(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."
ROMNEY: We've got to win in Virginia.
OBAMA: We will win Ohio.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hours away for that crucial first debate, both sides work the refs and gave expectations.
ROMNEY: He's trying to fool people into thinking that I think things I don't. And that ends, I think, during the debate.
(UNKNOWN): Romney is a very good debater. He's practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced.
GINGRICH: Both the moderator and Obama are going to come after him.
(UNKNOWN): Romney's actually pretty good on his feet in debates.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The big questions, can Romney reset his campaign with a strong debate? Or with early voting underway...
(UNKNOWN): President Obama.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... is it too late for a turnaround?
Four years from his last debate...
OBAMA: You're wrong.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... will be President Obama be rusty? Or can he break the race wide open? We'll ask our headliners, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the president's top political adviser, David Plouffe. And insight and analysis on our powerhouse roundtable. Squaring off, former party chairs Haley Barbour and Howard Dean, plus, Donna Brazile, Matthew Dowd, and Maggie Haberman of Politico.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos. It's your voice, your vote. Reporting from ABC News election headquarters, George Stephanopoulos.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello again. We are heading into the home stretch of this campaign, just 37 days before the final votes, with all eyes on this week's first debate. The candidacy are hunkering down at debate camp, but all our guests ready to weigh in on where the race stands, what to expect Wednesday, and what it all means for the final weeks of this race.
White House adviser David Plouffe standing by for the president, but let's begin with the Romney camp and the man who kicked off the Republican convention last month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Good morning, Governor Christie.
CHRISTIE: Thanks. Good morning, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So since the convention, Governor Romney has fallen behind in the national polls, behind in the battlegrounds. New polls out this morning, Ohio and Iowa, behind in both. I know that we just were laughing about the expectation setting on both sides, but Governor Romney has to shake things up Wednesday night, doesn't he?
CHRISTIE: He's going to. I mean, every time Mitt Romney has been confronted in this campaign with one of these moments, he has come through in the debate and performing extraordinarily well, laying out his vision very clearly, and also contrasting himself and his vision with whoever his opponent was at that time. So I have absolute confidence that, when we get to Thursday morning, George, all you're going to be shaking your head, saying it's a brand-new race with 33 days to go.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So how does he do it, though? Because you've said several months ago, the more we see of Governor Romney, more voters are going to like him. That hasn't happened yet. On the one hand, he has to be assertive with the president, but likable to voters. How does he manage that balance?
CHRISTIE: Be truthful. I mean, listen, all he's got to do is go out there and tell the truth, because if you tell the truth about what's going on in our country, people are going to understand that that's critical of the president's stewardship, but also to lay out a positive and hopeful vision for what the future can be for our children and grandchildren under a Romney administration.
I think he can do both. Listen, Mitt Romney can walk and chew gum at the same time. I'm not worried.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you handicap President Obama as a debater?
CHRISTIE: He's -- he's good. Listen -- and I love all this stuff. I heard Ed Rendell the other day say, oh, he hasn't debated in four years. Poor President Obama. He's only been leader of the free world and commander-in-chief of our military during that time. I think he's had a few debates inside the White House over time. And I think he'll be very good. The president's always been good, and he'll be good on Wednesday night, but he can't change the facts, and that's going to be the problem for the president.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He's been making the closing arguments in the battleground states, two-minute ads straight to camera. Here's a portion of them.
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OBAMA: Governor Romney believes that with even bigger tax cuts for the wealthy and fewer regulations on Wall Street, all of us will prosper. In other words, he'd double-down on the same trickle-down policies that led to the crisis in the first place.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: If you were on the stage Wednesday, how would you respond to that?
CHRISTIE: Stop lying, Mr. President.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. That's what I'd say.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the lie there?
CHRISTIE: That he -- Governor Romney is not talking about more tax cuts for the wealthy. In fact, what he said is that the wealthy will pay just as much under a Romney administration as they pay today.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But their tax rate will go down into the 20s.
CHRISTIE: Right. But their tax rate will go down, but they will lose deductions and other loopholes that will have them paying the same. That's what Governor Romney's plan is.
And so what I'd say -- you know, I love those ads. I mean, you know, the president gets to say things like a million new manufacturing jobs, well, how, Mr. President? We're still waiting. Four trillion reduction in the debt. Really, Mr. President? How? Simpson-Bowles? You haven't endorsed your own plan. Nor has he come forward with a plan.
I mean, it's a great ad. I have no doubt about that. It sounds really nice, and it looks nice. But there's nothing substantive there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But I -- I can imagine the comeback from President Obama at that point, when you say where are the details, that same question could be put to Governor Romney. You've called for hard truths in the convention, but Governor Romney has not been willing to lay out which deductions are going to go away for the wealthy.
CHRISTIE: Well, listen, the president of the United States has an obligation after four years as being president to be the one who is the most specific.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So the challenger doesn't have to?
CHRISTIE: Well, I didn't say he doesn't have to. I said he has a greater obligation. The president of the United States hasn't stepped up to the plate and done that. That ad does nothing -- nothing to add to the debate and discussion except to not tell the truth. I mean, he starts off by not telling the truth, which is that the president says Governor Romney wants more tax cuts for the rich. I mean, it's just not true. Governor Romney has said it over and over and over again, the rich will not pay less under his tax plan.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Overall as a share, but their tax rates will come down.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, but, George, it's like saying, you know, you change the rates, but if the same amount of money's coming out of my pocket or your pocket, you don't care what the rate is. If the same amount of money's coming out, you're not paying less.
And I think what we're trying to do is to set up a system where America can be more competitive in its tax rates, both on a corporate level and on an individual level with the rest of the world, because we're now competing in a global economy. And so that's what Governor Romney is laying out, is a very clear vision on that.
