updated 12/5/2006 12:45:34 PM ET 2006-12-05T17:45:34

Guests: John Murtha, Dennis Prager, Jed Babbin, Mark McKinnon, Steve McMahon

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC HOST:  Welcome to the show.  I‘m Tucker Carlson.  A lot to get to today including the congressman who wants to take his oath of office on the Koran.  Why one talk show host says that would undermined American civilization literally.

But first, Donald Rumsfeld‘s apparent about-face on the war in Iraq.  From the beginning the secretary of defense has been the White House‘s biggest wartime cheerleader.  Here, for instance, is what he said in April of 2003.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Here is a country that‘s being liberated.  Here are people that are going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator and they‘re free.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Well, things have clearly changed.  In a classified White House memo dated November 6th of this year, last month in other words, Rumsfeld quote, wrote, “In my view, it is time for a major adjustment clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough.”

So Donald Rumsfeld‘s change of heart a sign of things to come.  Joining me now to talk about that is Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania.  He is the incoming chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Committee.  Congressman Murtha, thanks for joining us.

REP. JACK MURTHA, (D) PA:  Nice to be here, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Are you stunned to hear these words from the outgoing secretary of defense.  In some parts of this memo he sounds like you.  What do you think?

MURTHA:  That‘s what I said a year ago, Tucker, and if it weren‘t so serious, I would say it‘s ludicrous but it‘s such a serious situation.  I‘m glad he finally came around to the reasoning that I‘ve had.

They‘ve over characterized—been overly optimistic about this war ever since it started.  They‘re finally beginning to recognize that they have real problems and the secretary is saying basically what I said, we need a redeployment.

CARLSON:  Well, isn‘t this great news?  Don‘t you think this is great?

MURTHA:  Now, I think he understands it‘s just a problem is the other 20 things can‘t be accomplished unless we redeploy.  The members themselves, a lot of them are saying well, we have to do this, we have to do that.  Until we redeploy year we‘re spending $8 billion a month.

There is no way we can solve any of these other problems until we redeploy our forces from Iraq.

Now, I listened to what the secretary said, but the people spoke, and Tucker this is the thing that is really important.  The election said to this administration, we want a change in direction in this war.  And that‘s what we‘re going to get.

CARLSON:  But I‘ve noticed that leading Democrats, you‘re an exception, of course, and there are a few others, but the most in your party, the people in charge don‘t advocate an immediate pullout, a redeployment from Iraq, they‘re not saying that at all.  I wonder why?

MURTHA:  Well, they‘re unrealistic about it.  None of these other problems can be solved.  It‘s gotten worse.  When I spoke out on November 17 of last year, there was no question about it.  And we had about 400 incidents a week or 400 attacks a week, now we have 800 attacks a week.  We have 60 percent unemployment, oil and gas production still below prewar level.  All of the measurements I use are below prewar levels.

So I‘m convinced that the administration is beginning to recognize that we need to redeploy and most of the members are going to recognize that also.  They‘re just hesitant to say it.  There is no alternative.  We‘ve gone as far as we can go.

CARLSON:  But I imagine you believe that the United States has some obligation to Iraq.  We started this war or we initiated it anyway in response to Saddam Hussein.  And the country is in shambles.  Clearly we have some obligation to help rebuild it.

Mr. Rumsfeld is saying that we ought to not spend money in provinces or areas in Iraq where the insurgency is out of control.  He says, quote, “no more reconstruction assistance in areas where there is violence.”  That makes sense to me.  What do you think of that?

MURTHA:  Well, Tucker, we have to do what is best for the American foreign policy.  I understand our obligation to Iraq.  But you have to be careful when you get into something like that.  We‘ve lost almost 3,000 lives.  We‘ve had 10,000 wounded who won‘t return to duty.

CARLSON:  Right.

MURTHA:  When you have that kind of complication, sure, you want to also go forward.  But also you want to understand that what is best for America is the foreign policy we should follow.

And I‘m convinced what‘s best for us, is we have to help them reconstruct some of those areas.  I said on the floor, the most important part of deployment, of the money we‘re going to spend is to rehabilitate the country.  But having said that, military security comes first.  We are not able to do that.  The Iraqis have to solve this themselves and we have to do what is best for America.

CARLSON:  But wouldn‘t this—And I agree with you, most of what you just said.  But wouldn‘t Rumsfeld‘s idea that you ought to reward areas where there is stability, clearly that would include the Kurdish north and maybe parts of the Shiite south, but areas where things are pretty under control and punish places that aren‘t under control.  This is kind of basic human nature, right, you reward behavior you approve of and punish behavior you disapprove of.

MURTHA:  That makes no sense at all.  That‘s absolutely not the kind of stuff that the American people expect.  The American people expect a reasonable response and the secretary himself has mishandled this war so badly and mischaracterized it so much that he‘s looking for all kinds of answers and he‘s blaming everybody but himself.  He was solely in charge of this thing, Tucker, as you know.

CARLSON:  With all respect, look, I‘m not taking Donald Rumsfeld‘s side on the macro question of the war in Iraq.  Just this - Rumsfeld, almost unlike everyone else in government, is a creative thinker who speaks clearly.  At least you understand what he is saying.

