TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Happy Saint Patrick's Day After, heroes and welcome once again to your Sunday Morning liveblog of the political talk shows. My name is Jason. My brackets have been busted gloriously. Thanks a LOT, people, for not telling me that I should have definitely taken at least two of the 15-seeds this year. (Actually, if anyone had Lehigh and Norfolk State both going into the second round -- and it's not hard to imagine a MEAC diehard who really hates Duke -- than enjoy your future table in Bracketology Valhalla.) At any rate, both of my alma maters are eliminated, so with my brackets fatally wounded, I can just enjoy the rest of the basketball with no pressure. 15 seeds forever!

First, of course, I will have to watch these chat shows, so let's get started. As always, feel free to chat it up in the comments. If you'd like to drop me a line, please feel free. And if it's your thing, you can follow me on twitter.

And now, since we're both up at the same time, it's...


Bret Baier is subbing in for Chris Wallace, and Baier is sort of talking softly for some reason. But Mitt Romney is here, and so is George Clooney, only he's with Chris Wallace. DON'T BE JEALOUS, whichever Fox host is jealous.

But first, here's Mitt, live from Moline, Illinois. Home of John Deere. Quad Cities, represent! He's trying to snag delegates and win the primary on Tuesday. But first, he'll have to answer questions about, say...Afghanistan. Where things are not going well, as always. Hamid Karzai says he is "at the end of his rope," which is probably woven from heroin. What would Mitt do about this?

"First I would exercise leadership." Okay! Great, but did you have anything more specific? Sure. He would talk to Karzai, work with Karzai, make Karzai feel safe again, cradle Karzai in his arms. "Just breathe with me, Hamid," he would say, "Let all the stress fall away. Just let it go. It's not your fault. Your soul is a butterfly."

Mitt says that we have troops in harm's way and that we have an interest in the war going well. This is the part of Mitt's "solutioneering process" where he just says things that are obvious. It's an important phase, that comes right before the part where he gets mad with President Obama's "timetable for withdrawal," which is "leading Mr. Karzai to take action that is self-preservation in nature." If we just agreed to stay forever, Karzai would forego "self-preservation."

Romney won't withdraw until "commanders on the ground" blah blah blah all the things presidents have said for over a decade about why we have to stay there, despite the fact that soon, kids that were five years old when it began will be eligible to die there, in what American adults everywhere should definitely celebrate as one of their key accomplishments in life.

Romney says that it's clear that the war isn't going well, and it's Obama's fault because he was personally responsible for ensuring the legitimacy of Afghanistan's elections. The ones that led to Karzai's continuing presidency. The same Karzai that Romney wants to make assurances to, that American blood and treasure keep flowing there. Everyone who currently commands or wants to one day command troops in Afghanistan needs to follow the logic of their statements to the second level.

Let's move on to Iran. What are the chances that Israel will bomb them? Why would Romney know that? He says he doesn't really know anything, but that Obama should have installed harsher sanctions against Iran and given more support to the Iranian dissidents. So...okay...Obama should have definitely hurt the Iranian people with crippling sanctions, and then loudly supported their uprising, which would have led the mullahs to crack down on said uprising with about one hundred times the brutality with which they did.

It sort of amazes me that more people don't understand that terrible things would have followed in the wake of the president actively and loudly promoting the Iranian dissidents. Honestly, it just sort of flabbergasts me. As it stands, the President took the extraordinary step of asking a private company, Twitter, to alter their operations so that dissidents could continue to communicate with one another. I think we understand who is on what side. The dissidents were actually quite fortunate that America didn't try to "do stuff" beyond that.

Romney's position on Iran is the same as Obama's anyway. They better not make one! If they do, some military stuff is "on the table." THE SCARY TABLE, WITH ALL THE STUFF ON IT.

Baier, using Obama's "those who wants war should just say so," to ask Romney if he'll say so. Romney won't. He supports crippling sanctions, which just should have come sooner. He says there's "nothing casual about Iran having a nuclear weapon."

