WASHINGTON DC, Oct. 14, 2012 -- TAPPER: We'll cover the campaign and the debates from all angles this morning. The vice president's son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, is standing by, but we do begin with Ohio and Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who's at Romney headquarters in Boston working on debate prep with Governor Romney.
Good morning, Senator Portman.
PORTMAN: Good morning, Jake. How are you?
TAPPER: I'm well, thanks. Thanks for joining us. As we said in the open there, you're playing President Obama in Governor Romney's debate prep. Here is Governor Romney and what he has had to say about that role that you've played.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: He's playing Barack Obama in these mock debates we have. I don't like him very much anymore, all right? He keeps on beating me up, and I keep on going away shaking my head. This guy's really something. You're lucky to have a guy so bright and so capable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And this morning, Washington Post reporter Dan Balz called you, quote, "the Romney campaign's most valuable player" for your multiple roles as Ohio point man and Obama stand-in. I'm assuming you're anticipating that President Obama will have a little bit more pep in his step in Tuesday's debate. How do you prepare for that?
PORTMAN: Well, I think you're right. I think President Obama is going to come out swinging. I think he's going to have to compensate for a poor first debate, and I think that'll be consistent with what they've been doing this whole campaign, Jake, which is running a highly negative ad campaign. They've spent hundreds of millions of dollars around the country, including a lot in Ohio, mischaracterizing Governor Romney's positions and misrepresenting him. And I think you'll see that again at the debate on Tuesday night.
TAPPER: Congressman Ryan said something at the debate that I would love for you to explain. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: Joe and I are from similar towns. He's from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I'm from Janesville, Wisconsin. You know what the unemployment rate in Scranton is today?
J. BIDEN: I sure do.
RYAN: It's 10 percent.
J. BIDEN: Yeah.
RYAN: You know what it was the day you guys came in? 8.5 percent.
J. BIDEN: Yeah.
RYAN: That's how it's going all around America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: "That's how it's going all around America." Now, Senator, this has been a weak economic recovery without question, but it is a recovery. And unemployment is going down, just as a factual matter. Why would Congressman Ryan, in defiance of facts, suggest otherwise?
PORTMAN: You know, I think what he was saying is the truth, which is unemployment's higher today than it was when the president took office. And, you know, unfortunately, in the meantime, we've created net zero jobs, Jake. This is the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression.
So I think he's right. You know, look, we all are happy to see some improvement in the economy, but the fact is the economy's weaker this year than it was last year. It was weaker last year than it was the year before. We're not heading in the right direction.
TAPPER: Governor Romney's been increasingly criticizing the Obama administration for its reaction to and how it dealt with the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and saying that the attacks are a campaign issue, because, quote, "This is the first time in 33 years that a United States ambassador has been assassinated," in Governor Romney's words, but Ambassador Stevens' father this morning told Bloomberg News that, quote, "It would be really abhorrent to make this into a campaign issue."
Does the fact that the ambassador's father doesn't want this to be a campaign issue cause you any concern about Governor Romney bringing it up on the stump?
PORTMAN: Well, he didn't say it was a campaign issue. He said it was an issue.
I mean, it's something the American people are really concerned about, Jake. And, look, you've been on top of this. I've seen some of the tough questions you've been asking the White House on it. Folks want to know two things. Why wasn't the security there? And why did the administration try so hard to create, you know, the wrong image as to what happened?
You know, they went out of their play to try to leave the impression this was because of some video. It wasn't. It was a premeditated terrorist attack that terrible night in Benghazi, that tragic occurrence where the lost the ambassador and three other brave Americans, need to be explained to the American people. And I think folks deserve an explanation.
TAPPER: In Ohio especially, Governor Romney has been making a big issue about cracking down on China and China's cheating. There is this other issue, though, that Governor Romney still gets a cut of the profits from Bain Capital's investments in Chinese companies and in companies that are currently offshoring U.S. jobs to China. Is there not a disconnect between Governor Romney says he wants to do with China and how he is continuing to profit off of those very problems that he criticizes?
PORTMAN: Yeah, Jake, no, I don't think there's any disconnect at all. First of all, all this stuff's in a blind trust. Second, I think a lot of Americans are invested in something that has international investments, including, I'm sure, President Obama and his pension and other things.
So that's not the issue. The issue is, what are we going to do about trade? One, we need to open more markets. And as you know, I'm the former U.S. trade rep, and I think it's unbelievable that the United States has sat on the sidelines for the past four years, hasn't negotiated a single trade opening agreement. While the rest of the world continues to negotiate them -- there have been 40 or 50 of them negotiated -- taking away our market share from our workers, our farmers, our service providers -- and at the same time, we haven't been tough enough on some countries that haven't been playing by the rules, and one in China.
And as you know, I'm the sponsor of the currency legislation in Congress, because we think that they do manipulate their currency, and that ought to be addressed. It's a trade issue. It affects the cost of their exports to us. They're lower as a result of it. And it makes it more expensive for us to send stuff to them.
