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TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

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Welcome, hello, how are you, why don't you sit back and relax or make yourself some tea or get some napping in or get a grip on the day and do some chores around the house or, you know, DO NONE OF THESE THINGS, because this is your Sunday morning liveblog of the Sunday morning political bafflegabbers and that means (for you) FREEDOM, and (for me) futile typing as I watch flickering nonsense on the teevee.

Let's see, what can I tell you all about this week in the 2012 Horse Race To Certain Oblivion? In the middle of the week, backers of one candidate were sent into a orgy of garment rending sadness because their guy failed to swiftly dissect the other guys nutsack with a deft display of Jack the Ripperian rhetorical derring-do. And then days later, backers of the other candidate went on a long, dark journey in the damp lycanthropic forests of La Lune when it came to pass that more Americans were gainfully employed then previously imagined.

And then the Cardinals actually won that dumb baseball play-in game, only I feel really dirty about it because let's face it guys, that was a weird place to be invoking the infield fly rule, okay? And even though they won, I live in the Washington, DC and the Nationals are having a storybook season and everyone all around me is like "Natitude! The only thing that would be a bigger unicorn than Bryce Harper is a bipartisan deficit deal," so I'm going to be like, that guy at the party who didn't mean to fart in the mashed potatoes but did and now he hopes no one else finds out.

In short, it was a strange week, full of strange and unwanted metaphors. And the worst part of all is that once again I have failed to find the horcruxes of the Sunday Morning Television Shows and so I must once again watch them and recap them. But you, gentle readers, need not do the same. Instead, hang out with each other in the comment streams. If you like, you can drop me a line. I am on Twitter, you can be too, if you want. And, as I've been trying to do lately, I've some stories over at my Rebel Mouse page set up for some Sunday Morning diversions.

And as always, those of you who are using the iPhone and/or iPad are reminded to KEEP CALM AND USE SAFARI.

FOX NEWS SUNDAY

Today, in the battle of the surrogates, we will have Kelly Ayotte battling Martin O'Malley battling keeping anyone who is watching this from falling alseep. And there will be a debate coaching session, followed by a panel discussion, and there you go.

O'Malley and Ayotte are both in studio, to yell at each other. Wallace leads off with the great jobs news, which is in fact good news for many people, so I'm glad for that. It's always best, when you hear of some fortunate economic news to remember that fortunate economic news is good for America, and that the wealthy and popular political celebrities who are running for office are going to be okay no matter what happens to the unemployment rate.

Of course, Sunday is all about discussing larger issues of economic dislocation through the prism of how it impacts the possibility that a wealthy American will get a government job that he won't even like that much once he gets it, so we'll get back to that. Ayotte says that the good news in the economy is mostly based on people doing part time work and there is a low labor force participation rate, and when she looks at the 7.8% rate, it feels like it's 11% to her.

O'Malley, because he is supposed to, agrees with Ayotte that "nobody should be satisfied" with where we are in terms of unemployment. That said, he is probably glad that the discussion today leads off with the news on jobs and not Wednesday's debate. O'Malley notes the 31 consecutive months of private sector gains, and the generic "right track" of the financial trajectory.

Wallace points out that no president has been elected with an unemployment rate as high as it is, or with GDP figures as low as they are (remember GDP was recently revised downward and found to be more anemic than previously imagined). O'Malley reckons that voters will remember what an astounding cock-up Obama's predecessor was, and think in relative terms about the economy, instead of absolute terms about the economy.

Ayotte, though, wants to talk about Obama policies, and especially the stimulus package, which came with a promise of 6% unemployment, and then she poked her way through a few Romney talking points without hitting them with the same oomph that Paul Ryan does. Wallace sort of goes "feh" and changes the subject to the debate, and the way each side is accusing the other of lying.

Wallace maintains that it is not true that Romney is talking about a $5 trillion tax cut. Wallace is mostly wrong about that, but he's a victim of Romney's lack of specifics. Here's Brian Beutler:

Romney’s objection is that the $5 trillion tax cut is only one half of his plan. But crucially, it’s the only part of his plan that he’s detailed with any specificity.

The $5 trillion from the nonpartisan, independent, Tax Policy Center. It’s an estimate of how much cutting everyone’s tax rates 20 percent below where they are right now would add to deficits over 10 years. That gross tax cut figure is not in dispute. Romney’s complaint is that it only accounts for one big piece of his tax plan. But what’s still unclear, perhaps more unclear after the debate, is the other big piece: how Romney plans to pay for it.

