Ah. Things become clearer. When the Harvard Crimson asks Roger Porter about Clinton's account of this conversation, Porter responds that "We never had any conversation as he has described in his book. You don’t remember every conversation in life, but I would certainly remember a conversation like that".
When David Maraniss asked Porter about the same conversation back in the mid-1990s, Porter did remember a conversation--albeit he remembered it very differently. Bob Somerby quotes Maraniss:
Bob Somerby: Daily Howler: Near the end of The Agenda, Bob Woodward’s book on the first two years of Clinton’s first term, Hillary reflects on what she sees as the “politically motivated attacks aimed at undermining” her husband’s presidency. She remembers a telephone call that her husband told her about back in 1991, just when he was “pumping up” to run for president. The call was from someone in the Bush administration who had worked with Clinton on state policy issues, and as Hillary remembers her husband telling her the message, it went like this: “We’ve done a lot of looking at this race and your profile as a candidate is one, and one of a very few, that could cause us trouble. And we just want you to know if you get into this race, we will do everything we can to destroy you politically.”
Who made the call? Hillary declined to say at first, but eventually she and Clinton passed the word through an aide that it was Roger B. Porter, Bush’s domestic policy adviser. Porter, a mild-mannered policy wonk, said he had no such conversation with Clinton and was not aware of anyone else in the [Bush] White House who knew Clinton well enough to say such a thing. In the only conversation he had with Clinton in 1991, Porter said, he told Clinton that he ought to switch to the Republican party if he wanted to become president...
This seems to me to be strong evidence that Clinton has been telling the story of this conversation in essentially the same form ever since the conversation happened in 1991.
My guess at the moment is that Roger Porter did call Clinton in July 1991. In the conversation that Porter had with Clinton, Porter told Clinton, a serious policy-substance guy Porter respected, some of the facts of political life, and urged Clinton to switch to the Republican Party and run not in 1992 but 1996 if he ever wanted to become president--thus giving Clinton good advice and trying to recruit a charismatic centrist to a Republican Party badly in need of charismatic centrists.
By contrast, the conversation that Clinton had with Porter was very different. In the conversation Clinton had with Porter, Porter, a serious policy-substance guy Clinton respected, revealed his true colors as a Lee Atwater hack by making crude threats of personal destruction. As Clinton tells the story:
One July day [in 1991], Lynda Dixon told me that Roger Porter was on the phone from the White House. As i've said, I had worked with Roger on the education goals project and had a high regard for his ability to be loyal to the President and still work with the governors. Roger asked me if I was going to run for President in 1992. I told him that I hadn't decided, that I was happier being governor than I'd been in years, that my family life was good and I was reluctant to disrupt it, but that I thought the White House was being too passive in dealing with the country's economic and social problems. I said I thought the President should use the enormous political capital he had as a result of the Gulf War to tackle the country's big issues. After five or ten minutes of what I thought was a serious conversation, Roger cut it off and got to the point I'll never forget the first words of the message he had been designated to deliver: "Cut the crap, Governor." He said "they" had reviewed all the potential candidates against the President. Governor Cuomo was the most powerful speaker, but they could paint him as too liberal. All the senators could be defeated by attacks on their voting records. But I was different. With a strong record in economic development, education, and crime, and a strong DLC message, I actually had a chance to win. So if I ran, they would have to destroy me personally. "Here's how Washington works," he said. "The press has to have somebody in every election, and we're going to give them you." He went on to say the press were elitists who would believe any tales they were told about backwater Arkansas. "We'll spend whatever we have to spend to get whoever we have to get to say whatever they have to say to take you it. And we'll do it early."
I tried to stay calm, but I was mad.... I told Roger that what he had said made me more likely to run. Roger said that was a nice sentiment, but he was calling as my friend to give me fair warning. If I waited until 1996, I could win the presidency. If I ran in 1992, they would destroy me, and my political career would be over.
After the conversation ended, I called Hillary and told her about it. Then I told Mack McLarty. I never heard from or saw Roger Porter again until he attended a reception for the White House Fellows...
And, of course, the conversation Porter had with Clinton was the same as the conversation Clinton had with Porter.Posted by DeLong at June 26, 2004 09:00 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post