ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Webcast Extra.
MS. IFILL: Hello, I’m Gwen Ifill. I’m joined around the table by Anne Gearan of The Washington Post, Doyle McManus of The Los Angeles Times, Jeff Zeleny of CNN, and Michael Crowley of POLITICO.
As quietly as it’s kept sometimes, candidates for president actually like to talk about substance. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton and others all weighed in on the Iran deal, although it’s safe to say only Clinton supported it. But as a former secretary of State, she had held her fire during the heat of the debate. Where did she end up, Michael?
MR. CROWLEY: Quite strongly in favor of the deal. And I would say in the early going there were people who were kind of cynically predicting that she was going to keep a lot of distance from it and maybe not completely endorse it. I mean, this was a pretty full-throated endorsement with this frosting of skepticism and doubt about Iran –
MS. IFILL: Distrust but verify?
MR. CROWLEY: Distrust but verify is kind of the key phrase there, that she – basically saying this is a – this is a good deal, it will probably accomplish what it is supposed to. But as we discussed in the show earlier, I have no expectation that Iran is now our friend. And if and when I am president, I am going to double down and I am going to smack them –
MS. IFILL: You’re speaking in her voice, right? You’re not running for president. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: No.
MS. IFILL: Just checking.
MR. CROWLEY: Look, no, I have an announcement to make, actually. (Laughter.) I have a super PAC formed.
And the last thing I would add is that she really, I thought, used the speech to hug Israel tightly. You know, a lot of criticism of the president from pro-Israel groups, that he was not paying enough attention to Israeli security. White House vehemently disputes this. But I think Hillary sees a strategic opportunity here to say, without quite bashing the president, saying I’m going to be a little bit more of a friend to Israel and I’m going to kind of reset that relationship. I thought she did a nice job of that in her speech.
MS. IFILL: Doyle, I want to stick on foreign policy for a minute because another interesting thing that kind of unfolded eerily this week was the Syria-Russia discussion – the question about whether, in fact, Russia is now involved in helping to prop up Assad in a way that’s going to make it a little dangerous for the U.S. to work against him.
MR. MCMANUS: Yeah, and that’s really interesting. That could take us into a new phase in that Syrian war. We still don’t know exactly what the Russians are doing there, but they are moving personnel and equipment into areas where they have had bases on the Syrian coast, which happen to be the family fiefdom of the Assad family, so. And they say that they now want to take a lead role, and there are apparently Russians – Russian advisers already fighting on the ground.
MS. IFILL: But they say they’re just advising, this is not combat.
MR. MCMANUS: They’re just advising, but there’s apparently a lot of Twitter traffic and Facebook traffic among the families saying they’ve – some of them have been in combat already. And the Russian military historically is less restrained about putting its advisers in scary situations than ours are. And the Russians have said to the United States and the rest of the world, you know, if you guys would like some help in fighting those terrible terrorists of ISIS, we’re there to help – which is a real poison chalice. So where is this going to end up? And is – are the Russians talking about making a grand bargain in which the United States and the West would accept the continuation of the Assad government in exchange for fixing the ISIS problem? Watch this space.
MS. IFILL: And Iran was never going to be of the help that maybe some were hoping they might be in exchange for this deal.
MR. MCMANUS: That’s right.
MS. IFILL: OK.
I want to ask you, let’s go back to politics for a minute because we touched on the exit of the race from – from the race of Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas. Take us back a moment, Jeffrey, because it seems to me four years ago we watched him – remember the weekend in Iowa when he rolled in in the big Rick Perry bus. It was the weekend of the straw poll and everyone was convinced he was going to completely turn everything upside down. And it seemed that way for about a minute, and then there was, you know, the famous moment at the debate where he said “oops” and forgot two to three departments he meant to cut. But when he came back this year, it seemed for a moment – like it always seems, I guess, for everybody – that he had a chance to regain that stature.
