Politics Potpourri: Reid apologizes, Steele calls for resignation, Palin 'God's plan, Blagojevich blacker than Obama

Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer and Blogger
Monday, January 11, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post staff writer and blogger Chris Cillizza was online Monday, Jan. 11, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss comments made by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about then presidential candidate Barack Obama and documented in a new book, Game Change; comments by Sarah Palin according to John McCain top strategist on Sunday's "60 Minutes" broadcast; and comments made by ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich about President Obama.


Storrs, Fla.: Impressive comeback by those Hoyas...that Freeman kid was as hot as Harry Reid's seat (would be if he were a Republican).

Chris Cillizza: Hard to argue with an email like this.

Freeman was ridiculous. Damn near outscored UCONN in the 2nd half.

As for Reid, I think the thing that has been overlooked in all of this is the Las Vegas Review Journal poll that came out on Saturday showing him losing to three virtually unknown Republicans.

That data raises the question of whether Reid is the next Chris Dodd -- a question I am tackling in a Fix post today.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Who's closer to stepping down: Reid or Steele?

Chris Cillizza: It's a tie.

I don't see either of them stepping down barring some sort of future revelation.

As Phil Rucker and I wrote last week, the process for ousting an RNC Chairman is difficult -- 2/3 of the 168 members of the RNC would have to support it -- and there is NO desire to push Steele out among that group.

Reid seems to have weathered the worst of things this weekend as no Democrat went on the record to call for his to step aside and lots -- White House, Al Sharpton,, etc -- came to his defense.


Chris Cillizza: Forgot to mention...would love to keep hearing suggestions for the best political books -- fiction and non fiction -- from folks.

My nominations:

Fiction: All the King's Men

fiction: What it Takes


Marco Island, Fla.: If Harry Reid does resign, who has the upper hand for majority leader -- Schumer or Durbin

Chris Cillizza: I think the better way to frame this question is if Reid loses in the fall since that is a FAR more likely prospect than him resigning.

If that happens, you are right to think it would boil down to a fight between Schumer and Durbin.

Schumer's strength is among new members since, as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, he helped elect 15 new Democrats in the past two cycles.

Durbin is more of an institutionalist and would likely be stronger among long time members.

My initial inclination would be to give Schumer a slight edge but that's simply because of my campaign bent. The next time Paul "PK" Kane chats, make sure to ask him.

That dude knows all.


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Chris -- Thanks as always for taking questions. How much resonance do you think the brouhaha about Reid, and really about the juicy tidbits in this book in general, have outside the Beltway? I'm just one voter, but my view is that people's tolerance for this partisan sniping (Reid should resign, the Republicans are hypocrites, etc., etc.) is very limited. People want something to be done about health care, jobs, the economy, etc., etc. This other stuff is just inside baseball for the pundits to talk about endlessly on MSNBC, CNN, Fox...What's your take?

Chris Cillizza: I am 100 percent certain that average folks aren't following every jot and title of the Reid situation -- or of the other revelations in ""Game Change" -- as closely as people inside the Beltway.

I think whether the economy turns around is a FAR more important piece of the political puzzle than whether or nor Elizabeth Edwards is a nice person.

That said, I write about politics -- and campaign politics specifically -- so I find all of the back-story about the 2008 campaign fascinating and, judging my the book's #1 ranking on Amazon, I am not alone.

As I always say to people who complain that we aren't focusing enough on "real" issues, there is TONS of coverage in the newspaper every day to the economy and health care among other things.

My blog is about politics. It's what gets me excited/interested. If it doesn't float your boat, there tons more out there to read.


Chris Cillizza: Side note for those asking: Soundtrack for this chat is Bon Iver station on Pandora. Terrific stuff.


Belair, Md.: Nomination

Fiction: Going Rogue -- Palin.

Chris Cillizza: But that's non fict....wait, I get it ;)


Morrison, Colo.: Re: Reid. Don't politicos talk this way in private all of the time? It seems to me he was talking about the electorate, not his own feelings.

Chris Cillizza: They may talk like this in private "all of the time" but the key difference here was Reid wasn't talking in private. He was talking to reporters!!!!


Washington D.C.: What is at the root of Reid's unpopularity?

Chris Cillizza: There's never one thing that leads to an incumbent being in as deep trouble as Reid is at the moment.

The main problem, for Reid, is that it is nearly impossible to both lead a national party and trying to win re-election in a state that is closely divided along partisan lines.

Reid has been the face of the Obama agenda in the Senate, an agenda that polling suggests is not particularly popular in Nevada.

I also think Reid's persona -- a behind the scenes wheeler dealer -- is the exact wrong fit for a political climate that is actively distrustful of Washington politicians.

The lone thing Reid has going him for at the moment is that the Republican field is weak -- to put it nicely.

