updated 5/19/2008 12:11:25 PM ET 2008-05-19T16:11:25

Guests: Susan Molinari, Eugene Robinson, Richard Wolffe; Pat Buchanan

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  Tonight, what the president started Obama promises to finish.  He says he‘ll debate McCain on national security anytime, anywhere, as THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome back to THE RACE.  I‘m David Gregory.  Glad to have you. 

This is your stop for the fast-paced, the bottom line, and every point of view in the room. 

Tonight, the week that was.  A foreign policy firefight between Obama and McCain has ushered in the general election at a time when Hillary Clinton is still looking for a reason to stick around. 

Tonight, inside the War Room we go.  The right goes after Mrs. Obama.  Is she his secret weapon or a liability? 

And the big picture tonight in “Three Questions.”  Where did Hillary Clinton go wrong?  A question we will continue to ask as her campaign continues to fade. 

The bedrock of the program, of course, a panel that always comes to play.  And with us tonight, for the first time, Susan Molinari, a Republican strategist and former New York congresswoman.  And joining Susan, three of our MSNBC political analysts: Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor for “The Washington Post”; Pat Buchanan, former presidential candidate; and Richard Wolffe, “Newsweek” senior White House correspondent.  He now covers the Obama campaign full time. 

We begin as we do every night with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day.  It‘s “The Headline.” 

I‘ll start us off here tonight.  My headline, “Lessons Learned.”

On this “appeasement” foreign policy flap, Barack Obama is sounding like a candidate gearing up for a fight.  Today, campaigning in South Dakota, he never spoke of John McCain without mentioning President Bush.  That linkage will never be broken during this campaign.  He called Bush‘s suggestion that talking to Iran was like appeasement of Hitler divisive, he said, and the politics of fear.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If George Bush and John McCain want to have a debate about protecting the United States of America, that is a debate that I‘m happy to have any time, any place, and that is a debate that I will win because George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  It strikes me that Obama hopes to have learned the lesson of the John Kerry campaign—do not allow yourself to be swift-boated, because the impression of weakness on national security is hard to break.  Obama also appears interested in shaking off the rap that he was slow to respond to Hillary Clinton‘s attacks.  Might we be watching the making of a new general election candidate? 

The tougher talk from Obama does not erase his vulnerability on the experience question or on national security.  It is a weakness that McCain hopes to exploit?  He spoke at the National Rifle Association meeting today.

Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don‘t have enemies, but that‘s not the world we live in.  And until Senator Obama understands that reality, the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has the strength, judgment and determination to keep us safe. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Pat Buchanan, you‘re thinking about this issue as well.  What‘s your headline on all of this? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Mine is, “Bush Plays the Hamas Card.”  This is the Bush/McCain strategy unfolding right here.  The ideas is to McGovernize Obama, to paint him as “soft on terrorism,” someone too naive and too accommodating to really deal with the types like Ahmadinejad and Hamas. 

I think Obama has been drawn on to McCain‘s turf, which is terrorism, the war on terrorism, defending Israel.  And he‘s being portrayed as weak and I think he‘s somewhat on the defensive. 

GREGORY:  Yes, but Pat, don‘t you think the Democrat haves a different role to play here?  They can take Bush and McCain on on the politics of the Bush years in the Middle East and what that‘s brought. 

BUCHANAN:  They certainly can.  And the Bush foreign policy the American people will reject.  But John McCain standing beside Obama, which of the two is going to be tougher on Hamas, which is going to be a stronger defender of Israel?  Which of the two can better protect the country against terrorism? 

That‘s the one issue in which McCain beats Obama.  And he‘s now debating McCain on that issue.  It is succeeding.  The strategy is succeeding. 

GREGORY:  Susan Molinari, welcome to the program.

SUSAN MOLINARI ®, FMR. NEW YORK CONGRESSWOMAN:  Thanks, David.

GREGORY:  You‘re thinking about this issue as well.  What is your take tonight? 

MOLINARI:  Well, my take is, my headline is, “The Rumors of President Bush‘s Lame Duck Status Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.”  He threw up one of the greatest jump balls of the ‘08 campaign.  He got McCain in the news, he got Senator Clinton out of the news.

And I agree with Pat Buchanan.  The primary is over, the general election began, and President Bush made sure it starts on Republican terms. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  I mean, he does have a role to play here.  but is this his strongest card to play? 

MOLINARI:  Well, certainly.  I do think it is. 

I think luring and getting Barack Obama to begin the general election on the one issue that Republicans do poll better—who will keep you safer from terrorism—on a day when Osama bin Laden comes out with another videotape...

GREGORY:  Right.

MOLINARI:  ... threatening Israel and the allies of Israel, I think does play to Republican strength. 

GREGORY:  All right.

Gene Robinson, you‘re thinking about the GOP, but in slightly more political terms.  Your headline tonight.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  David, my headline tonight is “More Bad Omens With the GOP.”

It‘s good that Pat and Susan are so happy about everything that‘s been happening, but the biggest political result of the week wasn‘t in West Virginia, it was in Mississippi, where Republicans lost a safe Republican House seat in an election, a special election in which they specifically tried to tie the candidate to Barack Obama and to paint Obama as this kind of weak potential candidate. 

It‘s a terrible week for the GOP.  I wrote about it in the column this morning.  I wrote that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are glamorous and exciting candidates, but this Democratic surge isn‘t all about them. 

