In "Eight for '08" series, Chris Matthews Show followed McCain gush-fest by bashing Hillary Clinton

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

Two weeks after gushing over John McCain's likely presidential bid, the host and panelists on The Chris Matthews Show concluded that some of Hillary Rodham Clinton's greatest perceived strengths as a presidential candidate were really weaknesses.

On the December 3 broadcast of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, guest host and NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell hosted a discussion on the potential presidential candidacy of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), continuing the show's "Eight for '08" series, in which the likely candidates from both parties are examined. In contrast to the commentators' discussion of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on the November 19 installment -- which consisted of host Chris Matthews and his guest panel gushing over McCain, as Media Matters for America noted at the time -- this broadcast saw Mitchell and her panel conclude that some of Clinton's greatest perceived strengths were really weaknesses.

Hillary Clinton's establishment problem ...

Discussing Clinton, Mitchell noted, "one big plus is that she is an establishment favorite. Flip side of that? She's so familiar there's that 'been there, done that' factor. ... nobody's more establishment than Hillary." Time columnist Andrew Sullivan also asserted that Clinton is "still radioactive blue. And people don't want to go back to polarization." He later added, "[S]he's also a terrible politician, isn't she?" Time columnist Joe Klein agreed, "Yeah, she is."

New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller also said that "one of the biggest -- the developing theory now among Democratic activists -- is that it's going to be a lot harder for her to get the nomination than it would be for her to win the general election ... Democrats have notoriously been very tough on their front-runner establishment candidate since the '70's."

But on the December 4 edition of MSNBC News Live, Cook Political Report editor and publisher Charlie Cook told Mitchell, "I don't think among Democrats the people are going to be deciding who the nomination goes to. I don't think that's an open question anymore. I mean, generally speaking, she runs with favorable ratings among Democrats, between 70 and 80 percent -- I think the lowest number I've seen was a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that had her running at 66 positive. She's got very, very good numbers among Democrats, and they don't seem to think it's a problem."

... vs. McCain's establishment credentials

Matthews asserted that McCain "has to appeal to the Republican right and yet keep himself positioned so he can win the general," then asked, "How's he doing?" New York Times columnist David Brooks responded, "I think he's doing fine," and praised McCain's "super" record on pork-barrel spending. Brooks further asserted that "The Republican party is sick of playing defense," adding that "his style will be amenable to him." Matthews characterized McCain as "kind of like a Martin Luther. He's going back and reforming and finding the pure conservative movement." Later, after syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker described McCain's stance on troops levels in Iraq as that of "a leader," Matthews said, "I think there's a thing he has that people like me like, people -- a lot of journalists like, because journalists are supposed to be really independent. They're supposed to be."

Hillary Clinton's "big issue,"gender ...

Mitchell asserted, "Another big issue for Hilary Clinton, of course, is gender. The fact that she is the first woman making a serious run for president might be a big plus, a huge plus, but it could also be a minus." After Sullivan responded, "I don't have a problem with women politicians because I grew up in a country where one woman dominated the entire political landscape for more than a decade," Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker asserted, "I don't think this country is ready to elect a woman yet, especially not a woman who's a Democrat." Tucker also said Clinton "doesn't fit the traditional model [of 'what a woman should be', in Mitchell's words] but not just for a lot of Southerners, but unhappily for a lot of Americans."

As Media Matters previously noted, nearly a year earlier, on the December 11, 2005, broadcast of The Chris Matthews Show, Tucker told Matthews that "[t]his country is not ready to elect a woman, especially a liberal woman" to the presidency. Subsequently, a CBS News/New York Times poll conducted January 20-25, 2006, showed that 92 percent of respondents indicated that they would vote for a "qualified woman" for president were she nominated by their party.

... vs. McCain's "tricky" non-issue, age

Matthews noted, "This is always tricky in our society. You can sue people for firing you for age [which is also true of gender]. [McCain is] going to be 72 if he gets elected to president, the day he takes the office." Brooks said, "I think the whole thing will be solved when people look at him. ... He's running around, he's never sitting down. And so the energy thing I think will show up." Later, after Matthews concluded, "The country's comfortable with a guy who's 80 years old in the White House. I think you're right," Parker asserted, "Seventy is the new 50." Matthews replied, "That's what I think."

Hillary Clinton's "biggest plus ... her husband" is "also, though, a minus" ...

