Huffpost Media
Jason Linkins Headshot

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Posted: Updated:
Print

Oh, hello there! Happy New Year, everyone. Welcome to 2012 and welcome to your first Sunday liveblog of the year that could be our last, depending on how much stock you take in the achievements of long-destroyed civilizations. My name is Jason, and I'm back after two weeks of treating myself to not having to watch these shows by using Christmas as a convenient escape hatch. Why can't Christmas always be on a Sunday? How were these shows on Christmas morning? Were they terrible? What topics did David Gregory discover to be trending on Twitter?

Of course in less than three days, we'll have the Iowa Caucuses and then this 2012 Election clownshow will really kick off in earnest. All of you out there in America with real problems that typically struggle to get reporters to cover them are cool with a year long break in which no one does anything but examine polls as if they were chicken entrails and blow up every minor campaign story into a weekly game of "THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING," until one really rich guy wins four years running the country, right? Let's hope so!

At any rate, let's get the first of many 2012 Sundays started, so we can get it ended, and turn our attention to managing to not break our New Years' resolutions within the first 24 hours. As always, send me an email, please welcome each other back to Sunday in the comments, and if necessary follow me on Twitter for more short, sharp bursts of agita and angst for the next 52 weeks.

THIS WEEK WITH...STILL CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, RIGHT?

Oh, okay. It's This Week With Jake Tapper, which I like the sound of, personally, but ABC apparently does not on anything more than a temporary basis. (Jake is wearing his Gryffindor House necktie today, as well.)

We are quickly brought up to speed on the Iowa horserace. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are tied, with Rick Santorum in third, and there's a room full of no people here for the meeting of The People Who Thought This Was Going To Be The Way Iowa Looked A Year Ago Club.

"Santorum," Tapper says, "Has got the big 'mo.'" He should really double check the urban dictionary, unless he's trying to be cheeky, in which case...well played.

Now here's the Jon Karl montage of all the stuff you already know, during which time I check my email. But, hey, it kills a little time!

Now, Ron Paul is here. What about Gingrich and Huntsman's statements, saying that his views are "out of the mainstream" and "unelectable" and "that's still pretty weird that you never cracked the spine on any of those loopy newsletters that you say you never read despite your name being tattooed all over them." Paul says that it's a "contradiction" to say he's unelectable, because he's up in the polls, and those who are down in the polls don't have a lot of credibility.

It is awfully silly of Jon Huntsman to be saying that other people are unelectable!

Paul goes on to say that Bush and Obama both ran on "humble foreign policy" platforms, so he doesn't see why his particular brand of foreign policy doctrine is that out of the mainstream either, and that he thinks that "the American people are with him." Okay, but, for the record, let's remember that Obama ran on escalating the War in Afghanistan, okay? And Bush's foreign policy promises in 2000 were things that I widely considered to be "a bunch of lies" at the time he was making them. (And no one in 2004 re-elected Bush for his "humble foreign policy" platform.)

Paul also says that he gets widespread support for his plan to cut a trillion dollars in spending. He says he's optimistic, and thinks that his message is actually "catching on" with people.

Now comes the newsletters question! Tapper wants a straight answer on a question that's quite succinct and good and answering it could make it go away. "Who wrote these newsletters, and do you still associate with these people?" Exactly. Because the big issue here is the story behind Paul's longstanding excuse that he didn't know about the newsletters' contents. I'd love to know who created that content, then, and exactly how hard a beating Ron Paul put on the responsible parties when he found out. Because that is LITERALLY what I would do, in the same position. I would drag the person outside into the street by his hair and put a clean whipping on him, with fists, and I'd make sure everyone saw it. And when a passerby asked, why is that guy literally knocking the enamel off of that guy's teeth, they would say, "Oh, that battered sack of bones wrote some racist stuff under the other guys name, and, well, that's what you get when you do that. You get beaten into a pudding in the middle of the street."

Paul says that Tapper's "assessment is mixed up" because the "reporting is bad." He says that he wrote a "lot of the newsletter" but was the publisher, not the editor, and there were some "very bad sentences put in" that he neither wrote nor reviewed..."an error on my part."

