Hardball

Nov. 20, 2006 | 1:32 p.m. ET

Man of my words

Last week I wrote a column about the Michigan-Ohio State football game.  I taunted the evil Buckeyes, pointing out that most will work for a Wolverine some day.  I also noted that most of the Buckeye faithful lack civility.  However, I also declared that if Michigan lost to Ohio State, I would eat my column.

Saturday’s game was one for the ages.  Unfortunately, my beloved alma mater, the Michigan Wolverines, came up a bit short.  They lost to Ohio State in Columbus 42-39.

I am a man of my words, so today I ate them.  It was not a pleasant experience.  But, losing to OSU wasn’t exactly pleasant either.  None the less, I salute the Buckeye faithful on your victory. 

Here is the recipe for the dish on the video:

(1)        Taunt the buckeyes mercilessly in a column (using simple words so OSU fans can understand them)

(2)        Declare that Michigan will beat OSU.

(3)        Watch Michigan lose to OSU.

(4)        Print out column.

(5)        Shred paper.

(6)        Add broken crostinis, oil, and vinegar.

(7)        “eat”

Video: David Shuster eats his words

Nov. 16, 2006 | 6:34 p.m. ET

Who voted for Murtha?
(Beck Schoenfeld, "Hardball" producer)

Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California told Chris Matthews today how Congressman Jack Murtha could figure out who voted against him for Majority Leader. 

“It might be secret ballot,” she said, “but the reality is that we know who voted yes and who voted no.”

She said the score-keeping is like “counting cards in Vegas.”  There are approximately 10 boxes in the room where the vote is taking place, and they’re in alphabetical order by last name.  After you’ve eliminated those who’ve overtly supported Congressman Murtha or Congressman Hoyer, the field becomes narrowed.  As Congresswoman Sanchez explained, “You have the A’s and B’s in one [box], so you know what the vote total is for the A’s and the B’s.  And if the vote total is off, you know who was really in your camp.” 

Another way of identifying those who didn’t follow through on their pledge to Congressman Murtha is to watch who in the caucus talks to him now that he’s lost.  “Usually the people will just not come around,” she said.

Nov. 13, 2006 | 3:39 p.m. ET

The lame-duck war

Iraq is now the lame-duck war, but lame ducks have a way of hobbling around for a while. We know that George W. Bush will be quacking for two more years, sometimes in bipartisan tone, faux or real, and sometimes with instinctive calls to the base that failed him, Rove and Rumsfeld in 2006. The difference with Iraq, which is of course Bush’s twin lame duck, is that Americans and Iraqis are dying every day. How many more will die in the month and a little more before the Iraq Study Group reports its carefully negotiated and calibrated findings? These kids on the front lines deserve to be treated as something more than pawns in a face-saving exercise.

Almost everyone in the Democratic Party, a large number of the remaining Republicans in the House and the Senate, and even many of the neo-cons who fairly revealed the vanity of their plans in that magazine, now regard the war as a mistake or concede that it was—either because it was based on a lie (which is true) or because it was badly executed (which is also true). In the most important sense, this doesn’t matter. No one except John McCain—and even he seems to be trying to back off—really believes in recycling the William Westmoreland answer in Vietnam of sending in more troops. That would just increase the violence. The question asked by a young John Kerry more than a third of a century ago echoes with renewed moral force: How do you tell some young American to be “the last man to die for a mistake?”

Democrats were elected, above all, to bring an end to this war. If it can be done in a bipartisan way that doesn’t sacrifice hundreds of our troops and thousands of Iraqis needlessly, the country will welcome it. But this would require not just a new policy, but a new Bush, one who recognized that he not only had the wrong Secretary of Defense but that it was wrong to invade, wrong to proclaim an open-ended commitment, and wrong in deed as well as word to “stay the course.” His so-called legacy can’t be redeemed by papering over the profound need for a reversal, not just a correction, in course.

So Democrats have an obligation not to settle for tokens or tinkering. There has already been an Iraq Study Group: it’s called the American people, and the verdict was rendered on November 7. The only acceptable answer is an orderly withdrawal, in a span of years not months, in a way that protects our troops as they re-deploy and that puts the Iraqis on notice that the American troops will not be a permanent safety net for their political squabbles and forces them to hammer out a political settlement. Otherwise, we’re headed, many more deaths from now, toward a last-minute, pell-mell evacuation from the embassy rooftop. No matter how any commission rationalizes, temporizes, or repackages—no matter how it bandages this bird—the Iraq war is one lame duck that will never fly.

