Saturday, November 10, 2007

So's Your MotherMcCain v. Giuliani gets personal

John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have had a cozy little truce for much of the presidential race. On background, the candidates and their aides tell supporters and the press why the other man can't get elected. In public, though, they've been sweet to each other. Giuliani even said McCain would be the man he'd vote for if he weren't running.

The era of good feeling was bound to disappear, since McCain's aides will tell you that much of his support drifted over to Rudy once the mayor got into the race. And now it's getting very personal very fast.

For the last week McCain and Giuliani have been engaged in a quasi-policy dispute over waterboarding. Giuliani suggested that he was sympathetic to the complexity of whether the tactic is torture, as a former prosecutor who sometimes had to use harsh interrogation techniques. McCain responded that such a careless comment about torture suggested Giuliani wasn't ready to lead the country.


From NBC/NJ’s Matthew E. Berger
HENDERSON, NV. -- On the day of Bernard Kerik’s indictment, Giuliani faced the media and received four questions about Kerik. While the indictment’s timing had been known for days, Friday brought new attacks from Democrats and John McCain, questioning Giuliani’s judgment and leadership because of his association with his former police commissioner, now accused of tax fraud.

But when asked about McCain’s remarks, Giuliani feigned disbelief that his longtime friend -- and someone Giuliani has been careful not to criticize on the campaign trail -- had attacked his leadership.

“I'd be very surprised if John did that,” he said. “John is a very good friend. I probably have about 20 quotes from John since all of this became public ... [describing] me as a hero.”

He went on to say he believed McCain saw him as a hero, and would be surprised if he said anything on the contrary. “John prides himself on being a straight shooter and nothing has changed, and John has made all these comments since these things have come out,” he said. “I really doubt that he's changed his mind about that. I'd be really surprised if he did.”

Giuliani couldn’t have been that surprised, though. His campaign had already responded with a snarky quote from Communications Director Katie Levinson, mocking McCain for his campaign’s poor financial standing. And that was followed up by an e-mail with 12 quotes from McCain praising Giuliani. It seemed unrealistic that no one had told the candidate what McCain had said.

After eating a chicken pita sandwich and spending a long period of time chatting with the restaurant owner’s family, Giuliani seemed relaxed in relaying both his mistake in not vetting Kerik more thoroughly and his view that it was just one mistake in a long record.

“This was a mistake,” he said. “I've made mistakes. This is not the only one I've made. But if you look at the full context of the decisions I've made, and look at the amount of correct decisions, I really doubt there is anyone running for president that has the concrete results that I've had.”

He also said he did not believe the Kerik trial would be a distraction throughout the race. “No, not at all,” he said. “I think that I have a very, very long and complete public record with numerous decisions that I've made. And people evaluate you in the context of all of the decisions that you've made.”

Giuliani was careful not to comment on the trial directly, including whether or not he would be called to testify.

It did not go unnoticed that the retail stop at Crazy Pita, about 15 minutes off the Las Vegas Strip, occurred at 3:15 p.m. Pacific time, or 15 minutes before the start of network evening news on the East Coast. It allowed for Giuliani to not look like he was avoiding the media, but also to not get his reactions on the news all day Friday.

Fred Thompson's stunning error

November 8, 2007

Fred Thompson was well into a prolonged dialogue about abortion with interviewer Tim Russert on NBC's ''Meet the Press'' on Sunday when he said something stunning for social conservatives: ''I do not think it is a wise thing to criminalize young girls and perhaps their parents as aiders and abettors.'' He went further: ''You can't have a [federal] law'' that ''would take young, young girls . . . and say, basically, we're going to put them in jail.''

Those comments sent e-mails flying across the country reflecting astonishment and rage by pro-life Republicans. No anti-abortion legislation ever has proposed criminal penalties against women having abortions, much less their parents. Jailing women is a spurious issue raised by abortion rights activists.

Thompson's comments revealed astounding lack of sensitivity about the abortion issue. Whether the candidate blurted out what he said or planned it, it reflects failure to realize how much his chances for the presidential nomination depend on social conservatives.

