Commentary Magazine


Topic: VP

Flotsam and Jetsam

The guru of conventional Beltway wisdom, David Broder, has had enough: “The more President Obama examines our options in Afghanistan, the less he likes the choices he sees. But, as the old saying goes, to govern is to choose — and he has stretched the internal debate to the breaking point. … The cost of indecision is growing every day. Americans, our allies who have contributed their own troops to the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and the Afghans and their government are waiting impatiently, while the challenge is getting worse.”

A devastating portrait of Eric Holder: “The dispassion, the self-reverence, the blindness of the man, are marvelous to behold, and so perfectly reflect the president he so perfectly serves. ‘Neutral and detached’ people shall ‘understand the reasons why’ he made those decisions, shall see he has left ‘the politics out of it,’ and shall recognize what’s right — something the rest of us, benighted and bellicose souls that we are, have never managed to do with respect to the disposition of those committing mass murders of Americans in their ongoing war against our civilization.”

Another nail in the coffin of PelosiCare: “The House-approved healthcare overhaul would raise the costs of healthcare by $289 billion over the next 10 years, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan, independent Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).”

And that’s not all: “A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending — one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama’s proposed overhaul of the nation’s health-care system — would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.”

Surprise, surprise: the Obami are bothered by the cost of winning the war in Afghanistan.

Rep. Peter King: “Like many New Yorkers and members of the families of the nearly 3,000 innocent Americans murdered on that horrific Tuesday morning eight years ago, I’m outraged and insulted by President Obama’s decision to transfer Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to New York City for trial in civilian federal court. The decision will go down in history as one of the worst made by any US president. While it may be hailed by Europeans, the ACLU and the far-left-wing of the Democratic Party, the president’s action actually threatens American lives and weakens US national security.” I wonder what Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will say.

Enough is enough, says Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: “Defense Secretary Robert Gates has blocked the public release of any more pictures of foreign detainees abused by their U.S. captors, saying their release would endanger American soldiers. The Obama administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court late Friday saying that Mr. Gates has invoked new powers blocking the release of the photos.”

Steve Schmidt vs. Sarah Palin. Hmm. Is there any doubt who’s got a better chance of being on a 2012 campaign? It’s one thing to lose a campaign, quite another to go down as the perpetual bad-mouther of your VP candidate.

The guru of conventional Beltway wisdom, David Broder, has had enough: “The more President Obama examines our options in Afghanistan, the less he likes the choices he sees. But, as the old saying goes, to govern is to choose — and he has stretched the internal debate to the breaking point. … The cost of indecision is growing every day. Americans, our allies who have contributed their own troops to the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and the Afghans and their government are waiting impatiently, while the challenge is getting worse.”

A devastating portrait of Eric Holder: “The dispassion, the self-reverence, the blindness of the man, are marvelous to behold, and so perfectly reflect the president he so perfectly serves. ‘Neutral and detached’ people shall ‘understand the reasons why’ he made those decisions, shall see he has left ‘the politics out of it,’ and shall recognize what’s right — something the rest of us, benighted and bellicose souls that we are, have never managed to do with respect to the disposition of those committing mass murders of Americans in their ongoing war against our civilization.”

Another nail in the coffin of PelosiCare: “The House-approved healthcare overhaul would raise the costs of healthcare by $289 billion over the next 10 years, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan, independent Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).”

And that’s not all: “A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending — one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama’s proposed overhaul of the nation’s health-care system — would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.”

Surprise, surprise: the Obami are bothered by the cost of winning the war in Afghanistan.

Rep. Peter King: “Like many New Yorkers and members of the families of the nearly 3,000 innocent Americans murdered on that horrific Tuesday morning eight years ago, I’m outraged and insulted by President Obama’s decision to transfer Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to New York City for trial in civilian federal court. The decision will go down in history as one of the worst made by any US president. While it may be hailed by Europeans, the ACLU and the far-left-wing of the Democratic Party, the president’s action actually threatens American lives and weakens US national security.” I wonder what Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will say.

Enough is enough, says Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: “Defense Secretary Robert Gates has blocked the public release of any more pictures of foreign detainees abused by their U.S. captors, saying their release would endanger American soldiers. The Obama administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court late Friday saying that Mr. Gates has invoked new powers blocking the release of the photos.”

Steve Schmidt vs. Sarah Palin. Hmm. Is there any doubt who’s got a better chance of being on a 2012 campaign? It’s one thing to lose a campaign, quite another to go down as the perpetual bad-mouther of your VP candidate.

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Uniting The Base

I am sure that the media will now focus on the very real problem that Barack Obama will have in uniting the base. After all, for months, well after the polls showed any evidence of significant division in the Republican base, we were treated to a daily dose of “conservatives aren’t happy” stories about John McCain. So now that there are real, not imagined threats of defections, especially with older women, among Democrats we should be checking their pulse daily, right? Geraldine, are you fully satisfied today?

But whether the press chooses to focus on them or not, the real concerns of many of Hillary Clinton supporters, be they men or women, will need to be addressed. And unlike McCain, Obama cannot solve these by meeting the base on policy grounds (as McCain did on judges). The reason many Clinton supporters rejected him were personal — his qualifications and his unpreparedness to be commander-in-chief. And if you don’t believe me, you can read their comments directly. If those concerns are genuine, and they sound so, then the choice of a VP or an appeal on abortion rights may not do the trick.

I am sure that the media will now focus on the very real problem that Barack Obama will have in uniting the base. After all, for months, well after the polls showed any evidence of significant division in the Republican base, we were treated to a daily dose of “conservatives aren’t happy” stories about John McCain. So now that there are real, not imagined threats of defections, especially with older women, among Democrats we should be checking their pulse daily, right? Geraldine, are you fully satisfied today?

