Next on "The 700 Club," Bernie Kerik talks about how his relationship with Jesus -- and his good friend Rudy Giuliani -- helped him overcome federal corruption and tax fraud charges, a fall from grace, and the private sins of a public life . . .
New Rudy was so happy the dimples came out on Wednesday, when he basked in the endorsement glow of Pat Robertson. (And we thought the only 700 Club that former mayor Rudolph Giuliani was familiar with counts the unholy trinity of Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth as members.)
But an old friend of Old Rudy returns to the stage Thursday, with the expected indictment of Kerik, per ABC's Richard Esposito. Just when Giuliani, R-N.Y., wants to be looking forward, an old friend (and they're still friends) pulls him back to the uncomfortable past.
This has long been the obstacle that Giuliani has expected to emerge. (Which do you think he'd rather explain away: felony charges against a friend whom he made police commissioner and pushed as a Cabinet secretary, or Robertson's contention that liberal judges are more of a threat than "a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings"? And why is it that only Giuliani seems to face questions like that?)
"Charges could complicate the presidential campaign of Mr. Kerik's friend, patron and former business partner, Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican, whose mentorship was partly responsible for Mr. Kerik's sharp ascent into prominence," William K. Rashbaum and Russ Buettner write in The New York Times. (Only "partly"?) "Mr. Giuliani has acknowledged that New York City's investigations commissioner, Edward J. Kuriansky, told him that he had been briefed about some of Mr. Kerik's involvement with Interstate before the police appointment."
He can't look to Robertson for help with this one. But their endorsement appearance yesterday amounted to one of the odder moments of the presidential campaign -- sealing nothing so much as continued disorder in the GOP field.
The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick and Michael Cooper nominate Giuliani and Robertson for "strangest bedfellows of 2008." "It was the latest manifestation of the deep divide in the Christian conservative movement over how to balance politics and principle in the coming era after President Bush, who once so deftly brought it all together," they write.
"Religious conservative leaders are in disarray over the 2008 Republican field as deep divisions contribute to an unusually wide-open GOP race for the presidential nomination," per ABC News. "Faced with a Mormon from Massachusetts, a twice-divorced former New York mayor who backs abortion and gay rights, a senator who once called Robertson and the late Rev. Jerry Falwell the 'forces of evil' and a Hollywood actor who rarely goes to church, the once powerful coalition of Christian conservative leaders appears to be splintering."
If evangelicals split their votes among three or four candidates -- Giuliani, as the moderate in the race and the national frontrunner -- wins even if he isn't one of them. What he really fears is the evangelical vote coalescing behind a single candidate, and Robertson's endorsement makes that markedly less likely.
But could he be sacrificing his Rudy-ness? "Giuliani does run a risk in secular New Hampshire of appearing too nakedly political in his effort to stake out common ground with Robertson," Salon.com's Walter Shapiro writes. "There is also the possibility that fear of a rampaging Rudy could eclipse the horror of Hillary among right-wing religious voters."
This is Robertson as political tactician, not religious leader: "Given the fractured nature of the process, I thought it was time to solidify around one candidate," he tells The Washington Post's Michael Shear and Alec MacGillis.
"I think that we do want a front-runner of the Republican Party who can win the general election," Robertson said, per ABC's Jake Tapper and Toni L. Wilson.
Robertson is trying to bring some order to the Republican field, with the party doing the very Democratic thing of splitting their loyalties among a diverse field of candidates. (One even raised money on an obscure British holiday -- sounds like something a Democrat would do, doesn't it?)
Meanwhile, the Democrats have done the very Republican thing of finding a favorite candidate and sticking with him (her, actually). And so, as Sen. Barack Obama loses his way , and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton loses her voice , a quiet desperation is creeping into the campaign to beat Clinton.
Obama, D-Ill., added another piece to his scattershot criticism of Clinton yesterday: He's making it a "generational fight," Michael McAuliff writes in the New York Daily News. "I think there's no doubt that we represent the kind of change that Sen. Clinton can't deliver on, and part of it is generational," Obama told Fox News.
Obama's going up with a new ad that builds on his fight-for-the-middle-class theme, ABC's David Wright and Sunlen Miller report. "I'm telling the CEOs it hurts America when they cash out, and leave workers high and dry," Obama says in the ad. "It's an outrage. You've gotta have somebody in the White House who believes it's an outrage."