Of course the Las Vegas Review Journal poll over the weekend seemed to suggest it doesn't matter who Republicans nominate. Voters are ready to get rid of Reid/.


Books: Fiction (sort of): Primary Colors NonFiction: All Too Human NonFiction: All the President's Men

Chris Cillizza: Terrific recommendations.

Another one I hear from lots of people: The Power Broker by Robert Caro.


538.com: has a nice chart showing that Harry Reid's favorable ratings plummeted as soon as he became majority leader. What does that say about this thankless job?

Chris Cillizza: See my point above. I have long contemplated writing a piece arguing that the leaders of their respective parties should come from totally safe seats/states in order for them to do their job.

As we saw in 2004 with Tom Daschle, it is nearly impossible for someone to lead a national party while simultaneously running for re-election in a state that is not overwhelmingly favorable to that party.

Mitch McConnell faced a similar problem in 2008 but Kentucky was safely Republican enough to keep McConnell in the winner's circle.

Reid may not be so lucky.


Belfast, Maine: A non-fiction nomination: the Making of the President series. A bit dated but still great, especially the first.

Chris Cillizza: Totally agree. Teddy White. Just awesome -- and, for the time, groundbreaking -- stuff.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Best political book (non-fiction)? "All the President's Men" by a pair of Posties!

Chris Cillizza: Terrific. Keep them coming.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Chris --

How regularly are you doing the Politics 'n' Pints thing? I'd like to get a group together but it would be too last minute to be feasible for tonight.

Chris Cillizza: Thanks for the opportunity to plug "Politics and Pints", a night -- TONIGHT!!! -- of political trivia and ribaldry hosted by yours truly.

It's going down from 7-9 pm at the Cap Lounge on Capitol Hill so if you live even REMOTELY close to the DC metropolitan area, you need to be there. (We had folks fly in from Alabama for the last one!)

There will be prizes -- for the winners, runners up and the team with the best name.

And, as to your question, we will be doing "Politics and Pints" once a month all the way through the election.

Also, don't worry about getting a group together. Just come down -- we will find you a team!


Richmond, Va.: New York magazine had a scathing excerpt of a book that undoes the Elizabeth Edwards myth of the saint. Did you happened to read it -- what an eye-opener. I do love these exposes, because out here, beyond the Beltway, it is books like these that help us to get the other side of the story, though the question is, are these books to be believed, in part, in quarters, in bits?

Chris Cillizza: Was just talking about that excerpt with some colleagues. it was devastating.

As for whether the book is to be believed, I know Mark Halperin relatively well and think he is among the best connected reporters in the game at the moment. (I don't know John Heilemann personally.)

So, yes, I would believe what you read. And what a story it is...


Primary Colors: Speaking of this book, I've seen and liked the movie, is it still worth it to read the book or should I just see the movie again to see an excellent acting job by the once great John Travolta?

Chris Cillizza: READ THE BOOK!

To quote Keyshawn Johnson: "Come on, man!"


Phoenix: Non-fiction: No Excuses: Confessions of a Serial Campaigner, by Robert Shrum

I don't know if it's top 10 worthy, but it was an interesting account of life as a professional campaigner/consultant. Seems like you'd really have to embrace the vagabond lifestyle, i.e., living out of suitcases, sleeping on strangers' couches.

Chris Cillizza: This was a terrific book. Another one I would add is Bob Novak's "Prince of Darkness", an amazing look into a type of political journalism that no longer exists.


Arlington, Va.: Prescient political book nominee:

Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?

Frank discusses the divide between Kansas's moderate and conservative Republicans. Very similar to the establishment GOP vs. Tea Party situation nationwide.

And now the question... what's your take on Coakley-Brown?

Chris Cillizza: I haven't read it but I know I need to.

Lots of questions about the Massachusetts Senate special election...

I wrote about the race this morning in my Monday column.

For the VERY few of you who may not have read it ;), here's the gist:

The race has clearly tightened as state Sen. Scott Brown (R) has benefited from the volatile national political atmosphere and the lack of energy that state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) is generating.

Some Republicans seem to think they have an outside chance of pulling off a huge upset but my sense is that Brown may have peaked slightly too early, allowing Democrats to send reinforcements in to save Coakley in the final eight days.


Dupont Circle: What to make of the dueling polls in Mass?

Chris Cillizza: Good question.

For those not familiar, there have been three polls released in the race in the last week.

Rasmussen showed Coakley ahead by nine, Public Policy Polling put the race in a dead heat and the Boston Globe put Coakley up 15.

What gives?

Well, first of all, it's important to note that Rasmussen and PPP both used automated phone calls rather than live people to conduct their interviews, which remains a controversial technique in the polling world.

Second, the key in any poll is to figure out what turnout will look like. In other words, who is going to vote?

Modeling for turnout can produce widely variant results depending on how each pollster defines the voting universe. Without getting into too many specifics, I think that's what we are looking at here.


