STEPHANOPOULOS: Upcoming HBO movie on the 2008 campaign, “Game Change.” This film still being written this year in the primaries and the caucuses. I’m joined, as always, on our roundtable by George Will, Arianna Huffington, the editor-in-chief of the Huffington Media Group, Dana Loesch, the editor of BigJournalism.com, also conservative talk radio show host, and Matthew Dowd, our ABC News political analyst.
And let’s begin with the big events on the Republican side this week, George. You had Florida, big win for Mitt Romney, and he follows it up with another one in Nevada last night. Seems like the inevitable nominee.
WILL: He is I think the inevitable nominee, but in Florida, turnout was down 14 percent over 2008. Granted, in 2008 there was a ballot initiative that may have pumped up — still, enthusiasm seems to be down.
In Nevada, where it’s really ground zero for the pain of the economic downturn, you would have thought enthusiasm for the Republicans would be up, down again there.
The Romney people have always said, we’re not counting on enthusiasm to produce winning, we’re counting on winning to produce enthusiasm, and I don’t see that happening yet. Now, he’s — the second-place candidate, Newt Gingrich, has no debate, which is his strength, until February 22nd. In the South, he’s already lost the biggest southern state in Florida. He’s not even on the ballot in his adopted home state of Virginia. I think this is over.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet, Dana Loesch, he says he’s going to continue to go on. There were some rumors last night that he might get out of Nevada. He called a press conference I think at 11:15 at night to say, no, I am staying in. Also didn’t take the advice of a lot of people to, if you’re going to stay in, go positive. He was tough again on Mitt Romney last night.
LOESCH: Yeah, I was a little bit little shocked at the tone of his address last night, especially when contrasted with Romney’s very positive speech and Rick Santorum’s very positive speech. It was — whoever gave him that advice is horrible. He should — he should have stopped talking at one point.
But I hope that it remains diversified at least until Tampa. I think it’s — I’ve kind of gone back and forth over this. At one point, I wanted all of the non-Romneys except for one to get out so all of the support could coalesce around that particular candidate and they could — because when you look at New Hampshire, when you look at Iowa, and especially when you look at the results of Florida, all of the votes for the non-Romneys, for Ron Paul, for Rick Santorum, for Newt Gingrich beat the votes that Mitt Romney was receiving.
So I think there is a chance, when you talk about having someone coalesce around the non-Romney candidate, but at the same time, I don’t know if that’s — that’s just presupposing that that support would go that way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: In Nevada, where you saw him start to get support, Romney, among Tea Party voters, among very conservative voters.
DOWD: Yeah, absolutely. He was getting it across the board, and I know the Newt Gingrich folks like to say, well, it was a heavy Mormon population. You take out the Mormon population, he still wins the race by 16 points, so it was an unbelievable victory.
I was thinking about this, having watched Newt Gingrich’s response yesterday, which I totally agree with where he was going with this. Who would have guessed that the gold standard, decriminalize drugs alternative was the rational alternative…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Ron Paul.
DOWD: … candidate to Mitt Romney in this race? To me, watching Newt Gingrich — you know, he says he has this 45-state strategy or this 46-state strategy, he’s going to go all the way to Tampa. I think he needs a five-state strategy, based on Elizabeth Kubler’s Ross stages of grief, because last week he was in denial, this week he seems to be in anger. He’s probably going to go to bargaining next, then depression. He’s finally going to get to the state of acceptance.
He has to — what he did yesterday only shot himself in the foot. I think Mitt Romney continues to wrap this up. By the time we get to the end of February, he’ll have won five or six in a row.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Arianna, I was talking to some people in the Romney campaign this week who are so snake-bit by Newt Gingrich, they want to keep the pressure on, they want to keep going after him when they have to. On the other hand, you finally did see Romney last night put all his attention on President Obama. He seemed to believe he had wrapped this up.
HUFFINGTON: Yes, and something happened last night, George. You know, if you look at all these months, there were so many Republicans absolutely focused on anyone but Romney. And last night, you saw that shift, and you had almost that feeling, “OK, Romney,” of kind of reconciling themselves with the inevitable that he will be their nominee. But the speech that Romney gave last night is not a general election speech.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You didn’t think so?
HUFFINGTON: So I wonder at what point he’s going to pivot. I mean, to say, “I’m the American candidate,” to say I want a military that is so powerful that no one can challenge us, nobody believes that. To say basically he can balance the budget without any tax hikes…
STEPHANOPOULOS: … most people wanted a military that — that no one can challenge?
