updated 1/24/2007 12:06:14 PM ET 2007-01-24T17:06:14

Guests: Claire McCaskill, Michael Crowley, John Edwards, Jim Michaels, Joan Walsh

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Good evening from Washington, where tonight, amid sagging poll numbers, in front a newly elected Democratic Congress, and as he historically noted, the country‘s first female speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, President Bush addressed the nation on the State of the Union.

And while he declared it was strong, he waited until the end of the speech to do so.  Appearing to relax, President Bush pushed his domestic agenda while taking on the most important issue of the day, Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.  Our country is pursuing a new strategy and I ask you to give it a chance to work.  And I ask you support our troops in the field and those on their way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  So was tonight‘s speech enough to convince and the American people to follow his plan over the next two years?  Or was this State of the Union further proof of the state of chaos facing the Bush administration.

Now in just a minute we are going to talking to our all-star panel.  Craig Crawford (ph), he is a columnist for Congressional Quarterly and an MSNBC political analyst.  Michael Crowley, he is a senior editor for The New Republic.  And MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

But first let‘s talk to Senator Claire McCaskill, the newly elected Democrat from Missouri, or “Missourah” depending on what the senator wants me to say. 

Is it “Missourah” or Missouri tonight, Senator?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI:  Either one is fine. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Well, your home state, how are they going to respond to the president‘s State of the Union Address tonight and how do you think he did?

MCCASKILL:  Well, you know, I think there are some—frankly, I think he tried to kind of push Iraq to the back of the speech, hoping that it wouldn‘t become the issue of the speech.  And I don‘t think that worked.  It is the issue.  And he can‘t escape that.

But I think I was encouraged by him at least talking in some ways like Democratic president in talking about health care, talking about alternative energy, talking about education. 

I think that is certainly where we can find some bipartisan support to try to move those things forward.

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, you were elected during a very historical time for the Democratic Party, when so many of you were swept into office.  And of course, you were swept into office with a lot of other Democratic candidates on a surge of anti-Iraq feeling. 

MCCASKILL:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  And yet, a couple of months later, of course, the president pushes a 21,000-troop surge that is very unpopular with the American people.  Did he convince you tonight that that was the right thing to do?

MCCASKILL:  No.  He did not.  As a new member of the Armed Services Committee, I have had an opportunity now to hear Secretary Gates and General Petraeus and General Pace, and talk to Mr. Hadley over at the White House. 

And here is the problem, Joe.  I mean, they have not been able to convince me or I think most Americans that the Iraqi government is ready, willing, or able to do their part.  And it is really, I think, a mistake for us to continue to put our treasure and our precious lives on the line when the Iraqi government has not shown any willingness to step up and do anything that they have promised to do in the past or currently.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Senator, it is so interesting hearing you say that as a Democratic senator.  In the past, Democrats might be afraid to take that tack.  But you actually have the Joint Chiefs on your side.  You actually have General Abizaid on your side, Colin Powell on your side, and most military men and women that have been running this Iraq War over the past three or four years. 

And yet, let‘s listen to the president talking about his strategy in Iraq and asking people like you to support the troops by giving in a chance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I have spoken with many of you in person.  I respect you and the arguments you have made.  We went into this largely united in our assumptions and in our convictions.  And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.  Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq and I ask you to give it a chance to work.  And I ask you to support our troops in the field and those on their way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, as you sat in that—in your chair listening to the president, did you get upset by the fact that the president seemed to be suggesting that if you didn‘t support the troop surge, that you weren‘t supporting troops in the field or troops on what?

MCCASKILL:  Well, that really—I mean, people have said there area similarities between this and Vietnam, there is one thing that is very clear, the Democrats are not talking about withholding funding because we are all so supportive of our troops that are on the ground, the reservists and the Guardsmen of this country that have given so much, and their families. 

We want to make sure they have everything they need to protect themselves and to perform to the standards that they have performed thus far.  And so—you know, and by the way, I supported the president‘s speech tonight where he said we should increase our troop strength. 

We need more active military.  We are spread so thinly right now.  There are so many places in the world, Joe, that we should be looking at being flexible and nimble with our military, whether we are talking Afghanistan, whether we are talking about North Korea, we are so bogged down in this mess in Iraq, our military is no longer supporting what this president is doing. 

It is time that we begin to draw down the number of troops in Iraq, not build up.

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, according to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 22 percent of Americans before tonight‘s speech thought that the president should take the lead role in setting U.S. policy. 

And of course, 57 percent thought that the Democratic Congress should take that lead.  With that responsibility, with Americans looking at you and other Democratic senators to take the lead on this issue—on really the most important issue facing America, what do you tell them?  What is the Democratic plan?  What is your plan to get us out of Iraq?

MCCASKILL:  Well, first of all, I think Americans understand that Congress cannot do the commander-in-chief‘s job.  There is only one commander-in-chief in this democracy, and that is the president of the United States. 

