12/11/2011 08:52 am ET Updated Feb 10, 2012

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Good morning everyone, and welcome once again to your Sunday Morning liveblog. My name is Jason, and this will be the last Sunday Morning liveblog of 2011, actually! Yes, this constant being away is probably getting annoying, but pretty soon it will be 2012 and we'll wish we could sleep forever on Sundays, so tedious will these shows become. At any rate, the situation is this: next Sunday I will be out of town, and the Sunday after that it will be Christmas. They aren't doing these shows on Christmas, are they? Well, if they are, they can do them on their own.

This necessarily raises the question, "Are you going to liveblog on January 1, 2012?" The answer is that I hope they don't air these shows that day either, but if they do, I will be there, because I fear if I go away for three weeks you guys might find out that there are probably 3,458 things more worth doing that reading me yell at my teevee. Plus I sort of want to see what C-list beltway types are so desperate to get booked on one of these shows that they'll wake up that early on New Year's Day.

I realize that I'll be starting 2012 off in probably the worst possible way one can, but that's sort of the whole point of 2012. Anyway, you know what to do, sit back, enjoy, pace yourself, and as always feel free to share with each other in the comments, send an email, or follow me on Twitter.


Today, Chris Wallace interviews Rick Perry. Remember when people thought he'd be serious contender for the presidency? And then we found out that "Rick Perry" was a Farrelly Brothers movie, and everyone was all, "Oh! He brings me such delight BUT NO." I sure hope the Rick Perry who trips and falls into stacks of pies shows up this morning.

But first there was a debate last night. Did you miss it? Hooray for you! Here's what you missed, everyone tried and failed to make Newt Gingrich lose his cool, he was still very tendentious and lecturey to listen to, and Mitt Romney tried to make a $10,000 bet with Rick Perry. I kind of think Ron Paul maybe "won" the debate, but the debates are kind of becoming like rabies shots, in that they are repetitive, painful, and make me miss having rabies.

Rick Perry is here now, reminding me I am watching this in the wrong aspect ratio. Wallace asks about the bet, and Perry says that he's pretty sure that when he drove to the station to do this interview, he didn't pass any houses where people had $10,000 to throw away on a bet with Rick Perry. He goes on to say that he's right about Mitt's book, having once touted the individual mandate as the model for the nation. In terms of his own HPV mandate, he says "there's a clear difference, here," because his included an "opt-out."

Perry says he is "all in" in "all those states," but especially Iowa. Iowa is the first state to have a nominating contest. Rick Perry knows this. It's sunk in. Then it's off to the cold state, with the stony faced people!

Wallace asks Rick Perry about his commercial, where he wears the jacket from "Brokeback Mountain," and worries that as gays dies for our country, too many children in America are not allowed to celebrate Christmas. This is the first we're hearing about this crisis. And also President Obama is waging a "war on religion!" Wallace asks about that, and he says that Eric Holder is making it so churches can't hire people, something about Catholic Charities and abortions, and there's nothing specific, and sex trafficking? It sounds like someone told Rick Perry something once and he sort of remembered it, but it's not cohering.

Perry would support a Constitutional amendment to allow children to pray in school. I mean, swell. I'd support a Constitutional amendment to have fresh guacamole piped in to my sink. He says that activist judges prevent this, but activist judges can't overturn a new Constitutional amendment. Stick that sucker in there and you sit back and watch tweens worship their sparkly vampire gods in homeroom and you have to like it. He does, carefully, pronounce the word "Sotomayor," because he needs to prove he can.

He says Don't Ask Don't Tell was working, and we should go back to it, because the military has totally fallen into a shambles since it was repealed, right?

Wallace suggests that the ad, which presumably seeks to win the hearts and minds of Iowa evangelicals, misses the larger mark because the average Iowa caucusgoer, polls say, are more concerned about the economy, and not social issues. Perry says that "faith is a major part of who I am, and I can't change the fact that I'm the son of two tenant farmers." What those two clauses have to do with one another is anyone's guess. But he's been talking about the economy and about "making Washington as inconsequential" as possible to Iowans. If elected, Rick Perry promises to not be consequential!

Wallace brings up Perry blanking on, and mispronouncing Sonia Sotomayor's name, and saying there are eight judges on the court, but that's just how Rick Perry sees things! He'll cut spending by slashing one of the nine Supreme Court Justices. And he'll decide how their names are pronounced!

