Sunday, January 27, 2008

New Hampshire Played a Role

I wrote after New Hampshire:

This is indeed a "change election," and until late Tuesday, that seemed about to include wholesale changes to Hillary Clinton's staff. Some moves have still been made, but I can't help wondering if her narrow New Hampshire victory might end up hurting her in a way.

That is, will it give her a false sense that her campaign got things figured out in the days before Tuesday, and forestall some changes that really are necessary?

I think in part it did. Michelle Cottle digs in here. Since TNR requires a login, I've included the full article below.

It's amazing how quickly Clinton's campaign put on the inevitability mask after two narrow victories. Instead of a less-than-expected South Carolina victory tonight for Barack Obama, though, they face a massive backlash of their own doing. Nobody saw a 29-point victory coming.

Maybe Mark Penn or another key player will be quietly kicked downstairs, and perhaps that will help. But what do you do if your biggest problem turns out to be (and it may) your husband and your own most basic political instincts to do anything it takes to win?

Full article:

Putsch in Hillaryland by
The Clinton campaign's silent shake-up.
Post Date Friday, January 25, 2008

The morning after is never pretty. In the wake of defeat in the Iowa caucus, it was a sad and sorry Team Hillary that assembled for a conference call with the candidate. Campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, in transit back to Washington, was absent. Top strategist Mark Penn was dazed and subdued, waiting for the candidate to come on the line. When she did, Hillary gave a brief greeting making clear that there would be no navel-gazing and that she was ready to look ahead, according to a participant in the call who was already on the ground in New Hampshire (desperately seeking guidance). Adopting the same ready-for-business tone, message guru Mandy Grunwald tried to spur conversation by asking other top advisers if they wanted to share any thoughts. Nothing. After a pregnant pause, Hillary jumped back in to talk for a few minutes about what she saw as the next step. Again, she was met by silence that stretched out awkwardly until a displeased Hillary snipped, "This has been very helpful talking to myself," and hung up on the group.

Post-Iowa, even the most blindly devoted members of Team Hillary could see that a shake-up of the campaign was in order. The peculiarities of Iowa's caucus system aside, broad structural and tonal problems needed to be addressed. So, as a devastated top leadership struggled to make sense of what had happened, the candidate went to work: Plans were made to bring in new blood; rumors circulated about who among the senior staff would be booted after New Hampshire. But then--surprise!--Granite State voters smiled on the Clinton clan once more, delivering Hillary a political resurrection even more stunning than Bill's 1992 comeback. The troops were elated. The generals were relieved. The candidate was glowing and crowing about her found voice. It was a grand and glorious triumph. Except...

The campaign still needed shaking. The percolating trouble brought to the surface in Iowa could not be ignored. But how to accomplish this without damaging the campaign's miraculous new momentum? Especially when much of the discord, say multiple insiders, flowed from decision-makers at the very top of the pyramid.

For all Team Hillary's gifts, it is not known as a happy group. "I've never seen a campaign where everyone feels so bad about themselves," says one campaign staffer, echoing others. This may be somewhat unavoidable: Too much is on the line. Everyone is exhausted. The public scrutiny (damn those scrounging reporters!) is relentless. But compounding these generic stressors, say insiders, has been the fear-inducing, high-handed leadership of the coterie of ├╝beradvisers known as "the Five."

High atop Hillary's disciplined, leakproof operation, Solis Doyle, along with Penn, Grunwald, policy chief Neera Tanden, and communications director Howard Wolfson, have kept an iron grip on everything from ideas to access. Characterized by their colleagues--and even themselves--as a collection of brilliant but not especially likable political talents, the Five are seen by many insiders as contributing to the candidate's image problem. Even those who profess fondness for individual members admit that none makes a compelling Face of the Campaign. So, when Team Hillary hit its Iowa speed bump, the thoughts of many immediately turned toward shattering the hold of the Five.

In any given situation, the first member of this inner circle to be targeted for abuse is Penn. The reasons are legion: his high profile; his right-of-center politics; his myopic focus on issues; his dismissal of the need for Hillary to get personal and address her likability problem; his unusual dual role as top strategist and pollster; and, of course, his famously rough manner. It's little wonder that all those insiders who didn't care for Penn when the team was riding high were salivating at the idea of prying the campaign from his cold dead hands as things turned south in Iowa. But, despite political watchers crediting Hillary's comeback to her at last getting personal (a move Penn had fought against in favor of more Iron Lady messaging), New Hampshire bought Penn a reprieve.

Instead, the adviser most damaged by Iowa may be the one closest to the candidate: Hillary's longtime scheduler and alter ego, Solis Doyle. Among the most devout members of Hillaryland, Solis Doyle is cheered by supporters as an "unconventional" choice for campaign manager. Detractors are less kind, noting that even some of Hillary's most trusted advisers have long questioned Solis Doyle's readiness for the job. Clinton money man Terry McAuliffe is said to have expressed reservations early on, including in a conversation with the Clintons during the couple's January 2006 trip to the Dominican Republic, according to someone there with the group. (McAuliffe denies this.) Similarly, several weeks before the campaign's official launch, a handful of the most senior Hillarylanders met with the senator to express eleventh-hour doubts about Solis Doyle, says someone Hillary spoke with after the meeting.

No one denies that Solis Doyle's authority stems less from her expertise or political savvy (though defenders insist she has an abundance of both) than from her bond with Hillary. The result, say critics, is a toxic blend of insecurity (about her abilities) and arrogance (about her proximity to the boss). As they tell it, an overwhelmed Solis Doyle has become increasingly temperamental--playing favorites and abusing her relationship with Hillary to control information flow and enhance her own power. "It's become 'The Patti Show,'" snipes a former member of the Clinton White House who remains close to both Clintons. Solis Doyle is said to allow unaddressed issues to pile up, failing to do things like return calls to surrogates in need of direction or contributors in need of stroking. "People are constantly complaining to the senator and other members of the campaign family that their calls aren't being returned," notes one observer who often hears from such people. At the same time, over the course of her management career, Solis Doyle has developed a reputation for mucking around in the weeds, insisting upon signing off on even low-level decisions, such as where to hold a minor event and whether bagels or donuts should be served. (That's not a hypothetical.) She is brutal to staffers who try to circumvent her with a request, and she is not shy about reminding others of her position: When dispatched to Iowa headquarters in the final month, Solis Doyle demanded that in preparation for her arrival walls be erected around the section of the giant bullpen where she would be working.

As the leadership regrouped in the wake of Iowa, Hillary loyalists both inside and outside the campaign began contacting the candidate, offering opinions on What Next. "I've never seen such a sense of empowerment and excitement," recalls the Clinton White House veteran. "The Five disappeared, and it was like the fence that had been stopping ideas from flowing disappeared." Once that "overarching power structure was gone," the person adds, the rest of the team "went into overdrive." So strong was the desire for change that the Granite State miracle, while obviously a godsend, left some staffers deflated as it became clear that the planned overhaul had been derailed.

This is not to suggest that nothing has changed. Despite no heads having rolled, several advisers have been "layered on." Some are veteran Bill Clinton hands, such as former political director Doug Sosnik and ad man Roy Spence. Others are longtime Hillarylanders who had been unofficially pinch-hitting for the campaign all along, including Melanne Verveer (now helping with faith outreach), Lissa Muscatine (speechwriting), Lisa Caputo (surrogate management), Jen Klein (a policy expert lending an occasional hand with speechwriting), and the formidable Evelyn Lieberman, who may be best remembered as the White House deputy chief of staff who booted a certain intern from the West Wing to the Pentagon. Lieberman is often praised as a "grown-up" with the brains and backbone to go toe to toe with any of the Five.

Among insiders keeping score, the new additions mean greater accountability for the Five. Spence is expected to affect the fiefdoms of Penn and Grunwald. The addition of communications mavens like Caputo and Kiki McLean (a veteran of the 1992 campaign who was drafted pre-Iowa to help with surrogates) is a recognition that Wolfson's shop needed reinforcements. Muscatine and Klein, meanwhile, can reinforce Neera Tanden's department, which handles speechwriting.