The Hillary "pile-on" comes in different styles and flavors, Christina Bellantoni writes in the Washington Times. "Mr. Edwards is the aggressor -- often putting the words 'corrupt' and 'Clinton' in the same sentence," she writes. "Mr. Obama is more nuanced, and even used a friendly 'Saturday Night Live' venue to push his message -- 'I'm not going to change who I am' -- with the subtext being that this is exactly how Mrs. Clinton operates."
Look for the anti-Hillary forces to get more organized before caucus day -- and in the caucus rooms themselves, Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen writes. "Piling on? She ain't seen nothin' yet," Yepsen writes. "Emboldened, the boys will be noodling up other ways to dip her pigtails in the printer. One way they can do it is by throwing in together. A majority of caucus-goers still aren't for her. If they all coalesce around one of the boys, she loses."
But strident criticism of the frontrunner carries a risk -- and if you're going to attack a frontrunner for inconsistencies, it helps if you're consistent yourself.
Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., has been clear on debate stages: "Combat missions ended. Combat troops out of Iraq, period," he said at last week's debate in Philadelphia, as he sought to differentiate himself with Clinton. But he told a Boston Globe editorial board meeting Wednesday that he would continue combat "expeditions" against Al Qaeda in Iraq -- from bases outside the country, per the Globe's Jenn Abelson. Said Edwards: "We're battling Al Qaeda all over the world right now and we don't occupy countries to do it."
And on the immigration issue that got Clinton into so much trouble at the debate (and its long aftermath), Edwards has endorsed an "incoherent" policy that "appears to hinge on blurring the distinction between state and federal powers," Politico's Ben Smith writes. Says the Edwards campaign: "He supports licenses as part of a path to citizenship. He doesn't support the Spitzer plan because it doesn't include a path to citizenship." Governors, of course, can't grant citizenship. Says Frank Sharry of the National Immigrantion Forum: "I don't know if they think you're stupid or what they think."
Time's Joe Klein sees the firestorm passing over Clinton. "The propensity of Democrats to be chuckleheaded in ways easily exploited by Republicans is what Clinton, in most cases, is trying to avoid with her lawyerly answers," Klein writes. "Clinton has always had a problem with authenticity. . . . But her plans on the big domestic-policy issues -- health care and energy -- have been courageous and detailed, more sophisticated than her opponents' -- and very, very smart politically."
It's not that all waffles are bad, just that this one needed to be sent back to the kitchen. "What she was trying to do was admirable: presidential candidates need to preserve their policy options and 'waffle' as much as possible," Steven Stark writes in the Boston Phoenix. "What's worrisome -- both for Democrats and the nation at large -- is how badly she does it."
The verdict on the victim card? "More than a week into Clinton's worst campaign crisis, it appears the tactic has backfired, with both opponents and supporters wondering why a front-runner who touts herself as the most rugged politician in America would choose to cry foul," Newsday's Glenn Thrush writes.
AP's Ron Fournier has this advice for Clinton (if Mark Penn lets her see this column): "You're smart, funny, qualified and more personable than most voters realize. So go with that. Stop letting your strategists tie you in knots with their polls, focus groups and microtargeting. It's brilliant stuff, but they're making you too cautious and unwilling to take clear stands. That won't fly in Iowa."
On the substance of the immigration debate, "she and her campaign are still dealing with the aftermath -- and her rivals show no sign of letting her slip away from the subject," Dan Balz writes for The Washington Post. "The issue is complex, as those who have tried to craft a legislative solution have learned painfully, and politically charged. But there is no sanctuary on immigration for candidates along the campaign trail this year. John McCain learned that last spring, and Clinton is coming to terms with that reality now."
Speaking of McCain, his endorsement by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., was almost lost yesterday in the Robertson-Rudy smilefest. But the Brownback endorsement "could prove pivotal in the Arizona senator's bid to reclaim momentum in the campaign," Newsweek's Holly Bailey writes. "Brownback's biggest support was in Iowa, where he was widely respected by many social conservatives."
The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder hears renewed talk of a McCain campaign loan, in the neighborhood of $3 million. "Campaign advisers in Iowa and New Hampshire have begged the campaign's management to make a decision about money," Ambinder reports. "Many see the next three weeks as do or die; these advisers believe that McCain needs to rebounds to a solid second place in New Hampshire, Iowa or South Carolina by Thanksgiving in order to be viable after the holiday."