Perry says he has not memorized all the Supreme Court Justices, but when he's President, he'll appoint judges that are strict constructionists. "Get me that know -- Judgey McGee? With the frisbee dog! I'mma appoint his ass to the Supreme Court," he will bark at an aide, expecting him to a) know who he is referring to and b) somehow get this judge on the phone. (Also, the guy Perry thinks is his aide will turn out to be Bibi Netanyahu. "I was sure he was my judge guy," Perry will later say in his coloring-book/memoir.)

Wallace asks about his opposition to extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, and whether he can answer to the charge that the GOP is more concerned about helping the wealthy than assisting to sections of the population who are struggling. Perry says he's "interested in creating a climate in which people can risk their capital," and not temporary tax cuts.

Okay! Next up, Mitch McConnell.

McConnell blames the White House and the Democrats for the way that Congress has gotten bogged down, I guess because the Democrats have been blocking their own appointments and stonewalling their own legislative ideas? But more to the point, McConnell wants to extend the payroll tax holiday for another year, but he'd like to create some jobs with the Keystone Pipeline project. McConnell believes it will create 20,000 jobs. It won't.

A key question for the administration is how many jobs the Keystone XL project would create. TransCanada�s initial estimate of 20,000 � which it said includes 13,000 direct construction jobs and 7,000 jobs among supply manufacturers � has been widely quoted by lawmakers and presidential candidates.

Girling said Friday that the 13,000 figure was �one person, one year,� meaning that if the construction jobs lasted two years, the number of people employed in each of the two years would be 6,500. That brings the company�s number closer to the State Department�s; State says the project would create 5,000 to 6,000 construction jobs, a figure that was calculated by its contractor Cardno Entrix.

As for the 7,000 indirect supply chain jobs, the $1.9 billion already spent by TransCanada would reduce the number of jobs that would be created in the future. The Brixton Group, a firm working with opponents of the project, has argued that many of the indirect supply jobs would be outside the United States because about $1.7 billion worth of steel will be purchased from a Russian-owned mill in Canada.

McConnell says the negotiated pipeline/payroll package will pass both Houses with bipartisan support. Wallace says that Harry Reid says it won't and that Obama has said he will veto it. McConnell says Obama is posturing and that Reid needs to go count his votes again.

Wallace tells McConnell that the Democrats believe they are winning the larger argument, and wants to know why so many Republicans are voting against a tax cut. McConnell says that "4 out of 5" of the people who the Obama administration is targeting for a tax increase to pay for the cut are business owners. There has been some trouble, of late, proving that these business owners exist.

Wallace goes back, though, and points out that 26 GOP Senators were unwilling to vote for McConnell's version of the bill, which didn't have a millionaires' surtax and just extended the payroll tax cut. McConnell just says that this even newer version of the bill, with Keystone XL, will get his support.

Wallace asks about the blocking of Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. wondering why he has a problem with an agency that would protect consumers. McConnell says the agency "answers to no one," and needs to answer to Congress, because of their great track record of protecting consumers from financial predators. Cordray, he suggests, could "bring down the banking system" by himself. (Also, McConnell would probably prefer Obama appoint someone who would agree to not protect consumers, but that's just me speculating.)

As for Eric Holder, McConnell says he "misled Congress" and has "not been forthcoming." "It's really quite unusual to be stonewalled by such high ranking members" of a Presidential administration, says McConnell, who is evidently on the first day of his job in Washington. He's not calling for heads, yet, though.

Now it's time for paneling with Paul Gigot, Liz Cheney, Mara Liasson, and Juan Williams.

Paul Gigot says that Gingrich did "pretty well," because the version of Newt Gingrich that is a pedantic dick that won't shut up didn't show up last night. "He held up pretty well," he said. And some of the broadsides were pointed -- a lengthy colloquy on marital fidelity and people hitting him for being a lobbyist. Liasson agrees that no one really drew blood. Cheney says that it is easier to attack people when you aren't in the room with them, like, say, the way you'd say that various Justice Department officials are al Qaeda sympathizers, but only in stupid web ads, never to their faces.

"Is Newt really serious, and are people really serious about nominating Newt Gingrich?" wonders Juan Williams. Democrats sure hope so!

