msnbc | September 17, 2012
>>> good morning. i'm chris jansing . 50 days before the election, mitt romney 's campaign is now recalibrating. the republicans want to put the focus back on the economy starting today in speeches, in tv ads, mitt romney will get specific about a plan he claims will create 12 million jobs. the horse race remains close, although polls show that romney is slipping. and a blockbuster article in politico making the rounds, details team romney 's disorganization. the headline, inside the campaign, how mitt romney stumbled. let me bring in nicholas christoph and jackie kucinich. bay buchanan said on chuck's show repeatedly that mitt romney is running this campaign, mitt romney is running this campaign. if mitt romney is in charge, what say you, nick christoph?
>> he's got a problem. the joke is it's time for him to bring in a management consultancy to reorient his campaign. clearly they have problems. what isn't unusual about the politico article is the infighting. campaigns always have infighting.
>> here's mike allen , one of the authors of that article.
>> today they say that they're going to come out with a different approach -- economy, economy, economy idea which as you guys know was the fundamental idea of this campaign back when mitt romney was thinking about whether to run, he knew it was going to have to be about economy, economy, economy. now they say, they're going broader. and now it's going to be status quo versus change.
>> and by go broader, he went on to say that also means some of these foreign policy issues that have been getting into a little bit of trouble. what about that strategy, to go broad and make this status quo versus change?
>> it's been said in this campaign, if he's not talking about the economy, he's not doing well. i think that's proved to happen. he really needs to get back to the economy. it's his strength. it's what he talked about during the primaries. so the one thing that's been interesting is you bring in paul ryan , supposed to be talking about these bold ideas. instead he's been hesitant to embrace ryan's plan and some of the strong things that ryan has stood for. it will be interesting to see how this turn or this pivot really impacts the campaign.
>> again, bay buchanan was on in the last hour. let me play. we just turned a little clip of that.
>> this story is just ridiculous. i have been in many presidential campaigns. the key to a good one -- and governor romney is absolutely clear about this. he doesn't want yes people. he wants people to tell him exactly what they think. a final decision is made by the governor. this is governor romney 's campaign. and he is running it and it's his message.
>> and yet i can sort of see mitt romney waking up this morning with a to-do list. one is recalibrate the campaign, refocus the message, continue to raise more and more money because i'm going to need that money to help get the message out and buy more ads and prepare for three critical debates. can you do all that at once with 50 days to go, nick?
>> well, it will certainly be a challenge. but i do worry a little bit the democrats are getting a little bit overconfident. a lot can happen in the remaining days. europe could go kaput in ways that could cause real problems here at home. israel could strike iranian nuclear sites and send gas prices soaring. remember in 1980 , carter was still ahead in october by eight percentage points over reagan. and look how that turned out. so part of it depends not only on what romney does or doesn't do but also on all kinds of extraneous factor that is we have no ability to predict.
>> is there a chance the democrats are going to get overconfident here?
>> there always is that chance. i think what the next really important event is are these debates. the debates are going to -- we're going to see romney versus obama . we're really going to see them hash it out. i think that's going to be the next opportunity for the romney campaign to really show their stuff.
>> i want to bring in mark mckinnon , dailybeast.com contributor. great to see you, mark. good morning.
>> good morning, chris.
>> i'm sure you know, you were mentioned in that politico piece. the comparison was stewart stevens, this romney adviser, is doing three jobs. quote, it would be as if george w. bush had run for president in 2000 with one person playing the roles of karl rove , mark mckinnon and michael gerson . is stewart stevens the problem. is this all on mitt romney since his campaign says he's making all the decisions?
>> well, i remember very clearly september of 2000 , we called it black september in the bush campaign . we were down by three points. all the guns started shooting at us. everybody wanted me fired because the ads were terrible and the campaign was going down the drain. they wanted all our heads. it was a lot of talk of internal dissension. and then a couple of weeks later due to the debates and a number of other external factors within the campaign because the campaign didn't panic, we were able to right the ship. i think it's way too early to be writing off the romney campaign. it's a lot of seasoned veterans there. i think they're going to lock down and they understand the dynamics and the physics of this thing. sure, the fundamentals look good for obama right now coming out of the convention. but they had the second convention. they get to step on the republicans' bounce. as we've seen in the last week, enormously complicated and challenging and dangerous external events are imposing themselves into the campaign. there's another couple of chapters to go in this one.
>> i want to ask you about that. but do you think this campaign needs a change? i think the conventional wisdom is this is a guy who's very loyal, this is a guy who likes to have the familiar people around him to keep that closely-knit group. but do you think this campaign needs a shake-up or given we're just 50 days out, it's just too close to the election?
