Guests: Rachel Maddow, Linda Douglass, Deborah Mathis, Tony Blankley
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC ANCHOR: I‘m David Gregory, is the end game coming to you from the democrats. Howard dean thinks so even as he worries about how nasty the fight is getting. By the way, Chelsea Clinton thinks her mom would be a better president than her dad. The race for the White House rolls on.
Welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, Friday edition, I‘m David Gregory glad to have you. Your search is over. You have found the fast pace, the bottom line and everyone point of view in the room. This hour, our chance to reflect on a busy week and look ahead. There are some big questions to ponder. Like this. Did Barack Obama miss a big opportunity this week? That‘s later.
GREGORY: So of your thoughtful voice and e-mails, I‘m going to ask a question about one of the personal voice mails I got today. The foundation of the show, the panel that comes to play with us tonight, tonight MSNBC political analyst host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, Rachel Maddow. “National Journal‘s” Linda Douglass, columnist for the Black America Web, Deborah Mathis and columnist for the “Washington Times” Tony Blankley.
We begin as we do every night with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day. It‘s “The Headlines.”
I‘ll start us off here tonight. My headline is Dean getting it done. Howard Dean told MORNING JOE today on MSNBC the fight will not crash the party in Denver. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIR: We need to let the voters have their say. This still is a democracy and the voters are—I think there will be a solution before Denver. I think we will know the nominee before Denver.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Before Denver. Dean told AP today he‘s being reaching out to party stalwarts, like Gore, Pelosi, George Mitchell and John Edwards. Harry Reid said of Dean this week, quote, “Things are being done.”
Dean has been lampooned, as you know, as too weak to broker this battle, and his clout has yet to be proven but a superdelegate vote looks like it could happen in June. Here is what Al Gore, by the way, told the AP in a quick interview, the quote for us, “What have we got, five months left? I think it‘s going to resolve itself but we‘ll see.”
All of this hasn‘t stopped some of the supers like Vermont‘s Senator Patrick Leahy from weighing in. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) VT: There is no way that Senator Clinton is going to win enough delegates to win the nomination. She ought to withdraw and she ought to be backing Senator Obama.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
GREGORY: Quite the call, but Leahy later backed off. Linda Douglass, what‘s your headline tonight?
LINDA DOUGLASS, “NATIONAL JOURNAL”: My headline is as the clock is running down, Hillary Clinton fails to move the ball forward. This has not been a good week for her. Yet another week that wasn‘t a good week when she needs to build momentum. She‘s now trailing by the margin of error in the Gallup tracking poll that came out today this is since the Reverend Wright controversy. Since that controversy her negatives have gone up in the NBC “Wall Street Journal” poll. Voters who were for her are beginning to back away in that poll. The superdelegates who came out this week came out for Barack Obama. Senator Casey of Pennsylvania and of course Bill Richardson last week. So nothing that was good happened for her this week. And she needs a good week.
GREGORY: You do look at all of this—look at these two weeks for Barack Obama and how bad they have been for him, Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, yet he got Bill Richardson to change the story line and she‘s not able to capitalize.
DOUGLASS: Well, exactly. She‘s got to have something, of course there will be an election eventually on April 22 in Pennsylvania. That‘s going to be something that she‘s hoping it is going to me some kind of a game changer. Right now it‘s an extreme to say that it‘s momentum, certainly the movement does appear to be away from her and towards Obama.
GREGORY: All right. Deborah Mathis, welcome to the program. What‘s your headline tonight?
DEBORAH MATHIS, BLACK AMERICA WEB: My headline is that Obama turns the corner, the superdelegate flood gates are now wide open and playing somewhat off of what Linda had to say. I think that Senator Casey‘s endorsement on top of the Governor Bill Richardson endorsement has given the green light to all those superdelegates who may have been hesitating before, whether it was safe to get into that water. I think now they see it is safe. This was not a safe move for Casey to make, nor was it necessarily for Richardson as we have seen from some of the fallout, him having been characterized by a Clinton loyalist as Judas on Easter Sunday.
GREGORY: Isn‘t it a reality a lot of superdelegates are being cautious. They don‘t see a clear winner yet and they won‘t really jump in until they see that.
MATHIS: Well, they may not see a clear winner but they do see the path that‘s beginning to open up, I think. It may not be a clear winner. But eventually they are going to have to make a decision here. And I think that these two men have shown them that it is OK to do that without fear of backlash.
GREGORY: It is interesting to note about Casey in Pennsylvania, that he was going to stay neutral and decided to jump in. Tony Blankley, welcome to you. What‘s your headline tonight?