But whether the press chooses to focus on them or not, the real concerns of many of Hillary Clinton supporters, be they men or women, will need to be addressed. And unlike McCain, Obama cannot solve these by meeting the base on policy grounds (as McCain did on judges). The reason many Clinton supporters rejected him were personal — his qualifications and his unpreparedness to be commander-in-chief. And if you don’t believe me, you can read their comments directly. If those concerns are genuine, and they sound so, then the choice of a VP or an appeal on abortion rights may not do the trick.

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You Can Hardly Blame Him

It is hard to think that the “You’re nuts to take her” faction of Barack Obama’s advisors didn’t get a boost with Hillary Clinton’s Kennedy assassination gaffe. As one who knows the Clintons’ pathology all too well pointed out:

Obama now has the perfect excuse not to pick Hillary as his running mate. She has been too unseemly in her desire to be on the scene if he trips, or gets hit with a devastating story. She may want to take a cue from the Miss America contest: make a graceful, magnanimous exit and wait in the wings.

Really, it is one thing to live through a year of campaigning while the Clintonian attack machine directed barbs his way (he had no choice in the matter), but to voluntarily sign up for four or eight years of life with the Clintons would take an act of masochism or unparalled naïveté. Would any Democratic establishment figure really begrudge him the luxury of choosing someone who didn’t muse, even indirectly, about the prospect of a presidential assassination?

Yes, it is true Clinton may manage to get more popular votes than he, and she has been the superior campaigner in the second half of the race. Oh, and yes, as compared to her he really does have some demographic disadvantages. But bringing her along for the rest of the campaign seems designed only to highlight his own dependencies and weaknesses. “She can help him with white voters” and “He would have risked the female vote without her” are the type of semi-insulting observations which surely would follow if he tapped her as VP. Moreover, would there be a better way to demonstrate that he will tolerate virtually any insulting, obnoxious behavior?

So I suspect Obama’s graciousness over the assassination gaffe is thinly disguised relief. He can finally get out of a shotgun wedding he must have dreaded.

It is hard to think that the “You’re nuts to take her” faction of Barack Obama’s advisors didn’t get a boost with Hillary Clinton’s Kennedy assassination gaffe. As one who knows the Clintons’ pathology all too well pointed out:

Obama now has the perfect excuse not to pick Hillary as his running mate. She has been too unseemly in her desire to be on the scene if he trips, or gets hit with a devastating story. She may want to take a cue from the Miss America contest: make a graceful, magnanimous exit and wait in the wings.

Really, it is one thing to live through a year of campaigning while the Clintonian attack machine directed barbs his way (he had no choice in the matter), but to voluntarily sign up for four or eight years of life with the Clintons would take an act of masochism or unparalled naïveté. Would any Democratic establishment figure really begrudge him the luxury of choosing someone who didn’t muse, even indirectly, about the prospect of a presidential assassination?

Yes, it is true Clinton may manage to get more popular votes than he, and she has been the superior campaigner in the second half of the race. Oh, and yes, as compared to her he really does have some demographic disadvantages. But bringing her along for the rest of the campaign seems designed only to highlight his own dependencies and weaknesses. “She can help him with white voters” and “He would have risked the female vote without her” are the type of semi-insulting observations which surely would follow if he tapped her as VP. Moreover, would there be a better way to demonstrate that he will tolerate virtually any insulting, obnoxious behavior?

So I suspect Obama’s graciousness over the assassination gaffe is thinly disguised relief. He can finally get out of a shotgun wedding he must have dreaded.

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When Is The Jig Up?

Mickey Kaus thinks Barack Obama’s employ of Washington pol extraordinaire Jim Johnson to head his VP search committee is the final straw in the phony debate about whether Barack Obama represents New Politics. But really, it is one small bit of a larger picture. Obama is against villifying opponents? But he accuses McCain of not wanting to be generous to veterans. Obama doesn’t like “cut and paste” politics and playing gotcha with out of context phrases? But he perpetuated the 100 years debate for weeks. He swears age shouldn’t be an issue ? Yet the DNC attack dog Howard Dean dwells on it at every turn. And while Obama doffs his cap to McCain’s years of service, a parade of military-bashing surrogates steps forward to ding McCain.

At some point even the media will notice the disconnect and begin to question the New Politics mantra, right? Well perhaps the public will figure it out on their own.

Mickey Kaus thinks Barack Obama’s employ of Washington pol extraordinaire Jim Johnson to head his VP search committee is the final straw in the phony debate about whether Barack Obama represents New Politics. But really, it is one small bit of a larger picture. Obama is against villifying opponents? But he accuses McCain of not wanting to be generous to veterans. Obama doesn’t like “cut and paste” politics and playing gotcha with out of context phrases? But he perpetuated the 100 years debate for weeks. He swears age shouldn’t be an issue ? Yet the DNC attack dog Howard Dean dwells on it at every turn. And while Obama doffs his cap to McCain’s years of service, a parade of military-bashing surrogates steps forward to ding McCain.

At some point even the media will notice the disconnect and begin to question the New Politics mantra, right? Well perhaps the public will figure it out on their own.

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Independents

John McCain has been focusing on independent voters of late with his global warming message and attempts to highlight differences with George W. Bush on the economy (by backing a home mortgage bailout) and foreign policy (by stressing multilateralism). Both he and Barack Obama will have their challenges in making the case with independents.

I am as skeptical as the next person when it comes to focus groups (they are self-selecting and sound suspiciously too informed and too sound-bite savvy). But the one described here sounds reasonable. Obama’s biggest problem: convincing them he’s not a wacky Left wing elitist. McCain’s: convincing them he’s not another George W. Bush.

So what does Obama do? He starts wearing that flag lapel pin and throws in a lot of patriotic talk. And if he’s smart he’ll steer clear of Clinton as a VP. According to this focus group, she’s ballot box poison with independents, even if she might calm frayed nerves in the Democratic Party.

