Video: Who’s really going negative?

  1. Transcript of: Who’s really going negative?

    MR. GARIN: In response to your negative ad.

    MR. AXELROD: Just a second. Just a second."Just leave them in the cold." She knows that that's not true. The Washington Post broke that there -- you couldn't find a person who wouldn't be able to get health care who wants it under the Obama plan. So she repeated something that she's been told isn't true, and she, she did anyway. And this is the reason why in the, in the Post poll a couple of weeks ago, almost 60 percent of the people polled said that they didn't find her honest and trustworthy in, in a general election sample. That's going to be a problem going forward. That's not the way to launch a general election campaign.

    And by the way, we're not -- we -- our negative view is not of Hillary Clinton , our negative view is of the politics of Washington . It's broken, it has to be fixed, and you can't do that when you wink and nod at the very practices that are essentially corrupting the system and making it difficult to get anything done.

    MR. GARIN: Well, all I can say is that Senator Clinton is the person who voted against the Bush-Cheney energy bill . Senator Obama has taken close to $2 million over his political career from corporations, PACs and lobbyists. Do you feel he's been corrupted by that?

    MR. AXELROD: The -- well, first of all, that's what's in your negative ad that you didn't know about in Philadelphia . Secondly, what he has said -- he has -- he's been very forthright about this, Geoff . He's never -- he said that he's taken PAC money and money -- contributions from lobbyists in the past. But he said he's running for president of the United States , this is a big problem for the country, we have to draw the line in the sand and I'm proud that we have 1.3 million contributors. The average donation is $96. I think that -- we're, we're changing politics from the grass roots up, and that's how we're going to change Washington .

    MR. GARIN: Well, Senator Clinton really wants to change the, the economy . She wants to change what's going on in the world. She's offering a, a, positive solution. She's got the -- I think she's got the leadership to...

    MR. AXELROD: She, she...

    MR. GARIN: ...turn solutions into real action.

    MR. AXELROD: She has...

    MR. GARIN: And the idea that you have to wait to, to, to have the special interests go away before we can begin to tackle the economy or before we can begin to fix our, our standing in the world, it, it doesn't make sense.

    MR. AXELROD: She...

    MR. GARIN: She is out there talking about the changes our country needs, how to fix our economy , how to fix a broken health care system . She is all about keeping the promise of America for whom that...

    MR. AXELROD: Geoff ...

    MR. GARIN: ...for, for people to whom that promise was broken.

    MR. AXELROD:'s the problem. We've been -- here's the problem. We've been talking about fixing the broken health care system for two decades. We've been talking about this energy problem for three decades. We don't get it done because Washington responds to the oil companies and to the health care interests and not to the needs of the country and the American people . So to detach the two and say we're going to continue to advance ideas and let them die in the graveyard that Washington has become does not solve anyone's problem.

    MR. GARIN: Yeah, but the thing is to stand up to the special interests when the time comes to do that. That's why Senator Clinton voted against the Bush-Cheney energy bill . Senator Obama voted for it.

    MR. AXELROD: And...

    MR. GARIN: And just to go back on health care , real quickly, your attack ad makes this false claim that Hillary 's going to -- is going to garnish people's wages. It's not true. She is...

    MR. AXELROD: She said that.

    MR. GARIN: It is...

    MR. AXELROD: She said it, Geoff .

    MR. GARIN: David , David , this is all about if health care is not affordable, it's not going to -- people aren't going to be required to get it. Those, those are the facts.

    MR. AXELROD: No, that's not true.

    MR. GARIN: Paul , Paul Krugman 's column has been -- and all the economic analyses have been clear on...

    MR. AXELROD: Geoff ...

    MR. GARIN: ...this, that it's going to -- that her plan will cost less, about $ 1700 less to insure each new person. So, David ...

