'This Week' Transcript: Jon Huntsman, David Axelrod

Jon Huntsman comes out swinging against his GOP rivals.

ByABC News
August 21, 2011, 11:44 AM

Aug. 21, 2011— -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER (voice-over): This week, Huntsman on the hunt.

HUNTSMAN: I wouldn't necessarily trust any of my opponents.

TAPPER: Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is hitting hard against his own party's frontrunners, Mitt Romney...

HUNTSMAN: If we were to talk about his inconsistencies, we'd be here all afternoon.

TAPPER: ... Michele Bachmann...

HUNTSMAN: I just don't know what world that comment would come from.

TAPPER: ... and as for Rick Perry...

HUNTSMAN: When you find yourself at an extreme end of the Republican Party, you make yourself unelectable.

TAPPER: Then, as President Obama experiences some of the worst poll numbers of his political career, we'll talk to top Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And as President Obama heads to Martha's Vineyard...

SAWYER: We were watching stocks go down again.

TAPPER: Plus, some surprising numbers about what's driving voters with Republican pollster Frank Luntz. He'll join our roundtable with George Will, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times, and Fox Business Network's Liz Claman.

ANNOUNCER: Live from the Newseum in Washington, "This Week" with Christiane Amanpour starts right now.


TAPPER: Good morning. Christiane is off. I'm Jake Tapper. And we will get to our exclusive interview with Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman in the moment. But first, some news since your morning papers.

Libyan rebels say they're closing in on Moammar Gadhafi's stronghold of Tripoli, a day after fighters launched their first attack on the capital. Heavy gunfire and explosions battered Tripoli last night, with reports of coordinated NATO air strikes, after fighters captured the strategic coastal town of Zawiyah. Gadhafi's regime vows its fighters will defend the Libyan capital.

In Egypt, protests continued outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo after a rare apology by the Israeli government on Saturday for the deaths of three Egyptian soldiers. This latest round of violence began on Thursday when eight Israelis were killed in an attack on Israeli buses. The escalating tensions has sparked new violence in Gaza, as Palestinians have hit southern Israel with at least 80 rockets and mortars since Friday in response to Israeli air strikes.

Turning now to the race for the Republican nomination. The top-tier candidates all turned their sights on the first-in-the-nation primary state, New Hampshire. Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Michele Bachmann all spent time in the "Live Free or Die" state. And one candidate who's staking everything on a strong showing in New Hampshire is former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. I spoke with him earlier.


TAPPER: And joining me now from San Diego is the former governor of Utah and former U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman. Governor, thanks for joining us.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Jake. Honored to be here.

TAPPER: So, Governor, last week on this program, your Republican colleague, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, dropped out of the race. And this is what he said: Quote, "What I brought forward I thought was a rational"...

PAWLENTY: ... established, credible, strong record of results, based on experience governing, a two-term governor of a blue state, but I think the audience, so to speak, was looking for something different.

TAPPER: Isn't Governor Pawlenty describing the same problem you're having on the campaign trail right now?

HUNTSMAN: Right now, this country is crying out for a sensible middle ground. This is a center-right country; I am a center-right candidate. Right now, we've got people on the fringes.

President Obama is too far to the left. We've got people on the Republican side who are too far to the right. And we have zero substance. We have no good ideas that are being circulated or talked about that will allow this country to get back on its feet economically so that we can begin creating jobs.

TAPPER: You've said that President Obama is out of ideas on the economy. What are your ideas?

HUNTSMAN: The most important thing we can do to get this economy going today is, number one, we've got to reform our taxes. We've got to create a competitive tax code, just like we did in the state of Utah. We've got to take the business tax, which is the second highest in the developed world, and we've got to phase out the loopholes and the deductions, get rid of the corporate welfare. We've got to lower the rate and broaden the base.

Number two, we've got to get the regulatory money off our back. People aren't putting money into the marketplace. They're not hiring because there's so much uncertainty and confusion about where this economy is going.

Number three, I think the most important step we can take in terms of perhaps immediate job creation is energy independence, weaning ourselves away from this heroin-like addiction to imported oil.

Those are the three things that I would drop on the doorstep of Congress the day that I'm elected president.

TAPPER: You instituted a flatter tax system in Utah as governor, bringing rates to 5 percent, but your critics say that the flat tax system in Utah raised taxes on the middle class while essentially cutting them for wealthier individuals in Utah, such as yourself. How could you institute a flat tax across the country without raising taxes on the middle class?

HUNTSMAN: We -- you simply phase out the deductions and the loopholes and the biases in the system, and you use that to pay down the rate. You can do it in a revenue-neutral fashion.

TAPPER: Your competitor, Mitt Romney, made similar comments in support of a flatter tax system this week in New Hampshire. Here's what he said: Quote, "The proposals that I'll be putting out this fall will talk about bringing our tax rates down"...

ROMNEY: ... both at the corporate level and the individual level, simplifying the tax code, perhaps with fewer brackets. The idea of one bracket alone would be even better, in some respects.