Wallace brings up Newt's contention that the Palestinians were an "invented people," and reports that Elliot Abrams has pointed out that if you apply Gingrich's reasoning consistently, then the people of Jordan, Syria, and Iraq are also "invented." Gigot says that Newt was "needlessly provocative" and exposed some of his personal failings, like his need to "over-intellectualize things," which I think is the charitable way of saying that he knows just enough to be dangerous. He says, however, that his debate answer was better last night, because he put it context of terrorism. Cheney agrees with Gigot.

(My favorite "invented" people on Earth are "Americans," by the way!)

Liasson says that if Gingrich wins the nomination, he'll have a "lot of problems" in the general and there are "good reasons" that the Democrats would prefer to draw him as an opponent, but Gingrich won't be a "pushover" and she says that even if the Democrats would rather face Newt, it doesn't mean they take him lightly. Williams says that the big difference between Newt and Mitt is that while Mitt brings a reputation for solving problems, he doesn't have that "talk show host" vibe where he'll go out onstage and passionately slag President Obama again and again, and so the base isn't getting that thrill.

Gigot says that Romney has largely failed to put forward a broad vision that competes with Obama, and will be "made into Gordon Gekko before this is all over" and consequenttly is not sure that Romney is all that electable at this point.

Gigot says that Obama's re-election effort is about "changing the subject" because the economy is lousy, and complains that it's not fair for Obama to say he's been stymied by gridlock because "for two years he got everything he wanted." Well, the real story is that in some significant ways, he failed to get what he wanted because Democrats opposed it. Ben Nelson...he exists and remembers to vote for whatever the dead center position is (in 2009, it was "have an ineffective stimulus package"). However, I'll concede that it's hard to run a campaign like that. And Obama's never ever called out his own, no matter how bad they've screwed him.

Liasson says that in order to get re-elected, with the economy in shambles and people saying that things are moving in the wrong direction, Obama will have to run a pretty negative campaign that "disqualifies his opponent and the Republican party." Liz Cheney, naturally, thinks it's "ludicrous" to suggest that a populist argument that paints the GOP as the party of the rich will work and goes on to say that Obama has "gotten a pass" on foreign policy as well.

(Add Cheney to the list of people who don't seem to be smart enough to grasp that the troops are leaving Iraq according to the Status of Forces Agreement that was agreed to by George Bush in 2008. I don't think you are allowed to come on a Sunday show if you aren't willing to be pointedly ignorant about this basic fact.)

Williams points out that the polls say that Obama's foreign policy is popular and Cheney's wars are getting more and more wearisome and worrisome for the American people. He's pretty confident that the populist argument will work.

As far as the payroll taxcut, Gigot says that the GOP muffed it -- they should have simply passed it, quickly, and avoided getting into an argument with the White House in the first place. I think at some point, behavior just becomes reflexive.


Today, Bob Schieffer is all about Iowa, with Michele Bachmann, who lives there now, as his guest, along with Iowa Congressman Steve King (R), who has not endorsed anyone yet. (Bachmann could really use it, thought.)

There's going to be an "important announcement about Face The Nation" today also! Man, I wonder if Face The Nation acquired Chris Paul in a three-way trade with the New Orleans Hornets!

But first, Michele Bachmann, who was "on fire," apparently, at last night's debate. Scorching! A-flame! Actually, her "Newt Romney" line was pretty hilarious and effective, it's a pity she's too skint to put it in an advertisement. But Schieffer wants to know why she didn't whale on Newt for his many marriages when the rest of the field did. She says she just wanted to put the idea of "character" in a historical perspective, and she's sure that the voters will keep it all in mind when they vote in Iowa.

Schieffer plays a clip of Obama, in which he avers that there is no real way of distinguishing the candidates from one another, and their "core philosophy" and direction they want to take the country is all the same and a marked contrast with his own. But Bachmann made a big point about how Newt and Mitt were distinct from what she wants to do. Asked to elaborate, Bachmann says that she is the only "proven conservative" and there's "not a dime's worth of difference" between Newt and Mitt, as both support the individual mandate and "agree with Obama" on health care. In addition, "Newt Romney" are on the same side as Obama on cap and trade, the bailout, immigration, payroll taxes. Newt, Mitt, and Barack all pee standing up, too! Coincidence?

Now, to be fair, there is apparently $10,000 worth of difference between Romney and Gingrich on any random day.

