MR. DICKERSON: The sorting out process begins for the Republican presidential hopefuls, while the president takes to the road to announce that creating jobs is job number one. I’m John Dickerson, sitting in for Gwen Ifill, tonight, on “Washington Week.”
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN): There is no doubt in my mind. We are the team that can’t be beat for 2012.
MR. DICKERSON: The big winner from the Iowa straw poll and the loser.
GOV. TIM PAWLENTY: I’m going to be ending my campaign for president.
MR. DICKERSON: And the new face in the race hits the campaign trail with a bang.
TEXAS GOV. RICK PERRY (R): It’s time for America to believe again. It’s time to believe that the promise of future is far greater than even our best days behind us.
MR. DICKERSON: The new jockeying among the GOP. Plus, the president takes his case to the people.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’ll be putting forward a very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs.
MR. DICKERSON: But with trust in his ability to fix the economy slipping, will it make a difference?
Covering the week: Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times, Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, Alexis Simendinger of Real Clear Politics, and David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation’s capital, this is “Washington Week” with Gwen Ifill produced in association with National Journal.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, sitting in for Gwen Ifill this week, John Dickerson of “Slate Magazine” and CBS News.
MR. DICKERSON: Good evening. It was a week for a new script in politics. The Republican race quickened and became more action packed. Michele Bachmann became the frontrunner in Iowa. Tim Pawlenty dropped out and Rick Perry jumped in with both cowboy boots. Mitt Romney, the GOP frontrunner, tried to keep that title and stuck to his lines, staying focus on President Obama’s economic record.
FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY: We appreciate the fact that he’s – he’s trying to devote some time to it, not just going to be on the bus tour, not just going to be vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard, but giving some thought of the American people. I would have thought that’s what he’d have done that from day one.
MR. DICKERSON: Meanwhile, the president was busy with the rewrite. He left Washington to connect to voters in the heartland or come as close as he could in armor plated buses which still couldn’t protect him from the dismal economic news. But let’s start with the Republicans. Karen, we have this new landscape. Walk us through it. How things have changed? What’s – what do we expect next?
MS. TUMULTY: Well, it starts just under a week ago with this quirky little ritual that they have in Ames, Iowa, that’s sort of a picnic and sort of a Republican Party fundraiser. And people voted at some point during the day. And it’s not a very good gauge of anything, except it does have a history – the Ames straw poll – of winnowing out the field. And the casualty was former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who had come in, had spent a lot of money on this little event, and had basically done miserably. And Michele Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota, his fellow Minnesotan, the two of them had just gone after each other a couple of nights before in a debate. And Ron Paul essentially had a tie. This was seen as setting up Michele Bachmann as the frontrunner.
But in the middle of all this, Rick Perry, the governor of Texas jumps in. And so this week has seen even more turmoil in that Rick Perry’s start, I think, was a little bit rockier than some people, especially those who had been waiting at the window for the savior of the Republican Party, had thought. So by the middle of the week, you all of a sudden heard rumblings that perhaps, you know, Congressman Paul Ryan might be getting in. And then today, just to remind us that she’s still out there and still thinking, Sarah Palin puts out a very slickly produced web video.
MR. DICKERSON: I wonder if we’re going to be having those rumblings about Republicans coming in the day after the nomination. Jeff, you were with Perry for a few days this week. He’s the new one on the scene, a lot of energy, a lot going on. Tell us about what he looked like, what his week was like.
MR. ZELENY: He really was unscripted and free-wheeling. I mean you and I both walked around the Iowa State Fair with him. And it was really a rolling conversation, probably 30 different interviews in small manageable chunks, about 30 seconds at a time.
We didn’t learn all that much from him substance-wise, but we learned sort of how big his personality is. And he was – was eager to sort of show this, but then he got himself into some trouble, in that first news cycle in Iowa, when he, of course, has made the famous comment that we’ve heard all week about Ben Bernanke and he was suggesting that he would get some ugly treatment down in –
MR. DICKERSON: Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
MR. ZELENY: The Chairman of the Federal Reserve. So what happened after that, the next day I was with him as well as were you, he didn’t take questions at all. He was suddenly very scripted in things. So we saw in a very short period of time that he realizes he’s not in Texas anymore. He’s been a very seasoned politician. He’s won every election he’s been. But this is a different stage entirely.
