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I have a luncheon

I have a luncheon I'm going to at noon, so just a quick update on where things seem to stand in Iowa and New Hampshire. One of the campaigns has tracking numbers out of Iowa which shows each of the top three -- Dean, Gephardt and Kerry -- clumped to within a point or two. And today's Zogby poll seems to point in the same direction Dean 24%, Gephardt 21%, Kerry 21%.

As things run down to the wire, you hear a lot of things, many of which aren't confirmable. But I know that several days ago one very high-level Iowa Democrat (one who hasn't endorsed anyone) told folks that he thought that if the caucuses were held then (late last week) that Kerry would probably beat Gephardt and possibly even win the whole thing.

I don't think anyone has any really solid clue what's happening. But it does give you a sense of the fluidity of the race -- and not just the Dean-Gephardt contest we've all been focusing on.

Meanwhile, the ARG tracking poll in New Hampshire shows some more movement after several days when everyone seemed to stay in place. Dean 32%, Clark 22%, Kerry 13%.

As always, the inevitable disclaimer. Tracking polls are notoriously volatile and often show 'trends' that are the result of low sample numbers on given days. Still, over time, they give some sense of where things are going. And I think Dean's move back on to the offensive shows that his people are seeing the same thing.

Apparently the ARG pollsters

Apparently the ARG pollsters were on to something.

This from tonight's WMUR from New Hampshire: "Attorney General Peter Heed said someone has been calling voters who are unaffiliated with a party and telling them that they can't vote in the primary -- which is untrue. Heed said his office has received complaints from town and city clerks as well as undeclared voters who said they are being told they cannot vote."

Some things are worth

Some things are worth listening to again <$NoAd$>and again ...

DIANE SAWYER

(Off Camera) When you take a look back, Vice President Cheney said, "there is no doubt Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction." Not programs, not intent. There is no doubt he has weapons of mass destruction. Secretary Powell said "100 to 500 tons of chemical weapons." And now the inspectors say that there's no evidence of these weapons existing right now. The yellow cake in Niger. George Tenet has said that shouldn't have been in your speech. Secretary Powell talked about mobile labs. Again, the intelligence, the inspectors have said they can't confirm this, they can't corroborate. Nuclear, suggestions that he was on the way on an active nuclear program. David Kay, "we have not discovered significant evidence of ... "

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH

Yet.

DIANE SAWYER

(Off Camera) Is it "yet"?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH

But what David Kay did discover was they had a weapons program. And had that -that -let me finish for a second. Now it's more extensive than, than missiles. Had that knowledge been examined by the United Nations or had David Kay's report been placed in front of the United Nations, he, Saddam Hussein, would have been in material breach of 1441, which meant it was a causis belli. And, look, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous person. And there's no doubt we had a body of evidence proving that. And there is no doubt that the President must act, after 9/11, to make America a more secure country.

DIANE SAWYER

(Off Camera) Again, I'm just trying to ask, these are supporters, people who believed in the war who have asked the question.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH

Well, you can keep asking the question. And my answer's gonna be the same. Saddam was a danger. And the world is better off because we got rid of him.

DIANE SAWYER

(Off Camera) But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH

So what's the difference?

DIANE SAWYER

(Off Camera) Well ...

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH

The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger. That's, that's what I'm trying to explain to you. A gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be dealt with. And it was done after 12 long years of the world saying the man's a danger. And so, we got rid of him. And there's no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone.

DIANE SAWYER

(Off Camera) But, but, again, some, some of the critics have said this, combined with the failure to establish proof of elaborate terrorism contacts, has indicated that there's just not precision, at best, and misleading, at worst.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH

Yeah. Look, what, what we based our evidence on was a very sound national intelligence estimate.

DIANE SAWYER

(Off Camera) Nothing should have been more precise?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH

I, I made my decision based upon enough intelligence to tell me that this country was threatened with Saddam Hussein in power.

DIANE SAWYER

(Off Camera) What would it take to convince you he didn't have weapons of mass destruction?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH

Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.


