updated 7/22/2008 11:05:45 AM ET 2008-07-22T15:05:45

Guest: David Shuster, Stephen Hayes, John Harwood, Harold Ford, Jr., Michael Smerconish

DAVID SHUSTER, HOST:  Barack Obama in Baghdad, where the Maliki government‘s latest pronouncements that put the McCain campaign into damage control mode, as the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.

Welcome to THE RACE.  I‘m David Shuster, in for David Gregory. 

Great to have you here.

It has been a remarkable day in Iraq and on the U.S. campaign trail.  In a moment, we‘ll have the latest on the political debate over a potential U.S. troop withdrawal and the statements from Prime Minister‘s Maliki‘s office that have again created waves. 

Also this hour, Barack Obama and John McCain are making plans in the weeks ahead to do a joint appearance.  It took a man of God to pull it off.  We‘ll explain. 

And tonight, we will have the very latest in veepstakes news for Obama and McCain.  And yes, there is new news and incredible speculation based on who McCain has been spending time with and who has been at Obama‘s side in Iraq. 

The bedrock of our program, of course, a panel that always comes to plays. 

With us tonight, Stephen Hayes, senior writer for “The Weekly Standard‘”; John Harwood, CNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent and a political writer for “The New York Times”; Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philadelphia and columnist for both “The Philadelphia Inquirer” and “The Daily News”; and former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford jr., chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, also an NBC News analyst.

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

Tonight, my headline is, “Obama Gets a Big Political Boost in Baghdad.”

A central part of the U.S. presidential campaign is the debate over a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.  Barack Obama says he will bring U.S.  troops home within 16 months of taking office.  John McCain says the decision should be left to U.S. commanders on the ground after Iraq has been made more secure. 

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Maliki was quoted in a German magazine saying he supported Obama‘s withdrawal plan.  Then, after calls from the White House, Maliki said the translation of what he said was incorrect. 

A tape recording later established the German magazine quoted Maliki accurately.  In any case, today the quote was on videotape.  It‘s Maliki‘s spokesman saying Iraq wants troops out by the end of 2010. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) Obama by 2010? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, he is aware about that one.  He‘s aware about that one.  And this is an Iraqi vision. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So end of 2010 you‘d like to see... 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is an Iraqi vision, yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The end of calendar year 2010 is not much longer than the middle of 2010, the date Obama has set.  Add to this the Bush White House now saying it supports what it calls a general time horizon for withdrawal, and John McCain‘s position appears increasingly lonely. 

Now I would like to bring in our esteemed panel to weigh in on all of this.  Harold Ford, you‘re up first. 

HAROLD FORD, JR., NBC NEWS ANALYST:  You can‘t have it much better if you‘re traveling in Iraq, you‘ve made the central premise of your foreign policy a campaign as it relates to the biggest issue confronting and occupying the minds of most Americans, when the leadership on the ground there says they have embraced and agree with your vision for a future posture and footprint in Iraq. 

Second, John McCain should not only feel lonely from the standpoint of his position on Iraq, but you now have Condi Rice and the State Department endorses, presumably by President Bush, willing to engage in some kind of conversation, engagement with the Iranians, where their own nominee, John McCain, has said over and over again that he would not. 

Going forward, I now think a burden is placed on Senator Obama and his team.  They have not only fallen to some luck in Iraq, but they appear to be on the right side of these issues in the minds of Iraqis now, and clearly a majority of Americans. 

The question becomes, can they take this issue now and draw up a strategic, comprehensive vision for what our footprint and role ought to be in that region?  They‘ve got a great set of gifts, and rightful gifts, I might add, from the Iraqi government.  He‘s right on this position.  Now he‘s got to come back and architect a policy that I think Americans not only will want to embrace, but will elect him on come November. 

SHUSTER:  Stephen Hayes, great gifts for Obama from the Iraqi government.  Give us your take? 

STEPHEN HAYES, “WEEKLY STANDARD”:  Yes, hard to disagree with much that Harold said there. 

I would just say I don‘t think McCain‘s position is quite as lonely as you guys have suggested.  You had Admiral Michael Mullen came out yesterday and say—Admiral Mike Mullen, excuse me, come out and say that specific timelines would be “very dangerous.”  He talked about withdrawing troops based on the conditions on the ground, which is very similar to the position that McCain has been advocating for months.  It‘s no mistake that the McCain campaign then blasted out via e-mail Mullen‘s statements about this very subject. 

So I think in the big picture, if you take a step back, what the country‘s hearing, especially in these summer months, where people aren‘t paying attention to every single twist and turn of the race, is that Maliki essentially endorsed the Obama option and he‘s in Iraq, and it looks good for him. 

SHUSTER:  John Harwood, your turn. 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Look, I think what Stephen and Harold said was right.  Barack Obama‘s getting a terrific break from Maliki in Iraq. 

Events on the ground in Afghanistan are also seeming to vindicate his position right now.  It is beginning to look much more dangerous to the American people, the conflict in Afghanistan, and that‘s been part of Barack Obama‘s central argument all along. 

John McCain is now left to say the reason why Maliki is talking about troops leaving and the reason why we have the flexibility to maybe bring some troops out, is because I was right and Barack Obama was wrong, but that‘s a tough argument to make.  We know that voters don‘t always reward the party that‘s had a success. 

