updated 4/11/2008 12:35:20 PM ET 2008-04-11T16:35:20

Guest: Joan Walsh, Matt Continetti

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I‘m David Gregory.  Tonight, the politics of Iraq, the president will freeze the withdrawal, sharpening the debate about what the next president will do about the war.  The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome to the RACE, your stop for the fast pace, the bottom line and every point of view in the room tonight.  The Iraq debate and more.  New numbers in Pennsylvania.  Chelsea Clinton‘s advice about her parents.  And how many Clinton supporters would back McCain if she‘s out of the race. 

And the big foreign policy questions coming up as well.  Is Obama an impulsive radical?  Is McCain a neocon?  The answers and the analysis ahead. 

The bedrock of our program, of course, a panel that comes to play.  With us today, editor-in-chief of salon.com, Joan Walsh; MSNBC political analyst and Washington Post columnist and associate editor, Eugene Robinson; NBC News political director, Chuck Todd; and associate editor of The Weekly Standard, Matthew Continetti. 

We begin, as we do every night, with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day.  It‘s “The Headline.” My “Headline” tonight, the president‘s campaign memo to the Democrats.  In freezing the troop withdrawals, he announced today, the president will leave America heavily committed to a still unfinished and unstable story in Iraq. 

Today, he argued in effect, let‘s forget how we got there and focus on the consequences of leaving.  He raised the warning flags.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Iraq is a convergence point for two of the greatest threats to America in this new century, al Qaeda and Iran. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  The president also invited critics of the war to contemplate success in Iraq.  No, not the way he originally offered it to the country, but a fragile stability in Iraq with a long-term U.S. presence that checks Iran‘s influence and could prevent a wider war in the region.  Will Americans go for it?  It‘s going to be tough, but consider this, from the latest Gallup poll. 

When asked, will Iraq be better off in the long run than before war?  Sixty-seven percent say yes, compared to 26 percent who say no.  Gene Robinson, your “Headline” about the big Iraq story today? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My headline is the truth is in the numbers, 140 K troops to stay.  You know, let‘s go back for a minute.  There were 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq before the surge.  Now, there are 140,000 at least.  And there will be 140,000 likely when the election happens. 

So, you know, surge, unsurge, essentially what we‘ve done is increase the U.S. troop strength in Iraq and the president essentially said, we‘re going to keep these troops there indefinitely or at least through his term of office. 

GREGORY:  He is certainly making it very clear that he wants to, in his mind, give, if it‘s a Democratic president or if it‘s John McCain, the best opportunity to refashion the way forward in Iraq.  He doesn‘t want to give any sort of momentum to a rapid troop withdrawal because he wants as much stability as he can get for the rest of the year. 

ROBINSON:  He doesn‘t want to give any momentum to any sort of troop withdrawal.  He has essentially run out the clock, because this formulation now—this is the latest formulation of why we‘re in Iraq.  Remember, we started with WMD, we were going to build a democracy.  It was the central front on the war on terror. 

Now, you know, it‘s betwixt and between al Qaeda and Iran.  How did Iran get all this influence to begin with?  Some people think it has to do with the invasion.  But never mind, this is the final, I think, place where the goal posts come to rest.  And he is going to—you know, this is where we‘re going to be. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Joan Walsh, your “Headline” tonight? 

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM:  Hi, David.  Well, my headline tonight is the Democrats have finally stopped their circular firing squad and they are trying to aim at John McCain instead. 

I was really interested to see that story about the former conservative warrior David Brock, now liberal warrior, putting together a $40 million war chest to fight John McCain, to begin to develop messaging and ads to fight John McCain.  I think that‘s interesting because it represents a kind of truth or an attempt at detente between Clinton and Obama forces who have been fighting about should Clinton drop out. 

You have George Soros who is an Obama supporter who is said to be behind this.  You‘ve also got and Steve Bing, who is a Clinton supporter.  So it‘s an effort to get people to kind of stand down and say, we can fight McCain while this goes on. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Chuck Todd, your “Headline” tonight? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, in less than an hour, David, we got Mitt Romney‘s audition to be John McCain‘s V.P. in Lancaster, Pennsylvania tonight.  He is stumping for McCain.  It‘s actually a very clever thing for McCain to do because it gets our attention.  He should get all of his potential running mates to do these little events for him. 

This is probably a very small Republican dinner that was going to happen.  And instead, little more attention to it, a little more local press.  John McCain gets to be in the news in a positive way in Pennsylvania right now, in the middle of this Obama-Clinton primary war.  And meanwhile, Mitt Romney gets to audition.  So it should be interesting, we‘ll see how he does. 