After Mitchell asked, "Is [former President] Bill [Clinton] an asset to Hillary or a liability?," Klein responded, "[O]nly if he makes a fool of himself is he a minus." Mitchell then said, "Well, I wasn't even talking about his social life. I was talking about the fact that he overshadows her." Bumiller asserted, "Bill Clinton gave one of the most amazing political speeches and a very, very moving tribute to Coretta Scott King, and then Hillary got up afterwards, and it was not a good moment," to which Mitchell agreed, "And she stood there, sort of giving him that Nancy Reagan gaze." Sullivan later said, "I think the big problem, Andrea, what do you do with this guy in the White House? What -- he's not going to be doing place settings, OK? He's not going to be the first husband." Klein agreed, "This is going to be a question that she is going to have to answer front up when she goes to Iowa. The people there aren't -- don't mythologize politicians. They're going to say, 'What's he going to do? What's his job?'" After concluding, "It's no longer two for the price of one," Mitchell asked Tucker, "Are people willing to accept Bill as first spouse?" Tucker replied, "I think that that would be a huge change for most Americans, and again, I'm not sure we're quite ready for that yet."

Earlier during the broadcast, Klein wondered, referring to the Clintons and the Bushes, "Do the American people want to keep on trading their most precious office back and forth between these two prohibitively weird families?"

... vs. McCain's "anger problem" that's really about his "passion"

Matthews noted, "You hear it around -- I don't hear it so much but I'm sure you people have, that McCain's got an anger problem." Journalist John Heilemann responded, "Well, I think it's actually incredibly appealing, you know, but there is -- he's a very tightly coiled guy and you see that in almost every setting." Parker added, "I think there's another way that this is going to be presented. They're going to cast this not as an anger problem but as a passion issue. He is passionate about everything and he's not going to sit around, as I said before, hold hands and talk to everybody."

From the December 3 broadcast of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show:

KLEIN: Well, there are an awful lot of people who love the Clintons in the Democratic primary. And there is a desire among a lot of people who worked for the Clinton administration and raised money for the Clinton administration for a restoration. But there's a real basic fact standing in the way of that: In 2008, when she runs for president, we will have had people named Bush and Clinton as presidents of the United States for the last 20 consecutive years. And so the major question is: Do the American people want to keep on trading their most precious office back and forth between these two prohibitively weird families?

MITCHELL: Two first families. But Hillary has major pluses and major minuses. Let's go down the list. One big plus is that she is an establishment favorite. Flip side of that? She's so familiar there's that 'been there, done that' factor. Cynthia, you come from outside the Beltway. Are people outside of -- the rest of this country really sick of the Washington establishment? And nobody's more establishment than Hillary.

[...]

MITCHELL: But Elisabeth, is there a downside to that? Does she also carry a lot of baggage from those years?

BUMILLER: Oh, absolutely. And I think one of the biggest -- the developing theory now among Democratic activists -- one theory -- is that it's going to be a lot harder for her to get the nomination than it would be for her to win the general election. And that's sort of the reverse of what the conventional wisdom was a few months ago. And one of the reasons is she's the establishment candidate. And Democrats have notoriously been very tough on their front-runner establishment candidate since the '70s.

MITCHELL: Does that favor an outsider? Andrew, is that why the romance with Barack Obama -- and we're going to talk more about him a little bit later -- but is that his basic appeal?

SULLIVAN: I think, yeah. I think he is a very fresh face. He has a very clear idea of where -- he's purple. She's still really radioactive blue. And people don't want to go back to polarization. We are so ready to go beyond that whole red-blue fight. And she represents, to me, at least -- even though I think she's been a good senator, I think she'd be a fine president in many ways -- she's the only thing that will polarize this country, once again take it right back. And it's the only thing that will reunite the Republicans, is Hillary Clinton.

KLEIN: I think that's absolutely true, and Obama has this wonderful line about us revisiting the dorm fights of the 1960s and how most people are sick of that. But in some ways, it does her a disservice. Because she's been a really excellent senator, she is absolutely solid on the issues, and especially on the Armed -- her work on the Armed Services Committee, she's really learned military affairs, and she's incredibly responsible. So in a lot of ways, a lot of this is true, but it's unfair.

SULLIVAN: But she's also a terrible politician, isn't she?

KLEIN: Yeah, she is.

SULLIVAN: When I -- like, I read her --

MITCHELL: You're talking about -- well, you're talking about retail politicking, door-to-door --

SULLIVAN: I'm talking about what it takes to glad-hand, to get out there, to show who you are, and to love pe -- that's what Bill had and she doesn't. And next to Bill, it's even more dramatic. I mean, I read her speech, for example, on torture and war crimes, and I was inspired. Then I saw it. It was just dreadful!

[...]