“[T]he governor repeated his vow that his tax rate cuts would not add to the deficit,” tax expert Howard Gleckman wrote on TPC’s blog after the debate. “And he said high-income households would pay the same share of taxes as they do today. And middle-income people would pay less. So, how will he finance the rate cuts? The poor could pay more, I suppose, though that’s unlikely. The only other solution: The tax cuts would have to pay for themselves by generating a huge increase in economic growth. But these big supply-side effects are implausible at best.”

O'Malley makes these points, sort of, -- "Ahhh, which loopholes and which deductions...Governor Romney hasn't told us what he would cut." -- but it seems that he is having a contest with Ayotte to determine which surrogate can be the more soporific.

Ayotte interrupts saying, "Governor Romney made it clear and was actually able to speak directly to the American people" at the debate. The second part of this is true, but he actually didn't make the first part clear. O'Malley grimly intones the Big Bird talking point. Ayotte flatly attempts to retell Romney's joke about having five sons. This all feels like I am being punished for waking up this early.

Wallace confesses that Romney and Ryan have been really sketchy about providing details about his plan. Ayotte says that they cannot be more than hazy on the matter of what they would do, because they don't want to start making deals in advance with Congress. Here's Matt Yglesias on what reporters should do about this:

Rather than demanding more specifics, what I wish is that reporters would press candidates for more clarity. Romney seemed to be saying that if Dave Camp and Eric Cantor start whipping up votes for a deficit-increasing tax cut for the rich, Romney will issue a veto threat at which point presumably House conservatives will drop the matter rather than pick a doomed fight with a same-party president. Then he and congress will negotiate a revenue-neutral reform with contours TBD. But is that really what would happen? It certainly doesn't sound like the kind of thing that would happen. A Republican president vetoing tax cuts would be a remarkable turnaround from the past several decades worth of American political history. Things can change, of course. And presidents sometimes do pick fights with their base. But what Romney was saying last night is really a dramatic departure from what you'd expect to see happen. This idea should really get aired out.

He should be asked clearly if that's what he's saying and we should hear the reaction from conservative politicians and advocates and such. For my part, I think it sounds like a fishy claim but I'm open to persuasion.

Moving towards budget talks. Ayotte declares Obama's budget to be "the worst of both worlds," and Wallace notes some gimmicky double-counting. O'Malley insists that as you emerge from the Iraq War, et al., you should be allowed to score and project accordingly. But as Mother Jones reported after the debate: "the $850 billion Obama claims the United States is getting by leaving Iraq and Afghanistan hardly amounts to savings: Instead, it's money borrowed from abroad, which needs to paid back with interest."

More broadly, O'Malley insists that Obama knows that "you cannot cut your way to prosperity." I don't know -- Obama shows up in this article about every syphilis-brained numbskull in Washington and their dreams of austerity-uber-alles as someone who is amenable to their fever dreams.

O'Malley makes some pop-culture joke that is too old for even me to pick up on, and Wallace laughs, but Ayotte doesn't get it, but that's okay because she just cycles back to lying about the deficit. Here, O'Malley's gentle reminder that she is lying seems to rattle her a smidge. They fight about it, and Wallace is like, "UGH SHUT UP, GUYS."

He moves the discussion to the fiscal cliff, and the fiscal X Games that are going to take place in January. Ayotte says that Obama hasn't shown "leadership" on "sequestration," by which she means that Obama has bravely ridden to the Senate and House's rescue, to tell them they are off the hook for those trigger cuts to the Defense Department that they all insisted would prove to be the impetus that all but assured that a deficit deal would get made. Paul Ryan took to the well of the House and gave a stirring speech about how awesome and amazing the sequestration cuts were, and how he just wanted to stand in the rain and kiss them, all over, like he was Ryan Gosling.

Anyway, Obama should really show some leadership and bail out the legislature one more time for failing to "make the tough choices" they always say are so important until they end up being the ones tasked with making them.

Ayotte begins a complaint, "We know from Bob Woodward's book..." and that's my cue to point out that fully two-thirds of the people in Washington who cite Bob Woodward's book have not even cracked the spine of that book. You should know that! They should just say, "According to a news report on this book," instead of fronting like they bother to read actual books. (Neither Ayotte or O'Malley have read the book, I guarantee you.)