And guess what he's going to do? He's going to negotiate with Congress about those loopholes. That's what he's going to do. He's not going to lock himself into something now. Everybody has...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But don't voters have a right to know what those are?
CHRISTIE: Voters have a right to know what direction he's going to take the country in. And he says he's going to eliminate significant deductions and loopholes so that no one is paying less in the wealthy class than they are before. That's very clear.
And here's one thing he knows, that the president's never learned, 85 percent of his legislation was Democratic in Massachusetts when he was governor. I worked with a Democratic legislature in New Jersey. You can lay out aspirational goals and visions, but then you've got to get down to negotiating with people to get things done. In Washington, D.C., the president draws hard lines and doesn't ever know how to negotiate and compromise. That's why we're in the gridlock we're in today.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney has been getting a lot of advice from some pretty anxious conservatives. One of them is Charles Krauthammer, who wants a bigger, bolder campaign. I want to read some of what he said the other day. He says, "Go large, Mitt. For six months, Romney has been matching Obama small ball for small ball, a hit-and-run critique here, a slogan of the week there. His only momentum came when he chose Paul Ryan, yet he has since retreated to the small and safe. When you're behind, however, safe is fatal."
Do we need a bigger, bolder campaign from Mitt Romney?
CHRISTIE: Well, I think what we need is a big and bold performance on Wednesday night. And that's what he's going to give us. Got absolute confidence in that.
And the fact is that the ideas are there, but let's face it, George, there's been a lot of filtering going on. And I'm not going to sit here and complain about coverage in a campaign, because as a candidate, if you do that, you're losing.
But what I will tell you is, this is the first moment when the American people are going to be able to see these two guys side by side, laying out their vision, unfiltered. And I think that's going to be a powerful moment for Mitt Romney. And I think folks like Charles Krauthammer will be happy Thursday morning, certainly happier than they are now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You alluded to, do you buy this argument that some conservatives are making that the polls are skewed against Mitt Romney?
CHRISTIE: I don't buy that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Not sure, right?
CHRISTIE: I don't know if it's -- listen, I don't think it's intentional. I think, you know, you look at every different poll and look and its methodology and you can say whether it's good or bad poll, but do I think there's a concerted effort to skew the polls against Governor Romney? No, I don't buy that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Final question. Senator -- Todd Akin running for Senate down in Missouri, last year, the Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus was here saying the RNC is not going to get involved in this race, but over the course of the week, we're seeing more prominent Republicans -- Senator Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn, Lindsey Graham, all coming out in support of Todd Akin. Do you think he should have the support of the Republican Party?
CHRISTIE: No, I don't.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And he doesn't have your support?
CHRISTIE: No, he doesn't.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Chris Christie, thanks very much for your time this morning.
CHRISTIE: Thank you, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's turn now to the White House view, the president's top strategist, David Plouffe, he is running debate prep -- part of the debate prep for President Obama, coming up in the next couple days. He joins us now.
You just heard Governor Christie right there, David Plouffe. He says the president is not going to tell the truth on Wednesday night.
PLOUFFE: Well, of course, we are, George. First of all, Governor Christie -- you know, and I think this is clearly the Romney belief -- is raising expectations for what's going to happen in this debate. I mean, they're predicting that the race will change fundamentally. What does that mean? That means states like Ohio and Iowa, you know, become very close and tighten up. So there will be a way to measure this.
Now, challengers tend to do really well in debates. That's been the history. We believed all along that Governor Romney probably has more benefit out of this debate potentially than we do.
But what we're going to tell the American people on Wednesday night, as we have through the whole campaign, is exactly where we are as a country, where we need to go, how we rebuild an economy that makes the middle class secure, and with great detail so people understand, when -- if this president gets re-elected, what he's going to do for them, for the middle class, in the next four years.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You just heard from Governor Christie, he says that when the president says that the wealthier are going to get a tax cut, that is a lie from President Obama.
PLOUFFE: Strong words. They're not true. Listen, analysts have looked at this. Someone who makes over $3 million a year would get over a $250,000 tax cut if Governor Romney's plan were to be enacted. And let's just step back. It's a $5 trillion tax cut, $2 trillion in defense spending, by the way, that our Pentagon and our military leadership says we don't know, another $1 trillion to extend all the Bush tax cuts. That's $8 trillion.
The notion that somehow by closing loopholes for the wealthy that the middle class is going to be held harmless -- you know, the middle class needs to understand, if -- if Mitt Romney wins this presidential election, they're going to be paying the bill, not to reduce the deficit, not to reduce jobs, but to give huge tax cuts to the wealthy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: This idea that...
PLOUFFE: So we're happy to have that debate, because we think the facts are on our side.
STEPHANOPOULOS: This idea that the president is not going to be telling the truth has become a theme inside the Romney campaign. A couple weeks ago, I sat down with Governor Romney. Here's what he said.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: You learned and have studied all this about President Obama as a debater. What are you looking for?
ROMNEY: Well, I think he's going to say a lot of things that aren't accurate. And, you know, I'd be tempted to go back to that wonderful line by Ronald Reagan, "There you go again."
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STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, President Obama has admitted in that "60 Minutes" interview that your campaign has gone overboard at times with the rhetoric. Are you worried that President Obama is going to have a rough night with the fact-checkers on Wednesday?
PLOUFFE: Absolutely not. Listen, George, we still believe this is going to be a close race. There's no doubt that it will tighten. We're not going to win battleground states by 10 or 11 points.
But the reason, you know, Governor Romney is having a rough patch here is not because of what we're saying about his plans. It's his plans, OK? And, you know, you ought to start by first looking in the mirror. People do not want to go back to the same trickle-down policies that helped cause the recession in the first place. They don't think that's going to help them or their family.