It helped Bill Clinton that the Berlin Wall came down in the late 1980s, because it took an issue off the table.  If the Iraq war seems to be turning the page and all sides are converging on the idea that U.S. troops have to leave, that‘s good news for Barack Obama. 

SHUSTER:  Michael Smerconish, good news for Barack Obama, the way this is headed? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  David, before departure, this was a school of thought that said this was a trip loaded with potential pitfalls, the opportunity for gaffes on the part of Senator Obama would be monumental.  Well, there was a gaffe made during the course of this trip, but it was made stateside by John McCain.  And he made it on a morning show when he mixed up whether there‘s a border between Iraq and Pakistan.  And I think it‘s just typical of what‘s gone on relative to the McCain campaign. 

It was no surprise that Barack Obama was headed to the Middle East.  What did the campaign do for John McCain to counterbalance all this favorable publicity?  Nothing that I can see.  It‘s total win for Obama. 

SHUSTER:  Stephen Hayes, is part of this John McCain‘s fault? 

HAYES:  Yes, you know, I would have done things differently, certainly.  I think, you know, if you look back at what McCain did since essentially the beginning of the general election, he did not talk about national security issues, which I think everyone would agree are his big strengths, his advantage.  Polls show that, I think it‘s obvious.  He basically said, I‘m going to campaign as a different kind of Republican and I‘m going to address, primarily, the economy, also energy, security, things of that nature. 

You understand why he did it.  But I think he had, I think, an opportunity early to frame Barack Obama as someone who was not as aggressive, more of a risky choice for voters in November on the war on terror and national security, and he didn‘t do it. 

HARWOOD:  And David, I think we‘ve also got to make the point, as Stephen did in “The Weekly Standard” over the weekend, that the Bush administration‘s not exactly helping John McCain keep that clear line of demarcation by sending Bill Burns to those talks with the Iranians on the nuclear program. 

SHUSTER:  Harold Ford, it does seem like the Bush administration is not helping John McCain, not only because of that, but also when they start talking about time frames on the horizon, it seems like, well, that is essentially a timetable, even if it‘s a different sort of language than what Barack Obama is talking about. 

FORD:  I can only echo what John and Stephen both have said.  It almost appears as if the Bush White House is more interested and concerned about their own legacy and don‘t involve or don‘t incorporate a win for John McCain in that legacy. 

You would have to think that the sitting president of the United States would at least have shared in some ways with his nominee, the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee in John McCain, that he would make some slight, if not marked departure, from where policy has been within his White House and State Department  up until now. 

It‘s a win for Senator Obama.  There‘s one caution in all of this, though. 

Many of you probably read “The Wall Street Journal,” Brzezinski‘s piece in The Journal this morning where he talked cautiously about a long-term massive engagement on the ground in Afghanistan, and he likened it to the Russians‘ failed efforts there.  I think as Senator Obama works through some of these issues, as they prepare for their return, what has been a terrific trip up until this point, they have to begin thinking longer term, broader vision, strategic vision for what the Obama plan will look like in that region, in that region of the world, once he‘s president. 

SHUSTER:  Well, I think they also have to be wondering how much longer their luck will continue to run as far as the Bush administration and John McCain, sometimes at odds with each other. 

But in any case, the panel sticking around.  Up next, a new McCain ad says Obama is to blame for high gas prices.  Will voters buy that? 

Plus, Obama and McCain are going to the chapel.  The candidates agree to a joint appearance at Rick Warren‘s megachurch.  Who stands to benefit the most? 

“Inside the War Room” is next. 

And later in the show, it‘s your turn to play with the panel.  Call us at 212-790-2299, or e-mail us at race08@msnbc.com.

RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  We‘re back and heading deep inside the campaign war room to talk tactics and strategy.

With Obama overseas this week, McCain‘s got a chance to really dig in on the home front, targeting the key battleground states of Colorado, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Back with us, Stephen, John, Michael and Harold.  And first up, McCain seizes a golden opportunity to talk energy and the economy.  He launched this ad today attacking Barack Obama on rising gas prices.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  Gas prices, $4, $5, no end in sight, because some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America, no to independence from foreign oil.  Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?

CROWD:  Barack Obama! 

NARRATOR:  One man knows we must now drill more in America and rescue our family budgets.  Don‘t hope for more energy, vote for it.  McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (voice over):  I‘m John McCain, and I approved this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The Obama campaign fired back with this statement: “Given his calls for a civil campaign, it‘s disappointing that Senator McCain has slipped so easily into the same, tired campaign tactics that have become so familiar to the American people.”

John Harwood, let me start with you.  Will voters really buy into the idea that Barack Obama is responsible for the high gas prices? 

HARWOOD:  No.  And I‘ve got to say, David, I was dumbstruck by this ad. 

The idea that you‘re going to—I mean, it‘s one idea to go after Obama for being Dr. No and opposing the various steps from the gas tax holiday to the drilling that John McCain is talking about, but does it even pass the laugh test to have an ad saying that Barack Obama is the one you can thank for rising gas prices?  I mean, it‘s just—it‘s beyond belief, really. 

SHUSTER:  All right.

