I don’t know whether Hillary Clinton is going to win Ohio and Texas today, and if you think I’m going to hazard a guess based on these fluctuating polls, well, you must have snoozed through New Hampshire.
I also don’t know whether Hillary might throw in the towel if she loses one, or both, of the mega-states her own husband had declared to be crucial, or what kind of pressure she might come under to hang it up. But I do know one thing: Hers is not sounding like a winning campaign.
I say this not because of the red-phone ad or Hillary’s decision to abandon the trail to ham it up with Amy Poehler. No, it’s the finger-pointing that has broken out in her inner circle–the same inner circle that the media were hailing as loyal and disciplined until a few short weeks ago.
You know how it is with campaigns. When they’re on a roll, everyone is a genius. Reporters vie to write stories about the behind-the-scenes strategist, the brilliant memo, the turning point when the candidate rejected bad advice and went on to win 10 straight contests.
And the trailing candidate? A badly flawed hack who made a hundred mistakes, surrounded by an incompetent staff that made a thousand mistakes, which in the media amplification comes across as a million mistakes.
So now we have the unseemly spectacle of senior Clinton aides saying, hey, wasn’t my fault, it was that other guy, I barely knew her. Much buzz about this L.A. Times piece and the comments of Mark Penn, who last time I checked was leading off every Hillary conference call with reporters:
“As the campaign faces a make-or-break moment, some high-level officials are trying to play down their role in the campaign. Penn said in an e-mail over the weekend that he had ‘no direct authority in the campaign,’ describing himself as merely ‘an outside message advisor with no campaign staff reporting to me.’
” ‘I have had no say or involvement in four key areas — the financial budget and resource allocation, political or organizational sides. Those were the responsibility of Patti Solis Doyle, Harold Ickes and Mike Henry, and they met separately on all matters relating to those areas.’
“Howard Wolfson, the campaign’s communications chief, answered that it was Penn who had top responsibility for both its strategy and message. Another aide said Penn spoke to Clinton routinely about the campaign’s message and ran daily meetings on the topic.”
But it’s not just Penn, as this New York Observer story makes clear:
“Harold Ickes definitely doesn’t buy the argument that Mark Penn isn’t responsible for everything that has happened to the Hillary Clinton campaign.
” ‘Mark Penn has run this campaign,’ said Ickes in a brief phone interview. ‘Besides Hillary Clinton, he is the single most responsible person for this campaign. Now, he has been circumscribed to some extent by Maggie Williams,’ said Ickes, who then pointed out that that was only a recent development.
“When asked about the assertion by one senior Clinton official the campaign was effectively run by committee, diluting Penn’s authority, Ickes was incredulous. ‘I don’t know what campaign you’re talking about,’ said Ickes. ‘I have been at meetings where he introduces himself as the campaign’s chief strategist. I’ve heard him call himself that many times, say, ‘I am the chief strategist.’ ”
Maybe–and this is just a guess–these guys don’t like each other?
I will say this: In watching the network broadcasts last night, it was the first time in I don’t remember how long that Hillary won a news cycle. The Rezko trial got covered, and the previously obscure dispute about whether Barack Obama is double-talking on NAFTA got covered as well. The only downside for Hillary was NBC suggesting that maybe she shouldn’t have offered an extra qualifier or two (“as far as I know”) in saying on “60 Minutes” that she doesn’t believe the false accounts that Obama is a Muslim.
“Saying she is ‘just getting warmed up,’ ” the L.A. Times reports, “Clinton contended that Obama had given the Canadians ‘the old wink-wink,’ by secretly telling them not to take offense at his need to disparage NAFTA while campaigning in job-strapped Ohio.”
Can Obama win GOP votes? A Washington Times poll “that a quarter of self-identified Republicans rated Mr. McCain most likable, but nearly as many — 23 percent — chose Mr. Obama as most likable. And among all adults surveyed, Mr. Obama was rated likable by more people than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. McCain combined, underscoring the Illinois senator’s appeal to voters across the political spectrum.”
Who else thinks the press has been in the tank for Obama? Well, there’s Paul Krugman, the only anti-Obama voice on the NYT op-ed page:
“What we do know is that Mr. Obama has never faced a serious Republican opponent — and that he has not yet faced the hostile media treatment doled out to every Democratic presidential candidate since 1988 . . .
