Explainer: Chuck Todd and Vaughn Ververs: The Never-Ending Discussion

  • Chuck Todd and Vaughn Ververs began covering politics together during the 1992 presidential campaign, initiating a dialogue about what makes Washington tick.

    Over the course of 19 years, that conversation has continued, as both worked for television, print, and online outlets — often side-by-side.

    Now, this "Never-Ending Discussion" is available to news junkies. Through daily e-mail exchanges, Todd and Ververs will sift through the biggest political stories and trends of the day — adding their unique insight and understanding. It's a raw, authentic look at a conversation between friends — one that promises to be honest and thought-provoking.

    Chuck Todd is the chief White House correspondent and political director of NBC News. Vaughn Ververs is the political editor for msnbc.com.

  • Washington disconnect

  • Well Chuck, great news for you on the Dodgers front, maybe at the end of the day you'll get Mark Cuban as the owner.  That couldn't be too bad could it?  Hey, the upside is the Dodgers aren't too far back from my Rockies who were supposed to break out this year so go figure.

    So all the action is in Iowa these days, not a big shocker but wasn't that state's importance in the GOP nominating process supposed to be diminished this year?  The Des Moines Register poll, Michele Bachmann's announcement, Sarah Palin making an appearance for the documentary about her and even President Obama in the state this week.  Heady stuff for June, even in a presidential cycle.  It's funny that Iowa gets this reputation for being a "base" state for the GOP, especially when you consider most of the real upsets in the primary season seem to occur in New Hampshire -- Pat Buchanan winning in '96, McCain in '00, McCain again in '08 to revive his candidacy (and that's just on the GOP side). 

    I tend to agree that in this cycle, New Hampshire will be more important and that South Carolina will somehow retain its role as the "real" decider (Bush in '92, Dole in '96, the other Bush in '00, McCain in '08), but I'm coming around to the possibility that there's more reason today to think Iowa could be more important than ever before, and might actually end up producing the winner of this whole deal.  Am I wrong?

  • Glad you see why the bankruptcy filing is actually good news for the boys in blue. The stain that is Frank McCourt on the once proud franchise is closer to being washed away.

    Apologies for my lack of "NEDing," had a great family tradition to be a part of in one of the hidden treasures of Florida, outside of Pensacola, but I digress.

    One thing about a few days off, you get some perspective (not always "good" perspective) or at least what you tell yourself is "perspective.

    Consider the two big stories politically.

    Michele Bachmann, who was scorned by her own house colleagues in a leadership election, is suddenly this week's biggest threat to Mitt Romney. The debt talks in Washington are apparently back at square one (or as I like to say, "square B" meaning, back to square one but in search of a "Plan B" in order to find a way to raise the debt limit).

    Here's what I think I know about both: Bachmann is a serious player but is clearly peaking early. Can she handle real scrutiny that comes (not from stupid questions asked by some TV hosts) but the type of scrutiny that comes from sustained coverage over time by actual day-to-day reporters who will tire of her soundbites. And sustained opposition research from opponents like Tim Pawlenty and, say, a Rick Perry, the two previous winners of the "this week's new threat to Mitt Romney" award?

    I have my doubts on the scrutiny front and the ability to have staying power but she's proven plenty of folks wrong already.

    It's interesting to me that the two leading candidates in Iowa, Mitt Romney and Michelle Bachmann have so few admirers in the mainstream conservative world that lives in Washington. Doesn't that eventually become a problem for both?

    On the debt talks, we know how this ends -- some last-minute compromise deal on spending cuts that gets the votes necessary for a raise in the debt limit. But apparently we have to play the drama out. It's like a bad episode of Barnaby Jones where it's obvious 10 minutes in who the bad guy is and how the episode will end. But we have to watch it play out and, oh, perhaps beat up the stock market for a few weeks in the process. (Movie quote alert: "how's the hypertension Harry? How's the ulcer Herb?") I think both quotes are from Trading Places, the stock traders in the bathroom getting ready for the opening bell. Well, get ready for silly chaos.

    As for your theory on the 2012 primaries, perfectly reasonable, but I gotta feeling we go one of two ways: Romney wins both Iowa and New Hampshire and ends it quick (a la Kerry '04); or this thing goes on past Super Tuesday and is a delegate war between Romney and Perry and maybe Bachmann or some other combo that includes Romney with the Florida and Texas winners (assuming they are different) fighting it out like the '76 Republicans or the '08 Democrats. Kentucky in May, here we come!

