THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; MONICA CROWLEY, SYNDICATED RADIO COMMENTATOR; CLARENCE PAGE, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE TAPED: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2008 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF FEBRUARY 23-24, 2008
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Louder Than Words.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY, Democratic presidential candidate): (From videotape.) I have to confess, I was somewhat amused the other night when, on one of the TV shows, one of Senator Obama's supporters was asked to name one accomplishment of Senator Obama, and he couldn't.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: In the Texas debate this week, Hillary drew attention to what she sees as the vast gap between Obama's ambitious rhetoric and his modest actual accomplishments. Did this pivotal question work? I ask you, Pat. MR. BUCHANAN: It's not working, John. She's been pointing out her experience, his lack of specifics. But his rhetoric has been excellent. He's gotten stronger and stronger. In addition to that, he's starting to fill in some of the blanks. And what she had to do in the debate, John, was break his momentum -- knock him down, if you will -- in order to catch up with him. And she had an excellent debate on points. She made an awful lot of points.
He had a good debate, though. He gets better and better. And so, in the sense that she did not defeat him in the debate and did not break his momentum, the winner, if he does not lose, wins. On that ground, Barack Obama won that debate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Obama strikes back.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL, Democratic presidential candidate): (From videotape.) Senator Clinton of late has said, "Let's get real." And the implication is that, you know, the people who've been voting for me or involved in my campaign are somehow delusional -- (laughter) -- and, you know, the 20 million people who've been paying attention to 19 debates and the editorial boards all across the country and newspapers who've given me endorsements, including every major newspaper here in the state of Texas.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Obama is saying that his debate performances and his many endorsements fill any void in accomplishment that Hillary can point to. Did it work? Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Look, he's gotten a lot more substantive. He has a health care plan. He has a plan to cure the economic ills. This election debate between the two of them is really not about their programs and their policies. They each agree on virtually everything.
He's arguing that he would make a more inspirational leader and he could rally the country to get those policies through. And Hillary Clinton's claims of experience have not worked. She, in a way, is the victim of her experience in American political life. This is a change election. It's a cliche, but she by definition can't be the change candidate. She's been there too long on the national stage. And she's watching Barack Obama run the 2008 version of the campaign her husband ran in 1992 -- change versus more of the same.
MS. CROWLEY: Here is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you detect policy differences between the two?
MS. CROWLEY: Very, very minor. Here is Hillary's problem right now. In order to win, she has to club the baby seal to death. Okay, that is her entire situation. She is stuck with being a hope- squasher, right? Obama has cut into all of her constituencies deeply -- women; he's picking up Hispanic voters, especially in Texas; lower- income voters, senior citizens. Her entire base now is evaporating toward him. Her only hope is if there's some sort of hope backlash where people have some sort of buyer's remorse about Barack Obama; that they drank the whole bottle of champagne and it felt fizzy and great, and now they're going to take a step back and say, "Well, wait a minute. Is this guy really ready?"
I think it's too late for her to be raising that question. I think he has the "O-mentum," as we say. And her raising these questions -- she's still running on experience when it has backfired and not worked for her this entire time. She has learned nothing in this campaign.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't detect any public view of him that's different from what it was earlier in the campaign? Is it evolving at all? Is it evolving negatively?
MS. CROWLEY: No, it's evolving to his advantage, because that debate performance you ran clips of this week, he was extraordinarily well-prepared. He's a whole different guy than the first debate that they had in the series. He is on point. He's on message. He's calm. He's composed. He showed a sense of humor with that "delusional" comment. And I don't see how that, paired with the "O-mentum" that he has, I think that's insurmountable for her.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Naughty, naughty.
SEN. CLINTON: (From videotape.) Well, I think that if your candidacy is going to be about words, then they should be your own words. That's, I think, a very simple proposition. (Applause.) And, you know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in. It's change you can Xerox.
SEN. OBAMA: (From videotape.) The notion that I had plagiarized from somebody who's one of my national co-chairs, who gave me the line and suggested that I use it, I think, is silly. (Applause.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Obama is saying, in effect, "What's the big deal if I lift a line or two from a friend and supporter without attribution?" Does he pull it off? Clarence.
MR. PAGE: I think he pulled it off. And Hillary Clinton, in that exchange, should have stopped with "should be your own lines," because she got that big applause, that cheer. She went on to give the Xerox line, and you could hear booing in the audience. I mean, it just flopped, because she was just kind of carrying it a little bit too far, and it sounded like a cheap shot at that point. And that's a problem.