TONY BLANKLEY, “WASHINGTON TIMES”: My headline tonight is polygraph needed for Obama on the “View.” Let‘s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Had the reverend not retired and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and were inappropriate and miss characterized, what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn‘t have felt comfortable staying there at the church.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: That seem like a new formulation to you, Tony?
BLANKLEY: Every time Obama talks about Reverend Wright he pulls off another thread off his cloth of veracity. He admitted in his speech that he heard some of these things years ago. Now he‘s saying now that he‘s retired, if he hadn‘t retired, he would have quit. But he didn‘t quit when he hadn‘t retired.
GREGORY: Is it danger, Tony, you think to Obama that he looks calculating with regard to Jeremiah Wright or actually associating with somebody who said the kind of things he said.
BLANKLEY: I think both. I think certainly in the general election his unwillingness or inability to completely disassociate from all the extraordinary things Wright has said is going to hurt him. Then at a personality level, character level, every time he seems evasive, given he‘s seen as an honest man, I mean, Hillary is already seen as evasive, one more isn‘t damaging to her. So I think it‘s damaging on both of those fronts.
GREGORY: Rachel Maddow, hit me with it tonight.
MADDOW: My headline tonight is that a lot of Americans still believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. This is not getting a lot of play. This is a potentially huge political story that this not going away even after the blanket negative coverage about Jeremiah Wright, who after all, his pastor, still one in 10 Americans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim. Seventy nine percent say they have heard he‘s a Muslim. Fourteen percent of Republicans believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. That‘s one thing when he was just being introduced to the country but this far into the campaign, this much blanket coverage, particularly coverage about his church, this is one of those bizarre negative smears that he‘s going to have a hard time shutting.
GREGORY: That is not true. We should hasten to point out it‘s not true.
What does he do about it?
MADDOW: I think that he did some things sort of under the radar of the national media in the primaries in which he put out campaign direct mail literature, which is one of those things hard to get covered in the national media, because it‘s not like putting up a Web site that gets promulgated. He sent out direct mail that almost looks like it came from the Huckabee campaign, talking about himself as a committed Christian, putting a big Christian cross right next to him on that direct mail. He may need to do that in some targeted areas particularly among Democrats who haven‘t been to college, particularly among conservative Democrats who are may likely to believe this untruth.
He may need to target them with campaign literature.
GREGORY: You raise an interesting point. And that is that biography matters. And as much as we think Barack Obama is a household name now there‘s lots of voters in Pennsylvania, Indiana and beyond who don‘t know the full picture of where he‘s from, who he is. He‘s got to sell his own biography just to clear up the question.
MADDOW: I think that‘s correct. Especially since his biography has been distorted by his political opponents left and right at this point. He is going to really need to introduce himself with a way that sticks with people and overrides some of these blatantly untrue things that his opponents have been able to get away with smearing him with.
GREGORY: All right. A lot more ahead. Coming up, John McCain gets a head start and rolls out the first TV ad in the general election. You‘re going to see it when we head “Inside the War Room.” That‘s coming up next. Plus Chelsea Clinton is taking sides. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHELSEA CLINTON, HEDGE FUND EMPLOYEE: Hopefully with Pennsylvania‘s help she will be our next president. And yes, I do think she‘ll be a better president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Than her dad by the way. That‘s what she was talking about. What do you think of Chelsea Clinton‘s comment? Call us. 212-790-2299 or e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org before the end of the program, THE RACE. We‘ll be right back.
GREGORY: Welcome back, we‘re peeling back the curtains, heading deep “Inside the War Room” to the campaigns and the race for the White House ‘08 strategy. What works, what doesn‘t.
Back with us, Rachel Maddow, Linda Douglass, Deborah Mathis and Tony Blankley. First up, John McCain unveils today the first TV ad of the general election, the spot which focuses on his military service in Vietnam will air in the battle ground state of New Mexico. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Keep that faith. Keep your courage. Stick together. Stay strong. Do not yield. Stand up. We‘re Americans and we‘ll never surrender.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your rank?
MCCAIN: Lieutenant commander in the Navy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And your officer number/
ANNOUNCER: John McCain, the American president Americans have been waiting for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Tony, what do you like about this ad?
BLANKLEY: Not much, actually. I understand that normally you start off with a bio ad. But he‘s been around for 30 years, the one thing everybody knows about him is his admirable military record. I think what he needs to be heard to be talking about is the economy and get on an issue that I think in November an awful lot of Americans are going to be voting on. It was a well made ad and dramatic and I liked it as a conservative war hawk but I‘m not sure it‘s the message most needed.