    Btw, V-man, have you noticed the new Lipitor TV ads? Some white-hair guy near a river, I keep waiting to hear the words, "Rocky mountain spring water" and "this is Pete Coors." He's a dead ringer for for the one-time Senate candidate and it reminded me how easily a bad political campaign can destroy a public persona.

  • Pete Coors, yeah, I vaguely remember him -- I also know some former GOP operatives in Colorado who would just as soon forget about his Senate run.  

    Two points in reply.  First off, is there anyone in the GOP field that the "mainstream conservative world" in Washington is getting behind?  Isn't that part of the reason these "savior" candidates keep surfacing -- Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, etc?  And weren't they part of the group that traveled to Alaska four years ago and became smitten with a certain governor of that state?  In short, I don't think the lack of love they've shown is much of a problem for either Bachmann or Romney.  In fact, it might help.

    Secondly, you're probably right about the debt ceiling deal but I still think that sticking with that last-minute script is going to backfire on Washington at some point.  I'm no expert in this area but from what the real experts have said the actual deadline here seems to be whenever the markets begin to lose faith in Washington's ability to do something meaningful on both the debt ceiling and the long-term fiscal outlook.  And in spite of all the winks and nods being thrown about, a lack of progress can't be helpful.  If we all "know" the way this drama ends, what's the point in dragging it out?  Seems a dangerous game to most outside observers I would think.

  • Your last point is reflected in the last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll where the approval ratings for Congress were back at 2010 lows. There's a growing frustration with the Washington gridlock issue. And the idea that one party ALONE is going to pay the price for this with swing voters is naïve. Someone is going to have a credible anti-Washington, anti-two parties, pro-reform message they'll try and sell somewhere and if the debt ceiling talks go to the brink, an indie/third party is going to have an opening. 

  • Huntsman joins the field

  • The older I get, the more traveling takes out of me.  But I did manage to catch Jon Huntsman’s announcement and wondered if maybe you could help explain something to me:  Why is he running again?  After reading his New York Times Magazine interview, it seems like he feels there is a “market” for another candidate in a party that still seems unsatisfied by the current field.  But I don’t sense any fire-in-the-belly rationale for his candidacy in his announcement.  Is he supposed to be the “grown up” in the race, the serious candidate we thought Mitch Daniels might have been?  Is he the above-the-fray candidate who eschews negative attacks on his opponents (including the candidate from the other party)?  Kind of hard to buy that when the video his campaign released Tuesday took some pretty hard and direct shots at Mitt Romney. 

    Was his announcement a good introduction to GOP primary voters or did it raise more questions about his candidacy than it answered?  I think it’s the latter but Huntsman has gotten some pretty serious buildup for awhile now – what am I missing?

  • The Huntsman bid makes sense to me if he's trying to test out either the idea of indie voters coming into the GOP primaries and supporting him, a-la McCain '99-'00. Or it makes sense if he's trying to prove there's no room in the GOP for a moderate and he decides to go third party. As you know, there are a few very serious third party efforts being started trying to coax moderates from both parties to participate.

    Of course, Huntsman could also simply being running this time to not win the GOP nod and hope Obama gets a second term, then he can position himself for 2016. It's this third path that I'm guessing this fairly new consultant team he surrounded himself with which proved the best argument to run.

    The setting and the buildup to the Huntsman announcement were bigger than the event itself. If he was hoping to even remotely channel Reagan '80 or Obama '08 (er, Obama in Springfield '07) he fell far far short.

    Huntsman is still an idea that I'm not sure will come to fruition but I'm betting he goes up on TV early in NH (and maybe SC) as a way to try and booster shot his place in the race.

    The NBC-Politico debate will be a good time to judge where Huntsman is.

  • I guess I’m not buying any of those.  Independent voters may be able to boost him in New Hampshire but that’s a really tough path to the actual nomination.  The third party option remains a non-starter unless Huntsman (or anyone else) is willing to spend the massive amount of money it would take – and from what I gather, he isn’t.

    Positioning for 2016 makes more sense but what is he supposed to be positioning himself as?  You can’t just go through the process for the sake of going through it and expect to be a player the next time around.  Say what you will about Romney but he ran a full-fledged campaign in '08 and spent the last two-plus years doing the little things to build an organization.  It just feels like Huntsman is doing this because, well, he can. 

    I’ll be the first to change my tune if we see him begin to raise some serious money, if we see him out on the trail really working it and, most importantly, if we begin to hear some rationale for his candidacy.  Remember the famous question Roger Mudd posed to Ted Kennedy in 1979 – why do you want to be president?  And do you remember the way Kennedy couldn’t really answer it?  This has the same kind of feel to me and the answer to that question has to be more than, “there’s a market for me.”

