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Republican nominating contest. There were some things that were said in that debate that were really noteworthy and deserve a little more reflection. At the end of the debate, you heard Gov. Romney essentially oppose the extension of the of the payroll tax cut that the President is fighting for in Congress as part of the American Jobs Act that that would be a $1,500 tax cut for 160,000,000 working Americans or families. It’s a tax cut that whatever their strife, there seems to be a broad agreement about their economist that given the circumstances of the economy, that it is absolutely essential that we continue that tax cut which really puts money in the pockets of middle class and lowerincome Americans who then plow it back into the economy. It is the essential ingredient to prevent the double-dip recession. That is the testament that Mark Zandy gave yesterday who was Sen. McCain’s economist in the last election. But it is one that’s broadly held among an array of independent economists. But the thing that was most appalling was that two months ago, Gov. Romney was equally sentiment in supporting the extension of this payroll tax cut. He switched positions on something that is so fundamental to strengthening our economy in a very difficult time. I don’t often find myself in agreement with Speaker Gingrich, but he made an important point during the debate about the Romney economic plan Gov. Romney robotically repeated the words middle-class throughout the debate. But when you look at his program, what you find is that the tax benefits has over a trillion dollars of tax cuts in there but the tax benefits largely accrue to corporations and to upper income Americans. And when you get down to the middle-class, as Speaker Gingrich pointed out, most don’t take advantage of capital gains and some of the other investment benefits that Gov. Romney has in there, it means a $50 tax cut for the typical family. Now the logic of touting a program that gives a $50 tax cut to the typical family, but suggesting that in this difficult time you’re going to allow the payroll tax cut to expire is lost on me, but it certainly isn’t consistent with a guy who presents himself these days as a champion of the middle-class. Consistency has not been the hallmark of his career. Elsewhere in the debate, you heard Gov. Romney take a position on China currency again very eminently. But what was surprising about that was that in his book a little more than a year ago, he attacked the President for taking action against the Chinese to defend the American tire companies, and in that passage, he said that this amounts to protectionism. It was decidedly bad for our nation and our workers. He said that protectionism stipels productivity. I mean it’s really kind of an amazing 180 on the part of Gov. Romney. It was only made less amazing by his career long history of making such leaps. On health care, he continued to assert that his program, which was in fact a model for much of what we did in our health care program, was simply for the state of Massachusetts, and every state had to develop its own health care program. But in 2007, he told Newsweek that the Massachusetts plan will be
the model for the nation. So once again, it’s all over the lot on these issues, and after a while, if this were just one instance, you would say that maybe it was a momentary lapse. Maybe he’d succumbed to the politics of the moment but it is a pattern time and time and time again. You heard it last night It’s consistent of a guy who ran for the governorship of Massachusetts and who ran for the senate in Massachusetts as a pro-choice moderate who supported civil unions, who supported environmental protections and so on to a guy you see today who is hard after that Tea Party vote and has thrown all of his positions over. So again, I think that it was important to review some of these things. Debates come and go. They get scored and they get put in the context of a horse race. But since everyone on that stage is competing to be President of the United States, and the question of trust is important, and particularly of the middle-class, at a time where people are struggling and have been for some time, they want to know where the President is yesterday is where he will be today, it’s where he will be tomorrow. The commitments that he makes are ones that they can count on, and it’s hardly the case when you’re all over the lot as Gov. Romney last night. He has been through this campaign, and has been throughout his career. And with that, I’m happy to take any questions. AXELROD: … it’s important to review some of these things because these debates come and go, they scored and they get put in the context of the horse race. Since everyone on that stage is competing to be President of the United States, and the question of trust is important, and particularly for the middle class, at a time when people are struggling, and have been for some time, they want to know that where the President was yesterday is where he’ll be today, is where he’ll be tomorrow, and that the commitments that he makes are the ones that they can count on. And that’s hardly the case when you’re all over the lot as Governor Romney was last night. And has been through this campaign, and has in fact been throughout his career. And with that, I’m happy to take any questions. LABOLT: For reporters on the line, please press 1 to ask a question. (pause) First question comes from Ken Thomas at AP. KEN THOMAS (Associated Press): Hey David, thanks for the time today. Are you finding… LABOLT: Go ahead. THOMAS: Hey David, thanks for the time today. AXELROD: Ken? THOMAS: Can you hear me? LABOLT: Next question comes from the line of Sam Youngman at The Hill.