TAPPER: So are you and Mitt Romney on the same page on this issue?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I know in 1996 he was against a flat tax. You know, if we were to talk about his inconsistencies and the changes on various issues, we'd be here all afternoon. But if he's in favor of a flat tax now where he wasn't before, at least he's moving in the right direction.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about some of your other competitors, because this was a big week for Texas Governor Rick Perry. He went on the campaign trail, and he raised a lot of eyebrows. He made some comments about evolution and he said this about climate change: Quote, "I don't think, from my perspective, that I want to be"...

PERRY: ... engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven and, from my perspective, is more and more being put into question.

TAPPER: These comments from Governor Perry prompted you to tweet, quote, "To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy." Were you just being cheeky? Or do you think there's a serious problem with what Governor Perry said?

HUNTSMAN: I think there's a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party -- the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people that would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.

When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science and, therefore, in a losing position.

TAPPER: Governor Perry also caused some controversy this week when he said this about Fed Chair Ben Bernanke: Quote, "If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don't know what y'all would do to him in Iowa"...

PERRY: ... but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. I mean, printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous -- or treasonous, in my opinion.

TAPPER: A former Bush political guru, Karl Rove, called that remark "unpresidential." What do you think?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I don't know if that's pre-secession Texas or post-secession Texas, but in any event, I'm not sure that the average voter out there is going to hear that treasonous remark and say that sounds like a presidential candidate, that sounds like someone who is serious on the issues.

But it gets to a broader of, you know, the fact that, you know, we've had so much hope and hype in politics the last little while. We've found ourselves at the extreme ends of the political spectrum. And people are crying out for us to get back to some level of sensibility.

And every time we have these sideshows take place, finger-pointing and name-calling, it takes us that much further off the ball, which is fixing our core in this country, is getting our economy fixed and creating jobs.

TAPPER: So do you think that Governor Perry is unelectable? Were he to get the Republican nomination, he would lose to President Obama?

HUNTSMAN: I think when you find yourself at an extreme end of the Republican Party, you make yourself unelectable.

TAPPER: This week, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said at a town hall meeting in South Carolina that she would pursue energy policies that would send gas prices back down to levels not seen since early 2009. Quote, "The day that the president became president"...

BACHMANN: ... gasoline was $1.79 a gallon. Look at what it is today. Under President Bachmann, you will see gasoline come down below $2 a gallon again. That will happen.

TAPPER: Do you think "that will happen"?

HUNTSMAN: You know, I just -- I just don't know what -- what world that comment would come from, you know? We live in the real world. It's grounded in reality. And gas prices just aren't going to rebound like that.

But just as we are in a static world, that is completely unrealistic. And, again, it's talking about things that, you know, may pander to a particular group or sound good at the time, but it just simply is not founded in reality.

TAPPER: You were one of the only, if not the only Republican candidate to support the deal to raise the debt ceiling. You called Congresswoman Bachmann's position a, quote, "crash-and-burn approach." Would you trust a President Bachmann to do the right thing with the economy?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I wouldn't necessarily trust any of my opponents right now who were on a recent debate stage with me, when every single one of them would have allowed this country to default.

You can imagine -- even given the uncertainty of the marketplace the last several days and even the last couple of weeks -- if we had defaulted, the first time in the history of the greatest country that ever was, being 25 percent of the world's GDP and having the largest financial services sector in this world by a long shot, if we had defaulted, Jake, this marketplace would be in absolute turmoil. And people who are already losing enough as it is on their 401(k)s and retirement programs and home valuations, it would have been catastrophic.

So I have to say that there was zero leadership on display in terms of my opponents, zero leadership on display in terms of the president, who should have used the bully pulpit well ahead of time. He should have walked away from the TelePrompTer. The people want you to speak from your heart and soul. Tell us where you want us to go. Tell us what you expect from Congress. Tell us what's on your mind. That never happened. And it waited until the 11th hour. And then we had some of my Republican opponents who basically, I think, recommended something that would have been catastrophic for this economy.

TAPPER: When S&P devalued the U.S. from AAA to AA-plus, one of the reasons, they said, was the dysfunction in Washington. They didn't have confidence in either side to come together to make a compromise to get the country on the right fiscal path.

But you, along with all of your Republican competitors, raised your hand and said that you would be unwilling to accept a deal of 10-to-1 spending cuts for tax increases. That would be if you just eliminated the Bush tax cuts for those who make more than $1 million a year, by one computation -- that would be $6 trillion in spending cuts. Aren't you buying into the same brinksmanship that you're criticizing?

HUNTSMAN: Jake, it was a nonsense question. And the fact that you can even ask a question that is that important with such profound implications for the United States, to answer by show of a raised hand, I mean, come on. What have -- you know, what have debates gotten to, in terms of how we discuss the truly important issues of the day? I don't think tax increases are good for this country right now. In fact, I think it'd be the worst thing that we can do.

TAPPER: So are you sorry you raised your hand for the, quote, "nonsense question"?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I'm just sorry that the debate resorted to a raising of hand as opposed to some discussion about where this country needs to go in terms of overall tax policy.

TAPPER: Last question, Governor. You're hovering at about 2 percent to 4 percent in national polls. When you entered the race in June, you said, quote, "Give us a month or two, and I think we'll be punching through." This interview notwithstanding, I don't know that you can say that you're punching through yet. How long can you consider yourself a viable candidate with that sort of support?