You know, I think Monica is right. They've tried everything. And they have to be careful now not to overdo either the soft touch or the hard touch, because certainly Democrats don't like to see people attack each other. MR. BUCHANAN: But her problem is she's got to do something. And if she tries to overdo it with a hard touch, John, I think she risks going out badly. And her closing statement in that debate, I think, showed she's going out on a high road. She talked about --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Going out?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, when she goes out --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that a valedictory?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, that's exactly what she was saying --
MR. PAGE: Sounded like it.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- at the end of that thing, you know, when she went out talking about that intrepid hospital compared to what they've suffered in there. "Nothing's happened to me. And Barack Obama, I'm proud to be with you on this stage." And that ending was very gracious. I think she's going out that way.
MS. CLIFT: She struck exactly the right tone there that she should have struck throughout the debate. It was real. She really conveyed to voters what she cared about, her public service.
And there was a wistful quality to it. I think she has -- she's coming to terms with the fact that she may not win this, and she doesn't want to damage the party. She was respectful of the process. And she looks forward to a great career in the U.S. Senate if she doesn't become president.
MR. BUCHANAN: It was a tone --
MS. CLIFT: And I think she was acknowledging that.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- of resignation --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's --
MR. BUCHANAN: -- resignation and wistfulness both, I thought, in those final remarks.
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. BUCHANAN: And it was very touching, because here's a lady that's gone eight years to run for this thing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, the cribbing that she talked about, the plagiarism, you be the judge of this.
(Begin videotaped segment.)
MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK (D): I am not asking anybody to take a chance on me. I'm asking you to take a chance --
SEN. OBAMA: I'm asking you to take a chance --
GOV. PATRICK: -- on your own aspirations.
SEN. OBAMA: -- on your own aspirations.
(End videotaped segment.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's word-for-word the same, right up through "aspirations," practically, with the exception of minor little definite articles and so forth. MR. BUCHANAN: This is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should the Clinton campaign drop the plagiarism bit?
MS. CLIFT: Yes. (Laughs.) This is an election about big issues, and this is petty. Yes, he used the same identical words. Deval Patrick happens to be his national co-chairman. They talk all the time.
MS. CROWLEY: Right.
MS. CLIFT: They were both being attacked for the same charge, that it was empty rhetoric. So I think it's a natural response. And she looks small. She needs to rise above these petty things and address the big issues the country is facing.
MS. CROWLEY: When she made that comment about "It's not change you can believe in; it's change you can Xerox," that was -- as it was coming out of her mouth, you could sense that she even herself was realizing it wasn't going to work. But that was her default. That was her reflex to go to that old-time Clintonian annihilation of the enemy; go nuclear.
MR. BUCHANAN: Somebody gave her that line, John.
MS. CROWLEY: And she realized, as she was saying it, it wasn't going to work.
MR. BUCHANAN: It was programmed and petty.
MS. CROWLEY: Right.
MR. BUCHANAN: Programmed and petty.
MS. CROWLEY: Right. And I think that's why she came back --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It might have been a question of delivery.
MR. BUCHANAN: No, somebody gave her the line.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She's got --
MR. BUCHANAN: That was a memorized line --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's got Obama-ites in the audience.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- she put out there. It didn't roll out.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Those are the ones who booed.
MS. CROWLEY: That's why she tried to fix it with the closing comment, because she realized going nuclear in that way wasn't working. And she thought -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What alternative does she --
MS. CROWLEY: -- "To heck with it. I'm going to do this."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Buchanan says there should be a combination of sweet talk --
MR. PAGE: She should have stopped with the applause line.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and tough talk.
MR. BUCHANAN: No, Buchanan --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's what he says.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- look, it's gotten to the point where I think, unless something else intervenes, she's not going to win this thing. And I thought she ought to go out gracefully --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- and run a high-level campaign in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't work.
MS. CLIFT: He's got --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You wrote speeches for Spiro Agnew.
MR. BUCHANAN: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you gone completely soft since those days?
MR. BUCHANAN: Not completely, John. I've grown, John. I've grown since then.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is this, the new Buchanan?
MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: It's not about Hillary anymore.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Who won the debate? I ask you, Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: Hillary won it on points, but Barack won because he didn't lose.