Silver Spring, Md.: Non-Fiction: The Revolution: A Manifesto by Ron Paul. (or ANY of his other books, really).

Chris Cillizza: The Ron-volution!


Books: How about one on local politics - A Prayer for the City (about my hometown and by the fabulous Buzz Bissinger)

Chris Cillizza: Tremendous. And, Buzz Bissinger had a hand in giving me and Mrs. Fix the best show on television: Friday Night Lights.

I want to give that guy a hug.


Chris Cillizza: Just heard a tune by Elliot Smith on Pandora. What a sad end. Man was that guy talented.


Salinas, Calif.: Now, Chris, if you could only get both sides of the aisle to Politics 'N' Pints, we may have something. Sally Quinn was lamenting on her Q and A last week that she thinks that escalating partisanship when congresspeople started leaving their families in their home states and nobody sits down together for dinner in D.C. anymore.

Chris Cillizza: We DO get both sides. Lots of R's and D's at the first one in December and I am assuming we will have more of the same tonight.

Did I mention "Politics and Pints" is tonight from 7-9 at Capitol Lounge?

I did?

Well, a little repetition can't hurt right?


Capitol Hill: Are you sticking with your prediction of a Democratic victory in the Massachusetts Senate race? With the Republicans seemingly the more energized voters, and turnout expected to be low, how surprised would you be by a Republican victory, and what might that portend for November of this year?

Chris Cillizza: Not sure I "predicted" anything myself.

The Democrats -- and Republicans -- I talk to largely agree that while the race has closed, Coakley is still the far more likely winner next Tuesday.

Turnout in special elections is always unpredictable and that makes hard and fast predictions about winners and losers impossible.

I do think that if Brown comes within single digits, Republicans will paint it as a victory and a sign that the national political environment makes them competitive even in Democratic strongholds like Massachusetts.


Friday Night Lights: If you like the series, you MUST read the book. One of my top 5 favorite books ever.

Chris Cillizza: I did read the book. Freaking amazing.


Danville: Best Political non-fiction The Federalist Papers by James Madison.

Will Politics 'n' Pints be on C-SPAN? or Is that kin of question off-limits?

Chris Cillizza: I would LOVE to have "Politics and Pints" on CSPAN -- it is my favorite network after all...

Not sure there would be a big audience for me standing in a crowded bar and reading trivia questions though...

Am I wrong?


Anonymous: Correct me here but Sen. Michael "Rockin' the One T" Bennet was once Chief of Staff to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, right? And Mayor Hickenlooper is now the tentative Democratic nominee for Governor of Colorado, right?

That's sort of a neat ballot in 2010.

Chris Cillizza: You are correct. And, awesome "one t" reference. That spelling gets me EVERY TIME.


Charleston, W.Va.: Mr. Cillizza, Do senators like the way the senate is now? The institution seems dysfunctional and unpleasant in the extreme. And if they don't like it, why don't they change it?

Fiction: Advise and Consent. Dated, but a good read.

Chris Cillizza: "Mr" Cillizza.

Maybe my appearance last week on the "Newshour" bumped up my credibility with Live Fix chat readers...

As for whether Senators like the way the institution functions, my guess is they don't. After Byron Dorgan retired last week, there was a story -- in Congress Daily, I think -- that retold a conversation between Dorgan and another Senator about how the Senate ain't what it used to be.

The Senate has actually become more and more like the House in terms of tone. Lots more partisanship, lot less getting along.


Fremont, Calif.: Books -- Fiction -- The last Hurrah -- great story of a aging big city mayor making one last run.

Chris Cillizza: Great one.

Another non fiction I just thought of: "Boss" by Mike Royko about the first Chicago Mayor Daley. A definitive look into machine politics in a major American city.


Vienna, Va.: Best book -- Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, 1972, also Boys on the Bus.

If you are old enough to remember Dom Perno as UCON coac -- I'm old enough to remember him as all-state player for Hillhouse Academics!

Chris Cillizza: I totally remember Dom Perno. Once Calhour got there, they started to get a lot better.

I was an impressionable kid when Tate George hit "the shot" in the NCAA tourney. Most memorable sports moment of my childhood other than Doug Flutie throwing a hail mary touchdown to Gerard Phelan.


Houston, Tex.: Non-Fiction -- Selling of the President -- 1968 -- The genesis of modern presidential campaigning.

Quasi Non-Fiction -- Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972 -- just because.

Chris Cillizza: Lots of people suggesting Fear and Loathing...


London, U.K.: If Brown does win in Massachusetts, what does that mean for health-care reform?

Chris Cillizza: LONDON! I hear the Fix is huge across the pond ;)

It's a great question and one of considerable debate in the race.

Interim Sen. Paul Kirk (D), who is serving until Massachusetts voters elect a full-time replacement on Jan. 19, made headlines late last week when he said he would vote for the health care bill even if Brown won the race.