It‘s also about the Republican Party‘s utter exhaustion.  Party leaders speak of the need to refurbish the Republican brand, but the problem goes far beyond packaging.  It‘s not that the box needs to be more colorful, it‘s that the ideas inside have long since gone stale. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  It‘s past the sell by date, Pat, I‘m afraid.

GREGORY:  All right. 

Richard Wolffe, welcome back.  Your headline tonight? 

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK” SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  David, my headline is, “This was the Week the Music Died.”

After her big win in West Virginia, that feisty speech on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton‘s campaign didn‘t go full steam ahead.  And we can talk about John Edwards and all the superdelegates, but look at what the campaign is actually doing.

Gone or fading away are the conference calls, the claims the math was going to work for them.  And in the end, when they had a chance to pile on, when Bush and McCain were taking on Obama on an issue, the Clinton campaign had previously fought.  What did they do?  They came to Obama‘s defense. 

GREGORY:  And it is interesting.  On this particular issue, Hillary Clinton is really not a participant in the debate.  When she‘s had this debate earlier on in the campaign, she was more critical of Obama.  Her voice isn‘t being heard right now. 

WOLFFE:  Not being heard.  And remember, why the campaigns wind down.  They run out of money, they run out of oxygen.  And in this case we‘re seeing both going on. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

WOLFFE:  Yes, she could have come in here, she could have attacked Obama for this position.  She chose not to, and her chief spokesman on former affairs, Jamie Rubin, came out in “The Washington Post” to his defense. 

GREGORY:  Right.  All right.  And we‘re going to have more on that a little bit later. 

A lot to get to here.  Coming up next, we‘re going to head inside the Obama war room.  Imagine an Obama ticket without John Edwards, without Hillary Clinton.  All right.  So who‘s going to be there?  We‘re going to talk about it. 

Later on, your play date with the panel.  You can call us, 212-790-2299; e-mail us, race08@msnbc.COM.

Stick around.  We come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back, going deep inside the Obama war room.  Look at an end game strategy, veep stakes, anti-Obama ads, and the importance of Florida. 

Back with us, Susan Molinari, Gene Robinson, Pat Buchanan and Richard Wolffe.

OK.  First up, the Obama campaign declaring in a memo today that they are just 17 pledged delegates away from securing a majority of pledged delegates, implying playoff season could be over as early as this Tuesday.  Think Oregon.  And the superdelegate advantage is also still in Obama‘s court.

Taking a look at the scorecard today, Obama picks up one superdelegate. 

Clinton, 0.  That‘s 36.5 for Obama since May the 6th, just 1.5 for Clinton. 

An obvious side Clinton‘s support on superdelegates is eroding.  One of her superdelegates even voted for Obama in the Indiana primary. 

So, the question is, how does the Obama camp play the end game here? 

Richard, again, it‘s making their own case for inevitability, but not giving her the hard push. 

WOLFFE:  That‘s right.  Look, there‘s going to be a lot of flag-waving come next Tuesday.  It‘s going to be a symbolic moment.  They‘re not going to really be able to claim victory, but their saying the mass argument is over. 

And remember, they‘re pretty shortly going to be in this gray zone where they haven‘t quite got the magic number, but there‘s no way that the Clinton campaign can actually manage to get that themselves.  So they‘ll be in this in between world.

But having done that, then they‘re going to go straight to the general election battleground of Florida.  So they‘re moving on.  They have moved on already. 

GREGORY:  Right.

Hey, Pat, is there another shoe to drop here?  I thought John Edwards was part of it this week, a way to sort of announce the end of the Clinton campaign.

Does he need another shoe to really seal it up? 

BUCHANAN:  No, I don‘t think he needs another shoe to seal it up.  That certainly canceled out the impact of Hillary‘s victory. 

If he gets walloped in Kentucky, he might have another card to play.  They did that very well, I think, David. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  It‘s unquestionable.  But I don‘t know that they have got one. 

But look, this is inevitable absent celestial intervention. 

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  All right.  Up next, John Edwards was on “The Today Show” this morning denying that he‘s interested in the number two spot. 

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  Under no circumstance will you be the vice president candidate on a Barack Obama ticket? 

JOHN EDWARDS (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This is not something I‘m interested in. 

LAUER:  Would you be interested in a role of attorney general? 

EDWARDS:  Oh, you know, I don‘t want to get involved in that kind of speculation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  So, if Edwards isn‘t running for Obama, who is?  Edwards did praise Senator Hillary Clinton at length in his endorsement speech for Obama.  But observers think that she may even be a long shot. 

So, Susan, how do you handicap this right now and his answer?  It was interesting that he went on at length to praise Senator Clinton the other night. 

MOLINARI:  Well, look—and I think it is interesting that Senator Clinton picked today to not call Barack Obama naive and irresponsible, as she did when they were debating each other on the issue of meeting with foreign dictators without preconditions.  So I think she‘s starting to saddle up a little bit too. 

Listen, Barack Obama does have a challenge, and that is, after this primary, how does he make sure he can secure the loyalty and the dedication of the people following Senator Clinton? 

GREGORY:  Right.

MOLINARI:  I think there‘s one way he does that, and that is to get Senator Clinton on the ticket.  And if not her, somebody who was a member of her campaign, who can symbolize to the rest of the Clinton knights...

GREGORY:  Interesting.

