updated 11/2/2006 12:37:19 PM ET 2006-11-02T17:37:19

Guests: Bob Shrum, Mark McKinnon, Harold Schaitberger, Chuck Todd, Todd Purdum

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Kerry apologizes for being misinterpreted. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews and welcome to HARDBALL. 

That‘s right, John Kerry has just apologized to any member of the military services who was offended by what he calls his “misinterpreted joke”. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS:  Anyway, yesterday I was in the state of Texas.  As you all know, President Bush used to live there.  Now he lives in a state of denial, a state of deception.  I‘m glad to be here with you, I really am.  Thank you for the privilege of coming here. 

We‘re here to talk about education, but I want to say something before that.  You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well.  If you don‘t, you get stuck in Iraq. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Republicans, led by the president, went after that Kerry remark in a coordinated attack aimed at motivating their base.  But Republican candidates all over the country are running away from President Bush himself.  As polls show, Americans have lost confidence in his administration‘s handling of the war in Iraq.  Will this week‘s coverage be dominated by two men who aren‘t even running for office, Kerry and Bush? 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster‘s with us from Alexandria, Virginia—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, late this afternoon it was a written statement from John Kerry, who said that his comments were poorly stated and that he wanted to personally apologize to every service member, member of their family or American who was offended by his remarks.  Democrats are hoping this will be the end to this and put the campaign back on the issues that have been cutting their way. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  With the violence in Iraq getting worse and polls showing midterm election voters are taking notice, Republicans enjoyed for a second straight day their latest weapon of mass distraction, Democrat John Kerry.  Today on “Imus in The Morning”, Kerry was asked:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, why not apologize for the misunderstanding? 

KERRY:  Well, I did.  I said it was a botched joke.  Of course I‘m sorry about a botched joke.  You think I love botched jokes?  You know, it‘s pretty stupid. 

SHUSTER:  The brouhaha began on Monday night in Los Angeles when Kerry took aim at President Bush. 

KERRY:  Anyway, yesterday, I was in the state of Texas.  As you all know, President Bush used to live there.  Now he lives in a state of denial, a state of deception. 

SHUSTER:  One sentence later, Kerry added this:

KERRY:  You know, education, if you make the most of it you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well.  If you don‘t, you get stuck in Iraq. 

SHUSTER:  The White House quickly jumped on Kerry, portraying his remarks as an insult to U.S. troops.  And by Tuesday evening, President Bush himself had joined the fray. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The members of the United States military are plenty smart.  And they are plenty brave.  And the senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology. 

SHUSTER:  Meanwhile, Kerry responded aggressively to the Bush administration by enumerating some of the problems in Iraq. 

KERRY:  I think Americans are sick and tired of this game.  These Republicans are afraid to stand up and debate a real veteran on this topic, and they‘re afraid to debate, you know, they want to debate straw men, because they‘re afraid to debate real men.  Well, we‘re going to have a real debate in this country about this policy.  The bottom line is these Republicans want to distort this policy.  And this time it won‘t work because we are going to stay in their face with the truth. 

SHUSTER:  While the 2004 presidential rivals battled, some of the 2008 contenders got in on the action.  Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, quote, “Senator Kerry owes an apology to the thousands of men and women serving in Iraq, particularly the many patriotic soldiers from Massachusetts who come from all backgrounds to defend our freedoms.”

Arizona Senator John McCain spoke in Indianapolis. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® ARIZONA:  The suggestion that only the least educated Americans would agree to serve in the military and fight in Iraq is an insult to every soldier serving in combat today. 

SHUSTER:  McCain‘s remarks were striking because he and Kerry are friends, and because McCain‘s blunt speaking style has often produced jokes that fell flat, most recently when McCain joked about suicide. 

Still, the 2008 GOP hopefuls are getting plenty of cover in attacking a potential Democratic rival.  And today they were helped by Democrats.  In New York, Hillary Clinton said Kerry‘s remarks were inappropriate.  Senate candidate Harold Ford who is locked in a tight race in Tennessee said today that Kerry should apologize.  And Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley asked Kerry to not to come and campaign for him as planned. 

Aware of the possible political damage, Kerry told Imus:

KERRY:  Yes, I‘m—you know, I‘m coming back to Washington today so that I‘m not a distraction, because I don‘t want to be a distraction to these campaigns. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (on camera):  The irony is that John Kerry has given more than $12 million this year to Democrat candidates and has campaigned for them in over 35 states.  But the state of the Democratic party right now is one of frustration, that John Kerry, at least for now, seemed to give Republicans an opportunity to put the attention on him and take attention away from the problems in Iraq—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Bob Shrum‘s HARDBALL political analyst.  He was a senior strategist for John Kerry‘s 2004 presidential campaign.  Mark McKinnon‘s a former media advisor for the Bush-Cheney campaign.  He‘s also a co-founder of hotsoup.com.

Are you related at all to John McCain in this world right now?  Are you connected to him?

MARK MCKINNON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I‘m a big fan. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you working for him at all?  Advising him? 

MCKINNON:  I‘ve talked to him on occasion. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he see you as one of his advisors? 

MCKINNON:  Well, I think if he chooses to take it to the next chapter, we may have some involvement. 

MATTHEWS:  Good.  That‘s one thing I love, candor.

Let me go to Bob Shrum. 