Nov. 10, 2006 | 3:05 p.m. ET

The lame duck Congress

There is lots of time to talk about what the new Democratic controlled Congress will do when it takes over in January.  There has been less attention on the fact that the current Congress will reconvene next week.  The president mentioned some things he would like to see get done before the Congress adjourns for the holidays.  Here is the lay of the land:

1. John Bolton Confirmation as U.N. Ambassador:   It’s not going to happen.  Why does the White House bother?

2. Legislation that legalizes what the Supreme Court said were the administration’s illegal wiretap on Americans: Ha! No way.  New Judiciary Chairmen Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. John Conyers are going to have this whole thing rewritten next year.

3. Spending Bills: The only appropriations bills that have passed are for Defense and Homeland Security – and the pending bills have become Christmas trees for special interests and Republican pet projects.  The Dems will be tempted to try and add some things like education assistance etc. to show they are now in charge of the budget priorities, but the demands from the Republicans for doing so will be too high.   Look for Congress to pass a clean continuing resolution (CR) with nothing on it that will last until next year.

4. Energy legislation which includes off-shore drilling: Is Bush kidding?! Not going to happen.  Energy independence and alternative fuels were a platform for this election.  It will wait and be on Chairmen John Dingell, Barbara Boxer and Jeff Bingaman’s plate next year.

5. Indian Nuclear treaty and the Vietnam Trade agreement: THESE are things that might get done.  They have both had bi-partisan support and the Dems need to show they are willing to do SOMETHING with the president after their nice speeches this week.

6. Finally, The Gates Nomination to be Secretary of Defense:  Expect some tough questions at his confirmation hearings and the use of the platform by Carl Levin, Hillary Clinton and others on Armed Services to try and get the White House to articulate a new strategy for Iraq.  But my guess is that Gates will mostly demur until he is in the job and the Dems will help put him there without too much fuss. Before Christmas.

So, in sum we will have a Lame Duck that is short enough not to do too much damage to the voters new priorities and long enough to keep the Members in D.C. for their behind the scenes planning for next year’s battles.

Nov. 9, 2006 | 3:44 p.m. ET

America speaks up
(Mike Barnicle, MSNBC Political Analyst)

They came in huge numbers all across the nation, driven to vote by a range of emotions — anger, anxiety, confusion, doubt, hopelessness and helplessness — that merged into one Fast-Pass Lane as Americans cast a ballot about Iraq. Let’s not get confused; various precincts were indeed excited about local issues and familiar faces but at the end of the evening Tuesday, the war that has raged so long and been managed so incompetently was the biggest reason Nancy Pelosi’s pearls will shine a bit brighter beneath the klieg lights surrounding the Speaker’s chair when George Bush arrives to deliver his State of the Union address in a few winter’s weeks.

The casualty count grows in Baghdad and Anbar Province. The families of the noble dead grieve at graveside. And, here at home, parents of high school seniors or those young who have already volunteered to fight on behalf of a people, the Iraqis, who seem eager only to kill one another, sit in places like Providence, R.I., Passaic, New Jersey, Missoula and Missouri, wondering and worrying if the future will be as fatal, chaotic and unexplained as the present horror of a war that has ruptured the political landscape.

Now, the tone-deaf Rumsfeld is gone, resigned while packing his arrogance and mediocre management skills into a briefcase filled with lousy memories of tough talk, bullying and bravado that resulted in a weakened military and the haunting combat deaths of so many buried for reasons that have been restricted to the secretive and powerful who populate politics in the Bush White House. These men took the country to war — the single most important and lethal decision any president can ever make —  and now millions stood in the sun, the rain, the dusk and the dawn all day Tuesday — to try and reassert some minimal control over a future seemingly spinning out of control because a handful of politicians felt that war was something that could be waged quickly on the cheap and without consequence.

But America talked back Tuesday: Not true.

Nov. 9, 2006 | 12:21 p.m. ET

President Bush is back
(A.B. Stoddard, Associate Editor of The Hill)

Alright, he lost the House AND the Senate. But hours into his new obscurity Bush managed to steal the news cycle from the Democrats, dumping Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld with high drama, and actually admitted he covered it up last week. Secretive, gutsy, confrontational and funny—he even busted on Karl Rove --  where has this guy been?