GREGORY: Rachel, one of the questions, it‘s sort of Reaganesque in my mind. The problem it is sort of Reaganesque, not necessarily cutting edge politics in 2008.
MADDOW: It‘s not necessarily cutting edge politics but there is that weird tag line at the end, that I think is going to get some attention. “The American president who Americans have been waiting for.” Almost like he‘s speaking to Americans who have been resentful of the Liberian presidents we‘ve had. I don‘t know why the extra American president is in there. It seems like something that might bear a little extra scrutiny and might turn up to have some weird motivations.
GREGORY: Looks like a play on some of Obama‘s lines as well.
Clinton thought they had Pennsylvania locked up. But Obama insiders say, not so fast, don‘t count him out just yet. Pennsylvania may become more of a battleground state than anticipated as he kicked off a six-day statewide tour, Obama picked up this key endorsement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CASEY, (D) PA: This campaign is a chance for America, a chance for America to chart a new course, to go down a different path, a path, first of all, of change, a path of a new kind of politics. A path—and finally, a path of hope and healing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Not only that, Obama spent more than $2 million flooding Pennsylvania‘s airwaves with campaign ads focusing on the economy. It looks like Obama is stepping it up in the Keystone State. The question is will it work or is it too late. Linda Douglass, what is the importance of that Casey endorsement today?
DOUGLASS: Casey is very popular there. He‘s a conservative Democrat. He‘s opposed to abortion rights. He supports gun owner‘s rights, which is a big issue in Pennsylvania. He‘s appealing certainly to the Catholic vote. And Catholics have been voting routinely against Barack Obama. Casey is a devout Catholic. That‘s a group very, very important in Pennsylvania. For all those reasons he gives Obama legitimacy with a group that‘s going to be very, very hard for him to turn in Pennsylvania.
GREGORY: But Deborah, is it a lost cause in Pennsylvania?
MATHIS: No, absolutely not. I listened to interviews in rural parts of the state where the people describe themselves as being quite conservative. And what they are interested in, they kept saying over and over, is, of course, the economy kind of first for them, the bread and butter issues. Then you hear about the war. And many of them would not side with either Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama on their positions on the war. But more than that, they kept talking about this whole thing about something new and something different and a whole different atmosphere. That‘s what I think that Senator Casey brought to this. It is the overarching theme, not so much the particulars as the whole idea of change that still makes a big difference.
GREGORY: This is also a ground game. It‘s a question of the actual numbers at the end of the day. Obama people are saying if they can lose by less than 10 points, maybe that‘s a victory. Let me go on finally, Bill Clinton on the trail again today. Think about everything he said this week, singing the praises of a certain presidential candidate. This time it was not his wife. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I think Senator McCain is an admirable question. After all, he‘s given about all you can give for this country without dying for it. And he is in Republican circumstances he qualifies as a moderate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: What‘s he up to, Rachel?
MADDOW: Yesterday he also praised John McCain for leadership on global warming. I think that this comes across really strange to a lot of Democratic voters. I think democrats are hungering for their candidate to turn against McCain instead of each other. Hillary Clinton has been very much on that Democratic unity line for the last couple of days. Bill is still out there praising McCain. Making it sound like Hillary is willing to be McCain‘s vice.
GREGORY: But Tony, is he poisoning the well for Republicans, is that what this is about?
BLANKLEY: No, I think he‘s trying to make a point in his subtle way that McCain is not a pushover and you need a really tough candidate. And he happens to know one and it happens to be his wife.
GREGORY: Right, that‘s smart. Coming up, John McCain really isn‘t just like President Bush when it comes to foreign policy. That‘s according to David brooks and the latest series on why Hillary Clinton‘s popularity is speeding fast down a slippery slope. Our takes coming up next.
GREGORY: Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Smart take time. We‘re in the papers, only—online, on the air, inside the blogs, looking for the smart thoughts you ought to be thinking about.
Here again, Rachel, Linda, Deborah and Tony. Our first smart take tonight, David Brooks from the “New York Times” points from three speeches from John McCain to shoot down what he considers Obama‘s false attack that John mcCain presidency means four more years of Bush‘s failed policies. To the quote board. “Unlike the Bush administration in its first few years he believes,” that‘s McCain, “global treaties can‘t be evaluated solely according to a narrow definition of the American interest. He signaled that the foreign policy debate of the coming months will be very different from the one of the past six years. Anybody who thinks McCain is merely continuing the Bush agenda is not paying attention.”
Is he speaking to you, Rachel?