Why has John Kerry had such a hard time getting himself out of what looks to me was a flub, not saying “getting us stuck in Iraq”?  He didn‘t put in “us”, he didn‘t follow the speech writer‘s words.  He blew it and now it‘s gotten to the point where he‘s had to apologize for the misinterpretation of his broken joke. 

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, Kerry, as you know, Chris, because you and I were both speech writers at one time, a joke, especially when it‘s written down there on the page, is something you ought to read, you ought to deliver the way it‘s written. 

Kerry has said he was sorry for this botched comment and if he offended the military.  I wish that Bush would say, he was sorry for a botched war. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, but...

SHRUM:  I think the president ought to apologize to the troops who are being sent there to fight and die for his pride, his stubbornness, his failed war.  Kerry made a dumb statement.  Bush made a dumb war... 

MATTHEWS:  Which was the dumb statement? 

SHRUM:  ...  which has hurt the troops more.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you this, which was the dumb statement, the accidental blowing of a joke, because I think that‘s what happened here.  If you look at the context, he was going on a riff against Bush, not against guys who get drafted—which they don‘t get drafted anymore—and end up being cannon fodder.  There isn‘t any more draft, you don‘t get forced to join the military, you can drop out of every course, flunk every course in America and you still won‘t qualify for the military.  And you certainly aren‘t going to be forced to fight a war.  It couldn‘t possibly mean what the White House and the Republicans are saying it means, or the American Legion is saying it means.  So I don‘t understand this. 

But anyway, Kerry has blown it again, by my estimation, by giving his enemies the word “apologize”.  Why did he put out the word out, “apologize” today—Bob Shrum? 

SHRUM:  I don‘t know.  I think he said very clearly that he‘s sorry if people were offended and he‘s also said—he didn‘t mean...

MATTHEWS:   “I personally apologize to any service member, family member, or American who was offended.” 

He has given his enemies exactly what they spent all day demanding out of him.  He has lost this round. 

SHRUM:  No, I think actually what he‘s done, Chris, is he‘s put so much effort and so much money into trying to help Democrats win this election, that he‘s taken himself off center stage, number one.  And number two, he‘s tried to remove the distraction.  I don‘t think people are going to buy the distraction.  The wheels are going to go off the smear machine in this campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s—I agree with you on that.  It‘s not going to going to last more than a couple days.

Now, Mark McKinnon, was this an act of sacrifice for his party?  Was this a ham-handed apology?  What was it? 

MCKINNON:  Well, it was 23 hours and 55 minutes late.  Had he done it five minutes afterward...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he should have apologized for something he didn‘t say?  You would like him to apologize for trashing the servicemen, and he says he didn‘t do that. 

MCKINNON:  No, he apologized if the servicemen took it that way, which many of them did. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course they took it that way if there‘s 48 hours of bashing by the Republicans.  They only heard the attack.  They didn‘t hear the initial comment. 

MCKINNON:  The interesting story that may be more relevant...

MATTHEWS:  Let me get this straight now.  When your opponent takes a word you said out of context and dump all over you on it, turning it into an attack on the military, then you apologize to the military for the fact they did it to you, right?  Is that how it works, now? 

Thank you.  I appreciate that.

MCKINNON:  But the interesting story that‘s being missed in this, actually, that is maybe more relevant is what he said on “Imus” this morning, which was another contradiction.

MATTHEWS:  What was that?

MCKINNON:  Which was he said that we—he said that we should have gone in with more troops, and we needed more troops in Iraq.  But now he disagrees with John McCain about bringing in more troops.  So he‘s for more troops before he was against more troops. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

SHRUM:  You know, that‘s completely false.  We should have gone into Iraq with more troops at the beginning.  He is not in favor of—and most Democrats are not in favor of putting more troops in right now.  You know, Mark, I think, when you get hold of John McCain, he‘s going to go from being the Straight Talk Express of 2000 to the base licking candidate of 2008, because that‘s what he‘s been doing the last few weeks. 

MATTHEWS:  Base licking? 

SHRUM:  Base licking.  Anything to satisfy the base, jump through the hoop, because the real issue in this election that nobody wants to talk about on the Republican side is, are we going to stay the course in Iraq?  Are we going to keep going down this road, this failed policy? 

MATTHEWS:  What I‘m trying to figure out now, Bob, now that you‘ve confused me again, is John Kerry of the belief that we should have gone into Iraq, but with more troops?

SHRUM:  No.

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s back to the position that it was a mistake to go to Iraq.  Where is he?

SHRUM:  Chris, you know what the fact is.

MATTHEWS:  I want to know where Kerry is.  You‘re speaking for him.

SHRUM:  Look, Joe Biden wouldn‘t go into Iraq.  He says that on the basis of the information we have now, but if we were going to go, we couldn‘t go with a neocon war plan that sent in too few troops to secure the situation.

MATTHEWS:  Look, let‘s go back to Mark McKinnon here.  This politics now—is this going to have any more distraction?  Here it is, Wednesday, the week before a week a national election affecting perhaps the course of the war, perhaps the direction of our foreign policy for years to come—is this THING going to be the story or is it going to be that Bush himself can‘t campaign with the Republicans?

MCKINNON:  Well no, I think that what this has done is it has brought to the fore personalities and people that voters are going to look at and be reminded of what the Democratic do not stand for.  You know, the Democrats are trying to do something this year, which is beat something with nothing.  And so Kerry is just going to be a reminder of what the alternative is going to be.  So I think it‘s been a bad couple of days for the Democrats when they had some good momentum going.

