Guests: Jeanne Cummings, Melinda Henneberger, Sean Wilentz, Chris Kofinis
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: It was the 20th Democratic debate and, although Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama appeared to do what they do best, neither one was able to alter the course of the race. Or so it seems at this point.
Welcome to the show.
One thing we learned, though, is that Senator Clinton sincerely believes the news media treat her unfairly. In the outset of last night‘s debate she made that very clear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL: In the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time. And I don‘t mind, I—you know, I‘ll be happy to field them. But I do find it curious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: Does Hillary Clinton have a legitimate case? And in either case, is it politically wise for a presidential candidate to claim media bias?
Well for his part Barack Obama displays his aptitude for avoiding big mistakes. Accused of dirty politics for his campaign mailer on health care and NAFTA, he escaped by describing the Clinton campaign as whiners. Cornered for his failure to convene committee meetings about the war in Afghanistan, he took shelter in his preoccupation with the important business of running for president. In the case where the tape of Mrs. Clinton mocking him, he simply shrugged and laughed.
With so little separating Obama and Clinton on the issues, the Illinois senator‘s main and significant advantage appears to be his personal manner. It‘s enough to have him gaining in the polls and picking up superdelegate endorsement like Congressman John Lewis and Senator Byron Dorgan. But is being a cool guy a legitimate qualification for president? We‘ll tell you in a minute.
We‘ll also look forward to Tuesday‘s big state double-header. Bill Clinton predicts a Hillary Clinton victory in the state of Ohio. The poll numbers there generally favor her but the margin continues to tighten. Is his optimism the right communication strategy for a campaign fighting for its life?
Former John Edwards‘s communications director Chris Kofinis will join us in a bit.
We begin with last night‘s debate and the performance of Hillary Clinton. Did she do enough to stem the tide of Barack Obama‘s momentum?
Joining us now are the author of, “If They Only Listen to Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians to Hear,” the contributing writer for “Slate” magazine Melinda Henneberger, and the senior correspondent for “Politico” Jeanne Cummings.
Welcome to you both.
MELINDA HENNEBERGER, SLATE: Thanks.
JEANNE CUMMINGS, “POLITICO” SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Thank you.
CARLSON: So we played just a clip. I‘m going to play the whole clip of Hillary Clinton claiming we‘re against her in the press. Here she was last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: In the last several debates, I seem to get the first question all the time. And I don‘t mind, I—you know, I‘ll be happy to field them. But I do find it curious and anybody saw “Saturday Night Live,” you know, maybe we should ask Barack if he‘s comfortable and needs another pillow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: I thought that was the most uncomfortable thing I‘ve ever seen. Ever. I shifted in my chair and cringed. But then I thought it‘s like a dog whistle. Maybe I can‘t hear it but millions heard that, cocked their head to the side, and ran to the backdoor. You know? For some people that was appealing, do you think?
HENNEBERGER: Well, you know, Chelsea Clinton on the campaign trail compares her mom to Margaret Thatcher.
HENNEBERGER: And what I thought was, can I imagine Margaret Thatcher complaining that she always gets the first question and then it‘s so dreadfully unfair? No. I think the leaders do not complain about having to go first. And I think that in projecting what really came across as disagreement and self-pity, she did not make herself seem like a leader. She projected pettiness and weakness when she was selling herself as the tough guy who could be a fight—a fighter. She came across a little bit like a whiner.
CARLSON: I thought so. I mean it was blaming the ref. I would scold my kids for doing what she did last night. But then, I thought to myself, this is a woman, Jeanne, with awesome emotional control. She says—generally she says things she means to say and she says them for a reason. What could be the tactical reason for saying this, do you think?
CUMMINGS: Well, I think that she did say that for a reason. The whole week or the days leading up to that debate, her campaign has been complaining that she‘s been treated unfairly by the news media. So I think a couple of things are important. First of all, her complaint did not come with the first question, which I thought was interesting.
CUMMINGS: The complaint came with really the second round of questioning, which was about NAFTA, an issue she doesn‘t want to talk about. And then I want back—doesn‘t want to talk about but knew she was going to have to talk about it.
CUMMINGS: OK? So this was not a surprise question. And it is true Russert pressed her hard on that. But that‘s his job and if she wants to, you know, run the world and be the leader of the world, you know, she can face tough questioning. I went back and checked, what were they really asked? So she had this NAFTA thing that wasn‘t very nice and she didn‘t like that. He got nailed on, did you break your campaign finance pledge?
CUMMINGS: The Louis Farrakhan business and on whether he‘s the most liberal senator, you know, running. And she didn‘t face many—nearly as many tough questions as he did. So when you mentioned demeanor, I think that‘s the key. She really reacts to this stuff. You know she‘s very focused when she‘s there. She‘s tense—intense. And so you read off of her everything she‘s feeling. When he—when they go to him with a tough question, he gets even cooler. You know?
CARLSON: No—you‘re absolutely right.
CUMMINGS: He‘s just as smooth as silk.
CARLSON: So the impression is that she‘s having a much tougher time than he is, though, actually if you look at the questions, maybe he is having a tougher time than her. See, I haven‘t even occurred that, because, I thought, actually, boy, she‘s getting roughed up.