“If Mr. Obama secures the nomination, the honeymoon will be over as he faces an opponent whom much of the press loves as much as it hates Mrs. Clinton. If Mrs. Clinton can do nothing right, Mr. McCain can do nothing wrong — even when he panders outrageously, he’s forgiven because he looks uncomfortable doing it. Honest.”
Caryl Rivers makes some good points — and not just because she quotes me! — in this Boston Globe column:
“The media loved Hillary when she put her hand on Obama’s and said it was a privilege to be on the same podium; they hated her when she slammed him for giving out what she called misleading information on her healthcare plan. (After googling ‘shrill’ and ‘Hillary’ after that encounter, I stopped at 20 pages.)
“And while, fortunately, media coverage of the campaign has been largely free of racism, the same can’t be said for sexism. On the blog Mediacrit, Ashleigh Crowther noted the widespread coverage of Hillary’s laugh. Patrick Healy of The New York Times dubbed it the ‘Clinton Cackle,’ Frank Rich of the Times called it ‘calculating,’ and pundit Dick Morris called Clinton’s laugh ‘loud, inappropriate, and mirthless . . . A scary sound that was somewhere between a cackle and a screech.’
“And then there was Hillary’s cleavage. When she appeared on the Senate floor with a modest dÂ¿colletage, you would have thought Pamela Anderson had wandered into the chamber in a bustier.”
Sign of the times? “At a Clinton rally in Westerville, Ohio, on Sunday, one woman carried a sign that read: ‘DON’T LET THE PRESS BOY-CRUSH PICK OUR PRESIDENT.’ ”
Here’s a hint of what may lie ahead tomorrow morning, from Americablog’s John Aravosis:
“Once you’ve lost it’s better to get out than take us all down with you. This race is getting far too bitter. I see it in our own readers – it went from friendly competition to a death match about 4 weeks ago. If Hillary doesn’t get her 65% of delegates in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday, she needs to accept that she lost, and quit the race. If she doesn’t, then I suspect the negative attacks that are going to be making news next week won’t be Hillary’s at all. They’re going to be from the rest of the party demanding that she concede.”
Once you’ve lost the New York Times, you might as well pack it in? “Last week,” says the New Republic’s Gabe Sherman, “I wrote a piece about the split within the New York Times’ editorial board in the run-up to the paper’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton. A number of editorial board members favored Obama, but Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. superseded their voices and endorsed Clinton. One thought: it will be interesting to watch the Times react to the vote in Texas and Ohio. Will the editorial page call for Clinton to step aside if Obama picks up one or both of the crucial contests?”
Some thoughts from Josh Green, who famously had a piece on Hillary staff infighting killed by GQ, which was more interested in preserving a cover story on Bill in Africa:
“What explains the embarrassing episode during the conference call on Friday that was supposed to drive the message in her ‘Red Phone’ ad, that ‘Obama’s not ready to handle a crisis’? As Jennifer Skalka expertly delineated over at The Hotline, Clinton’s own staff was flummoxed when the question was turned back by Slate’s John Dickerson: ‘What can you point to in Hillary’s career when she’s been tested by crisis?’
“To experience the full measure of awkwardness the ensuing silence created, listen for yourself. Then ask yourself how on earth it is that no one thought to answer ‘9/11,’ which is not only the biggest crisis anyone in the government has faced in the last eight years, but is also one that Clinton unquestionably handled with poise and skill. The $20 billion she helped secure for New York City after the attacks was the signature accomplishment of her first term in the Senate!”
Is there a gap between what voters want to hear and Hillary’s closing message? National Review’s Byron York thinks so:
“The economy is what people want to hear about, and the economy is what Clinton gives them. Even her relatively brief remarks on the war in Iraq focus on quickly pulling U.S. troops out and providing them more benefits upon their return home. Promising a ’21st Century G.I. Bill of Rights,’ Clinton pledges more money for veterans to go to college, buy homes, and start businesses.
“When it comes time to take questions, they’re nearly all about the economy. The first man to stand up says, ‘I work in a steel mill. We didn’t get no help last time. Are you going to help us this time? Those Chinese are killing us.’ Clinton pledges help. Other questioners want to know about reducing the cost of special education and how to save money installing solar energy systems in their homes. No one talks about Hillary Clinton’s readiness to be commander-in-chief.”
