The Note: The Way to Lose, Part IV



The striped-panted diplomat Karen Hughes has accused The Note of dangerously reinforcing the political conventional wisdom of the moment.

We have never succeeded in convincing her that The Note exists to parody the CW and to push our colleagues in political journalism (and the few other readers we have) to be open to considering the unconventional -- particularly when it comes to being willing to think anew about presidents and the men and woman who want their jobs.

The problem we have -- actually the problem that these men and woman have -- is that once the CW gets set, it is difficult to change it. Of course, the politicians usually bring all this on themselves by losing control of their public images, thus putting the CW in place.

Few who lose control over their images -- or the storylines in which they are starring (or, alas, co-starring) -- have the political skill and strength to win them back. When Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have staged comebacks in their political careers, it has been based on confronting head-on their problems by simultaneously taking back control of their public images and pushing mud on their opponents (from bimbo erupting and draft dodging to "last dog" dying pledges; from "this boy" taking a thumpin' in the New Hampshire primary to a town-meetin' reformer-with-results against the Powerful Chairman of the Powerful Commerce Committee).

The foolish politicians, though, don't focus on regaining control of their images, but divert resources to minor problems, or try to pursue their "positive" agenda with their heads in the sand. This is silly, because until they regain control, the political-media Freak Show will just pound and pound on their piƱata and block out everything else.

For examples of how to do this the wrong way, see the chapters on John Kerry and Al Gore in "The Way to Win." LINK

And on this day in history, consider the occifying CWs that threaten to imprison and impale:

George W. Bush: that his presidency is over in every dimension but the temporal. (See Bob Novak's must-read column, especially the kicker graph quote from "a ranking House committee member," who says, "The president and his aides are irrelevant and out of touch, removed from realizing what happened in an election." LINK)

VilsackRichardsonDoddBidenetc: that they can't win, so don't give them money. (See Dick Morris' and Eileen McGann's emphatic endorsement of the Big Three -- ClintonEdwardsObama -- premise. LINK)

Joe Biden: that his inability to control his mouth bespeaks a larger problem -- and not just for those on Foreign Relations or his staff conference calls. (See today's must-read column by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, miraculously coming out of his month-long slump with a boffo Sketch of the Senator As an Older Man. LINK)

Barack Obama: that he for some reason somehow has to choose if he is going to be an African-American candidate or a white one. (The Washington Post's Michael Fletcher is only the latest to raise the "dilemma"; we leave it to the Onion to write a parody of this piece about a white candidate. LINK)

John Kerry: that the Boston Globe only has to love and respect him after he surrenders. (See today's full wall-to-wall Globe coverage, which David Thorne and Jim Jordan will use to line their bird cages.)

John McCain: that he is watching his presidential campaign self-destruct in slow motion before John Weaver's heavy-lidded eyes because of the Iraq war. (Wait -- that one might actually be right.) (Note to Karen Hughes -- and Weaver: we are kidders.)

Trying to regain control, President Bush will be talking health care today when he visits Lee's Summit, MO. He tours a health-care facility at 10:25 am ET and holds a roundtable discussion at 10:55 am ET. Two days ago, in his State of the Union address, the President proposed reforming the tax code with a standard deduction for health insurance and helping states make affordable private health insurance available.

The Rev. Al Sharpton holds closed press meetings with three Democratic presidential hopefuls today in their respective Senate offices. At 9:00 am ET, he met with Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT). He meets with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) at 10:45 am ET in Russell 476, and with Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at 4:30 pm ET in Hart 713. Sharpton, not surprisingly, plans to make himself available to the media after each closed press meeting.

Sen. Obama was active on both health care and energy today.

At 9:15 am ET, Sen. Obama he was scheduled to speak to a Families USA conference on health care at the Mayflower Hotel. At 11:30 am ET, Sen. Obama joins Sen. Harkin (D-Iowa caucus), and others on Capitol Hill for an 11:30 am ET press conference on promoting renewable fuels.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors heard from Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) at 8:00 am ET.

The Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on Iraq with former Defense Secretary William Perry and retired Army Gen. John Keane testifying. The meeting was scheduled to begin at 9:30 am ET.

The Senate's Democratic leadership holds a pen and pad briefing in the Capitol at 11:30 am ET on "taking America in a new direction."

The House Republican Conference begins its two day retreat for House Republicans.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) formally declared his presidential candidacy at 8:00 am ET at the Spartanburg Marriott at Renaissance Park in Spartanburg, SC.