GREGORY:  Right.  And we‘re going to talk about veepstakes a little bit in the next segment.  But how are we going to define success for Mitt Romney with this speech tonight? 

TODD:  I think success will be to see how well does he not only defend McCain and some of his positions, but how well does he do on the economy?  If you pick Romney—if you‘re John McCain, you‘re picking Romney to help out with the economy, to help out... 

GREGORY:  Right. 

TODD:  ... strengthen the Republican ticket on the number one issue, which is not going to be Iraq in the fall. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Matt, welcome to the program.  Your “Headline” tonight? 

MATTHEW CONTINETTI, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD:  David, my headline tonight is McCain goes back to the drawing board.  You know, a few weeks ago he gave an economic address on the housing crisis that was widely panned because he argued against federal intervention. 

Well, now he has changed his tune.  He is producing—promoting a home program where lenders who are under pressure can swap their mortgages for a loan.  I think we have some video.  Why don‘t we watch it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There‘s nothing more important than keeping alive the American dream to own your home.  Priority number one is to keep well-meaning, deserving homeowners who are facing foreclosure in their homes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CONTINETTI:  You know, David, what this shows is that McCain realizes that he can‘t win the presidency based on Iraq and his biography alone, which is kind of what we‘ve been seeing from him over the past few weeks.  He has changed his tune, he wants to have policies that voters think—show that he‘s listening to their concerns. 

GREGORY:  It‘s a challenge for him, isn‘t it, Matt?  Do people feel him on the economy?  Is he as strong as when he talks about the war?  Is he as believable? 

CONTINETTI:  Right, well, that‘s his challenge.  At the moment, you know, McCain has always said that the economy has never been his number one issue.  But I think in an environment where Republicans are so challenged as they are today, especially with the housing crisis and the economy emerging as the number one issue here, he needs to show something for it.  And the old recipe of tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts may not work. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  All right.  A lot more ahead.  Coming up, inside the “War Room,” we are thinking of the dream ticket and looking at the new poll that could make it a reality. 

And later in the show, your playdate with the panel.  Call us, 212-790-2299, or send us an e-mail, race08@msnbc.com

Also Chelsea Clinton and her advice about her parents.  The RACE will be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back and it‘s time to head inside the “War Room” and get a close look at the campaigns‘ behind the scenes strategies.  Here again tonight, Joan Walsh, Eugene Robinson, Chuck Todd, and Matt Continetti. 

First up, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she‘s not interested in the V.P. job.  But take a look at this, a new poll out today could change her mind, or John McCain‘s.  According to a Marist poll of New Yorkers, in hypothetical match-up, a McCain and Rice pairing trounces a Democratic dream team ticket.  Look at the numbers, McCain and Race edge out a Clinton-Obama ticket 49 to 46 percent. 

Now if you flipped the top of the Democratic ticket, they don‘t fare much better.  McCain and Rice hold steady at 49 percent to an Obama-Clinton ticket getting just 44 percent. 

Chuck Todd, pretty interesting number.

TODD:  Does that mean that there‘s more weakness on the Democratic dream ticket side than the Republican dream ticket side there?  You know, look, this Condi Rice chatter I think is just that, chatter.  It‘s very tough to bring somebody on a national ticket who has never run for office before. 

She has never had to talk about guns.  She has never had to talk about abortion.  All the rumors are is that she‘s too socially liberal to get through the conservative litmus test that one would need in order to please that convention.  And John McCain has got enough problems with conservatives. 

WALSH:  Absolutely. 

GREGORY:  Yes, Joan.  The other part of this is Mitt Romney, who I think does have a lot of appeal, not only as Chuck said on the economy, but also in the Rocky Mountain West, which, Joan, you know, Democrats are looking for, particularly Barack Obama, as a key pickup area in this election year. 

WALSH:  Right.  I think Romney brings some things in terms of raising money.  He brings support in the West.  He gives them a shot at Michigan.  I think that Condi—that Condi poll is fascinating.  It made me laugh.  Voters are so excited about having these bright shiny objects in this new kind of campaign.

But I think when you—also, she‘s so tied to Iraq and McCain cannot pick somebody else who is equally tied—or more tied to this disaster. 

GREGORY:  But you know what it is?  I just—I want to move on—but you know what I think it speaks to, Gene, it‘s also sort of the anti-politics thread, that through-line in this... 

WALSH:  Very much. 

GREGORY:  ... campaign, people want...

ROBINSON:  I think absolutely. 

GREGORY:  ... to move away from politics. 

WALSH:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  Absolutely.  I think that‘s what people want.  And you know, there was another poll—a Pew poll in which she had very high positives.  And just to play devil‘s advocate, you know, she apparently wowed the breakfast at Grover Norquist‘s place, the conservative activist has this regular breakfast.  She appeared and the conservatives who attended loved her.  So you know, maybe—I‘m just arguing from self-interest, it would... 

