MS. IFILL: Weiner, Gingrich, Romney – who had the toughest political week? Plus, will we ever leave Afghanistan, tonight, on “Washington Week.”
Could the week have gotten any crazier? One candidate’s campaign advisers quit en mass.
NEWT GINRICH [President Candidate]: We had a strategic disagreement about how to run a campaign.
MS. IFILL: Another decides to skip the summer’s biggest political test. And a high-profile member of Congress reveals too much online and confesses too late.
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D-NY): I’ve exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years.
REP. ALLYSON SCHWARTZ (D-PA): This really does violate his relationship I think with his constituents. And I call for his resignation.
MS. IFILL: Meanwhile, things are deadly serious in Afghanistan.
RYAN CROCKER [Former United States Ambassador to Iraq]: We’re not out to clearly create a shining city on a hill. That’s not going to happen. But there needs to be progress.
MS. IFILL: Will U.S. troops ever be able to leave? Covering the week: John Dickerson of Slate magazine and CBS News; Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post; and James Kitfield of National Journal.
ANNOUNCER: Award winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation’s capital, this is “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill,” produced in association with National Journal.
ANNOUNCER: Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. Well, the most overused word in the last 24 hours, implosion. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who’s running for president in perhaps the most unorthodox way possible, was cut loose by his own senior staff this week. Yet, he vows to soldier on.
MR. GINGRICH: The American people have to make a very big decision in 2012. Do they want really dramatic, deep change in Washington, change in both parties, change that leads us back to a balanced budget, a change that take power out of Washington and sends it back home, change that creates jobS, change that creates an American energy industry? Or do they want politics as usual? Now, that’s what I’m running.
MS. IFILL: It is interesting to hear Newt Gingrich running on change. Is he running to win the presidency or is he running to be heard?
MR. DICKERSON: Well, I think the only option he may have left to him is to run to be heard because his chances of winning are significantly diminished. He says, you know, he’s running on dramatic change. He got dramatic change this week when a dozen of his advisers bolted – gone. When you talk to politicians, they say the most important thing you need is to have an absolute driving desire to win. And what this bolting of advisers, the message of that was, they said, he just doesn’t have that desire. What they were saying is, you need to run a campaign that requires going to these early battleground states and working hard. And they said he just wasn’t up for that. And one of his key advisers in Iowa, when they found out that Newt Gingrich went on this holiday, on this vacation to Greece at this key moment –
MS. IFILL: A two-week luxury cruise.
MR. DICKERSON: Well, on a cruise while all the other candidates are out there raising money, shaking hands, doing the brutal things – the reason you need this fire in the belly is because it’s brutal and a hard slog. And when this key adviser in Iowa heard that he was going on vacation, that was it and he just left. And so when Gingrich came back from vacation, he had this meeting with his top advisers and they said, look, if we’re going to go forward, you need to run a more traditional campaign. He wasn’t up for it. They bolted.
MS. IFILL: So what is he thinking? If he believes that a traditional campaign is not the way for him, does he have a plan, a way to do it that – a way that it’s never been done?
MR. DICKERSON: Well, we’re going to see if he’s got a plan. He says he does and it’s to be more accessible, to use social networking, to use his films and his books and his ability to draw a crowd around those things. But we’ve heard this before. And when you talk to strategists in these key states, they talk about Fred Thompson, who thought he could use his fame to come in and not do the hard business of running and the painful, boring business of being a politician, repeating the same speech over and over again. Rudy Giuliani was quite popular and famous and then his campaign plummeted because when you don’t do the hard work, it doesn’t work out.
And talking to one of the strategists who signed on with Gingrich, who worked very hard for him said, you know, I don’t want to work 60 hours and beg my friends for money and to turn out to rallies when the guy who’s running isn’t committed to it.
MR. KITFIELD: Is there a precedent for – I mean, we all have been sort of searching back in our memories for something that – I have come up with nothing so far. But there was McCain at one point who initially fired a lot of his staff and still got the nomination.
MS. IFILL: We called him toast at the time.
