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TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

First Posted: 12/04/11 12:15 PM ET Updated: 12/04/11 02:40 PM ET

Five Box

Good morning everybody and welcome once again to your Sunday Morning Liveblog of spoken-word political blither-skittles that happens every week to America at this time. My name is Jason, and I hope everyone had a fun a restful Thanksgiving Holiday that did not involve trampling your fellow citizens over a great deal on a juicemaker at Target. Today is something of a special occasion, as it is the four-year anniversary of this here liveblog. I still have no idea, exactly, what we were going with when we called it "TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads." And I think that I actually used to get this done by noon, back when we started this. But wow, four years! That makes this one of the longest exercises in futility on the internet, I think!

But thanks are in order to all of you, for making this possible. And thanks to the good people of TiVo, who allow me to stop this stuff every once in a while so I can take breaks. And thanks to the copyeditors, whose lives I make very difficult with my fast typings. Okay! Let's have some thoughts about politics! As always, feel free to drop me a line, leave a comment, or follow me on Twitter.

FOX NEWS SUNDAY

Today, Chris Wallace gets to talk to Michele Bachmann again, about presidenty stuff. Plus Tom Coburn and Kent Conrad are here, to drown us in charisma, and also fret about the debt.

But first, Herman Cain: he is dunzo! His candidacy was a "gift" to America, but now it is suspended and we're left with just another website. Hopefully, Cain salvaged enough credibility to continue to have the book tours and celebrity career that he was actually angling for by pretending to run for president. Speaking of: the other guy pretending to run for President, Newt Gingrich, is now the front runner in Iowa! (And Ron Paul is in second place, y'all.) Rick Perry is tied with Rick Santorum. Jon Huntsman, naturally, continues to be liked by no one who is planning to vote in a GOP primary.

"But things can still change," says Wallace, which is, I guess the pretext for having Michele Bachmann on, today?

She is, of course, first asked about Cain, and she says all sorts of nice things about what he brought to the race and how intriguing he was as a candidate and how the election process was better for having him in it. As for the theory that Cain supporters will go to Gingrich, Bachmann says that she's getting plenty of calls from Cain supporters, who "recognize that I'm the real deal" and the "true Tea Party candidate in the race."

But she's held all sorts of events in Iowa, so Wallace wants to know what the "problem" is. Bachmann says there is no problem and that Iowa is a "political Wall Street" where candidates' fortunes go "up and down" and eventually they get greedy and the economy collapses and we mewl and cry for a while before eventually blaming firefighters for everything that's gone wrong and we steal their pensions. Or something like that!

Bachmann says people are looking for a candidate with no surprises and she is the only candidate in the race with a website that is called "No Surprises." I guess she is also angling for Radiohead's endorsement:

It's a tough call! Radiohead also has a song called "Airbag," so they could lean toward Rick Perry!

"Well...you make a convincing argument." Does she, Chris? Does she? You honestly don't seem that convinced. (The "tell" is the way you set up your question with "Well, you make a convincing argument, but..." It's sort of like, "No disrespect, but your mother's a whore.")

He points out that Iowa evangelicals have been unable to come up with a single endorsement, but they have narrowed it down to Bachmann and Santorum. Bachmann says that in Iowa, caucus-goers don't care much about endorsements. I don't think that's true, but at the moment, she's probably been sufficiently endorsed. If Santorum doesn't end up getting some "moment," those voters could all come home to Bachmann just through the caucus mechanics.

Newt Gingrich says he "feels sorry" for Bachmann because she's so "factually challenged." Bachmann says, "Well, professors don't like to be challenged," but Gingrich put his name on support of amnesty and the DREAM act, which Bachmann opposes. She will build a fence! And she'll make English "the official language of the United States government." She will also make oxygen the official respirant of the American people! And she'll endorse gravity as "the official thing keeping us on the ground!"

Bachmann also calls him "as establishment as you get," and then runs down a litany of, frankly, awesome criticisms of Gingrich's lobbyist/influence peddling past. (She calls K Street the "Rodeo Drive of Washington." LOVE.) "You don't need to be a lobbyist within the letter of the law to influence the outcome of legislation," she says, and that is 100% true, by the way. "Special interests aren't paying him $100 million for nothing," she adds. Honestly, her discussion of lobbying is pretty tight, she's getting briefed by someone who is sound on that issue.

