Guests: Richard Wolffe, Jay Carney, Tony Blankley, Rachel Maddow
DAVID GREGORY, HOST: Tonight, the “Face-Off.” Obama around the world. Is the media overplaying a trip that the McCain campaign calls pure politics, not serious policy?
The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.
Welcome to THE RACE. I‘m David Gregory. Happy to have you here, your stop for the fast-paced, the bottom line and every point of view in the room.
Tonight, Al Gore wants Obama and McCain to go way green, a moon shot on the environment.
In our “Face-Off” tonight, two of our panelists lock horns over whether Obama is getting a free ride in the press.
And who‘s on the bench? The Dem heavyweights line up behind Obama, versus the GOP. From the president on down, does Obama stand to gain more?
Also tonight, Tony Snow on the day of his funeral in his own words. My interview with him last summer about fighting cancer and loving his family.
The bedrock for this program, as you know, a panel that always comes to play.
And with us tonight, Jay Carney, Washington bureau chief for “TIME” magazine; Richard Wolffe, “Newsweek” senior White House correspondent who now covers Barack Obama full time. Richard‘s also an MSNBC political analyst. Tony Blankley is here, syndicated columnist. And Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, an MSNBC political analyst, and featured today in “The New York Times.”
We begin as we do every night with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day. It‘s “The headline.”
I‘ll get us started here tonight. My headline, “The Audacity of Gore.”
Al Gore raises the stakes for the presidential candidates on energy reform, with high hopes for another giant leap for mankind, setting an audacious challenge for the nation and the candidates. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE (D), FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.
This goal is achievable, affordable, and transformative. It represents a challenge to all Americans in every walk of life, to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, and to every citizen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Gore invoked JFK‘s “Small step for man” in meeting the challenge of space exploration in the ‘60s, comparing it to the new goal of shrinking our national carbon footprint.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORE: I watched as Neil Armstrong took one small step to the surface of the moon and changed the history of the human race. We must now lift our nation to reach another goal that will change history. It‘s time for us to move beyond empty rhetoric. We need to act now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: It‘s got me thinking today, why did he do this now? What‘s the aim beyond the policy? Question of timing here for Gore. Also a question, will the next president meet the challenge, and will he tap Al Gore to be the green government czar to make it happen?
Richard Wolffe, you‘re looking at tonight‘s Obama preview, his fund-raising haul for June as he‘s getting ready to travel around the world.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That‘s right, David. My headline is, “It‘s Not the Money, it‘s the Mania.”
Obama raised $52 million in June, his second best fund-raising month of the entire campaign, a huge amount of money. Fifty million dollars of which to be spent before the convention.
But even more important than the dollars and cents, is the enthusiasm it represents. So to all those pundits and reporters who said the money machine was dying or people were disillusioned with him, take a note here. This guy has got a lot of life left in him.
And like I said, more than the money, more than how much they raised, it‘s how they raised it. It‘s the small donors who are the bedrock of this campaign. They are still with him.
GREGORY: And a couple of factors here. If he keeps up at this pace, he could have $250 million to really spend down the final stretch. But even though he‘s bringing in this big haul, there‘s still basically parity between him and McCain when you factor in the parties and what they‘re raising.
WOLFFE: There is. And you get to a point here where these two sides are in a zero sum game. They can cancel each other out.
Of course, if you have an ambitious 50-state strategy, then you really need to raise this kind of money. But like I said, what underlies it is the grassroots people, the volunteers, the donors who have pushed him this far.
GREGORY: All right.
Tony, you‘re thinking about the overseas trip for Obama. A lot on the line here. Your headline?
TONY BLANKLEY, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes, my headline, “Obama Says, I‘m Ready for My Close-up, Mr. DeMille.”
Next week, his trip to Europe and beyond is going to be an unprecedented opportunity for him to get wall-to-wall coverage around the world and in the United States, and virtually blank out McCain‘s ability to communicate for a long week to 10 days. It‘s a stunning opportunity for the senator.
GREGORY: And also some peril as well potentially?
BLANKLEY: A little bit. I like the odds for him.
GREGORY: Jay Carney, right out of the pages of the new “TIME” magazine is your piece about this dynamic relationship between John McCain and President Bush. Your headline?
JAY CARNEY, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “TIME”: David, my headline today is, “For Better and for Worse.”
No Republican has clashed more conspicuously or more often with George W. Bush than John McCain. And yet, John McCain cannot escape Bush‘s shadow.
His ties to the unpopular president are like leg weights in his race against Barack Obama. And the irony? If McCain loses in November, it won‘t be because of Obama. It will be because George Bush has beaten him again.
Imagine how bitter you might be if you‘re John McCain, given your tortured relationship with the president over the years and the decision you made in 2004 to support him, make up with him, and help him—have him help you get back in the good graces of the Republican Party, when now the president is so unpopular that any Republican, but especially McCain, is going to have a hard time to win.