And for the next two years, we will not be able to do all that maybe the American people want us to do because of the respect that we have for our form of government.  You can‘t take over and run the military if you are in Congress, as you well know.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.

MCCASKILL:  And by the way, I‘m not sure it would be a good idea, because I listened to you earlier tonight, and as a very new member, the very first time I ever have been in the House chamber, the first time I have ever been to a State of the Union speech, I was very confused about whether we stood up or we sat down. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  It is terrible.

MCCASKILL:  It is a mess.

SCARBOROUGH:  Bill Clinton, we would be sitting there, you know, wanting to impeach Bill Clinton, and he would say something like, we love children.  And Democrats would stand up, we would sit there, God, what do we do?  What do we do?

MCCASKILL:  We love children too, right.

SCARBOROUGH:  And then of course you look stupid because here I would finally say, OK, OK, we like children.  And so we would jump up...

MCCASKILL:  Well, it is so funny, because you see people watching other members, like, OK, we don‘t want to stand up if that person is standing up, but you do want to stand up if that person is standing up. 

And so it is one of these—it is this game, you called it, I think, a wave.  It was really kind of silly, this whole thing about when you stand up or don‘t stand up. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It is absolutely ridiculous, but there are always those members that you look at, and if they stand up, you will say, OK, it is all right...

MCCASKILL:  I was sitting...

SCARBOROUGH:  It is all right to protect safe streets, I will stand up now. 

MCCASKILL:  I was sitting very near Carl Levin, my chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who I think is a very thoughtful man, and very bright man, and certainly knows this area.  So I was kind of watching him to see when he was standing up.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, actually, Senator, he was a great one to watch because, it is funny, there were a couple of lines where the president would say things like, we must fight to achieve victory in Iraq, or something that most Democrats would sit back and think about and say, well, what is this?  We can‘t really win Iraq.  Carl Levin jumped straight up, follow Carl Levin, you can‘t go wrong on the applause meter.

MCCASKILL:  And believe me, I said to General Petraeus today in the hearing, we wish him Godspeed.  We wish him success.  I think that they are putting a horrible burden on General Petraeus‘ shoulders.  He is an admirable man and a strong military man, a great leader.

But what they are asking him to do is to go in there without the help of the Iraqi green forces in terms of being a military that we can trust or rely on without any kind of law and order, without any kind of judicial system to put these bad guys in prison there, without the prison beds, without the kind of infrastructure this country needs.

With a distrust—I mean, it is just a mess.  And I feel for General Petraeus.  I wish him success.  I‘m not optimistic.  But I—certainly, we all want victory, we just don‘t think it is possible under this plan. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And you and I talked to Senator John McCain tonight, and he told me that General Petraeus was perhaps one of the most impressive military men that he ever spoke with.  And he said, and yet he has got such a tough, difficult, uphill battle. 

But, Senator, I agree with you.  And I think most people agree with you that at some point it is time for the Iraqis to stand up and take charge of their own destiny, simply.

MCCASKILL:  If we just would ask Maliki, you show us that you are willing to take Sadr on, do it publicly, take him on.  And then maybe we can talk about more help.  But until he is willing publicly to take on the death squads that are part of Sadr‘s militia, and frankly, I don‘t think he is going to do it because he needs him politically.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  I think you are right.  Hey, Senator, we have got to go.  But very quickly, how has your month been?  Pretty heady experience, huh?

MCCASKILL:  It is an honor, and it is thrilling.  I still—I know it is corny, but when I drive to work in the morning, I look up at that building, it is like a pinch-yourself moment.  I hope I never lose that.  I‘m honored to be here.

SCARBOROUGH:  I was up there for about seven years, seven-and-a-half years, and it was the strangest thing.  And when you try to explain to people, they really do think you are corny. 

But even at the end, after all of that time, you drive up the Hill, and you see the light at the top of the Capitol, and I really—I got chills seven years into it.  It is hard to explain to people what a great honor it is being elected by people in your district and your state, to have that position. 

So congratulations.

MCCASKILL:  Thank you very much.

SCARBOROUGH:  And I‘m sure you won‘t ever lose that thrill.  Thanks for being with us.

MCCASKILL:  I hope not.  Thank you.

SCARBOROUGH:  But you know, the thing is, my job now is, every time I go to work, I get to see Pat Buchanan.  And if there is—there is nothing that brings me more of a thrill.  Let‘s bring in Pat Buchanan right now.

And, Michael Crowley, you are also very thrilling.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, SENIOR EDITOR, NEW REPUBLIC:  Oh, thank you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  As is Craig Crawford, chills when I even mention Craig Crawford‘s name.

Pat, you and I have been critical of this president, as have most conservatives and most Americans over the past six months to year on Iraq.  But this is the first I have said really positive things about him.  The president looked in control. 