MATTHEWS:  Bob, what I was impressed by was the Republican choreography of the last 24 hours.  They had John Boehner out there saying he wasn‘t going to quit until this guy apologized.  Well, he‘s done that.  You had Denny Hastert, who was basically in the bunker himself out there in Illinois, he‘s out of the bunker attacking John Kerry.

They were joined by allies, and I was wrong the other day to say that it was coordinated.  I thought it was.  Apparently it wasn‘t.  The head of the American Legion now says that he wasn‘t part of any coordination plan, although his press release arrived in the same pile, it all came out at the same time the other day. 

I accept his word it wasn‘t part of a coordinated plan.  But all of these people acted without checking out what Kerry said.  Kerry did not attack the regular working person or the person who enlists in the military.  He attacked the president‘s intelligence, which I think is a mistake, because you are always wrong when you attack the other guy‘s IQ.

But clearly that‘s what he was doing.  But Kerry is stuck now, he has spent the day writhing over this thing, and ends up putting out an apology.  The front pages tomorrow morning, which didn‘t have one him on today, will be on the front page tomorrow, I‘ll bet you, the “Washington Post” tomorrow, the “Boston Globe” will say, Kerry, quote, “apologizes” on the front page tomorrow.  He‘s done it to the Democrats again.

SHRUM:  Well I think he did it, in my view, because, a, what was being said about what he had said was a lie.  B, he wanted to make sure that service people, and I don‘t know this, I‘m just guessing at this, he wanted to make sure that service members understood that he wasn‘t talking about him.

MATTHEWS:  Why did he apologize to him?  Just tell me Bob, why he apologized to somebody he did not insult?

SHRUM:  Because as you just said, Chris, they spent 48 hours telling a big lie about his remarks, distorting his remarks.  Denny Hastert climbed out of his hole of corruption and grabbed onto this because he can‘t talk about anything else.  George Bush can‘t talk about anything else.  He doesn‘t want this war decided on the basis of Iraq.  Every voter in America that votes next week will decide if we‘ll stay on the same failed course in Iraq, that‘s the fundamental issue in this election.

MATTHEWS:  Will John Kerry have handled this as badly had you been aboard, Bob?

SHRUM:  Listen, first of all, Chris, there‘s a premise to this question—I think you‘re absolutely right.  He was trapped in the sense that Republicans went after him.  They went after him really hard. 

I think he would have been better off if right away he had made this much clearer, but I think he has now done something that very few politicians actually do.  Instead of protecting himself, he‘s trying to protect the Democratic victory that he‘s worked so hard for and raised so much money for.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Mark, and you work for the other side generally.  Do you think he had come out and said, “I think I misstated a minute ago, a statement.  It made it look like I was trashing the troops.  I meant to say, he wouldn‘t have gotten us stuck.”

MCKINNON:  That‘s what I said.

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t he come out and fix it first?  Why did he go on the attack against Rush Limbaugh and those guys?

MCKINNON:  He has post-campaign stress syndrome.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘s fighting the old war, the last war?

MCKINNON:  Yes, I do.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s fighting the war when he fought with Bob and didn‘t go after swift voters, and he wishes, so now he‘s going after the swift boaters. 

MCKINNON:  I think that is totally in his head and I think that‘s exactly why he did what he did.

MATTHEWS:  Bob, do you think that‘s what he‘s doing, he‘s fighting the phantom of the swift voters?

SHRUM:  I think that he‘s fighting back against a Republican smear machine that, as you said, Chris, distorted his remarks.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they did.

MCKINNON:  What about the Democratic smear machine?

SHRUM:  I absolutely agree with that.  But, look, look, you were talking about John McCain a while ago—John McCain, who was smeared by the Wyly Brothers, the same people in fact who financed the ads against John McCain in 2000 is now being supported by the Wyly Brothers.  That‘s what I mean when I say Mark‘s gotten in there.

MATTHEWS:  Is that what he means?

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  What you‘re going to get with John McCain is a rubber stamp of George Bush, a duplicate of George Bush, and if people want to stop this war or change direction in Iraq, they‘ve got to vote Democratic next week.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, Bob Shrum, thank you Mark.

MCKINNON:  John McCain returned the money to Wyly Brothers, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with more about Decision 2006 with MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan.  He‘s coming here and Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters, who backed Kerry last time.  What about this time?  And at 10:00 Eastern tonight , you can catch the Florida Senate debate between Bill Nelson, Democrat and Katherine Harris, moderated by NBC‘s Tim Russert.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and our continuing coverage of Decision 2006: Battleground America.  Can President Bush and the Republicans continue to make a punching bag out of Senator Kerry in these final days of the campaign, when Iraq is still, according to all the polling, the No. 1 issue for most Americans? 

Patrick Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst and Harold Schaitberger  is the president of the all-power International Association of Firefighters.  He‘s been crisscrossing the country in support of Democratic candidates. 

It is the No. 1 issue.  Harold, when you talk to your troops, to the guys out there fighting fires and in the fire stations, is Iraq their No. 1 issue or is it economics?