GREGORY: Jay, what‘s the subhead on this? Do they have some kind of personal relationship that can help them strategically map out his—what he hopes is a road to victory, McCain?
CARNEY: No. I think he‘s stuck here.
There is no friendship here. There is a grudging admiration on both sides for the toughness that each has brought and the help that each has given to the other at different times, but there‘s not a personal relationship.
Bush, the White House, Bush‘s White House, initially supported Bill Frist when they thought Bill Frist was going to run. George Allen was a favorite. And then when the field gelled, Bush himself internally was predicting that Mitt Romney would become the nominee. So McCain was not a favorite of the White House even though a lot of Bush people went to work for McCain.
GREGORY: All right.
Rachel, you‘re thinking about Obama and how he‘s looking at the electoral map right now. What‘s your headline tonight?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: David, that‘s right. My headline tonight is “50 States for Real.”
I had an interview with Howard Dean today on my radio show to talk about the DNC‘s voter registration drive this summer. That drive started in Texas and then heads to Louisiana and then Mississippi.
With the DNC still lagging behind the Republican Party in fund-raising, you might wonder whether they‘re going to get any bang for their buck in deep red states like Texas. But Dean argued to me that, even if Obama has no chance of winning at the top of the ticket in, say, Texas, DNC spending there could elect plenty of down-ticket Democrats. With Obama opening 20 offices in Virginia, McCain actually feeling the need to campaign last night in redder-than-red Nebraska, it looks like this 50-state strategy thing from them really might be for real.
GREGORY: Yes, I‘m interested in the voter registration. When—maybe Dean talked about this. When do they actually think they‘re going to be able to measure some of those results to get them into a—into the campaign in a real way as an issue, where they say, look, we‘ve got an advantage in certain states where they‘re putting up certain numbers?
MADDOW: Well, they think that they can build on the big increase in voter registration that did really happen during the extended Democratic primary campaign. They think that that gave them a good foothold, that the campaign work that was done by all the various candidates, particularly Clinton and Obama, gave them a good organizational place to start. And they think just by showing up they will collect new Democratic voters.
GREGORY: All right. We‘re going to take a break here. A lot more ahead as we go inside the “War Room” next.
All the talk about John McCain actually having more money than Barack. The fund-raiser, Obama, it seems the two are now about even after Obama brought in twice as much money as McCain in June.
And the fight ahead over Obama‘s trip overseas.
RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE comes right back.
GREGORY: Back on RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE now. I‘m David Gregory.
Time to go inside the war room strategy and tactics, decide for ourselves what‘s working and what isn‘t.
Back with us tonight, Jay Carney, Richard Wolffe, Tony Blankley and Rachel Maddow.
First up, the McCain campaign releases a new seven-minute video hitting Obama with what appears to be a series of reversals on Iraq and national security. It‘s called “The Obama Iraq Documentary: Whatever the Politics Demand.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORE: I watched as Neil Armstrong took one small step to the surface of the moon and changed the history of the human race.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Obviously, that‘s Al Gore. He‘s not attacking Obama. We‘re waiting for McCain.
Do we have that sound or no? Should we move on?
The video reflects a new tactic from the McCain campaign, accusing Obama for playing politics on Iran and Afghanistan. Today on MSNBC, McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker Obama‘s trip abroad is all political theater. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. Thank you.
JILL HAZELBAKER, MCCAIN SPOKESWOMAN: This trip is a political trip for him. It‘s one giant photo opportunity. It is not designed to inform his world view.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: Just a short time ago in Michigan, McCain was asked if he agreed with his spokeswoman. He told reporters this: “I‘ll let other people judge that. What I‘m saying is that how can someone go before the American people and ask to be their commander in chief if you‘ve never been to the place where, his words, the major conflict exists? That is remarkable. Absolutely remarkable.”
The Obama campaign, meanwhile, issued this statement: “It‘s clear that
the McCain campaign is getting nervous about being on the wrong side of the
Iraq debate. First, John McCain wanted Barack Obama to travel with him to
Iraq and the campaign used the occasion to raise campaign cash. Now his
campaign is calling Senator Obama‘s trip a ‘campaign rally overseas.‘”
“The McCain campaign should stop worrying about Barack Obama‘s travel plans and start focusing on addressing the pressing challenges that the Bush/McCain foreign policy has made worse.”
Rachel, you knew that McCain was going to set up a line of attack with Obama getting ready to go overseas. How does it play?
MADDOW: Well, I think that it is true that he attacked Barack Obama for not planning to make this trip, and now he‘s attacked Barack Obama for making this trip. So there‘s not much that Obama can do to avoid the criticism. It‘s not that surprising.
I do think that it is essentially a photo-op. I do think once you are the nominee for president of the United States when you travel abroad, everything‘s a photo-op. And it‘s not going to be that he‘s out there, you know, doing research in the field in order to inform his policies from the ground up.