John Boehner told me afterwards this was the best speech this man has given since September 20th, 2001.  What—why did the president—you ask Democrats and they are not so blown away by it, what did the president do that impressed conservatives tonight?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Oh, we have been—Joe, you and I have been doing this show nightly.  And president besieged.  Beleaguered president under fire.  The people have left him. 

That was a self-confident, self-assured man up there tonight. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Where did that come from?

BUCHANAN:  I think it comes from an internal conviction that he is doing the right thing.  He realizes the country is against him, the Congress is against him.  But he has put his presidency on the line.  He believes it is the only way Iraq can be saved. 

He says, if we don‘t do this, sir, we have got a nightmare scenario.  He laid that out.  And so I think it is almost like someone who is resigned that—you know, that famous Lincoln quote comes to mind.  You know, if this thing goes badly, 10 angels swearing I was right ain‘t going to help, but if it comes out all right, then I will fine.

And that is why—that peace, if you will, I hate—you know, it is the old Nixon phrase, “peace at the center” that I saw in the president tonight.  And I thought, you know, when I watched these speeches, I have seen so many of them, my mind will tend to wander, I listened to every word the president spoke and some issues I thought he was persuasive.

I thought some he was really—it just was insufficient.  But when he got there I saw real conviction.  And he was polite and open to the opposition.  I have heard your arguments.

And then when he said, you know—when he gets up and said, look, you didn‘t vote for failure, and I would at least ask you to stand behind the troops and stand behind those on the way.

What he is saying, Joe, is, look, they are going, I have made the decision, I have heard your arguments, I know you folks disagree with me, but I want you to support them. 

And I think he is going to get that support from Congress.

SCARBOROUGH:  I certainly think he is going to get it from Republicans who, as they were leaving and streaming out, they were all saying, he did a very good job tonight. 

And I‘m not suggesting that he is going to sway the Democrats.  I‘m not suggesting that he can get the country back.  Reagan lost the country after six years and could convince them that Nicaragua was worth the fight. 

But so many of us want acceptance.  I mean, I have yet to meet a politician that didn‘t bristle when they read a negative editorial, or when people weren‘t on them, that—you know, congressman, he represents 600,000 people, only 600,000 people, would grouse and yell and complain and fight.

And yet here is a president that has the world against him, standing alone against the world.  I‘m (ph) only (ph) talking about this personally—I‘m not talking about—but I want us to dissect George Bush the person.

Didn‘t you think—don‘t you think at this point that it is extraordinary that this president has so much confidence that he is right?  I mean, that he is right and everybody else is wrong?

It is, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Some would call that denial, you know.   

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, it could be denial.  But at the same time...

BUCHANAN:  But what we saw tonight was not denial.  We didn‘t see denial, Joe.  You saw a man, as I said, who has made the—who sent us in there who knows how bad it is, who has made his decision, who is confident of his decision, who knows the other side disagrees.

I‘ve heard your arguments, and he explained that.  And he just believes that the alternative of turning around—and this is one thing nobody faces, he said, look, consider this nightmare scenario if we turn around and pull out and this goes down.

SCARBOROUGH:  And that, Pat, is what is freezing the Democratic Party right now.  That is why they won‘t do what Claire McCaskill was talking about, drawing down troop levels because...

BUCHANAN:  They don‘t want...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I know very that is the result and they don‘t want responsibility for it.

CRAWFORD:  I did not think Jim Webb was frozen.

SCARBOROUGH:  Jim Webb was not frozen at all.  An extraordinary speech.

CRAWFORD:  In fact, I thought that last line of Jim Webb, when he said, and if he doesn‘t do it, we will show him the way, I don‘t know how many Democrats will go along with Webb on that, but that was tough language.

SCARBOROUGH:  Craig, I thought, in fact, that language was really the clearest language that any Democrat has provided.  And it came from a man who has a very personal stake in this war, a son that is over there. 

We have got to go to break, but when we come back, we are going to go to Craig and we are also going to talk to Michael, two people that obviously will disagree with my assessment on the president‘s speech tonight. 

And we are going to be joined live by Democratic presidential contender John Edwards.  We are going to hear what he thinks about what the president had to say straight ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Every one of us wishes this war were over and won.  Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned and our own security at risk.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The great question of day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity.  And I say, for the sake of our own security, we must. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, welcome back.  We are now going to turn to a man who wants to give the State of the Union Address in 2009.  He is former North Carolina Senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards. 

Senator, thanks for being with us tonight. 

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you, Joe, for having me. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, you talked about “two Americas,” I want to ask you, after you saw the president‘s speech tonight, did you believe that there really was two Americas? 

George Bush‘s America, where he and about 20 percent of Americans believe we need 20,000 more troops in Iraq.  And then, the rest of us.  Did he seem to be disconnected from the mainstream of American political thought?

