MS. IFILL: Romney abroad, Obama at home, voter ID, and who makes the money the campaigns are raising, tonight on “Washington Week."
This was supposed to be foreign policy week.
FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R) [Presumptive GOP Presidential Nominee]: In dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it was not deserved, and apology where it is not due.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As many of you know, I have made it a top priority for my administration to deepen cooperation with Israel across the whole spectrum of security issues.
MS. IFILL: But Mitt Romney’s big trip abroad got off to an inauspicious start in pre-Olympics London.
BORIS JOHNSON [Mayor of London]: There’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we’re ready. Are we ready? Yes, we are.
MS. IFILL: Do Romney’s missteps matter? On the domestic front, the candidates sparred over the president’s commitment to business.
MR. ROMNEY: President Obama attacks success and, therefore, under president we have less success. And I will change that.
PRES. OBAMA: Those ads, taking my words about small business out of context, they’re flat-out wrong.
MS. IFILL: Meanwhile, behind the scenes, a big fight brews over who gets to vote this fall.
WILOLA LEE [American Citizen]: If I don’t get the birth certificate to get the proper photo ID, I won’t be able to vote.
REPRESENTATIVE DARYL METCALFE (R-PA): I think it should be insulting for any American to say that you might be disenfranchised because you don’t have the ability to get a photo ID.
MS. IFILL: Plus, we learn more about the campaign money fueling these debates.
Covering the week: Dan Balz of the Washington Post; Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal; Robert Barnes of the Washington Post; and Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News.
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: Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. Well, it all seemed simple enough – a presidential candidate makes a quick trip abroad, gets his picture taken with foreign leaders and burnishes a few credentials, but no.
It took only a passing criticism of London’s readiness for the Olympic Games to spark this line in an opinion column in the Telegraph newspaper: “Mitt Romney is perhaps,” it said, “the only politician who could start a trip that was supposed to be a charm offensive by being utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive.” Those Brits are harsh. Now, if you’re Mitt Romney, you’re happy to get on to the next stop. So what happened there, Dan?
MR. BALZ: A very rough start on this trip.
MS. IFILL: Yes.
MR. BALZ: As he was flying over there, there was a story in one of the British papers quoting an unnamed advisor suggesting that President Obama didn’t understand the Anglo-Saxon heritage in the relationship between U.S. and Britain.
MS. IFILL: Which they denied there was any unnamed advisor.
MR. BALZ: Which they denied that there was any advisor who did it, but nonetheless it started to set a tone. Then he did an interview with Brian Williams in which he made these comments about the Olympics. And by the next day, he was called out by the Prime Minister David Cameron, who basically said, you know, it’s sometimes difficult to set up the games in a big city. It’s a lot easier when you do it in the middle of nowhere, which seemed to be a reference to Salt Lake City in 2002.
MS. IFILL: And insulting the governor of Utah at the same time.
MR. BALZ: Right. And then, at the end of the day, as the clip showed, the mayor of London – now both Cameron and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson are conservative party members – used them as a punch line. And the British press was just very, very tough on them, which is the way the British press is. So this was supposed to be the easy part of the trip. He’s going to three countries. London was supposed to be the easy part and instead it turned out very, very badly.
MS. IFILL: Israel and Poland, the other two countries. So what did he think he was doing here? Did he think he was just gripping and grinning and showing up as a former Olympic chief and moving on?
MR. BALZ: I think there were a couple of things. One is they set fairly low expectations about this. They did a briefing before he left and they said, the governor is going on this trip to listen and learn, not to make pronouncements, not to attack the president.
And the second thing they clearly wanted was the photo ops, which would show him with the foreign leaders, which would suggest he crosses that threshold of being commander-in-chief.
And the third part of that is, by being at the Olympics, a way to draw attention to the 2002 Olympics that he led and turned around and it’s a success story in his resume. But in a variety of ways, it has not played out the way they had hoped or expected.
