updated 4/14/2008 11:51:10 AM ET 2008-04-14T15:51:10

Guests: Crystal McCrary Anthony, Ed Schultz, Tony Blankley

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I‘m David Gregory.  Tonight, look who‘s talking now about Hillary Clinton and Bosnia.  Is the Clinton campaign once again driven to distraction?  The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome back to the RACE, Friday edition.  We‘re going to put the political week into some perspective for you on your stop for the fast pace, the bottom line, and every point of view in the room. 

Tonight, why McCain is gaining on the Democrats and why Obama is facing tough questions about Jimmy Carter.  At half past, the big questions about the race, including whether Bill Clinton hurts or helps his wife at this stage of the campaign.

As you know, the bedrock of this program, a panel that comes to play.  And with us tonight, host of the nationally-syndicated “Ed Schultz Show,” Ed Schultz himself; co-host of BET‘s “My Two Cents,” author and producer, Crystal McCrary Anthony; NBC News political director Chuck Todd; and columnist for The Washington Times, Tony Blankley. 

We begin, as we do every night with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day, it‘s the “Headlines.” My “Headline” tonight, if they are talking about it, we are talking about it.  But why are they talking about it? 

I‘m referring, of course, to Hillary Clinton‘s now infamous Bosnia trip.  Well, Bill Clinton, defending his wife, has decided to jump into the fray.  But why?  Here he was last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There was a lot of fulminating because Hillary, one time late at night when she was exhausted, misstated and immediately apologized for it what happened to her in Bosnia in 1995.  Did you all see all that?  Oh, they blew it up. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  The former president, of course, made that statement, but it was parsed today and it turns out that he was wrong on up to eight different factual points.  Notably, Mrs. Clinton misstated the facts of that trip to Bosnia, remember, that she had arrived amid sniper fire, multiple times, including in prepared remarks. 

By today, Senator Clinton had reined in her husband.  Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. CLINTON:  There appears to be a double standard about misstatements.  But I said what I said.  Hillary caught me, said, you don‘t remember this, (INAUDIBLE), let me handle it.  I said, yes, ma‘am. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Yes, ma‘am.  So to critics, this is Bill Clinton being Bill Clinton.  What else is going on here?  And will the fall-out be worse?  Chuck Todd, what‘s your “Headline” on this Clinton story? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, it‘s that Bill Clinton is melting from the heat of the 24-hour news cycle.  I mean, I wonder if Bill Clinton could have survived in ‘92 under these same rules that we play by today in the media, and you know, a lot of it—you know, that seemed to be the heart of what Bill Clinton was upset about yesterday, that somehow this story about the Bosnia trip got blown up. 

And yet, it‘s as if he didn‘t think about why it did blow up.  Well,

he didn‘t have all the facts.  And then he didn‘t have all the facts about

a story that was a story because she didn‘t have all the facts.  So it does

like, you wonder if he can handle this.

GREGORY:  Right.  But, Chuck, do you think he got into this for some reason?  Do you think he got into this for some reason, something he may have seen, something he thought that this wasn‘t over for her?

TODD:  Well, look, there are two reasons why I think he jumped into. 

Number one is he is a believer that you confront your negatives, right?  You confront your negatives.  He always did that.  You try to disarm your critics.  You try to soften it up by sort of saying, fine, you know what, this is what I‘m being criticized for.  Here‘s how the story is getting wrong. 

The second thing is this Bosnia thing did hurt her.  It has shown up in polls, showed up in our national polling.  And we‘re hearing whispers that it has shown up in some state polling in Pennsylvania. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Crystal, welcome to the program, what‘s your take on this story tonight? 

CRYSTAL MCCRARY ANTHONY, CO-HOST, “MY TWO CENTS”:  Thank you.  Note to Senator Hillary Clinton, now is not the time to stand by your man.  She has been smart enough to distance herself from him on policy issues like NAFTA.  Now, she has got to come in and figure out a way to distance herself from him on these issues. 

This issue of Bosnia had basically evaporated from the media‘s coverage.  And he brings it up.  I‘m sure President Clinton had the best intentions, protective husband just trying to, you know, give a good word for his wife. 

And but the fact is, note to Bill here that I have also, this is not about you.  This is about Senator Clinton and she has got this.  He needs to leave it alone, let her handle it.  He has not been disciplined in his comments, which is a weakness of his, discipline.  And he needs to let it go and let her move on and get on her new game plan with her new strategist, Geoff Garin. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Moving on, Ed Schultz, welcome, your “Headline” tonight? 