This is what candidate trips are like. It‘s frankly what senator trips are like, too. I‘m not sure there‘s grounds to attack him there that McCain‘s experience has been any different.
GREGORY: Yes, but the difference, Tony—take that on. The difference is that McCain has been traveling there for a period of years since the conflict has been going on without all of the attention. He got a lot of attention the last time he went, when he was profiled on “60 Minutes” for it, but he‘s been over there on these trips with other lawmakers talking to soldiers, talking to the leadership over there, talking to Petraeus and other leaders before him about reality on the ground, whereas here‘s Obama, he has made up his mind about the course he wants to pursue.
What‘s he going over there to learn?
BLITZER: Well, yes, I mean, after all, he gave his speech this week on his position before or during the alleged fact-finding in Iraq. I do think it‘s a fair charge that it‘s largely a photo-op. If he was serious in going and learning about Iraq and Afghanistan, he‘d go there for four or five days, not to Paris, Berlin, and the rest, with a quick apparently drop-off there.
BLITZER: You know, I think McCain‘s not going to make a lot of points on that charge. I mean, it‘s useful to get it out there. Obama‘s going to have a tremendous event, and you would expect the opposition to criticize it as a photo-op.
GREGORY: All right.
Richard, go—what‘s your reporting tell you about? Two things.
One is, how sensitive are they to this charge that he‘s refining policy about a withdrawal plan from Iraq? Do they think they‘re losing any points on that, first off?
Second, what does he want to do over there and come away with?
WOLFFE: Well, first off, they were concerned about the whole refining issue, and, in fact, his stage-setting speech this weekend at the Woodrow Wilson Center was precisely to sort of take a step back, say this is where my policy is, and move away from some of the tactical skirmishes that actually the McCain campaign, if you talk to Obama folks privately, they‘ll say the McCain campaign does pretty well.
What Obama needs to do with this trip and with these speeches that we‘ve seen this week is try and say, OK, well, who got the war right? What is the overarching national security strategy and priorities for America? How do we need to change course?
So, he‘s trying to take a step back, take a bigger picture here. And in terms of what he has to do politically over there, yes, it‘s a photo-op, but he‘s also proving that he can hold his own on the international stage. You know, reaching over that bar of being commander in chief.
That‘s an important thing. And if you look in the polls, where McCain does better than him.
GREGORY: All right.
Next up, Obama studying the script for his world stage debut next week. He‘s expected to stick closely to campaign talking points to avoid a potential gaffe that, as we say, could be heard around the world.
The big challenge is meeting with General Petraeus. “U.S. News & World Report” writes this: “What Obama advisers want to avoid is a situation where Petraeus undermines the presumptive Democratic candidate‘s stated policy—such as by saying a phased withdrawal would jeopardize the hard-won gains of U.S. troops, ignore their sacrifices and put the future of Iraq at risk. That would reverberate around the country in a negative way, says one Democratic insider.”
How big of a risk is there of that, Jay Carney?
CARNEY: Well, David, I think there is a big risk. I think politically, ass Tony and others have pointed out, Barack Obama has a strong advantage going into this trip. If he executes well, it‘s likely to be a boon and may help him clear that threshold in the eyes of voters that he could be a plausible commander in chief.
But at a substance level, I think Obama is—by (INAUDIBLE) so closely to his original 16-month plan, which is fairly arbitrary, to withdraw combat troops, is beginning to look a little shallow at a policy level. And because General Petraeus, whether you support the Iraq war or not, is widely and highly regarded in a positive sense, that Petraeus has a potential here to really poke a hole in Obama‘s sort of rigidity in his intellectual argument here.
CARNEY: I mean, it‘s foolish. If you want to be president of the United States—and he‘s obviously an incredibly smart man, but with not that much foreign policy experience—it just doesn‘t make a lot of sense to say, this is my policy, and it‘s not changing no matter what happens on the ground.
And I think that he probably could get away with revising that. And I think that they overreacted to the complaints on the left about his suggestion that the facts on the ground might influence the decisions he made as president.
Let‘s talk about campaign cash. Moving on, Obama closes the gap in the money race.
The campaign announced today a June fund-raising total of a $52 million, more than twice the amount that McCain raised in June. And combined with DNC dollars, Team Obama banks a grand total of $92 million, evening the score with McCain and the RNC‘s fund-raising total of about $100 million.
Tony Blankley, you look at those numbers, every cycle it gets more and more staggering. What does it mean? Try to put it into some perspective, what those dollars and cents mean in terms of how the campaign unfurls here as we go forward.
BLITZER: Well, at a certain point, if either candidate has enough money to advertise in a state that needs to advertise, the extra money isn‘t necessarily a strategically decisive element. If Obama is able to continue to raise $50 million to $70 million a month for the last four months, and he has a two-to-one spending advantage, it allows him to, at least at a media level, attempt to be competitive in states beyond his natural states, like Virginia or Colorado, the other states where he‘s reaching out to.