SAM YOUNGMAN (The Hill): Hey Axe, thanks for doing this. Should we take this to mean… AXELROD: Technical difficulties… LABOLT: Technical difficulties. (pause) Hang on the line for just a minute everybody. We’ll ask the moderator what’s going on. (Silence) LABOLT: Just hang on the line for one minute – we are dialing in with another phone so we can hear the questions. (Silence) Alright, Ken. Go ahead. THOMAS: Thanks, David for the time. Are you seeing any evidence that Governor Romney is picking up support among the middle class voters that he appears to be pursuing? AXELROD: Not particularly, I don’t think that he’s broken through on this notion that somehow he’s an advocate. And there’s nothing about his program or from his history that would give people that sense either in private business or in government. As we’ve pointed out many times, in the state of Massachusetts, they were 47th in job creation when he was governor; fees, essentially money out of people’s pockets went up $750 million a year. Even before you get to his business practices, there’s nothing there that would give people great confidence. I think you have to do more than recite the words ‘middle class’ to persuade people that you’re advocating for them. And certainly when you call a $1,500 tax cut in the midst of a very difficult time in our economy a Band-Aid, a little Band-Aid and dismiss it – then you offer an economic plan that has its great benefit to the middle class, a $50 tax cut. That doesn’t inspire trust, that inspires questions. And I think these questions are going to grow over time. LABOLT: Next question is from Sam Youngman at The Hill. SAM YOUNGMAN (The Hill): Thanks for doing this. Can we take this call to mean that you all view Governor Romney as the likely nominee? AXELROD: I’m not going to make that decision for the Republican Party. I think that they have a process and they will go through that process. I think one of his problems has been that he hasn’t inspired a whole lot of confidence or enthusiasm amongst Republicans. Across the political spectrum people have the same question, if you are willing to change on fundamental issues of principle, how can we know what you would do as president? How can we trust who you would be? I think that’s the problem he has in his own party. That’s the problem if he does become the nominee. He is going to have it in general. So no, I’m not willing to designate him as the nominee, and I’m not sure the Republicans would hand me that right anyway. ALEX LEARY (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES): A little bit off topic, but still on the economy. Can you address the problem that the President has with
Hispanics in context of the unemployment situation, which is higher of course for Hispanics? How is he going to overcome that challenge? Talking to Hispanic voters, a number of them say they are disappointed that he hasn’t done more for jobs and therefore are not going to support him. AXELROD: The economic downturn has been particularly tough on the Hispanic community. Housing has been a major issue in the Hispanic community as well as jobs. Obviously, there has been a lot of pain. We understand that that’s why the President has focused so much effort on distressed communities. Why he’s focused so much effort on trying to help people that are struggling to stay in their homes. And that’s why in the long term his program focuses on things like education, like access to higher education for people who are struggling to get there, things that are fundamentally important to the community and things on which you were on the opposite side of every Republican candidate for President. So I think what you see are people registering concerns about the state of the economy. When the election comes they are going to be registering their sense of who is most likely to fight for the kind of economy where they are going to have a chance in the future as well as today. And I am very, very confident we are going to win that fight. The Republican Party has no claim for that vote, and we are going to contest for every vote and I think we are going do very well just as we did last time. STEVE THOMMA (MCCLATCHY): I’m following up on Sam’s question about why you are taking on Mitt Romney. You said you are not going to nominate him or pick him as the nominee, but it sure sounds like you think he’s the front runner. Otherwise, I would expect we would be hearing you talk about Herman Cain or Rick Perry. AXELROD: Well that’s the two o’clock call. No I’m just kidding. I think that we are having this call because Governor Romney has been so brazen frankly in his switches in position and was evident again last night that it was important to note it. He is obviously is one of the major contenders for the nomination. And he may or may not make it. And I think these questions are going to become more and more difficult as time goes on as people begin to focus more on this race and on what the candidates are saying. He is going to have to contend with those in his own party who have questions about his positions from the economy to some of the things I’ve mentioned today to health care to Abortion rights and so on. I don’t presume to say that he is going to be the nominee, but he does deserve to be scrutinized. I would urge all of you to look very carefully at the things that he says. We know before the last debate that he was very effusive at a public forum in support of the President’s Race to the Top program. The next night at the debate when Rick Perry challenged him on it, he simply denied that he had ever said that. You guys are the umpires of this. And I think as people begin to get this pattern and look back at the sweep of his career it is going to be more difficult for him. So no, we are not picking the nominee, and we are not assuming he will be the nominee. But he deserves to be scrutinized carefully because what he is saying is stunningly inconsistent.
