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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT

The Home Stretch

Aired October 23, 2012 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, the home stretch. No more binders, no more bayonets, no more Big Bird. Just one sprint to the finish.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We can handle two more weeks of the attacks that are coming from Barack Obama but we cannot handle four more years of what he's given us.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know I mean what I say. You know that I do what I say I'm going to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: The ultimate question, who will win the White House? Tonight, Newt Gingrich argues for Mitt Romney and Beau Biden takes President Obama's side.

Also, Nick Kristof says Romney's pants are on fire and blast both candidates for what he called the $100 billion failure.

Plus, "Battleground America." Is Ohio the only state that really matters. Can Mitt Romney win without it? In fact, can the president, for that matter?

And who is public enemy number one, Iraq or al Qaeda? Two of this country's top generals go toe-to-toe.

This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.

Good evening. Our big story tonight is the biggest story in the country, of course, the race for the White House. There's 14 days to go, and our latest CNN poll of polls has the president and Mitt Romney locked in a dead heat at 47 percent each. It couldn't be closer. But of course, both sides looking for something, anything, that will move the needle. Mitt Romney is getting ready to take the stage any minute now, the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, supported by Kid Rock. We're going to keep an eye on that for you later on.

Meanwhile, President Obama, tried a bit of humor out on the trail in the battleground state of Ohio today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: If you've come down with a case of Romnesia, if you can't seem to remember the positions that you've taken, not just four years ago but four days ago. If you don't remember the positions that are on your Web site. If you don't remember the promises you've been making during the six years that you've been running for president, you don't have to worry because Obamacare covers pre-existing conditions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Joining me now, a big supporter of President Obama and an even bigger supporter of the vice president, his son, Beau Biden.

Beau, welcome back.

BEAU BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN'S SON: Great to be back.

MORGAN: Now what did you make of last night's debate? You're a military man. Did you like what you heard from the two candidates?

BIDEN: What I was struck by most, Piers, is how remarkable it was that you have -- you know, running for president is about convincing the American people that you can be trusted to do what you say you're going to do. And the president of the United States has done exactly what he said he was going to do as a candidate. He said he was going to end the war in Iraq. He did. He said he's going to hand over authority in Afghanistan. He's about to -- in the progress -- the process of doing that.

And he said he'd go after al Qaeda around the world and get Osama bin Laden, both of which he did. And that was in stark contrast to Governor Romney.

Look, you're running to be president of the United States, you have to convince the American people you mean what you say, you say what you mean. And what Governor Romney did last night is he reaffirmed all of those concerns that the people that know him best have about him, and that is, he's willing to say anything it takes at the moment that -- for political expediency sake. He will tell people what they want to hear.

MORGAN: But, look, the trouble is with that argument is that although it does apply to Romney in varying degrees, it also applies to Barack Obama. He's the guy who stood there last time round and said, I will shut Guantanamo Bay and he didn't. So what's the difference?

BIDEN: The president spent a lot of time working throughout the administration to figure out a way to deal with a very, very difficult issue. On most every issue that the president has made promises to the American people on, like the ones I just discussed and on the war in Iraq, he's delivered time and time again.

Look, the president of the United States, no one will argue, has conviction, has a sense of purpose and speaks with clarity. Last night, Governor Romney didn't speak with any of those things. There was no conviction, no clarity, and no certainty in anything he said. You know, look, just take Iraq. On Iraq, Governor Romney last night -- you know, embraced the president's policy but only recently over the last 14 months, the last six years that he's been running, he called our removal of troops from Iraq a tragedy.

On Afghanistan, Governor Romney spent the entire campaign talking about well, we can't set a time certain, it would somehow tip off the enemy. It will be dependent on facts at the moment. Now he's embraced the president of the United States' policy of turning over --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: Right. But, Beau, let me jump in there. Because -- what struck me as a viewer last night, I'm sure many other people, was just how similar sounding both candidates were on foreign policy and America's place in the world. There wasn't really much to cut between them. There were details on various things but in terms of a strategy, I thought they were pretty similar, wasn't it?

BIDEN: Well, clearly the governor embraced the strong and decisive policies that the president over the last three and a half years, but if you follow, and I know you have, Piers, the campaign, the 20 debates the Republicans have, Governor Romney staked out far, far, far more conservative positions on a whole host of issues, including Osama bin Laden.

Take you back to the 2008 race. Governor Romney's on record as saying he would not move heaven and earth to go after Osama bin Laden. Last night, he embraced the policy of the president going after and rooting out al Qaeda around the world.

On Afghanistan, it bears repeating, on Afghanistan, up until just several weeks ago, up until last night, actually, Governor Romney has embraced a policy that says the president is somehow being weak in terms of setting a timeline to get out of Afghanistan. Last night, out of nowhere, he fully embraced the president's policy of handing over authority by the end of 2014.