HAROLD SCHAITBERGER, INT‘L ASSOC. OF FIREFIGHTERS:  Actually, it‘s Iraq, it‘s our homeland security, our failure to be able to provide the kind of equipment, training, resources they need.  They‘re recognition that our ports are still not safe, our rails are not safe.

MATTHEWS:  You mean the average firefighter is concerned about the policy?

SCHAITBERGER:  The average firefighter knows exactly what they need to do and what the risks are in our communities and what they‘re up against and what they‘ll be called on to deliver for their communities in time of the next attack. 

And the other is the economy.  You know, this stock market economy, they‘re not participating in 12,000 plus in the stock market.  They‘re still trying to make ends meet.  They‘re middle-class workers.

MATTHEWS:  Why is consumer confidence at an long-time high right now? 

Why is it positive?

SCHAITBERGER:  Well, you asked me about my members and you asked me about what I think of middle class workers.  

MATTHEWS:  Well, consumer confidence—your members are among the consumers. 

SCHAITBERGER:  I think my members are worried about healthcare.  I think they‘re worried about their retirement systems that are currently under attack.  I think they‘re watching what‘s happened in two other industries, how the airlines, how steel, how so many have lost their retirement benefits.  They‘re worried about just simply putting something on the table for their children and paying their bills. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, I think John Kerry knows who his friends are in the Republican and the Democratic Party.  Hillary Clinton came in like Italy came into World War II today and said that—remember the man who held the dagger?  Well, her dagger said, “inappropriate,” which covers every possible base.  His remarks were “inappropriate.”  That gets him right in the back. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Cut him right in the back.  The hand that held the dagger plunges into the back of its neighbor, exactly.  Yes, I mean, she took a shot at him.  He‘s a potential rival.  I don‘t think he‘s much of a potential rival anymore.  Harold Ford said apologize, you had Democratic candidates saying don‘t show up in my district after he says that I‘m going to fight to the death on Imus and everywhere else here comes—and Tony Snow ... 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, he didn‘t call—I‘m not going to defend him anymore.  You go ahead.  I‘m not going to bother.  I mean, basically, he apologized.  He put that word in his statement tonight and he might as well said, I lost and I was wrong. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, sure.  It‘s not only that.  Now it‘s a three day story, because even now the “Washington Post” is going to have to put it on page one.  It‘s going to be all over Drudge, all over everywhere, he apologized.  Republicans have had two very good days where the whole attention of the country and the political community has moved away from Iraq onto Kerry. 

Here‘s the titular leader of the Democratic party Saying I‘m sorry, in effect, if any of the troops feel they‘ve been insulted, you have got the troops on—did you see that—the troops put up that picture on Drudge.  It‘s unbelievable.  They‘re in Iraq, that hilarious note, “Dear Mr. Kerry” and they misspelled every word in it? 

MATTHEWS:  He made the point that they were illiterate ...

BUCHANAN:  They make the point, look, stop calling us dummies and so

MATTHEWS:  So it doesn‘t matter that he most probably was trying to take a shot at the president as a dummy. 

BUCHANAN:  He was, but let me ask you, Chris, what exactly is the joke?  That the president is somehow stupid, he didn‘t go to school, didn‘t do his homework, that‘s why we‘re in Iraq?  But didn‘t John Kerry vote to take us into Iraq, to give Bush a blank check?  What is the joke, the real, original joke, and that too, it seems to me, was insulting.  It wouldn‘t be as bad as what he said on paper about ...

MATTHEWS:  You know that you follow this thing back and the liberals like John Kerry, the intellectuals who are well-educated, for 50 years now have made fun of every Republican president they didn‘t like by calling him stupid.  It started with Ike and then it went onto Reagan, and then onto—everybody was stupid.

BUCHANAN:  Right, Ike‘s ...

MATTHEWS:  The only guy they didn‘t call stupid was your guy, Nixon, and they had other words for him. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Wait a minute.  Ike goes out and he plays golf and does all of these other things.  Ike was a smart, tough, ruthless guy.  And he was one of the hardest guys that we have ever had in the White House and he‘s out there—let Nixon be the band out of the party, but he was as tough as they come.

MATTHEWS:  You know who knew that?  Kennedy knew that.  Nixon knew that.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  He was the toughest, most ruthless pall (ph) there ever was but he played grandpop and everybody fell for it. 

SCHAITBERGER:  Chris, Chris, I‘ve got to jump in here.  First of all, let‘s not forget John Kerry was a decorated combat veteran, and John Kerry would never intentionally offend any soldier.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  You agree with that, don‘t you?  Pat are going to give this away?

(CROSSTALK)

SCHAITBERGER:  Pat, let me say this though: You know, he mangled a joke.  And personally, I told him earlier today, I don‘t think that the Iraq war is an issue to be joking about in any fashion, but the fact of the matter is what is really mangled is this administration‘s prosecution of the war.

BUCHANAN:  All right.  We all agree that it‘s bad.  Let me ask you a question, do you agree with what John Kerry did?  I was in the White House.  He came back, threw the medals over the fence, said these guys are raping women, cutting heads off, they‘re burning crops, they‘re a murderous bunch of people. 

You know, he should have came out when he ran for president and said I came home, I was angry, ticked off, I said a lot of rotten things I should never have said.  I‘m proud of what I did now, but then I was in a bad, rotten mood.  Do you agree with what he did? 

