Heilemann: Obama's 'Disdain' for Romney's 'BS' to Blame for Bad 2012 Debate Performance

Promoting his new book about the 2012 election, Double Down, with co-author Mark Halperin on Monday's NBC Today, New York Magazine national affairs editor John Heilemann offered Obama campaign spin to excuse the President's disastrous performance in the first debate against Mitt Romney: "...[Obama's] disdain for Romney, his contempt for Romney, he couldn't figure out how to deal with that. He would say, 'What am I supposed to do when he starts spewing his BS?'" [Listen to the audio]

Heilemann laughably added that Obama also had "contempt for the theatricality of politics," which, "all got mixed up together and he gave this horrible practice session performance that left them totally stymied about how they were going to fix it" before the second debate with Romney.

That assessment of what went wrong for Obama in the debate, echoed the ranting from left-wing MSNBC host Ed Schultz, who appeared on the October 5, 2012 Today show and told co-host Savannah Guthrie: "I think that there were so many lies coming across that stage, and so many inaccuracies, it was hard for the President to comprehend it and decide which one he wanted to attack first."

At the time, Guthrie told Schultz that he seemed to be "making excuses for the President." However, when Heilemann provided the same excuse on Monday, Guthrie failed to challenge him.

Near the end of the exchange with Heilemann and Halperin, Guthrie teed them up to mock the Romney campaign: "Finally, one of the most unforgettable moments in the whole campaign had to do with Clint Eastwood and that chair. You guys kind of take the lid off how that happened. Whose idea was it and how did Romney's advisors react when they saw what was unfolding live?" Halperin gushed:

We love this story. This is a great thing we love to try to do, is go back and say at the time everyone was like, 'How did Clint Eastwood get on that stage?' We go back and figure it out....No one in Mitt Romney's world was happy with it. One of his advisors was backstage with him, Stuart Stevens, actually left Governor Romney's presence to go throw up, he was so upset about what was happening. Because it was a big night for Mitt Romney and it was kind of hijacked by Clint Eastwood.

Here is a full transcript of the November 4 segment:

7:01AM ET TEASE:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Coming up, the men behind one of the most talked about books in the country right now, Double Down. This morning, why they say the President's advisors had to stage a political intervention at a crucial point in last year's campaign. The book also highlights so-called "pitfalls" that led Mitt Romney to reject Governor Chris Christie as a running mate. And Governor Christie lashed out at these author's over the weekend. They're the ones who wrote Game Change, remember that? So we will hear from them in their first interview.

7:08AM ET SEGMENT:

GUTHRIE: Clinton and Christie are two names that come up quite a bit in the new book, Double Down, which chronicles the behind-the-scenes intrigue in the 2012 presidential race. It is already causing waves across the political world. It's authors Mark Halperin, John Heilemann, of Game Change fame, join us now. Good morning to both of you.

MARK HALPERIN: Good morning, Savannah.

JOHN HEILEMANN: Hi.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "Double Down"; New Book Takes Aim at 2012 White House Race]

GUTHRIE: I think one of the most dramatic stories in this book has to do with what happened to the President after that first disastrous debate performance. You guys reveal that he had another terrible performance behind the scenes, so bad that his own advisors thought, "We might lose this election." Mark.

HEILEMANN: He did, he did. 48 hours before the debate at Hofstra, you know, the President – all the things that about that had been problematic for him in Denver, his disdain for Romney, his contempt for Romney, he couldn't figure out how to deal with that. He would say, "What am I supposed to do when he starts spewing his BS?" At the same time, his kind of contempt for the theatricality of politics. It all got mixed up together and he gave this horrible practice session performance that left them totally stymied about how they were going to fix it before this debate that they thought was, at that point, the crucial thing for the re-election.

GUTHRIE: So they staged something like an intervention, Mark. At one point, the President said, "I don't know if I can do this guys"?

HALPERIN: Really one of the most dramatic moments we found in our reporting for Double Down about the President in his entire presidency. Weeks before the presidential election, two days before a debate, his aides basically say, "This is a disaster, we've got to go to him and tell him things have to change." They ended up having a conversation with him that was emotional and they changed his debate prep entirely. They told him he had to be fast and hammy. He had to have – he had to not be slow, the way he was in the first debate, talk really fast. And also, just one-liners, not the kind of thoughtful disquisition that Barack Obama the former law professor wants.

