Roundtable I: Debate Fallout

James Carville, Mary Matalin, Peggy Noonan, Paul Krugman and Jonathan Karl.
3:00 | 10/07/12

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Transcript for Roundtable I: Debate Fallout
Back now with the roundtable. George will is off, but we are joined by peggy noonan of "the wall street journal." Nobel prize-winning economist paul krugman of "the new york times," jon karl of abc news and my favorite married couple, james carville and mary matalin. The debate right now, you could not have been tougher on president obama's performance in your column yesterday. Yeah, I thought the president barely showed. I thought "the new yorker" covered the now famous "new yorker" cover in which they had a candidate romney at a podium looking at the empty chair where mr. Obama would have been, captured it all. I am very curious about what the heck happened. Was it a strategic mistake on the part of the obama campaign to play it a certain way and it didn't work, or were there other factors involved? To me it is a mystery and one of those delicious things that will probably be answered in the big books about 2012, but, yes, the president was bad, mitt romney was good. You ought to jump right in. This is classic obama. He really, really wants to be the president of national unity. He's always wanted to be the reconciliation candidate, and his instincts always in confrontations is to not go for the jugular but to go for the capillary. He did the same thing in 2008. People forget how weak his campaign was through august of 2008 when he just was refusing to make the obvious case against McCAIN, AND THEN HE TOUGHENED UP But also -- in the debate he toughened up in 2008. Because he needs to be -- have his back against the wall, but this was classic. This was the real obama who does not like -- he really wants to be a president of the whole nation. Somehow has a hard time wrapping his mind around the necessity of taking a tougher line. I said on cnn, I dpts want to come to this conclusion but sitting watching I have to come to it. He just didn't want to be there. Was it his strategy? I don't think it was. We'll know the next debate. I mean he's obviously either got to be different or it's going to be pretty bad, but just looked like to me he really didn't want to be there. His mind wasn't on it. He didn't want to engage. He just wanted to get through the 90 minutes, and I'm sure he's a very competitive guy. I hope -- knock on wood -- we'll see a different president obama at hofstra. How can a president feel that way, I don't want to be there during a debate for -- you know, reagan got lost on the pacific coast. I don't know. The answer is I don't know but that was the impression that i got. President obama going into that debate, winning, ahead in every single battleground state. I mean he was -- looked to me the clock. He was ahead. Obviouslere was a strategic decision not to bring up bain capital, not to bring up the 47%. They disagree and say he was prepared for all of that. What I was more surprised, mary, sort of picking up on the points of blurring the differences that paul was making, when social security came up, presidt obama says, well, mitt romney and I basically agree on social security. Can I state the obvious since we all have theorys? The obvious is he didn't bring his game because he doesn't have a game. They have now blamed his performance on everything from strategic he's a unifier. That's belied by his campaign calling mitt romney everything from a liar to a tax thief to a felon to a murderer to a dog abuser to a misogynist. This is one of the most negative campaigns in history and blame jim lehrer -- it was the altitude. Tltitude, okay. He has no game. The only way the truth that this president likes to cite all the time, he has inherited the worst economy in history would be if he gets re-elected, this is the worst recovery in the history of this country, and his notion that it takes a long time to get out is belied also by history. That's actually not true. Just in the measure of the recovery, it's way better than bush's recovery. Actual growth since the bottom is a lot better so we're supposed to talk about that later but this is not true. You can argue with the unemployment rate is high because it was a hell of a recession but this is not -- professor krugman, can I say something about history? Has there ever been this not be true in history that the deeper the -- the deeper the recession, the steeper and stronger the recovery? There is no such thing as a deep recession with a moderate recovery. Every financial crisis, economies look like this. We look like a post-financial crisis economy. We look exactly like a standard post-recovery -- look all post-financial crisis -- look all through. LOOK AT SWEDEN IN THE '90s, LOOK At japan, we're doing a little bit better than the average track on these things, but, no, I'm bitterly critical of obama's performance in the debate, but this is not the way to criticize him. Why didn't he bring up a lot of many points like on the auto bailout where there's been progress thanks to a decision the president made? You know, I don't know the answer to that. And if it's something -- but i think we're going to see a different president obama in the next one. I don't know why he did that. You know, sometimes in life you just have a bad night. Anybody that follows sports knows that. Sometimes it's the most logical explanation is the real one. He just had a bad night. He would say things like in THE '90s WE HAD GOOD JOB GROWTH But in recent years we haven't. Someone couldn't bring himself initially to say under clinton we had great job growth and under bush, we had lousy. That's just him. His natural instinct to to blur the partisan differences. I think that will change in the next debate. You're definitely going to see a different obama in the next debate. He will go right at romney. This is going to be an entirely different debate. I think that's right. One of the other questions, peggy, will we see a different kind of moderation? This was a brand-new format where jim lehrer, he wanted to get out of the way and said he was effective in doing that. Do you agree? I completely agree. I thought jim lehrer was absolutely great, and it was a relief. I didn't even know in advance that this agreement had been made that the way the moderator would moderate would be a little more laid back. This is what it was. Jim lehrer is old school and a pro. He didn't think it was all about He didn't think it was about getting the camera on him. He didn't think it was about him being the anchor with the whip. You know what I mean? He would ask a question, and he would let these two guys either challenge each other or not, either lean back or lean forward, either take issue or not. He left it up to them, that was great because they are the ones running for president, not the critics. The critics were liberals, because they know obama cannot perform under those circumstances where he has to think on his feet, where he has to make sense of this recovery, which is the worst in history, which continues to result in no job growth whatsoever. That's the reality people are living. But can -- I don't want to skip by without talking about the facts issue. We have plenty of time coming up. I don't know whether to blame lehrer or to blame the president but it was kind of amazing because romney was not only saying things that are not true, he was saying things that his own campaign had previously said weren't true. The one that got me was not the stuff about taxes but the thing about covering people with pre-existing conditions which his plan does not which he has said that before and his campaign has walked it back in the past and there he was right again saying, well, my plan covers pre-existing conditions which is displaying a kind of contempt for the public -- you think it's the moderator's job -- no, but the contempt for the whole process. The contempt for us thinking the news media will not cover on me as long as they say forcefully i won -- now you're saying the press is against obama now? To let them know how to handle untruths. Look, they asked one time lee trevino, great golfer, who was having trouble with putting and asked if he thought he needed a new putter, and he claims to have said "it's not the arrows, it's the indians." It's not jim lehrer. President obama was sitting right there. He could have confronted governor romney on any number of issues and drowning the distinction. Isn't our job to actually never mind that the quality of the theatrical performance but to ask about, were there untruths spoken in that debate and there were a lot. About that -- because president obama was loose with the facts. They were minor. Ah. He said -- $4 trillion plan to cut the deficit. He said health care premiums are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. Those are minor compared with --

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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