Moving on, one reverend is making miracles.  “The New York Times” reporting that it has taken a man of God, perhaps, to do what nobody else has been able to do since the general election season began: get Barack Obama and John McCain together on the same stage before their party conventions later this summer. 

That man is Reverend Rick Warren, who‘s persuaded both candidates to appear on the same stage at his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. 

Harold, you‘re up.  Why did Obama agree to this forum? 

FORD:  Reverend Rick Warren is the author of “The Purpose-Driven Life.”  He‘s an author of a few other books, but that one there was really what set him apart from many evangelists, religious thinkers, and those men of the cloth and women of the cloth in the country. 

Two, he and Senator Obama have a relationship, and I think Senator Obama trusts him. 

And three, I think it‘s probably advantageous politically for both senators to be there.  Senator McCain has a challenge, because he doesn‘t feel as comfortable talking about his faith.  And Senator Obama, the more opportunities he has to establish his Christian roots, his church roots outside of the context and the presence of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, it only redounds his benefit politically, personally, and for that matter, spiritually. 

If I had the time, I‘d be at the church also.  I‘m a fan of Rick Warren as well. 

SHUSTER:  All right.

And finally, McCain‘s top economic adviser, Phil Gramm, resigns after referring to Americans as a “nation of whiners” in an interview with a newspaper.  But one new supporter could be Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. 

Here‘s what he said about McCain on his radio show. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JAMES DOBSON, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY:  I never thought I would hear myself saying this, but it‘s where I am.  While I am not endorsing Senator John McCain, the possibility is there that I might. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Well, that‘s not exactly a glowing endorsement.  Basically, he‘s picking the lesser of two evils here. 

Stephen, if you‘re the McCain campaign, what do you do with this? 

HAYES:  Well, I don‘t know exactly what you do with it, but it‘s certainly an encouraging sign if you‘re the McCain campaign.  I think what they need is not only to have people like James Dobson eventually come aboard, because they‘re concerned about the kind of country that Barack Obama would be running, but they also need to have the rank and file Evangelicals, and not just Evangelicals.  I think a lot of times we in the media focus on Evangelicals, but a broad spectrum of conservatives who are not right now enthusiastic about John McCain come out and support the senator, and most importantly, show up in November. 

There‘s not an indication yet that their they‘re, but if James Dobson is getting there, perhaps some others are, too. 

SHUSTER:  And Michael Smerconish, even if the support is grudging support from an Evangelical, is it still support, nonetheless? 

SMERCONISH:  Tough call.  I‘m not sure. 

I mean, I‘m one who believed that it‘s not such a bad thing for John McCain to have some distance between the Evangelical community that has heretofore been supportive of his party.  But David, in the big picture, here‘s what I see.  I see a changing of the guard in the Evangelical community. 

I happen to think that these two issues are related.  Rick Warren being the catalyst to bring these two candidates on to the same stage, and James Dobson then saying, you know, maybe it will be McCain after all.  Maybe Dobson is not too pleased that Rick Warren is all of a sudden the guy, he‘s the go-to man in that community. 

SHUSTER:  That is such a brilliant point.  And I think there‘s far more politics on the Evangelical side than maybe we give them credit for.

Coming up next, “Smart Takes” time.  One writer says the McCain campaign should quit bellyaching about Barack Obama‘s media blitz abroad because they have only themselves to blame. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  We‘re back with THE RACE, and bring you today‘s “Smart Takes,” the most provocative, most insightful, sharpest thinking out there. 

Here again are Stephen, John, Michael and Harold.

First up, our very own John Harwood writes in today‘s “New York Times” that Obama‘s not getting as much leverage out of the economy as he could. 

“If Mr. Obama faces a challenge in narrowing Mr. McCain‘s advantage on national security, the struggling economy offers the Democratic candidate an opportunity for building his own edge, but even Mr. Obama‘s advisers agree that he has not seized control of policy prescriptions of raising taxes on Wall Street and the wealthy, cutting them for working families, providing short-term stimulus, and investing in a long-term shift toward a clean energy economy.  That provides an opening for Mr. McCain on the economy and his most important electoral targets.  That‘s the turf Mr.  McCain aims to occupy while Mr. Obama travels.”

John, you conclude that even if Mr. Obama delivers a strong performance on the world stage, he faces a more vital political struggle upon his return.  Do you think that he, Obama, understands that? 

HARWOOD:  Boy, was that a “Smart Take” or what? 

(LAUGHTER)

HARWOOD:  Yes, I do think Obama understands that.  He‘s talking about trying to qualify himself with his trip overseas, and he‘s doing a pretty good job of it right now. 

He knows, though, that he‘s got to drive the economic message when he gets back.  That‘s what John McCain‘s trying to do. 

And McCain clearly has taken a bit of an edge with this gas price argument, although you can see how carried away they got with it with this ad saying that Obama‘s responsible for high gas prices.  But that‘s something that John McCain‘s going to try to work and work very hard while Obama‘s gone. 

SHUSTER:  A “Smart Take” indeed. 

Next up, The New York Times‘ Frank Rich on what he calls McCain‘s economic stupidity. 

“The term ‘flip-flopping‘ doesn‘t do justice to Mr. McCain‘s self-contradictory economic pronouncements.  What he serves up instead is plain old incoherence.”