In fact, Paul Ryan, Congressman Ryan when he was debating my dad in Kentucky just about two weeks ago, he suggested, that is Congressman Ryan, putting additional troops in Afghanistan. So just within the span of two weeks, Romney and Ryan have contradicted themselves, have contradicted that 14 months of his statements about foreign policy.

MORGAN: As Vice President Biden's son, how did you feel when the president shut your dad under a bus? I mean that line. Let me play it to you now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Those decisions generally are not poll tested, and even some in my own party, including my current vice president, had the same critique as you did. But what the American people understand is that I look at what we need to get done to keep the American people safe and to move our interests forward, and I make those decisions. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: I mean, I was shocked by that. He didn't need to say that. That's his vice president. He wasn't very loyal, was it, basically saying I'm the hero that got bin Laden, and by the way, Joe Biden didn't fancy it.

BIDEN: Well, number one, I think what the president was referring to was statements during the 2008 debate about how we and whether or not we would go into Pakistan to get bin Laden. That being said, look, there's no loyal -- more loyal person in my life that I've known than the vice president, my father. And the partnership that he has with the president of the United States is as rock-solid as it can be. They were in Ohio today and, you know, my father is a great partner to him. The president of the United States is lucky to have my dad at his side because he's the most loyal person I know.

MORGAN: Well, I agree with that. It's just the other way round I would be happy a few issues this morning, if I was your father. Hang on, Barack, what are you up to? Thought I was your big loyal VP.

BIDEN: I don't -- I don't think that's what the president intended. And look, they have a strong partnership. They have been in the trenches for the last three and a half years working to rebuild this economy that they inherited from George W. Bush and project our strength around the world and increase -- and better our relationships with allies.

Look, my dad is a loyal, loyal -- I don't think there's been a more loyal vice president that I'm aware of, and their partnership is strong.

MORGAN: Well, I hope he managed to wrestle himself out from under the bus.

Beau Biden, it's always a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you.

BIDEN: Thanks for having me on, Piers.

MORGAN: Beau Biden there. And a double bonus. We had Kid Rock performing live at a Mitt Romney rally. So there you are. A bit of rock music, too.

On the other side is Newt Gingrich, former presidential candidate and current Mitt Romney supporter.

I say current Mitt Romney supporter, Speaker Gingrich, because you never know with you. You may be running against him one day and decide he's back to being a flip-flopping Mr. Nasty again. How are you?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm doing well. And I thought that was a very good interview. It's amazing to me how Beau Biden is so much more mature than his father. He gives much better interviews and seems much more in control of himself. MORGAN: What did you make of that moment? I found it rather perplexing when I would have expected Mitt Romney to chuck Joe Biden under a bus, just as you've just done, but I didn't expect Barack Obama to do it. His own vice president.

GINGRICH: Well, I don't know. Look, I think President -- President Obama has a pattern of seeing himself as a dissenter of virtually everything. So I'm not surprised by anything he does. There was a great cartoon a few weeks ago that showed the National Security Council meeting to liberate -- to decide on whether or not to go after bin Laden and every person in the room had Obama's face so the chairman of the Joint Chiefs was Obama, the secretary of state was Obama.

It sort of captured -- I mean Obama has this fantasy, he didn't kill bin Laden. The U.S. Navy SEALs did. He didn't find bin Laden. An enormous intelligence effort over a long period did. If you read the remarkable recent book "The Finish" by Mark Bowden, who earlier had done "Blackhawk Down," you get a real sense of the scale of the effort that went into tracking down and deciding to kill bin Laden.

I don't take anything away from the president for making the decision to do it but I think it would be pretty hard for a president not to have decided to go after bin Laden once they'd found him.

MORGAN: Yes, but let's be honest. If it was the other way round and Mitt Romney was the incumbent president and he'd out bin Laden, he'd be talking about nothing else. So it's all politics, isn't it, at the end of the day?

Let's get down to nitty-gritty here, Mr. Speaker.

GINGRICH: Well --

MORGAN: Let's move on. Let's move on to Ohio. Because it's getting increasingly clear it's going to be a very, very tight race. May all come down to Ohio. How important is this whole issue of the auto bailout going to be, do you think? The Democrats clearly believe --

GINGRICH: Well, look, I think --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: When it comes to it, the lower unemployment rates in states like Ohio will be to their benefit. Have the Republicans got a problem because of that op-ed piece that Mitt Romney wrote basically distancing himself from a bailout?

GINGRICH: It's important to remember what he said. What he said was they ought to go through a regular procedure of bankruptcy and at the end of that time, the U.S. government should guarantee the loans necessary to gear up and should guarantee their warranties so the people can buy the cars without fear of them disappearing.