Paul says he condemned them, but does not know who wrote them. "There were eight or nine people." But how do not recall eight or nine people. That's not a lot of people! And, hey, I'll still roll up on eight or nine people and tell them that one or more is about to become street paste for some "bad sentences."

"It's never been a big issue at all," says Paul, who is probably forgetting about what a big issue it was in his 1996 campaign against Lefty Morris for the 14th District. He goes on to say that in terms of policies, his policy portfolio is the only one that actually benefits historically underserved and denigrated minority populations.

All well and good, but Paul needs to understand that he's getting the same exact scrutiny of any candidate, here. If these had been Mitt Romney's newsletters, the world would be similarly aflame.

Oh, hey, but how about Eric Dondero's allegation that Paul "engaged in conspiracies" aligned with 9-11 Trutherism. Paul interrupts Tapper: "No, no, no, don't even go any further than that. That's complete nonsense. I never bought into that stuff, I never talked about it. A conspiracy that Bush knew about that stuff? Let's be reasonable. That's just off the wall."

Tapper, having not gotten the straight answer on identifying the authors of the racist portions of the newsletters, asks the precise follow-up that I would have asked: "Doesn't this call into question your management style?" Exactly. There's no need, really, to turn this into an exploration into Ron Paul's views on race relations. Ron Paul is never going to have a significant influence on American race relations, ever, full stop. Seriously! That's the end of that story. But! He DOES want to be President? So, is he going to have a White House full of crackpot freelancers, all acting like they're on ghost protocol?

Paul admits that's a good question, and that it's a "human flaw." "I don't think anybody in the world has been perfect on management," he says. Sure! That's true! But I can count the number of people who apparently had racist garbage go out unwittingly under their byline with one hand. Still, Paul maintains, "To paint my life like that is a gross distortion." And, okay, that is perhaps fair.

Oh, now, Michele Bachmann is here. Poor, doomed, Michele Bachmann and her Ames Straw Poll trophy.

Tapper basically asks, "What happened?"

Bachmann says that she's done what no other candidate has done, which is travel to all 99 counties in Iowa. Actually, Rick Santorum did that!

She's gone into "cafes and living rooms" and made "strong connections" with the Iowans that probably got home from work and shouted, "What are you doing in my living room?"

Bachmann says that 40% of Iowans haven't made their decision yet, and that they all "make their decision on the spot with their neighbors" at the Caucus, and she thinks people will switch their vote en masse Tuesday night.

Tapper points out that the evangelical voters are also being wooed by Santorum and Perry, and Santorum brings a package of foreign policy experience as well, so why should Iowans pick her and not him? Santorum also has a lot of sweater vests, for instance.

Bachmann says she is the "strongest core conservative in the race" and there's "no comparison with the other candidates." Okay, I guess! She is the one who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, after all! And she's the only...tax litigation attorney. So, she's got that going for her as well. She also stood behind defaulting on our credit and destroying the world economy! Proven and tested in the fires of Washington! Maybe stared into those flames too long! Maybe, she sees those flames, dancing in her mind's eye when she dreams! These are all just maybes! And yet, the flames, the flames!

"We're number one in the category of enthusiasm," says Bachmann, who has never met a Ron Paul supporter. (Actually, she has, I forget her old Iowa campaign manager is a Ron Paul supporter now!)

Tapper asks, "in the interest of candor and being based in reality...assuming the polls are right, isn't that the end of your campaign?" Bachmann says she "bought tickets to head off to South Carolina" and that "January if a full month" and she plans to participate in all fifty states. She also says that she is the new Margaret Thatcher, and she will be "America's Iron Lady," because she saw the trailer for that movie this week. Last week, she was saying, "I WILL BE AMERICA'S GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO!" and the week before she was "I WILL SPEND A WEEK WITH MARILYN" and on Christmas she was all "I WILL DEFEND AMERICA FROM THOSE EVIL LUNESTA BUTTERFLIES THAT ARE ATTACKING RUSSIAN DOGS!"

Tapper wishes Bachmann a happy 2012, to which she replies, "Same to you and your listeners." Uhm...Michele Bachmann understands that this is a teevee show, right?

Now it's time for some panel chit-chat with Byron York, Neera Tanden, Craig Robinson, and Matt Dowd.