  • Another freewheeling Friday

  • It's Larry King Friday... fitting end to a nutty and busy week. ... I love new features that get launched but hate it when the folks involved don't update it as often as promised. ... So many great technological advances and yet Heinz can't make an easy to open Ketchup packet. ...

    Tim Pawlenty is panicking; how else do you describe it; That tweet about Romney and health care that he sent out, which sort of lambasted himself for failing to take a punch at Romney during the Monday debate was so odd, I thought he might have gotten hacked; Then I watched the Hannity clip of T-Paw. Ouch. ... So I have tickets to the U.S. Open Saturday but I'll be checking my blackberry the entire time following the Obama-Boehner Debt Ceiling Skins Game. My money's on Biden, btw, best golfer of the four involved (the fourth is John Kasich). ... Does anyone make an alcoholic Root Beer? ...

    Presidents and presidential candidates need to be careful making jokes. Romney's "I'm unemployed" and Obama's snickering at "shovel ready projects" only the latest in a long line of these jokes that are funny 'in the room' not so funny in print (see Bush and "no WMDs here" standup routine). ... Our long national "we're all 12 years old" national Twitter nightmare is over. He's no Weiner, he's a loser. ... Can't bring myself to try the 5-hour energy deal; That kind of energy boost in a 2oz bottle that could look like one of those weird Truck-driver fragrance bottles they sell at 7-11 has got to be trouble. ...

    Some divisions never change; the War Powers Act is one of those issues that PRESIDENTS become executive branch ideologues no matter their political party. Serious question for Congress: if you force the U.S. to pull out of Libya, wouldn't it cripple NATO? ... Bring in da noise, bring in the Fred Funk to the final pairing on Sunday at Congressional

  • Since nothing gets done in Washington until the 11th hour, they need to start setting earlier deadlines. … Jon Hunstman is not following the Pete Wilson path to the letter, Wilson didn’t get ill until AFTER his announcement at Liberty Park. …

    The four most important candidates to watch when the second quarter fundraising numbers come out next month are Romney, Bachmann, Pawlenty and Gingrich. … If anyone’s looking for the next Tiger Woods, take a look at Rory McIlroy, he’s the real deal. … I’ll take Boehner in the presidential foursome Saturday, I think it’s a rule that the VP can’t shoot lower than the boss. … Good luck getting that Blackberry into the Open, they don’t like phones on the course …

    What we learned from the Weiner scandal: Absolutely nothing. … You know you’re getting old when your music collection includes cassette tapes. … Who will win the intra-party split in the GOP, the defense hawks or the deficit hawks? … The surge of superhero movies is proving once again that Marvel created far more compelling characters than DC Comics. … I have a hunch Rudy Giuliani and Rick Perry will remain on the sidelines for the presidential race. … You heard it here first, the 3-D fad will be remembered as the Disco of the early 21st century.

  • The day after

  • Catching up after Monday's big event, are you debated out? Confession, I am a tad. We know the headlines: Michele Bachmann announces and proves she's not a deer in headlights; Pawlenty panicked at some point Monday morning when he realized he was going to be THE first candidate to go negative; Romney was steady as she goes but I have to say, his comment about the war and the future of us conflict is going to be fodder in the future.

    If you are Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman or Chris Christie, nothing about Monday night intimidated you. The debate was surprisingly substance free, won't take much to "win" on policy.

  • Perry, Huntsman and Christie ... only one of them is running for sure and the other two probably don't scare the rest of the field too much (Christie might shake them a little but have you seen his falling approval ratings lately?)  And by the way, how does Huntsman get away with skipping that debate and then "announcing he will be announcing" the next day?  I don't get the vibe that he's in-it-to-win-it but he could end up being a real thorn in Romney's side.  Wonder if he will break out the Mandarin for his announcement speech?  I mean if there's one thing that GOP primary voters are looking for, it's someone fluent in speaking Chinese right?

    One name you've left off is Sarah Palin.  I know all the "smart people" in our business think a she's not running but I still believe there's a chance.  Did anything happen Monday night to alter that calculation one way or another?  Did Bachmann's solid performance and reviews make it more or less likely that she will jump in?  I continue to believe that Palin is the single GOP candidate who could walk up to the New Hampshire statehouse at 4:59 on the day of the filing deadline and completely shake up the race without any forewarning.  Not only that, I think a late entry would fit her style.

  • GOP debate day

  • Ok, I am in the midst of a "don't click on ESPN or the Herald" 24-hour moratorium. My hope is that MLB realizes Mark Cuban is good for sports and lets him buy the Dodgers.