And this idea, this one idea strikes me as sensible.  Why should the United States government continue to finance the rebuilding of areas where the people hate us and don‘t want our help, why would we do that?

MURTHA:  Well, most of the Iraqis are reacting that way because we‘ve become occupiers.  And I don‘t disagree with the fact that at some point we‘re going to have to let them use their oil money to rehabilitate the country.  But the main thing is to allow them to establish stability.  We‘re not deserting Iraq.  What we‘re saying to them is you have got to settle this yourself, we deploy our troops to the periphery and then we can react if we have to either to protect American lives or to protect our interests in the Middle East.

CARLSON:  Well, our interests in the Middle East, of course, everyone agrees including the containment of Iran.  You don‘t want Iran to get more powerful.  Mr. Rumsfeld suggests that we put troops on the Iranian-Iraqi border to prevent infiltration from Iran into Iraq, that‘s in our interest, isn‘t it?

MURTHA:  Iran has always been a major problem.  The Iraqis will take care of that themselves.  They‘ll get rid of al Qaeda.  Once the United States forces are gone, you won‘t see this kind of intervention.  I‘m convinced that Iran is the danger to us.  We have to be very careful about it.  We have to recognize the fact that we can‘t allow them to have nuclear weapons.

But on the other hand, we have to realize what has caused the problem.  There was no instability in Iraq at all until we went there and we‘ve caused a lot of the instability.

CARLSON:  Right.

MURTHA:  So we have to handle this diplomatically, politically as I said in my resolution last year.  And that‘s going to be the answer.  Let the Iraqis handle it themselves.

CARLSON:  OK.  But clearly a lot of the Iraqis in southern Iraq, a lot of Shiite Iraqis are very sympathetic to the regime in Tehran.  They would welcome increased Iranian influence in their part of the country.  We don‘t want that.  We may have caused the instability in Iraq, but that doesn‘t change the fact it exists.  Shouldn‘t we prevent Iran from getting more influence in Iraq?  Isn‘t that in our interest?

MURTHA:  Let me just say this, Tucker, that that‘s what they are saying now.  That‘s what they said, that we would liberate Iraq.

Many of the people in Iraq at first thought it was wonderful we got rid of Saddam Hussein.  So once they have their own independence, once they‘ve settled their own problems, Iran is not going to play near the role that we would think.

What we have to be careful of is that they don‘t develop nuclear weapons.  That‘s the concern I have with Iran.  I am not sure how much Iran is influencing what is happening in Iraq right now but I know this, that the Iraqis will settle that themselves and that‘s the only answer to it.  We‘re not making progress, we‘re going backwards in Iraq.

CARLSON:  How would you rate Nancy Pelosi‘s management abilities so far?  She‘s gotten in two very well publicized scrapes since the Democratic victory early last month.  You were at the very center of the first one.  She picked two fights that she lost.  Do you feel hung out to dry by her? 

Do you think she‘s done a good job leading your party so far?

MURTHA:  No, no.  Tucker, she‘s the best political mind.  She understood what this election was all about.  This election was about the war.  This election was about the public wants a change in direction.  She understood that.  And 126 Democrats voted against the war and she felt very comfortable supporting me on all the work that I‘ve done.  I‘m convinced that part of the reasons that we were able to win this election victory is because of the work that I did.  She knew that and she spoke out and she supported me very strongly and appreciate that.

CARLSON:  Well, if the caucus supports your position on the war, then why did the caucus vote for Steny Hoyer?

MURTHA:  Well, I think there are lots of things that go into that kind of election.  And we‘re just going forward.  We‘re going to work—The primary thing we‘re going to do is try to settle this problem in Iraq so we can use the money for other things that are needed in the domestic side.  People don‘t understand, student loans, Medicare, all these things can‘t be decided until we get this war over with.

And that‘s what we‘re working for.  We‘re going to have extensive hearings, we‘re going to bring accountability to this administration and they‘re going to find out that they‘re going to have to deal with a very carefully articulated program headed by Nancy Pelosi.

CARLSON:  All right, Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania.  Thanks very much.

MURTHA:  Nice talking to you, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Still to come, the elect ability of Hillary Clinton, will her run for the White House fail because of Barack Obama?  We‘ll talk to the experts about that.

And things are pretty bad for President Bush, but is he the worst president ever?  We‘ll tell you when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  So when even Donald Rumsfeld says U.S. policy in Iraq is not working, is it time for the Bush administration to change course?

Here now to answer that question is a man who has thought deeply about it, Jed Babbin, who is former deputy undersecretary of defense for the first President Bush.  Mr. Babbin, thanks for joining us.

JED BABBIN, FORMER DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  My pleasure.

CARLSON:  Are you struck by the dovish notes in this memo by Donald Rumsfeld.  I mean, he suggests that we bring our number of bases.  We are at an all-time high of 110, down to five, five U.S. military installations in Iraq by this summer, this coming summer, in July, that‘s withdrawal, isn‘t it?

BABBIN:  I don‘t think so.  I really don‘t think it‘s dovish notes that he‘s sounding there.  I think if you look at the memo carefully, as I know you have, Tucker, you see that he‘s trying to say we need to make our cooperation with the Iraqis conditional on their cooperation with us.

