transcript

Nov
09
2012

GWEN IFILL:  The president’s convincing reelection, the looming fiscal cliff, and tonight, a CIA bombshell.  Victory and fallout, tonight, on “Washington Week.”

The lines were long.  The victory party was robust. 

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  (From tape.)  A long campaign is now over.  And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you.  I have learned from you.  And you’ve made me a better president.

MS. IFILL:  And the thank yous were fervent –

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  (From tape.)  I’m really proud of all of you.  (Applause.)  What you guys accomplished, it will go on into the annals of history, and people will read about, and will marvel about it.

MS. IFILL:  – as President Obama claimed his second term.  The election turned out to be a lesson in truth and consequences.  What did the Obama campaign do right?  And what did the Romney campaign do wrong? 

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R):  (From tape.)  And I ran for office because I’m concerned about America.  This election is over, but our principles endure.

MS. IFILL:  The voters have their say, leaving Washington to search for a compromise even as a fiscal crisis looms.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH) [Speaker of the House]:  (From tape.)  This is an opportunity for the president to lead.  This is his moment.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  (From tape.)  I’m open to compromise.  I’m open to new ideas.  I’m committed to solving our fiscal challenge.

MS. IFILL:  Here to cover another historic week: Dan Balz of the Washington Post; John Dickerson of Slate Magazine and CBS News; Beth Reinhard of National Journal; and Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times.

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.

(Station announcements.)

ANNOUNCER:  Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.

MS. IFILL:  Good evening.  Two men faced off for what each said would be his final campaign, competing for the hearts and the minds of an economically stressed electorate.  President Obama won the much-discussed battleground states.  He won the electoral vote.  He won the popular vote.  And he won in an America that, whatever you believe about red states or blue states, revealed itself to be more divided than ever. 

Today, the president walked into the White House East Room to say basically elections have consequences.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  (From tape.)  What the American people are looking for is cooperation.  They’re looking for consensus.  They’re looking for common sense.  Most of all, they want action.  I intend to deliver it for them in my second term.  And I expect to find willing partners in both parties to make that happen.  So let’s get to work.

MS. IFILL:  To get to that podium today in the East Room, the Obama campaign pieced together an electoral puzzle that depended as much on metrics as anything.  Let’s start by talking about the elements of that puzzle, Dan.  How did they put it together?

DAN BALZ:  Well, they had – as they always said, they had multiple paths to get to 270.  As it turned out, they used almost all of them.  They were able to, through a very focused data-driven ground operation, identified their voters and successfully reassembled the coalition that they had in 2008: African-Americans, Latinos, young voters, women, the key elements. 

There were questions all along the way that a lot of people had would young voters turn out in the numbers they did before?  In fact, they were by one point a higher percentage of the electorate than they were in 2008.  Would African-Americans vote with the same enthusiasm that they had in 2008?  They did, and in some states more.  In Ohio, they went from 11 percent of the electorate to 15 percent of the electorate. 

So this was a campaign that set its sights early on on rebuilding and improving what everyone thought was a very good ground operation in 2008, and they exceeded it.

MS. IFILL:  But, Jeff, in a very specific way, not in a broad-based way at all, and not really in a way that was set out to persuade anyone who had not voted for them before.

JEFF ZELENY:  It was not much of a persuasion campaign at all.  It was a campaign to use all the numbers available.  And they started with the baseline of the 2008 results.  And then they had the census from 2010.  They saw sort of what had changed and who had moved around.  And then, it’s the sole reason that Jim Messina moved to Chicago in March of 2011 and started building this thing. 

And, in fact, it had been sort of underway all along.  The Organizing for America then became Obama for America.  But they were going door to door to door to just find new voters, register new voters. 

I talked to a Romney adviser the morning after the election in Boston.  And I’m like, what’s one of the more surprising things?  They said they found voters that we didn’t know existed in Hamilton County, Ohio, in Osceola County, Florida.  They just did a much better job finding these people. 

And, in fairness, they had more time.  They didn’t have a primary campaign to fight.  And they had a lot of time to do this.  And they used it effectively.

MS. IFILL:  Were there basic miscalculations, however, on the part of the Romney campaign?  I don’t know how many stories I’ve read since election night about how much they thought they were going to win.