EDWARDS:  Well, I think he is disconnected not just from the mainstream of America, Joe, I think he is disconnected from most of the members of Congress, including a lot of prominent members of his own party, disconnected from a lot of our military leadership and, as you just pointed out, disconnected from the public.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Senator, what did you think of the president‘s speech tonight, specifically what his prescription was for Iraq?

EDWARDS:  Well, I strongly disagree with the idea of escalating the war.  I think it is exactly the wrong signal to Maliki and the Shia-led government.  I think we are enabling their continuing to exclude the Sunni from this government, which I think is the undercurrent for violence. 

Obviously there are a lot of other factors, but that is, I think, the dominant factor.  And I don‘t they are going to change until they take responsibility for their own country.  And that is not going to happen as long we enable them. 

So we have—the president and I have a really fundamental disagreement about this.  And unfortunately for the president, and more importantly, for America, there is a long series of mistakes that have been made in Iraq.  And I think a lot of the trust that the country had in him has eroded.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, so, Senator, your argument is essentially the same argument as our Joint Chiefs and also, of course, General Abizaid, who ran the war for three-and-a-half years, that if we send more troops to Iraq, the number of troops, that is not really the issue. 

The issue is this signal that we send Maliki and the Iraqi government that we are going to continue to be enablers and we are going to continue to push down, you know, the time line for them to fix their own problems and take control of their country.  Is that going to be your message over the next year?

EDWARDS:  It is what I believe deep inside.  I think it is a huge mistake.  I mean, how many more American men and women‘s lives are we going to lose and put at risk in order to enable this government to continue their bad behavior?  Which is exactly what they have been doing.

This is not a military issue.  This is a political issue.  And they have to decide that they are going to allow the Sunni in and they are going to take the steps to tamp down the violence from the Shia-led—Shia militia.  And that has just not happened. 

And sending 20,000 more American troops into the crossfire is not going to change it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  This morning, Meredith Vieira talked to Senator Clinton about your poll numbers in Iowa.  I want you to take a listen to what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM “THE TODAY SHOW”)

MEREDITH VIEIRA, HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  You are off to Iowa where the former senator, John Edwards, is polling very well.  And he has sort of positioned himself as the anti-war candidate. 

I‘m envisioning the debate between the two of you when he turns to you and says, I have repudiated my vote to go to war in Iraq, I have said it is a mistake, Senator, why can‘t you say it your vote was a mistake?  What will your response be?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, Meredith, I have taken responsibility for my vote.  But I also, as a member of the United States Senate, have an obligation to try to figure out what we are going to do now. 

I‘m not on the sidelines.  I‘m in the arena.  I‘m on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator Edwards, how do you respond to Senator Clinton?

EDWARDS:  I think that all of us who seek to be the commander-in-chief and the next president of the United States have to have the credibility to be president.  I think that requires each of us to make a judgment about taking responsibility and accountability for what we have done, good and bad, in the past. 

I have already said very clearly my vote on the war is wrong.  I should not have voted for this war.  It was a mistake.  I was just listening—it is the first time I have heard this, Joe.  Just listening to Senator Clinton respond, and unless I missed something, I didn‘t hear her say, and I have never heard her say that her vote was wrong.

And that is something for voters to determine.  There is a difference between her position and my position.  I think it is a legitimate issue for voters to take into consideration and whether they think it is important whether we take responsibility and accountability for our own actions.

SCARBOROUGH:  And finally, let‘s turn to Senator Barack Obama, who has sort of exploded onto the scene as, I guess, the rock star—the political rock star of the moment.  And of course, his poll numbers are great nationwide in these generic ballot tests. 

But when you go to Iowa where the rubber hits the road, let‘s show these poll numbers, in Iowa, you are doing extremely well.  You are 27 percent.  Rock star Barack Obama is at 17 percent.  Governor Tom Vilsack from Iowa, 16 percent.  You are beating him by 11 percentage points.  And the presumptive Democratic nominee, if you talk to a lot of people in Washington, Hillary Clinton, 16 percent, also trailing you by 11 percentage points.

It looks like you are already shaking things up in this race.  Why—what are you—what accounts for your strong showing in these early polls in Iowa?

EDWARDS:  Oh, well, I wish I could answer that question.

(CROSSTALK)

EDWARDS:  I‘m not smart enough to know the answer to that.  I think the truth is that there is a lot of national media attention on national polls.  We don‘t have a national primary, as people like you know better than anybody. 

We will go to Iowa.  We will go to Nevada.  We will go to New Hampshire.  That will play a huge a role in who the next Democratic nominee for president is, as it will in the case of the Republicans, Iowa, New Hampshire.