In talking about pulling out security forces in provinces where the Iraqis are not cooperating fully, talking about ending reconstruction assistance where the Iraqis are not cooperating with security, those are the things that we need to do.  Maybe we should have done them a long time ago.  But I don‘t think there‘s a real dovish note in there.

CARLSON:  Well, he‘s got this portion in here that does sound like one of Congressman Jack Murtha‘s recommendations that we ought to withdraw to neighboring countries, Kuwait among them, not clear how that would affect Kuwait internally, but that we should redeploy our troops basically just like Murtha says and have a series of special operations forces on standby in case there are problems?  That‘s what Democrats are saying.

BABBIN:  Well, no, the Democrats were saying deploy to Okinawa for heaven‘s sake, which is like a 20 hour fight.  Murtha ought to get a map for one thing.  But the point really comes down to what Rumsfeld is saying put a lot of troops on the Iranian border and the Syrian border to prevent their interference.  That‘s one the principal things that he‘s saying.  He‘s saying retain special operations groups inside Baghdad area to go out and get the death squads and deal with the al Qaeda type.  It doesn‘t sound very dovish to me, Tucker.

I know you‘ve got an idea here but I really don‘t think if you‘re going to look at Donald Rumsfeld, there is not too many feathers floating around him.

CARLSON:  Here is something that is so cynical I endorse it heartily.  It‘s the opposite of the kind of utopian neocon silliness that got us there in the first place and this is a verbatim quote.  “Provide money to key political and religious leaders,” parentheses, “as Saddam Hussein did, to get them to help us through this difficult period.”

Pay off the opposition, give money to the bad guys, finance America haters.  A, I‘m totally for this because I think it would work, but, B, this is the opposite of the kind of you‘ve talk you‘ve heard from the administration.  Why aren‘t we doing this all right and do you think we will do it?

BABBIN:  I don‘t think we will because I don‘t think the president isn‘t on board with that particularly idea and we haven‘t been doing the kinds of things we ought to have been doing for a very long time.  The idea of building democracy there is not what we are in the business off.  As I‘ve said 100 times, Tucker, we have to win this war.  We‘re not going to win it within Iraq.  And we need to prosecute the war in a manner to win it decisively.  That means taking out the regimes in Tehran and Damascus and then come home.  I frankly don‘t care who rules in these places as long as they‘re not threatening America.

CARLSON:  Why would, after the last three and a half years and what has happened and virtually everyone up to and including Donald Rumsfeld is calling it a debacle to some extent.  Why would we go into Syria and Iran at this point?  Do we have the troops to do that?

BABBIN:  Number one, we wouldn‘t do it with troops.  Number two, we have to do it.  It‘s not to say, it‘s like Churchill said, “It‘s not adequate to say we‘re doing the best we can, it‘s necessary to succeed at what must be done.”

If you want to defeat the enemy, you can‘t defeat this enemy by fighting his proxies in Iraq.  You have to take the battle to the center of the gravity of the enemy and that exists in Tehran and Damascus.  Whether you do it with ground troops or other means, and I‘m all for other means, not for ground invasion.  It can be done, it should be done.  If we come home without doing it, it‘s going to be like Rome and Carthage, we‘re going to have to go back there again and again and again.

CARLSON:  I buy that.

And finally, the question of Donald Rumsfeld more generally.  Everyone Rumsfeld blames him for the war.  It wasn‘t his war.  He was handed the war.  He may have screwed up elements of it.  But he strikes me as about the only guy in all the federal government with the bravery to just say exactly what he thinks and some of it is accurate and some of it is inaccurate but it‘s all pretty direct.  Why is Rumsfeld taking the brunt of the brunt of this war when in fact, like it or hate it, it was Bush‘s war?

BABBIN:  Well, I think you make a very good point there and I don‘t think Rumsfeld should take the blame.  As a matter of fact, he‘s not.  If you look at the polls, there was a Zogby poll about two weeks before the election, Tucker, Rumsfeld was supported by 49 percent of those polled and opposed by only 42.  You know what?  Those are better numbers than the president has had in months if not years.  He‘s not an unpopular guy and blaming him for what is going on there I think is really misdirected.

CARLSON:  I completely agree.  Those numbers are twice as good at Dick Cheney and he is still in his job.

BABBIN:  Sure.

CARLSON:  Jed Babbin, thank you very much.

BABBIN:  Always a pleasure.

CARLSON:  Coming up, America‘s first Muslim congressman wants to take his oath of office on the Koran.  Does that spell the end of civilization as we know it?

And speaking of the end of civilization, Gwyneth Paltrow disowns America. 

We‘ll hear her rant, the one that‘s making headlines, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  This country recently elected its first Muslim member of Congress.  Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison.  The new congressman recently announced he will take the oath of office on the Koran rather than on the traditional Bible.  That‘s got some people angry.

In a column published last week, my next guest wrote, quote, “Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison‘s favorite book is.  Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America, and uphold it‘s values is concerned, America is interested only one book, the Bible.  If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don‘t serve in Congress.

Joining me now talk radio show host Dennis Prager.  Thanks for coming on, Dennis.

