Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Breakfast with Dick Morris... "Obama is Done."

I attended a fascinating breakfast reception with Dick Morris today hosted by Lead21 and The Lincoln Club of Northern California.

He started off by stating that Obama is done, and Hillary's lead in the remaining states were too great to overcome. He described the Clintons' strategy to secure this lead by diverting attention to Bill and dividing the votes along racial lines. It was interesting because it seemed that he was telling this story with an undertone of respect for their political brilliance.

I've heard this from another direct source when I visited the White House during the Coro Fellowship. After we visited President Clinton, we sat down with Sandy Berger, his National Security Advisor, and he began to tell various stories of Bill Clinton's sheer political skill and brilliance. Even during prep sessions for news conferences where his closest advisers would grill him, Clinton would always outshine them. Berger said that President Clinton would correct his brain trust often, "That's not the question to ask, this is the question..."

Anyway, so Dick Morris discussed how over the past week or more, much of the media attention has been on Bill on the issue of race in South Carlina ("Bill Clinton Accuses Obama Camp of Stirring Race Issue" NYTimes). Morris stated that Obama has been a candidate not running on the race card, but the Clintons want to use the South Carlina election to make it about race to create a white backlash to the bloc-voting by African-Americans (more from Morris, "How Clinton Will Win The Nomination By Losing South Carolina").

He also described how Bill is playing the cape in a bullfight by publicly calling out Obama. Morris talked about how he and Bill played this back in 1992, which is better described in his recent article ("There's A Method To Crafty Bill's Madness"):

As the 1992 Republican convention approached, Hillary ratcheted up her comments and profile precisely to attract GOP fire so that they would leave Bill alone. He and I discussed the plan.

Hillary's comment, for example, about "baking cookies and serving tea" put her squarely in the Republican Party's sights as the convention approached.

The Republicans fell for the lure big time and spent their entire convention going after Hillary. Bill was scarcely hit.

And the 1992 GOP convention is one of the few that afforded its party no bounce at all. Now Bill is returning the favor.

So it's not only luring Obama to hit the cape instead of the matador, but the star power of Bill draws the media to him and maintains the political status quo in the campaign. Morris described how Bill did this when John Kerry ran. During the Democratic convention in Boston that year, Bill came out with his new book two weeks before and held book signing events there right before the convention. The local press focused on Bill Clinton and not John Kerry. Morris said that this was a strategic move, so that Kerry wouldn't win and improve Hillary's chances to run in 2008. Brilliant (yes, I love Guinness beer). Evil but brilliant.

He also discussed how Rudy Giuliani or John McCain were the best candidates to win against Hillary Clinton. Romney doesn't extend beyond the conservative base along with Huckabee. Giuliani and McCain attract moderate Dems and independents on various social and domestic issues, such as McCain's immigration position that almost killed his run earlier this year but gathered the respect of the Latino community.

What was really interesting was when Morris stated that he could work for Obama as he did with Clinton because he was charismatic, ethical, and practical. I believe he stirred some feathers of the Republican old guard that was present in the room, but Morris is a hired political gun and he wants to work with the best politicians to help craft their strategy. Morris said both Bill and Obama were practical, but he could never work for Hillary and the country is in deep trouble if she wins because she is such an idealogue.

One example that he brought up was when Bill wanted to cut the capital gains tax, so he sent Morris in to convince Hillary. He said that she wouldn't budge or listen to any reasonable points. Bill pushed it through anyway, but experiences such as this revealed her personality and ideology. Morris believes Hillary's policies will create a mass exodus from the stock market and real estate because she will increase the capital gains tax on par with the income tax rate. Additionally, her policies will greatly increase government programs and her universal healthcare plan will push the total rates above 50% and up to 61% for the top income bracket in the U.S.

So Morris' talk pushed me further down the road to support John McCain. While I'm not completely satisfied with any of the Republican candidates, McCain is the one I agree with on many issues and I feel has the best chance against Hillary. I was initially leaning towards Rudy, but stories of his preference to surround himself with "yes" men and second-rate talent is a huge turn off. I believe as a leader you should always surround yourself with the best people and those that have views counter to your own. Fear of challenges to your authority and differing thoughts is one of the greater weaknesses a leader can have.

Strategically, I wish and still hope for Obama to win because I believe the Republicans can defeat Obama easier. Who knows what will happen? Maybe Hillary will make a major misstep? Rudy will actually win Florida and steamroll all the way? We'll have to wait and see.

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