On Tuesday's NBC Today, during a panel discussion previewing the second presidential debate, co-host Matt Lauer mandated that Mitt Romney answer charges that he's moderated his positions: "How does Mitt Romney answer that question tonight of, 'Why have you moved to the middle, have become more moderate in these closing weeks?'"
Former McCain campaign advisor Steve Schmidt rejected Lauer's assertion: "I don't think he has to answer that question." Lauer immediately interrupted: "What if he's asked that question?" Former Democratic governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm joined Lauer in ganging up on Schmidt: "Oh, I think he does. He absolutely does."
Moments earlier, Granholm offered advice to President Obama: "He's really just got to talk about what he's done, how the economy's moved, and he cannot let the misstatements sit there like he did in the first debate." Lauer helpfully summarized her recommendation: "So, in other words, he's got to go after Mitt Romney and challenge him to come up with specifics?" Granholm replied: "Absolutely. And there's a lot of – it's a target-rich environment, if you will, because there have been a lot of ambiguities."
Lauer failed to challenge Granholm on what specifics the President should lay out for a second-term agenda.
Here is a full transcript of the October 16 segment:
MATT LAUER: MSNBC political analyst Steve Schmidt is a Republican strategist, was a senior adviser on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. Jennifer Granholm is the former Democratic Governor of Michigan and now hosts The War Room on Current TV. Good morning to both of you, nice to see you.
JENNIFER GRANHOLM: Good morning.
STEVE SCHMIDT: Good morning.
LAUER: You've run your share of campaigns. Is it within the realm of possibility that Paul Ryan was washing clean dishes? Would a campaign do that, Steve?
SCHMIDT: It is absolutely within the realm of possibility.
LAUER: I thought you were gonna say no.
SCHIMDT: And those dishes are extra clean now, absolutely.
LAUER: Wow, okay, that's good. Governor, let me go to you. Before the first debate, it seemed to me all the pressure was on Mitt Romney to show he was presidential, he could handle the big stage. Boy, is the shoe on the other foot now.
JENNIFER GRANHOLM: I know.
LAUER: All the pressure on President Obama. Is this game seven, to use a sports analogy, win or go home for him?
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Round Two; How Will Obama & Romney Respond in Tonight's Debate?]
GRANHOLM: Well, no, it's not win or go home, because obviously there's a third debate. So the question for him, though, is can he put that first debate behind him? And I think he can. He's really just got to talk about what he's done, how the economy's moved, and he cannot let the misstatements sit there like he did in the first debate.
LAUER: So, in other words, he's got to go after Mitt Romney and challenge him to come up with specifics?
GRANHOLM: Absolutely. And there's a lot of – it's a target-rich environment, if you will, because there have been a lot of ambiguities.
LAUER: No question, Steve, that there's going to be a different Barack Obama facing Mitt Romney tonight. Can Mitt Romney use that to his advantage? Can he look at voters and say, "Which President Obama is in the room right now?" The way that President Obama is probably gonna say to voters, "Which Mitt Romney is in the room, is it the conservative or the moderate?"
SCHMIDT: Sure, absolutely. And President Obama has to be very careful not to overcompensate after the bad first performance by coming out tonight by being too negative, being too hot. If he does that, it could backfire badly with a very small group of voters that are gonna decide this election.
LAUER: Here's what Obama is now saying on the campaign trail. He's saying, quote, "After running for more than a year in which he called himself severely conservative, Mitt Romney is trying to convince you that he was severely kidding." How does Mitt Romney answer that question tonight, of why have you moved to the middle, have become more moderate in these closing weeks?
SCHMIDT: I don't think he has to answer that question. I think he-
LAUER: What if he's asked that question?
GRANHOLM: Oh, I think he does. He absolutely does.
SCHMIDT: I think the one thing that everybody in this country knows is that Mitt Romney has had a flexibility with his positions on any one of a number of issues. It's about what is the plan to move the country forward. What is his plan to create economic growth? And I think if Obama spends his – spends his evening trying to point out something that everybody already understands, it's going to be difficult for him.
GRANHOLM: But, I mean, if everybody already understands that he was a severely conservative guy who's trying to put on this facade of being a moderate, that's a question of trust. Who are you really? What is your core? And if you are masking what you are really bringing, then I think the President can really take advantage of that.
LAUER: There's been some discussion about the moderator in this, Candy Crowley. I mean this is a town hall-style debate, the questions coming from undecided voters, but Candy in interviews on her network has said, "I feel that I have the right to follow up questions as I see necessary." And it seems both campaigns are a bit upset by this because it's been carefully negotiated. But we're choosing the leader of the free world here, shouldn't voters expect that these guys can handle a couple of follow-up questions?
GRANHOLM: You go, girl. That's what I say. You go, Candy.
LAUER: I thought you were talking to me, that's weird. I didn't know where you were going.
GRANHOLM: You're overreacting, Matt.
LAUER: But that – I mean, that shouldn't be an issue, right?
SCHMIDT: Look, in these things, there's no bad questions, only bad answers. And, you know, both campaigns will try to work the refs a little bit before the debate, but will be prepared for whatever comes.
LAUER: Real quickly, what's – you don't get to ask the question tonight. Governor, what's the one question you would want to ask of Mitt Romney tonight?
GRANHOLM: I would want to ask him, personally, I'd want to ask him, "Are you going to have a litmus test for appointing justices to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade, like you've said in the past?"
LAUER: And your one question for the President?
SCHMIDT: Why would the next four years be any different than the last four?
GRANHOLM [HITS SCHMIDT ON THE ARM]: And the last four have been pretty – we're moving, man, we're moving. Come on.
LAUER: Wait until the physical violence at least holds off to the end. Governor, thanks very much. Steve, thank you very much. You can watch the debate tonight at 9 Eastern, 6 Pacific Time, right here on NBC. Tomorrow on Today, we'll talk about it with Vice President Joe Biden.