The National Conference of Democratic Mayors (NCDM) will hold a news conference to discuss the meetings at 5:30 pm ET, also at the Capitol Hill Hilton. Participants will include Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, former Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (D-TN), and Ed McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

NARAL Pro-Choice America holds its Roe v. Wade 34th Anniversary Dinner at 6:00 pm ET at the Omni Shoreham in Washington, DC. Participants will include Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

The White House Press Secretary holds a discussion entitled "Inside the Bush White House" at 7:30 pm ET at George Washington University's Jack Morton Auditorium in Washington, DC.

DC Vote holds a seminar on DC's relationship with Congress at 2:00 pm ET at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation. Participants will include Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Albert Wynn (D-MD), Michael Fauntroy of George Mason University, and Gary Young of George Washington University.


The New York Times' Adam Nagourney ledes the paper with the still-in-development 2008 nomination calendar and how it is impacting strategies in both Democratic and Republican campaigns. LINK

Some big states (Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, and California) are likely to move up their contests to right after Iowa and New Hampshire and a few other small early states. They would vote in late January or early February.

The big questions are:

1. Will this change make Iowa and New Hampshire less important or more?

2. Will this change make it more likely or less likely that well-financed frontrunners will win?

3. Will this change make it more likely or less likely that nominees are chosen quickly?

The answers to all three questions are "yes." In other words, for each question, you can make the argument either way now. The safest bet is that Iowa and New Hampshire (along with, to a lesser extent, Nevada -- for the Democrats only -- and South Carolina) will still play the biggest role in winnowing the field of candidates.

But otherwise, the answers to (2) and (3) are unknowable, and will be unknowable for a long, long time.

Under an "Obama's Appeal to Blacks Remains an Open Question" header, the Washington Post's Michael Fletcher has Lorenzo Martin, publisher of the Chicago Standard newspapers, a chain of black-oriented weeklies, saying, "When you look and see who is surrounding him, you are not going to see too many brothers. What you see is the liberal left." LINK

The story also includes the Rev. Jesse Jackson indicating that there is no guarantee that Obama can expect the same kind of support that he enjoyed when he ran for president in 1984 and 1988.

"'He faces some real challenges,' Jackson said. 'First, there will be intense competition for black votes. The other reason is that most black people met him two years ago on television from Boston.'"

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank Sketches the verbosity of Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) at yesterday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, ending with this classic exchange: LINK

"At one point, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) accidentally called Biden 'Mr. President.'"

"'I should say 'Mr. Chairman,'' she amended. 'I know you'd like 'Mr. President.'"

"'Well, you noticed, nine heads turned when you said that,' he replied, referring to the tther senators on the committee who have contemplated candidacies."

"'I noticed you responded immediately,' Boxer needled."

"For a moment, the chairman was not ready with a reply. But it passed quickly."

The Union Leader's John DiStaso Notes among many things in his always must-read Thursday Granite Status column that Republican presidential candidates are poised to have big weeks, as Rudy Giuliani (R-NY), Mitt Romney (R-MA), and John McCain (R-AZ) will appear in New Hampshire or hold fundraisers.

As always, there is much more: LINK

In the story most widely read at the White House today, looking at the Rove-Libby dynamic, the New York Times Johnston and Rutenberg pen, "". . . there is little known evidence to buttress the suggestion by Mr. Libby's defense. . . that unnamed White House officials were deliberately setting Mr. Libby up to be a scapegoat." . LINK

2008: Democrats: Kerry bows out:

Be sure not to miss today's obsessive Kerry coverage in the Boston Globe as the newspaper loses one of its favorite whipping boys from the ranks of '08ers. LINK

"Kerry . . . has been acting like a 2008 candidate virtually since he lost to President Bush -- traveling the country, spreading money to other Democratic candidates, and keeping in place a campaign infrastructure that was ready for another presidential bid."

"But according to Kerry associates, the senator's plans changed dramatically in the fallout of his election-eve 'botched joke' about the education levels of US troops. The harsh reaction to that incident -- from many Democrats as well as Republicans -- displayed to Kerry the extreme skepticism within his own party about whether he should mount another run."