>> george w. bush was very loyal to his team. his team was very loyal to him. i think it's important to have trust among your core group. i do think it's a good time to recalibrate, which is what they're doing. it's great to draw the curtain open and say, we're changing our plan. you don't want to change your overall strategy. but it's important to be nimble, particularly when the press is jumping on you. sometimes if you say, we're doing things differently, you'll get a little bit of a reload and a relook from the press and others looking at the campaign and they'll give you another second shot at it. so i think what they're doing this week is the right thing strategically.
>> is there anything else you would tell them to do? it occurs to me, mark, that one of the concerns would surely have to be what you don't want to give is the impression that you're a loser, that your on the downswing, right?
>> sure. you don't want to show panic. i do think it's good that they're doing some big policy speeches. i was thinking just the other day of the 2000 campaign. and we had done a lot of very muscular policy speeches, very specific over the course of the entire summer and into the fall. so it's a little late in the game. but i'm glad to see they're doing it. i think it's important for romney to be laying out specifics. with a running mate like paul ryan , there's plenty of griss for the mill if they're willing to get it out there.
>> they say they're going to stick with the message on the policy but also want to be able to hit the president on foreign policy . nick, you wrote an article about mitt romney as the foreign relations fumbler. is there risk in this for him?
>> he's demonstrated that risk repeatedly. essentially everything he touches on foreign policy manages to break. the trip to the uk was the best example. that's the simplest possible -- that's kind of the second-grade test of a diplomacy, to go to britain. and he screwed that up by offering the british some suggestions about how the olympics weren't going to go well. and the israel trip likewise. and then just last week with the events in the middle east , again, he just seemed -- everybody makes mistakes on the cuff. and so his initial mistakes, i think, were a little more forgivable. the next day when he doubled down, that seemed just astonishing to me. and most recently, it turns out he doesn't even know his own iran policy, which is one of the basic differences between him and president obama . he completely muddled his policy about where he has a nuclear red line toward iran. look, lots of candidates haven't written their own briefing papers, their own policy position papers. but romney hadn't even seem to have read his.
>> jackie , here we're in a position where this is exactly what a lot of analysts were talking about six months ago, nine months ago a year ago, that this race would turn on the economy unless -- . and the unless being what we always know, which is things happen abroad. and what we see going on, all the protests in the middle east , as well as in africa, what's happening in afghanistan, you have both internal problems with the afghan security forces . you have this external breach of one of the most secure bases anywhere in the world, four americans dead. what's the chance that this could make a significant difference in this campaign?
>> the longer these things go on, it hurts the obama administration. but romney has to be careful how he handles it. we saw that with libya last week. that's the hitch. even if this keeps getting worse for the president, romney has to know how to handle it. and in a way that makes him look like a statesman.
>> the other thing out there right now is israel . prime minister benjamin netanyahu said over and over again he does not want to get involved in american politics . take a listen.
>> i'm not going to be drawn into the american election. what's guiding my statements is not the american political calendar but the iranian nuclear calendar. it's really not a partisan political issue.
>> mark s that believable? here 50 days from the election. what is he doing here?
>> that's not inconsistent for netanyahu. that's the sort of language we've seen from him for a long time and the sort of very forceful, aggressive behavior tactics and strategy. i do think that given the events of the last week or so that people are a little rattled. so they are looking for leadership. they're looking for somebody to kind of calm the waters, to provide a policy of vision to gives them some sense of balance as we're going through these events in the middle east . so it is an opportunity for mitt romney , i think.
>> well, is it an opportunity for mitt romney ? and i think that to mark's point, when you get to a point like this, whether it's with the economy, nick, or you get to a situation where we have these multiple events going on overseas, there's this sense of unrest that voters can tend to feel. i wonder if it doesn't just affect the undecided voters but also those who thought they were decided but might be willing to switch teams.
>> i think there is definitely an opportunity there. i remember richard holbrooke telling me before he died that essentially obama was betting his presidency on his afghan policy. essentially that afghan policy, the surge, i think in retrospect, was a mistake. the president blew it. he tripled the number of troops in afghanistan and just yesterday we had the biggest loss of aircraft because of an attack since the vietnam war . and yet romney isn't able to capitalize on that kind of issue because every time he does speak about foreign policy , he seems to commit a gaffe. and so i think the president has been able to in a sense protect himself from his own mistakes by this perception that romney just a neophyte on foreign policy .
>> one quick question to all of you. on a scale of 1 to 10 given where we are right now, how important is this first debate coming up?
>> a 7.
>> 7, really?
>> 10? what do you think, jackie ?
>> i'm going to take the middle ground and say 8 1/2.
>> we're going to see. we'll watch the polls and watch the daebts. we'll talk about it a lot leading up to it. what a great conversation. great to have you all on the program.