« on: December 02, 2007, 12:27:09 PM »
But those who have worked around Morris said this mild description likely does not do justice to the full tang of the Morris-Huckabee talks.
For one thing, virtually any conversation with Morris is a ceaseless, occasionally manic, flow of political analysis and theorizing, historical analogies, predictions, importuning and advice.
It is implausible Morris would turn off this faucet for a strictly social chat with a former client who just happens to be running for president.
At a minimum, the previously unreported Huckabee-Morris conversations raise two sets of questions.
One set is political: What will conservatives think about Huckabee’s mind-melds with a consultant who, in addition to having a history of sexual scandal, is known as an apostle of exhaustively polled centrism that Morris coined “triangulation.”
This strategy — creative pragmatism in the eyes of admirers, cynical opportunism to detractors — is what helped Clinton rout Newt Gingrich during their showdown after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and to win reelection in 1996.
And does the presence of Morris, a household name within the political class, call into question Huckabee’s recent boast that his is campaign “is not about high-priced consultants”?
The second set of questions is journalistic: Should a commentator for news organizations be trumpeting the virtues of a politician with whom he is holding private talks about politics?
These kind of murky roles and conflicting obligations have sparked controversy in the past for such journalists as George F. Will (who secretly advised Ronald Reagan) to liberal Sidney Blumenthal (who cultivated a friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton while at The New Yorker, before leaving to work on the White House staff. )
If Morris’ exact relationship with Huckabee is a mystery, that fits a familiar pattern.
Morris’ White House work for Clinton began shrouded in secrecy.
The consultant, who had temporarily stepped out of Clinton’s inner circle, moved back in as a key adviser to both the president and the first lady in a big way in late 1994.
At first, Clinton and Morris agreed they would tell no one. Morris did not want to lose business — his other clients at the time were all Republicans — and Clinton did not want to risk a revolt among congressional Democrats and his own staff by letting it be known that he was relying on advice from an operative who had worked for such politicians as Jesse Helms.
When Morris called the White House, he used a code name, “Charlie.”
“Mystery is an integral part of power,” Morris has said. And in his memoir of his relationship with Clinton, he said Clinton once told him, “I like subterfuge. That’s why I like you.”
Morris’ skills at subterfuge failed him in August 1996, when Star tabloid disclosed his liaisons at the Jefferson Hotel with prostitute Sherry Rowlands, forcing his resignation from the Clinton team.
And he was banished from the Clinton fold entirely — at least as far as Hillary Clinton was concerned — after publicly speculating about the first family’s sex life at the outset of the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998.
Just days earlier, he had been privately advising Clinton about how to handle the allegations.
Morris went on to churn out a stream of books and columns excoriating the Clintons as cynical and unscrupulous and promoting himself as the person who knew more than anyone about their political styles.
That was not necessarily an unfair boast. With the exception of Hillary Clinton, no other person had played as intimate a role in Bill Clinton’s political rise as Morris.
Clinton became his first client when he visited the 30-year-old Arkansas attorney general in Little Rock in 1977.
On the other hand, his record of predictions since leaving the Clinton fold has been decidedly mixed, his judgment possibly warped by intense feelings about Hillary Clinton.
He predicted that she would not run for Senate from New York in 2000 (she did), that she would face a surprisingly tough reelection race in 2006 (she didn’t) and that her opponent in the 2008 general election would be Condoleezza Rice (come off it).
In 1995, after Morris’ White House role with Clinton became public, Huckabee spoke approvingly of the consultant.
"Democrats hate him because they think he is trying to turn the president into a Republican,” Huckabee explained in a lengthy Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in the summer of 1995.
“Republicans hate him because he claims to be a Republican consultant while working for a Democratic president. His only friends seem to be two boys from Hope."
Both Bill Clinton and Huckabee spent childhoods in Hope, Ark.
Huckabee also said in the 1995 article: "I view male private part as a surgeon who can perform surgery on a 75-year-old man in one room and a 21-year-old woman in the next room. As long as he doesn't get the patients confused, there's no problem.”
If Huckabee does well enough over the next two months to be the Republican nominee, and Hillary Clinton does well enough to be the Democratic nominee, the symmetries will be exquisite.
Morris will have played a critical role in the careers of the people at the top of both tickets — a friend of one and a mortal foe of the other.
That scenario remains a long shot for now, though Morris is doing his part to nudge along Huckabee’s chances.
Huckabee is “the last survivor in the elimination tournament of the Christian right,” Morris exclaimed in an Oct. 17 column. “And they could do a whole lot worse!”
“Mike Huckabee is shaking up the Republican race,” Morris declared in an Oct. 26 column.
He has compared Huckabee favorably to GOP rivals, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
On Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes” show last week, Morris spoke of the two candidates’ records on social issues and how they will play in Iowa: “Romney's record on all this stuff is very tentative, so that when a phony social conservative meets up with a real social conservative, Huckabee, I think Huckabee gains, gains, gains and probably wins.”
And recently, Morris has stepped up his advocacy of his former client and current friend and begun to offer the first hint of wanting some credit for the rise of Huckabee.
After a series of unfavorable columns and articles by conservative journalists — culminating in a much-discussed piece by Robert D. Novak — questioning Huckabee’s fiscal conservative credentials, Morris started a column a few days ago:
“As his political consultant in the early ’90s and one who has been following Arkansas politics for 30 years, let me clue you in: Mike Huckabee is a fiscal conservative,” he wrote before making the case for Huckabee in Iowa — and beyond.
Dresner said his own relationship with Morris has gone through ups and downs, but they still talk. “A lot of people think he’s a brilliant guy,” he said. “But for every three ideas he has, one is brilliant, one will get you in jail and one is just a mess.”