And what’s McCain’s best tactic? Lots of YouTube moments of bipartisan praise, stressing his record of making deals with Democrats, some full-out attacks on Bush’s mismanagement of the Iraq war and Katrina, and plenty of appeals on conservative cultural issues.

All this raises a question: What’s the silliest thing each could do?

There has been some buzz that Obama will go after Republican women by using the abortion issue. That, for a candidate who has high negatives among social conservatives and who can easily be painted as an extremist on the issue (e.g. he was quite vocal in his criticism of the Supreme Court’s partial birth abortion ruling, for example), could cause more problems than it solves.

For McCain, it would be relying on his biography to the exclusion of issues (voters do care about their own pocket-book concerns), and allowing his team’s new-found fixation on whining about media coverage to go unchecked (voters don’t care about the media, and working-class independent voters don’t like complainers).

John McCain has been focusing on independent voters of late with his global warming message and attempts to highlight differences with George W. Bush on the economy (by backing a home mortgage bailout) and foreign policy (by stressing multilateralism). Both he and Barack Obama will have their challenges in making the case with independents.

I am as skeptical as the next person when it comes to focus groups (they are self-selecting and sound suspiciously too informed and too sound-bite savvy). But the one described here sounds reasonable. Obama’s biggest problem: convincing them he’s not a wacky Left wing elitist. McCain’s: convincing them he’s not another George W. Bush.

So what does Obama do? He starts wearing that flag lapel pin and throws in a lot of patriotic talk. And if he’s smart he’ll steer clear of Clinton as a VP. According to this focus group, she’s ballot box poison with independents, even if she might calm frayed nerves in the Democratic Party.

And what’s McCain’s best tactic? Lots of YouTube moments of bipartisan praise, stressing his record of making deals with Democrats, some full-out attacks on Bush’s mismanagement of the Iraq war and Katrina, and plenty of appeals on conservative cultural issues.

All this raises a question: What’s the silliest thing each could do?

There has been some buzz that Obama will go after Republican women by using the abortion issue. That, for a candidate who has high negatives among social conservatives and who can easily be painted as an extremist on the issue (e.g. he was quite vocal in his criticism of the Supreme Court’s partial birth abortion ruling, for example), could cause more problems than it solves.

For McCain, it would be relying on his biography to the exclusion of issues (voters do care about their own pocket-book concerns), and allowing his team’s new-found fixation on whining about media coverage to go unchecked (voters don’t care about the media, and working-class independent voters don’t like complainers).

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Nothing Like A Kennedy to Add Some Class

Leave it to Ted Kennedy. It is one thing to say that Hillary Clinton might not be the best choice for VP or that Barack Obama should make his own choice. But that would have shown grace and restraint. This comes from an interview with Al Hunt:

Obama should choose a running mate who “is in tune with his appeal for the nobler aspirations of the American people,” Kennedy said. “If we had real leadership — as we do with Barack Obama — in the No. 2 spot as well, it’d be enormously helpful.”

Can you think of anything that would inflame Clinton’s supporters more or cause her and Bill to dig their heels in any deeper? If Obama were smart he’d publically distance himself from Kennedy’s remarks. But wait. He doesn’t rebuke mentors unless they speak at the National Press club.

Leave it to Ted Kennedy. It is one thing to say that Hillary Clinton might not be the best choice for VP or that Barack Obama should make his own choice. But that would have shown grace and restraint. This comes from an interview with Al Hunt:

Obama should choose a running mate who “is in tune with his appeal for the nobler aspirations of the American people,” Kennedy said. “If we had real leadership — as we do with Barack Obama — in the No. 2 spot as well, it’d be enormously helpful.”

Can you think of anything that would inflame Clinton’s supporters more or cause her and Bill to dig their heels in any deeper? If Obama were smart he’d publically distance himself from Kennedy’s remarks. But wait. He doesn’t rebuke mentors unless they speak at the National Press club.

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Wurmser Weighs In

Be sure to check out David Wurmser’s take on Lebanon, by way of Lee Smith, who is guest-blogging for Michael Totten. (Wurmser was VP Cheney’s Middle East guru for many years.)

Be sure to check out David Wurmser’s take on Lebanon, by way of Lee Smith, who is guest-blogging for Michael Totten. (Wurmser was VP Cheney’s Middle East guru for many years.)

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His First Test

Some believe that Hillary Clinton is angling to be Barack Obama’s VP. His netroot cheering section in the blogosphere would no doubt have a meltdown if that came to pass. After all, his “change” and “turn the page” messages were premised in large part on the notion that people were sick of Clintonian politics. To put Hillary back in power would reveal that Obama’s words were all, well, empty. And the prospect of the now nearly universally reviled–or at least lampooned–Bill Clinton out loose in a general election (and then lurking the halls of the White House) is enough to make many Democrats break out in hives.

But would Obama do it? After all, he’s a great advocate of reconciliation. And what better way to heal the party and demonstrate his unifying powers? The reality is that he is going to win the nomination outright and won’t be compelled to put her on the ticket. And he seems unlikely to volunteer for a world of political trouble, with so little to gain by it. It’s a truism that voters don’t vote for VP’s anyway. So if Obama is going to win over her voters, he’ll likely have to do it on his own. Soon enough we’ll find out if there are some reconciliations too great to imagine even for Obama.

Some believe that Hillary Clinton is angling to be Barack Obama’s VP. His netroot cheering section in the blogosphere would no doubt have a meltdown if that came to pass. After all, his “change” and “turn the page” messages were premised in large part on the notion that people were sick of Clintonian politics. To put Hillary back in power would reveal that Obama’s words were all, well, empty. And the prospect of the now nearly universally reviled–or at least lampooned–Bill Clinton out loose in a general election (and then lurking the halls of the White House) is enough to make many Democrats break out in hives.