MOLINARI:  ... that, in fact, it‘s time now to move and to consolidate.  There‘s a lot of hard feelings, particularly amongst women there.  And if not Senator Clinton, I think she has to be 100 percent behind whoever he picks.  And I think that has to be somebody that‘s strong on military and terrorism...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Right.  I mean, it could be Wesley Clark.

MOLINARI:  It could be Wes Clark.

GREGORY:  It could be Evan Bayh from Indiana.  Right.

MOLINARI:  But certainly somebody that unites the Democrat base. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.

GREGORY:  All right, Gene.  You‘re on deck here.

Moving on, a Tennessee GOP group targets Michelle Obama in a new ad mocking her remarks about being proud of America for the very first time.

Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA‘S WIFE:  Let me tell you something.  For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am proud of my country. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi.  I‘m Bob Hope (ph), and I‘m proud to be an American. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  The Obama camp hit back with this today—“This is a shameful attempt to attack a woman who has repeatedly said that she wouldn‘t be here without the opportunities and blessings of this nation.  And if the Tennessee Republican Party has a problem with Senator Obama, maybe next time they‘ll have the courage to address him directly instead of attacking his family.” 

And Michelle Obama further explained her “pride” remark just yesterday. 

Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. OBAMA:  What I was clearly talking about was that I‘m proud in how Americans are engaging in the political process.  I mean, for the first time in my lifetime, I‘m seeing people rolling up their sleeve in a way that I haven‘t seen and really trying to figure this out.  And that‘s the source of pride that I was talking about. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Gene, bottom line, is Michelle Obama a strength or liability?  She‘s played a mixed role in this campaign from where I sit.  She‘s certainly been out front more recently, when she sat down and did a round of interviews with her husband.  But on—you know, on the stump, she‘s been kind of under the radar of late. 

What do you say? 

ROBINSON:  Well, keep in mind, Michelle Obama is learning how to be a candidate on this sort of scale—or be a candidate‘s wife on this sort of scale and face this sort of scrutiny.  I don‘t think this is a fruitful line of attack for Republicans.

Michelle Obama has a compelling American story.  And all she has to do is tell that story of her family, of her brother with MS, dragging himself to the factory every night, putting his daughter through Princeton.  It‘s—you know, it‘s a lot to be proud of, and I just don‘t think this is really going to—this is not a winner, I think, for the Republicans. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

Richard, you know what they are thinking inside about this.  How do they think about using her at this juncture? 

WOLFFE:  I don‘t think they can stop using her.  In fact, what they actually look at Michelle Obama and say is, here‘s a good way to reach out to those women voters who went for Hillary Clinton. 

GREGORY:  Right.

WOLFFE:  She‘s a strong, independent, professional woman.  Yes, she‘s feisty; yes, she can misspeak at times.  But she speaks to the idea of having strong women around Barack Obama. 

And he‘ll talk about her.  He‘ll talk about his single mother.  So they think that‘s a narrative that is useful for them.  I don‘t know about an ad targeting a candidate‘s wife for this kind of comment where you can contextualize it. 

GREGORY:  Right.

WOLFFE:  I mean, it‘s the candidate‘s wife. 

GREGORY:  Right.  Right.

But there‘s a larger narrative that critics are trying to paint and trying to put them both into that box.  And that seems to be the attempt.

OK.  Let me just move on, Pat, because I want this addressed to you. 

Finally, Obama trying to put Florida in play.  He‘s kicking off a three-day swing through the state following the Oregon primary next week, including stops in Tampa, Orlando and Hollywood. 

The question is, is Obama‘s overture to Florida voters who feel

disenfranchised, is it going to work, is it too late? 

And Pat, is it too solidly a red state for him to make any headway there? 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t know it‘s too solidly a red state.  Gore almost won it. 

And—but I do think it‘s a real problem for Obama.

He‘s got real problems in the panhandle because there are very conservative ethnic types up there.  Or Protestant types.

You‘ve got on the south, you‘ve got the Cubans.  And up the Broward County and Palm Beach County you‘ve got this Jewish vote, where Barack Obama is being hammered. 

What he ought to go down there and do is spend those three days looking at this and saying, is this doable in the general?  And if it‘s not, don‘t put money in it and try to win it elsewhere. 

GREGORY:  Yes.

All right.  Let me try to take a break here.

Coming up, “Smart Takes.”  ‘08 was supposed to be the year of the Democrats, but one strategist worries they are blowing their big shot at recapturing the presidency. 

The provocative and the informative in “Smart Takes” up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back now on THE RACE.  Time now for “Smart Takes.”

We‘ve read it all—the newspapers, the magazines, the Web—to find the most provocative takes on the ‘08 race.  We‘ve done the work so you don‘t have to.

Here again, Susan, Eugene, Pat and Richard.

OK.  The first “Smart Take” tonight, NBC‘s own “First Read” blog says President Bush‘s “appeasement” remarks in the Knesset in Israel were a gift to Obama.

To the quote board.

“When President Bush, thousands of miles away in Israel, decided to fire his thinly-veiled shot at Obama yesterday, it was a giant gift for the Illinois senator and his campaign.  Why?  One, it essentially kept Clinton on the sidelines just two days after her big West Virginia victory.  Two, Obama‘s opponent was no longer Clinton or McCain, but the man with the 27 percent job approval rating.  And three, it rallied Democrats to Obama‘s side.”