I will admit and it‘s clearly true McCain‘s rhetoric on foreign policy and on wars in some ways it‘s fuzzier and softer than Bush‘s. And that‘s nice to here. But I think if you‘re really taking this seriously and taking a serious look at this, it‘s hard to describe McCain as smarter on foreign policy when he‘s confusing Iran and al Qaeda. It‘s hard to describe him as more internationalist when he is proposing that we build a new American-led alternative to the United Nations in his league of democracies and it‘s hard to describe him as less hawkish when he set his desires for the next war to a Beach Boys tune with bomb, bomb Iran.
GREGORY: Get in there, Tony.
BLANKLEY: There‘s a lot of exaggeration going on. David wrote a very shrewd column. But the truth is there‘s much more continuity from president to president. Not just Republican to Republican but Bush to Clinton. Clinton to Bush. Bush himself is not a unilateralist. He went to the UN against the advice of the vice president. I don‘t think you‘ll see nearly as much difference .
MADDOW: What did he do when the UN said no, though?
GREGORY: We‘re not debating how we got into the Iraq War, the question is about John McCain.
BLANKLEY: I‘m just saying there‘s a tendency to exaggerate differences.
MATHIS: I think that .
GREGORY: Go ahead, Deborah.
DOUGLASS: I was going to point out that it‘s the smartest thing that you can possibly say if you want John McCain to win that he is not George Bush. That is the single most important argument they have got to make on his behalf.
GREGORY: All right. Let me go to our second smart take from our own Eugene Robinson over at the “Washington Post.” He weighs in on why in our NBC/”Wall Street Journal” polling that Clinton‘s poll numbers suffered more than Obama‘s following the Reverend Wright controversy. Eugene says, quote, “The Clinton campaign couldn‘t care less about collateral damage it might inflict on the Democratic Party or on the front runner for the nomination. That was always Bill Clinton‘s political method. Do what you have to do, apologize later if necessary, but maybe what the people want this time is a real person rather than an image or a strategy.” Deborah?
MATHIS: I think there‘s something just kind of sympathetic about Barack Obama‘s style. He is not—he does not seem like an affront to you when you hear him talking. He‘s defensive, yes, as most people would be in those circumstances. But he also is self-effacing to some degree. He will admit some mistakes and some flaws and some problems that he‘s had. So I think that when someone kind of comes clean—I had a boss one time tell me, you know, I took ownership of a problem. He said, well, how can I possibly jump on you then? And so, had he jumped on me, you know, after I had already come clean on the thing, he would have looked bad to the rest of the staff. And I think this is kind of like that. It‘s piling onto someone who is already trying to come clean on it.
GREGORY: The question, though, is whether he really took ownership.
BLANKLEY: I don‘t think it‘s sincerity, versus lethality I think it‘s the effectiveness of the style. Bill Clinton could be sneaky but he comes across more agreeably than his wife does. Obama may be duplicitous sometimes but he comes across extraordinarily straightforward and sincere.
MATHIS: Yes, he does.
BLANKLEY: It‘s a performance skill.
GREGORY: Our third smart take tonight comes to us from “Time” magazine‘s Mark Halperin who answers the question, “If Obama has the nomination wrapped up, why is he going after Clinton so hard?”
Among the reasons Mark points to, the following, “They want Clinton to feel there is a cost for staying in the race. They want to remind superdelegates that Clinton would carry substantial baggage into the general election as the nominee, and they think contrary to the conventional wisdom, Clinton can still beat them. Rachel, what do you make of it?
MADDOW: You only keep fighting when there‘s something to fight for. I don‘t think you fight in this particular presidential campaign for the fun of it. I do think we‘ve seen Barack Obama pivot a little earlier targeting John McCain rather than Clinton as opposed to Hillary Clinton targeting John McCain. But I do think Halperin is probably right on this. There‘s no reason they should give it up. The strategy has been this is not decided, it‘s blurry as to what‘s going to happen. There‘s a lot of way to do this math. Why not believe them, if that‘s your opponent? Better to be safe than sorry.
GREGORY: We‘re going to get a break. I also think what‘s at work is a process fight and what‘s best for the party, Democrats above all else don‘t want to lose. Without a contest right now, April 22 is still a ways away. They are having a debate about what‘s best for the party when they don‘t have any results to point to.
MADDOW: Coming up, who passed up the biggest opportunity to control the week this week in the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? We‘re going to answer that question when we come back.
Plus one of you is a little worried about how Barack Obama will approach his first four years in office if he wins the presidency. It‘s MSNBC, the place for politics.
GREGORY: Back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. I‘m David Gregory. Welcome the end of week two for us on the air. A lot going on. So forgot the who, what, when, where, and how. We have three questions in the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE that really matter.