MS. CUMMINGS: Well, if anything, it’s the worst possible thing that could have happened. He doesn’t look like a statesman. The reference now to the Olympics in Salt Lake is a derogatory one. So what – how are they going to manage the message going forward? In Israel, he’s to give a speech and yet he doesn’t want to criticize the president or talk too much policy.
MR. BALZ: Jeanne, it’s a really interesting question. If you go on a trip like this, you have to go with a purpose that’s beyond simply meeting foreign leaders. You have to have something you’re prepared to say.
He set constraints on himself by saying he would not criticize the president. Well, that’s understandable. You don’t do that when you’re abroad.
But also by saying, I’m not here to talk about my foreign policy views – so the question is what did he think he was going to talk about? And into that vacuum has come all this other stuff.
He can go to Israel, where he has sharply criticized the president on U.S.-Israeli policy, but how he’s going to do that, we don’t know at this point.
MS. MECKLER: You know, the message from the Obama campaign about Mitt Romney and foreign policy is that he’s long on criticism and short on details of what he would do. He doesn’t lay out how his policy, say on Iran, would be different than what the Obama administration has done, or even on Israel what exactly he would change. So is there any truth to that? And how do you think – does the Romney campaign have to respond to that, maybe not this week, but at some point?
MR. BALZ: They do have to respond to that. He gave a speech in Reno at the VFW before he left on Tuesday.
MS. IFILL: Tough speech.
MR. BALZ: A very tough speech, probably the toughest speech that he’s given about the president. And certainly, in many ways, the most complete he’s done on foreign policy. And he ticked off a series of criticisms, different places around the globe.
But you’re right: He has not filled out the details of those. He has not been explicit at this point about how his policy would actually differ from the president’s with regard to Israel. Now, there’s no question that under the president, the relationship has been strained with Israel, but beyond saying I would be a better friend, he hasn’t talked about it.
He’s not said a lot about Iran. He did in his speech say he would say zero enrichment for the Iranians, which he says goes beyond what the president has been willing to accept. But there is a lot that still has to be filled in. And it doesn’t look like on this trip he’s prepared to do it.
MR. BARNES: Dan, does he feel like he needs to lay that out before the election or does he want to keep the message just on the economy and hope that people aren’t as interested in this kind of question?
MR. BALZ: They fundamentally believe that this race will turn on the economy, Bob. And, therefore, I think they don’t think they have to do a lot on this. But this was a week in which they were going to kind of check the box on foreign policy and they’ve had troubled doing that, at least in the initial stage. Now, he does have Israel. He does have Poland. He has opportunities to recover, but the initial impressions were not good.
MS. IFILL: And no electoral votes in England. So theoretically, it could be called –
MR. BALZ: But money to be raised there and in Israel.
MS. IFILL: Good point. Okay. Well, let’s talk about dustups, because the pre-Olympic dustup was Romney’s unexpectedly off-message moment. For President Obama, it was fallout from comments he made weeks ago about small business.
PRES. OBAMA: If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
MS. IFILL: You didn’t build that. Romney forces seized on the president’s comments as evidence, they said, that he is anti-business.
MR. ROMNEY: There are people who are trying to attack success and are trying to attack our success. That’s not going to be successful. When you attack success, you have less of it, and that’s what we’ve seen in our economy over the last few years.
MS. IFILL: So how did this turn into a thing, Laura?
MS. MECKLER: Well, it’s so funny because when President Obama first made those remarks two weeks ago, nobody noticed. None of the reporters there reported it. Nobody really picked up on it. But over the weekend and then into Monday, some of the conservative websites and commentators noticed this and started bringing it to their attention. And then, a day later, the Mitt Romney campaign seized on it and it was up with a web ad. A couple of days later, signs were greeting President Obama saying, you know, I built my business. And it had become in fact a thing.
MS. IFILL: You know, we use the word “gaffe” freely, but was it really a gaffe? The reason we played everything the president had to say there is because you don’t see that in the advertising. And he was talking about you didn’t build that because you had government help. I wonder whether that’s just the way these campaigns are rolling out now – you take what serves your purpose.