So these are legitimate issues in Ohio. And I think Governor Romney ought to keep raising them.
TAPPER: We only have one more minute left, so I'm going to turn to Ohio. Let's look at the latest poll from after the first debate. It shows President Obama in the lead in Ohio still, 51 percent to Romney's 45 percent. That's from after the first presidential debate.
Does Governor Romney have a path to the presidency without Ohio? I know you're going to say that he's going to win Ohio, but can he win the presidency without it?
PORTMAN: Look, he can probably win the presidency without Ohio, but I wouldn't want to take the risk. No Republican has. And we're doing great in Ohio. If you look at the average of all the polls, it's about dead-even in Ohio right now. And importantly, the momentum's on our side. It's been terrific.
I've been to a half-dozen rallies in Ohio in the last week alone. I've never seen this kind of energy and enthusiasm on the ground. We've already made three times more phone calls through our volunteers this year than 2008. We've knocked on 25 times more doors than we did in all of 2008. So something's going on, on the ground in Ohio. It's turning our way. And I think that's why you're going to see the president continue to attack, not focus on the substance of the issues that people care about, but instead continue to get attacked because things are not going their way right now.
TAPPER: Senator Portman, thanks so much for joining us this morning. We really appreciate your time.
PORTMAN: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: And now we turn to the vice president's son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. Beau, thanks so much for joining us.
B. BIDEN: Great to be with you this morning, Jake.
TAPPER: Now, I hate to put you in the awkward position of having to defend your father. I know I wouldn't want to have to defend my father, as much as I love him. But he is the vice president, and you are here on this show. So I have to start with a criticism of your father's style the other night. Many out there were saying his eye rolls, his laughter, his smiles were too much, and overshadowed the substance of what he was saying. The Romney-Ryan ticket has a new TV ad. Let's play a clip of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: Did they come in and inherit a tough situation? Absolutely. But we're going in the wrong direction. Look at where we are. The economy is barely limping along. Don't raise taxes on small businesses, because they're our job-creators.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Smiling and laughing while Congressman Ryan was talking about serious issues. Was his body language at all -- were his facial expressions counterproductive?
B. BIDEN: Not at all. Look, I'm happy to defend my dad. I don't think he needs any defensiveness. Any time the other side -- Karl Rove or folks on the far right -- are going after my father for smiling too much, you know that's a victory. My father spoke clearly to the American people about the facts, and you saw him do that for 90 minutes straight.
You know, this isn't, Jake, about how much my father smiled or how many gallons of water that the congressman drank nervously on that stage. It's about talking directly to the American people about very important facts, and what you saw from my father were him articulating the vision that the president and he have to continue to build this middle class, you know, out and take this country forward.
And, you know, from -- you know, I was struck by Paul Ryan by a number of fronts, you know, especially the congressman's position on Afghanistan, which I feel -- I feel very strongly about.
TAPPER: I want to get to that...
B. BIDEN: Here you have a congressman suggesting...
TAPPER: Beau, I want to -- well, go ahead.
B. BIDEN: I'm sorry. Yeah, sure. Well, look, I mean, you had him suggest, if not open the door, to put additional troops in Afghanistan. So it was a remarkable position to take. It demonstrated, I think, that, you know, the congressman is not quite up to speed on foreign policy as you might want a would-be vice president to be.
You know, this is a moment in time where we're -- our nation's fought the longest war in its nation's -- in this nation's history, and he's actually suggesting putting additional forces in the most dangerous part of the most dangerous part of the world. It was a remarkable moment for me.
You know, this is the same person, Congressman, that had suggested, you know, that -- Governor Romney suggested the privatization, the voucherization of the V.A. We're going to have a nation -- a group of -- generation of folks coming back from two wars on two fronts, and they want to hand veterans a voucher? It's a remarkable, remarkable position they've taken on a whole range of issues that affect veterans, which I feel very strongly about.
TAPPER: Beau, I mean, wasn't the point that Congressman Ryan making -- wasn't he making the point that pulling troops out of Afghanistan, especially in R.C. East, Regional Command East, which I've been, isn't it accurate -- and your father has been many times -- isn't it accurate to say that generals preferred to pull out the troops after the fighting season ended and not during? Wasn't that the larger strategic point he was making?
B. BIDEN: You know, I'm not sure if he knows what the strategic point he was making was. The point that I heard and the American people heard is that you heard my father clearly articulate that we wouldn't have forces in Afghanistan by 2014, and you've seen here the congressman equivocate on that, in fact, not be willing to guarantee the American people that we wouldn't have forces in Afghanistan, which will then be the nation's longest war.