DENNIS PRAGER, TALK SHOW HOST:  Hi Tucker.  All right.  How are you?

CARLSON:  I‘m great and I‘m no great defender of the Koran, but I‘m not sure why America is imperiled by Keith Ellison‘s taking the oath on it.  Why is it?

PRAGER:  It‘s not imperiled by his taking the oath on it, it‘s imperiled for substituting the Bible for the first time since George Washington had a Bible at his inauguration.

The issue is not the oath.  First of all, he will have already taken the oath with all other congressman.  This is a photo op but it‘s a very important photo-op.  It‘s the statement of the congressman of what is most important to him and America.  I have no problem with his having the Koran.  I have a problem with his, for the first time in American history, substituting one religious text for another.

If he had the Koran and a Bible as one Muslim ambassador did about 10 years ago, I think it was the ambassador to the Fiji Islands, don‘t recall exactly, I wouldn‘t have ever written the column.

But this is a big deal to say I‘m ending this tradition that was started by George Washington in favor of another text.  The question is not what he believes in.  The question is what is the central text of the American value system?  That‘s why I think this is important.  Otherwise I couldn‘t care less.  If it had been the Bhagavad-Gita or it had been anything else or it had been a Scientologist work of “Dianetics” I would have said the same thing.  The Koran is not my issue.  It‘s substituting something for the Bible for the first time in American history.

CARLSON:  Well, the central text of American life is the Constitution, I think you‘d have to .

PRAGER:  OK.  That‘s not true.  That‘s the central legal document.  We had a United States of America for nine years prior to a Constitution.

CARLSON:  Right.

PRAGER:  Did we not have values then?  Did we not have laws?

CARLSON:  I think we did.  But I think the people who founded the country used those nine years to think through what this country is and what ideas should govern it and they came up with the Constitution and that document specifies—it‘s hard for me to believe I‘m defending the Koran here.  But that document says very clearly says no religious test will ever be required for holding office and you‘re implying holding up a religious test.

PRAGER:  I‘m not implying it whatsoever.  I want people of every faith to run for office.

CARLSON:  Right.

PRAGER:  I am merely talking about this opportunity, he is saying for the first time, no, there is a different text that most matters and that‘s what troubles me.  This is a very important debate for Americans to have.  We get our laws from the Constitution.  We get our values from the Bible.  We don‘t get it from the Bhagavad-Gita and I have great respect for Hindus, we don‘t get it from the Koran and I have great respect for the Koran.  That‘s not the issue.  We get it from the Bible.  If he can‘t bring the Bible along with his Koran, that‘s a statement that we ought to take seriously.  He obviously thinks it‘s important or he never would have announced it.

CARLSON:  What exactly is he giving up by substituting the Koran for the Bible?  You‘re saying the Bible is symbolically important?

PRAGER:  That‘s exactly right.

CARLSON:  I get that the official swearing in doesn‘t use a Bible.

PRAGER:  That‘s right, exactly, exactly.

CARLSON:  What symbolically is he giving up?  What is it about the Koran that is so different from the Old and New Testaments?

PRAGER:  It‘s irrelevant.  Do you want me to get into a discussion of the theological or moral differences between the Koran and the Bible, we‘re entering a very dangerous area of saying this is better than that, that is better than that and so on.

CARLSON:  I thought that‘s what you were saying?

PRAGER:  No, I am saying something quite neutral.  The Bible is the foundational moral document of the American people.  That‘s the case.  We get our inalienable rights not from the Constitution said the founders, but from the Creator.  That Creator is from the Bible.

Even those founders who were not particularly Christian still believed that the Bible was the basic text of American values.  Thomas Jefferson may have excised miracles from the Bible, but miracles are not the source of values, they‘re a source of theology.  For him to, he wanted the Great Seal of the United States to be the Jews leaving Egypt.  That‘s how central the Bible was to Thomas Jefferson.

CARLSON:  I think that‘s beyond argument.  But is your point that everybody who holds office in this country ought to acknowledge the centrality of the Judeo-Christian God?  Is that what you were saying?

PRAGER:  No, the Judeo-Christian Bible.  I‘m not asking for any theological affirmations.  I‘m asking for a moral and philosophical and historical one.  Atheists have taken their oath with the Bible.

CARLSON:  So even if you don‘t believe in it .

PRAGER:  Secularists have taken it.  That‘s right.  Eve if you don‘t believe .

CARLSON:  If you don‘t believe in the god at the very center that have document, you still have you to acknowledge the centrality of the document?  With respect, that doesn‘t make sense.

PRAGER:  That makes total sense.  You know how many atheists.  Hey, wait a minute, I‘m a Jew.  For me only the Old Testament is biblical.  But I would be an idiot to deny the centrality of the New and Old in American history.  I don‘t have to affirm something theologically in order to understand its irreplaceable value.

CARLSON:  Huh.  This is getting very deep and you‘re losing me a little bit.  It may be a function of my limited I.Q.  Boil it down to a political level here.  Should Keith Ellison not be allowed to take office or what should we do about this?