A relieved Boston Globe editorial board said that Kerry was finding new clarity in his message, saying, "Renunciation of ambition has enhanced clarity of expression." and of his choice to opt out the Globe said, "Kerry's decision to stay in the Senate should free him to better serve his state." LINK

The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan chatted on-line about Kerry's expected decision. LINK

In his good-bye to Kerry, the New York Times' Adam Nagourney reminds readers that Kerry aides were calling him "Mr. President" in the early portion of election night in 2004 and Notes that the Senate chamber was nearly empty when Kerry delivered his speech announcing his intentions yesterday. LINK

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. LINK

Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register chronicles the declining support for Sen. Kerry in the Hawkeye State since 2004. LINK

The New York Daily News' Bazinet and Kennedy write up the "collective sigh of relief from the Democratic Party" that followed John Kerry's announcement. LINK

"'His fund-raisers will likely go to Obama. If he had any Clinton fund-raisers, they would have for sure already switched to her by now,' said a Kerry 2004 strategist. 'They will not go to Edwards. Many were not left with a good feeling about Edwards.'"

ABC News' Ed O'Keefe and David Chalian quote Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) saying: "I love you John Kerry and I'm sorry things didn't work out for our country." LINK

Bostonian Seth Gitell takes a look at the fundraisers, operatives, and party leaders up for grabs now that John Kerry has left the field. LINK

The Boston Herald's Howie Carr dances on Kerry's presidential grave and taunts, "It's gotta hurt, knowing that he and Al Gore are in one of the world's tiniest clubs: guys who blew an election to George W. Bush." LINK

Dave Wedge of the Boston Herald reports on the political vultures in Massachusetts circling over what they perceive as a weakened Kerry, hoping to give him a serious challenge for his Senate seat in 2008. LINK

And in a companion piece, Wedge reports on the disappointed state Democrats who thought they might have finally had a shot at promotion had Kerry vacated his seat to run for president. LINK

Los Angeles Times: LINK

The Hill: LINK

Debunking the Obama madrassa story:

"An ABC News producer and crew visited the school in Jakarta, Indonesia, attended by" Sen. Obama "in his youth and found it to be a normal government public school without even a hint of the extremist elements reported by various conservative news outlets in the last week," reports ABC News' Jake Tapper. LINK

For "Good Morning America," Tapper looked at the way in which the untrue allegation that Sen. Obama attended a madrassa as a child went from "Insight . . . to Fox . . . to talk radio.

David Bossie of Citizens United said: "It's hard to get the toothpaste back in the tube. Really, it can do some damage. . ."

Tapper closed with a little Mark Twain: "As Mark Twain once said, 'A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,' and with the race for the White House getting started so early, so are the lies and their trips around the world."

Helen Kennedy of the New York Daily News gives high marks to Sen. Obama and his campaign team for "aggressively" pushing back against the debunked madrassa story. LINK

"Interviews by the Associated Press at the elementary school in Jakarta found that it's a public, secular institution that has been open to students of all faiths since before the senator attended in the late 1960s." LINK

Politics of Iraq:

The non-binding Biden/Levin/Hagel anti-surge resolution passing out of the Senate Foreign Relations committee the day after the President's State of the Union address scored the lead story on all three broadcast network newscasts last night -- in large part due to Sen. Hagel's television friendly presentation.

ABC News' Jake Tapper and Avery Miller report on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote to declare the President's troop surge plan wrong, quoting Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as saying," This is a pingpong game with American lives." LINK

The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman on Sen. Hagel joining Democrats in rebuffing President Bush on the Iraq war. LINK

"The full Senate is poised to consider the nonbinding, yet strongly symbolic, repudiation of Mr. Bush as early as Wednesday," reports Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times. LINK

Speaker Pelosi reasserts her disappointment in the President for Notifying her instead of consulting her on his plan to send additional troops to Baghdad. Politico's Josephine Hearn and Mike Allen scored an interview with the Speaker and have the story. LINK


The FEC announced that the new contribution limit for House, Senate and presidential elections will be $2,300, Roll Call reports.

In a poll released today by Quinnipiac University, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY) leads Sen. Hillary Clinton 48%-41% in a hypothetical general election matcup in the Garden State. The closest general election battle, according to the poll, would be between Clinton and Sen. McCain. LINK

Of course, with New Jersey's potentially prominent position in the nomination fight, the primary polling numbers on each side will be of more interest.