All ears were on his post-defeat news conference, listening for the “R” word that Clinton had to choke on at his mirror image event 12 years ago. Bush spit it out immediately, “as head of the Republican party I share a large part of the responsibility,” he said.  

But the Rumsfeld bombshell shared the oxygen with the first wipeout election in a dozen years. With Rumsfeld wall-to-wall, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was parked on the back burner. Somewhere in the background James Webb was closing in on incumbent Sen. George Allen in Virginia, and therefore Republicans were losing the rest of Congress too, but Rumsfeld and his squeaky clean replacement were all the talk.

Now Bush has some breathing room on the defining and most vexing issue of his administration and his political career, and can make subtle policy shifts in his execution of the Iraq war without an all-out admission of failure. There is not only a new kid in town at the Pentagon, but he arrives just in time for the release of the anticipated report by the Iraq Study Group, now affectionately known as the Baker/Hamilton Commission. Ditching Rumsfeld makes Bush appear to be listening, acting, acknowledging the election, and bowing to the wishes of his newly empowered opposition party—a clean sweep indeed. Not bad for the worst day he has had in years.

Bush is angry about his new role, to be sure. His cranky defensiveness betrayed him a few times Wednesday at his highly scripted (try long-before-the-polls-were-in kind of planning evident here) appearance.  But when he said it wasn’t his first rodeo, hey, I bought it.

So keep celebrating but consider yourselves warned Democrats, Bush has awakened and left the political coma ward. He’s ready to get in your faces.

Nov. 8, 2006| 12:16 p.m. ET

Relief in Connecticut

How do you spell the Wednesday after a long, bitter election?  For Connecticut voters it's R-E-L-I-E-F.  This morning, I asked a woman about her reaction to the outcome and it was swift and animated.  She has HAD it with the negative ads, the incessant phone calls, the fighting. She also told me that  -- like about two-thirds of Connecticut voters according to exit polls -- she is against the war, and wants change in Washington.  So she’s happy with the results. 

When I asked her what she's looking forward to most, now that the election is over she said, "Watching 'Grey’s Anatomy' without any interruptions."  I kidded her that she should be watching NBC or MSNBC.  Her response?   "Chris Matthews watches Grey’s Anatomy; he said it on tv."  Christopher, is that true? 

Nov. 6, 2006 | 8:51 p.m. ET

A Wednesday surprise?
(A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill)

In the final days polls have tightened everywhere—is anyone surprised? No, the message coming from the White House about hope in Iraq, President Bush’s strong record on the war on terror or anything else affirmative isn’t resonating with hesitating voters—but the Pelosi preview is. Disappointed Republicans who hoped they would find satisfaction by sitting out the midterm elections are now more likely to come around and vote. They know the Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi may not be stoppable but they don’t want to feel complicit.

In the final days, both parties have been braced for surprises, like the one October never provided, and one day out from election day it is awfully quiet. Sure, there are a few hours left for an Osama video to surface but it appears all we are left with to close out Campaign ‘06 are the fates of the former leaders of Iraq and the New Life Church. In a few days, when the votes have been counted or recounted or the voter fraud investigations have begun, it is hard to believe Saddam or Pastor Ted will have delivered any votes. This weekend the conventional handicapping assumed the ousted evangelical leader Rev. Haggard—accused of a secret life of drugs and gay sex—and Hussein, now sentenced to hang, would drive down Christian conservative votes and drive up some votes for the Commander in Chief, respectively. But why would an evangelical Christian factor their disappointment over Haggard’s fall into their decision to vote for or against his or her GOP member of Congress? And for undecided voters, who we can assume are strongly persuaded by the Iraq war as polls show swing and independent voters are, how does the sentencing of Hussein answer the nagging question of whether and how the United States can ever stabilize and secure Iraq?

If Republicans lose the House, as the pollsters tell us they likely will, will they blame Bush for their loss and begin to abandon him on Iraq at a breathless pace? Will Democrats commence an extensive review of the six years of a Bush administration, from pre-war intelligence to environmental, energy, and health policies? Will a presidential campaign begin in earnest, and partisanship be worse than it already is?

