NOW with Alex Wagner | October 15, 2012
>>> put it in a nutshell. if you don't run, chris christie will be the nominee, and we'll lose.
>> much to their chagrin, republicans didn't get chris christie to run this time around. coming up, the party's triumph triumphant showing in the midterms where they gained a whopping 63 seats in the house and 6 seats in the senate. gop voters were treated to a cornucopia of 2012 candidates ranging from michele bachmann and rick santorum to herman cain and ron paul . sandwiched in between was mitt romney who's sensing the political winds quickly moved with the herd.
>> i was a severely conservative republican governor.
>> that same message wasn't working out so well in the general. it came poll after poll showing romney trailing obama in all of the battleground states . democrats were not going to let severely conservative mitt get away with it.
>> i had a different reaction to that first debate than a lot of people did. i mean, i thought -- i thought, wow! here's old moderate mitt. where you been, boy? i missed you all these last two years.
>> i could listen to that clip ten times in a row every morning. but in a recent story, "the new york times" magazine's matt bai the latest shift has, quote, less to do with romney 's erratic campaign than with the unreconcilable dmem ma facing anyone who wants to lead republicans after november. while it would instantly turn the attention toward the next crop of candidates, marco rubio , chris christie and bobby jindal , those aspirants for 2016 may well have better political instincts than romney , he writes, but the trap that awaits them is the same. joining us from washington is matt bai , chief political correspondent for "the new york times" magazine.
>> hey, alex. how you guys doing?
>> good. let's talk about this. no one is intimating that mitt romney has lost this election by any means, but this is a question even if it is a president romney which is where does the republican party go from here? he has an incredibly arrestive house caucus, theoretically if he's president, and yet they're also sort of the romney compass. which direction does that point? tell us a little bit about what you see for the future of the republican party in the next four to eight years.
>> well, i'm severely confused about it, alex. you know, i watched the yankees the last couple nights. i don't know if you -- i think i have some appreciation for how republicans feel. you look at a situation and you think there's so many opportunities.
>> i was watching the nats, matt, and i feel the same way. so many opportunities frittered away.
>> right. you ask yourself, how can this be? and i think that's how republicans are feeling. they do have a shot and i think they're feeling better than they were a couple of weeks ago, for sure. but at the end of the day , you have four years almost dominated by unemployment over 8%, 40-plus months, all indicators, the approval ratings of the president below 50% for almost that entire time. and you have, you know, a legitimate question to ask if mitt romney loses, is the problem him, or is the problem us, right? do republicans have to say, is it us? is it the party? i think human nature will probably tell us it's him. if he wins, he has to navigate between a bunch of factions. and my guess is, and purely a guess, that it takes a year or 18 months to realize what all presidents of the modern age figure out, which is as simple as it's not getting people in a room and you have to agree and you have to make a choice in which constituents you want to solidify and which ones you want to take on.
>> it's getting more difficult for anybody to tread a line in the middle. here i will bring up the news, of course, that arlen specter passed away sunday afternoon, a man who actually was on both sides of the aisle and recognized the fact that these pivots back and forth are inevitable during the election psychin i cycle. i want to play a little bit of my interview on march 28th of this year.
>> do you think that mitt romney can tack back to the center and gain the broad support of the american public in advance of election day ?
>> well, let's see what mitt romney emerges in october. regrettably, the american people are used to candidates who change positions consistently. and the reality is that the winnto win a republican nomination, you have to be so far off the right that you're off the board.
>> the thing that sticks out to me is arlen specter calling a pivot in october, he had the timing absolutely straight on. does mitt romney go back to the center at some point? does the republican party sit on the shrink's couch, you know, if mitt romney loses and say, the party -- there's a schism here, and we've got to come together around the family table and figure out where we're going?
>> i think the whole notion of left, right and center is sort of antiquated. i think, you know, you have to take the issue by issue. especially with mitt romney who i think in essence is a political survivalist. he will do what it takes to win. when he's governing, he will do the same. i think there are some issues where you will see him push a moderate stance. i think the republican party will join him, for instance, on immigration reform because they are not stupid. they can look at the numbers, and they can see that if he's only going to get 25% to 30% of the vote, that is a recipe for extinction. so, you know, that's a survivalist thing that they have to do. i think a trickier thing, for instance, would be gay marriage . a lot of the, you know, financiers, the republican financiers are very supportive of gay marriage . obviously social conservatives are not. that's one of those things where you can't say is it left, right or center? you have to look at it issue by issue. then there's going to be battles within the republican party to see where they stand on those issues so it's very complex.
>> matt, if the president is re-elected, he's talked a lot about the fever breaking in the republican party , this idea that somehow republicans are going to realize that they've been playing the wrong hand of cards and that they need to make deals. how overly optimistic do you think that is? or do you think that's realistic?
>> well, let me say, i agree with sam actually that the notions of center and right aren't quite right on this. i think the challenge for romney , should he win, is actually whether he can turn republicans back into a governing party versus an anti-government party, which they arguably have been for most of the last decade. and i think he's right to say it's not just a simple ideological shift. you know, on the president, where will he be with republicans ? my hope, my thought is that they would have learned from the last four years that you don't bring republicans to the table by twisting arms or ingratiating them and inviting them to super bowl parties. you don't have magical reconciliations. you have to go to the public. you have to actually build public consensus for an agenda, and they are not doing that during this campaign. there's no real agenda for the next four years to speak of. and so that is something, should he win, and i think you have to go out and do once you have secured that second term. once immediately after winning, and i think it's something they failed to do four years ago, frankly. i think they thought they had a mandate that they didn't actually have. and i think, you know, i would assume that this time around there's a more sophisticated understanding of how you will presidential power which for whatever reason has been lacking.
>> i think that criticism is fair, but i think some blame lays on the shoulders of john boehner and his ability to corral his own folks. and that's where it comes back to the republican family table and whether they can sit down and agree to certain things.
>> well, there's no question boehner has the hardest job in washington . and as i've written about and chronicled at length, he and the president, you know, came a long way toward finding an agreement on some of these fiscal issues that are going to paralyze washington again at the end of the year. and the good news is they still have that piece of paper in each of their desks which gets them 75% or 80% towards at least a framework which is all you're going to be able to pass anyway. it is boehner who shoulders at least as much responsibility, the speaker has to figure out how to bring along more of his caucus. and, you know, should they lose this presidential race , my guess is he would have a little more leverage in that regard. but that could go either way .
>> thank you to "the new york times'" magazine's matt bai , a great piece.
>> i saw hugo telling you there, you've got to view the magazine.
>> the "new york times" magazine, "new york times" magazine's matt bai . thank you, as always.
>>> after the break, a budget on the brink.
>> i think that both campaigns have failed to say to the american public, this is going to be hard. this is a real crisis in america. you look at the imf projections about where the global economy is now. they're saying you've got to get your act together. we could be in another recession next year at this time. they've got to level with the american people about everyone's going to have to give something. and there's going to have to be some revenue raised at some point as well.
>> we will peer over the edge of the looming fiscal cliff when cnbc's john harwood joins us live next. [