BLITZER: This is a tremendous potential advantage for Obama, to be able to—there‘s a winnowing process that every campaign goes through. You start trying for 50 states, and you start reducing it as the months pass by, until in the last week you‘re desperately deciding which counties to go to. Obama is going to be able to do the winnowing much later because he‘s going to have a lot more money.
And I talked to a Democratic ad man who says, look, he‘s got two tracks here with all this kind of money. He can attack McCain in the swing states, he can keep those biographical ads going in other states as well, blanket the country with those. It‘s quite an arsenal.
All right. We‘re going to take a break here, come back with “Smart Takes.”
Barack Obama is the anti-Bush, which means he‘s calling for troop withdrawal out of Iraq. How does that sit with Iraqis worried about the return of chaos to their country?
“Smart Takes” coming up after the break.
GREGORY: Back now on THE RACE, bringing you “Smart Takes,” the most provocative, thoughtful, sharpest thinking out there on the ‘08 race.
And here again, Jay, Richard, Tony and Rachel.
The first “Smart Take” tonight from “The New York Times.” It looks at the mixed feelings many Iraqis have about Obama and his upcoming trip, the security surge, and the proposed timeline for a U.S. troop withdrawal.
To the quote board.
“There was, as Mr. Obama prepared to visit here, excitement over a man who is the anti-Bush in almost every way. A Democrat who opposed the war that many Iraqis feel devastated their nation. But his support for troop withdrawal cuts both ways, reflecting a deep, internal quandary in Iraq. For many middle class Iraqis, affection for Mr. Obama is tempered by worry that his proposal could lead to chaos in a nation already devastated by war.”
It didn‘t take many sentences, as the piece pointed out, Richard.
That really is the rub here for Obama on the eve of his first visit.
WOLFFE: Yes, for anyone who thinks this is only going to be good press for Obama, take a look at this piece. You could have the same piece coming out of Britain when it comes to trade, Obama‘s position on trade.
In Germany, they‘re not very hot about Afghanistan and the whole NATO operation there. So he can face some heat for his policy there. And that‘s without Merkel in Germany or Sarkozy in France making mischief because, after all, they are friends of President Bush. So, there are potentials here for bad stories to come out of this.
BLITZER: David, let me make a cynical observation. Of course there‘s going to be divided opinion in all the countries that Obama is going to visit. The question is, what is American network television going to report?
BLITZER: I don‘t believe we‘re going to see Iraqis on national television here criticizing Obama. I don‘t think we‘re going to see that kind of thing. I think that we‘re going to get very favorable coverage for Obama.
GREGORY: All right. We‘re going to move on to “Smart Takes” tonight. Hugh Hewitt on the blog townhall.com, looking at veepstakes, and looking at the advantages of Mitt Romney and what he could bring as McCain‘s VP.
To the quote board.
“Romney‘s ‘Ms‘,” as he says, “the message on the economy, his and his supporters money, the Mormons, and the enthusiasm they would bring to the campaign, especially in Mormon-heavy states like Colorado and Nevada, and, of course, Romney‘s ties to his home state Michigan, make the case for choosing Romney very strong. An early selection would give the campaign a huge lift throughout the summer, one that could keep the already lower-than-expected Obama lead in the single digits.”
Rachel, take it on.
MADDOW: I think that—I think Hugh is making probably the strongest case that can be made for Romney, but I think there‘s three reasons why Romney is probably a bad choice. Number one, McCain doesn‘t seem to like him very much.
GREGORY: Right. There‘s that.
MADDOW: Number two, he does—by picking McCain—if McCain picked him, it would be sort of I think reinforcing the suspicion that McCain feels insecure about his expertise on the economy. And I also think that Mitt Romney has not been a very good surrogate for John McCain.
Just in the past few days, Mitt Romney embarrassed himself by saying that John McCain was in favor of drilling in ANWR, which John McCain is not. So, I‘m not sure that he‘s performed all that well, and I think he does offer some risks.
GREGORY: How do you see it, Jay?
CARNEY: Well, I think that it‘s been fascinating to see Mitt Romney‘s stock rise. When the primary ended, nobody would have expected that McCain would even consider Romney, so deep was the enmity between the two men.
And Romney‘s stock is rising in part because the stock of other potential candidates isn‘t that high. And the Republican bench is simply not that deep in this cycle.
CARNEY: There‘s not that—there aren‘t that many candidates, quality candidates, for McCain to choose from. I think the chances that he chooses Romney are much higher than I would have expected.
GREGORY: All right. We‘re going to take a break here. Coming back with the back half of the program, “Face-Off.” Is Obama getting a free ride in the media on the eve of his trip?
Don‘t go away.
GREGORY: Welcome back to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. I‘m David Gregory. This is the back half. Coming up, we‘re going to look at the bench strength on each side of the race, Republicans and Democrats. Who‘s favored more? Later on, remembering Tony Snow on the day of his funeral.