Where is the campaign going now? O'Malley points out that there are a bunch of more debates, which is helpful, but I think that Wallace was looking for an answer that's more strategic or philosophical, and less based on what is on the calendar.

O'Malley goes on to helpfully note that Joe Biden and Paul Ryan have different positions on things, in case that wasn't entirely clear. (O'Malley is partial to Biden's point of view, in case you hadn't heard.)

Ayotte says that the campaign has been reset, and the American people now get to see the "real Romney."

O'Malley ends up having to re-explain whatever pop-cultural reference he was making.

Now we are going to debate school with Brett O'Donnell, the man who turned Michele Bachmann into a powerhouse of steely eyed forensic skill and rhetorical ninja-ing. What did Obama do wrong, and how would O'Donnell fix it? Hopefully his first advice is, "Mr. Obama should probably take anything I have to say with a grain of salt, since I am also tasked with helping Mitt Romney win."

But, let's go along with this, because Obama's debate prep was more or less terrible. O'Donnell says that Obama clearly knows his policy positions, but didn't "seem to have a strategy" in place, and "wasn't mentally prepared for Romney" and seemed "shocked when Romney went on offense" -- by which he means shocked when Romney showed up espousing entirely new policy positions and governing philosophies. (We covered most of these problems in this week's Speculatron.)

O'Donnell says that Romney "cast a vision" from "the very beginning," and included "five things that his plan would do" which "set in motion" a "frame" that "allowed him to case vision." That was "good." He says that Obama managed to "take the vision of taxes" and "encapsulized" (is that a word?) everything about it "into one sentence" which was "good" because it "created a moment that the audience could catch on to."

Bad things? O'Donnell says that it was bad that Obama "kept looking down while his opponent was speaking" because he looked "disinterested" in what Romney is saying. (Maybe Romney isn't that interesting?) Anyway, O'Donnell says it "sends the wrong message." He says that Romney's regrettable moment was his "If you're 60 you can stop listening moment." "It seemed to be the moment he wasn't as sure as himself as he was in other moments of the debate," O'Donnell says.

They talk about the "Big Bird" moment, and say nothing of particular note about it.

What does O'Donnell expect from the Biden-Ryan battle? He thinks that Biden will "turn up the heat" and "go on offense." "Whoever stays on message will be thought of as the victor." "I think that both men will be very prepared." As for the next presidential debate, O'Donnell would advice Obama to go on offense, make mention of Bain Capital or the "47%" remarks to get at Romney, while articulating his own vision to define himself. But he doesn't want to change his persona so much that the big story afterwards is the adjustments he made.

Okay, let's panel with Brit Hume and Kirsten Powers and Kim Strassel and Mara Liasson.

First off, jobs report -- the Obama camp has to be happy that right now, the jobs report is the shinier, bouncier ball than his debate performance. Hume says that the president's talking points are now improved, but he's pretty sure that people make up their minds about the economy using "the stuff that's going on in their lives" and not the number, so "it doesn't help the President very much." Liasson agrees with Hume, but notes that consumer confidence is also on the rise, as is confidence in the future and how people feel about the economy.

Strassel figures that the debate is going to matter more to Americans than the jobs report, and Powers agrees. Powers says that it nevertheless gives Obama more positive things to say about the economy on the stump.

Moving to the debate, Hume says that the Obama team's efforts to undercut Romney by pointing out lies is not going to work, and furthermore, the Obama that showed up is "the Obama I've been listening to" all this time. "He's not ten feet tall, and he never has been," says Hume, referring to the outsized expectations of Obama's core group of fans, who could maybe benefit from a resetting of expectations?

Liasson reckons that the town hall format of the next debate will make it hard for Obama to attack Romney. Strassel agrees that Obama's core strategy is remaining likeable, and so going on the attack may not fit that strategy. (Perhaps he doesn't need to attack Romney, though? At the town hall debate, why not just relate to the ordinary Americans who will be asking the questions?)

I will readily admit that viewing the debate inside the strange and distorting bubble of Washington and the oppressive conventional wisdom that hangs in the air poisoning us all may have given me a warped idea of how the debate played. When I got the chance to hang out with a bunch of people who weren't so entirely focused on politics yesterday, more than a few told me that they were surprised that so many people were making a big deal about the debate. Sure, Romney was sharp, they told me, but Obama was "calm and Presidential," and they didn't know why that was such a bad thing.

