David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.

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Clinton's New Ploy: Debate, Debate, Debate Obama to Death

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 12:54 PM PST

Just ask us to debate. Please ask us to debate.

That was the message the Clinton campaign sent to the MSM this afternoon. During a conference call with reporters, Mark Penn, the campaign's chief strategist, and Howard Wolfson, its communications director, called for at least one debate a week between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the next month. They announced that the Clinton campaign has already accepted invitations from ABC News (this Sunday), Fox News (this Monday), CNN (February 27), and MSNBC (February 28). "It's critically important we continue the debate," Penn remarked.

Obvious point alert: The Clintonites believe Clinton does better than Obama during the debates. They're probably right. He beats her on oratory. His rallies are bigger and better. But she can talk policy details well. At the debates, she demonstrates she's in command of facts and ideas. Usually, it's the trailing candidate who demands debates during a campaign, for he or she needs the attention. But in this case, the Clinton campaign is most likely looking for an insurance policy. If Obama happens to surge after Super Tuesday, each debate will give Clinton a chance to slow him down. And if a whole series of debates are scheduled, he will have to spend time off the campaign trail prepping for the face-offs--that is, there will be less time for those impressive, inspiring rallies.

"A lot will depend on the one-on-one debates," Penn commented. Such debates, he added, "will determine some of the outcomes" of the big states coming down the road, such as Ohio and Texas (March 4). The voters, he suggested, need and deserve them.

So, the Clintonites signaled to the big media outlets, just get those debate invitations in ASAP, we're willing to say yes to almost anything. ("ESPN3 Presents the Democratic Presidential Debate.") It's a smart ploy for the Clintons. And it will be hard for Obama to say no.

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Happy Anniversary, Colin Powell

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 10:51 AM PST

Today is not only Super Tuesday; it's the fifth anniversary of Colin Powell's important speech to the U.N., during which he greased the way to George W. Bush's war in Iraq with his own prestige. In our book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Michael Isikoff and I detail how the speech came to be: how Scooter Libby and others at the White House tried to fill the speech with even more dubious allegations than it ended up containing, how Powell ignored complaints from State Department intelligence analysts who told him that parts of the speech were inaccurate, how Powell's claim of a "sinister nexus" between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda was based on bad information obtained from an al Qaeda suspect during violent interrogations. We also published on-the-record comments from Powell, in which he complained he had been unfairly tagged by this speech. What about members of Congress? he asked. What about President Bush? They all said the same things that he had said. Why, he groused, do people still keep blaming him?

Fair or not, Powell went to bat for Bush's war at the United Nations. Every major WMD charge in that speech—not most, but every—turned out to be wrong. (Jonathan Schwartz details it all here.) And Powell then stuck by the president through the initial mismanagement of the war and through the election in 2004—helping Bush to win reelection. What a public servant.

Today is a good moment to reflect on where Powell is now: nowhere. He has largely left public life. He makes speeches at how-to-succeed conferences—no doubt, pulling in $50,000 to $100,000 (or more) a pop. But he has no voice in the national discourse. He barely weighs in on policy debates. He doesn't hit the op-ed pages much. He's not on television. He doesn't write books. Perhaps he's decent enough to feel shame over his role in the fiasco.

And are any of the candidates seeking his endorsement? Would it help any of them? Powell was once one of the most popular men in America. He seemingly could have waltzed into the White House, but chose not to run. Were he to endorse Barack Obama, that would clash with Obama's antiwar street cred. Were he to endorse John McCain, that would remind voters of the war's start—and two-thirds of Americans tell pollsters they believe the war was a mistake.

It's true that many others bear culpability for the war—Bush and Dick Cheney foremost among them. But Powell enabled them all. He was the front man. So if he did become the fall guy, he was a guilty one.

Arizona Republic Forgets About McCain's "Volcanic Temper"

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 2:49 PM PST

This is what Arizona Republic's editorial board had to say about John McCain:

Arizona Sen. John McCain has staked much of his claim to the presidency on his character: his status as war hero; his service to his country; his commitment to a cause, his country, bigger than himself.
These are legitimate claims to support by McCain, and worthy of voter attention and consideration.
But there are other aspects of McCain's character, less flattering, also worthy of voter attention and consideration....Many Arizonans active in policymaking have been the victim of McCain's volcanic temper and his practice of surrounding himself with aides and allies who regard politics, in the words of his paid Arizona chairman, state House Speaker Jeff Groscost, as a "bloodsport."

At GOP Debate, McCain and Romney Bicker Over Whom Reagan Would Love More

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 8:19 PM PST

At the end of the final Republican presidential primary before Super-Duper Tuesday, CNN's Anderson Cooper, the lead moderator, noted it had been "a remarkable evening of politics." Not so.

The debate, held at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California, on Wednesday night, was all-too predictably a contest in Reagan-hugging, with John McCain, the apparent frontrunner, and Mitt Romney, the apparent No. 2, trying to out-Reagan the other. Neither said much new. After all, they agree on keeping in place George W. Bush's war in Iraq and his tax cuts. But the two men needed something to argue about, so they tussled over McCain's charge that Romney last spring supported setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. This was the exchange that would be sliced and diced by the pundits and the analysts. In a way, both McCain and Romney were wrong.

This dust-up began last week when McCain said "Romney wanted to set a date for withdrawal similar to what the Democrats are seeking." McCain pointed to an ABC News interview, during which Romney was asked, "Do you believe that there should be a timetable in withdrawing the troops?" His reply:

Well, there's no question--but that the President and Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about. But those shouldn't be for public pronouncement. You don't want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you're gonna be gone. You wanna have a series of things you wanna see accomplished in terms of the strength of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police and the leadership of the, of the Iraqi government.

Was Romney talking about a timetable for a withdrawal or a timetable for other steps? He wasn't clear. So the interviewer pressed him: "You wouldn't do it publicly because - the President has said flat out that he will veto anything the Congress passes about a timetable for - troop withdrawals. As president, would you do the same?" And Romney said,

Previewing the Final Debate, Obama and Clinton Attack and Counter-Attack

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 2:47 PM PST

Will the last Democratic debate before Supersaturated Tuesday, scheduled for Thursday night in Los Angeles, be a mano-a-mano slamfest? During the previous gathering of Democratic candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton got rather nasty, as John Edwards attempted to play the grown-up. With Edwards departed from the race, finally there will be a direct Clinton-against-Obama face-off. And the tensions--and stakes--are obviously higher. Yeah, it's easy to depict this as a sporting event. The Super Bowl debate, etc. (CNN calls it campaign coverage "Ballot Bowl '08.") But at this point in the contest, the not-so-great policy differences between the two are not what counts. What matters are the persons--and that includes how they punch, whether they punch, and how they take a punch. Many--if not most--voters will make a final determination based on their impressions of the character, values, judgment, experience, and talents of the two remaining contenders. And here's the last chance Clinton and Obama each have to compare him- or herself to the other--up close and personal.

On Wednesday, the campaigns provided a preview of what could come. During a speech in Denver--where over 10,000 people turned out to see him--Obama presented a sharp critique of Clinton. "Democrats will win in November and build a majority in Congress not by nominating a candidate who will unite the other party against us," he proclaimed, "but by choosing one who can unite this country around a movement for change." He went on:

It is time for new leadership that understands the way to win a debate with John McCain or any Republican who is nominated is not by nominating someone who agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq or who agreed with him in voting to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, who agrees with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don't like, who actually differed with him by arguing for exceptions for torture before changing positions when the politics of the moment changed.
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