’08 Candidates Speak Out on Pakistan, Prepare for Iowa

December 28, 2007 at 6:20 PM EDT
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After a report on how presidential candidates are responding to the week's events in Pakistan, analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks consider the news of the week, including the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and the upcoming Iowa caucuses.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The candidates were pushing hard today with just six days left to woo Iowa voters ahead of their caucuses. Yesterday’s assassination of Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto continued to be an issue on the trail.

In Williamsburg, Iowa, today, Senator Barack Obama reiterated that he is best equipped to change the way Washington addresses past foreign policy wrongs.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), Presidential Candidate: So, we have got to reverse policy, but we have got to see this in the bigger context, which is that our invasion of Iraq resulted us taking our eye — resulted in us taking our eye off the ball. We should have been focused in Afghanistan, and finishing off al-Qaida. They’re the ones that killed 3,000 Americans.

And we have been so distracted with a war of choice, instead of the war of necessity that we should have fought there, that al-Qaida is now stronger than at any time since 2001. And it’s fanned anti-American sentiment all throughout the region, and made us much more vulnerable to attack in the long term.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Obama advisers note, Senator Hillary Clinton voted to authorize that war.

Clinton herself touted her international credentials, saying she was up to the unpredictable challenges of the presidency.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), Presidential Candidate: There is no guarantee, and it is time to pick a president, to pick a president who is prepared to deal with everything that we know awaits. And, on January 20, 2009, our next president will be sworn in. And waiting on that desk in the Oval Office will be a war to end and a war to resolve in Afghanistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, former Senator John Edwards aimed his criticism at the Bush administration.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), Presidential Candidate: We have made a mistake, in my judgment, with the aid that we have given in the past, because a great deal of it has gone simply to prop up Musharraf, which is not what we should be doing.

There is a great deal more that we could be doing to help educate Pakistani children, to deal with health issues, a whole number of things that would change the way that — or have a significant influence on the way the Pakistani people view America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Delaware Senator Joe Biden, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said today: “We need a new policy. We don’t have a Pakistani policy. We have a Musharraf policy.”

He was referring to Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf. And New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who yesterday called for Musharraf to step down, said the Bush administration should stop all military aid to Pakistan until he does.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), Presidential Candidate: Today, as a nation, I am calling on the administration to stand firm for our ideals in the face of terrorism and in respect for the ideals that Benazir Bhutto stood for.

Anything less would send a dangerous signal to the world that terrorism alters our resolve. We must learn that, when our policies and our actions conflict with the democratic goals of a people, that we fail.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As for the Republicans, former Senator Fred Thompson warned against calling for Musharraf to step down — quote — “I hope that we as candidates out here don’t start lobbing these ideas that get plenty of attention, but are not very sound. We need to be deliberate in our approach to it, because we have several interests involved there.”

Meanwhile, Senator John McCain said he backed Musharraf, and urged that the elections go forward as planned.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), Presidential Candidate: I hope that we will make the transition to a free and fair election. But I would like to give President Musharraf some credit for taking the measures that we have asked him to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who has been seen as having fewer foreign policy credentials, also tried to broaden the focus.

MITT ROMNEY (R), Presidential Candidate: There is a new challenge of a national security nature, global violent jihad. I think our Democratic foes have spoken only about Iraq. They say, let’s get our troops home. We’ll get out of Iraq.

It suggests a lack of understanding of the global nature of this radical jihadist movement, and the need for us not to just respond to crises — and this is certainly one that we need to respond to — but also to have in place a comprehensive strategy to help move Islam towards modernity and support moderate nations within the Islamic world.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For his part, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee tried to bring the focus back home.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), Presidential Candidate: I think the next president ought to sit at his desk every single day and say, what will I do today that will affect the children in Pella, Iowa, or Dermott, Arkansas? What will we do to make this world safer?

And, believe me, today, in light of what happened yesterday in Pakistan, we all understand how dangerous a world we live in, how uncertain every single day is. But let’s also be mindful that, while the assassination of a presidential candidate in Pakistan does in fact touch us, and it reminds us of the instability of that part of the world, we don’t have to look that far to see instability in our own world, whether it’s a shopping mall in Omaha just a few weeks ago.