So he was for a more sophisticated, more -- I think much more professional approach than Obama took. What Obama did was deliberately violate traditional bankruptcy law in order to take care of the United Auto Workers at the expense of the pensioners and the people who in fact had invested in General Motors bonds. So it was a pretty straight political ploy.

If you are a UAW member you're probably very grateful to Obama because he took care of you. If you're everybody else in Ohio, you sort of think they ought to earn their own way out. I mean if you're a -- if you're a Ford employee you're not particularly grateful that they -- the GM got a special deal.

And remember, in this process, Chrysler became part of Fiat so for the president to claim that he saved American companies is a little bit disingenuous.

MORGAN: There's a theory going around that the Romney camp are all beginning to talk up victory even though in their hearts they know, looking at the electoral college voting, it's still a long way away in the sense in all these swing states, in reality, there's a long way to go. But they're marching around saying, we've got it in the bag. And it's a kind of false picture strategy where you basically keep saying something until eventually people start to believe it.

Do you go along with that?

(LAUGHTER)

GINGRICH: Well, I'm talking to you tonight from Lacrosse, Wisconsin, where Governor Tommy Thompson has begun to pull away from the liberal Democrat running against him and now has a three or four point advantage. This is a state where the unions threw everything they had and in the end, Governor Scott Walker won.

I just talked to a number of very active Republicans in this area. They believe Romney is going to carry Wisconsin. I think you're going to see -- I talked to John Kasich the other night. He believes that Governor Romney is going to carry Ohio. I think you could see Romney well above 300 electoral votes. I don't think this will be -- this will be 2004.

I think in the next two weeks, five things are going to break, five words are going to break Obama. Unemployment, gasoline, Benghazi and Big Bird. And they're going to come together and I think you're going to see the gap actually widen, not narrow.

MORGAN: But then if you were watching Letterman last night, Mr. Speaker -- were you?

GINGRICH: No, I wasn't, unfortunately.

MORGAN: Well, you --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: The great Tom Hanks appeared and he turned out to be a big fan of yours. Let's watch a -- watch a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM HANKS, ACTOR: Newt Gingrich is going to put people on the moon? I'm going to be one of them. I went Newt Gingrich nuts. I sent him -- Mr. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, I, Tom Hanks, choose to go to the moon. Sign me up. I am going -- this man has got to become president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: What's your reaction to that, Mr. Speaker? I mean quite a tribute there. Do you take it at face value?

GINGRICH: Well, I was with Richard Branson recently, the head of Virgin Airlines, who in fact is building a system that next summer is going to take people up into near space, near orbit.

MORGAN: Yes.

GINGRICH: Richard believes in it enough he's going to take his own family. He's a believer that we can do this. I've talked to a number of other private sector folks who believe we can get the federal government out of the way, create the right incentives, you'd be shocked how many private sector folks would be engaged in trying to get there.

You just saw a guy go up to the outer edge of space and skydive, setting an all-time record, actually going faster than the speed of sound with nothing but an astronaut's suit around him. It was a remarkable thing.

The human spirit wants to break out and despite the bureaucrats and naysayers and those who scoff, I think we are in fact going to get back into space in a big way, and we are going to do it in a very exciting way for our children and grandchildren.

I'd love to work with Tom Hanks. I don't know how much of his tongue was in his cheek when he said that. But I'm going to give him a call and see whether or not he'd like to actually work on getting back to the moon.

MORGAN: Well, I would definitely be with you. I thought it was one of the best things you said all year. And I mean that in all sincerity. I love what that guy Felix did the other day. I think if you run again for high office you should get up into your moon colony, put that suit on and just dive off, back to earth. You would be voted in as president in 10 seconds.

(LAUGHTER)

GINGRICH: You may not fully understand the American system, Piers, but I like your romanticism.

MORGAN: Mr. Speaker, it's always a pleasure. Nice to talk to you. GINGRICH: Thank you.

MORGAN: President Obama may have won the battle of the zingers last night but will he win the war? I'll ask "New York Times" columnist Nick Kristof after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: You mentioned the Navy, for example. And that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: President Obama on the attack last night. Joining me now, a man who has a lot to say about that particular debate, foreign policy. "New York Times" columnist, Nick Kristof.

Nick, welcome back.

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: Good to be with you.

MORGAN: The president was actually wrong about this. There's a pedantic piece of literature that proves this. And apparently we actually have more bayonets in the American armed forces today --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: In the Army and the Marines than we had in 1916. Over 650,000.

KRISTOF: Apparently we have -- yes, three times as many bayonets we did back then.

