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Shields and Brooks Examine Impact of Epic Contest

May 9, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT
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After Sen. Barack Obama won handily in North Carolina's primary and rival Sen. Hillary Clinton scored a narrow victory in Indiana, many pundits called for Clinton to exit the race and bring the Democratic battle to a close. Mark Shields and David Brooks analyze the state of the race and the rest of the week's news.
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KWAME HOLMAN: Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton converged on the Portland area today in advance of Oregon’s May 20th primary.

Obama discussed the economy with workers at a software and technology company in suburban Beaverton. But one employee veered off-topic and asked Obama if he would consider asking Hillary Clinton to be his running mate.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: Were you put up to that by one of those reporters back there?

EMPLOYEE: No.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Did you guys get to him? Who was that? Well, you know, I said on Brian Williams yesterday, and I would repeat, I have not won this nomination yet. I think it would be presumptuous of me to suggest that she’s going to be my running mate when we’re still actively running.

KWAME HOLMAN: Clinton’s event took place at a children’s hospital in Portland, where she compared her health care plan to Obama’s.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: You have to have a seamless health care system which covers every single person. My plan does; my opponent’s plan doesn’t.

There are 600,000 uninsured Oregonians. Under my plan, everyone would have insurance. Under his plan, at least 220,000 would still be left uninsured. This is a big difference in this campaign.

KWAME HOLMAN: Obama picked up the support of nine more super-delegates today, including three members of Congress, Oregon’s Peter DeFazio; New Jersey’s Donald Payne, originally a Clinton supporter; and Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono.

Clinton added Pennsylvania super-delegate Chris Carney, whose congressional district she won during the state’s April primary.

According to the Associated Press, Obama’s lead over Clinton in the overall delegate count, pledged and super-delegates combined, is 157.

But today, amid all the delegate movement, Rahm Emanuel, a member of the House Democratic leadership, wasn’t yet ready to call the race over.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), Illinois: At this point, Barack is the presumptive nominee, at this point. But let me just finish this thing. Hillary can’t win, but something could happen that could affect — that Barack could lose the nomination. That’s really where you are at this point.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, Republican John McCain toured the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey, this morning. During the visit, he was asked to respond to Obama’s comments that McCain had “lost his bearings” for suggesting the Islamic militant group Hamas preferred Obama for president.

RALLY ATTENDEE: Do you take offense to Obama’s comment that you’re, quote, “losing your bearings”? And the bigger issue…

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: I ignore it. I don’t take offense to it.

RALLY ATTENDEE: Do you feel that your age is a legitimate issue in this campaign?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Every issue that the American people want to be an issue and it’s part of their discussions, it’s fine with me.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported today that, in 2005, McCain helped push through Congress a federal land deal which former McCain staff members lobbied to get approved.

The bill allowed an Arizona rancher to swap pine forests and grasslands for some prime federal land ready for development. A longtime McCain supporter and fundraiser was given the contract to build 12,000 homes on the land.

McCain’s campaign said the senator did nothing improper.

McCain will hold a fundraiser in Houston tomorrow, while Clinton attends a Mother’s Day celebration event in New York and Obama continues to campaign in Oregon.

Clinton refuses to cede nomination

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
I think the race is over. I think it's very tough for Hillary Clinton or any losing candidate to accept that reality, as long as there's any hope, as long as you're still getting crowds.

RAY SUAREZ: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

And you heard, David, the phrase "game-changer" floating around in the past week. It was supposed to be Tuesday night. Given what's happened since we got the final results of Tuesday's primaries, has the game changed?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: In everybody's mind but Hillary Clinton's, it seems. And I really think there's been a psychological change in the party. They've decided the nominating process is over. It was very exciting, it lasted for a while, but it's over.

And the audience is leaving the theater. And they're looking forward to the general election.

But I think, in Camp Clinton, there's really been no sign of that. They're tenacious. And she's saying, "I'm going to keep running until this is over."

And as we saw in that clip today and in the children's health hospital, she's running the same kind of campaign. It's not a graceful, gradual, "I'm a good person, I've got good ideas." It's, "Me versus him, me versus him. I've got the hard-working people, which is her new phrase for her supporter." I guess he has the less hard-working.

She's running a tough campaign, but the audience isn't there watching her anymore.

RAY SUAREZ: Mark?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I agree with David. I think the race is over. I think it's very tough for Hillary Clinton or any losing candidate to accept that reality, as long as there's any hope, as long as you're still getting crowds.

But I agree completely with David that, in order for her to make a graceful exit, she's got to be graceful and got to be gracious. And she's been none of the above since Wednesday morning.

I mean, she had an interview with Kathy Kiely and Jill Lawrence of USA Today, in which she did refer to her appeal to white voters, basically...

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you're a hard-working white guy. Were you upset about that?

MARK SHIELDS: Semi-hard-working.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, one of the two. One of the two.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, that's right. And at the same time, Ray, making the case, basically, that, "He can't carry them, and I can." This is not only unhelpful; it's destructive to your party and your party's chances.