HUFFINGTON: Meaning that nobody can challenge America ever because the military is going to be so powerful, it makes you long for Ron Paul, talking about, you know, Iraq being the unnecessary war based on false assessments and lies. You know, this whole bluster is not going to work in a general election. You see it with independents. Independents are not going for Romney.
STEPHANOPOULOS: His unfavorable rating has gone up among independents, among all voters, George.
WILL: Exactly, because there’s a cost to this kind of campaigning, which is why he ought to stop it as soon as he can. But beyond that, he won two events this week, but he may have lost the narrative of his campaign, which was the economy’s horrible and only I can fix it. Now, he’s been running on his resume, on his previous career. That may not work.
Foreign policy, I mean, the American people hear we’re winding down Afghanistan, they say, “Great.” They cut the defense budget, and some conservatives say that means we can’t intervene as much as we have in the past. People say, “Wonderful.”
We’re drawing, what, 7,000 troops out of Europe, out of 80,000 there, 65 years after V-E Day? I mean, the whole Republican narrative since McGovern was nominated in 1972 has been, “We’re the party to trust on national security,” and I don’t see the big difference anymore.
DOWD: To me, that’s a huge — what’s a big huge change that’s happened in this race is what’s happened on unemployment this month and the jobs that we’re at, is the conversation you just had, and it’s beginning to show positive signs. If that continues, and it — we’ll probably start seeing a change in approval numbers, we’ll probably start seeing a drop in wrong track numbers. We’ll probably start seeing that start to happen.
And when that happens, Mitt Romney is going to have to make a very difficult choice in this, because it’s been all negative Barack Obama, no positive, and then the American public is going to start saying, well, it’s starting to move, starting to move.
To me, Mitt Romney feels like he’s snake-bit or the curse of the Bambino, which is this old thing that happened to the Red Sox fell on him. So in 2007, Mitt Romney runs as a social conservative when people wanted sort of an economic outsider message. He didn’t do that; he loses the nomination process. Now he’s about to win the nomination process against what he thought was an incredibly vulnerable president who now could turn out to be not so vulnerable.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Dana, you were just talking about how conservatives continue — you want them to continue to put pressure on Romney through this nomination fight, but doesn’t that make it harder for him to do what he needs to do in the general election and grab more of the center?
LOESCH: Not necessarily, because I don’t think watered-down conservatism has very much worked in the general elections. And I don’t think that Romney’s really lost it yet on the economy, in terms of proving a disparity between President Obama and himself, especially when you consider — just, what, in November of 2011, we’ve lost 300,000 — 300,000 — over 300,000 jobs, which is more than the jobs that we’ve gained, these past job numbers.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the trend is what matters in an election year, isn’t it?
LOESCH: Yeah, but we’ve still lost 1.2 million people from the workforce. It’s a 30-year low. But…
HUFFINGTON: The problem is that he could actually run an economic populist message. He could focus on the things that are still not working, the fact that…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Like Trump?
HUFFINGTON: No, he’s — not with Trump, but, you know, that was another…
DOWD: Or with myself.
DOWD: … multimillionaire to run an economic populist message.
HUFFINGTON: Actually, I wonder if Trump looks in the mirror today and looked at the Nevada results and said, “I’m a kingmaker. I did it.” But seriously…
DOWD: If he didn’t look in the mirror, that would be news.
HUFFINGTON: I wouldn’t put it past him. But, seriously, he could actually look at the fact that we now have long-term unemployment at unprecedented heights. You know, we have…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Almost half the unemployed.
HUFFINGTON: Almost half the unemployed, 5.5 million people. He could focus on the fact that youth unemployment is still astronomically high, 23 percent among 16-year-olds to 19-year-olds. Are we concerned that the unemployed young can become unemployable?
He’s already focusing on the fact that we have 3 million to 5 million people too discouraged to look for work. So he could play on that message, but then he doesn’t have any answers, he doesn’t have any solutions. They’re probably going to be against extending unemployment benefits, which expire on February 29…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s take that question, George Will, you know, because the president — Governor Romney is getting a lot of advice from the Wall Street Journal editorial page and others saying he’s going to have to big on issues like taxes, come out with a brand-new economic plan. Smart?