And what I thought was most interesting was how swift some Republicans were to jump on him. They did not give him even one second of a break. Most of these people were former Bush advisor. There’s a long history between the two. So I think that he learned that this is going to be harder than it looks, but he also had a sense of discipline, though, as the week ends. He goes down to South Carolina, where he’s at over the weekend, and he still has an impressive sort of sense about him and presence about him. And as I talked to voters, they kept saying, he looks like a leader. You didn’t hear that necessarily as much at Michele Bachmann events or at Ron Paul events.
MR. DICKERSON: Alexis, the man whose job Rick Perry would like to have had a very disciplined bus tour, the president of the United States. What was he trying to do while all of these people are trying to take his job? What was his message? What was he trying to get out there?
MS. SIMENDINGER: Well, you know, the White House made an effort to tell all of this. This was official tour of three states – Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. This was not campaigning. They were arguing very – this firstly. President was trying to make an effort in that period of time when Congress was away from Washington to start working on some of the – they really are campaign themes – that he’s going to start showcasing after Labor Day when Congress is back.
And in lots of ways, you could see him practicing the efforts and the lines that he’s going to be using all the way from the fall into the end of the year. His effort was to try to campaign, to argue that he’s an outsider, even though he has this job at the White House that he is the anti-Congress, or anti-Republican Congress, and that he wanted to make this case that we can – America is great. Politics are bad. That we need to put country ahead of party. All of that sounds very campaign oriented. And then it was the big tease for a jobs plan that’s to come in the fall.
So he was saying that it was great restorative for him. He loved seeing the audiences. Jeff was out there with him on a day. He genuinely seemed to relish the opportunity to meet with people and talk to them and take these town hall – there was the walk on display one day, and then it was the huggy touchy feely president the next day. And so in lots of ways he thought he was showcasing important things that he’ll keep coming back to.
MR. DICKERSON: David, one of the things hanging over this conversation on both the Republican and the Democratic side is the economy and the fears the people have and the worry inside the White House that things are getting worse. Give us a sense here of what’s happening in the economy. Is it getting worse? What’s the real story and how worried should they be?
MR. WESSEL: Well, I think they should be worried and I think everybody should be worried. Basically the plan was that by now the stimulus, the federal stimulus would be fading and the private sector would be picking up the slack. And there were a lot of economists in the private sector, at the Federal Reserve, and the White House, who thought that by the second half of the year we’d have this palpable sense of gaining momentum. Well that hope has evaporated.
In the last couple of weeks, the economic indicators have been very disappointing. There were new numbers this week that were disappointing. Home sales were down. Looks like people are backing out of contracts they had signed to buy new homes. More people filed for unemployment compensation and so on. And so people are beginning to say, wow, the first half was lousy and we could blame that on Japan, the earthquake and tsunami there, and then oil prices going up because of what happened in the Middle East. That was supposed to be wearing off now and it’s not.
MR. DICKERSON: And we have – so we have two pictures here. We have the picture Alexis was painting of a president energized going out on the stump and then you’re painting the dark clouds over him. Let’s look at a clip here that we have with the president talking. And we’ll talk about it in a second with Jeff.
PRES. OBAMA: I’ve got a whole bunch of responsibilities, which means I have to make choices sometimes that are unattractive and I know will be bad for me politically and I know will big supporters of mine disappointed, but what I want everybody to think about is the trajectory in which we’ve gone.
MR. DICKERSON: So, Jeff, you were there at this event. He’s got to both be energetic and have conversations with his supporters, but he knows about these dark clouds that David’s talking about. How did he navigate that?