Thompson was a former senator working as television actor when on ''Fox News Sunday'' on March 11 he made himself available for president. I started to take him seriously a month later when a religious conservative activist (call her Miss Jones because she works for a nonpartisan organization) surprised me by telling me she favored Thompson to fill a void among announced presidential hopefuls. She complained that no first-tier candidate -- Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney or John McCain -- fit her model and that overt social conservatives -- Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback -- could not be nominated.

After Thompson's unannounced candidacy got off to a shaky start, I checked again with Miss Jones shortly after Labor Day. She still supported Thompson, though she seemed less enthusiastic. But Sunday's ''Meet the Press'' changed everything. ''It was the last straw,'' Miss Jones told me.

In his first question on abortion, Russert asked Thompson whether, as a candidate, he could run on the 2004 Republican platform that endorsed a ''human life'' constitutional amendment banning all abortions. ''No,'' Thompson replied, suddenly monosyllabic. ''You would not?'' ''No,'' said Thompson, adding ''that's been my position the entire time I've been in politics.'' In fact, every Republican platform starting in 1980 has endorsed such an amendment and every Republican candidate has been able to run on it.

Thompson thought better of this position after the program. His campaign manager Bill Lacy told me Tuesday that Thompson ''does not want to change the platform'' in 2008. But there was no apology for raising the criminalization chimera. Neither Thompson nor Lacy seemed to understand that what he said had antagonized the social right.

Miss Jones told me she switched off ''Meet the Press'' after Thompson's talk about jailing women. If she had continued, she would have heard him reiterate positions that previously had disturbed social conservatives: opposition to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and to congressional intervention to save the life of Terri Schiavo.

Thompson's performance coincided with Republican perception of weakness in Sen. Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate. But where will Miss Jones go? Giuliani still defends a woman's right to choose. Romney has made the switch from pro-choice, ending previous opposition to a human life amendment. Huckabee is described by one national conservative leader as a member of the ''Christian left.'' That leaves McCain as the major candidate with the clearest position against abortion.

Clinton and Giuliani: Each is What the Other Is Not

By David M. ShribmanFri Nov 9, 7:57 PM ET

Can you win your party's presidential nomination by running against someone in the other party as if she already were in the White House? Can you be nominated on your leadership qualities even if major chunks of your party's political base find your views on the issues repugnant?

These are questions that can only be asked this year and next, that can apply only to the Republican presidential race, that can be directed only at Rudolph W. Giuliani. No matter how many alternative universes there are, there very likely is no one quite like the former mayor of New York. Who else could remotely qualify as the person whom rivals consider the most dangerous man in America and whom supporters think is best suited to keep America safe?

The Rudy phenomenon -- the spectacle of a man being praised for strength in a party that disavows many of his strongest positions -- illuminates some important features of next year's election. They can be summarized in two contradictory sentences that, together, explain the political scene a year from Election Day:

(1) The entire 2008 election is about leadership qualities; and (2) the entire 2008 election is a referendum on Hillary Clinton, who isn't even president.

Ordinarily, with an economy in confusion if not upheaval and with an unpopular war being prosecuted by an unpopular president, you might think that the election would be about the sitting president. But, apart from anti-Bush barbs tossed to the Democratic masses like pieces of raw meat, President Bush is the missing man from the 2008 contest. That is in part because his vice president, Dick Cheney, isn't running for office, but it is also in part because the Bush presidency has ended before Mr. Bush's term has come to a close.

We've seen this before in modern times. Ronald Reagan was president for at least a year before he defeated Jimmy Carter, and if you doubt that for a moment, take a look at the last budget Carter proposed. The election of 1980 simply made the Reagan ascendancy legal.

Now, a few months into the post-Bush era, the two parties' nomination fights are dancing to the same tune. The soundtrack is leadership and Hillaryship.

The former New York mayor is leading the Republican pack (though by less than any GOP front-runner has led his nearest competitor since 1979) by emphasizing his leadership qualities and emphasizing that he is not Mrs. Clinton. The New York senator is leading the Democratic pack by emphasizing her own leadership qualities and is profiting from the unusual phenomenon of being the most incendiary influence in both parties' nomination battles.