Still with us, MSNBC political analyst and host of “The Rachel Maddow show” on Air America, Rachel Maddow herself, “National Journal‘s” Linda Douglass, columnist for Black America Web, Deborah Mathis, and “the Washington Time‘s” Tony Blankley.
OK, we know it surely hasn‘t been Clinton‘s best week ever. But let‘s put Obama‘s gains into some true perspective here. Since Wednesday, he‘s managed to gain three super delegates to Clinton‘s zero. That‘s a far stretch away from say 20, 25 super delegates. Why didn‘t the flood gates open?
Was this the best he can do? If not, why hasn‘t he flooded the zone with super delegates? Is he being too cautious? Or is it that there simply aren‘t many super delegates left in his bag of tricks?
Question number one, did Obama miss an opportunity this week? Tony Blankley?
BLANKLEY: I don‘t think he missed it because I assume he didn‘t have that card to play. There‘s been rumors about the 50 that are ready to announce. Obviously, this would have been the week to do it. That was the theme of the Obama campaign. They had everybody they could find, Leahy,come out and say she should quit, which is silly. It‘s like having Coca-Cola hold a press conference to say Pepsi should stop delivering their soft drinks to 7-Eleven.
He played the hand. There just wasn‘t much in the hand.
GREGORY: Linda Douglass, is there anything else that he could have done at a time that, as you pointed out earlier, that Hillary Clinton was sputtering.
DOUGLAS: He‘s recovered from what was a pretty tough couple of weeks with the Reverend Wright scandal, with controversy is really the better word. It‘s really not a scandal. He certainly has recovered in polls, and was able to roll out a couple of big super delegates. I agree with Tony. I‘m not sure that he really missed an opportunity. I would suspect that if he had 25 super delegates sitting there waiting to endorse him to staunch the bleeding from the Reverend Wright thing would have been a good week to do that.
GREGORY: It is striking to me, Deborah, at the end of the week—today, you see the Obama campaign putting out a memo for the press‘ consumption, making the argument that all the Clintons know how to do is play hard, play hardball, be nasty in campaigning. That‘s what they like to do, making an argument, in some ways, not only to the press, but to those super delegates.
But he waited until the end of this two weeks, at a time when she had to go through Bosnia and other problems, to try to go in for the kill.
MATHIS: Yes. Well, he was in no position to before now, because of the whole right Wright controversy, to really go on that attack. It would look like a Wag the Dog scenario, where he was trying to change the subject for his own agrandisement. So I see why he waited until now to do this. I must agree with Tony and Linda as well that I don‘t think—I think if he had the super delegates to show off, he‘d show them off. They are still working that behind the scenes.
GREGORY: Rachel, you‘re up. Let‘s turn this around now, flip this over. Clinton had some decent chances to take a shot at Obama this past week. Her sharpest jab was when she brought up the issue of Reverend Wright. That accomplished far from a total knock out. Obama deflected much of the negative attention, went on to perform considerably well in the polls, namely the NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll.
The question number two is did Clinton miss an opportunity to really turn the tide. Think about it, the most difficult fortnight for Barack Obama that he had in the campaign. Rachel?
MADDOW: This was difficult. We know the Reverend Wright controversy was not reflected in a big hit in the polls for Barack Obama. It‘s hard to know what other—forigve the phrase—overt slime you could really throw at Obama. There isn‘t that much that is know about him that they have held back on, as far as I can tell. I do think you‘re starting to see some interesting splits again, between what you‘re hearing from Bill Clinton and what you‘re hearing from Hillary Clinton.
We talked about earlier with Clinton twice in two days, overtly praising John McCain. There‘s something happening there in the campaign, in terms of messaging. That doesn‘t happen twice in two days by accident when the person saying it is Bill Clinton. They may have something up their sleeve. I‘m not sure what it is yet.
BLANKLEY: I think Hillary did miss a bet in the last week. They misjudged. They didn‘t get into the Wright thing until a couple of days ago because they assumed that the media was going to carry it. The media got finished and exhausted with it. In retrospect, they should have got into that earlier personally, and punched away and kept that issue front and center longer than it was.
DOUGLASS: I would disagree with Tony completely on that and say that I think the opportunity that she missed this week was to take the high road completely on that issue. Her problem now is likability. Her problem is popularity with African-American voters. If you look at what John McCain said when Sean Hannity asked him about whether Obama should be criticized for what Reverend Wright said; McCain said look, I know Obama. I know he doesn‘t believe those things.
If Hillary Clinton had done something like that, I think she would have gotten points.