(LAUGHTER)

MORGAN: Imagine if Mitt Romney had been able to say that as a zinger back. He would have won the election.

KRISTOF: And it just makes me think, what on earth are we spending money on bayonets for? I mean, you know, have we run out of can openers? I mean, what are we going to do with them?

MORGAN: Well, funny enough, my brother is a British army colonel. And he's done service in Afghanistan and Iraq, and you'd be amazed I think how much action is done with bayonets these days, because of the nature of the kind of warfare that's going on in places like Afghanistan. A lot of it is hand-to-hand combat.

KRISTOF: I mean, I must say I --

MORGAN: It's pretty scary but it's true. KRISTOF: In Iraq and Afghanistan, I have seen bayonets used to open cans of food or to open MREs or --

MORGAN: Never seen them used in action?

KRISTOF: No. I mean, of course, I try to stay a certain distance when people are skewering each other with bayonets but --

MORGAN: What did you make of the debate last night? Because it seemed to me that although Obama probably shaded it, it wasn't that consequential to the result of the election, probably, because Mitt Romney didn't drop any gaffes.

KRISTOF: Yes. I think that's largely true. That the decisions are going to be based on economics, principally, and that neither one flubbed it. But I do want to push back at something you said earlier, that there really wasn't that much difference between them. And in fact, I think that on a couple of issues, Iran and especially the military budget, there really is a difference that Obama clearly would trim the budget and --

MORGAN: Well, you said Mitt Romney had his pants on fire when he talks about the budget.

KRISTOF: Yes. Well --

MORGAN: It was your tweet last night.

KRISTOF: Any time you try to ad up his numbers, boy, you just -- you just cringe. But on the military budget, I mean there he -- you know, that's not an issue where he's fiddling with the numbers. He would clearly substantially increase the military spending, more than -- by more than $2.1 trillion over 10 years, and that's a real difference. I mean, but at the end of the day, we almost spend as much money as the entire rest of the world combined in military spending.

MORGAN: But given the slightly more moderate language that Romney used almost all night, moving again back to the center, you could argue, sometimes it was quite hard to work out who was Obama and who was Romney. If you had somebody doing their voices in the same kind of manner, you wouldn't have known, would you?

I mean on almost all the key issues, they sounded almost identical.

KRISTOF: I mean, in some ways, Romney seemed to be trying to endorse an Obama foreign policy without Obama. But I do think that that was largely stylistic and there really are differences. I mean aside from the military budget which is real, on Iran, so Obama underscored again that his policy will be to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. He will use military force if necessary for that.

In Romney's case it's not -- the red line is not getting a military -- not getting a nuclear weapon, it's having a nuclear capacity. That means that the U.S. would be potentially ordering a military strike on Iran at some vague point before it actually has and has tested a nuclear weapon.

MORGAN: Were you surprised that Romney didn't go after Obama about Benghazi more? He's had two opportunities now, two debates, hasn't really done it. I'm surprised at that.

KRISTOF: Yes. I think that's true. I think that there is -- I mean I think that it's an issue that gets traction. And I think that the Obama administration clearly in retrospect made an error. I mean there clearly -- there was not enough security. On the other hand, that's not a decision the White House is going to make. That's made by the deputy assistant secretary of state. But still, I think that is an area where he could have drawn blood.

MORGAN: Mitt Romney mentioned peace 12 times apparently last night to Obama's zero.

KRISTOF: And he --

MORGAN: What would the odds have been on that, a Republican candidate mentioning peace 12 times to a Democratic president, zero?

KRISTOF: And he talked about education and he talked about the importance of gender equality. You know, for a moment I thought he was a bleeding heart "New York Times" columnist.

(LAUGHTER)

MORGAN: What was his thinking, do you think? It was obviously quite deliberate.

KRISTOF: I think that he saw that Obama has the advantage. He wanted to appear presidential. He didn't want to scare people. And he was --

MORGAN: Did he achieve that aim?

KRISTOF: Yes, I think he did. I think --

MORGAN: Yes, I agree with you.

KRISTOF: I think that -- the key thing he needed to show was that he wouldn't screw things up badly and if he could then neutralize that issue and move the talk back to the economy -- the economy is really where his strength is. His strength is criticizing Obama on the economy. His weakness is when he talks about his own plans.

MORGAN: Ante Silver, one of your colleagues, is brilliant with his numbers. And he -- actually, I read a piece tonight where he's sort of -- he's not saying that it may go Romney's way. He's saying that it could go Romney's way. First time I've really seen him say that. He studies all these numbers in great detail.

What is your -- what is your sense of what's really happening in the battleground areas in particular?

KRISTOF: Well, I mean, in defense of Ante, he -- I mean he says that it might go Romney's way but he still says 70 percent chance that Obama will be re-elect.