TODD:  Well, that‘s bad news for...

WALSH:  Definitely. 

ROBINSON:  ... add more star power in this race. 

TODD:  Bad news for John McCain.  If Grover Norquist loves something, John McCain is going to hate it. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  Yes, exactly.  OK.  Next up, Colin Powell this morning on who he is voting for for president, watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  I‘m looking at all three candidates.  I know them all very, very well.  I consider myself a friend of each and every one of them.  And I have not decided who I will vote for yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Matt, pretty interesting for a couple of reasons.  One, could he endorse Obama?  And what would it do to McCain if Powell is not in his camp?

CONTINETTI:  It‘s possible Powell could endorse Obama, though I think it is more likely that he‘ll refuse to endorse any candidate.  And one reason is he obviously knows John McCain well.  And they come together on the torture issue, if you recall, David.  They are both opponents of aggressive interrogation techniques.  So I think it‘s more likely that Powell just sits this one out and perhaps awaits for maybe a position in the next Democratic administration. 

GREGORY:  Do you think he would be willing to serve? 

CONTINETTI:  I think so.  I think if called under the right circumstances, certainly from someone like Obama, who, of course, represents a huge milestone historically, but also wants to show that he can reach out to Republicans in some fashion even if they‘re disgruntled Republicans like General Powell. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Moving on, Chelsea Clinton on the campaign trail and raising a big issue in this race while answering a question about the Monica Lewinsky impeachment scandal, listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF HILLARY CLINTON:  I think that is something that is personal to my family.  I‘m sure there are things that are personal to your family that you don‘t think are anyone else‘s business either. 

(APPLAUSE)

C. CLINTON:  Also, on a larger point, I don‘t think you should vote for or against my mother because of my father. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  That‘s what piqued my interest, Chuck Todd.  That‘s a big statement, because it‘s a big issue.  It‘s not just Lewinsky, it‘s trade, it‘s all kinds of things. 

TODD:  My favorite conspiracy theory is that it is Clinton supporters who are planting those questions to Chelsea so that it looks like that people are going over the top.  I mean, it really is an insulting thing to ask of a daughter whose parents had such a public issue in their personal lives. 

So it really is a terrible position to put her in.  But you‘re absolutely right, they‘re trying to do that.  But the problem is Hillary Clinton‘s entire premise of her—or sort of her campaign at the beginning of this thing was running on that experience that she got in the eight years of her husband‘s administration.  So she can‘t separate herself. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Well, and—but let me bring up a personal point—right.  She can‘t—but, Joan, here‘s the personal part as well.  You know that there are a lot of voters out there, a lot of women out there who have formed negative opinions about Hillary Clinton based on the fact that she stayed with her husband through a very difficult time.  And I think that Chelsea Clinton is speaking to that as well. 

WALSH:  I think she is, too.  And I think that‘s exactly what she‘s aiming at, David.  And I think it could work.  It‘s brave.  There are a lot of people—I have friends who have suggested, you know, Hillary needed to step out and give a speech separating herself from her husband. 

I think that‘s too much, because, as Chuck said, she‘s running on a restoration, the great economy of the Clinton years, she can‘t separate herself too much, plus she stayed married to him, you can‘t make that go away.  But I think it could be effective.  I think Chelsea has handled this in a very moving way and in a very politically astute way.  So we‘ll see. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Finally, from the “War Room” tonight...

ROBINSON:  Just to play devil‘s advocate...

GREGORY:  Let me just get to this other poll tonight.  A new AP/Ipsos poll shows about a third of Clinton supporters would defect to John McCain, if Obama were the nominee compared to a quarter of Obama supporters who would defect if Clinton were the nominee.  But it is significant about the disparity here.  Gene, answer that and then make your other point. 

ROBINSON:  You know, I don‘t know of anything significant about that disparity at this point, because I really expect both those numbers to shrink.  The question is, do they both shrink to 5 percent or does one shrink to 5 percent and the other to 10?  In which case I suppose it kind of indicates that Obama supporters might have more trouble getting behind the ticket. 

But I think it‘s early to draw conclusions.  The point I was going to make, in just going back to the Chelsea Clinton thing, is, you know, devil‘s advocate, but he was impeached.  This was a public process.  And you know, as painful as it might be, it‘s not possible to put all that back into the closet and kind of shove it away into a corner.  It happened, it‘s a part of history. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  Let me get a quick comment from Chuck about this polling, about whether Hillary Clinton supporters would go to McCain before they went to Obama.  Can party unity take care of that or do you think there is something that‘s lasting here with her base? 