    Now, on to my political obsessions of the day.

    I was surprised Pawlenty telegraphed the "ObomneyCare" line before the debate and didn't use it AT the debate where it would have made a bigger splash. Then again, it does help force the CNN producers to create at least one T-Paw v Romney question that perhaps they wouldn't have.

    Pawlenty is in an interesting spot, he's getting lots of positive conservative elite reviews but is not getting grassroots traction. And the big fear I'd have if I were running the Pawlenty campaign would be Michelle Bachmann (a fellow Minnesotan) stealing the spotlight tonight.

    BTW -- Romney now has all day to come up with an ObomneyCare retort.  #justsayin...

    Also on my mind today: POTUS trip to NC/FL, I call it the Ohio insurance policy. Let's discuss more.

  • I logged exactly zero minutes of NBA action this year, but I was thrilled when I learned that the Mavericks won.  My faith in karma has been strengthened.  Now Lebron James can take his talents on vacation.

    If Romney wasn't already prepared to respond to the "ObomneyCare" line, his candidacy has bigger problems.  Romney knows the Massachusetts plan is a huge problem for him in the primary and, effective or not, he's tried to pre-emptively address it.  Here's an interesting question heading into tonight's debate:  Does it help or hurt Romney if Pawlenty et al spend their time hammering him while he takes aim at Obama?  Seems to me that's the smart approach, let your opponents have their shots but turn everything back on the president.  The Republican base appears to be looking for a candidate who is going to take the fight to Obama (sorry Jon Huntsman), not beat up on other Republicans.

    The president's trip to this week serves two purposes -- showing that he's keeping his eye on the "jobs" ball and giving the states and a key constituency some attention.  I hear you on North Carolina and Florida being insurance policies against the potential of losing Ohio but those aren't the only states that provide a backstop for Obama.  Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Virginia are among the states on that list as well.

    And, as this trip demonstrates, Obama has plenty of opportunity to shore himself up in all of them while his eventual opponent is mired in Iowa and New Hampshire.  It's just one of many reasons why incumbents are very hard to beat.

  • That approach for Romney only works if Pawlenty is alone in his attacks.

    If there's a pile-on mentality then Romney has problems.  I'm also curious to see how some of the candidates handle the non-candidates hovering, specifically Bachmann, Santorum and Cain as they deal with the reality Rick Perry could come and steal their social conservative and tea party mojo. Can they distinguish themselves in a way that makes Perry less appealing or needed? Unlikely but something to watch for as well.

    And then there's Newt? Or as I'm referring to his appearance; The long Granite State Green mile. What route does he choose, go down in a blaze of glory and fire off shots at everyone or try and re-establish himself as conservative elder statesman?

    One more attempt at defending Lebron: If I told you there was a superstar athlete out there who walked away from more money, set aside his ego to play with an established superstar in order to win championships, wouldn't you praise that guy? That's what Cliff Lee did. ... And that's what Lebron did.

    BTW, thank you Colorado for blowing a 7 run lead and giving my Dodgers some semblance of a baseball life, at least for a day.

  • Remember when I told you the Rockies were going to be really good this year?  I was clearly wrong if they can't win a home series against the Dodgers.  And are you seriously still defending Lebron after he basically called his critics losers with pathetic lives?  He gives a whole new meaning to the term thin skin. 

    Speaking of thin skin, I think the real danger for Romney is in how he handles the shots taken at him on the stage.  Last time around, he got clearly agitated at times when John McCain and Mike Huckabee took some shots during the debates.  As the front-runner, he needs to walk that line of tough-but-secure.  Sometimes it's the little body-language cues that create impressions (think Al Gore's sighing during the 2000 debate). 

    From what we've seen so far, the Gingrich "campaign" is one of the stranger I've ever witnessed.  Here's the most remarkable thing:  In his very first big interview on Meet the Press, he acknowledged it would be a challenge to see if he has the discipline and judgment to be a good candidate, then he spent every day after that seemingly trying to show the answer to that was decidedly no.  Now this is politics and almost anything is possible but if Gingrich can put together something that resembles a healthy campaign at this point, you'd have to rank it as one of the more remarkable comebacks in presidential politics.

  • Freewheeling Friday

  • It's Friday and it couldn't be busier on the 2012 front.  So many topics, it's hard to know where to begin.  That said, it's a Friday in June, a get-away day and most folks are feeling a tad punchy since they know their bosses aren't working at all and they are trying to figure out how they can get away with leaving work, say, an hour early. So let's have some fun...