I thought, you know, to be completely honest, she does raise a fair point. I think the press is in the tank for Obama by and large. Almost every journalist I know likes Barack Obama. I don‘t know very many who like Hillary Clinton.
But Maureen Dodd I thought made a very smart point this morning, about whether or not the press is biased against Hillary Clinton. She said, quote, “Beating up on the press is the lamest thing you can do. It is only because of the utter open mindedness of the press that Hillary can lose 11 contests in a row and still be treated as a contender.”
So maybe—actually we‘re giving her too many benefits of too many doubts.
HENNEBERGER: I think that at this point people are a little bit afraid to be seen as piling on. But the thing is.
CARLSON: You think that? I can promise you that‘s true.
HENNEBERGER: The thing is when she says, you know, I find it curious that Barack has such good press relations, she should be more curious about why she doesn‘t, because I don‘t think it started out that way. I think that, you know, she came into this race the presumed frontrunner and was getting a lot of breaks in the press. And she should be looking, I think, at her own candidacy and her own shop to see—to find some answers as to why that‘s no longer the case.
CARLSON: I think that‘s—I think she may have time for that kind of quiet self-consideration and reflection fairly soon.
CUMMINGS: Tucker, I think you raised an excellent point and that is if she had won 11 state -- 11 straight wins, had closed the gap in these big states, was ahead in the national polls, was ahead in pledge delegates, we‘d probably be calling her a frontrunner.
CARLSON: Are you kidding?
CARLSON: I mean Barack Obama would be Mike Huckabee without the generosity.
HENNEBERGER: That‘s right.
CARLSON: Get out of here, pal. Who are you?
HENNEBERGER: That‘s right.
CUMMINGS: And the bar for him is very high. And the media, all of us, have set that bar there for him because of our respect for what has been the Clinton machine. And so I don‘t necessarily agree with your premise that everybody is in love with him. Frankly the relations on his plane are not so great.
CARLSON: Right. That‘s true.
CUMMINGS: .because he never interacts with the media. But I do think that indeed she‘s had—he‘s had a higher bar in proving he can win than she ever faced.
CARLSON: I think that maybe right.
HENNEBERGER: And the people feel that the normal laws of gravity do not apply to Clintons, right? That just because she‘d lost all these.
CARLSON: They do. I mean I think there is this feeling.
CARLSON: .that she‘s in league with dark forces and she‘s going to rule this country, period. I mean, people—I know a lot of liberal Democrats who cover her, were around her, comment upon her, don‘t like her but they still feel like, you know, just relax, don‘t resist, it‘s not worth it. She‘s going to win, even now.
Here‘s the moment where I thought—I actually thought this wounded her, this hurt her. She was asked about her tax returns and she gave an answer so implausible and ludicrous that I wanted to see what she was saying but I couldn‘t come up with an explanation.
Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: Well, I will do it as others have done it, upon becoming the nominee or even earlier, Tim, because I have been as open as I can be. You have—the public has 20 years of records from me. And I have very extensive filings with the Senate where you could see.
TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR: So before next Tuesday‘s primary?
CLINTON: Well, I can‘t get it together by then, but I will certainly work to get it together. I‘m a little busy right now. I hardly have time to sleep.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: So she doesn‘t—I don‘t know about you, Jeanne, but I‘ve got, you know, the last 10 years of tax returns in a filing cabinet in my basement. I could get them in 20 minutes. As the “Post” point—
“Washington Post” points out this morning, her tax returns would tell us how much she gave to charity. They would tell us a lot more about her husband‘s finances, and how they‘re intertwined with hers. They are clearly interesting or we would have seen them by now. Is she going to release them, do you think?
CUMMINGS: I don‘t think she is. I thought it was really interesting in the debate where she even brought up the notion than she would do it sooner.
CUMMINGS: .than if she was the nominee. She‘s never said that before. Well, today they started moving away from that. It‘s pretty clear we are not going to see them before this nomination is wrapped up. And truly raise—sets off a lot of alarms.
CARLSON: I agree.
CUMMINGS: And if she becomes the nominee and those things come out and there‘s some bad information in there, I think she‘s going to have a big war with her own party.
CARLSON: Well, McCain, who has not released his, I think, ought to release them now, as all of our attention is on the Democratic race. He hasn‘t released his. He‘s going to have to at some point. Why not do it now when no one‘s watching?
We‘ll be right back.
Barack Obama ridicules Hillary Clinton for whining about her losses and then makes fun of her after she attacks him. But the attacks just seemed to roll off of Barack Obama. Is he winning on style points alone?
Plus Hillary Clinton needs to win in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania in order to win the Democratic nomination or even have a shot of doing so. It‘s going to be tough. And we‘ve got the latest poll numbers coming up.
ANNOUNCER: TUCKER is brought to you by.