GUTHRIE: Before we move on, this was one of the hardest scoops to get. And in fact, somebody told you, "You'll never get this story." What did they say, John?  

HEILEMANN: They started out, they said, "Look, there was this thing that happened at the debate prep before Hofstra, but it's a black box. Debate prep is a black box, you'll never get inside that box."

GUTHRIE: That only encourages people like you.

Let's move on to Governor Christie. You say that the Romney vetting team who looked at Christie as a potential VP candidate found so many, quote, "land mines" – to use your words – that it was a non-starter. What did you find?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "Double Down"; New Book Takes on the Christie Factor]

HALPERIN: Look, Governor Christie's run for office before, he's been in public life, but there's nothing like the scrutiny you get if someone's thinking about putting you on the ticket. Mitt Romney was terrified he'd pick someone and it would blow up the way Sarah Palin blew up. He wanted no controversy, they found a lot of it. And that was part – a big part of the reason why Governor Romney said, "You know what? As much as I need a street fighter like Chris Christie to win this election, too much risk there."

GUTHRIE: Chris Christie says, "These guys talked to low-level staffers," that we've all heard this stuff before, and that you're just trying to sell books, John.

HEILEMANN: Well, we've talked to – we talked to low-level staffers, we talked to high-level staffers, we talked to everybody involved in these things. And look, we did this extraordinary thing, I think, in this reporting. We quote from the vetting report – I don't think anybody's ever done that before – line by line what Romney's vetters had to say about Chris Christie.

GUTHRIE: That would suggest somebody in Romney world doesn't mind sharing that with a couple of authors like you. And yet, we just heard Romney say on Meet the Press yesterday, gave an A-plus report card to Chris Christie.

HALPERIN: You know, one of the things we found in writing both Game Change and this book is politicians are people too. They can have complex relationships. Governor Christie said and Mitt Romney – both said, "We have a great relationship." Personally, they do, but politically there was tension between them during the campaign. Obviously Governor Christie was passed over to be on the ticket, and it's also true that their aides do have a little bit of tension sometimes.

GUTHRIE: Couple quick things, you reported that the vice – that the President's advisors actually considered and poll tested switching Hillary Clinton for Joe Biden and making her the VP candidate. Is this something that President Obama knew about?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "Double Down"; New Book on Potential Biden-Clinton VP Swap]

HEILEMANN: We have no idea. And the truth is that what we do know is that the very – at the very top level of the Obama campaign, no one wanted to replace Joe Biden. But the President's political standing in the fall of 2011 was so bad that they felt like it would be a dereliction of duty not to go out and study the matter.

GUTHRIE: Finally, one of the most unforgettable moments in the whole campaign had to do with Clint Eastwood and that chair. You guys kind of take the lid off how that happened. Whose idea was it and how did Romney's advisors react when they saw what was unfolding live?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "Double Down"; RNC Repercussions: Eastwood & "The Chair"]  

HALPERIN: We love this story. This is a great thing we love to try to do, is go back and say at the time everyone was like, "How did Clint Eastwood get on that stage?" We go back and figure it out. Mitt Romney had dinner with Clint Eastwood, a little bit star struck, in the late summer last year and decided he wanted him at the convention. They invite him. Eastwood decides at the very last minute – he's watching the other speeches, he says, "Everybody's just up there giving speeches saying how great Mitt Romney is. I don't want to give another speech like that." He comes up with this crazy thing where he talks to the chair. No one in Mitt Romney's world was happy with it. One of his advisors was backstage with him, Stuart Stevens, actually left Governor Romney's presence to go throw up, he was so upset about what was happening. Because it was a big night for Mitt Romney and it was kind of hijacked by Clint Eastwood.

GUTHRIE: Well, a lot of scoop in this book. The book is called Double Down. Mark Halperin, John Heilemann, always good to have you. Thank you.

HALPERIN: Thanks, Savannah.

HEILEMANN: Thanks, Savannah.

— Kyle Drennen is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.