So, Iowa! Crazy, right? York says that Santorum had room to grow and the ability to demonstrate that he was prepared for the job and baggage-free. York notes that as long as Santorum hung in single digits, the people that liked him couldn't support him, because they felt like he couldn't garner a majority of voters, but now that's changed, and Santorum is experiencing his upside at the best possible time. Gingrich and Paul, he says, are falling in the polls. (Gingrich, faster and harder.)

Tanden says that the issue for Santorum is whether or not he has the cash and the campaign to get from Iowa to the rest of the country to compete with the deep-pocketed Romney.

Robinson touts the importance of this final Des Moines Resgister poll -- for a fence-sitter, this poll is a big tiebreaker. He couldn't be more right about the way the final poll was anticipated. If there are 10,000 voters disinclined to go with Romney or Paul, going to the caucus Tuesday with weight placed on that result, it could be a good night for someone who didn't expect to have one. (My sense is this would be one of the Ricks.)

Dowd says that if Iowa doesn't pick winners, it's great at picking losers, and come Wednesday, someone will be calling it quits. He also says that Iowa is like a clown car, where the guy who emerges from the trunk last gets a lot of attention, and in this case it's Santorum. Nevertheless, he's not bullish on Santorum, he still thinks Gingrich has a shot.

York notes that the negative ads in Iowa have really killed Newt. "You can not be anywhere in Iowa and not see an ad bashing Newt Gingrich."

Can anyone withstand that sort of negativity? Dowd says that Gingrich's big problem was that everything they said about him was true. Robinson points out the irony however, of the Romney affiliated SuperPAC painting Gingrich as a "flip-flopper" and a supporter of the individual mandate in health care. Yeah, but...that's why you have anonymous, corporate funded SuperPACs say that stuff! So it gets said, without the other flip-flopping mandate lover having to say it himself. Brave new world, folks!

Dowd says that the mistake all of the "not-Romneys" have made has been their failure to stand up and contrast themselves with Romney. Ding!

Most of the rest of the panel is not too optimistic about Gingrich. Tanden notes that when it came to be Gingrich's time to tank, he tanked quickly. Robinson says that everyone should view Gingrich's standing in later state polls with a big "So what?" After Iowa, he says, Gingrich won't be able to count on how well he's managing in later contests to preserve his overall chances. (Remember how well Howard Dean was doing in polls beyond Iowa?)

The DMR poll held that Romney had the best chance to beat Obama. Tapper points out this means that a significant number of people who think Romney is the GOP's only hope won't vote for him in Iowa. York notes that this is where Santorum hopes to claim support, and that Santorum is beseeching voters to not "play pundit" and just vote for the person they think is best. Dowd notes that this is once again, Romney's inability to close the deal with voters. He says that there's another twist in the race coming -- Romney locked in a battle with one or two opponents, instead of a field of six.

And let's remember! Between the early states and Super Tuesday, there is a three week pause -- an excellent time for a challenger to gather strength.

Tanden says that most people find Romney to be the toughest challenge to Obama, but that Romney's flaws are that he's very much a creature of "the one percent." Dowd says that if the election becomes about Obama, he'll lose. He will have to "decimate the Republican" to win, and that Romney is the hardest to decimate. Tanden says that you nail Romney for being a guy you can neither pin down or count on. Tapper says, "You sound like the Bush campaign in 2004 against Kerry."

Predictions in Iowa? Dowd says a three way tie at the top. Tanden predicts Romney. Robinson and York predict Santorum.

Now, here's Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who will be an important figure in American politics, for about fifty more hours or so, and then he'll never be booked on a Sunday Morning Talk Show again, until 2016.

Branstad says that he thinks there will be a great turnout, and that Obama is terrible. He says that it's a "wide open race," and it could be Santorum as the winner, unless it's Mitt Romney, unless it's Ron Paul, unless it's Rick Perry, unless it's Newt Gingrich. So! No Michele Bachmann! And he thinks Obama is terrible.

Why has the race been so volatile? Branstad says there have been, you know, a whole mess of debates and a whole heap of imperfect candidates, and spending is out of control and Obama is terrible.

Am I making it clear that Branstad isn't so much giving cogent election analysis as he is playing the role of GOP cruise director? I hope so!