MR. ZELENY: He was really trying to sort of walk a line here. The speech that we just heard – was showed to us – was from Alpha, Illinois, which I thought was an interesting place that he was even there in the first place. It’s a town of about 800 people, you know, rural Illinois. Of course, it wasn’t the quad city Iowa media market. So I think that was another reason for it because Iowa is very important to him as a general election battleground.
But one thing that I was sort of struck by, he was, even from these friendly crowds of Iowa, of Illinois, and Minnesota, the questions he was getting were all gloom and doom. A young college student stood up and said, I don’t think I’ll get a job. A real estate agent said I haven’t been able to sell a house for a long time or houses for a long time. So I thought he was trying to reassure them. But one thing that I – after spending several weeks at the Republican events – the hope and optimism and confidence is on the Republican side this time. And the worry is on the Democratic side. You talk to these Democratic voters who like Obama overall, are worried for his future and his reelection. So I thought he was trying to sort of navigate it. But he was also trying to show that he’s going to be a rational fighter. He’s going to, as Alexis said – and he’s the anti-Congress, the anti-Republican Congress, but he wasn’t as fiercely partisan as he will be. He was trying to be more like this adult in the room that we’ve all said so many times that, look, I’m probably your best option here. And I think that – that’s what he was trying to leave it with people in their mind.
MS. TUMULTY: And that is probably his real opponent. I mean, we see all this jockeying among the Republicans. I think the president’s real opponent is the economy and what’s going on in people’s lives. And a couple of weeks ago, somebody called my attention to the consumer confidence indexes, which economists have been tracking since the early 1950s. Well, if you look at where they stand now, there have only been two presidential election years where they have been as low as they are today. Those two presidential election years were 1980 and 1992, which also happened to be the only two election years since then that Americans have thrown out an elected incumbent.
MR. DICKERSON: So to try and fix this, Alexis, he’s going to give a speech after Labor Day? What do we know about the speech – we’ve had a few speeches from this president. What do we know is going to be in this one?
MS. SIMENDINGER: Yes, another speech. Well, the president, as you know, makes it clear in every way he can that he has been working, working, working on the jobs problem and the economic problem. So this is another in a long series, and a long series it is, of efforts. Since the day he arrived in the Oval Office, you could argue with the Troubled Asset Relief Program that he inherited, and then on forward.
So he has a new idea because many folks in his own party have been arguing: you need to show some leadership. We need something bolder. This is – is likely to get worse on the second part of the year. It could get worse next year, in election year. You’ve got to do something bigger. And so he is arguing with his aides and advisors over the best way to do this. And there’re many ingredients. He could go for tax credits to try to induce hiring. He could go – he’s definitely induced and was talking out on the bus trip about infrastructure, putting construction workers to work.
There’re several ways to do that. You can do that through an infrastructure bank or Job Corps kind of a program where you’re directly infusing money into hiring. And then he’s talking about the range of things that he’s already been arguing for, legislating that is still stymieing in Congress.
MR. DICKERSON: The president – his approval numbers on the economy have been going down in part because these measures don’t work when they go forward. Will they work, David?
MR. WESSEL: Well, I don’t know what the measures are. I think if he comes out and gives another speech and says we have to pass these free trade agreements. We have to have patent reform. We need to extent unemployment compensation and we ought to have some infrastructure spending. Not only we, but the people are going to yawn. We have as many unemployed people in the United States today as there are people in Greece. It’s become – you don’t sense it in the president’s rhetoric that it’s any kind of emergency. The problem is there is very little he could do now that would make a difference between now and the election. And even if he did have some bold ideas, there’s no sign that the Republicans go for them.
So I can’t quite figure out what they’re going to do. I think they’ll do some targeted things for the long-term unemployed. They’ll try and argue that we have to have the Highway Construction Bill renewed and the gas tax and all that. But my gut is they must be cooking up something more interesting than that.
MS. SIMENDINGER: So one of the things that I’ve been hearing is that the White House is not that optimistic that Congress is going to go for this. They’re not overly optimistic, although hope is his business, the president. So their idea is this could be a shield, that this is an effort to say he’s going on the offense, he’s getting tougher, and you Republicans, where is your viable economic plan? What kind of plan do you have? So that the president is not standing there empty-handed, that he can argue for something.