The most recent poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press shows that many Giuliani supporters cite their opposition to Mrs. Clinton as the main reason for backing him -- almost as many as those who cite their affinity for him.

That underlines this notion, apparent since the aborted first confrontation between the two in the 2000 Senate race in New York: They are matter and anti-matter. Love one and you hate the other. Or, more precisely: Love one because you hate the other.

Another matter of matter and anti-matter: The two candidates have reverse profiles.

Mrs. Clinton's supporters cite her stand on the issues as the biggest reason for their views. Mr. Giuliani's supporters cite his leadership abilities, not his stand on the issues. Indeed, Giuliani's views are less important to his political base than they have been for any presidential candidate in 16 years.

These two candidates need each other like the flowers need the rain. They define each other. Mr. Giuliani is intuitive; Mrs. Clinton is cerebral. Giuliani is deeply emotional; Clinton is deeply rational. Giuliani has a habit of demonizing his opponents; Clinton is accustomed to being demonized. Giuliani says he is a Red Sox fan even though he's not; Clinton says she is a Yankees fan but can't even believe that herself. She's everything he isn't. He's everything she isn't. Look for spontaneous combustion if they ever occupy the same debate stage.

They do have one thing in common: Only about half of the voters, according to the Pew survey, see the two as trustworthy.

One thing more. Both candidates have strong opponents waiting in the background if they stumble. Giuliani's is former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who has a credible chance of winning both Iowa and New Hampshire, which ordinarily is a formula for success. Clinton's is Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who lags in the polls and in the money race but not in optimism or eloquence.

Meanwhile, let's not let the rich color of the personalities involved in the 2008 race blind us to some larger events happening within both parties and within the political system.

Once again, we are faced with opposites: a Republican Party that seems to be pulling apart, a Democratic Party that seems to be pulling together. That occurs as the sitting president seems to be a bigger asset to his rivals than to his allies. And it occurs as the two parties have front-runners who are polarizing figures.

All that is a reminder that this will be an election unlike any other -- not only because of the presence of a former mayor at the front of one party (so far) and of the presence of a woman at the front of another (so far). Either of these would be important departures. But let's not lose sight of the fact that in the next year we are going to witness the shifting of all sorts of assumptions, changing not only our politics but also our country.

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Play of the Day: McCain's Mom on Mormons

Sometimes the Truth about peoples real bias comes out through their parents. I think there is more here than meets the eye, and this could spell a real problem for McCain.

MEREDITH, N.H. (AP) — John McCain's 95-year-old mother, in a swipe at her son's rival Mitt Romney, said Friday that Mormons were to blame for the scandal that rocked the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

During an appearance on MSNBC, Roberta McCain laid out why her son, John, deserves to win the Republican presidential nomination. But in evaluating McCain's primary rivals, she criticized Romney's Mormon faith and his time in Salt Lake City.

"As far as the Salt Lake City thing, he's a Mormon and the Mormons of Salt Lake City had caused that scandal. And to clean that up, again, it's not a subject," Roberta McCain said.

John McCain quickly stepped in: "The views of my mothers are not necessarily the views of mine."

"Well, that's my view and you asked me," Roberta answered.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee had enticed International Olympics officials with lavish gifts and accusations of bribery mired the Games in scandal while resignations sullied the region's reputation.

Utah officials tapped Romney to lead the effort and as president and CEO of the organizing committee he pared the budget, boosted revenues and worked to repair the committee's reputation.

A Romney campaign spokesman said the McCains made a mistake.

"I would disagree with any candidate or any campaign surrogate that chooses to disparage someone based on the faith that they hold, and instead implore other candidates and their campaigns to make a case to voters based on the important issues facing the nation," said Kevin Madden.

Roberta McCain immediately apologized to her son.

"I didn't mean to say it," she said as they stepped away from the cameras.

McCain told The Associated Press after the interview that his mother misspoke.

"Mormons are great people and the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon should play no role whatsoever in people's decision," McCain said.

"What she meant was the Olympics were screwed up by the people in Salt Lake when Romney came in and fixed the problems there. But I know my 95-year-old mother is certainly in favor of Mormons."

Compiled by Philip Elliott.