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Notes on the December 11, 2011 broadcast of Meet The Press

December 11, 2011

This morning on Meet The Press, new NBC News/Marist polls were released showing Newt Gingrich ahead of Mitt Romney in Florida 44 to 29, with Ron Paul in third at 8%. And the South Carolina poll showed Gingrich ahead 42 to 23, with Ron Paul at 9%. (However, later in the broadcast when they again showed these numbers for South Carolina, the Gingrich/Romney numbers had changed to 41 and 21.)

Host David Gregory’s interview with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) began with a clip from last night’s debate where Paul challenged Gingrich on his “changing and non-conservative” positions, including pocketing taxpayer money from Freddie Mac.

Paul has worked on the housing market issue for a long time, so he said he was especially annoyed by Gingrich’s action. Gregory pushed Paul on his line that Gingrich should give the money back, and Paul stuck with it.

Paul said Romney and Gingrich are on the defensive because they have not been consistent conservatives. Meanwhile, Paul says no one ever raise that issue with him because consistency is part of his brand. Gregory seem to get agitated with Paul over not disaggregating Gingrich and Romney enough as candidates. Paul seemed confused as to why Gregory was asking him to do this, but in the end he did say Romney was more diplomatic and Gingrich can rub people the wrong way. But Paul came back to his main point that all of his opponents more or less represent the status quo.

One of the major foreign policy issues from last night’s debate was Newt Gingrich’s statements about the Palestinians. He said they are an “invented people” and called them all terrorists. Paul quoted Reagan as saying the politics of the Middle East are “irrational,” and we don’t have the wisdom to sort it out for them. They need to take ownership of their problems.

Gregory pushed Paul on the possibility of a third party run if he doesn’t get the GOP nomination. Paul would not rule it out.

Finally, note that Gregory asked Paul nothing about what he would do as president… only what he thought about Romney and Gingrich.

Senatros Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham appear with Davdi Gregory on Meet The Press, December 11, 2011.

Host David Gregory interviewed two newsmakers together!

Next up were Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). And contrary to recent Meet The Press practice, Gregory actually interviewed them together rather than sequentially. Graham said Gingrich seems to be “for real” and could win South Carolina if the primary were held today. However, Graham also said he won’t likely endorse anyone ahead of the nomination.

Durbin said extending the payroll tax cuts is the highest priority of the president and the Democrats in Congress. Graham predicted the cuts will be extended “at the end of the day.” But he added that taxing one group to pay for a tax cut for another group probably won’t sail. Nor will linking this to the Keystone pipeline project.

On the president’s Kansas speech, Graham said, “He has a failed presidency, and didn’t talk about the things he has done to make America a stronger, better place in a bipartisan fashion.”

Durbin pointed out that Republicans walked out on the president when he tried to craft bipartisan deficit reduction. And the GOP used the filibuster just this week to block a number of well-qualified presidential appointments.

The roundtable portion of the show featured an odd and unbalanced mix of three NBC journalists (Ted Koppel, Chuck Todd, and Lisa Myers) and two Republicans (Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and GOP strategist Alex Castellanos). Myers said Romney needed to blunt Gingrich’s rise last night, and he failed.

Castellanos asked, how is that Romney has never bumped above 25%? Castellanos said that it is because Romney is too cautious… and his elitist $10,000 bet last night didn’t help. With Gingrich, maybe the country wants someone a little more imaginative and unpredictable. However, later Castellanos said the Republican establishment looks at Gingrich as “Newtonium” that could kill every Republican on the ballot. The voters on the other hand look at him and say “Wow, what power,” according to Castellanos.

At 39 minutes into the broadcast, something very interesting happened. Chuck Todd performed a mini-coup over David Gregory when he directed a very host-like question, and a follow-up, at Gov. Branstad. Todd looked thoroughly in control of Meet The Press for a moment, so much so that Castellanos directed his next comment directly to Todd not Gregory.

On the Middle East, Koppel said Gingrich was “taking a more pro-Israeli position than any recent Israeli prime minister. There is hardly any leader in Israel today who would align himself or herself with the position that Gingrich took last night,” said Koppel.

Capturing a certain conventional wisdom percolating behind the scenes, Myers said that in all her years of covering politics, she has never heard Republicans who actually knew the potential nominee (Gingrich) speak so poorly of him.

Today’s Meet The Press transcript will be here.

Also follow the show on the MTP Facebook page, track Twitter feeds from host David Gregory, Meet The Press, and Executive Producer Betsy Fischer, watch the midweek PressPass interview, and don’t forget Gregory’s blog.

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