I'm still inclined toward my original argument, that Obama did a bunch of self-negating things that he could have avoided. But if you're of the mind that it was just shrewder to stay calm and not get drawn into some angry attack, I guess I'm open to that argument. I don't think it can be denied that Romney made the most of the "levelling effect" he finally got to enjoy just by dint of standing on the same podium as the president.

Wallace says he is looking forward to the Ryan-Biden debate. Strassel says that Biden will benefit from being wildly underestimated, and Ryan will have to expect Biden to be on offense. Wallace points out that Ryan does not expect Biden to turn in an undisciplined performance.

Memo to Kirstin Powers: Biden saying he supports marriage equality is not a gaffe! A gaffe is not defined as "a statement that causes problems for Obama because Obama has a more cowardly position on an issue than his vice president."

Hume says Biden should not attack Paul Ryan's policy portfolio -- he should attack Romney's portfolio, and "try to make some hay out of them." That's actually very good advice. Liasson agrees, and warns that it will be "harder to paint Romney as the handmaiden of the House GOP's extreme agenda." Strassel and Hume points out that since Ryan has joined the ticket, they've submerged Ryan's policy aspirations and made Ryan a servant to Romney's vague proposals.

Wallace brings up an obvious point -- the vice presidential debates don't really move the needle, with voters. That's probably true, but at this point, I think a lot of political reporters would like to write the "Joe Biden saves Obama's bacon" story.

MEET THE PRESS

Today, Robert Gibbs and Newt Gingrich are going to be doing the yelling, and there will be, like, 170 minutes of interminable panel discussions, as usual.

Oh, wait, is this going to be a solid hour of paneling?

Gag. Me. That's exactly what it is: Robert Gibbs and Newt Gingrich and Mike Murphy and Hilary Rosen and Chuck Todd and the grim, winking figure of Death in the corner of the room, pointing his extended, greying metacarpal at me as a reminder that I frittered away whole days of my life watching these shows, and that I shan't get them back when it's time for me to pass over into the great beyond.

Anyway, we start with the jobs report, which is "certainly not something the Romney team wanted to see." Gingrich says it was a help to the President, saying, "Imagine if it had been 8.2% coming out of the debate." Gibbs says that it's a strong recovery in terms of jobs produced, and the pattern is consistent, but there's still a ways to go. (Gingrich flags an IMF report predicting full recovery isn't happening until 2018.)

Murphy still reckons that Romney can run a jobs campaign, because there is still wide-enough economic dislocation. Todd notices that there are curiosities all over the swing-state map -- in Ohio, the economy is doing better, which is probably why Obama's electoral map firewall is there. It's different in other places, he notes, like Nevada -- but even there, he notes that Romney's challenge is convincing voters to "start over." Rosen reckons that Obama comes to the table with strong middle-class affection for the incumbent, and that will be hard for Romney to penetrate.

Gingrich figures that when voters take stock in the entire economy, however, and consider their communities, and their family and friends, many of whom are getting by on less, it doesn't exactly give them great cheer. To Gingrich's mind, that's why despite the fact that Romney has gone through months and months of straight cocking up all the time, Obama hasn't pulled away -- the bad economy is a "rubber band" that keeps the two men close in the polls.

Gibbs says that the race was "always going to be close," and then rattles off a bunch of statistics making the case for Obama. And then there are a bunch of campaign talking points.

Murphy says that at the debate, Romney shattered the existing narrative by showing people a candidate they hadn't seen before -- and he is new and vital and exciting while the president has been "sleepwalking." Gibbs quips that there's "no doubt that Romney had never been seen before, there had to have been people in his own campaign" who didn't recognize him. "You simply can not wish away the entire premise of your campaign platform," Gibbs complains. He and Murphy fight over this for a few minutes.

After a few minutes of Lehrering, Gregory regains control of the panel and moves the topic to Jack Welch going all ding-dong-dementia on twitter over the BLS numbers, with claims that the books had been cooked.

ryan avent

Gregory describes Welch as "one of the most important CEOs in America," which should underscore just how unimportant CEOs are to America, in the main. Gingrich says Welch's theory is "plausible but irrelevant" -- he reckons though that it's more telling that Welch went right to the assumption that "Chicago" had "cooked the books." (What that should tell you is that WELCH IS BONKERS.)

