‘Meet the Press’ Demonstrates How Terrible an Unbalanced Panel Can Be

On June 3, NBC’s “Meet the Press” marvelously demonstrated how wonderful a panel discussion can be when there are an equal number of liberal and conservative pundits present as reported by NewsBusters here.

Three weeks later, host Tim Russert stocked his panel exclusively with liberals: David Broder of The Washington Post, John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal and CNBC, Gwen Ifill of PBS’ Washington Week, and syndicated columnist Roger Simon.

As a result of there not being one conservative present, the discussion was the usual twenty minutes of Bush-bashing, Hillary sycophancy, and attacks on all politicians with an “R” next to their names.

In fact, the liberal bias this Sunday morning came early and often immediately after Russert’s first question: (video available here with relevant segment beginning at minute 22:45):

John Harwood, what is the immigration debate doing to the Republican Party?

MR. JOHN HARWOOD:  You know, one of the problems, Tim, is when your party is down, when it’s shrinking, your base has even more impact on incumbent officeholders.  And so the pressure that the right is bringing on this issue on Republicans is really isolating their party, putting them in a dangerous position for 2008

That should give you an idea of how this segment was going to go, as should this exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: Roger Simon, the Democrats have told President Bush, “We can’t pass this alone.  In the House of Representatives, we’re going to need at least 60 of your members to come with us.” Does the president have the political juice to deliver 60 Republican congressmen?

MR. ROGER SIMON:  No.  His juice was spent on the war in Iraq.  But the point is how did the immigration matter become a crisis?  Was it a crisis a few years ago?  Immigration is a legitimate problem; it is not a legitimate crisis in America.  It was ginned up as a national security crisis to get Republican gains in the ‘06 elections, and it didn’t work, and now we’re still left with it as a crisis.  There are not thousands of terrorists coming over the border from Mexico.  The terrorists from 9/11 came legally from Saudi Arabia.

Amazing. The immigration issue was ginned up by Republicans last year? How absurd. Yet, that was only the beginning, as after Russert read an article published by the Associated Press which was somewhat critical of Hillary Clinton (D-New York), the panel felt compelled to defend her:

MS. IFILL:  Come back with me for a moment, Tim, to 1992 when Bill Clinton was called Slick Willy.  And there was a restaurant in Little Rock that was called Slick Willy’s.  And we, as reporters, got infuriated by the fact that he always seemed to parse the facts.  Guess what?  He got elected.  Guess what?  Almost every other candidate in this race has some sort of slickness which has been attributed to them from Mitt Romney to Rudy Giuliani to Barack Obama.  And guess what?  It turns out that that doesn’t matter as much to people as the issues which concern them:  How are they going to get their kids in school?  How are they going to get their health care paid for?  So even though it infuriates us, and Ron is completely right about the questions that Hillary Clinton is really good at not answering, I don’t know that there’s any evidence that voters are sitting here thinking, “Well, I don’t know what she thinks.  I’ll have to vote for someone else.” No, they’re just paying attention to what she says they think they agree with.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder.

MR. BRODER:  I think Gwen’s right, and what Mrs. Clinton has done extremely well in every appearance that I’ve covered is to be well-briefed, well-prepared and delivers a message that resonates with that particular audience.  And in that respect, she’s very much like her husband was.

[…]

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, look, if you take a look at how weak the Republican brand is right now, how strong Democrats are generically as against Republicans, she’s in a very good position.  She doesn’t need to make mistakes at this point.  She’s solidified herself in the campaign trail.  As Ron’s article pointed out, she doesn’t exactly swing for the fences in all these public appearances, but she’s not making mistakes, she’s executing her campaign and, you know, we see—we saw a way for Barack Obama in the earlier part of the spring.  Now she’s sort of strengthened her position.

MR. SIMON:  Peggy [Noonan], I think, is dead wrong on this one.  The calculation in the Clinton campaign is that after eight years of George Bush, the American people want competence this time, not likability.  And competence and strength is what’s going to win in 2008, not who do you want to go to the bar and have a beer with.  We’ve had eight years of that.  That’s the calculation.  And I think she’s executing that game plan very well.  Plus, since the bar is set so low, when you go to her speeches and you talk to the crowds afterwards, she always make a few self-deprecating jokes.  Everybody laughs.  You interview the people and they say, “She’s not so stern.  She’s not such a bad person.  She’s kind of funny.” It’s working.

MR. HARWOOD:  And, Tim, you saw in our Journal/NBC poll how low Barack Obama scored on the question of “has the experience ready to be president on day one.” She did very well on that.  That’s her key advantage right now.

