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David Axelrod & Ed Gillespie on the 2012 Campaign

David Axelrod & Ed Gillespie on the 2012 Campaign

By Piers Morgan Tonight - May 7, 2012

MORGAN: We begin our big story tonight, the campaigns react to the foiled plot and to hot-button issues from gay marriage to the economy.

So with six months to go until election day, the president's campaign is in full swing. And joining me now is Obama Campaign senior strategist, David Axelrod.

David, welcome.

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR STRATEGIST: Piers, thank you. Good to be with you.

MORGAN: A big story brewing since the weekend over Joe Biden's comments. I think the best way to tee this up is to replay them and then come to you for your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GREGORY, HOST: And you're comfortable with same-sex marriage now?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I -- look, I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying men, are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And, quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction beyond that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: I suppose the obvious question, David, to you, because you Tweeted almost immediately, and I was actually -- I saw this in real time. You said, "What the vice president said, that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights, it's precisely POTUS' position."

I mean given the benefit of what -- of hindsight over the last 24 hours, do you still think that everything Joe Biden said is consistent with the president's position?

AXELROD: I feel, Piers, that on the policy that the vice president was describing there, that they are in complete accord. That is the president's policy. He believes that couples, heterosexual couples, gay couples should -- should have -- have the same legal rights. And, of course, that's why we've stopped appealing the DOMA case, because he believes it's unconstitutional for states not to recognize, the government not to recognize marriages that are legally recognized by the states.

So what the vice president was stating there was very much in keeping with that policy.

MORGAN: Right. But, I mean I suppose what people are saying in the gay community is, look, we know the president has been very supportive of us, you know, from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to the issue you just mentioned and on various other issues. He's been very proactive and very supportive of gay rights.

But there is an inconsistency between saying, I am supportive of all gay rights and gay equality whilst not saying that you believe in gay marriage, particularly when America now has eight states that have legalized gay marriage. So really, you know, given where we were five years ago, is a fast moving issue, where the tide is now with, increasingly, people who support it.

AXELROD: Well, in fact, the president supported the rights of those states to take that action. He's opposed -- he's opposed ballot measures and other devices to try and roll back those rights when they've cropped up.

By the way, this is a big distinction between him and Governor Romney, who supported the effort financially in California to roll back their law and who wants a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

So the president is very much in accord with the rights of those states and the people in those states to do it. And he wants to make sure that if people are legally married in those states, that those marriages are recognized just as marriages between men and women are recognized.

So the whole country is going through -- has gone through an evolution. The president has gone through that as well. I'll let him speak to this himself, but you know, I think where he lies in terms of the rights and liberties is very clear by the actions that he's taken.

MORGAN: I mean I was struck by the fact that Joe Biden is a Roman Catholic, which I think gave his comments even more weight, because a lot of the Catholics feel very -- I'm a Catholic myself. I happen to support gay marriage. But it does fly in the face of a lot of Catholic teaching. And it takes a brave Catholic, in Joe Biden's case, to go public like this against many of his own religion's teachings.

I suppose what people are really saying is the president has been very audacious in many areas, but there are other areas where he hasn't been as audacious as people would like him to be. And this is a classic case where everybody kind of presumes he's going to do this. So why doesn't he just do it now?

AXELROD: Well, again, I'm not going to make news for the president here. The president speaks very well for himself, Piers. But again, I think actions speak louder than words. He's taken historic steps over the last 3 1/2 years to stand up for the rights of gay and lesbian Americans. And to allow them to serve openly and honestly in the military, to -- to grant them those partnership rights in government, to fight this -- to repeal this -- turn back this DOMA law that would have states be able not -- to not recognize legally sanctioned marriages among gay Americans.

So he's -- I think his actions are -- speak more loudly than any words. And, you know, we all -- I -- I'm proud of him for taking those steps. I think they were, you know, some would say, audacious steps in and of themselves. He painstakingly led us on that path. And, you know, I think there isn't a whole lot of confusion about that.

MORGAN: Let's move on to the breaking news today, also, about a CIA uncovering a plot to have a more sophisticated form of suicide bomber device, it was foiled successfully, very successful the CIA. What does it tell you about the on-going battle with al Qaeda, particularly in relation to the president and his speech last week, his trip to Afghanistan, saying, look, we're coming out of here. Al Qaeda is pretty much dismantled and so on.

How big a danger does al Qaeda remain if we're still uncovering plots like this?

