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.
The battle of New Hampshireon the Democratic sideopened Friday morning with an obvious question: what, if anything, would Hillary Clinton do differently? Her 8-point loss to Barack Obama in Iowa was a clear indicator that what she had been doing until then was not working. And when it comes to the sort of voters who contributed to Obama's impressive win on Thursday nightincluding independent, young, and upscale votersNew Hampshire is a better hunting ground for Obama than Iowa. So reporters and politicos were wondering how Clinton would recalibrate in response to the thumpin' she had received.
Early in the morning, in a cold airport hangar in Nashua, in front of a couple of hundred people (including Arkansans and AFSCME union workers who were bussed in), Clinton provided the answer: not much. In her only major campaign appearance of the day (she would later join the other Democratic candidates at a dinner for the state Democratic party), she essentially stuck with the message that had failed her in Iowa.
The United States military could stay in Iraq for "maybe a hundred years" and that "would be fine with me," John McCain told two hundred or so people at a town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, on Thursday evening. Toward the end of this session, which was being held shortly before the Iowa caucuses were to start, McCain was confronted by Dave Tiffany, who calls himself a "full-time antiwar activist." In a heated exchange, Tiffany told McCain that he had looked at McCain's campaign website and had found no indication of how long McCain was willing to keep U.S. troops in Iraq. Arguing that George W. Bush's escalation of troops has led to a decline in U.S. casualties, McCain noted that the United States still maintains troops in South Korea and Japan. He said he had no objection to U.S. soldiers staying in Iraq for decades, "as long as Americans are not being injured, harmed or killed."
After the event ended, I asked McCain about his "hundred years" comment, and he reaffirmed the remark, excitedly declaring that U.S. troops could be in Iraq for "a thousand years" or "a million years," as far as he was concerned. The key matter, he explained, was whether they were being killed or not: "It's not American presence; it's American casualties." U.S. troops, he continued, are stationed in South Korea, Japan, Europe, Bosnia, and elsewhere as part of a "generally accepted policy of America's multilateralism." There's nothing wrong with Iraq being part of that policy, providing the government in Baghdad does not object.
In other words, McCain does not equate victory in Iraq--which he passionately urges at campaign events--with the removal of U.S. troops from that nation. After McCain told Tiffany that he could see troops remaining in Iraq for a hundred years, a reporter sitting next to me quipped, "There's the general election campaign ad." He meant the Democratic ad: John McCain thinks it would be okay if U.S. troops stayed in Iraq for another hundred years.....
Well, it was straight talk. And McCain's combativeness livened up a session during which he alternated between the old McCain (as in punchy, feisty, humorous) and the old McCain (as in just plain old). He moved a bit stiffly on the stage set up in the middle of the Adams Memorial Opera House. And he--somewhat oddly--shared the spotlight with Senator Joseph Lieberman, who has endorsed him. Lieberman did not merely introduce McCain; he stood by McCain during the entire event, helping McCain to answer questions about education, climate change, and the Iraq war. Several times, Lieberman gave more coherent and animated replies than did McCain. Repeatedly, Lieberman maintained that McCain could rack up bipartisan successes as president. (The Lieberman sidekick bit was curious. But an elementary-age girl in the audience did say, after being handed a microphone, that Lieberman was her role-model and that she fancied McCain. Lieberman hugged her, and the whole crowd oohed at this cuteness.)
How else to explain two bizarre last-minute decisions of Mike Huckabee's campaign. First, the former Arkansas governor held a near-meltdown of a press conference on Monday, during which he decried negative campaigning but then played for the assembled camera crews the anti-Romney ad he had commissioned and had decided not to use. Then on Wednesday, Huckabee was scheduled to leave frosty Iowa--the day before the caucuses--for sunny L.A. to appear on the Jay Leno show. So he was trading a day of campaigning in the Hawkeye State for several minutes of chuckles on a national television show that probably is not watched by many of his potential voters, older social conservatives (unless these Iowans have a secret lust for Paris Hilton jokes). Huckabee certainly could reach more caucus-goers by working the Iowa media. And Iowan voters, as you know, expect to be treated like royalty by the candidates. Spurning them for laughs with Leno is not a show of respect. It looked as if Huckabee was more concerned with me-time than kneeling before Iowans--a true sin in presidential politics.
