle that thou shall not apologize.

That is not a principle. That is a tactic. That is a management theory of how to manage power.

And so trying to be an aggressive ideological person, but while not really being an ideological person, he has an ideological fit over management theory. And so that’s not…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But that point about apologizing, that has been a major part of the critique of Romney of the Obama administration.

DAVID BROOKS: I mean, sometimes, you apologize. Sometimes, you don’t.

If you have a theory — say you have a…

RUTH MARCUS: But he never apologized. That is the problem.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, that’s true, too. But we’re setting that aside.

RUTH MARCUS: I’m flying off the handle again.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Hey, calm down, Ruth.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Say you had a theory of — as George Bush did. It was based on a theory of human nature, that people hunger toward freedom. It was based on a theory of history that the Middle East is becoming democratic.

So you orient your policies around that theory, topple the existing order. Try to create democratic revolutions in the Arab world. That is a political theory.

Don’t apologize — well, it depends on the circumstance whether that — you are using apologies or not to — depending on what you do. It’s not a philosophy.

RUTH MARCUS: Can I say one quick thing now that I have bashed Gov. Romney? I actually don’t think this is going to matter that much, in part because so many people have made up their minds.

But, also, this is not an election that is going to be decided on foreign policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You don’t think so?

RUTH MARCUS: No. This is an election that is going to be decided on people’s assessment of the state of the economy, the state of their well-being, and on their assessment of the characters of these two men.

To the extent that this is a character question, maybe it dribbles in. I don’t think it is going to make anybody like him more. But while I am very offended by it, as you can tell, I don’t think it is disastrous.

And just one really interesting number from the polls about people’s assessment of the state of the world — 30 percent of people in the Gallup poll this week said they were satisfied with the direction the country was going in.

That might sound pathetic, 30 percent, but it’s up from 11 percent a year ago. And that tells you something about where this race is going.

DAVID BROOKS: It’s still pretty bad.

When George W. Bush was reelected in ’04, it was about 42 percent. And so it was just much higher. And that was a close race where the climate was against him. The climate is still against the status quo. It should be against the incumbent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But do agree that foreign policy is not going to be a big factor? You have got — we just reported — in 20 countries protests against the United States. We were just reading Reuters News wire reporting the U.S. sending Marines to the Sudan.

DAVID BROOKS: We will see. My rule is you can never escape the Middle East. The Middle East will always come back and something will happen there and we will focus our attention.

But I still basically agree with Ruth, unless things run out of control, in part because, despite all the huffing and puffing, there is really not a lot of partisan disagreement about most foreign policy issues, I believe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of the economy, the Federal Reserve announced yesterday this latest move to put money into the economy to try to get it moving, to try to get more hiring and more investing.

Ruth, what do you make of this? Does it have an effect on the election? What about — I mean, what about its overall effect on the economy? Is it going to work?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, if it works — and I think that the theory is sound — it will work eventually, but slowly. So I don’t think it will have an effect on the election.

We won’t probably see the impact of this for six months or so. It reflects two things, I think, from Chairman Bernanke, his lack of confidence — and both of them might be justified.

One is his lack of confidence in Congress, because he sees Congress not stepping up to the plate to do the fiscal acts that are necessary to get this really lagging economy moving, and a lack of confidence in the economy.

And so, this was really in some sense his boldest move yet, because he didn’t put a time limit on it. He said, we will be there until the unemployment rate gets to a more appropriate rate. That’s probably — we’re not going see it at 7 percent, according to the Fed’s own views, until some time in the middle of 2015.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Unemployment rate.

RUTH MARCUS: Did I say — what did I say? Unemployment rate, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. How do you read things?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, I’m — I think it also reflects a lack of seeing any inflation pressures in sight, whether that is true or not.

Food prices have gone up. Gasoline prices, other prices have gone up. But, clearly, he is just stepping on the gas. I have been less impressed that we had QE and QE2. Now they are calling this QE forever.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: And so, you know, I guess if the other QEs had worked a little better, I would be more impressed with this one.

But, nonetheless, I do believe — in general, I’m not huge a believer that fiscal policy has a big impact on the economy in the short term, or I’m nervous about that, but monetary policy surely does.

And so if the floodgates are open on monetary policy, I think that’s bound to have some sort of effect. And it may take long, as Ruth says.

But I do think, politically, the effect psychologically begins today or began actually at the market yesterday, which was, you know, skyrocketing. And so I do think, psychologically, that our most powerful stimulative tool is just wide-open. That’s got to be — affect people’s psychology.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And given the disagreement between Republicans and Democrats for the most part over whether this was a good idea, an effect on the campaign or not, in the election?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, you know, I think it’s hard to bash the Fed. People — Romney said he wanted to get rid of Bernanke. I think people basically have some — to the extent they understand what he does, I think they have some basic trust in him.

If you saw inflation galloping along, then would you say, what is this guy doing? But the inflationary pressures really are hard to see compared to the unemployment problem.

RUTH MARCUS: He’s George Bush’s Fed chairman. He’s not a crazy left-wing guy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But Mitt Romney said he’s not going to reappoint him.

RUTH MARCUS: Not going to reappoint him, but the question is, to the extent that the public understands it, I don’t think they are going to be moved by this pretty much one way or the other.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are moved by both of you.

Ruth Marcus, David Brooks, thank you both.

RUTH MARCUS: Thanks, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And a reminder: You can keep up with the NewsHour’s political coverage on Twitter. You can follow @NewsHour and the hashtag #PBSElection.