Absolutely disgraceful Hillary sycophancy that wasn’t present three weeks ago when there were conservatives on the panel to refute these overtly liberal sentiments. Nor was the following uninterrupted bashing of every Republican presidential candidate:

MR. RUSSERT:  Rudy Giuliani, this is the way The New York Sun described his week.  “After a particularly tough day for his campaign, Mayor Giuliani has lost two top supporters—one to the White House, one who” would “be headed to prison on charges of distributing cocaine.  Mr. Giuliani’s top adviser in Iowa, Jim Nussle, is headed back to Washington to lead the Office of Management and Budget.  The Giuliani campaign announced the departure of its South Carolina chairman, Thomas Ravenel, after a federal grand jury indicted him on charges of distributing cocaine.

“The developments came on a day when the campaign was responding to a report in Newsday that Mr. Giuliani quit the Iraq Study Group last year after failing to show up for a single meeting.  The report said Mr. Giuliani missed the meetings to give paid speeches and that his absences prompted the panel’s Republican co-chairman, James Baker, to ask him either to start showing up or leave the group.” The Giuliani campaign said part of the equation was he was considering running for president at that time and that presence on the group may pose a potential conflict.  Several commission members have said to me that presidential politics never entered the discussion.  It was all about Giuliani’s schedule and commitments vs.  showing up for the Iraq Study Group.  What—does this week matter?

MS. IFILL:  Even if it were his presidential ambitions that kept him is that really a good answer?  That you were so political that you’d rather focus on politics than focus on the nation’s security when you were supposed—running as the top cop?  I don’t think he had a really good particularly good answer for that.  But, but the interesting thing for Giuliani is that he continues to lead all these national polls.  And we can debate to what degree national polls matter at this point.  But when you put him up against Senator Clinton, dead heat; when you put him up against Senator Obama, dead heat.  When you put Senator Clinton up against Senator Obama, she’s well ahead.  I mean, all of these mixtures right now of these polls don’t really matter because there’s such a—there’s such uncertainty about who these candidates are, that only—even the—even with Mayor Bloomberg, whom I’m sure we’ll get to in a moment, most people who know him say they wouldn’t vote for him.  So what’s—what is to read into any of this, including a single bad week for, for Mayor Giuliani?

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, Giuliani had been leading in the polls, was high as 48 percent at one time in the Republican Party, now down to about 25.  How do you size up his campaign?

MR. BRODER:  What goes up real fast can come down real fast, and I think his lead has looked fragile to me for some time.  I have had very few dealings with Mayor Giuliani, but I don’t know of anybody whose reputation is such that—I mean, the stories that you hear about Giuliani from people who’ve covered him in New York are devastating stories.  And this history of his—business history, political history and so on—I think will catch up with him.

MR. RUSSERT:  And yet terrorism is still a central issue on the minds of Americans, and there’s no one who can shape that issue and point to his performance on September 11th better than Rudy Giuliani.

MR. HARWOOD:  He’s got a strong card to play, but he’s also got some big problems within the Republican base.  And you look at somebody like Fred Thompson, not even in the race, not very well defined among Americans, but among those very conservative Republicans, he’s dominating Giuliani and the rest of the field.  And it just shows you that there’s a big softness to that Giuliani lead right now.  We’ll see how long he can keep it up.

MR. RUSSERT:  Roger Simon, Mitt Romney.  You wrote an article as a syndicated columnist about Mitt Romney and pardons.  And this is what you said:  “Romney says he had a standard when it came to” handling out—“handing out pardons as governor.  He didn’t want to overturn jury verdicts, and so he never granted a single pardon in his four years in office, a fact” he’s “enormously proud of today and repeatedly raises in his speeches.  But Romney’s standard is flexible when it comes to Libby, who was Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and whose cause has been taken up by the conservative Republican establishment.  And Romney’s true standard seems to be:  No pardons for nobodies.  Somebodies can catch a break.”

MR. SIMON:  Anthony Circosta, at age 13, shot another kid with a BB gun, didn’t break the skin, got arrested and was convicted of assault.  Doesn’t matter, grows up, works his way through college.  Goes to Iraq as part of the National Guard, wins a bronze star, wants to become a cop when he returns home to Massachusetts.  Applies to Mitt Romney from Iraq for a pardon so he can get this felony taken off his record, Romney says, “No, I don’t give pardons.” This is why people hate politics.  That doesn’t make any sense.  You make a political decision, “I don’t want to give any pardons, so I can say when I run for president I didn’t give any pardons,” and you work over a guy who’s just trying to be a cop and do good things for the state of Massachusetts.  Does that make sense?