From a leadership standpoint, for the last couple of weeks, you know, obviously, he said some things around the attacks in Egypt and Libya that raised real questions, but also this 47 percent comment. You know, I think the message that sends to the American people is if he's already written off half the country, says that they're not his concern, that their victims, that they won't take personal responsibility.
So we're happy to have a debate about our economic plans, our tax plans, where we want to take the country in terms of health care and education. And by the way, it is rich. George, you've covered this race very carefully. Governor Romney, during the primary, eviscerated his opponents. When they complained, he said, "Stop whining." And this is someone who's questioned the president on things like he's -- the president is trying to make us a less Christian nation and we're apologizing for America.
So give me a break. You know, presidential campaigns are tough, but what we're saying is the truth about what Governor Romney wants to do. Now, that may be inconvenient because the people aren't accepting it, but we're very confident with the case we're going to make proactively about the president and how that contrasts with Governor Romney.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The governor -- the governor has shown that he can be tough in these debates, as you pointed out. Now, we're seeing some reports that he's preparing some zingers to get under the president's skin, and the president has at times in debates in the past seemed a little impatient, a little irritable. How worried are you about that?
PLOUFFE: Well, I think the president views this as part of the entire campaign. You know, we -- our convention, the events we do in battleground states, the ads we're running, now the debate, it's just a chance to have a -- a conversation with the American people about where we are as a country, where we need to go to help the middle class be more secure.
Now, Governor Romney, clearly, they've been practicing these zingers and lines for months, so I'm sure they have a bunch of clever lines. But that's ultimately not what the American people are looking for. So, you know, there may be some that judge those to be, you know, kind of ranked well, but the American people are going to be listening for not a clever line, but a good idea to help move this country forward and help them and their family. And that's what our focus is going to be.
So, listen, he's prepared more than any candidate I think maybe in history, certainly in recent memory. So we believe Governor Romney has -- he's been a good debater in the past, he's very prepared, he's all these clever zingers and lines in his pocket, so we understand he'll probably have a good night on Wednesday night.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned Governor Romney's response to the attacks on the consulate in Benghazi. The president and his team have also come in for some questions about that, as well, and the stories about what exactly happened that day.
You had Ambassador Susan Rice, in the days after that attack, on this program said it was a spontaneous response, all the evidence showed, to an anti-Muslim film. Since then, we've learned that it was on organized attack and that some intelligence and Pentagon officials suspected that early on, and that has prompted this criticism from Governor Romney.
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ROMNEY: We've seen a confused, slow, and inconsistent response to the terrorist attack in Libya, a refusal to be frank with the American people about what happened, and a complete failure to explain the growing terrorist threat we face in the region.
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STEPHANOPOULOS: The chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the House, Peter king, has gone even further, calling on U.N. Ambassador Rice to resign. Your response?
PLOUFFE: Absolutely not. Susan Rice has a terrific job for this country and the administration. George, there's been an ongoing investigation. And this is an event of great interest to the news media and the public, understandably. So there's been information provided real-time. Obviously, you're going to know more about an event a week after it happens and more -- two weeks after it happens than you do one week...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But there were officials in the 24 hours after it happened who suspected it was a terrorist attack.
PLOUFFE: Well, what Ambassador Rice and others were doing were going on what the -- our intelligence agencies were saying at the moment, and obviously once they became convinced that, in fact, this was an act of terrorism, that's then where we've all been.
But let's talk about Governor Romney for a minute, George. We do have an election in 37 days. You know, and we're happy to have a debate about our approach to terrorism and foreign policy. This president promised a few things in 2008: He'd end the Iraq war, he did. He would take the fight to Al Qaida and degrade them, he has. He would focus on bin Laden and bring him to justice, we did.
Governor Romney called ending the Iraq war "tragic." He said on that secret 47 percent tape, actually, it was unthinkable we didn't leave 20,000 troops behind in Iraq. He wouldn't have brought the surge troops home from Afghanistan that we just recovered. And he said famously in 2008 he wouldn't have gone into Pakistan to get bin Laden.
So we're going to have a foreign policy debate later in this -- in this election. These are important issues, and not just from a foreign policy standpoint. One of the reasons that we have huge deficits is we had these unpaid wars. So I think the voters also view these foreign policy issues through the prism of the economy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: A little preview of Wednesday night. David Plouffe, thanks very much.
PLOUFFE: Thanks, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we'll be right back with our powerhouse roundtable in just 60 seconds.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Quick change there. George Will is off today, but we're joined by Donna Brazile on the roundtable, Matthew Dowd, Maggie Haberman of Politico, and two former party chairs, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean for the Democrats, former Governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour for the Republicans.
Welcome to all of you. And, Matthew Dowd, let me begin with you, and just setting the stage of where the race is right now. We see President Obama ahead by about five points nationally, right now ahead in all of the battleground states. What happened in September?
DOWD: Well, I think, you know, this race, if it's a five-point race, which it roughly is, despite of all of the Republicans' accusations that the polling is wrong...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Not from Chris Christie, to his credit.
DOWD: Well, no, and to his credit, he basically accepted reality, which is what you have to do before you can change reality. And I think that's what the Romney problem is, is when you look at this, the national number is five or six, which means all of the target states are going be somewhere around that national number. All of those states, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, are going to all flow with this.
What I think the Romney -- what happened to the Romney campaign -- and it's almost I think political malpractice -- is that, for the summer and a big part of the convention time, they left the playing field totally to Barack Obama and of the Obama campaign. They allowed them to outspend them in the summer. They allowed them during the conventions to outspend and basically set the tone for the final 60 days of this campaign, which put them behind after the conventions. I don't think the Romney folks expected to be behind, and now they're behind, and the prism of which voters view this is negative for Mitt Romney.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Governor Barbour, something else, I want to put up a chart right here that shows what's happened to the polls. It comes from Nate Silver of the New York Times after that 47 percent comment right here. You see it right there. Look at how it opens up in that last week-and-a-half. That was damaging.