CARLSON: Hillary Clinton blasts Barack Obama for running a negative campaign. So how does Obama respond to—similar attacks? By calling Clinton a whiner and then laughing. We‘ll tell you more in just a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL: Senator Clinton has
her campaign at least has constantly sent out negative attacks on us, e-mail, robo calls, fliers, television ads, radio calls. And you know, we haven‘t whined about it because I understand that‘s the nature of these campaigns.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: Barack Obama there declaring a no whining zone in his campaign when Hillary Clinton made a crack about alleged media fawning, as evidenced by the “Saturday Night Live” skit, and now a famous one, he just laughed it off. When Brian Williams showed the clip of Clinton mocking his upbeat talk about change, he said that sounded pretty good.
How do you hit this guy? Is there any way to corner Barack Obama and make him angry? Or does he just smile?
Joining us now, we welcome back, contributing writer for “Slate” Melinda Henneberger and senior correspondent for “Politico,” Jeanne Cummings.
Here is—I have to (INAUDIBLE) sort of the moment where I thought it might get testy, where Barack Obama was asked about Louis Farrakhan. Nobody wants to be endorsed by Louis Farrakhan. And Hillary kind of piles on and says, in essence, you‘re not distancing yourself enough.
Here‘s what Obama said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I don‘t see a difference between denouncing and rejecting. There‘s no formal offer of help from Mr. Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it. But if the word “reject” Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word “denounce,” then I‘m happy to concede the point. And I would reject and denounce.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: Very, very skilled. For students of debate, that was quite a moment. And by the way, can I just say, for students of English you transcribing Barack Obama—I‘m not fawning over Barack Obama, OK? I disagree with him on many things.
CARLSON: I‘m not, I‘m not. But I want to say, you transcribe a Barack Obama statement, extemporaneous statement and it‘s grammatical.
HENNEBERGER: You were there with (INAUDIBLE).
CARLSON: I‘m not—look, OK. It‘s grammatical. All the commas are in the right place. I admire that as an English major.
HENNEBERGER: Yes. He shrugs off her attacks and she overreacts to his. She makes herself look smaller when she does that. And I thought the most amazing thing about this Farrakhan exchange was, OK, he gets a good laugh out of it after she has said, “Why can‘t you be more like me during my Senate campaign when I took the high ground and refused to accept any kind word from an anti-Semitic—from a party with anti-Semitic ties,” which really was a bold thing for her to say given that this was right around the time she sat through a speech by Yasser Arafat‘s wife in which he accused the Israelis of daily gassing women and children.
And Mrs. Clinton‘s response to that was to get up and kiss Mrs. Arafat on both cheeks. So given the context, that was really.
CARLSON: Well, and also, I mean, both these candidates are friends with Jesse Jackson, who, you know, in his ‘84 campaign, made some harshly anti-Semitic statements sort of out of nowhere. No one remembers it. Yet we treat him like a functioning member of society and it‘s a bad taste of Chappaquiddick, it‘s like wrong to bring that up some how. Not that I‘ll ever forget it. But, I mean, the Louis Farrakhan thing, is that put to bed? Is that it? We‘re actually going to hear that?
CUMMINGS: No, it‘s not put to bed. The Republicans will take that and they‘ll—if he‘s the nominee, they‘ll run it right through November.
CARLSON: Do you think they will? You think they dare?
CUMMINGS: Absolutely. Absolutely. Now—but I think one thing that‘s—I think he is a great counter puncher. And that has been his advantage in these debates. He‘s not very good on the attack. And in fact, we rarely see him on the attack, although he can slide a dagger every once in a while.
CARLSON: Yes. That‘s very subtle though.
CUMMINGS: .into the rib cage. Yes, it‘s very subtle. The whiner line even just sort of, you know, rolled off his tongue.
CARLSON: He‘s like a Woody Allen movie.
CARLSON: You got to pay attention. Yes.
CUMMINGS: Yes, it‘s like (INAUDIBLE), got you. He‘s really good at countering. But—so that we‘re not—so that we don‘t become a no fawning zone here, I‘ll throw this out.
CUMMINGS: He does whine. They pick their battles differently. And look at the uproar over the picture of him in the Kenyan attire.
CUMMINGS: They raised all kinds there.
CARLSON: Yes, they did.
CUMMINGS: Yes, they did. So they think—they pick their mode.
CARLSON: We‘re doing an entire segment right after this on that, on that exact subject. Sean Wilentz from “The New Republic” who argues—you got the exact point, which I think is a fascinating one and hasn‘t been aired and—you‘re absolutely right. I think we‘ll talk about that in a minute.
Speaking of the double standard, both the candidates were asked by Tim Russert through out a question about the successor to Vladimir Putin who will be taking off sometime in the week or so, and said, “What do you know about him?”
He kind of, you know, opened it up to both them. Hillary took the bait. Here‘s how it went. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSSERT: What can you tell me about the man who‘s going to be Mr.
CLINTON: Well, I can tell you that he‘s a handpicked successor, that he is someone who is obviously being installed by Putin, who Putin can control, who has very little independence, the best we know.
RUSSERT: Who will it be? Do you know his name?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: If George W. Bush has said that, if Barack Obama has said that, (INAUDIBLE), whatever. You know, some Russian, some Slovak name. I mean.
HENNEBERGER: I actually thought that was her best moment last night.
CARLSON: You did?