MR. RUSSERT:  And we had this bizarre story where the—Governor Romney’s chief of operations, Jay Garrity, was accused of being a state trooper—trying to imitate...

MS. IFILL:  Posing.

MR. RUSSERT:  Posing as a state trooper, pulling a reporter over and, and, and—what is that about, John?

MR. HARWOOD:  Honestly, I’m mystified by that, the idea that you would try to run a New York Times reporter off the road and say you can’t go cover my campaign rally, I don’t get it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Romney is ahead, however, in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Does the entrance of Fred Thompson affect his race?  Or how do you see him?

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, it could.  We don’t really know what—how Fred Thompson’s going to define himself.  You know, what, what is his candidacy about?  He seems to be identified favorably by conservative Republicans as their guy of the moment.  That wasn’t necessarily his reputation as a United States senator.  He had some of that McCain maverick in him, certainly on campaign finance reform and other things.  So we don’t really know exactly how he’s going to position himself in the race and where he’s going to fit.  But I tell you what, Mitt Romney is quite well-positioned right now.  He’s doing very well in Iowa, doing well in New Hampshire, he’s doing well financially.  He’s becoming much better known, and his negatives are very low.  Watch Romney in this race.

MR. RUSSERT:  John—I’m sorry.

MS. IFILL:  For, for a guy who doesn’t readily identify himself anymore as a former Massachusetts governor, he’s doing very—one very cool thing today, he’s renting out Fenway Park for a fund-raiser.  So you got to, you got to give him some cleverness.

MR. BRODER:  One thing about Fred Thompson, I mean, that we do know, when he was a United States senator, he started a bunch of projects, but he didn’t finish very many of them.  And I’m a little skeptical about whether he really has the will and the energy and the, and the stick-to-itiveness to make this presidential race work.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, in a presidential race, we’ll find out pretty quickly or not about that.

Gwen Ifill, John McCain having some difficulties raising money, by his own admission, slipping in the polls a bit, even in—particularly in the early states.  What’s your sense of his campaign.

MS. IFILL:  I read somewhere he’s give—having, like, a fund-raiser a day between now and the second quarter deadline at the end of this month.  So he’s trying to re-establish himself as, at least, a serious person.  Immigration’s been a tough one for him because he actually took an issue and stuck with it.  I mean, there’s no slipperiness on where he’s been on immigration even though you could raise questions about other issues.

MR. RUSSERT:  And Iraq.

MS. IFILL:  And on Iraq.  And both of those issues have actually worked against him.  Credit is due to someone who sticks with an unpopular issue, even when they’re running for president.  That said, Fred Thompson is a huge threat to him because, in fact, the two of them have almost identical records, to the extent, extent that they have records in the Senate on, on issues like this.  And to the extent that anyone’s casting about in this campaign for somebody else, on both sides, it seems to me that John McCain is far more put in peril by that, that curiosity, that hunger, than someone like Hillary Clinton is.

MR. SIMON:  John—Fred Thompson is John McCain without the pain, without the pain of immigration, without the pain of being the poster child for the Iraq war, without the pain of campaign finance reform, reform, which the Republican Party has still not forgiven John McCain for.  But mostly now, it’s not even the war with the Republican Party, it’s immigration.  Immigration is more problematic for McCain with his fellow Republicans than abortion is for Rudy Giuliani.

For those keeping score, after first praising Hillary Clinton, every single Republican presidential candidate was disparaged by this panel. Are there any questions as to why Russert should never stock his panel this way, and, instead, should always have a balance of liberals and conservatives?

What follows is a full transcript of this segment.

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  Welcome all.  Let’s just pick up on immigration.  Here’s an article from the Los Angeles Times.  “Two conservative senators [Saxby Chambliss]” of Georgia, “[Lindsey Graham]” of South Carolina, “were booed by Republican crowds in their home states for endorsing the legalization effort.  And conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh attacked the Bush-backed plan as the ‘Destroy the Republican Party Act.’”

John Harwood, what is the immigration debate doing to the Republican Party?

MR. JOHN HARWOOD:  You know, one of the problems, Tim, is when your party is down, when it’s shrinking, your base has even more impact on incumbent officeholders.  And so the pressure that the right is bringing on this issue on Republicans is really isolating their party, putting them in a dangerous position for 2008.  Because when, you, you know, Pat talked about Pete Wilson.  There is some short-term gain that some advocates of his position can get.  But really, over the long term, you put your party in a bad place.  President Bush is right about this in a political sense, question is whether he can prevail this year.  A lot of Republican presidential candidates are hoping—who are attacking this bill are hoping it passes, because they want to get this issue off the table for general election purposes.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, the Democrats—you stirred things up, you wrote a column about Harry Reid, the majority leader, suggesting some ineptitude in his behavior.  And 50 Democratic senators wrote a letter in lockstep to The Post, saying he’s done a skillful job, Broder’s wrong.  But you followed up with another column about Mr. Reid and his handling of immigration.  Let’s read it.  “[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid may think that Bush will suffer if immigration reform is killed.  But the public is likely to put the blame where it principally belongs—on the leader of the party that runs the Senate.” Explain.