2008: Republicans: McCain:

Politico's Roger Simon continues on the McCain beat with a look at the potential challenge McCain's age and health may cause to his presidential campaign. McCain tells Simon he fully expects the campaign will release his medical records as he did in 2000, but didn't go so far as to say it should be required of every presidential candidate. LINK

Joan Vennochi, in a Boston Globe op-ed, explores how Sen. McCain plans to out-maneuver Gov. Romney for New England support. Sen. McCain is said to have "Mitt on the mind," concerned that conservatives may opt to back Gov. Romney, and that may be why Sen. McCain is bringing former Romney strategist Rob Gray into his campaign. LINK

The Arizona Republic's Dan Nowick reports on a pair of Arizona statewide polls showing McCain with tons of home state support. LINK

2008: Republicans: Romney:

"Mitt Romney's courting of House Republicans for his presidential bid is picking up steam," writes Jonathan Martin of Politico. LINK

Side Note: Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told ABC News following the State of the Union Tuesday that even though he did not speak with any of Romney's rivals, he is backing Romney because he believes that he is the only one who can survive "the crucible" of a presidential contest.

2008: Republicans: Giuliani:

Rudy Giuliani continues to beef up his communications operation. Emily D'Alberto -- a booker at CNN's "American Morning" plans to join the Giuliani team as the director of television, responsible for overseeing the booking operation for both the former mayor and his surrogates at the national and state levels.

Maggie Haberman of the New York Post gets into the FEC weeds and reports that Rudy Giuliani and Barack Obama (unlike Hillary Clinton and John McCain) have yet to file "statements of candidacy" with the FEC. LINK

The Palm Springs Desert Sun reports that Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA) has endorsed Giuliani's presidential bid. LINK

2008: Republicans: Brownback:

CBN's David Brody has Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) explaining why he didn't call himself pro-life at first.

"I was in the same position in 1994 as I am today as far as being pro-life," said Brownback. "I didn't articulate then. I thought, and this is just getting into politics, that it would be better off saying the specific areas of the issue rather than are you pro-life or pro-choice. So when people would ask me where are you on the issue I would say I'd say I'm against taxpayer funding of abortion, I'm against it being used in foreign military bases. I would articulate all these positions that are a pro-life position. And they would say OK, where are you? Are you pro-life or pro-choice? And I'd go back an articulate the specific stance on it. So I'm in the same position now as I was then. I just say the short end I'm pro-life, now do you want to know any of the specifics, I'd be happy to answer it."

Link to the story and video: LINK

The Associated Press picked up on Sen. Brownback telling the Christian Broadcasting Network that Romney may run into trouble explaining his shifting stances on social issues. LINK

2008: Republicans: Gingrich:

Fortune's Nina Easton on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and 2008. LINK

The Houston Chronicle on Gingrich pushing for English as the official language. LINK

2008: Democrats:

Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times did some investigative work and found where the campaigns of Sens. Clinton and Obama will be headquartered. LINK

2008: Democrats: Clinton:

On "The Caucus" blog, the New York Times' Patrick Healy reports that Sen. Clinton said yesterday evening during her third video webchat that she would "soon propose a plan 'about how we get to universal coverage.'" LINK

"A Clinton spokesman, asked for details last night, would only say, 'stay tuned,' followed by a smiley face emoticon."

The Los Angeles Times' Duke Helfand reported on his newspaper's web site yesterday that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was having dinner with Sen. Clinton Wednesday evening. LINK

Cal Thomas in the Washington Times, citing the imperviousness of former President Bill Clinton to attacks, warns conservatives, "Using similar smear tactics on Hillary Clinton will only turn her into a victim and cause many not predisposed to vote for her to support her." Addressing the idea that Sen. Clinton can help unite the conservative base, Thomas says, "Maybe, but that base is too small to counter what surely will be a surge in female voters." LINK

2008: Democrats: Obama:

ABC News' Marcus Baram reports on entertainment moguls Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg hosting a Feb. 20th Hollywood fundraiser for Sen. Obama. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Tina Daunt reports that the Obama event "will be followed by a private dinner at Geffen's house for people who agree to raise $46,000 for the Illinois Democrat." LINK

Per Charlotte Eby of the Quad City Times, Sen. Obama is bulking up his campaign staff in Iowa, announcing the hires of veteran Paul Tewes as his Iowa directer and Emily Parcell as his political director. LINK

Brian DeBose of the Washington Times writes that Sen. Obama could have a tough time reigning in black voters in 2008, who some campaign strategists say are loyal to the Clintons. LINK

Writes DeBose: "Several strategists said Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, will have to walk the tightrope of wooing black liberal activists, including such polarizing figures as the Rev. Al Sharpton and Mr. Jackson, while avoiding limiting his appeal by leading with his race and running primarily on civil rights issues."

2008: Democrats: Dodd:

Christopher Conkey of the Wall Street Journal previews the Sen. Dodd-led Senate Banking Committee's hearing on the disclosure, marketing and billing strategies of credit-card firms as the Democrats bring the credit-card industry under scrutiny.