Does Romney think that Obama is responsible for high gas prices? He has previously said no. But this is Fox News Sunday, an entirely different audience with entirely different pandering needs. So he says instead that he always intended to raise gas prices, and he's appointed people to make that happen, and they've succeeded, only now he's had an "election year conversion" and what we should do is drill everywhere and pretend that this is going to lead to lower gas prices. Romney is very good at telling an audience what they want to hear!

Baier reminds Romney that he has been talking about this a lot. He'd like to know why he only just started talking about it. Romney says he's been talking pretty consistently about it. I guess there just weren't teevee cameras pointed at him when he talked about it. Or he was just always whispering, "Don't tell anybody, stuff."

He did mention, over and over again, that Michigan's trees were the right height. Everyone caught that!

Would Romney get rid of the Department of Education? "Not necessarily," he says, suggesting he'd combine it with other agencies, or alter its role. He'd "pull back" their "reach." He would also push back against "federal teachers' unions." He likes having states "test our kids," so that he can identify failing school districts and then ensure their failure by starving them of funds and sanctioning them. Like Iran! So he supports that part of No Child Left Behind. The part that doesn't actually educate anybody.

Baier tries to trip up Romney for criticizing Romney for criticizing Santorum for his "take one for the team" comment on No Child Left Behind. Romney says that he was criticizing Santorum for voting for things he didn't support, and that he doesn't have that problem, because he is a member of the pro-NCLB team that still supports it. But doesn't he merely support the same part that Santorum still supports? Don't they both want to "pull back" the "reach" of Federal government in education? This sort of begs a follow-up, but we don't get one.

One day, I think a smart interviewer could literally cause Romney to short circuit. Though maybe he is a nuclear powered panderbot, with fissile material. Maybe no one can afford to take the chance of causing a core meltdown in the Romneybot. If that's true, then thank you Bret Baier, for saving thousands of innocent lives today!

Romney says that the campaign will come down to a candidate facing Obama that knows how the economy works. I think Santorum, actually, is rooting for the economy to get better, so that the larger 2012 argument isn't about the economy, but is actually a more traditional argument on ideological values, where Santorum would mostly trump Romney.

Romney brags that he has a great financial organization and infrastructure, and Santorum doesn't. "We have to have a nominee that's competitive...this is not about a shoestring operation." Okay, but, face it, if Santorum won, he wouldn't be in a shoestring operation anymore...he'd have the RNC behind him, major donors, major strategists, super PAC support.

But Romney's going to be the nominee, in all likelihood, so it's a moot point. On the other hand, Romney keeps making it very pointedly, so maybe it's not as moot as I think it is.

Oh, okay, Bret is losing his voice, because of allergies. Hence the soft-talking.

Now, Chris Wallace is here to talk to George Clooney and John Prendergast, who have both recently returned from the border area between Sudan and South Sudan, which remains a human rights hell-hole and an otherwise hotspot of abject misery.

Clooney says that the same people who were charged with war crimes over their actions in Darfur are bombing civilians indiscriminately. It is related to the ongoing civil war -- to continue to strain the use of that term -- that's remained a fact of life in western and southern Sudan along the new post-secession border. Prendergast says that the Sudanese government is still using tactics in that region that amount to ethnic cleansing. "Instead of directly attacking the rebels, they attack the people who support the rebellion," he says, "Drain the water to catch the fish." Conventionally speaking, this is a war crime. (To continue to strain the use of the term, "war crime." On some level, every war is a crime.)

"They're killing people, but more than that, they're keeping them afraid, living in caves, so that they can't farm," Clooney explains. As a result of this, these people missed their planting season, and consequently, won't be able to feed themselves.

Prendergast says that oil plays a role, and that "China is dependent on Sudan for 6% of its imports." With South Sudan having gotten "tired of how the oil they were exporting through the pipe lines in North Sudan was being confiscated," those taps have been "shut off," which means that there is now a "tremendous moment of opportunity" to get China to bring pressure to end the misery. Prendergast hopes that the U.S. and China can work together to end these abuses.

Clooney says that he's made the trip to China to try to guilt them into doing something, and appeals to their "better angels" don't work. The oil issue, however, could do the trick.

