Joe Trippi Slams Mark Penn on Hardball
by Todd Beeton, Fri Dec 14, 2007 at 09:11:31 AM EST
The bad news to come out of yesterday's debate for Hillary Clinton was that there wasn't more news, since it allowed post-debate coverage and spinning to focus further on the latest Clinton camp gaffe, NH co-chair Bill Shaheen's contention that Obama's drug use as a teenager would be a problem for Obama in the general.
Yesterday on Hardball, the post-debate spin room included the top strategists from the top 3 campaigns: Joe Trippi for Edwards, David Axelrod for Obama and Mark Penn for Clinton and was an absolute disaster for Clinton thanks to Penn who, in my view, made things worse for her as he tried, so I would have thought, to right the ship.
When Chris Matthews asked Penn if he thought the story about Bill Shaheen's remarks had legs, he said what I figured he'd say, and did a fine job, fairly standard for post-debate spin: accentuate the positive, get in the talking points, etc.
Mark Penn: I think this story's over, I think we made it very clear yesterday that we didn't condone it, we weren't a part of the story that he went on with and we absolutely apologized, the senator went on the tarmac and apologized personally because this is not part of this campaign. She has been running a year long positive campaign in which she's out there talking about ending the Iraq war and healthcare for all...
Matthews then asked if Penn considered the Clinton campaign's use of Obama's past indiscretions and a reference to what he said in kindergarten as the basis for attacks on Obama out of line. This is where Penn actually escalated the attack first advanced by Shaheen as opposed to quashing it.
Mark Penn: Well, I think we've made clear that the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising and I think that's been made clear...
This is when Joe Trippi jumped in and called Penn out.
Joe Trippi: I think he just did it again. He just did it again. Unbelievable. This guy's been filibustering on this, he just said 'cocaine' again.
Mark Penn: I think you're saying 'cocaine.' I think you're saying it.
Joe Trippi: Look the person that won today was John Edwards, Why because he's speaking to the frustration of Americans about something that's going on, how greed's taken over Washington...he's talking about real stuff that's really affecting working people here in Iowa who are frustrated about their jobs while we listen to this garbage that's been going on for a couple of days now and I agree with David on that.
Penn then went on to try to clear the air on the kindergarten attack, whining that Obama started it, sounding like he's in kindergarten, which gave Trippi another opening.
Joe Trippi: I can't believe we're doing this again, this is amazing, every day they go out and prove they're a status quo candidacy and it's not about change.
Axelrod got a good shot in as well.
David Axelrod: He said that Sen Obama said that Sen Clinton was disingenuous on some points. I think that's a lot different than suggesting someone's a drug dealer. Look I think people are not interested in what Senator Obama said to his kindergarten teacher or his indiscretions as a teenager, they're interested in their own kids, the future of their kids, what's gonna happen to this country, and that's what we're trying to address. This isn't the situation where two campaigns are fighting, this is the sound of one hand clapping and that hand is the Clinton campaign.
My assumption was that Penn had two jobs going into this appearance: to try to convince people of the hard to believe claim that Shaheen's comments were in fact not sanctioned by the campaign and to refocus the conversation away from the attacks and on the rationale for Clinton's candidacy. He ended up accomplishing neither.
First of all, by extraneously slipping the word "cocaine" into the conversation, which Shaheen didn't even say in his comments, he made it clear that this drug attack is absolutely something the Clinton campaign is advancing, despite their claims to the contrary. Secondly, Penn's slimy demeanor and his ineptitude at handling the message singlehandedly undermined the entire "experience to bring about change" formulation. When Clinton talks about her experience, she's not only talking about her work as a lawyer, as first lady or as senator, she's boasting about her experience fighting back against Republicans and winning. The fact that she put Mark Penn out there as her spokesman to pushback against her political rivals calls that seriously into question. In addition, this whole episode, especially Penn's continued advancement of the drug attack, reinforces the idea that Clinton is, as Trippi said, the status quo, or exactly what Obama has been fighting against since his campaign began: "politics as usual." In other words, Penn ended up proving Obama's and Edwards's points about her. I mean, this appearance by Penn really was about as stupid as it gets and if this guy appears on TV ever again on Clinton's behalf, she deserves to lose.
The fire in the belly that Trippi exhibited on Hardball yesterday reflected perfectly Edwards's populist fighter persona, just as Axelrod's mellow above the fray style echoed Obama. What does Penn's slimy shiftiness say about his candidate?