Politico’s Mike Allen reacts to the Fred Thompson speech, and the rest of the presidential campaigns.
HH: Joined now by Mike Allen of www.politico.com, their chief political correspondent. Mike, I looked for you at the Reagan Library, didn’t see you, I looked for you at the Fred Thompson dinner, didn’t see you. Are you the only Politico guy who wasn’t out on the West Coast last week?
MA: I was in both places. I’m sorry that I missed you. That’s my loss.
HH: You know, were you in the back of the room for big Fred?
MA: I was, and I was surprised that I found him, tell me if you disagree, I found him entrancing, but not electrifying. I felt like he completely held the audience, but I think people were expecting more of a call to arms, whereas it was chattier, right?
HH: Well, in his defense, I was six feet from him in the front row next to Novak.
MA: That’s the difference between you and me. This is from the guy at the back of the room.
HH: (laughing) That’s what happens when you’re an Orange County Republican. They treat you better. I mean, it went long, the program went long. And so it was late starting. But if he had the music, he didn’t bring the band. I mean, he did not give us a lot to stand up for, I thought the standing O was perfunctory, the anecdotes I had heard before, hadn’t you?
MA: Yeah, I think…but I think most people there had not heard them before, and I think people loved, for instance, when he was referencing the Thomas Sowell column, he sounded a bit like Andy Rooney, right?
MA: …when he said I’m a clipper.
AM: And he says I love to clip things out of the paper. He says I don’t know why it’s harder to do it horizontally than vertically. I mean, that got a good laugh.
HH: Oh, no. He had some laugh lines, and the submarine line was funny, but I’m thinking that this is a long campaign, and you’ve got to bring energy. Now one of this associates is pushing back, both at your column at www.politico.com, and in analysis over at www.nationalreview.com by Jim Geraghty saying he’s not over-caffeinated like other people in the race, meaning I think McCain, who came out in the first round of the Reagan Library like he was going to punch out Chris Matthews. But I think you’ve still got to have some energy, Mike Allen. He has to amp it up, don’t you think?
MA: No, he recognizes that, and Saturday night, as you know, he’s giving a closed door speech to the Council For National Policy, which as you know, is a private retreat for some well-known and influential conservative leaders, and that’s where you’re going to hear what his advisers are calling stump speech 2.0. I’m told it will be more focused, he’ll stick closer to the script, for this audience, he’ll talk a little more about values, there’ll be definitely a very meaty piece about the importance of confirming conservative judges, he’ll be introduced by Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, obviously a good nexus for him. And so the idea is to get people coming out of there a little more pumped up, but Hugh, please tell me if you disagree with this, but what I’m picking up is that he was not deterred by the fact that some of the reaction was a little negative. As you know, I called it the most surprising story of the week, Robert Novak’s column calling the speech lackluster, you mentioned some of the blog traffic that was similar. I’m told he’s not put off by that, they’re still thinking about who could be on staff, still working on timing, very difficult timing issue, because I think you’ll agree, Hugh, great advantages…but on the other hand, you have to start raising money, endorsements, staff, those things are getting locked down, some of that is perishable. So they’re trying to find the sweet spot of letting this excitement build as long as they can, but also not waiting a little too long to pull the trigger.
HH: Well, I liked in your piece today where you write than an uncommitted GOP strategist went farther, saying Thompson’s approach to a possible bid needs to be sharpened, citing ballot access in early primary and caucus dates as an example. Thompson’s team shows a lack of understanding what it takes to get in the race. It’s not just traveling around the country giving speeches. Especially when I’m trying to do the math, Mike Allen, Florida’s moved its Republican primary up to January 29th, which I think means that their absentees will be available from December 20th, I’m not quite sure…
MA: Yeah, Merry Christmas.
HH: Yeah, Merry Christmas, but you know what? To do an absentee chase, you’ve got to get into the game. I mean, you’ve got to ID these people, get these lists, build the staff. This isn’t a show up and win anymore.
MA: No, I think that’s well put, and some of his people are starting to make the point that yes, we do understand these issues. They’ve been very focused on the big picture, which I think in general is smart, but what you’re pointing to is we keep thinking, or people keep saying how far away this is, how long this is, there’s no time. I mean, this is going to be on us before we know it, because you have summer, and then you have back to school, and then all of a sudden, these guys have to be closing the sale. It’s not that far away.
