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Did Romney Make His Case?


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, the Barbershop guys are here. We'll ask them to weigh in on the news of the week, including that special guest who made somebody's day at the Republican National Convention. We'll let you know what we're talking about a little later in the program.

But first, Mitt Romney finally accomplished the quest he began six years ago: He accepted his party's nomination for president last night.


MITT ROMNEY: Now is the moment where we can stand up and say: I'm an American. I make my destiny. We deserve better. My children deserve better. My family deserves better. My country deserves better.

MARTIN: The former governor of Massachusetts promised more jobs, fewer taxes, and he repeatedly criticized President Obama for failing to grow the economy. We wanted to get reaction to this speech and other political news from two of our trusted political thinkers. Corey Ealons is a former White House communications advisor for the Obama administration. Currently, he's a senior vice president with the strategic communications firm VOX Global.

Ron Christie is a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. He's now the president of Christie Strategies, a media and political strategy firm.

Welcome back to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.

RON CHRISTIE: Always a pleasure.

COREY EALONS: Always good to be here, Michel.

MARTIN: Ron Christie, it was your party's big night, so I will go to you first. Brief assessment: What was the best thing about Governor Romney's speech? And, of course, I need to ask if there was anything that didn't work as well as that you would have liked.

CHRISTIE: Well, I think the best thing that we saw last night, Michel, was the fact that Governor Romney was very confident, very clear and very precise in what his vision would be to govern the United States and how that contrasts with that of his now-opponent, President Obama.

I think there's been a certain reluctance amongst many Republicans perhaps to fall in line behind Governor Romney. They kind of question his credentials. They weren't quite sure about his conservative bona fides. But having been at the convention all week, I can tell you it was a very fired-up electorate, and you really heard it last night. That's the good news.

MARTIN: Anything that didn't work as well as you would've liked?

CHRISTIE: Well, for being a native Californian and a huge Clint Eastwood fan, let's just say that his speech didn't make my day.


MARTIN: OK. So, enough said with that. Corey Ealons, the same question to you. And, obviously, you are a Democrat, so we're not expecting, you know, kudos. But was the speech effective in doing what it's supposed to do? What was the highlight for you? And was there anything that didn't work well that you think he didn't succeed in?

EALONS: Well, I'll tell you, I think the short way to say it is that we know a lot more about Mitt Romney the person, which I think is something that was definitely impacting his likeability factor. But we still don't know much more about Mitt Romney the would-be president. And that's the thing that's the biggest deficit coming out of this this week.

It was a tremendous opportunity for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to reach out to the broadest swath of the American people, to effectively communicate what their programs will be once they come into power, and they absolutely failed to do that. This convention this week was one that was designed for low-information voters and people who are already on the far right.

If you're just coming into this race and you don't know a lot about it, you got what you got last night - which, by the way, a great omission by Mitt Romney, he said the word Massachusetts governor once in his entire speech. One reference to it, and it wasn't anything about his programs. It was about hiring government workers.

So there was a real dearth in specifics that's been talked about, and ultimately, I think the American people will see that it was very disappointing.

MARTIN: Well, he did make a very clear case, and I just want to play one clip. This was a theme that was repeated throughout the week, certainly throughout last night, and here it is. Here it is.


ROMNEY: You know there's something wrong with the kind of job he's done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.

MARTIN: Corey Ealons, does Governor Romney have a point?

EALONS: He does not have a point, and that's not even a good throwaway line, quite frankly. What's fortunate about this situation is that the Democrats get to go second. We get to go next week, and President Obama and the legions of supporters that he has from all over the country will have a chance to present their case to the American people, what has been done over the course of these past three-and-a-half years and what will be done in the second term of Obama. It's critically important that the Democrats get this right, and I think they will next week.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're catching up on a big week in political news with former Obama White House advisor Corey Ealons and former Bush administration advisor Ron Christie.

You know, Ron, I'm going to go to you on this one.

Corey, I think a lot of people would disagree with you that the president didn't - or, rather, that the nominee, the Republican nominee didn't lay out a case for what he'd like to do, I mean, in part by the people he chose to stand with him: Paul Ryan, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, who's made a very clear case for what he would like to do if given that office.

But, Ron Christie, a lot of criticism of Paul Ryan's speech - which was well delivered - but for being fact-challenged. I'll just play one of the statements that's being challenged. Here it is.


PAUL RYAN: $716 billion funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn't even ask for.

MARTIN: Ron Christie, as you know, a lot of people have taken issue with that point. The non-partisan website pointed out that Medicare's officials have said the Affordable Care Act will actually improve the program's finances, and those savings were actually included in Paul Ryan's own budget that he presented. Do you think that he overstepped his bounds in a manner that will hurt him?

CHRISTIE: No, I don't. In fact, he was absolutely telling the truth. Here's the difference. What the president's Obamacare package does is it takes $716 billion over the next 10 years out from the Medicare Advantage program, out from hospitals and out from providers. That's a fact. Paul Ryan, his original proposal back two years ago took $716 billion in the reduction of growth for Medicare, but it reinvested that in Medicare.

So in other words, the president is taking it out of Medicare and putting it into Obamacare, whereas Ryan's original plan was to keep it within Medicare. But this is the thing, Michel. We need to fact-check the fact-checkers. The fact of the matter is, it's not Paul Ryan's plan. It's the Romney-Ryan plan that's under consideration, and this would impact no one under the age of 55.