BARBOUR: Well, it may well end up being damaging, but the biggest thing that's damaging Mitt Romney here is this campaign is all about process, it's about polling, it's about campaign management. It's about everything but the issues. It's about everything but Obama's policies and the failures of those policies.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So how does he turn that around?
BARBOUR: Well, hopefully he will just stay totally focused on the fact that for most Americans you can't tell the difference between the recession and the recovery. In fact, since this department data came out this last month, the average American family lost $2,500 of income during the Obama recovery. They only lost $1,500 worth of income during the recession. No wonder they don't think that the recession's over.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Donna, that is kind of astonishing. The National Journal put it as President Obama defying gravity right now. You see unemployment above 8 percent, incomes going down, yet the president leading by five points.
BRAZILE: You know, I was looking at some of the recent polls, and 42 percent of the country believe that the country is in better shape. They believe that the next year will be better. So despite all of the doom and gloom, and the cold towel, and the wet water that the Republicans continue to throw over the modest, but slow economic recovery, most Americans are feeling a little bit better. It's not -- it's not good enough to go home and write out the next check to the Obama campaign, but it's good enough for the Obama campaign to believe that they have just a slight wind at their back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But -- and one thing that's working for them, Maggie Haberman, is it does seem that voters have accepted kind of a mediocre economy.
HABERMAN: Yeah, that's right. There is this new normal feeling, right, this is where we are. And in that paradigm, the president is doing better. I mean, the right track/wrong track is still underwater, but it has improved for the president, and so people feel their lives are not great. Mitt Romney is also not offering an alternative. And I think that's the problem. I think you are not hearing enough forward-looking presentation from Mitt Romney.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Maggie Haberman mentions this right track/wrong track, Governor Dean, and it's one of the most surprising things to me. You've seen, coming into this year, close to 70 percent of the public thought we were going in the wrong direction. Now it's coming down below 60 percent, in some polls, and I guess it leads to a question, do people really think things are getting better or are they adjusting their views of where the country is to conform with their votes?
DEAN: No, I disagree with Maggie. I don't think this is the new normal at all. And I don't think we ought to accept this as the new normal.
If you look at Barack Obama's accomplishments, they're pretty extraordinary, really. I mean, he took over when this economy was in freefall. It was the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, and Mitt Romney is arguing we should go back to the same policies we had before.
Obama gets credit for having delivered -- stopping the bleeding and starting to get better. We just had a revising of the -- of the new jobs created, over 400,000 additional jobs that didn't get picked up in previous statistics. We are doing better. The American people know it.
But the real reason that Mitt Romney probably isn't going to win this election, no matter how well he does -- and I do think he'll do well -- is when you ask the question, does this candidate care about people like me, there's nearly a 40-point gap. You can't overcome it. It's why Reagan beat Carter, because Carter couldn't connect. Mitt Romney cannot connect, and that's why the 47 percent comments killed him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me ask Governor -- let me ask Governor Barbour about that right now. That is one of the stubborn facts of the polling in this election so far, is that Governor Romney's personal favorability simply hasn't moved that much.
BARBOUR: Well, I think that's irrefutable. But that's another reason why this election needs to be not a popularity contest of who's the best on television, who's going to be a movie star. This is about, what are we going to do for the future of our country?
STEPHANOPOULOS: So give up trying to fix that problem?
BARBOUR: If you think -- I don't think Ronald Reagan won because he was a happier person. Ronald Reagan won because the country was in bad shape. He offered policies to get us out of that, and they worked.
You compare the recovery under Obama -- this year, the economy's improved at 1.6 percent. Last year, 1.8 percent. The year before, 2.4 percent. That's the best he's done. After the recession, when Reagan was president, the first year, 4.5 percent economic growth. The second year, 7.5 percent economic growth. The idea that we can't have a growing economy is something that is not being talked about enough, anywhere except at the dining room table.
DOWD: The interesting thing to me about the race is -- which I think the natural equilibrium of this race is about a two-point race. And if Mitt Romney...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Both campaigns pretty much agree with that.
DOWD: And if Mitt Romney has a good four or five days, these fix- or six-point leads will dwindle down to about a two-point race. It's still an advantage for a Barack Obama, but a two-point race. At that point in time, that's when all of those other environmental factors -- the unemployment rate being above 8 percent, the wrong track number being what it is, and people's view of their income -- all begin to take place in this.
But the biggest change that's happened in this is Mitt Romney wanted this to be a referendum election. And the problem is it became a referendum, not on Barack Obama, it became a referendum on him. And at some point, he has to fix that really quick.
BRAZILE: And I think the time is running out. You know, you get three chances. And, of course, his VP pick, and that's turned out not to be so good. And we'll get more into that. The convention speech, and everyone knows that that really wasn't a speech that really gave us a better idea about Mitt Romney. And the third opportunity is the coming debates.
But I want to say something about the 1980s, because the Republicans constantly go back to the 1980s as if that's some guide post for the future. This is a different recession. We know that this was a recession that caused the collapse of the housing market, the financial sector, and therefore it's going to take us much longer, much slower.
The Republicans have not offered the country anything in terms of where they want to take the country, how they will grow the economy, other than going back to the same trickle-down policies that caused the mess in the first place.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, we've got to take a quick break. We're going to come back and talk about the debates in just a little bit. Everyone's going to handicap those debates, and a look ahead on Israeli prime minister's pre-October surprise that came this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Isn't anybody going to give us the red meat rhetoric and innovative prop comedy we've come to expect from the United Nations?
NETANYAHU: This is a bomb.
STEWART: That's what I'm talking about.