HUNTSMAN: I would say, Jake, because we are on your show, that is evidence that we are punching through. But if, you know, you kind of use our standing and measure it against 2008, Fred Thompson would be president today, or in 2004, Howard Dean. You know, in New Hampshire, they pick presidents. I know they pick something else in Iowa.

So for us, you know, the trajectory and the ground game is pretty clear. We're going to do well in New Hampshire, and we're going to do well in South Carolina, and then we're going to bring it home in Florida.

I'm confident we're getting there, but I'm even more confident that the message that we bring to this race, that of a center-right message for a center-right country that is looking for commonsense solutions and a leader who's actually been there and done that in the marketplace and can apply those same principles now to a nation that so desperately needs it, that's where we are. And I think that's the message that's going to attract people.

And let's face it, Jake. The dog days of summer, months to go before people begin to pay attention. I like exactly where we are. Stay tuned. I think we're going to do just great.

TAPPER: All right. Governor Huntsman, thanks so much for joining us. Good luck on the campaign trail.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Jake.


TAPPER: And one of the reasons why Jon Huntsman may -- may have hope is that none of the other candidates seem to be punching through, either. For more on why that is, I'm joined by Republican pollster Frank Luntz.

Frank, thanks for joining us.

LUNTZ: Thank you.

TAPPER: So whether that new tack of Governor Huntsman works or not, the nomination is still very much up for grabs. According to your own polling, only 12 percent of Republicans are satisfied with the candidates and have chosen the person that he or she will support in 2012. So this is really still very much up for grabs.

LUNTZ: Well, then you've also got another 44 percent that have chosen -- that are satisfied, but still haven't definitely chosen, and almost half, 44 percent, that have not -- that aren't satisfied with who's there.

The reason why is what I call the three P's: principle, politics, and a plan. They want to choose somebody who they are sure is going to defeat Barack Obama. And that, they think, describes Governor Romney. They want to choose someone with a plan once they get elected. And even though he was critical -- Jon Huntsman was critical of Governor Perry, what Perry's done in Texas is very impressive. And then they want someone with principle, someone who's not going to compromise, and that to them is Michele Bachmann.

But no candidate in the race now has all three of those P's. And that's what's holding these GOP voters back.

TAPPER: So what are the liabilities in your focus groups when you talk to voters? What do they not see in, say, the three frontrunners you just mentioned?

LUNTZ: And I've looked at it through advertising, through the debates, and through the speeches. They look at Mitt Romney, and they say that he looks presidential and sounds presidential, but they're nervous about his taking different positions on issues over the years, and they're afraid that he might revert back to when he was governor of Massachusetts.

They look at Michele Bachmann and they appreciate the fact that she's a fighter, and she uses that word again and again and again. Republicans respond, well, but they want to know what the plan is, and they don't think that she's electable.

And then they look at Rick Perry, and they say this guy's got an incredible record in Texas, in terms of job creation and the economy. But they're wondering, has he said things or will he say things that -- that don't help him come November?

Remember -- and I say this to Governor Huntsman -- he is mainstream America in what he says, but he's not mainstream Republican. And this, after all, is a Republican primary.

TAPPER: Right. And that's why there is this opening and there is still a call for a Godot-like figure, a savior of the Republican Party to come. You have spoken in recent days to one of these possibilities -- Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin -- and to people around New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. These are two people that a lot of pundits are hoping will get into the race. Do you think either Ryan or Christie will get into the race? And is there an opening for either one of them, if not both of them?

LUNTZ: Well, because of the work that I do, I speak to almost all the presidential candidates from time to time, and I'm always focused on the language. Chris Christie has the advantage that he is basically a blue-collar Republican. He says what he means, means what he says, he's in-your-face, and Republicans love that. And they see that what he's doing in New Jersey -- they want to see that happen in Washington.

In Paul Ryan's case, they regard him as one of the smartest candidates, the intellectual capacity, and he's got a plan. Whether or not they run, I have no idea. But I would tell you that they would be very powerful entries into this Republican contest, because they've got all three P's. They've got plans; they've got principles; and they are seen as being electable.

TAPPER: Just one last note on Paul Ryan. I don't see a lot of Republican presidential candidates embracing the Ryan budget. I mean, you say he has a plan, but is that plan an asset or a liability?

LUNTZ: It's an asset. And you saw what happened with Newt Gingrich, when Gingrich challenged the plan, and everybody came after him. That actually the primary voters are saying to Washington, "Enough is enough."

And one last point. Those are two candidates who know how to talk positive. There's a lot of negative in what Jon Huntsman said. Republicans don't want to hear Republicans attacking other Republicans; they want to know how you're going to take on Barack Obama. I think there's too much negativity in this race so far.

TAPPER: OK, Frank, stay with us for the roundtable. We'll look at whether former Governor Sarah Palin will step off the sidelines and get into the race.

And joining us on the roundtable, George Will, Donna Brazile, Jeff Zeleny of the New York.



(UNKNOWN): The secret is out, it seems, within seconds...