ED SCHULTZ, HOST, “ED SCHULTZ SHOW”:  Well, I think the big headlines now, David, is that clearly, Hillary Clinton is off her game.  When was the last time we saw Hillary Clinton at a loss for an answer in an exchange with a reporter?  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Your husband received $800,000 for four speaking engagements ostensibly in support of a trade deal—or by a group that supports a trade deal.  You‘ve given your money to your campaign, is that a conflict of interest? 

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I—I mean, how many angels dance on the head of a pin?  I have really nothing to—I mean, how do you answer that? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  The answer is, clearly, that no matter what her husband says, that she as a senator is against the Colombian free trade agreement and as president, if she gets that far, she will be against that. 

But, Bill Clinton is such an unguided missile on the campaign trail right now, I think it has got Hillary way off her game. 

GREGORY:  You don‘t think she‘s driving the conversation? 

SCHULTZ:  Not at all.  And I think that there might be a parallel between with Mark Penn not being so associated with the campaign anymore and here comes Bill Clinton after several weeks of showing some discipline on the campaign trail.  Here he comes out winging it again and bringing stuff up that clearly dis-focuses the candidate. 

And I think Hillary missed a real opportunity in front of the media to say, look, I am against NAFTA and I am against this free trade agreement with Colombia that the president is pushing hard. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Tony Blankley, what‘s your “Headline” tonight? 

TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES:  My “Headline” tonight is that McCain closes the gap.  The polls that have come out, McCain has picked up a full 10 points on Obama in the AP poll.  He‘s now dead even. 

And in an even more interesting poll, the WNBC-Marist poll out of New York shows that he‘s beating Obama in New York, which is of course, a state that every Democrat automatically wins. 

If these numbers were to sustain, of course, it would be shocking.  What this tells me in part is that McCain has been very lucky that the Democrats have not got their acts together and they have not been hitting him with 527 money.  So he has had a free pass for these months. 

GREGORY:  Well, that is the question, is this just the McCain brand that‘s able to put itself out there without really taking return fire.

BLANKLEY:  Absolutely.

GREGORY:  . or is there something else that is driving this? 

BLANKLEY:  No, no.  I mean, I think absolutely that the McCain people expected to be hit by now, they should‘ve been hit.  The Democrats haven‘t got their act together.  So he‘s coasting.  And if he was being hit hard every day, I think he‘d be doing better than he was a month ago.  But he wouldn‘t have closed the gap, I don‘t think. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘ve got a lot to talk about.  Coming up next, the coming campaign finance war that has McCain v. Obama already under way. 

And later in the show, your playdate with the panel.  What do you think of Bill Clinton‘s comments?  Let us know.  Call us, 212-790-2299.  You can e-mail us at www.race08@msnbc.com.  The program comes right back.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Time to head inside the “War Room” now to see which ‘08 campaign strategies are working and which are not.  With us, Ed Schultz, Crystal McCary Anthony, Chuck Todd, and Tony Blankley. 

First in the “War Room” tonight, former President Jimmy Carter has all but said he‘s backing Barack Obama.  But now Carter is planning to meet with a leader of Hamas, a terrorist organization bent on destroying Israel. 

Obama said this about Carter‘s trip today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m not going to comment on former President Carter, he‘s a private citizen and it‘s not my place to discuss who he should or shouldn‘t meet with.  I know that I‘ve said consistently that I would not meet with Hamas. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Is that good enough, Ed Schultz, or does Obama need to go farther?  I mean, this is could be—it‘s a former president, would be a superdelegate, would he have to take a stronger stand politically, particularly given some of the problems he has got with the Jewish community? 

SCHULTZ:  Well, it depends on how close Jimmy Carter gets to Barack Obama.  Barack Obama said at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this week that he believes that a solution in Iraq is to involve Iran.  Now many people take that as a sign that he would meet with Ahmadinejad, with the Iranians. 

So, you could parallel the meeting with Hamas and the meeting that Obama might have with the Iranians.  This could be a touchy area for Barack Obama.  But I really think that he is not going to be able to reel in Jimmy Carter.

And who knows, if you‘re going to have peace, you‘re going to have to eventually talk to both sides. 

GREGORY:  But, well—but this is a different matter.  I mean, Hamas has made it very clear, Tony Blankley, that it wants Israel destroyed in no uncertain terms.  And this is also an opportunity for Barack Obama to take a stand here, maybe solve—at least go down the road of solving a problem. 

BLANKLEY:  Look, this is—I think he looks both weak and a little slippery on this.  He says it‘s not his place to speak.  He has the audacity to run for president after an hour-and-a-half in the Senate.  He also has the problem with not renouncing Reverend Wright, when he made his outrageous statements.  I think he would have been much better off to make a clear, bold statement that he thinks the former president is wrong to be meeting with the president who wants to kill Jews in Israel. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  All right.  Next up—go ahead, who was that, go ahead, Chuck?. 