The longer she stays in -- this is the risk she runs -- if you get out gracefully on your own terms -- Mike Huckabee, most recent memory -- you can do it -- you can kind of write your own exit lines. You can write your own farewell address.

The longer she stays and the more the conclusion is that it's over and she's just dead woman walking, then you get all the obituaries being written by people that's terminal narcissism, that it's a destructive, imperial impulse on their part, on the Clintons' part.

I mean, you get all of that, and you're going to leave not only having hurt your party, but having damaged your own reputation and your own future.

Clinton's tenacity could hurt party

David Brooks
New York Times
[E]very day you stay in the race, you're immobilizing [Barack] Obama....He's got to be talking about Hillary Clinton, and he cannot declare victory. He has to wait for her to declare him the victor.

RAY SUAREZ: There was a lot of talk this week about how you can't just flip a switch. She's built, in effect, a $200 million corporation. It's got employees all over the country, letterhead, phones, offices, computers. You can't just say, "OK, see ya."

But I guess there are -- she's got a menu of choices on how she wants to handle the next month.

DAVID BROOKS: Actually, she could flip a switch. She could have woken up after North Carolina and Indiana and said, "I can't win. I'm out."

It's not likely. I don't blame her for wanting to take a victory lap in West Virginia and Kentucky and other places.

But to keep on attacking and to keep on attacking when you know, first of all, the divisions in the party are not just ideological divisions. They're along age lines, racial lines, education lines. These are deep psychological divisions, which are potentially dangerous.

And every day you stay in the race, you're immobilizing Obama, because the question we heard from him today, he's asked about Hillary Clinton. He's got to be talking about Hillary Clinton, and he cannot declare victory. He has to wait for her to declare him the victor.

He has all the power now. He does not have the power to end this thing. Only she has the power. If he tries to force her, then you get the worst of all worlds.

So she really is immobilizing the party. And I just -- I'm surprised she's not looking for a more graceful way out. She does not want those super-delegates to force her out. That would lead to ugliness and really would make the splits in the party permanent through the fall.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, might there be negotiations going right now as we're speaking that you're just not aware of?

MARK SHIELDS: Sure. I mean, I think the conversations, you know, how urgent and how significant they are, I do not know.

I think there's two arguments the Clintons make. The Clintons make this argument, the Clinton campaign, look, this year is so much a Democratic year. You have an unpopular, lame-duck president presiding over an unpopular war, which the nominee has endorsed that unpopular war.

You have an economy in turmoil. You have four-out-of-five voters saying they want to go in a different direction. The Democrats are going to win in 2008, so she's not jeopardizing anything.

I mean, I think, if you lay down these fundamentals, Ray, and the Democrats do lose in 2008, they ought to seriously consider going into the aluminum-siding business, I mean, because it really -- the things are that propitious. And I think that's the argument.

Now, as far as she's concerned personally and psychologically, it is tough to throw the switch that you talk about and just walk away from it. There are two things that will happen.

One is, Mo Udall, the great Democrat from Arizona, said the only known cure for the presidential virus once it invades a politician's body is embalming fluid. And I think there's great truth to that.

But the reality will set in, when they start demanding cash, every vendor, hotel, rental car, not only television stations, airlines, every place, restaurants, they're going to start demanding cash, because they don't want to be last in line on a campaign that's over $25 million in debt.

McCain still shaky on strategy

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
John McCain is running a very conventional campaign in an unconventional year. And I think that could be his problem.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, meanwhile, John McCain is still campaigning to be president of the United States. This week, he gave an address on his philosophy for appointing judges to the federal bench and made a little news by tying the terrorist group Hamas, or what's been declared by the U.S. a terrorist group, to his presumed Democratic opponent.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, he would say that the Hamas leader who said he wanted Obama to win did the tying. But the judicial speech was the big event this week. Next week, I think he's going to give a global warming speech.

And what you're seeing is, in some ways, breaking with the Bush administration -- next week, global warming -- and in some cases, being a pretty traditional Republican. The speech he gave was a traditional, "We want judges who are not judicial activists, strict constructionist."

It was a traditional, conservative speech that presidential candidates give. It went over very well with social conservatives. And so there was that link to the party, and it allowed him to make two cases.

He says, "I am at least willing to go to the center on the Gang of 14 deal we reached with judges in the Senate a few years ago. I was willing to go to the center. Barack Obama was so far to the left he wasn't willing to join us. I was willing to support a guy like John Roberts. Barack Obama was so far to the left he wasn't willing to join us."

So what he did today, this week, was solidify himself with some of the conservative elements and then try to target Obama as a conventional liberal.

MARK SHIELDS: John McCain has spent the time, the sort of "This is Your Life Tour," which is the strongest part of John McCain's case to make in 2008, which is his own personal values, his own personal history and biography, and he's done that, I think, reasonably well.