Wallace asks if by opposing the extension of the payroll tax cut, she's breaking the pledge to not raise taxes. She says, "Not at all," because she opposed lowering it already. "It's Barack Obama's idea," she says, which probably is enough to qualify it for opposition. Wallace points out that the argument Democrats would make here is that she supports taking money back from the middle class, who've gotten a break with that payroll tax cut, while at the same time supporting "extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy." (Roger Ailes probably hates to hear the phrase "Bush tax cuts for the wealthy" on his network, ha ha.)

Bachmann says that she voted the payroll tax holiday, and she supports lowering taxes on the rich, because they "create jobs." Eventually! Any day now, they will create some jobs.

Businesses, she says, currently do not have all the money that they need to create jobs.

Uhm...not exactly!

U.S. corporate profits hit an all-time high at the end of 2010, with financial firms showing some of the biggest gains, data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis show. Corporations reported an annualized $1.68 trillion in profit in the fourth quarter. The previous record, without being adjusted for inflation, was $1.65 trillion in the third quarter of 2006.

Many of the nation's preeminent companies have posted massive increases in profits this year. General Electric posted worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, while profits at JPMorgan Chase were up 47 percent to $4.8 billion.

Corporate profits steadily increased last year as companies continued holding onto record amounts of cash and other liquid assets while cutting costs, laying off workers and wringing more productivity -- defined as the amount of output that comes from an hour of work -- from remaining staff, even as the recession eased.

To put that in perspective, said Lynn Reaser, the chief economist at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, it's important to note that companies were able to bring production back up to pre-recession levels without hiring any more workers.

Bachmann recently got into a discussion with high school students about marriage equality, in which she said that gay men could marry women and gay women could marry men and that was fine with her and okay, hold on, stop -- I thought that the argument here was about sanctity and not about the accommodations the law makes. Wallace, however, points out that in Iowa, same-sex marriage is accommodated by the law as well. "No, I don't believe that it is." No, you can look it up. In Iowa, she says, it was "judges that made the decision, not the legislature." Oh, I hope she gets asked about the state of New York, then!

She doesn't.

What happens if she doesn't finish first or second in Iowa? She will answer that when the time comes. "The underdog has a very good chance of winning...ultimately, people are going to come back home on January 3rd." Also she'll repeal the Obama administration and probably most of the past forty years.

Tom Coburn and Kent Conrad are here now, to yammer about what's going on in the Senate, an august legislative body where elected officials clean each other's pelts for ticks and lice. Tom Coburn voted against the payroll tax holiday, because why not! At this point, is there a point? Coburn says that he'll be happy to change the tax code and stop playing "gotcha" games and all the discussions that are being had a "playing games," and "America saw right through it," apparently, but won't they notice their paychecks getting lighter? Actually, probably not! The problem the Obama administration had with most of their tax breaks was that they were so stealthy hardly anyone knew that they were happening.

Conrad's considerations -- and he's for extending the payroll tax cuts -- are all short term: eliminate it and you'll reduce growth further and cost America about a million jobs. Conrad says that the Democratic version is paid for by a surtax on the wealthy. "But you know that's not going to pass," Wallace says, "That is a political stunt." Conrad says it's a serious proposal. "I'm not saying it's not a serious proposal," Wallace allows, "But it has no chance of passing." Conrad says that there's a compromise version coming tomorrow.

I'd prefer, I think, to hear about a plan to get jobs added to the economy on a regular basis that kept up with increases to the labor force, but then, I've been looking forward to hearing that plan since the year 2000!

Oh! It shouldn't go unmentioned that Tom Coburn's beard is back!

Coburn says that probably, both the payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits will be extended, but blah blah Washington has no backbone, what's up with always suggesting that revenue be raised to pay for things?

Oh, and there's going to be another debt ceiling showdown this year, at some point, which is great! Coburn says that the "big lie" is that "we haven't cut a penny of spending" in the deal that was made in the Budget Control Act, and the "sequestration" is also a "game." (Though Leon Panetta seems pretty worried about it!)