MR. DAVID BRODER:  Well, the Democrats have taken the position that they now will do with the nation’s business.  And if they’re not doing that business, and clearly the immigration issue is very much on people’s mind, I think they will suffer the same consequences that the Republicans suffered a year ago.  People are fed up with seeing Washington bickering, fighting, infighting and never dealing with the issue.

MR. RUSSERT:  Gwen Ifill, the approval rate for Congress is lower than that of President Bush.  One poll had it at 23, one had as low as 18.

MS. GWEN IFILL:  That’s why the president could come out in his radio address yesterday and call for political courage on the part of Congress on immigration because he’s got nothing to lose.  It’s a question of who do you despise more, according to these polls.

But, hey, David has a point.  What we just saw, this, this, this debate between the congressman and Pat Buchanan, Congressman Gutierrez, is exactly what this has all boiled down to, which is people taking their sides, digging in their heels and not searching for any middle ground at all, which is what would have to happen for this Senate bill, when it comes back up this week, to actually come to something.  So you wonder if, if there is any good faith left at all to come up with any conclusion that would actually get a bill out of the, out of the Senate or the House.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Democrats...

MR. HARWOOD:  Mike Bloomberg’s liking this debate.

MS. IFILL:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  We’re going to get to Mike Bloomberg in a little bit.

Roger Simon, the Democrats have told President Bush, “We can’t pass this alone.  In the House of Representatives, we’re going to need at least 60 of your members to come with us.” Does the president have the political juice to deliver 60 Republican congressmen?

MR. ROGER SIMON:  No.  His juice was spent on the war in Iraq.  But the point is how did the immigration matter become a crisis?  Was it a crisis a few years ago?  Immigration is a legitimate problem; it is not a legitimate crisis in America.  It was ginned up as a national security crisis to get Republican gains in the ‘06 elections, and it didn’t work, and now we’re still left with it as a crisis.  There are not thousands of terrorists coming over the border from Mexico.  The terrorists from 9/11 came legally from Saudi Arabia.

The difficulty of this bill—and the bill is worse than the status quo.  The illegal system we have now is better than this bill because it doesn’t promise anything.  The difficulty with this bill is that you can’t stop illegal immigration at the border.  You can only stop it at the work site, and this bill really doesn’t do anything to give employers a legitimate way of knowing illegal workers from legal ones.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the 2008 race for the White House, start with Hillary Clinton.  Ron Fournier, the veteran political correspondent for the Associated Press, wrote a column in which he talked about Hillary Clinton’s sense of humor and her experience and her abilities on the campaign trail, but then wrote this.  “Slick Hillary?  Former president Clinton earned the nickname ‘Slick Willy’ for his mastery in the political arts of ducking and dodging.  He had a knack for convincing people on both sides of an issue that he agreed with them.

“His wife may not be as smooth, but Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is doing a passable impression of the ever-parsing former president.

“Would she pardon Scooter Libby?  No comment.  Would she nominate a union leader to be secretary of labor?  Maybe.  Would she repeal the North American Free Trade Agreement?  Can’t say.

“She told a crowd that she’d been calling for troop withdrawal ‘for some time,’ not mentioning that her rivals have held that position for a longer period.  On the other hand, she said some troops will need to remain in Iraq to contain al-Qaeda, protect Kurds, keep an eye on Iran, protect the U.S.  embassy and maybe train Iraqi forces.

“The answer offered a little something for everybody for or against U.S.  involvement in Iraq.  Pretty slick.”

Gwen Ifill, what’s your take?

MS. IFILL:  Come back with me for a moment, Tim, to 1992 when Bill Clinton was called Slick Willy.  And there was a restaurant in Little Rock that was called Slick Willy’s.  And we, as reporters, got infuriated by the fact that he always seemed to parse the facts.  Guess what?  He got elected.  Guess what?  Almost every other candidate in this race has some sort of slickness which has been attributed to them from Mitt Romney to Rudy Giuliani to Barack Obama.  And guess what?  It turns out that that doesn’t matter as much to people as the issues which concern them:  How are they going to get their kids in school?  How are they going to get their health care paid for?  So even though it infuriates us, and Ron is completely right about the questions that Hillary Clinton is really good at not answering, I don’t know that there’s any evidence that voters are sitting here thinking, “Well, I don’t know what she thinks.  I’ll have to vote for someone else.” No, they’re just paying attention to what she says they think they agree with.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder.