    Let me channel me some Larry King and challenge you to write back ONLY ... with ... ellipses. ... Most of my pop culture references these days are at least 10 years old ... Bruce Willis has signed on to play Newt Gingrich in the movie about 2012, it's called the Non (Sixth) Sense, it's about a campaign where everyone quits and tells the candidate it's over and the only person to believe his candidacy is still alive is the candidate himself ... That plot might work for the Anthony Weiner story on Monday, about a Congressman who has no friends left and realizes that if he sponsors legislation, no one will join him ... The Miami Heat is the worst 4th quarter team I've ever seen in the NBA finals ...

    Mitt Romney's decision to skip the Ames Straw Poll but NOT skip Iowa is smart, it's a no win for him, let it be about Tim Pawlenty trying to hold off Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry and "Someone Else" ... Shake-N-Bake is the single most underrated grocery store invention ... Memo to Weiner: When you've lost Bill Clinton, you should hang it up (am hearing the ex-president is as exasperated with Weiner as the House Dem leadership is) ... Does Rick Perry get in before or after Labor Day? I say he waits until AFTER his prayer session at Reliant Stadium in early August at least ... The Houston Texans are my surprise pick to get to the Super Bowl next year and lose to the Packers. The Texans will benefit from a shortened 12-game post-NFL lockout season since they won't fade like they have the last two years during a FULL season ... Remember when Digger Phelps was contemplating a presidential run (look it up folks, I'm not making this up) ... I miss combs but can someone expain to me why Herbicide or whatever the heck it is at barber shops is blue?

  • Oh how I miss “Kings Things,” love the stream of consciousness approach, so here we go … Gingrich’s staff exodus, isn’t that kind of like Gary Busey and Meat Loaf firing Donald Trump? … The state of Alaska is releasing 24,000 pages of Palin e-mails from her time as governor, this should be another reason to remind everyone to think twice before hitting “send” …  Receiving an invite to renew the fantasy football league is an unnecessary and cruel reminder of the continuing NFL lockout … I’m not sure about Rick Perry’s potential candidacy, the country probably isn’t ready for another Texan just yet … My vote for the best word in the English language:  Discombobulate …

    Even in a struggling economy, President Obama retains some fundamental advantages when it comes to the electoral map, there are far more states he can put into play than the GOP can … Is there really more huge news happening in 2011 or are we simply more exposed to every single thing that happens? … Write it down, Captain America will be this summer’s smash hit …  Anthony Weiner was lucky his scandal hit while the House was out of session but next week will be a different story, I’d put the odds of him hanging on at about 55-45 at the moment but that could change … Forget the Ames straw poll, if there’s one place a political junkie should want to hang out in for the next eight months, it’s New Hampshire … This summer is already off to a great start now that they’ve brought back taco-flavored Doritos. 

  • I know we're not supposed to RESPOND to our bizarre King-like rantings but let me just say, the single worst aftertaste I've ever had in my mouth was following my ingestion of Cheeseburger-flavored Doritos. I prefer Doritos Classic ... Did you catch Kay Bailey Hutchison's appearance on Daily Rundown? She didn't appear to be too happy to be talking about Perry but then talked about the conservative Texas conspiracy about the Obama administration and the wildfires, a comment that brought a swift response from FEMA who shot her down. ... What happened to Brill Cream? ... Do casual observers still watch the Belmont when there's no chance at a Triple Crowd winner? I'm going with Animal Planet or Animal Kingdom or whatever the Derby winner's name is ...

    Have you noticed how large of a lead the incumbent Democratic governor has in Kentucky? Anything to be read into that besides the fact the GOP field was rather weak in that race? If national media is going to make a big deal about Chris Christie in New Jersey, shouldn't Steve Beshear be someone to watch for staying popular as a Democrat in a red state? ... How did Gatorade pull off this "3 drink" scam for folks who workout, one type of 'Ade for the warmup; another for DURING the workout and then a different one for post-game? Ah, Capitalism ... Shameless book plug alert: Just got a preview copy of "Haunting Legacy" by Marvin Kalb and Deborah Kalb. It's about how the Vietnam experience has, well, haunted presidencies from Ford to Obama. Smart idea.

  • Vietnam has helped shape two generations, that is a smart idea … I haven’t seen the “Too Big to Fail” docu-drama on HBO yet but am told it is an excellent look at the financial meltdown … Remember when Republicans owned California in presidential politics?  It doesn’t look like they will get it back anytime soon … Pound for pound, watermelon is champion of fruits … I'm out of steam here but suddenly feel like saying, “Arlington, Virginia, you’re next!”