NETANYAHU: In the case of Iran's nuclear plans to build a bomb, a red line should be drawn right here.
STEWART: I just got to say this. Bibi, bubby, what's with the Wile E. Coyote nuclear bomb?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.
SHAW: If Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?
DUKAKIS: No, I don't, Bernard. And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life.
QUAYLE: I had as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.
BENTSEN: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Big moments in debates past, let's talk about debates future with our roundtable right now. And Maggie Haberman of Politico, let me begin with you and this whole question about how much the debates really matter. You see the moments that come out of them. But how much difference do they really -- have they really made?
HABERMAN: They can sometimes make a huge difference. I think for Mitt Romney especially this is his last chance to try to change the arc of this campaign. The risk for Romney and not doing well on Wednesday night is that people won't tune in to the later debates. I think people are not sure how interested they are in this race. I think there's not a lot of enthusiasm on either side, frankly. And I think that if Mitt Romney doesn't do something to make himself seem serious and also hope for an Obama mistake, I think it becomes very diminishing returns.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Barbour, do you agree with Chris Christie saying that -- that Governor Romney has to shake things up on Wednesday night?
BARBOUR: Well, certainly Governor Romney needs to get this campaign focused on issues, policies, Obama's policies and the failures of those policies, and his alternatives and why they would do better. There's been virtually no talk about that in this campaign. If -- if this campaign turns to that, that's hugely to Romney's advantage, and that's what he needs to focus on.
STEPHANOPOULOS: To make that work, does he have to give out more details Wednesday night than we've seen so far?
BARBOUR: You know, it's interesting to me to hear you guys talk about detail, detail, detail. I didn't hear any of that in 2008. When Barack Obama said in 2008, "My plan will lower your health insurance premium for the average family by $2,500," well, OK. Well, actually, Kaiser's Family Foundation announced last week, since he's been president and since Obamacare was adopted, family insurance premiums have gone up $3,000. But nobody asks -- well, now, Senator Obama, how are you going to do that?
STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there might have been some questions...
BARBOUR: It's not normal. It's not normal.
DOWD: You know, I think all of us are talking about that Mitt Romney needs to shake up this race and change the dynamic, which obviously the poll numbers show that that's the case, and as I said just previously, it's likely to change anyway, even just with a modest debate performance, because this race is a two-point race.
I don't think we also can take away the pressure that's on the president in this debate, because I remember full well in 2004, George W. Bush was six or seven points ahead of John Kerry. He didn't -- he didn't prepare well. He came across as slightly impatient, didn't really feel like he wanted to be there. He's the president of the United States. Why am I debating this guy? Why am I doing this? And that race went from a six- or seven-point race to a one-point race in 48 hours.
I think Barack Obama has got to be careful, not from sort of policy specifically -- we all know he's smart -- that he doesn't come across as irritable, impatient, why am I here, and sort of basically...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Or running out the clock.
DOWD: ... and performs well from a mannerism standpoint, because if he doesn't, and this race goes to a one-point race, we're all going to be sitting around saying, what happened?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Donna Brazil, Matt Dowd brings up the mannerisms. You were in the debate camp with Al Gore in 2000, and I know for a fact that every one in your team thought he cleaned George Bush's clock in that debate, but on mannerisms and the takeaway, he ended up losing.
BRAZILE: Well, George, many of us remember the split-screen, and Al Gore was sitting there, rolling his eyes, perhaps, looking at George Bush, and basically, he started to sigh.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But does President Obama have that vulnerability?
BRAZILE: Well, look, I think -- first of all, Mitt Romney speaks in perfect sound bites, perfect sound bites. I attended many of those Republican debates. And one of the things he's very good at is turning a negative question, a question directed at him, into a positive question and making it a negative question on his opponent. He's a very skillful debater. He's been in dress rehearsal now for five years.
So I suspect Mitt Romney is going to come well-prepared to put the President Obama on defense. But I think the president understands that Mitt Romney is going to come there loaded for bear, to try to make this, again, about President Obama. And what the president will have to do early on is to jump-start this the way you would do a jump ball and make sure that Mitt Romney never gets the ball back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So go on the attack. And, Governor Dean, some other things working in Romney's favor, I think, coming into this, the challenger almost always does well in this first debate.
DEAN: Yeah. Two weeks ago, he was on a talk show, and I thought he did a fantastic job sticking to his talking points. He really is prepared, and he does speak in sound bites, and he's very, very good at this. This isn't part of the campaign spin, because I can't stand this, "Oh, my candidate, woe is me," stuff. But he is well prepared, and he's going to do well.
The key to a debate, if you want to see how it moves the American people, is to turn off the sound, watch the mannerisms. It's not what they say. I mean, there may be a zinger and that could change things, but -- it's not what they say. It is their mannerisms. It's how they come across.
And what the president has to -- I agree with this side here. The president has to avoid being irritable. He's just got to roll with the punches. Mitt's going to be out there. He's going to be aggressive as all get out. He's going to try to put him off-balance. The president's just got to be the president. This is the guy who killed Osama bin Laden. I think he can probably stand up to Mitt Romney. But he's got to relax. He's got to show it. He's got to show a little sense of humor. He's got to show why he's likable. And that -- you could -- that's all non-verbal cues.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I generally take the point on mannerisms, but, Maggie Haberman, doesn't Mitt Romney also in this debate need to -- he needs to have a moment that dominates news coverage in the days coming out of it, because that's how most people are going to get their information from this debate, even if it's a huge 50, 60 million person audience.
HABERMAN: Yes, absolutely. I mean, to Governor Dean's point, though, I agree that I think there is a concern for the president in not looking like Mitt Romney is getting to him, not having a "you're likable enough, Hillary" moment like he did in the 2008 debates with her.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's show some of that. We have a little montage of the best and worst moments of each candidate in their debates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I'll tell you what, $10,000 bucks, $10,000 bet?