HENNEBERGER: Not because.
CARLSON: I find (INAUDIBLE).
HENNEBERGER: Not because she flubbed it. But then she was so charming and then laughed at herself.
CARLSON: No, it was. I agree with that.
HENNEBERGER: And she needs to do more of that. No American can pronounce that name. So it was.
CARLSON: Medvedev. Even I can‘t do it. And I‘m just terrible at that.
HENNEBERGER: It was fine, I thought. It showed her human side which she needs to do now and then.
CARLSON: Actually, I stand absolutely corrected. I agree with you.
That was kind of charming.
Barack Obama‘s campaign charges that Hillary Clinton played the race card in the presidential race but does the Obama campaign protest too much? Might the perceived victim in some cases be the perpetrator? Our next guest suggests just that.
Plus who won the debate last night and ends the debate in and of itself? Well, both sides had their rough moments. Coming up, some of Barack Obama‘s weaker moments. Yes, there were some.
This is MSNBC.
CARLSON: The conventional wisdom is that the Clinton campaign injected race into this campaign. The story goes this way. That subtle and blatant insinuation of race by surrogates, including Bill Clinton, resulted in a backlash among black voters, young voters and rich liberal voters, all of whom rallied to Barack Obama‘s side.
But there was another view of this subject and it was printed today for the first time that I‘ve seen anyway in “The New Republic.” The piece is called how Barack Obama played the race card and blamed Hillary Clinton.
Joining us now is the man who wrote that piece, “The New Republic‘s” Sean Wilentz.
Sean, thanks for coming on.
SEAN WILENTZ, THE NEW REPUBLIC: Tucker, we meet at last. It‘s great.
CARLSON: I am—I was impressed by your piece. I‘m not exactly sure what I think of it. But you are, so far as I can tell, the first person to say anything like this.
I want to put what I think is kind of a nut graf of your piece up on the screen. And here‘s what you say.
You say, “A review of what actually happened shows that the charges that the Clintons played the race card were not simply false. They were deliberately manufactured by the Obama camp and trumpeted by a credulous and/or compliant press corps in order to strip away her once formidable majority black voters and to outrage affluent college-educated white liberals as well as college students.”
Boy, that‘s a pretty—that‘s diabolical if true. Give me a piece of evidence.
WILENTZ: Well, it‘s not diabolical. It‘s just a good way to go about, you know, winning a campaign if you.
CARLSON: Oh yes.
WILENTZ: .if you‘ve hit something, you know, hit a hard rut. After Iowa, the remarkable performance by Senator Obama in Iowa, we came in New Hampshire and things did not turn out the way it was—looked like it was going to. So that night and the next morning, a couple of things happened. First of all, the race card got played when Senator Obama‘s co-chair Jesse Jackson Junior came on and said that the famous incident, the crying incident of Senator Clinton was an example of her racism because she didn‘t cry over Katrina, she didn‘t do anything of the kind.
That was racial politics of the most down and dirty kind. But when we get to South Carolina, the strategy shifts. And there becomes a matter of seizing on anything that you can find and then saying that it‘s racist. And the press corps picks it up and says it‘s racist. And boy oh, boy there‘s no surer way to get both college liberals and black voters angry at you than to be called a racist.
And that‘s what I see happen.
CARLSON: But there was this moment. I buy that and I—you also make the point that the Obama campaign made far too much over this picture of Obama in Somali garb.
WILENTZ: Yes. Silly.
CARLSON: I‘m with you totally. But here‘s where I got won over to the Clintons for playing the race card argument when Bill Clinton came out twice on television and compared Obama‘s the victory in South Carolina to Jesse Jackson‘s. I could not see an explanation for that that was benign.
WILENTZ: You know, the one that I saw—I didn‘t see both of them. I saw one of them very closely, though. And it was the day of the primary and they were asking him about it, and supposedly because he mentioned Jackson rather than anyone else, who won the—any other Democrat who won the South Carolina primary, he was playing a race card.
Well, he could have mentioned two other Democrats who had won the Democratic primaries or caucuses in South Carolina, himself or John Edwards. Now, John Edwards is still in the race. If he mentioned himself, he would have sounded like he was boasting, because he got a bigger percentage than either Jackson or Obama.
And also, the facts were, if you look at the polls, they were comparable. I mean both victories had about the same percentage points, 55 percent overall. And it was based on a large black majority. So there were similarities there. To say that there were similarities is just being accurate. And they (INAUDIBLE). That‘d be modest.
CARLSON: So you think that was an academic—it was an academic observation from someone who is interested?
WILENTZ: No. It was political observation. No, he‘s (INAUDIBLE).
WILENTZ: Look, Bill Clinton knows how to read a poll, right?
WILENTZ: He‘s reading and he‘s reading the internals, and he‘s seeing what‘s happened. He said, yes, looks a lot like the Jackson victory. And then everybody jumps on him for being a racist when, in fact, he was just telling what the polls said.
CARLSON: So I mean the idea was, though, he was denigrating Obama‘s victory by saying, of course, he won, he is black, as Jackson is. Black people vote for people who look like him.