What's the difference?

That says it all.

Everybodys giving Paul ONeill

Everybody's giving Paul O'Neill a hard time now for partly backing down on some of his accusations against the president.

But this misses the point entirely. Look what an improvement this is! John DiIulio barely made it 24 hours after the horsehead showed up in his bed before he was telling the world he "sincerely apologizes and is deeply remorseful."

The O'Neill story's been out there for like a week and it's two days since the 60 Minutes interview and even now he's not taking it all back! I think what we've got here is a little rope-a-dope. O'Neill needs to give them a little but it's not yet a full Kamenev moment. More like Bukharin? I'll have to go back and review the testimony.

Hilarious. At about 540

Hilarious. At about 5:40 PM on Tuesday evening and there's a back and forth with Peter Beinart and Deborah Perry from the Independent Women's Forum arguing about the O'Neill stuff on CNN.

Beinart raised the quite apt point that members of the Bush administration gave Bob Woodward classified documents for his highly flattering book about the lead-up to the war (did I mention it was highly flattering?). So why wasn't there an investigation then?

Deborah responded that this was a case "where the Bush administration was working with" the reporter. (That's what I caught by ear and remembered for the few moments it took me to put the dog down and grab the computer.) In other words, when it's a compulsively friendly reporter who's working with the White House on an adoring book, then they can give out classified documents at their discretion. But when it's unfriendly, you go to the slammer!

(Late Update: Here's the actual quote from the transcript: "But, again, that was the Bush administration working with Bob Woodward in terms of what they were willing to...")

Deborah, I want to thank you on behalf of all of us for that unwitting moment of candor! I'd like to encourage you to also defend the White House on the Plame matter.

(We can leave aside for the moment that there's no reason to believe the O'Neill docs were actually classified. The classification system is a little more formalized and complex then just putting 'secret' across the top of a document.)

I dont know quite

I don't know quite what to make of this article on Wes Clark by Chris Suellentrop. Chris runs through a number of statements Clark has made on the campaign trail and, with those quotes, advances the argument that Clark, as much as Dean, has a "propensity for speaking imprecisely off the cuff."

There's a pretty widespread tendency in the mainstream media to say that Clark makes off-the-wall claims about the war on terrorism or the Iraq war. (A frequent example is the claim that the civilians at the Pentagon had a list of countries in line for regime change after Iraq.) It's more accurate to say that Clark has a habit of making points that many in high political circles consider impolitic, impolite or simply in poor taste to bring up.

Case in point, there was a list -- if by list we mean a list of countries that many in the Pentagon (civilian side) were pushing to hit next after Iraq. I know this. Most every reporter who covers the Pentagon knows this. And yet the bully-boys try to intimidate people out of saying it.

But back to Chris.

Here's Chris' quote number two.

Chris prefaces it with this headline question: "Bush 'never intended' to get Osama Bin Laden?"

And here's the quote.

We bombed Afghanistan, we missed Osama Bin Laden, partly because the president never intended to put the resources in to get Osama Bin Laden. All along, right after 9/11, they'd made their mind up, I guess, that we were going to go after Saddam Hussein. That's what people in the Pentagon told me. And they capped the resources, stopped the commitment to Afghanistan, and started shifting to prepare to go after Saddam Hussein


Is it just me, or is the story here that Chris completely distorts what Clark said? What's 'imprecise' about this statement. Provocative? Critical? Yes. But imprecise?

(I have to say that each of the quotes Chris mentions seems in same category to me.)

Clark didn't say Bush didn't intend to get bin Laden. He said he never intended to deploy the necessary resources because he placed a higher priority on the impending war in Iraq.

Now the president and his advisors could and probably would respond that they mobilized sufficient resources for both aims. But the fact that bin Laden and many of the other key targets were not captured at least makes it reasonable to argue that the forces were insufficient. (Indeed, reporting on the particulars backs this up too.)