MS. CLIFT: I think they both excelled, but she didn't change the trajectory of the campaign.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did she win on points? MS. CLIFT: You know, she is an excellent debater. She's been excellent throughout. He has gone from here to there. So I don't know how to judge them. I think they both came out winners. And I think a lot of Democrats would still like to see both of them run together -- impossible.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me try this out on you, that, oddly, his intellect is working so well, Obama's is, that he seems a little apathetic. He appears a little bit apathetic, as compared to her. She also portrayed herself, and visibly so, in her enthusiasm for her own ideas, particularly on health, and not letting go of that issue, she appears to be action-oriented. "I am here to defend your interests." And I think that came through. And I think that's her strong suit, is it not?
MS. CROWLEY: I agree with you that it came through that night, but I think it's too late. She should have repackaged her whole campaign a couple of months ago, when she saw Obama getting traction, that she's a fighter, not just resting on the laurels of her so-called experience, but positioning herself as the action candidate. It's coming too late.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the only time Obama really gets excited and lets himself go is in the peroration of a speech, as happened in Wisconsin, or if he feels that he has been misrepresented? He does it a couple of times. Otherwise he's flat. He's emotionally flat.
MR. PAGE: Well, you know, some people have said he looks too aloof. At moments maybe he does. But a lot of people like his cool. He has a calm demeanor, like the kind of a jetliner pilot you'd like to have who is unflappable.
MS. CLIFT: Look at his life story. This is a laid-back over- achiever -- coolness under fire. I think he inspires great confidence.
MR. BUCHANAN: He sells himself.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, we've got --
MR. BUCHANAN: He's selling himself, John. She is a debater making debating points. He's up there -- he's very witty. He's a funny guy.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, that's rubbish. She's got good, solid points.
MR. BUCHANAN: He's a debater in one, two, three.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's not a debating exercise. This is a public policy exercise.
MR. BUCHANAN: He's selling himself.
MR. PAGE: John -- neither one, John. It's show biz is what it is.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it was a valedictory?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think she's scheduling her departure from the stage.
MS. CLIFT: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it was a swan song?
MS. CLIFT: I think she's coming to grips, as I said, with the fact that she may not win. And if that's the case, she's going to do it the right way. But she's got a great legislative mindset and personality. She is going to be on the national stage for some time to come, regardless of this presidential race. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, she may try this again.
MS. CLIFT: No, she'll be the next Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate.
MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, my goodness.
MS. CROWLEY: I think she's loosening --
MS. CLIFT: There's something for them to worry about.
MS. CROWLEY: -- her grip on the chandelier. She's not so willing to go out feet first anymore.
MR. PAGE: Well, I think she was --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A valedictory?
MR. PAGE: I think she was trying to end on a high note. It may have sounded like a valedictory to the rest of us, but I think she was trying to recapture that lovable Hillary that we saw right before the New Hampshire primary, which worked in bringing out women voters, you'll remember. So she's still got over a week before Ohio comes, so we'll see what happens.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Put that in writing, will you? The lovable Hillary.
MR. PAGE: You got it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: The Painful Truth.
FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) If she wins in Texas and Ohio, I think she'll be the nominee. If you don't deliver for her, I don't think she can be. It's all on you.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's got to be history-making. (Laughter.) Question: What's the political benefit of this straight talk? Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: The benefit of this, John, he's telling the folks, "You've got to get out there and do it, folks, if you want Hillary Rodham Clinton to win. She's done the best she can, and now she needs the folks out there."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Monica.
MS. CROWLEY: I think what Bill Clinton is actually saying there -- the subtext is, "Hey, if she loses, it's not my fault. It's your fault in Texas and Ohio if you don't carry her across the finish line." I sense that he's sort of cutting her loose and he's protecting his own legacy.
MS. CLIFT: Well -- MR. PAGE: This is classic Clintonian strategy, though. Both Clintons work best under pressure, and they're putting the pressure on, just like after Iowa. You know, "Hey, we've got to pull it out in New Hampshire." And she got enough people to do it.
MS. CLIFT: And the only way she can stake a claim to the nomination now is if she wins all the big states. So she needs Texas and she needs Ohio. And if she does win those two, Pennsylvania will likely follow. And then I think she still has a legitimate stake in saying that she's a possible winner.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, let's take a look at this again. The long goodbye -- is that what this is?