Then there's Maggie Williams, who refers to herself simply as a "utility player." But no one on Team Hillary questions that she is far more than that. Having served as chief of staff to both Hillary (in the White House) and Bill (at his foundation), Williams has the trust of both the former president and the aspiring one. Hillarylanders point to her as one of the candidate's closest confidantes, the person who "sees into Hillary's soul," "knows what makes her tick," and is arguably more of her "peer" than many other members of the inner circle.

When I asked Williams about her new role, she downplayed it, explaining that she will be doing a little of everything but nothing of note. And, above all, no matter what I may have heard, in no way has she been brought in to manage the team. Her friend Solis Doyle, she said, continues to make all the decisions befitting a campaign manager. As for her broader impact on the office, Williams demurs, "There are so many people over here that I don't think people have even noticed me."

Williams's history with the Clintons is a fraught one. Of the original Hillaryland crew, arguably no one bore the brunt of the scandals and political storms as fiercely. Twice, Williams became the object of intense public and legal scrutiny: first, when the Whitewater probe raised allegations that she had helped obstruct the investigation into Vince Foster's suicide by removing files from his office on the night he died; and, again, when the disputed details of her acceptance of a $50,000 political donation from Johnny Chung earned her an invitation to testify before Congress during the Democrats' 1996 fund-raising scandal. For many political watchers, Williams stood as the poster child for the Clintons' careless disregard of those close to them. At the end of Bill Clinton's first term, a scarred and exhausted Williams, having racked up $350,000 in legal bills, resigned her White House post and fled to Paris for a couple of years with her new husband.

Williams admirers see it as a testament to her devotion to Hillary that she has returned to the fray. It is also a testament to how desperately Team Hillary needed a jolt. And, by all accounts, Williams wasted no time in providing one--her self-deprecating protestations notwithstanding. The Wednesday after New Hampshire, Williams moved into the campaign's Ballston, Virginia, headquarters. Having already reached out to many of the aforementioned Hillarylanders, she promptly began meeting with pre-existing members of every department to assess their problems, ideas, and needs. "It doesn't get any better than to have somebody of her stature come in and say, 'What do you need, and what can I do to help you get things done?'" says one Hillarylander now consulting with Williams. Word from inside HQ is that morale has already improved since Williams's arrival.

Whatever specific tasks they tackle, Team Hillary's latest additions are more broadly intended to open the lines of communication and loosen the grip of the Five. The veteran Hillarylanders in particular--Williams, Verveer, Muscatine, Lieberman--all have direct lines of communication with Hillary, making it that much harder for information to get roadblocked. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is thrilled with the new order. Williams's appearance on the scene, after all, was widely viewed as a vote of no-confidence in Solis Doyle. And, although Williams stresses that she came aboard at Solis Doyle's behest, other insiders report that the wounded campaign manager took the arrival of her old boss rather badly. It provoked considerable comment when, for Williams's first day at HQ, Solis Doyle steered clear of the office, missing key strategy meetings that included the former president himself.

Even so, change proponents remain nervous that, with the sting of Iowa fading, the situation will regress as the Five reassert their primacy. "New Hampshire dulled the sword," sighs one staffer. And, now, with the Nevada wind in its sails, it seems all the more unlikely that an organization that fears revealing internal disunity like most folks fear bird flu will risk dramatic restructuring. But this is the corner into which the campaign has painted itself. Self-defined as a venture marked by stability and discipline, it can't very well start hurling bodies overboard without provoking a media feeding frenzy. Barring another Iowa-sized iceberg, staffers weary of the current direction may need to take solace in whatever minor course corrections can be made. Change may make for a snappy campaign slogan. But, as an organizational strategy, it poses something of an existential dilemma for Team Hillary.

Michelle Cottle is a senior editor at The New Republic.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Throwing Up Hands on Electability

I've seen quite a few posts suggesting it's highly problematic to determine whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama would be more electable in a general election. They're maddening, because though we can never be sure, if you had a gun to your head, Obama would clearly be the guy to bet on.

Jonathan Chait writes about it more convincingly than I could:

Hillary Clinton is a highly unpopular figure. In the last Gallup survey, 50% of respondents have a favorable view of her, and 46% negative. Sometimes her averages goes higher, but sometimes it veers into negative territory. Obama has very high ratings. In the most recent poll, 59% view him favorably, 32% negatively. The difference between plus 4 and plus 27 is enormous--a Detroit Lions v. New England Patriots-size gap.

On top of that, independents who vote in the primaries and caucuses have shown a very strong preference for Obama over Clinton. That is the closest available approximation of a swing voter.

As Chait adds, the idea that the "Republican attack machine" would make any Democrat just as disliked as Clinton is nonsense. It's possible for Obama to become as unpopular, but he'd have to run a dreadful campaign for that to happen. He is a fundamentally different candidate, one who is tailor-made in both word and deed to bring in those swing voters.

One thing to add to Chait's analysis is that the idea that Clinton is already as unpopular as she's going to be misses a major point. That is, the raw nerve the couple rubbed daily while in office has scabbed over. Some of us looked even started looking back a bit fondly, especially in comparison to the current disastrous presidency, and forgot the proximal things that made us so livid.

No more. As the Clintons see a legitimate opponent daring to usurp their rightful throne, the demagoguery, uncomfortably hardball tactics, and outright distortions have begun again. Someone like me now remembers viscerally why I couldn't stand them.

The post finishes with a very insightful point:

That so many Democrats think this question is complicated suggests to me that maybe people aren't good as assessing the popularity of their co-partisans. To Democrats, it's perfectly obvious that the strongest Republican nominee is John McCain. He polls very highly, everybody knows Democrats and Independents who like him, and so on. But Republicans are constantly debating this. You see Republicans spinning horror scenarios of a McCain nomination leading to a splintering base or depressed turnout. To Democrats it's bewildering that they even debate this. Lots of Republicans feel the same way about the Clinton/Obama electability debate.

Finessing Clinton Attacks

Ed Morrissey may have something here about Barack Obama's decision to go after Bill Clinton's largely misleading statements about Obama's record:

Obama made a big step in making this an issue. He has explicitly tied Bill to Hillary at a time when other Democrats have begun to beg Bill to get more in the background. Newsweek has an article in this week's edition that name Ted Kennedy and Rahm Emanuel as party leaders who have told Bill directly to pipe down. Obama has now made it harder for Bill to withdraw from the fight, and Obama clearly now believes that Bill could be an effective way to attack Hillary.

Clinton may face disadvantages as a woman running for high office, but she garners advantages for the same reason. One is that when competitors attack her, she looks more like a victim that a male candidate would. Contrast how much Mitt Romney benefited (not much) from the gang beating he took at the first New Hampshire debate with how much mileage Clinton gained from the relatively light one she received up there for at least one data point.

That said, the more Bill Clinton speaks, the more he makes this nomination fight a referendum on him instead of his wife. Perhaps more important, Obama can go after him with less risk, as he won't be attacking Hillary directly.

It will also be very hard for Bill to not respond. It's not in his makeup, as the vast weight of evidence of his public life would indicate.

This strategy carries significant risk, but it's hard to see where Obama has another choice if he wants to win. His omnipresent challenge is to do it without appearing negative, something he's mostly finessed beautifully so far in this race.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Magic, Listen to Yourself

Magic Johnson has recorded a radio ad for Hillary Clinton that makes a puzzling analogy (from Marc Ambinder):

My rookie year, we won our first game on a last second shot. I was so hyped. But the captain of my team said, “take it easy rookie, it’s a long season, it’s a long road to the championship.” He was right. Winning comes from years of hard work and preparation. Whether it’s winning championships or a President who can lead us back to greatness, I’ll always want the most prepared and experienced person leading my team.

That's interesting, since Johnson came in second for Rookie of the Year to Larry Bird that season, and went on to win the NBA Finals MVP and Championship. His run included scoring 42 points and playing all five positions on the court in one of the greatest deciding playoff performances in league history.