JOHN DICKERSON:  Yes.  I mean, they – somebody described to me they were so convinced they were going to win that somebody described to me that when they did find out they were going to lose, it was like a death in the family, that it was that much of a shock to the campaign that another aide said that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan thought they were going to win.  The Boston Globe reported they had fireworks ready to go. 

So why did they think they were going to win?  Well, they had a fundamentally different view of the electorate.  When the public polls came out, they looked at those polls and they said, these polls have too many Democrats in them.  There’s no way that this president is going to be able to build up that enthusiasm again.  It was historic.  There’s just no way. 

And I asked, well, didn’t somebody at some point say, you know, there are a lot of polls out there saying that it’s pretty close or the president’s ahead.  Maybe they’re right.  And this person said that they said it was inconceivable.  We thought there’s no way he’s going to match his 2008 turnout with minorities and young voters.  And they said, and we really didn’t think he would increase it. 

So what happened overall is the president did worse with white voters, but white voters were essentially the same share of the electorate, but he did far better with African-Americans and Latinos and young voters.  And because the Romney campaign had – sort of was looking – they’d changed their data.  They’d done their internal polling based on a smaller number of Democrats turning out.  So they thought things were going well.  And they’d had a lot of enthusiasm at their rallies.  And so this is what led them to believe that they could take it.

MS. IFILL:  Huge rallies.  And it’s hard to ignore.

MR. DICKERSON:  Huge rallies at the end.  They also kind of scoffed at the Obama ground game.  They used to chuckle and laugh about all these campaign headquarters that the Obama people had and they’d say, oh, they’re just sort of puffing up their statistics with real estate. 

Here’s what was key about having those campaign headquarters in every neighborhood.  So what the Obama team knew is what the social scientists who had been studying elections for 40 years knew, that personal contact is crucial.  So that if you have a little – tiny little storefront in a neighborhood and somebody in that storefront looks like you, you’re more likely to talk to them, connect to them, recognize their values in your values.  And then that leads you to President Obama.  It’s a personal connection.

MS. IFILL:  Let’s talk about that look like you part, because one of the interesting things – there were a lot of conventional wisdom that arose in this campaign that independents would be the key, which even though Mitt Romney won independents, he did not win the election, especially in Ohio. 

But let’s go to Florida for a moment, Beth, because that’s where we saw the Latino vote grow, but not just Cuban-Americans, which everybody talks about when they talk about Florida, not just even Puerto Rican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, who are Americans, who have obviously grown and were supporting Barack Obama, but even Venezuelans.  I mean, they targeted that precisely.

BETH REINHARD:  Right.  I mean, the Obama campaign it’s more science than art.  It really is.  And the gains that they made in the Cuban-American community, which – like you said – that’s been a Republican stronghold for decades.  And Obama did pretty well in 2008.  He got 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote.  That was considered a pretty good number.  Some exit polls showed him with as much as 50 percent of the vote this time.  That’s a historic threshold. 

You mentioned the Puerto Rican community – that community is growing by leaps and bounds.  That’s the fastest growing part of the Hispanic vote in Florida.  And this is a group that has supported Republicans in the past.  They came out for Jeb Bush when he was governor.  They came out for former President George Bush.  They came out in droves for Barack Obama.  So he just crushed it in those communities.

MS. IFILL:  So what was the miscalculation, Dan, I mean, the most fundamental miscalculation, say, in Ohio? 

MR. BALZ:  The underestimation or the failure to deal with the auto bailout.  If there’s one thing that sunk Governor Romney in Ohio, it was the auto bailout.  And the Obama campaign almost from start to finish put an emphasis on that and reminded people that Governor Romney had written an op-ed for the New York Times with a headline which he did not write, but, nonetheless, a headline that said, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” but also said that if the government bails out the auto industry, you can kiss the automobile industry goodbye. 

So they talked up the success of the auto bailout and they talked down Romney’s opposition to it, and also Romney’s Bain Capital experience.  They spent the summer hammering him, particularly in Ohio and some of the other states, to put this wall of opposition. 

And where Governor Romney did worst in Ohio in comparison to George W. Bush, who won Ohio narrowly in 2004, was in the northwest quadrant of the state, which is heavy in the auto industry.