“In a single 24-hour period in April, Mr. McCain went from saying there‘s been great economic progress during the Bush presidency, to saying Americans are not better off than they were eight years ago.  He reversed his initial condemnation of mortgage bailouts in just two weeks.  Mr.  McCain said he would balance the federal budget by the end of his first term, even while extending the gargantuan Bush tax cuts.”

“Why not just say he‘ll do it on Inauguration Day?  It really doesn‘t matter since he‘s never supplied really numbers that would give this promise even a patina of credibility.” 

Harold, is Obama doing enough to seize on McCain‘s changing positions?

FORD:  I think you will hear Senator Obama not only talk about the flip-flops, but talk about the politics that urged and coerced Senator McCain to make these flips.  I think the American people, though, may be interested in a bigger and more substantive conversation. 

I think wrapping more specifics around how he will convert us from the carbon-emitting economy that we have today to a cleaner economy, how you will take that new paradigm and create new jobs, and how a balanced budget and smarter spending at the federal level can produce a health care plan and education plan for every American, I think the flip-flopping on McCain will take care of itself in a lot of ways.  They ought to hammer it, but also hammer equally forcefully, this being the Obama campaign, how will you get us out of this mess that we‘re in?  Give us a grand vision. 

He has the ability to do that, and hopefully over the next several weeks as this campaign continues to mature and progress, they will do that. 

SHUSTER:  You‘ve heard it, Ladies and Gentlemen, from Harold Ford, the flip-flopping from John McCain will take care of itself. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Breaking news. 

SHUSTER:  All right, Harold.  Thank you. 

Moving on, The New Republic‘s Noam Scheiber bets the McCain campaign is regretting pushing Obama to go to the war zone.

“Late this spring, Republicans delighted in bashing Obama for his two-plus-year absence from Iraq.  Obama nuts called their bluff and took every cameraman in the Amtrak corridor along for the ride.  Somehow it didn‘t occur to the McCainiacs until too late that an Obama world tour might become the media event of the season.”

“For all this, the McCain campaign has only itself to blame.  It made a mistake by equating Obama‘s foreign travel with his fitness to be president.  They may have a case to make on the underlying merits, but if things go according to plan for Obama this week, they will only have helped ensure it won‘t be heard.”

Stephen, do you think there may be some remorse coming out of the McCain campaign for suggesting Obama should be spending some more time in Iraq and Afghanistan?

HAYES:  Yes.  Well, you know, they couldn‘t have really predicted this turn of events that we‘ve seen, as Harold pointed out and John earlier, the Bush administration embracing some Obamaesque policies on Iran, Maliki‘s comments in Iraq.  And there are certain things that weren‘t predictable. 

But yes, I think the McCain campaign essentially thought that they could win by making the argument before Obama went that he was foolish to have laid out his strategy without actually meeting with the commanders.  I think it‘s actually a pretty good argument.  It just has been overshadowed by everything that‘s happened since. 

SHUSTER:  And Michael Smerconish, by having the McCain campaign essentially draw attention and adding the emphasis and importance to Iraq and Afghanistan, and now having Barack Obama saying, OK, here we are, we‘re there, doesn‘t that just sort of generate more attention in and of itself? 

SMERCONISH:  It does.  And David, what I‘m looking at is that this situation is about to repeat itself next month.  And I think the Republicans have a huge problem on their hands, because that Democratic convention, with 75,000 folks at Invesco Field on the anniversary of Martin Luther King‘s “I have a dream” speech, how do you come back from that? 

I mean, how do you all of a sudden if you‘re the GOP go to Minneapolis and have John McCain in front of 15,000 or 20,000 people and try and convey some sense of enthusiasm?  I don‘t have the solution, but they better be working on that. 

SHUSTER:  Well, a very smart former congressman told me the solution is that John McCain ought to go to Iraq and Afghanistan during the Democratic convention and try to get some headlines that way and make a distinction. 

In any case, up next, we‘re taking the war room on the road.  Obama‘s trip abroad, did you know there‘s a dress code? 

Plus, the first reactions of the foreign press.  Inside Obama‘s overseas war room is next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

(NEWS BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Welcome back.  Tonight, we‘re taking you inside Obama‘s overseas war room, taking a look at the tactical decisions the Obama company has made during its trip to Iraq and Afghanistan.  How is he doing so far?  Has he been making the right calls and what are the potential pitfalls that lie ahead for him?  Back with us, Stephen, John, Michael and Harold. 

First up, Obama in Afghanistan this weekend; sitting down with the troops and shaking hands.  But is something wrong with this picture?  Should Obama be in a suit and how come off of the video we‘ve seen is of Obama inside a building?  It looks like Obama lost the formality by the time he made his way to Iraq, shedding the suit for a more casual look.  And in Iraq, at least, there is video of him outside. 

John Harwood, Congressional folks say that based on Codel protocol, members of Congress usually don‘t have press tagging along, but that exceptions are made for presidential nominees.  So it seems, therefore, that Obama may have missed an opportunity.  He could have choreographed this a bit, put on a flak jacket and made it clear to voters here that he really is in a war zone. 