What's going on with the contradictions in the way Iowans view Romney -- the only electible candidate, who they still won't vote for Tuesday. Branstad says there's no perfect candidate, and there's some stuff they don't like about Romney, but there's also stuff they don't like about the other candidates, but Obama is terrible. So maybe Romney will win unless he doesn't, in which case he won't.

Some establishment types feel that a Ron Paul win will make the Iowa Caucuses no longer relevant. Branstad says you will always need to be in the top three in Iowa to win the race, and that Paul deserves credit for how he's done. Branstad says that Jon Huntsman made a big mistake not coming to Iowa, which is 100% true, but let's remember that there were scenarios over the summer that held that Romney might skip the state as well.

Now we are joined by Jon Karl and Radio Iowa's terrific reporter O. Kay Henderson. Karl says that the volatility of this race in Iowa has made it an exciting one to cover. Henderson says that Romney has been greatly improved as a candidate since four years ago. She says that the people running Romney's campaign in Iowa right now are the same ones who ran Lamar "LAMAR!" Alexander's 1996 campaign, "so they know what it's like to be facing surging candidates at the end."

Karl says Romney's strategy has been, at times, hands-off (did not compete in Ames), but has been running a "subterranean" campaign from the get-go.

Tapper says he's now in "debate withdrawal." SHUT UP JAKE! The two weeks without a debate were a wonderful holiday mitzvah.

Karl says that Gingrich cannot continue to be the nice guy in the race while everyone is beating him over the head with ads. "Look for a new Newt Gingrich after Iowa," he says. YES! Newt Gingrich will return to being a creature of pure anger!

Tapper and Karl sort of note the extreme, head-spinning irony of Gingrich being the guy in the race who wants to be the nice guy. (For those of you just joining American politics today, most of what is now known as "unbridled political dickishness" was invented by Newt Gingrich.

Tapper is still trying to wrap his head around Romney's inability to close the deal with Iowa voters. Henderson says that some voters go with their head, some go with their heart. Look to turnout levels to reveal enthusiasm, and look to see what the undecideds do on caucus night.

Henderson predicts Romney will win. Karl goes with Santorum.

Speaking of upcoming debates, you all realize that there is one Saturday night, and another one THE FOLLOWING SUNDAY MORNING, and, yet, to the best of my knowledge, NO ONE HAS BEEN PUNISHED FOR THIS?!

THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW

Today, Chris Matthews is joined by Major Garrett and Gloria Borger and Kelly O'Donnell and David Ignatius, to yap at each other about Iowa and year-end listicles about journalism.

Matthews shrewdly notes that at some point, voters will decide whether or not to re-elect Obama or not, and so this year's camapaign could get awfully negative. (2008 campaign, by the way: pretty negative!) Garrett says that Obama "does not have much of a record to run on," and will have to emphasize "what a Republican would do to make things worse." Ideally, he says, the incumbent would prefer to tell a story about a "journey taken and a journey left unfinished" that discusses what everyone's accomplished together, and if I'm not mistaken, there have been significant accomplishments? But, okay, the economy is in the poop-trap, metaphorically speaking, so it's a hard slog.

Is Obama headed toward defeat? Borger says that the Democrats she talks do point at the high unemployment numbers, and, I guess, say, we're lucky to have political power so that we'll never know what that feels like! Actually, yes: Democrats be trippin' with worry.

Ignatius says that the Team Obama Re-Elect is worried and that this year is "the last chance he has to define himself as a leader." He allows that Obama is the one person in the race that can say, "I killed Osama bin Laden." (He's also the one candidate in the race who can say he's enshrined a certain amount of additional executive power so that he can kill other people, too!)

Borger says, "It's not going to be about foreign policy." It will be if Ron Paul wins the nomination! (That probably won't happen, though.)

Now we're talking about the Bush-Kerry election, for some reason. Hey, guys! Guys! Historically terrible unemployment crisis?

Too late, now we're talking about 2004, as "the sound of the panelists' own voices" wins the election against "stuff that I might, through some stretch of the imagination, term 'relevant.'"