And those are the places, as you put it, where the rubber meets the road.  And the voters there are very tough.  I mean, they are looking for clear stances.  They are looking for strength in leadership.  And they are looking for who they believe can win the general election. 

And the only thing I would point out—God bless you for pointing out how well I‘m doing there, but we are just starting this process now and I have been through this.  And I know how tough and long it is.  And some of the other candidates have not been through it before. 

And this is not a sprint, it is a long distance race.  And I‘m in it for the long term.

SCARBOROUGH:  That it is.  That it is.  And I think also those Iowa numbers show that a lot of people in Iowa and New Hampshire really couldn‘t care less about what Washington pundits and pollsters say a year out.  They want to see you, shake your hand and meet you.  And they have met you.  And obviously there is something about you they like.

Senator John Edwards, thanks so much for being with us tonight. 

EDWARDS:  Thank you, Joe, very much for having me.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Coming up, did the president say what U.S. troops and Iraqi citizens were hoping to hear from him tonight?  We are going to head to Baghdad next for that answer. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Ladies and gentlemen, on this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle.  Let us find our resolve and turn events toward victory. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Tonight the president announced he was creating a special advisory council on the war on terror made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties. 

And listen to what else he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others.  And that is why it is important to work together so our nation can see this great effort through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  So what is the reaction from U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq, some on their third and fourth tours of duty?  And also from the Iraqi people?  Here is Jim Michaels.  He is from USA Today who is in Baghdad tonight—or this morning, if you are in Baghdad.

Jim, did Iraqis stay up?  Did the U.S. troops stay up to listen to their commander-in-chief?

JIM MICHAELS, USA TODAY:  It came on pretty early in the morning here.  And so I don‘t think there was a lot of people staying up and watching it.  From the Iraqis point of view, they are—I think they are pretty wary at this point, particularly in the capital where, you know, sectarian violence has increased, obviously, over the past year and the level of economic activity in the city slowed down a lot. 

And there is a lot weariness and they are just tired and ready to, you know, see some results and see some security.

As far as the American military goes, they are—you know, the rank and file troops are pretty busy just doing the job from day to day and are not probably most terribly interested what is going on day-to-day back in Washington.

SCARBOROUGH:  So when it comes to the president of the United States speaking to the American people, it really doesn‘t have too much of an impact in Iraq.  It seemed to me from what you are saying, most of the Iraqi people have decided that this president‘s war over there is a failure and there is very little he can say or do to make a big difference. 

Is that an accurate assessment?

MICHAELS:  Well, I think it is not so much that they have decided one way or the other, as I think it is more of wait and see and see what happens.  They want to see results rather than necessarily base judgment on words and speeches. 

They are—you know, they are hoping, I think, for—you know, for security in particular, and for an end to the violence that is affecting them very much.  And so I think they are really waiting to see what happens on the ground.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  As we are, all are.  Thanks so much, Jim Michaels, greatly appreciate your report.  Live from Baghdad.

MICHAELS:  Thank you.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  And be careful there. 

And when we come back, we are going to look at how the president‘s message stayed the same even while his poll numbers have plummeted.  Did tonight‘s speech do anything to stop the freefall in his approval ratings?  We are going to go to Michael Crowley and Craig Crawford when we return.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Ladies and gentleman, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq, and to spare the American people from this danger.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

SCARBOROUGH:  And welcome back to our coverage of the State of the Union.  Once again, our all-star panel: Joan Walsh of Salon.com, Craig Crawford and Michael Crowley and Pat Buchanan. 

And I have got to say, Craig Crawford and Michael Crowley have been especially articulate this first half hour. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  And if can—Craig, if you shorten your answers a little bit...

CRAWFORD:  How about if I—Pat, you remember that movie, “My Cousin Vinny” where Danny DeVito (sic) was asleep in the courtroom?  They said, you have got a rebuttal, and he said, everything that guy said is B.S.

(LAUGHTER)

CRAWFORD:  I want to say that to Pat, how‘s that?

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Well, that is great.  Hey, Craig Crawford, thank you for being with us tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael Crowley, we will see you tomorrow night. 

CROWLEY:  My card (ph) is in the mail, actually, yes.   

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Very good.  More interrogatories, we don‘t want to hear your voice actually.  No, tell us about—you have a lot to rebut from what Pat and I—we have been criticizing the president for months, but we have gone on this right-wing tear, talking about how great he did tonight. 

Give us the Democratic response.

CROWLEY:  I was so stupefied by it I couldn‘t find the words to it.  Actually, I‘m wondering, you know, you must have run into some of your old colleagues down at the Capitol building site...

SCARBOROUGH:  I did.

CROWLEY:  I have got to give you a hard time.  I think you are getting a little, you know... 

SCARBOROUGH:  Smoking cigars, drinking red wine.

CROWLEY:  You are getting a little nostalgic.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... red meat.

CROWLEY:  A little nostalgic.  I never thought...