I mean, you know, this is a person who, on a whole host of issues, whether it be Iran or Afghanistan or Syria, that it -- or Libya, they couldn't take yes for an answer. When pressed by Martha Raddatz, they embraced the president's positions and stated policy, but then the congressman, in an attempt to kind of thump his chest like some of his predecessors seem to want to be doing, to try to sound tough, suggesting that we -- you know -- you know, commit additional forces to Afghanistan. Remarkable moment. Remarkable moment.
I was interested to see what Dan Senor was saying in the spin room that evening. He was literally spinning around trying to, I think, correct or at least explain some of the statements from the congressman on Afghanistan.
TAPPER: Right. Beau, I want to get to Libya right now, because your father raised some eyebrows when he was asked about requests for more security from diplomats on the ground in Libya. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
J. BIDEN: Well, we weren't told they wanted more security again. We did not know they wanted more security again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: ... weren't told, though I know the White House now says that when the vice president said we, he meant him and the president, not the Obama administration writ large, because obviously the State Department was told that they wanted more security. But isn't that kind of a copout? You're speaking in front of 50 million Americans and you're saying we weren't told, when people in the State Department were, in fact, told?
B. BIDEN: Not at all. He was speaking for himself and the president, as you heard Jay Carney tell you in the briefing room just the other day. Look, this is -- this is a tragedy when we lose an ambassador and three other personnel, number one. Number two, the president is going to do -- making sure that we investigate to make sure exactly what happened, putting Tom Pickering in charge of doing just that.
Three, the president is going to do exactly what he did with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida. He's going to find these people and bring them to justice. And, fourthly, you know, Jake, this is not a moment in time where we should be politicizing these issues. You know, I've served with and know and have personal friends who in the Foreign Service as we speak. And the idea that Romney and Ryan are suggesting that the president of the United States doesn't take seriously the security of our diplomats and Foreign Service officers around the world I find absolutely outrageous, especially outrageous coming from the congressman, who in his budget proposed to cut diplomatic security by $200 million to $300 million.
It's outrageous. This is not a time -- like this is a group of folks that aren't ready for primetime. You have Governor Romney, who within 24 hours goes to London, offends our closest ally, walks out in front of 10 Downing Street, and tells the international press corps that he just met with British intelligence. These are folks that seem to be more interested in kind of pounding their chest to make the neoconservatives who advise them proud than they are about being serious about foreign policy and protecting our national interests around the world.
TAPPER: All right. Beau Biden, that's all the time we have, regrettably. Thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.
B. BIDEN: Happy to. Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: When we -- when we come back, a special discussion with our all-star panel about these presidential debates. Did the first two shake up the race? Do debates ever change elections? And what should we expect in the final two Romney-Obama face-offs? We'll be back in a moment with our special panel and live audience from here at the Newseum.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): Before we begin, a reminder that your performance tonight is extremely unlikely to affect the outcome of the election, so just have fun with it.
(UNKNOWN): Oh, you bet. You bet.
(UNKNOWN): First of all, I want to thank Centre College for hosting us this weekend.
(UNKNOWN): Oh, boy, here we go. Oh, man.
(UNKNOWN): Four years ago, President Obama made a promise, and yet he still has not put a single credible plan on the table on how to deal with the debt crisis.
(UNKNOWN): Oh, god, I'm sorry, Martha. Martha, with all due respect, this is a bunch of malarkey, all right? This is malarkey.
(UNKNOWN): A bunch of malarkey?
(UNKNOWN): What does that mean?
(UNKNOWN): It's Irish.
(UNKNOWN): No, no, no, Irish is I come over there and smack that dumb look off your face.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That was last night's "SNL" spoofing Thursday's vice presidential debate. Throughout the show this morning, we'll be bringing you memorable moments in presidential debating history as we discuss our big question, do presidential debates change elections?
Thanks to our partners at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, we've assembled an all-star panel to discuss that question. To my right, as always, is George Will, and to my left, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who as Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000 was instrumental in preparing the vice president to debate George W. Bush. Next to Donna, we're joined by two former presidential candidates, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who debated Mitt Romney countless times while battling him for the Republican presidential nomination, and former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, who squared off with Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential primaries. Presidential historian Richard Norton Smith of George Mason University is also here. And finally, we're especially pleased to be joined by ABC's senior foreign affairs correspondent, Martha Raddatz.
Martha, of course, expertly moderated the vice presidential debate in Kentucky just three nights ago. And, Martha, Buzzfeed gave you the nickname "Badass Supermoderator," so let's give Martha a huge round of applause.
RADDATZ: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
TAPPER: And as you just saw, we have a great audience here at the Newseum's Knight Studio. Thanks to all of you for joining us this morning.
The big question we're discussing today, do presidential debates change elections? Do they matter?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER (voice-over): The answer at first blush seems simple. Of course debates matter. The candidates spend weeks, if not months, preparing. TV audiences are enormous. Sixty-seven million tuned in for the first meeting between Romney and Obama. And afterwards, even in our Twitter-fueled, short-attention-span news cycle, the debates have staying power.