Everybody has been telling us this for months but if it actually begins Wednesday I bet it will still feel like a surprise.

Nov. 6, 2006 | 5:59 p.m. ET

Flashback: Providing some context
(Chuck Todd, "Hardblogger All-Star)

Dems need to pick up 15 seats to win back control of Congress. That’s happened only once since ‘82 -- during the ‘94 GOP sweep. Here’s a look at the net pickups since 1970:

1970: +12D
1972: +12R
1974: +49D
1976: +1D
1978: +15R
1980: +34R
1982: +26D
1984: +14R
1986: +5D
1988: +2D
1990: +9D
1992: +10R
1994: +52R
1996: +3D
1998: +4D
2000: +2D
2002: +5R
2004: +6R

Nov. 6, 2006 | 4:35 p.m. ET

Nobody wins
(Craig Crawford)

Neither party deserves to win this election, which is why Democrats have the edge. If the seats of power were reversed -- if Republicans were the challengers -- they would have the edge. All Democrats have said in this campaign is that “We are not those guys.” And it appears to be all they needed to say to win at least a toehold majority in the House of Representatives. But that doesn’t mean they deserve to win power, only that they can.

The disappearance of Speaker-wannabe Nancy Pelosi from the campaign trail is all you need to know about why Democrats do not deserve victory. Even the woman who would take charge is afraid to show her face in public. The absence of visible Democratic leadership in this campaign is one reason that John Kerry’s botched joke last week made so much news. A has-been presidential nominee is as close as Democrats get to a current national face for the party.

Republicans do not deserve to win because they have squandered their reign in Congress without accomplishing anything of real substance on issues ranging from immigration to fiscal restraint. At least that’s what I hear from conservative voters, again and again. So it is no wonder that independents, leaners and the undecided - making up roughly one-fifth of tomorrow’s electorate - are flopping around in these polls and keeping the outcome of so many races in doubt. They don’t like either party. And Democrats are only looking strong because these voters seem to think it is time to try the Devil they don’t know.

Nov. 6, 2006 | 2:49 p.m. ET

Polls meant little before GOP tsunami of '94
(Chuck Todd, "Hardblogger" All-Star)

A trip through The Hotline archives for the weekend before the ‘94 election shows the generic ballot as follows:

  • ABC: 47-46 in favor of the Dems (down from a 5 point lead for the GOP one week earlier)
  • Gallup: 51-44 for the GOP (down from a 11 point GOP lead one week earlier)
  • NBC: 46-35 for the GOP (down from a 13 point lead for the GOP two weeks earlier)
  • Times Mirror: 48-43 for the GOP (down from a 12 point lead for the GOP one month earlier)

So in the final days leading up to the GOP tsunami of ‘94, there was polling evidence suggesting some movement toward the Democrats. Of course, those polls meant little come election day ‘94.

While this may come across as DNC talking points, it’s worth noting as folks chatter all day about the meaning of today’s Pew, Gallup and ABC generic ballot results closing in favor of the GOP.

Nov. 6, 2006 | 12:09 p.m. ET

Democrats stayed the course

If Democrats take back the House this week it will be because, for the first time in many cycles, we succeeded in the core three areas which I discussed back in the spring when “Hardball” was kicking off its election coverage—the message, the money and a good defense.

The message: You can “nationalize” an election when there is an issue that affects every American like war and national security.  The Republicans proved this (once again) in 2004 and this time it was our turn.  Despite multi-million-dollar advertising efforts to make Congressional elections referendums on the local candidates and the local issues, enough key races were determined by overall national dismay about the situation in Iraq.  Democrats never strayed from reminding people of their doubts about the president’s leadership and remained unapologetic for the national focus. 

The money: After Labor Day, when more and more polls starting looking good for the Democrats, business interests and lobbyists had a choice—cede to the Republican threats and keep money away from Democrats or hedge bets and give to both parties, allowing the Dems to stay competitive in fall fundraising.  Business hedged its bets, and the money has flowed.  And unlike it has always done with the Republicans, I just don’t believe that business money will corrupt the Democratic agenda.  It just isn’t our base, and while business interests know and understand that when Democrats are in charge, the special interest giveaways will stop; the all-important access won’t.  The fair chance to make their case is all the business community will need and get from a Democratic House.