Schieffer points out that Newt Gingrich has a lot of baggage, that he always taking with him on vacations when he is supposed to be on vacation. (He reads Eugene Robinson's "Newt has more baggage than Louis Vuitton line to Bachmann and she laughs, so someone tell Eugene that Bachmann finally liked one of his columns!)

She says there are "very serious concerns with Newt Gingrich as the nominee," citing his lobbying. He's the "King of K Street" which is the "Rodeo Drive of Washington," and you get to use that line one more day, Michele, and then you have to get a new one, okay? At any rate, Gingrich is a schmoozy influence peddler who should get his own sexxxy Canterbury Tale, and a total Washington insider, in Bachmann's estimation. "He is the big government candidate," she says. "That's not what we want in our nominee, that doesn't pass the falling off a chair laughing test." Whatever that is.

Oh, remember, Michele Bachmann has been "on the tip of the spear" fighting Obamacare, and just needs voters to grab the shaft. And then more mixed metaphors! She's the "proven candidate who's been tested by fire in the lion's den of Washington, DC." Seems to me that the key feature of lions' dens are the lions, and not fire. I'd call that the "fire room," or something, and I'd be like, "Lions! Get up on out of there!" And the lions would be all, "Sweet Lion God! We were just in our den, denning it up, when some raving woman came in with all this fire, yelling about Obamacare." And I'd be like, "Damn, lions! That sounds awful traumatic!" And then I'd take the lions to the Rodeo Drive of Washington and tell them to "TREAT YO SELF." Then the lions would devour a bunch of lobbyists, and I'd probably be prosecuted for aiding and abetting that.

Anyway, Michele Bachmann has faced the fire of the lions den, the slings and arrows of the racetrack, the guillotines of the Library of Congress, and the poisoned ping pong balls of that Starbucks that just opened on K Street, the Rodeo Drive of Washington.

Schieffer wants to know from Bachmann what Romney's problem is, and, you know, it's not like Bachmann doesn't have some problems as a candidate. But she says he "stood firm for socialized medicine" and on "issue after issue" Romney is "not reflective of where the base of this party wants to go." Mitt and Newt represent the "frugal socialist" wing of the Republican Party.

Schieffer, hearing that, asks the obvious question: "If it came down to it, could you see yourself supporting either one?" Bachmann says that "the one thing we know is that we won't have Obama as President because the people have made that decision." Really? I need to talk to my editors, then, because they seem to think I am supposed to help cover some kind of upcoming presidential election, or something!

Bachmann says that she is the candidate with the "bold, distinct" difference, and the "pleasant full mouthfeel" and the "citrus notes" that can defeat Obama, who I thought was already defeated? As for Schieffer's question, she says she intends to be the nominee.

Schieffer says that Bachmann hurt Donald Trump's feelings when she backed out of the debate he was hosting, for laughs, after she had repeatedly sought his advice and endorsement. "Oh, Donald Trump is a big boy and these things happen," she says, and then points out that no one was going to the debate, and she considers herself to be a "serious candidate for President" and serious candidates don't do unserious things, like go to debates where only a couple of people are participating. She is totally right about that.

Now Congressman King is here, to talk about how all the GOP candidates want to get with him.

King says he couldn't pick a winner. He liked them all before the debate, and he liked everyone better after the debate. WHAT GOOD ARE YOU, THEN, ENDORSEMENT WITHHOLDER MAN?

King says that what's "going on inside of me" is that "I need to come to a conviction." So far, no one has been the "full spectrum conservative" capable of "getting inside" Steve King, and allow him to get "fully behind" a candidate. And no one is talking about selling the country the "tough medicine" we need to take before we "go off the cliff." Who will dose Steve King, with the "tough medicine?" And why is this interview turning into an erotic Bon Jovi song?

Could King endorse a Michele Bachmann? He says that they agree on "issue after issue" and they work together on all sorts of things, but he has not yet "come to a conviction" and that's too bad because she could really use his endorsement, like a month ago!

Schieffer asks King why Romney is having such a hard time winning over the GOP. King says that it's a "hard thing to measure" but that Romney's definitely a better candidate now than he was four years ago. "Sometimes," he says, "it's just an intangible, and Iowans just haven't warmed up to him yet."