HARWOOD:  I‘m not sure he wanted to try to do that and sort of dress up, if you will, and pose for pictures.  I think simply by being there, having video come out later, having sound come out later of him having listened, met with troops, mingled with them, talked with commanders and local officials, that‘s really what he was trying to project, that he was learning and that he was functioning on the world stage.  I don‘t think the idea of putting on a flak jacket and showing that he was standing up to, you know, the danger of a war zone was part of the plan. 

SHUSTER:  But Michael Smerconish, a missed political opportunity here? 

SMERCONISH:  No, I agree with John.  And I‘m thinking Dukakis and the tank.  And I think that that was probably the pitfall that they were trying to avoid.  I think so far, it‘s come off flawlessly and has been handled correctly by the campaign. 

SHUSTER:  All right.  Moving on, the press avoiding a wardrobe malfunction overseas?  The Obama campaign reportedly issued a strict dress code with the following rules: do not wear green, as it‘s the color of Hamas, do not wear nail polish, wear a limited amount of jewelry, shoulders and arms must be covered, no strapless tops, tank tops, short sleeve shirts and women should wear stockings.  And the campaign is only doing sit down, taped interviews right now. 

Harold Ford, you‘ve done your share of traveling.  Middle East experts who have been going to the region for 20 years have told me they‘ve never heard somebody say not to wear nail polish.  I mean, I know that nail polish isn‘t your area of expertise, but to use words like dress code instead of helpful hints and suggestions, isn‘t the Obama campaign asking for more trouble with the press corps that already finds Obama and his staffers a bit distant and cold. 

FORD:  Hopefully, they right fair and accurate and objective articles. 

I tell you, one of the things you always try to accomplish on these trips - I‘ve been to Iraq several times.  I was with Senator Obama on his first trip back in January of 2006 when I was in Congress.  The purpose of these trips is a lot what Smerc and what John said, you‘re there to learn and listen.  And there‘s a context here.  Senator Obama, obviously, has been criticized by John McCain, I think unfairly, because Senator McCain has been several times, that has not changed his viewpoint or perspective. 

I think the bigger issue for Senator Obama is to try to balance, to show not only that you appreciate where you are, but you appreciate the need to come back with an enhanced understanding, to not only refine what positions you may have, but to help lay out for the American people a real strategy and a real blueprint for where you want to take us.  So if up to this point is any indication of how this trip is going for him, it‘s going well. 

But I disagree with Smerc and John, just a bit.  I‘d throw on a flak jacket, if for no other reason, it‘s a safe thing to do there when you‘re on the ground traveling. 

(CROSS TALK)

SHUSTER:  Does Harold take out his ear stud when he goes to Iraq? 

FORD:  I‘ll borrow your nail polish, John. 

SHUSTER:  My issue with the word dress code is that Barack Obama doesn‘t have the greatest relationship with the press corps traveling with him, at least not as great as John McCain has with his, and that is going to come back to hurt Barack Obama at some point this summer if he‘s not careful in using words like code instead of suggestions.  The press does not like to feel like something‘s been jammed down their throat, no matter where they are. 

Moving on, so far so good for Obama‘s trip abroad, but two moments are left which are said to be, quote, fraught with peril.  First, Obama heads to Israel tomorrow where he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  He then goes to Ramallah where he will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  The second possible pitfall is that Obama‘s giving a campaign speech on foreign soil at 10 Downing Street in London without Gordon Brown.  The Sunday “London Times” noting, quote, there will be no Brown at his side to spoil the number ten backdrop for American voters, even though it would be unthinkable for a British prime minister to appear in the White House Rose Garden without the president.” 

Stephen Hayes, take it on.  Is Obama already acting like the president?  And could it backfire? 

HAYES:  This is actually—I think Smerc said earlier it was really tough to figure out what the McCain campaign might do to undermine this trip.  And it‘s clearly been a successful trip from a media and PR perspective thus far.  I guess I would say the one thing he could do is look, this guy hasn‘t been elected to anything.  He‘s running around the world, acting like a president.  He‘s doing the kind of things that one would do to try to appear presidential. 

The problem for the McCain campaign is precisely what you suggested earlier.  They‘re the ones who suggested that he go in the first place.  So I think that would be a little bit of a ping-ponging effect for the voters if they were to make the argument. 

SHUSTER:  All right.  Finally, the “New York Times” put it best today:

“Obama has already won the U.S. election by a landslide, in Europe, that is.  He‘s already enjoying rock star status abroad with German papers predicting a crowd of as many as 100,000 expected at his speech in Berlin.”  A Telegraph poll showing that Obama is a shoo-in among western Europe, the largest margin in Germany was 67 percent of Germans favoring Obama, compared to six percent who support McCain. 

But the London “Sunday Times” fears the Blair effect, hero abroad, liability at home.  Michael Smerconish, does Obama really have to worry about a Blair effect? 

SMERCONISH:  To some extent.  I think we all want to be liked and we want to be respected, but we don‘t want to be told what to do by foreign voters.  I guess that‘s a small impediment in terms of what he‘s got left on the schedule.  I think that Israel in particular is an area that‘s difficult to navigate.  I remember when I made a trip to Jerusalem, I offended my hosts because I wanted to stay where Winston Churchill had once slept, which was a former Pasha‘s palace, and naively I booked a hotel in East Jerusalem.  I had no idea. 