Conrad doesn't largely agree, except for the fact that like Coburn, he's fretful about the debt and during their time on Simpson-Bowles, they found a way to "cut $4 trillion." (They could also both endorse the Obama administration's balanced proposal to cut $4 trillion, raise $1 trillion in new revenue, and adjust the Medicare eligibility age -- it's VERY similar to Bowles-Simpson.)

Conrad touts the fact that the Bowles-Simpson plan had the backing of 11 of the 18 members. Unfortunately, it required a supermajority. Why didn't they think of that? Because all of these various committees are designed with one goal in mind -- placing the blame for overall failure on someone or something else: the other side, the process, the "system," the lack of leadership! Right now, Congresscritters criticize "kicking the can down the road" so often that it's now a key tactic in the overall strategy to keep kicking the can down the road. "I really need to quit meth, man!"

Wallace asks about a statement Coburn made about Gingrich being a good president -- he'd previously suggested that his "harsh manner" made it hard to imagine he'd be a good president. Today, Coburn says, "There's a lot of candidates out there...I'm not inclined to be a supporter of Newt Gingrich's having served under his leadership...because I found it lacking, oftentimes." Wallace presses on that, somewhat, and Coburn says, "I just found his leadership lacking and I'm not going to go into greater detail."

Clapping their booty for America on today's panel we have Byron York and Mara Liasson and Kirsten Powers and Ed Gillespie.

What happens to all of Cain's supporters? Gillespie says that Gingrich will be the main beneficiary, but there will also maybe be a "Santorum boomlet." Though Santorum will probably say, "Boomlet! We don't allow boomlets in these parts. Boomlets are the devil's work!" And it will be up to Kevin Bacon to inspire Santorum to learn to love boomlets. York says that the support is already gone, to Gingrich, especially in South Carolina.

Liasson says that it's way early for Gingrich to be declaring himself the nominee, and that it's that inflated sense of grandiosity that's a big reason why he eventually, likely, won't. But the Gingrich/Romney showdown is afoot, and Gingrich right now had the best chance of consolidating all of the "anti-Romney" support, given the time that's remaining before voting begins. (It's probably useful to think of that Manchester Union-Leader endorsement of Gingrich less of something that's going to kill Romney -- that newspaper hates Romney like grim death, anyway -- and more of a thing that will hurt the campaigns of Bachmann, Perry, and Santorum.)

Powers points out that perceived electability creates tension, because Romney does better in head-to-head matchups with Obama in places like Florida than Gingrich does. (The White House is said to be "silently cheering" a Gingrich nomination.)

Gillespie and Wallace both agree that they were "struck by" Coburn's criticism of Gingrich, and Gillespie says that voters will evaluate whether Gingrich has "the discipline" and whether Romney has "the fire," and that maybe "Newt Gingrich needs to be more like Mitt Romney and Mitt Romney needs to be more like Newt Gingrich." OOOH, could we please have the movie "FACE/OFF," with Newt and Mitt, in lieu of more debates? Or maybe we can build a Mewt Romrich, out of each man's parts!

Speaking of Mitt Romney, he "got a little testy" with Bret Baier this week. Byron York says that he was once riding around in a car with Mitt Romney and he got testy with York, too. But maybe Byron York is just a bad driver? Anyway, Byron York owns and operates a vehicle. He and Liasson note the "downward trend" for Romney, but add that Romney has the infrastructure to mount a long campaign, and Newt does not.

Wallace acknowledges that the primary is set up to be a drag-out fight. He and Powers debate whether or not Gingrich can add on to his organization. Wallace suggests that Gingrich will draw more money, now that he's a frontrunner, but Powers says it's not enough to just have money, you need to sort out a ground game and get it staffed and there's not a whole lot of time to get that done. Wallace also notes that Gingrich missed a filing deadline for the Missouri Primary, but as I explained a while ago, the Missouri Primary is not important and awards no delegates, so who cares?

How about the whole battle over the payroll tax cut? Gillespie, shockingly, does not think that supporting it is a political winner for Democrats. (He accidentally mistakes Michelle Obama for Michele Bachmann, too.) Powers says that the Democrats have "had a simple message for once," and so she shockingly thinks it's effective. York gets to "break the tie" and he says, "you have a vote on a tax cut and Republicans are divided, so I think that's a big victory for Democrats."