If any useful analogy is indeed possible with Magic's basketball career, this one seems more likely: A man with immense charisma and off-the-charts talent fundamentally changes the game in his first season, and his influence is still profoundly felt 28 years later.

I ain't sayin', I'm just sayin'.

Update: The Obama campaign was thinking the same thing.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Assessing Obama's Foreign Policy

Stephen Zunes puts together a helpful assessment of many of Barack Obama's foreign policy views in one place. His conclusion is guardedly optimistic, which seems the most reasonable to me.

Despite his rather limited experience in national office, Obama appears to be one of the smartest, most visionary and most knowledgeable members of the U.S. Senate on foreign policy. As a result, he would be more likely to take creative and independent initiatives and less reliant on the traditional foreign policy establishment than any modern president of ether party.

As many of the examples above illustrate, however, that doesn’t mean he’ll always be right. A combination of his limited vision and the constraints imposed upon any president by the imperatives of powerful economic and strategic interests make it doubtful that Obama will be able to move the country significantly forward in ways that will address the most important challenges facing the country and the world today on his own. However, there are indications that he could be more open to a more progressive foreign policy if the growing social movements in this country for peace and justice are able to mobilize effectively and provide the necessary counter-pressures. Obama’s strong showing thus far in the race for the Democratic nomination is a direct result of such movements. If he wins the presidency, he would be obliged to listen to those who would play such an important role in bringing him to the White House.

In summary, we must neither be na├»ve about Barack Obama’s limitations nor cynical about his potential.

North Dakota = Ecuador

A slightly useful, mostly just fun, map that renames U.S. states based on the countries their GDPs most closely resemble.

I keep looking at Wyoming because it's fun to say "Uzbeks."

H/t to Reason magazine.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Your Romney Update

Saying John McCain was "the clear favorite" in South Carolina, Mitt Romney today added that "it would be an enormous surprise if [McCain is] not able to win here."

I fully understand setting expectations, but please keep it within bounded reality. By what standard would it be an enormous surprise if McCain doesn't win? Even before Romney pulled out a nice Michigan win, McCain led Mike Huckabee by single digits with yesterday's primary sure to have an impact on the eventual results.

It will also be interesting to see what version of Romney we see in South Carolina. So far, he's seemingly chosen his personas like he was participating in local community theater productions in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan. Maybe he'll say he has textile mills in his blood.

Robert Farley wonders why Romney hasn't been anointed:

[W]hy isn't Mitt Romney being treated as the overwhelming frontrunner in the Republican race? He's won two of the four contests so far, and placed second twice. Moreover, Michigan differs from the other three contests in that it's inhabited by actual people, twice as many as the other three states combined. He's also the leader in total money and trails only minor also-ran candidate Rudy Giuliani in cash on hand. He hasn't won any Southern states, but then neither has anyone else, and I doubt that the media would have been reticent about declaring John McCain the frontrunner if he'd taken Michigan.

He's not overwhelming, though, because he only won one out of three states for which he was the heavy favorite. Two had a home field advantage, and the "total money" advantage Farley mentions couldn't put lipstick on the pig, as they say. Romney's strategy was based on big early wins to propel his name recognition higher in later primary states. That hasn't happened, and it's hard to see how he generates a groundswell from the tepid response he's so far received.

Romney may well end up being the candidate conservatives rally around, which is amazing considering his past positions were much more liberal than supposed-apostate McCain's ever were. Choosing him may be the best thing for the GOP, because he'll be defeated so badly it likely would force Republicans to aggressively address the sorry state of the Party in a way a relatively close loss, or even narrow win, by McCain would not.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


In Michigan, essentially meaningless for Democrats, Hillary Clinton came away today with 55 percent of the vote, while Uncommitted garnered 40 percent. What does it mean? Heck if I know.

Norah O'Donnell just broke down the distribution of that 40 percent, and showed who those candidates would have voted for had other Democrats been on the ballot. While 73 percent said Barack Obama, three percent said they would've voted for Clinton. Who was on the ballot.

It's like people who call 976 numbers to vote undecided.

Meaningless Grading

It's because I like lists and rankings, ok? If that's wrong, I don't want to be right.

I'll probably rethink everything by tomorrow, but for now:

Obama: A-: After a slow start, this may have been his best debate. He got in his talking points naturally, threw in some well-targeted policy proposals, got in a sharp critique of Clinton on Iraq and the politics of fear without sounding harsh, and was relatively humorous and easy.

Clinton: B+: She was substantive as always, and showed the right level of anger at problems facing average people. Some of the subject matter was not helpful to her, as it focused on mistakes her campaign had made, but overall she showed command.

Edwards: B-: Had a tough challenge standing out, and wasn't able to do it, as he was on the defensive at times. He showed his usual passion for working people and is appealing, but is it enough?

Obama Comes On

I may have to rethink my earlier posting. Obama started weak tonight, but has reeled off a number of impressive answers in the last hour. Asked if Hispanics are less willing to support a black candidate, he scored a standing triple by retorting, "Not in Illinois. They all voted for me." He's been substantive, smooth, and on message most of the night.

Clinton and Edwards have also done well, though Edwards has been on the defensive a couple times, once again having to explain his reversals on votes while in the Senate. To give himself a glimmer of hope, he needed to have a great debate, and he hasn't.

Now, a Skirmish!

It's not on major points, but we do have some clashing on nuclear power and the energy bill. It's substantive debate.

One thing I'm now really getting sick of, by the way, is Clinton's saying that things don't happen because we hope for them. How is it not a gross mischaracterization of Obama's message to imply that he simply hopes his policy proposals will happen? Such false choices drive me crazy, mainly I think because so often many people actually buy them.

Holding Hands and Singing

Wow, the candidates are really playing nice tonight. They're respectful, kidding with each other... The new wrinkle to have candidates ask each other questions was a good idea, and each had the effect of displaying substantial unity among the three on the stage.

Really, though, shouldn't it be this way? On policy, opposition, and most other things, they're not far apart. It's mostly personality that keeps them apart, but it needn't.

MSNBC, by the way, shortchanged us by ruling what was clearly a clarification on Obama's part as "his question." I'm guessing his prepared question, presumably to Clinton, would have been much more edifying. Maybe he'll try to sneak it in later.

The Economy Looms Large

The recent spate of portents of economic downturn are right in Clinton's wheelhouse as someone who is always prepared with a stack of "what I'm gonna do for you" proposals to nearly every demographic group.

A worsening economy should help both Clinton and Edwards partly because it makes people worry about more bread-and-butter issues that go right to their policy-centric electoral approaches. But I think it also favors them in terms of tone. When you're down, whether it's your own fault or you're a victim of circumstance, there is a human tendency to want to hear someone railing against the system.

Obama's rhetoric may do that, but Clinton and Edwards offer an indignation that is more soothing in the short term.

Update: Obama has reeled off a couple good answers, including one on how he would raise taxes without hitting the middle class and retirees. He included some good examples that people could relate to (like Warren Buffett paying a lower tax rate than his secretary) mixed with some specific policy relief proposals.

Obama = Bush?

Clinton has once again compared Obama to George W. Bush. This time it's on Obama's comments that he's not a bureaucracy guy, but a CEO type. Clinton again essentially said to voters, "we saw how well *that* worked" when Bush came into office with his M.B.A. education, but not knowing how to manage.

Such comparisons should be highly questionable on their face, since a successful presidency is the result of interactions of literally millions of variables. In this case, Obama's response was a very good one, saying that Bush was really on top of being on time, but that he didn't know how to listen to diverse viewpoints. It was a deft pivot back to a central theme of his campaign.

An aside: In recent debates, wide shots that included Hillary while others were talking included a lot of clenched jaws and icy stares. Tonight there is a great deal of nodding. Detente, if only temporarily.

5819th Post on Obama's Lackluster Debate Presence

Having watched Obama for many months now, it's been fascinating to watch how much he's grown as a candidate in most ways. Performing in debates has not yet been one of them.

