I had the pleasure recently of attending the most recent leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. This meeting was held in Washington, DC. It was held at the St. Regis Hotel on K Street, across the street from the White House. The initial plan was to meet people at the White House, but due to logistics, the members of the President’s staff came to the hotel instead.
There were fine minds as always, and it was an absolute thrill meeting Sir Charles of Krauthammer. Given the substance of these meetings, more than one day is required to give the events justice. Also, for reasons of confidentiality, some information is redacted. Nevertheless, below are some remarks from some of the speakers, all of whom contributed to a quality conference.
Senator John McCain was represented by his campaign manager, Rick Davis. While he acknowledged that 2008 could be a tough year, the Presidential race is up for grabs.
In speaking about our fine republican nominee, Mr. Davis stated that “John McCain’s life is about serving the Commander in Chief, not being one.”
“Some lament the length of Presidential races. The length of these campaigns is actually a good thing. Some people want it to be over, but in America our races get you into the soul of the person who would lead the free world over a two year period. We learn much about them, and this is positive.”
“Even with two years of studying, we cannot predict the future. We could not have predicted 9/11, or that President Bush would have become the most important foreign policy President of this century.”
“While he has raised less money, John McCain actually has more cash on hand than Hillary Clinton.”
“The key is to targe states that seem out of reach but are within reach. In 2000, George W. Bush had 11 target states. John McCain has doubled that. He has 22 target states. Also, California absolutely will be targeted. California usually is a place where republicans come, raise money, and leave. We will compete for California, forcing the other side to spend resources here.”
“John McCain has been underestimated throughout his life.”
The next speaker was President Bush’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Joel Kaplan. He is likable and funny. His remarks were mostly policy, but my question for him was about politics. The question was a softball regarding the President himself, but was meant to be a hardball question towards those that are supposed to be his defenders.
“Mr. Kaplan, I am deeply concerned about the President’s poll numbers. Every day this guy is taking a battering from critics that I believe are not fit to lick his boots. What is being done to hit back hard so that 20 years from now people will know what a good, decent man he is?”
Again, this may appear to be a softball, but I am genuinely ticked off that the people that are his toughest critics are wrong, unfair, and often unkind.
Mr. Kaplan offered an acceptable answer.
“First of all, I am going to punt on this question, and let (White House Press Secretary) Dana Perino answer it. What I can tell you is that this President is guided by principles, not polls. Would he like to be popular? Of course, we all would. That does not change the fact that he is going to do what he believes is right. When he says he does not care about shaping his legacy, he means it. History will sort that out. He is going to do what he thinks is best for America in the long run. Others can obsess about polls. He is about principles.”
Mr. Kaplan then went on to tell an amusing story regarding a mistake in a transcript.
“A few weeks ago Dana Perino finished her daily briefing, and I read the transcript. A question was asked about the President being sapped of energy down the stretch. Ms. Perino responded that ‘The President will be absolutely fine, there’s a lot of Jews left in the White House.’ I beamed with pride, but felt this was a bit much. I went up to her and thanked her for her support, but wondered if she had overstated the role I and others had played. She told me that the transcript was a mistake, and that what she actually said was that ‘There’s a lot of juice left in the White House.'”
I found Mr. Kaplan after his speech. I told him point blank that, “I don’t care if the man’s polls drop to 10%. I know he’s right, and I know history will vindicate him.”
He thanked me, and let me know that he does relay messages of support to the President, and that the support absolutely helps. I finshed with one thought.
“I know he has an impossible job. Let him know I am praying for him.”
Mr. Kaplan told me to keep doing so.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino was next.
“President Bush is gender blind. He is comfortable around strong women because he is surrounded by them. From his mother to his wife to his daughters to his Press Secretary, we are everywhere.”
“One problem with the internet is the coarseness of the public debate. I hope women can change that.”
“In the Middle East, women play a prominent role. Israel has women in power, and Mahmoud Abbas has a female Press Secretary.”
When asked about how she stands the daily grilling from the media, her answer was simple, yet sensible.
“The way to do well is to be more prepared than the reporters. Be prepared, consult more experts, and have more facts. Tough opinions can be countered with hard facts.”
“There has been a tidal wave of competition since 2000. Everybody wants to get the best dig in. Yet we are still here.”
“This may surprise some of you, but David Gregory is actually pretty fair. He is tough, but he asks fair questions.”
I remember David Gregory as the judgmental guy who got drunk and went on the air babbling nonsense. It is not fair to judge him by that one episode, but a man who asks tough questions sure did not want questions asked of him about that incident.
“Helen Thomas is exasperating. She wears her agenda on her sleeve. I now answer all her questions by starting out by mentioning her name. That way when the transcript comes out, everybody can point to one of her questions and know that she asked it. I will say, ‘Helen, now you know…’ She finally realized I was doing it and called me on it, but I still keep doing it.”
She was not interested in helping Barack Obama.
“I won’t give Obama advice because he might take it. Stop it Karl Rove. Don’t help them. They might listen.”
She then showed some self depracating humor.
“Obama has a glass jaw. I actually am not exactly sure what that means. I know it is a sports metaphor, and I just wanted to sound like I knew sports.”
She then turned to my earlier question of Mr. Kaplan.
“As for the person who asked about the President’s poll numbers, he is not dwelling on them. He is perfectly comfortable going on to the next chapter of his life after the next President takes over. He will go back to his ranch, and be perfectly content to live his life outside of Washington.”
Unlike democrats, who have a tendency to never let go, and think that they still are President, republican Presidents leave with dignity, and do what an ex-President should do…shut up and be quiet, and let their successor form their own path.
Her last comment was with regard to a rumor that the President has lost support in Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
“President Bush absolutely backs Condi Rice 100%.”
After her speech, when I met her, she stated that she would have somebody from her office contact me regarding an interview of her. I stated that I understood how busy she was. We shall see.
The last speaker of the day was Richard Baehr from American Thinker. I have gotten to know him over the past year, and he is a friend. He is very solid on offering political analysis, and he does not sugar coat potential results.
“The democrats are having an internal debate right now on whether or not to give up on Florida. As close as Florida was in 2000, it is now fairly safe for the republicans. If the democrats give up on Florida, they would have to do a lot to win the White House. They would have to win Ohio. No republican has ever won the White House without Ohio. Another strategy that they would try to do is run the table of the four states of Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada. This is going to be tough because John McCain is a Westerner from Arizona.”
“One of the key hidden constituency group in this election is Asians. Republicans can do very well among this group. When Michelle Obama makes her remarks about America being unfair, and Asians are sitting at home with 1600 SAT scores and rejection letters, it bothers them.”
“California is not a lost cause. 35% of California voters belong to three groups that John McCain could do well with…Jews, Asians, and Hispanics.”
“Some would argue that republicans cannot do well with Jews, especially since George W. Bush was the best friend Israel ever had, and he still only received 25% of the Jewish vote. There are other reasons Jews did not support him. First of all, Jews did not like his father, and thought he would be like his father. Secondly, he wears his religion on his sleeve, and Jews are scared to death of religious Christians. They think that all Christians want to convert us. Most Jews that convert end up converting to nothing, not Christianity. Lastly, President Bush is a Texan, and Jews often sneer at Southerners. John McCain is a Westerner, and while he is a Christian, he does not go to Church that often or talk about his religious faith. Between that and his strong support for Israel, he could pick up more of the Jewish vote.”
In the coming days, the wisdom of Bill Kristol, and of course, Sir Charles of Krauthammer, will be offered.
Once again, the RJC made me proud to be a member of the leadership by putting on such a quality conference.