Liasson says both the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits will both get extended and they aren't that expensive anyway. "This is one of those rare times the Democrats have the advantage in the tax debate." Gillespie says "this is not a growth policy." Powers points out that the Democrats have also succeeded in shifting the debate to income inequality.

Unemployment dropped to 8.6%, which sounds good. There were adjustments in the past two months -- revised in a positive direction, which also sounds good. But 315,000 people stopped looking for work and we only added 120,000 jobs, which is 20,000 jobs short of just keeping up with the labor force population. So: a mixed bag. The White House probably gets a break with the fact that the ordinal number in that rate is an 8. But that's still a lot of people out of work.

York notes: "It's good news for the White House, because it's no longer 9%." But, York says, it's dipped before, and if it goes over 9% again this summer, it will be awful news.

Wallace and Liasson points out that the game of perception cuts both ways: an 8.6 rate may convince people that it's a good time to start looking for jobs. And maybe it is! But now you're adding back those discouraged job seekers. That create a situation where next month, you can add 140,000 new jobs, and yet the rate goes back to 8.8% or 9%. Liasson says, forget the rate: are people feeling better about the economy and their future, or are they fearful?

Gillespie says that "shrinking the labor force" is a loser for Obama, but I'll point out that the only sector of the labor force that's shrunk is the public sector labor force, and it sure seems like the GOP is doing their all to urge that along.

Today's "Power Player" is the guy behind "Americans Elect," which is a complete joke.

THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW

Oh hai, Andrea Mitchell is going to be Chris Matthews for the day, paneling it up with Joe Klein, Gillian Tett, John Heilemann, and Helene Cooper.

So, what does everyone think about Newt Gingrich? Is he like Barry Goldwater? Here's a clip of Barry Goldwater, from Chris Matthews YouTube channel.

Klein says that Romney is an "obvious flip-floppers," but he also apparently talked to "several farmers" at a "Rick Santorum event" that drew "seven people," so...what, FIVE of them were farmers? Anyway, these farmers told Joe Klein, "HA WE ARE A LOT TALLER THAN YOU!" Ha, kidding! That's not what they said, that's what they were thinking! So, they got Klein a few telephone books to stand on and they said, "Romney is a big corporate guy," and the GOP has gotten a lot more populist. Also, there's a "passion gap." And that's what a few Iowa farmers told Joe Klein!

By the way, there is probably a strip club called the Passion Gap located conveniently near the Tampa, Florida site of the Republican convention.

Heilemann says the Joe's answers "are good answers," so those five farmers in Iowa are now the most influential people in politics. Also, Heilemann says, the GOP is looking for "someone who can beat Obama." That's such a shock to hear, obviously.

"Why is Donald Trump popular?" asks Heilemann, "because he got in the President's face." John, stop telling people that's true. Trump was never that popular, he bombed out early, there was no one in the race, really, at the time he was flirting with running, and Trump's decline BEGAN the moment he got in the President's face, and his candidacy ended when Obama roasted him at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Surely everyone in the world -- the President, his GOP opponents, your viewers -- deserve to be treated with better respect.

Cooper says that the White House is still going about their day with the assumption that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee, but they LOVE the fact that Gingrich is doing so well. (In fact, Herman Cain dropping out of the race should be considered a serious setback for the Democrats.) Tett says that Romney is the pick of everyone who likes bloodless technocracy, but not the guy that the bloody-shirt wavers want to vote for.

Romney doesn't like being called a flip-flopper! Klein says that "he's pretending to be more conservative" than he is, and that he's "never run as the person that he is," and has "changed his position on absolutely everything."

Mitchell reads Heilemann's latest piece, in which he reports that "Team Romney" is going to "speed" along Gingrich's demise by "bringing down a ten-ton ****hammer on his head." I don't want to know what the "****" is standing in for...I just want to IMAGINE what it might be. If you could only see the things that are falling on Newt Gingrich's head right now in my mind's eye! (I am also reminded right now that Tom DeLay's "Dancing With The Stars" nickname was "The Velvet Hammer." Look that up on the Urban Dictionary, if you have some free time!)

Heilemann says that the Romney campaign has always known that they would have to "slay a dragon" on the way to the nomination, and so Gingrich is a dragon. But, he was, Romney will get ****hammered, but good, if he goes on to lose three of the first four primary contests.