PRAGER:  We should pressure him to doing the great thing to unify Americans and bring the Bible along with the Koran.  That‘s not exactly a terrible demand.  It doesn‘t in anyway compromise his Islamic faith.  It says that he is saying to the American people, look, I am part of you.  I don‘t want to demolish the tradition that has been unbroken since George Washington.  I don‘t think that‘s too much to ask of Keith Ellison.

CARLSON:  Here we have a Jew pushing a Muslim to use the Christian Bible. 

This is - that‘s America.

PRAGER:  That‘s correct.

CARLSON:  Thanks a lot.  I appreciate it.

PRAGER:  It is America, you are quite right.

CARLSON:  Amen.

Still to come, Bush, Nixon, Carter, who is the worst American president ever?  The candidates for top dishonors just ahead.

And could John McCain‘s Iraq stance knock him out of the running for the White House?  That story when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

CARLSON:  We turn now to the sudden stardom of Barack Obama, freshman senator from Illinois.  Obama says he has not yet decided whether or not he will run for president.  Some of his fellow Democrats, though, worry he is consuming all of the air in the room, leaving some of them gasping.  Here is Obama on the “Tonight Show” Friday night, joking with Jay Leno about his past. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  I have to ask this question.  Remember Senator, you are under oath, did you inhale? 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS:  You know, I was telling somebody that asked this question, I said, that was the point. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  One person who is probably not laughing, Hillary Clinton.  With Obama‘s star clearly on the rise, is the junior senator from New York about to loose what once looked like a free pass to the Democratic nomination? 

Joining me now to talk about that, Mark McKinnon, the famed Republican strategist, and co-founder of HotSoup.com, and storied Democratic strategist Steve McMahon, both joining us live.  Thanks a lot to you both.  So, Mark, what would you do if you‘re Hillary Clinton and you think you‘ve got it sewn up and all of a sudden Barack Obama shows up, would you wait to announce, would you announce early?  What‘s the response. 

MARK MCKINNON, GOP STRATEGIST:  I would think about being Senate majority leader. 

CARLSON:  Good point. 

MCKINNON:  I think Barack Obama is one of the most exciting politicians to come along in a long time.  And I‘d encourage anybody who is curious about him to read his book, because it‘s deeply human, deeply thoughtful, and says a lot about his experience, which in a way, sort of, captures the entire American psyche and experience in one man, which is really interesting, given race and politics.  As I think he said recently, part of what he reflects is a generational difference and part of Hillary Clinton‘s problem is that she‘s hostage to her generation and her biography. 

CARLSON:  Which is so true and it will be so nice to be done with the baby boom generation, I have to say.  But there, to some extent, inertia, wouldn‘t you think, behind Mrs. Clinton‘s campaign.  It‘s moving, it‘s huge.  Can you stop it at this point?  No, probably not, don‘t you think she‘s going to run?  What should she do? 

MCKINNON:  Well, I remember in 2000, Tucker, you were there, that we put together a 50-state campaign that barely survived John McCain‘s campaign.  But we did have the resources, the fund raising, and the support all put in place early to survive that kind of insurgency, and that‘s very much like what Hillary Clinton‘s doing.  And the question is, can she put together the kind of constituency to withhold that kind of insurgency.  But it‘s going to be very interesting and exciting to watch. 

CARLSON:  Steve, Hillary Clinton at some point, if this plays out as we expect it to, they both—she and Obama both get in the race.  She‘s going to have to engage him, attack him.  That‘s not so easy.  She can‘t attack him because of his past, he‘s already admitted he has done cocaine.  He admits he smokes cigarettes.  What are you going to attack him on there? 

How exactly does she go after Barack Obama? 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, you know, that‘s a really good question.  And I think there is the whole issue of how would you go after him, if there were something there to go after him on.  And then there is the question of how do you—how much political damage do you do to yourself if you go after somebody like Barack Obama, who as Mark points out, you know, he‘s an incredible human being and has achieved star status.  Even people who may not support him for president, like I presume Mark is not going to, although Mark, you were once a Democrat, you can come on back at any time. 

MCKINNON:  He took the rat and then re-rat me.  

MCMAHON:  But even people who don‘t support him, like Mark, I presume wouldn‘t, have a great respect for him.  So there is some danger in going after someone like Barack Obama.  And I think Hillary Clinton, if she runs, would be well advised to avoid it.  But frankly, you know, I think the real question for him is, at what point and in what way do you engage Hillary Clinton.  Because she will start this, whether Barack is in or not, as the front runner and she will be a pretty heavy front.  And I think, you know, if you‘re trying to become the alternative, which is the space that everybody else in this race is trying to occupy, you know, you have got to figure out at what point you engage the front runner and in what how.  It doesn‘t always work out. 

CARLSON:  Hillary benefits from being attacked.  I mean, she‘s senator because her husband cheated on her.  I mean, that‘s sort of—I don‘t think there‘s any question about it.  You look at the polls, Hillary Clinton‘s popularity jumped dramatically after one speech, Clinton‘s speech in August when he said, you know, I did it.  She became popular. 

MCMAHON:  Rick Lazio was no rookie.  He was a pretty good candidate.  She ran a great campaign.  She‘s a senator because she beat Rick Lazio pretty decisively and then she ran for re-election and got, you know, if it‘s not a record margin, it‘s certainly close.  She‘s a pretty gifted politician, Tucker, and, you know, I think you at least have to give her that. 