(UNKNOWN): Sarah Palin was also at the fair today.

BLITZER: And on this day, she happens to be in Iowa.

(UNKNOWN): Another leg of her "One Nation" bus tour.

TAPPER: Grabbing the attention of Iowans and, yes, the media.


TAPPER: Den mother of the mama grizzlies, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin with a slick new video. She's acting more and more like a candidate each day. She told me last week in Iowa she'll make her final decision in the next month.

Joining me now on our political roundtable, George Will, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, Republican pollster Frank Luntz, and New York Times political correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Thanks, everyone, for being here. George, I'll start with you. In today's column in the Washington Post, you talk about Governor Chris Christie. Is there an opening for a Governor Christie, for a Governor Palin in this race?

WILL: There's still time and room on the political spectrum for people to get in, but my conviction is, after spending some time with Mr. Christie recently, is that he has no intention of running. He has four children. He's a happy father. He's enjoying being governor of New Jersey. And I think he doubts, probably reasonably, whether the tone of voice that has made him such a figure is a national, presidential tone of voice.

TAPPER: Donna, which Republican do you see -- as a supporter of the president's, who would you least like to be the Republican nominee? Who would pose the strongest challenge for President Obama?

BRAZILE: Well, you know, I think about that question all the time, because I believe, given the uncertainty on the Republican side, Democrats should not go to bed at night thinking that, you know, Michele Bachmann, yay, or Rick Perry, yay.

The truth of the matter is, is that the president is going to have to really fight hard to get the economy moving again, to mobilize his base and to get them out in record numbers, you know, to have a very compelling message that will unify the country.

And if he can do all three and raise a lot of money, then I think Democrats will be able to rest easily, once Republicans decide on their candidate. Right now, the Republicans are behaving as if they're running to be president of the Tea Party, not president of the United States of America.

TAPPER: Jeff, you were in Iowa for three days covering Rick Perry, from Waterloo to Dubuque. How did voters respond to him in the hinterlands, in the heartland of America?

ZELENY: I think voters responded pretty well, in one respect, because they're looking for someone new, and they like the energy he brought in. They like the leadership qualities. You heard that again and again in interviews. He looks like a leader.

But I think they also saw that Rick Perry's biggest challenge may be Rick Perry himself. He was free-wheeling. He was unscripted. But that got him into trouble, really, in the first day of his campaign.

So a lot of establishment, Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Republicans are a little bit worried about his -- his swagger. You know, a lot of enthusiastic, hard-core Republicans think it's fine for now, but when it comes time to pick a president, I'm not sure that he will be as strong as he looks right now.

But in the opening going, they like what they saw. And not as many people compared him to George W. Bush as we like to say back here. Sure, he -- he sounds like him a little bit, but if you look into it a little bit more, he does not remind me of the Governor Bush who you and I first saw in 1999 in Iowa.

TAPPER: Well, for one thing, his accent's real, Governor Perry.

ZELENY: That's true.

TAPPER: Just a joke. OK.

So, Frank, I want to talk about the electorate, because this is -- this is an angry electorate. And in some of your polling, it indicates that there's an overwhelming feeling that this nation's best days are behind us. Fifty-eight percent of respondents in one of your polls said that their children's quality of life will be worse than theirs, worse. What does that mean for these candidates that so many Americans are -- are depressed about the outlook for this nation?

LUNTZ: It means that they don't trust Washington. They don't trust Wall Street. They don't trust education and schools to teach their kids. They don't trust the media to tell them the truth. They don't trust anybody right now.

Eighty percent of Americans say that the federal government is not working for them or is simply not working at all. That's the highest in two decades.

And so, if you're here and part of Washington, it's one of the reasons why we always hear about a third party every four years. I think you could hear about a no party, that A month or two months from the election, someone rises up and say, "Vote them all out. Vote for no political party. Vote against every incumbent."

It's not been this way. We've -- I've been through this in 1994. I was through this in 1992, watching 2006. We trust no one anymore.

TAPPER: Trust no one? So it's an "X-Files" election here, trust no one. George, what did you think of Governor Perry's first week on the campaign trail? I can't imagine all of the language out of his mouth is the kind of language that you would approve of.

WILL: No, he, too, is having trouble getting a national tone of voice, the "treasonous" remark about expanding money supply and all the rest.

In spite of all the homogenizing forces of modern life, from the mass media to the mobility of our population, the regional differences in this country are amazingly durable, and his very Texas-ness raises a question among Republicans whether he can carry independent voters in northern suburbs who are apt to decide this election.

John McCain did not carry a suburb contiguous to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, or Chicago. That's a recipe for losing. The question is, can Perry break through? I've talked with a number of people, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the governor, for example, and he thinks Perry would do very well in Wisconsin. Remains to be seen.

TAPPER: Some pundits, Donna, think that the way that we elect presidents is always as a reaction to the previous president. And Perry looks pretty much like the anti-Obama in a lot of ways, perhaps more so than any other Republican in the field. I think he could be a serious challenge to the president, don't you?

BRAZILE: Oh, look, I remember Rick Perry when he was a Democrat. He was a conservative Democrat. He supported Al Gore that year, the year that I supported Dick Gephardt, and I guess that says a lot about me, as well.