Even the candidates themselves dwell on their debate performances years, decades even later. Here's Richard Nixon in 1971, ruing the lack of preparation that led to that sweaty, uncomfortable performance against Jack Kennedy 11 years before.
NIXON: Running the (inaudible) so hard, we didn't learn from the other (inaudible)
TAPPER: And yet, for all the hype, political scientists and pollsters say there's little evidence debates make much difference in election outcomes. In an analysis of the debates held in the 10 presidential contests between 1960 and 2008, ABC News found just one where a debate appeared to switch the lead in the polls by a significant margin. It was 1980...
REAGAN: Are you better off than you were four years ago?
TAPPER: ... when then-Governor Ronald Reagan uttered that now-famous line. President Obama hopes that one exception remains the only one.
SAWYER: That debate, what happened?
OBAMA: Well, Governor Romney had a good night. I had a bad night.
SAWYER: How bad?
OBAMA: Well, it's not the first time I've had a bad night. But I think what's important is that the fundamentals of what this race is about haven't changed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, George Will, Karl Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week that the first debate will be seen as the decision point in this election. Do we make too big a deal out of debates? Or does Mr. Rove have a point?
WILL: Well, we make too big a deal in the sense that it is hard to argue that debates test or reveal aptitudes that are pertinent to the performance of presidential duties. That said, debates now are semi-constitutional events. That is, you cannot become president without participating in them. Didn't exist until 1960. Now they are, as I say, semi-constitutional.
Clearly, in close elections, '60, '76, 2000, it's perfectly plausible to say that they caused enough change to be the margin of difference. With regard to this -- this year's, it's too soon to say whether the surge that Mitt Romney got from his debate performance will be evanescent or not. If it is durable, it will be because I think usually what happens in debates that matter is they catalyze an inchoate feeling the electorate had and that it becomes articulate and present and powerful.
TAPPER: Donna, you were campaign manager for then-Vice President Al Gore. How important were those debates?
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, you notice I was holding my breath when you said that. I didn't want to have any audible sigh for fear that I might...
... get split-screened with this handsome man sitting to my left. God knows what will happen if the two of us are ever, you know, on, you know, "Dancing with the Stars."
I'll take the lead, by the way.
There's no question, they do matter, because millions of viewers are tuning in for the first time. They get an opportunity to look at these two men -- so far men -- and to take a look at whether or not what they've heard on TV or watched over the past few weeks is actually true. So they matter.
And that's why we spent a lot of time rehearsing, prepping, and trying to get, you know, three months of sound bites into two minutes so that they come across as -- as concise and clear and a little energetic.
TAPPER: Speaker Gingrich, you debated many, many times against Governor Romney, were widely seen as a strong debater, but then came Florida.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I'm not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive. Don't use a term like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: A very forceful performance by Mitt Romney. What did you learn from that experience that Barack Obama needs to know?
GINGRICH: Well, my wife, Callista, kept saying that if he were as prepared and as aggressive with Obama as he was -- you know, the two debates that were life-and-death for him, he won, in terms of -- I won a lot of debates. When it finally got down to the crunch, he did what he had to do. He was very aggressive. He was very assertive.
What was a surprise to me was not that Romney was as good as he was. I thought he was -- people underestimate him. This guy went to both Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School simultaneously. He's a very hard-working, very methodical person.
The big surprise to me was the emptiness on the other side. I mean, what made that debate so startling was Romney was better than people expected and Obama was unbelievably less capable than people expected, and it was the match-up that made it so extraordinary.
You know, one of the points that Craig Shirley has made in his book on the 1980 campaign, "Rendezvous with Destiny," is that that may be the one place where clearly the debate was decisive. I think Carter might well have won without that debate. But I would argue that the 1960 debate, Kennedy suddenly became a peer of Richard Nixon's, you know -- vice president versus a young senator, suddenly they're -- they're basically even after the first debate, and I think that what Romney did -- if Romney had had as bad a debate as Obama, we would be sitting here talking about the election being over. That's how big that -- now, that still means there are two more rounds here. This is not over. But it does mean Romney got himself back into contention in one night.
TAPPER: Senator Dodd, you debated President Obama repeatedly in 2007, and as you saw at the Democratic nomination, you were a big part of one of the most important moments in that series of Democratic primary debates. Let's show a clip from that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: We have failed. We have failed.
DODD: Wait a minute. No, no, no, you said -- you said, yes, you thought it made sense to do it.
CLINTON: No, I didn't, Chris. But the point is, what are we going to do with all these illegal immigrants who are driving on the road?
DODD: Well, that's -- that's a legitimate issue, but driver's license goes too far.
CLINTON: Well, you may say that, but what is the identification? If somebody runs into you today who is an undocumented worker...
DODD: There's ways of dealing with that here.