MR. BRODER:  I think Gwen’s right, and what Mrs. Clinton has done extremely well in every appearance that I’ve covered is to be well-briefed, well-prepared and delivers a message that resonates with that particular audience.  And in that respect, she’s very much like her husband was.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Clinton campaign, as you well know, released a video on their Web site, an excerpt, we’re going to show you.  This is a takeoff from the finale of “Soprano.” Let’s watch.

(Clip from Hillary Clinton campaign video)

MR. RUSSERT:  An attempt to soften her image...

MS. IFILL:  Can I just say as a “Sopranos” fan, after I watched the final “Sopranos” finale, I really felt jerked around, and I wonder if people are having this same response to this ad.

MR. RUSSERT:  We’ll find out, won’t we?  Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal wrote this:  “Hillary Clinton doesn’t have to prove to people that she’s tough enough or aggressive enough to be commander in chief.  She has to prove she has normal human warmth, a normal amount of give, of good nature, that she’s not, at bottom, grimly combative and rather dark.  A longtime supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s spoke with candor some months back of her friend’s predicament.  ‘We’re back where we were in ‘92--likability.  Nothing has changed.’”

John Harwood.

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, look, if you take a look at how weak the Republican brand is right now, how strong Democrats are generically as against Republicans, she’s in a very good position.  She doesn’t need to make mistakes at this point.  She’s solidified herself in the campaign trail.  As Ron’s article pointed out, she doesn’t exactly swing for the fences in all these public appearances, but she’s not making mistakes, she’s executing her campaign and, you know, we see—we saw a way for Barack Obama in the earlier part of the spring.  Now she’s sort of strengthened her position.

MR. SIMON:  Peggy, I think, is dead wrong on this one.  The calculation in the Clinton campaign is that after eight years of George Bush, the American people want competence this time, not likability.  And competence and strength is what’s going to win in 2008, not who do you want to go to the bar and have a beer with.  We’ve had eight years of that.  That’s the calculation.  And I think she’s executing that game plan very well.  Plus, since the bar is set so low, when you go to her speeches and you talk to the crowds afterwards, she always make a few self-deprecating jokes.  Everybody laughs.  You interview the people and they say, “She’s not so stern.  She’s not such a bad person.  She’s kind of funny.” It’s working.

MR. HARWOOD:  And, Tim, you saw in our Journal/NBC poll how low Barack Obama scored on the question of “has the experience ready to be president on day one.” She did very well on that.  That’s her key advantage right now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Obama’s money numbers apparently will be quite impressive, however.  Is he still in this race?

MR. HARWOOD:  He’s definitely still in this race.  And, look, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, they’re all going to have enough money to run a decent campaign.  Edwards isn’t going to have as much as the other two, but they could all compete.  Barack Obama definitely has a chance in this race.  He’s an exciting candidate, very charismatic.  He has a lot of assets.  But right now he’s got to show he can make some distance on that competence, ready to be president.

MR. RUSSERT:  Competitive in Iowa and New Hampshire and ahead in South Carolina is Obama as we speak.

MR. HARWOOD:  Sure.  And John Edwards remains ahead in Iowa.  He’s run a strong campaign there.  He’s got that four-state strategy, wants to do well in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and he’s not in a bad place right now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Rudy Giuliani, this is the way The New York Sun described his week.  “After a particularly tough day for his campaign, Mayor Giuliani has lost two top supporters—one to the White House, one who” would “be headed to prison on charges of distributing cocaine.  Mr. Giuliani’s top adviser in Iowa, Jim Nussle, is headed back to Washington to lead the Office of Management and Budget.  The Giuliani campaign announced the departure of its South Carolina chairman, Thomas Ravenel, after a federal grand jury indicted him on charges of distributing cocaine.

“The developments came on a day when the campaign was responding to a report in Newsday that Mr. Giuliani quit the Iraq Study Group last year after failing to show up for a single meeting.  The report said Mr. Giuliani missed the meetings to give paid speeches and that his absences prompted the panel’s Republican co-chairman, James Baker, to ask him either to start showing up or leave the group.” The Giuliani campaign said part of the equation was he was considering running for president at that time and that presence on the group may pose a potential conflict.  Several commission members have said to me that presidential politics never entered the discussion.  It was all about Giuliani’s schedule and commitments vs.  showing up for the Iraq Study Group.  What—does this week matter?