MR. DICKERSON: Right, although that doesn’t put bread on the table. And that’s – when you’re at 26 percent approval on economy, you have to hope either that something passes or that you get a good opponent. And let’s take a look at Rick Perry and his remarks about the Fed because there were some in Democratic circles who were very happy to see this because it was a big gaffe they thought.
GOV. PERRY: If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what you all would do to him in Iowa, but we’d – we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. I mean printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous – or treasonous in my opinion.
MR. DICKERSON: Karen, this guy in that case was Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. At that event, I was talking to one of the voters there by the pool and he said, you know, he sounds a lot like Bush. Now, you’re from Texas, so are they similar – how are they similar? How are they different? Walk us through that.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, I mean, yes, they have the same accent, the same cowboy boots, the same bearing, but when you think back at the way George Bush ran in 1999 and 2000, it was very much of a softening of the edges of partisanship. He ran as, you know, it’s now a cliché, a compassionate conservative. But he talked a lot about education. He took on Tom DeLay on the – over – he accused him of balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. This – so it was a conservatism that I think was born very much of hope and affirmation.
Rick Perry is a – he’s sharpening the partisan edges. And he is – this is a conservatism that is born very much of anger. So the accent may sound the same, but the words are very, very different.
MR. WESSEL: So do you think that – who would Obama choose to run against if he could pick his opponent, would he prefer Perry to, say, Romney?
MS. TUMULTY: Probably yes. And you know, would probably prefer Sarah Palin over either of them. But yes, I think it’s going to be – again, if you assume that the big issue is going to be the economy, Rick Perry has a good story to tell from Texas about job creation, but it is really – Mitt Romney’s whole persona is Mr. Fix It.
MR. DICKERSON: Well, then, Jeff, in the Republican Party, then, it’s between kind of the establishment and the tea party. The theory was that Perry would work for both camps. He appeals to the tea party, but he has the executive experience that he’s – (inaudible) – like he’s pro-business. But is he too – is there a feeling among Republicans that he might be too hot for a general election?
MR. ZELENY: That’s a good distinction. He’s not too hot probably for it right now. I mean, a few of those comments perhaps are, but overall I think he’s not too hot. I mean, he is – he fills the stage obviously and he has a passion and he has some of the anger. But for the general election, one thing he’s never done in Texas, he’s won all of these elections; he isn’t a cross-over candidate. Even though he was a Democrat until like 1991 or 1992 and – so he has sort of both things, but I think that what he’s saying now – you’re absolutely right, Karen. He is sharpening the edges. And there’s no independent voter or very few independent voters who are going to sort of gravitate toward that message, which is why Mitt Romney is sitting back and watching this all unfold before him.
He is just fine with this for now, but they don’t know exactly how far that Governor Perry’s going to get, which is why the Romney campaign is sort of keeping an eye on Iowa, and as well as playing in New Hampshire and things. But Michele Bachmann is probably the biggest loser of the week in terms of only a week ago; she won this all-important Iowa straw poll. Everything moved on very quickly. And she now is not – everyone is sort of going after her on the Pawlenty argument, which he isn’t around to make anymore, that experience matters, governing matters.
MS. TUMULTY: And we should also probably bring up that Governor Perry also this week cast doubt on the science of global warming and also suggested that evolution is just a theory that’s out there. So again, these are the kinds of comments that could come back to haunt him with independent voters.
MR. DICKERSON: I’m going to ask David just quickly, though, about the substance of the Ben Bernanke comment. I mean, first of all, we’re talking about Fed chairman in a political race. That seems slightly new. The president of the Dallas Fed also responded about the economy in Texas in a way that was favorable enough for the Perry campaign to issue it as a press release. Talk a little bit about that, but also is printing money, is that generally accepted as an economic problem right now?
MR. WESSEL: Well, there’s an argument about whether the Fed is pursuing the right policies. I think where Governor Perry got in trouble was using the word “treason.” I mean, when Ron Paul says that Governor Perry makes me look like a moderate, you know that he’s going pretty far. And I think there’s a lot of money interests in the Republican Party that were upset about that word.