Would he be interested in a Libya type intervention? Clooney says that sure, your gut reaction is to wish that NATO would come and take out the people who are bombing these innocent kids, but that "realistically" that's not going to happen. Rather, he hopes that the U.S. and China can engage in high level talks over the matter and bring their weight behind ending it. He also believes that having learned a tremendous amount about how to chase down a terrorist network and pinch off their sources of funding, those same techniques could be applied to this situation.

Clooney has a really great explanation for his involvement in this issue:

CLOONEY: I am a son of a news man as you are. I ran a teleprompter when it was pushing paper under the camera, and when they said "cut the segment," you actually took a piece of paper and you cut it and taped it, you know? I am a big believer in the importance of information and news. And I saw my father in the '70s doing good stories and getting bumped because there was a Liz Taylor story that was going to be out. The stories he did that had real social value would get bumped. It just happens, and that's the nature of the world we live in. I called my father in 2006, when I was reading those Nick Kristof articles about the Sudan, and I said, "Remember how you used to get your stories bumped by Liz Taylor and Hollywood? Let's go to Darfur. and you be the news man and I will be Liz Taylor and we'll get it on the air." He said okay.

He goes on to add: "There are helpless people who are....there is a ticking time bomb on a 100,000 people hiding in the hills who have never...they are not sitting with their hands out saying help us. They have always taken care of themselves...right now they are hiding for their lives and they are terrorized and we need to do whatever we can to help them. Yes, I think that right now it is just saving lives."

Go read more about the Enough Project and the Satellite Sentinel Project, okay?

Panel time, with Brit Hume and A.B. Stoddard and Bill Kristol and Charles Lane.

Horsey-race time? Hume says that Obama's approvals are troubling for the White House, but that an all-out, stop at nothing campaign is ramping up. Stoddard says that the first job is to rebuild the coalition that elected them in the first place. "It's a numbers game, they're not ashamed of it." Kristol complains that Obama is campaigning on the taxpayer dime. Stoddard wonders if he's familiar with elections or if this is like, his first one ever? Kristol gets snippity-snip: "He's doing more, honestly! The degree of shamelessness!" Poor guy REALLY wants Mitch Daniels to run. And he's upset that the White House continues to promote the Affordable Care Act. "It's propaganda," says the guy who totally speaks out against propaganda, always.

As part of this "rebuild the coalition" effort is this seventeen minute video produced by Davis Guggenheim and narrated by Tom Hanks, and I have to be honest with you, this really looks like the stupidest thing in the world! It's like the thing Fred Thompson made for McCain, but at the very least that was done for the convention. This dumb movie comes at the start of the campaign, and it's supposed to be a component of argument. Well, let the President make the argument himself, instead of having other people make art for him. If any of y'all feel differently about this, I respect that. But I just can't get into this idea as being terrifically politically sound. (I also would like to stave off glossy "documentaries" becoming a trend, in politics, because on a long enough timeline, they will eventually become vomit-inducing.)

Lane says that the Obama White House is "nervous but optimistic" and glad to see their opponents "carving each other up." I doubt the latter thing, actually. I think if anyone's in the position to understand that long primaries don't cripple candidates, it's Team Obama Re-Elect.

Speaking of those GOP candidates, going at each other with daggers and throwing stars, they are still campaigning. Kristol says that Santorum winning Illinois would be a "bracket buster" and then Gingrich would totally have to get out and give Rick the one-on-one shot. (We're leaving Paul out of this, I guess.)

Hume says that the remaining race is a muddle -- too muddled to tell whether Gingrich's involvement impacts Santorum in such a way that would make him more of a contender if he was absent. But Santorum needs "bushels" of delegates, and getting those bushels "get harder and harder as time goes on." But, Stoddard says, Romney is desperate for a "message that gets him off delegate math," and "the narrative is about him losing." Because of this, she says there are still people who talk about a "white knight" arriving at the convention to save the day.