But we begin here in the back half with the face-off, Obama, McCain, and the media. Today‘s “New York Times” looks at the extraordinary media coverage planned for Obama‘s trip abroad. All three network news anchors, including our own Brian Williams, will interview Obama on location overseas. And several news magazines are sending their top reporters, like Richard Wolffe, to cover Obama‘s trip, a stark contrast to McCain‘s low key trip to Iraq this spring.
This is how the Times reports it, quote, “the extraordinary coverage planned reflects how Mr. Obama remains an object of fascination in the news media, a built-in feature of being the first black presidential nominee for a major political party and a relative newcomer to the national stage. but the coverage also feeds into concerns in Mr. McCain‘s campaign and among Republicans in general that the news media are imbalanced in their coverage of the candidates, just as aides to Senator Hillary Clinton felt during the primary season.”
The Times also notes the report that monitors news found that since June, network news casts spent 114 minutes covering Obama, compared to just 48 minutes on McCain. Of course, he was already the presumptive Republican nominee, and the Democratic side was much more hotly contested.
The role of the media was hotly debated by Democrats during the Clinton-Obama fight. Now in general, many McCain supporters believe Obama is getting more favorable coverage, while Obama supporters say McCain has been a perennial media favorite since his presidential run back in 2000. Our face-off question tonight, are Obama or McCain getting a free pass from the media? Facing off tonight on the left, Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on air America and an MSNBC political analyst. On the right, Tony Blankley, syndicated columnist.
Rachel, you are up first. Make the case. What‘s happening?
MADDOW: I think what‘s happening here is understandable. It is true that John McCain cannot buy media coverage. At this point he‘s getting—he‘s losing out on coverage at a rate of two to one, at least in terms of the network news casts. He can‘t grab and catch Americans‘ attention. Barack Obama is much newer to the scene. John McCain has been running for president for a very, very long time. He‘s been in Washington for 26 years. He was the most popular senatorial guest on Sunday morning talk shows for a very long time. He‘s not the new story. Obama is the new story. That‘s why he‘s getting more coverage.
That said, I do not think it is to Barack Obama‘s advantage. I think it‘s to McCain‘s advantage that all of the media coverage is focusing on Obama. I think the big story of this election is if it‘s a referendum on Obama, Obama probably loses. If it‘s a referendum on Bush and McCain, then Obama probably wins. Barack Obama‘s inability to get the media coverage to focus on McCain, even as McCain‘s campaign has not been particularly well run and he‘s had a lot of real big flubs that you would have thought would have gotten more attention, I think that Obama has lost an opportunity to keep the focus back on McCain and hopefully, by extension, on Bush.
There‘s been a number of McCain things that I would have expected to get more attention, from the minor, like talking about Czechoslovakia when Czechoslovakia hasn‘t existed for 15 years, to the major, changing his policy on Afghanistan, changing his policy on whether or not the U.S. should pull its troops out of Iraq, if the Iraqi government wanted us to. There‘s been minor issues and major issues like that, plus a whole lot of surrogate flubs, in terms of people like Carly Fiorina and Mitt Romney misstating, baldly misstating John McCain‘s positions on things, but media just won‘t bite.
GREGORY: Tony, your case here for why Obama is indeed getting a free pass.
BLANKLEY: Let me say that I actually agree with one part of what Rachel said. I think it is inherently more newsy to cover Obama‘s first trip around the world, as it were, and if I were making a news decision for a network, I would give it the kind of coverage they‘re giving it. It‘s unfair to McCain, but on the other hand, how can you not cover this event? This is going to be one of the great world media events, certainly at a political level, that we‘ve ever seen. It‘s going to be an extraordinary event. A multitude are going to come out to look at and probably cheer Obama.
Now, the—the unfairness is not so much in the coverage, although I‘m sure it will be very friendly, but in the sheer technical magnitude of it. It‘s a little bit like a convention. As you know, traditionally, when the Republicans have a convention, they get all the coverage that week. The Democrats usually takes a vacation. Vice versa during the Democratic week. Obama is getting an extra week of total wall to wall coverage that, whatever happens is good because he‘s getting the saturation coverage where McCain won‘t get covered at all.
Now, where I disagree with Rachel is on the proposition that McCain is getting a pass on mistakes and flubs he‘s made while Obama is not. Although I think she only said the first part. Obama has had lots of flubs, and he also has not been scored on. I won‘t give a long list, but his list—you know, 57 states, all the various statements he‘s made. And the media didn‘t cover it.
This season, the media so far is not covering flubs much. They‘re focusing on primary arguments rather than flubs. I think there‘s no doubt that Obama gains almost at a historic level from this coverage. I also think that the media is likely to permit him to choreograph the event, and we won‘t be seeing tough live television press conferences. We‘re going to see one on ones and tableaus of him before a multitude.