MS. IFILL:  Even if it were his presidential ambitions that kept him is that really a good answer?  That you were so political that you’d rather focus on politics than focus on the nation’s security when you were supposed—running as the top cop?  I don’t think he had a really good particularly good answer for that.  But, but the interesting thing for Giuliani is that he continues to lead all these national polls.  And we can debate to what degree national polls matter at this point.  But when you put him up against Senator Clinton, dead heat; when you put him up against Senator Obama, dead heat.  When you put Senator Clinton up against Senator Obama, she’s well ahead.  I mean, all of these mixtures right now of these polls don’t really matter because there’s such a—there’s such uncertainty about who these candidates are, that only—even the—even with Mayor Bloomberg, whom I’m sure we’ll get to in a moment, most people who know him say they wouldn’t vote for him.  So what’s—what is to read into any of this, including a single bad week for, for Mayor Giuliani?

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, Giuliani had been leading in the polls, was high as 48 percent at one time in the Republican Party, now down to about 25.  How do you size up his campaign?

MR. BRODER:  What goes up real fast can come down real fast, and I think his lead has looked fragile to me for some time.  I have had very few dealings with Mayor Giuliani, but I don’t know of anybody whose reputation is such that—I mean, the stories that you hear about Giuliani from people who’ve covered him in New York are devastating stories.  And this history of his—business history, political history and so on—I think will catch up with him.

MR. RUSSERT:  And yet terrorism is still a central issue on the minds of Americans, and there’s no one who can shape that issue and point to his performance on September 11th better than Rudy Giuliani.

MR. HARWOOD:  He’s got a strong card to play, but he’s also got some big problems within the Republican base.  And you look at somebody like Fred Thompson, not even in the race, not very well defined among Americans, but among those very conservative Republicans, he’s dominating Giuliani and the rest of the field.  And it just shows you that there’s a big softness to that Giuliani lead right now.  We’ll see how long he can keep it up.

MR. RUSSERT:  Roger Simon, Mitt Romney.  You wrote an article as a syndicated columnist about Mitt Romney and pardons.  And this is what you said:  “Romney says he had a standard when it came to” handling out—“handing out pardons as governor.  He didn’t want to overturn jury verdicts, and so he never granted a single pardon in his four years in office, a fact” he’s “enormously proud of today and repeatedly raises in his speeches.  But Romney’s standard is flexible when it comes to Libby, who was Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and whose cause has been taken up by the conservative Republican establishment.  And Romney’s true standard seems to be:  No pardons for nobodies.  Somebodies can catch a break.”

MR. SIMON:  Anthony Circosta, at age 13, shot another kid with a BB gun, didn’t break the skin, got arrested and was convicted of assault.  Doesn’t matter, grows up, works his way through college.  Goes to Iraq as part of the National Guard, wins a bronze star, wants to become a cop when he returns home to Massachusetts.  Applies to Mitt Romney from Iraq for a pardon so he can get this felony taken off his record, Romney says, “No, I don’t give pardons.” This is why people hate politics.  That doesn’t make any sense.  You make a political decision, “I don’t want to give any pardons, so I can say when I run for president I didn’t give any pardons,” and you work over a guy who’s just trying to be a cop and do good things for the state of Massachusetts.  Does that make sense?

MR. RUSSERT:  And we had this bizarre story where the—Governor Romney’s chief of operations, Jay Garrity, was accused of being a state trooper—trying to imitate...

MS. IFILL:  Posing.

MR. RUSSERT:  Posing as a state trooper, pulling a reporter over and, and, and—what is that about, John?

MR. HARWOOD:  Honestly, I’m mystified by that, the idea that you would try to run a New York Times reporter off the road and say you can’t go cover my campaign rally, I don’t get it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Romney is ahead, however, in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Does the entrance of Fred Thompson affect his race?  Or how do you see him?

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, it could.  We don’t really know what—how Fred Thompson’s going to define himself.  You know, what, what is his candidacy about?  He seems to be identified favorably by conservative Republicans as their guy of the moment.  That wasn’t necessarily his reputation as a United States senator.  He had some of that McCain maverick in him, certainly on campaign finance reform and other things.  So we don’t really know exactly how he’s going to position himself in the race and where he’s going to fit.  But I tell you what, Mitt Romney is quite well-positioned right now.  He’s doing very well in Iowa, doing well in New Hampshire, he’s doing well financially.  He’s becoming much better known, and his negatives are very low.  Watch Romney in this race.