Lane says that a factor of Obama's confidence is probably based on the resources that Romney is having to spend on this long race. Kristol says the resources are not as important as political arguments -- like liking Obamacare or not, or a real economic recovery strengthening Obama's position. He also says that the election may not be a close one -- conditions exist that could allow either the GOP candidate or Obama to win in a blowout. Hume says that in the end, "acceptability" is the key -- do you want the Obama administration to continue, and if not, can you live with this other candidate as the alternative.


Uhm...okay. I thought I'd set up my TiVo to record Face The Nation, but evidently, I am wrong and will instead watch the Apple Genius Bar of Politics instead.


Okay, so today we're going to talk about Afghanistan and whether we should stay, brokered conventions and whether we should go, and how much gas will cost when we begin these trips. And to discuss all of this we have Andrew Sullivan and Katty Kay and Liz Marlantes and David Ignatius, who will hopefully talk about his recent column, which I enjoyed reading and wrote about.

In Afghanistan, even 40% of Republicans would like to speed up withdrawal (over 50% of Dems and Independents agree). And as Matthews points out, there's been no shift in rhetoric or policy that suggests that Obama wants to slow down that process. As Ignatius points out, though, the standard for "success in Afghanistan" is transferability -- can the security of the country be handed off to the Afghan people or not. In September, the troop presence will drop, but further drawdowns will depend on the state of this transferability.

Kay says that David Cameron's concern is that he doesn't want to get beat to the exits in Afghanistan -- he's got 10,000 troops that would like to get to the door. She notes that Henry Kissinger has commented that in Afghanistan, "it's more about 'exit' than it is about 'strategy.'" Kay says that polls tell a similar story -- people have noticed that the talk of withdrawal has risen. Differing from Kissinger, however, Kay says that the prevailing public sentiment amounts to, "if all you want to talk about is getting out, let's get out now."

Marlantes says two dynamics are at work in the public. "As soon as you announce a divorce, you don't want to sit around for two years waiting to leave." However, she says that it's not clear that the public understands what the overall mission was in the first place.

Matthews recalls the age-old internal division -- the Biden faction wanted to mostly withdraw, run counter-terror missions, and project strength from afar, while the Obama/Generals position was basically "run counterinsurgency strategy in perpetuity." Time and events seem to favor a shift to the Biden style -- even the rhetoric in the GOP primaries has been markedly more skeptical than it's been in the past.

Sullivan says that we went to Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda, and we've succeeded in that. "What's left is nation building," and that the American people have never particularly enjoyed doing that. To Sullivan's mind, Obama was elected to keep us from getting into a lengthy nation-building mission and so there's no political cost to staying on the road for withdrawal. His opponents, by contrast, "want more war in Afghanistan and a new war in Iran." (I'd question, actually, how much MORE war Romney and Gingrich want in Afghanistan.)

Kay actually takes that ball and lays it in, noting that the GOP rhetoric shifted after that soldier left his base and went on a killing spree. Sullivan says that the "paradox" is that the murders were "much less inflammatory to the Afghans" then the accidental Qu'ran burnings. Not sure about that -- there was no widespread objection to apologizing for killing people, whereas it was the position of many that no one should feel the least bit bad about accidentally burning a holy book.

Sullivan says that it's not in the "American DNA" to colonize, because we're people who have tried to escape colonialism. So we're just not good at nation building. We're better at colonizing the world with the tentacles of corporate power, anyway!

"Afghanistan is going to be a violent country for as long as we're all alive," says Ignatius, who adds that we can't stop it, we can only hope to contain it, like UNC's frontcourt. He adds that one of the more striking conversations he's had lately was with a Pakistani official who told him that they didn't want to return to the status quo ante, where Afghanistan was Pakistan's "strategic backyard" in its conflict with India.

Can we get out of Afghanistan in quick order? Marlantes says that speeding it up would be dangerous for Obama, and that future testimony from General Allen could complicate accelerating the withdrawal. Sullivan says that ten years of war is "enough," and people are sick of it. That said, will the President be able to stick it out according to a timetable of slow withdrawal? Sullivan says that he'll "try because he doesn't want drama." Kay says that they'll avoid a "Viet Nam moment." Marlantes says that with Romney promising more and bigger war, there's no reason to shift policy. Ignatius says that there's no political win to be had from deviating from the current policy -- as long as the American people see there's a strategy to discern, they'll stick with it. As soon as it becomes wayward, Americans will likely panic.

