New Podesta e-mail leak: 2008 Hillary backers discussed attacking Obama’s Muslim father

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Wikileaks released another e-mail thread from the hack into Team Hillary chief John Podesta’s Gmail account, another in which Podesta himself plays no part. While two earlier releases angered Catholics, this e-mail may hit a lot closer to home. In this chain from early January 2008, as the primaries began, Paul Begala and Kristi Fuksa of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research discuss test-polling a number of attacks on Hillary Clinton’s then-opponent Barack Obama — including the mention of Obama’s Muslim father and growing up in a Muslim country.

The original attachment about the proposed survey is not attached, but the initial list of attacks drew this response from Begala. :

1. I think gay adoption belongs with the “liberal” hit on Obama, but “a little blow” does not. “A little blow” needs to be tested on its own.

2. This means we have to cut one Obama negative. Suggestions?

3. I think we need a more accurate tax attack on Obama. The $180 billion tax hike for health care is only the beginning. Obama also supports raising the cap on Social Security taxes, which would be a tax increase of $1.3 trillion over ten years. [citations deleted — Ed]

The “little blow” is a reference to Obama’s admitted flirtation with cocaine in his youth — certainly at that time a legitimate, if ultimately futile, issue for his presidency. Fuksa’s response to Begala’s feedback was a re-engineered list of attack lines to be tested, which includes at least one that Democrats have insisted ever since was a sign of Republican bigotry:

* 7 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh)’s father was a Muslim and Obama grew up among Muslims in the world’s most populous Islamic country.

This also looks familiar:

* 1 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) was the only candidate at a recent event not to cover his heart during the national anthem and he has stopped wearing an American flag pin.

This puts a somewhat different spin on these attacks, or more precisely, the hypocrisy of someDemocrats when Republicans raised them. When Republicans raised Point 7, Democrats attacked them as bigots; when they raised Point 1, they shrieked that Republicans were illegitimately attacking Obama’s patriotism. (The pronunciation lesson, by the way, is nothing; this was a proposed script for survey takers and is SOP for unusual names.)

The timing of the survey is interesting too. By this time in the campaign, Obama was beginning to soar into control of the Democratic primaries, and clearly Hillary’s team didn’t see either attack as illegitimate enough not to test-poll to see how they played. Hillary’s sinking position meant that the kitchen-sink strategy for attacks had come into play, not unlike what we’re seeing now. The e-mail chain stops here, though. Presumably, had anyone in the chain objected to these inclusions, we would have seen a response to Fuksa asking her to get rid of them.

However, all this really does is expose some hypocrisy in the “you’re a bigot” strategy to shut up Republicans. Otherwise, this kind of message testing is also SOP, even for messages that campaigns don’t necessarily anticipate using. As it turned out, those attack lines didn’t work against Obama, nor did the others tested by Fuksa that were more policy-based than personal-attack oriented. Obama beat Hillary, then John McCain and also Mitt Romney despite Republicans attempting to raise these issues. I’d guess that the testing showed that voters didn’t respond well to these attacks; they certainly didn’t move the needle when deployed, did they?

Begala himself responded to the Washington Post in explaining the e-mail chain, saying that all they were doing was testing for general-election attacks:

Begala said Friday that the message was sent to members of a group called Progressive Media USA, composed of Clinton and Obama supporters and led at the time by Tom Matzzie, a former director of MoveOn. The group later disbanded.

“We could not coordinate with either campaign, and worked to prepare to defend either candidate in the general election,” Begala explained in an email. “It was called ‘McCain survey’ because it was designed to test attacks that might come in the general election. Our entire focus was the general election. Both Obama and Clinton supporters were, at the time, concerned the eventual nominee would emerge wounded and vulnerable for the general election.”

“Every campaign and every PAC tests potential negatives against the candidate they support,” Begala said. “That’s all this was.”

Eh, that’s not terribly convincing. If Obama was the candidate, Hillary backers wouldn’t have to worry about the general election. Note well that none of these points listed in the e-mail have anything to do with Hillary, let alone her vulnerabilities in a general election (or, for that matter, John McCain’s). However, it’s close enough to probably satisfy the people this leak might outrage on the Left, and that’s all Begala needs to worry about.

There is one attack line tested that might be of even more interest now. Apparently, Team Hillary wanted to attack Obama for blocking the Born Alive Infant Protection Act in Illinois:

* 13 Obama (owe-BAHM-uh) voted against requiring medical care for aborted fetuses who survive the procedure.

Perhaps someone will want to ask Hillary about her position on partial-birth abortion and BAIPA with this in context.