Pundits have often wondered if there's any "beef" behind his grand rhetoric, but I think that's way off. He doesn't reel off policy detail like Clinton, but his policy ideas are generally quite detailed and nuanced. He just doesn't bring them to the fore.

His prepared speeches are masterful in their ability to make difficult concepts simple and memorable, and weave them together into a coherent whole. But in a debate, he is challenged to answer in the same way. Even on questions he should be prepared for - such as on his saying to Clinton that she's "likeable enough" - he seems to be fumbling just a bit.

In other news, Uncommitted is beating Duncan Hunter in Michigan two percent to zero. Given Hunter's platform of economic nationalism, national security, and stopping illegal immigration, if Hunter can't eke out a few points here, where can he?

Live Blogging the MSNBC Debate

We'll try a first here tonight, some live blogging of the Democratic debate in Nevada.

Kucinich was out, then in, then out again. Race is the first issue, and all three candidates are giving gracious answers to defuse a week of relative nastiness. Obama has so far been most plain, saying sometimes their supporters "get overzealous" and "say things that I wouldn't." It's good, because there is no victory in race becoming a long-term issue for him.

For the record, here's a digest version of what I think about the whole discussion from the past week:

  • Most of the comments coming out of the Clinton campaign were not racist in any way, although some were tone deaf. Those by BET founder Robert Johnson were despicable, and Clinton should have clearly disavowed them.
  • It's quite a stretch to contend Obama pushed this issue. One can argue he should have moved more quickly to defuse it, but that seems to me far from clear.

Kneel Before Zod

That's right, I said it, as I am now ruler of Australia.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Ron Paul? What?

Ok, I want to know what the deal is with these online tests to see which candidate fits your issues the best. Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Hillary Clinton endorser, apparently took one:

After several friends had e-mailed him a link to an Internet quiz
that uses a checklist of issues to determine which candidate a participant matches up best with, Mr. Kerrey said, he “broke down and tried it.”

So, did his answers add up as an Obama person’s?

“No, actually, I was ‘Dennis Kucinich,’ ” he said.

This is anecdotal evidence, but almost every person I know who's taken one of these gets told that Kucinich or Ron Paul is their best match. Now, granted, the tests can only take issues into account, not the vast number of intangibles that end up deciding most elections, but do these two guys have a point that voters agree with them more than we think?


About McCain's Path

I don't think there's any way with anything like even 50 percent certainty to guess the GOP nominee at this point. However, there is one other factor I haven't seen discussed that may favor John McCain: endorsements from his opponents.

It seems to me that if Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson, or Rudy Giuliani were to drop out of the race, all of them would endorse McCain. Mitt Romney...well, would he endorse any of the four? None of them can seem to stand him, and perhaps the feeling is mutual.

It's unclear who would drop out first even if we knew the results of the several upcoming states. It seems Thompson will drop after South Carolina if he doesn't do very well. Giuliani admitted the huge importance of Florida to his campaign, and with him running low on money, it's hard to see how he'd stick around if he doesn't win or come in a close second there. Romney may bow out after another disappointing Michigan showing, but lots of people are speculating he'd stick around to try to rise above a poor field. Huckabee may have the longest shelf life, but if he suddenly drops and does poorly in both Michigan and South Carolina, he may be forced out too.

So in general, it seems like the more people drop out, the more McCain benefits. It's hard to believe for a 2000 McCainiac like me.

Hamilton Doesn't Look a Day Over 245.

I concur with Steve Clemons. Alexander Hamilton is up there in my personal American political pantheon with Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. I'd argue no one was more responsible for the architecture of what America was to become, and probably no one is less known for it.

I also agree that you should check out Ron Chernow's excellent biography.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Saul Alinsky? Really?

This e-mail from one of Sullivan's readers is overstated (even beyond the author's explicit admission), but offers a fascinating perspective.

I had never heard of Saul Alinksy before reading the e-mail, but this excerpt from Alinksy sounds familiar to anyone following Barack Obama, no?

"There's another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevsky said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution.

That seems exactly what Obama is preaching, a revolution without the John Edwards-style fighting rhetoric we typically associate with one. Of course, that may be required for a revolution that paradoxically aims at taming rhetoric and establishing political harmony.

The thing is, Alinsky was apparently the thesis subject for Hillary Rodham, while Obama incorporated many of the man's teachings in his years as a community organizer. If the subject wasn't so obscure, it might even become part of the Ali-Frazier storyline that seems to be forming between the two candidates.

Lucy Argues for Welfare Reform

It's not far off, is it?

Iron My Shirt!

I never thought Hillary Clinton's tearing up Saturday was anything but authentic. She's tightly controlled, but her husband is the one who can easily change his emotional state to match the crowd, not her.

This is the one that nagged at me, though:

One source inside the Clinton camp said the "iron my shirts" comment appeared to anger and energize women in particular, boosting Hillary Clinton's share of the women's vote and pushing her to a narrow upset victory over Barack Obama.

The whole moment (where a man got up at a pre-primary event and yelled for Hillary to iron his shirt) struck me as so odd and stereotypical that I admit the thought crossed my mind that it was planned. It probably wasn't, but given experience with the Clintons' tactics, it's not tough to believe.

Forestalling Needed Change

This is indeed a "change election," and until late Tuesday, that seemed about to include wholesale changes to Hillary Clinton's staff. Some moves have still been made, but I can't help wondering if her narrow New Hampshire victory might end up hurting her in a way.

That is, will it give her a false sense that her campaign got things figured out in the days before Tuesday, and forestall some changes that really are necessary?

It's not uncommon. In my own former business life, we had several cases of someone - an incompetent or bad influence - who we knew needed to be let go. We'd be ready to do it, and then we'd have a good month, or the employee would pull a rabbit out of his hat, and it would be decided to "give it a little more time." Not once did that course accomplish anything but delay the inevitable, to everyone's detriment.

Much will depend on which lessons Clinton learns from New Hampshire. If she believes throwing everything negative against the wall worked, they'll continue to hammer Obama, and it likely won't work. If she gives a staff member who is a liability another lease on life, that probably won't help her either.

Objectivity in the Blogosphere?

Well, maybe that's not quite the right word, but it's exchanges like this, where criticism is not a mindless screed, and the response by Andrew Sullivan is one of reflection and nuance, that are far too rare in the blogging world.

Do Words Mean Anything Anymore?

CNN's weatherman Chad Myers earlier this afternoon led off coverage of tornado coverage in Mississippi by saying the number of severe weather warnings had gotten "truly astronomical."

What qualifies as "astronomical," a word meant to describe numbers found in astronomy that the human mind can't really comprehend, these days? Twelve, apparently.

Look, I try to keep my instincts for proper language usage under some degree of control, if only because I don't mind getting an invitation to a dinner party once in a while. But do any superlative adjectives mean anything but "a lot" or "very good" anymore?

Giuliani's Goin' to the Loony Bin, Eh?

Writes Josh Patashnik:

Remember when Rudy Giuliani made the off-the-reservation loony claim that if we were to cut taxes, we would have to fix the resulting hole in the budget by balancing it out with more tax cuts? (Crazy as it sounds, of course, it's just a logical inference from the supply-side argument that lower taxes always mean more revenue.) Everyone assumed Giuliani had misspoken. When he insisted he meant what he said, everyone assumed it was just gratuitous, empty pandering to the economic right. As Avi Zenilman found out, even conservative economists are unwilling to associate themselves with this sort of lunacy.

But now it turns out Giuliani has actually proposed a tax plan that, indeed, seems to balance out tax cuts with more tax cuts.

On the tax issue in question, it's even easier to pick apart than it appears. That's because Giuliani blatantly contradicts himself in the same sentence. By saying that we'd even need something to counterbalance a tax cut, he's admitting it would lose revenue, not gain it. The statement was nonsensical, and that he sticks by it should worry anyone, regardless of one's tax views.