We pause for some SNL clips.

Hey, what about an exciting contested convention, where Romney and Santorum fight each other to the death with tridents, killing each other in mortal combats, leaving George Pataki to sweep in and claim the nomination at the convention and launch "Pataki/[CURRENTLY SOLICITING APPLICATIONS] 2012!" Well, let's talk about that.

Katty Kay is the big horsey-race winner person of the day because she is the only one of Chris' friends to correctly predict that Rick Santorum would become Romney's main opponent. Most of Chris' friends apparently picked Michele Bachmann, because most of Chris' friends are idiots, somehow. Or he asked them the day after the Ames Straw Poll and they all answered, "SHINY SHINY LIGHT IN MY EYES LOOKS LIKE LADY FROM MINNESOTA OMG!"

Kay determined it would be Santorum by "going down a list" and looking for the person who was both seen as socially AND fiscally conservative and noticing that Santorum was sort of the only person. I was also very wrong about Santorum! I routinely said that Santorum was the guy who Republicans really, really liked but didn't want to be president. In keeping with my personal blogging traditions, I hereby Social Distortion myself:

Marlantes says that everyone thinks Romney is going to win and no one is particularly chuffed about it. "It's the sense that they're stuck with him," that's hurting Romney. My cat, Tallulah, decides that she'll underscore Marlantes' point about "buyer's remorse" by coughing up a hairball, so I'd better go clean that up.

Sullivan says "Romney is the most dreadful candidate since John Kerry in terms of being able to deliver...his speeches are vacuous, he has no real connection with other human beings...this is a candidate who is a zombie, at this point."

Ignatius says that his best argument is on the economy -- he's the "firm, tough manager" -- but if the economy improves, he's got little place to go. Ignatius says that at that point, Romney can cast himself as the "decent family guy" who "stuck it out" through a gritty election process. So, I guess what he's saying is that Romney has the potential to be the next Bob Dole?

Everyone says that Romney will get nominated on the first ballot of the convention, though Sullivan tries to say something about it being bad for Romney if, in the end, it's the GOP's limited version of "superdelegates" that clinch it for Mitt. (Yes, the GOP does have something like "superdelegates," but it's not worth getting into right now.)

Things that Matthews does not know apparently include the idea that Romney will end up being tied to the sins of Wall Street by the end of the campaign (Sullivan), the most impressive celebrity couple at the state dinner was Andrew Sullivan and his husband (Kay), early voting in Illinois has been "flat and unimpressive" (Marlantes), there's already talk about the next Obama cabinet, and that Susan Rice is likely to end up at State (Ignatius).

Everyone is asked to predict: is the election going to end up a referendum on the Obama presidency thus far, or a contrast election between Obama and his opponent? All the men think it's an election about Obama (though Sullivan wanted to add caveats) and all the women think it's about choice. THIS MAY MEAN SOMETHING. (But probably not.)


Oh, it's never George Stephanopoulos hosting this when I watch, is it? Today we have Jonathan Karl, who is just sort of meh. Also this show now has the longest and goofiest introduction in the world -- all of Karl's words appear on the screen as if we needed to see them on the teevee to understand them, and there's this dumb moment where everyone on the panel is forced to like, hang out and look from side to side as if they're all having an amazing conversation. Oh, and more David Ignatius this week. So I hope everyone likes David Ignatius, and have his hot body pinned to your bedroom wall, and otherwise spend your afternoon on what a babe he is.

Okay, ABC even has a motto for this show: "It's your voice, your vote." When do we actually get to hear "our voice" on this show, though? OH, MAN, THIS IS SO DUMB.

We're assured that Stephanopoulos deserves to have the day off today, so I guess we can all stop our letter-writing campaign about what an injustice it is. This is Jonathan Karl, right? I'm not that into learning names.