This is a dangerous and a violent place sometimes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whether the new developments in Pakistan influence voters in Iowa remains to be seen.

Few definitive on Pakistan

David Brooks
New York Times
Pakistan is a challenging problem. How do you deal with Pervez Musharraf? We have got multiple interests. Do we support him? How much do we support him?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and "New York Times" columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, thank you for being here.


JUDY WOODRUFF: David, so, the candidates are, all of them, making comments about what happened to Benazir Bhutto. But is it affecting the campaign?

DAVID BROOKS: I guess I would think only tangentially, in part because we have still got five or six days -- and that seems like a short time -- but this story could fade, unless Pakistan totally blows up. Then all bets are off.

And there are a whole series of other issues which will come up. I'm not sure it touches Iowans directly. And it cuts across both ways. So, I think, if you had to affect on how it would predict -- how it would affect the whole election, minor way, I would think.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does something like this change voters' priorities, Mark, at a time like this?

MARK SHIELDS: That is what we don't know. And I think David has put his finger on something very important here.

We don't know to what degree Iowa caucus-goers believe this touches them personally. This is not like an attack on the United States. Is it just one more issue or does it, in fact, say, gee, this is a time of anxiety, of concern, and, therefore, I want to turn, on the Democratic side, to a candidate who is seen as better prepared, and more experienced?

And Senator Clinton has consistently run higher in those qualities. I think there's two things to remember, though, in supporting David's point, Judy. And that is, Iowa, the caucuses in Iowa began because it is a very anti-war state.

Ever since World War I, Iowa has been probably among the most dovish and certainly the most skeptical and reluctant to support or advocate American military intervention. Just one little factoid: There's only one president who spent part of his adult life in Iowa. That is Ronald Reagan. It was his second worst state in 1984, in large part because of the bellicosity of his policy in Central America. So, that is a factor here.

This not a Southern state with a long, strong, hawkish military tradition.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, well, whether it is or isn't a factor, how are the candidates handling it? I mean, do you see them making moves right now, David, that are going to lift them up in the voters' eyes, or...

DAVID BROOKS: I would say some are handling it well, some very poorly, and not -- you wouldn't predict who was doing one and who was doing the other.

Listen, Pakistan is a challenging problem. How do you deal with Pervez Musharraf? We have got multiple interests. Do we support him? How much do we support him? I count four candidates who have dealt with that difficult issue, whether it be pro-Musharraf, anti-, one way or another, take a position. And those are Biden, Richardson, Thompson, and McCain.

They have all at least addressed this difficult subject. The others have simply sidestepped it. I mean, John Edwards wished to educate Pakistan's children? Give me a break, that's not a policy. Hillary Clinton talks about her expertise. She knew Benazir Bhutto, but what would she do about Musharraf? You have got to answer that question.

You have got to demonstrate, at a moment of crisis, you can make a presidential decision in a world where you are given no good alternatives. And I would say most of the candidates, and most notably Clinton, have punted on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, so demonstrating knowledge, does that help them? We don't know yet.

DAVID BROOKS: You have got to seem presidential at a moment like this. And that means you have got to take the tough issue and take a stand.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, let's broaden out.

MARK SHIELDS: Joe Biden...


MARK SHIELDS: Joe Biden, if there is a Winston Churchill award for having been the longest and the strongest in warning about a trouble spot, Joe Biden of Delaware deserves the award, because, I mean, when others were focused on Iran and Iraq, he kept always saying, "Pakistan is the ball game, and that's where our energies and attention ought to be directed."

JUDY WOODRUFF: He is not just chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He has got...

MARK SHIELDS: He is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He has got this long...

MARK SHIELDS: But he has had a real long and strong interest there.

DAVID BROOKS: I also think -- I don't know if Mark agrees with me -- I think, if Democrats somehow lose this election, they are going to look back and say, why didn't we just nominate Joe Biden or Chris Dodd? These guys are safe, generic Democrats. They have an 80 percent chance of winning. The others have big downsides. I'm mystified that Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have not gotten more attention.

Unprecedented campaigning in Iowa

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
[O]ne of the Hillary Clinton's senior advisers put it very bluntly, it was any result involving the three would not surprise him, I mean, whether Edwards wins, or whether Obama wins, or whether Clinton wins.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, broaden it out to Iowa. Talk about the voters.