Helene Cooper says that Romney going all out in Iowa carries a risk, because previously, if he'd lost Iowa, he could always say he didn't try. Klein says that the "problem with Newt is that he's referring to himself as 'Newt' and 'we.'" Tett and Heilemann believe Romney will eventually prevail, Cooper says Newt will win.

Andrea Mitchell now pays tribute to Chris Farley's Newt Gingrich impersonation, which is probably something Chris Matthews put her up to.

Okay, somehow we've stretched a remembrance of Pearl Harbor into a discussion of Iran policy. Okay! Whatever! Cooper says that Obama is pressured to influence Iran, but that involves getting Russia and China involved in the pressuring, and they are not wont to do so, so what's to be done? "Bomb them, always," say the neo-cons!

Gillian Tett, who actually looks somewhat horrified at the suggestion of central bank sanctions on Iran, says that there are a lot of complications. It would, for example, create impediments to Japan getting oil at a moment where they need oil rather desperately. "The Iranian regime is not monolithic at all," she points out, and becomes the latest reasonable person to suggest boxing Ahmadinejad into a corner might bring all of the forces arrayed against him in his own country flocking to his side.

Any question of military action? Klein says "it's a big debate in the administration." Tett, who still sounds a little horrified, says it's "incredibly problematic" to launch military action against Iran. Cooper says it's the last thing the Obama administration wants to be involved with, that it was the last thing the Bush administration wanted to be involved in, but the extant concern is that an Israeli strike on Iran could get us into a conflict with Iran. In which case, I guess you better hope Ron Paul is President!

Here are things that Andrea Mitchell, standing in for Chris Matthews, doesn't know. Klein says that the reason Obama has not been apologizing for the recent deaths of Pakistani civilians is because Pakistan fired on American troops first. Tett says that 44 million Americans are receiving food assistance, but Americans are throwing away food at an all time high, and so there's this "new craze" (in Seattle!), called "dumpster diving," to "pull out the food that's still actually edible." It's not a new craze, actually, but we welcome the broadcast of this information anyway, and wonder why it is that only female British reporters on these panel shows seem to show some affinity with poor people.

Cooper says that the Obama administration is discussing whether or not to take a trip to Israel next year, and whether it would become a whole big thing, politically. "A shot of Obama standing at the Western Wall would boost the Jewish Democratic vote," she says. Heilemann says it might be a "miscalculation" on the part of Team Obama Re-Elect to hope Gingrich becomes the nominee because the "chances of a third party candidate go up to about 80%."

That's apparently this week's big question: is this the right environment for a third party candidate? Klein says that the libertarians will run a third party challenger and it will help Obama. Tett says that there's a "howl of protest" going on against politics, and the world is in economic crisis, so maybe. Cooper says that "any kind of third party candidate" hurts Obama. Heilemann thinks that Ron Paul might run, and Americans Elect might run Evan Bayh -- which would be perfect, since Americans Elect is essentially a "party" that represents that point of view of clapped-out lobbyist/hedge-fund manager scum, and Bayh is just the sort of person to be their Golden Calf. But don't count out Harold Ford, Jr! Really, anyone who shows up on a Meet The Press panel would be perfect.

Oh, hey, great segue!

MEET THE PRESS

Apparently I never actually published this, this morning, and I've been typing typing typing words without allowing anyone to read them. SORRY ABOUT THAT, EVERYONE! We now join the liveblog, already in progress.

Today on Meet The Press, "David Axelrod and Reince Priebus debate the Obama presidency." I mean, PERFECT. I'm sure both men will have stunningly surprising takes on the matter. I am already not regretting having to watch this show at all. And, terrific: they are going to sit right next to each other and yammer expletives at one another, hopefully.

What's the deal with jobs? David Axelrod thinks Obama is doing awesome on jobs. The Obama administration has never hung their hats on one jobs number, and there are challenges ahead but they've created millions of private sector jobs and, hey, in case you hadn't heard, job growth was terrible when they came into office, and the President has an "American Jobs Act" with a "payroll tax cut" that the GOP does not want to extend, because what are they, MONSTERS? MONSTERS NAMES REINCE PRIEBUS MAYBE?