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  They brought you back in.

SCARBOROUGH:  They brought me back in.  I keep trying to come out.  No, seriously, though, let‘s talk about—Pat and I were talking about style, not—at least I was talking style, not so much substance. 

Talk about the substance of it.

CROWLEY:  I mean, I thought he was spinning his wheels a little bit.  To me this is a president who is just kind of at the end of the road.  He is out of gas.  I mean, there is not that much new.  We are getting a lot of the same sound bites about 9/11 and the existential threat to Western civilization, which is not total nonsense.  But it is very familiar.

I don‘t think people buy the linkage to the Iraq War anymore.  He is repeating this linkage that we have heard for years and years.  And it just starts to ring hollow.  And the rest of it is this sort of grab bag. 

I mean, I thought he was really outshined by Jim Webb, who made some compelling points about, for instance, wealth inequality in America, with its CEO wages versus regular worker wages.  That is sort of a big visionary statement about the direction our society is going, as opposed to a rinky-dink health care tax plan that is dead on arrival in the Congress.   

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.  And let me say this also.  You made a great point during the break, because we only let you speak during the break these days. 

CROWLEY:  And not that much. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And not even that much during the break.  But you said the very thing that I was impressed by, the president‘s confidence, you brought the point that a lot of Americans that is his problem.

CROWLEY:  Yes.  Well, you guys were saying that you thought he was very confident and wasn‘t cowed by what had happened in the election and he was standing firm and so forth.  That is the problem, I think the public thinks that he is out of touch. 

I mean, Craig jumped in with a good line earlier, state of denial, you know, that kind of sums it up.  I think people feel like this guy doesn‘t change his course.  He paid a little bit of lip service to listening to the other side and so and so forth.

There was one moment, I don‘t know if anyone else picked it up, he went on this long screed about 9/11 and defeating the terrorists and defending America, and there was a big applause line, and then they cut back to him and he was smirking. 

He had that little smirk on, like, you know, he was looking at somebody in the front row and laughing.  And I thought that was classic Bush and that was exactly what is wrong...

SCARBOROUGH:  He was actually laughing at me, because I was giving him two thumbs up, way to go, Mr. President.  Then, of course, Buchanan also. 

Craig Crawford, talk about—let‘s talk about Senator Jim Webb.  You had said that he delivered perhaps one of the best responses of any Democrat, and I think there are a lot of Democrats who would agree.  Talk about it.

CRAWFORD:  Well, I think he is the sort of Democrat, if they keep him out front, they might actually deal with the wimp issue that Democrats have suffered for so long.  Because he is a tough-talking guy, got the background to support it.

But I don‘t know if a lot of other Democrats are going to take as firm a stand.  I thought that was a clear hint that if the president doesn‘t back down on this escalation and start to give a little on the war policy that—when he said we will show you the way, that was a clear hint toward the de-funding of the war, that Democrats are certainly not going to get into right now, if they did, it would be much later.

But you know, there was some clever politics in this speech.  I will give the president this much, because I do think—I detected some Machiavellian afoot here, because what he was doing is putting all of these Democratic issues on the table. 

In fact, that first 20 or 30 minutes of the speech, Nancy Pelosi could have given some of that.  He was focused on health care reform, education, all of those issues Democrats like to talk to. 

And I think what they would like to do is lure the Democrats into unwittingly helping them change the subject from Iraq and start to hint at bipartisan common ground on some of these nurturing issues that Democrats like to talk about so much and are so desperate to get into after being out of power so long. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Joan Walsh, talking about Jim Webb, and certainly feel free to also debunk everything that Pat Buchanan and I have said...

WALSH:  I will.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... but also—I know you will, Joan.  But talk about—also about Jim Webb.  And as I was watching Jim Webb tonight, and hearing people talk about how well he did, it sort of reminded of the old cliche that only Nixon could go to China. 

I would say only a guy who is a tough former military man with a son Iraq can stand up as a Democrat and stare down this president and say, it is time to bring them home, Mr. President.  I‘m—you know, I‘m not being unpatriotic, maybe you are.

WALSH:  He will be able to give other people cover.  I mean, we have been talking for weeks about the political risks involved in any kind of move on the budget.  And I don‘t think we will see that immediately, but if that is needed, Joe, Jim Webb can do that.

I was very impressed by his speech.  I was impressed by the Democrats‘ judgment in picking him.  And I was impressed by the content of the speech.  The...

SCARBOROUGH:  Joan, I have always thought that these responses, whether it was Republican responses to Bill Clinton or Democratic responses to...

WALSH:  They are terrible.

SCARBOROUGH:  They have always...

WALSH:  They are usually awful.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... been miserable.  I have—you always just sat there and laughed and thrown things at the TV set.

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  You remember Bob Dole‘s?  Were you there for Bob Dole‘s?