One think you have to give Obama's critics credit for is substantially raising the esteem in which the "corrupt Chicago regime" is held. (My mother, who grew up in nearby Hammond, Indiana, has a good laugh whenever she is asked to think of Chicago politicians as criminal masterminds, and not as the bumbling bunch of inept aldermen that they actually are.) Texas, by contrast, is where the real deal, skin you alive with a smile politicians reside. You will probably survive an encounter with an Illinois politican, with the possible exception of the one who has a "kill list" and has gotten his hands on a bunch of aerial death drones!

Chuck Todd decries the way people with conspiracies can get traction in society, almost as if the network he works for was inviting them on Hardball and pointing teevee cameras at them, or something!

Gingrich says that we are, of course, missing the whole point: "The reason that people are losing respect for Washington" is Obama, duh.

I wonder if Chuck Todd, political expert, might, during his tragic musings on the way there's been this accelerated lack of trust in our political culture, might happen to notice that Newt Gingrich and his GOPAC were the driving force behind fomenting widespread distrust in science, academics, the media, etc. I am guessing not.

Gregory brings us back around to Wednesday's debate. "What happened?" he asks Gibbs. Gibbs says that the President was "disappointed" in his performance, but the big excuse is that Romney suddenly showed up with a bunch of new policy positions, and it caught him off guard. Which is sort of like encountering a bear in the woods and being surprised to discover that the woods are, in fact, where said bear has been leaving his fecal matter. "Well, this could not have been prepared for!"

Rosen notes that Romney's tax plan, bottom line, doesn't add up, and that "something will have to give." (Maybe mortgage interest deductions?) She adds, though, that the Obama on the campaign trail, regularly shows up and "fights for the American people," and there should be a sign of that guy when he comes to the debate.

Murphy counters: "[Obama] lost the debate because he had nothing to say...Romney seemed like he had energy and ideas, the president didn't." Todd adds, "The fact is that style has always mattered in these debates."

Gibbs has now scribbled a bunch of stuff about Romney's tax plan on a piece of paper, and it sort of proves the point that on teevee, style ends up mattering more than substance. Murphy says that Obama needs to bring substance to the debate: "If he'd have showed up with a couple of sharp ideas and a love for the job, he'd have won the debate."

What will Obama do better in the next debate? Gibbs says that the president will show up engaged and ready to take on Romney's changes of position. He calls Romney's performance last Wednesday, a "superb acting job."

Todd says that right now, the GOP has an advantage in terms of the enthusiasm gap. Older voters are more interested in the election then young voters, and that benefits Romney as well. He also thinks that high affection of Obama among Hispanic voters may be washed out by low turnout.

Gregory: "I was struck by this David Brooks column." That is hopefully not the phrase that activates all the Manchurian Candidates to go jump in a lake, you know?

Rosen goes on an extended monologue about how Obama's policies reduce a wide variety or economic burdens and displace a lot of uncertainty for individuals and households, and concludes that Americans, in general, are more "holistic" about their interests than most people imagine. Murphy repeats his contention that Obama isn't bringing any zingy new ideas to the debate, and that ultimately, the need to go on the attack against Romney will just make him "look small."

There is a good point to be made here about Romney just needing to survive long enough to make it to the debates and put Obama into a position where he had to contend directly and materially with his challenger -- Obama was winning the war of abstractions, now he's struggling as the debate turns concrete.

Will we see "Mitt the moderate" now? Gingrich says no, and then goes on a wonky journey about energy that Rosen immediately disputes, causing Gregory to say, "Gah, just finish your point" -- and then we go to commercial.

What will we see from Biden? Gibbs says that Biden will not be "overcompensating" and the mystery will be if Ryan is a trickster "chameleon," like Romney. Gingrich figures that Ryan will "not give an inch" but will refrain from being "hostile" because of respect for his status as a veteran legislator. Todd points out that elder statesmen tend to do better in these situations. Murphy reckons that Biden is a constant "high-wire act."

Rosen points out something that maybe everyone needs to consider: it's possible to be able to say, "That guy won the debate" and nevertheless not decide to vote for them. That's true to some extent, but there are voters who just want to be able to say they backed a winner, so "winning" things -- even debates -- are still important.