SCHAITBERGER:  I think John Kerry came out of combat, and unless you‘re in combat you don‘t have any real understanding and feel for it, and I think he came back angry, I think he came back ...

BUCHANAN:  Why did nobody else come back and do that, Harold? 

SCHAITBERGER:  ... and—well, the rest of the country ultimately did

come to the same conclusion that it was a bad war and an ill-advised war

BUCHANAN:  Did they come to the conclusion—did they come to the conclusion ...

SCHAITBERGER:  ...and finally the American people finally pushed and made sure that this ...

BUCHANAN:  Did they come to the conclusion that the guys we sent over there were raping and murdering people and were war criminals and behaved like the army of Genghis Khan?  No.  One guy did that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Pat Buchanan and Harold Schaitberger are staying with us. 

And later, NBC‘s Tim Russert is coming here to preview tonight‘s Florida state debate between Bill Nelson, Democrat, and Katherine Harris.  He‘s going to moderate that one.  You can watch it tonight at 10:00 p.m.

Eastern right here on MSNBC.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Pat Buchanan and Harold Schaitberger, the president of the International Association of Firefighters. 

By the way, it‘s a credit to you that you guys really pulled John Kerry over the top out there in Iowa.  I saw you.  You were on the frontline.  Are you guys going to endorse again this coming election? 

SCHAITBERGER:  Absolutely.  This union will take a look at everyone in the field, and we‘ll make a value judgment as we did the last time.  We‘ll try to select a candidate that has the ability to lead this country and represent the values and the interests of my members, which I think reflect the values of America. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Pat, let me ask you about this war.  You‘re a traditional conservative.  If this election goes the way it looks like it‘s going to go, Democrats picking back the house, maybe coming real close and maybe grabbing the Senate, but real close, is it going to influence the war?  Will it change policy?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, sure.  Look, I think it‘s going to ...

MATTHEWS:  The president said he‘s going to keep Cheney and Rumsfeld. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, he‘s got to keep Cheney, it‘s constitutional. 

MATTHEWS:  I know he does.  Why did he say that?  Now, why did he say that?

BUCHANAN:  Maybe to provide cover for Rumsfeld.  But look, no, I can‘t

MATTHEWS:  It was odd statement.  I think I‘ll keep the vice president.

BUCHANAN:  Look, if he said we‘re going to make changes in the vice president‘s office, that would have been news.  But, look, I‘ll be honest.  I don‘t think Rumsfeld is going to stay more than six months.  I think he‘s gone.  I think there‘s going to be a change in policy in Iraq.  I think that the Baker commission could be there.

But I‘ll tell you this, Chris.  We better realize, look, this has gone very badly, but we are online to lose a war.  And let me tell you, if we walk away from it, that ain‘t going to be the end there and it ain‘t going to be the end here.  The recriminations here will be unbelievable and what‘s going to happen there—this is going to be far worse than Vietnam. 

I oppose this war, but I‘ll tell you, I don‘t come out for turnaround and walking out now because the consequences, I think, will be appalling for this country. 

MATTHEWS:  What can we get done in that country that‘s worth of the lives of men yet to be killed?  And that‘s the real question.  Can you ask a guy to stay there one more day and think it will be worse every day that we‘re there? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, if we‘re going to turn around and get out and give an amnesty to all these guys, you‘re dead right.  No American should die if we‘re going to amnesty somebody that is going to shoot them tomorrow. 

SCHAITBERGER:  And, Chris, that‘s why this issue over the last couple of days is not an issue.  I just came back from Iowa.  I‘ve been in Tennessee.  I‘ve been in Ohio.  I‘ve been all over this country, five states since the last time I saw you last week, and the fact of the matter is the people are angry.  They know what the issues are, they understand exactly what the issues are.  The issue is a war that‘s been poorly prosecuted.  The issue we have 104 soldiers killed last month.  We don‘t have a plan for the peace.  We don‘t have a plan for exiting out of a terrible situation...

BUCHANAN:  But Harold, why then..

SCHAITBERGER:  ... and they‘re worried about the middle class. 

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, this is to be continued after the election. 

Thank you very much, Pat Buchanan. 

Thank you, Harold Schaitberger. 

Up next, “The Hotline‘s” Chuck Todd‘s coming here.  And “Vanity Fair‘s” Todd Purdum will be here to talk about the latest news in the fight for power. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Does Karl Rove, the man called “Bush‘s Brain”, have any surprises up his sleeve before next Tuesday‘s election?

Todd Purdum, national editor of “Vanity Fair” has just written an article—an in-depth article in the December issue on Rove‘s strategy for keeping Republicans in power—he hopes—and the future of the party.  Todd joins us now.

Our other favorite Todd, Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of the “Hotline” for a look at what‘s in store with just six days to go now.

Gentlemen—let me ask you, Todd, what do you know about Karl?  What does he got in his pocket for between now and Tuesday?

TODD PURDUM, “VANITY FAIR”:  I don‘t know that he has anything particular in his pocket.  His big dream has been to realign the country with a more or less solid, rolling Republican majority.  And one of the things this election will help answer is how successful he‘s been at that.  He may have reached the limits of it.

MATTHEWS:  Is he like the new Pope Benedict, who basically would rather have a smaller, stronger Church?  Is he willing to sacrifice those RINOs, Republicans In Name Only, up in the Northeast, to get a solider Republican party? 