Meanwhile, here's Rick Santorum, in a room with a giant fleurs de lis made of poop on the wall. Karl assures him the Republicans are "girding for a fight," and asks if his best chance is to battle Romney in REAL STEEL combat at the convention, with battlebots. Santorum insists that there are delegates galore to be had, and he's hanging in against Romney and his money because he contrasts well against Obama and people are getting tired of "all the negative ads." He adds that he doesn't think that a contested convention doesn't "doom the chances" of the GOP -- it's an organic part of the process that stems from Romney being afforded every opportunity to close the deal and failing.

Santorum says that the more he compares Romney to Obama, the more similarities he discovers. "It feels like I'm doing a training run for the general election," he says.

"Mandates!" Santorum says. Karl is all, "Are you really saying that Romney is like Obama?" Yes. He really is. Really, really.

Santorum, of course, hates mandates! He also is against men going on Man Dates. He's very consistent on opposing all combinations of "man" and "dates."

Santorum points out that when Fred Thompson called him on mandates in 2008, Romney said, "Mandates! I love mandates! Mandates work!" So Fred Thompson's genius campaign for president lives on in the hearts of brave men!

Santorum says he's "love to get one-and-one with Governor Romney" and start exposing things. LIKE HIS RECORD! Get your mind out of the gutter, people.

At any rate, we get it: Romney is like Obama, and Gingrich is taking votes, and Santorum has no money, but he's hanging in there. He'd just love to have a shot at debating Mitt. Jonathan Karl says that he can do so on This Week. There is a long pause, because what is happening? Is Jonathan Karl going to pull Romney from backstage, and he's going to come out and say, "Hey, I'm not the father of Santorum's kid," and there's going to be a DNA test, or something, and maybe Seamus the Dog comes in and shames Mitt for strapping him to the roof of the car? WHAT IS GOING ON? WHY IS JONATHAN KARL ISSUING CHALLENGES?

Turns out he's just like, "You know if we can get him on, maybe you'd like to come a debate him?" And Santorum says yes, but I'm guessing that now Mitt Romney will see through the elaborate ruse, and know that when ABC contacts him and is all, "Hey, why not come on the show, and totally talk to us? Oh, no, Rick Santorum TOTALLY won't be there, he's a douche and we really like you and think you should just come and hang out with us, maybe have s'mores with Donna Brazile and junk. Don't worry, there's not gonna be a DEBATE or stuff like that, at all" that probably they are going to spring Santorum on him.

Anyway, Santorum calls Romney a coward who won't debate and who hides behind his rich friends and who now opposes things he once supported.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico votes today, and Santorum says that he'd make speaking English a requirement for statehood. Karl says he knows no requirements. Santorum insists there are such requirements. Here's a question, what about the fact that Puerto Ricans are pretty much able to speak English anyway? English is a compulsory subject in school at all grade levels in Puerto Rico. Why bring it up? Santorum erected this condition, period. Gingrich is obviously not that enthusiastic about the idea of Puerto Rican statehood. Romney said that if Puerto Ricans vote for statehood, he'd support them all the way. (He did not, as Santorum suggests, say it would be "okay" for them to not speak English. THEY ALREADY DO, SO IT'S MOOT.) But that's how Romney won Puerto Rico. The only question now is if everyone else can hold down Romney's share of the vote.

Santorum spends about another paragraph or two slamming Mitt Romney on a point that's essentially moot. Mitt Romney should be castigated for not making it explicit that a bunch of people who already learn and speak English continue to learn and speak English! OMG THE AFFRONTERY!

"The people of Puerto Rico will see through the charade of what Mitt Romney will do to get votes," says Santorum. That could be true, but they'll also see through Santorum's attempt to pretend this specific issue qualifies as part of that charade.

Is it time to get out of Afghanistan? Santorum would rather not answer that. Instead he complains about Obama's "timeline" and the way it's given "the enemy" hope to survive, and that the people in that region will get depressed to learn that they won't have America around to build their nation for them. "You either commit to winning, or you get out," he says. So Karl asks him, "What does President Santorum do?" He says that if you "commit to winning," you "change the dynamic in the region," but you also might not need a heavy footprint, so maybe you really can have something that looks like "less troops on the ground in Afghanistan" that's still "win-commitment" and "dynamic-changing" so stick around and maybe it'll turn out that Rick Santorum is really like Joe Biden, basically.