TODD:  You know, it‘s interesting.  My colleague Mark Murray is just envisioning that moment when one of them concedes and they do that event together because they will do that event together.  Even John McCain and Mitt Romney did, even though it was very awkward, and one is going to raise the arm of the other and say, I‘m behind this person. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

TODD:  And those numbers are going to shrink, but it goes to Gene‘s point, how much does it shrink?  I do think there are some supporters, older women in particular, who may end up going to John McCain instead of Barack Obama.  So we‘ll see, but there may be youthful voters that don‘t turn out if it‘s not Obama as the Democratic nominee. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘ve got to get a break in here.  Coming next, more from Colin Powell tonight making Barack Obama‘s day.  That‘s next on the RACE.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  “Smart Take” time now.  “Smart Takes” in the program.  We track down the provocative, the thoughtful, the most informed so you don‘t have to.  Still with us tonight, Joan, Eugene, Chuck, and Matthew. 

OK.  First up, Colin Powell on ABC today on Barack Obama, the former secretary of state said this when asked if Obama‘s relative inexperience on the national stage was a concern.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL:  He didn‘t have lot of experience in running a presidential campaign, did he?  But he seems to know how to organize a task.  And he seems to know how to apply resources to a problem at hand.  So that gave me some indication that his inexperience in foreign affairs or domestic affairs, he may also be somebody who can learn quickly. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Strong take from Colin Powell, who also praised Obama‘s handling of the Reverend Wright scandal.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL:  I think that Senator Obama handled the issue well.  He went on television and I thought gave a very, very thoughtful, direct speech.  I admired him for giving it, I agreed with much of what he said and he didn‘t abandon the minister who brought him closer to his faith.  But at the same time, he deplored the kinds of statements that the Reverend Wright had made. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Joan Walsh, what‘s the impact of that?  I thought what was striking is—particularly was that he would make the argument that in fact the Obama campaign has made, which is look at how this campaign has been run when you want to speak about experience on the national stage. 

WALSH:  Those are Obama talking points.  I was very impressed, David.  I think if he doesn‘t endorse, the Obama people can count this as an endorsement because it‘s enormously helpful, particularly on foreign affairs.  The Wright comments weren‘t terribly—you know, were nice, but I expect Colin Powell to understand the Wright situation.  That‘s not as big a question.  It was a great statement.

GREGORY:  Yes.  You know, it‘s interesting, Matt, you said something earlier that Powell may not endorse.  He has got that relationship with McCain.  Do his comments make it more difficult for McCain‘s campaign and others on the right to go after Obama on his handling of Reverend Wright? 

CONTINETTI:  I‘m not so sure.  I mean, Colin Powell is voicing the consensus opinion, right, which is that the speech was a great success.  But look at the argument, though, he was giving about Obama‘s foreign policy experience—or lack of experience, using the campaign as a metaphor of how he might be president. 

The other component of that argument that the Obama campaign is making was made by Obama himself recently, saying his own personal story is a reason how he is better equipped to handle foreign policy crises than John McCain or Hillary Clinton. 

That may be the argument from the Obama campaign, David, but I‘m not sure when up against John McCain it‘s going to play with the voters. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Coming up next here, The Washington Post‘s Michael Gerson says Obama‘s Iraq position will not play in November, to the quote board: “Obama,” he writes, “has twice voted against funding U.S. troops in the field, a political necessity in the Democratic primaries, but a blunder with the broader electorate.  Now matter what subtleties Obama attempts to develop in his Iraq position, this will be seen as a symbol of impulsive radicalism unbecoming in a commander-in-chief.”

What struck me about this, Gene, is the idea that Obama will be seen as too ideological, frankly too liberal in foreign affairs and that that could hurt him.

ROBINSON:  Well, if you look at Iraq, you know, the assumption that underlies that piece is that there is broad popular support for a big open-ended commitment of U.S. forces in Iraq.  And I don‘t see that.  That‘s not what I‘m hearing from people.  That‘s not what I see in the polls. 

If that does not exist, then I actually think the piece is off-base.  I don‘t think this blows back on Obama as some sort of radicalism.  It seems to me to be a fairly mainstream position given what I see in the opinion polls. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘ve got to take another break here.  Coming up, should we expect a change of course in Iraq if a Democrat is elected in November?  Speaks to what Obama might do when he actually gets into office, or Clinton, if a Democrat is elected.  We‘re going get to today‘s “Three Questions” when we come back, right after this on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Glad to have you.  Time now for us to ask the three biggest questions of the day.  Still with, editor in chief of Salon.com, Joan Walsh, MSNBC political analyst and “Washington Post” columnist, as well as associate editor, Eugene Robinson, NBC News political director Chuck Todd and associate editor of the “Weekly Standard,” Matthew Continetti. 