GLENN THRUSH (POLITICO): Two quick questions. The first is: as you know, Gov. Romney was endorsed by Gov. Christie yesterday. Can you sort of game that out? How you feel Christie will serve as a surrogate and what his vulnerabilities might be? The second question is: Attorney General Holder was subpoenaed by Darrel Issa today. Do you think that is a politically motivated action on the part of that Committee? AXELROD: On the Christie endorsement, Gov. Christie said he endorsed him on the theory that he thought Romney would be the most competitive candidate. Time will tell, if that is the right judgment. I don’t think that at the end of the day, having gone through this process, endorsements have some value but they are not determinative at all. People ultimately look at you and they look at your record, they look at your ideas and they look at your character, and they make a judgment as to whether they can trust you to advocate for them and whether they can trust you to be consistent and keep your word as President of the United States. And no surrogate is going to solve that for anyone. I’ve said before—I was quoted as saying— Presidential campaigns are MRIs for the soul. And nobody can help you in that process that’s something that depends solely on how you preform and on the actions that you take on the things that you say. And I’m not going to comment…I’m not familiar with what Chairman Issa has done. I’ll let others. I think there has been a fair amount of commentary on his activities. I’m not going to jump into the pool today. EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO (TALKING POINTS MEMO): I wanted to ask you about the flip flopping things you’ve been mentioning on this call. You are not the first people to bring it up obviously. It’s something that has been thrown at Romney pretty much throughout this whole campaign so far from Perry and other candidates. He seems to have shaken it off in the polls that we have seen. He’s still doing pretty well with the rest of the field considering everybody else calls him a flip flopper too. I wonder if you could comment on how he has dealt with that accusation so far and why you think maybe what you are saying could have a better impact then what people like Perry and the other guys have already been saying about his positions. AXELROD: Well I don’t know that his positions have been scrutinized that carefully. I know Gov. Perry has made some halting efforts to do that in these debates, but he hasn’t exactly got the gun out of the holster. I know Governor Perry has made some halting efforts to do that in these debates, but he hasn’t exactly gotten the gun out of the holster. I wouldn’t exactly say that Governor Romney has been scrutinized to the degree he will or he should. And I will give him this, he is as vehement and as strong in his convictions when he takes one position as he is as he is when he takes the diametrically opposite position. And I think that that is something that in the short term you can get rewarded for, in politics you know. George Burns, the old comedian, once said that, “All you need to succeed in show business is sincerity, and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” And there’s something to that in politics as well. I don’t think that you can do that in a presidential campaign. Ultimately people, and we’ve seen examples of this, want to know who you are, what you believe for, what you stand for. And if
you can’t persuade them of your consistency, and that you’re willing to stand by principles that they can rely on, I think it becomes very problematic. LABOLT: We’ll take a final question from Michael Scherer at time. (pause) We may have lost Michael. That’s all the questions we have in the qeue. Thanks everybody for joining the call. END