Any chance Obama wins or loses by a landslide? Ignatius says something that does not in any way answer that question. Instead, he says that Obama will really work hard to define himself as a foreign policy president. Borger says that the voters are looking for "stability" and then she is interrupted and never finishes the thought. Garrett says that if Obama loses, it will be by a narrow margin, because of the "contours" of politics: Democrats win big, Republicans win small or with the help of the Supreme Court.

That said, most second terms are "won big," so this election is shaping up to be a historic anomaly.

Borger wants to know what gets Republicans to the polls in 2012, if they aren't excited about their candidates. Garrett says that the candidate who best "channels the anger" will win the election.

Kelly O'Donnell! You know that you are on a teevee show today? Like, there are cameras pointed at you, and everything!

Now we have a montage of every Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary winner and loser of the last half-century. God bless Chris Matthews's love of unrebloggable filler montages! This one goes on for about a hundred years.

Chris Matthews wants to know how everyone can be a better journalist in 2012. We'll see how close everyone gets to the standard: "Consider exploring the lives of actual American people."

Borger says that everyone should stop interviewing Donald Trump. Why did anyone start? Also, "Don't say the word Kardashian." That's going to make it hard for reporters to cover the upcoming 2012 story, where I chloroform the Kardashians and push them out to see on an ice floe, to die of starvation. Look for that around August, during the "slow news month."

Garrett says "invest in hard journalism" and "understand that nothing in this business is worth anything without verifiability and accountability." He also says that everyone should spend "more time on the issues, and less time on the horserace." I agree! I don't want that time I pushed the Kardashians out on the ice floe to get bogged down in a discussion of what candidate it benefits. I want to grapple with the issue of whether uniformly despicable people are buoyant, and in what ocean temperature.

Kelly O'Donnell says some stuff? She wants to know how they will manage to "hold viewers' attention" by covering "issues." Good question! I think that first you have to actually TRY TO COVER THE ISSUES. Everyone TALKS about pushing the Kardashians out to sea on an iceberg to die and get devoured by polar bears, but no one actually DOES it.

David Ignatius wants us to stop using the phrase "Arab Spring." OKAY FINE. LORD. You just can't stop beating that drum. Now I'm too bored to keep making Kardashian jokes.

Garrett says that the media has never been more able to track what consumers are reading and consuming, but it's not the job of the reporter to feed those consumptive habits. Well. Now I feel bad by overusing the eminently well-searched term "Kardashian" over and over again. But I think Garrett is right.

Now Matthews is going to see how his panel's 2011 predictions have held up and if they were really off, no doubt mete out a swift and severe punishment! (Ha, kidding, in the media, you can just say whatever you want, with no negative ramifications ever!)

Garrett said that the GOP, in the deficit reduction talks, wanted hard numbers, and binding promises, in the first two years of any deal. Garrett says that this is what they fought for and won, but they now, they probably look back and regret all the damage the bonkers hostage situation caused.

Borger predicted a Newt Gingrich boom after Cain fell from grace. EASIEST PREDICTION IN THE WORLD, and duh, it was true.

Matthews says that O'Donnell had a "golden nugget" that was not a prediction, so I don't know why we're talking about this.

Ignatius predicted that he'd keep coming on teevee and scolding people for using the term "Arab Spring." KIDDING! He said that Leon Panetta was worried about the trigger cuts that would come on the heels of a Super Committee failure, so much so that he was facing the possibility of reprioritizing threats. Panetta has begun making those choices, he says, adding that the coming cuts to defense "scare people." (Aren't people more scared about cuts to Social Security and Medicare? See, when you only talk to inside-the-Beltway Weeblos, you come away with the skewed view that EVERYONE is living and dying on the issue of how much Panetta can spend as the manager of the largest defense budget of any country in the history of the world.)

Wow, Chris Matthews really put his panel on the spot in that last segment! That must have been searing, to sit in those hot seats.

Is there more show? No? Good.

MEET THE PRESS

Meet The Press is in Des Moines today, because there's a caucus or something? I guess? Anyway, Chuck Todd and Iowa GOP Chair Matt Strawn are here to talk about Iowa and how much people will be talking about Iowa until Wednesday, when everyone will be all, "Phew, thank God we don't have to talk about Iowa anymore," and then suddenly, in the east there will arise a clatter and bang that sounds like everyone saying "New Hampshire" over and over again.