MS. MECKLER: Yes and no. I mean, it’s a gaffe to say – he didn’t word it well. He didn’t word it well at all, because he said, you didn’t build that, and that’s obviously damaging.
But there is an underlying difference in the way these campaigns view the role of government. And I think that’s the deeper thing that this whole sort of contretemps exposes, which is that President Obama, the central point he’s making is that in order for business to succeed, you need the support the support of government. You need infrastructure. You need good teachers, and to make all those things happen, you need more money. Where does the money come? Well, he wants to increase taxes on the wealthy. I mean, it all connects together in terms of his policy focus.
And if you’re looking at it from a Republican point of view, you’re saying, you know, no. Government is the problem. Government gets in the way. We need less regulations. We don’t need to focus on them. We need to focus on the private sector doing well. So I think that there really is an underlying real difference here, but, you know –
MS. IFILL: It takes a village – it just depends who you think is in the village.
MS. CUMMINGS: Well, in addition to whether – well, there’s a question of fairness here, because it’s hardly in context by the time it shows up in the Romney materials. And, I mean, does Obama – it doesn’t seem like Obama feeds this kind of information or makes these kind of rhetorical mistakes that they can capture like this very often. Is it more common than we think?
MS. MECKLER: I think it is a little bit more common. He’s not using the teleprompter so much anymore on the campaign. They’re sort of trying to win him off of that, and it’s starting to show I think sometimes. You saw him at that press conference, for instance, several weeks ago, where he said the private sector is doing fine. That was another thing that kind of became a thing for a while.
MS. IFILL: Four years ago he talked about clinging to guns and religion.
MS. MECKLER: Yes. You know, I think he does – when he’s not giving a prepared speech, he sometimes does sort of put it wrong. And it’s been interesting in the day since I was on the campaign trail with him last week. He defended himself. Finally, the Obama campaign realized they needed to respond to this. It was becoming damaging. And now he goes out of his way to talk about the wonderful hard work of small business people. And of course they get all the credit for everything that they do, but, you know, government has a role and government is supporting them.
MR. BALZ: Laura, to what extent – there’s clearly a difference of vision about how the economy operates, but to what extent does this play into a perception of the president that he actually is kind of disdainful of small business people working – people who build businesses? Romney talks about that as somebody who’s been in the community and celebrates them. And when the president says something like this, does it speak to a larger problem that he may have?
MS. MECKLER: I think it does. And I think that’s why this is powerful. I think that’s why something like this is more powerful than the private sector is doing fine, because no one really thinks that he thinks everything is fine. But this does play into a perception that’s out there that he really doesn’t value entrepreneurs or small business in the same way that Republicans do.
So whether it’s true or not is one question, but I think that that perception is very widespread, certainly among conservatives and Republicans in general. And I think that that’s why this has gained some traction, and that’s why – Barack Obama would not have put an ad out responding to this, like you just showed, if he didn’t think that this was doing damage.
MS. IFILL: Go ahead. I was just going to ask about the context question. Aren’t both sides guilty of lack of context in these issues and isn’t it all for gain?
MS. MECKLER: Oh, yes. It’s amazing. The Obama campaign went after Mitt Romney when he said, I like to fire people. But what he was really saying was, you know, I liked – if I had an insurance company that’s not doing a good job, I’d like to be able to get rid of them. But, of course, they didn’t present the full context. So, you know, that in some ways is par for the course in modern campaigns.
MS. IFILL: Well, let’s go on to the next piece of what’s happening, because in one part of the week, there was what was happening in front of the cameras. In another part of the week it what was happening behind. Sometimes what’s happening behind the scenes can tell you more about what’s really occurring in the campaign than any number of public gaffes.
Consider the case of Pennsylvania where a tough new law requires voters to show government-issued ID at the polls. The U.S. attorney general has called new rules like this poll taxes – an explosive term – but proponents say it’s a perfectly reasonable requirement. And whoever wins this fight might just win the election. But how did Pennsylvania, Bob, become ground zero in this fight?