TAPPER: 1988, we should say. That's 1988.

BRAZILE: That's correct. Well, some of us are not, you know, so young. But -- I know you're young, George, but I had to tell my age today.

But the truth is, is that Rick Perry is a good campaigner. He understands how to connect with real people. He's very folksy. He's down to earth. But Rick Perry's problem is that the country is also looking for a unifier. They're not looking for another divider, another person who will just spend all of his time, you know, criticizing President Obama, criticizing Washington, D.C., criticizing the federal government, the size of the federal government, that he benefited from. That's another conversation about Rick Perry.

But the truth is, is that Rick Perry first has to deal with the voters in New Hampshire. As you know, 45 percent of the primary voters are Republicans, 25 percent are independents, and another 10 percent may be Democrats. So if Rick Perry can appeal to those independents, those swing voters, he might have a real shot at not just winning the Republican nomination, but the presidency.

But, remember, President Obama is still one talented political leader who I don't believe should be discounted at this hour.

TAPPER: Sure. And we're a long way away from -- from Election Day. But, Jeff, one of the things that seemed interesting to me -- and you were there, so please share -- is Perry seemed to really go hot and cold. One day he'd just be really hot, talking about Bernanke, talking about this or that, and the next day, his comments were much more measured. Why?

ZELENY: Well, I think because he got himself in a bit of hot water, early on at least. His advisers are trying to sort of keep him confined, at least in the beginning. But we saw his natural tendencies are to answer every question and are to sort give that sharp response that he's been used to giving in Texas.

But he's now running on a national stage, so he has to become a different kind of candidate. But you could see the -- you know, he was able to make that conversion really quickly and really well. He can play to all kinds of audiences.

He was doing a sit-down lunch with a dozen or so business leaders in Dubuque. He's able to hold that Chamber of Commerce crowd just fine. He's also able to give, you know, the sermon on Sunday. I think he is able to sort of do what some Republicans have worried Michele Bachmann could not do, is have executive experience.

So I think his first week was actually more impressive than not. You know, and the comments he made has gotten a lot of attention to himself, and that is just fine for now in the Republican primary. I think he's able to be a chameleon, if you will, in a positive way and able to sort of do all things to all people. But we'll see how he grows.

And New Hampshire, he'll have to do OK there, but he could go Iowa to South Carolina. All roads do not necessarily have to go through New Hampshire. And I think that's one thing in the back of his mind.

TAPPER: But, Frank, Karl Rove has said that he thinks Sarah Palin is going to run. Do you think Sarah Palin is going to run?

LUNTZ: I don't how she can. Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin operate in the exact same space. They have similar personalities. They attract similar voters. There's no space for her right now. There's a space for Chris Christie, if he decided to do it, or for Paul Ryan, but I don't see for Sarah Palin.

But in the end, someone's going to have to stand up. And with all due respect, I don't agree about Washington. Someone's going to have to stand up and take responsibility for this mess, that the American people want someone to do what Jerry Brown said to Meg Whitman in the 2010 gubernatorial race. You blame me about the illegal maid, you blame me, you blame the press, you blame the left, you blame the unions. Stand up and take responsibility for your actions, admit you made a mistake, and learn from it.

That's what they're asking from Washington, D.C. And no one has done that. So it's all the blame game. Obama blames the conservatives. The Tea Party people blame him. Who's going to stand up and say, "I made a mistake, I got it wrong"?

TAPPER: OK. When we return, Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod takes on President Obama's bumpy road to re-election.



PERRY: Actions speak louder than words. And the president's actions are killing jobs in this country.

BACHMANN: He has failed all Americans when it comes to job creation.

ROMNEY: He has not got the job done, and he's hoping that by three days on a bus he can make up for hundreds of days of failure.


TAPPER: Republican front-runners this week taking turns hammering President Obama on the economy. It's been another brutal week, with talk of a double-dip recession, huge losses on Wall Street, and more bad news on jobless claims. On Monday, the president announced he'll present a new economic plan next month. Right now, he's on a 10-day vacation at Martha's Vineyard.

Joining us from Michigan is his top campaign adviser, David Axelrod.

David, welcome back to "This Week."

AXELROD: Thanks, Jake. Good to be here.

TAPPER: So what can you tell us about this economic speech that President Obama is going to give after Labor Day, in which he's going to outline jobs programs and a way to reduce the deficit? And why is he waiting until after Labor Day?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, Jake, we -- and as he said, we thought it was actually healthy for members of Congress to go home and speak to their constituents, hear from their constituents, hear how outraged people are at some of what they've witnessed, and understand how desperate people are for action. They want Congress to act, not to act out. And hopefully, they'll come back with that message resonating and we can get to work on the task at hand.

There are specific things that we can do right now that will accelerate our economy, some of which the president has already talked about, some of which will be new in his speech, all of which have, in the past, gotten broad support from Republicans and Democrats. If they don't move forward, the only reason will be politics, and we can't afford that right now.