PURDUM:  It‘s an interesting question.  I mean, he has certainly built the party‘s base at the expense of trying to go to the middle.  Six years ago he did try to run toward the middle, George Bush portrayed himself as a uniter, not a divider, a compassionate conservative.  When they barely—they lost the popular vote in that election, and they saw the way forward was to build their own base.  So I don‘t know, I wouldn‘t put anything beyond Karl Rove‘s reach.  He‘s a very confident, capable guy. 

But he has made his practice in dividing the electorate into smaller and smaller slices and the limits of that strategy may have now been reached.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Chuck Todd.  When you look around the country, are the polls moving any direction right now, based on this jamboree of idiocy over the Kerry comment? 

CHUCK TODD, “THE HOTLINE”:  Well, we haven‘t seen any, basically, that I feel like are reflective of this.  I‘ll say this, this is Wednesday night, tomorrow, Thursday night.  They will—anybody, any campaign person will tell you the two single most important nights of polling to get a read on where things are, are that Wednesday-Thursday night tract. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.

TODD:  So the fact is, having this means that the Wednesday-Thursday tract will probably be the Republican best case scenario, since they‘ve won the previous two new cycles because of John Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  It could also depress and miss the real result that‘s coming. 

TODD:  That‘s a good—that‘s what I think may end up happening is we may all then get spooked, because we‘ll see a little bit of a Republican resurgence, and sit there and go, oh, well,  maybe they‘ll pull this thing off yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you like the way, Todd—I‘ll now get into wild demands for interpretation here, because it‘s more fun than just going with the facts. 

Let me ask you this.  It seems like you had George Allen saying in Virginia after he did his macaca day—let‘s not talk about character, let‘s talk about issues.  And then the minute he decided that wasn‘t working, he pulls out these books, that Jim Webb, the Democratic candidate, wrote 10 or whatever years ago and says, look at this man‘s character.  In other words, when they tell us how to vote, if it doesn‘t seem to be working, they change the rules again and say, let‘s talk about character. 

The president was out there saying that this is about individual races, vote for the person you think is the best in each case.  And then he says, no, it‘s not about the individual person, I just got this little gotcha opportunity on John Kerry, so let‘s all talk about that and vote accordingly.  These guys keep changing the ways they want us to vote, in fact, changing our instructions on what we should be looking  at, in terms of voting. 

PURDUM:  Well, to a degree.  To a degree you‘re right, Chris, but also there are two tracks to every election.  And all along, on the one hand the Republicans have been willing to nationalize this election, to make it a choice between who will keep you safer, who will raise your taxes.  They think they‘ll have the right answer on that with voters.  And they‘ve also tried to say that it will be decided in all these individual House races, all these individual Senate races, all these individual governor‘s races around the country.  So they kind of emphasize whichever one they think is working best for them, but they have been doing it at two tracks right along. 

MATTHEWS:  Todd? 

TODD:  Yes.  No, I think that...

MATTHEWS:  Chuck Todd?

TODD:  You know, it‘s good to be on with my fellow Todd there. 

MATTHEWS:  I feel like dominoes, Chuck Todd, Todd Purdum. 

TODD:  Yes, it‘ll just all—my father used to say, you know, God has one D in it.  That‘s all he used to say.

But anyway, a nationalized election, I think, frankly, is what the White House should have embraced a lot sooner.  And I think because the electorate was going to do it, they were already doing it, they didn‘t embrace it sooner, at least on the House level and in some of the Senate races, the White House—this idea that somehow, they weren‘t going to be playing on a national—it just never made sense and they didn‘t pivot on this, frankly, until about it seemed like two or three weeks ago. 

MATTHEWS:  And also Santorum has done the same thing.  Do you accept that assessment that they couldn‘t hide from Iraq, they might as well fight it out, battle royal.  OK, it‘s about Iraq? 

PURDUM:  Well, I think that was Karl‘s view all along.  I mean, I was with him in Ohio in late summer and that was very much the view he was positing that at that time, which is that, you know, if people had a choice between what he then framed as cut and run or stay and fight, they would pick stay and fight.  And I think that‘s what the president‘s arguing this past ten days until he lost his voice the other day.  He was hoarse from arguing that. 

TODD:  No, but the mistake they made is the country just wanted some sort of acknowledgement of change. And so the White House finally gave in and did this where Bush sort of, you know, made this, OK, I know things aren‘t going as well, or this or that.

And there were all these Republican candidates that were going, hey guy, why didn‘t you do that six months ago when I was sitting here, when it was so clear that this is what this election was going to be about, of just sort of, you know, the public demanding some course correction?  It‘s not clear how much.

PURDUM:  And candidates who want to take the president‘s money from fundraisers but don‘t want to appear with him in their districts, don‘t want to have him in their ads and so on. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s cute, isn‘t it?

You know, the interesting thing is how—and you have to help us here, because you‘ve studied Karl Rove and I just know him as an acquaintance.  Karl Rove, does he go to the president and say this gay marriage decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court is pretty good stuff, but it‘s not as good, Mr. President, as it was four years ago? 

Does he talk turkey with him and say, don‘t lean on this too much, or put that aside, I think this thing that Kerry just said plays on that elitist notion that most people have of Kerry and the Democrats, that they are big, bicoastal, well-educated and overeducated snots and this proves it?  Does he make those kind of calls to the president? 