Wont voters look at the economy and say, "This is terrible, this economy!" and then go on to say, "BOO, NO MORE OBAMA, THE ECONOMY IS TERRIBLE?" Axelrod says there's no doubt the economy is terrible but voters will recognize the progress that's been made and think, "Who will make it better still?" and it won't be the Republicans, who want to let "Wall Street write their own rules." (PSSST: PLEASE KEEP FUNDING THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN, "WALL STREET.") Also, Obama is better on education and manufacturing and "vision having."

But the super-committee, it failed and kittens died and hopes were dashed and David Gregory has a twenty minute preamble to a question that he never ends up asking, so Axelrod says that Obama has made difficult decisions and he saved the auto industry.

But what about the debt commissions that failed. Axelrod says Obama was awesome on the debt and the Simpson-Bowles "plan" ended up "animating discussions" with Boehner and they had actually "locked arms" on the plan I mentioned earlier ($4 trillion in cuts, $1 trillion in revenue, Medicate reform) but Boehner could not get his caucus to buy in so it died.

Erskine Bowles -- who has a shiny, shiny head -- I mean, they keep him out of fields because otherwise planes would always be landing on him, says that a "cabal" of advisors in the White House...the "Chicago" people convinced him "to wait and let Paul Ryan go first so that Obama would look like the most sensible." Someone will have to tell me what is wrong with that, strategically, actually! But Axelrod says that everyone did "what they felt was in the best interest of getting" the best result, and if they'd just offered up Simpson-Bowles it would have been "savaged and torn apart."

Did the President miss an opportunity to lead? David Axelrod doesn't think so! Hope you didn't place a big bet on David Axelrod saying otherwise.

Now they are talking about Herman Cain, for some reason. Axelrod does not think the GOP contenders have said many smart things at their debates, shockingly!

Various Democrats who seem to think Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee, and they keep saying negative things about Romney, and this surprised Gregory for some reason, so he asks David Axelrod to explain this phenomenon where the political opponents of the guy who may end up being nominated to run against their incumbent say mean things about him. Axelrod says that he is not saying anything different about Mitt Romney than any of his GOP opponents. (Gregory seems to think that saying Romney has "no moral core" is a slag on Mormonism, when it really seems to be a slag on Mitt Romney.)

Gregory says that Republicans will attack the Obama Re-Elect team for making these kinds of criticisms, and point out that they always do this, and I'm wondering: did David Gregory just return from the Pollyanna parallel universe? "What?! Are you guys going to be negative about Mitt Romney? That seems crazy and unprecedented!" There was a whole 2008 campaign where people were gleefully critical of Mitt Romney!

Newsflash! Barack Obama is a negative campaigner! That's not a criticism, just a fact. Well...it's a criticism of David Gregory, who seems shocked by the fact that the Democrats have been saying that Mitt Romney lacks conviction. I mean...huh?

As for Gingrich, Axelrod says he has thoughts and idea and he doesn't know how he'll attack him, yet, but the GOP is also attacking Obama, and the two parties have differences and the Democrats will "challenge the GOP" when they think they are wrong and there will be a big debate.

And that's fifteen minutes of the show, spent on a discussion of election year banalities. CAN YOU HANDLE SOME MORE, THOUGH? Because here's Reince Priebus, and I have a funny feeling that he will come down on the opposite side of David Axelrod!

Priebus says that the race will come down to the promises that Obama made that he didn't fulfill about the debt and Obamacare and jobs. But the bigger problem is that "people don't think the President is real," because he failed to "bring everyone together."

Priebus does not think Obama has done a good job managing the economy, shockingly! Gregory wonders if the Democrats can't argue that the last month of unemployment news was "good news." Furthermore, Gregory wonders that if good news continues, won't the Democrats be able to argue that it's good news? These are some tough, tough questions, that a potted plant might struggle to answer. I think that Priebus will reject the premise!

"Barack Obama's poll numbers are worse than Jimmy Carter's poll numbers for the first time in history," says Priebus, who fails to disclose that there is a socio-historical reason for this statistical anomaly. But this proves my point, which I hope is not too controversial, that the GOP will say good news is bad, and Obama will say bad news is good, and this is all pretty ho-hum, and I can't believe we've spent twenty minutes on Sunday literally asking the flacks from either side if they intend to keep flacking.