Hopefully he‘s got somebody picking his hotels and won‘t make those mistakes.  That‘s just an example of where things can go wrong.

SHUSTER:  John Harwood, he already made a mistake about Israel earlier this year when he talked about Jerusalem being undivided and he had to step back.  It is a country and a relationship with the Palestinians there that is fraught with political peril. 

HARWOOD:  No question.  And he‘s criticized the Bush administration for not making more progress multilaterally working towards peace in the region.  He‘s got to stay true to that vision while also persuading Israelis that he‘s not going to be any less friendly to Israel and he‘s got an eye, of course, to the Jewish voters back home in Florida and other states where they really count a big deal. 

SHUSTER:  Stephen Hayes, do you get the sense that Barack Obama‘s at his most confident in a situation like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? 

HAYES:  No, I think both John and Smerc are right on this.  It‘s one of these sort of things that‘s sort of land mines everywhere.  If he says the wrong thing, everything is so sensitive.  We‘ve seen this whether it‘s Smerc‘s trips, whether it‘s Bush administration comments, whether it‘s Congressional statements.  There are so many sensitivities there that I think anything that he says, especially—this is the downside of having such a huge media contingent and having every word watched so carefully.  You say one thing that‘s even slightly wrong, and you‘re going to get pounded on it. 

SHUSTER:  I absolutely agree.  In fact, starting tomorrow in Jordan, that‘s when the entire international press corps is going to be right there with them.  We‘ll see how that plays both in Amman, Jordan, but also in Israel, which will be crucial. 

Up next, Obama‘s VP window.  NBC‘s own Chuck Todd lays out a timeline for Obama to pick his vice president.  And this just in, columnist Bob Novak posted on his blog today that John McCain could make his vice presidential choice this week while Obama is out of the country.  Novak reports the name of McCain‘s running mate has not been disclosed, but Mitt Romney has led the speculation recently.  We will have more on that right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  And we‘re back with a special edition of Vetting the Veeps, lots of Veepstakes news, including this late-breaking development; reporter Bob Novak posted on his blog that the McCain campaign may announce its vice presidential choice while Barack Obama is out of the country this week.  Novak didn‘t have a name, but he did not that Mitt Romney has been in the mix lately.  A McCain spokesman now tells NBC News, quote, we have nothing to announce this afternoon.  Make of that what you will. 

Our panel still here, Stephen, John, Michael, and Harold.  First up, an early glimpse of the GOP ticket; McCain and Giuliani watching the game, eating some dogs at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.  Giuliani was asked about the vice presidential job.  Here‘s what he told reporters. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI ®, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You hear all kinds of stuff, but I‘m not thinking about anything but helping to get him elected.  Beyond the fact that he‘s the candidate of my party, he‘s a very good friend. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Also a guy who‘s been getting a lot of press as a possible McCain VP, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  Today on “MORNING JOE”—it‘s been a long day.  I tag teamed with Joe and Mika to try and get Governor Jindal to tell us whether or not he was being vetted. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Hey, Bobby, my man, are you being vetted?  Bobby? 

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL ®, LOUISIANA:  I‘m not going to be the vice president.  I‘m not going to be the nominee.  But I‘m going to do everything I can to help the senator get elected.  I‘m not going to do that being governor of Louisiana.  But I‘m not going to be his nominee.  He‘s got several great choices to pick from. 

SHUSTER:  But Bobby, to help him—

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on a second.  Hold on.  Hold on a second.  Because I think there‘s—the microphone out in L.A. is not getting through to east coast.  Bobby, are you being vetted? 

JINDAL:  I‘m not going to talk at all about their process, but I‘ll tell you again, I‘m not going to be the vice president.  I‘ve made it very clear I want to be governor.  I‘ve got the job that I want. 

(CROSS TALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Mika‘s, Bobby‘s being vetted. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  So we know Bobby can hold his own against the press.  That‘s good.  Jindal‘s a rising star in the Republican party.  He‘s a young guy and a fresh face.  The downside is he could make McCain look like the opposite.  Michael Smerconish, where do you come down on this one?  

SMERCONISH:  Neither of those two.  I have the utmost respect for Rudy.  There was a time that I thought it might be Mayor Giuliani.  The dynamics have changed since the outset of this race.  It‘s the economy.  By taking Mayor Giuliani, what John McCain does is enhance his already strong suit, which is the war on terror.  He‘s got to have someone who controls the economy.  Go call Michael Bloomberg. 

SHUSTER:  Steven Hayes, what do you make of this little gem by Bob Novak that something could come this week, and the McCain campaign telling us, well, we don‘t have anything this afternoon.  Well, thank you, it‘s already the evening. 

HAYES:  That‘s an interesting nugget.  It would certainly be one for them way to take attention away from Obama‘s overseas trip.  Let me just follow up on something that Smerc said because I think it‘s a very important point.  I actually had the opportunity on two different occasions to talk to McCain about what kind of a vice presidential running mate he would pick.  And this was before, sort of, he was in the mode of actively looking at VP candidates; and he said two things that were interesting.  The first time came in the context of an interview I was doing for a book I wrote about Dick Cheney and I jokingly asked McCain, hey, if Cheney were still available, would you take him?  And McCain said, you know, I wouldn‘t because we have the same strengths.  And if I were picking a vice presidential candidate, I wouldn‘t pick somebody with the same strengths that I have. 