Giuliani was a very intriguing candidate for me as someone who likes moderate-to-liberal social policy, conservative economics, and a generally hard-headed foreign policy. Perhaps no presidential candidate has been a bigger disappointment, as he has turned downright crazy-dogmatic on economics and America's attitude toward the rest of the world.

Noooo! John Kerry!

This seems pretty typical of too much of the "analysis" (Chris Cillizza and a few others are much better) I've seen this morning on John Kerry's endorsement of Barack Obama.

If I were the Obama folks I'd be a bit nervous to see John Kerry surfing into the picture with an endorsement, given how it worked out the last time a former Democratic nominee stepped in to back someone in the primary.

That's it? Because four years ago the previous Dem nominee endorsed Howard Dean Obama should be nervous this time?

Look, there are more variables than anyone can count in politics, and there is no evidence I can discern that there's any substantive connection between the two endorsements mentioned. Obama and Dean are different candidates; Democrats as a whole never saw Dean as electable, while in New Hampshire voters saw Obama as more electable than Clinton. The 2004 and 2008 electoral landscape is different, Kerry and Gore are different...heck, even Gore 2004 and Gore 2008 are different. Let's get a little more rigorous here.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A New Obama Campaign Mistake

Barack Obama has served his campaign very well by never once, to my recollection, playing the dreaded race card. I would be shocked if he started now, but I've now seen two people connected to his campaign say that it might have been a factor.

One was a Georgetown professor and Obama supporter on this evening's Hardball, and here's another from Obama's campaign co-chair Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Even though they're not saying it was the reason, it is still a big mistake. The media and pollsters will analyze race as a factor in how wrong the polls are of their own accord. The last thing Obama should want is for his campaign to be associated with pushing the theme.

Disputing the Bradley Effect

One of the more popular theories on Hillary's win is something called the "Bradley effect," which is shorthand for disguised racism. It's named for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who in 1982 was well ahead in the polls, but ended up surprisingly losing the gubernatorial election.

Were New Hampshire residents telling pollsters what they wanted to hear, trying not to appear racist, and then switching to Clinton in the polling booth? It seems unlikely.

As shows, Obama's 36 percent was almost exactly what aggregate polls predicted him to get. People didn't appear to leave him. As I pointed out last night, it was Clinton's numbers that were outside the margin of error; she gained an amazing nine points.

There is almost certainly no one answer for why this happened, but right now I'm not buying the racism argument, especially when the 37-24 gap Clinton worked up among women is staring us baldly in the face.

One other thought: Dick Morris famously has insisted that in most elections, undecided voters will overwhelmingly break for the challenger at the end. If in fact many primary voters resisted Obama's coronation, then perhaps his being the clear front-runner, if only for a few days, pushed that effect Clinton's way.

Giving Parrots a Bad Name

While interviewing Mike Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltzman last night, Sean Hannity not only improbably defended Mitt Romney's campaign record to date, he used Romney's own talking points, saying he thought "two silver [medal]s and a gold" sounded like pretty good results to him.

Saltzman was justifiably at a loss for words. Romney outspent his rivals in Iowa and New Hampshire by an order of magnitude and spent huge amounts of time in both states. He was beaten by two establishment-bucking candidates to boot. And he explicitly based his entire campaign strategy on winning both states to catapult his always-low poll numbers enough to win the nomination.

There is no reasonable way to think Romney has had a good performance so far. In a wide open GOP field, anything is possible. The only thing Romney appears to have so far, though, is lots of money, and that's never enough to make someone president.

Way Off

I don't have much more to say about it at this hour than I already have, but I hate when people don't own up to mistakes. I thought the Democratic race was over. Nearly everything pointed to it being so, and all indications are the Clinton's campaign was as shocked as anyone about her win. (Reports are that her own internal polls had her 11 points down) But we were all wrong, and are now trying to figure out why.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Polls

It's safe to say nearly everyone is stunned by the Democratic side tonight. What's worth noting is that every single poll but one (Suffolk) had Hillary Clinton between 28 and 31 points, and she finished at 39. That means all of those were outside the margin of error. So either the methodologies were bad, or something big changed in the last few hours. I'm betting it's more the latter.

Intraders Don't Know Any More Than We Do

No more of those stories about how well online markets predict elections. Intrade and others have gone up and down drastically throughout the past few months, and nothing illustrates how little we all know than the last week or two.

Between Christmas and New Year's, as Hillary seemed to be upticking, Obama's "stock" went down into the low 20s. As of yesterday, following his win in Iowa and presumed momentum in New Hampshire, it was above 70. Tonight, he is back down to the low 40s, while Clinton jumped from the low 20s to over 50.

Republican winner John McCain is not so lucky (well, not like he actually cares...). He is up slightly, 2.3 to 36.5.

Women Break Clinton's Way

It now looks, shockingly enough, like a close Clinton victory, which no New Hampshire poll predicted. The apparent reason: Clinton won women 47 to 34 percent.

The polls showed Obama and Clinton running roughly even among women, so this would represent a very late and significant break. We don't know why yet, but the conventional wisdom (which seems reasonable to me) is her tearing up yesterday may have had much to do with it.

If so, you'll pardon me if I say, "you've got to be kidding me." A sympathy vote in the midst of a shameful last several days of negativity on the part of her campaign?

Well, you may say, Obama's wave had everything to do with emotion, so why can't she benefit from it too? Here's why: The emotion behind Obama's is to unite the country and overhaul the entire tone and tenor of Washington politics. You may argue whether that's doable or even desirable, but it's a weighty desire. A sympathy vote is not. It's is emotion detached from substance.

Though Clinton is a serious candidate with serious ideas, I must personally add that if somehow the type of campaigning she and her husband have been doing allows them to pull out a victory, it will be a depressing result. It will also make for a much more interesting race.

UPDATE: Clinton's people aren't much denying that raw emotion did it for them. I'm just deciding whether to be depressed or angry about that.

Analogies Are Complicated, Hugh

Daniel Larison hits it on the head on Hugh Hewitt, someone I think is only listened to by other ardent Mitt Romney supporters, and bloggers looking for an easy target.

As usual, Hewitt is annoyed that people are not giving enough respect to his dear Mitt:

I heard one bit of punditry passed from microphone to microphone yesterday: If Romney doesn’t win in New Hampshire, he’s finished.

This assessment isn’t asserted about Hillary, who also planned to win early. It isn’t asserted about Mike Huckabee, Thompson or Rudy. It wasn’t asserted about Hillary, McCain, Rudy or Thompson after Iowa.

If no one is saying anything about Fred Thompson’s chances after New Hampshire (where he stands to get somewhere between 2 and 3%), that’s because everyone has already stopped paying much attention to the poor man. After all, why keep kicking a man when he’s down? Giuliani and Clinton, who could well be finished after tonight, don’t receive the same treatment because they still have significant leads in February 5 states and until recently had decent leads in national polling (the latter have since evaporated). Romney’s strategy was explicitly a traditional early-state strategy that required him to do well in the initial contests. Only after Iowa did his minions begin talking about his “national strategy.”

Additionally, plenty of people are saying that Hillary is already gone. The speculation topped Drudge yesterday, for the gods' sake. The best I've heard from most is the reasonable argument that we can't write her off yet. It's not much of an endorsement, but at this point her chances deserve no better.

If Romney loses by five points or more tonight, what good argument can be made that he's legitimate when he lost the two states on which he based his entire campaign?

His war chest? Money is one of the most overrated elements of predicting political success. It surely matters, but rarely does it make a bad candidate anything more than they actually are. Money has allowed Barack Obama to reach much of his vast potential. It could have for Romney as well, had he not been such a transparent phony, and thus run almost the opposite kind of campaign than he should have.

Only now is he running as something close to what he is: a smart, innovative leader and problem-solver. At this late stage it should not save him, if only because we will never know who the man would actually be in the White House.

Romney's Unbearable Awkwardness

At least it is for one reporter. As someone who has enjoyed melted Velveeta-and-Rotel in his day, the imagery on this one is powerful.