PURDUM:  I can‘t tell what you he‘s done in this particular case, but I‘d be shocked if he doesn‘t make some version of those kinds of discussions with the president because they talk all the time and they talk very freely, and they‘re both political strategists. 

They both like to think about these kinds of questions and they‘ve been—they‘ve developed a shorthand with each other over the past 30 plus years.  They don‘t have to say too much.  They know where each other are. 

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, the usual thing is they do gay bashing at the end.  They are very good at it.  They have these referenda, these initiatives in every state that seems to be close. 

TODD:  Tough for this election because of Foley.

MATTHEWS:  I know—because of Foley.  I just got the word through my magic ear here that Mark Foley has decided to stay in rehab out west beyond the election.  Isn‘t this cute? 

TODD:  A magical decision, yes.

MATTHEWS:  You know, it reminds me of Philadelphia, growing up where there‘s a guy who‘s in trouble from the Elle (ph) scandal back then and joined the seminary, you know, so they couldn‘t catch him.  I mean, is this like one of these Soviet sanitariums where they would keep people away from their political connections or what? 

TODD:  No, it has to be.  Look, if—I think they have probably appealed to Mark Foley‘s party ideas and said ...

MATTHEWS:  Stay in.

TODD:  ... and said, look, will you just buy us that.  You know, don‘t make the final weekend, because he was supposed to get out the next couple of days.   

MATTHEWS:  The Democrats probably wish that Kerry was his roommate right now. 

TODD:  I think so.  But let me just make a point about Rove.  I think it‘s interesting—you know, Rove still gets good press.  I think it‘s amazing.  As the entire conservative ...

MATTHEWS:  Dare I say access? 

TODD:  Oh, well, that‘s exactly what it is.  But he gets so much good press and Todd‘s piece was one of the few that I felt like actually sort of went after him a little bit.  And it will be interesting, he seems to be the most protected person in this election cycle. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you feel any claw marks on you this morning when you got up?

PURDUM:  Did I feel any what? 

MATTHEWS:  Claw marks on you from Rove after getting tough with him? 

PURDUM:  No, but I just hope I don‘t get audited or something like that.  I mean, that‘s a joke, obviously, but I ...

MATTHEWS:  Because he‘s the kind of guy that when you right about him

TODD:  He‘s trying to steal your newspaper, isn‘t he, Todd?

MATTHEWS:  ...when you write about him with objectivity and a bit of -

a little bit of contact, does he react? 

PURDUM:  Oh, I say in the piece that in the past, in my comparatively limited experience of dealing with him, he does react.  He reacted very strongly, in a friendly sort of way, to a piece I wrote for the “New York Times” after the 2004 election when I said that his political hero was Mark Hanna, the Ohio businessman who helped William McKinley become president. 

He called me up and said, no, his hero wasn‘t Mark Hanna.  And he said Mark Hanna was only the Don Evans of the McKinley campaign, the fundraiser, and he had a whole ‘nother version of who was his big hero, which is Charles D. Dawes, Calvin Coolidge‘s vice president. 

MATTHEWS:  Was McKinley the guy that called Hanna up and said isn‘t there something we should look like we‘re doing?  Anyway, well, thank you, Chuck Todd.  Thank you Todd Purdum. 

Up next, NBC‘s Tim Russert is going to be here to talk about his big moderating job tonight in the Florida Senate debate with Katherine Harris up against Bill Nelson.  That could be interesting because Katherine Harris ain‘t got nothing to lose. 

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

John Kerry‘s comments from Monday are still dominating campaign coverage.  With only six days to go in the election, how much damage did he do? 

NBC News Washington bureau chief and moderator of “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert, joins us right now to talk about John Kerry, the new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll and the Florida Senate debate which he moderates tonight.  You can watch it, by the way, on MSNBC tonight at 10:00 Eastern. 

Tim, this, denouement, is this the ending of this, that he‘s apologized, John Kerry, for the way his remarks were interpreted? 

TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  Well, the Republicans are going to have a TV commercial showing it, and let that run for awhile.  But the Democrats are furious, Chris, because it‘s now dominated three news cycles and they want it over with. 

Interestingly enough, one Republican said to me yesterday that the Republicans‘ worst nightmare was that yesterday morning, Senator Kennedy (sic) -- Senator Kerry would come out and say, you know, I tried to crack a joke at the president‘s expense.  It didn‘t work.  The joke is on me.  I‘m terribly, terribly sorry.  I deeply apologize to all the troops and people I offended.  And in that same vein, I hope the president will also now step forward and find it in his heart, the need to apologize for all of the misjudgments he‘s made about Iraq.  That did not happen, but that‘s what the Republicans were fearing might happen. 

MATTHEWS:  But now he said, as you say, all these cycles later with the word apologized.  Does that make their case for them? 

RUSSERT:  Well, that‘s what they were demanding and he had to step up and do it because the Democrats joined with him.  It was a bipartisan request.  It‘s the kind of thing, Chris, as you know in politics, when you make a mistake, the best thing is to immediately step up, admit it, fess up, apologize and move on. 

If you let it drag out, then what you do is dominate the news cycle.  One Democrat said to me, here we have the Iraqi prime minister ordering American troops to basically get their hands off of any kind of militias by the Shiites, dangerous bad guys, break down their checkpoints.  That‘s the story we want from Iraq to be seen by the American people.  And instead, we‘re watching John Kerry.  Democrats, very unhappy with their standard bearer from 2004.