WILL: I think it is, because, again, he can’t run on a record saying, “I know how to create jobs and no one else does.” At this point, George, in 1984, when Reagan was gearing up for his re-election campaign, unemployment had fallen from 10.8 percent to 8 percent. It kept falling to 7.4 percent, and he carried 49 states. As you say, it is the trend.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the big difference, Matthew Dowd, from 1984 and Reagan is that there was a lot of pent-up demand in the economy…
STEPHANOPOULOS: … the economy was fueled by housing…
WILL: But the economy was growing at 8 percent…
DOWD: But I think there’s another big difference. And I think that time will tell about how much this will really impact his numbers, as I say, because he’s got to change the wrong — Barack Obama has got to change the wrong direction. He’s got to change his job approval in order to get re-elected. That may happen, and we may see that happen.
But the huge difference that I see, there’s still this gulf between jobs getting created and people feeling like the country is going in the right direction and they feel it. There has not been a rise in 2010 dollars in per capita income in 10 years, in 10 years, through the entire Barack Obama presidency and the Bush presidency.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Which is why…
STEPHANOPOULOS: … want to throw whoever’s in out.
DOWD: And so during Reagan’s rise and Clinton’s rise, people felt it. Jobs got added, and their income went up, and they felt like they could spend more money. People haven’t felt that in 10 years.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, meanwhile, we’re also seeing a lot more focus, again, with all this talk on the economy, we’re also starting to see focus on social issues this week on at least two major fronts.
I want to start out with this whole controversy over the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation. They took away their funding from Planned Parenthood. Huge backlash created online by the supporters of Planned Parenthood. It turned — and also the president of Planned Parenthood came out and said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARDS: This is a relationship we’ve had for many years. It came as a total shock and a real disappointment. We provide more than 700,000 breast exams every single year, and we’ve been very proud of our relationship with the Komen Foundation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: By the end of the week, Dana Loesch, the Komen Foundation reversed it, said they are open again to providing money to Planned Parenthood, which created a lot of concern among those who are anti-abortion.
LOESCH: Yes. Well, when you consider the amount of money that Planned Parenthood — or that Komen donated to Planned Parenthood and the amount of accessibility that Komen funded, it’s really not a lot. I think it’s something around 800,000 screenings that Planned Parenthood either provided referrals to or — they either provided referrals to mammograms to different clinics that actually are licensed to do mammographies and own mammography machines or they do the most basic of basic screenings. They did 800,000 of those usually about a year.
Now, Komen funds 34,000 of those, so that’s like 4.25 percent. That’s like nothing. If they can’t afford to Planned Parenthood by themselves pay for less than 5 percent of the breast cancer screenings, then they can…
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that’s not what this was about.
HUFFINGTON: No, absolutely not. But what we saw here is social media at work. It was really extraordinary. Planned Parenthood has now raised over $3 million, and…
WILL: Five times what was at stake in the Komen…
HUFFINGTON: Yes, five times what was at stake. But what was fascinating was that it was very clear, this is a beyond left and right issue. This was about women’s health. This was an attempt to politicize it.
By the change in leadership at the Komen Foundation, including Karen Handel, who ran for governor of Georgia on the platform of the life — the pro-life platform and against Planned Parenthood. So the attempt to politicize this issue backfired, and people said this is not a left-right issue.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re shaking your head.
WILL: This is not about women’s health. This is about providing 300,000 abortions a year. They — Planned Parenthood cleverly cast this to say we are in the mammogram business. They’re not in the mammogram business. They’re in the referral of mammograms.
This showed two extraordinary things, George. First, the American left cares about ending wars and they care about poverty and they care about the environment. What they really care about, when they’re not perfunctory, is when you touch abortion, and historians will marvel that American liberalism in the first part of the 21st century is defined as defense of abortion. Furthermore…
WILL: Second — wait just a — just a moment. Second, all these people describing themselves as pro-choice said it is illegitimate to choose not to be involved in abortion. And a much more important decision politically that was taken this week was the Obama administration saying that Catholic institutions have no choice — and this was applauded by pro-choice people — have no choice but to provide contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I do want to get to that, as well. First respond to the Komen, and then let’s get to that other issue.
HUFFINGTON: Well, first of all, this is (inaudible) presenting this as a left-right issue, to say that…
WILL: I didn’t do that.
HUFFINGTON: To say that the people who raised money, who signed petitions were on the left and that didn’t care about breast cancer, that it didn’t care about prevention is absurd. And if you look at what Planned Parenthood does, an enormous amount of what it does is about prevention.