In the Arizona Republic, Daniel Gonzalez and Dan Nowicki see McCain taking a harder-line view on immigration, "hoping the new stand will make his presidential campaign more appealing to conservative Republican voters." They write: "The comprehensive approach he championed for years, one that emphasized a guest-worker program and legalization for those here illegally, has taken a back seat to a plan that puts a priority on tightening border security and beefing up enforcement."
McCain is Charlie Gibson's next subject in the "Who Is?" series, airing on "World News" this evening and the "World News Webcast" this afternoon. McCain, on living up to his father's standards: "I resented it, but I wanted it. It was almost schizophrenic. I wanted to be the fighter pilot, I wanted to follow in the footsteps, at the same time I resisted." On his time as a prisoner of war: "The pain I experienced, you know, still I don't know how in some ways that I was able to survive the injuries."
Also in the news:
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., is using his perch as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to jump into the crisis in Pakistan. He's spoken to both President Pervez Musharraf and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, and he'll use a 10 am ET speech today in New Hampshire to call for a more robust American effort to restore stability.
"To help defuse the current political crisis, we must be far more pro-active, not reactive and make it clear to Pakistan that actions have consequences," Biden plans to say, per excerpts obtained by ABC News. "President Bush's first reaction was to call on President Musharraf to reverse course. Given the stakes, I thought it was important to actually call him -- which is exactly what I did."
Obama again faced a question yesterday about whether he places his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance (and somewhere, there's a dissertation to be written about the impact of Internet rumors on the presidential campaign).
Obama called the circulation of pictures that purport to show him not respecting the pledge a "dirty trick," and he mentioned other emails accusing him of being "a Muslim plant," ABC's David Wright and Sunlen Miller report. (And check out the ABC video of the Harkin Steak Fry, which show Obama's hands clasped at his waist during the Star-Spangled Banner, not the pledge.)
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is not done making waves. Guy Fawkes Day was a rousing success, so why not Veterans Day (11/11), Bill of Rights Day (12/15), and the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party (12/16)? "Trolling around the Ron Paul online universe yields word of more bombs in the making," ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports.
Suddenly, Paul on the verge of being taken seriously. "Four million dollars will buy a lot. For Rep. Ron Paul, it means CNN will come to your hotel room at 7 in the morning, the Concord Monitor will ride with you to the airport and NECN will meet you when you get there," the Monitor's Lauren R. Dorgan writes.
Robert Novak sees former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., as having "seriously wounded himself" on the abortion issue on "Meet the Press." "Thompson was incoherent at best and thoroughly objectionable to his party's pro-life base at worst. He backed away from his firm opposition to the platform, but he never quite set himself right on the whole issue."
The Boston Globe's Brian Mooney profiles Giuliani. "Giuliani, more than any other candidate, is measured in part by the public drama of his intense personal, political, and professional relationships -- the friendships, marriages, and alliances that he nurtured and sometimes discarded," Mooney writes. "The choices he made at critical moments in these relationships helped define him as a person and a leader. Like a protagonist in one of his beloved operas, Giuliani has long been a commanding presence, both lionized and loathed."
The Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten looks at Rudy's stump style -- he doesn't feel your pain, but he'll kick your doctor's butt if you don't get better. "Other politicians might have expressed empathy, or drawn voters into deeper conversation, or lightened the talk of violence around elementary school children," Wallsten writes.
"But not the former New York mayor," he continues. "With his intense demeanor and aggressive policy stances -- such as pledging to 'prevent' Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon or to 'set them back five or 10 years' -- Giuliani has methodically built an image as the toughest guy on the block, unafraid of looking belligerent in the cause of keeping America safe. Though it isn't always pretty up close, Giuliani's demeanor seems to be working."
Don't lock in those primary dates yet: Michigan lawmakers are scrambling to keep their Jan. 15 primary in place, after a state judge ruled a provision in the law unconstitutional. (Wake us up when this is settled.) Per the Detroit Free Press' Dawson Bell: "Debbie Dingell, a Democratic power broker who helped lead the push for a Jan. 15 primary, said late Wednesday she was cautiously optimistic it could be salvaged and that extraordinary efforts to do so would be undertaken."
And finally, comedian Mo Rocca casts "Larry Craig: The Movie." (Starring Werner Klemperer as Sen. Craig.)
The kicker: The endorsement heard 'round the world:
"Every once in a while, I am left speechless. This is one of those times." -- McCain.
"I am surprised. But I guess it's because I am easily surprised." -- Thompson.
"I can't get the support of everybody. . . . I don't think the Republican party will choose a pro-choice, pro-gay civil union candidate to lead our party." -- Romney.
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