CARLSON:  No, I think she is.  Mark, you probably saw a piece this morning in the “Washington Post” by Eric Foner (ph), a history professor at Columbia, author of a bunch of pretty interesting books on reconstruction, the Civil War era, saying that Bush is the worst president in American history.  We can call it now.  Bush will be, if Iraq continues to be the disaster it‘s shaping up to be, is that—he‘s not going to be regarded well by history?  Is he?

MCKINNON:  Well, I disagree with that.  I mean, history will tell and it‘s impossible to know now, and if that were the case, we could say the same thing about Winston Churchill and Harry Truman.  So presidents who have been engaged in the middle of long, prolonged conflict have never been popular in their time.  And it‘s only much later, when we see the resolution of history, that you can really provide a qualified judgment. 

CARLSON:  What will be the president be judged on? 

MCKINNON:  Well, I think that he‘ll be judged on a lot of things in the long term.  One is we‘ll look back and we‘ll see that despite Katrina and 9/11 and a lot of other things that happened, we have, as you saw today in the stock market, one of the strongest economies that we‘ve ever had in this country, despite all of the external events that have imposed themselves.  But again, we‘re facing a conflict the likes of which we‘ve never faced in our history.  And we may determine over time that exactly what the president has done, even though it doesn‘t look easy or clean or resolute right now, we may find over a period of time that it was exactly the right thing to do.  And I think that people like Hillary Clinton at the time supported the president and voted for the direction that we went at the time. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Steve, do you think --  well, it seems to me that Democrats run a risk, especially now that they are ascendant, for the moment, of becoming consumed with this mono-mania about Bush.  They hate Bush.  That‘s sort of the one thing that ties all Democrats together, is there common loathing for Bush.  And it leads to hyperbole like this, the worst president ever.  The guy‘s only six years in.  He‘s not even done yet.  I mean, do you think that detracts from the hard business of thinking about what Democrats might actually believe and stand for and governor on?  I mean, they haven‘t really done that because they‘ve been busy hating Bush.

MCMAHON  Well, Tucker, I think if I accepted your premise then you might be right.  But I think the Democrats stand together because of what they believe in.  And they stand against President Bush because they have fundamental disagreements.  I think Mark is being kind and generous to his former boss, which I completely understand.  I do think it‘s too early to render a verdict, but it certainly doesn‘t look very good for the president right now, in terms of how history might remember him.  He certainly will be remembered for this war.  Hopefully the war will still turn out well.  Hopefully Democracy will blossom and bloom and flourish all across the Middle East, and, you know, it doesn‘t seem to be the course that we‘re on right now, but, you know, if it does, I think he‘ll be remembered a little bit better than. 

CARLSON:  Well I‘m not for that at all. 

MCMAHON  You‘re not for democracy. 

CARLSON:  You want democracy in Egypt?  Do you know what would happen if we had democracies?  The Muslim Brotherhood would be in charge.  Do you want democracy in Saudi Arabia?  Who do you think would take the reigns of Saudi Arabia and it‘s awesome oil well?  People who like us, no, people who despise us.  Democracy‘s not the goal in my view.  But I wonder, Mark, what do you think of Donald Rumsfeld‘s memo that just came out today, in which he basically suggests that we ought to begin a very rapid withdrawal, in fact, more rapid than many Democrats are calling for?  What do you make of that?

MCKINNON:  Hard for me to get into the mind of the former secretary, but I think it reflects that there has been a lot of thinking going on at a lot of levels for alternative strategies that haven‘t necessarily been public.  You know, so I think even the secretary, and I think that there is a lot of psychology involved in what we‘re saying, as opposed to what we may be thinking.  Because everything we say sends a signal to those who are opposed to us.  So—But I think it does reflect that people, even like Rumsfeld, who were part of the engagement over the last few years, are looking at alternative strategies and some sort of adaptation. 

CARLSON:  Steve, can you give the administration, or Rumsfeld individually, any credit for this?  If you take a look at the memo, I‘m sure you have, he‘s saying a lot of things that Jack Murtha, for instance, has been saying? 

MCMAHON:  Well, he‘s saying a lot of the things that they were criticizing Democrats just a few weeks ago for saying. 

CARLSON:  That‘s right, that‘s fair. 

MCMAHON:  A lot of the things that they were calling irresponsible during campaign season.  And, you know, so I think it‘s interesting.  The timing of the memo is certainly interesting.  It will be especially interest if the president actually reads the memo and it will be surprising if he takes it to heart.  I mean, you‘ve got now the Baker Commission, which is looking for a way out of Iraq.  You‘ve got the Rumsfeld memo, which suggests all kinds of different things that we might be doing.  And you have the president, who just three days ago was saying, one thing I‘m not going to do, I‘m not going to take the troops off the field of battle. 

And so I think this president has determined, for whatever reason, that he made the right decision, that the war is going the way he expected it to go, although, it‘s baffling that he would have expected this and not planned for it.  And he seems to be prepared to stay the course.  The interesting thing to me is, you know, after all these Republicans lost, and the administration still apparently hasn‘t gotten the message, this president is now actually threatening Republicans who are going to be up in two years and the presidential nominee in two years, because if troops are in Iraq and if this situation hasn‘t improved dramatically, it‘s difficult for me to see, and Mark maybe has been a different view, how a Republican nominee can be successful. 