First up, the McCain view of the world.  Yes, he supported the Iraq war, but criticized its execution.  He argues for taking a hard line against Russia.  But he‘s also a pragmatist, advocating, as he has in recent weeks, closer ties to European allies on issues like climate change.  That‘s a change from the Bush administration. 

The “New York Times” quoted McCain adviser Robert Kagen today, to the board; “I would say his world view is so established that there is not a real battle going on.  A struggle over individual policies I could imagine, but the broad view, no.  People would agree on what McCain thinks.  This is not one of those situations like Bush all over again, with some titanic struggle going on, different factions of the administration.”

Still the question then, is McCain a neo-con is disguise?  Matt, what is he? 

CONTINETTI:  Well, no, I don‘t think there‘s much disguise to it.  He like George Bush believes in marrying American power to pursue American ideals.  This philosophy has a long tradition in American history.  McCain has agreed with it since the 1990s, when he supported the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo against many Republicans, who were opposed to that. 

GREGORY:  But, Joan, do you think that McCain is as ideological as the president and others around him?  Because I think that‘s where a lot of the criticism has come from against this administration, that it‘s not just philosophical, it‘s ideological, that their foreign policy was motivated by ideology?  ®MD+IN_®MDNM_

WALSH:  No.  I frankly don‘t think he‘s anywhere near as ideological as the Bush administration.  Partly, I think that sadly does come from his own war experience, that he can‘t be as cavalier or as intellectual or we‘re going to change the world with using human lives in our experiment.  So I think a lot of people respect that. 

On the other hand, I think the “New York Times” article today did raise some very interesting questions about the extent to which his larger view of Iran, the Middle East generally, is being shaped increasingly by neo-cons.  So I think there is a struggle for where John McCain goes beyond Iraq.  And I think these are questions worth asking. 

GREGORY:  This could be a deep debate, Chuck Todd, but the reality is there‘s a superficiality about a presidential campaign that doesn‘t get into a contemplation of all these issues.  Is there a danger that McCain gets paint as either a neo-con, which is a euphemism for being too close to the Bush White House and way of thinking, or that he‘s too eager to go to war? 

TODD:  I think, look, part of me was reading that article today in the Times and wondering, geez, who didn‘t get invited into the McCain campaign and who‘s upset about that, right?  You sometimes can‘t help but wonder that.  But you do—look, there is this old cadre of—I don‘t know what else to describe them, but Bush 41 guys, right? 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

TODD:  From the first Iraq war, who have been critical from the get-go of this Bush‘s foreign policy, the ideology of it, these neo-conservative, et cetera.  So you do wonder if this was a warning shot to McCain, try to get him to reach out to some of these guys.  You got to interview Brent Scowcroft yesterday.  He‘s been one of these people.  Wouldn‘t surprise me if this the “New York Times” reporter talked to General Scowcroft in developing this thesis. 

GREGORY:  I don‘t know.  Gene, where do you come down on this?  Is he more of a neo-con or a pragmatist? 

ROBINSON:  I wouldn‘t call him a neo-con.  I think this question is bound up very much in how far do you go in the Middle East?  Do you pursue the Bush policy, which is essentially dividing the Middle East between radicals and moderates, and putting Iran in the radical camp as a nation that has to be dealt with and has to be contained and somehow kept from attaining greater influence.  You know, with all of that implies about the future course of U.S. foreign policy, I think it‘s very much about the Middle East, and I don‘t think we know the answer.  He‘s a very stubborn man, but I don‘t think he‘s ideological in that way. 

CONTINETTI:  You know, David, there‘s also an economic component here.  McCain has advisers who disagree on foreign policy.  He also has advisers who disagree on domestic policy.  He has Jack Kemp the supply sider and Pete Peterson, who is obsessed with the deficit, also advising him.  So he does take advice from a wide range of advisers. 

GREGORY:  And he‘s been in public life for a long time.  I think his views are probably a little bit more set than George W. Bush, who came into office. 

Next up, is Hillary Clinton reprising her role as the underdog in this race.  Clinton appeared moved at a fund-raiser featuring Elton John last night, thanking supporters and vowing to stay in the race.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I cannot express to you in words—they fail me and I sure can‘t sing.  But what I want you to know is I‘m still standing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  I‘m still standing, it‘s not the first time this week that Clinton has played that underdog role.  On NPR, Clinton got frustrated when asked if she could get enough delegate to the win the Democratic nomination, saying the question was proof of a media double standard. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I understand that there has been throughout this campaign something of a double standard.  For example, why is the question directed at me?  I mean neither of us has the number of delegates to win.  It is a problem for both of us.  So I mean the question is often directed at me or my supporters. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  British citizen Elton John didn‘t stop at a double standard when speaking about Clinton‘s bid last night.  He suggested she was a victim of some American misogyny. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELTON JOHN, SINGER:  I never cease to be amazed at the misogynistic attitudes of some of the people --  I say to hell with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  So here‘s the question, is Clinton‘s fairness argument a winning strategy?  Joan, what do you say?