  • Afghanistan on the horizon

  • Hey Chuck, one thing I've often wondered — does being a White House correspondent get you into the state dinners like the one they had last night for German Chancellor Angela Merkel?  I suppose that violates the state/church separation for the media and the government but I've always wondered what it would be like to attend one of those things.  Seems cool but too stuffy at the same time.  I'll stick to my neighborhood pool parties.

    On to other matters.  All the Weiner talk has dominated the week so far (and really, haven't we exhausted all the puns yet?  It's almost making the job harder for comedy writers at this point to come up with anything that isn't totally obvious).  But we've lost sight of the most important story out there at the moment — Afghanistan.  Obama has a real tough decision to make on the initial planned drawdown of U.S. troops there.

    It's a situation heavy with ironies — a president whose political rise was fueled by opposition to the war in Iraq now facing growing calls to hasten a withdrawal from another war; the Republican Party of George W. Bush now increasingly sounding anti-interventionist (in both Afghanistan and Libya) and a public that supported the war in Afghanistan more than the war in Iraq now questioning the wisdom of either.

    Has the anti-war candidate now become the wartime president who is facing a decision that almost certainly will have serious repercussions for our forces in the field, the national security of the nation and the president's re-election prospects?  To me, this is the kind of decision a president is elected to make but one that is almost by definition devoid of electoral considerations.  Despite all the yammering out there, I still believe our presidents, of either party, make these kinds of calls based on what's in the best interest of the nation (yes, after 20 years in this town, I'm still an idealist sometimes).

    What's your take on the Afghanistan decision as someone who has as close to a front-row seat as possible?

  • First of all, I am still waiting for my State Dinner invite. Journalists do get invited, but I'm no Diane Sawyer apparently (she was invited last night!).

    But, yeah, feels a tad stuffy.  They might not have those vortex Miller Lite bottles you like.

    As for Afghanistan, it seems pretty clear to me that the president is leaning toward a bigger withdrawal than some believe. It seems as if he's asking the Pentagon and Afghan-based military folks to make the case that he shouldn't do that.  Politically, the president has a lot more bipartisan cover today than he did two years ago.

    But let's not kid ourselves, no matter the size of the withdrawal (even, say, the entire surge additions), the U.S. military will still have a significant presence there through 2012 and beyond.  Why?  Two big reasons; 1) The Afghans want us there, i.e. the fledgling non-Taliban Afghan government wants us there, 2) Pakistan.

    Question to you:  Is any Republican in this field going to out-hawk the president on this issue? I'm guessing no.

  • Those vortex bottles are a little much for me, I'll stick with cans thank you very much but you do have the right brand.

    The challenge for Republicans isn't going to be to look more muscular than Obama on Afghanistan, it's going to be finding a way to use public discontentment on the war to their advantage without looking like they are advocating a "cut-and-run" approach.  In some ways, that might be easy -- just leave it well enough alone and focus on the economy, jobs and the debt.

    But the nominee won't get away with that and is going to have to come up with a position on Afghanistan.  It's interesting to me that you hear about both the war there, our continuing involvement in Iraq, the action in Libya and even our normal overseas deployments (like South Korea) being talked about within the framework of the debt more and more.

    One of the reasons we came out of the recession in the early 90's so strong is because of the peace dividend -- military spending went down.  Remember Ross Perot and his famous deficit charts from 1992?  We were running a surplus by the end of the decade.  It wasn't the only factor but it sure helped not to be paying for two (and a half) wars while trying to dig out.  That might be a part of the GOP framing of the issue. 

  • Weinergate gets weird

  • So, a few questions I'm asking myself about the Anthony Weiner story, in no particular order of significance.

    1).  Why is it that only members of Congress or other politicians are still classified as immature in their 40's? Could you get away with THAT excuse with your family?

    2).  House Speaker John Boehner sweeps his caucus' problems under the rug a LOT more effectively than Nancy Pelosi. From Chris Lee (he resigned within 24 hours) to Mark Souder (I believe he ALSO resigned within 24 hours of his personal scandal going public).  Boehner and the House GOP leadership act fast to expunge embarrassment.

    Meanwhile, from Eric Massa (remember that ridiculous Glen Beck appearance) or Charlie Rangel (he just kept hangin' around) to the 10-day spectacle that was this Weiner ordeal, Pelosi and the House Dem leadership either doesn't try to act fast or doesn't have the sway. Does Pelosi need to change her style?