AXELROD: Well, Piers, I don't know the -- I know what you know about the details of this particular case. But it underscores what the president has said, which is that we have to remain vigilant. We have -- we have scored tremendous blows against the central leadership of al Qaeda located in Pakistan. There are offshoots, and Yemen is a main one, where there is still al Qaeda activity.

We just saw that a -- one of the high ranking members of al Qaeda's leadership was killed in Yemen just the other day. So this is an ongoing fight, both here at home. We have to be vigilant on homeland security and on threats in other parts of the world. And we've been -- thank God, we've been successful in doing that.

But every day you have to wake up and -- with that same level of vigilance and recognize that the threat still exists.

MORGAN: The Republicans accuse the president of spiking the football with both the trip to Afghanistan on the anniversary and the ad that starred Bill Clinton.

AXELROD: Well, first of all, I hardly think he was spiking the football. And the trip to Afghanistan was necessary. We've got a NATO meeting coming up here in Chicago in a couple of weeks at which Afghanistan is going to be the major issue.

So, you know, I think that's nonsense. And one of the things that strikes me about it is, Piers, knowing politics as I do, had the mission gone badly a year ago, had that mission gone badly, you know, the folks on the other side would have been the first to be raising this early and often. I think Mitt Romney would have been one of the first ones out of the gate. MORGAN: Let's move on to the campaign. It launched officially, really, this weekend. And you've got a whole ad campaign rolling out. And they said you just spent $25 million on ads this month alone. Let's take a little look at the "Go" campaign, a little clip from this, and I'll come to you after this.

AXELROD: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Instead of losing jobs, we're creating them, over 4.2 million so far. We're not there yet. It's still too hard for too many. But we're coming back, because America's greatness comes from a strong middle class, because you don't quit and neither does he.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: I mean it's an interesting premise, I guess, which is, look, we haven't solved anything, but we are -- we're beginning to get there. Is that the kind of theme that you'll be looking to press for the campaign?

AXELROD: Well, the -- look, there's no question that we are coming back from the most -- the most vicious, the deepest recession since the Great Depression. In the six months before the president took office, we lost four million jobs. We lost 800,000 the month that he took office. Now we've had 26 months of private sector job growth, 4.2 million new jobs.

But the whole was quite deep, that was dug. And we have to keep being vigilant. There are a lot of headwinds yet. We see what's going on in Europe. There are steps that Congress can take that the president wants them to take, to put teachers back in the classroom, to get our service transportation bill passed so we can unleash that activity all over the country, to help people refinance their loans at lower interest rates, even if their homes are underwater.

There are lots of things we can do to get this economy moving even faster, with a little bit of cooperation.

MORGAN: Well, David, unfortunately, I have to move forward, as well, to speak to your --

AXELROD: OK.

MORGAN: Your rival. Ed Gillespie who's now come in to help run the Mitt Romney campaign. But thank you for now, David Axelrod.

When we come back, more on our big story, I want to get to the Romney take on gay marriage and on charges that President Obama has been spiking the football on Osama bin Laden. I'll talk to his adviser, Ed Gillespie.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: My measure, David, and I take a look at when things really began to change, is when the social culture changes. I think "Will & Grace" probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody has ever done so far.

And I think that people fear that which is different. Now they're beginning to understand. They're beginning to understand that this has a base.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: More from Vice President Joe Biden on NBC's "Meet the Press. I want to get reaction now from the Romney campaign and Mitt Romney's senior adviser, Ed Gillespie.

Ed Gillespie, welcome.

ED GILLESPIE, SENIOR ADVISER, MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: Thank you, Piers, for having me.

MORGAN: Nice to see a rare moment there of camaraderie between the two warring factions.

(LAUGHTER)

GILLESPIE: Well, David and I spend quite a bit of time together on these shows, so, you know, we don't agree on much, but we have respect for one another.

MORGAN: What do you think of the whole Joe Biden incident over the weekend? And I say incident, because it seems to have sparked a huge debate, even though the Democrats are trying very hard to say there was nothing new about it. What did you make of it?

GILLESPIE: Well, I made of it that Vice President Biden, you know, had a policy break from the president. He kind of prefaced it by saying, now, I'm the vice president, I don't set the policy, the president does, but seemed to then go on and disagree with the president and the fact is, you know, this is not an area of disagreement. One of the few areas that we don't disagree in this campaign between Governor Romney and President Obama, which is that we should not change the -- you know, the nature of marriage in this country from being between one man, but clearly the president has some descent within his own White House.

