Aboard Air Force One
En Route Madison, Wisconsin
1:15 P.M. MDT
MR. CARNEY: So this our regular gaggle. We have an addition to myself and Jen -- we have David Plouffe with you today, who will be happy to take your questions.
I have no official announcements to make. Jen.
MS. PSAKI: So good morning. Because Glenn Thrush is here, Plouffe wanted to come back and visit with him. (Laughter.) I’m joking.
So before we get started, I just wanted to make sure you all saw that we have a new ad up today. It’s out; it’s called “Trust.” It’s running in seven states -- you know the states. We have it out there to remind the American people that Mitt Romney is not leveling with them about his tax plan. We know he’s not going to be out there telling the truth, but we’re ready to tell the truth for him. I know you like visual aids. It takes 30 seconds, so I’m just going to show you the ad real fast.
(Campaign ad is played.)
Well, all right. You’ve seen it, okay? The second thing I just wanted to highlight proactively for you is, to be crystal clear, when the President spoke at the event today, he was highlighting the fact that Mitt Romney is hiding his plans, not that he’s changing his plans or positions.
And again, we’re going to be out there over the next days and weeks highlighting the fact that Mitt Romney is not willing to level with the American people about the truth about his $5 trillion tax plan, his plans to voucherize Medicare, his plans to cut education funding. And if he’s not willing to do it, we’re happy to.
So I know you have lots of questions for our special guest. We’ll turn it on over.
MR. PLOUFFE: Thanks, Jen. Hey, everybody. So just a couple of words about the debate, this morning, where we’re going. I think we viewed this entire campaign as all of a piece. So we set out, back in the spring, to begin to talk to the American people about the President’s record, where he wants to take the country, and how that contrasts with Governor Romney’s record, vision.
We think last night the President talked to the American people about his jobs plans, why Mitt Romney’s plan would be devastating for the middle class, that he just wants to continue trickle down. And also, some of the key issues that have been driving vote in battleground states and that are important to the electorate -- issues like Medicare vouchers, issues like outsourcing. So Mitt Romney doubled down on those last night.
I think the remarkable thing was the fact that the centerpiece of his campaign and of his economic strategy, he tried to pretend it didn’t exist last night. And so now, not only are we going to have the ability to continue to remind people that Mitt Romney’s economic plan would be to give huge tax cuts to the wealthy and punish the middle class, but he’s not being honest about it.
And so, going forward here, one of the things we’re going to have to adjust to is that dishonesty. I think it’s hard to remember a time in American politics where you had someone who’s a major nominee for the presidency being that fundamentally dishonest about core parts of his campaign platform.
So we look forward to -- later today in Madison, tomorrow in a couple of battleground states, throughout next week and as we head into the next debate, continuing to make sure that we explain to people the fundamental differences in this race. And I’d say there’s a lot of commentary on Governor Romney’s performance. We thought he did a very theatrically aggressive performance. He’s not going to change minds in places like Ohio, in Nevada, Virginia. You’ll have to see.
But that’s the measure. Is he going to take the lead in Ohio? If he doesn’t, he’s not going to be President. Is he going to take the lead in Iowa? Can he put together an Electoral College puzzle in the majority? And that’s really the question here. And I think for voters out there who are concerned about Mitt Romney’s Medicare voucher plan, they’re going to be doubly concerned today because he doubled down on it. For those concerned about Mitt Romney’s trustworthiness and his honesty, I think there’s no doubt that that’s been enhanced. For those that worried about does he have a good plan for the middle class, we think we’re going to be able to carry forward here, as the President did this morning, and make sure people understand these fundamental differences.
Q So would you say that the President went into the debate not expecting Mitt Romney to be as aggressive as he was, or to take those positions? And do you think that the President missed an opportunity to make the points he made today in Denver, and presumably will in Wisconsin, on that stage in front of a much wider audience?
MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I think the President made some very important points last night. I think he -- Romney was on the defensive about his tax cut plan, on the defensive about Medicare, on the defensive about outsourcing tax breaks. We expected an aggressive Mitt Romney. That’s who he is.
And in the primary, it was clear that the truth was really not his primary concern. But I still think that it was remarkable to see him start the debate, essentially, after the pleasantry, saying, I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut plan. Think about that. And my hope is all of you bear down on that, because this is the fundamental economic idea he has, and to say it doesn’t exist is a remarkable thing. It’s just remarkable.
Q But why didn’t the President say that last night?
MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I think he did say that that’s not possible, that’s your plan. The math doesn’t add up. And that’s a case we’ve been making, and we’re going to continue to make that case.
Q Can I ask you on the same vein? You know him well, better than most people. Do you think that he has a harder time with direct confrontation, face to face on a stage, than he does with a speech with prepared remarks? Or was it not that -- was it a strategic choice that polling showed that if you go too negative it’s bad, and he just didn’t want to go there, and overcompensated? Was it a rope-a-dope strategy? What happened -- something happened. What happened?