So the president is going to outline a short-term plan to accelerate the economy, in the face of the hits we've taken, because of the Arab Spring and oil prices, because of the Japanese earthquake, because of Europe that have slowed down economic growth.

And he's going to talk about the long-term debt picture, because that's another piece of the puzzle that we have to solve, but we have to solve it in the right way, in a balanced way, in a way that's fair, in a way that protects the investments we have to make in education, research and development, and the things we need to build good middle-class jobs in the future.

TAPPER: The president in the last week-and-a-half has updated his speech with new language, in which he suggests that one of the reasons that we're not making economic progress is because some of his plans have been blocked by those -- he's obviously alluding to Republicans -- by those who put party before country, who would rather see America fail than their opponents win. Isn't there a suggestion being made here by the president that those who don't support his plans are something less than patriotic?

AXELROD: Well, Jake, when people don't support plans that have in the past garnered bipartisan support, when people are willing to walk the country to the brink of default, when people, instead of saying where there's a will, there's a way, it's my way or the highway, you have to assume that politics is at play.

Last week, I saw the spokesman for the speaker of the House say that they would not call any of the president's job-creating proposals, other than his proposals for three new trade treaties, which we need to open up markets, and for -- for patent reform, so that entrepreneurs can bring their products to market more easily -- those are good things, but we need to do more.

For example, we need to extend the payroll tax cut that's in place right now. It is unthinkable to me that the Republican Party would say we can't touch -- we can't touch tax cuts for the wealthy, we can't touch special interest corporate tax loopholes because that will hinder -- hinder the economy, but we'll allow a $1,000 tax increase on the average American come January. How could that be? The only explanation for it is politics.

TAPPER: David, my understanding about those three trade deals is that members of Congress are waiting for the president to send them up to Capitol Hill. So why does the president keep talking about the need to do this without having sent them to the House and Senate to act upon?

AXELROD: Well, as you know, Jake, we've actually made progress on this in the Senate, but there's a dispute, because the president wants to pass the treaties in tandem with trade adjustment assistance for any workers who might be -- American workers who might be disadvantaged by the treaties. And on the whole, they'll be a big plus for American workers, but in some sectors, there could be impact. We want to make sure that we're being fair to American -- American workers.

We feel like we reached an agreement or made progress in the Senate. We need to get this through Congress come the fall. So I'm encouraged that -- that the speaker wants to do that.

But there are a whole range of other things we should be doing. And as I said, it's bewildering as to how they would take the position that we're not going to move anything the president says before he even speaks. It just doesn't make sense.

TAPPER: David, in the last month, there's been a lot of criticism of President Obama by some prominent members of the African-American community. And in fact, this week, the Congressional Black Caucus launched a "For the People" jobs tour. And here's what Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters had to say.


WATERS: We are supportive of the president, but we're getting tired, y'all. We're getting tired. Our people are hurting. The unemployment is unconscionable. We don't know what the strategy is. We don't know why, on this trip, that he's in the United States now, he's not in any black communities. We don't know that.


TAPPER: Now, David, she was referring, of course, to the rural tour that President Obama took. But regardless of whether or not it was OK to go on a rural tour, what do you say when a member of the Congressional Black Caucus says that she doesn't know what strategy is for unemployment. This is a big ally of the president's.

AXELROD: Well, obviously, the things that the president is proposing, things like moving forward on the road transportation surface program, the roads -- repairing roads and bridges and so on, which has always been, by the way, done on a bipartisan basis, but is now stuck in the House, those are going to have big impacts up and down the economic scale. There are other things that he's proposing that would have big impact up and down the economic scale.

He fought hard in the debt ceiling negotiations to make sure that those -- those safety nets, Medicaid and Pell Grants for poor students of all backgrounds were protected from those cuts, because they're important. And his -- his program for the future has in it education and opportunities for people to advance their skills, so they're not looked in a cycle of poverty.

So there's lots that is there, with an eye toward those who need the help the most. But we've got to move the entire country forward, Jake, not just one community. And he is focused on doing that.

And we can do that if we get some cooperation, instead of a very kind of political position that we're not going to cooperate on anything while the country's waiting for action.

TAPPER: Lastly, David, I know that you're well aware that you have a big task ahead of you when it comes to motivating Obama supporters from 2008 and potentially future Obama supporters, rallying the base. Progressive filmmaker Michael Moore had this question that he wanted me to ask you. Quote, "Are you aware of how profoundly disappointed so many of the president's supporters are? Do you realize that each time the president moves to the right, he picks up no votes and loses many? Or do you cynically believe that because these people have nowhere else to go, they'll end up voting for Obama?"

How do you respond to liberals like Michael Moore, who want to vote for the president, but are just profoundly disappointed? How do you convince them to turn out in November 2012?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, no one is cynically moving one way or the other. The president is not moving left or right; he's interested in moving the country forward.

And we've got a very, very sharp debate here. And the question is, are we going to take steps in the short run to help stimulate this economy, to help create jobs, to help create growth? And are we going to take the steps in the long run that will protect the investments that can grow our economy and, most importantly, Jake, can create good middle-class jobs in the future on which people can raise their families?