WILENTZ: No, no. If you read the statement, he said he ran a very, very good campaign in South Carolina. He‘s run a good campaign everywhere. He didn‘t say that he got it on the black vote. The facts were that‘s the way the vote broke. But it wasn‘t—he wasn‘t playing a race card there any more than they were denigrating, you know, Martin Luther King over the Lyndon Johnson-Martin Luther King business.
CARLSON: I agree with that.
WILENTZ: Here‘s another example of how, you know, you took a historically—I‘m a historian—a historically accurate statement and then turned it into some sort of racial stuff. It was ridiculous.
CARLSON: Very quickly. I know that you know the Clintons and have known them for a long time to the extent you‘re able to report back. Are they aware that people are saying this and are they wounded by it?
WILENTZ: First of all, I don‘t know the Clintons very well at all. I don‘t know where does this come from. I may have spent two hours with Bill Clinton in my life. Most of it.
WILENTZ: Yes, most of it interviewing him, in fact, for a magazine.
So I certainly stood up for him during the impeachment stuff.
WILENTZ: But that was—I saw him in the oval office for about five minutes. So I don‘t know them. And I—Hillary even less. I may have spent three minutes in her time, not in a campaign crowd. So I can‘t answer your question because I don‘t know the answer.
CARLSON: Interesting. All right. Sean Wilentz from Princeton, I appreciate it very much.
WILENTZ: My pleasure.
CARLSON: Hillary Clinton says it‘s important to have her become the first woman president, whether or not it‘s a valid point, is it smart politically to say things like that? Maybe so.
Plus Bill Clinton is already calling Ohio for his wife. And as of right now, the polls are giving her the lead. But what if he‘s wrong? What next for the Clinton campaign?
You‘re watching MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: Obviously, I am thrilled to be running to be the first woman president, which I think would be a sea change in our country and around the world, and would give enormous—enormous hope and real challenge to the way things have been done and who gets to do them and what the rules are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: Senator Hillary Clinton closed her performance last night by enunciating what many of her supporters surely value, the practical and historical significance of having a woman president. Her strongest support among the various voting demographics comes from women, especially women of her generation. But does an explicit appeal for support based on gender make smart politics? What would happen, for instance, if Barack Obama did the same thing based on his race; I‘m black, vote for me. Would it work?
Here again, contributing writer for Slate, Melinda Henneberger, and senior correspondent for Politico, Jeanne Cummings. I‘m sincerely interested in your responses to this. My first thought was, gee, of all the things Hillary Clinton has to brag about, her intelligence, her toughness, the things she‘s done, her enduring quality, the fact that she has the chutzpah to run, the strength to run. I‘m impressed by that. To brag about something over which she has no control; she is not responsible for; she did nothing to earn, her gender, an accident of biology, seems kind of weird to me.
CUMMINGS: Well, maybe weird, but smart politics, if you ask me. I think so. The women have been her fire wall throughout. They were in New Hampshire. And now she needs them in Ohio, certainly, perhaps in Texas just as badly. In Ohio, those demographics really work for her. That‘s where her strength is. Women vote disproportionately. They are older. They are exactly what she needs. They are her match, her base.
She needs every darn one of them to come out. This is a presidential campaign. You try to win. If you play that card, if she‘s going to say remember, this is history, stay with me, I think that was very smart. I think that was one of the smartest things she did.
CARLSON: You‘re probably right. I‘m blind to this kind of thing a lot of the time. It seems to me the American ideal, distinct from the reality, but still the ideal is that we‘re judged for the things we do, the choices we make. That‘s who we are. We‘re the sum of our choices. And gender, like race, hair color, handedness, not a choice.
HENNEBERGER: I don‘t think it hurt her to say that, but I don‘t think it got her anything in particular, anyway. Because I think there are just as many women who would say, don‘t assume that because I‘m a woman and you‘re a woman that you‘re my automatic vote.
CARLSON: I live with one of those.
HENNEBERGER: As would say, you‘re right, I‘ve got to stick with the sisters.
CARLSON: If some guy got up and said, you know what, I am male, the whole package, genitalia, everything; I‘m a man. Therefore, if you‘re a man, vote for me. I would say something I can‘t say here.
HENNEBERGER: You could take it as extremely condescending.
CARLSON: That‘s not how I would take it, but what do I know. The question is, because I don‘t want to be part of the huge media group fawn over Barack Obama, I want to throw up what I think might have been his weakest moment last night, when he was asked by Tim Russert, what about your pledge to take public money from the general election campaign. Here‘s how it went.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSSERT: Why won‘t you keep your word in writing that you made to abide by public financing of the fall election.
OBAMA: Tim, I‘m not yet the nominee. What I‘ve said is that when I am the nominee, if I am the nominee, because we‘ve still got a bunch of contests left and Senator Clinton is a pretty tough opponent. If I am the nominee, then I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that is fair for both sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: First of all, speaking of condescending, Senator Clinton, whom I‘ve beaten in 11 contests, she‘s a very tough opponent. Boy, that is condescending. I‘m not certain what this means exactly. We have a public financing system that he said he would abide by, because he agrees with it philosophically, and now he suggests he won‘t.