BLANKLEY: She‘s never going to win a personality contest. Her only hope is to bring Obama down by any way. Every day she misses a chance to bring him down is a day closer to her defeat.
MATHIS: May I say one way I think Hillary Clinton could have done herself a world of good this week would have been to have used one of those many opportunities where she has the press around her to come clean about Bosnia and to have not used the slip of the tongue or I misspoke. It‘s not as if she got it mixed up with another day where she was under fire.
MADDOW: I don‘t believe anybody believes that there‘s a big secret about Bosnia that she‘s trying to keep under the table. I don‘t think there‘s anything that she needs to come clean about, in the sense that she‘s got some secret that she‘s not telling about it. She got caught saying the wrong thing and I think has deflected as best she can.
MATHIS: No, she got caught for telling a lie.
MADDOW: She got caught out and then she apologized. What do you do? You come back and say, let‘s talk again about my lie. There‘s nowhere else to go with that. She said, I said the wrong thing. I misspoke. I was tired. And it‘s over. That‘s why the story died.
GREGORY: Let me get in here. What I think is interesting—Tony you brought this up. Essentially Barack Obama is in a position where he is dictating the rhythm of play and Hillary Clinton‘s best move, it appears to be, is to raise reasonable doubt. She‘s on the defense. She has to raise doubt about him, because he is in command if you look at the leader board.
Let‘s go to question number three: in many senses John McCain has had it easy the past couple of weeks. He‘s gotten to sit back, raise some dough, get his campaign in order while Democrats fight it out. He‘s been all over the world, talking about foreign policy, talking about the economy. In the match up, in the head to head, there is still pretty much a dead heat.
Our latest MSNBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows Obama edging him out by a couple of points. On the flip side, Clinton trails McCain by just a couple of points, all within the margin of error. Shouldn‘t we have expected more of him as he goes it along? Number three, where is the front-runner bounce for McCain, Tony?
BLANKLEY: Well, I mean, look, in the generic ballot the Democrat beats the Republican by 15 points. The fact that he‘s even shows he‘s doing about as well as a Republican can this season. But if there‘s something for him to do, I‘ll repeat my simple minded concept, he needs to talk about the economy with the same passion that the Democrats talk about the economy. And the sooner he starts doing that , the sooner he‘s going to start building up some points.
He‘s not going to lose this because of his position, because people don‘t think he‘s tough on the war. He‘s going to lose it, if he does, probably, because he‘s failed to address the economic concerns of the American people.
GREGORY: Part of the problem, Linda, is that he‘s in the middle of making a lot of important points, important speeches, but he‘s not being heard.
DOUGLASS: Tony is absolutely right about that generic ballot.
Everything on paper looks like it should go for the Democrats this year. People are identifying themselves as Democrats, turnout for the Democratic candidates has been enormous, where it‘s been anemic turnout for Republicans. In every possible way it should be working for the Democrats.
Tony is right that McCain is doing OK. I would make another point. I‘m not convinced the public knows John McCain that well yet. He‘s been around a while. He‘s been a senator. He‘s been seen on Sunday shows. He has some work to do before he‘s got an identity. He‘s kind of a surprise nominee. It wasn‘t totally clear that he was going to be the Republican nominee. I would imagine that it‘s reflective a little bit of the fact that the public is still getting to know exactly who he is and what he stands for, other than the war.
GREGORY: Rachel, go ahead.
MADDOW: I would just say that I feel like I‘ve learned a lot about John McCain in the past six months. I felt like I knew him before this campaign started. The opportunity cost for the Democrats, in terms of how long their nominating race is going on, whether or not they participate in the defining of John McCain for the American people. If John McCain gets to define himself, we‘ve seen what his first ad looks like. It‘s a hawkish war veteran who has been in Washington a long time and has a lot of experience.
If the Democrats get to define him, he‘s the senator from the Keating Five and he‘s going to be the senator from Airbus and he‘s going to be the senator who has been involved in all of those other lobbyist entanglements, and doesn‘t know much about the economy. Those are two very different portrayals. The Democrats want to make sure they are part of the initial definition of John McCain this season. So far, they aren‘t really doing it.
GREGORY: All right. Coming up, Deborah is reading Hillary Clinton‘s tarot cards and has some bad news. It‘s not too late to play with the panel. Call us, 212-790-2290, or e-mail us, RACE09@MSNBC.com. RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE coming right back.
GREGORY: Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. As Barack Obama says, we are the interactive cable program that we have been waiting for, and it‘s time where you get to play with the panel. Still with us, Rachel Maddow, Linda Douglas—he actually said that.
MADDOW: A little bit of a stretch, David, a little bit.
BLANKLEY: Yes we can.