But the Fed has been drawn into politics now ever since the bailouts. Ben Bernanke had trouble getting confirmed for a second term. George Bush put him in the first time. President Obama nominated him the second time. There were some days where it looked like the Senate wasn’t going to confirm him. There is an argument about whether the Fed has done the right thing by printing money. Quantitative easing it’s called – buying all these bonds. Some people think it is not helping the economy and is going to inevitably produce inflation down the road. And those people are criticizing him. Other people think it’s the only sound policy for a Federal Reserve chairman to pursue at a time when the rest of the government seems to be paralyzed. So there’s a legitimate debate there and I think that Governor Perry was coming down on one side, but he chose some words unfortunately.
MR. DICKERSON: Alexis, we were talking about in the Republican race those things that play well inside the party and those that play outside. But the president had his own issue with the base of his party this week. Maxine Waters, congresswoman from California, was at a jobs event in Atlanta, Georgia, long lines of people seeking jobs. And she said – you know, the president’s off talking in Iowa, you know, that’s great, but he should be talking about the problems people are having in the cities. Is this a vulnerability for the president?
MS. SIMENDINGER: It’s a vulnerability in the sense that every part of our economy and every sort of demographic is struggling and suffering in some way. And African-Americans are suffering exponentially at 17 percent unemployment, much higher than the national average. So in that sense, there should be a lot of attention being paid to the parts of the – of our workforce that are struggling the most. The interesting thing I thought about that discussion was to look more carefully at where the president’s support is.
And although support for President Obama among African-Americans has come down slightly, it has come down from such a stratospheric high. It’s at like 81 percent in the most recent Gallup. So we’re talking about a floating down, but not that crash down that we’re seeing among other parts of the electorate. And so most people in the – at least most Democrats who are very supportive of the president came out to speak after this, have been very quick to say this is not anger and a willingness to abandon President Obama. It’s just the sense of frustration that the whole country is feeling.
MR. DICKERSON: Karen, on that sense of frustration, on the Republican side it seems to me the argument at the end is going to come down between Romney and Perry as we’ve been talking about and it was the better experience in creating jobs. Romney made his case that he’s got it in the real world. Is that basically it? I’ve just – I’ve been in the real world and that wins the day?
MS. TUMULTY: Yes, but when you look at – his record is problematic, though, because what he was doing in the real world was essentially investments, investing in companies, leveraging companies. And so in some of these deals, the companies came out stronger. In some, the companies went bankrupt and ended up laying off a lot of workers. So that – that record of Governor Romney’s as Bain Capital is – could also come back to haunt him.
MR. DICKERSON: And Jeff, at the state fair, Governor Perry was saying, I thought Texas was in the real world. And then he responded as well about his own record as governor.
MR. ZELENY: Yes. And he foreshadowed what he’s going – comments like Governor Romney can talk about his four years as governor of Massachusetts. I’ve been governor for 10 years of Texas. So it’s kind of that bravado, but he makes the point that he has created all these jobs – and we can argue what kind of jobs they were and of course that will be argued. But he has a credible message on that front. His slogan on the side of his bus says it all and it says Getting America to Work Again. And his advisors want him to say that over and over and over and not say much else.
MR. DICKERSON: That’s why at the end, his last speech in Iowa, he read it almost word for word from the paper. When he first came to Iowa, he walked away from the paper, much to the chagrin of his aides.
MR. WESSEL: – if he’s going to say he created all these jobs.
MR. DICKERSON: And unfortunately we’re going to have to leave it there for the debates to come. Thanks all of you. Thanks all of you for joining us. Gwen will be back next week. In the meantime, be sure to go to our website at pbs.org for the “Washington Week” Webcast Extra, where we’ll kick around some of the other stories of the week and also look to our Vault feature, taking you back to 1999, and the Iowa Republican straw poll that year.
I’m John Dickerson. Have a good weekend. Good night.