CUMMINGS: I don‘t think that when Barack Obama said that he realized what was going to happen with his fund raising. It‘s unbelievable. In addition, there are all these little donors. They have got a sense of ownership in his campaign. I think the answer got a lot more complicated for him as he became increasingly successful.
I don‘t think he really nailed his feet to the ground on this thing. He‘s got an argument about 527s and the roles that they can play. Maybe he and McCain will cut a deal. The two guys might surprise us. I‘m not banking on the two of them going into the public financing system. Keep in mind, it‘s 85 million dollars. That‘s like a million dollars a day to spend. So it‘s good money. They really can finance their campaign, their general, with that amount of money.
CARLSON: I just want—here is what I want to know; does anybody care? I think most people don‘t get it. They don‘t care. They don‘t understand it. The very people who do care, who gave us this stupid system in the first place, they are Obama voters. They are Google liberals.
HENNEBERGER: Other candidates can get away with this in such a way he cannot. If he has made his central case that this is not going to be business as usual, he cannot then say, well, when I promised I was going to take federal financing, I had no idea how much I was going to raise, that doesn‘t work.
CARLSON: Yes, that‘s right. I was for it when I thought it was a good deal for me, and now it‘s not.
CARLSON: By the way, he‘s apparently reached the one million donor mark, one million donors to his campaign. Does this have to do—books will be written about this whole phenomenon. But is your quick read now that this has to be with the technical brilliance of his campaign, the organizational skills of his campaign, or just the inspirational nature of him.
CUMMINGS: Both. It‘s both. They set out from the beginning to organize small donors. I did a story last summer. I went out and visited with them. I called them baby bundlers, because they would act like bundlers, but they would only collect ten dollars from everybody, instead of big checks. They designed this system to capture these kinds of people.
It‘s the motivational character of his campaign that made that thing sing and created all of this. One million donors, right? Keep in mind, in 2004, total campaign, 2.5 million donors in that campaign, with Bush, Kerry and everybody else in the primary. So if he keeps going to November at this pace, he could have more donors than the entire field had in 2004. So that‘s how hard the choice is for him and campaign finance. It‘s unbelievable.
CARLSON: That‘s unbelievable. That phenomenon is part of the reason that John Lewis appeared to—not appeared to, he did; he switched his position today as a Super Delegate from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama. And his line is, look, I‘m just following the will of the people.
HENNEBERGER: From Hillary Clinton to Barack, back to Hillary, and now back to Barack.
HENNEBERGER: Right. It‘s a quadruple flip.
CARLSON: It seems to me obvious that it‘s bad for Hillary Clinton and good for Obama. I‘m not sure it‘s great for John Lewis.
HENNEBERGER: It‘s not good for John Lewis. As someone who has really admired him so much over the years, I was a little disappointed that he went out of his way. He wasn‘t just sticking with Clinton initially, he was really sticking it to Obama, saying, you know, this guy is no Bobby Kennedy. This guy is no JFK. You need more than a speech.
Then a few weeks later, when it‘s politically convenient for him, he says, you know, that guy is getting better every day. I think I‘ve got to give him a new look. I expected better.
CARLSON: It‘s very hard for anybody, not just John Lewis, but anybody to remain a morale hero, John McCain, anybody, and remain in politics.
CUMMINGS: Politicians never fail to disappoint, neither do the rest of us. I think the pressure is really on these super delegates who are in a position where they may vote against the way that they are voters.
CARLSON: So the new line from the Clinton campaign—it may not be new, but it‘s really being trotted out now, is Obama is the establishment candidate. He‘s got all the money. They are fund raising pictures are along the lines of, don‘t let the rich guy beat us. We‘re the underdog. Dig deep. How profound is—his money advantage is profound. How important is that going into next Tuesday?
CUMMINGS: I think it‘s important from this perspective. He has outspent her. But he undoubtedly now has already started to set up a machine in Pennsylvania. Now, we may never go there. But let‘s say she ekes out enough victories or blows him out, who knows, but she takes them both. So now she gets to turn her sights, as she said she would do, on the Keystone State, where she‘s got nothing going on.
This is what‘s happened to her all along. He‘s there first. He‘s got the office up and running. He‘s got ads up and going. He‘s already getting volunteers. That‘s what the money has given him. That was his gigantic advantage after the February Super Tuesday. He was already playing in the caucus states, and she ran out of money and she couldn‘t play.
CARLSON: Unbelievable. How long does this go?
HENNEBERGER: That‘s because he had a plan B, C, and D, and she did not. Gosh, I don‘t think any of us know. I think we really do think that the normal laws don‘t apply where the Clintons are concerned, so I‘m not going to say.
CARLSON: I completely—
HENNEBERGER: I‘m not going to pretend that I know.
CARLSON: Until she goes back to Bermuda on vacation, I would not count her out at all. Melinda, Jeanne, thank you both very much. I appreciate it.
Before we go to break, William F. Buckley died this morning. He was 82. He apparently died at his desk at home in Connecticut, apparently writing a column, which is a great way to go. A lot will be said about him over the next 24 hours.