It‘s interesting, Pat, that Barack Obama would like to speak about George Bush every day of this campaign.  And today he spoke about Bush/McCain as if they were the ones he was running against. 

BUCHANAN:  Look, there‘s no doubt, this has elevated Barack Obama to the level of the president of the United States in a head-to-head contest, which is good for Obama and bad for Clinton.

What is bad for Obama is that the Knesset rose in a standing ovation when Bush was talking about appeasers of Hitler, and this is really having an impact in the Jewish community.  And Obama‘s constant reaction is that, I‘m a friend of Israel, I‘m a defender of Israel.  It suggest that he is aware of the damage being done.  He just fired some guy who apparently was doing some talking diplomatically with Hamas. 

ROBINSON:  Except, Pat, Hillary Clinton and Jamie Rubin came out on Obama‘s side.  They weren‘t on the sideline.  They came out supporting him in a way that I think certainly ought to go some distance toward appeasing any anger that might be in the Jewish community. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me go to “Smart Take” number two. 

BUCHANAN:  But Jamie Rubin isn‘t (ph) on that same level.

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me move on to that second “Smart Take” tonight.

“Wall Street Journal” columnist Peggy Noonan says it‘s too late for the Republican Party to break from President Bush.

She writes, “The moment when the party could have broken on principle with the administration over the thinking behind and the carrying out of the war, over immigration, spending and the size of the government, has passed.  What two years ago would have been honorable and wise will now look craven. 

They are stuck.” 

Susan, take it on. 

MOLINARI:  Well, you know, I‘m not sure that that‘s—she‘s right, we are stuck.  There‘s no doubt about it.

To Gene Robinson‘s point, losing three special elections that we should not have lost in any way, shape or form.  These are Republican territories.  So it‘s clear that we‘re stuck. 

Certainly we‘re not stuck because we followed President Bush on these issues.  We‘re stuck because we lost our message.  And quite frankly, we‘re having some problems here in Washington finding the appropriate messengers that we used to have who could so strongly make our case. 

GREGORY:  But...

MOLINARI:  So I really disagree with Peggy Noonan‘s premise, but her conclusion you can‘t fight with. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  But what‘s difficult for John McCain in particular is that he has to now thread a needle between being independent and a maverick and taking on Bush, and all of the time he spent getting right with the Republican Party on immigration, on the war, and other matters. 

MOLINARI:  That‘s totally right.  But you know what?  There‘s one person in Washington, D.C., who can thread that needle.  And that‘s John McCain. 

He‘s been doing it...

GREGORY:  Yes.

MOLINARI:  ... his entire career.  He has a bipartisan background.  He has got 15 to 20 percent of Democrats saying they are going to vote for him in the general election now. 

A lot of the things he took hits on during the general election, his breaking with the Republicans.  He was with President Bush but with the majority of the Republican Party and the House of Representatives on immigration.

GREGORY:  Right.

MOLINARI:  So I think he can successfully thread the needle. 

GREGORY:  Pat, comment real quick? 

BUCHANAN:  I think if anybody can, McCain can, but McCain is not in touch with the country on immigration.  If he came out with a hard line on immigration, it‘s the one populist issue where 80 percent of the country is for that position.  If he took that, I think McCain would win, but he disagrees with it.  He‘s an amnesty man.

MOLINARI:  And it didn‘t hurt him in the primary, I say as a Rudy Giuliani backer.  It didn‘t hurt him in the primary. 

GREGORY:  All right.  I‘ve got to take a break here. 

An out-of-touch elitist, that‘s how some Republicans choose to portray Barack Obama.  Is that argument going to work?  We‘re going inside the McCain war room. 

A special edition when we come back with the (INAUDIBLE) right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Still ahead on the RACE, the second round of the war room.  And this time, it‘s John McCain‘s war room.  Comments McCain made about Hamas in 2006 have critics calling him a hypocrite. 

What‘s McCain‘s next move.  That‘s next.  But first, a quick check of your headlines. 

(NEWSBREAK)

GREGORY:  You are just in time for the back half of RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Gregory happy to have you. 

Right now a special second edition of the war room.  The focus here, on John McCain.  And back with us, Susan Molinari, Republican strategist and former New York congresswoman. 

And joining Susan, three of our MSNBC political analysts, Gene Robinson, columnist and associate editor for the “Washington Post,” Pat Buchanan, former presidential candidate, and Richard Wolffe, “Newsweek” senior White House correspondent now covering the Obama campaign full time. 

First up, Senator McCain sided with President Bush in this week‘s argument.  But the wisdom of talking with America‘s enemies like Iran and Hamas, although it‘s to be pointed out that Obama has never said that he would sit down with Hamas, but today the “Huffington Post” obtained a video interview of McCain two years ago, expressing a willingness to engage in diplomacy with Hamas. 

Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Do you think American diplomats should be operating the way they have been in the past and working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge? 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  They‘re the government and sooner or later we‘re going to have to deal with them in one way or another.  And I understand why this administration and previous administrations has such antipathy towards Hamas is because of their dedication to violence and the things they not only espouse but practice.  So—but it‘s a new reality in the Middle East. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Charging back, Obama today, with an easy lay-up, again, digging in McCain for playing the politics of fear. 