Conkey writes, "The flurry of activity marks a dramatic shift for the credit-card industry, which generally enjoyed favorable treatment on Capitol Hill under Republican rule. As recently as two years ago, Congress was more focused on the impact delinquent borrowers had on lenders, and it passed a landmark law making it harder for borrowers to erase debts by filing for bankruptcy. Banks cheered, and consumer advocates fumed."

Bush Administration agenda:

Some of President Bush's longtime social and economic conservative backers are concerned that President Bush's State of the Union agenda signaled that he is so weakened by the war and confronted with a Democratic controlled Congress that the issues that conservatives care about will suffer in President Bush's final years in office reports the Wall Street Journal's Calmes. LINK

The Bush Administration is preparing "a sizable" increase in the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan to halt an expected offensive this spring by Taliban insurgents, reports the Washington Post's Michael Abramowitz. LINK

The pros and cons of the President's health care proposal from Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Ricado Alonso-Zaldivar of the Los Angeles Times. LINK

Bloomberg's Brendan Murray and Matthew Benjamin report on critics who say President Bush has abandoned small government by making Iraq his priority and "giving in" to Democrats on domestic priorities like energy dependence, pollution, and rising health costs. LINK

Washington Post columnist David Broder sees the Senate "Gang of 14" as firefighters "ready to douse blazes of partisanship," which just might give the President's domestic agenda a chance. LINK

Author extraordinaire ABC News' Jan Crawford Greenburg takes an inside look into the politics behind Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito's nomination -- reporting the White House called Alito asking him if he was interested in the nomination at a time when the White House was publicly standing behind Harriet Miers' nomination. LINK

Big Casino budget politics:

Keying off a Congressional Budget Office report revealing that President Bush can either balance the budget within 5 years or get Congress to extend his tax cuts, the Los Angeles Times' Joel Havemann looks at the tough choice facing members of Congress. (President Bush doesn't see a tough choice since he believes both can be done.) LINK

The Libby trial:

ABC News' Pierre Thomas and Jason Ryan report on I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's trial, with new tidbits of high-level conversations in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. LINK

The New York Times' Lewis recaps the days activities in the courtroom where prosecutors attempted to refute Libby's initial claim that he learned of Plame's identity from reporters. LINK

2008: Senate:

Having been outraised by Democrats by $30 million in the last cycle, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) wants the NRSC to raise $118 million in the 2008 cycle, reports the Hill's Alexander Bolton. LINK

Bloomberg's William Roberts and Nicholas Johnston report Sen.John Sununu (R-NH) and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) both face a political problem in their '08 re-election bids because of their support for the war in Iraq, writing that Sen. Sununu has said he is looking for a way to call for change in Iraq that doesn't put him at odds with his party. LINK


Headlining his column, "Reagan Democrat," the Washington Post's E.J.Dionne Jr. describes Jim Webb's State of the Union performance as "a salutary sign that Democrats just might be getting over the battered party syndrome that has left so many of them terrified of saying exactly what's on their minds." LINK

Two days after his State of the Union response, Michael Shear of the Washington Post continues Sen. Webb's good press by describing his good press. LINK

Cheney vs. Blitzer:

"Veep Blows Top," blares the New York Daily News headline above Ken Bazinet's write up of the Cheney/Blitzer interview on CNN yesterday. LINK

Looking at Vice President Cheney's interview on CNN, the Washington Post's Peter Baker headlines "Defending Iraq War, Defiant Cheney Cites "Enormous Successes." LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Maura Reynolds writes that while President Bush was trying to be conciliatory in the State of the Union, Vice President Cheney was doing the opposite. Nevada:

The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Molly Ball reports today that Gov. Jim Gibbons has asked the state GOP party chairman to resign. LINK

Political potpourri:

Former Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN) is expected to be named DLC chair today, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. LINK

Politico's John Bresnahan and Jonathan Martin did a big front-page piece with some fairly in-depth reporting on one of Washington's sacred cows: the increasingly aged Senate. LINK

Politico also has a sidebar examining how, thanks to the rise of New Media, it will be tougher to shield advancing senators in the future. LINK

The House gave D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton the right yesterday to vote on amendments to bills on the House floor, a privilege that legislators acknowledged is largely symbolic, reports the Washington Post. LINK

ABC News' Matthew Zavala has Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's answers to the issues of illegal immigration and poverty. LINK