The defense, I am perhaps proudest of this.  I warned that if Democrats let Republicans put them on the defensive on the social issues, we would lose support.  Yet, if they stood tall and proud in SUPPORT of family values—of inclusiveness rather than discrimination and individual freedoms rather than religious dictates—that people will respond.  In other words, if you let the Republicans get away with targeting the gays and abortion rights, you lose.  If you stand proud of our convictions as a party, people will move on to other issues.

It is, of course, too soon to declare victory and even writing this column makes me nervous, but if we succeed on Tuesday, Democrats will have earned every vote with their discipline in this election season.

Nov. 1, 2006 | 10:01 a.m. ET

The five nastiest ads
(MSNBC Corresondent David Shuster)

Candidates across the country are pulling out all stops to attack their opponents. Watch the nastiest ads of this political season and vote below:

Video: Five nastiest campaign ads

Oct. 31, 2006 | 2:32 p.m. ET

The viral revolution
(Tony Maciulis, MSNBC senior producer)

After some much-publicized candid camera moments on the campaign trial, we were quick to dub this “the YouTube election.”

And, without a doubt, YouTube and other video sharing sites are changing the political game rapidly.  There is George Allen’s “macaca” moment, Senator Burns nodding off at a hearing, and Harold Ford balking in Memphis, just to name a few.

Gone are the days when a candidate could make a mistake or test a stump speech in a small district without the fear of national humiliation.  Any cell phone at any venue can become a weapon for the opponent.

But the Internet is changing the political landscape in a very positive way, as well.  The Web provides an opportunity for every American to participate in the political process.

First, both parties have made use of the Web to make inroads in previously neglected districts.

For Republicans, that came in the form of a “netroots” campaign through websites like GOP.com.  That site has a social networking section called “My GOP,” just like the popular site “My Space.”  Operatives use it to identify registered Republicans in every district and then connect with them, whether in the virtual or the real world.

Democratic bloggers have made a real push to get more would-be Dems into the game.  This election, Democratic candidates are running in 425 congressional races, up from 400 two years ago.

With just 15 seats standing between “minority” and “majority” in the House, this kind of effort is invaluable.

And the Web also provides a chance for unknowns or third party candidates to attract attention.

The 5th District in Oklahoma is considered “safe” for Republican candidate Mary Fallin, but there is a third part candidate on the ticket—Matthew Horton Woodson, an Independent with some, well, unique views on 9/11.

I discovered him, and his “Send Me a Buck” campaign, on MySpace.  You’ll find lots of other candidates there, as well, all hoping for some help from their cyber buddies.

And it isn’t so crazy.  Iraq vet and Democrat Paul Hackett came really close to beating Rep. Jean Schmidt in the solidly GOP Ohio District 2.  Almost his entire war chest came from bloggers.

Of course, the gold standard today is still Howard Dean’s amazing Web campaign in 2004.  He raised nearly $25 million in online donations from people who each gave $100 or less.

Joe Trippi was correct, the revolution will not be televised.  But it will be viral!

Oct. 27, 2006 | 11:39 a.m. ET

Democrats must keep cool

It is hard when each day you see a whole new crop of nasty attack ads coming from the Republicans.  It does bother me that Democrats have never been very good at the 11th hour attack, but it doesn’t bother me too much.  I don’t want to win at any cost – (unless of course the alternative is a corrupt Supreme Court decision deciding the presidency).  This election season has been heated because the stakes are high.  And given how badly the war is going, it is literally a matter of life and death.   But in this final stretch we all need to breathe and be careful.    Mistakes will be made by those who are too desperate to get the last bit of dirt out or get in the last word.  Voters want grace, leadership and skill and they will judge it often by how a candidate AND their supporters act in the final days before an election.

Video: Campaign ads get downright nasty

I liked Harold Ford’s reaction to the racist ad put up against him by the Republican national Committee.  His opponent was trying to have it both ways and said the ad should come down.  But the RNC kept it up.  Instead of jumping on the bandwagon and screaming and yelling about racism, Ford merely asked “if my opponent can’t get the powers that be to take down a 30 second ad, how is he going to be able to do anything for Tennessee?”  Cool.

We are days away from a sea change in the national conversation.  Democrats need to stay vigilant over the next week, but we also must stay cool.

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