MORGAN: Yes.

KRISTOF: And in fact, that increment is up slightly.

MORGAN: He didn't sound quite as certain as he has done on my show even three weeks ago.

KRISTOF: I don't know. Maybe he was just feeling particularly nuanced.

(LAUGHTER)

MORGAN: What is your feeling? You've covered lots of elections. What is your gut feeling for the battleground battle in particular?

KRISTOF: I think that it will come down to Ohio. I think that it will be about the economy. I think that these foreign policy issues don't really matter at this point, and I would bet on Obama but I wouldn't give odds.

MORGAN: I think that's probably pretty, pretty sensible analysis.

Nick, as always, good to see you.

KRISTOF: Good to see you.

MORGAN: Thank you.

You can lead a candidate to foreign policy but you can't make them talk about it. When we come back, I'll ask my political all-star panel about all the things Mitt Romney and President Obama talked about instead.

"Battleground America" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: Live pictures of Bill Clinton tonight campaigning for congressional candidates at UC Irvine in California. Fourteen days and it's done. That's all that's left now between now and the election. It's the closer you can get between Obama and Romney. Did last night's debate seal it for them? Or they don't really care?

Let's bring in my panel of political all-stars. Columnist of the "New York Times" Charles Blow, best-selling author and columnist of "The Daily Beast" Buzz Bissinger, and Republican pollster Kristen Soltis.

Welcome to you all. All been on the show before of course.

Newt Gingrich earlier said to me that there are five words that will break Obama. Unemployment, gasoline, Benghazi, and Big Bird.

Kristen Soltis, is he right? KRISTEN SOLTIS, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: I think that the four words are where are the jobs. I think that it's four, it's not five. I think that that's why you saw in last night's debate the whole thing was a bit like a shopping cart that's broken, it's got a busted wheel, and so it always keeps careening off to the left.

It was a foreign policy debate but it kept coming back to domestic policy because that's the real central question in this election.

MORGAN: And Buzz Bissinger, you're a late convert to Romney. You recently came out for him. Watching it last night, I thought he did OK. What I thought was he couldn't wait, every time he got the chance to get it back to domestic, and particularly economic policy. That's his safe ground. He didn't drop any clangers with the foreign stuff but he just tried to twist everything back to where he thinks he can win. Am I right?

BUZZ BISSINGER, AUTHOR, "FATHER'S DAY", SPORTS COLUMNIST FOR THE DAILY BEAST: No. I mean, there's no question that he thinks his strong suit is domestic policy. Look, I for one, maybe I'm being played, I was relieved that he doesn't want to resort to military intervention in Iran. He doesn't want to drop a bomb. He doesn't want to go into Syria. I think people should be relieved by that and it seems the play in a lot of the press was, well, he wasn't strong enough.

What do you want him to do, say he's going to bomb the Middle East? I believe that he is returning to the moderate roots that he had when he became governor. That's my belief.

MORGAN: See, I actually totally agree with that. Because I think he's always been a moderate at heart. He went right wing to win the Republican nomination because these days, you have to. Charles Blow, isn't Mitt Romney, the one we saw last night, the real one? Isn't he much less threatening?

BLOW: You keep asking me who the real Mitt Romney is. I have no clue who the real Mitt Romney is. You had the speaker, Newt Gingrich -- the former speaker, Newt Gingrich, on before. Please Youtube what the speaker said about Mitt Romney and think about what would make the speaker change his mind so much.

When the speaker was talking about Mitt Romney when he was running against him, he calls him a flat-out liar. He said of Mitt Romney, any man who will lie to get to the White House will lie when he is in the White House. So when I look at people like the former speaker, when I look at other Republicans, pretty much every Republican candidate who has ever run against Mitt Romney, all accuse him of having tremendous character flaws, not having a core, being willing to say anything to make it to the White House.

This is not kind of where you look at a person and say well, this person's not qualified.

MORGAN: As I said to Beau Biden earlier, it's all very well saying that, but what about Barack Obama, who announced -- I remember this being a very big moment. I was proud of it because I was against Guantanamo Bay. He said I will close Guantanamo Bay if I'm elected president. He got into the presidency and he did the complete opposite.

BLOW: Right, he realized that it's not so easy to close.

MORGAN: Maybe that's what Mitt Romney realizes.

BLOW: What I'm saying is forget about what the people on the left say about Mitt Romney. Remember what all of the people who are now championing Mitt Romney used to say about Mitt Romney. Remember what --

MORGAN: What about what Hillary Clinton said about Barack Obama?

BLOW: -- very different argument to say that someone is not qualified to hold office. It's a very different argument to say this person -- you know, I respect this person, he's got good intentions but he doesn't have the experience. It's not the same to say --

(CROSS TALK)

MORGAN: I think you are going to get hammered here. Let me go to Kristen first, then you, Buzz.