It practically seems that someone calling the shots in the Huckabee command is trying to sabotage his almost-a-miracle campaign. Whom might that be? Well, longtime readers of mine know that I am usually quite skeptical of conspiracy theorizing. But in this case, let me suggest a culprit: Ed Rollins. The veteran Republican strategist and operative recently signed on as Huckabee's campaign chairman. Rollins, who ran Ronald Reagan's wildly successful reelection campaign in 1984, has had a bumpy relationship with the GOP establishment. He worked for Ross Perot (as opposed to President George H.W. Bush) in 1992. But he has usually been a loyal GOPer. In the 1990 election, he ran the National Republican Congressional Committee. In 1993, he was campaign manager for Republican Christine Todd Whitman's successful gubernatorial effort in New Jersey. The following year, he helped Republican George Nethercutt, a Republican, unseat Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley. And he has assisted several Republicans since then.
It's been pretty clear--even if you don't read the National Review and watch Fox News--that the GOP elite is not keen on Huckabee ending up as the Republican nominee. So could Rollins be a double-agent? A plant of the GOP high-and-mighty, which would be delighted to see Huckabee crash and burn? Rollins does have a rep as an underhanded operative. After the Whitman race, he disclosed that he had had secretly paid black ministers and Democratic campaign workers in New Jersey to suppress the black vote. (He then partially retracted the remark, saying the comment was "an exaggeration that turned out to be inaccurate.") And in a 1996 book, Rollins claimed that he had learned (after the fact) about an illegal $10 million contribution to Reagan's 1984 campaign from Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, but Rollin has refused to disclose details about this supposed crime.
So is it possible that Rollins is the GOP's Man in Huckabee Land? That may be fanciful speculation on my part. (Few high-profile strategists would want to be seen losing a campaign.) But the only other explanation is that after years of skillful politicking, Rollins has lost his game and gone stupid. Can you believe that?
This Sunday morning, the Iowa presidential race hits the television talk shows. Most of the leading candidates of both parties are appearing on one of the Sunday gabfests. Fred Thompson chose Fox News Sunday. In comparing himself with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, who both lead him in the iowa polls, Thompson repeatedly cited his foreign policy experience, noting that he had served on the intelligence committee during his eight years in the U.S. Senate.
But there was one problem with this sales pitch: Thompson mispronounced the name of Pakistan's leader. He called Pervez Musharraf "MOO-SHA-rav." The right way to say his name, according the Voice of America's Pronounciation Guide, is "moo-SHURR-RUHF." If Thompson is hoping for a late surge on the basis of his purported experience in national security matters, he ought to be more careful when drawling about current foreign policy crises.
On a summer day in 1997, in a wood-paneled hearing room, Senator Fred Thompson, the chairman of the Senate governmental affairs committee, peered down from the dais at that afternoon's witness: Haley Barbour, who until recently had headed the Republican National Committee. Thompson, a lawyer and actor elected to the Senate three years earlier, was conducting hearings probing the fundraising excesses of President Bill Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign—especially the allegation that the president's operation had been infiltrated by agents of Beijing. But now one of Thompson's fellow Republicans was in the hot seat. In 1994, Barbour had arranged for a $2.1 million loan guarantee from a Hong Kong businessman to a conservative policy outfit Barbour had founded. Barbour's group used the money to repay a $1.6 million debt to the rnc. (It later defaulted on the loan.) Press accounts suggested that the rnc used these funds to help finance its historic takeover of Congress in 1994. Given that it was illegal for foreigners to contribute to congressional and presidential campaigns, the question was, had the gop won power with laundered money from an overseas source?