So That's Why People Hate Mark Penn

I'm a latecomer to the whole debate about Mark Penn, the much-reviled chief strategist and pollster for Hillary Clinton. His December smackdown on Hardball by his John Edwards counterpart Joe Trippi was much-deserved, but is it a case of a brilliant guy who shouldn't be put in front of a camera?

For those of you behind the story line as I am, Ezra Klein's review of Penn's book Microtrends would make one think it would be madness to put the guy in a position of any authority. The methodology is brutal:

In a chapter called “Aspiring Snipers,” Penn explains, “It’s the rare moment when a poll stops me in my tracks and reorients my understanding of things.” One such poll was conducted last fall, when Bendixen and Associates asked 601 young Californians what they’d be doing in 10 years. About 1 percent—so, a handful—said they’d be snipers. Certainly, that’s an odd reply. But Penn never mentions that the Bendixen poll had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percent—four being a larger number than one. Additionally, it’s meaningless without further study. Anyone in the age bracket would attribute it to video games, or snipers being, let’s admit it, quite cool. Yet Penn, based on no follow-up interviews, detects a “new patriotism,” and a desire “to master complex mathematical formulas like how distance or wind might affect the path of the bullet.” This simply isn’t professional work.

There appears to be much more of the same. This is admittedly a stretch, but I can't help think that one commonality between Penn's logic and the Clintons' worst examples is an unquestioning belief that they are right, which leads to many of the most outrageous statements they make. They just don't understand the criticism because they are incapable of seeing their own faults.

Huh. That sounds a bit familiar.

Limbaugh Losing it?

Predicting the demise of Rush Limbaugh has always been a foolish proposition. The man is supremely talented and entertaining and has been nothing short of remarkable in holding his position as the pre-eminent radio talk host in the country for nearly 20 years.

I will not predict it either, but I will be surprised if the dynamics of this most unusual campaign don't deliver a hit to his bottom line.

Limbaugh has always been unpopular with large segments of America, but his 20-million-plus listeners came from a reliable core of passionate conservatives. Now however, the GOP is collapsing beneath his feet, riven apart by almost unbelievable incompetence, corruption, and unpopular ideology.

Republicans are angry, and while many long for a return to Reagan-era "fundamentals," a large segment do not recognize their party anymore, and are looking elsewhere. They are leaving, and mark my words, a Barack Obama administration will have every opportunity to capture much of this group for the long term.

Rush, however, is fighting against this current. So many of his core beliefs rest on his contention that Ronald Reagan was a hard-core conservative, that he won two terms, and ergo hard-core conservative ideology will win nearly any election. It is faulty logic on its face, but Republican successes in Congress beginning in 1994 partly obscured its oversimplification, and some of the real reasons for the decade-long conservative ascendancy (I'll save those for some other time).

Limbaugh has always made facts fit his view of the world rather than the other way around. It's what ideologues do. When the facts become increasingly inconvenient, their reasoning becomes all the more labyrinthine to avoid facing internal contradictions.

Another of Rush's core beliefs, without which the raison d'etre of his show would fail, is the liberal bias of the media. The media isn't just liberal, however, they're specifically biased toward the Clintons.

Flipping through caucus coverage last Thursday, I caught Rush on FOX News via phone.

It took me a moment to believe what I was hearing, and I only wish I'd recorded it for quotation. Paraphrasing, he said that all the other media outlets that evening could talk about was Huckabee, Huckabee, Huckabee. Why? Because they couldn't bear to talk about their beloved Hillary losing to Barack Obama.

That's right, he views the idea that outlets are giving more coverage to the Republican winner (which I somehow doubt, by the way) as an example of clear liberal bias. Add the fact that the press almost universally does not much care for Mrs. Clinton's style, and finds Obama a much more compelling storyline, it begs the question of how far gone one has to be to produce such a tortured rationalization.

Limbaugh is fighting not just the potential exodus of significant chunks of Republicans out of the GOP, but also its two most popular presidential candidates: Mike Huckabee and John McCain. They are "too liberal," you see. No matter they have the greatest appeal to the center, Limbaugh is positive that only true conservatives win the day.

Much of what is considered conservative orthodoxy today would come as quite a shock to conservatives of any other generation. The Party will likely need to reinvent itself after the 2008 elections. It's hard to believe Rush won't pay some ratings price as he increasingly becomes a relic of a Republican past that is in a sense fading away, and in another sense never really was.

Obama and McCain

I'll grant that I enjoy David Brooks partly because he's a fair-minded centrist, and partly because I'm more interested in lateral, big-picture thinking than anything else. But enjoy him I do.

Today's column is on the strengths and weaknesses of the two men who may be the front-runners tomorrow.

On Obama:

Everybody who’s dealt with him has a story about a time when they felt Obama profoundly listened to them and understood them. One of mine came a few years ago.

I was writing columns criticizing the Republican Congress, but each time I’d throw in a few sentences slamming the Democrats, subconsciously trying to make myself feel good. One morning I got an e-mail message from Obama that roughly said: David, if you want to critique us, fine. But you’re just throwing in those stray sentences to make yourself feel good.

I felt like a bug pinned down in a display case.


His weakness is that he never breaks from his own group.

And McCain:

John McCain has cordial relations with Obama, but he is very different. He is most moved by examples of heroism and individual excellence. His books are about individual character and patriotism, not networks or community-building.


He is allergic to blind party discipline and builds radically different coalitions depending on his views on each issue — global warming, campaign finance, spending, the war. He is most offended by dishonor. He’ll be sitting in his Senate office and he’ll read about some act of selfishness — a corrupt Pentagon contract, Jack Abramoff’s scandals — and he’ll spend the next several months punishing wrongdoing.


McCain’s weakness is that he flies by the seat of his pants.

I'm not the first to say it - heck, Andrew Sullivan has said it about 68 times - but will echo it: A race between these two men has the potential to be the most edifying for the country in decades. They would be substantive, positive, intelligent, respectful, and would offer voters a clear choice of ideologies that would both appeal to Independents. What more could we reasonably expect?

Hillary the Third-Termer

Reading a piece in the Weekly Standard yesterday, it was suggested that many thought Hillary Clinton should have succeeded her husband, not Al Gore. Others have said one of Clinton's problems is that she's run as an incumbent, based on the 1996 election, rather than the change election of 1992.

Leaving aside for now whether Hillary would be able to run as a legitimate change candidate (I think not), it occurred to me watching Saturday's ABC debate that her tone, attitude, and talents scream successor.

She is someone who could not inspire the realignment for which American politics is ripe. She doesn't inspire, and even if she did, she views far too much of the political spectrum as The Enemy. And she is, understandably, captive to the past, her husband's administration, of which she was so much a part of. Her administration would largely be an attempt at continuation.

She may, however, be perfectly suited to carry on and extend the policies of the person who does realign. She could be a Harry Truman, a George H.W. Bush, or a Lyndon Johnson, the latter of which makes it odd that she sorta' compared herself to him earlier today.

I don't mean to take the individual analogies too far, but the point is she is someone who can get things done, but much more readily in the context of a consensus that has already been achieved. None such does right now, but voters on all sides are yearning for one.

It May Not Have Been Possible

How could Hillary Clinton have avoided her game-changing loss in Iowa? Blame is not in short supply, not from a press corps that generally hated working with her campaign, nor from inside the campaign itself.

We hear it was chief strategist Mark Penn's fault. That Clinton kept changing her theme. That she shouldn't have run on inevitability, which could only lead to a crash once the bubble burst. That she should've skipped Iowa, or understood it better.

They're all valid criticisms, and maybe she could have pulled it out. It's also possible that all things being equal, Barack Obama is a better candidate.

From my perspective in Iowa, Obama ran a nearly perfect campaign. He was well-organized, worked hard and was on pitch, to be sure. He also is the right man at the right time, knowing just how to channel the massive pent-up energy and frustration of supporters into an appealing vision, and more important, concrete action.

He made almost no mistakes. His campaign was remarkably united even at its lowest points. He never wavered in his approach or convictions, but he continually fine-tuned, improved. And his convictions were nearly always vindicated.