Now we are having an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger, because he is shilling a memoir. What do you really need to know about this? Arnold is sad that there isn't more "post-partisanship" and that the GOP is kooky-loo on issues like the environment and stem-cell research. He says that the GOP needs to do more to court the Hispanic vote, and return to supporting comprehensive immigration reform. This is a more haunted and earnest Schwarzenegger, and it's interesting to see him communicating without that movie star swagger -- he's at once more human and less imposing, those normally ever-present Austrian vowel-switched sanded-down and muted.

Gregory brings up Schwarzenegger's humiliating private life, and asks if he's lost some credibility. He says, "If people are angry with me, I deserve that." He says that he will work hard in the coming years to repair the relationships he's broken. Asked if he thinks of himself as a sympathetic figure, he says that his intent is not to make himself sound sympathetic -- but he goes on the talk about his rise from obscurity and his "dark side," and the only people who publicly talk about their "dark side" are people who either want hugs, or want people to be impressed.

Anyway, there's a few more minutes of therapy, and Gregory ends the discussion about about anold encounter with Matt Lauer, which is not worth redocumenting here. Buy his book, if you want, it's in it.

FACE THE NATION

You'll be surprised to learn that we will be discussing the debate! And David Axelrod is here, to spin it! And there will be a panel discussion. All sorts of exciting innovation in the face of the horsey race. Then there will be a roundtable discussion about baseball, which we are going to skip entirely.

First, we will have David Axelrod spinning about the debate, and what not. Also Norah O'Donnell and John Dickerson are there, hanging out.

"So, what happened?" asks Bob Schieffer. Axelrod gives his variation on the "some new and surprising version of Mitt Romney showed up" theme. Romney, he says, "delivered a performance" that was "completely unrooted in fact." Schieffer asks if he is saying that Romney lied, and Axelrod affirms that yes, he says Romney was being dishonest -- pointing to the pretty hilarious instance of Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom having to tell reporters after the debate that Romney was just kidding about pre-existing conditions being covered under a Romney health care plan.

Schieffer and Axelrod have a brief colloquy over whether calling a man "dishonest" is the same as saying he "lied," because unemployed America could really use a discussion on semantics and what terms are deemed "polite" enough to be aired on television. (Our country would be in 2000% better shape, I think, if the FCC would just permit people to use the word "bullshit" without being fined.)

Why didn't Obama "bring up the famous 47%" line? Axelrod says that he "didn't find the opportunity to raise it." Which is pretty stupid! The debate topics can simply be the rough contours of the points you'd like to raise, so raise away, debaters! Axelrod says it's nevertheless astonishing to hear Romney offer a fitful apology to the half of America he deemed privately to be useless, as he passed on a chance to do so weeks ago. Nevertheless, Axelrod now has a LOT to say about a matter that wasn't worth bringing up during the debate, for some reason.

O'Donnell asks Axelrod why the President didn't point out Romney's dishonesties during the debate. Axelrod says that Obama was there to discuss his own vision for the future, but anyway he was totally shocked by the "brazen" way "Romney walked away" from so many of his previous policies and convictions, even thouge that is the last thing you should be shocked about, with Mitt Romney.

Anyway, it's something that Obama will "have to adjust for." Their contention, I guess, is that it's reasonable to be surprised by this -- Dickerson says, "All that means is that the president didn't do his homework."

Dickerson continues to press on the matter of whether Romney's tax plan is a "lie" or just an "unrealistic promise," Axelrod says that their point is that all the loopholes in the world won't balance the budget under Romney's tax cut plan, so the only way around it is to "sock it to the middle class." Dickerson contends that the case Axelrod is making is that Romney's plan is "unrealistic," Axelrod counters by saying it's "impossible."

If Obama really wants to lower the boom on Romney's sudden changes in position, and highlight how he was a different person Wednesday night than he's been all the other days of the campaign, he should say something to the effect that Romney seemed "brainwashed." (Google it.) That will, for a lot of reasons, fill Romney with rage. It's also the meanest thing Obama could do to the man.

Anyway, the argument continues. Axelrod says Romney's plan is a "shell game," where no matter what shell you pick up, "the middle class loses." That might have been a good line to use, in the debate.