I can‘t believe that any political professional in this town wouldn‘t rather be in Obama‘s position next week than McCain‘s.
GREGORY: Let me bring in Jay and Richard on this because, Jay, I was thinking about you today when I was thinking about McCain. First of all, he got big play when he went to Iraq. He had an entire profile done on him by “60 Minutes.” Now, that created a bit of a stir in terms of the representations he made, statements he made about how safe Baghdad was, going around the markets when he had such heavy security. But it was a major focus on him over there. He decided to go the route of having an exclusive story.
Plus, so much about McCain is already known. You went with him on that big trip to Vietnam in 2000, I believe it was, after he got out of the race. He has had this kind of new treatment, the bright new shiny object treatment from the press. He should know it well.
CARNEY: He does. And I‘m sure they miss it greatly. They know what it‘s like to be the media‘s favorite political figure, and they regret that Obama is now that man and not McCain. I mean, I think it‘s—I think, if you look at the statistics that you read about, the network coverage, it‘s indisputable, and the complaint is legitimate. Although it‘s, in a sense, market driven. It‘s driven by reader interest and viewer interest.
I mean, let‘s be frank. He‘s a best-selling author. He‘s a huge story. He sells advertising. He sells magazines. And he sells it much better than John McCain does. And I think that, for the reporters who cover him, he‘s an exciting story. I mean, it‘s not just that the alleged bias that conservatives think exist in the mainstream media towards Democrats, even if that were true, it‘s more than that. It‘s just that it‘s a great compelling story, Barack Obama.
And I think that the trouble is when, whether it‘s broadcast or in print, the coverage begins to read or look like it could be the in flight entertainment on Obama airlines. I think that‘s the problem. I think some of the coverage has been vastly uncritical.
GREGORY: Richard, you‘re on the front lines covering all of this.
WOLFFE: My take is that lots of coverage is better than no coverage. But lots of coverage can also mean lots of bad news. You can add up the minutes that are on the nightly news, but what happens when lots of those minutes are about Reverend Wright or him messing things up in Europe? I think there are real potentials here for this kind of scrutiny to backfire.
GREGORY: Look, it‘s also, Rachel, a time of testing. This trip could go a couple of different ways. I keep analogizing it to Bush‘s first trip as president, mind you, when he went to Europe and how he was received. Of course, maybe later trips after 9/11 are more instructive because the policy for Iraq was taking shape. His image was taking shape, and it was a negative image. So all that could be to the plus side for Obama in Europe.
This is a time of testing as he goes into the theaters of war here, because Americans are still withholding judgment about whether they can close their eyes and imagine him as commander in chief.
MADDOW: I think that‘s right. I also think there‘s one factor we haven‘t touched on which might be important, which is that the European press is sort of famously pugilistic towards American politicians. Maybe they‘ll all love Barack Obama and give him a pass, but I don‘t think we have broadly seen that from politicians from either side of the aisle, in America traveling abroad. I think European, in particular, have gone after them. We‘ve certainly seen Arabic language journalists go after American politicians when given the chance.
I think it will be real interesting to see if Obama is willing to face native journalists, essentially, if he‘s willing to face the locals, rather than just the people flying with him there on the plane.
GREGORY: It‘s interesting, Tony, I‘m reading “The Nightingale‘s Song,” Trimberg‘s (ph) book about guys like McCain and Jim Webb and others who came through the Naval Academy. It‘s so interesting to get that real sense of McCain and the totality of his life. A lot of that biography is known. Nevertheless, what you would do as an image maker around him to compete with this emerging Obama narrative. He‘s got an amazing story to tell as well, but a lot is already known. How do you repackage it and bring it before a new generation of voters and those who are looking at him differently now as the standard bearer of the party?
BLANKLEY: They‘re trying to and some of the ads they‘re putting out, the bio-ads, are useful. But the fact is the American public wants to look forward, not backward. Obama‘s age sort of plays against constantly reminding people of what he did in the 1960s and 1970s, which is a long time ago for an awful lot of voters. I think he‘s kind of boxed in as far as that‘s concerned. He can remind people from time to time that—he‘s got that wonderful ad out that does it. But the fact, if he‘s going to win based on people‘s positive view of him, it‘s going to be about him convincing the public that he‘s the man to lead us through the economic troubles ahead, not reminding us what a wonderful fellow he was 30 years ago.
MADDOW: I would just make one other point on that. I think that Tony is totally right on that. What we‘re seeing from the McCain campaign about that is that the only way that McCain really can guarantee he‘s going to get press coverage and attention is when he talks about Obama, because people want to talk about Obama more than they want to talk about McCain. McCain is not getting any traction with his bio-stuff. He does get traction when he goes after Obama. It just adds to the volume of Obama coverage.
I‘m with Richard in terms of thinking that that volume is not necessarily always positive.
GREGORY: We‘re going to take a break here. Coming up, Obama‘s A-List support team, versus John McCain‘s team of lesser knowns, or even if they‘re better known, how popular are they? So how much does bench strength matter? The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on.