GREGORY: First up, Chelsea Clinton was asked today if she thought her mother would be a better president than her father. This is what she said?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHELSEA CLINTON, FORMER FIRST DAUGHTER: Hopefully with Pennsylvania‘s help she will be our next president. And yes, I do think she‘ll be a better president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: All right. Bill in Kansas reacts. Go to the quote board, “Chelsea Clinton may be right about her mother being a better president than her father. She‘s Smarter. She‘s more driven. She‘s tenacious. The most important thing she lacks is Bill‘s charm and ability to connect with people. Even when he got caught in a lie he was charming.”
Rachel, kind of interesting for her to even weigh in about this, as she was asked directly about it.
MADDOW: She‘s been making a lot of headlines this week with these comments, not only sniping back at a student who asked her about Monica Lewinsky, but also weighing in and saying, yes, my mom would be better than my dad. I‘m glad that Easter is over. Otherwise, Easter dinner might be a little awkward at the Clinton‘s this time around. I actually think the emailer‘s point there is pretty well taken.
I think that‘s exactly the way a lot of Clinton fans even think about the differences between Hillary and Bill.
GREGORY: Go ahead, Tony, first.
BLANKLEY: I think Chelsea is being pretty practical in her judgment. I think Bill Clinton has got about 15 IQ points on Hillary. I think the chance she would be a better president than Bill is pretty slight.
MADDOW: With does the 15 IQ points come from?
BLANKLEY: Bill Clinton‘s a brilliant man. I disagree with him on everything. But he was—
MADDOW: Hillary Clinton is.
BLANKLEY: She‘s smart, he‘s brilliant.
MATHIS: I‘ve covered them since 1976. I know them pretty well. I can tell you that Bill Clinton loves Chelsea‘s answer. He thinks that‘s probably adorable and is applauding her for that. The other thing is that Chelsea is right in this way. Bill Clinton has always been the better politician, as he was compared to almost anyone. But Hillary Clinton has always been the better public servant. She actually follows the proposal, the idea to fruition. She baby-sits it. She cares about it. She doesn‘t just do the pitch and walk away and just put her name on whatever you come up with.
So in that way, I think Chelsea is absolutely right. Now, nobody can give her a charm shot. She just doesn‘t have that like Bill Clinton does.
GREGORY: It is interesting—
DOUGLASS: I also wonder, though, if there wasn‘t a message there for many people who remember that the Clinton administration, as good as the economy was, was also a very messy one. It left many people with a bad feeling after Bill Clinton left. Democrats have loved Bill Clinton, but they felt very bad about how he handled his personal behavior. One has to wonder if that wasn‘t a subtle message that you absolutely won‘t have to worry about any messes like that with my mother.
GREGORY: Randy James in Missouri is worried about the consequences of the nominee selected by the super delegates. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Hillary succeeds in essentially gaining the nomination through the super delegates, wouldn‘t McCain be able to use that against her in the general election, by saying that she wasn‘t elected by the people? In other words, she isn‘t rightfully the nominee, that she stole the election?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: This is the debate. I think Randy hits it, Rachel. It‘s Barack Obama and his supporters that would raise it against her first. Don‘t you think all this talk about a super delegate mini conference vote is going to clear this up. They are going to wait for some voting to be finished and then sort of mandate the results. Not rubber stamp but ratify those results.
MADDOW: Couple of quick points. I don‘t think the Republicans care if the Democrats beam their nominee up from Mars and I don‘t think Democrats care that about about Republicans when it gets to the general election. I don‘t think the mechanics of the primary process are a compelling thing to the voters in the general.
On the issue of the super delegates, the super delegates are going to decide who the Democratic nominee is. That is a given. That is one thing we mathematically know. Neither candidate can get there with the primaries and caucuses anymore. The only question for the Democrats is whether or not the super delegates make their decision in Denver at the end of August, two months before the general, or whether they make i ton July 1st, as Howard Dean suggested today, or some other time like May 6th, which is what Chris Dodd suggested, some other time that gives the Democratic candidate more of a chance to run a general election campaign against McCain.
BLANKLEY: If the super delegates pick Hillary, it will be because there‘s a consensus that they believe that he can‘t get it. Otherwise, he‘s going to get it.
MADDOW: Won‘t that be true if they pick Obama?
BLANKLEY: Obama has the process in his favor. She‘s got to reverse it. It‘s only going to be reversed if the consensus of the leadership of the Democratic party is he can‘t win, if the judge the race has become too much of an issue.
