HH: Joined now by Jim Geraghty the Indispensable, he of the Nationalreview.com’s Campaign Spot. Jim, Happy New Year to you in advance.
JG: Same to you, and I hope you had a good and Merry Christmas, Hugh.
HH: I did, and it’s a wonderful time to be in broadcast, because there’s about 5,000 stories. Unfortunately, one of them is the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. More on that in a moment. Let’s talk politics. I just now got in my e-mail box a Team McCain e-mail blasting the new Romney ad on, which hits McCain on illegal immigration for McCain-Kennedy, and they quote Howard Kurtz as saying oh, you know, this isn’t fair to John McCain, because it’s so selective as to be misleading, the description of the bill. And how smart is it, Jim Geraghty, for the McCain people to be forcing the conversation back onto McCain-Kennedy?
JG: It’s interesting. I hadn’t seen that latest citing of Howard Kurtz to come riding to their aid. And I’d say in just about any other state, it would be a little bit unwise. In fact, I think anybody outside New Hampshire kind of chuckles at the latest McCain ad that touts his endorsement by the Boston Globe.
JG: However, New Hampshire is one of those states where independents can vote in either one of those. And if you have Hillary win Iowa, which I don’t think will happen, but let’s say it’s a possibility, if Hillary wins Iowa, the perception’s going to be okay, she’s got it wrapped up, it’s…the drama is gone from the Democratic primary, and all these independents might say all right, well, let’s vote in the Republican primary, because that one’s still a race. And presumably, if you’re getting touted by the Boston Globe, and Howard Kurtz is saying that you’re being unfairly attacked, and all that stuff, you know, a certain section of the Republican base is going to say okay, this guy is the least conservative. And a certain number of independents will say oh, that’s a nice thing. You know, I like the fact that the media likes him, the fact that 20 newspapers in New Hampshire have endorsed him is probably a good thing, and good these newspaper editors know what’s best for us.
HH: I’ve got a proposition for you. It is so insane in the long campaign to be bringing up McCain-Kennedy, and doing anything other than abjectly apologizing for it, that I really am becoming convinced, he doesn’t intend to win past New Hampshire. He knows it’s over. He knows he can’t be the GOP nominee. He’s going to take his matching funds, clean up his debt, and go away. But he wants to go out with a nice roar of thunder, because you just wouldn’t be campaigning defending McCain-Kennedy in any other setting, or calling people’s attention to it, would you?
JG: Well, let’s put it this way. He’s one of those guys who came out and said after the bill had gotten, a stake was driven through its heart twice on Capitol Hill, not once, but twice through a huge effort of bloggers and talk radio, et cetera, who came out and said okay, I’m for securing the border first, I have heard the voice of the American people, et cetera. Now I kind of admire that, a guy who’s willing to admit when he’s wrong, and realize that it’s just not public opinion to…
HH: Is that a flip-flop, though?
JG: I’m sorry?
HH: Is that a…
JG: Hey, that’s where I think it’s not necessarily a flip-flop, where you just say you know what? What I want is absolutely unachievable, and we have to do this step by step. However, he’s not a guy, if I were him, considering how the immigration debate was raging the most over the summer, that is when the SS John McCain crashed on the rocks, earlier this year.
JG: So I would want to get any other topic, other than immigration, to be the dominant one. Now you know, the Romney ad that came out today, arguably a contrast ad, arguably a negative ad, came out and it was like a mirror image of his ad that he put up against Huckabee in Iowa, which raised it. And so I think McCain had to address it. I’m not an enormously huge fan when candidates come out and say oh, it’s a negative ad, they’re being mean to me, they’re being harsh, can’t we all be friends, la la la, you know.
HH: I am not, either. It’s not a negative ad. A negative ad is when someone comes and calls you an SOB, or suggests you robbed a bank, or used drugs when you were 18. Coming out and reminding people that you’ve been consistently against the party on tax cuts and immigration reform is not a negative ad. Do you agree?
JG: Oh, yeah. I mean, there are certain clichéd ingredients of a negative ad. Grainy, black and white photos…
JG: The ominous-voiced announcer, you know, music that sounds like the soundtrack to 24, or something like that, you know, there are certain elements that would make you say that not only is this guy not somebody you’d want to vote for, you don’t want to let small children near him. And I think it’s safe to say that the Romney ads that he’s put in Iowa and New Hampshire are very much literally are contrast, in that half the screen has the Romney record, half the screen has the McCain record. I even think it was kind of nice that they began by saying McCain is an honorable man.
HH: And they said a good man about Huckabee. Yeah, they also said Huckabee’s a good man. So I think they’ve gone out of their way not to run negative ads, but they want these issues to be out there. But now I’ve got to ask you, Rudy Giuliani’s in Iowa. Now what in the world is he doing in Iowa?