GREGORY: We are back on THE RACE, returning to the war room. And back with us, Jay Carney, Richard Wolffe, Tony Blankley and Rachel Maddow. It is complicated—Jay Carney goes beside friend/enemy lines today, inside the uneasy alliance between John McCain and President Bush, recounting the most awkward and tortured moments between the two.
First up, McCain‘s reaction to a meeting that he attended in the White House when he first found out about the decision to invade Iraq. Jay writes this, “McCain was appalled. He was a Republican and a hawk, and exactly one year later he would enthusiastically support the decision to topple the Iraqi regime by force. But to McCain, his encounter with Bush that day was more evidence of the shallow intellect and dangerous self-regard possessed by the man to whom he had lost an acrimonious contest two years earlier. Later McCain would retell the story and shake his head incredulously. Can you believe this guy, he asked. He‘s the president. He didn‘t say it, but the continuation of the thought hung in the air. Can you believe this guy is president instead of me?”
Jay, that bitterness always hung over their relationship.
CARNEY: It did, and it came from their incredibly nasty struggle in the South Carolina primary in 2000. What McCain was reacting to there, he had just come back with some senators from a security conference in Germany. It was march 2002, six months after 9/11, a year before we invaded Iraq, at a time when the White House was claiming it did not necessarily intend to invade.
McCain was briefing with some other senators, Condi Rice. Bush walks in the door, sticks his head in, and says, are you talking about Iraq? In a word I can‘t repeat on television, he says, forget Saddam. We‘re taking him out. Spins on his heels and walks out the door, which says a lot, first of all, about where Bush‘s head was at that time. And McCain, though he would eventually support the invasion of Iraq, was appalled by that, appalled by the shallowness of Bush‘s thinking and the cavalier attitude towards war that he was taking.
And it was—McCain‘s reaction, I think, was fueled in part by his lingering bitterness over his loss and the way he felt that Bush had treated him in 2000. That bitterness hasn‘t really gone away. It‘s dissipated, and they made up in 2004, and McCain campaigned hard for Bush. But I still think, if you had to stick him with truth serum, that McCain would still say that Bush as president has been callow and incurious and sometimes has a dangerous self-regard.
GREGORY: We look at that—the hug from Florida when McCain was trying to get right with the base of the party. Taking on Obama‘s talking points that McCain would be a third Bush term, Jay in his piece writes this, “while the two leaders agree on Iraq and McCain now claims to share Bush‘s commitment to tax cuts, a McCain presidency would in other ways bear only scant resemblance to the Bush years. On the environment, spending, government reform and other issues, McCain remains at odds with Bush and the corporate ethos of this administration would be replaced by something dramatically and perhaps chaotically less programmed. And yet, most voters aren‘t going to forget their feelings about the current president when they cast their ballots in November.”
Rachel, what‘s interesting about this to me—I talked to a Republican recently who said, any Republican running for the White House successfully, if you think about Reagan, think about George W. Bush, reinvigorates and basically recasts the Republican party. How can McCain do that with this overhang of Bush?
MADDOW: Well, what‘s incredible to me, in thinking about what task he would have to remake the Republican party, is the distance that McCain‘s travels over relatively short periods of time on big important issues. Like what Jay is describing about McCain being disgusted by Bush‘s attitude toward Iraq, that translates within a very small number of months into McCain crusading for that war, saying it will be a relatively easy war, we‘ll be greeted as liberators, hyping every element of the Bush-Saddam threat line that they came up with on that.
To see McCain move from objecting to the Bush tax cuts, when Republicans were so in favor of them, to saying, oh, yes, I guess I‘m in favor of them now. To see him change his mind on issues like torture. To see him change his mind on his own immigration plan. He moves so far so fast on these things that I don‘t know which direction he changes the party.
GREGORY: Take it on, Tony.
BLANKLEY: The problem McCain has in recasting the Republican party isn‘t his closeness to Bush. Obviously, they‘re not close at all. It‘s his distance from the base of the party. He is a gad fly on so many issues that, at most, he might gain a personal election, but he‘s not going to be able to recast the party.
On the other hand, the idea that he is like Bush, as Jay‘s article and so many others show, they‘ve always been apart, and they continue to be.
GREGORY: Let me set up the two poles, though, here, because I think it‘s interesting in terms of bench strength. That‘s what you look at on the Republican side. John McCain is effectively alone out there. The biggest star in the Republican party is tarnished right now in the minds of most Americans, is an unpopular president even if he‘s still popular with the base. Who else is out there on the Republican side? The big heavyweights, the heavy hitters who can help John McCain?