CARLSON:  OK, well that is a topic we‘ll take up in just a moment.  If you all would stay right there, I‘d appreciate.  We‘ll be right back. 

The latest twist in the poisoning of a Russian spy in London.  British investigators travel to Moscow, looking for answers.  Will their inquest lead them all the way to Vladmir Putin‘s office?  We‘ll tell you when we come back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  We spoke earlier to radio talk show host Dennis Prager.  He adamantly opposes the idea of incoming Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison being sworn into Congress with his hand on the Koran, rather than the Bible.  Prager says quote, it‘s damaging to the fabric of American civilization. 

Back with me to talk about this, as well as the field of Republican front runners in 2008, Mark McKinnon, Republic strategist and co-founder of HotSoup.com, joining us from Austin, Texas, and from Washington, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.  Welcome to you both.  Mark, does this brother you, the idea that a member of Congress would put his hand on a Koran rather than a Bible? 

MCKINNON:  It doesn‘t bother me a bit.  In fact, I‘m glad to see it, Tucker.  You know, I think convention just went out the window at 9/11.  And the problem we have in America today is not showing enough tolerance or not enough outreach to the world beyond America, to suggest the kind of values that we have.  And I think if the writers of the constitution were writing it today, they might include the Koran. 

CARLSON:  So, do you think is the moral equivalent to the bible? 

They‘re essentially the same in moral value? 

MCKINNON:  I think to those who believe and read it, yes. 

CARLSON:  OK, do you think that too, Steve?  Do you have any problem with this at all? 

MCMAHON:  I have no problem at all.  I completely agree with Mark.  And frankly, if this is the worst problem that our nation faces, then we don‘t really have much to worry about then, do we. 

CARLSON:  OK, good, it‘s a quorum.  Mark, you are a long time consultant to George W. Bush, but also very close, I think it‘s fair to say, personally.  Looks like you‘ll be working with John McCain, coming up in the next presidential cycle.  That has been read by a number of people as almost a tacit endorsement of McCain‘s campaign by the White House.  Why wouldn‘t we see it that way?  It is, isn‘t it?

MCKINNON:  No, it‘s not at all.  In fact, there are large numbers of people from our world supporting Mitt Romney and all the other candidates who are out there.  So I think the president, as well as others in the administration, would be smart not to do anything in terms of nodding to any of the primary candidates, and not doing anything until the general election. 

CARLSON:  Yes, well I can‘t imagine they would do it in public, but I was thinking in more subtle ways, for instance, you know, sending you over there to run McCain‘s campaign.  McCain, though, was not only a supporter of the war in Iraq, but an enthusiastic, a genuinely enthusiastic supporter of a war that nobody likes, not even Donald Rumsfeld.  Is that going to hurt him. 

MCKINNON:  Well, it could, but it‘s classic McCain, Tucker, saying exactly what he thinks and, regardless of whether or not it‘s politically acceptable or popular, that‘s what we have come to expect from John McCain.  I do think it reflects—you know, it does reflect what some of the generals on the ground are saying about what they actually, and I think what most Americans really want is something other than the status quo, and that‘s obviously a change from the status quo.  I think people want success.  They just want to do something differently that shows that we‘re trying a different strategy, other than what we‘ve been doing.  And I think people also give McCain credit for saying things that he knows are not popular. 

CARLSON:  Right, I think that‘s true.  I mean, it definitely took some stones to come out and call for more troops, as he did the other day.  Steve, if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, this is all very, of course, theoretical at this point, but if she is and John McCain is on the Republican side, can you imagine Hillary Clinton credibly attacking McCain on the war, since she voted for it too? 

MCMAHON:  Well, I think the interesting thing for Senator Clinton is going to happen much faster than the general election.  She‘s going to have to deal with this war question right now, because, as you pointed earlier, Barack Obama, the rising star of the party, was against the war.  And I think what you see, whether it‘s John Edwards or John Kerry or the other people in this potential presidential race, they‘re all now repudiating their votes, apologizing for their votes, or in the case of Barack Obama, saying I didn‘t cast a vote, but I would have cast a vote no. 

Senator Clinton is standing there much like John McCain.  She‘s the hawkish member of this primary and it‘s going to be interesting to see how it goes, because Democratic primary voters, especially, are very, very anti-war.  And I think even Republican primary voters are becoming more concerned about the direction there and they want to change directions. 

It seems like they want to go in the opposite direction than Senator McCain is suggesting.  I think it creates a great opening for somebody like Chuck Hagel, you know, a decorated veteran, a senator of my home state, Nebraska, who has a lot of the characteristics of John McCain, in terms of his willingness to say it as he sees it, but who‘s a veteran who thinks that we need to start bringing our troops home and that sending more troops might actually make the situation worse. 

CARLSON:  I actually agree with that.  I think you and I are probably the only people in the world who would think Hagel would make a credible candidate.  Mark, what do you think?  He used to be McCain‘s friend.  Is he going to run? 