Mark, you started talking a minute ago about how this is an anti-war state. What does the campaign look like right now for the Democrats? What are you hearing? I know you're talking to people.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, right now, as one of the Hillary Clinton's senior advisers put it very bluntly, it was any result involving the three would not surprise him, I mean, whether Edwards wins, or whether Obama wins, or whether Clinton wins.

It comes down, Judy -- you put it in your question earlier -- what are voters looking for? If they are looking for somebody they think is the best prepared to be president on January 20, 2009, Hillary Clinton leads in that area. If they are looking for someone they think is more honest, and has new ideas, and different ideas, and is going to change Washington, then Barack Obama is seen as better.

If they are looking for someone who is going to fight their fights, and particularly in health care, and take on what they consider to be entrenched economic interests that are alien to their best interests, the voters', then John Edwards is their champion.

So, it really comes down to what they are looking for when they walk in. If it's electability, it didn't matter in 2000. If electability mattered in 2000, the Republicans would have nominated McCain and the Democrats would have nominated Bill Bradley. Instead, they nominated George Bush and Al Gore.

In 2004, electability was paramount to voters. And Democrats -- mistakenly, it turned out -- nominated John Kerry, because they thought he was the most electable.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, I...

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what are voters looking for? David, you have got this answer.

DAVID BROOKS: I don't know. I mean, if you look at the polls and you study them in micro-detail, which they probably don't merit, I think what you see over the last week is Obama and Clinton very strong, a little movement to John Edwards. If there is any movement in the race, I think it is to John Edwards. And, in my gut, it would not surprise...

JUDY WOODRUFF: And why is that?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think his message is still a resonant message, about corporate greed and the evils of corporate America.

I mean, it's a powerful message. He's a good campaigner. He has been there forever. And I just think he finished extremely strongly four years ago.

MARK SHIELDS: It is a message that is fortified by what people see in the headlines. They do see stories of corporate misdemeanors and worse.

DAVID BROOKS: One of the things that struck me is the scope of the campaign right now in Iowa.

John Kerry, four years ago, had 120 paid staff in Iowa. Hillary Clinton has 400. This is just off the charts. Four years ago, John Kerry spent $2.7 million. Barack Obama has spent $8 million, Hillary Clinton another $6 million, on commercials, on commercials.

Judy WOODRUFF: This is just on television ads, right?

DAVID BROOKS: And so the scope of this campaign is off the charts compared to anything we have ever seen before. And we have no idea how this intense investment in -- in organization and commercials is going to pay off to relatively few voters on next Thursday.

MARK SHIELDS: And the other thing that is not included in David's list there is independent expenditures.

And this is where Edwards may have had a stumble this week. Independent expenditures are supposedly done by groups that are independent of the campaign, and there is no communication between the two. And it's used for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is, you can raise unlimited amounts of money from contributors.

John Edwards' former campaign manager is running one of these, and it's a way of being critical of your opponents using the independent expenditures without having it attributed and ascribed to your own campaign. So, those aren't even in those totals.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As long as they are separate -- as long as they are separate, it is legal.

MARK SHIELDS: They are legal, but, I mean, they are supposed to be independent of. That's what they call independent expenditures.

It is hard to believe there is great independence when your former campaign manager is running one of them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. We have got to talk about the Republicans, too. They are having their own caucuses in Iowa next Thursday night.

What do you hear, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, again, you go by your gut. The polls really have been meaningless this week because of Christmas. But you have a sense that Mike Huckabee has peaked and is beginning to feel some of the punishment he's been taking from the Republican establishment.

And Mitt Romney looks a little stronger, at least in Iowa, than he did a week ago. And so I think that is generally the vibe of the race, though again, who knows. It all depends on who turns out. And my guess is that Huckabee has a lot of really strong supporters in the homeschooling movement and among the churches.

But he has a lot of very weak supporters, people who like him, but don't really pay attention to politics all that much. And I suspect, at the end of the day, those people may not turn out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans not have -- they don't have as many people or are not spending as much money as the Democrats.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it's the minor leagues compared to the major leagues. You go to a Republican event, it's small. There's not a lot -- as much press.

You go to the Democratic events, it's like the Yankees playing the Red Sox. It's just a bigger scope.