MATTHEWS:  When I make a mistake, it‘s a bute.  He could have said that.  But he didn‘t. 

Let me ask you about your role tonight, a familiar one for you, moderating a debate.  This time with the Senate candidates Katherine Harris against the underdog, the Republican challenging the incumbent, Bill Nelson.  It‘s the queen of chads, I guess, against the astronaut.  How are you going to handle this one and how is it going to be important to the voters down there?

RUSSERT:  Well, it‘s interesting going to different states and doing debates because they really are a metaphor for what we‘re hearing through this 2006 midterm election.  Iraq is a huge issue in Florida, as it is across the country.  So is taxes and immigration and on and on. 

And what I like to do is find out what these candidates really do believe in.  How do they stand on the issues?  What plans do they have, if they were elected to the U.S. Senate?  Specifics, not just the kind of pro-forma spin that are sometimes offered in campaign commercials or in sound bytes. 

And when you have two people at the table and a full hour, I think we can draw from them that kind of information, so the viewers of Florida and across the country can say, now I understand.  I happen to think, Chris, there are big differences on the big issues between these candidates and the two parties this year.  And I think that is healthy for our democracy, if we can draw them out and make sure that the viewers hear exactly what they think.

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve also become, I think, famous for getting people to see the—or admit the contradictions or the conundrums in what they‘re arguing for.  Last time around you were there with the gubernatorial debate, you got one of the candidates to admit that he had no offering in terms of how he‘s going to finance the limit of 20 kids to a classroom and that kind of thing.  And that is certainly something that can only come to bear in an actual debate, a sit down.

RUSSERT:  Absolutely.  You know, you can‘t make tough decisions unless you can answer tough questions and I think that‘s the importance of these debates.  Last Sunday I had Michael Steele on, the Republican candidate from Maryland, and I said, “Are you running as a proud Bush Republican?”  He said, “Well, I‘m running as a Republican.”  Which told you everything about the state of that race in Maryland.  And I thank the more we can do that, the viewer has a much clearer idea as to what this candidate is all about.

MATTHEWS:  I liked it when you pulled out that bumper sticker that said, Steele, and then a line and then under it, Democrat, which clearly left the impression that‘s what he was.

RUSSERT:  Yes, because Michael Steele knows that he can‘t possibly be elected in the state of Maryland which has 2-1 Democratic enrollment, unless he attracts a large number of Democrats.  I said then to him, why don‘t you have a bumper sticker that has Steele/Republican, as well?  He said, “Well, that‘s not a bad idea.  Maybe I‘ll do that.”

MATTHEWS:  I think you should say, “Meet the Press: Heartbreak Hill for Candidates for Higher Office.”  We‘ll be right back with Tim Russert.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with NBC Washington bureau chief and the moderator of “Meet the Press” Tim Russert.  Tonight, he moderates the Florida Senate debate between Democrat Bill Nelson, the incumbent, and Republican Katherine Harris.  It airs, that debate tonight, on MSNBC at 10:00 Eastern.

Tim, I know you‘re really quite the student at some of these polls.  I want you to talk about two polls that are a bit esoteric to most people.   This is the “NBC/Wall Street Journal” poll number that I know a lot of people love to study.

Right direction, wrong direction.  Is this country headed in the right direction or the wrong direction?  Such a big-headed question.  What does it tell you?  It‘s now 29 right, 56 wrong.

RUSSERT:  Well, when less than one of three Americans think the country is going in the right direction, they are sending a signal that they‘re very, very unhappy and they‘re anxious.  Now what we have to find out is what are they anxious about?  And if that anxiety translates into a message to the party in power, it‘s going to be a very bad day for the Republicans.  If the anxiety is about they‘re fed up with members of both parties, then it may not be as bad.  But 29 percent on the right track is a very dismal number for the psyche of a country.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about what we call the general poll question.  Should Republicans or Democrats control the U.S. Congress?  Right now that‘s 37 percent Republican, as you can see there, about the same as it has been and 52 percent Democrat.  Does that tell you—can you translate that using Algebra to how many seats either side is going to get?

RUSSERT:  Well people are doing just that, Chris.  And let me try to put it in perspective for our viewers.  It is the largest difference, 15 points, that we have ever had in that question.  Generally it is just a point of two. 

If you go back to October, November of 1994 when Newt Gingrich led the Republican revolution, days before that balloting, the Republicans had a six-point advantage.  The Democrats are now up 15.  Republicans won 52 seats in 1994.  Now there aren‘t that many competitive seats in 2006, but Republicans I talked to are very, very, very nervous about that 15 point disparity.

And let me take it one more step.  When you ask based on what you‘ve seen and heard based on the last few weeks, who do you prefer, who are you more favorably disposed to taking control of Congress?  And it‘s overwhelming, the Democrats.  And of people who prefer the Democrats, they are 80 to 12 unhappy with the war in Iraq, thinking the war in Iraq is not worth it and pessimistic about the outcome.

So you understand the dominance that this war is going to have on this midterm election. 

MATTHEWS:  Tim Russert, we‘ll be watching tonight on MSNBC at 10:00 for that big debate from Florida.  It‘s the senatorial race between Bill Nelson and Katherine Harris.  Again, 10:00 tonight on MSNBC.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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