Listen to him. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  The irony is, yesterday, just as John McCain was making these attacks, a story broke that he was actually guilty of exact the same thing that he is accusing me of and, in fact, was saying that maybe we need to deal with Hamas.  And that‘s the kind of hypocrisy that we‘ve been seeing in our foreign policy, the kind of fear peddling, fear mongering that has prevented us from actually making us safer. 

They‘re trying to fool you and trying to scare you, and they‘re not telling the truth. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Richard Wolffe, size it up.  Is this debate intensified? 

WOLFFE:  Well, it‘s fascinating just seeing the contours of the general election here and what‘s interesting is not only they‘re debating the substance here, but Obama is going after the whole straight-talk notion.  So, look, this is a problem for McCain in a sense that whether or not these comments are clear, you have to contextualize it, you have to explain it.  It doesn‘t sound like straight talk. 

And on top of that, you have McCain not taking the opportunity to break with Bush, to say, listen, I don‘t agree with the tone of these comments, but I still have my questions and doubts about Barack Obama and his ability to lead the country on national security.  So he missed an opportunity and he handed this gift over to Obama. 

I don‘t think it was a good play for McCain. 

GREGORY:  It is interesting.  We talked this week, Pat, on the program about the real opportunity here and the challenge for both candidates to lay out a vision for diplomacy in the post Bush era in the Middle East.  And it‘s going to be a more complicated game.  And we see that in a way the Bush administration has handled their diplomacy. 

They‘re talking to Iran as it applies to Iraq.  They‘re talking with the North Koreans in terms of dismantling their program.  Petraeus has talked to Sunni terrorists in terms of getting them to step down and work with Americans.  It‘s a much more complicated game of diplomacy now. 

BUCHANAN:  It is indeed.  And Bush himself had a great success talking to Libya, the character that blew up Pan Am 103 and killed all those school kids in Lockerby. 

Substantively, I agree with Obama that we got to talk to people like Hamas, maybe backchannel, and I agree with him that there‘s hypocrisy here.  But politically, I‘m telling you, when you tie Barack to Hamas on a very simple headline level, it is a real problem for Hamas, excuse me, for Obama and he recognizes it.  And Republicans are going to work this soft-tone communism. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  It was a good thing for Republicans in the ‘50s.  Soft on terrorism, 50 years later, it‘s going to work. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Go ahead, Gene. 

ROBINSON:  I was just going to point out to Pat, though, that John McCain is spending a whole lot of time arguing with himself, arguing with his former self at least.

GREGORY:  Right. 

ROBINSON:  . on the Hamas issue. 

GREGORY:  Well, there.

ROBINSON:  Now he says we can wrap up this little war thing in five years as opposed to 100 years.  He‘s having too much explaining to do, I think, politically speaking. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.  But he is moving on Iraq.  He is moving to four years. 

You‘re right.  He‘s getting off a wicked 100 years and endless war. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s got to get off that.  He‘s made a smart move.  But politically, I really think Obama does not want to stay here in this terrain. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We‘re still in the McCain war room.  Let me move on.  The McCain camp will rivet its entire staff to look for conflicts of interests or connections to lobbyists.  “Politico‘s” Ben Smith reports this. 

John McCain‘s campaign asked a prominent Republican consultant Craig Shirley to leave his official campaign role Thursday after a political inquiry after Shirley‘s dual role consulting for the campaign and an independent 527 group, the groups that McCain decries. 

And now, the campaign is requiring all staff to disclose connections to lobbyists, according to the Atlantic.com‘s Marc Ambinder with a memo entitled “McCain campaign conflicts policy” asks, quote, “Have you ever been a registered lobbyist at either the federal or the state level?”  Another one asks, “Have you ever been a registered foreign agent?” 

A third member asks staff members to list all of their previous lobbying or foreign investment clients.  All staff members are required to submit the form to McCain‘s campaign counsel for their review. 

Susan, what this underscores to me is the duality of the McCain campaign.  He is part loan wolf, part maverick and part conventional Republican politician.  He‘s trying to reconcile those two things as he proceeds here.  Don‘t you think? 

MOLINARI:  Well, let‘s be fair about this.  It‘s part every politician.  Please find me anybody who runs for office perceived to be presidential who doesn‘t have lobbyists who are supporting them.  So let‘s be fair about that. 

GREGORY:  No, no.  I understand.  But wait—but hold on, Susan.  Wait a second.  But that‘s true, but McCain has carved out a unique niche.

MOLINARI:  Right. 

GREGORY:  . as a political identity that is not the conventional, typical politician.  That would not be his.

MOLINARI:  And just about.

GREGORY:  I don‘t think that‘s how he would answer that question in saying. 

MOLINARI:  And just about.

GREGORY:  .name me a politician who doesn‘t work wit lobbyists. 

MOLINARI:  Well, you‘re the one—you said Republican, so I just wanted to say that it‘s a big bipartisan town here. 

GREGORY:  No, no, I—and you should—and I didn‘t mean to imply that it was just a Republican issue.  I meant a kind of conventional—you know, a conventional politician, conventional campaign. 

MOLINARI:  And you know what‘s the difference with John McCain is, and I‘m a lobbyist, he doesn‘t change his position for lobbyists.  Lobbyists know that they can go talk to him once in a while, but he has never done what lobbyists or what conventional wisdom want them to do. 

John McCain follows one person, and that‘s John McCain.  So I don‘t really think he‘s got anything—if you look at his record—to prove, based on where he takes his issues and who influences John McCain.  The people influence John McCain and his years in the Senate have shown that. 

