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NBC's Lauer Frets Over Obama Debate Performance: 'Does He Understand What He Did Wrong?'

On Wednesday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer cited left-wing Daily Beast columnist Andrew Sullivan ripping apart President Obama's bad debate performance: "I've never seen a candidate this late in the game so far ahead just throw in the towel in the way Obama did last week. How do you erase that imprinted first image from public consciousness, a president incapable of making a single argument or even a halfway decent closing argument?"

Lauer employed the quote in an interview with Obama campaign advisor Robert Gibbs and worried: "So with the second debate just a week away, Robert, does President Obama understand what he did wrong? Does he agree that he took the wrong approach?" Gibbs acknowledged: "...the President understands that he didn't even live up to his own high expectations for that debate."

Lauer began the interview by pressing: "Can you deny that the momentum, Robert, is firmly on the side of Mitt Romney right now?"

Wrapping up the exchange, Lauer fretted: "How much additional pressure has that first debate put on Vice President Biden's shoulders tomorrow night?"

Here is a full transcript of the October 10 interview:

7:07AM ET

MATT LAUER: Robert Gibbs is a senior adviser to President Obama's campaign. Robert, good to see you. Good morning.

ROBERT GIBBS: Good morning, Matt.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Decision 2012; How is Obama Campaign Responding to Romney Bounce?]

LAUER: Your colleague David Plouffe said on Meet the Press over the weekend that if the debate, the first debate, fundamentally changed this race, you'd start to see polling in places like Ohio draw to a tie. It's not a tie just yet, but the race in Ohio has narrowed considerably. In Michigan it's gone from a ten-point President Obama lead down to about three or four points. Can you deny that the momentum, Robert, is firmly on the side of Mitt Romney right now?

GIBBS: Well, Matt, we always expected this to be a very close race, and we expected as we got closer to election day that the race would tighten even more. We've prepared for that since the beginning of this. But, look, I think it's a discussion of real issues that are going to be what separates these two candidates.

And, you know, your piece that Peter [Alexander] just did mentioned, you know, the fact that one more time we've got an example of Mitt Romney changing a position in public even though everybody knows what he believes. Yesterday telling the Des Moines Register he has absolutely nothing on his agenda to restrict a woman's right to choose, when he said in a debate that he'd be happy to sign a piece of legislation that banned all abortions.

LAUER: Well, I'm glad-

GIBBS: It's one more – it's one more – look, it's one more thing that we've seen from Mitt Romney that he's trying to have two different positions as we get closer to voting.

LAUER: But Robert, I'm glad you say that it's about real issues, because I have to be honest with you. I personally was a bit surprised that the campaign released this Big Bird ad yesterday. I mean, is that the kind of political ad that a campaign releases when it feels that it has ideas and solutions on its side, or is that the kind of political ad a campaign releases when it simply wants to get attention?

GIBBS: Well, look, Matt, I think the ad and the President have an important point on this. You know, Mitt Romney took to the debate and said, "I'm going to get tough by ending Downton Abbey and going to war with Sesame Street," when he's gonna let Wall Street off the hook and hold – not hold them accountable as we go forward in financial reform. Look, we can't have a president that does that. That's certainly part of a very real issue, and I think it's one more piece, Matt, of something that Mitt Romney said in the debate that he'd like to change or that is a position that he's gonna walk away from.

LAUER: And I find it hard to believe I'm asking this question here this morning, but will the campaign take Big Bird out of its ads?

GIBBS: I don't know of any plans to change – to change that ad.

LAUER: Alright. Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast assailed the President's performance in the first debate, saying the following, quote, "I've never seen a candidate this late in the game so far ahead just throw in the towel in the way Obama did last week. How do you erase that imprinted first image from public consciousness, a president incapable of making a single argument or even a halfway decent closing argument?" So with the second debate just a week away, Robert, does President Obama understand what he did wrong? Does he agree that he took the wrong approach?

GIBBS: Matt, there's no doubt, and I've said this repeatedly, that the President understands that he didn't even live up to his own high expectations for that debate. But I think the real issues that we're going to see debated, both in the vice presidential debate tomorrow and coming up as we get closer to this next presidential debate, is how are we going to build this economy for middle class America? Are we gonna do it as President Obama and Vice President Biden want to do, from the middle out by strengthening opportunity, investing in things like education, and bringing manufacturing jobs back overseas? Or are we going to do it from Mitt Romney, which is tax breaks for the wealthy and building an economy from the top down?

LAUER: Real, real quickly. How much additional pressure has that first debate put on Vice President Biden's shoulders tomorrow night?

GIBBS: Well, look, I look forward to watching the Vice President tomorrow. I know he's eager to do it. I think he's gonna have to be on his toes because my guess is you're gonna see what Mitt Romney tried to do, which is Paul Ryan, Congressman Ryan walk away from the positions that he's held during this campaign and try to give a much, much different and softer image for the American people.

LAUER: We will all be watching. Robert Gibbs, I thank you for your time.

GIBBS: Thanks, Matt.

LAUER: Alright. And a reminder, you watch the vice presidential debate, that's tomorrow night, 9 Eastern, 6 Pacific, right here on NBC.