MR. CROWLEY: I think that’s right. I mean, like this year he was so much more prepared. He was better prepared to be a presidential candidate. He’s really spent the last, you know, three or four intervening years studying foreign policy, domestic policy. He was talking a lot about the economy. I was out on the road with him a fair bit in the last couple years, during the midterm elections and then – and I thought he was a much better candidate. His retail – his retail political skills are extraordinary – the Republican Bill Clinton in some respects – very good at that, likes doing that. But a lot has happened with the party. The party is not looking for someone who’s been a governor for 14 years. The party is looking for something different. And even in his home state of Texas, suddenly he had this young whippersnapper, Ted Cruz, come out of nowhere to, you know, have four super PACs with $40 million and other things. So Rick Perry suddenly was sort of yesterday’s news before he even got in the race.
So Donald Trump can – you know, is taking a bit of credit, perhaps, for saying, oh, he came after me so he sort of fell down. But I think Rick Perry’s probably undoing came still at that debate in Michigan in 2012, when he could not name the other department of government he wanted to close, said “oops.” And I think that is what everyone always remembered him as. He had a hard time getting big donors and other things. But his $15 million super PAC, I am told tonight that money will go back to these donors so there’s a chance to – for them to give it to other people.
MS. IFILL: Oh, so there’s – people are lining up as we speak tonight. You know, the interesting point that Jeff makes, Anne, is that a lot of these candidates see their moment and they seize it, and sometimes it slips away before they have the chance. Hillary Clinton thought her moment was eight years ago, and it slipped by because – she is firmly convinced of a moment in history in which it slipped away from her. She thinks this year is her moment in history, and it’s not slipping away yet, but it’s more – it’s rocky. What is her long-term strategy for – if she has one – for recovering from this, changing the subject to where she wants it to be, and being taken as seriously inevitable as she was not long ago?
MS. GEARAN: Yeah, her campaign insists that they are playing a long game here – that they always thought that there would be a competitive primary. Democratic primaries are always contested, are always competitive. I’m speaking as the campaign here would say it. And they – and they say, we had no reason to think that this year would be different. This idea that she was inevitable, invincible, an aircraft carrier steering toward the nomination, according to the campaign, was never going to happen.
They didn’t know exactly where that challenge would come from. I mean, before she entered the race they were very worried about Elizabeth Warren. Bernie Sanders now basically is Elizabeth Warren. He’s inherited the part of the party – the disaffected progressive left – that is not enthusiastic about her, never was enthusiastic about her. Now they have a place to live. So they knew they would get a challenge from the left. They didn’t know who it would be. They thought it would be Elizabeth Warren, now it’s Bernie Sanders. Maybe it could have been Martin O’Malley. Anyway, now it’s Bernie Sanders.
What’s happened that’s a huge surprise to them is that – is the strength of that challenge. And that has thrown them onto the back foot a bit, even the email issue aside and the Joe Biden issue aside. So they have a more competitive primary and a far – and far worse footing than they expected, even though they did expect this to be a competitive period.
MS. IFILL: You did make an interesting point. We get caught up in the email drama. It turns out that if you – even if you strip that away, there are significant problems right now, which are –
MS. GEARAN: Yeah, yeah. I mean, she’s on worse footing now than they thought she would be, even if you don’t talk about the email. When you add in the email thing, which was mismanaged and misunderstood, then you get an issue where people are starting to wonder about her skills – her long-term skills as a candidate. I still think, you know, she’s got national strength that no one else on the field has. It is far more likely than not that she gets the nomination.
MS. IFILL: Well, Scott Walker had national strength, too, at least we thought he did, and now he’s still struggling to be heard again. It’s a very interesting election year. We’ll be talking about it, as you imagine, a lot more.
Thank you all for watching. While you’re online, check out the five things I at least will be watching for in the next Republican debate, which we forgot to talk about. (Laughter.) That’s at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. And we’ll see you next time on the Washington Week Webcast Extra.