Todd says that what everyone wants to know is, "What are Iowa voters going to do?" If the old-schoolers show up, it could be Santorum. If not, it could be someone else. If Cloverfield monsters show up, everyone will die, but probably seven Iowa Ron Paul fans will make it to a polling place and win Paul the state. Then, Paul will have no other choice than to name the Cloverfield monsters as his delegates. Then the monsters go to Tampa, and the strip clubs get really weird for a while.

This, by the way, is Jon Huntsman's "path the the presidency."

Strawn says that Iowa Republicans want to beat the President, first and foremost, and so there remain more undecided voters at the moment than voters who have made up their minds. So, in the last 48 hours, organization is key. Todd says the same things about Santorum's chances that Matt Dowd said earlier. He says that Romney remains insufficiently conservative for most voters. That's why Romney is saying the word "conservative" more often, so it shows up in his "word cloud."

What's the turnout looking like? Strawn says that 2008 featured a record turnout, lots of additional Republicans registered, and a record attendance at the Ames Straw Poll, so the caucuses are headed for a heavy turnout. (Unless Jon Huntsman can unleash the Cloverfields!)

Gregory points out that all sorts of pundits have been dissing Iowa, and it's importance. Because that's what EVERYONE DOES the week before the caucus! So, here's the GOTCHA for Matt Strawn! Iowa: are you guys secretly NOT AWESOME? Strawn says that he thinks Iowa is representative of the nation and is perfectly nice. OH BURN ON EVERYONE. Best journalism of the year, and we're only a few hours in!

Todd says that Romney needs Rick Perry to be strong enough to get to South Carolina before he topples over and drowns in his own drool. (Which is a popular pastime in Myrtle Beach, by the way!)

Now here's the man of the hour -- Rick Santorum, the guy who inspired all of the scold-villains in every single John Waters movie.

Santorum says that he always expected a surge from Iowa, because Iowans are analytical and deliver in "crunch time." So all of this is stuff he expected, so burn on everyone! He says that only ten days ago, people were still asking him who he planned to endorse after he loses.

Interesting point: Santorum says that he's competing with Perry and Bachmann in the "conservative primary," while Paul is wrapping up the "libertarian primary," and Gingrich and Romney battle for the heart of the "establishment." What a terrible year to be in the establishment, I guess! They spent the past two weeks raining fire on Gingrich, and none of them particularly like Romney, either.

Why hasn't anyone who served with Santorum endorsed his bid? Santorum says that he hasn't asked anyone to do so, and he always thought he'd have to prove it. He would have asked them to hold off, actually! He didn't want those "Washington" endorsement! Stuff those in a sack! (Though, he does say that it would totally be okay for them to endorse him now.)

Santorum also pre-emptively contends with the "Kerry question" -- his long voting record in the House and Senate.

SANTORUM: I'm not coming to be buddies with my -- with, you know, my friends in the Senate and House, I'm coming to change the entire nature of Washington, DC. It's one of the benefits, frankly, of being out and looking in, and seeing what, you know, sometimes you said I was running as a consistent conservative. There are votes that I took, not that I advocated these things but I voted for some things and look back and say, why the heck did I do that? You get involved in sort of the idea that well, you got to make things happen, and you forget sometimes, you know, sometimes making some things happen is not making you better off.

Like, say, pork barrel spending, Gregory asks? Santorum says that appropriating money is one of his duties, and if you don't, then the president does. He says that as soon as he left the Senate (got voted out, anyway) budgets exploded! Not his fault!

Gregory says he didn't answer the question, if he regrets his spending? He doesn't! And he won't stand for Rick Perry accusing him of "fleecing" America, because Perry's hired plenty of lobbyists who have done plenty of fleecing.

Hey, what about that time he endorsed Mitt Romney, who he now thinks is terrible, back in 2008?

SANTORUM: That was five days, four days before super Tuesday, and it became clear to me that there were two candidates in the race that point...I would have loved to have Mike Huckabee out there, but I made the political judgment, right or wrong, that he had the best chance to stop John McCain.

This time around, things are different. For instance, Rick Santorum is running!