MR. RUSSERT:  John—I’m sorry.

MS. IFILL:  For, for a guy who doesn’t readily identify himself anymore as a former Massachusetts governor, he’s doing very—one very cool thing today, he’s renting out Fenway Park for a fund-raiser.  So you got to, you got to give him some cleverness.

MR. BRODER:  One thing about Fred Thompson, I mean, that we do know, when he was a United States senator, he started a bunch of projects, but he didn’t finish very many of them.  And I’m a little skeptical about whether he really has the will and the energy and the, and the stick-to-itiveness to make this presidential race work.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, in a presidential race, we’ll find out pretty quickly or not about that.

Gwen Ifill, John McCain having some difficulties raising money, by his own admission, slipping in the polls a bit, even in—particularly in the early states.  What’s your sense of his campaign.

MS. IFILL:  I read somewhere he’s give—having, like, a fund-raiser a day between now and the second quarter deadline at the end of this month.  So he’s trying to re-establish himself as, at least, a serious person.  Immigration’s been a tough one for him because he actually took an issue and stuck with it.  I mean, there’s no slipperiness on where he’s been on immigration even though you could raise questions about other issues.

MR. RUSSERT:  And Iraq.

MS. IFILL:  And on Iraq.  And both of those issues have actually worked against him.  Credit is due to someone who sticks with an unpopular issue, even when they’re running for president.  That said, Fred Thompson is a huge threat to him because, in fact, the two of them have almost identical records, to the extent, extent that they have records in the Senate on, on issues like this.  And to the extent that anyone’s casting about in this campaign for somebody else, on both sides, it seems to me that John McCain is far more put in peril by that, that curiosity, that hunger, than someone like Hillary Clinton is.

MR. SIMON:  John—Fred Thompson is John McCain without the pain, without the pain of immigration, without the pain of being the poster child for the Iraq war, without the pain of campaign finance reform, reform, which the Republican Party has still not forgiven John McCain for.  But mostly now, it’s not even the war with the Republican Party, it’s immigration.  Immigration is more problematic for McCain with his fellow Republicans than abortion is for Rudy Giuliani.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to a man who made a lot of news this week, Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York.  He used to be a Democrat, saw his way blocked to the mayoralty of New York in that party, so switched to be a Republican.  Has been elected twice as mayor of New York, wildly popular across the board—blacks, whites, Hispanics.  He changed his affiliation this week.  He said, “I’m no longer a Republican, I’m unaffiliated.  I’m an independent,” which raised a lot of speculation.  Does this mean he’s positioning himself for a presidential race?  Here’s the mayor’s own words on Wednesday.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG:  My intention is to be mayor for the next 925 days.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Which would put us well into 2009, David Broder, according to my math.  But he did say “my intention.” What’s your take?

MR. BRODER:  I went to see him about six months ago when I heard these rumors, and he said the same thing to me then, that he’s going to finish his term as mayor, as the best mayor ever, and then he’s going to become a philanthropist.

MS. IFILL:  Did he know exactly how many days he had left then?

MR. BRODER:  He did, actually.

MS. IFILL:  He did?  Yeah.  Funny about that.

MR. BRODER:  And it’s been his standard line.  He has a deputy mayor, Kevin Sheekey, who told me in very plain terms, “This guy would make a perfect presidential candidate, and here’s how we could do it.” I don’t know enough of the dynamics there to know whether Sheekey is the real Bloomberg spokesman or not.  But there clearly are people very close to him who see him as a presidential candidate.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, they know if the candidates are chosen by early February in the Democratic and Republican Parties, they don’t have to file petitions as an independent until May in Texas.  They’re going to see who’s in the field.  They have—he’s worth $8 billion, he can spend up to $1 billion of his own money, and then decide, and this is a big if...

MR. BRODER:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...can he get 35 percent?  He has no interest in being a spoiler or being another Ross Perot.  If he runs, he wants to win.

MR. SIMON:  For the Bloomberg scenario, I was going to call it a fantasy, but that would be cruel.  For the scenario to work, not just one party, but both parties have to nominate candidates at the extremes.  You have to have a Barry Goldwater on one side and a George McGovern on the other.  How likely is that to happen, especially since both parties know that Michael Bloomberg might enter the race?  Secondly, there’s an overemphasis on Bloomberg’s money.  If you give $5 to a presidential campaign, you’re going to vote for that guy or that woman.  If you self-finance your whole campaign, you don’t build any base of voter support.  It’s just you and your checkbook, and voters, in the end, tend to resent that.