But would Obama do it? After all, he’s a great advocate of reconciliation. And what better way to heal the party and demonstrate his unifying powers? The reality is that he is going to win the nomination outright and won’t be compelled to put her on the ticket. And he seems unlikely to volunteer for a world of political trouble, with so little to gain by it. It’s a truism that voters don’t vote for VP’s anyway. So if Obama is going to win over her voters, he’ll likely have to do it on his own. Soon enough we’ll find out if there are some reconciliations too great to imagine even for Obama.

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Petraeus Hearing Preview

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (who sits on the Armed Services Committee) gave a telephone briefing today on the Iraq hearings set to start tomorrow. As expected, he acknowledged that between the collapse of the Saddam Hussein’s government and the surge which began in January 2007 “all the trend lines were going in a negative direction.” But, he went on to observe, since the proper allocation of troops and a revised strategy there has been “undeniable progress.”

As for the hearings themselves, he hinted strongly that the “suspension of disbelief” line from Hillary Clinton and the Democrats’ previous dismissal of General Petraeus’ views during the last set of hearings in September would come up again. I asked about Barack Obama’s plan to pull out troops but leave in a “strike force” to combat al Qaeda. Graham dismissed this as exactly the “old strategy” which had failed in Iraq, pre-surge. He bluntly stated that this idea is a “bone” Obama is throwing to the public, which remains concerned about how a withdrawal of troops will affect our fight against Islamic terrorism.

On the political front he believes the changes in Iraq have fundamentally shifted the terrain in Congress, and among Republicans in particular there will be great reluctance to disrupt the current strategy. Bottom line: you can expect Republicans to be on the offense tomorrow.

Two unrelated notes: Graham gamely defended the work of the Gang of 14 in pushing through judicial nominees, vowed that the Republicans would turn up the heat since the Democrats have now slowed confirmations to less-than-a-crawl, and stressed that judicial nominations and the Supreme Court will be key issues in the race. Second, and more interestingly, he let on that there was a “committee” working on McCain’s VP pick (who is on it he wouldn’t say) and joked there would be better picks than him, while emphasizing that no one votes for the VP.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (who sits on the Armed Services Committee) gave a telephone briefing today on the Iraq hearings set to start tomorrow. As expected, he acknowledged that between the collapse of the Saddam Hussein’s government and the surge which began in January 2007 “all the trend lines were going in a negative direction.” But, he went on to observe, since the proper allocation of troops and a revised strategy there has been “undeniable progress.”

As for the hearings themselves, he hinted strongly that the “suspension of disbelief” line from Hillary Clinton and the Democrats’ previous dismissal of General Petraeus’ views during the last set of hearings in September would come up again. I asked about Barack Obama’s plan to pull out troops but leave in a “strike force” to combat al Qaeda. Graham dismissed this as exactly the “old strategy” which had failed in Iraq, pre-surge. He bluntly stated that this idea is a “bone” Obama is throwing to the public, which remains concerned about how a withdrawal of troops will affect our fight against Islamic terrorism.

On the political front he believes the changes in Iraq have fundamentally shifted the terrain in Congress, and among Republicans in particular there will be great reluctance to disrupt the current strategy. Bottom line: you can expect Republicans to be on the offense tomorrow.

Two unrelated notes: Graham gamely defended the work of the Gang of 14 in pushing through judicial nominees, vowed that the Republicans would turn up the heat since the Democrats have now slowed confirmations to less-than-a-crawl, and stressed that judicial nominations and the Supreme Court will be key issues in the race. Second, and more interestingly, he let on that there was a “committee” working on McCain’s VP pick (who is on it he wouldn’t say) and joked there would be better picks than him, while emphasizing that no one votes for the VP.

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The Other Sign It’s Silly Season

As John pointed out, it is not a very productive exercise to speculate about John McCain’s VP picks this far in advance. But journalists run out of things to write about and it’s an easy topic. The other easy one: finding aggrieved anti-McCain conservatives. Or ones who aren’t all that aggrieved, but who won’t say they are perfectly satisfied with McCain.

Stories like this only require a phone call to James Dobson, who is always good for some anti-McCain quotes (though he apparently is inching closer to McCain, according to another outlet), and to others, whose encouraging comments about McCain’s outreach to conservatives (“the process has begun”) are construed as somehow indicating disapproval. The relevance and king-making importance of Dobson’s opinion is never questioned, of course. Yet hasn’t the candidate he despises won the nomination?

The fact that a large number of Democrats indicate in polls they will defect to McCain if their choice doesn’t get the nomination and that McCain enjoys greater support among his party’s voters than do either of his opponents doesn’t quite jibe with the storyline. Nevermind. It would be a non-story to report that Republicans are unifying behind McCain just as they did with other nominees in prior elections. It’s newsier to find conservatives who would like McCain to do “more” for them–no matter how much this skews the picture.

As John pointed out, it is not a very productive exercise to speculate about John McCain’s VP picks this far in advance. But journalists run out of things to write about and it’s an easy topic. The other easy one: finding aggrieved anti-McCain conservatives. Or ones who aren’t all that aggrieved, but who won’t say they are perfectly satisfied with McCain.

Stories like this only require a phone call to James Dobson, who is always good for some anti-McCain quotes (though he apparently is inching closer to McCain, according to another outlet), and to others, whose encouraging comments about McCain’s outreach to conservatives (“the process has begun”) are construed as somehow indicating disapproval. The relevance and king-making importance of Dobson’s opinion is never questioned, of course. Yet hasn’t the candidate he despises won the nomination?

The fact that a large number of Democrats indicate in polls they will defect to McCain if their choice doesn’t get the nomination and that McCain enjoys greater support among his party’s voters than do either of his opponents doesn’t quite jibe with the storyline. Nevermind. It would be a non-story to report that Republicans are unifying behind McCain just as they did with other nominees in prior elections. It’s newsier to find conservatives who would like McCain to do “more” for them–no matter how much this skews the picture.