PERRY: I'm not in the betting business.
CLINTON: He's very likable. I -- I agree with that. I don't think I'm that bad.
OBAMA: You're likable enough, Hillary.
CLINTON: Thank you.
ROMNEY: The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive. Don't use a term like that.
OBAMA: When the war started, you said that it was going to be quick and easy, you said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the things you see there, Governor Barbour, is that each candidate is much better when they are on offense, sort of in a concerted attack. But, you know, one of the things we're seeing telegraphed by the Romney camp is this idea that Governor Romney may call President Obama out on not telling the truth in his answers. Do you think that's a wise strategy?
BARBOUR: Well, if it's a campaign not about truth, Obama's got a huge advantage. I mean, the facts -- Chris Christie was on here earlier -- the facts of what's happening in America, the reduction of America's standing in the world, the reduction of middle-class prosperity in the world, the idea that health care costs are going up, health care premiums are going up, the Federal Reserve Board, for the first time in its 100-year history, Barack Obama's Federal Reserve Board, says the economy is so bad, Obama's policies are so bad, they're going to have to have a job creation, unprecedented job creation program.
You know, that gets (inaudible) nobody -- nobody said, what does that mean? It means his own Federal Reserve Board has given up on his programs.
DOWD: The best thing I think that could happen in this debate is if -- in the course of these debates if truth is on trial, actually, on both sides of this, because if you look at all the ads that have been run and everything that has been said, both sides have a really incapacity to really tell the truth to the American public. Both sides are unwilling to say, "We're going to have to do a shared sense of sacrifice. We're going to have to basically -- we're going to have to -- taxes have to be included, expenditures have to be included."
Mitt Romney has run away from the truth. He puts Paul Ryan on the ticket. They're going to have a big conversation about entitlements and Medicare and what we're going to do. We have it for 48 hours. They realize it's not a good idea, and he never talks about it again.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me just stop you there. If truth is going to be on trial, isn't that going to have to be up to the candidates? I don't believe the moderators who've been chosen or the mandate they have is to be fact-checkers in this debate. I may be wrong, but it doesn't appear to be.
DOWD: Well, that's part of the problem in this environment that we're in, because everybody wants to -- just as we saw what happened in the Middle East and in Libya, everybody views the truth through their own prism and doesn't accept reality if it disagrees with where they are. I don't think the moderator's going to do that. I think both sides are going to accuse the other sides of not sharing the facts. One person won't release his tax return, the other person won't be honest with the American public about the really status of where we are in the economy and whether or not we're going to be able to move through it. They're both going to do that, but at some point, somebody's got to call it on it and say each side has a great -- as I say, a great incapacity to tell the truth to the American people.
DEAN: ... make that decision is the voters. I mean, and I don't think it's going to happen until after the election. I think voters are going to penalize -- start penalizing people who don't cooperate. I mean, just -- to throw in a little partisan barb, the Republicans wouldn't pass Obama's jobs bill. That would have given us 2 million more jobs.
So this is not a record -- this is not about Obama's record. This is about what's going on in Washington. People are sick of it. And the question is, who do you trust more to end that? And I think the odds are now with Obama, because people see Obama as having tried at least to work with the other side.
I think -- I think we are going to get to a better place, but I think it's going to be after the elections, when the voters start penalizing people for being obstructionist.
BRAZILE: And this is the difficulty. You know, always with Governor Romney is that, you know, he wants to come across as someone who can work with the other side. And of course, during the Republican primary, he was the hard-liner, he was the severe conservative.
I expect on Wednesday night, Governor Romney will be go back to being the moderate governor of Massachusetts, talk a little bit about insuring people so that he can try to show people that he cares about them. And, of course, he's going to talk about, well, you know, he worked with Ted Kennedy. This is a governor who's going to try to move the ball just a little bit back to the center so that he can look more acceptable.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask Governor Barbour about that. Do you think that Governor Romney should have moved more quickly to get to that place in the middle? Or -- and why didn't he?
BARBOUR: Well, I can't answer your question, but Romney just needs to be Romney. I mean, that's what he needs to do. He needs to come forward with the policies. And Matthew said something I think that's very important. The idea that this is going to be a campaign about big issues would help Romney if they would have just stuck to it. Start with it, stick to it.
I thought picking Ryan was a very bright thing to do, because there hadn't been a campaign since 1980 that the Democrats didn't have a Mediscare campaign, that they didn't say the Republicans were against Medicare. Get somebody out there, and let's talk to the American people about Medicare, and they'll understand we have to do something.
DOWD: I think that's -- and I think that their biggest mistake the Romney campaign has made is they've gone small ball and in the weeds, which has fed right into the Obama's campaign wheelhouse on this, is more small ball -- if they had raised this up and said let's have a debate about the philosophy of government, even if it's something they thought there were things that were impossible, let's say, let's debate the philosophy of government. Here's our philosophy, here's his philosophy, this is the difference, you make the choice.
DEAN: ... say this, but I think small ball is Mitt Romney -- is the way Mitt Romney thinks. And what you're seeing is a reflection of the candidate, and that's the problem.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you say that. And you both have raised two questions that I want to get to. First one, you talk about this small ball. I talked to Governor Christie about that. Also, the Weekly Standard this week came out with a flyer that the Romney campaign is sending out in Northern Virginia, I want to put up on the screen right now. It's a flyer basically about how the Romney campaign is going to do a better job of making sure that people who have Lyme disease get better treatment. I guess we didn't get the graphic right now. I don't know what happened to it, but this is something we were all talking about before we came -- came on. Surprise to you?