GREGORY:  One programming note here is that we have never made a pledge not to have lobbyists on the show.  So just everybody‘s clear on that. 

Go ahead, Richard. 

MOLINARI:  It‘d be a lonely show, wouldn‘t it? 

WOLFFE:  David, no, I was just going to say, remember the last time South Carolina in 2000.  You know everyone thinks about the whispering campaign against John McCain in South Carolina.  But actually what was really successful for Bushes in 2000, in South Carolina was to portray McCain as a Washington insider, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee with all the ties.

GREGORY:  Right. 

WOLFFE:  . to big business and lobbyists and it worked.  So this is the playbook if the Obama people are smart they‘ll try to exploit. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Next are we already seeing a preview of how the GOP plans to attack Obama in the fall?  A Michigan GOP had launched this new ad against Obama depicting him as a white-flag waving elitist. 

Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Barack Obama sees a different America.  From his elite point of view, Barack Obama believes those of us from small towns in the Midwest, quote, “get bitter and cling to guns or religion, antipathy toward people who aren‘t like them.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  OK.  That is not a high production ad at least.  They were able to just get away with using the flag there. 

Meanwhile, the RNC is poking planet Obama‘s “Yes, we can” chants.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  On the issues, can we ask Barack Obama why, as an Illinois state senator, he voted present over 130 times instead of yes or no?  On difficult issues like abortion, crime and guns? 

GROUP:  Yes, we can.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  All right, Gene, we have a frame for how Republicans will go at Obama.  How effective? 

ROBINSON:  I think the elitist frame, actually, is one of the Republicans‘ best bets for - or best lines of attack against Obama.  I think if they—

I disagree with Pat that foreign policy is such a great field of combat for the Republicans.  Obama‘s a really smart guy. He knows a lot about foreign policy.  I think he‘ll make cogent arguments that will be persuasive to a lot of people.  But.

BUCHANAN:  But let me.

ROBINSON:  .the prior campaigns have shown that he can be attacked on this.

GREGORY:  Right. 

ROBINSON:  . you know, elitist question. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, this is exactly.

ROBINSON:  So (INAUDIBLE) done it pretty successfully. 

BUCHANAN:  Gene, this is exactly what they‘re doing.  Look at that ad up there in Michigan.  It says the guy‘s out of the mainstream.  Look at the attack on Michelle Obama.  He‘s out of the mainstream.  He‘s off to the left.  Look at Hamas.  He‘s out of the mainstream.  He‘s off to the left. 

The whole Republican campaign will be to drive Obama out of the center into this exotic left-wing, quasi, radical figure, Reverend Wright and all of that, so that he can‘t get back into the center and the Reagan Democrats. 

That‘s going to be the bottom line in this campaign.  Everything will feed into it. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  All right. 

ROBINSON:  It will be hard to do that on the issues, though, Pat.  I think that‘s going to be difficult.  But I think on the question of: does he have kind of an elitist affect that will turn some people off.

GREGORY:  Right. 

ROBINSON:  . I think that‘s one of the better issues the Republicans have. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let‘s me get in here.  I got to take a quick break here.  We‘re going to come up with three questions among them, how will Barack Obama win over Hillary Clinton‘s much coveted female voters, her base?  And a new twist on campaign paraphernalias, some Obama “Yes, We Can” sneakers. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We come back with this question, what was Hillary Clinton‘s biggest mistake on her race to the White House?  Was it something she said?  Something she did?  In fact, according to one take, it was something that she didn‘t do.  Stick around for the story, coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back.  Time now to ask the three big questions in the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  And still with us, tonight, the panel, Susan Molinari, Richard Wolffe, Gene Robinson and Pat Buchanan. 

One thing I just want to throw into the mix here before we get to the “3 Questions,” the White House has made it very clear today—Ed Gillespie, counsel to the president, that the president‘s remarks in Israel were not geared toward any one person. 

There were early suggestions that it might have been geared toward Jimmy Carter, who did sit down with Hamas, but not Obama.  That‘s the line they are sticking with today.  But, we digress. 

Moving on.  First up, will Barack Obama have a problem with women in the campaign?  The Women‘s Count Political Action Committee took out this full-page ad in “USA Today” in support of Hillary Clinton.  The headline reads, “Not So Fast.  Hillary‘s voice is our voice.” 

And the ad goes on to say, when women vote, Democrats win.  We want Hillary to stay in this race until every vote is cast, every vote is counted and we know that our voices are heard. 

The pro-Clinton ad comes in the wake of an Obama endorsement from pro-choice groups, (INAUDIBLE) political committee that set off, as the “Huffington Post” put it, a massive blowback from several powerful women‘s group including (INAUDIBLE) own Washington office, which called the endorsement an unconscionable slap in the face to Senator Clinton. 

So the first question today, can Obama win over Clinton‘s female base? 

Susan, take it on. 

MOLINARI:  Well, I think it‘s going to be vitally important to him.  Women are going to be about 55 to 56 percent of the vote this—coming this election.  And when you have issues like, you know, him taking on and dismissing Senator Clinton, which is, you know, dismiss is a word that women just don‘t like in any kind of argument. 