DODD: This is a privilege, not a right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: First of all, what's going through your mind in a moment like that? And also, just secondarily, do you buy the suggestion that President Obama is not a great debater and was overhyped?
DODD: Well, a lot of questions there. First of all, in that particular clip, all I was doing was asking the question I think the audience was asking itself at that moment. And obviously, a difficult moment for Hillary Clinton, because her governor in New York was advocating a position of granting licenses to people in the state and not wanting to put herself at odds with her own governor, so I asked the question that a moderator might have asked at that point. She'd have to answer the question. That's all that really happened at that particular moment.
I think George Will has it absolutely right about debates. I think debates that Newt Gingrich and I went through in the primary process are very different than what we're watching today at the presidential level, once your candidates are chosen, in this sense. We're dealing with constituencies where you have to sort -- check certain boxes in order to become a credible candidate.
When you get to the presidential debate and they've been chosen, issues are still very important. Don't misunderstand me. But I think George Will has it absolutely right. At that point, we're looking for something else. And these issues become portals of making decisions about whether or not this individual is capable of taking on the most important job in the world. And so they're important, but it's more about character, it's more about your ability to express the emotions the country is feeling, the difficulty they're going through, and therefore there's a significant difference, in my view, in terms of how the public looks at these engagements.
We have -- we're only halfway there. There are six hours of presidential and vice presidential debates. Three hours have yet to come. And I think we're getting ahead of ourselves in many ways by determining the race is over. Barack Obama is a very talented person. I served on three committees in the Senate with him, two committees, excuse me, spent I don't know how many hours, as you pointed out, in these forums we were involved in. And this is a very talented, committed individual who I think won the election in 2008 because he brings a passion and understanding of these issues.
And I would be very careful about writing him off at this point, in my view. I think he'll come back very strongly on this coming week and thereafter.
But obviously, we're talking about his coming back because of what happened. And clearly, he opened the door and energized the base, the Republican base, the independents who might have written him off entirely. So debates are important. What happened a week or so ago was important. But what remains to be done here is equally, if not more important.
TAPPER: Richard Norton Smith, Dick Nixon didn't have to deal with Facebook or Twitter or cable news even.
TAPPER: Put this in historical perspective for us. How much does that new media change what happens in a debate?
NORTON SMITH: I think it transforms the experience of watching and assessing what it is we see. That clip from "Saturday Night Live" makes the point. In 1960, we had a shared experience. Close to half the population sat down. It was the first time that this had ever happened. Novelty was -- was a huge factor. We had a lot fewer intermediaries interpreting what we were seeing. We saw it for ourselves. And the next day, we discussed it at the water cooler.
"Saturday Night Live" has become our water cooler. And the debates over time have become an inseparable part of the pop culture, part of the 24/7 news cycle. And my hunch is -- the other big thing, of course, is because of the social media, instead of watching and listening, we're commenting. We're offering our own instant analysis as the debate is unfolding. That has to change what the experience is, what you're getting out of it, what you're putting into it. And my hunch is, if you look at over time the audiences for the debates in relative terms, compared to population, has diminished, and I think correspondingly, to the extent that people see them as scripted entertainment events, I think they -- I think they give less weight in determining how they vote.
TAPPER: Interesting. Martha, in preparing for your moderating, you studied many, many past debates. What did you learn about what goes into a game-changing moment?
RADDATZ: Well, I think one of the things, in studying and looking back at all the debates, is sort of exactly what we're talking about, too. Were they looking at the camera? Were they looking away? Were they gesturing in big ways? But it's also getting that message through -- throughout the 90 minutes.
I completely -- I love always saying this -- completely agree with George Will on this -- we all do -- about what it means. But it's that 90 minutes. You see those candidates for 90 entire minutes, and they have to get their message out.
I mean, there were times sitting at that table, I could see both of them just thinking, OK, now what haven't I said? What haven't I said? What haven't I said? Obviously, getting them off-message is always the challenge, but I do think it's such a fascinating test to see them in that forum and for the public to see for the first time them in that forum for 90 entire minutes.
TAPPER: George, have debates made differences before other than 1960?
WILL: Well, first of all, the most consequential debate in American history didn't involve presidential candidates. It involved two Illinois Senate candidates. It was one of seven in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. It was at Freeport, when Lincoln asked the famous Freeport questions. Stephen Douglas clearly -- and to his detriment of the Democratic Party -- endorsed popular sovereignty on slavery in the territories and much American history flowed from that.
But, yes, they did. Look, Kennedy wins in 1960 by about one vote per precinct, so clearly the debate had to make that much difference. In 1976, Gerald Ford seemed to catalyze, again, the belief that he was perhaps befuddled when he got cross-wise with himself on domination of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan said, "There you go again," people said, "He's not a madman at all. He's a perfectly nice fellow."