Just have two things to add. One, he was as gracious and decent a person in person as he was on the page, which is a hard trick to pull off. For another, he‘s one of the very few people of our time who in 82 years wasted not a single day. He played the harpsichord. He found time to write 45 books, 5,600 columns and made innumerable friends. He was an impressive guy, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum. He‘s gone and that‘s a shame.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:
I‘ve just been in Ohio. It looks like she‘s going to win Ohio. She‘s winning there. It looks good.
JAY LENO, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”: Well, political experts are now saying it‘s almost impossible for Hillary Clinton to win, and everyone is urging her to call it quits and go home to Bill. Except Bill, stay out there, honey! Keep fighting!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: All these years later, former President Bill Clinton is still making Jay Leno‘s job easier. The question is whether Mr. Clinton is making his wife‘s job more difficult. He‘s out and about putting forth optimism about the state of Ohio. What if he‘s wrong. Polls show Hillary Clinton leading in that state. But you remember New Hampshire, when we expected Barack Obama to win handily and he didn‘t.
Just how big would a loss in Ohio and/or Texas be for the Clinton campaign? Joining us now is the former communications director for the Edwards campaign, Chris Kofinis. Chris, welcome.
Give me a reality check. I‘m sitting at home last night, watching the debate on television and I‘m thinking—not saying this for partisan reasons—boy, Hillary Clinton just had it handed her. Then I flip on the tube, no one agrees with me. Talk to people around Washington, they don‘t agree. What did you think?
CHRIS KOFINIS, FMR. EDWARDS COMMUNICATIONS DIR: I thought she had a strong debate. I thought Obama was better. I thought the one moment I thought was weak was the line about the S&L crack, the pillow. I just thought it was unnecessary. She shines as a candidate when she talks about the issues in a substantive way. She just shines. I think when they try to do the one-liners—you saw that with the change for Xerox—I think just falls flat.
CARLSON: Tell me the mechanics of that, having worked on political campaigns. Someone goes to her, a senior adviser, and says, I have a great line for you.
KOFINIS: I don‘t know how it works in every campaign, but usually how it works is you will have a good discussion, and people will figure out what‘s a good zinger, if you will. Unfortunately, I think sometimes it‘s one of things that sounds good in the room, doesn‘t necessarily sound good on national TV or in the moment. This was a debate where you had to make the clear differences and distinctions. She clearly tried that.
She threw the kitchen sink, the cabinets, the tiles. There was not much of the kitchen left that she through at Obama. And Obama had a very strong debate. The strategy I think Obama followed was really interesting. He didn‘t just respond, he actually went on the offensive, which made for fantastic television. It was a great debate on both sides.
I think it also kind of put her back a little bit, which is why the debate went back and forth, back and forth all the way through.
CARLSON: What are the internal dynamics of a struggling campaign? If you have been—you spent a year more of your life, and it‘s a campaign. It‘s a marshal image for reason. You‘re waging war against your opponents and then things, frankly, aren‘t going well at all. Do you have a clear sense of how badly they are going or are you too isolated.
KOFINIS: You have a clear sense. I think part of the problem right now—I think what‘s going on in the Clinton campaign—you saw that in the “New York Times” story the other day, where they actually said they were going to throw the kitchen sink at Obama, and they outlined five different ways to attack him.
CARLSON: Why would she say that?
KOFINIS: They were trying to set it up. But the five different ways to attack Obama came across as strategic schizophrenia to me. I mean, it was like, pick one. This happens in every campaign. There‘s no such thing as a perfect campaign. You‘ll always have very heated discussion and debate about the strategy. What‘s the best way to win an election, best way to win the nomination?
I think the problem was, for the Clinton campaign, the argument about focusing on experience from the get go, ready to lead, I just think that was the wrong idea. One, she‘s been in Washington for 15 years. She‘s a former first lady. She‘s a senator from New York. She‘s incredibly well respected, incredibly knowledgeable, incredibly substantive. She didn‘t have to focus on her experience.
It was actually the other strategy, which has been discussed in the various news reports, about focusing on her likability, her humanness, her compassion and her real warmth. I think that would have been a much smarter strategy in the long run.
CARLSON: Wouldn‘t she have to be warm in order to sell that.
KOFINIS: Stop. Stop.
CARLSON: Why is it—this is a serious question; why is a campaign as sophisticated and well financed and well thought through as the Hillary Clinton campaign unable to sell something that simple?
KOFINIS: I think they made the mistake. There‘s going to be a lot of, I think, postmortems if they end up losing the nomination. I think the mistake they probably made, if they lose, was—this happens with campaign, where you start thinking about the general before you finish the primary. It‘s the one thing you don‘t ever want to do. It happens to everybody. There‘s no perfect strategist. It‘s easy to Monday morning quarterback this stuff. At the end of the day, I think that was the mistake.
They underestimated, to a fault, not only what a phenomenon Senator Obama was going to be, but what an incredible movement he has been building.
CARLSON: You‘re suggesting maybe she thought the nomination was owed to her by the grateful masses and the Democratic primary.