MR. BARNES: Well, Gwen, I think because it’s the biggest swing state that has one of these laws, and so its importance in the election is quite strong.
You know, a lot of states have these – most states have some sort of requirement of ID. Ten states, Pennsylvania being one of them, have this tougher law that you were talking about in which you have to show a specific kind of voter ID.
Now, most of us, I think, think we should ID for everything all the time now. But a surprising number of people don’t have it, mostly the poor, the elderly have trouble with this sometimes.
And so when Pennsylvania did its law, for instance, the first estimate was that about 90,000 people in Pennsylvania voters would lack this kind of voter photo identification. But, instead, when they ran the voter rolls plus the Department of Transportation rolls, they found that about 758,000 people didn’t match up. And it’s sort of a big, surprising number.
MS. CUMMINGS: And does it break along partisan lines? If you’re talking poor and old, you might be talking Democrat and Republican.
MR. BARNES: You might a little, but certainly the parties think that these more restrictive laws help Republicans. Republican legislatures have passed them wherever they’ve happened for the most part. Democrats have been opposed to them, because the groups that are hurt are usually those in urban areas or minorities sometimes.
MR. BALZ: Bob, one of the rationales for these laws, according to the proponents, is to eliminate voter fraud. What’s the evidence on that?
MR. BARNES: Well, there’s really very little evidence of the kind of voter fraud that these laws would take care of – impersonation basically. And there are, of course, criminal penalties for doing that. But Pennsylvania says that you don’t really need to show that. In fact, Pennsylvania stipulated that it didn’t have voter ID fraud and it didn’t think that there would be much in the coming election without this law.
MS. IFILL: So that’s a fight they figured they were going to lose so they just moved that on.
MR. BARNES: It was a fight they thought they would lose and they said they don’t need it, that government has a right to ensure that elections are fair and that people who aren’t supposed to vote don’t vote. And then, in fact, it dilutes the votes of people who are supposed to vote.
MS. MECKLER: And are these laws potentially going to change before Election Day, or is there enough time for these to be overturned by courts? Are they being challenged across the country? It seems like these are sort of taking hold all over the place.
MR. BARNES: Yes. Well, states have the responsibility for registering voters. And so it’s a sort of state-by-state issue. The Obama Justice Department has objected to voter ID laws in Texas and in South Carolina under the Voting Rights Act in which the states have to prove – those states have to prove that it wouldn’t disproportionately impact minorities. But in other places, it’s sort of a state-by-state fight. In some places there’re in –
MS. IFILL: What about Florida? I was just thinking about states that are taking this on. There’s a big voter purge going on in Florida. Is that similar to this?
MR. BARNES: It’s similar, but Florida has a lot of things that are happening at once.
MS. IFILL: As always.
MR. BARNES: Exactly. Voter ID is not a fight for Florida, but there are plenty of other fights, like you mentioned, voter purge and also a sort of cutback in early voting, which is something that people there are concerned about.
MS. CUMMINGS: Bob, I thought that the Supreme Court have ruled on some of these issues. Is this still unsettled law or –
MR. BARNES: The Supreme Court in 2008 upheld an Indiana voter ID law that was very similar to this one. But they upheld it under the federal constitution standard. And these laws now are being challenged under state constitutions in which, in some cases, they have a much more robust defense of voting. For instance, in Pennsylvania, it says that no power may interfere with the right of suffrage.
MS. IFILL: Okay. Well, let’s stay behind the scenes for a minute, because there’s no other better way of measuring what’s at stake in this election than following the money, right? We all know that, right? Not only where it comes from though but where’s being spent.
Bloomberg News has been looking into that. Among the things they found in three months and in only seven states – get this – $100 million has been spent, the bulk of it on 136,000 Obama campaign ads and 60,000 Romney campaign ads. That’s a lot of money in a few places in relatively little time. So who profits from all of that money hitting the table, Jeanne?
MS. CUMMINGS: Well, definitely the ad men.