In 1988, when Michael Dukakis was asked about capital punishment and his wife, people said, "He's cold and he's a technocrat and we don't much care for that." In 1992, President Bush looked at his watch and people said, "He's detached. He doesn't really care for us." And then, Donna, there were the sighs on the part of Al Gore and people said, "He's a bit of a stuffed shirt."
TAPPER: Well, you know, it's interesting. In terms of "Saturday Night Live," the importance of "Saturday Night Live," Gore aides actually made Al Gore watch "Saturday Night Live's" representations of that first debate to see -- to show him how he was perceived. Do we make too big a deal out of these stylistic things, Joe Biden's smiles, Al Gore's sighs?
BRAZILE: I mean, when you're preparing someone for these historic gatherings, you're focused on the substance. I mean, here are the policy positions, here's what your opponent is saying, and this is how you counter it. But when you get there, and all of a sudden it's stagecraft, and you're like -- the eyes and the movement of the hands...
TAPPER: And the split-screen.
BRAZILE: And the split-screen. I mean, it's -- you know, I'm sure now President Obama will be advised to look up, smile, and don't roll his eye, just stay focused on Candy Crowley or the person. I mean, in this next debate, it's even more important, because you're connecting with the questioner, the real people at this town hall debate.
But George mentioned, I was looking at all of these numbers, '84, Reagan botched the first one. He said he was over-trained, over-prepared, and he wasn't quite ready for that first encounter with Walter Mondale. And also, in 2004, when, once again, the negotiations and the Bush -- the Bush people said that they wanted the first question on national security, and George Bush was not prepared. John Kerry was, and he tightened that race.
TAPPER: Speaker Gingrich, I want to ask you, the president was criticized for seeming lackluster in his responses. Do you think the stylistic things matter?
GINGRICH: Well, I think George had it right in the sense that -- that this -- that character is a part of -- ultimately, you don't know what crisis will emerge a year from now, and the character of the -- the nature of the person does matter.
And I actually think you had it right, that 90 minutes with no editing, no breaks, you begin to watch these two people interact with the moderator, you get a different sense than you do from TV commercials. I thought Romney, frankly, was helped because the Obama campaign spent three months portraying him as a person he's not, and people saw him and said, wait a second, that's not the guy I've been frightened about, just as Reagan in 1980 suddenly was a lot more reasonable than the Carter caricature of him.
So these things do matter, I think, and I think that the challenge for President Obama was a little bit like George H.W. Bush. I mean, I got the sense that first night that he wasn't there to compete. I mean, he -- you know, if you wanted to give him the presidency again, it'd be all right and he'd be happy to show up, but he wasn't there saying, "Here's what I have done, here's what I will do, here's why it matters," and that came through, and I think Obama was a much bigger shock in the first debate than Romney was.
WILL: Can I just -- in thinking about whether these debates are important or should be as important as they are, just imagine we had the Lincoln-Douglas format. The first person talked for an hour. Second person talked for an hour-and-a-half, and then the first person responded to that. They did this seven times without amplified sound and in front of audiences none of whom could vote for them, because state legislators at that time elected the senators.
TAPPER: Good luck pitching that to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
RADDATZ: And no Twitter. And no Twitter.
TAPPER: Senator Dodd, is the debate -- is the debate aftermath just as important, the spin?
DODD: Oh, sure. The point made earlier about this is that -- I suspect the next cycle of debates will involve interactivity to some degree, I suppose, where people are literally going to have on a screen, not just a split-screen to the candidates, but actually the comments that are being made by the public at large, as you continue to debate, so we're going to see, I think, a generation of new technology providing even greater opportunities for interactivity.
But the after is critically important. And, again, the commentary that goes on, you don't have the opportunity any longer to sort of think about what we've seen and then react to it. We're being told instantaneously how you're supposed to react to it, and so that makes a difference, but also how the candidates and their teams react.
Just one quick anecdote. I remember, there was a bill-signing ceremony with President Reagan after the first debate, very shortly thereafter. And I thought, well, I want to get down, not because I just want to be at the bill signing, but I want to see how the president's reacting.
And I'll never forget walking into the Oval Office with him, and it was -- the night before he had gone to a movie. I'll never forget it. He was -- well, come on in. Can I get you a cup of coffee (inaudible) I'm thinking to myself, he was just devastated last night, and he ought to be in a corner sort of weeping. But his reaction was that was last night, this was today, and he moved forward. And I think it's wise for these candidates and their teams, once the debate is over, move forward.
The fact that we had been dwelling on this for the last 10 days -- in fact, the president's team (inaudible) dwelling on it, I don't think helps at all. I think you have to move beyond this. And so not only does how the media deals with it, but also how the campaigns deal with it, I think, can also sustain these impressions, and they need to put it behind them.
TAPPER: We have about a minute left in this section of the show. Martha, my first reaction after the debate was, "Wow, this is a big night for Jason Sudeikis," the guy who plays Joe Biden on "Saturday Night Live." When you're up there on the stage, can you tell what's going to take hold in the public's mind?