MR. PLOUFFE: Well, first of all, you guys treated this as kind of theater, but we were serious about what we said, which is one of Romney's strengths is he's a very good debater. We watched him carefully in his primary and he was skilled at that format. I think if you look at -- compare his primary to our primary in 2008, he consistently won his debates. That wasn’t always the case for us, as you know, for those of you that covered us. So this is a format that kind of I think plays to his strength.
I think with the President -- but to say that -- the President did make very clear and challenge him on his tax cut plan, on Medicare vouchers, on outsourcing tax breaks, on tax cuts and tax breaks for oil companies. So some of the things that are consistent themes in our campaign, I think the President made pretty clear last night that Romney's direction is the wrong direction.
So I think that Romney's performance was one that's probably unprecedented in its dishonesty. And so we're going to have to make sure people understand that despite his suggestion last night that he doesn’t mean much of what he said, this is what he's going to do as President -- the Ryan budget, he said he'd sign it into law. His huge tax cut plan for the wealthy, that's been the centerpiece of his campaign. Medicare vouchers -- I'll give him credit, he actually doubled down on that last night, and I'm sure the people of Florida were interested to hear that.
So we're just going to -- again, we see all this as of a piece, and today, tomorrow, all of one piece. And I think, again, in terms of Governor Romney winning Ohio, the same concerns people had about him last -- yesterday, they still have this morning: Medicare vouchers, tax cuts for the wealthy, opposition to the auto rescue.
And so we think that this is a serious election; people are taking it very seriously. And while Governor Romney might have put forth a performance that's graded as an aggressive one last night, we don't think that that fundamentally alters the race. That's our sense anyway.
Q David, it's been four years since your guy has been on a debate stage. You've been very assiduously sort of managing the kind of interactions he's had with the press and with other politicians. Do you think to some extent your guy was soft?
MR. PLOUFFE: I don't think so. I think he -- first of all, over the course of his presidency he's done innumerable interviews and press conferences and TV interviews
Q -- numerable?
MR. PLOUFFE: -- numerable -- sorry, you know a lot of them. A lot in the last few months -- we've done a lot of interviews.
So, no -- I think that the President wanted to make a case about where we are in the country, where we need to go, have a dialogue with the American people about his ideas, how those contrast with Governor Romney.
And listen, I do think some of this was baked into the cake -- and you guys may disagree with this, and I say it respectfully. I said it over the weekend -- people are itching to write the Romney comeback story, so it was already leaning in that direction. And voters expected Romney to lose this debate.
This is what we faced in '08. When we went into our first foreign policy debate with John McCain, voters expected John McCain to win. We no doubt benefited from that. So Romney exceeded voters' expectations because he did not insult them during the -- he has bad ideas, I mean, but given what they've seen recently, it wasn’t hard to sort of cross a minimum threshold. So he did that.
Does that mean that someone in Toledo, Ohio, who works at an auto parts supplier, who has decided to vote for the President, is now going to vote for Governor Romney? My strong suspicion is no.
Q Is the President going to be tougher next time? Are we going to see a different -- Ax talked about sort of a shift and looking at strategies. Is he going to be a little bit tougher next time?
MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I'm not going to get into our -- here's what I would say. We obviously are going to have to adjust for the fact of Mitt Romney's dishonesty. So that's something we have to basically make sure people understand. When he basically, at the beginning of the debate, looked to the American people and lied to them about his tax cut plan, we're going to have to take that into account and make sure people understand that you just can't wipe that away.
Q Was the decision not to mention either Bain or 47 percent a deliberate one? Or was it just a case where time ran out and he might well have raised it had there been another 10 minutes?
MR. PLOUFFE: First of all, I think that the 47 percent comment is a universally known thing by everyone. It's bothered voters. You've probably seen we're advertising on it pretty aggressively. Others have. So it's a fully known thing that's baked into the cake.
Sure, there might have been an exchange where that came up. But our view, again, was to say where we want to take the country on the economy. The President's first goal is -- and he did this in his first answer -- how are you going to create jobs. And he laid out the plan he's been talking about, and make sure people understand that Romney's recipe is much different.
And listen, my suspicion is one of the reasons that Romney is being judged to have had such an aggressive performance was that he kind of willfully tried to shape where he's been. And one of the roles of the news media in our society is to hold potential presidents accountable for what they say.
That was a remarkable thing last night. It was a remarkable thing to see someone, 34 days from a presidential election, suggest that somehow his marquee idea was "never mind," as the President said.
Q Why didn’t the President call him on that then?
MR. PLOUFFE: He did. He said, that's your plan. The middle class is going to bear the burden; our deficits are going to explode.
So, again, my suspicion is that that tax cut plan has already cost him real problems in the battleground state. As Jen said with the ad that she showed you, we're not going to stop making sure people understand this is what he would do as President. Now you've got an added component. He's being dishonest about it.