O'Donnell poses a long and confusing question that I think is just meant to ask, "Why was the president looking down the whole time?" So: why was he looking down the whole time? "The President was taking notes on what he said, so that he could be responsive," Axelrod says. That's nice that he took notes, I guess, but they sure didn't fuel a whole lot of "responding."

We move to the good news about the unemployment rate dropping. Schieffer asks about those who accused the BLS of "cooking the books." Axelrod says that those people can "join the birthers on the lunatic fringe," and that "every respectable economist said that response was completely nuts." He adds that it "robs Romney of talking points," which is nice but actually is not a thing most Americans were counting on the economy being able to do.

Now it is time for roundtabling, with John Fund and Michael Gerson joining Dickerson and O'Donnell. So it's another one of those classic DC panels were two conservatives "debate" two reporters and we call it even-steven.

Gerson likens Obama's performance to Bush 43's first debate against Kerry -- he knew what he wanted to say but hadn't had that sort of competition in a long while and thus lacked a sharp, competitive edge. "It was a wake-up call," he says, "I think he'll do better next time, but you could hardly do worse."

Did Romney move to the middle in the debate? Fund says that in terms of rhetoric, sure, but what saves Romney from a lot of conservative fretting is the fact that he can run against Obama's second term, which conservatives will see as further from the middle in the other direction.

O'Donnell says that Romney has successfully energized his supporters and his own campaign staff, who "now feel they have an opportunity to focus on issues." Next week, the Romney campaign will attack Obama on Libya, and they are considering "major speeches" on the economy and the debt. The Obama campaign, she says, has had their "wake up call" and will make "major changes on style and substance" going into their next tilt.

Gerson reckons you'll see a preview of the next presidential debate in this week's vice presidential encounter: "Biden is going to have to be aggressive in this debate...which is not an easy thing to calibrate." That said, Gerson notes that Biden has a facility with the national stage, while Ryan has been a bit nervous in the big spotlight. Fund disagrees, and says that Biden has gone a little loosey-goosey on the campaign trail. He insists Palin fought Biden to a draw, but that's only because everyone expected Palin to basically injure herself or set the debate venue on fire.

Norah O'Donnell thinks that both candidates should "go head to head" on their tax reform plan, and I mean, she could just tell that to Schieffer, who will be moderating the last debate between Obama and Romney.

Everyone sort of generically agrees that at worse, Romney is being "unrealistic" about his tax plan, and not "dishonest."

Schieffer asks if Romney changed minds during the debate. Gerson says that he "punctured a stereotype" in the debate. "He stopped losing the election," Gerson says, "that's different from winning the election."

Schieffer offers his editorial, about debate moderatin' and whether or not debates were still important. Guess what? He still thinks they are important. For whatever reason, that spins into a lament about how people in both sides in Washington don't hang out with each other and the debates are at least one chance that each side has to listen to the other. And I mean, fine, but if you want to get "both sides snuggling" with each other again maybe you should turn off the teevee cameras every once in a while and force them to just stop grandstanding? I don't know. Anyway, yes, "both sides" have to show up for the debate, hooray.

Oh wow, this show literally decided to spend a half-hour talking about baseball? Sweet fancy Moses, they did. Still no one told Tony LaRussa to comb his hair, which is oddly fitting.

Anyway, that is your week in politics. There was a debate, and everyone remembers it. There were some job numbers, and they meant something, too. There will be other debates, and they might also be important, unless they aren't, in which case they won't. And we'll all get together on Sunday to talk about these events as if they were, ultimately, utterly inscrutable phenomenon. We will see you then. In the meanwhile, have a great week!

[You Sunday morning liveblog will return in one week's time. Probably, anyway!. While you wait, check out my periodically updating Rebel Mouse page for stories of interest around the web.]

 
  Obama Romney
Obama Romney
332 206
Obama leading
Obama won
Romney leading
Romney won
Popular Vote
33 out of 100 seats are up for election. 51 are needed for a majority.
Democrat leading
Democrat won
Holdover
Republican leading
Republican won
Democrats* Republicans
Current Senate 53 47
Seats gained or lost +2 -2
New Total 55 45
* Includes two independent senators expected to caucus with the Democrats: Angus King (Maine) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).
All 435 seats are up for election. 218 are needed for a majority.
Democrat leading
Democrat won
Republican leading
Republican won
Democrats Republicans
Seats won 201 234
Click for Full Results