MR. KITFIELD: Right.
MR. DICKERSON: Right.
MR. KITFIELD: Are there precedents for this and does he have a chance of coming back?
MR. DICKERSON: Well, McCain had a similar problem to the one that Newt Gingrich had, which is that he ran out of money and he was burning – in McCain’s case he was raising the money and burning through it. In Gingrich’s case, he’s not raising the money and he’s burning through it. In the McCain case – and John Kerry also got rid of his campaign manager, even Bob Dole. We remember he liked to cycle through the staff a few times.
MS. TUMULTY: Ronald Reagan.
MR. DICKERSON: And Ronald Reagan, of course, famously. So there is in fact – you can almost argue that you don’t win unless you start throwing some people overboard. But when they leave on a bus, your entire staff leaves on a bus, that’s a problem, and in the key states as well. I was dialing around to try and find people who were still in the campaign to find out what’s going on and I kept reaching people and they said, well, I’m leaving too. And also Newt Gingrich has some severe hurdles. John McCain had a very strong base in New Hampshire. He had a real fire in his gut.
Gingrich’s problem is his negatives are very high. In a CBS poll this week, his negatives are almost as high among Republicans as Sarah Palin’s. And also, of course, he’s undisciplined and he’s already had a fight with his own Republican Party. So he’s got a lot of hurdles.
MR. KITFIELD: And it’s only been a few weeks so far.
MR. DICKERSON: And it’s only – that’s right.
MS. TUMULTY: But he wasn’t the only person to make an unconventional campaign move this week. The presumed frontrunner, Mitt Romney, announced that he was not going to participate in the Iowa straw poll this August.
MR. DICKERSON: That’s exactly right. And for those who don’t know, and haven’t lived through the Iowa straw poll as we have, for the Republican Party in Iowa, this is like saying, I’m not coming home for Thanksgiving dinner to your own family. I mean, this is a real affront to the – and because in Iowa, no matter who you’re for, you’re for the caucus process and the greater glory of it. And the straw poll is something that everybody is supposed to compete in and work hard for.
Romney’s got a balancing act in Iowa. In the last campaign he put a lot of effort into the state. He worked very hard in the straw poll and he came in second. And that was a big problem because it really undercut his campaign. Now he’s got to work hard enough to do well in the caucuses, but not so hard that he sets expectations too high so that it damages him for other states where he’s got a chance to do much better. So he’s trying to work out that balance.
The problem is in 2007 he said the straw poll in Iowa is crucial. It is a sign of all that is great and good about candidates. Well, now he’s saying the opposite. And so, of course, his opponents are saying, this is another instance in which he changes views based on the political moment.
MS. IFILL: If you’re Mitt Romney, who was leading the pack to the extent that anyone is leading anything at this point, and you had a – presumably not playing in Iowa has a great impact than Newt Gingrich, who was not leading the pack, to put it mildly. But by both of them choosing these unorthodox paths, do they leave an opening for anybody else?
MR. DICKERSON: They do. And in Iowa in particular, the question in Iowa is what is the electorate like? And that’s what – in politics people always fight the last campaign. And so there’s a lot of talk that Iowa is just like it was in 2008, a lot of social conservatives who care about gay marriage and abortion and that that’s their first issue. The question for Romney is whether it’s the same there – those evangelical voters are not his natural constituency – or whether it’s changed. And a lot of Iowans say it has changed. And so the question – but your initial question is does this create an opening? It creates an opening for Tim Pawlenty, who’s running to compete against Romney. Of course it also creates a big challenge for him. If he doesn’t do well in this straw poll, then everybody will say, wait a minute – particularly those who might write him checks will say, wait a minute. You’re not really a contender for Romney. You couldn’t even do it in the straw poll when you didn’t really have the big dog competing.
MS. IFILL: And it creates an opening for Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, if he decides to get into the race.