RADDATZ: Well, let me tell you one thing. For instance, I didn't see Paul Ryan drinking all that water, ever, because when I was asking -- because you're so in the moment, and you're asking Joe Biden a question. But I think right away, you knew what the strategy was.
But one of the things I think Joe Biden did was in that intimate -- in that little intimate table, it was very small, he was too big. He was like he was at a campaign event. So you could even -- you could feel that, especially at that table, that -- that Joe Biden was so aggressive. So there were surprises there. I was surprised at Paul Ryan, that he didn't jump in more, but that was clearly the strategy. But when you walk off, you're not quite sure how it went.
TAPPER: We have to take a quick break, but we'll be back in just 60 seconds to hear whether a presidential debate has ever changed your vote. First, though, a look at the 1988 debates.
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BUSH: I don't see this, incidentally, as a Democrat or Republican or a liberal or a conservative idea. I see an involvement by 1,000 points of light.
DUKAKIS: A thousand points of light, I don't know what that means.
CARVEY: All I can say is, we are on the track. We're getting the job done. We can do more. But let's stay the course. A thousand points of light.
(UNKNOWN): Governor Dukakis, rebuttal?
LOVITZ: I can't believe I'm losing to this guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: And the difference between Arkansas and the United States is that we're going in the right direction and this country's going in the wrong direction. And I have to defend the honor of my state.
HARTMAN: When I started as governor, we were 50th in adult literacy. And last year, I'm proud to say we shot ahead of Mississippi. That's right, we're number 49, and we're closing in fast on Alabama. Watch out, Alabama, we got your number.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: The late, great Phil Hartman there doing his memorable impression of Bill Clinton in 1992. and welcome back to our panel and to our audience here at the Newseum. Our topic today, of course, do presidential debates change elections? And while we've heard quite a bit from our panel on this, we also put this question to you at home. Let's take a look.
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(UNKNOWN): Like a lot of Republicans who are real conservatives, not the neoconservatives that we see today, I'm concerned about where the GOP is going. Debates did nothing to change my opinion of Mitt Romney or the strategy of the Republican Party. And so for the first time in my life, I'm going the vote for a Democrat.
TAPPER (voice-over): That was Michael May (ph) of Brea, California. He was not the only one who said a debate has not changed his vote. Nicole Nichols does her own research, because she believes the candidates only say in debates what they think we want to hear.
ROMNEY: I was astonished at the creativity and innovation that exists in the American people.
OBAMA: Because of the resilience and the determination of the American people, we've begun to fight our way back.
TAPPER: And many of you agreed with this comment, "The ability to debate well does not convert to the ability to govern a country, state or otherwise." But we did hear from some viewers who have been influenced by a debate. More than one told us the first Romney-Obama debate swung their vote from Obama to Romney.
ROMNEY: You're entitled as a president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts.
TAPPER: And two of you told us you changed your vote after a debate only to later regret doing so. For Margaret Jones, it was Ross Perot's 1992 debate performance...
PEROT: I'll all ears.
TAPPER: ... that changed her vote. Some of you said that even if a debate did not change your vote, it made you more or less comfortable with your choice.
Finally, Stefano Pace said had a thought that we know Richard Norton Smith will appreciate. "A television debate might be conceived as a sort of historical document," he writes. "The role of debates can go beyond the current voting season and reach future voters as it happens for milestone debates of the past."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Some great thoughts there. Thanks for weighing in. And you can continue the conversation online today on Twitter, @thisweekabc, and on Facebook. And we're back now with our all-star panel of experts. I'd like to get a final thought from each of you on our big question, do presidential debates change elections? And what are you looking for in these last two presidential debates?
Senator Dodd, I'll start with you.
DODD: Well, maybe. I think what George Will said earlier. We don't know about this one yet. Time will tell. History will write about it. The good news is, we have three more hours of them. We're only halfway there. That's the bad news, too, I suppose, for many people, only halfway there, because they are so scripted.
My hope is -- and I believe this will be the case -- in preparing for these debates, I strongly advise the staffs, let these candidates sort of be themselves. Too often I think they sort of wire you up, anticipate a question. It never happens the way they plan it to happen. And so my advice to President Obama would be, let him -- let him be the senator and the candidate he was in 2008. He'll do beautifully.
TAPPER: Don't over-prepare.
TAPPER: Speaker Gingrich?
GINGRICH: Well, first of all, in terms of the debates this time, if Obama has one more debate as bad as his first debate, I think he will be in enormous trouble. So I'm assuming he'll fight his way back. I'm assuming that the race will be fairly close, but he couldn't take a second debate as bad as his first debate without, I think, seeing the whole race blow wide open.