SOLTIS: That's what happens in primaries. I think none of these folks that are out on the trail have to be there. I think it's a lot of folks that are saying this guy, he's carrying the Republican banner. He's doing it well. He's making a clean break with some of the mistakes that the party's made in the past.

We think he's going to be a really good representative of what we believe in. He's articulated sort of these Republican conservative values, especially on the economy, really well in these debates. And I like that he used the word peace so many times. He's articulating a peace through strength doctrine, trying to make a clean break from this sort of unfortunate brand of the GOP as being a little more bellicose.

MORGAN: I liked it too. But Buzz Bissinger, why, as Charles Blow says, should we believe a word that Mitt Romney says? He wasn't being this charming and peace-loving even four weeks ago.

BISSINGER: Because it's called politics, because it's often the case that people move to the center. Charles gave the best description I have ever heard of Bill Clinton. That's exactly what Bill Clinton did. You couldn't trust him. You couldn't trust a single thing he said.

After 1994, he swayed to the right. He lied out of office, he lied in office. Mitt Romney, compared to Bill Clinton, is like Saint Mitt.

BLOW: It's very interesting that Mitt Romney's not running against Bill Clinton this time around. BISSINGER: What are you describing? What are you describing?

(CROSS TALK)

BISSINGER: I understand we're having an election in two weeks. You choose to believe that he is not returning to his moderate roots. But let's talk about your candidate.

BLOW: Who is my candidate?

BISSINGER: Raising taxes -- wait, I assume your candidate, from your columns, is Barack Obama. I'm assuming. Maybe that's wrong.

MORGAN: Are you not an Obama supporter?

BLOW: I am saying --

BISSINGER: Are you a Romney supporter?

BLOW: You want to go ahead, Bissinger, or you want to let me finish?

BISSINGER: Yeah. Sure.

BLOW: OK. What I'm saying is that I don't trust anything that comes out of Mitt Romney's mouth. And I am saying that I am not the only one. Many of the people who now come on television to openly support him were of the same mind just a few months ago. And if you're telling me that the character of that man has substantially changed over the course of those few months, I don't believe you and I don't believe him.

MORGAN: Let's leave it on that little cliffhanger. Buzz, I want to get your reaction to that. I want some fireworks. We'll back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: In order to be able to fulfill our role in the world, America must be strong. America must lead. And for that to happen, we have to strengthen our economy here at home. You can't have 23 million people struggling to get a job. You can't have an economy that over the last three years keeps slowing down its growth rate. You can't have kids coming out of college, half of whom can't find a job today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Mitt Romney from last night's debate, abruptly moved from foreign affairs to the economy every chance he got. Let's bring back my panel of political all-stars, Charles Blow, Buzz Bissinger and Kristen Soltis.

A good Tweet here from a rather peculiar named @VoiceLaringitis. You got a plug there. He says, quite interesting point -- don't know if it's a he or she -- "is anyone saying what a wonderful job Obama has done. I can't wait to re-elect him. No."

Quite interesting question. Not the second part, but the first part. Have we actually seen anybody -- Charles Blow, you probably lean slightly more towards him. Have you actually heard anybody saying Obama has done a fantastic job? And if you don't, has he really earned the right to be re-elected?

BLOW: I absolutely hear people saying that they are proud of the things --

MORGAN: That he's done a great job.

BLOW: That he's done a great job, and it depends on the things that you're asking about.

MORGAN: Do you believe he's done a great job in totality?

BLOW: I think on the whole, yes. I think what people have to remember is that, you know, when Barack Obama was elected, we were watching people's wealth disappear like vapor. It -- we didn't know what was about to happen with the economy. The economy overall is better.

Are people individually at the same place that they were four years ago or right before the economy began to tank? That is not the case. The negative effects of the economy kind of ripple through, affect people in different ways. If most of your value was actually in the market, you're doing great. If your value was in your home, you're not doing so great.

MORGAN: Buzz, you recently converted to Romney. Why did you do that? What have you sensed in yourself about the choices in front of you that made you do that?

BISSINGER: Well, I mean, the reason I did it -- and it's a personal choice, and I respect what Charles -- what his decision is. For me, I was very much swayed by that first debate, where I felt Romney, for the first time, was presidential. I thought he was authoritative. And I may be completely wrong, but I felt he was moving back to his moderate roots.

And I will never for the life of me understand Obama's performance in that debate, which was dismissive and arrogant, not simply to the debate itself, but to 70 million Americans who were watching. Was he better in the second and third debate? There's no question about it.

