November 15, 2007
Planning the Ad Libs (Bob Franken)
@ 9:22 am
Let’s listen in on this morning’s conference call, held every day by top staff members of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
As everyone knows, one sound bite determines the winner of any presidential debate. It’s the one and only moment that anyone remembers … Reagan’s “There you go again,” Lloyd Bentsen telling Dan Quayle he was no John F. Kennedy.
Mark Penn is running the call as usual. He’s been up all night analyzing the microtrends, whatever the hell they are, and now it’s time to consolidate all the polling information and script Hillary’s spontaneous response when the other Democrats attack her during tonight’s CNN debate.
“You know” says Penn, tapping on his computer keyboard, “the data show that people don’t like reporters.”
“That’s brilliant, Mark,” snaps someone else on the call. “Was it only because of your groundbreaking research you could find that out?”
The Clinton campaign had been going through a rough patch, and tensions are high.
Penn is unflappable, as always. “My point is that perhaps Hillary should sharply question the premise of any question she gets, particularly if it comes from Wolf Blitzer, so she can play the ‘boys piling on’ card.”
“Nah, that didn’t work. I tried that and got chewed up.” It’s Ellie Smeal talking, the pioneering feminist, now a leading Hillary Clinton supporter. “I think she goes after Obama and Edwards. The first time one of them gets the slightest bit snarky, she gazes disdainfully at him, sighs, and simply responds by questioning the weakness of his thinking and pointing out how this country needs the kind of strength that only she can bring to the presidency.”
“Hmmmm.” It’s Penn again. “I like it. The best defense is a good offense.”
“Did you make that up, Mark?” This is a tough crowd.
And lest anyone think it is only Hillary’s people planning for tonight’s debate, the others are having their own conference calls.
The Obama people are hard at work, as always, coming up with the Sanctimonious Platitude of the Day.
So far the best line is “I want to run a positive campaign that is based on hope. Not one that relies on the kind of negativity we get from my corrupt, scumbag opponents.”
Over at Edwards headquarters, there is a huge difference of opinion over whether their candidate, the self-styled populist, should show up for tonight’s debate dressed in coveralls. Maybe that will stop the slippage in Iowa.
We all make fun of Hillary’s tightly controlled campaign and point out that Republicans are already doing their oppo research on her, but the fact of the matter is that she and her organization have made her the one the other Democrats have to beat.
The consistent advice she gets from her handlers is also not anything new … it’s “stay the course.” More and more her party opponents may have to rely on another approach that also is not original. That one is “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
It will be interesting to see how all this plays out in tonight’s debate.