As for Gingrich, King says he's been "very, very strong" in the debates, but tends to be "unpredictable." Kings cites Newt's comment on the Palestinians as an example of a thing that was "unnecessary" to say, but he agrees with it. So, I guess that Newt's big problem is that he'll say things out loud that King agrees with but doesn't necessarily want people to know about, if it can be avoided.

King's risk-free simplemindedness in this discussion of the political horse-race marks him as a strong contender for "Mark Halperin replacement."

Now we shall have a "little bit of analysis" from Norah O'Donnell and John Dickerson. Dickerson says this is the "week that Gingrich shot through the roof," and Romney had to stop firing shots at Obama and start training fire at Newt. "The main point is that he is unstable," Dickerson says.

Schieffer suggests that Gingrich fared pretty well all the same last night at the debate. "In some ways, Gingrich may have won even though most of the fire was directed at him." Dickerson agrees, saying that the main problem with Mitt's attack is that in the debates, Gingrich is staying disciplined and in control. As such, Gingrich has grabbed prominence in two areas in polls previously dominated by Romney: "can fix the economy" and "can defeat Obama."

O'Donnell says that "these debates are like presents under the Christmas tree" for the White House, what with Romney making $10,000 bets and stuff, and Gingrich labelling him as a "career politician." Now, the DNC has put out their first web ad against Gingrich, though, so that's a turning point. "Make no mistake," she says, "they want this contest to last a long that it saps Romney's strength and drains his coffers." I'd say that's a good strategy were it not for the fact that this is precisely what GOP bigwigs said about the long primary battle between Clinton and Obama -- and it didn't work out like that.

Dickerson says that prolonging the battle will invite Gingrich to "make a long string of attacks on the President," and that it's a factor in dragging Obama's approval ratings down. O'Donnell concurs that the numbers for Obama are bleak today, but that the "debate" itself "will come later."

Schieffer pulls out the number to really think about: 66% of the people polled "have no idea what Obama intends to do about the economy." That means there's room to argue and persuade, but how long do you wait? How long can you wait?

Schieffer makes an editorial comment around a question: when campaigns are so mean-minded, why does anyone put themselves through the pain of running for office? Schieffer says that running for office has, sadly, become a great way to make a fortune -- between insider stock trading, slow reforms, and the money you can make in the lobbying sector after leaving office are all factors. And you can be a total embarrassment, like Herman Cain, and make mad bank.

Essentially, Washington is an upside-down meritocracy in which charlatan ass-clowns debase themselves and the country they are supposed to care about on a regular basis and if the founders could come back as zombies and obtain fissile material they would probably nuke Capitol Hill from space. Or something like that. Schieffer has a much nicer way of saying that the city is overrun by brigands.

Hey! Great news! The announcement is that Face The Nation will become a one-hour show in April of 2012! I've been saying so for years! Congratulations to Bob Schieffer, who will occasionally get to draw breath during the broadcast, four months from now.


Today, Meet The Press will jaw about the debate from last night and talk to Ron Paul. And then horsey-race pimp-slapping with Dick Durbin and Lindsey "Jowly Dave Foley" Graham. And who am I going to have to suffer myself to listen to on the roundtable today? Ted Koppel, Alex Castellanos, Lisa Myers, Chuck Todd, and Terry Branstad. Okay, that's actually a lot better than it usually is.

First question to Ron Paul is about...Newt Gingrich. Did he do anything to diminish his chances. This is just the sort of question that Ron Paul LOVES to get I'm sure, like he's a bystander and no a competitor. There are times where I think I'd like to see Paul win the Iowa Caucus because it would be easy on the following Sunday to liveblog these shows. "Everyone stammered for hours and sniffed their dirty underwear for clues, the end, see you next week."

Paul says that it remains to be seen how it affected Gingrich, and won't you guys just take a bunch of polls? He adds that there has been a lot of different frontrunners this year and concedes that it will be "interesting to see what happens."

David Gregory helpfully reminds Paul of something he said a few hours ago, to Gingrich. He says he's not satisfied with the way Newt responded to his charges of him being a lobbyist/influence peddler, and says that the audience didn't appreciate his answer either. He says that in terms of the money Newt took from Freddie Mac, it "annoyed" Paul because it was a "subject he worked on for so long," discussing the agency's role in bubble-creation and distortions.

Should Newt give the money back and apoligize? "Legally he doesn't have to," Paul says, but "morally," he should.