He's amazing to watch, and it's not just charisma. Against the "perfect" candidate, at a time so suited for him, we may look back and say Clinton always had an uphill battle. We just didn't know it.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

How to Get More Out of Reading

Some nice tips on better digesting books.

The Awkwardness of the Press Corps

From Chris Hayes.

And I thought I was the only one.

Clinton's "Meltdown"

Though I am not at all a fan of Hillary Clinton, I think the instant wisdom of my media brethren that she had a "meltdown" in last night's ABC debate was over the top. From Ezra Klein:

I'd add that it's a bit astonishing to watch the real-time narrative construction that went on at last night's debate. I must have heard the term "meltdown" in reference to Hillary 65 times.

She was angry and let it show. And it might hurt her significantly, if Frank Luntz's focus group has anything to say about it.

Can't we save words like "meltdown" for somebody truly comes unhinged? Like this, this, or even this, say. It's enough that sports radio has ruined all our superlatives. We must not allow the forces of e-vil to win again!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Wishful Thinking

"Iowa is so small, it's like a mayor's race in a medium-sized city. It wouldn't be wise to put too much emphasis on it."

- Clinton press aide Jay Carson on the plane to New Hampshire (1/4/07)

Ian Faith: "The Boston gig has been canceled."

David St. Hubbins: "What?"

I.F.: "Yeah, I wouldn't worry about it though. It's not a big college town."

- This is Spinal Tap (1984)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Republicans for Obama?

Noam Scheiber hits close to my home today, writing about following Obama supporter Monica Greene canvassing in Ankeny. It's close to home because I interviewed Monica in October for one of my favorite profile pieces.

We spoke because I had kept running into the same phenomenon over and over around Iowa: Republicans who really liked Obama. I saw them everywhere. They didn't all say they were going to vote for him, but many were, and I got the sense many others were considering it. A prominent Republican official even told me how intrigued he was.

Schreiber wonders how many such Republicans there are, and makes a very smart point:

My sense about people like Monica is that they've actually been Democrats for a long time, they just didn't know it. Monica told me she was increasingly concerned about the environment and wanted the war to end. She said she voted against Kerry in 2004, not for Bush. What kept her a Republican all those years, I think, was an unflattering mental image of who Democrats were--crusty union hacks and effete Northeastern elitists--which Obama shattered. It wouldn't shock me if there were lots more like her.

It's not that simple, but there's something to that insight. Some of that unflattering mental image, though, has been partially true in past cycles, so it wasn't altogether irrational. It would be more accurate to say that Republicans like Greene probably were not so much against Democratic policy, but not how the party was run.

As a Republican, my problem with Democrats has largely been two things: its domination by interest groups that emphasize their victimization (and consequently, division); and not enough hard-headed focus on policy results.

Democrats have surged past Republicans on the latter quality, as the GOP has largely descended into unthinking dogma and Democrats have become the fiscally responsible party.

But perhaps even more important, Obama seems to be singlehandedly changing the game on the former. George Will made the point well:

Obama's candidacy fascinates because he represents radical autonomy: He has chosen his racial identity but chosen not to make it matter much.

Other call him "post-racial," and as much as Americans hate the hyper-partisanship of national politics, they are likely even more weary of political correctness and racial tension many encounter in real life. Obama offers them the opportunity to move beyond that divide. It will be easier said that done, but the concept is so appealing to members of both parties, it will be a powerful weapon for Obama should he reach the general election.

UPDATE: The Republican mayor of Brooklyn, IA announced he would caucus for Obama tomorrow. His rhetoric sounds very close to mine:

“I’ve been a moderate Republican all my life and I simply don’t recognize these people [the GOP field],” he said. “Meanwhile, the Democrats have six solid candidates — though I think [Dennis] Kucinich is a bit out there.”

He also made a point I hadn't considered: That lots of Republicans are fed up, and will be caucusing Democrat to make sure Clinton doesn't get the nomination. If a decent number of GOPers do that, she's really in trouble.

Update h/t Andrew Sullivan

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Huckabee's Evened Odds

It doesn't take much to remember why Mike Huckabee surged in the polls and has stayed on top in Iowa.

The former Arkansas governor had an announced crowd of over 2,000 eating out of his hand at the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines tonight. It was one of the largest crowd I've personally seen for a single candidate in Iowa, and I wonder if it was the largest for any of the Republicans.

Chuck Norris on the marquee drew them in too, but the crowd cheered loud for Huck as he weaved humor, storytelling, and crowd-pleasing rhetoric to great effect in a speech given without notes.

Huckabee made the requisite pitch to go out and caucus, and then had advice on how to handle people planning to caucus for somebody else.

"Shovel your snow in their driveway. Let the air out of their tires. Disconnect their battery cables," he said, before predicting that part of his speech might be quoted once or twice by the media.

For some reason, Huckabee decided to go on before Norris, whose success in acting is clearly not the result of extemporaneous speaking. Then for the finale, Huck's wife, Janet made a few remarks (example: "I can't wait to be your First Lady because I think that would be too cool!") before bringing her husband back on stage to play a few numbers.

He called MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, noted for playing guitar in his own band, on stage to help the band through "Sweet Home Alabama," "Twist and Shout," and "Roll Over Beethoven."

It was a far cry from yesterday's narrative, when Huckabee's press conference was considered an instantly classic gaffe by much of the media. Though the criticism was a bit overblown, the affair was amateur hour, and perhaps even devious in trying to get the media to play his unaired negative ad while taking the high ground of not airing it.

What we don't know is whether many of his supporters care about such things. Charismatic populists are often forgiven much, but it's hard to withstand weeks of negative ads without running your own.

I wrote earlier about Huckabee's spotty organization. The campaign upped their game tonight, with lots of volunteers passing out registration cards and offering caucus locations. There's a lot more to a good organization than that, but it's something.

The big something will be whether all these people show up on caucus night, though. As with the Democratic race, nobody really knows, including the campaigns.

* - Photo: Huckabee and Scarborough rock out to "Sweet Home Alabama" while, presumably, someone with a lighter yells, "Free Bird, dude!"

Deconstructing the Poll

A few interesting tidbits from the Register poll I haven't seen anyone else discuss:

Most surprising of all to me was that Obama held a one-point lead among union households. This defies all conventional wisdom, as Clinton and Edwards have gotten most of the major union endorsements (Dodd got the big Firefighters support), and Obama is not thought to appeal as well to working-class voters as some.

A friend of mine said that a union endorsement doesn't mean rank-and-file support, but still, this is a startling number. It's either great news for Obama, or evidence that the overall results are off.

Clinton may have a big lead nationally on the question of electability with Democrats, but she leads Obama by three points here. That's big, because it takes away a big fall-back decision point for voters who decide at the last minute. The other fall-back, her experience, is a good one to have, but Iowa polling has consistently shown that Democrats prefer change to experience.

Something else: One would think that last is true even more for Independents and Republicans, especially the latter. Why would Republicans change their registration to Democratic if they didn't want big change?

Huckabee's Odds

Mike Huckabee's campaign must be heartened by last night's Des Moines Register's poll numbers. Huckabee has surged mainly because he's very likeable, uses populist rhetoric, and has been relatively unvetted. That last is changing, but he may still retain a lead come Thursday.

The problem for his campaign is, he will need to take a lead into the caucuses in order to win. He does have the advantage that his supporters could be more excited about voting for him than his opponents (except Ron Paul). But will he get them out to vote?

My personal dealings with his campaign have been less than impressive. Iowa director Eric Woolson seems a good human being with knowledge of how things work here, but they operated long with a skeletal staff, both here and in Arkansas. They've added staff since the surge, and the growing pains show.

I've called the campaign office and gotten bad information from staff more than once. Despite several attempts I haven't been able to get onto the campaign's e-mail tree. And as of this moment, his main Iowa Web page hasn't been had its events schedule updated past December 20th.