And then the second time came on a campaign plane back in the winter when he wasn‘t yet the nominee.  And it was a group of reporters standing around talking to McCain.  And we asked him about picking a pro-choice running mate.  The discussion actually was about Michael Bloomberg.  And McCain said, you know, I think it‘d be really tough to pick someone who is not pro-life, because—this is a paraphrase, not a direct quote—being pro-life is a foundational principal of the Republican party, or something close to that. 

SHUSTER:  That is so interesting, Stephen Hayes.  Go ahead. 

HARWOOD:  You know the TV business better than I do.  If John McCain calls up all those network anchors this week and says, hey, don‘t go interview Barack Obama, come back and I‘ll talk about my Veep choice, what do they do then? 

SHUSTER:  I think McCain might do it just to spite them.  That would be my view.  I think it‘s a good point.  It certainly puts the media in a quandary.  It certainly brings the attention back there.  I‘m not sure McCain is really serious about that or maybe somebody is trying to use Bob Novak. 

Let‘s move the Democrats real fast.  Turning now to Obama and when he might announce his VP choice.  Here‘s what Chuck Todd predicted on “Meet the Press” with Tom Brokaw and David Gregory yesterday.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  I‘ve got it on pretty good authority, this is not going to be done right before the convention.  And it‘s not going to be done during the Olympics.  Well, you start backtracking when Obama‘s going to pick his running mate—

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  Two weeks. 

TODD:  Exactly.  The minute they get back from this trip, what‘s they‘re going to be in, is in VP mode.  So this trip matters.  There is some comfort level that he wants to see if he has with Jack Reed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Lot‘s to talk about there.  We‘ll talk about Senator Reed in a second.  Harwood, you started with this idea about the timing.  What about the two weeks‘ timing? 

HARWOOD:  I don‘t know when they‘re going to announce his choice.  Historically, it‘s been pretty chose to the convention.  I could certainly see it happening on the week immediately before the convention, even though the Olympics are still going on.  But we‘ve got to see.  Certainly, he is conducting little audition with both Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed.  And we‘ve seen others in recent days hanging around, Evan Bayh, Sam Nunn.  So I think they‘re well along in the process, but I don‘t know when it‘s going to come to a conclusion. 

SHUSTER:  On to Jack Reed, the senator from Rhode Island, the Democrat, he‘s traveling with Barack Obama on his trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, joined by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel.  Reed is a Democratic go-to guy on national security, a West Point grad and former Army Ranger, senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  This is his 12th visit to Iraq.  He‘s been there more times than any other Democratic senator.  And this is also notable; Reed voted against the 2002 Iraq resolution. 

Harold, you‘ve been on several of these co-delegation trips.  What happens in terms of the bonding and how much could that help Reed in terms of getting on Barack Obama‘s radar? 

FORD:  It‘s an opportunity as you travel with people, not only to gain an understanding personally who they are, what they think, but you have a chance in small settings with important leaders, particularly from Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel in this trip, to gain a sense of how that person thinks, how that person processes complicated and serious information.  I don‘t know who Barack Obama will pick, but Jack Reed would have to be high up on the list for the biography—I should say, resume attributes you mentioned. 

But he is someone who‘s respected by both sides of the aisle.  He is someone who more likely than not won‘t overshadow Barack Obama in any way, and someone, I believe, Barack Obama would be comfortable asking tough questions to on foreign policy, national security, and someone who could be an emissary to Congress.  You cannot overstate enough the next president having good relation with the Congress, whether it‘s Barack or John McCain.  Barack will need this Congress to pass sweeping legislation on energy and health care and education and to reform our image around the globe.  Jack Reed would be a strong choice. 

SHUSTER:  Stephen Hayes, I‘m not sure Jack Reed would be the most electrifying sort of pick.  But on the other hand, what conservatives think, wait a second, that‘s not a bad pick for Barack Obama. 

HAYES:  The most important thing, I can‘t believe Harold didn‘t mention it, Jack Reed would bring Rhode Island‘s electoral votes.  That could put Barack Obama over the top.  No, I think Jack Reed‘s not a—he would be a smart choice.  He‘s a serious guy on national security.  I certainly don‘t agree with much that he says, but he‘s a very serious guy and he‘s not one of these guys who is off taking pot shots and making irresponsible arguments. 

He clearly studies the issue.  I think his 12 trips to Iraq suggest that.  He knows what he‘s talking about when he makes arguments.  He‘d be hard to trip up.  I think he‘d be a solid choice. 

SHUSTER:  And Michael Smerconish, as far as Pennsylvania‘s concerned, does Barack Obama absolutely need to have Hillary Clinton in order to sort of get all those rural, white women voters in Pennsylvania? 

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t think so.  Pennsylvania is a tough state to call in this particular cycle.  But I don‘t believe in the magical hold that Senator Clinton or anyone else, for that matter, holds over our electorate, just in the same way I don‘t think that James Dobson necessarily speaks for all Evangelicals.  I think that far too often we put too much stock in that endorsement process. 