Gregory asks, "Who is the consistent conservative?" And then he plays highlights from Michele Bachmann's debate night? Don't understand what's happening here. I think Meet The Press just picked a bunch of debate highlights and were like, "Oh, Ron Paul can just comment on this stuff, as opposed to his campaign." Anyway, Paul agrees with Bachmann that Newt and Mitt are "cut from the same mold," adding, "I even said that last night, asking why should we even have a nominee that is always explaining themselves as to what position they were taking and when...I think when you're consistent, it speaks for itself. Nobody really challenges me on it, but I don't have to brag about it either." Well, you may not have to brag, but you might want to gently remind David Gregory that you actuall said things at the debate last night.

Gregory is really, really trying my paitence. "I just want to be clear on this point: you think that Romney and Gingrich are not acceptable as consistent conservatives?" What, that last monologue wasn't clear enough? Paul repeats what he's already said, that they are not consistent, and the FACT THAT THEY ADMIT TO CHANGING POSITIONS ALL THE TIME IS EVIDENCE OF THAT.

"I think that's pretty clearly understood," Paul says. And now Gregory is pointing out that Paul has made ads about Gingrich stating this. He brings it up with Paul as if there was an argument. This is literally what it's like to be interviewed by David Gregory:

GREGORY: So, is it true that you prefer apple pie to all other pies?

YOU: Well, yes. Apple pie is my favorite pie. That doesn't mean that I won't eat other pies. Other pies are great. But apple is the pie I like the most.


YOU: [pause] Yes. That's right.


YOU: I don't understand what we're arguing about.

GREGORY: Here are several clips of you eating apple pie!

[There is a montage of you eating apple pie.]


YOU: [to Betsy Fischer] I don't understand -- is he broken or something?


Anyway, Ron Paul again points out that he does not think Newt and Mitt are particularly consistent. Gregory asks if he's more comfortable with Mitt as the "standardbearer" of the party than he is with Newt. I think he's asking that because Ron Paul's recent ad mentioned Gingrich, and Gregory is still sort of mastering object permanence.

Paul says that Romney is a little more diplomatic and basically comports himself better as far as his tone goes.

Now Gregory is asking Ron Paul "who represents change." Paul is very confused to be asked this. HE IS A CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT, ACTUALLY. One who is probably entitled to expect to be asked, "What change will YOU bring?" But Paul figures that Gregory just wants him to talk about Newt and Mitt. "I don't think either one of them represents change, I more or less think all of my fellow candidates support the status quo...none of them are offering real cuts. I'm the one offering real cuts."

Paul says that the field's general suckitude is why people are "hopping around looking for somebody" and "quite frankly, it may be the reason we're going up in the polls."

Now, Gregory wants Paul's opinion on Gingrich's criticism of the Palestinians -- which Paul rendered last night. Paul says Newt demonstrates the point Paul has been making -- that the U.S. should remain neutral in the face of the "irrational" politics of that region. "I don't think we have the wisdom...or the authority to sort out" the Israel-Palestinian dispute.

Gregory asks about the strength of Paul's following...and will he endorse someone else if he loses. "We'll wait and see," he says.

Is he ruling out a third party run?

"I have no plans to do that."

But is he ruling it out?!

"I'm not going to rule anything out or anything in, I don't talk in absolutes, and I have a wonderful campaign going on right now."


"I am not even thinking about it."


"Is he broken?"

And that's the last question. So, Ron Paul gets about 12 minutes of questions, and all of them are about what he thinks about other candidates, opinions which he's already made perfectly clear on numerous times, or whether he'll end up being comfortable endorsing Newt or Mitt. The only GENUINE inquiry into Paul, his campaign, or his policy positions -- not saying he wasn't able to assert these at times during the interview, just that he did so over Gregory's questioning -- came at the end, when he was asked a bunch of times if he was going to make a third party run.

How was that segment anything other than a journalistic failure? It didn't even ATTEMPT to gather news! I imagine that at this very moment, NBC News is two servers deep in hate mail from Paul supporters, who will complain that he was never asked a legit question about his campaign or how well he's doing, and they'll be 100% right, frankly.

Time for Dick "I Share An Apartment With Chuck Schumer, How Awful Must THAT Be" Durbin and Lindsey "Jowly Dave Foley" Graham (who shares an apartment in his mind with John McCain).