So the president's plan immediately has an impact on Medicare. Governor Romney has a proposal that wouldn't touch anybody under 55.

MARTIN: Corey Ealons?

EALONS: That - I've got to disagree with my friend Ron. The fact of the matter is, the $716 billion that were dealt with in Medicare was basically warding out waste, fraud and abuse and making the system more efficient. We're talking about adjusting payments for doctors and for hospitals in how they're paid.

This has no direct impact on the services that - and benefits that current providers receive, and this is something that Paul Ryan has persisted with over the past several weeks since he's been nominated. It's absolutely false. If anything, we've - the Democrats have done a good job in closing the donut hole and putting more money in people's pockets, seniors' pockets, right now, and extending - as Michel said - extending the program would be the result of what's currently in place.

MARTIN: Well, we're not going to resolve this between the two of you. This is something that the two parties and people belonging to both parties have been arguing about, you know, for some weeks now. So let's turn to...

EALONS: Well, Michel, it is an important point to say that this is just a sign of the type of misinformation that the Republicans are determined to put out and, again, catering mostly to low-information voters and people who already support them. And it needs to be called out.

MARTIN: We need to talk one more...

CHRISTIE: Can I say - yeah.

MARTIN: I'm going to move on and ask about one more issue. Let's turn from the candidates to the voters. A federal judge yesterday blocked Texas' new voter I.D. law from going into effect. The court wrote that the law, quote, "imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty."

Ron Christie, we've talked about this issue before on this program a number of times. You've defended these I.D. laws, saying the state should be allowed to decide, that these were important provisions to protect the franchise. Now that this court has spoken, are states running out of time to make these changes fairly? And do you continue to argue that these are fair and appropriate and not intended to disenfranchise a certain group of voters?

CHRISTIE: Well, here's the one I'm going to surprise you on, Michel. I think that these states are acting well within the law, and I think Texas was acting well within the law to enact this statute. I think they got it wrong on the execution. Unlike Georgia, that had a been a controversial state that had passed it, Georgia amended their law to say that you could have a free voter I.D.

What they do in Texas is they say that if you want to apply for an election certificate, you can have that for free. But if you don't have the documentation for your birth certificate or other supporting documents, it's a cost of $22. I think that's absolutely wrong, and the Texas legislature refused to pass a statute that would pay the $22 for those people.

I think they're absolutely right on the law, but if you're asking poor folks and people who might be at a slightly less ability to pay for it and to pay $22, I think that's wrong.

MARTIN: Corey Ealons, is this issue going to continue to be one that Democrats are arguing - Democrats have been arguing that this is a partisan political initiative designed to suppress the Democratic vote. And, of course, you've heard, you know, other Republicans - not Ron Christie at the moment - saying that that is not true, that this is a necessary tool to safeguard the franchise. Is this going to - it really is the same question. Is this going to continue to be a fight, or is it really too late? Is it a settled issue now?

EALONS: No. This is a fight that the Democrats are going to continue to wage up until Election Day, because it will be the single biggest factor outside of the superPACs that are going to impact the outcome of this race.

Look, we have elected officials in Ohio and Pennsylvania basically saying that the moves that we're making to import more voter ID rules right now will, basically, give their states to the Republicans. It's by design. They've said it themselves. And so this is something that Democrats need to continue to lean in on and be diligent about prosecuting over the next several weeks as we lead up to Election Day.

MARTIN: Ron Christie, let's end on a kind of a high note. You were at the Republican convention all week, and I wanted to ask: Other than the top of the ticket, were there other rising stars that you'd like to point out to us? Were there other people you saw, met, heard speak that you want to point out to us, or people we should keep an eye on in the future?

CHRISTIE: All of the above. I had a chance to speak to Florida Senator Marco Rubio two days ago in the green room before a television appearance, and his enthusiasm and his energy levels really, really just surprised me. I mean, he looked so happy. People were saying he was disappointed that he wasn't the vice presidential pick. And he mentioned to me that he's going to do everything that he can to help, not only in Florida, but around the country.

And then listening to his speech last night, regardless of your ideology, there's no doubt this is a very bright young man with a very bright future, and it was just neat to have a behind-the-record - you know, an off-the-record and behind-the-scenes chat with him, and then to see him shine last night.

MARTIN: Corey Ealons, you have 30 seconds. You're heading to Charlotte. The Democratic National Convention's in Charlotte next week. What are you going to be looking out for?

EALONS: I'm really excited to hear President Obama and all of his supporters really talk about the record. I think that's something that, over the course of the summer, we haven't heard a lot about because it's been about setting up Mitt Romney. It's been about making sure that Romney is defined.

Well, now is the time for the president and his supporters to really talk about what's been accomplished and what we can get done in another four years.

MARTIN: Corey Ealons is a former Obama White House communications advisor. He's currently a senior vice president with the strategic communications firm VOX Global. He was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Ron Christie is the founder and president of Christie Strategies. That's a media and political strategy firm. He's a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. He made it out to NPR West in Culver City, California after leaving the convention.

We hope to see both of you back here again next week to assess the Democratic Convention. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

CHRISTIE: Looking forward to it.

EALONS: You got it. Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.