ANTHONY:  That was Crystal. 

GREGORY:  OK.  Go ahead, sorry. 

ANTHONY:  Actually, I was saying that‘s really a touchy subject and I disagree that he looks weak.  I think that he‘s taking the high road on this and he‘s trying to not engage this.  He does—politically it‘s true, he does need Jimmy Carter‘s superdelegate vote.  And he has all but said he‘s going to give it to him.  But I would not go so far as to say that he looks weak on this.  If anything, I think that he is taking the private—the high road on this.  And we are going to have to eventually talk.

GREGORY:  Yes.  But the high road—he‘s going to be head of the Democratic Party.  He‘s going to be head of the Democratic Party and the current administration says it‘s a bad idea.  I think a challenge for him. 

I want to move on.  Next up, the fighting between John McCain and Barack Obama heating up tonight, especially on this topic of campaign finance reform.  Obama, who has raised a record-setting $234 million so far has recently been talking up the democracy of the Internet, calling it “parallel public financing.”

Today Obama criticized the traditional taxpayer-funded system: “I think it is creaky,” he said, “the amount of money raised through the public financing system may be substantially lower than the amount of money that can be raised over the Internet, which presents candidates then with some pretty tough decisions.”

While on the campaign trail in Texas it was McCain who accused Obama of going back on his word.  Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  He committed to saying that he would take public financing if the Republican nominee did.  I‘m the presumptive Republican nominee.  I will take public financing. 

Keep your word to the American people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Chuck Todd, he is going back on a promise, Obama is. 

TODD:  He is.  And you know what, he‘s going to end up getting away with it.  Why?  Because the voting public doesn‘t care about campaign finance reform.  They just don‘t.  It can be used as a way to hit Obama for being—sort of saying one thing and doing another, which I think is a bigger message that Republicans and McCain—frankly what Senator Clinton has been trying to do, that this guy is just words, it‘s just rhetoric.  And then when he‘s forced to actually have to make a decision, he doesn‘t do it. 

But McCain better be careful here a little bit, because you know, he went back on his word on public financing in the primary system and did this really sort of shaky, weird loan in order to bridge the campaign. 

So neither one of them are clean on this.  But look, Obama is flip-flopping on this pledge in the public...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  . fair and simple.

BLANKLEY:  The oldest rule in politic is if you can get your hands on a lot of money, take the little hit that you take in the news cycle for getting the money.  Obama should not—he is correct, he can have, what, $50 million a month.  That money is better spent.  And if he takes a little hit for going back on his word, a two-day story, I think that Obama is being shrewd in going for the money. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Follow the money, speaking of it, what impact will Bill Clinton‘s endeavors have on Hillary Clinton‘s campaign?  NBC‘s Lisa Myers looked at who has been giving to the former president, his foundation and his library, a list that includes foreign business moguls and the Saudi royal family.  Does that pose a conflict of interest for Hillary Clinton?

Ed, what do you say? 

SCHULTZ:  I think the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, can communicate probably as well as Ronald Reagan did.  He ought to call a press conference inside the Beltway, give full access and address this once and for all, who has contributed to the library, make sure that everybody knows that no special favors were given, and get this out of the media once and for all, because, David, this is going to be a continuing conversation, tremendous speculation about who got favors and where the money came from.  Bill Clinton can end this right now. 

GREGORY:  This is a different circumstance, Crystal, where there is money to a foundation to a former president whose wife could be the president, don‘t you think there are some real transparency questions that have to be asked here and answered?

ANTHONY:  Well, I think that there are certainly some transparency questions.  I think that their argument right now is that they have given more information as far as their tax returns over the last seven years than any other presidential candidate has ever given. 

They have stated that they would give even more information if she does become the nominee, if she does become president of the United States.  But I think what‘s happening here is a larger concern for Hillary‘s campaign right now.  And that is there are all sorts of conflicts of interest that are really affecting her credibility. 

The people that are surrounded by the Clintons—besides Mark Penn, OK, so they got rid of him as the chief strategist, but he‘s still there advising.  There are other—lots of lobbyist groups that the Clintons have had close relationships with that President Clinton continues to have relationships—I mean, Burkle, you just don‘t know where all of this money is coming from.  And you don‘t know if some of it is being used as—to curry favors with Senator Clinton. 

So it‘s disturbing in that sense when she tries to sort of separate out what her message is versus this conflict. 

GREGORY:  OK.  All right.  Coming up, John McCain is firing up the tour bus again.  This time he‘s hitting the inner cities, the Deep South, Appalachia.  What‘s the goal here? “Smart Takes” coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Time for “Smart Takes.” We‘re tracking down the thoughtful, the provocative, the most informed so you don‘t have to.  Here again, Ed, Crystal, Chuck, and Tony. 