KOFINIS: No, I think there was an underestimation of how serious a threat Senator Obama was going to be, and how profound a movement he was going to build. January of last year, how would you have predicted that he would have a million people. He‘s an incredibly compelling candidate, with a very strong message and has built an incredibly sophisticated grassroots campaign.
CARLSON: In other words, Hillary Clinton saw Barack Obama as her husband saw al-Qaeda, a problem, but not such a huge problem.
KOFINIS: I‘m not sure I would ever put it that way.
CARLSON: OK, I think it‘s a fair way. Chris Kofinis, if only Edwards had listened to you more.
KOFINIS: Please. Thanks, Tucker.
CARLSON: Pamela Anderson, Lee Rock Solomon is back in the news. Shocker, it‘s divorce related. Our senior divorce court correspondent Bill Wolff has the scoop coming up.
CARLSON: Welcome back. You‘re not fully informed until you‘ve heard Bill Wolff‘s take on what happened today. Wait no longer. Here he is.
BILL WOLFF, MSNBC VICE PRESIDENT: You flatter me, Tucker, and I appreciate it, as does every member of my family, including my father who is celebrating his birthday today. Had to get it in there. Him and Chelsea Clinton; Happy Birthday to everybody.
Tucker, for a period beginning in or around the spring of 1982 until about the autumn of 2007, it probably would have been pretty cool to be Roger Clemens, the richly compensated super achieving baseball star of the University of Texas, the Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue jays, the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros. As of today, I‘ll pass.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent Attorney General Michael Mukasey a letter today recommending the Justice Department investigate the possibility that Clemens lied under oath before that committee on February 13th. The committee, of course, was investigating Clemens‘ challenge to the allegations of the Mitchell Report, baseball‘s official paper on the use of performance enhancing drugs in the sport. Clemens was accused in the report, and continues to deny, that he ever juiced.
So, tucker, Roger Clemens is in big trouble. I think I recall you have fairly strong feelings on this issue.
CARLSON: I do. I support Roger Clemens. I was on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue this afternoon at the White House for the celebration of the Red Sox—
WOLFF: Stand by. Stand by. That story is coming, my friend.
CARLSON: It is? I‘ll tell you more in a minute.
WOLFF: Believe me. Anyway, Roger Clemens is in Big Dutch. If, in fact, he‘s found guilty of perjury, he not only endures a felony conviction in that case, it‘s the shame of lying and the shame of having taken steroids, which he denied in the first place. So, it‘s a no-win situation.
CARLSON: Maybe Congress should solve Medicaid, then get around to bothering Roger Clemens.
WOLFF: Your point is well taken. We have reported in this space that everything on TV talent contest “American Idol,” Tucker, is not what it appears. I know you were disillusioned. Now there are new allegations, which, if proven, would buttress that assertion. According to TMZ.com, one of the pillars of news about people on reality TV shows, 26-year-old Robbie Kerick (ph), that guy, one of the remaining male contestants, does not, in fact, have a long flowing mane of his rocker hair, but instead sports a hair piece, a wig. It‘s not his, Tucker.
Who cares, you might ask? The answer would be not as many people as used to care. “American Idol‘s” numbers, while still gargantuan, are, in fact, off this year. The leading “American Idol” indicator, who is a much respected executive who shall remain unnamed here at MSNBC, eschewed last night‘s sing off in favor of the 20th Democratic candidates‘ debate. It says a lot about her interest in politics, of course. But it may say even more about “American Idol,” Tucker. It‘s over, in my opinion.
CARLSON: If it‘s a wig, shouldn‘t you comb it and wash it.
WOLFF: Wouldn‘t know. No experience in that area, but I think it‘s a reasonable supposition on your part. More news that‘s important, Tucker. Actually, more news that‘s totally unimportant. Often married, bad boy magnet Pamela Anderson is apparently about to be single. If past performance is an accurate indicator of the future, she‘ll be ready to mingle.
Miss Anderson was married in record setting hurry Paris Hilton‘s sex tape co-star Rick Soloman in October. Not long after, she tried for divorce. She quit the divorce. Now she wants an annulment on the basis of fraud. The question, of course, being what kind of fraud did this guy perpetrate on her? Did he say he was a clean cut cool guy or something like that? Sad story. Sad story, Tucker.
I‘d love to keep talking, but we‘re almost out of time. I must say that the lovable losers, the wait until next year gang, those Boston Red Sox did visit President Bush at the White House today. The Sox and their super human fans have endured nothing but suffering since 1918, making their fans the most knowing, most sympathetic, most worthy fans in all the world.
In fact, only Red Sox fans know what it‘s like to be disappointed. Everyone else who claims to know should have their fan hood stripped once and for all—Wait, I‘m sorry, the Red Sox won the World Series again and again, because they have an enormous payroll and a whole legion of fans who for some reason still think they are rooting for the underdog, Tucker.
CARLSON: I disagree. I talked to Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell today. I don‘t have a lot of experience talking to baseball players. Great guys, impressive guys.
WOLFF: I believe you. I hate the Red Sox.
CARLSON: Thanks, Bill. That does it for us. Thanks for watching. We‘ll see you right back here tomorrow night as always. Up next is “HARDBALL” with Chris. In the meantime, have a great night.
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