MR. ZELENY:  And all of this was happening as people in Ohio were reading in their newspaper that Chevy Cruze is building more cars here; the Jeep factory has added a third shift.  So they were very familiar with what was happening on the ground and it just didn’t sort of meet the reality.  And it just crashed at the end when the Romney campaign sort of in a Hail Mary, such desperate move they put this ad up saying that because of the Obama administration, the Jeep factory is moving jobs to China.  It didn’t ring true in Toledo.  People knew that wasn’t the right story.

MR. DICKERSON:  Another part of what they did to Romney in Ohio, as it was explained to me by an Obama person, is they basically made Mitt Romney into the embodiment of everything that had gone bad in the economy.  He was an outsourcer.  He was an off-shorer.  He was from an esoteric business world in which money was moved around and people suffered as a result.  And that was the Bain stuff.  And so the people who were hurting saw him as kind of the representation of that. 

And then talking to Romney folks in the state of Ohio, they said that two things were a problem, that he was getting beat up on this and also on the idea that he would raise taxes on the middle class, and there was no response.  And that was in part because the Romney campaign didn’t have money before its convention to respond.  It was also a strategic choice. 

Finally also, they didn’t respond to attacks on Romney on the question of abortion.  And with women voters, the Obama campaign found that that was effective in terms of – and I saw this in lots and lots of interviews.  Women who were ready to leave Obama thought Romney could take care of the economy, but they were worried on the social issues that either he would go too far or be attached to a Republican party that would go too far.  And, in the end, they couldn’t do it and they went back to Obama

MS. REINHARD:  And I think that goes back to this fundamental miscalculation by the Romney campaign which is with women, with Hispanics, they thought the economy is going to bring these people to us.  No matter what Governor Romney said in the primary about immigration, no matter what he said about Planned Parenthood, the economy is going – so I think, as one of the Romney advisors put it as it’s the attack ad at their door every day. 

And what they didn’t appreciate was that people obviously were disappointed in Obama’s leadership on the economy.  They know the economy is not in a good place.  The attack ads against Obama weren’t telling them something that they didn’t already know.  And what they were seeing is they were seeing albeit a very slow growth, but growth.  The numbers were moving in the direction they were supposed to move.

MS. IFILL:  You’re going to believe me or your lying eyes, right?  But, you know, the other interesting thing to me is that I remember the day before the election, we saw Romney say in his final speech, we’ve left nothing on the field.  So the day after, did they look back, the Romney folks in their soul searching and say, oh, maybe we did?

MR. BALZ:  Well, I think they know they left something on the field, and that was, as John suggested, that they did not have the money in the middle of the summer to respond to the attacks from the Obama campaign.  That was both a reality that they had to deal with, but it was also something they might have anticipated more smartly.

MS. IFILL:  But did they ever really in reality, going back to the reality versus what ended up happening, did they ever really catch up?  There was this perception there, right after the first debate, right at the end in the fall that there was a very, very tight race.  Was it true?

MR. ZELENY:  I think after the first debate in Denver, the Romney advisors, in speaking with them the morning afterward, we hope that this performance gives him a chance for voters to have a second look at Governor Romney. 

And it turns out it did, I think, for a while – for at least a week or so, but all the stories of all this upsurge in the momentum and movement I think were probably longer than the actual reality was.  I think things were coming back to you.  But the length of time between the first debate and the second debate was the longest since 1988 apparently.  So it kept things going a little bit longer than I think it ordinarily would have.

MR. DICKERSON:  And they had a lot of things to distract them so that if you have two different kinds of momentum, one is with your own team and then one is with the undecided voters, the undecided voters, they had some momentum coming out of that first debate.  It probably dissipated. 

But with his own team, Romney was getting a response of the kind of he’d never gotten before.  And it was continuing and building.  And that’s what made them think – particularly if they thought the electorate was going to have fewer Democrats in it.  That’s what made them think, oh, we’re on the way. 

And one of the reasons they may not have a fully – full soul-searching moment is they still think some in the campaign that Romney was on the rise until Hurricane Sandy hit.  So that’s much later than lots – than anyone else thinks.

MS. IFILL:  Is there anything in the exit polls to suggest that that is what – that that froze the race?

MR. BALZ:  Not that it froze the race, but the exit polls indicate that like 42 percent of the electorate said that Hurricane Sandy was a factor, either an important or a small factor in their decision.  And Obama carried them handily.  So the Romney folks can point to that. 