That's what education is about. That's what research and development to create new technologies and advance manufacturing is about. That's what the infrastructure -- that's what roads and bridges and repairs that put people to work now, but also create the opportunity to move -- to move our goods across this country.

And all of these things are part and parcel of a strategy that is completely opposed by the other side, who want to go back to the same trickle-down, deregulation. You know, the same mantra we heard in the last decade that led up to this problem we're hearing again. I think that this is such a profound choice that the president's supporters and independent voters and people across this country will rally, because the future will be determined by this debate and the path we take.

TAPPER: All right. Thank you so much, David Axelrod. Good luck out there on the campaign trail.

With big expectations for the president's economic speech after Labor Day, there's a lot more to talk about on our roundtable. Liz Claman of Fox Business Network will join us when we run. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to our roundtable, with George Will, Donna Brazile, Liz Claman of Fox Business Network, and Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times.

George, the president said in the last week that we are not headed for a second recession or a double-dip recession. What do you think?

WILL: Well, that's his argument, is I did all these things, some of which you people didn't like, TARP and buying General Motors and all the rest, but I had to do it to end the 2008 crisis. The problem with that is, the American people don't feel the crisis ever ended, and they can't distinguish between a recession and the kind of bad recovery we're having.

We've had the biggest stimulus ever and the worst recovery ever, since the Second World War. And what we hear from the president -- he reminds me of a character in a Chicago sportswriter's short story. Ring Lardner wrote a story called "Alibi Ike," about a ballplayer who couldn't make -- do anything right, but it was always someone else's fault. The president said, it's the Arab Spring, it's the Japanese tsunami, it's oil prices, it's ATMs and airport kiosks that have taken jobs. Nothing is his responsibility, and that does not sound presidential.

TAPPER: Liz, how much of the current economic woes that we're going through right now do you think are the fault of domestic politics in this country? And how much is it matters that are out of our hands?

CLAMAN: Well, we don't have jobs recovering, and everybody knows that, and that is a huge issue. So the speech is so highly anticipated at this point. We didn't really just get much clarity from David Axelrod on what it's going to say, but people are saying, where is our Hoover Dam moment?

So if that is psychologically in their minds, that we haven't seen these massive projects come to pass that would soak up the greatest number of people who are unemployed, and that is high school-educated males who were working in construction, in obviously commercial and residential real estate, where are they going to go?

So that weighs on the economic woes, certainly. But now, all of a sudden, we have the issues out of Europe. And people in the Midwest can sit there and say, "I don't understand why that affects me. Why would a French bank in trouble affect me?" But it does now, because we are, for better -- and now, as we see, for worse -- part of a global economy.

TAPPER: Jeff, I forget if the last time I saw you we were in a cornfield in Iowa or a manufacturing plant in Illinois, but we were on the president's Midwest bus tour. And here's a little sound of what he said when he announced his economic speech.


OBAMA: I'll be putting forward, when they come back in September, a very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs, and to control our deficit. And my attitude is: Get it done. And if they don't get it done, then we'll be running against a Congress that's not doing anything for the American people, and the choice will be very stark and will be very clear.


TAPPER: How much do you think -- what are the odds that President Obama is going to be able to introduce something that will pass Congress?

ZELENY: I think the odds are pretty slim, and they realize that, but it's not about getting it passed, necessarily. It's about framing the argument for the fall and, really, into next year. They're trying to draw this distinct line between him and Republicans. But they are looking to him for some kind of solution here.

I think the biggest -- for all the powers of the incumbency, for all the advantages he had as he was rolling through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, one thing that hung over him is reality. That's one thing that didn't -- he didn't have to deal with in 2007 or 2008.

He could say all these things, make all these promises, which he did, but now his own supporters are coming to him with really tough question, looking for relief, not just framing the argument. So I think he has to do more than simply fight with Congress. He has to try and go back again and get something with Speaker Boehner.

But the reality just really confronted him, even in these friendly areas. I mean, imagine how it's going to be when he goes to, you know, some harder places, some counties in Michigan, some counties in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, where he has even more work ahead of him.

WILL: Exactly right. He's going to say if it weren't for Congress, I could spend more money. Now, I'm not sure that is going to be a good selling point. He's going to say that Congress is stopping me from from another stimulus. He is going to say, in fact, that the government is too frugal. These are hard arguments to make, particularly when you consider, in Keynesian terms, we've not just had an $862 billion stimulus. Keynes said deficit spending is a stimulus, so we've had $5 trillion in stimulus in the last three years. Progressives, who used to be called liberals, want more investment, which used to be called spending. And I don't think that resonates with the country.

TAPPER: Donna, go ahead.

BRAZILE: I'm listening to George, and I'm smiling. The truth of the matter is that the president cannot just simply run against Congress, because Congress, you know, will not make the right decisions to get the American people back to work. Everyone knows that Congress is as popular as a root canal. They're at 13 percent.

The president has to do more than just run against Congress. He has to tell the American people that his administration has used every tool at their disposal to get jobs -- job creation back on track.

First of all, the government grant contracts each and every week. Why not, you know, stipulate that -- that these government contractors, whether it's the defense contractors or some small business supplying toilet paper or janitorial equipment, why not stipulate that there's a hiring quota there, there's a hiring recipe there? Why not give more credit to small businesses so that they can go out and hire people?