HABERMAN: Very surprising to me. Not surprising in the context of the fact that this campaign has trouble sticking to a singular message, a singular narrative and driving it. Surprising mostly because this has not been a thing that people are screaming about in the election. We're not hearing a lot about Lyme disease. And it's not really clear entirely how it came out. It seems like it was from someone who was on the Romney campaign bus at one point when he was in Virginia.
But I do think, you know, in terms of small ball, I think there has been a lot of -- you're seeing the tactics. They're very visible from the Romney campaign. And part of it has been, because they keep talking about doing a messaging reset and then they don't do it, so we see lots of throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.
DOWD: You know, having been -- obviously, probably one of the people that's called the creator of micro-targeting for -- which we did for the first time in really campaigns in 2004, there's been a total misread of what that is. There's this idea that you do all this thing and you do all this slicing and dicing and then find out some weird particular issue, whether it's Lyme disease or some other issue, and then you go straight to these people that you find in some households somewhere and do that.
What micro-targeting -- the best use of micro-targeting is this. You find individuals that you otherwise couldn't have found in areas that you normally wouldn't campaign in, and then go to those people with big issues. So you find the individuals...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Not the small issues.
DOWD: Not the small issues. You find the individual, and then you take a big issue. The presidential races -- Lyme disease is a city council campaign or an assembly race. People in presidential (inaudible) wants conversations about big stuff on big things. But micro-targeting works, if you find the person and then deliver a big message.
BRAZILE: But there's a smaller and smaller slice of the electorate that's open to these ideas. And if you're not running a big-picture campaign, if you're just basically slicing the electorate into these little small micro-units, then you're really not reaching the mass audience, where people, when they get on the bus, they're talking about you, when they got in the barber shop or the beauty parlor, you're the conversation.
This type of campaign that Mitt Romney is running, it is just a very localized campaign. And you don't hear anything big. I was down in southwest Virginia, of all places, thinking that, oh, my god, I'm about to talk about coal or all these other issues. No, they're not talking about that. They want to talk about the economy, they want to talk about jobs, but Mitt Romney has not even -- in an area that is very hospitable to the Romney campaign, they're not even talking about local issues.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's pick up on a point that Governor Barbour made, though. You said one of the big moves that he's made is picking Paul Ryan, and there's some evidence this week, you know, it did energize conservatives, but this Medicare campaign has backfired. I want to show you the polling from the Washington Post this week, looking at the battleground states of Ohio, Florida and Virginia, up on the trust -- to handle Medicare right now -- that is the wrong graphic right there -- up 19 points on Medicare in Ohio, 15 points in Florida, 13 points in Virginia, Governor Dean. The Medicare campaign seems to be working for President Obama.
DEAN: It is. I talked to a Republican from Florida the other day, who's in a position to know this stuff, and he says that they're getting crushed on Medicare in Florida. And that's because Paul Ryan gave us the opening for that, not that we wouldn't have used it anyway, but Paul Ryan really gave us the opening, because he actually is on record essentially saying we're going to voucherize Medicare. That's a fact. And, you know, whether it's for 55-year-olds or 65-year-olds gets lost in the argument. And it's transformed the race in Florida. We went from a 20-point deficit among seniors to a 4-point deficit among seniors. It's unbelievable.
BARBOUR: I mean, the fact of the matter is -- excuse me -- if you're going to pick Paul Ryan and you're going to make Medicare an issue, then you got to stick with it. The more information the American people have about Medicare, the more they understand why the Republicans are right.
When Democrats tell you, we're going to keep Medicare just like it is forever and ever, that simply can't be done. The president himself said in 2009, Medicare and Medicaid are unsustainable as they are now. The actuaries for Medicare say Medicare's unsustainable. We've got to do something. The question is, what?
And Obama's answer is, we're not going to do anything -- we're not going to talk about that until after the election. Ryan has been very open, you know, we're going to give you Medicare that is like the health insurance congressmen get.
DEAN: But nobody believes it, though.
DOWD: I totally agree with Governor -- the governor on this, is that when you do this kind of thing, you have to -- you have to double-down on it, and you can't just throw it out there, because if you throw it out there and (inaudible) it's like chum in the water of sharks when you do that. You have to say -- basically say this is maybe unpopular and we may not be able to sustain this, but this is who we are...
DEAN: Here's the problem with this.
BRAZILE: ... the Ryan budget at this hour.
DEAN: This is the problem.
DEAN: ... fundamentally -- this is one of the basic rules, which you'll recognize about campaigns, is campaigns are not for education. They are for winning. You do the education after. If you run a campaign based on...
DOWD: I -- just I totally disagree with that.
DEAN: I know you do. But if you run a campaign on educating people, I guarantee you, 9 times out of 10, you lose the campaign. You may win the issue later on, but you lose the campaign. And that's exactly what's happening here.
HABERMAN: If you tell people that you're going to be -- this is going to be a campaign about educating people, and then don't educate them, then I think that is a losing proposition.
BARBOUR: I was just going to say, if you know the other side is going to unload you on Medicare, because they have -- every presidential campaign since 1980 -- beat Bob Dole. Bob Dole never got above 43 percent in any poll. And it was primarily because of the -- what we call the Mediscare campaign. It's coming. And so Republicans make the choice, we're just going to take it like a man, get our head beat in, or we're going to fight back and try to fight back to a draw.
BRAZILE: But, Haley, in 2010, you guys ran that campaign against Democrats, and I think you were successful. That's why you took back the House. Look, if you unleashed the Ryan budget on the American people right now, Mitt Romney will be down to 30 percent in the polls.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And I want to turn to foreign policy before we go, because we did see a pretty big moment this week at the U.N. General Assembly. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went up before the General Assembly, we saw that cartoon right there he had, right -- you see it right there, talking about Iran's nuclear capability. At some point, he draws the red line, getting a lot of attention from Jon Stewart and others for that cartoon, but he also had a new assessment of when Iran would reach the moment where they -- they would have a nuclear capability.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NETANYAHU: By next spring -- at most by next summer -- at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Matthew Dowd, in some ways, I thought this was the biggest political news of the week. We've talked a lot about X factors that could affect the campaign in the final days. What you saw from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu right there is saying, basically, that there is not going to be a military attack between now and the election.
