Previewing the final six weeks until Election Day, the candidates for president traded jabs on “60 Minutes” in back-to-back interviews Sunday night.
The interviews presented a stark version of the campaign narrative as it has emerged over the summer. Mitt Romney spent much of his interview on the defensive over his tax rate, his refusal to discuss policy specifics and his stumble-prone campaign. Obama was asked to defend an economic record that’s included high unemployment, sluggish growth, unending gridlock in Washington as well as decreased enthusiasm for his candidacy after one term in the White House.
In Romney’s interview, which aired first, he told Scott Pelley that a vote for Obama is a vote for higher deficits and continued economic woes. But most of the talk was about Romney and the stories that have been swirling around the Republican nominee for weeks. Though the piece was recorded before Romney released his final 2011 tax returns, Romney’s taxes were a central focus. He called the 14 percent he paid on his investment income in 2010 “a low rate,” though he said it was fair for his type of income to be subject to far lower taxes than an average American family.
“Yeah, I think it’s the right way to encourage economic growth, to get people to invest, to start businesses, to put people to work,” Romney said.
Romney again declined to go into specifics on which government programs he would cut if elected (beyond the health care reform law) and which tax loopholes he would close as part of his plan to reduce the deficit and spur economic growth. Romney defended his vagueness, claiming it’s the path to a plan that can be passed through Congress.
“It’s very much consistent with my experience as a governor which is, if you want to work together with people across the aisle, you lay out your principles and your policy, you work together with them, but you don’t hand them a complete document and say, ‘Here, take this or leave it.’ Look, leadership is not a take it or leave it thing,” Romney said. “We’ve seen too much of that in Washington.”
Romney’s interview came as his campaign faced growing criticism from Republicans amid weak poll numbers and leaked hidden camera footage from a May Romney fundraiser that has dominated the headlines. Romney said there’s nothing to worry about.
“I’ve got a very effective campaign. It’s doing a very good job. But not everything I say is elegant,” Romney said. “And I want to make it very clear, I want to help 100 percent of the American people.”
For his own interview, with Steve Kroft, Obama stuck to the familiar arguments he’s made on the campaign trail in defending his record, putting today’s high unemployment rate in the broader context of the devastating economic collapse he inherited.
“We came in, made some tough decisions — everything from stabilizing the financial system to making sure that the auto industry survived, to making sure that we cut taxes for middle class families so they had more money in their pockets, to helping states avoid massive layoffs of teachers and firefighters and police officers,” Obama said. “And because of that, we’ve now had 30 months of job growth, four and a half million new jobs.”
As for his opponent, the president rebutted Romney’s accusation that he is devoted to higher taxes, excess spending, and overregulation. He noted that his administration had cut taxes for the middle class and put in place fewer new regulation than President Bush had at the same point in his administration. And the most sweeping industry rules he enacted were ones he felt comfortable defending.
“I don’t make any apologies for putting in place regulations to make sure banks don’t make reckless bets and then expect taxpayers to bail them out,” he said. “I don’t make any apologies for regulating insurance companies, so that they can’t drop a family’s coverage, just when somebody in their family needs it most.”
He continued: “The problem that Gov. Romney has is that he seems to only have one note: tax cuts for the wealthy and rolling back regulations as a recipe for success. Well, we tried that vigorously between 2001 and 2008. And it didn’t work out so well.”
Offering a preview for his second term, Obama suggested that he would rely more on rallying public opinion in order to force Republican leaders to the negotiating table on a balanced deficit reduction package.
“I won’t get [Republicans] to change their minds,” Obama said. “The American people will.”