WALSH:  I think she‘s got to be careful.  Clearly, many, many Democrats and many women feel that she‘s been the victim of sexism.  That‘s not to say if there was no sexism, she would be beating Obama.  She‘s made some campaign mistakes, that‘s clear.  So I think that you saw in New Hampshire that I think the argument helped her some, the fairness argument.  On the other hand, it is dangerous.  You cannot whine if you want to be commander in chief.  You can‘t play the victim. 

I don‘t think she‘s done that.  I heard her double standard comment not being so much about sexism, but just a reference to the Clinton rule; if the Clintons do it, it‘s evil and they‘re political graspers.  If Obama does it, it‘s holy. 

GREGORY:  But Matt, let‘s take gender out of this for a second.  If you are behind, is it a smart strategy to argue the fairness of the rules or that everything is sort of stacked against you? 

CONTINETTI:  It is fair to argue the fairness of the rules since there is no resolution for Florida and Michigan, right?  The last time we had a convention where there were only 48 states represented was in 1956 when there were only 48 states in the union.  So Clinton is right to raise this issue. 

But the double standard here I think is between—it‘s not about misogyny or anything like that.  It‘s about the Clintons, as Joan said, and certainly the media‘s love of Obama. 

GREGORY:  Eugene, do you agree with that?  I mean does she have a point? 

ROBINSON:  I‘m tempted to bow to Sir Elton‘s vast knowledge of the American political scene, but, you know, she has a point about sexism, certainly.  I think there has been some sexism in the way she‘s been viewed in this campaign.  I agree with Joan that that is not necessarily the reason she‘s behind and she‘s behind.  So why does the question come to her and not to Obama?  Well, because he‘s got more delegates and no one can figure out how she catches up in pledged delegates.  There is an answer to the question she posed. 

GREGORY:  I do think it is an important point to make that in coverage of these candidate, the press corps generally covers somebody who is winning differently than somebody who is losing there.  There is a great interest in dissecting why is somebody losing, let alone somebody who has such institutional support and who was branded as being inevitable early on.  Slightly beside the point. 

Finally, President Bush said today the war in Iraq is not endless but that didn‘t satisfy the Democratic candidates.  Hillary Clinton immediately put out a statement telling the president to recognize reality and start to end the war be responsibly.  And this afternoon in Indiana, Barack Obama said this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It‘s estimated that we will have at least 140,000 troops there until the end of the year.  In other words, there is no end in sight under the Bush policy.  And if that isn‘t enough for to you want change, I don‘t know what is.  Because it is time to bring this war in Iraq to a close. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Let me challenge that assertion.  The third question tonight, if a Democrat wins the White House, would he or she be forced to change course on Iraq come January?  And here‘s my thinking on that, Matt; if General Petraeus says to a Democratic president, I know you want to withdraw.  We can work toward that.  But here‘s the current state of things in Iraq, and we don‘t know what that would be by January.  I‘ve got to have a little bit more time.  Would there not be an imperative that that new president would feel to give the general more time? 

CONTINETTI:  I don‘t think so, David.  Here‘s why; if a Democrat is elected president, there‘s going to be unrelenting pressure on them to withdraw our troops Iraq.  Why?  A, they‘ve campaigned on it and b, they‘re going to have institutional pressure from not on the Democratic Congress, which has voted countless times to withdraw on a political timetable or cut off funds altogether, but also from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Pentagon brass, who believe that the war is stretching the Army too thin. 

It is going to be very difficult for either Clinton or Obama to not only backtrack from their campaign promises and risk a collapse in support, but also to resist that public pressure and institutional pressure with which they supposedly agree.  So I think there will be withdrawals. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s remember this, Joan, because we don‘t know what circumstances are like on the ground.  We don‘t know what Iran does or what the U.S. may do to Iran before the year is out in the region there, having to do with interference in Iraq.  But remember, when Tim Russert asked the question during an MSNBC presidential debate of the Democratic candidates, none of them would commit to having all the troops out at the and of their first term. 

WALSH:  At least the three front-runners at the time, David. 

GREGORY:  That‘s right.  Richardson did pledge to do it. 