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Silly Season for McCain

There are several stories today about John McCain’s possible vice-presidential picks. This is absurd for many reasons. Here are a few:

1) It is a 95 percent certainty that McCain will not announce his pick until, at the earliest, a few days before the convention. There is no upside whatever to an early announcement. If it provokes excitement, the excitement will dissipate, leaving the campaign with nothing. If there are any problems, it will be the only subject of discussion surrounding McCain for weeks and weeks and weeks, with the worrisome subtext — Look, here is McCain’s first major decision, and it isn’t going well.

2) There is literally no way of knowing whether most of the people on the supposed short list —  Sanford, Pawlenty, Ridge, Crist, Rob Portman, John Kasich — can actually pass muster. The cardinal rule of the VP pick is — First, do no harm. The vetting process for a VP candidate is brutal. Any personal problem — any — might prove disqualifying. Too many speeding tickets? Too much money spent at the track? A friendship with someone who was later indicted? Marital troubles? A wife with too many speeding tickets? A son caught on a YouTube video sucking on a bong? A daughter who got drunk during Spring Break and is in the background of a YouTube dirty dancing?

Once one of these short-listers becomes acquainted with the horribly intrusive nature of the vetting process, he might just drop out. I know one case of someone who was practically offered the slot many cycles ago who realized an unhappy period in a close relative’s life would surely come to light and therefore turned it down.

The only really vetted people are the ones who have run for president — Romney and Huckabee particularly (though I’m not sure I would entirely count out either Sam Brownback or Duncan Hunter, though they did badly in the primaries). But here we bump up against McCain’s own character. He is a very personal politician. He likes people he likes, and has contempt for people he doesn’t. He really seems not to like Romney, and though Romney would be the most conventional choice, McCain is unlikely to make a choice entirely based on convention and prudence when he has to pick someone with whom he is going to work closely for months and maybe years.

I’ve been joking that McCain might feel differently if Romney were to pony up $75 million for the general-election run. But this too raises the problem with a Romney candidacy — wouldn’t there be intense speculation of precisely this kind of quid pro quo, that McCain effectively sold the VP slot to Romney because of his great wealth?

In the end, the process to pick the Veep will take months, not weeks. There’s a reason people don’t name their pick early. McCain won’t do it either.

There are several stories today about John McCain’s possible vice-presidential picks. This is absurd for many reasons. Here are a few:

1) It is a 95 percent certainty that McCain will not announce his pick until, at the earliest, a few days before the convention. There is no upside whatever to an early announcement. If it provokes excitement, the excitement will dissipate, leaving the campaign with nothing. If there are any problems, it will be the only subject of discussion surrounding McCain for weeks and weeks and weeks, with the worrisome subtext — Look, here is McCain’s first major decision, and it isn’t going well.

2) There is literally no way of knowing whether most of the people on the supposed short list —  Sanford, Pawlenty, Ridge, Crist, Rob Portman, John Kasich — can actually pass muster. The cardinal rule of the VP pick is — First, do no harm. The vetting process for a VP candidate is brutal. Any personal problem — any — might prove disqualifying. Too many speeding tickets? Too much money spent at the track? A friendship with someone who was later indicted? Marital troubles? A wife with too many speeding tickets? A son caught on a YouTube video sucking on a bong? A daughter who got drunk during Spring Break and is in the background of a YouTube dirty dancing?

Once one of these short-listers becomes acquainted with the horribly intrusive nature of the vetting process, he might just drop out. I know one case of someone who was practically offered the slot many cycles ago who realized an unhappy period in a close relative’s life would surely come to light and therefore turned it down.

The only really vetted people are the ones who have run for president — Romney and Huckabee particularly (though I’m not sure I would entirely count out either Sam Brownback or Duncan Hunter, though they did badly in the primaries). But here we bump up against McCain’s own character. He is a very personal politician. He likes people he likes, and has contempt for people he doesn’t. He really seems not to like Romney, and though Romney would be the most conventional choice, McCain is unlikely to make a choice entirely based on convention and prudence when he has to pick someone with whom he is going to work closely for months and maybe years.

I’ve been joking that McCain might feel differently if Romney were to pony up $75 million for the general-election run. But this too raises the problem with a Romney candidacy — wouldn’t there be intense speculation of precisely this kind of quid pro quo, that McCain effectively sold the VP slot to Romney because of his great wealth?

In the end, the process to pick the Veep will take months, not weeks. There’s a reason people don’t name their pick early. McCain won’t do it either.

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McCain’s Pivot

Most candidates face a challenge going from a primary (where they have appealed to their base) to the general election (where they must offer more centrist message). John McCain is fortunate in that his primary message is his general election message. No significant policy readjustments appear needed to capture moderates and independents. Indeed, the pressure on McCain has been to go back and become more conservative to satisfy disgruntled elements on the Right–a plea he so far has ignored.

The challenge McCain does face is beefing up his domestic policy positions. Many voters suspect, I think, that McCain lacks interest in domestic matters. The flap with Mitt Romney over whether McCain admitted his lack of economic expertise only re-enforced this concern. On Tuesday, McCain began to address this problem with a detailed speech on the housing crisis. He generally got positive reviews from market-oriented commentators and avoided sacrificing conservative economic principles in the rush to soothe nervous voters/home owners.

This speech cannot be an isolated set piece. In his stump speech and town hall meetings McCain needs to talk fluently and frequently on the economy, free trade, and healthcare. (As to the latter, he actually has a very interesting proposal that addresses affordability and access to health insurance without a government mandate.)