And then you look at the Obama side, he‘s enjoying a bullpen of all-star heavy hitting surrogates. You‘ve got Al Gore, who is out there today talking about the environment. Hillary Clinton, whatever role she plays, she‘s going to be out there. And Bill Clinton, the former president, who renewed his vows to campaign for Obama today. Watch?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whenever he asks. That is, we had a good talk. And he said he wanted me to campaign with him, and I said I was eager to do so. But he‘s busier than I am, on politics anyway.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: All right. So Richard, that‘s how you set it up. How does this benefit Obama, this bench strength? Does it really hurt McCain not to have the same kind of deep bench?
WOLFFE: Well, it does in the sense that we in the media are fascinated by the Clintons, and they can go out there and campaign hard, and we‘ll follow them. I suspect that Bill Clinton won‘t be the one he asks to go out and do the heavy political work. He‘ll use President Clinton to raise money, especially for the DNC. Remember, that‘s how President Bush has been effective for John McCain in terms of the RNC.
So I think Bill Clinton will be used in that way. Hillary Clinton, though, can be very effective in reaching the parts of blue collar vote that he didn‘t reach himself. So that‘s where I think they‘re going to deploy them. Yes, it‘s important. But just like Gore in 2000, using a president who is tarnished in one way or another is very difficult. That‘s McCain‘s challenge right now with Bush.
GREGORY: I‘m going to leave it there. I want to make a quick programming note. Tom Brokaw is going to have an exclusive interview with Al Gore coming up this weekend on “Meet the Press.” We‘ll take a break here and come back. Your e-mail and some of my closing thoughts on Tony Snow as he was laid to rest today in Washington.
GREGORY: Final moments here on THE RACE, your play date with the panel. Still with us, Jay, Richard, Tony, and Rachel. Martha writes this e-mail from Florida: “first, Barack Obama is criticized for not having been to the Middle East recently, and then when he tries to go, he‘s criticized for doing so. Why are the Republicans hell bent on making everything Obama does seem like some kind of a weakness? Are they really that afraid of his presidency?” Take it on, Tony.
BLANKLEY: It‘s Obama‘s fault he‘s not gone there before. His weakness is inexperience. Obviously, the McCain people are going to hit him every time they can, just as the Democrats are hitting McCain on his age every time they can. This is perfectly—it‘s Obama‘s fault for not having been older and more experienced.
GREGORY: And, of course, this is the important battleground as he moves forward. All right, that‘s it for our play date with the panel.
I want to end tonight switching gears and say that finally tonight we remember Tony Snow. He was honored today during a moving Catholic mass here in Washington. The president spoke. Friends and colleagues from the political and the media world were there. You‘ve heard a lot from me and others over the past several days about his accomplishments as a journalist, a commentator, and as the president‘s press secretary.
But today was about Tony‘s goodness, his determination to live, something basic, yet something precious when a disease like cancer waits like a thief outside the door, ready to snatch life. Last year, I interviewed Tony about living and working with cancer. I also asked him about how difficult it was for his wife, a private person, to watch him go through it all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Don‘t withdraw into the disease because then it wins. Also, then the disease comes to define you. The fact is, you‘re alive. Each and every moment, especially when you have something like cancer, you realize that every moment is a blessing, and you‘re more inclined to treat it like that, I think. You‘ll hear a lot of cancer patients say, you know, we‘re lucky. It‘s a peculiar kind of luck, but what it does is it makes more vivid the good things in your life. It allows you to appreciate the things that matter. And you know what, it also helps you just cut out a lot of stuff that doesn‘t matter.
A lot of times, we find ourselves absorbed in concerns that in the long run we think, why did I care about that?
She‘ll see times when I‘m weak, and it scares her. And, you know, it‘s—again, it‘s a much scarier thing if you‘re an observer because it‘s like watching your kid in the class play. You‘re afraid he‘s going to flub the lines or forget something. You‘re tense, whereas the kid may not be. And I think—that‘s probably a clumsy analogy, but the fact is they‘re watching. They don‘t know what‘s going on. They don‘t know if you‘re being overly optimistic.
My wife says you‘re not a glass half full guy. You‘re a glass three-quarters full guy. She‘s the one who quite often does the sensible worrying in the family. So it‘s tough. And yet, you know, the one thing is we want to grow old together. We want to sit around and sit on the porch and hold hands and talk or not talk or whatever you do. But the fact is this has made us life partners in an amazing way. It‘s life partners, not death partners, not sickness partners, but life partners in a way that makes me—gives me a depth of happiness that I‘ve never had before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: The Bible says it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of celebration. The point: we learn more about how to live a life well. I learned a lot about that today. By all accounts, Tony Snow died a very happy man. As a man of faith, he exuded the inner peace that comes from someone who feels close to god. He lived life with both perspective and gratitude.
I was struck most by something his brother said today about Tony‘s smile. It was, he said, a smile that revealed simply, I‘m happy to be here, reveling in the fullness of my life. It‘s something we should all hope to feel.
That‘s RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. I‘m David Gregory. Thanks to the panel. Thanks for watching. We‘re back here tomorrow night. Good night.
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