Gregory says that he "wants to debate income inequality but first he wants to talk politics." He asks Lindsey Graham if Newt is "for real." Graham says Newt is "for real," and has "levelled out as a person" and can "do good things." Would he endorse Newt? "I'm not going to endorse him but he could beat President Obama." He says he might not endorse anyone, because he had a close relationship with John McCain that he doesn't have with any of the current 2012ers. He says that he hopes Ron Paul will help the GOP make the case for whoever gets the nomination.

Durbin says the payroll tax cut is the "highest priority" for Democrats. "This is a make or break moment for the middle class," he says, decrying the GOP for refusing to raise taxes on the wealthy even a little bit in order to provide relief for working Americans. Graham responds by saying he'll support the House package, with the Keystone XL Pipeline, is what he prefers but that he feels that at the end of the day the payroll extension will get passed. He goes on to say, "this idea that we should tax one group to pay for another group's tax cut is not going to sell."

He asks Dick Durbin to "pick a number" for the marginal tax rate on top income earners and "tell him what's fair." And Durbin momentarily seems to be poised to answer (I'd go with, "Whatever the rates were during the Clinton administration") but Gregory interrupts, ruining a moment where Durbin would have had to sink or swim on the strength of his response.

Graham says that Obama has not done enough bipartisan stuff to help the economy, and this is all about pitting one group of Americans against the other. (So, it's an election?) And the EPA and Dodd-Frank are preventing jobs from being created.

Durbin says that Obama has "tried for three straight years" to work with the GOP and this year alone has tried "three times" to find an accord with John Boehner and his caucus (which is actually more intransigent than Boehner would prefer). "Each time they've walked out on him," says Durbin. He goes on to point out that in rceent days, the GOP filibustered Richard Cordray to run the CFPB and Caitlin Halligan to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. So, to Durbin's mind, the choice is one between the administrations' effort and a GOP that wants to cut oversight and regulation on everything.

Graham complains that Obama is terrible and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is awful. "It is something out of the Stalinist era," he says, noting the pronounced way Josef Stalin went about protecting consumers. Who doesn't remember Stalin as the guy who was always telling people to read the fine print on credit cards and mortgage applications? I believe that on most monuments to Stalin, his immortal words are inscribed: "Hey, you should really avoid that ARM. Those teaser rates are seductive but they'll spring a rate increase on you in two years and if you haven't been paying down the real interest rate, you'll be upside-down on that house quicker than you can wax my mustache."

Durbin says that Obama has stepped up in recent months with a jobs program that he had to have known wouldn't have been passed by Congress in a million years unless he was willing to dose the Congress with gallons of ecstacy.

Panel time with Myers and Todd and Koppel and Castellanos and Branstad. Gregory points out that Gingrich is doing very well in the polls. And there was a debate last night! Gingrich was there! And so was Romney. They debated! It was CRAZY the way it all seemed to work.

Todd says that Newt and Mitt are nimble debaters and that they are "the final two" -- and then quickly remembers that Ron Paul is in the race also. Todd says that the big distinction goes back to 1994 -- Gingrich was leading the GOP's revolution, while Romney was telling Massachusetts voters that he wasn't all that conservative and could slip some liberal ideas into the Republican canon.

Myers says that Romney needed to "blunt Gingrich's momentum" last night and he didn't do that. She adds that verbal combat is what Gingrich does best and the battle he wants to be engaged in with Romney. (The White House should take note that it is not easy to win a battle of verbal combat with Gingrich, by the way. Just want to bring it up, seeing as they're all watching these debates with Gingrich pennants rampant.)

Myers, asked about the $10,000 bet, points out that the median income in Iowa is $50,000. (She adds that Newt Gingrich has bragged about how much money he makes, just blowing balloon juice at audiences dumb enough to pay him.)

Terry Branstad says that all the GOP candidates performed very well and the "real loser" was President Obama, so good job if you thought this booking would break even a tiny amount of news, NBC.

"We need somebody like Ronald Reagan," says Branstad, endorsing a corpse.

Gregory tries, by asking Branstad which candidate was like Reagan. He answers that each of the candidates "had their moment last night and did very well." He goes on to say that Reagan was awesome and that he was awesome for thinking Reagan was awesome. And the Canadian dollar is doing better than ours! BOO CANADA! Awesome booking, NBC. Great get!