Santorum says that he's not an "economic lightweight" like Romney said he is. He also says that Romney is weird, the way he goes around talking about how much he cares about people. "I don't tell people I care about them," Santorum says, "I show them." He also says that conservatives don't "walk around saying I am going to manage the economy, they get out of the way so that the economy takes care of itself." The GOP, he says, doesn't need a president who is a "CEO-manager."

Santorum says that he'll enforce all porn laws, because he is Anthony Comstock.

Karl points out that back in 1996, he supported Arlen Specter, who wanted to take abortion out of politics, and Santorum stood RIGHT THERE ON THAT STAGE AND DID NOT IMMEDIATELY RUN UP ON STAGE AND MURDER HIM, FOR ABORTION. Santorum is totally burned, right? Ehhh, "it was something I look back on and wish I hadn't done," he says. And anyway, Mitt Romney was totally in love with abortion and gay marriage at the same time as Specter.

Santorum says that "issues of character are important" and so Seamus the Dog remains an important issue, which is good news for Gail Collins and Arthur Delaney.

Now it's time to panel with George Will and Haley Barbour and Nia-Malika Henderson and Bill Burton and David Ignatius.

Are we headed toward a contested convention? Will says no. Probably not. But with Gingrich and Santorum have said that they want to stop Romney from getting the nomination. Gingrich, in particular, has said he wants to "emulate Warren Harding." "Talk about defining aspiration down," says Will. And that's your George Will quip of the week!

Meanwhile, Illinois is the new win it or bust race, and it looks good for Romney, which means the media will quickly decide that the next Southern contests will be the win it or bust races.

Karl notes that there's no reason to believe that Gingrich's votes go magically to Santorum and Barbour agrees. He says that if the race goes to the convention, that's just what the voters wanted, and it won't be so awful. "A contested convention isn't necessarily all bad," he says. Ignatius says that if Santorum keeps getting stronger and denies Romney the mantle of inevitability, then that's a measure of Santorum becoming a more attractive candidate.

Burton says that Mitt Romney's problem is Mitt Romney, because that's what the super PAC he runs will probably theme their ads around. He says that in 2008, the battle was between two well liked Democratic figures, whereas this year is about Romney and Santorum "battling over Planned Parenthood." Admittedly, the underreported thing about the Obama-Clinton battles is beneath the slim sliver of diehards that each commanded, the vast majority of Democrats were just happy that their two top choices were people they thought were great candidates. They might have preferred one over the other, but were excited to vote in November for either. That might now be the same this year -- though it seems that Santorum is the candidate people "like," while recognizing that Romney is the guy they "need." Maybe that all ends in a lack of enthusiasm on the GOP side in November. I'll just point out that enthusiasm for McCain was about as low as it usually gets.

Barbour says that while no one thinks the GOP primary is good for the GOP, but the President isn't exactly soaring in the approval ratings, either. Burton says that in places like Michigan, where there was a drag-out fight, Obama is up 18 points. "That's a result of the primary," Burton contends.

Karl asks Will if he's changed his mind on whether or not there may come a time when the GOP will have to cut bait on the whole presidential election and try to save the party's aspirations by winning in the House and Senate. He says that it's not yet time to do that...things are going badly for the GOP in the race, and good for the economy, but gas prices are holding Obama's support down, so the President's support is fragile and there's no reason to stop fighting for the White House just yet.

Ignatius says that polls show that Obama's not getting credit for economic gains. It really depends on what polls you were looking at last week and when -- but then, everyone should stop putting that much stock in polls, at least until the GOP has a nominee. I've seen the White House's numbers swing in seesaw fashion, one week to the next, for a few months now, and I'm pretty sure they've neither been worth celebrating or despairing over. Instead of polls, concentrate on conditions and fundamentals -- both suggest a challenging process of winning re-election.