MITCHELL: Another big issue for Hillary Clinton, of course, is gender. The fact that she is the first woman making a serious run for president might be a big plus, a huge plus, but it could also be a minus. Andrew, you grew up under Margaret Thatcher. Is this Hillary Clinton as the Iron Lady?

SULLIVAN: I don't have a problem with women politicians because I grew up in a country where one woman dominated the entire political landscape for more than a decade.

[...]

KLEIN: He could possibly be a minus because he is one of the smartest people ever to walk the stage in American politics. And he's certainly the best strategist in the Democratic Party. So when people talk about him being --

[crosstalk]

BUMILLER: But you're forgetting -- you're forgetting Coretta Scott King's funeral, where --

KLEIN: You're right.

BUMILLER: -- Bill Clinton gave one of the most amazing political speeches and a very, very moving tribute to Coretta Scott King, and then Hillary got up afterwards, and it was not a good moment.

MITCHELL: And she stood there, sort of giving him that Nancy Reagan gaze.

BUMILLER: I don't think that will happen again.

KLEIN: I don't think they'll be giving sequential speeches during that campaign.

MITCHELL: What about down South? Is there a different gender perception, a perception of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton down South?

TUCKER: Well --

MITCHELL: Does she not fit the traditional model of what a woman should be?

TUCKER: She doesn't fit the traditional model, but not just for a lot of Southerners, but unhappily for a lot of Americans. I think this is broader than the Deep South, where she wouldn't play well for a lot of reasons. But quite frankly, unfortunately, I don't think this country is ready to elect a woman yet, especially not a woman who's a Democrat.

MITCHELL: Let's take a look at one classic moment, recent moment, more recent than that funeral for Coretta Scott King, when, as New York magazine described it, it was the scene at Hillary's 59th birthday party just last month. It was Hillary's night, but Bill was the one who grabbed the guitar -- just look at him, he's in the center of that group there, you can barely see her behind the left shoulder. It looks like she's the backup singer, sort of a Mary Ballard to Bill's Diana Ross. What's going on there, Andrew?

SULLIVAN: I think the big problem, Andrea, what do you do with this guy in the White House? What -- he's not going to be doing place settings, OK? He's not going to be the first husband.

MITCHELL: Well, there's tsunami relief. There's his AIDS initiative.

SULLIVAN: Well, no, I think -- I think you have to sort of get ahead of this problem and give him a job, because if he's left alone --

KLEIN: That's right.

SULLIVAN: -- he will get into trouble.

MITCHELL: So that's it, we see if we can find a job for Bill Clinton?

KLEIN: This is going to be a question that she is going to have to answer front up when she goes to Iowa. The people there aren't -- don't mythologize politicians. They're going to say, "What's he going to do? What's his job?"

MITCHELL: It's no longer two for the price of one.

SULLIVAN: I think she should say, "He's my secretary of state, send him to the Middle East."

[...]

MITCHELL: Cynthia, quick reality check from outside. Are people willing to accept Bill as first spouse?

TUCKER: I think that that would be a huge change for most Americans, and again, I'm not sure we're quite ready for that yet.

From the November 19 broadcast of The Chris Matthews Show:

MATTHEWS: Wow, David, it looks to me like he faces a challenge. He has to appeal to the Republican right and yet keep himself positioned so he can win the general. How does he do it?

BROOKS: I think he's doing fine. First of all, Luke Skywalker is now driving a big supership, apparently, because he does have the Republican elite with him, large parts of it. Parts of the party don't like him because they don't think he's loyal enough, but I think the way he does it -- first of all, on spending. The main core of Republican self-hatred right now is they spend too much, too much pork barrel spending. McCain's record on that is super. And then the other thing that I think will help in the long run, it's not left or right or center. It's aggressive. The way that McCain makes decisions -- he sees something in the paper, it really bugs him, and he goes out superaggressive. The Republican Party is sick of playing defense. They're going to want somebody who's superaggressive, and a lot of them -- it won't be the illogical, it's "Is this guy a leader who can get us back on the offense?" And his style will be amenable to them.

MATTHEWS: Wow. Gloria.

BORGER: You know, he's a reformer. That works now given what we've seen in this election. He's also a smart hawk. Not just a hawk, but he's a smart hawk. He says, you know, "I want more troops in Iraq, let me tell you why. I know it's not a popular position but the way we leave is really important to America," and I think he can sell that.

MATTHEWS: So he's kind of like -- he's kind of like a Martin Luther. He's going back and reforming and finding the pure conservative movement. No extra spending, no earmarks, and a very clear idea of going after the enemy like we had -- remember when the president was at the rubble right after 9-11, that sense of purity and toughness.

[...]

