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Editor's Note: Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow is the newest member of the Best Political Team on Television. Snow joined CNN last week and – after making headlines with a brief hospital stay – spoke with 360’s Jack Gray about the presidential race and life after the White House.
How is your health?
Health is fine. I had a little condition, not directly related to cancer, that I went through early in the week, but I’m doing fine.
You were a Fox guy before you went to the White House. Have you gotten any grief from your friends over there for having now joined the competition?
I still have got lots of friends at Fox and it’s a place I dearly loved working for and I’m grateful for every minute I worked there, but actually, no, people at Fox have been pretty supportive. They wish I was there, but on the other hand they’ve been very nice.
The conventional wisdom is that the longer this Democratic primary goes on, the better it is for John McCain. Do you agree with that?
I don’t know. My sense is that if Barack Obama were to go ahead and prevail, ultimately there would be such a buzz about that it’d be like he was getting shot out of a cannon, there would be instant and enormous momentum. I think that the time right now is good for McCain. It gives him time to shape his message, build his forces, raise some money and those kinds of things. But I think anybody who tries to do straight-line projections in this election year is committing an act of absolute folly. We don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s one of the really intriguing things this year. All the old molds have sort of been broken.
What’s Hillary Clinton’s best case scenario for getting the nomination?
Her best case scenario is to continue trying to drive home the point that Obama isn’t ready for primetime: a great speaker but maybe not fully conversant with the issues in a way that one would expect from a President of the United States and Leader of the Free World. They know that their shot has to be through superdelegates. Neither candidate is going to be able to win this through the primaries, they’re going to have to go through the superdelegates. And so the Clintons will make a tough pitch there. And they’ll also try to get as many votes as they can from Michigan and Florida.
How realistic is it that she can convince the superdelegates?
A lot of it depends on how Obama performs. He stumbled badly in Pennsylvania with the “Bittergate” comments and also with his performance in the debate. If he tries to run away and hide, to not do debates, to limit free access to reporters, it’s going to hurt him. He’s going to have to step up to the challenge of answering the question that everyone wants answered which is, “who is this guy?”
Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina says there’s talk that Hillary Clinton knows she can’t win this and is trying to damage Obama badly enough so that he can’t win in the general election, leaving the door open for her in 2012. Do you put any stock in that?
No, I’ve heard the theory many times. I think it’s just too cute by half. There are just too many bumper shots there. Hillary Clinton does not want to give a concession speech. She wants to give an acceptance speech. I think what she is doing is what you would expect of a candidate. If you really think about this race it is incredibly close. Everybody tries to parse pledge delegates and popular vote. There are lots of ways of cutting this but it is as close to dead even as you can possibly get in a presidential primary and nominating process. So, no, I don’t think that the Clintons are trying to wreck Obama so Hillary can run four years from now. People who lost in primaries have a very lousy record of getting nominated by their parties in subsequent years, ask John Edwards. Furthermore, you’ve also seen a lot of Democratic officeholders coming up in opposition to the Clintons in recent months. It’s not clear they’d have a gigantic constituency within the party four years from now.
Does the president enjoy monitoring the horse race?
He’s got a full time job so he’s usually busy but he’s very interested. He understands how losing in campaigns can forge your character. He often cites what happened to him in New Hampshire in 2000 as being a key juncture in shaping him as a candidate and ultimately a chief executive. So he looks at in a different way. He looks at it as somebody who’s been there, who understands the rigors of the campaign trail, who knows the ebbs and flows of campaigns, who knows the up moments and the down moments, and also knows just how incredibly difficult, how demanding it is physically, emotionally and mentally it is to run for president. So I think he looks at it with a much keener and more appreciative eye than most of us.
What do you miss most about The White House?
Really everything, I loved it. I loved doing the briefings, I loved the regular access with the president. He is an outstandingly good boss and a wonderful guy to work for. I miss the colleagues at the White House, it’s a very collegial place. The White House, anybody who’s worked there will tell you, is an absolutely unique workplace. It’s one that it’s an honor to work at and you know that, unless you’re an usher, you’re part-time help. So you take advantage of every moment and enjoy every moment and count it as one of your great life experiences.
Did you have any intense jousting with any particular members of the press corps?
It was interesting, if you go back and look at the press conferences, we had plenty of jousting but it was all pretty collegial. You didn’t have Dan Rather versus Richard Nixon or Sam Donaldson shouting at President Reagan. But you did have people who ask tough, probing questions. One time I told Ed Henry to “zip it” and Ed thought that was so out of character he went out and made t-shirts.
I would think the most depressing thing about not working in The White House anymore is going from flying on Air Force One to flying commercial. How are you coping?
It’s dreadful. Air Force One – think of it this way – somebody gives you a call and says Marine One is ready. You walk over to the president’s office which is ten seconds away. He leads the way, you troop out to Marine One, hop on a helicopter. In ten minutes you’re at Andrews Air Force Base. You walk on the plane, you sit down and the plane takes off. When you arrive someone delivers your bags to your room. There is nothing like traveling on Air Force One as part of the presidential entourage. Now I’m schlepping my baggage. I just returned from a trip where my baggage stayed at its original destination so I’m still waiting for it to come home.
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