These are the sorts of points and arguments that should be at the center of the national campaign, whichever Democrat secures the nomination -- the balance of resources mobilized to combat al Qaida and Iraq, and which was more central to the country's security.

So now the White

So now the White House has pilloried Paul O’Neill as a sorry doofus and, by all appearances, launched a punitive investigation against him.

How about denying any of his claims or those in Suskind’s book?

Just a thought ...

And will O'Neill go the way of John DiIulio and Nick Smith? Where's the document they want him to sign? And who writes them?

From the archives, DiIulio's Kamenev moment: "John DiIulio agrees that his criticisms were groundless and baseless due to poorly chosen words and examples. He sincerely apologizes and is deeply remorseful."

Yikes, I'd hate to make enemies out of these guys. Or, wait ...

Number of days between

Number of days between Novak column outing Valerie Plame and announcement of investigation: 74 days.

Number of days between O'Neill 60 Minutes interview and announcement of investigation: 1 day.

Having the administration reveal itself as a gaggle of hypocritical goons ... priceless.

Oh they can do

Oh, they can do better than that, can't they?

CNN's headline story on the O'Neill story reads: "Cabinet members defend Bush from O'Neill"

And then, when you click through, it turns out the cabinet members are Don Evans (the president's Texas crony and political fixer) and John Snow (O'Neill's tepidly respected successor at Treasury).

None of the bigs? That's all? No Colin? We're Rummyless?

Well this battle in

Well, this battle in Iowa is truly going down to the wire.

Today Zogby has a poll out with Dean 25%, Gephardt 23%, Kerry 14%, Edwards 13%. And Zogby says Edwards was picking up steam through the three days of interviews.

Those numbers are somewhat countered by two other polls out in the last two days which have the Dean/Gephardt spread at 7% (LA Times) and 5% (Quad-City Times/KWQC). But clearly it's pretty tight.

At various points over the three-plus years I've run this site I've commented on the quality of Zogby's polls (here's one of the first things I ever wrote about him, an article in Slate from almost four years ago). Zogby's polls do often pick up on trends well in advance of their appearance in other polls. But almost as frequently he seems to pick up on trends that turn out not to exist. So to the extent that you can personify methodology I see him as ingenious but erratic.

That's I suppose just a roundabout way of saying that I don't know quite what to make of his very tight margin between the two top contenders.

More generally, however, the closeness of these margins and the broader dynamics of this race, I think, tell us that we don't know what's going to happen on Caucus eve.

The Caucus system works by a sort of snowbound version of the uncertainty principle. The particulars are so detailed that I'm sure to get some part of it wrong. But basically how the caucuses work is that everyone shows up and they divide into groups based on candidate preference. But if your candidate has less than 15% of the attendees then your guy (or gal) is out.

(Presumably, at the beginning of the evening someone gets out an envelope, counts who's there and does some quick math to determine how many people get you over 15%. I'd be ruled out for that job.)

Once your candidate is out you have to pick another.

Now, the numbers we're seeing are statewide. And the demographic gap between, say, the Gephardt and Dean voters is great enough that in particular caucus locations the spread is apt to be very different. However, you don't have to look too long at the numbers to see that there are some candidates with not insubstantial support that are going to get knocked out on the first round at many locations.

To put it succinctly, in many caucuses, the issue is going to be less whether Gephardt and Dean are separated by 2% or 6% as who the Kerry and Edwards supporters go to on the second round.

Before you flame me with your emails, I'm not trying to prejudge Kerry's and Edwards' chances. But you can see the level of uncertainty that plays into the calculus.

On the face of it, it would seem this volatility would work against Dean since the race has been polarized between Dean as the outsider vs. anti-Dean Washington candidates. If you're for Kerry, who has made opposition to Dean an increasing focus of his campaign, do you switch to Dean or to Gephardt, if Kerry falls under 15% if your caucus? The latter seems more logical to me. But so many factors must play in to this that I'm not sure 'logic', especially from a thousand miles away, gets you very close to the truth.

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