His choice of a VP might also help. While McCain cannot appear to be subcontracting out his economic policy responsiblities, it would be wise to select someone with economic expertise, especially in the regulation of financial institutions or in budget and trade policy.

But make no mistake: McCain must convince voters he is knowledgable and engaged on domestic policy. Having substantially assisted in promoting and defending the surge, he may now be a victim of its success. Voters are turning their attention away from Iraq (which is receding from the front pages, except for the occasional acknowledgment of “grim milestones” like the 4000th casualty last week) and looking for answers on domestic issues.

Most candidates face a challenge going from a primary (where they have appealed to their base) to the general election (where they must offer more centrist message). John McCain is fortunate in that his primary message is his general election message. No significant policy readjustments appear needed to capture moderates and independents. Indeed, the pressure on McCain has been to go back and become more conservative to satisfy disgruntled elements on the Right–a plea he so far has ignored.

The challenge McCain does face is beefing up his domestic policy positions. Many voters suspect, I think, that McCain lacks interest in domestic matters. The flap with Mitt Romney over whether McCain admitted his lack of economic expertise only re-enforced this concern. On Tuesday, McCain began to address this problem with a detailed speech on the housing crisis. He generally got positive reviews from market-oriented commentators and avoided sacrificing conservative economic principles in the rush to soothe nervous voters/home owners.

This speech cannot be an isolated set piece. In his stump speech and town hall meetings McCain needs to talk fluently and frequently on the economy, free trade, and healthcare. (As to the latter, he actually has a very interesting proposal that addresses affordability and access to health insurance without a government mandate.)

His choice of a VP might also help. While McCain cannot appear to be subcontracting out his economic policy responsiblities, it would be wise to select someone with economic expertise, especially in the regulation of financial institutions or in budget and trade policy.

But make no mistake: McCain must convince voters he is knowledgable and engaged on domestic policy. Having substantially assisted in promoting and defending the surge, he may now be a victim of its success. Voters are turning their attention away from Iraq (which is receding from the front pages, except for the occasional acknowledgment of “grim milestones” like the 4000th casualty last week) and looking for answers on domestic issues.

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Lost In The Scandal

In the blur of yesterday’s news about Eliot Spitzer’s self-destruction came two unrelated comments that should have gotten more attention. First, there was the latest Michelle Obama utterance, this time insulting men. As we learned yesterday, some men do put themselves first. But trashing an entire gender hardly seems fair or politic. Her list of the mean and rotten things in life is growing longer: America, men, college loan payments. Western civilization as a whole is surely next.

Then there was Geraldine Ferraro, who said that no one would be talking about Barack Obama if he were white. (She also showed a little self-awareness and admitted she would never have been Walter Mondale’s VP if she were a man.) Clinton’s spokesman responded with a terse “We disagree with her.” Clearly after Bill Clinton’s South Carolina outburst comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson, this is not something the Clinton folks want to touch with a ten-foot pole. (They’re too busy patronizing Obama with an offer of the VP slot, provided he can bone up on foreign policy by the convention.)

John McCain couldn’t have had any idea that his jaunt to Israel and Europe would provide such a contrast between himself and his Democratic opponents. Who knew the gravitas gap would be so large? There are times when it is good to appear entirely above the fray. And this is one of those times.

In the blur of yesterday’s news about Eliot Spitzer’s self-destruction came two unrelated comments that should have gotten more attention. First, there was the latest Michelle Obama utterance, this time insulting men. As we learned yesterday, some men do put themselves first. But trashing an entire gender hardly seems fair or politic. Her list of the mean and rotten things in life is growing longer: America, men, college loan payments. Western civilization as a whole is surely next.

Then there was Geraldine Ferraro, who said that no one would be talking about Barack Obama if he were white. (She also showed a little self-awareness and admitted she would never have been Walter Mondale’s VP if she were a man.) Clinton’s spokesman responded with a terse “We disagree with her.” Clearly after Bill Clinton’s South Carolina outburst comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson, this is not something the Clinton folks want to touch with a ten-foot pole. (They’re too busy patronizing Obama with an offer of the VP slot, provided he can bone up on foreign policy by the convention.)

John McCain couldn’t have had any idea that his jaunt to Israel and Europe would provide such a contrast between himself and his Democratic opponents. Who knew the gravitas gap would be so large? There are times when it is good to appear entirely above the fray. And this is one of those times.

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Huckabee Goes on the Offensive

Before the debate last night, I speculated that Mike Huckabee might play the role of McCain’s attack dog. He did not, preferring instead to bolster his appeal with social conservatives and perhaps to avoid a brushback accusation from Mitt Romney that he was, well, playing the role of McCain’s attack dog.

This morning on the increasingly newsworthy Morning Joe Huckabee let it rip. He started with this about Romney:

Here’s a man who didn’t hit political puberty in the conservative ranks until 60 years old. . . Here’s a guy who just ten years ago was saying, look, I’m an independent. I’m not for that Reagan-Bush legacy. And now he wraps himself in it. Here’s a guy who, despite what he says, his record in Massachusetts was significant increases in fees. And the numbers, you know, I’m going to the independent objective reports of those, and they were more like $700 million. He’s a recent convert to pro life. He still doesn’t have a solid stance on the second amendment. He believes that Brady and banning assault weapons, which they’re so-called, which is not a conservative position. He’s a recent convert to traditional marriage view. He at one time said he would do more for the gay community than Ted Kennedy. That’s not a conservative position. So I just don’t understand this whole thing about so many people, whether it’s Rush Limbaugh or anyone else, saying he’s the conservative in the race. He may be saying conservative things now, but he certainly wasn’t saying them until he ran for president, and his record is not one of being consistent. When you have an abortion bill in your state as part of your health package that for $50 you guarantee a government-funded abortion within your health plan to any person who’s truly pro life, that is not conservative.