SEN. CLINTON: (From videotape.) No matter what happens in this contest -- and I am honored; I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored. (Cheers, applause.) And, you know, whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people. And that's what this election should be about. (Cheers, applause.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We had that bite. I want to play it -- that's why I played it again, because I want to know whether these words are a veiled valedictory. You heard what Monica said. What do you think, Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: I think these words have the feeling of nothing left to lose. "Here I am." And these are also very similar to the words that John Edwards uttered in one of his last public appearances.
MR. PAGE: I was going to bring that up.
MS. CLIFT: Yes. I mean, and I think it's a genuine sentiment. And I think those words succeeded, because really, almost for the first time in this campaign, she conveyed the notion that her presidential quest is not about her and seeking power and her experience; that it is about the voters and that she genuinely cares about the country. And her recitation, as Pat said earlier, of her experience of watching the wounded veterans really was very emotional.
MR. BUCHANAN: You know, John, what she said -- and this is a good way to end something -- is she brought the audience together. There are Obama people in there, most of them, and Hillary people in there. And she's saying, "We're going to end this thing united and we're going to go forward to victory" -- "even if I lose" is the unstated part of that statement. And I think everybody caught it. And it was a very positive ending, frankly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Do you think she's setting up this to implement if she loses Texas on March 4th, a week from Tuesday? MR. BUCHANAN: I think what she's saying, "If Barack Obama gets this nomination, I'm going to be behind him, and we are all going to win together."
MS. CLIFT: It conveys a sense of respect about the democratic process and about the party's chances in November.
MS. CROWLEY: But the flip side of this --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that she could actually leave the race after Texas if she loses it?
MR. BUCHANAN: No.
MR. PAGE: She could, but she probably won't.
MS. CROWLEY: No.
MS. CLIFT: Texas and Ohio occur on the same day. If she loses both those states, I think she would almost have to bow out.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pennsylvania is beyond.
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MS. CROWLEY: The flip side of this argument is, even though the odds are very long for her, she still could pull this out. I mean, the polls in Texas are close. She's still ahead in Ohio. Pennsylvania looks a little dicy for her, but it's still possible.
So it could be that that statement was lowering expectations so if she does pull it out --
MR. PAGE: She's been lowering expectations for over a week, calling herself -- calling Obama the front-runner.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, he won 10 straight, for heaven's sakes. (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can we say uniformly from this platform that if she loses Texas, she should not leave the race?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think she --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Politically speaking.
MR. BUCHANAN: I think she should go on, but she should cut out all negativity or anything like that; just go on to the convention and endorse him.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, come on, Pat, get off it, will you?
MS. CLIFT: If she loses Texas --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three --
MS. CLIFT: -- and Ohio, she's done.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: The Rock.
Barack calls her his rock -- a rock around his neck or around his ankle?
MICHELLE OBAMA (wife of Barack Obama): (From videotape.) For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country, because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Should Michelle apologize for saying she has not been proud of her country until now? Clarence. MR. PAGE: Well, that wasn't what she said. It wasn't what she thought she said. It's what it sounded like. But, well, yeah, it's good politics --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It reduces to that, does it not?
MR. PAGE: You know, it's good politics to apologize, period. But --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why doesn't she do it?
MR. PAGE: Well, I don't know. Maybe she feels like I did, John. You know, I wasn't so proud of the war in Vietnam. I've always been proud of this country, but I still served, you know. And I'll tell you, I've been really proud since I've seen how well Barack Obama has done, especially in states where I thought he wouldn't do --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you --
MR. PAGE: That's what she was saying. She said, "I was never really proud of my country until now."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --
MR. PAGE: That's a subtle difference, right?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think she leaves the impression -- not mine, but I've heard this -- that she has a chip on her shoulder?
MR. PAGE: I think that's B.S. You know, people say she's got a chip on her shoulder. That's like, well, she's been the "b" word, which is a classic epithet against women whenever they sound aggressive or they really state their mind.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't --
MR. PAGE: I don't think that's true at all. Maybe I know her too well. She doesn't have a chip on her shoulder.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think she's a black militant?
MR. PAGE: Black militant? Well, I'm a black militant, John. The Tribune hired me anyway -- seriously.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?
MR. PAGE: In the '60s, they said, "We'd like to hire that Clarence Page, but he might be a little militant for the Tribune." And because of that, I went to Brooks Brothers and bought a suit. So I went halfway, okay? (Laughs.)