PARKER: Yeah, but his position on the war is a perfect example. I mean, he's saying "put in more troops" when everybody clearly doesn't think that's a great idea. But McCain can say, "Look, I'm a man of principle. This is what we have to do. I'm not looking here to please everybody. I'm not going to sit around and wait for everybody to hold hands and say "Kumbaya, isn't this a great idea?" He thinks it's the right thing to do, and he's going out on a limb, so that's an act of -- that's a leader.

MATTHEWS: This is so great but, you know, the thing about him is I think there's a thing he has that people like me like, people -- a lot of journalists like --

HEILEMANN: Yeah.

MATTHEWS: -- because journalists are supposed to be really independent. They're supposed to be.

[...]

MATTHEWS: OK. Let's look at the bottom line. We put it to the Matthews Meter, 12 of our regular panelists: Is McCain conservative enough for Republican primary voters? Seven say yes, he will be able to nullify doubts about his conservative credentials. Five say he can't. You think he can.

BROOKS: Yeah, I think the party, because of this defeat, is much more flexible.

MATTHEWS: They feel their vulnerability.

BROOKS: They feel their vulnerability. They don't have a conservative agenda anyway. There is no conservative agenda.

MATTHEWS: Well, more judges. More conservative judges.

BROOKS: Well, they have judges, which he's fine on. They just want somebody who's a leader, who's going to be tough on foreign policy.

MATTHEWS: Let's go to idiosyncrasies. We're now getting into the vetting process, which all reporters love. You hear it around -- I don't hear it so much but I'm sure you people have, that McCain's got an anger problem.

[...]

MATTHEWS: John, there is something about that that's somewhat appealing unless you don't want to have to deal with Arnold Schwarzenegger. But what do you think?

HEILEMANN: Well, he's, you know -- I think it's actually incredibly appealing, you know, but there is -- he's a very tightly coiled guy and you see that in almost every setting. Even in the most relaxed settings, he's very tightly coiled, and any moment you think he could just snap like a dry Frito.

MATTHEWS: Will that show in the campaign? Have you seen it, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, I just saw it recently in covering him when Barack Obama --

MATTHEWS: Right.

BORGER: -- was supposed to deal with him on lobbying reform, be part of a bipartisan group, and suddenly Obama announces he's going to lead the Democratic part of that, and McCain sent him this incredibly intemperate letter, which, by the way, a lot of people liked because he put Obama in his place and said, "You can't play both sides."

MATTHEWS: Well, I think he won that round.

PARKER: Everybody -- everybody's got a McCain story.

MATTHEWS: Well, let's hear yours.

PARKER: Everybody's got an anger story. I don't personally have one. He's actually always been very nice to me.

MATTHEWS: What's that say?

PARKER: But I think there's another way that this is going to be presented. They're going to cast this not as an anger problem but as a passion issue. He is passionate about everything, and he's not going to sit around, as I said before, hold hands and sweet-talk everybody.

BROOKS: He keeps his staff, which is a good sign.

MATTHEWS: That's a very good sign. Ted Kennedy has kept the same staff.

BROOKS: Right. His problem is the guy can't sit still. Is he really going to be cooped up in the Oval Office for eight years?

MATTHEWS: He's antsy.

BROOKS: That might be a problem.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a question about age. This is always tricky in our society. You can sue people for firing you for age. He's going to be 72 if he gets elected to the presidency, the day he takes the office. That would make him the oldest president to come into the office at that age. Reagan was somewhat short of 70 when he went in. Would he have to say upfront, "I'm only going to look at one term, and I'd have to check with the doctors before I go for two"? Would he have to make an unusual sort of disclaimer here? David.

BROOKS: I'd be very surprised. His political hero, Teddy Roosevelt, did that and it turned out to be a disaster. It made the first term a lame-duck term. I'd be really surprised if he did that.

MATTHEWS: So he always wished he hadn't done that?

BROOKS: Yeah, and I think the health thing will be solved when people look at him. You go into his office -- most senators have their office in the corner, the senator's sort of reclusive. His office is right in the middle of his suite of offices. He's running around, he's never sitting down. And so, the energy thing, I think, will show up.

[...]

MATTHEWS: Is he going to have to face any unusual requirements to say things about his age, like "I'm only hoping to spend one term. I'll have to check with my doctors for two terms" or anything?

PARKER: I don't think so.

MATTHEWS: He won't have to do that. The country's comfortable with a guy who's 80 years old in the White House. I think you're right.

PARKER: Seventy is the new 50.

MATTHEWS: What?

PARKER: Seventy is the new 50.

MATTHEWS: That's what I think.

PARKER: Yeah.

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