MR. DICKERSON: That’s right. Rick Perry is back in the news – in part he’s in the news because he’s flirting a little bit with running, although you get mixed signals from his campaign. There is this feeling still in the Republican Party that there are not enough candidates running. They want another superman to come flying in. Rick Perry also has – some of his top political advisers were working for Newt Gingrich. Now they’re gone so they’re available now to work for Rick Perry. And one thing in Iowa this week where I was reporting, you would hear people bring up Rick Perry’s name. They don’t bring up Sarah Palin’s name actually. They were saying, hey, you know, maybe Perry might get in. I’m going to think about him.
MS. IFILL: So, you know, this thing – it doesn’t begin to settle down. We promised it’s going to but I have to say it’s not only the Republicans who were struggling this week for balance. Gingrich and Romney managed to step on the other big story that has been consuming Washington and late night comedy all week – the plight of New York Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner done in by explicit photos he had no business sharing with strangers online.
REP. WEINER: Once I realized I had posted to Twitter, I panicked, I took it down and said that I had been hacked. I then continued with that story – to stick to that story which was a hugely regrettable mistake. This woman was unwittingly dragged into this and bears absolutely not responsibility.
MS. IFILL: And neither does his wife, who is pregnant, and neither do Democrats, who apparently would be happier if he quit. But he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, does he, Karen?
MS. TUMULTY: He says he is not quitting. And then the Democrats, a number of them, have now called for his resignation. Nancy Pelosi – after he got up and declared that he did not believe he violated any House rules, within minutes she had put out a news release saying that she was going to go see if the Ethics Committee agreed with that. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader was asked, you know what would you do if Anthony Weiner came to you for advice? And he said, I’d tell him, go somewhere else.
But it’s really striking because, you know, it sort of proved that there are really no new sins in Washington. There are just new means of committing them. And the sort of speed with which the scandal moved I think is also something that is new. He was out there for 10 days with this sort of cover story that, oh, this was somebody had hacked his Twitter account and sent out this suggestive photo. It turns out there are photos that were a lot worse than that out there now on Twitter. But ultimately the truth catches up with you because we are living in a world where the evidence is out there somewhere on the Internet.
MS. IFILL: Who is Anthony Weiner? I mean, prior to this, I bet you a whole of people who have been telling wiener jokes for the last two weeks had never heard of him, except for the occasional really over-the-top rant on the House floor.
MS. TUMULTY: He is a New York City area seven-term congressman who probably a lot of people – he’s not known for chairing any committees or any major pieces of legislation that have his name on him. To the degree he had any national profile at all, it was for the fact that he was such an aggressive partisan. He was out there a lot on MSNBC doing partisan battle. He married a top staffer to Hillary Clinton who – in fact Bill Clinton officiated at their wedding. So he was really known more for being known than he was known for any sort of accomplishments.
He is also somebody that we’re finding this week never had much of a – unlike, say, a Charlie Rangel, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, when he got into trouble, he had a very deep reservoir of history with his colleagues, of accomplishments, of affection. And Anthony Weiner does not seem to have that.
MR. DICKERSON: What can happen now? The damage for Democrats is that this continues on and this is just a constant joke and that they become associated as a party with Anthony Weiner, even though they’re shunning him rather. But what happens in politics when you shun someone and they refuse to be shunned? They don’t go away?
MS. TUMULTY: It will be very interesting to see on Monday when – one thing that was sort of a – what little bit of luck Anthony Weiner had this week was the fact that the House was out on recess. On Monday, everybody gets back. And so he is going to return to another barrage of criticism and a very, very unfriendly welcome in his own caucus. It’s also worth – you know, there was a lot of debate this week about, oh, well, this scandal is worse than that scandal, and what about the Republicans and what about the hypocrisy. But the really damaging contrast I think is with one quite recent episode where a Republican congressman from New York, Chris Lee, was caught sending out one shirtless photo that we know of to somebody on Craig’s List. He was gone within hours of that.
MS. IFILL: Don’t we presume he was gone because John Boehner walked into his office and said, you’re gone, and he said, yes, sir. We’re not getting that at all. We don’t know whether he was asked to leave, Anthony Weiner, and we don’t know whether he refused.