    3).  Top five all time bizarre/weird pressers/tell-alls?  Jim McGreevey is perhaps tops (though Breitbart's bizarre hijacking of the Weiner presser gives it a real shot at Number 1 of all time). But I might put Weiner above Mark Sanford now, followed by Eliot Spitzer.

    5).  How can the media improve the vetting of members of Congress or is this a reminder that out of 435 members of Congress, the fact is about 1% a year (5 or less) turn out to be, well, creepy?

    Speaking of vetting, it brings me to an ankward transition to presidential politics. Isn't this the last place where the public and media collectively still actually do a pretty good job of vetting folks simply because we've created such a long and sometimes ridiculous process? And before you throw John Edwards at me, realize he did NOT become president because the process over time did expose him, perhaps not for the complete personal rogue he is, but for the phony, say whatever-it-takes-to-get-elected type of guy.

    Question for you: How different would the House and Senate be (and how different would the campaigns be) if the same level of scrutiny were given to them?

    Oh, and one other question on the Weiner front — is this the first sex scandal where no physical sex took place?   It's sort of like a bad scene out of Demolition Man (that bad Stallone movie where he's unfrozen in the future).

  • I'm ashamed to say I got the reference without the explanation.  That was when Sandra Bullock was still in movies people watched (OK, she was in The Blindside but kind of jumped the shark with Miss. Congeniality).

    You've given me a lot to chew on here.  But to your main question, I think vetting can only achieve so much when it comes to predicting future behavior of our political leaders.  Of all the scandals you mentioned, there probably isn't one of them that could have been avoided with pre-emptive media vetting.  I'll spare you the cliches about the human condition but I think it's obvious that politicians aren't the only public figures with personal failings (see Woods, Tiger).

    More centrally, your question implies that more media scrutiny is needed to weed out presumably undesirable behavior.  Practically speaking, it's not possible without digging into each candidate's Gmail accounts and smart phones.  All the vetting in the world won't take sex scandals out of our politics.

    Watch: Todd, Ververs weigh in on Weiner

    I have to disagree with you on one other point:  When it comes to bizarre, cringe-inducing press conferences, I think Mark Sanford's still tops the charts.  You had the governor of the state disappear for several days only to return with a rambling press conference where he talked about his adultery, his love of the Appalachian trail, how he spent several days crying in Argentina and how God's laws are supposed to work.  Weiner, while emotional, was at least on-message (granted, the Breitbart pre-game was pretty surreal).

  • Interesting to watch the tide turn today on the issue of "resignation."  It seems that more and more Democrats wish they handled their troubled and embarrassing members the way Boehner's handled the personal embarrassments that popped up on his side.

    We MUST change subjects as I only have time to take three showers today.  When you opened your Washington Post iPad app (that's right, I do NOT get the hard copy of the Post at my house, something I feel a TAD guilty about, but I digress), and saw that Romney leads Obama, did you think "peaking too soon" or "was bound to happen, even Dole led Clinton at this point in time in '95?"   Or did you think "the president's more vulnerable than even the smart C.W. people think" and "this will entice more Republicans to jump in?"

    Or "all of the above/none of the above?"  For what it's worth, I'm in the "all of the above camp."

    The one saving grace for Obama that makes him NOT Carter and NOT Bush 41 ... for now (the last two incumbent presidents to lose re-election bids) is the base of HIS party is with him.  Both Carter and Bush 41 had problems in their OWN tent and that isn't the case yet for Obama.  Right now, I'd say that's the LONE good thing he's got going for him as an incumbent running in a tough economic climate.  There's still enthusiasm in the Obama base.

  • Chuck, you know I remain something of a late-adapter so I still get my Washington Post the old fashioned way — on my laptop.

    But I must say I was not terribly surprised to see the results, given the economic news of late.  Everyone wants to draw conclusions about the president's re-election prospects now when we all know it's a very simple calculation:  It's not how voters are feeling about the economic recovery and direction of the nation today, it's how they will feel a year from now that will shape the race.  We'll be saying that for the next six months or more.  But the trend does matter and the Obama campaign needs to start seeing those monthly numbers improve a lot over the course of several months.

    And, yes, the importance of Obama's base standing by him cannot be overstated.  Even facing tough headwinds, it can be enough to win re-election (think George W. Bush). 

    I think Romney has had a good run here of late.  For a candidate in his position, there's no such thing as peaking too soon, at least not heading into the primary season.  The front-runner needs some front-running credentials and Romney is building that in the polls and most likely in the more-important money chase. 