First up on “Smart Takes” comes from The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne.  He‘s talking about Iraq. “If this year‘s election is to be about the future, the debate cannot be over whether or not the surge ‘worked.‘  McCain needs to tell us why an indefinite occupation of Iraq is worth the price.  And it will fall to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to argue persuasively that ending our obsession with Iraq is, in fact, the first step toward restoring American power.  Iraq has become everything for Bush.  That is no reason why it should be everything for the rest of us.” 

Do you think, Ed Schultz, that the Democrats have made that case for our restoration of American power comes through withdrawal from Iraq? 

SCHULTZ:  I think they did.  I think it was a big week for both Democratic candidates.  We saw a clear difference between both parties and the candidates when it came to Iraq.  The fact is, David, we‘re running out of money, we‘re running out of human resource, and we‘re also running out of equipment, as our military equipment is now—its life expectancy is beyond 300 percent of its useful force. 

So there‘s a lot of issues on the table.  We‘re getting weaker, we‘re not getting stronger, and we‘re not getting enough progress in Iraq. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  This has been the same debate we‘ve been having for a couple years.  The pro-war people, McCain is saying, look, the danger of leaving is so great we can‘t do it.  And the anti-war people are saying the was costs too much, don‘t worry about what happens when we leave. 

It‘s an unresolvable matter, intellectually, because we don‘t know what the future holds.  Does the Middle East turn into an inferno if we leave or does it just kind of a little bit of bumping and grinding?  So we don‘t know yet. 

SCHULTZ:  But, Tony, you can‘t run policy based on a crystal ball.  Every thing the conservatives have wanted to do in Iraq has turned out to be wrong.  Every thing.

BLANKLEY:  Every policy proposal is a crystal ball because you‘re planning for the future, whether it‘s a tax increase or a tax cut. 

SCHULTZ:  Not when you pull out. 

BLANKLEY:  Of course, look, you don‘t know the future and you‘re trying to design government policy that will be  good for the country in the future.  It‘s always a crystal ball. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me get in there and move on to the next thing.  The Economist points out that Hillary Clinton can‘t blame anyone but herself if she were to lose the Pennsylvania Primary.  To the quote board: “Pennsylvania is a ‘no excuses‘ state for the Democratic candidates.  The two rivals have had six weeks to prepare for the primaries.  So they cannot blame momentum or accidents for any misfortunes.  Pennsylvania‘s Democrats also operate a doubly closed primary.  You not only need to be a registered Democrat to vote, but you also need to have registered at least a month before the contest.  Mrs. Clinton will not be able to attribute a good performance on Mr. Obama‘s part to gate-crashing by independents or even Republicans.”

Chuck, the argument, this is a pure Democratic state to really decide this stage of the contest. 

TODD:  Well, it is.  And I think what The Economist is saying is that this is a—there‘s no excuse for Senator Clinton to lose.  She started out with the big lead.  It is—the entire electorate is—looks just like Ohio, a state she did very well in. 

So, this is hers to lose.  And if she loses it, she‘d be in big trouble and they would have a hard time creating a rationale for going on.  But it looks like they‘re going to win, and it looks like—the question is, what is the gap going to be? 

GREGORY:  Right.  And, Crystal, do you think that the Obama team now is trying to lower expectations in Pennsylvania?

ANTHONY:  Well, I think so.  And I think that he has a point that now they are down to a single-digit lead for Hillary Clinton, last I heard was 9 points as opposed to his double digits a couple of weeks ago.  But I think that the Obama campaign, they have handled this perfectly by lowering expectations. 

And he certainly has, you know, thrown everything at her, you know, outspending her on ads three to one.  They both have upped the advertising, but I think she has this one in the can. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Then we‘ll look to North Carolina, to Indiana. 

This thing will go on. 

Coming up next, the Democrats keep pushing President Bush to change his strategy in Iraq, end the war, bring the troops home.  What are their plans for an endgame in the war?  We‘ll get into that with “Three Questions” coming up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Time now to ask today‘s three questions.  Still with us, host of the nationally syndicated “Ed Schultz Show,” Ed Schultz, co-host of BET-J‘s “My Two Cents,” author and producer Crystal McCrary Anthony, NBC News political director Chuck Todd and columnist for the “Washington Times” Tony Blankley.

First up tonight, the mixed blessing of former President Bill Clinton.  Just when it seemed like Hillary Clinton‘s campaign had finally gotten past the Bosnia controversy, her husband gave the story new legs, new momentum by bring it up again at a campaign stop in Indiana.  Yet another time the former president‘s impromptu remarks have taken the campaign off message.