When Maxine Waters, who I have enormous respect for, says to members of the black community (inaudible) she's not saying, I want to attack the president. She's saying, look, we want a strategy. We don't want another plan. We know that the Republicans want to prove the president's plan. We want a strategy, a long-term strategy to bring jobs back to the inner cities, black wealth, just -- not because I'm black, but because I'm an American.

But over the last four years, 53 percent of black wealth has just disappeared. The average -- for white families, the median income is $113,000. For black families, $5,000, $5,000. It has dropped.

So these families are hurting. They want help. They want relief. They don't want to hear about Congress. They don't want to hear about the Tea Party. They don't want to hear another plan. They want jobs.

CLAMAN: But, Jake, what does it say to you that Maxine Waters is the one who is now being critical of the president who was supposed to be the uniter? And last week, you saw he united people. He united the Tea Partiers, the far-left, and certainly people in the middle, the centrists, by saying, where's your leadership on jobs? And to make people wait for that speech is questionable.

But on the same side, you can say, this is -- this is the president who, since he has taken over -- and a lot of people have looked at their 401(k)s and been worried lately -- since he's taken over, almost every sector in the S&P is up double-digit percentages. Things have recovered. And this is also the president under whom we got Osama bin Laden. And those two things not getting him any gravitas at the moment.

And whoever's running P.R. for him needs to work on that part of it, and then add to it and say, here's what we're going to do. Do the contracts. Do the government things that George just talked about and talk about making sure -- and Donna's idea is to say, how about getting those permits in the gulf for drilling natural gas, which is clean-burning and we have a lot of it? Why not get those back up to speed?

I mean, they did do a lease sale last week. That's important. But to get the government to start allowing that to happen, those are real jobs, Jake.

ZELENY: I mean, I think that the P.R. thing is one thing that even is breaking through to voters. I was talking to a man outside the president's town hall in Atkinson, Illinois. He was pounding in flags a couple hours before the president's visit.

TAPPER: Oh, yeah, the whole road was lined with flags.

ZELENY: It really was. It was this extraordinary sight. And he -- he voted for Obama. He said he still believes in this president, but he said he must have the worst P.R. machine in history.

So this is from a -- a man pounding in flags in Atkinson, Illinois. I said, what do you mean by that? He said, look at all the good things he's done, we haven't heard about it.

So I think that is one sort of quiet hope for these people who still feel supportive of the president, that at the end of the day, when you match up his accomplishments with whoever his opponent is going to be, that he will, you know, come out looking stronger.

But I'm not sure that those independent voters in the middle, that people who will decide this election, who George talked about, in the northern suburbs, are going to at least have an open mind when it comes to that. So I think the president was sent out to the heartland, his own state of Illinois, to kind of refuel his tank, if you will, to kind of energize himself. But he was really hit with the stark reality of his approval rating polls that he has significant work to do in his own backyard.

TAPPER: We only have 10 seconds, George. You have a final word?

WILL: You referred to the Hoover Dam, great achievement of the '30s. You couldn't build the Hoover Dam today because they'd discover a snail darter in the Colorado River and would stop it.

TAPPER: All right. On that note, the roundtable continues in the green room on abcnews.com/thisweek, where later you'll also be able to find our fact checks, courtesy of PolitiFact. The funnies are next. Stick around.


TAPPER: And now the Sunday funnies.


COLBERT: Pawlenty made this announcement on ABC's "This Week" with Jake Tapper.

PAWLENTY: I'm announcing this morning on your show that I'm going to be ending my campaign for president. What I brought forward I thought was a rational, established, credible, strong record of results, but I think the audience, so to speak, was looking for something different.

COLBERT: Yes, they were not looking for rational. Rationality is the third rail of American politics.


O'BRIEN: President Obama on a big bus tour last couple of days of the Midwest. He's talking about jobs. And apparently it came out today, the bus he's riding was made in Canada. So unpatriotic. If he was a real American, that bus would have been made in China, don't you think?


KIMMEL: The Dow had its sixth-biggest point drop ever. And that's -- let me tell you something. If I had any understanding of any of this, I'd be very nervous right now. I really would. Fortunately, though, I don't. Today, the market bounced back and gained 430 points. So I guess we're rich again? Congratulations.



TAPPER: We'll be right back.


TAPPER: And now, "In Memoriam."


(UNKNOWN): Roughly 10,000 of those prisoners died on the forced march to prison camps, the infamous Bataan death march.

(UNKNOWN): In this system, each Unimate has a welding gun mounted at its outer end.

VENARDOS: ... new president of the United States, it's something that the nation needs to know about, deserves to know about.


TAPPER: This week, the Pentagon released the names of 14 soldiers and Marines killed in Afghanistan.

We'll be right back.


TAPPER: That's our program this week. You can see the full interview with Jon Huntsman, including his comments on Afghanistan and his Mormon faith, at abcnews.com/thisweek. Be sure to watch "World News" with David Muir tonight for all the latest headlines. And for all of us here, thank you for watching. We'll see you next week.


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