There is little evidence the campaign will have a strong get-out-the-vote effort. The Romney campaign gives off the opposite vibe, one that has been fine-tuning itself for many months, has dropped bales of money on the state, and is a well-oiled machine. One would think that even if Romney's supporters are less enthusiastic, his campaign will bring out all they can.

Huckabee has done almost nothing to downgrade his expectations, while Romney has for weeks been saying he just needs to finish in the top three.

It will be one of those surreal political moments if Romney beats Huckabee by a few points on Thursday and, despite outspending Huckabee many times over in any resource you can name, comes out with the media calling it a big win.

Clinton's Pakistan Gaffe

These things get blown too out of proportion, and I don't believe this is a major gaffe. But if Obama made the same statement, do you believe Clinton wouldn't be all over him today?

Biden was critical of Clinton on this very point earlier today, by the way, although in Indianola later in the afternoon I didn't hear him bring it up.

UPDATE: Ok, now it's a big(ger) deal. From Ben Smith:

A spokesman for Clinton, Howard Wolfson, said Clinton was referring to Musharraf's party, not the president himself.


But Clinton's words appear unambiguously to describe Musharraf himself as a candidate.

"If President Musharraf wishes to stand for election, then he should abide by the same rules that every other candidate will have to follow," she told CNN's Wolf Blitzer (.pdf) Dec. 28.

"He could be the only person on the ballot. I don't think that's a real election," she told ABC's George Stephanopolous December 30.

Stop it already!

It's easy for me to despise President Bush. There are too many reasons to be able to pick one. With former president Clinton, it was primarily because he (and Hillary at times) would lie so often and brazenly as to insult my intelligence. It's an extraordinarily visceral reaction for me, I admit, but I also don't think it's inaccurate.

Misdefining Rationality

David Brooks has an excellent article on why Mitt Romney would be a big loser for Republicans in 2008. But both he and Jason Zengerle incorrectly identify his rationality as the problem. From Zengerle:

David Brooks correctly diagnoses it: it's his rationality. As Brooks writes:

The most impressive thing about Mitt Romney is his clarity of mind. When he set out to pursue his party’s nomination, he studied the contours of the Republican coalition and molded himself to its forms.


And yet as any true conservative can tell you, the sort of rational planning Mitt Romney embodies never works. The world is too complicated and human reason too limited. The PowerPoint mentality always fails to anticipate something. It always yields unintended consequences.

And what Romney failed to anticipate is this: In turning himself into an old-fashioned, orthodox Republican, he has made himself unelectable in the fall.

I think Brooks is right about this. Romney, in his heart of hearts, is probably a fairly unorthodox Republican. And an unorthodox Republican would actually have a decent--albeit not great--shot at beating the Democratic nominee in 2008. But one look at any of the numerous polls showing a generic Democratic presidential candidate trouncing a generic Republican one reveals just how unelectable an old-fashioned, orthodox Republican will be in '08. Hence Romney's problem.

The problem with Romney's approach that it was tactically rational, but strategically irrational. It was based on the belief Brooks hits dead on that Romney decided to run as the definition of a conservative that was never coherent, and is fading into oblivion.

And it left out certain key assumptions, such as the fact that most voters actually like authenticity, and that the insulting level of pandering on the part of Romney would hold up through a general election.

Romney's campaign has been run like a marketing strategy, something the candidate knows well. It's been well-executed and successful as far as its short-term goals go. But when one considers the goals of winning in 2008 and being able to govern successfully, it is decidedly not rational.

Just How Big Do You Think Ethanol is?

David Epso is right that the issues change as soon as the caucuses are over and head to New Hampshire. But I've heard one story too many that talks about how dominant an issue ethanol is in Iowa.

Sure it matters, but one recent report on the general state of the GOP race said not supporting ethanol subsidies was a big reason John McCain was so far down here.

It isn't. McCain has trailed mainly because a whole lot of Republicans just don't like him. For his issue stances, for not being an ideologue, for being too cozy with the media, take your pick. Ethanol is way down the list, and in fact in a recent Iowa debate he volunteered that he was against subsidies even though he wasn't asked about it.

Voters ask about a lot of other issues before they ask about ethanol. Alternative fuels and biofuels in particular are significant, but much of that has to do with wind, R&D spending, and nuclear power.

I'm just sayin', don't oversell the point, mmkay?

Biden Makes His Closing Pitch

Des Moines is so odd this morning. The streets are mostly deserted on a holiday, except for the several-block radii around campaign events, where the picture couldn't be more different.

Joe Biden made his pitch in downtown Des Moines at noon at the Raccoon River Brewing Company, which would normally be packed with paying patrons that time of day.

The man has a lot of sympathy, as the perhaps 500 people in attendance make clear. Like one could see with Mike Huckabee before he broke big, Biden's relatively smaller audiences loved this guy. He's a great orator, and has a seemingly lethal combination of intellect, gravity, and passion.

After introducing his rather large family - Biden claimed 22 of them had dinner together last night - the Delaware Senator gave a shortened version of his stump speech, playing up his great experience and long record of authoring and shepherding major bills through Congress.

If anyone could compete with Obama for Independents and Republicans, this would be the guy. But he won't, because too many people don't think he can win.

It's that concept that is so frustrating to Biden and his supporters. Why do you want to vote for someone who isn't as smart as your Secretary of State, Biden would ask crowds rhetorically, referencing the job many had picked out for him months ago.

I've heard his supporters ask why the media "let" Huckabee rise in the fall, while Biden has stayed where he is. It's a great question, and here's the reason: Republicans were looking for somebody else because they didn't really like any of their other candidates. Democrats loved theirs, and there didn't exist that vacuum begging for an alternative candidate to fill it. That's not the only reason, but I believe it's the only one that really matters.

So Biden remains the second choice of, I think, a lot of Iowans, and could easily have a big role in the next administration. He may surprise with a strong showing on Thursday, but it won't be anywhere near the top tier, unfortunately for many.

* - Photo: Legion fans await Biden's entrance to the Raccoon River Brewing Co.

Kucinich Signals Obama Support

This just in from the Kucinich camp:

Kucinich Urges Supporters to
Back Obama on Second Iowa Ballot

For Immediate Release - Tuesday, January 01, 2008

DES MOINES, IA - Democratic Presidential candidate and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich opened the New Year by publicly asking his Iowa supporters to vote for him in the caucuses this Thursday, and suggesting that if he did not make the 15% threshold, their second ballot should be for Senator Barack Obama. "This is obviously an 'Iowa-only' recommendation, as Sen. Obama and I are competing in the New Hampshire primary next Tuesday where I want to be the first choice of New Hampshire voters.

"I hope Iowans will caucus for me as their first choice this Thursday, because of my singular positions on the war, on health care, and trade. This is an opportunity for people to stand up for themselves. But in those caucus locations where my support doesn't reach the necessary threshold, I strongly encourage all of my supporters to make Barack Obama their second choice. Sen. Obama and I have one thing in common: Change."

# # #

Second-choice votes could end up deciding Iowa, so this sort of thing definitely matters. However, Kucinich has barely run in Iowa, and will likely has less support that the approximately four percent he showed in pre-caucus entrance polling in 2004.

If a deal is struck by one of the top three with Dodd, or especially Biden or Richardson, though, it could be significant.

Biden and Richardson are particularly interesting. I get the feeling that Richardson would endorse Clinton if he dropped out, but that Biden would support Obama.

However, it's possible each's supporters would feel the opposite. If Biden's
are with him due to experience, it would seem Obama would be an unusual place for them to end up. And Richardson's supporters seem very much about big change in Washington and could be drawn to Obama or Edwards.

Then again, I can tell you much of Biden's appeal has to do with his great speaking ability and his judgment. So, as with so many other things about this race, what do we really know?

UPDATE: Time's Jay Carney writes that Kucinich's move is a "huge deal" because of how much it meant to Edwards in 2004. It was significant for Edwards then, but not huge, and it will be much less so this year. Kucinich is polling much less than four years ago, mainly because the Democratic field is so much better this time around.