Castellanos asks, "Why hasn't Romney bumped about 25%?" and then points out that with Romney's elitist comment, he's opened the door for voters to "teach him a lesson." Newt is the "strong" guy, and Romney is the "cautious" guy, and the strong guy will prevail in the primary.

Koppel is amazed that Gingrich has "overcome all that he has overcome, and it leaves me breathless," but that he was surprisingly disciplined. Castellanos touts Gingrich as the "outside the box" thinker.

Branstad finally touts a candidate! "You have to give Ron Paul credit, for having a real plan to get rid of the deficit." Romney, he says, will have to get "a lot more aggressive" to win in Iowa. (Obviously, he should stop short of sexually harrassing Iowa.)

They get to talking about the "invented people" line from Gingrich. Myers says that plenty of people see that as a pander, and not particularly "courageous," in Iowa. Castellanos says it's "Newtonium...radioactive."

Koppel: "Newt Gingrich was taking a more pro-Israeli position than any recent Israeli prime minister. There's hardly any leader in Israel today who would align himself or herself with the position that Gingrich took last night."

Castellanos says that when Republicans "hear that, they hear Churchill." Which sort of makes me worry that Winston Churchill is not being particularly well-remembered! Myers disagrees, saying that "in all my years of covering Republican politics, I have never heard Republicans who knew the potential nominee well speak this poorly of someone" as they do Gingrich. (But keep in mind, she's not referring to rank and file voters, she's talking about elites.)

Myers: "And yes, he accomplished great things as Speaker. But they also remember the chaos, the polarization, the incendiary remarks. And at the end of four years, they believe he had damaged the Republican brand, and that he had damaged the conservative cause."

There's a whole generation of voters who don't remember any of that, though.

They also talked about Newt's marital problems, last night. This is all critical stuff where the middle class is concerned, so let's talk about it! Myers says that Newt gave a controlled, grown up answer. Todd says calling himself a grandfather and emphasizing his age was a way of suggesting that he's not the old bombthrower. Castellanos agrees it's a good moment, but it still forces Gingrich to have to stay disciplined for three months.

Koppel says that Ron Paul was "almost right last night":

Do you remember one of the overlooked points in the debate? He spoke of the 17,000, he spoke about civilian contractors who are still in Iraq. We do have 17,000 people still in Iraq. They're not all civilian contractors. But a great man of them are.

You've got a consulate in Basra, a consulate in Erbil. The one in Basra is just less than 20 miles from the Iranian border. 1,320 Americans down there. They are rocketed two or three times a week. They are about as vulnerable as any Americans have been since 1979 at the embassy in Tehran.

If they were to be frontally attacked, and I'm suggesting that that's not unlikely at all, you're going to see the U.S. military come back in. Because while the ambassador said, "No, no, no, we're going to rely on the Iraqis to do the job," there is no way that the U.S. military will wait for the Iraqis to save those Americans. And they're going to need saving.

Now we get to the part of the show where Meet The Press insists that it's important and made news. Gregory says that these things are "trending": "Gingrich fending off attacks. That's been the biggest issue in our trend tracker. Romney-Perry, that $10,000 bet, and Paul attacks Gingrich, as well, as our lead guest here this morning."

Yeah, hey! Ron Paul was trending? You really should have maybe interviewed him about his campaign, instead of treating him like some dude who's been a bystander to the 2012 race, you know?

What kind of shot does he have? Gregory asks Branstad, and he replies: "Well, he's got the most bumper stickers. He's got the most yard signs. He's got the most enthusiasm. But I don't know that you can translate that into a victory, because remember, the caucuses are January third. A lot of the college students will be on their Christmas break. So he definitely has a following out here."

Yeah, man, you really should have interviewed Ron Paul about his own candidacy or something! This was just an idea I had.

Okay, well, that's that. We'll try to find something to fit into this space over the next two Sundays so that all you fine people can get together.

And what can I say? It remains a distinct pleasure to be able to say this: Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, seasons' greetings, joyful holidays, and a Happy New Year to all of you! Please be well, and we'll see one another again in 2012.

[The Sunday Morning Liveblog returns on January 1, 2012, and it will probably be very tired and hungover when it does. In the meantime, you should read "The King of All Vegas Real Estate Scams," by Felix Gillette, because it is straight bonkers.]