As if Hillary didn’t have enough to worry about, now she has to clean up after Gloria Steinem, who said of John McCain’s 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam: “I mean, hello? This is supposed to be a qualification to be president? I don’t think so.”
Ann Althouse pounces:
“Why is a 73-year-old woman — feminist ‘icon’ Gloria Steinem — talking like a teenager and making a mindcrushingly stupid attack on John McCain for the respect we give him for his years as a prisoner of war? You might think she’s lost her mind, but in fact, she’s just using an old feminist rhetorical device:
” ‘Suppose John McCain had been Joan McCain and Joan McCain had got captured, shot down and been a POW for eight years. [The media would ask], ‘What did you do wrong to get captured? What terrible things did you do while you were there as a captive for eight years?” Steinem said, to laughter from the audience.”
Some women seemed particularly offended, including the proprietor of Betsy’s Page:
“Steinem’s crack raises the counter question: how does being married to a former president serve as a qualification for being president? Steinem goes on to say that the media wouldn’t be as sympathetic to a woman who was captured and tortured . . .
“Well, turn it around. If a man were running on the basis of his experience as being married to a two-term former president, would the media be as likely to assume that being First Husband would be a qualification for being president? And if that First Husband’s wife had publicly humiliated him by cheating with an intern, would he get the same sympathy vote that would have propelled him into the Senate in the first place?”
The Obama campaign tried to brush off that Canadian report about his adviser Austan Goolsbee and a private conversation about NAFTA. But the AP has the smoking memo:
” ‘ Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.’
“This thing about ‘it’s more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans,’ that’s this guy’s language,’ Goolsbee said of DeMora. ‘He’s not quoting me.’ ”
But somebody gave the Canadian official the impression that Obama didn’t really mean it.
Does Rezko matter? Dick Polman has a theory:
“I doubt the Rezko case will have much of an impact on the voters in Texas and Ohio tomorrow. The details are too ‘inside baseball’; as Obama strategist David Axelrod said on ABC News, ‘this is not what people want us to be talking about. They want to talk about their lives, their problems’ (which is exactly what the Clintons used to say in 1992, when Bill’s aberrant behavior was front and center). Nevertheless, Obama in this campaign has painted himself as an ethics purist; therefore, he needs to be assessed accordingly. Which is why it’s noteworthy that his judgment seems less than stellar, at least with respect to this particular friend.”
The Economist writes critically about Obama in a way you almost never see here, outside of conservative precincts:
“The sad thing is that one might reasonably have expected better from Mr Obama. He wants to improve America’s international reputation yet campaigns against NAFTA. He trumpets ‘the audacity of hope’ yet proposes more government intervention. He might have chosen to use his silver tongue to address America’s problems in imaginative ways–for example, by making the case for reforming the distorting tax code. Instead, he wants to throw money at social problems and slap more taxes on the rich, and he is using his oratorical powers to prey on people’s fears.
“Mr Obama advertises himself as something fresh, hopeful and new. But on economic matters at least he, like Mrs Clinton, has begun to look a rather ordinary old-style Democrat.”
Marc Ambinder admits it’s irresponsible, but he’s joined the Obama veepstakes chatter, floating such unexciting names as Sam Nunn and Lee Hamilton. But there’s also “Joe Biden — no Democrat gets foreign policy better than Joe Biden; no Democrat would be, in theory, a better steward of relations on the Hill than Biden; he’d be a fantastic surrogate and there’d be virtually no downside to picking him.” Ambinder’s wild cards: Chuck Hagel, Hillary Clinton and Jim Webb.
Geez: Shades of James Frey! Is this the new trend in nonfiction?
“In ‘Love and Consequences,’ a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South Central Los Angeles as a foster child who ran drugs for members of the Bloods, an infamous gang . . .
“The problem is that none of that is true.”
Did the publisher ask no questions, like, uh, is that really you in this “humane and deeply affecting memoir,” as Michiko Kakutani put it?
Finally, Fox Business Network has a new billboard with the slogan, “See What You Are Missing.” Hint: Seven Fox-y journalists, all babes.