But I think it goes back – Beth, you were talking about the economic question.  This economy was not so bad that it guaranteed that the president was going to lose.  And political scientists that I talked to during the fall said, you guys are writing about the unemployment rate being at a historical high level for somebody to try to get reelected or that the growth rates are lukewarm, tepid, anemic, whatever you want to say.  

But in reality, from what their work had shown them, it was enough not to guarantee reelection but to get him over the top.  And if you look at the exit polls again, he did not lose the economic argument.  He didn’t win it decisively, but Governor Romney didn’t win it decisively. 

MS. IFILL:  Let’s talk about how the economic argument is about to play out now, because we promised you there would be truth and there would be consequences as the nation’s leaders executed a swift turn from politics to governing. 

First up for the president and the House speaker, as the government faces mandatory year-end spending cuts and tax hikes, let’s make a deal.

REP. BOEHNER:  (From tape.)  I don’t want to box myself in.  I don’t want to box anybody else in.  I think it’s important for us to come to an agreement with the president, but this is his opportunity to lead. 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  (From tape.)  Right now, if Congress fails to come to an agreement on an overall deficit reduction package by the end of the year, everybody’s taxes will automatically go up on January 1st – everybody’s, including the 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 a year.  That makes no sense.

MS. IFILL:  There you have it, the sounds of gauntlets being thrown down.  Seventy-two hours later, who picks it up, John?

MR. DICKERSON:  Well, it does have a depressing familiarity, doesn’t it?  We went through this whole business –

MS. IFILL:  I think we’ve been here before.

MR. DICKERSON:  – and now all the same players are all in the same chairs and they’re all behaving in the same way. 

There is – a couple of things have changed.  The president is no longer going to be put for reelection so Republicans in theory could work with him without fearing that whatever they do to help him will actually help him get reelected. 

John Boehner has to figure out what the new landscape looks like.  He’s got 230-plus members coming back, the final count – I think there’s still votes out there and seats at stake, but 230 plus members who are all taking a different reading on this election, some of whom were reelected because they didn’t compromise. 

I think what we’re seeing is they set up their public positions and then they’ll have to do the real work behinds the scenes.  The public positions are posturing, things they know they’ll have to move off of.  There has been some warming in terms of whether tax rates go up.  The president talked about revenue, which is important, because if you have a comprehensive tax deal, you can find revenue without increasing rates.  What you do is you basically get the new money by getting rid of some of the deductions and the loopholes. 

So they are finding ways – and you might raise – they talk about 250,000.  You might raise that up for maybe making a million.  There are ways you can find a deal here.

MS. IFILL:  How much of this in the short term especially is – is everybody trying to figure out what they can get away with?  I’ve been at these hopeful moments in Washington before where one side or the other says, yes, let’s talk together, and then they find out, oh, we don’t have to.  And maybe that’s what they – how they read the results of the election.

MS. REINHARD:  Well, right now, I think both sides are trying to present themselves as the most reasonable guy in the room.

MS. IFILL:  That’s exactly what Boehner said – I’m the most reasonable man in Washington.

MS. REINHARD:  Exactly.  And it’s okay.  So I’m quote, quoting him. 

MS. IFILL:  Well, true.

MS. REINHARD:  So they’re coming across as affable, as amiable.  But if you listen closely to their words, I mean, neither one is really giving any ground at all at this point.

MR. ZELENY:  I think the difference is business leaders are about to say like enough is enough.  You’re going to hear them – there’s a group of 80 of the top CEOs and business – (inaudible) – America who are really I think going to be instrumental in pushing the Republican Party along a little bit. 

So I think that is going to have an effect.  And Speaker Boehner is not – I think he’s concerned about his legacy as well here.  He may have a little bit more latitude to work with this president.  I’m not saying that they’re going to arm in arm at the end of this, but I think more so than they were the last go around on this. 

MS. IFILL:  Maybe they measure what could hurt more than help.

MR. ZELENY:  Right.  Exactly.

MS. IFILL:  And the president also has other governing things on his plate.  We heard today that he’s going to lose his CIA director because David Petraeus, the former four-star general, or the four-star general former leader of the war effort, is resigning because he admitted to an extra-marital affair.  There’s talk about Hillary Clinton leaving.  In fact, she herself has said she is going to leave.  Tim Geithner has said he’s going to leave as secretary of treasury. 