And then when we are at the question and you call us sweetie, as he did to a reporter, I think he‘s got a long way to go with the sweetie vote.  And I do think it also goes to the issue we talked about with elitism.  You know, we talk about Joe six packs, the Joe six packs, a wife, you know, works in the diner, isn‘t too thrilled with the elitist portrait that could be portrayed.

GREGORY:  Yes. 

MOLINARI:  . of Barack Obama.  So I think he‘s going to have a tough row to hoe even as a Democrat with the women‘s vote this November. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Abortion rights are a big issue for a lot of women and especially in the Democratic Party.  And John McCain is completely on—what they would consider the wrong side of that issue.  I don‘t think.

GREGORY:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  . he‘s going to really draw a lot of support from that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI:  And you know what, Gene?  Te abortion, when you look at where that ranks now in terms of where women are voting, it‘s really not in the top three or four in terms of issues that they would—that would decide their vote come this November.  So I don‘t know how that‘s going to play. 

GREGORY:  OK.  Let me move on here.  Next up, as the Democratic primary wraps up, we‘re taking a look at what went wrong with Hillary Clinton‘s campaign.  Today we get some insight from an unlikely source.  “Rolling Stone” founder Jann Wenner talking about why Clinton turned down a chance to appear on the cover. 

“We offered Hillary a chance to be on the cover with Obama and Edwards early on in the campaign.  They were agreeable and she was not agreeable to it, you know, because they thought they were the frontrunner.  They didn‘t need this.  They didn‘t need to speak to ‘Rolling Stone‘ readers, you know?” 

Well, the result of Clinton‘s snub is this.  A March ‘08 cover featuring just Obama with the headline, “A New Hope.” 

Second question today, what was Hillary Clinton‘s biggest mistake in this campaign? 

And Richard, this speaks to a campaign that was predicated on the idea of her inevitability. 

WOLFFE:  Yes, let me just say, I don‘t think if she just got the “Rolling Stone” vote, she would have gotten a delegate. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  They‘re thinking of the mindset.  It was thinking of the mindset. 

WOLFFE:  No, I know, I know.  I‘m being flat, as usual.  But look, the real issue is—I think the biggest mistake, Iowa, Iowa.  They should have skipped Iowa.  There are no upside for them, a lot of downside, the frontrunner.  The idea that you could roll in there, play a frontrunner tactic, the inevitable cod, and succeed was just plain wrong and it hurt them badly.  I think they never really recovered. 

GREGORY:  Pat, go ahead. 

BUCHANAN:  David, I think the biggest mistake was Hillary Rodham Clinton, on October 2002, voted to give George Bush a blank check for war that a majority of Democrats opposed and 80 percent of them now think was a grave mistake. 

GREGORY:  There‘s just no turning back from that? 

BUCHANAN:  I think that has what opened the door to Barack Obama.  He had opposed the war.  That is his real winning issue.  He gets the liberal Democrats on that and he gets the African-American votes because he‘s tremendously strong, attractive candidate.  Those two coalitions, the Jackson-McGovern coalition, proved overpowering in Iowa.  I do agree that the Iowa situation was a disaster for Hillary. 

Had she not voted for the war, she would be the nominee. 

GREGORY:  And you know, Gene, I read something today that I thought was interesting, which was that Hillary Clinton really locked in as a candidate after she lost that string of—wasn‘t is 12 in a row when she—her back was really against the wall, she went on Jon Stewart, she went on SNL, she let it rip a little bit more, became a different kind of candidate.  It‘s often very hard to run when you‘re running ahead all the time. 

And it was inevitable, right? 

ROBINSON:  Well, the problem in the early part of the campaign was she was many different kinds of candidates.  Remember they kept coming up.

GREGORY:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  . with two or three new slogans every week.  She would try to seam this way, and then she tried to seam some other way.  I—you know—and there was a period in which the campaign after Iowa just kind of seemed stunned and not knowing, you know, which way to turn.  But the overall mindset that she was going to be the nominee and everything was—else was just a little blip.

GREGORY:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  . including Obama was probably, I think, the fundamental mistake. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Hold on, Susan.  I want to get this final one in.  But I want you to answer.  Finally, the gay marriage back in the news.  Will it become part of the race? 

Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR GAVIN NEWSOM (D), SAN FRANCISCO:  As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation.  It‘s inevitable.  This door‘s wide open now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  That was San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom after the state Supreme Court put California on the path to recognize same sex marriage.  John McCain was quick to criticize the ruling, saying marriage should remain the unique institution between a man and a woman.  Obama and Clinton affirmed their support for gay rights, but said gay marriage should be left to the states. 

The third question, will the California ruling make gay marriage a big issue in ‘08? 

Susan, what do you say? 

MOLINARI:  I think it‘s going to be an issue in ‘08, but I clearly don‘t think it‘s going to have the same kind of pull that it had four years ago when it was coming up in Ohio.  Ohio and California are very different states.  Govern Schwarzenegger was opposed to the ban.  So I think the dynamic is not going to be near as important in center stage for the Republicans and the Democrats. 

And quite frankly, it seems like there‘s not that much of a difference

between John McCain, Barack Obama and Senator Clinton 

GREGORY:  And here, real quick, Richard, in ‘04, we have the dynamic of the president pushing the ban on same sex marriage.  But then it was an issue at the state level and states like Ohio. 