WALSH:  But Edwards, Obama and Clinton shocked everybody by not agreeing to that, and I think they were realistic, because as you say, god forbid, something terrible could happen that really changes the whole equation there and they would be crazy to commit now to what they would do then.  However, if that doesn‘t occur, I think Matt‘s right.  I think there‘s military support for a phased withdrawal.  It will be slower than many in the Democratic base want, but I think there will be withdrawal, there pretty much has to be. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Coming up, our viewers are wondering what role would Bill Clinton play in the White House if his wife were to win the presidency? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We are back now with your play date with the panel.  Still with us, Joan Walsh, Eugene Robinson, Chuck Todd and Matt Continetti.  First up, Steven in Virginia is skeptical that a U.S. boycott of the Olympics would mean anything at all.  He writes this, “remember when the symbolism of a United States boycott of anything for moral reasons actually meant something?  After seven years of Bush, our possession of the world‘s moral high ground is in foreclosure.  Now, if W boycotts the Olympics, who would actually care.”

Do you think, Gene, there would be an impact if the Bush Administration were to make that decision? 

ROBINSON:  A huge impact in China, yes.  This is China‘s big kind of coming out moment, it‘s emergence as one of the supreme powers in the world.  Economy is going great, guns, all the architecture, all the money, everything.  And for the U.S. president to boycott any part of that would have an enormous impact, I think, on the China scene. 

GREGORY:  Go ahead, go ahead. 

TODD:  I think everybody is making too big a deal out of this stuff.  I‘m trying to think of what the Olympics did for Sydney, Australia, what it did for Barcelona, Spain.  It‘s a big moment at the time, but this stuff fades.  I think by talking about all this stuff, it‘s almost raising the expectation and giving more than what it would be if everybody just cooled their heels a little bit on this. 

GREGORY:  Don‘t you think China is different?  China is not Australia.  China is a country that‘s trying to forge a relationship with the rest of the world despite human rights abuses, despite a lack of Democratic reforms.  It seems to be a little bit more like the U.S.-Soviet relationship. 

TODD:  But where was this moral outrage in the IOC at the time they were debating to pick Beijing.  Trust me, the United States has a lot of say over what sites are picked and could have had a say in it then.  It‘s too late for protests now. 

CONTINETTI:  The e-mail is right to suggest that just boycotting the open ceremonies is an empty gesture.  The United States economy is so closely linked to the Chinese that there are plenty—if you were serious about actually imposing costs on the Chinese government for committing these human rights violations, you would have to go to trade.  You would have to go to assessing the security relationships, things like that.  Skipping the Olympics opening ceremony doesn‘t amount to much in the end. 

GREGORY:  You don‘t want to hurt—

ROBINSON:  I actually that inside China, I think this would be seen as huge inside China. 

WALSH:  I do, too. 

ROBINSON:  Because it would be a big loss of face for the government and in front of the population. 

WALSH:  I don‘t expect it to happen, actually. 

GREGORY:  You don‘t?  But even though there‘s now more pressure on the campaign trail, right?  Everybody has said essentially they would not go to the games, the opening ceremonies.  McCain, Obama, Clinton. 

TODD:  How many U.S. presidents go to games that are not in this country? 

WALSH:  Bush, like him or not, he‘s not known for bowing to public opinion and public will.  I don‘t think he much cares what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama think he should do right now. 

GREGORY:  But I know he‘s ready to fire up the jet to go to Beijing to the Olympics.  He‘s been planning that for a while. 

Next up, Mike in Illinois is sensing some deja vu.  He writes this: “I can‘t believe how similar Obama is to George Bush.”  I refer to him as President Bush.  “Has little political experience, said he was going to change Washington and claim that he would unite Congress.  It is obvious that America has not learned from our past.”

What‘s striking about this to me, Gene, is how powerful change is as a sentiment and a sort of anti-politic strain.  Because this was the argument essentially that Hillary Clinton was making earlier on that after George Bush it have to be experience that trumped everything, but change seems to be bigger.

ROBINSON:  Well, people—you know, it‘s the country going on the right path or wrong path question.  And record numbers of Americans are saying wrong path.  So that‘s why change is so important.  But I think if you asked Obama, he would say, if you want to compare me to a Republican who‘s kind of riding into Washington, don‘t make it George W. Bush, make it Ronald Reagan.  And that‘s in a different direction, but that‘s the kind of impact he would like to have in Washington. 

GREGORY:  Moving on.  Our next viewer wants to know what the Clinton campaign has cooking in their war room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Could you please tell us your theories about Bill Clinton‘s role in the White House if Hillary were to win. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  All right, we got time for one answer to this.  Joan, what‘s your guess? 

WALSH:  I think he would be a huge voice on foreign policy, and also on the wealth gap, on AIDS, you know, the issues that his foundation is associate the with.  I think that‘s where he could play the biggest role. 