So how much change do we have here?  And how much room does the president have to establish what he wants his second term to be? 

MR. BALZ:  Well, if you change the secretary of state and the secretary of treasury, you’ve changed two of the most important cabinet officers in the government.  And so those are not insignificant departures that he’s facing, but they’re not unexpected departures.  The Petraeus departure is totally unexpected and shocked everybody when it was announced earlier today.  But they’ve had a lot of time to think about what they want to do on that. 

I don’t think anything in either of those, either Treasury or State, is going to suggest any kind of change in course.  They know where they’re headed on most of these policies.  Some of them are clearer than others, but they’ve got those problems to deal with. 

So I don’t think you’re going to – it’s not like it’s going to be an upheaval.  It doesn’t feel like we’re at a moment of mass exodus.  There was a lot of changeover after 2010 in the White House.  A lot of people left.  There may be some people who leave, but he’s got a sense of what he wants. 

I think the most important thing to remember about President Obama is he is both incredibly competitive, which is what we saw during this campaign.  He ran a campaign that was totally different from the campaign he ran in 2008.  And he is enormously ambitious to want to leave a legacy.  And that’s what second terms are about.

MS. IFILL:  Well, there is that M word, mandate.

MR. ZELENY:  And he didn’t say the word specifically, but I thought the optics of that East Room appearance were interesting.  He didn’t do a press conference or do a speech.  He had people around him.  I’m not sure –

MS. IFILL:  It felt very campaigny (sp) actually.

MR. ZELENY:  I thought it felt like campaigning as well.  Has he not gotten the memo that you don’t have to like sort of have people standing behind you in crowds?  I didn’t think it looked as presidential as it might have. 

But, at the same time, four years ago when he came, he was running up to the Senate and he was sort of answering questions in the halls of Congress as though he was still a member of Congress.  So I think he is – he will be much more confident going into this second term.  A mandate, no.

MR. DICKERSON:  One thing about the optics of that though is it basically – you can play the inside game or the outside game.  And when he got into a fight with Eric Cantor over one of the last budget deals, he said, don’t call my bluff.  I’ll take it to the American people.  Well, he took it to the American people and his bluff was called, and it didn’t work out and it didn’t help him.  It didn’t help Congress either, the Republicans in Congress. 

But when you play the outside game, which he was doing there – I’ve got the people behind me, I have a mandate – you basically all the guys in the room you’re negotiating with, I’m leaning on you.  Now, that might sound like it works, but a lot of what negotiation is is finding them a clear path to their happy place and not pressuring them.  So if he’s going to just use the outside game, that failed in the last series of negotiations with the Republicans.  Will it work this time?  Don’t know.

MS. IFILL:  Yesterday, in a conference call with the Obama – outgoing Obama for America campaign people, one of the things that David Plouffe, president’s adviser, said was, don’t overread this election.  It’s really about President Barack Obama.  People liked him, which seems like a warning not to over interpret that politically for other Democrats.  Can what they accomplished now be duplicated more broadly among Democrats where they’re looking and saying that was very unique to him?

MS. REINHARD:  I thought that was sort of a case of, you know, the guy who runs the campaign saying, oh, nothing about what we did mattered.  It was all the candidate.  That kind of humility that the campaigns are supposed to have – you know, it wasn’t our amazing turnout operation, the most sophisticated the world has never known.  It was all President Obama.

MS. IFILL:  Yes.  Yes.

MR. ZELENY:  His campaign was his lifeline.  People did like President Obama, but his campaign structure that he believed in obviously was his lifeline.

MS. IFILL:  Final thought.

MR. BALZ:  Well, your question takes us back to the demographics.  There are certain demographic trends in this country that are favorable to the Democrats, and the Republicans certainly recognize that, but there are still elements of the Obama coalition that may be unique to President Obama.  And that’s the challenge for the Democrats.

MS. IFILL:  That’s the challenge for the next two years, four years?  We’ll be covering it all.  Thank you everybody.  We barely scratched the surface here, but the conversation will continue online.  We’ll talk about the Senate races, the House on the “Washington Week Webcast Extra.”  You can catch us at pbs.org/washingtonweek.  Then we’ll catch you next week on “Washington Week.”  And on Monday, be sure to salute the men and the women who have fought for us on this Veterans Day.  Good night.