MR. BUCHANAN: John, that statement, if you get more of those, is very problematic. It suggests a sense of entitlement and a sense that America really hasn't lived up to my standards. And what she should have done is come forth and explained and said, "I've never been more proud of my country" --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, we've got to get out.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- "than right now."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Be brief.
MS. CLIFT: She essentially did say that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there any political paydirt for Hillary in what she said? That is, Michelle.
MR. BUCHANAN: No, this is for the Republicans.
MS. CLIFT: Hillary is not running against Michelle Obama. Pat and his crowd will come back at this in November.
MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)
MR. PAGE: Oh, yeah.
MS. CROWLEY: I think Michelle's comment raised a curtain on a certain arrogance maybe on the part of Barack and Michelle that they deserve this. I think it's too late for Hillary to exploit it, but certainly Senator McCain can.
MR. PAGE: And that's why it's good politics to apologize, because people are going to jump on it.
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. PAGE: McCain's wife jumped on it the same day, virtually, you know.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She put these remarks in Kryptonite for not having apologized. That's all she has to do.
MR. PAGE: And also, this was not a good time, right when Barack is riding high.
MR. BUCHANAN: Cindy McCain, John, went after her. Cindy McCain went after her the next day.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
Issue Four: McCain Slain?
(Begin videotaped segment.) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ, Republican presidential candidate): (From videotape.) Again, I'm very disappointed in the New York Times piece. It's not true.
Q Senator, did you ever have any meeting with any of your staffers in which they would have intervened to ask you not to see Vicki Iseman?
SEN. MCCAIN: No.
Q No meeting ever occurred?
SEN. MCCAIN: No.
Q No staffer was ever concerned about a possible romantic relationship?
SEN. MCCAIN: If they were, they didn't communicate that to me.
Q Did you ever have such a relationship?
SEN. MCCAIN: No.
(End videotaped segment.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Senator McCain's wife of 27 years, Cindy McCain, also spoke briefly at the Thursday press conference.
CINDY MCCAIN (wife of Sen. McCain): (From videotape.) My children and I not only trust my husband, but know that he would never do anything to not only disappoint our family, but disappoint the people of America.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Does this story have legs? I ask you, Monica.
MS. CROWLEY: Well, Senator McCain finally found a way to rally the conservative base -- get beaten up by The New York Times. It finally worked for him. Look, this story --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he going to debate next week with The New York Times?
MR. PAGE: (Laughs.)
MS. CROWLEY: Instead of Mike Huckabee, he should be debating Bill Keller, to tell you the truth. Look, the story shot up like a firecracker and then fizzled real fast over 24 hours. Why? Because there was no evidence. There was no proof of what they were charging. The story had no credibility and no reliability.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, The New York Times is an incredibly incompetent and terrible story. If this is all they got, to put that up there and imply a relationship, he denied, she denied, the anonymous sources did not say for sure happened, McCain has put his credibility and his candidacy on the line that nothing like this occurred.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there more coming? Is there more of this coming?
MR. BUCHANAN: The New York Times better have something more or Bill Keller's going to be out of a job.
MS. CLIFT: We've had lots of stories where he denies it, she denies it, and there are lots of unnamed sources; it turns out to be true. But, look, I agree. This feels like a stale leftover from the '90s. Again, with the issues that this country is facing, I don't think there's any appetite for this. This is like the media, you know, going through the paces of a bygone era.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are any of you able to discern -- and I admit, I have an advantage here --
MS. CLIFT: You usually do. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that there's a little bit of blow-back? There's some blow-back going on, that this story was fed to the Times --
MR. PAGE: There's a lot of blow-back. It's the Times.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- when there are active opponents of McCain out there.
MR. PAGE: Oh, yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, which one of the opponents do you think logically fed it to the Times?
MR. BUCHANAN: These snakes are in McCain's camp. They're disgruntled advisers and aides. Those are the ones that are quoted right in there all through the story.
MS. CLIFT: Well, these snakes, whoever they are, did John McCain a favor, because he's now a hero among conservatives.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, they certainly did not do the Times a favor.
MS. CLIFT: He's raising money on this. And the only thing the conservatives hate more than Hillary Clinton is the mainstream media.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what is the net loss to McCain from this story?