But you know, Obama, he said it was going to be 5.4 percent unemployment. It hasn't happened. Obama, he says he's going to raise taxes on the wealthy. OK, fine. What else is in his economic plan? Restoring manufacturing? It's a phantom. It's a phantom in the United States. Wind farms? What are his plans?

I don't see any plans. And I don't think he's earned the right to a second term. By the way, Charles, middle class income has dropped 4,000 dollars.

MORGAN: Kristin, let's bring you in, Kristen. Try to be dispassionate here. I know you're not, so it is going to be quite hard for you. But in terms of why people should vote for Romney -- I suppose what I would say about Obama, I don't think in any of the debates he's really given a clear vision of what the next four years of his tenure will be. It's been more a defensive account of why the last four years hasn't been a disaster.

SOLTIS: Yeah. I think one of the best nights -- or best moments that Mitt Romney had last night was he was getting attacked by Obama, who said we can't go back to the policies of the Bush years. And Romney said I want to go forward, just not forward with the policies we've had in place the last four years.

Obama's taken a lot of flack for not having a very clear plan. Today his campaign put out this sort of 20-page glossy booklet that they are going to hand out at rallies now, that says this is Barack Obama's agenda for a -- for the next four years. The problem is it's a lot of the same things we've already heard.

So trying to be dispassionate as a Republican, I was -- when Obama was elected, I supported McCain but I thought let's see what this guy can do. He had a lot of big promises. I'm going to slow the rate of tuition growth, so that it's lower than inflation and things like that, things that just didn't happen.

When you look at this new 20-page glossy plan they've put out, it's a lot of the same. What's Barack Obama's plan for fixing education? He's going to slow tuition growth. But he doesn't say how it's going to happen. So I think you got to realize a plan is different than a goal. He doesn't have a plan. That's the problem.

MORGAN: Charles Blow is laughing at you. But sadly we've run out of time. I will never find out why. However, I will invite you all back so that we can solve the mystery. To Charles Blow, Kristin Soltis, Buzz Bissinger, thank you all very much.

Coming next, defending America. I will ask two generals if the next commander in chief should be Obama or Romney.

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REP. PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- skiing, mountain biking, climbing. This is a beautiful state. And this beautiful state is going to deliver Mitt Romney as the next president of the United States, isn't it?

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MORGAN: Paul Ryan live tonight at the Romney event with Mitt Romney and also Kid Rock, who we had playing earlier in a little free concert for us all. Foreign policy front and center, of course, in last night's final presidential debate, with both candidates trading barbs over who can best protect the country and its interests.

With me now, a couple of top military men, General Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander, and General Mark Kimmitt, from director of plans and strategy at central command. General Kimmitt, I understand you used to work for General Clark.

: I certainly did. Proud to have worked for him.

MORGAN: This is an interesting statistic.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: He's a great guy.

MORGAN: Excellent. Here's a statistic for you, first time since 1932 that neither candidate nor their V.P.s have served in the military. What do you think of that, General Clark?

CLARK: I think it reflects the fact the country's gone to a volunteer force. Now, Mitt Romney was of the age. He could have gone to Vietnam, but a lot of people that age didn't go to Vietnam. They had student deferments.

MORGAN: Also, while you're here, you're the best person to talk about this bayonet issue. There is a suggestion that there are more bayonets in the current American military, Army and Marines, than there were in 1916, 650,000.

CLARK: I would be surprised.

MORGAN: Why?

CLARK: You know, we had a million men in France. Every Doughboy had a rifle, as far as I know. And I'm sure that every rifle had a bayonet. I don't know if anybody has got an actual inventory count of how many rifles were in the United States Army inventory. These were Springfield 1903 model rifles. They had a bayonet and bayonets were used.

When I was at West Point, and I'm sure that Mark had the same experience, we were taught bayonet drill. And it came out of the trenches in World War I.

MORGAN: I'm going to have carry on investigating this. It's just fascinating, Bayonet-Gate. General Kimmitt, I was surprised last night that Romney didn't go harder against Obama about the whole Benghazi issue. Were you surprised? What did you make of that as an issue? How important was it from your eyes?

GEN. MARK KIMMITT, FMR. DIRECTOR OF PLANS AND STRATEGY AT CENTRAL COMMAND: Well, I think to a great extent, it still leaves a lot of people concerned that the administration felt so necessary to get out and make pronouncements about what turned out to be false facts on the ground. I've been a spokesman before and I know probably the best thing you can do in a situation like that is say, look, let's way until we've had a thorough and full investigation. To send the U.N. ambassador out there and put her up in front of the world and make statements that turned out to be false, I think either showed a significant amount of political pressure or naivete in the situation.