DOWD: Traditionally, which I've always said is, is that September of campaigns are the month of mistakes, which we saw this year, which is what happened with the 47 percent video and various other things that happened. October are usually a month of debates, but what usually changes elections fundamentally are the things that -- are the unknowns unknowns, I guess, as Donald Rumsfeld has said, is those things that we have no idea are out there, that sort of basically force a position of a president or a challenger to deal with it in this case.
I think, actually, Benjamin Netanyahu got way out over his skis on this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Three weeks ago.
DOWD: Yeah, and over the course of this, and I think over the last 48 hours has begun to pull back and say maybe I should go back to be Israel and leave the presidential race up to the two candidates that are in the presidential race. But I think we still -- we have 38 days left. There is still something going to happen in the course of this race that's going to cause a focus on these two men as what kind of leader they are that we don't -- we are unaware of.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So does that mean, perhaps, Governor Barbour, that Mitt Romney should maybe turn the race more to foreign policy in this last 37 days?
BARBOUR: No. I think the American people are focused on the lack of jobs, the loss of income, the poor prospects. They are concerned at America's lost standing in the world. They're concerned about how backwards the Middle East has gone in the last year. But they're much more concerned about their children having jobs, about them being able to pay for their health insurance, $3.85 gasoline. They're much more concerned about that than they are about foreign policy, and that's -- that is why, you know, Romney has got to continue to put the spotlight back on the results of Obama's policies, which are very poor, and what he would do different that would be more promising.
DEAN: I would agree with the first thing, that he shouldn't focus on foreign policy, and the last, he's got to put his focus back on domestic. But I -- I think our standing in the world has improved remarkably, really, when you think of where George Bush was when he left off, first of all.
Second of all, the Arab Spring revolutions have mostly been successful. It turns out -- as you know, the Libyan people rebelled against the terrorists that attacked our embassy, that we have an elected president who may or may not be our pal in Egypt, but we have an elected -- democratically elected president in Egypt. And in Tunisia, we're doing the same thing. This president has improved our standing remarkably in the world, because he's actually listened to other people for the first time.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Maggie Haberman, the race almost certain -- as Matt Dowd talked about -- is to tighten before Election Day, but this year could be different in a couple of ways. Number one, this is the most partisan, locked-in electorate that we've ever seen, very, very few undecideds. It could be as low as 4 percent or lower right now.
Secondly, with more early voting this year than ever before, by the time the candidates get to the third debate, you could have had a third of the country already voting in the battleground states.
HABERMAN: This is a real concern to the Romney campaign. I mean, early voting has begun within this two-week window after the 47 percent video coming out. I think some of the dips you're seeing in the polls potentially in the last week have been related to that. You know, from internal tracking, I'm hearing from both sides there was a decrease for Governor Romney after that. So, yes, this is a big concern, which is why it makes the debates much more important. I do think there will be some intervening event, and we don't know what it is yet.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, Governor Barbour, we've got about 30 seconds left, you get the last word. How does Mitt Romney peel away voters who right now say they're going to vote for President Obama?
BARBOUR: He has to get them back focused on the reality of Obama's policies, the failures of those policies, and then offer them what he would do and why that would be better for their families, their communities, and our country. Pretty simple. It's not rocket science.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we will all be watching Wednesday night. Thanks for a terrific roundtable to all of you. And for all of you at home who want to weigh in, Governors Barbour and Dean will answer your questions on Twitter @haleybarbour and @howarddean. Just use the hashtag #thisweek.
DEAN: ... @governorhowarddean.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... @governorhowarddean.
DEAN: ... @govhowarddean.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And now...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice-over): ... three moments from "This Week" history. What year was it?
(UNKNOWN): So help me God.
(UNKNOWN): So help me God.
STEPHANOPOULOS: A new swing vote on the Supreme Court.
REAGAN: Judge and now Justice Kennedy. Sounds good, doesn't it?
(UNKNOWN): It appears that Pan-American Flight 103 was bombed, terrorism.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Two hundred and seventy killed over Lockerbie, Scotland.
And the opening night for Broadway's longest-running show.
(UNKNOWN): The Phantom is obviously far more than an old-fashioned Broadway musical. It is very theatrical, at the end of the day.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Was it 1986, 1987 or 1988? We'll be right back with the answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: So what year was it? When did Justice Kennedy and "Phantom of the Opera" debut? Twenty-four years ago, 1988.
And now we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice, as we learned overnight of a sad milestone, the 2,000th death of an American servicemember in Afghanistan, our country's longest war.
This week, the Pentagon released the names of three servicemembers killed in Afghanistan.
And finally, "Your Voice This Week." Today's question comes from Christy Johnson. How do you book guests, keep them from fighting before the shows begin, and decide timing and content?
And that's a good question, Christy. We look for experienced, well-informed, and insightful analysts, people with strong opinions who aren't afraid to mix it up. But as you can see from this green room surveillance cam, everyone gets along just fine before the red light goes on. As for timing and content, that's determined mostly by the week's events. By the end of the roundtable, I hope everyone watching has a good handle on what happened in politics that week and what to look for in the week ahead.
And just a reminder. You can ask me questions all week long on Twitter @gstephanopoulos and also on Facebook.
That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World News" with David Muir tonight, and tune in Wednesday for special coverage of one-on-one, the candidates debate, beginning at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.
I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."