The first question tonight, directly from First Read today, Senator Clinton may not have gotten this far without her husband, but is he preventing her from getting to the finish line?  Chuck, it‘s an important question at this stage, isn‘t it?

TODD:  Look, it is and I think he is.  I mean, you now feel like, you wonder, does Senator Clinton need to give a speech to talk about how she‘s going to have a different administration from the first Bill Clinton administration?  Every time you see him—elections are never about the past.  They are always about the future.  Every time you see him, you never think about the future.  That‘s the fundamental message problem the Clinton campaign has. 

Obama seems like the future and he talks about turning the page.  He‘s almost trying to run against the 90‘s.  Bill Clinton‘s aura says the past. 

GREGORY:  I see the future.  I see the future of Bill Clinton in an uncertain role in the White House if she‘s president. 

BLANKLEY:  Look, I think Bill Clinton‘s a mixed package.  On the one hand, he‘s hitting these smaller towns, doing incredible events, getting big crowds, moving votes for his wife.  On the other hand, his political instincts were developed in a pre-Youtube period and I think he‘s off now.  He keeps forgetting that these little throw away lines that work in a crowd suddenly get seen by a million people and are undermining his value.  Unless he can retool his instincts pretty quickly, I‘m inclined to think he‘s becoming more of a detriment than an asset. 

TODD:  David, I feel like we‘re watching Joe Montana play with the Kansas City Chiefs.  It was a really ugly year he played with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

ANTHONY:  I think undoubtedly President Clinton is hurting her.  You look back to the infamous South Carolina comment, when he said that Jesse Jackson won South Carolina, so—eluding to the—I know his intent was not to make it racial, but the effect and perception among large parts of the African-American community were that it was a diss to Senator Barack Obama‘s accomplishment to win in South Carolina.  I can actually point to a large group of folks within the African-American community that were on the fence, and more so supporting Senator Clinton, and after he made that comment went to Barack Obama because they were so put off by that. 

GREGORY:  I think it‘s a huge point.  I think you‘re right.  Ed Schultz, there‘s another side to this.  Do you think Hillary Clinton would still be in this race, do you think super delegates would be hanging back before they came out for Obama, in some cases, without Bill Clinton and all his support and all of his power within the party? 

SCHULTZ:  You know, David, a year ago this time, Hillary Clinton had rock star status with the American people.  Now, she‘s kind of like a roadie.  No offense to her, but just the whole persona has changed so much.  Last October, just six months ago, she seemed like she was going to cruise to the nomination. 

What‘s happened?  What‘s happened is Bill Clinton has gone out and used the fairy tale line.  He had that comment in South Carolina that was just referred to.  He‘s resurrecting controversy like the Bosnia story.  That man is undisciplined on the campaign trail.  He thinks he‘s doing good things, but he‘s taking the focus to the negative. 

Stop blaming the media.  All these things that I just talked about, Barack Obama had nothing to do with.  This is a self-inflicted wound on the part of the Clintons.  He as got to be disciplined on the trail. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s move on to the second question.  The future of U.S.  forces in Iraq dominated the week, as we talked about.  The three presidential candidates got the chance to question the top commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus.  He says the surge is working.  But on the campaign trail, Clinton and Obama kept up their calls for withdrawals. 

General Petraeus told NBC‘s Brian Williams he will follow the orders of the next commander in chief, but he raised warning flags. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  If your commander in chief said get out, could you carry that out? 

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER US FORCES, IRAQ:  Absolutely, I firmly believe that whoever is elected in the fall will sit down and look at the various interests, try to figure out the competing risks.  There‘s risks beyond Iraq. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Our second question tonight; Democrats are asking for a Bush end game, with the war, that is.  What is their end game?  Ed, what is it?  What would they do? 

SCHULTZ:  It‘s very simple.  The Democrats, if it‘s Hillary Clinton, she‘s going to redeploy within 60 days.  It will be a draw down, gradual.  Barack Obama has pretty much said the same thing, one to two brigades per month over 16 months.  Here‘s the key to that; it‘s a strategy that‘s not been tried.  If you start to redeploy and things get bad, you can always go back in to secure the area. 

What we think, the Democrats, is that you‘ll see a response from the Iraqi people who don‘t want us there in the first place.  The majority want us out.  If we use a diplomatic surge, like Obama‘s talking about, there‘s a real chance to move forward, cut down on expenses, cut down on the lives, go to the diplomatic process and let the Iraqi people run their own country.  We are still viewed as an occupier.  

BLANKLEY:  I wouldn‘t bet on the stated policy of either of the Democratic candidates becoming the actual policy they would carry out.  There‘s a long history in American politics of foreign policy promises made by candidates.  When they get behind the desk and see all the facts, there‘s more continuity than discontinuity in foreign policy.  We‘ve had that going between the parties from Eisenhower to Kennedy, from Bush One to Clinton on China. 