GREGORY:  I just think it‘s very tempting for him to get involved in all aspects of policy, don‘t you think? 

WALSH:  There is that. 

GREGORY:  Chuck, go ahead.

TODD:  Just that she‘s going to have to give a speech outlining what he‘s going to do before the American voters elect her either the Democratic nominee or president.  I think She‘s never addressed this enough, to be honest. 

GREGORY:  Got to take a break here.  Want to show you this: the gap is shrinking in Pennsylvania.  According to the latest “Time Magazine” poll, Barack Obama is within six points of Hillary Clinton, with 18 still undecided.  Just 12 days away.  We‘re coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Finally here tonight, welcome back.  We‘re turning up the heat and putting the pressure on our panelists.  It is time for their predictions.  Still withes us Joan, Eugene, Chuck and Matt.  Chuck, tell me what the future holds. 

TODD:  Well, we‘ve been hinting at this one all show long.  But my prediction, not only will Colin Powell end up not endorsing, which is already a rejection of John McCain, but I think if he announces anything, he‘ll announce that he‘s voting for Obama.  You can almost picture him saying it, not endorsing any candidate, won‘t campaign for him, but I‘m personally going to vote for Obama.  That‘s how I think he does it come October 25th

GREGORY:  Does that do just as much for Obama, especially in the final days maybe, as an endorsement earlier on? 

TODD:  Absolutely, but it‘s really a real—I think it‘s striking that Colin Powell and Chuck Hagel, who could have been John McCain‘s two closest advisers and supporters back in 2000, won‘t yet endorse him?  That‘s a stunning rejection.  Forget the potential endorsement of Obama.  It‘s been a stunning rejection of McCain.  Shows where you the moderate wing of the Republican party is right now. 

GREGORY:  Joan, your prediction tonight? 

WALSH:  Bush‘s Iraq commitment will McCain‘s albatross in November.  I thought that speech today, David, was devastating for McCain.  It created headlines like, Bush halts troop withdrawal, which is bad.  And it also committed the country to new kinds of benchmarks.  They‘re very vague and ambitious.  We‘ve got have a capable partner in Iraq, helping us defend our interests against our enemies, and we have to have a strong democracy.  Those two things I think are literally decades away and that‘s very dangerous for John McCain. 

GREGORY:  Nobody really spoke to what conditions on the ground, in terms of external threats from say like Iran, would have to exist for the troops to stay or eventually to come home.  That was something that was left a bit vague. 

WALSH:  Very vague.  Very open ended. 

GREGORY:  Matt, what do you see tonight? 

CONTINETTI:  David, my prediction is Bush will attend the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics.  And his most vociferous critic for doing so will be John McCain.  It‘s all part of McCain‘s attempt to distance himself from Bush.  He released a statement just today calling into question whether he McCain would attend if he were president.  I think he‘ll come down hard on Bush if this unrest in Tibet continues when the Olympics arrive. 

GREGORY:  Let me be a little bit tactical here.  Who is the target voter he‘s going for by taking that harder position against China by making that statement? 

CONTINETTI:  Yes, one word, independents.  The GOP lost independents in droves to the Democrats in 2006.  John McCain, unique among Republicans, in that he appeals to independents.  If he can even get some of those independents back, he has a strong chance to win in 2008, despite everything. 

GREGORY:  Also, Chuck, you might get those Reagan Democrats, union members. 

TODD:  To get even more detailed, I think it‘s right there in Appalachia, think West Virginia, think Ohio, think the middle of Pennsylvania.  It‘s those folks, blue collar Democrats who don‘t like the made in China.  These are the same people, by the way, who used to wear those buttons that said, buy American, don‘t buy Japanese.  Now buy American, don‘t buy Chinese. 

GREGORY:  Finally, Gene, your prediction tonight? 

ROBINSON:  My prediction is that in the privacy of Pennsylvania voting booths, race will matter.  You know, we‘re not hearing a lot right now with 12 days to go before the primary—we‘re not hearing a lot about race as a big issue in the primary there.  I‘ve heard from some campaign workers, mainly from the Obama side, outside of the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metropolitan areas, kind of that vast middle of Pennsylvania, from some people who are having some pretty tough racially tinged exchanges with some voters. 

Obviously, I don‘t want to kind of stigmatize all Pennsylvania voters or say this is going to be hugely widespread, but I think it‘s going to be a bigger issue than it seems right now. 

GREGORY:  All right, gene, to the rest of the panel, thanks very much.  I‘m David Gregory.  That does it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Thanks very much for watching.  Back here tomorrow night at 6:00 Eastern.  “HARDBALL” is up next.  Tim Russert on with Chris tonight.  Don‘t miss it.  It starts right now.

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

END   

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