WALSH:  It is empty air.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right, right.  They are just...

WALSH:  Or even...

SCARBOROUGH:  They are awful.  But this year‘s was a notable exception.  The Democratic Party, this is a new Democratic Party. 

WALSH:  They picked the right...

SCARBOROUGH:  This is a Democratic Party that is ready to fight back.

WALSH:  They picked the right...

SCARBOROUGH:  Isn‘t it?

WALSH:  ... person.  He is sounding the right notes.  I mean, look, the president did do some masterful things in this speech.  First of all, that tribute to Nancy Pelosi was really quite genuine and moving.  And he basked in it.  He did a great political thing. 

He was able to bask in the good feeling towards Nancy Pelosi and the good feeling about maybe we could have a new beginning and a bipartisan way of working.  And he appropriated that and made it his own. 

I don‘t know if that is what made him.  Some of the nurturing rubbed off on him and made him feel confident.  He was definitely a different man than we saw two weeks ago. 

CRAWFORD:  But I will you, Joe, and I think he is setting a trap.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, he may be setting a trap.  And, Pat Buchanan, let me ask you, did it work for you?  Were you moved?  Did you tear up when he turned around and acknowledged Nancy Pelosi, that his terrific moment...

WALSH:  I saw a tear.

BUCHANAN:  No, I would have predicted it because that is exactly what you do, is you do the grace gesture at the beginning like that.  I thought he was going to do that as a matter of fact. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Bush is good...

BUCHANAN:  He is very good at that.

SCARBOROUGH:  He has been, in the past—his Texas (ph) -- he was good at this sort of thing.

BUCHANAN:  And it is natural with him.

WALSH:  He did a lot of bipartisan work.

BUCHANAN:  But let me say this about Jim Webb.  I thought it was an excellent speech.  And the reason is, is this is an authentic individual.  This is not a polished...

SCARBOROUGH:  He is so authentic...

BUCHANAN:  ... politician giving his normal cliches.

WALSH:  And he was angry.

BUCHANAN:  And he spoke from the heart.  And he—well, he spoke very real and he did talk about this inequality issue and these CEOs who make more in one day than the average worker does in a year. 

And he talked—when you got in there about his family and his father and things, this came right from the heart.  This—but I think Jim Webb is an individual.  I don‘t think it is so much a party.  This is a real character.  He has really lived life and come out of an experience and who has really got—he is also the kind of fellow you really look—you look at him and you say, look, if I cross that guy, we may hear the bandit (ph) coming out of the scabbard.  This is a serious man.

CROWLEY:  Well, he is a writer, and he wrote most of that speech himself.  And that is like the Obama speech.  It reminds you, communication is so important, someone who speaks authentically and can write well, actually. 

I‘m biased, we are writers here.  But it is so much more powerful than the canned garbage you get from most people who get it from the five speech-writers on a team.

SCARBOROUGH:  Poll-tested and...

CROWLEY:  And it is poll-tested.

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it.  I think he is a comer.  I think the Democratic Party is very lucky to have him on their side. 

Everybody stick around, we are going to be right back with a lot more. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Our all-star panel is still with us.  Craig Crawford, how does tonight play into the 2008 presidential sweepstakes?

CRAWFORD:  I will tell you what, listening to John Edwards just now, he seemed very subdued to me, for one thing, but when you gave him that wide berth to at least do a little comparative and contrast with Hillary, he didn‘t take the opening. 

And I think that is going to be a problem for all of these other Democrats is, it is starting to dawn on them that Hillary Clinton is like this battleship moving onto the field and they are not going to be able to pretend she isn‘t there anymore.  And they are going to have to start taking her on.

I mean, they are going to have to get into Whitewater and all of the other stuff that the Republicans will throw at her for sure if they are going to beat this woman.  I truly believe that.  They all act like they can pretend she isn‘t there, and I—that is what I sensed with Edwards. 

He had such an opening there that when you asked him his response to her, and I couldn‘t even follow his answer.

WALSH:  But Edwards has hit her hard.  I mean, Edwards has hit her and he will hit her again. 

CRAWFORD:  Now, you know, that was—the media turned that into a hard hit.  But if you looked at the actual language he used, he didn‘t even mention her name.

WALSH:  No, but it was clear who he was talking about.  You know...

CRAWFORD:  Well, that is my point, though.  They can‘t be cute about it, I don‘t think.

WALSH:  I think you are right about that.  But I don‘t think he needs to go to Whitewater or any of those any other dry wells.  I think Iraq will give him plenty.  And you know, she has definitely...

CRAWFORD:  Well, I will guarantee you the Republicans are going to use it against her in the general election.  And if she goes through a primary process without ever having to deal with a lot of that stuff, it is all going to happen all over again. 