And what it showed, this whole campaign that was generated by people, by social media this week, showed the new power of that, to actually reverse decisions very, very quickly.
LOESCH: They hacked their — their website. They hacked Planned Parenthood’s website. They bullied them on Facebook. I mean, that’s definitely — that’s a new media strategy.
DOWD: I think that this demonstrates — to me demonstrates the corrupt nature that’s happened in politics has now bled into the privates, but (inaudible) view as the private sector, which is…
STEPHANOPOULOS: What do you mean by that?
DOWD: That there is now — a private foundation can give and dispense money any way it wants. It can choose to give money — people could have said when they first gave the money to Planned Parenthood, was that a good idea? Nobody sort of screamed and yelled. But all of a sudden they say we’re going to take $700,000 back of private donations, which most people that gave money to Susan Komen Foundation had no idea they were going to go to — be going to Planned Parenthood.
And so now what we see in Congress, this bitter response any time somebody does something, everybody screams and yell. Whether or not Congress should be investigating Planned Parenthood we can have an argument over. I don’t think they should be in the middle of that. But I don’t think Planned…
STEPHANOPOULOS: … who say this is democracy at work…
DOWD: I think this is a — this is a corrupt, poisonous part of democracy at work. I think foundations should be able to make a decision, and if Planned Parenthood wants to go out and raise the money…
HUFFINGTON: Well, they can make a decision. Nobody stopped them. There’s no legal enforcement on what the Komen Foundation is going to do. They reversed the decision in an incredibly disingenuous way, saying that the reason they had withdrawn the funding was because Planned Parenthood was under investigation. Well, right now, the Hershey Foundation has $7.5 million from the Komen Foundation. It’s attached to the Penn State University, which is under investigation. They haven’t touched that money.
LOESCH: Two quick points. First, Planned Parenthood was under congressional inquiry because of underage girls going into Planned Parenthood…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Where they were providing abortion services.
LOESCH: … and they were alleged to hide statutory rape. The second issue is that, on average, the Komen Foundation would give a little over $500,000 to Planned Parenthood. That was less than Cecile Richards’ paycheck from Planned Parenthood.
Now, you would think at some point in the past — it’s been a year to the date since Live Action called Planned Parenthood clinics in 27 different states to ask whether or not they had mammography machines. You would think that at that point — they’d had a year — Planned Parenthood would invest in obtaining licenses to operate and own mammography machines and give mammograms so they could have avoided this whole thing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s get to the issue that George Will raised, as well. The president under his health care plan saying the Catholic hospitals and other institutions have to provide insurance policies that cover contraception, drew a sharp response from House Speaker Boehner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOEHNER: This mandate violates our Constitution. I think it violates the rights of these religious organizations. And I would hope that the administration would — would back up and take another look at this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Arianna, even some of the president’s prominent Catholic liberal supporters said he went too far here.
HUFFINGTON: Well, actually what the White House has said is that they have a year in which to work with Catholic institutions to find ways in which they can provide contraception for their employees, many of whom are not Catholic, and they have a year during which to work that out. The churches are not going to be affected. We’re talking about Catholic hospitals that employ a lot of non-Catholics.
DOWD: One disclosure. I’m on the board of a Catholic hospital in Austin, Texas, so with that being said, one of every six people in this country go get their medical care at a Catholic hospital. And I think what most people feel like is, when that — they’re on the front lines, they’re not making money, there are nonprofits that are doing all this stuff, to be able to be put in the position of the federal government where they basically have to now decide what they’re going to do about that, whether they’re going to have to, you know, receive money, provide services on all that kind of stuff, I think was a — not only a huge political mistake, but I think it was a huge substantive mistake, toward a system that basically provides most of the health care in this country, which are Catholic institutions, which came to this country before anybody else did and provided those things, for the administration to do that I just think is a bad decision if they want to provide health care for America.
WILL: On the political side, in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, particularly, there are lots of blue-collar Catholics who hear this as more bullying. The dialectic in this country goes like this. You declare a right. You have a right to abortion, contraception, fine. Then you say, well, we have a right, it has to be subsidized by the federal government. And then institutions that don’t conform to our values have to be bullied into it, and this all in the name of choice. It’s an astonished Orwellian piece of rhetoric.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Arianna, I know that some believe — and in the president’s campaign — believe that this will end up actually working for the president. Taking George’s point, they think that that’s an old view of the Catholic voter and that, secondly, the Republican Party has put itself too far outside of the mainstream on these social issues.
