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Morton Kondracke and Charles Krauthammer weigh in on the Huckaboom that’s turning into a Huckabust

Saturday, December 15, 2007

HH: It’s Friday. That means one or both of the Beltway Boys. You can watch Fred and Morton tomorrow night at 2PM in the East, and check your local listings. But today, we only have Morton, and he’s joined by Charles Krauthammer. Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

MK: Hey, Hugh.

HH: Merry Christmas to you. I want to begin by extending to you the question we spent last hour on. If you’re the Republicans, who would you rather run against, Hillary or Barack Obama, Morton Kondracke?

MK: I think you’d rather run against Hillary, actually. There is no playbook on Obama. I mean, it’s going to have to be about inexperience and foreign policy. But Hillary offers so many targets, the whole personality thing, the dovey thing, which Obama is also vulnerable on, and the brittleness and the Clinton baggage and all that. So I think Obama would be a difficult target.

HH: Charles?

CK: I would agree, and I want to see her win the Democratic nomination for two reasons. One is I think she would be much easier to beat. Obama just is very attractive, runs on hope, runs on the future, a thin resume, but, you know, and he represents, it would be a great moment in America if an African-American were to be president. Everybody sort of knows that, and I think there’d be a lot of sentiment on his side. With Hillary, as Mort says, she has all the baggage, the Clinton restoration, people are not very happy about having that. And the other thing is that I thought that if a Democrat ends up winning, I’d rather have her in office, because I think she would be able to handle the war on terror in a far more responsible, serious way, pragmatic way than him. I think he’s boxed himself in, or perhaps he has ideological notions about how to fight the war on terror which are to the left of her, and I think would harm the country. So either way, I’d rather see her win. I think she’d be easier to beat for sure, and she’d be a better steward of national security if she won.

HH: I had breakfast this morning with someone you both know, who’s very, very savvy on this sort of thing, and had been with pollsters yesterday. The uniform opinion is that Obama is a generation jumper who plays to the desire of a lot of people in the middle to put the deep partisanship behind us. And thus, even though he’s a hard lefty candidate, he presents as something entirely different. Does that persuade you, Morton, of what’s fueling it?

MK: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think his message is exactly what the country wants. I mean, the idea that left and right have been battling it out ever since the 1960’s, and they battled through the 1990’s, and they’re…I mean, look at the gridlock on Capitol Hill? I mean, you’ve got the White House versus Congress, they can’t get anything done, you’ve got big, national problems to solve. Now I question whether his policy formulations are capable of winning support across party lines. I think he will do the outreach, you know, and he’ll say we’ve got to work together, and blah, blah, blah. But will he make the compromises that are necessary in order to solve these problems, which have got to be solved in the middle? I’m sorry, you know, there’s got to be a deal on entitlements, and health care, and up and down the line. On foreign policy, it’ll sort of be like John F. Kennedy coming in, or maybe, you know, less experience than that. But as long as he doesn’t make a catastrophic mistake, I think he’ll have to learn how the world is put together.

HH: Charles, I’ve been saying if Mike Huckabee were the nominee against Hillary, we’d lose, Republicans would lose 44 states. I think if Mike Huckabee ran against Barack Obama, we’d lose 50 states. I don’t think you could possibly play against his inexperience with an Arkansas governor. Who matches up best for the Republicans against Barack Obama?

CK: That’s a tough one. I agree with you on Huckabee. He’d lose 50 states, and he’d lose me.

HH: (laughing)

MK: (laughing)

CK: I mean, on his answer on national security, he was asked what his qualification for the war on terror is, he said the degree in theology. Well, you know, Jesse Jackson has one, too. It’s…if you’re running against Obama, I think then you’ve got to run the sheriff. I think you’ve got to run a Giuliani, because he’s sort of, he’s just doesn’t…or McCain. I mean, either one on the war on terror, which is still the number one issue, I think either one presents. McCain, though, just looks old, unfortunately, and you know, he’s obviously had a lot of medical issues over time, and suffered a lot physically. I think the robustness of a Barack Obama simply would be unspoken, but you know, would be Kennedy and Nixon. And Kennedy just had the vigor about him, even though Nixon was approximately the same age. Either one of those two, Giuliani I think having wider appeal because of, I think, his 9/11 experience, because he looks like a tough guy, but I think either one. Romney, I think, would be the weaker. I think Romney does better against Hillary.

HH: Because of the character issue? Because of the resume? I agree with that.