Q How does what you're saying play into what your ad strategy is going to be and your battleground travel? Are there any shifts that we should expect on either of those fronts?
MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I can't speak about our ad strategy. Again, I think we've been making a consistent case. So what we wanted to make sure is now -- people are voting now, so people who are voting now understand where the President wants to take the economy, that his view is we build the economy from the middle class out; Romney's is top down. We think the President made that point last night consistently. We're going to do that tomorrow, the day after that.
And as people are getting ready to vote later in the month and in November, we've got to continue to make that. So we're just trying to make a consistent case that we had a devastating recession; the middle class was harmed by that; Romney wants to return to the same policies, in many cases on steroids; and the country can't afford that.
And, by the way, he didn’t change any of that last night. Again, I think he performed better than people thought because recent history would suggest that he might start off by insulting half the country. I think his policies would have hurt all the country, but at least he didn’t directly insult anybody last night. And I guess by that low bar he succeeded.
Q You said some weeks ago that one of Mitt Romney’s strengths as a debater was his willingness to lie with ease. Was the President adequately prepared to call him out on that last night?
MR. PLOUFFE: Well, again, I think if you look at the tax cut exchange, the President said, listen, your numbers just don’t add up. That’s not true. So there’s no doubt that -- listen, he did that in the primary. I thought last night took it to a level we have not seen before. I mean, think about it. Can you remember a debate where the candidate 34 days before an election basically tried to dismiss their primary idea in the election? It’s a remarkable thing.
So I think we were ready for it, and we are going to have to adjust going forward simply because it is clear that Romney will try and say anything to get a political advantage in the moment. But again, we’re going to make sure people understand what he will do as President. Those cuts in education, the vouchers for Medicare, the huge tax cuts for the wealthy paid for by the middle class while exploding the deficit -- this is what he’s going to do.
Q Have you always planned to cut an ad -- I mean, that was a really fast turnaround on an ad from last night to this morning. Or did you rush to sort of put it together given what happened?
MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I don’t want to -- I mean, four years ago we did it after each debate.
Q So you were going to, but what you did would depend on what happened and --
MR. PLOUFFE: Yes, we thought it was important to let people know that someone who would lie to 50 million Americans, you should have some questions about whether that person should sit in the Oval Office.
Q When you say you have to make some adjustments -- and Axelrod said the same thing this morning -- what does that mean exactly? Does that mean more debate time prep? What does it mean?
MR. PLOUFFE: What I mean is we just need to account for Romney’s dishonesty, which -- so that’s what we’re going to have to make sure we -- people need to understand what he’s going to do as President.
Q But how does the President adjust so that he’s able to do that in the next debate?
MR. PLOUFFE: Well, I think he’ll be prepared and he’ll be ready to make the case. Now, this is a town hall debate, so we’ll both be talking directly to average Americans about our different plans and our different visions and how those contrast.
Q How did the President feel -- you talked to him last night and this morning. How did he feel about his performance? Was he surprised at the reviews, or did he also feel in his gut like, I wish I could have a do-over on that?
MR. PLOUFFE: He thought he made a very compelling case about Romney’s tax cut plan and their different approaches to the deficit, their different approaches to Medicare, different approaches to corporate -- ending corporate welfare. So he felt he did a good job of doing that. And again, our view is that the President’s steadiness and consistency has always been an important attribute to the American people. It’s one of the reasons we got elected in 2008, and we think right now that steadiness was on display last night.
You don’t get different Barack Obamas or different plans based on the political necessity of the moment, and we think that’s a strength.
Q But did it go too far, the steadiness, his not being aggressive? Was that an over-compensation perhaps?
MR. PLOUFFE: Listen, I think -- no. I think the President was very committed to making sure the American people understood where he wants to take the country, how that contrasts with Governor Romney. Again, Governor Romney put on a theatrically aggressive and dishonest performance. I guess that’s being reviewed by some as being aggressive. But I think when you step back -- and listen, I think in the days to come, you all, and we’re going to help you do it, are going to chew on the fact that Romney ran away from his central economic idea, okay?
Again, we’re not suggesting that somehow he’s changed his mind. This is what he’s going to do as President. He’s going to cut taxes in a huge way for the wealthy, because this is what he believes. In the start of his debate -- go back and look at it, guys -- his very first answer: I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut plan. I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut plan.
Q Do you regret your caution at all? Some Democrats say you were kind of -- late innings, you were kind of squeezing the bat a little bit. Were you playing a little too safe, David? Come on.
MR. PLOUFFE: We’ve been through this before. You’ve got to run through the tape, and you’ve got to run hard, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve got to go out there and fight for every vote. We’ve always expected it’s going to be close. And that’s what this election is going to be -- it’s going to be a close race in a number of battleground states.
But again, as you guys evaluate the impact of this election, I would just humbly suggest you cast your gaze to places like Ohio and Iowa and New Hampshire, and see if the race structurally changes.
Q Thanks, guys.
1:33 P.M. MDT