Then he explained why this matters:

It’s about the credibility of the candidacy and whether or not there’s authenticity. And for me, give me a guy that I disagree with but at least I know he’s speaking from his convictions, and it’s not just a convenient political view that he’s taking because today I’m talking to a women’s group, so I’m pro woman. But tomorrow I’m talking to a men’s group, so I’m not. That’s what disturbs me, and I think it’s the kind of politics that just really turns people off.

The full performance is here. Well, I suppose he is still in the running for McCain’s VP. However, it also does explain why the “rally around Romney” phenomenon has not occured. The anti-McCain sentiment is real among staunch conservative opinion makers, but conservative voters just have not rallied to Romney enthusiastically because he really has not been a movement conservative. It is politically difficult from the perspective of disgruntled conservatives just to be against McCain; they would have to stir a groundswell of support for the alternative. That simply hasn’t happened, for many of the reasons Huckabee identified.

Before the debate last night, I speculated that Mike Huckabee might play the role of McCain’s attack dog. He did not, preferring instead to bolster his appeal with social conservatives and perhaps to avoid a brushback accusation from Mitt Romney that he was, well, playing the role of McCain’s attack dog.

This morning on the increasingly newsworthy Morning Joe Huckabee let it rip. He started with this about Romney:

Here’s a man who didn’t hit political puberty in the conservative ranks until 60 years old. . . Here’s a guy who just ten years ago was saying, look, I’m an independent. I’m not for that Reagan-Bush legacy. And now he wraps himself in it. Here’s a guy who, despite what he says, his record in Massachusetts was significant increases in fees. And the numbers, you know, I’m going to the independent objective reports of those, and they were more like $700 million. He’s a recent convert to pro life. He still doesn’t have a solid stance on the second amendment. He believes that Brady and banning assault weapons, which they’re so-called, which is not a conservative position. He’s a recent convert to traditional marriage view. He at one time said he would do more for the gay community than Ted Kennedy. That’s not a conservative position. So I just don’t understand this whole thing about so many people, whether it’s Rush Limbaugh or anyone else, saying he’s the conservative in the race. He may be saying conservative things now, but he certainly wasn’t saying them until he ran for president, and his record is not one of being consistent. When you have an abortion bill in your state as part of your health package that for $50 you guarantee a government-funded abortion within your health plan to any person who’s truly pro life, that is not conservative.

Then he explained why this matters:

It’s about the credibility of the candidacy and whether or not there’s authenticity. And for me, give me a guy that I disagree with but at least I know he’s speaking from his convictions, and it’s not just a convenient political view that he’s taking because today I’m talking to a women’s group, so I’m pro woman. But tomorrow I’m talking to a men’s group, so I’m not. That’s what disturbs me, and I think it’s the kind of politics that just really turns people off.

The full performance is here. Well, I suppose he is still in the running for McCain’s VP. However, it also does explain why the “rally around Romney” phenomenon has not occured. The anti-McCain sentiment is real among staunch conservative opinion makers, but conservative voters just have not rallied to Romney enthusiastically because he really has not been a movement conservative. It is politically difficult from the perspective of disgruntled conservatives just to be against McCain; they would have to stir a groundswell of support for the alternative. That simply hasn’t happened, for many of the reasons Huckabee identified.

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What Do They Do Now?

John, I agree that even the Clintons may find it hard to spin a 2 to 1 loss, but they will try. They will argue this was racial politics, unlikely to be duplicated since no state has such a high percentage of African American voters. Well, yes, winning over 80 percent of the African American vote in a state with the largest percentage of African American voters will be a salient fact. However, truth be told, Obama got a respectable 24 percent of the white vote and won overwhelmingly among voters below 60 and among young white voters. At the very least, it is a stinging rebuke to the Bill/Hillary team (70 percent of voters thought their attacks were unfair and late deciders went strongly for Obama despite Bill’s blitz and histrionics this week).

Obama will ride a wave of excitement and breathless coverage for a few days but then he does have his work cut out for him. Bluntly put, he must do better among white voters, especially in states like California where African Americans are only 7 percent of the electorate. Perhaps the specter of the Clintons’ rejection will encourage others beyond Caroline Kennedy to join Obama’s cause.

And what of John Edwards, who seems to be regularly below the Mendoza line? He trudges on, apparently with a nine state media buy because. . . because why? Well, that’s what John Edwards likes to do. Also, the savvy might recognize that with a well balanced Obama-Hillary fight and proportionally assigned delegates the possibility for a brokered convention increases. With that, so does Edwards’ bargaining leverage. (Would he be the first person who ran for VP with two different people at the top of the ticket?) Let’s hope the price for his delegates doesn’t include an important spot like Attorney General. ( Would the first order of business be a pardon for Dickie Scruggs?)

John, I agree that even the Clintons may find it hard to spin a 2 to 1 loss, but they will try. They will argue this was racial politics, unlikely to be duplicated since no state has such a high percentage of African American voters. Well, yes, winning over 80 percent of the African American vote in a state with the largest percentage of African American voters will be a salient fact. However, truth be told, Obama got a respectable 24 percent of the white vote and won overwhelmingly among voters below 60 and among young white voters. At the very least, it is a stinging rebuke to the Bill/Hillary team (70 percent of voters thought their attacks were unfair and late deciders went strongly for Obama despite Bill’s blitz and histrionics this week).

Obama will ride a wave of excitement and breathless coverage for a few days but then he does have his work cut out for him. Bluntly put, he must do better among white voters, especially in states like California where African Americans are only 7 percent of the electorate. Perhaps the specter of the Clintons’ rejection will encourage others beyond Caroline Kennedy to join Obama’s cause.

