Week In Politics: Presidential Attack Ads Get Nastier

Melissa Blocks talks with political commentators, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and Linda Chavez, a syndicated columnist. They discuss controversial attack ads from both the Romney and Obama camps, and thoughts on Romney's vice presidential selection process.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And now for our regular Friday discussion of the week in politics, I'm joined here in the studio by E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. Hi, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.

BLOCK: And filling in for David Brooks this week, syndicated columnist Linda Chavez, who joins us from Denver. Linda, hi.

LINDA CHAVEZ: Hi, how are you?

BLOCK: We're hearing more and more ads all the time, and they're getting a lot of attention. They've drawn outrage from the opposing campaigns - calling them despicable and disgusting. Linda, are we seeing a new level of playing dirty - we're still three months out from the election - or is this par for the course?

CHAVEZ: Well, you know, we always talk about dirty politics. Politics, frankly, is a lot less dirty today than it was in previous centuries. What makes it more apparent, I think, today is that we have 24-hour news cycles. All of us get bombarded, in our very own homes, with these television ads. And I do think that President Obama has to really answer for the fact that he talked last time around about raising the level of discourse; about softening politics, bringing people together. And certainly his attacks - both his personal attacks, that he's made himself, and his ads - have not done much to further that goal.

BLOCK: E.J., what about that - raising the level of discourse - what do you think about what Linda said there?

DIONNE: Well, first, I promise never to run a negative ad against Linda. You know, she's broadly right; that there was a lot of nasty politics in our past. And there is something about television, and its immediacy, that make this all look worse. In terms of President Obama, what's forgotten is, he ran a lot of negative ads the last time, against John McCain. There are always negative ads. I think we're seeing a different level this year, and it's starting - the really negative stuff seems to be starting earlier. And then we have all the superPAC stuff, which is totally unaccountable to any campaign.

I am struck - and perhaps not surprisingly, given where I'm coming from - that there is something disturbing about these Romney ads that really, are stuff invented out of whole cloth. The ad saying Obama ended the work requirement in welfare reform - he did no such thing. Or the ad that put a quote in Obama's mouth, that made it sound like he was saying something in 2012 when in fact, he was quoting John McCain in a speech he gave in 2008. There is some stuff that is crossing lines this year, that I think is disturbing.

BLOCK: It does lead into interesting territory because responding to one of these ads, the press secretary for Mitt Romney - Andrea Saul - made a point of highlighting his health-care plan when he was governor of Massachusetts. It's a subject that the campaign usually strenuously avoids, and just that mention brought howls from the right wing. Eric Erickson, from the conservative blog "Red State," tweeted, "O-M-G, this might just be the moment Mitt Romney lost the election. Wow."

Linda, explain the wow. What's going on?

CHAVEZ: Well, you know, everybody on the right is very concerned that - they want to make Obamacare a central issue in the campaign. It still is unpopular, in most polls, with Americans. And the problem, of course, is that Mitt Romney passed a version of health-care reform that isn't all that different, in Massachusetts. And for the campaign, now, to be touting it really pulls the rug under those who want to see Obamacare made a more focal issue.

But the problem, I think, really has to do with the way in which Mitt Romney is caught between a rock and a hard place. He's got to get that base. He has to have very strong support among the right base, but he also has to appeal to moderates and to independents. And I think that makes his challenge much more difficult.

BLOCK: E.J., I'm guessing you see Romney in that same hard place Linda was talking about.

DIONNE: Yes, I was going to say - I'm going to run a positive ad for Linda now. I mean, she's exactly right. Andrea Saul, the Romney spokeswoman, is caught in the contradiction that Romney is in. Romneycare is very similar to Obamacare. Andrea Saul said that the gentleman in that ad - who lost his health insurance - would have kept it in Massachusetts, which is entirely true. But then the Democrats came right back and said, well, Obama wants him to be able to keep it in all 49 other states. And so I think it's just a problem with Romney's position. He's got to say he wants to repeal Obamacare, to the right; and yet he still wants to defend what he did in Massachusetts. And it's hard.

BLOCK: Now, let's move on to the running mate. The assumption is that Mitt Romney will name his pick for vice president in the next week, and we've heard a wave of conservatives recently, urging him to choose the House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan. Congressman from Wisconsin, best known for his plan for entitlement reform; Linda Chavez, how would that pick look to you?

CHAVEZ: Well, I think it would please conservatives greatly. One of the biggest problems, though, is that Paul Ryan is not widely known. And I think conservatives want to turn this campaign more ideological. They want to have sharper differences between the theory of the role of government and certainly, Paul Ryan would bring that aspect to the campaign. But it's not likely that he's going to bring the kind of charisma, the kind of immediate - you know, people getting excited, I think, in the same way that some other picks - like a Rubio - might. But we've, you know, we've not heard much about Rubio lately, so he seems to be off the list.

BLOCK: E.J., pros and cons of Paul Ryan - what do you say?

DIONNE: The ideologues love Paul Ryan because they want Romney to run a more philosophical campaign. They want him to run wholly on the Ryan budget, which would include defending Medicare cuts. The political types in the party are worried about that. I think their favorite is Rob Portman, the senator from Ohio, because he would help Romney carry Ohio - at least, some - and he's clearly qualified. The problem with him is, he worked for President George W. Bush. So Bush's record would be tied to him.

Romney personally likes Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, who ran against him. It's not clear that liking will be enough. I think the underrated guy is Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, but he seems to have dropped on the list. And I said yesterday - or today - that he thinks Paul Ryan would be a good choice.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Well, I hate to do this but what the heck; it's Friday. If you were to be a betting woman, Linda, and think about not who you think he should pick, but who he will pick for his vice presidential running mate; who would you say?

CHAVEZ: I would say it's going to be Portman. I think Portman is somebody that he's comfortable with, and Mitt Romney is not a risk-taker. I think he is - Rob Portman is somebody that he would feel quite comfortable running with, and he certainly won't cause any harm. And, you know, I don't see anybody out there who's going to give him the - you know, big kind of push, in terms of a VP. And frankly, you know, VPs don't decide elections.

BLOCK: Yeah, and we'll have to leave it there. Thanks so much. E.J. Dionne, of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution; and syndicated columnist Linda Chavez; thanks.

DIONNE: Thank you.

CHAVEZ: Thank you.

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