Mark Penn and Karen Hughes Faceoff: Is There Anything Left in Politics to Be Thankful For?

  TIME IDEAS
Is There Anything Left in Politics to Be Thankful For?
Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: There is one thing that all Democrats and possibly the country can be thankful for — the Republican presidential primary field. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. So I am thankful for:

  • Herman Cain’s foreign policy knowledge because it makes us all feel better about our own.
  • Rick Perry, for helping to teach our nation’s kids how not to count to three on national TV.
  • Jon Huntsman, because the more Democrats and Independents adore him, the smaller his chances are of winning the GOP nomination.
  • Newt Gingrich, who reminds us that holiday gift giving and financial prudence begin at Tiffany & Co.
  • Mitt Romney for pretending he is a conservative after pretending he was a moderate.
  • Rick Santorum for constantly reminding us of the two senate campaigns he won in Pennsylvania and for never reminding us about the last one he lost.
  • Michele Bachmann for taking lessons from Herman Cain on foreign policy.
  • Donald Trump for being an apprentice when it comes to politics.
  • Ron Paul for threatening to launch a third party in the event he does not win the primary.
  • All 27 Republican primary debates. Each one has delivered quality sports programming even during the NBA lockout.

Hughes: This week’s question made me think of the Sunday school class I teach, where our virtue of the month is “gratitude.” We’ve been talking with the kids about the need to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude,” to try to find and be thankful for good things, even when circumstances seem difficult. So in that spirit, even after a congressional super committee failed to find common ground on beginning to reduce our ballooning national deficit, we can be thankful that:

  • Congress takes lots of recesses (under the theory that what they don’t do can’t hurt us.) In Texas, our legislature meets for only 140 days every two years and we like to joke that many Texans think it should be for two days every 140 years.
  • There are probably now fewer than 999 times during this Republican primary season that Herman Cain can say 9-9-9 in answer to any debate question.
  • All the leading Republican presidential candidates have much more leadership experience than President Obama did when he was elected: Mitt has shown calm, capable leadership in business, as the Republican Governor of a Democratic state and in rescuing a failing Olympics; Newt has an overflow of ideas and knows how to lead Congress; Cain has a strong record in business and an outsider’s perspective, and Perry has overseen strong job growth in the diverse state of Texas.
  • In just about six weeks, the voters — instead of us pontificators — will begin deciding which candidates are actually ahead or behind.

On a more serious note, even at a time when trust in our political institutions and distrust of our politicians seem to be at the opposite, wrong ends of the spectrum, I am grateful that:

  • Good people from both political parties are still willing to put their names on the line, endure the criticism that inevitably comes, and run for office out of what I believe is most often a genuine desire to make our communities and our country better.
  • Many young people — like the impressive student leaders I have met recently in Texas, Iowa and Louisiana — still care about public policy and want to get involved.
  • We are free to voice our complaints and work for change if we don’t like the way things are going.
  • We are blessed to live in a country that, while far from perfect, has made great progress toward living up to its own grand ideals, and we are grateful for the men and women of our armed services who sacrifice to keep us free. That’s something that I hope close to 100% of my fellow Americans can agree on. Happy Thanksgiving!

Read the full article at TIME Ideas

TIME Magazine: Mark Penn and Karen Hughes Faceoff: Can the Republican Candidates Recover From Their Recent Implosion?

Can the Republican Candidates Recover From Their Recent Implosion?

Republican strategist Karen Hughes and Democratic pollster Mark Penn in their bi-weekly faceoff about Election 2012

Penn: Republican presidential candidates are daily violating President Reagan’s 11th Commandment — Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republicans. From debate finger-pointing to smear campaigns, infighting among GOP presidential hopefuls is heightening as we head into the primary season and it doesn’t bode well for the Republican Party.

Far and away, the American people are looking for a president to create jobs and fix the economy. Yet, the discussion right now is filled with Herman Cain’s allegations of sexual harassment and questions as to who leaked the story. The Cain campaign accused the Perry campaign, who in turn raised the possibility that the Romney campaign was behind the disclosure of the allegations. Then Cain started again and blamed the “Democratic machine.”

Moreover, with Romney still hitting Perry on immigration and Perry peddling Romney as a flip-flopper any chance he can get, it’s no wonder that none of the GOP candidates can get their polling numbers above the 30% mark. These low numbers fuel in-party attacks, and they put the frontrunner position in a vulnerable, yet attainable state. As a result, Republicans at large are once again looking for a new face to enter the race. Things are looking desperate as talk of Palin or Trump entering the race has begun anew.

While it’s too early to measure the lasting impact of the sexual harassment charges against Cain, it won’t be too long before the GOP as a whole runs out of time to turn around its image in time for Election Day. Whoever does win the Republican nomination may just be too bloodied and bruised to get into the ring with Obama.

Hughes: Giddy, goofy and grumpy are not the words most Republicans would want applied to a week of presidential primary politics, but they are nonetheless an accurate description of a week that saw one campaign having to deny its candidate had been drinking, and another fending off allegations of sexual harassment.

On-stage in New Hampshire, Texas Governor Rick Perry appeared to be having a lot more fun campaigning than his current poll numbers would seem to merit. His speech gave new meaning to the word punchy, and became fodder for late night comedians. But the more lasting ramifications on the primary race could come from Herman Cain’s inability to put the sexual harassment story behind him.

Cain spent the week looking mad about accusations he hotly condemned as false. His campaign tried to divert attention by accusing (apparently falsely) another campaign of leaking them, then by week’s end, Cain made the classic mistake of thinking he could unilaterally declare the story dead. “We are getting back on message, end of story,” he told reporters. If you have any doubt that doesn’t work, just ask former Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Now that a fourth woman has come forward, moving the story from vague allegations to tawdry specifics, Cain must find a way to effectively communicate his side of the story. He needs to provide facts and context, not blanket denials that he “has never acted inappropriately with anyone, period.” This story will not go away until the questions are credibly addressed. And Cain desperately needs other voices to speak up on his behalf. Where are the senior women who have worked with him and can speak up for him?

Mitt Romney may well be last week’s winner, by staying out of the headlines and staying focused on his economic plan. Jobs are still the number one issue for the American people, and when voting starts, Republicans will choose a candidate they believe can most effectively run against President Obama’s dismal economic record.

Can Republicans recover? Absolutely, but the onus is now on the Cain campaign to effectively rebut these allegations if he wants to stay in the top tier of candidates.

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