SANTORUM: Everybody on that stage that is in these debates has conservative values �and generally reflects the Republican party...The question is, are those values ones that you can trust when they become President of the United States? Is it someone who you know is gonna fight, not just for certain things, but the entire Republican platform?

Rick Santorum finds Mitt Romney "conservative" "relative to John McCain" who he "respects immensely" and who "did a lot of great things" but didn't want to be President, when he could have had Mitt Romney as president, who is now not good enough to the President either.

Gregory questions Santorum on taking a different stand on abortion in 2006 (he supported exceptions to an outright ban in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother) and now, while simultaneously hitting Romney for moderating his position. Santorum says that today he "would support laws that provide those exceptions, but I'm not for them." He says that, laughing, as if you'd have to be the dumbest mofeaux alive to think that didn't make any sense.

"I support the Hyde amendment," he says. He is presumably "not for it."

Gregory says he moderated other matters, like opposing cuts to the minimum wage or subsidizing Amtrak. Santorum says that as a Senator, you try to compromise on policy without compromising principles. He says that he compromised a lot on welfare reform, but managed to move policy in the direction he wanted. This was a more sensible explanation!

How does Santorum surmount the tarnished GOP brand and the low approval ratings of the Congressional GOP? Santorum says that Obama is to blame for all of that, because he was such a divider (remember how the divisive President let Chuck Grassley dick around with a health care reform compromise long after it was clear to everyone that Grassley was conning him?) Santorum complains that Obama hasn't met with Boehner, and Gregory points out that there was a constant set of meetings during the debt ceiling negotiation, "so that can't be accurate."

Santorum says that Obama hasn't developed enough "trust" with a party that just wants to destroy him, and that he is "not listening to the American people." (Didn't this start with a question about the low approval ratings for the congressional GOP?)

Gregory asked how it can be objectively accurate to call Obama an "appeaser," given all of the, you know, terrorists he's killed with Marines and robot drones. Santorum says that Obama did not sufficiently support the Green Revolution in Iran. (He did, actually. He just wasn't heavy-handed about it, because he knew that stamping the pro-reform Iranians with Uncle Sam's inprimatur would have gotten many more thousands of people killed or imprisoned. But let's recall, when the Greens were using social networks to organize themselves, the State Department, under the White House's order, asked Twitter to take the extraordinary step of delaying a planned outage so that the Greens could continue to organize. How often does the Federal Government give an order to a private company? Only when they have a clear objective, that they vigorously support.)

Santorum also compared the Iranian mullah-tocracy to "Chicago." I promise you, as someone whose family comes from Chicagoland, the Iranian mullahs are much more competent than Chicago machine politicians. I sort of regret the way a bunch of bumblecrap aldermen from Joliet have suddenly earned this reputation as masterful political fixers.

This exchange is pretty hilarious.

RICK SANTORUM: I'd put forth a five point plan that said fund the pro-democracy movement, use covert activity to disarm--

DAVID GREGORY: Which is already being done, Senator. You know that. There's covert activity to set back the program by the Israelis, by the United States.

RICK SANTORUM: Well, we know, by the Israelis. We don't have any evidence, if you look at what's being done, most of the evidence actually trails back to the Israelis and the methodologies that they use. There's no evidence the United States is at all complicit in working at that. That's why I would be very direct that we would, in fact, and openly, talk about this. Why? Because I want to make sure that Iran knows that when I say that Iran is not getting a nuclear weapon, that will actually effectuate policies that make that happen.

LOL. Rick Santorum is so totally serious about the U.S. staging covert ops in Iran that he will make sure Iran knows that we have covert operatives in Iran. (He will also "fund a pro-democracy movement," I guess covertly. "Here's a bunch of money, but, for God's sake, don't spend it...at least until I can tell the Iranians that we gave it to you!"

There are limits to Santorum's need for "covert" activities:

SANTORUM: I would be saying to the Iranians, "You either open up those facilities, you begin to dismantle them and make them available to inspectors, or we will degrade those facilities through air strikes." And make it very public that we are doing that.

Good to know that Santorum would make his air strikes, "very public." There was totally a good chance we'd have all missed that day where we started a war with Iran.