MS. TUMULTY: Nancy Pelosi was today asked again about this and she just said that is something between him and his constituents. There is a way of getting rid of him in the long term if this ethics investigation doesn’t, and that is that there is some redistricting going on in New York because they’re losing congressional seats. And guess what, one I bet they would love to get rid of.
MS. IFILL: Well, it should be said that Chris Lee’s seat went to a Democrat after all was said and done so they didn’t just get rid of him but they lost a seat in doing it.
MR. KITFIELD: You mentioned Bill Clinton. I remember in his own impeachment I think he was advised, if you want a friend in this town, buy a dog. Does Mr. Weiner have any friends who are going to stand up for him? There was some talk I think that Senator Schumer was a mentor.
MS. TUMULTY: At this point he is out there pretty much by himself. He has been making a round of phone calls to his colleagues. He had a phone conversation with Bill Clinton. It is reported that he is profusely apologizing to everyone and it’s – his wife meanwhile is off on a trip to Africa with Hillary Clinton. But he is very much a man without a country at this point.
MS. IFILL: The most difficult thing for me in this whole thing is wondering how it is that we keep coming back, revisiting different versions of the same story, whether it’s with Eric Massa or whether it was with Christopher Lee or whether it was John Ensign or John Edwards who were talking about just last week – there just seems to be a (circuit ?) of really bad behavior among people who hold the public trust.
MS. TUMULTY: And abuse of fame, abuse of power, and, again, abuse of that trust.
MS. IFILL: Yes. It does. Okay. Well, maybe we’ll figure out by this time next week where he withstood the spotlight when the House comes back to town.
Meanwhile, the nation’s multiple military engagements are increasingly a source of frustration these days at the White House, at NATO, on Capitol Hill and even at the Pentagon. Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared in a farewell speech delivered in Brussels today that the U.S. is bearing too much of the burden in too many places.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: Future U.S. political leaders, those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me, may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost.
MS. IFILL: That cost for American troops as well as taxpayers is playing out in Libya and Iraq and Afghanistan. And polls show Americans are losing patience. But is there any end in sight? James.
MR. KITFIELD: Well, there’s an end in sight from Secretary Gates, which is why he went out so undiplomatically and guns blazing about NATO’s burden sharing imbalance. But, you know, we’ve learned when there’s a big decision coming up next month about the pace of troop withdrawals. Secretary Gates in that same trip said basically they’ll be modest so I don’t expect something too dramatic. But there was also a general who’s in charge of standing up the Afghan forces, who are supposed to take the lead throughout the country by 2014 – they think they’re on a path to do that, but he’s also admitting that they’re still going to need until 2016, 2017, pretty well out in the future. A lot of training, continued support, logistics, intelligence, all those enablers would take a lot longer to build than just an infantry combat unit.
MS. IFILL: So there are a couple of different problems. There’s the problem he was speaking of today, which is who’s got our back in NATO and those who are able to have our back don’t, and the other question is whether there’s anything realistic about this promise which has been made to the American people that we’re really going to start withdrawing down troops. Which takes precedent? Which of these two dilemmas?
MR. KITFIELD: I think the Afghan war takes precedent, but the Afghan war is at the center of what ails NATO. It’s its first hot war. And we’ve learned about the alliance unfortunately is – Gates is not the first one. It’s kind of a ritual of primal screams of U.S. officials who come out of trying to manage NATO’s operations in Afghanistan and realize that the alliance really is less than the sum of its parts. The European allies struggled mightily, even they have two million people in uniform, to field 40,000 of them in Afghanistan. There’s caveats to keep them out of combat or a lot of them out of combat, which puts that burden much more disproportionately on our own forces and there’s just a sense that because of this economic problem, the Europeans are slashing already inadequate defense budgets, much more, shifting more of the weight in the future on to us. So for all those reasons there’s a lot of frustration from Secretary Gates and other American officials.