    MR. AXELROD: Geoff , that's not true. She sat on a program like this on a Sunday, and she said, "I will, I will garnish people's wages if they don't sign up for this health care plan." That's, that's what she said. Her and -- her mandate is a mandate on people to buy health insurance . And if you don't...

    MR. GARIN: Like yours on children.

    MR. AXELROD: ...and he -- and if you don't, she will garnish your wages. That -- there's a respectable debate to be had about this.

    MR. GARIN: Right.

    MR. AXELROD: But let's be honest about what we're proposing here.

    MR. GARIN: Right. But the full story on Senator Clinton 's health plan, if you want to be honest, is she has extraordinary cost controls that aren't, aren't in your plan.

By contributor
updated 4/20/2008 2:02:03 PM ET 2008-04-20T18:02:03

Proving that the men who help create the candidates’ messages are good at sticking to them, the chief campaign strategists for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama appeared on “Meet the Press” Sunday as the clock ticks down to the Pennsylvania primary on Tuesday.

Clinton pollster Geoff Garin, who stepped in to fill Mark Penn’s shoes two weeks ago after the controversial spin doctor was pushed out, got the Clinton campaign message du jour out as soon as he opened his mouth: the political process has to “play through”; the protracted, costly race is “good for the party”; voters are “excited” and feel that it is “better to get it right than to get it done”; and that ultimately, on June 3, when neither Clinton nor Obama has enough pledged delegates to secure the nomination, the process will move up to superdelegates, who will make a final decision.

But Obama’s chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod, countered that while Clinton was entitled to stay in the race as long as she genuinely felt she had a reasonable chance to win the nomination, she was also morally obligated to recognize that it was time step aside “when the strategy becomes ‘we can’t win the nomination so we’re going to tear down Senator Obama and see if we can destroy him in order to advance our own candidacy.’”  

Reiterating campaign trail verbiage recently used by Obama himself, Axelrod called such efforts “the kitchen sink strategy” that would ultimately damage the Democratic Party and serve no one but presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

Touching on the debate last week in which Clinton’s performance was largely praised and Obama’s criticized, Garin fought to project his candidate’s role as crucial to a healthy election process and marred only by mischaracterizations and an unfair playing field.

Garin made a strong showing as a mostly diplomatic and articulate voice to the Clinton campaign, managing to portray his seasoned candidate as being uniquely held to an unfair standard. He used the Sunday talk show appearance to question the consistency of the Obama campaign’s positive messaging, saying, “I honestly don’t think it’s what it [Obama campaign] does.”

“Just this weekend they’re out there with two new negative ads,” said Garin. “I think they held their fourth conference call on Bosnia the other day, where one of their spokespeople said that Senator Clinton lacks ‘the moral authority to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day.’”

Garin did give up some ground (and showed inexperience at times by reading directly from his notes) when pressed by host Tim Russert and Axelrod on past statements by Clinton on Iran and the North American Free Trade Agreement that he couldn’t defend. “I want to be totally honest here,” he told Russert when asked about Clinton’s recent broadly worded comments about an “umbrella of deterrence” against Iran, “I’m helping with her message — I’m not her policy adviser.”

When Axelrod questioned the specifics of where and when Clinton had actually spoken out against NAFTA (as she claimed on the campaign trail in Ohio and Pennsylvania, states where the treaty is unpopular), Garin could only claim that she had opposed the treaty in meetings privately because as a member of the [Bill] Clinton administration, “she had to stand behind it.”

Russert articulated the concerns of many Democratic voters: that the protracted skirmishing of the primary race was giving McCain the time to organize fundraising, win back party dissenters and sway undecided voters.  Garin and Axelrod heartily agreed that Democrats will be united in the fall.

“It may be hard to tell, but David Axelrod is one of my best friends in politics,” Garin said.  “If Barack Obama is the nominee and he asks me to help, I’ll be there in a heartbeat,” adding for good measure, “and if Senator Clinton is the nominee, I know David will be there as well.”


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