MR. HARWOOD:  Extremely unlikely he can get 35 percent.  The question is does he get in anyway because he’s convinced himself that he might be able to pull it off, and how does he affect the race?  If Rudy Giuliani’s the Republican nominee, that would be very bad news for Giuliani, the Republican Party; they’re competing for the same space.  But if you have a polarizing race, where Hillary Clinton, say, is the Democratic nominee and a conservative—if Fred Thompson runs as a hard right Republican in the primaries and wins, that’s a good scenario for Bloomberg, and it could hurt Hillary Clinton because a lot of those upscale independents, normally lean Republican, might go to Hillary Clinton in that scenario.  Mike Bloomberg would give them another option.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Bloomberg folks believe that if each of the candidates have negatives in the high 40s, the Democrat and the Republicans, Hillary Clinton’s there and the Republican will be there, it’s wide open.  There’s one poll they point to, June of 1992:  Ross Perot, 39; George Herbert Balk—Worker—Walker Bush, 31; Bill Clinton, 25.

MS. IFILL:  And Bill Clinton got elected, you will recall, because of Ross Perot’s presence in the race.  I, I think the best thing that Mayor Bloomberg realized in timing his announcement is that we were entering the summer, and we are desperate to pull out an electoral maps and begin to say, “Well, let’s see, if you shave some votes from California and a few votes from New York, and, wow, there’s a great big New York expatriate population in Florida, he could really upend things.” But let’s take this another way.  Let’s just look at the electoral college.  He could completely run an electoral college election.  Nobody is paying attention to those formulations except us.  But that’s all he needs is us.

MR. RUSSERT:  And they will...

MR. HARWOOD:  Here’s the key difference, though, Tim.  In 1992, the unpopular President Bush was running for re-election.  This President Bush is going to go off stage.  If he were the nominee against Hillary Clinton, maybe Ross Perot—I mean, maybe Mike Bloomberg would have an opening.  But that’s not going to happen.

MR. SIMON:  Let’s suspend our disbelief for Mayor Bloomberg.  We don’t say, as we say in Hillary, “Is he warm enough?  Is he captivating enough?  Is he good on the stump?  What’s his position on Iraq?  What’s his health care plan?” All we care about now is he has money.

MR. RUSSERT:  I...

MR. SIMON:  He doesn’t have a credible plan of getting 270 electoral votes, but he has money.

MS. IFILL:  Well, he does say he’s not running for president.  I mean, let’s give him credit.

MR. SIMON:  We should believe...(unintelligible).

MS. IFILL:  I’m willing to believe whatever they tell me.

MR. RUSSERT:  And the more, the more this is discussed, it only enhances his abilities and power as a lame duck mayor.

MR. SIMON:  Yeah.

MS. IFILL:  Yeah.

MR. BRODER:  You guys are much too dismissive.  There is such a distaste out there among the people for both these parties, and what the Democratic Congress is doing to destroy the reputation of any Democrat who comes out of Congress, as all of the major candidates do, and what George Bush has done to destroy the credibility of any Republican running as his successor leaves it wide open, if not for Bloomberg then for somebody else to come down the middle.

MR. HARWOOD:  You think an independent could be elected?

MR. BRODER:  Absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you one last poll question before we go.  NBC News/Wall Street Journal 2008 presidential election:  Prefer a Democrat, 52; prefer a Republican, 31.  Twenty-one point gap.  But as Gwen pointed out earlier, when you match Clinton vs.  Giuliani—one poll has a tie, one poll has Hillary up five or six points—it, it closes dramatically.  Why?

MS. IFILL:  Because people don’t know yet what they think.  And because people don’t yet—know yet who these—I mean, 44 percent of Republican voters—Giuliani’s supporters don’t know that he’s pro-abortion rights.  So what does that tell you about how strong his support is, or what these head-to-heads mean?  So you know, I think that the—this—the incredible unpopularity among—with the Republican Party that most Americans have right now does leave some sort of softness there for somebody to come in the middle.  I just—I’ll be curious.  I, I see—I bow to David Broder and his assessment, and I’ll be curious to see if Mike Bloomberg is the one who can walk down the middle of that.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Harwood, 21 point gap, and it’s a generic test, I’m for the Democrat over the Republican.  But when you put it candidate vs.  candidate, it narrows dramatically.

MR. HARWOOD:  What it tells you is the shape of the playing field is very decidedly tilted toward the Democrats.  People want change from President Bush.  However, these things all come down to, to contests of individuals.  Hillary Clinton has very high negatives.  Any Republican—credible Republican is going to be in a competitive position against her, is not going to be terribly far behind.  And so it tells you that there’s still some uncertainty about how this is going to go next year, if she’s the nominee.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.