MR. DICKERSON: Speaking of burden sharing, so if Gates is unhappy about the burden sharing with our European allies and NATO, what do we know about burden sharing in Afghanistan, which, as you said, is a requirement or supposed to be a requirement, anyway, for the leaving of U.S. troops Afghani – you know, they’re supposed to stand up. What do we know about that?
MS. IFILL: And $40 billion later, right?
MR. KITFIELD: Yes, $40 billion and we know that they really – it’s much like the rest of the story in Afghanistan; they’ve only started in the last year and a half with this Obama surge. Before that, it was this holding action while the Bush administration focused on Iraq. So in the last year and a half, yes, they’ve made – they’ve put significant resources, energy and people on the problem. They’ve increased the size of the Afghan forces by 100,000 police and soldiers in just the last year and half. They’ve got 300,000 now.
That’s starting to seem like a pretty serious sized force. It gives you a rotational base to keep people in combat while some other ones are resting and other ones are training up for combat. So, I mean, you can see, if you look at the template in Iraq, it looks very much like that after the surge. Well, we are four years after the Iraq surge and this year it looks like we’re going to be getting out of, you know, almost all our troops out of Iraq.
I think you’re looking at something similar but with Afghanistan probably a residual force required to, as I said, you know, give them all these enablers, the logistics, an air force which they don’t have, training in military specialties like engineering, which they just don’t have in that country. So, you know, if you’re going to do this right, if we’re going to get out of there in any kind of like acceptable outcome, we’re looking at some more years.
MS. TUMULTY: Is there anything that can be accomplished with a speech like this, because it sounds as though there’s nothing driving any change in the burden sharing arrangements.
MR. KITFIELD: No. And it’s not going to change. I mean, Europe is in – we all know it’s in a huge debt crisis, Euro zone crisis. They are not going to start spending a lot more on defense right now. We’re stuck with that. They’re not even going to start releasing caveats because that means putting troops in harm’s way in a war that’s even more unpopular in Europe than it is here, and here it’s unpopular. So I think it was really, like I said, a primal scream of frustration. He knows it’s not going to change anything dramatically.
MS. IFILL: Does that have an immediate impact in a place like Libya where there is now a very broad based NATO action, and not boots on the ground per se, at least not American boots on the ground, but a lot of activity.
MR. KITFIELD: Well, if you look at the speech and you look at our actions in Libya, you can really see them saying, okay, Britain, France, you wanted to take the lead on this, we were much more – certainly Gates himself was very skeptical of that mission. Obama made the final decision. We would support it, but we would not lead it. They’re already asking, hey, we need more help from the United States. We’re running out of precision munitions. Gates really slammed them for that, saying it’s an 11-week air war and you can’t even keep your munitions stockpiles funded.
So the alliance is in a bad place right now. The Europeans are mad about Afghanistan because they are really there just to be on our side. They don’t believe it’s in their fundamental interest to have ground troops in Afghanistan. And we’re in the Libya operation because we said we would support it, but we really don’t see it in our vital national interest either. So there’s a divergence of threat perception and that can be a killer for an alliance.
MS. IFILL: And Leon Panetta is about to be confirmed as the secretary of defense. He must really be looking forward to that.
MR. KITFIELD: Yes. Welcome to this job.
MS. IFILL: Was he asking any questions that made it seem like there might be a difference in direction?
MR. KITFIELD: No. He said basically, I walk hand in hand with Robert Gates. And I think that’s true there. They’re cut from pretty much the same cloth. I think that he will support and will be very similar to Gates in sort of being cautious about pulling too many troops out too fast to really – you know, you might threaten the gains you’ve made in the last year. And they’ve been bought with a lot of blood and treasure.
MS. IFILL: Okay. All right. Well, thank you everyone. It was a lot to cover this week. And we have to leave you a few minutes early tonight so that you can have the opportunity to support your local PBS station, which in turn supports us. But the conversation continues online – more politics, more policy, and we might even talk about those Sarah Palin e-mails. And while you’re on the web, let us know what you think you can find us at pbs.org. Keep up online and on air with daily developments on the NewsHour. And we’ll see you again right here next week on Washington Week. Good night.