Opportunity '08 Forum: McCain 'Collapse' Debated

Feb. 28, 2007 — -- Two Washington veterans agreed Wednesday that a "change dynamic" is at work in a 2008 presidential campaign dominated by the war in Iraq. They disagreed, however, about what it means for the presidential aspirations of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"In a change dynamic, McCain is the un-change," said Tom Donilon, a former Clinton administration official who has served as senior adviser to Democratic presidents and presidential candidates for 20 years.

Former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein disagreed with Donilon on the question of whether McCain's presidential bid has suffered a "collapse" as a result of embracing President Bush's plan to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq by more than 20,000.

Duberstein and Donilon offered their assessments of the 2008 presidential race during the first panel discussion of a joint project between the Brookings Institution and ABC News. The joint project is called "Opportunity '08: Independent Ideas for Our Next President."

Wednesday's discussion, which was moderated by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, came on the heels of an ABC News/Washington Post poll showing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani holding a two-to-one advantage over McCain among Republican nationally.

During a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Duberstein disagreed with Stephanopoulos when he suggested that Giuliani and former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney have given themselves more flexibility to break from Bush on Iraq in the future by being less vocal than McCain in their support for the president's proposed troop surge.

"Rudy is very much locked in to the president's policy," said Duberstein, adding that Romney, who is at 4 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, has no choice but to support the president's position, given Duberstein's prediction that a huge preponderance of Republican primary voters will support Bush's pursuit of a robust policy in Iraq.

Donilon took issue with Duberstein's suggestion that Giuliani owes his rise to high name recognition.

"McCain is also well known," said Donilon.

The key for McCain, Duberstein told ABC News following the forum, is for him to "talk about the future as a change agent."

Check back for more features from ABC News and the Brookings Institution's "Opportunity '08" at www.abcnews.com/politics