CK: Because of the resume and because he’s a technocrat as well. He can match her on experience in the sense of he runs stuff, he ran a state, he ran the businesses, he ran the Salt Lake Olympics, he knows how to carry out stuff, he’s a clean cut guy, he’s got a good resume. I think head to head against her, he might be the stronger.

HH: What about that, Morton, that if Rudy is on stage, every day, every appearance is 9/11, and reminding people that Barack Obama would be in the White House when planes hit buildings, and that would not be reassuring? Does Charles persuade you?

MK: You know, I think there’s a good argument there. I think, you know, that would be, you’d have to have somebody who was sort of battle tested. And either Giuliani or McCain could fill that bill. I think McCain, frankly, on foreign policy, even though he’s old, I mean, it would sort of be the past, but it would be the most bipartisan, or reaching across the party divide kind of past that you could imagine. I think Giuliani is a kind of a polarizing figure. And he’s been playing this immigration card, which would lose the Hispanic vote. McCain could still get, could still make some inroads in the Hispanic vote. So I can see drawbacks for all three of them. And what I would guess, either Giuliani or McCain. Frankly, I would love to see McCain, now that nobody is, now that the Republican can’t settle on anybody, I would love to see the party come back to the next guy in line, and just go with McCain, who is, it seems to me, if there’s a great man in the race, it’s McCain. I mean, a guy who has been right about issue after issue, especially about Iraq, and you know, is right on immigration. I think the party, if it’s going to go down, it could go down with honor with McCain.

HH: Well Morton, my audience will insist that I tell you he’s not right about immigration, he’s wrong about Gang of 14, wrong about campaign finance reform.

MK: No, he’s so right about that. If you’re going to fight somebody who’s saying we have to reach across party lines, you want somebody who can reach across party lines.

HH: Again, I just don’t think there’s a prayer for him. And I also would point out that tonight, a new poll in Iowa has Huck’s lead down to 9%. It’s not the same Newsweek poll, which had it at 22% a week ago. Is the Huckaboom a Huckabust now, Charles?

CK: Well, you know, the more people learn about him, the more his numbers have to come down. There is really no there there. I mean, what is he offering? He’s running as a Christian leader. That was his ad in Iowa, and that’s his appeal. It’s a subtle hit on Romney, because there are a lot of Evangelicals who think that Mormonism is a cult, and not Christian. And it’s an appeal, subtle or unsubtle, actually, that has helped him. So on social issues, I guess he’s strong there, but on national security, he offers nothing. On economics, he’s a negative, if you look at his record. How’s he going to run as a conservative? And if he’s not a conservative, and he doesn’t appeal to the right, how’s he going to appeal to independents and Democrats as a man who’s running as a preacher? As you say, it’ll be the biggest calamity in a presidential race in our lifetime for Republicans.

MK: Yeah, I would think that there’s got to be a bust at some point. Now whether it’s going to come soon, or, sooner or later, I don’t know. But he’s, you know, he’s changing his tune on things, too, which ought to open him up for some attacks. He changed his mind on the Cuban embargo. Now, he’s completely changed his mind on immigration. I mean, he was in favor of allowing children of immigrant, illegal immigrant kids to get in-state tuition, and now he wants to kick them all out of the country within 120 days.

HH: All right, a minute left, guys.

CK: I’ll give you one word on Huckabee on national security. He was asked where he’s gotten his information and ideas. And he says from Tom Friedman and Frank Gaffney.

HH: (laughing) I know.

CK: Now as one wag said, it’s like saying that your advisors are Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.

HH: (laughing) Yeah, I noticed.

CK: He doesn’t understand that Friedman’s a liberal and that Gaffney’s a neoconservative, and their views and antithetical. If he doesn’t understand that, then what does he know at all about national security and foreign policy?

HH: And Frank e-mailed. He wants to be known as the Wolf in that, by the way. I want to close by saying, get a prediction. Rudy was on Meet the Press last week, did very well. Romney’s turn in the arena with Tim Russert is this Sunday. What do you think his grade’s going to be, Morton?

MK: I think he’ll do fine. You know, I disagree with you that Giuliani did well. I thought that Russert beat him up like crazy.

HH: Charles, what do you think’s going to happen this Sunday?

CK: Romney is very, very smart and nimble. He’ll do very, very well.

HH: Morton and Charles, thank you both. We’ll talk to you, or both of you, next week.

End of interview.

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