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Washington Post Fix blogger Chris Cillizza analyzes the presidential races

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HH: Right now, we’re joined by Washington Post politics blogger Chris Cillizza. Chris, welcome back, good to have you from The Fix.

CC: Hey, Hugh, thanks for having me.

HH: Hillary flip-flopped today. She’s against the driver licenses for illegals that she was for last week. What’s this doing to her, this issue and this week?

CC: You know, the problem with it, Hugh, is that it plays into…these things never happen in a vacuum, you know, any of these sort of smaller stories that grow into bigger stories. The reality is the narrative that exists out there about Hillary Clinton, to people who aren’t following this thing as closely as we are, is maybe she’s a little too political, maybe they’re trying to manipulate the process too much, maybe she’s not being honest with people about what she thinks. Well, you know, after withstanding an hour’s worth of attack from Obama, Edwards and other folks at that Philadelphia debate, she committed what I’ve called an unforced error right at the end of the debate with this whole driver’s license thing. She didn’t really give an answer, she tried to go back on it, and now this is…I mean, we’re talking about ten days, two weeks later that we’re still talking about it. Now obviously, because Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, came out today and said I’m pulling this back, it’s in the news. But this isn’t what Hillary Clinton wants to be talking about. It’s a narrative, it’s a storyline that is potentially dangerous for her, because it reinforces people’s idea that she is too polished, too political, too practiced for them, and not enough of a real person.

HH: Is it fair to say, Chris Cillizza, that no matter what she spins it, she wasn’t against Spitzer’s plan when she got asked that question? It’s pretty easy to say I don’t like that plan. She didn’t say that. She didn’t give it a 100% unqualified endorsement, but it seemed, I think, to an objective viewer that she was behind the idea of giving licenses to illegals.

CC: When I watched it again, and I TiVo these things so that I can go back, because a lot of times, I’m typing furiously. But when I went back and watched it, what it seemed that she was saying is we need a solution at the federal level. Barring that, and because we don’t have that, I support governors taking actions like this to try and address the problem, which to me sounds like her saying I support what Governor Spitzer’s trying to do. Now she tried to have it both ways in that she tried to say I support actions like this being taken, but I don’t want to say I support this specific action, and that’s where she got into trouble.

HH: And that’s where I wonder if today, when she comes out and says I’m against giving driver licenses to illegals, if that isn’t worse than having said nothing at all, because the one thing she clearly did not say, and did not intend to say, and could not have been understood to have said, is I’m against giving driver licenses to illegals last week. Agree?

CC: Well, yeah. I mean, I think what’s fascinating to me is how this blew up into an issue, and of course, everyone asked Obama and Edwards about it, and you know, they didn’t necessarily have the best answers, either. I mean, the truth of the matter is, I don’t know the poll numbers on this, but I’m guessing you’ve got half to two-thirds to three-quarters of people in this country who are probably against that kind of Spitzer proposal. We certainly saw that in New York. There was this public outcry that no…this is not how we should be going. This is a loser issue for Democrats to be talking about. They want to be talking about what they believe to be President Bush’s mismanagement of domestic and foreign policy. They do not want to be talking about illegal immigration and how we should treat illegals who are in this country. That is one of the few issues in this sort of matrix at the moment that was not do well for them with your average sort of moderate, independent minded voter.

HH: I agree. Now Chris, do you think that Wolf Blitzer pretty much has to begin the debate by going right at this issue and right at Mrs. Clinton? That’s what would happen if it was a Republican debate, and someone had fallen on their face on a controversial issue. I mean, that’s where you go, right to the news angle. Will he do it?

CC: You know, I don’t know the answer to that. I do think you’re right. I mean, part…you know, I do these MTV-My Space forums…

HH: Right.

CC: And I’m a co-moderator of them, and you know, part of what you do is you take what’s in the news, when you’re talking to these candidates, and ask them about it, because frankly, that’s what people want to hear about. So yes, I mean, I think it has to come up in the early going. Senator Clinton, what is your specific position, and why didn’t you illustrate or elucidate that position more clearly before? Would you like to take another crack at it? I don’t know if they’ll do it, to be honest. They don’t…unfortunately, CNN doesn’t key me in on their meetings, but…

HH: Okay.

CC: It’s certainly, it’s certainly from a news perspective going to be one of the leading stories. And what she says, assuming it does come up, will probably be one of the lead news items coming out of it.

HH: Let’s turn to the Republican side, Chris Cillizza. Do you see any plausible, or even any decently probable way for Mike Huckabee to be the Republican nominee?

CC: You know, Hugh, I’ve spent a lot of time, too much time, I think, thinking about it. My wife would say way too much time. I think yes, I do. It is a momentum argument. I am not advocating that that is going to happen, but you asked is there a way that I can see it happening.

HH: Probable. I’m asking you to…

CC: No, I do not, no. I would not say probable.

HH: Why not.

CC: Because this process is still about, the president’s race is still about organization, it is still about money, it is also about momentum. But the question is, if Mike Huckabee…I think that the way Mike Huckabee wins this nomination is he beats Mitt Romney in Iowa. Is that possible? Yes. Is that probable? No. If he does win, I think that the fact that his organization in New Hampshire, his organization in South Carolina is not as good as Giuliani’s, is not as good as Romney’s, it probably doesn’t make all that much difference, because he’s a huge story, people like to be with the new guy, the fresh face, the story, and he would be all of those things. At some point, sort of money and organization get overwhelmed by momentum. But if he comes in second in Iowa, I think he’s a good story, but I’m not sure that that fundamentally alters the way people are thinking about this race, which to me, at the moment, looks like either a Romney or a Giuliani nomination.

HH: I agree. It’s a two person race. I’m just curious about whether or not the conservative critique of Mike Huckabee is getting traction, in other words, he’s not really a conservative outside of the life issue. What do you think?

CC: I think it is getting some. I think if you didn’t have the Club For Growth and other folks banging on his tax record, and now some of his rivals for the nomination banging on his tax record, banging on things he said about immigration, I think you might see more of a coalescence by social conservatives, and by conservatives more generally, around him.

HH: Do you see Giuliani’s people trying to prop him up in Iowa? Do you think Giuliani is sending his people to vote at the caucuses for Huckabee in order to bleed Romney?

CC: You know, I don’t know. I’m always skeptical of strategic voting like that. I mean, I think that it’s hard enough to get a person to vote for you, much less tell that person to go vote for someone else on your behalf. I mean, maybe it’s happening. I have no evidence that it’s happening. Look, Giuliani benefits…I think what your question gets at, Giuliani benefits the more muddled these first contests are. There’s no question about that. If Romney wins Iowa, and let’s say McCain or Giuliani wins New Hampshire, and Fred Thompson wins South Carolina, that’s a great scenario for Rudy Giuliani…

HH: For Giuliani.

CC: …because he goes into Florida, and then February 5th, where he’s got New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Illinois.

HH: Ten seconds, Chris.

CC: …all in his favor. So the more muddle, the better for Rudy Giuliani.

HH: Who are going to be the nominees, Chris? Ten seconds, who are going to be the nominees?

CC: I believe at the moment Giuliani and Clinton.

HH: I appreciate it, Chris Cillizza from the Washington Post. We’ll have him back a lot.

End of interview.


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