I thought the most interesting thing we heard this week was from Obama, who was looking for, as Mort Kondrake suggested in a column this week, the Senator Achen (ph) plan, to call it victory and leave.  We went in very shrewdly into how do we define what the mess is and is it unmessy enough that we can leave.  I think that maybe the challenge will be fore Obama, if he becomes president, to start trying to define a satisfactory conclusion, rather than concede an unsatisfactory one and leave, which has bee, up until now, the Democratic position. 

SCHULTZ:  If a Democrat is elected, there‘s going to be a high expectation by the people that put him in office to start getting out of Iraq and they are not going to be able to stand-up to that political pressure.  They will have to do something. 

GREGORY:  I just think there‘s another factor here too, which is that it‘s one thing to argue that a consequence of withdrawal would not be any worse than the current circumstance, but if General Petraeus makes that argument to a new Democratic president, do they want to go into their first or second year in office with the prospect of a regional war, other horrible consequences that they would have to manage, and in some way, not in some way, in a major way would be responsible for. 

Let‘s move on to the third question.  Finally, if elected, John McCain would be the oldest president ever sworn in to office.  The DNC Chairman Howard Dean says he doesn‘t think McCain‘s age is an election issue, but claims the voters do.  Dean told reporters that voters in focus groups commissioned by the DNC, we should point out, expressed concern about McCain‘s age. 

To the quote board, “we didn‘t bring it up, but they volunteered it.  One was a health concern, the other was, and this is really interesting, that his views are old fashioned.” 

The third question tonight; is John McCain‘s age just a number or, Chuck, is it something else? 

TODD:  I think it is something else.  Don‘t forget, so is Barack Obama‘s age.  While he will be older than Bill Clinton when Bill Clinton was inaugurated, that difference.  For every time John McCain is seen as the oldest president that will be elected and inaugurated, this or that, it will also be a reminder of how young Obama is and potentially how inexperienced Obama is.  In this sense, if I were John McCain, I‘d be glad for the Obama match up on this age issue alone, because the age issue becomes a little more of a double edged sword. 

If it‘s a match up with Clinton, I actually think the age issue becomes more of a problem for McCain. 

GREGORY:  Let me get Crystal in here.  Every time Barack Obama stands up, if he‘s in a contest with McCain, and he talks about his 50 years of public service, there‘s—in a change election, that contrast is clear and it could come back to the issue of age. 

ANTHONY:  I think just the visual of Barack Obama and John McCain standing next to one another creates a powerful image.  Barack almost doesn‘t even have to speak about change and hope.  You see the visual of it there.  It‘s not just a number.  He does come across as being old fashioned.  You look at the youth that have rallied behind Barack Obama and in large part have propelled his Internet and Youtube campaign that‘s been responsible for a great deal of momentum.  Even the “Yes, We Can” Youtube video that swept the Internet I think all speaks to the new America. 

And John McCain, although he‘s got the Straight Talk and his experience and of that in his back pocket that he can always pull out and say that he has, that will be a tough match up to go against the young virile, looking and ideas of Barack Obama. 

GREGORY:  Tony, quick comment before the break. 

BLANKLEY:  I campaigned and worked for Ronald Reagan.  He did have an age issue in his time.  It‘s a legitimate issue.  A man of a certain age, the public should look and see if he is up to it.  In Reagan‘s case, he was able to work that issue to his advantage in 1984, talking about Mondale‘s youth and inexperience.  But he also was very careful to show himself to be energetic physically.  McCain has this challenge and he‘s got to live up to it.  We‘ll see whether he does. 

ANTHONY:  McCain‘s people are saying—the McCain surrogates are saying that he has more energy than I do.  Twenty one-year-old people are saying that.  We‘ll see.  Maybe he should dye his hair. 

SCHULTZ:  David, it‘s perception.  We took a man on the street microphone to North Dakota State University and asked the students, what do you think of John McCain?  The basic summary is with young people, he‘s just not a happening dude. 

GREGORY:  All right, coming up, we spent three minutes debating the age issue.  Surely, you have something to say about it.  Not too late to get in on it.  Is McCain‘s just a number?  Call us, 212-790-2299.  You can also e-mail us at RACE08@MSNBC.com.  RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We roll on here on the program with your e-mail.  Your play date with the panel now.  A lot of topics to go through tonight.  Back with us, Ed Schultz, Crystal McCrary Anthony, Chuck Todd and Tony Blankley.  We‘re going to start with Linda in Missouri, who think‘s Bill‘s comments—rather President Clinton‘s comments today are not exactly what they seem.  “Don‘t you see what the Clinton‘s are doing?  They‘re doing their George and Gracy routine to divert attention away from the tax money issue and the Mark Penn issue, either of which could end the campaign.”