MS. IFILL: Yes. Yes. Let’s go to the ad men.
MS. CUMMINGS: You’re first on our list. I mean, television ad makers and placers, the people who buy the time, those have always been two of the most lucrative jobs in politics.
And what’s happened, though, this year is that the ability of these people to make money is growing exponentially. Right now there are five firms that have earned $66 million so far, and we haven’t even begun to spend the big money. In all of 2008, these firms made $55 million. So they’re already making more money and we aren’t spending the big bucks yet.
And it doesn’t just apply to the ad men. This is a product of both candidates spending unlimited sums. Last cycle, only Obama did and only in the primary. So now we have both candidates out of the gate, and the arrival, of course, of the Super PACs.
When we looked at outside spending and how it measured up as of July of 2008, the outside spending was at $73 million. It’s almost $200 million –
MS. IFILL: Already.
MS. CUMMINGS: Already three times bigger. So even if people are getting small percentages off of placing ads, say 7 percent or 5 percent, the volume alone is going to make millionaires.
MR. BALZ: What other types of people are making money on this? The ad men makers are the people we always know about.
MS. IFILL: It doesn’t mean that there’s aren’t some ad women out there. Let’s just say ad makers.
MR. BALZ: Ad makers.
MS. CUMMINGS: Yes. In addition to the television producers and placers, we looked at lawyers. And the funny thing we found – and this was really even a surprise to us – there are basically five firms in Washington that really specialize in this. And we went back to like 1996 and we could not find a race where one of these lawyers was not involved. So you have candidates changing all the time, but the lawyers are always the same. And they’re making bundles.
And you have the television stations that have all this money coming in to them, and this new breed that we have are the high-tech kids. And they’re really interesting because they – we’ve written about them the last couple of cycles there, they’re the little super stars inside the campaigns. After ’08, they didn’t go back to the campaign. These kids, 28, 29, 30 came out and started a company. And then they got hired by the campaign. So the biggest paid vendor for the Obama reelection campaign is a company owned by his former 20-something tech engineers.
MS. MECKLER: And at some point, there’s so much money that’s expected to be spent in this election. Is it diminishing returns? Are we going to get so saturated with ads if you live in a swing state where it just – it’s too much to take in?
MS. CUMMINGS: I think we’ll clearly test that theory. And going back to Gwen’s introduction and the stats that she used there, the $100 worth of ads in seven states. They’ve run over 150,000, almost 200,000 ads in these states. And we then went to the polls. Almost every state is in a statistical tie. They’re not moving.
MS. IFILL: (So no one ?) knows whether they’re moving the needle or not.
MR. BARNES: I’m awfully tired of seeing that one with Romney singing. Is there a point at which these don’t move because there’s so much money on each side?
MS. CUMMINGS: Yes. The thinking is this year that even though the president says he may be outspent – and that’s entirely possible this cycle – that he’ll have enough money to get his message out. And so it’s not like one side can get a clear advantage at the presidential level and will have pretty much a fair argument with everybody can assess the two sides.
Where it really could make a huge difference is in the House and the Senate. And we saw signs of this in the last cycle, where we had House Democratic incumbents with millions of dollars in the bank running against Republican challengers with a few hundred thousand. They weren’t running against that person. They were running against Karl Rove and American Crossroads and the Super PACs and U.S. Chamber. That’s where the real fight was.
MS. IFILL: And we can imagine – sorry you’re going to hear a lot more of Romney’s singing. It’s all over. Lucky us. We will have more on the campaign spending story when the conversation continues online in our Washington Week Webcast Extra. You can find that at pbs.org/washingtonweek
And before we go tonight, I want to send a word out to the family of a reporter’s reporter, a columnists’ columnist, Bill Raspberry of the Washington Post. We buried him this week, but not without remembering all he gave to journalism and to his family of friends and colleagues. Plus, he always made us smile. Thanks for that, Bill.
Keep up with daily developments with me on the PBS “NewsHour” and then we’ll see you again right here next week on “Washington Week.” Good night.