It's not clear whether Democrats, who control the timing of the swearing-in process, would wait until the health care vote to swear Brown in officially but Republicans are seeking to make his comments fodder for the race -- arguing that it is indicative of the "win at all costs" mentality of Democrats.


Minneapolis, Minn.: I took a Literature and Politics class at UW Madison and here's a bit of what we read (in 1981) The Quiet American, Clockwork Orange, E. L. Doctorow's Book of Daniel. Can't remember the rest but these were great starts to get a flavor of different political eras.

Chris Cillizza: Good stuff....many thanks. Good win for the Badgers over Purdue too.


D.C. of course: Don't you think Reid's stock will go up if health care passes? And if it doesn't, all the Dems are dead meat anyway? As for what he said, I wish we could talk frankly about race in this country. That's all Reid was doing. Love your stuff.

Chris Cillizza: It could.

But, the bill is not particularly popular in the state and it's not clear whether there will be tangible improvement in the delivery of health care that Reid will be able to point to between now and November.

One troubling thing for Reid: voters in the state know he is a powerful politician in Washington and they don't seem to much care.

I think that is a function of the anti-Washington, anti-incumbent sentiment out in the country rather than a judgment on Reid but it doesn't really matter since dissatisfaction is dissatisfaction.


Anonymous: Definitely!

Fiction: All the King's Men

Chris Cillizza: I can't recommend that book highly enough. It is the one book I could not live without. It contains multitudes.


Dupont Circle: First Elliott Smith, now Vic Chesnutt. Sad, sad.

Chris Cillizza: Totally agree. Really sad about Vic...a tortured existence that produced some great music but, it seems, not much happiness for him.


(Sally Quinn) thinks that escalating partisanship when congresspeople started leaving their families in their home states : Another book choice: "All Politics is Local." In it, Tip O'Neill revealed that he didn't move his wife to D.C. till he became Speaker of the House, instead shared a small apartment with another Massachusetts congressman.

Chris Cillizza: Interesting.

Rahm Emanuel lived in the basement of Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro's house while he served in Congress....


Plano, Tex.: Best non-fiction books by politicians: Proflies in Courage and Letters from Nuremberg.

Chris Cillizza: Yes, good suggestions.


Richmond, Va.: What's Harold Ford Jr. after? Nobody thinks he'll beat Gillibrand. Plus Chuck Schumer will have him whacked.

Chris Cillizza: Good question that I am not sure I know the answer too.

Here's my working theory: Harold knows he can't run and beat Gillibrand in this year's primary. But, he also knows that if he floats his name for this race, the next time he expressed interest in a race in New York, it won't seem as odd to the political press and, ultimately, voters.

So, that's what I think he is after. But, predicting the motivations of politicians is a dangerous -- and difficult -- game.


Northern Virginia: I liked the Witcover and Germond books. They did several, one per campaign, for a while. My favorite was "Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars?: The Trivial Pursuit of the Presidency 1988." That was Dukakis-Bush.

The earlier "Making of" series was for elections I was too young to be interested in, so Witcover-Germond were my generational equivalent. Plus, as you can tell from their subtitle, they were pretty fed up with the process while chronicling it in depth, so these books were much less reverential than the earlier ones, and more interesting.

Chris Cillizza: I haven't read but should.

All of these great books make me want to go back to college and take a class on political literature.


Politics N' Pints on C-SPAN: : A big enough audience for Politics N' Pints? As opposed to the "big audience" for other C-SPAN fare?

Chris Cillizza: No. You. Didn't.

This aggression against C-SPAN will not stand man -- even if it does argue for the network to televise "Politics and Pints"!!!


Fallston, Md.: ...have to ask-- if it is better for the big positions in Senate to come from 'safe states' (like majority leader), why don't they?

Chris Cillizza: Honestly not sure...Ask John Cornyn (Texas) who would sure like to be Republican leader one day.

Also, Fallston, MD, has terrific high school field hockey. Well done!


Old Blue in Exile: "Most memorable sports moment of my childhood other than Doug Flutie throwing a hail mary touchdown to Gerard Phelan."

For me it was "The Play," when Cal beat the Stanford Band with a rugby-style series of lateral passes to win Big Game. Go Bears!

Chris Cillizza: That was insane. INSANE.


Chris Cillizza: Ok, folks -- my pinch hitting chat duties are now concluded.

If you take anything from this chat let it be one of these things:

1. There is SO much great political fiction and non fiction out there just waiting to be read.

2. "Politics and Pints", the Fix trivia night, is TONIGHT at the Cap Lounge on Capitol Hill from 7-9 pm. Be there. Or else ;)

Thanks and have a good week. I'll be back in my normal Live Fix time slot on Friday from 11 to noon! See you then.


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