Things have been breaking well for President Obama. Economically, job growth has outperformed expectations. The unemployment rate could be below 8 percent by Election Day. Politically, Republicans are engaged in the sort of demolition derby once reserved for Democrats. The protracted Hillary-Barack duel of 2008 seems like a love feast compared to the Mitt and Rick slugfest. All this is reflected in the president's rising approval ratings.

However, Obama faces a daunting two-part challenge related to Iran's nuclear assertions, with implications for both national security and sustainable energy. A misstep could cost him the presidency and cause the country to take a disastrously wrong turn in these two critical areas.

Something odd is happening in the economy. Jobs are coming back, and relatively quickly. But growth is lagging. Or, at the least, we think it is. Virtually every estimate of GDP growth for the first quarter of 2012 is below two percent -- that's a third lower than it was in the fourth quarter of 2011, when payroll growth was lower -- and many of those estimates are being revised downward as new data streams in.

That's not normal, to say the least. Typically, payrolls and the economy grow in tandem. When that doesn't happen, it's usually because the economy is growing and jobs are stuck. That's the situation the term "jobless recovery," which came into vogue after the 2001 recession, describes. But we don't even have a term for the opposite of a jobless recovery. Job-full recovery, maybe? A Jobcovery?

Barbour suggests that this election will be a referendum on Obama's "terrible energy policies," which apparently include not calling for more offshore drilling after the Gulf of Mexico was filled with poison.

Karl takes a few minutes to demonstrate that the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have differing editorial stances. Will salvages the moment by noting that Americans "intuit" the health of the economy, instead of measuring the "newspaper headline metric."

Burton circles back around to counter Barbour by pointing out that the Obama administration has expanded energy production. Karl comes back on that by pointing out that a lot of that energy expansion had nothing to do with policy choice, that North Dakota's energy boom fostered a lot of that growth. Burton says that's true, but wherever Obama could choose to expand, he did. That's where Barbour should jump in and ask what the Keystone XL decision was about, and test whether Burton is willing to align himself with the environmental lobby. Barbour instead brings up Obama wanting to regulate hydraulic fracturing.

Moving on the Afghanistan, where relations with Karzai are strained. Are we coming out? Barbour says that when he was mulling a run for the White House, he was rethinking the war. However, he contends that the mission changed from fighting terror to nation building and that this was Obama's fault. Karl rightly disputes this, pointing out that the nation building you see going on is precisely the strategy that David Petraeus recommended under Bush (and which in 2009, the GOP would have pilloried Obama for attempting to end).

Will says that Americans are losing their patience, and that events are a "slow moving Tet Offensive" for public opinion. Ignatius says that Obama is not conveying any strategy, other than that we are slowly withdrawing. He adds that a quick withdrawal could lead to a civil war in the region, so the slow walk to the exits might be sensible, and that Karzai is just way too unreliable to make any cooperative strategy between us and them work.

Not enough of an issue is being made, by the way, of the fact that the soldier who went on this killing spree was on his fourth tour of duty overseas and had recently recovered from a traumatic brain injury.

The panel paddles on. Burton, of course, is running a super PAC for Obama, and so he says that while he disagrees with Barbour's position on Afghanistan, it would still be a different race right now if he were in it, because Barbour at least has a coherent policy on Afghanistan, whereas the other candidates do not. Romney, in his opinion, is woefully unprepared for national security. So there's your super PAC commercial.

Ignatius finally gets to talk about the bin Laden documents, for like, a second, and he notes how his concerns in the last days of his life were about "re-branding al Qaeda" so that they weren't as widely hated in the Muslim world. (I would have suggested that maybe a good marketing strategy would have been maybe NOT murdering people all over the world and thus NOT bringing large armies from that part of the world to yours, leading to more needless death and mayhem. But hey, I'm no brand marketer.

And it looks like we've come to the end of another Sunday. Hopefully we've once again alleviated your need to watch Sunday morning political television, which I'll again remind you is something I contend should be the last thing you spend your weekend doing. Enjoy your afternoon and your week!

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