Next up, Andrea in California is certain Bill Clinton has some ulterior motives.  She writes, “I‘m absolutely convinced Bill Clinton doesn‘t want Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency.  In one statement, he brought up the almost forgotten Bosnia incident, said that she is 60 years old and it was 11:00 pm so she was tired and made a mistake.  Did he omit any other negative about her?  That she‘s old, she‘s tired, she‘s forgetful.  By the way, she can‘t answer the phone with a clear at 3:00 in the morning?”

Pretty clever.  Chuck, you talk about the discipline issue, it is—he said, you‘ll feel bad when you‘re 60 years old and you forget something as well.  These are not the things that we want to bring into—you know what I‘m convinced, what they need here is a contest.  That‘s what she needs, an actual vote. 

TODD:  Yes, there‘s that.  We‘ve had too much of a gap, too much time.  We‘re all getting a little punchy.  We need some primaries to count.  More importantly, those two e-mailers, it goes to this conspiracy theory.  You see it in the media.  You see it.  Nobody believes that Bill Clinton was doing something just to do it.  There‘s always got to be some motive.  The fact is, there probably wasn‘t another motive.  He was probably simply being defensive of his wife. 

He got a poll number back that said that‘s not it.  That‘s been the issue that the Clinton campaign hasn‘t really grasped that well.  How much credibility damage Bill Clinton did to the Clinton brand over that long period of time between ‘98 and the end of his presidency. 

GREGORY:  Moving on.  Go ahead Tony. 

BLANKLEY:  I‘m inclined to reject the deep psychological theories about Bill.  I think he wants her to win more than anything because it vindicates him.  Maybe he‘s using pour judgment.  Maybe his instincts are off.  But I cannot believe that any deep resentment in the base of his soul is driving this.  This is just calculation or misjudgment on his part. 

ANTHONY:  He wants her to win and sometimes I think he‘s hubby of a husband.  We have to give room for that.  He‘s taking up for his wife, which to a certain extent does, I think, also work to her disadvantage. 

GREGORY:  Let‘s move on here.  Go ahead Ed. 

SCHULTZ:  I think the Clinton campaign needs to bring in Dennis Hopper.  You don‘t need a nip and a tuck, you need a plan.  Sixty is the new 50.  You have to give credit to Hillary Clinton, the way she‘s been a warrior on the campaign trail.  There‘s not many folks her age that could keep up that pace.  She ought to tell the American people that she has the durability to be the president. 

ANTHONY:  Maybe she should have been saying that, what Bill was attempting to say. 

GREGORY:  Here‘s what some of you had to say about McCain‘s age, starting with Connie, “maybe Bill‘s—when the writers write—I refer to him as President Clinton.  Voters, you can refer to him however you want.  “Maybe President Clinton‘s comments about being old at 60 inadvertent and are actually alluding to McCain‘s age.”

John in California, “I will be forced to retire from my job at 65.  Doesn‘t it seem strange that a man seven years older than that will be getting the most powerful, important and demanding job in the world at 72.  McCain will be the oldest president in US history if he‘s elected, and at arguably the most difficult and challenging time in our history.”

You know, let‘s get one more in here.  Jacob in Illinois, “don‘t worry, McCain will not hold his opponents‘ youth and inexperience against him.” 

That will be part of the contrast here, especially if he‘s up against Obama. 

BLANKLEY:  It will be.  The caller who talked about I have to retire at 65, I don‘t buy that.  Whether it‘s Bismark, Eisenhower, Churchill, men have been very able leaders late in their lives.  I don‘t think that 72 is inherently too old, depending on the individual.  I don‘t think that just because most of us have to retire earlier that fits it at all. 

TODD:  Unlike Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain is doing well with his peer group.  We‘ve seen this in exit polls, he does very well in these national polls, very well with the voters over 65, particularly in match ups with Obama.  That‘s a big change from Bob Dole in 1996.  I think that tells you that, as a society, we believe that folks are very capable of a full time job in their 70s. 

GREGORY:  Right, Ed, your point is that 70 is the new 60s. 

SCHULTZ:  I was nervous when I saw John McCain was almost nodding off during the Senate Armed Services Committee.  They‘ve been looking for Ronald Reagan, maybe they‘ve found him.  I don‘t know.  Look, he‘s going to run on experience.  He‘s going to tell the American people that he has the experience and he has the judgment.  I think it‘s his policies that are way off base.  His temper is going to be an issue.  And his age may factor into it. 