JG: Well, we are seeing what happens…there’s kind of this odd little flaw in the Rudy strategy that nobody…some people might have seen coming, but I guess he thought was not going to be a major factor, which is that these last couple of weeks, so much of the coverage has been who’s up in Iowa, who’s up in New Hampshire, to a lesser extent, looking at Michigan and South Carolina. But none of those states are really huge states that Giuliani’s been playing in. The only place he’s ever gotten any traction was in New Hampshire, and that’s even kind of backslid quite a bit. So he just does not have any one of these states looking good. So he’s got to try and make a splash somewhere, because otherwise, he’s just not going to be part of the campaign storyline until they get to Florida. And by that point, it might be too late.
HH: But that would be New Hampshire, I would think. I would think New Hampshire would be where Rudy could take some effort, but he’s so far behind in Iowa, he’s not even been there. You think it’s in response to the Pakistan issue?
JG: No, there’s something kind of weird about it. When Rudy got into this race, a lot of race watchers and a lot of conservatives said oh, you know, someday, people will figure out he’s not a social conservative, he’s pro-choice, he’s bad on guns, he supports gay marriage, he’s just not the right guy on social issues, and it’ll happen. And it didn’t end with a big bang. It didn’t, there wasn’t any one big explosion of this. I guess you could argue the Politico story about the funding being used for his security detail for Judith Nathan, but I want to point out that only in Washington is that story a financial scandal, instead of a moral scandal.
JG: But it never really, even that didn’t seem to be this huge, smoking gun that made people say oh, my God, this guy’s toast. So it’s this bizarre sense that it’s just kind of, slowly, the air let out of the balloon, and I think that you know, it probably came down to the fact that there are a lot of Republicans who look at Rudy Giuliani, and really like him. They think he was a great mayor, and they’d like to see him have some sort of future in the party. He’s just not going to be their first choice to be president of the United States.
HH: Now I’ve got to keep you for the next segment, but let’s get started on Huckabee. I want to play you Mike Huckabee from this morning, talking about the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MH: What we’ve seen happen is that in the Musharraf government, he has told us that he really doesn’t have enough control of those Eastern borders near Afghanistan.
HH: Stop for a second. Jim Geraghty, they’re the Western borders. Does it hurt him?
JG: Nothing since the Bhutto assassination has gone well for Huckabee.
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HH: Jim, Mike Huckabee apologized, and then explained that that was a flub, he got the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and explained, you know, he was under pressure. Then, he announced that more Pakistanis are crossing the Southern border than all but the Southern American and Central American countries, and he said the number’s 660 last year, when in fact, that was over four years, and it’s way behind Vietnam, China, et cetera. What’s a day like this do to someone like Mike Huckabee?
JG: Oh, and say Hugh, you forgot to mention that somewhere in there, he had said that he hoped this didn’t cause the martial law to continue, when it had been rescinded a few weeks back.
HH: And he also shot a shotgun over the head of reporters, and he also had this Politico article come out on stem cell and contraception groups paying him lots of money.
HH: I mean, it’s been a bad day.
JG: Yes, that’s right. I mean, the shotgun at reporters, I’m sure every candidate has wanted to do that, but yes.
JG: No, but the bizarre thing about, there’s been a lot of discussion since the Bhutto assassination of, is this going to change the dynamics of the race, is this going to make people wake up and be more serious about it. Now I’ve tried to look at all of these candidates and see what they’re appeal is, and try to put myself in the shoes of their supporters, even the Ron Paul folks. But when it comes to this incident, and let’s face it, in Pakistan, the you know what is going to hit the fan, guaranteed, for the next couple of years. There is no easy, simple solution that wraps up that country in a bow, and takes care of the great challenge of Islamic extremism in that country. This is not 1996. And as I’m looking at Mike Huckabee, and the various statements he makes, and he used to be able to laugh this off by saying oh, I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night. But this guy clearly is not a guy who has been dealing with Pakistan-level problems, day in and day out for the last couple of years. And clearly, he is trying to get up to speed rapidly, and he’s making these little mistakes here, and these little mistakes there. He just kind of comes across as somebody who’s not intimately familiar with the issues involved.
HH: And where do the people who are suddenly shedding love for Mike Huckabee go?
JG: Oh, let’s put it this way. In my humble opinion, any one of the other big four would be a step up. I saw your argument yesterday that the executive experience of Romney can carry him through this. I think Giuliani will get a certain amount of pull from this, and that you know, under the 24 scenarios, Giuliani’s the guy who you could easily see just…we’ve seen the worst the world can throw at him. We’ve seen the way this guy handles himself in a crisis.
HH: Right, right.
JG: I think McCain, I think he is still a guy, brings a great deal of foreign policy and national security experience to the table. And even Thompson, I think, Thompson came out and made the answer that I had wanted to hear, and I read the transcript of your conversation with Mark Steyn yesterday, and I was, I thought there was more insight and realism in five minutes of that conversation than in six months of the Washington Post editorial page.
HH: You’re absolutely right. Mark…
JG: And just the recognition that we can’t, you know, some of these problems, we only have a limited amount of control over. But if somebody had said to Fred Thompson how do you walk the line between promoting democracy and keeping stability, and he said well, you walk the line.
HH: Well put. Jim Geraghty, have a Happy New Year.
End of interview.