Sometimes, when a flack says the good news is bad, they have a good point! The unemployment numbers, as Priebus points out, are seemingly better because thousands of people gave up looking for work. But even when things aren't true, that's no impediment! Priebus says the Obama wishes he could have Carter's numbers, but Carter's numbers arose because of the beginning of the Iranian hostage crisis.

"The reality is, everything this President has touched has gotten worse," says Priebus. "The President has been a disaster." But David Axelrod just said the president was awesome? I mean, who's right?

Right now, if David Gregory yelled, "BALLOON MUMBLECORE SPATULA GIGGLEPOPS!" at Axelrod and Priebus, Axelrod would calmly explain why balloon mumblecore spatula gigglepops favor Obama's re-election, and Priebus would respond by saying that balloon mumblecore spatula gigglepops have suffered under Obama's leadership.

Priebus is all, "HERMAN CAIN, WHATEVER." He provided a "big voice" but his "numbers were falling" and he wasn't raising money, so, whatever. So Gregory shows him a clip of Cain's speech yesterday and asks him to respond to the idea that the press or the Democrats wanted him out of the race. "I don't know," he says, sounding rightfully annoyed. By the way, the Democrats wanted Herman Cain to stay in the race forever and the media LOVED him, because he was so bizarre.

Does Priebus worry that Newt Gingrich is too undisciplined to run? Does the GOP think poor children are shiftless turds? Does he want to end child labor laws? Priebus says he's not going to play referee, and he's not going to dissect footage of Gingrich, but Obama is awful and terrible.

Should GOP candidates decline the invitation to debate with Donald Trump? Priebus does everything he can to say yes, without saying yes. But he insults NBC News along the way!

REINCE PRIEBUS: You know, we-- we've had a lot of debates. And, as you know, some of them have been sanctioned by the Republican National Committee and some of them haven't. I mean we've had debates with MSNBC as well. But-- you know, listen, I think that these are-- programs that each of these candidates have to decide for themselves whether they're gonna compete in. There's-- strategy involved, whether-- competing and not competing, those are things that those candidates--

DAVID GREGORY:
I'm not quite--

REINCE PRIEBUS:
--need to decision.

DAVID GREGORY:
--sure what-- when you say you've with MSNBC. You've had with NBC News where it aired on MSNBC. Are you--

REINCE PRIEBUS:
Right.

DAVID GREGORY:
--equating that to-- to--

REINCE PRIEBUS:
Well, I mean--

DAVID GREGORY:
--the (UNINTEL) debate with--

REINCE PRIEBUS:
--having--

DAVID GREGORY:
--Donald Trump?

REINCE PRIEBUS:
--Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz, you know, discussing the debate afterwards for two hours isn't exactly ideal. But we-- but these candidates decide for themselves what arenas they want to--

DAVID GREGORY:
But do you think--

REINCE PRIEBUS:
--participate in.

DAVID GREGORY:
--it detracts from the seriousness of the debate to have Donald Trump moderating a debate with the presidential candidates?

REINCE PRIEBUS:
It's up to the candidates. I mean it's-- I-- I don't make those decisions. What-- the decisions I make are making sure that we have a functional operation--

DAVID GREGORY:
You're the chairman--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
--of the party. You must have an opinion.

REINCE PRIEBUS:
Yeah, but I don't-- but-- but I don't-- but as-- my personal opinion doesn't matter.

For the record, it is of crucial importance to Mitt Romney that he finds some way of getting out of that Trump debate. Just about everyone else who hasn't already declined (Huntsman and Paul have declined) has a brand in politics that won't be damaged by close proximity to Donald Trump. But Romney, if we recall, took great pains to avoid being photographed with Trump.

So, okay, bottom line: Reince Priebus thinks that the GOP will do well and Obama is terrible. David Axelrod thinks the opposite! We've learned so much today, about politics!

Okay, so there's a panel now, between Katty Kay and Mark Halperin and Harold Ford and Joe McQuaid of the Newt-endorsing Manchester Union-Leader, so let's get on with it.