GREGORY:  Let me get a break in here, and offer this quick programming not; tune into MSNBC tonight for an extraordinary hour taking a look at the state of race in the US.  “Meeting David Wilson” is the story of a young African-American man who embarks on a journey of self discovery.  He connect with a family that owned his ancestors as slaves and forms a bond with a white man who shares his same name. 

“Meeting David Wilsom” airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern right here on MSNBC.  It will be followed by a very important discussion, a live town hall moderated by NBC‘s Brian Williams.  Coming up next, panel predictions.  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back now on THE RACE.  Prediction time.  The spotlight is on the panelists.  Time for them to peer into their crystal balls and deliver their predictions.  Still with us, Ed, Crystal, Chuck and Tony.  Chuck, you‘re up first, what do you see tonight? 

TODD:  It looks like the Clinton campaign may have to refire Mark Penn thanks to a surrogate bringing it back up.  Let me read you what Paul Begala said earlier today at a little campaign briefing.  He said, quote, “I have nothing but contempt for Mr. Penn.  For those of us who wanted to see him out from the beginning, it became almost a Rumsfeldian thing and he is not even fired.  He has been demoted.  How could this be?”

It is interesting that he compared him to Rumsfeld.  That was all—remember the three months before the 2006 elections, you had plenty of people saying Rumsfeld should be fired.  Andy Card said Rumsfeld should be fired and he was overruled?  Somebody seems to be overruling somebody inside the Clinton campaign.  Now that Begala is brining this back up and a lot of people probably assume Paul Begala must be speaking for Bill Clinton, maybe, in this instance, but that somebody for some reason stopped the firing of Penn. 

Penn, frankly, hasn‘t been involved in the campaign this week.  He was on conference calls earlier, then not.  He kind of realizes that his gig is up and it‘s not very fun to go from being number one to sitting on the bench. 

GREGORY:  Tony, what do you see? 

BLANKLEY:  My prediction is that Obama will break his pledge to publicly finance his campaign.  As I suggested earlier, every smart pol goes for the money.  Obama is a smart pol.  He‘s going to go for the money.  It‘s a good decision.  At a practical level, he‘ll take a small hit for breaking his word, but the money is worth it. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Crystal, your prediction tonight?

ANTHONY:  Forecast through June, warm and fuzzy, Hillary Clinton in the air.  I think, with Mark Penn really being gone, probably, maybe, and Jeff Gerren (ph) coming in with a softer, less negative tone, that he wanted from the beginning from Hillary—I think we‘re going to see more ads like the Scranton ad with Hillary as a child, seeing this side of her that people see they see behind closed doors, but doesn‘t translate on screen. 

That‘s going to be what she needs to do to combat this issue she‘s had from the very beginning of figuring out what her tone should be, striking that right tone.  Maybe with Gerren on board, she‘ll find that tone. 

GREGORY:  The problem with that is that an important part of her future in this campaign is winning contests, but even if she does that, there‘s going to have to be political Hardball to be played on the issue of super delegates, on the issue of even pledged delegates. 

ANTHONY:  She can‘t do it herself in the way she‘s done it in the past.  When she made the comment about the direct interaction with Barack Obama, saying do you need a pillow.  Shame on you, Barack Obama.  That just goes over like a lead balloon for her.  Wrong or right, call it stereotype of what a woman should be perceived as softer, misogyny, whatever you want to call it; it doesn‘t bode well for her public image. 

GREGORY:  Image conscious in the future.  Ed Schultz, what do you see tonight? 

SCHULTZ:  I have a two for one.  Tiger Woods is going to win the Masters, even though he‘s eight shots off the pace.  And another guy who‘s going to keep it in the fairway this week is Barack Obama.  One week from today, he will lead in the polls in Pennsylvania. 

GREGORY:  Really?  You think he‘s coming on strong? 

SCHULTZ:  I do.  I think all these stories on the sideline are going to chip away at Hillary Clinton‘s lead.  I think you‘re going to see a real push by the Obama camp here in the next week.  I think one week from today, he‘ll lead in the polls. 

GREGORY:  Do you think—what aspect of her base is he butting into at this point? 

SCHULTZ:  I think it‘s a consistent message.  This NAFTA story, when she won Ohio, that NAFTA story had not come out.  I think you‘re going to see the Obama camp come out and really drive home that NAFTA and that Colombian free trade agreement.  I‘m not convinced that guys that drive around in pick up trucks and drink beer with rifles in their car in Pennsylvania are going to say no to Barack Obama.  I think they are listening to him. 

GREGORY:  All right, thanks to the panel that comes to play.  THE RACE returns Monday at 6:00 pm.  Have a peaceful Friday night and a great weekend.

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

END   

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