MORGAN: I mean what is changing, though, is public opinion. You can't argue with the fact that eight states now have legalized gay marriage and that will certainly increase over the next year or two.

Do you not feel that you may be on the wrong end of where this all ends up? Is it not better to be a bit more progressive, especially now your man has won the nomination, or effectively won it?

GILLESPIE: Well, you know, people's beliefs are their beliefs, Piers. And most Americans still believe that marriage should remain between one man and one woman. There is a debate playing out in our country. That's the nature of our -- of our process.

But like I say, it is not a debate between President Obama and Governor Romney. They actually have the same position and the same policy when it comes to government sanction of same-sex marriage.

MORGAN: Let's move on to the economy. David Axelrod was fairly bullish there. And you can see from their campaign ad, their strategy is going to be, look, although it hasn't been perfect, it may not even have been brilliant, it hasn't been bad and we are slowly getting America back on track after eight years of ruinous Republican administration.

GILLESPIE: Piers, it was interesting to me that ad, not so much for what it said, but what it didn't say. There was no mention of President Obama's health care bill, which has stifled job creation in our economy, as -- resulting in millions of Americans losing the insurance they had, despite being promised that that would not happen.

There was no mention of the stimulus bill, which was promised to hold unemployment below 8 percent, which has now been above 8 percent for 39 straight months. You know, they talked about incomes and in -- or at least David did, anyway. The fact is that median incomes for American families have fallen by $4,300 since President Obama took office.

Twenty-three million Americans are either out of work or underemployed, not working as full hours as they would like or have completely disappeared from our labor force. That's why the unemployment rate went down. For every job that was created last month, three people left the workforce. That's not the right way to bring down the unemployment rate. Housing values are falling and remain low. That's where most Americans feel their -- their, you know, sense of wealth. So this administration and this president's policies have been a disappointment.

MORGAN: I mean is it really going to be a sustainable argument to say to the American people, come November, look, you are worse off than you were before Barack Obama came to power? Because by any conventional, dispassionate yardstick, that isn't right, is it? I mean you're not worse off, you're just not as better off as you probably could have been, seems to be what Mitt Romney is trying to persuade people of.

It's not sustainable to say you're worse off, is it?

GILLESPIE: Well, Piers, the numbers I just cited, you know, are accurate. And I think for those 23 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed or have left the workforce entirely, they're not better off. Or those people who have seen their -- as an, on average, their family income decline by $4,300 since President Obama took office, they're not better off.

For people whose home values are -- or if they still are in their home, as opposed to being foreclosed, because we've had a record number of those. The record number of Americans living in -- below the poverty level today, they are not better off. ORGAN: Given all the furory (ph) over the anniversary of bin Laden's death, and you heard what David Axelrod said about the spiking the football issue, tell me this, if it had been a disaster, if bin Laden had not been killed or captured and Navy SEALs had lost their lives and so on, would you guys have launched a campaign using that against the president?

GILLESPIE: You know, this speculation from Democrats as to, you know, what would have happened if things went wrong and Governor Romney wouldn't have made the same decision, you know, it's -- why don't we talk about the facts. The facts are that President Obama made the right decision to go after Osama bin Laden. Governor Romney applauded him for that at the time, as well as our intelligence community and the brave SEALs who actually completed the mission.

This is a, you know, a moment that brought Americans together. We are all very proud of the success there. And to take that and make it a divisive issue and to try to politicize it, I think, has been a mistake. The fact is, I think President Obama, on the first anniversary of the -- of the killing of Osama bin Laden, would rightly have gotten credit for it if they hadn't overreached.

And it was a mistake out of Chicago. It was a mistake by the Obama campaign. I suspect they may regret it because, you know, the fact is, if they had just noted the occasion as a source of pride for all Americans, they probably would have been better off than where they are today.

MORGAN: Is there any information for me about the VP pick? I see Chris Christie saying that he, through friends, he may -- he may be convinced. I mean you're the man in the know. Which way are you guys heading?

GILLESPIE: Well, you know, the fact is, this is a lengthy process. It's a very serious process. And I think it's a process best conducted, you know, discreetly and giving Governor Romney the opportunity for him to weigh this very important decision. And as much as I love CNN and your program, probably not the best place to, you know, to talk about potential VP nominees or -- or how that process is progressing.

MORGAN: Well, when you are in ready, I'm available, Ed, is all I can say that.

(LAUGHTER)

GILLESPIE: A standing invite. Appreciate that.

MORGAN: Thanks very much, Ed Gillespie.

GILLESPIE: Thanks for having me, Piers. 

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