Herman Cain! He dropped out of the race this weekend! Game changer! Katty Kay says he was defiant and there was nothing to the allegations, but it was "interesting" that his wife was on stage with him...but "to be honest was he going to get anywhere?...Even those who supported him didn't think he'd win."

Halperin says that "It matters because Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee unless someone consolidates the conservative wing, the anti-Romney wing of the party, against him." That could have been Cain, but it could also be Gingrich. But, GAMECHANGE: Romney will be the nominee, unless someone else is the nominee. There's your political science from Mark Halperin.

McQuaid suggests that Cain was a joke and he treated his newspaper like a joke and he's just got this funny feeling that Newt Gingrich, the candidate he likes and endorsed, will do great.

Ford says that it's "interesting how Gingrich has emerged as the alternative to Romney," because he got an endorsement, and is a "serious thinker." This is all stuff that Harold Ford finds "interesting."

Halperin says that Gingrich will do well, "because people want a figure like Churchill." (Churchill, to Halperin's estimation, was well-loved because he was an egotistical git.)

Gregory suggests that you could say that Gingrich is not a Washington outsider at all, and Kay gently reminds him that this is the central part of Romney's strategy. She goes on to point out that actual GOP insiders are full of worry that a Gingrich nomination will cost the GOP the White House and downticket.

Naturally, Joe McQuaid, who likes and endorses Newt Gingrich, disagrees.

David Gregory calls the whole notion of poor kids needing to become janitors a "grotesque distortion" of what's "going on out there." Good for him.

Katty Kay: "It seems that in the country the sort of general zeitgeist has shifted from a real loathing of big government to, to some extent, fears about the middle class being squeezed and problems of inequality. And I think in that context, Newt Gingrich's comments about the working poor and poor kids who can only find work if it's illegal come across as the wrong tone in the country at the moment."

Female British reporters for the win, today!

Mark Halperin says that Mitt Romney is being "characterized as an unpopular flip-flopper" this week. He is characterized as an unprincipled flip-flopper ALL weeks, but this week in particular, it is TIME magazine's cover story. (Angelina Jolie, for reasons I could not possibly comprehend, is on the cover of NEWSWEEK.)

Joe McQuaid says that Romney is an unprincipled flip-flopper. His newspaper made a cartoon about it! The Bret Baier interview, he says, was a "killer." That interview with Romney is definitely the moment that every liberal in the world joined as one with every conservative in the world not currently on the Romney payroll, to fall in love with Bret Baier!

David Gregory, on Romney's shifting approach on immigration, asks, "The question for everybody. Is he not consistent?" Again, this is MITT ROMNEY we are talking about.

Harold Ford says that sometimes you learn about an issue and you change your mind, like, say, HAROLD FORD does! (He used to be opposed to marriage equality and now he isn't. He used to be pro-choice and now he isn't.) For Romney, "his fundamental problem is that it looks as if it's all motivated by politics." (That is also Ford's problem...so...)

We end today with David Gregory reporting that he interviewed David Axelrod, and Axelrod said Obama was awesome. Also, people are talking about things on Twitter. And the economy is terrible.

Kay says, "It's not on your trend tracker, David, but if Europe falls apart there will be a major impact on markets, on confidence. There'll be a big impact on American banks and there will be an impact on American exporters to Europe. This is something that is outside of the White House's control, but it threatens to seriously impact the 2012 election campaign. They're sending Tim Geithner to Europe this week to try and talk tough to European leaders, but coming from a country that isn't actually able to get much done politically itself, it's kind of hoard to say to Europeans, "You've gotta get your political house in order."

I think that she felt obligated to point out it will affect the horserace, because otherwise how would you convince Betsy Fischer that the economy is important?

"All right, we'll be watching that," says Gregory. Betcha they don't!

Okay, well, that's that! Sorry to everyone for not actually pushing the "publish" button until noon today, leading many of you to think that I wasn't liveblogging. One would think that after four years of doing this, I would remember such things, but I guess one would be wrong about that! Anyway, everyone have a safe and happy week.

[The liveblog returns next week. While you wait, my pals from the Awl have put out a list of their favorite longreads of the year. Go read some! Did I mention how delightful Katie Baker's “The Confessions of a Former Adolescent Puck Tease,” was on this liveblog before? Because it is. Go read that one first!]

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