But people need to remember two -- there are two patterns here. One is the very short quip that changes everything. Ronald Reagan saying, "I'm not going to take advantage of my opponent's youth and experience," I think that ended the presidential race -- and Mondale thought it ended the presidential race. On the other hand, I think Biden -- sometimes it's the whole 90 minutes. You can't interrupt 82 times in 41 minutes and not end up cumulatively -- it would have been a great gimmick three times. Eighty-two times, you start looking like a caricature of yourself.
TAPPER: We're going to take a quick break and hear from the rest of our panel when we come back.
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GORE: If I'm entrusted with the presidency, here are the choices that I will make. I'll balance the budget every year. I will pay down the national debt. I will put Medicare and Social Security in a lockbox and protect them.
HAMMOND: Now, one of the keys to the lockbox will be kept by the president. The other key would be in a sealed, magnetic container and placed under the bumper of the Senate majority leader's car.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: We're back now with our all-star panel of experts. Historian Richard Norton Smith, do debates matter? And what are you looking for in these last two final debates?
NORTON SMITH: Oh, I think we've established they matter. I have enough trouble understanding the past to try to predict the future.
I will suggest one reform, though. The legacy -- one legacy of the 1980, late in the campaign, one week before the campaign, because the Carter and the Reagan camps were debating over the debate. It went, obviously, very well for Governor Reagan, swept him into office. The decision was made thereafter, whatever we do in the future, we're never going to repeat that mistake. Why do you think we have all four debates shoehorned into a narrow window in October? Why not stretch them out from Labor Day until a week before the election? And then maybe, as Senator Dodd points out, we'd have a little bit more time to reflect on what we've heard.
RADDATZ: Or too much time to reflect on what we've learned, stretching them all out. Yeah, they matter. But, you know, looking -- looking back at those other debates, as we -- as we have this morning, I think people have to remember that what you hear isn't necessarily going to happen and that there are promises kept or we're going to do this and we're going to do that, it doesn't really come out to be true.
I think Tuesday's debate is a very different style of debate. It is that town hall. I think both men will do very well, probably, with the audience. I think it's probably a bit easier for them, because you have a live audience, just like this one, and you can relate to them in a different way than you do just with a moderator or each other.
TAPPER: Mr. Will?
WILL: Certainly, they matter, although Newt cites the 1984, when the president said I'm not going to take advantage of my opponent's youth, he carried 49 states. So that really wasn't the key to this enormous landslide.
TAPPER: Although Walter Mondale says that was the moment he realized that he was going to lose.
DODD: He realized, but the country...
(UNKNOWN): Exactly right.
BRAZILE: And he told his wife that night that that was probably the moment.
WILL: Second, the format will matter. This next debate will -- with interacting with the audience will be part of the Oprah-fication of American politics, where we elect a national talk show host, and I think it's unfortunate that we do this. And -- everyone will be watching to see if -- how Mr. Obama strikes a balance between catatonia and mania, that is some -- will he be...
WILL: ... will he be like Joe Biden and people be saying, where's the Ritalin?
TAPPER: OK. Donna, last thought.
BRAZILE: Well, look, first of all, I think the Democrats have got to just stop trying to fact-check the Republicans every time they open their mouths and get back to talking to the American people, tell the country where we're going over the next four years, and if Mitt Romney wants to continue to pivot to becoming a moderate or even a liberal like myself, then, you know, have that conversation four years from now, but talk to the American people. They want to hear about the future.
TAPPER: All right. Well, that's all the time we have. Thanks so much. We're going to take a break, but we'll be back with a final word in a moment.
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BROKAW: We want to thank our hosts here at Belmont University in Nashville and the Commission on Presidential Debates. And you're in my way of my script there, if you will move.
(UNKNOWN): How do we, as a people, come together? So let me tell you another story I've never shared before. And at first, I'm (OFF-MIKE) in common. But over the course of working together, year in, year out, talking to each other...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Middle-income families are being crushed. And so the question is how to get them going again, and I've described it. It's energy and trade, the right kind of training programs, balancing our budgets...
(UNKNOWN): Excuse me, Governor. Mr. President?
(UNKNOWN): I'm sorry. Yeah, yeah, what's up?
(UNKNOWN): Mr. President, Governor Romney has just said that he killed Osama bin Laden. Would you care to respond?
(UNKNOWN): No, you two go ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That's all we have time for this morning, but thank you very much to our wonderful panel. This has been a terrific discussion. And the discussion continues online today. Donna Brazile and Speaker Gingrich will answer your questions on Twitter, @donnabrazile and @newtgingrich. Just use hashtag #thisweek.
Thanks also to our audience here in the Newseum's Knight Studio, and thank you to our friends and partners at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. The Miller Center is a nonpartisan institute that studies the presidency, policy, and political history, and applies the lessons of history to the toughest policy challenges we face today. For more information about the work of the Miller Center, please visit millercenter.org.
And 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 Tuesday for special coverage of "One on One: The Candidates Debate," beginning at 9 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific. George Stephanopoulos will see you back here next week. Thanks, one and all. Now you guys can applaud.