SHUSTER:  And John Harwood, back to the Republicans again, if in fact this Bob Novak thing is accurate, and that‘s a big if, lay out the week for us.  How much attention would it take away from Obama and the discussion about his running mate is, if there‘s John McCain later this week saying, okay, here‘s my running mate. 

HARWOOD:  Barack Obama may appear superhuman to some in some ways, but I don‘t think he would blot out the story of John McCain‘s running mate.  I think that would be an incredibly strong counter-move.  Now, whether it‘s smart or not in terms of the timing, I don‘t know.  But I think if John McCain made this choice to do this this week, he clearly is going to trump Barack Obama‘s trip to the Middle East. 

SHUSTER:  Well, and I think—go ahead. 

HAYES:  I think the problem, David, on the other side of this, if you think about the place McCain‘s going to be after Obama‘s Democratic convention—I mean, it is going to—it‘s going to be such a rock star convention.  It will make “American Idol” look like cable access.  McCain‘s going to have to have something that‘s very exciting as he goes into the Republican convention.  I think if he did this early, it could certainly take away his ability to sort of thwart the momentum that Obama would have coming out of his convention. 

FORD:  But, Stephen, if he doesn‘t do something—you have to admire the boldness here.  If he doesn‘t do something between now and the Democratic convention, or between now and next week, he could find himself further marginalized in this race.  Politically, this might not be as silly an exercise as we think.  It would put some pressure back on Senator Obama.  Because at the rate we‘re going, we won‘t be discussing anything in Senator McCain‘s campaign but silly commercials and the prospect of him doing something that he hasn‘t done.  So this might be a smart thing politically for him to do. 

SHUSTER:  I think it might be smart.  But my opinion is that Friday that Steven was taking about, when the Democratic convention is over, Republicans will have just the weekend before their convention, that‘s when I think we‘re going to see John McCain‘s running mate.  In any case, our panel is staying with us.  Up next, your questions about the Veepstakes, including this; has Hillary Clinton improved her chances of being named Obama‘s VP?  And is there any risk for Obama if he does not choose her?  Play with the panel is next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  And we‘re back.  With news that John McCain‘s choice could come this week, we decided to vote this play with the panel and answer some of the questions you‘ve been asking about the Veepstakes.  Still with us, Stephen, John, Michael and Harold.  Jaime in Washington State believes “Obama has no reason not to pick Hillary Clinton.  I still think if Obama picks anyone other than Hillary Clinton for VP, he is settling for second best, caving into his super liberal supporters, instead of using his best judgment.”

Harold, how about it? 

FORD:  It‘s his choice.  I think Hillary Clinton is on that list.  He‘s got a number of strong people to look at, including Jack Reed, Joe Biden, Evan Bayh, Ed Rendell and a host of others.  The bottom line, he has a good list to choose from.  But I‘ve got to think Hillary has found her way back up that list in the last few days. 

SHUSTER:  Stephen Hayes, I‘ve got to imagine conservatives would be drooling at the prospect of Hillary Clinton being a running mate? 

HAYES:  We would like to have her there, I think.  It doesn‘t make any sense.  From my perspective, it doesn‘t make any sense.  Barack Obama is running as a candidate who‘s sort of new politics.  Hillary Clinton is old politics.  It‘s the 1990s.  And bringing Bill Clinton back on the campaign trail, I don‘t think, is a huge asset. 

SHUSTER:  Stanley in Staten Island is thinking about the next eight years in regard to VP choices: “Why does no one discuss the age of the prospective candidates like Biden and Nunn, and their ability to run for office eight years from now.”  John Harwood, how come we don‘t discuss their age? 

HARWOOD:  Because when you‘ve got a 46-year-old candidate in Barack Obama, nobody‘s really looking toward the next, you know, two elections from now.  And if you pick somebody like Sam Nunn, I don‘t think Sam Nunn would likely run.  He‘d be sort of like Dick Cheney in that regard.  That‘s one thing that George W. Bush was very deliberate about.  He wanted a vice president that was not going to run to succeed him. 

SHUSTER:  Finally, Steve in Charlotte, North Carolina has this question: “there‘s been a lot of talk about the candidates choosing a VP that balances an area in which they are lacking.  With the exception of Dick Cheney, the VP typically plays a very passive role in the government.  Therefore, what would be the benefit of this type of choice?  Would it be strictly for the perception of the voters?” 

Michael Smerconish? 

SMERCONISH:  I again come back to where I began, which is the decision has to be issue-determined and it‘s the economy.  John McCain can not afford to take someone who in the past has said, as he has said, it‘s not my strong suit.  That favors Mitt Romney,  It favors Michael Bloomberg to the extent that it would have him.  Barack Obama has a more wide open field because he‘s benefiting already from the status quo as the economy declines. 

FORD:  Al Gore was a pretty effective vice president who reinforced Bill Clinton‘s message, although he happened to be from a neighboring state to the questioner.  I mean, Gore was a pretty effective, and for that matter, assertive VP. 

SHUSTER:  Well, that does it for the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  I‘m David Shuster.  Thanks for watching and thanks to our fantastic panel of Harold, John, Michael and Stephen.  I think we may get a decision sometime soon, but we‘ll see, or maybe we‘ll have to wait until after the Olympics are over.  David Gregory will see you right back here tomorrow night, same time, 6:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC.  Up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  Have a great night, everybody.

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

END   

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