HUFFINGTON: Well, yes. First of all, we’re talking about contraception. We’re not talking about abortion. And we are talking about the fact that so many of the employees of Catholic institutions are not Catholic. So this is (inaudible) another basic right. And the fact that, again, this is politicized is taking us away from the major issues we should be debating right now.
WILL: Excuse me. Is it — why isn’t it politicizing abortion when Komen decides to subsidize Planned Parenthood, which is in the abortion business, but politicizing it when you withdraw that money?
HUFFINGTON: Well, right now, they’re making a decision, which they claim was based on the fact that they misrepresented a decision at the beginning. You know, this is — the Komen Foundation is coming out of it worse than anybody. They mishandled it completely.
DOWD: And I don’t think it’s about whether or not Catholics believe in abortion, whether or not they believe in choice, or whether or not — that’s not what this is about. I think what — just what George said. I think people that run these institutions and are in these services think, and that is, why is the federal government doing this, when we’re providing all this care, doing all this stuff — why is big government getting involved in our business, which we know what to do?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Newt Gingrich put a finer point on it last night, said it’s part of a war by President Obama on religious liberty.
LOESCH: Well, there’s a lack of choice. It’s a stunning display of irony when you look at all of this. For instance, Komen is excoriated over their choice — the private charity to do what they want with their money. And here you have the government now saying that you don’t have a choice to be able to practice your religious liberty and these institutions have to comply with this particular mandate that goes against their freedom and liberty. So it’s irony.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. It is Super Bowl Sunday. Before we leave, I want to get everybody’s predictions. But, George, first…
STEPHANOPOULOS: … I know you’re not always the biggest fan of the Super Bowl.
WILL: Football is a mistake. It just is. It combines two of the…
STEPHANOPOULOS: On Super Bowl Sunday.
WILL: … it combines two of the worst…
DOWD: Seventy million people are going to make a mistake and watch the game?
STEPHANOPOULOS: A hundred and twenty, I think.
WILL: This is the second-highest calorie day in American life, second only to Thanksgiving, and people are betting and eating, is what they’re doing today. Football, as I say, combines violence punctuated by committee meetings called huddles. It just replicates the worst aspect of American life. That said, when it’s over, pitchers and catchers report in two weeks, and we can go back to reading the newspapers.
You want a prediction?
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want a prediction.
WILL: I usually root for the team whose victory would make the most liberals unhappy.
Boston and New York, I don’t know how to choose. So I’ll say probably Boston has a higher concentration, so I’m for the Giants.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Giants. All right, he’s going to go for the Giants. Matthew Dowd?
DOWD: I’m a — I’m a Detroit Lion fan. They’re not in the playoffs, but I’m — so I’ll root for the NFC team which is the Giants. I think they win by seven. I only pick seven because I think if the unemployment number has a seven in front of it, Barack Obama’s re-elected.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And if it doesn’t — I think that’s a pretty safe bet, actually, if it gets down to seven. Not a lot of predictions for that today. Dana Loesch?
LOESCH: Well, I’m from St. Louis, so we are the home of the Rams, and we’re not allowed to like football. So that’s — well, I feel…
STEPHANOPOULOS: The whole middle of the country is being left out this year.
LOESCH: Well, you know, I’ve — I’ve been sulking through the entire season, so I feel really bitter today. But I get it. You know, we’ve had two great World Series, you know, whatever, but it would be nice to have a good — a football team that has as much success as the two teams playing today.
But they’re two Northeastern teams, so I’m mad and I’m bitter about it. If you wanted to make people mad, you could shamelessly say, I’m supporting the Patriots because Patriots. So Giants I think will win.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Giants again.
HUFFINGTON: Well, first of all, I predict that there will be a car company (ph) commercial that somebody is going to find offensive. And…
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is for sure.
HUFFINGTON: … and that half the people are going to find the show — the half-game show disappointing. And I do predict the Giants. And, OK, I’m going to read to you a whole prediction that our sports editor gave us.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Uh-oh. We have 10 seconds.
HUFFINGTON: I don’t understand it, but here it is, 24-21 with a field goal, that it will be a close game, decided by whatever defense can put more pressure on the opposing quarterback. I have no idea what it means.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, but you gave it. I’m going to take the Patriots.