McCain surprises with a 'Lazarus'

David Brooks
New York Times
[I]f McCain comes in third, that means, importantly, that Rudy Giuliani comes in fourth, and then you really begin...to see a slide, which would help McCain down the road, as the independent, more moderate Republicans switch from Rudy to McCain.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But there are as many Republican voters in the state of Iowa as there are Democrats.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. They're just sadder.

MARK SHIELDS: No, there are.

But David is right. There is greater enthusiasm on the part of Democrats, because they do see this as a golden opportunity for them.

On the Republican side, Judy, I think that, historically, there are three tickets out of Iowa. That is, Iowa doesn't name a winner, but it does name losers. Nobody has ever been nominated, let alone elected, who finished below third in the Iowa caucuses. And only that happened in one case. That was George Herbert Walker Bush in 1988. Everybody else has either been first or second in Iowa.

And, so, I think, on the Republican side, there is a fight for third. And John McCain, who has shown a surge, I mean, it's a great story. It's a Lazarus story. He's done more with less. Huckabee and McCain have done more with less in this year, and maybe Edwards.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Less money.

MARK SHIELDS: Less money, less support, less establishment backing, than any of the other candidates. It is really a remarkable story. You can make an argument who has done less with more. And we can do that after New Hampshire, perhaps.

MARK SHIELDS: But I think that John McCain has a chance -- not to jinx him -- to finish third. And, in every -- that would be just an amazing achievement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you are saying that is a good thing in these circumstances?

MARK SHIELDS: That would be amazing, because, in every political reporter's word processor, including David's, there's an expression called better than expected, who does better than expected.

And I don't think there is probably a chance of that happening maybe on the Democratic side next Thursday. Maybe there is. But there certainly is on the Republican side. I mean, whether it's John McCain or Ron Paul or whoever it is, somebody is going to do better than expected and will get a little boost out of Iowa.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, a lot depends on what the expectations are going into next week?

DAVID BROOKS: No surprise.

But if McCain comes in third, that means, importantly, that Rudy Giuliani comes in fourth, and then you really begin to...

MARK SHIELDS: Fifth, or fifth.



DAVID BROOKS: And then you really begin to see a slide, which would help McCain down the road, as the independent, more moderate Republicans switch from Rudy to McCain.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

Iowa outcomes extremely influential

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
I want to be there, especially before the Iowa caucuses and the day of the Iowa caucuses, because you get a spirit of candor in the campaigns when those results come in that -- when cameras aren't around, they are really revealing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you are saying Iowa -- I'm sorry -- New Hampshire and beyond really do -- really are influenced by what happens in Iowa?

MARK SHIELDS: I think they are. And I think we have to remember that, once these candidates leave New Hampshire, it's the last time real voters ever interact with them. I mean, that's it.

This is -- we see retail politics, where the candidates, as David described, have to go out and ask voters for their support, answer their questions. At least most of them answer their questions. And after New Hampshire, it's airport tarmacs, it's TV studios, and it's fund-raisers.

And, you know, that's the sad part of it. So, this is the chance that voters have. These are the gateway states to determine who really does move forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, next week, I'm going to be in Iowa. You're going to be in Iowa. You're going to be in New Hampshire.

MARK SHIELDS: New Hampshire.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You're not going to Iowa.

MARK SHIELDS: I have been to Iowa, and I'm going to New Hampshire because I want to be -- there's only a four-day campaign in New Hampshire. And I want to be there, especially before the Iowa caucuses and the day of the Iowa caucuses, because you get a spirit of candor in the campaigns when those results come in that -- when cameras aren't around, they are really revealing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you are choosing the Hawkeye State?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, Mark's right to avoid the TV cameras, because they -- they ruin everything.

But I'm choosing it because the Democratic race really could be over in Iowa. If Hillary Clinton wins the night, I think it is over in Iowa. Obama and Edwards have devoted a lot of time and money to Iowa. If they lose there, it's all over.

And the Republican will not be settled. The Democrats' could well be settled there.


MARK SHIELDS: The race will not end in Iowa on either side.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. All right. We're writing all this down.

MARK SHIELDS: Worthless, deathless prose.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Be sure and come back here later. We'll see you both next week.

David, Mark, thank you.

MARK SHIELDS: Safe traveling.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it. And you.