In a spirited debate among colleagues on today’s “Meet the Press,” each of the seasoned participants jockeyed amiably for the most eyebrow-raising assessment of this messy campaign season.
Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee set the bar high, showing both humility and humor to make a number of headline-worthy proclamations. He expressed strong regret and apologized twice for his remarks this past week at an NRA conference when he joked about someone taking a shot at presumed Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama. “It was dumb, off the cuff… and I shouldn’t have said it,” he said crisply, clearly trying to put an end to the media chatter it created.
Huckabee demurred each time host Tim Russert’s teasingly referred to him as Vice President Huckabee, a nod to the weight the populist governor could conceivably bring to the McCain ticket in the fall.
But he also had some substantive comments on the state of the Republican party and its perceived “brand,” which he characterized as in deep trouble and damaged. “The silver lining,” he added, “is that John McCain is not the traditional establishment Republican. Thank goodness he is going to carry our banner this fall.”
The Democratic party panelists had a chorus of data to contradict the image of McCain as an independent thinker. Harold Ford, Jr., the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, noted that McCain had a congressional record that matched the Bush agenda 95% of the time.
Democratic consultant Bob Shrum called McCain “Bush 3” and predicted an embarrassing end to the Republican woes, because McCain’s policies on major issues like the economy, healthcare and the Iraq war were too similar to the current administration: “There is a range of issues where the country is deeply dissatisfied and if McCain continues down this road he will lose [the fall election] by historic proportions.”
Shrum also fought hard to reclaim religious values as a Republican birthright. “We ought to get rid of this wall built by [Former Bush campaign architect] Karl Rove brick by brick: that if you believe in God, you’re a Republican. God has not enrolled with any party.”
Huckabee added, “I’m delighted to see Obama talking about faith…I welcome it.” He added, however, that John McCain’s military and political experience made him the better candidate for what he called a country in crisis.
Ford disputed that McCain’s experience trumped Obama’s nuanced take on foreign policy. “I will concede and admit gladly that John McCain is a great patriot and warrior,” he said, “but I will not concede that Barack Obama can’t be trusted to be tough, to be smart, and to lead this country down a safer and better past in the Middle East.”
Republican strategist Mike Murphy also heaped praise on the other side, calling himself an Obama fan, and saying, “I think he’s an honest guy and I like his reform instincts.” But, he added that Obama’s strengths as an “exceptional” primary candidate would not necessarily serve him as well in the fall, and that the Republicans had a glaring Achilles' heel to exploit, saying, "Barack Obama’s great weakness is his naivete on foreign policy.”
The panelists also waded into the muddy waters of Obama’s running mate options. Everyone agreed that not only would it be unwise for Obama to taint his message of change by putting Senator Clinton on the ticket, but also it would make him appear weak and almost certainly lead to defeat. “John McCain may pick her, but I’d be surprised if Obama does,” Murphy joked. At the suggestion that Hilary and Bill Clinton had the political clout to force her way onto the ticket if they so desired, Shrum stated simply, “That ticket would lose.” Among the potential candidates suggested by the panel included General Colin Powell, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. Chris Dodd, and General Wesley Clark. And Huckabee made his own personal dream ticket for Obama known: “Id like whomever would help the Democrats implode most.”
The show began with Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), an undeclared superdelegate (and potential vice presidential running mate) who claimed both Obama and Hilary Clinton “could both be very fine presidents,” and even though Obama carried his state by 29 points, would not endorse the frontrunner. Instead, he discussed at length the fallout of President Bush’s speech to the Israeli Knesset this week when he evoked World War II missteps and called current calls for dialogue with rogue nations “the false comfort of appeasement.”
Webb claimed that the more apt historical reference would be China in the 1970’s, which was an isolated nation engaging in hostile rhetoric with the international community, and armed with nuclear weapons. “[America was able to successfully pursue] aggressive diplomacy and at same time keep all other options on table and maintained other alliances.” These efforts, he claimed, made it possible to bring China into the world community to its long-term benefit.
Pressed by Russert to explain how Obama could make his case for withdrawal from Iraq in 16 months without appearing weak, Webb insisted that there was no downside for the argument, because stability in the region was ultimately impossible with a large number of US troops in Iraq. “We need leadership that knows how to aggressively pursue robust diplomacy,” he said, “And there’s no downside for the democrats to say that.”