    Video: Todd, Ververs talk Palin, Bachmann

    There may be other Republicans, like a Rick Perry, who look at those numbers and think the president is suddenly looking a lot more vulnerable.  But they're probably also looking at Romney raising $10 million in one day and Sarah Palin sucking up all the media oxygen (with the ability to generate headlines whenever she wishes).  It might not be too late, but it's getting close.

  • Iowa or bust?

  • So Chuck, Jon Huntsman, the former Utah Governor and until recently President Obama's ambassador to China is looking at becoming a Republican presidential candidate and he said over the weekend that he might just skip over the Iowa caucuses. 

    Over the years we've seen Iowa play various roles in the presidential nomination process for both parties.  Bill Clinton was able to bypass Iowa because that state's senator, Tom Harkin was in the race so it was an easy excuse.

    But it seems to me that reality backfired on Hillary Clinton when she ran in 2008 because the Clinton's never had a base in the state.  If there had been a strong Clinton connection in Iowa, Obama may never have won the Democratic nomination.

    For Republicans, it's been more of a mixed bag, where more conservative candidates win or exceed expectations but don't win the big prize in the long run.  So what do you think, can any candidate really just "skip" the first primary contest and still win or do they have to at least give it the old college try?  From my perch, I think skipping anything is a cop-out and sign of weakness, presidential candidates need to run the gauntlet, no matter how painful, and not just pick and choose where they want to play.

  • I couldn't agree more; you can't skip the FIRST contest.  You you want to skip the Ames straw poll in August? Fine, it's arguably a little expensive for what you get in return.  You want to skip the Nevada caucuses? Ok, it's a state that's a tad unformed when it comes to presidential primary/caucus politics; But Iowa? The first contest, the state that could end up launching Tim Pawlenty into the role of the Romney alternative? It's a big gamble by Huntsman.

    Then again, I'm not surprised; So far, his entire campaign has been about tactics — from the decision to open his headquarters in Florida, where his connection to the state is tenuous at best, to this decision.

    He hasn't presented a rationale yet for becoming the next leader of the Republican Party and then next president.  It's his challenge when he officially gets in.  Of course, Huntsman isn't alone in looking too tactical in these early stages, Pawlenty is also falling into this trap where he appears to be almost checking boxes in his attempt to positive himself as the alternative to Romney.

    Iowa is a swing state in the general and any money spent now in Iowa is not wasted.  This isn't like South Carolina for Democrats.

    The cynic in me wonders if Hunstman's up to one of two things: 1) preparing for a 2016 run; 2) preparing for an indie run by saying "the party left him."

  • Caucus goers in Iowa won't forget a candidate who skips their state, whether it's four, eight or sixteen years down the road so I'm not sure I buy the idea that he's calculating for the future.  And we know the fundamental challenges of trying to run for president outside of the traditional two-party structure are daunting to say the least. 

    But your point about the contest to become the "alternative" candidate to Romney raises an interesting scenario:  If Huntsman stakes his claim in New Hampshire, it could put Romney in a real two-front war in the first two contests of the selection process.    Conventional wisdom (for what that's worth) says New Hampshire is a must-win for Romney and if he's stretched between fighting the more conservative candidates in Iowa and Huntsman in the Granite State, the presumptive front-runner will have to make some tough decisions.  Perhaps it's not about becoming the single alternative to Romney but to deliver an early knock-out blow and opening up the race. 

  • Don't forget the "two-front" campaign war George W. Bush was going to face: Steve Forbes' millions in Iowa and John McCain in New Hampshire.  Or Bob Dole in '96 with Lamar Alexander in Iowa and Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire.  We’ve seen this movie before.

    Yes, it's treacherous and not easy but frontrunners find a way and it's why Romney's a fool if he skips Iowa.  He should run a "national" campaign and play everywhere.  Plus, the opportunity for him in Iowa is actually pretty good and now expectations are low.

    So, Rick Santorum's announcing today, why are folks more dismissive of him than Newt Gingrich? He's Catholic from a swing state; from the blue-collar part of Pennsylvania, no less.  Look, I get all the faults folks point out with him — losing his Senate race by 18 points, the Google issue and his sometimes inarticulate bluntness.  But the guy is smart as a whip and has done all the little things over the past two years.

  • I think you're right about Santorum but he's going to have to break through in the debates to start gaining traction.  His hurdle is standing out in a group of social conservatives that include Herman Cain, possibly Michele Bachmann and to some extent Pawlenty.  And he needs to stay away from the missteps, like his recent contention that John McCain doesn't understand torture.  There is plenty to single McCain out for criticism among conservatives but the five years he spent in the Hanoi Hilton isn't one of them.

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