MS. CLIFT: Zero.
MR. BUCHANAN: He's a winner.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: First of all, there is influence-peddling involved in this story -- big. The sex element is small, but it was up front.
MS. CROWLEY: But John, that is the allegation. And The New York Times has not been able to back it up. There's no evidence in this piece whatsoever. The true test will be, does The New York Times run a follow-up story? So far they haven't done it.
MR. BUCHANAN: They found --
MS. CROWLEY: Does that mean that it's all -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does it look like a clear hatchet job?
MR. BUCHANAN: Now it does. There's 12 letters to The New York Times --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What'd you say?
MR. BUCHANAN: They showed 12 letters to the Times saying it was opposed, the company for whom she was lobbying.
MS. CROWLEY: And The New York Times got over 2,000 e-mails, most of which condemned the Times for running such a salacious story. I mean, even the National Enquirer has sourcing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think this will involve a sympathy upsurge vote for McCain?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yes.
MR. PAGE: It's already happening.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do?
MR. BUCHANAN: It already happened. His fund-raising mail on this thing got him his biggest day of contributions.
MS. CLIFT: It helps McCain. But this side of the political agenda protests a bit too much. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the timing -- I'm trying to get back to that I think there's blow-back here to the --
MR. BUCHANAN: The Times had the story --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- to his former opposition. And the Times just kept the thing in a state of readiness, so to speak, if that's what it is, and it published it.
MS. CROWLEY: The Times has been sitting on this story for two to three months. A month ago --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What, examining it?
MR. BUCHANAN: Sitting on it.
MS. CROWLEY: They were sitting on the story. They didn't want to publish it because they realized there was nothing to it.
MR. PAGE: Well, we don't know they were sitting on it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was on page one. MR. PAGE: They probably spent that time --
MR. BUCHANAN: They sat on it since December, John.
MR. PAGE: No, look --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is The New York Times having a nervous breakdown?
MR. PAGE: Look, in fairness to the Times, they were probably trying to nail the story down.
MS. CLIFT: They were trying to get people on the record.
MR. PAGE: They didn't nail it down; yeah, get people on the record. They didn't nail it down. Why they went into the paper anyway with it, I don't know.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Five: Underdog Versus Upperdog.
Hillary is the underdog, and underdogs win affection. That means upperdogs must get blamed. So, after 10 consecutive wins, Barack, the upperdog, the front-runner, begins to look different to people; in Maureen Dowd's words, that maddening archetypal figure, the glib golden boy who slides through on charm and smile.
Has Dowd hit it on the head? I ask you, Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: There is an element of this. Look, he's a very attractive, young, fresh figure. He's articulate. He's got a good sense of humor.
He's a likable guy.
MR. PAGE: Like a Joe Biden.
MR. BUCHANAN: He doesn't seem -- no, he doesn't seem to be a mean guy. And he's new and fresh. And frankly, he's very likable. There's no doubt about it.
MS. CLIFT: Well, she cuts to the quick, but she's really a little too acerbic. But I think she is speaking principally to women, feminists who've been waiting 40 years to see a woman in the White House, and along comes this --
MR. BUCHANAN: It may be 40 more, Eleanor. (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: -- (laughs) -- this golden boy with a scant resume who takes it away.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Charm and a smile.
MS. CLIFT: There's some resentment.
MS. CROWLEY: When you're winning, you lose the sympathy vote, but you end up with the real vote.
MR. PAGE: You know, if I would have said what Maureen Dowd just said, people would accuse me of accusing Barack of not being black enough. I mean, you know, this is like the class brainiac golden boy. Good for you, you know.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There is a "there" there.
MR. PAGE: Yeah, it's image and perception. But most people like the golden boy, whatever you want to call him.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: If Bill Keller of the Times doesn't come up with something more, he's gone.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor. MS. CLIFT: If John Edwards is going to endorse, he's going to endorse Barack Obama before the Ohio primary.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?
MS. CROWLEY: President Bush will lift the trade embargo against Cuba before the end of his term.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Interesting.
MR. PAGE: Front-runner for presidency of Cuba after Raoul Castro is Carlos Lage, the current vice president.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he a good guy?
MR. PAGE: He's a very good guy. He helped to bring them back economically after the Russians.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That conforms to my earlier prediction. I predict that Japan's economy is headed into a deeper, wider and longer bust than that which will soon afflict the United States.