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Interviewing Mitt Romney: Is David Gregory Up to the Challenge?

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For the first time in years, Mitt Romney will be on Meet the Press.

This will not only be a test for Mitt Romney, but it will also determine whether David Gregory has the skills to make this anything more than just handing Romney a free, 30 minute ad reciting his talking points to Gregory's audience.

Gregory has had a few -- a precious few -- "gets" on his program, such as Newt Gingrich declaring the Ryan budget to be "right wing social engineering."

But, Newt is a loose cannon. He believes he is so much smarter than anyone else that they will embrace his every brainless thought, so he is really about as easy a catch as there is.

Romney, by contrast, will be incredibly disciplined. His taxes? Women's health? Not mentioning Afghanistan -- and then today calling it unimportant? Bain Capital? His ticket's utter lack of foreign policy experience?

Romney's advisers will tell him to bring everything back to the Friday jobs' numbers, justifying it by proclaiming that "this is what the American people want us to talk about."

Romney has also been told one key factor: TV anchors are 'taught' not to ask the same question more than three times, otherwise it appears as if they are badgering the person, and then the sentiment turns in the candidate's favor. So, knowing he is only going to be asked three times, all Romney has to remember is to grin-and-bear-it.

His views on women's choice: did he mean it when he said, "health of the mother?" or did he mean it when he said he supported a "Personhood Amendment absolutely?" Romney will answer that he wants these matters left up to the states, and that they are distractions from the issue of jobs.

What will Gregory do?

Regrettably, probably nothing. He will dutifully ask Romney the same question a few times and relent, but probably will not do that on many subjects. Then, he will throw Romney a few softballs, such as "was Ann pleased with how her horse performed at the Olympics?" and that will be that.

What could Gregory do if he had the skills, and the gumption?

A lot. Recognizing that Romney knows exactly what Gregory will do, and that Romney will repeat his talking points ad nauseam, Gregory has to do it very differently than Romney expects. To do that, he needs to structure his questions so that, if Romney adopts his "don't move off the talking point" strategy, then that alone "answers" the questions, or give him questions that are out of the realm of any talking point.

For example, instead of asking him why he is not releasing more taxes, ask him this: "Did you receive an amnesty from the IRS?" A non-answer of any kind to this question is a "yes." So, if Romney says "no," Gregory can say, "Well, Ronald Reagan said, 'trust but verify,'" and ask Romney if he is willing to have that verified by a third party, such as the IRS commissioner or a neutral accountant?

As a second example: "Are programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid consistent with Republican philosophy and principles of government?"

As a third example: "Morally, is healthcare a right, or should it be based on each person's ability to pay?"

As a fourth example: "Regardless of whether you did it or not, is it morally right for owners to saddle a company with debt and then use the money raised by that debt to be bought out, leaving the company with a large debt burden? Do you feel it is right for you to have made millions of dollars from doing that?"

Or, just to conclude: "The Blunt amendment, that you support, says that not just churches, but corporate CEOs, can deny a woman insurance coverage for contraceptives. Why should the CEO's "conscience" take precedence over the woman's?"

I am not holding my breath.

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