And what of John Edwards, who seems to be regularly below the Mendoza line? He trudges on, apparently with a nine state media buy because. . . because why? Well, that’s what John Edwards likes to do. Also, the savvy might recognize that with a well balanced Obama-Hillary fight and proportionally assigned delegates the possibility for a brokered convention increases. With that, so does Edwards’ bargaining leverage. (Would he be the first person who ran for VP with two different people at the top of the ticket?) Let’s hope the price for his delegates doesn’t include an important spot like Attorney General. ( Would the first order of business be a pardon for Dickie Scruggs?)

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Question Strategy

The idea here it seems is to ask a question to allow an opponent to shine and take votes away from a more potent foe. Romney lets Rudy show his stuff on China. Yup, get some of those McCain votes. McCain asks Huckabee a FAIR tax question. Let him grab some of those middle and lower income voters from Romney. Interesting. UPDATE: However, Huckabee does ask Romney a tougher gun rights question, revealing that my “running for McCain’s VP” theory may be holding up.

The idea here it seems is to ask a question to allow an opponent to shine and take votes away from a more potent foe. Romney lets Rudy show his stuff on China. Yup, get some of those McCain votes. McCain asks Huckabee a FAIR tax question. Let him grab some of those middle and lower income voters from Romney. Interesting. UPDATE: However, Huckabee does ask Romney a tougher gun rights question, revealing that my “running for McCain’s VP” theory may be holding up.

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Dennis Departs: Who’s Next?

Dennis Kucinich departed the race today. Rudy says he won’t, even if he loses in Florida. (A close second for Rudy with McCain in third might leave an opening, I suppose.) It’s not good to be asked about when you’re dropping out. The danger now is that his supporters, in an effort to cast a meaningful vote, may decide to choose either McCain or Romney. There is the debate tonight, but let’s be honest: not a single one of these has changed the trajectory of the GOP race, not even Thompson’s masterful performance in Myrtle Beach (which now seems a distant memory). I suppose someone could lose his cool or make a horrible gaffe, but by now all the contenders are exceedingly well prepared. The biggest question may be Huckabee. Is he running for McCain’s VP (and, hence, will he club Romney even if a McCain victory in Florida would doom Huckabee and the other candidates’ chances)? Or is he hoping to dislodge McCain, leaving February 5 unsettled and Red states ripe for his picking? I suspect the former, but we’ll find out in a few hours.

Dennis Kucinich departed the race today. Rudy says he won’t, even if he loses in Florida. (A close second for Rudy with McCain in third might leave an opening, I suppose.) It’s not good to be asked about when you’re dropping out. The danger now is that his supporters, in an effort to cast a meaningful vote, may decide to choose either McCain or Romney. There is the debate tonight, but let’s be honest: not a single one of these has changed the trajectory of the GOP race, not even Thompson’s masterful performance in Myrtle Beach (which now seems a distant memory). I suppose someone could lose his cool or make a horrible gaffe, but by now all the contenders are exceedingly well prepared. The biggest question may be Huckabee. Is he running for McCain’s VP (and, hence, will he club Romney even if a McCain victory in Florida would doom Huckabee and the other candidates’ chances)? Or is he hoping to dislodge McCain, leaving February 5 unsettled and Red states ripe for his picking? I suspect the former, but we’ll find out in a few hours.

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McCain’s Guarded Optimism

I just got off a conference call with John McCain, and, interestingly, the Senator seemed more sober in his new frontrunner status than he did when I spoke with him after Mike Huckabee took Iowa. New Hampshire had always looked promising for McCain, after all; what lies ahead is a bit trickier—especially considering the near-uselessness of polling.

The Senator spoke of the “transcendent struggle” that faces us, and stressed that national security, particularly the fight against Islamist terror, remains most important. He predicted that by November we’d see enough success in Iraq to prove him right on the war and the surge. McCain credits his “no surrender” tour and his ability to beat down the Webb Amendment with getting his national security message across. Additionally, he feels that people are ceasing to think of his immigration plan as amnesty. (Undoubtedly, some contentions readers will take exception here.)

When asked about potential VP’s, he playfully floated Phil Gramm, but stressed that seriousness on national security was the most sought after quality. Concretely, McCain stated that he backs Senator Tom Coburn’s push for earmarks on wasteful spending and, if no other means could be employed, would support an executive order to make it happen.

Other than that, the Senator sees hard work ahead. He takes obvious pleasure in (and has a gift for) townhall meetings, which he’ll continue to hold throughout the campaign. John McCain has a strong belief in the power of local effort and its ability to turn things around in the eleventh hour. And he may be onto something. The one thing most pundits agree on today is that the late undecided voters played a major role in last night’s results.

I just got off a conference call with John McCain, and, interestingly, the Senator seemed more sober in his new frontrunner status than he did when I spoke with him after Mike Huckabee took Iowa. New Hampshire had always looked promising for McCain, after all; what lies ahead is a bit trickier—especially considering the near-uselessness of polling.

The Senator spoke of the “transcendent struggle” that faces us, and stressed that national security, particularly the fight against Islamist terror, remains most important. He predicted that by November we’d see enough success in Iraq to prove him right on the war and the surge. McCain credits his “no surrender” tour and his ability to beat down the Webb Amendment with getting his national security message across. Additionally, he feels that people are ceasing to think of his immigration plan as amnesty. (Undoubtedly, some contentions readers will take exception here.)

When asked about potential VP’s, he playfully floated Phil Gramm, but stressed that seriousness on national security was the most sought after quality. Concretely, McCain stated that he backs Senator Tom Coburn’s push for earmarks on wasteful spending and, if no other means could be employed, would support an executive order to make it happen.

Other than that, the Senator sees hard work ahead. He takes obvious pleasure in (and has a gift for) townhall meetings, which he’ll continue to hold throughout the campaign. John McCain has a strong belief in the power of local effort and its ability to turn things around in the eleventh hour. And he may be onto something. The one thing most pundits agree on today is that the late undecided voters played a major role in last night’s results.

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