He really punched his ticket on the judicial speech this week. I mean, that's sort of the price of admission for the conservatives. He did it on the day after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, when it was guaranteed not to get major coverage and not to make major headlines.

I do think that John McCain is running a very conventional campaign in an unconventional year. And I think that could be his problem, Ray.

The greatest indicator of how people are going to vote is their party identification. And when Bill Clinton won in 1992 and 1996, more than 70 percent of Americans said they were Democrats rather than Republicans, plus 7 percent. And when the Democrats lost in 2000, even though Gore carried the popular vote, it was still plus 4 percent in party identification. When George Bush won in 2004, still the Democrats were plus 2 percent.

So you could run this sort of "get our army together, our side together, our Republicans together." Right now, it's anywhere from minus 12 percent in party identification for Republicans to minus 14 percent.

So getting the Republicans is not -- John McCain has to be concerned with getting independents and Democrats. And by his further embrace of the war and his embrace of George Bush's tax cuts, I think that doesn't help.

DAVID BROOKS: This is a key debate within Republican circles now. There is a temptation to run against Obama -- Jeremiah Wright, liberal college professor, pointy-headed elitist -- Republicans know how to run that campaign blindfolded.

And it seems like the McCain campaign really does want to run that kind of campaign. It won't work.

Newt Gingrich wrote a highly influential piece this week in Human Events, where he said you can run that kind of event, that kind of campaign. We know it does not work. We've seen it fail in these congressional elections we've just had. We saw it fail in 2006. It will fail, it will fail, it will fail.

And I think that's absolutely the right position, which the McCain campaign has not fully taken on board, and has not come up with another way to run.

They can't dismiss conservativism. That's not who John McCain is. They've got to come up with something else. I still don't think they've done that.

GOP fears a rout

David Brooks
New York Times
Republicans have to do a wake-up call. I mean, they know what's going to happen....They know the party is in decline.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Mark, in the past couple of months, we've had former Speaker Hastert's seat won in the Chicago suburbs by a Democrat, who gets to defend it as an incumbent in the fall, a new member of the House of Representatives from Louisiana in a seat that's been Republican for 33 years.

And now another special election coming up in Mississippi, where it's close, and a lot of people are saying it shouldn't be.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it shouldn't be close. The northwest Mississippi district is a solidly, reliably Republican district. And it's a district that became vacant when Trent Lott left the Senate and the congressman was appointed to succeed him.

And I just look at it, Ray -- and history kind of rings a bell here. In 1974, after Spiro Agnew had been forced to resign -- or be prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated as vice president -- Gerry Ford succeeded him.

The Democrats won a House seat in western Pennsylvania, a fellow named Jack Murtha, a Vietnam veteran won a Republican seat. Two weeks later, they won Gerry Ford's seat in Michigan, a seat that hadn't been won by the Democrats since 1910. And right after that, the 1st District of Ohio, a seat the Democrats had won once since 1936, the Democrats won that.

Three in a row. At that point, the die was cast that it was going to be a big Democratic year. Republicans were in panic. All sense of party unity and discipline went with it. And all money went flowing to the Democrats.

That's what Republicans are terrified of. What the Democrats have, they have six times as much money as the Republicans do right now, proving once again that...

RAY SUAREZ: And that's unusual for it to even be close.

MARK SHIELDS: ... in Washington money. I mean, they go with the winner, all right? It's very unusual.

And what they've forced the Republicans to do is to spend money they don't have, defending the Illinois seat, defending the Louisiana seat, both of which they lost. If they lose this seat, then not only will they lost three in a row that were held by Republicans -- which is a rarity to have seats change -- but it would leave the party with depleted coffers going into the 2008 elections.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, David, along with more than two dozen Republican retirements from the House, what's John McCain's job at the top of the ticket, if he wants to not have also on his resume a huge change on Capitol Hill?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, pretend you're not a Republican.

You know, the British Conservative Party about 10 years ago, they'd asked people, "Are you for sunshine?" And they'd say, "Yes, I'm for sunshine." "But the Conservative Party is for sunshine." And people would say, "Well, I'm against sunshine then."

And people just hated the Conservative Party so much, we're getting in that position for the Republican Party. McCain has to worry about himself. He can't worry about Republicans.

But the Republicans have to do a wake-up call. I mean, they know what's going to happen. You've been talking to Republicans for five years on Capitol Hill. They know the party is in decline.

What struck me is how immobilized they are. And these two races have spread panic in Republican House and Senate circles. They know how bad it's going to be. And yet they don't change.

They're sort of, "We've got to change. We've got to come up with something new." But they haven't done it. Sometimes it seems only the pain of defeat really causes a change.

Now, that said, I still think -- and Democrats -- a lot of the House Democrats will acknowledge this -- the amount of House seats that are left to lose is not that huge. They've lost a lot already. They've lost a lot of Senate seats.

I don't think the Democratic pickups will be huge, but the Democratic Party will be the majority party, you'd expect.

RAY SUAREZ: David, Mark, have a great weekend.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Ray.