Santorum says that out allies don't trust us, which we all know from that time our allies didn't join us in deposing Gadhafi!

Now it's panel time with Kathy Obradovich, David Brooks, Mike Murphy, Mark Halperin, and Andrea Mitchell.

Who is going to win Iowa? Obradovich says there is movement, and it's mainly Santorum, but Romney and Paul are in it, too, so much so that it's now a three-way, which is surely the sexxxiest thing that Santorum has ever been involved in. Murphy seems to think that Paul would be "easy to defeat in the full series of caucuses," but I rather think the caucus states give Paul an advantage.

Halpy says that Santorum offered "convoluted answers" to Gregory's questions (does this need to be reported on, five minutes after it happened) and that things in Iowa would either be "good" or "really good" for Mitt Romney.

Mitchell says that evangelical voters will come out, to vote, evangelically. She says that maybe they'll hesitate to vote for Santorum, based on some of his answers today, but that assumes that voters in Iowa watch Meet The Press in large numbers, and they don't.

I missed what Dave Brooks said, but it was probably something to do that all of the things that have gone wrong in America are the direct result of someone's set at Woodstock. (Probably the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.)

Murphy says that one thing Santorum does is talk about manufacturing, which appeals to people in eastern Iowa and adds to his social conservative coalition.

Polls show all sorts of things in Iowa, on different days, according to the people who conduct polls!

Brooks is yammering about how the "country is seriously off course," and blahhhhhhhhhhh.

Mitchell says that Ron Paul "really hurt himself on foreign policy." Murphy says that Paul will be "the surprise disappointing finish" in Iowa. Obradovich says that people are actually flocking to Ron Paul. Murphy says he thinks that those who have been lately flocking in that direction will not ultimately show up to vote for him.

Halpy and Gregory team up to make a strong case that Mitt Romney will try to "contrast" himself with Barack Obama. And vice versa. And Romney has the only organization that's as big or as capable as the White House's. Brooks has a problem with Romney's "messaging." Mitchell says Obama has not "found his voice." It's like they are playing boggle with cliches from Politico cover stories.

GREGORY: What is the vision that we're learning about of this Republican Party?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it's a vision that thinks government is too big.

Wait. You're JUST LEARNING this? Is this your first day, in contemporary America? Are you perplexed to find there isn't a Whig Party, running around?

Here are the "storylines" coming out of Iowa, per Obradovich:

1. The Iowa caucus results will "feed discussion" about how people see the results of the Iowa caucus.

2. "Does somebody come out of Iowa that people perceive has very little chance of being the nominee, like Ron Paul or Rick Santorum?"

3. How will conservatives do in Iowa in the future? How can I get someone to care about this question?

Halpy says that his "storylines" are:

1. Will Mitt Romney "kill" Rick Santorum? Because he might have to "kill" Santorum, with triangulation, or opposition research, or maybe with poisonous snakes!

Mitchell says Romney will just murder Santorum with ads from his SuperPAC.

Murphy says that the storyline will be "who the hell is Santorum?" because the media are a bunch of "Jurassic Park dinosaurs" with big teeth and teensy brains that know how to "follow movement." "And when it sees movement, Rick Santorum stomps over there and tries to eat Rick Santorum. And that's what next week is going to be like." Wow. So, by next week, Rick Santorum will have eaten Rick Santorum, because the media has a dinosaur brain.

Murphy goes on to say that Tuesday night, Santorum will he happy, but by Wednesday he will have to "stand on his head" and "drink from a firehose" and "learn Chinese" and "roll his thing out" and "get looked at hard." Which basically describes what I did on New Year's Eve night in 2005 after eating a whole bunch of ecstacy.

Mitchell says the election will get decided in South Carolina or Florida, unless it gets decided in some other state.

Halperin says that unless "someone can beat Mitt Romney in one of the first four or two of the first four [primaries], I think it's wrapped up by the State of the Union."

So there you have it: in order to beat Mitt Romney, someone will have to beat Mitt Romney.

HEAD::DESK.

Okay, well, I am going to delete all these shows from my TiVo like I deleted the past year of existence from my brain last night using "Guinness" and "sadness." 2012 is here everyone! Good luck with all that, and we'll see you next week.