MORGAN: General Clark, when you listened to the two candidates last night, a lot of agreement on stuff, to people's surprise, and also a very moderate Mitt Romney, talking a lot about peace and about not bombing places. Were you pleased by what you heard from him?

CLARK: I think it was a strategic move. Basically throughout the two years or four years of Governor Romney's running for office, he's tried to maintain the typical Republican position, that the Republicans are the -- they are the daddy party. The Democrats are the mommy party. Republicans are tougher, macho, more robust, more resolute, more ready to use force to defend America and so forth.

But when it came down to actually putting out in specific terms on the policies, even though he would dangle these ideas at various times in the primary season and during the summer, when it actually came time to defend those positions in a debate with the president, he didn't have those positions. They weren't defensible.

Like the suggestion that maybe we should give arms to the Syrian rebels. Yeah, we can certainly think about it. But he was careful to qualify that and say we have to give them to the right people, make sure they don't get in the wrong hands. In other words, his positions, they were designed to appeal to the Republican base, they actually converge with the president.

So on the one hand, they endorsed the president's position and his leadership in foreign policy. And on the other hand, they portrayed Governor Romney as somebody who was not only an Etch-a- Sketch in terms of switching positions, but cast a lot of uncertainty about what would his position really be on foreign policy.

MORGAN: General Kimmitt, I was back in London over the weekend. And interesting getting feedback there to the debates and also the feeling about Obama's performance on the foreign stage. He's still pretty popular, I have to say, in Europe. And also a sense that he took out bin Laden. He's pulled the troops out of Iraq. He's pulling them out of Afghanistan. He didn't put boots on the ground in Libya. They're sensing certainly in England a very different kind of presidential leadership to say what George Bush did before him.

Do you think that's a fair assessment, that Obama, for all his critics, has in four years done a very different kind of style?

KIMMITT: That certainly may be the perception in Great Britain. I spent most of my time in the Middle East. And I think when candidate Romney, Governor Romney, says he is seeing the unraveling of the policy in the Middle East, what I see in Cairo, what I see in Baghdad, what I see in Abu Dhabi is exactly that.

This is an administration that is not seen as reliable, not seen as predictable. And it's not seen as one that is going to be there when you need them. There are needs for change in the Middle East, but if there is anything that's necessary in the Middle East, it's a sense of trust. And it's a sense of consistency. And it is a sense of standing by your allies.

And this administration just hasn't done that over the last four years. And there's a great concern among our Arab allies about another four years of the Obama administration. I can't help but feel the same way.

MORGAN: General Clark, do we need in the American military, more troops, more ships, more ammunition? Or is the answer that we need less going forward?

CLARK: We need a winning strategy. I think the president and his advisers have crafted a good strategy. He has got a pivot toward Asia. But he knows, as he said last night, the real key to America's strength is to rebuild America at home. It's not a matter of another couple of ships out there.

The truth is that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs all signed up. So if they said they have what they need in the current budget, as the president points out, there are no cuts coming to the armed forces. This is simply a reduction in the rate of growth of defense expenditures. And so we may redistribute manpower in some way.

When we come out of the ground war, typically we reduce the size of the ground forces. We don't intend to go back into another ground war, but if we need them, we'll bring them back up again, as we did in 2003 and so forth. So I think the strategy has got it about right. We have to work space and cyber securities and things that don't require manpower. But we've got to have a strong strategy. And we need the country to pull together for that.

MORGAN: General Clark, General Kimmitt, thank you both very much indeed.

Coming next, Only in America can a Halloween mask predict accurately the presidential election.

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MORGAN: For tonight's Only in America, trick or treating the election. Forget the polls and the pundits, there's only one true barometer for who will be the next president of the United States. And that's Halloween.

Look at these Obama and Romney masks. Same slick expressions, same rubbery fake smiles. Pretty close to the real thing, right? But the real reason that Mitt Romney may not find it quite as funny as Barack Obama is that his masks are being comfortably outsold by those of the president, by 60 percent to 40 percent.

Now, who cares, you might think? Well, this particular stat doesn't lie. For the last four elections, political mask sales have all pointed to the winner in November. In 1996, Clinton masks outsold Bob Dole's. Clinton of course won. In 2000, George W. Bush masks outsold Al Gore and Bush won. Well, sort of anyway.

In 2004, George W. Bush again, his masks outsold John Kerry and Bush won quite comfortably. And four years ago, the Obama mask outsold the McCain one. And of course Obama won.

So there it is. The next president of the United States will almost certainly be Barack Obama again. But wait, not so fast, because apparently outselling even Obama and Romney in some parts of America is another potential masked candidate, somebody with youth, gender and popularity, firmly on her side. Madam President Honey Boo Boo, your proud nation awaits.

That's all for us tonight. "AC 360" starts now.