GREGORY: Let me move on. Next up, Lolita asked if Obama can lead from day one. Let‘s go to the quote board and see what she says; “what do you think, will Obama use the first four years as commander in chief as an on-the-job training session when the United States needs the most brilliant seasoned mind at this time in the history of the U.S.?” Deborah, this is the argument from the Clinton team. Deborah, react to that e-mail?
MATHIS: I‘m sorry. I just can‘t agree with her concern over that, because we know that the presidency is the most powerful position in the world, certainly in this country at least. But it‘s not a lone position. You aren‘t there by yourself. And if you are—if you have the intelligence that Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or John McCain, for that matter, have, you know to surround yourself with the best and the brightest, as David Halbestram called them.
When Kennedy was sitting there as the missiles were being amassed in Cuba, he didn‘t go into a little room by himself and make decisions alone. He had the counsel of the best and brightest in the country and then made his decision on his studied judgment.
GREGORY: Moving on, Tom in Texas thinks the race has become a popularity contest and asks this: “has the election become more “American Idol” than American president.” Tony, there is a real aspect of personality over policy about this race.
BLANKLEY: There always is a big aspect. Usually the taller candidate wins also. Look, people do not make a lot of policy decisions. They judge whether they like a candidate, then policies are a part of it. But there‘s nothing new about personality being a big factor, although sometimes someone like Nixon won twice with a lousy personality, because people did think he was smarter and more able.
There is room for a lousy personality to win, so Hillary has a chance.
GREGORY: I‘ve got to get to a break here. I‘m sorry. You can play with the panel every week night right here on MSNBC. E-mail us, RACE08@MSNBC COME, call us, 212-790-2299.
Coming up next, the panel‘s prediction. Tony is getting strong readings from his crystal ball on McCain and Romney. Don‘t go away.
GREGORY: Prediction time. Tony, what do you see in the crystal ball?
BLANKLEY: My prediction is that although Romney wants the vice-presidential nomination, he‘s not going to get it. McCain is too smart to pick someone that didn‘t appeal to that many Republicans in the primary. No cigar.
GREGORY: Let me ask you this, he could play well for McCain in the west. where Democrats could be strong, the Rocky Mountain west.
BLANKLEY: His main trouble, and it‘s unfair, but he‘s a Mormon. A good percentage of the base Evangelical Christians won‘t vote for a more Mormon. That‘s why I think he didn‘t win in the first round and won‘t get the second round.
GREGORY: The other problem, too, is that, by all accounts, McCain loathes him.
BLANKLEY: You know the history of presidents loathing their vice presidents. It goes back a long time.
GREGORY: Deborah, what do you see tonight?
MATHIS: My prediction, Dave, is that Clinton‘s super delegate strong arming will backfire. Although we saw with Governor Bill Richardson just this past weekend, some of the backlash—he‘s been portrayed as a Judas and as a traitor, all these things because he exercised what is his free will to do.
Now, a lot of other people are watching this. There was a letter that was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from some of Hillary Clinton‘s strongest and most able-pocketed supporters, who kind of said, threateningly, hey, chick, back off this thing about the super delegates voting the way they want to vote. I think that even those who are most sophisticated about this process, who fully understand that that‘s the game, even they cannot transcend their humanity.
No human being likes to be bullied or bribed or otherwise manhandled about something they have as their right to do.
GREGORY: It also comes down to a simple political calculation that a lot of these elected officials are going to want to respond to how their districts or state voted.
MATHIS: Well, some will. Some will take that route. Others are going to say, I‘m voting my conscious. I‘m voting as a representative, as the person that my constituents sent here to exercise my better judgment, that kind of thing. Others will vote based on what‘s in it for them.
GREGORY: Linda, what do you see tonight?
DOUGLASS: My prediction is McCain has a freebie week coming up. This is a week when McCain is going to be going around the country telling his life story, the story of all of his—the developments of what ultimately became the life that led to heroism in Vietnam. McCain went to Iraq. The Democrats attacked him. He talked about the economy. The Democrats attacked him.
The one thing they are leery of is his heroism. They may be a week when he doesn‘t give them much to attack, so they might have to wind up attacking each other again.
GREGORY: Rachel, prediction tonight.
MADDOW: He may not get a freebie week if McCain, as I expect and I predict, starts to get some flack for ending his first general election campaign ad by saying the American president Americans have been waiting for. I think he may get some flack for implying that his opponents are less than American. We‘ll have to see.
GREGORY: Thanks to a great panel. I‘m David Gregory. That‘s the race for this week. Thanks being for here. If they are running, we‘re on their trail. We‘ll be back here Monday at 6:00 Eastern. Until then, have a peaceful Friday night and weekend. “HARDBALL” coming up right now.
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