WOLFFE:  Yes, the total—let‘s speak about what happened in ‘04.  They say there was no discernable shift, no bigger turnout in states where they had the marriage initiative on the ballot and where they didn‘t.  So, you know, I think a lot of this comes down to a bit of hype here.  They did well in turning out evangelical voters.  But the gay marriage issue doesn‘t seem itself been a deciding factor. 

GREGORY:  OK.  Got to take another break here.  Up next, it‘s been a while.  We‘re turning to our panelists to dust off their tea leaves and serve up some big predictions in the race.  That‘s coming up after this break. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  All right, we are back and turning up the pressure on the panel because it‘s time for them to look into their crystal balls and give us their predictions.  Still with us, Susan, Gene, Pat and Richard. 

All right.  Richard, you‘re first up tonight.  What do you see? 

WOLFFE:  Expect Obama to go after the Latino vote in Florida next week.  You know, he‘s got a lot of work to do in Florida.  It‘s one of the few places he has not campaigned in so far.  He‘s got the African-American vote.  He‘s going to have plenty of college kids to talk to.  But Latinos are a group that he has not connected with so far and they didn‘t do it in Texas.  He‘s got to do it in Florida to put the state in play in the fall. 

GREGORY:  How do you think he does it?  How does he go after them? 

WOLFFE:  He‘s got to speak their language, he‘s got—literally speak their language.  He‘s got to go eat tacos.  He‘s got to speak to their issues and, you know, talk about some of the economic issues that are really relevant, again, not just to white working class voters as we keep talking about, but.

GREGORY:  Right. 

WOLFFE:  . every one of the lower end of the scale. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  You know, Florida, obviously, a state with so many foreclosures, big housing issues there and the economy really hits home. 

Gene, what do you see tonight? 

ROBINSON:  My prediction is that the Democratic campaigns are going on cruise control for the next little while.  Basically what—it‘s because the shape of the race for the next period is pretty much laid out.  We can kind of see that Hillary Clinton is likely to win in Kentucky.  He is—

Obama is likely to win in Oregon.  You‘ve seen the flow of the superdelegates toward Obama.  It‘s really more of a trickle but it‘s adding up. 

There‘s no percentage for either of them in kind of going at each other cats and dogs right now. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  And I think you‘ve seen that this week with Hillary Clinton (INAUDIBLE) in with Obama‘s side in the Hamas dispute. 

GREGORY:  Yes.  If he wins in Oregon, does he declare victory in some way the next day? 

ROBINSON:  You know, I think he makes—he marks the occasion. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  But I don‘t think it‘s—there‘s a lot of jumping up and down and whooping.  You know?  It.

GREGORY:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  Because that would be taken the wrong way, I think, by the Clinton camp. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

ROBINSON:  You saw that full page ad in “USA Today.” 

GREGORY:  Yes, exactly. 

ROBINSON:  I don‘t think he wants to aggravate that situation. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Susan, what‘s your prediction tonight? 

MOLINARI:  I think—I predict there‘s going to be a change taking place on the Web site for Barack Obama.  His own Web site says under diplomacy, Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. 

I think that without preconditions is probably going to come off the Web site by tomorrow. 

GREGORY:  Do you think he spends more time delineating exactly what the context would be of any engagement with Iran? 

MOLINARI:  He‘s already changed his position.  He already said today, of course, I‘d put preconditions on it.  I would never speak to people unless, you know, Ahmadinejad said he would not, you know, seek the annihilation of the state of Israel.  So he‘s already changed his position and is, in fact, saying that President Bush and Senator McCain are twisting his position.  But it‘s right there on his own page. 

All right, Pat, what do you see coming? 

BUCHANAN:  A Big Brown wins the Preakness and Hillary wins Kentucky derby. 

Both of them pulling away. 

GREGORY:  So what does it mean?  If she wins Kentucky by the same kind of margin, if she wins it big, does it give her any of the same juice that we thought she might have coming out of West Virginia but didn‘t apparently? 

BUCHANAN:  I think if she wins it by 20 points, I think it gives her juice and it will really raise a question, what is the matter with Barack Obama?  He is the nominee.  Everybody here says he‘s the nominee and the runner-up is beating him by 20 points in swing states. 

It remakes her powerful argument.  It is not enough, quite frankly, to shake it loose from Obama. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  But I‘ll tell you, it‘s going to cause a lot of disquieting moments in the caucuses. 

MOLINARI:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  All right, Richard, take about 20 seconds to deal with this engagement with Iran issue.  Has there been a change in position in the Obama world? 

WOLFFE:  No.  What they‘re stressing now is that there‘s a difference between preparation and preconditions.  So they—just forgot to mention that they would do lots of preparatory work and make sure everything was hunky-dory before they ever met. 

Yes, the dividing line between a preparation and precondition, it‘s a dictionary discussion.  But it‘s real, too.  He‘s not saying no talks unless you suspend nuclear programs but.

GREGORY:  Right. 

WOLFFE:  . it‘s a distinction without a difference for some people. 

GREGORY:  All right, we‘re going to leave it there.  Thanks to a great panel.  Susan, welcome for the first time.  I hope you come back. 

MOLINARI:  Thank you. 

GREGORY:  You were terrific. 

MOLINARI:  So glad to be here.  Thank you. 

GREGORY:  I‘m David Gregory.  That does it for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. 

Thanks for watching.  Have a peaceful Friday night and a great weekend.  We‘ll see you back here, Monday 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  And stay where you are because “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS” starts now. 

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

END   

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