HH: Yeah, Mitt Romney is up running a new ad. In fact, I’d like to play for you that ad, Mitt Romney. Here it is, national buy.
MR: This isn’t the time for us to shrink from conservative principles. It’s a time for us to stand in strength. America must remain the world’s military superpower. If we lock our arms together, we can forge the political will to rebuild our military might. Now is the time for us to lead a great coalition of strength for our families, for our future, for America. I’m Mitt Romney, and I approved this message.
HH: Mike Allen…
MA: Wow, wow, that’s a great ad. I read the script, I had not listened to it. The energy there is fantastic.
HH: It’s the energy. And that’s what I think Fred Thompson didn’t bring. I know he’s got it, but if I’m thinking of a candidate who’s got to go eighteen months, you’ve got to show that ability to get excited like daily.
MA: Right, and one of the criticisms, as you know, of Governor Romney, or one of the points of skepticism, is he too programmed? But in a contest like this, where as you point out endurance is part of the formula, being programmed may be a good thing.
HH: Let me play for you Al Sharpton two nights ago in a debate with Christopher Hitchens.
AS: As for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so don’t worry about that. That’s a temporary, that’s a temporary situation.
HH: Mike Allen, how does Al Sharpton, who attacked Don Imus for bigotry, get away with that?
MA: Well, I think you can ask that question with sort of fill in the blank to a predicate for it. I think it’s confusing exactly what he meant, but I can tell you two things. A lot of people in the Church took it to be an attack on them, very offensive. Some buddies of mine in the Church and I are joking about, or talking about there should be a Mormon Anti-Defamation League, because it’s like they’re one of the few people that it’s considered as safe or permissible to pick on. The idea that they don’t believe in basically the same things that we do is crazy. The Mormons that I know are definitely Christ followers, certainly believe in God. It’s a ridiculous thing. Putting aside what he meant, which none of us can read his mind, Governor Romney is smart to hit back hard, teach people what happens if they go to this area.
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HH: Mike Allen, Tony Blair’s been a part of my life for a decade. I think he’s actually had a huge impact on American politics. What do you think about that?
MA: Well, unquestionably so, and he has provided comfort and public support to the President some of the time he’s needed it most. Being president of the United States is always a lonely job, but when you’re this President, dealing with this crop of leaders that he’s had in Europe, this certainly has been lonely. Now with Sarkozy coming in France, that may change a bit, but against, as you know, incredible skepticism, even opposition at home, a very hostile press, Prime Minister Blair has by and large stuck with the administration when almost no one else has.
HH: Now Mike Allen, last question, it’s been a rough couple of weeks for Rudy Giuliani. Part of it was the questions that he got at the debate, but part of it is his inability to focus and fix on an answer to this abortion, and then the Planned Parenthood stuff as well. I’ve got the cut, we don’t have enough time. How badly is he hurt, and how does he get off the floor?
MA: Well, he certainly is hurt badly, because he’s in a little bit of a conundrum. I think people were willing to buy his message. I may not agree, you may not agree with me, but at least you know what I think. That was in a way, President Bush’s message. But now, since the debate, that’s been blurred, so people don’t like the content, people also didn’t like the delivery. So what he needs to do, it’s early enough for him, that if Mayor Giuliani can come out with a clear message, and stick to it, I think people will appreciate that. He needs something that people who want to support him, people who appreciate him on taxes and terrorism, can say okay, he’s all right on that issue, even if it may not be exactly what I think.
HH: Isn’t that message you can trust me on the judges…you can trust me on terror, you can trust me on taxes, and you can trust me on the judges. Isn’t that it?
MA: I think that that’s very smart. I think that’s a very good formulation.
HH: Last question, Mike Allen. We’re going to have a debate on Tuesday night. Are you going to go down to Columbia, South Carolina for the debate?
MA: I don’t think I’m going to be in Columbia, but I will be watching…I’m going to be on my way back from Key West. So if I can stop off, I will.
HH: You’re going to Key West?
MA: Yes, the Pew Forum does a fantastic seminar on faith in public life, and…
HH: Hey, leave my card down there, will you? Just nudge them a little bit. I’ve written about that.
MA: I can tell you they’d be thrilled to have you.
HH: Yeah, my sister-in-law lived down there forever, so I’ve heard about them for years, but I haven’t gone down. Mike Allen, always a pleasure. Next time you’re in California, call me. I’ll buy you lunch or dinner. Mike Allen from Politico.com.
End of interview.