MCKINNON:  I don‘t know.  I think he‘s had ambition to run for a long time, and I think part of the problem is that he‘s always been a bit in McCain‘s shadow.  But he‘s got an alternative message here, so I think that provides—there may be room in that spectrum for him to fill a slot. 

CARLSON:  We‘ll see.  Mark McKinnon, Steve McMahon, thank you both very much. 

MCMAHON:  Thank you.

MCKINNON:  You‘re welcome, Tucker, thanks. 

CARLSON:  We turn now to the mystery that is gripping the world, who poisoned a former Russian spy in the city of London?  Scotland Yard detectives are in Moscow now, investigating that as we speak.  Meanwhile, Yegor Gaidar, the former Russian prime minister, who was hospitalized soon after Alexander Litvinenko died from radiation poisoning, has now been released.  Details of his condition will be revealed tomorrow.  Meanwhile NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski is in London with the very latest on this story, Michelle. 

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Hi there, Tucker.  Well no reports are coming out that two more locations in central London, one of them possibly a hotel, are being tested for potential radioactivity.  Already a dozen locations have tested positive, and even last week the home secretary was telling the public that he felt sure investigators would find more radiation around London.  So that‘s a concern to the public. 

Also today, British investigators with the anti-terrorism unit landed in Moscow with the aim to interview several people that may have information in this case.  One of them that‘s being reported will likely be a businessman and former spy name Andre Lugovoy (ph).  This is a friend of Litvinenko‘s, that met with him on November 1st, the day Litvinenko thought he had been poisoned.  Now this man is telling the London press that he has also been contaminated with Polonium. 

Here‘s the interesting aspect of this though, he stayed in a hotel that later tested positive for radioactivity, but he says he checked out of that hotel days before Litvinenko believed that he had been poisoned.  The question then is was Lugovoy contaminated somehow before Litvinenko was?  Was there somebody else out there who had this material in that same hotel?  A lot of questions surrounding that, and Lugovoy is claiming that he‘s being set up, that someone is trying to pin Litvinenko‘s poisoning on him. 

In the meantime, the Russian foreign minister is quoted as saying he thinks the British are really blowing this way out of proportion, and this has strained relations between Britain and Russia.  Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Thanks a lot Michelle.  Still ahead, Gwyneth Paltrow turns Benedict Arnold.  The American actress says Americans are dumb and uncivilized, but last check, she was still an American.  We‘ll have that story and the uproar that ensued when we come right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Standing by with breaking news of indeterminate nature, Willie Geist from headquarters. 

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Let me determine it for you right now Tucker.  This Gwyneth Paltrow story, everybody‘s been talking about.  We have some news.  It appeared earlier in the day that the country that brought Gwyneth Paltrow fame, riches and Ben Affleck, and the country that, oh by the way, took care of a little business in 1776, apparently isn‘t enough for Paltrow anymore.  The Oscar winning actress reportedly had told a Portuguese magazine she prefers England to America. 

Here is what the magazine says she says, “The British are much more intelligent and civilized than the Americans.”  She went on to say that “People don‘t talk about work and money in England.  They talk about interesting things at dinner.”  Well, Gwyneth has now replied in a report with “People Magazine,” which I was just leafing through before I came out to the set and came across this stuff.  She says not only did she not say that, she never gave an interview to that magazine.  Here‘s what she says, “I feel so upset to be completely misconstrued and I never, ever would have said that.  I definitely did not say that I think the British are more intelligent and civilized than Americans.  I am a New York girl and that‘s how I always think of myself and see myself.” 

She says she‘s deeply upset by it.  So she says basically she gave a press conference for one of her endorsements.  This magazine took some quotes away from it.  She said her Spanish was a little rocky.  The entire press conference was in Spanish and she was totally misquoted, misinterpreted.  She loves, loves, loves America.  She‘s married to a British guy, the guy from Coldplay.  So she lives in London half the time and that‘s what‘s behind all of this.  That‘s all. 

CARLSON:  Yes, because I hate to have to point out that the British literally murder each other at soccer games.  That would have been my response. 

GEIST:  They do.  All right, one more for you.  We want to update you on the new the Britney/Paris/ Lindsay axis of evil.  Lindsay Lohan‘s publicist confirms that Lohan has begun attending AA meetings.  The 20-year-old actress, I‘m pretty sure that‘s what she does, has a reputation for excessive partying, as you know.  It‘s nothing a little time with Paris Hilton won‘t cure, of course. 

Meanwhile Britney sent her 25th birthday at Mr. Chow Restaurant in Beverly Hills over the weekend.  She celebrated a quarter century of classiness by flashing her underwear at the paparazzi.  She then, of course, met up with Paris later in the night.  And I think Tucker, this axis of evil has to go in the next State of the Union Address, because this is getting dangerous.  These three together, it‘s like the perfect storm.  We have to be careful. 

CARLSON:  Can I make the obvious point Willie?

GEIST:  Sure.

CARLSON:  It‘s not going to end well. 

GEIST:  No, for any of them, in fact. 

CARLSON:  Willie Geist, thanks Willie.  That‘s our show.  Thank you for watching.  We‘ll see you back here tomorrow, same time.

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

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