All of a sudden Republicans are going to be bringing that stuff up, and Democrats are going to go, oh, we didn‘t think that was going to happen.

BUCHANAN:  Let me agree with Ms. Walsh.  John Edwards is not going to do—talk about Whitewater, nor should he talk about Whitewater.  If that stuff is going to be done, it ought to be floated out to Insight magazine or something.

But have a national candidate...

WALSH:  That didn‘t work.

BUCHANAN:  ... with a real shot at being elected president...

CRAWFORD:  Well, here is the context, Pat...

BUCHANAN:  To go after Hillary Clinton on that kind of trash...

CRAWFORD:  I would say put it in the context of why she isn‘t electable.  I mean, say...

BUCHANAN:  Well, but you know, that is for—I mean, you don‘t do that.  If you want to be...

CRAWFORD:  It is making the case that, look, all of these things are going to be brought up against her, make that case...

BUCHANAN:  Look, look, if he is going to win the nomination...

CRAWFORD:  ... to Democratic voters.

BUCHANAN:  Craig, let me tell you something, if he is going to win the nomination, he is going to need all of Hillary‘s people.  And if he has trashed her, then he will not be able to get them and he will lose the...

WALSH:  Exactly.

BUCHANAN:  ... general election.

CRAWFORD:  I agree...

WALSH:  Pat is right.

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  ... which is why he is not going to beat her.  That is my point.  They are not going to beat her if they are hands-off. 

WALSH:  We will see.

CROWLEY:  I just think any Democrat who goes after the Clintons on that stuff is going to look—is going to self-destruct.  I mean, Democrats are so bitter about what Republicans did to the Clintons in the ‘90s, I don‘t think you can touch it.

SCARBOROUGH:  What?  What did we do?

CRAWFORD:  Yes.  But let me get my point across again.

SCARBOROUGH:  We just tried to get along.

CRAWFORD:  I‘m saying the argument is...

WALSH:  Oh, yes.

CRAWFORD:  ... that you make the case to Democrat voters that Republicans are going to do this in the general election, and this is why she is not electable.  That is the point I‘m trying to make.

BUCHANAN:  Your best bet would be to go after her on the war, the way he was doing with Joe and do it much sharper and clearer.  And I think he did it up at that Riverside Church. 

He wants 50,000 out.  He quoted Martin Luther King about silence being cowardice.  That was very tough stuff.  Hillary‘s people took it that way...

WALSH:  They took it personally...

BUCHANAN:  And went after him.

WALSH:  Absolutely.

SCARBOROUGH:  And we will be right back and get Michael Crowley‘s response to that in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Back now with final thoughts, still with us our all-star panel.  Michael Crowley, how does this impact John McCain and the Republican field?

CROWLEY:  Well, McCain is in this dilemma where he has basically put his lot in with the Iraq War, with the escalation.  And you know, for a long time, he has been trying to make up ground with conservatives. 

I think now he has moved so far to the right, it could hurt him in a general election, but it is not clear that he can even win over these conservatives who still resent him from his last presidential run where he kind of took on evangelicals head on.

I mean, it is interesting, it really looks like Mitt Romney is the guy who is moving up fast.  He got some endorsements from prominent members of Congress this week.  I think Boehner and Hastert were a couple of them.  And he is just someone people are—seem to be talking about and coalescing around. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I bet.  I have got to say I still think John McCain is the man.  I think he is a battleship.  That was a term that was used before.  I think he is a battleship that everybody else has to catch up with. 

BUCHANAN:  I really agree with you.  And I don‘t know that anyone else has the capability in terms of money except maybe Romney, and he has got problems.  But I will tell you what McCain‘s real problem is, it is this war. 

WALSH:  It is (INAUDIBLE)...

BUCHANAN:  If thing is still going on or if this thing really goes down badly, he has only got one course:  The war was right, they fouled it up beginning with Rumsfeld, Cheney gave the president bad advice, that will never happen again, we will never lose another one because it is being run that way.  That is the only course he has got.  

CRAWFORD:  And he is moving right up the ladder to.  He has attacked Cheney.  After that, there is only one left. 

WALSH:  There is only one person left to go after.

SCARBOROUGH:  And so do you think that is the play, Craig Crawford, go after George W. Bush in the end?

CRAWFORD:  I think that they have got their truce.  I can‘t believe he would do that.  But that is...

WALSH:  It is too late.

CRAWFORD:  ... actually what he seems to be saying.  I mean, he is saying that, you know, the president took this advice from Cheney, so it is an implicit charge against the president right then and there.  So it may come to that. 

But you know, he is going to have to make the case that it was mismanaged so badly that—you know, that the goals were still right and the invasion was still correct and we had no choice.

SCARBOROUGH:  Joan Walsh is saying—is that Democrats‘ dream, to have John McCain, a man who stays with the president, with this war until very end, a move that a lot of conservatives will actually like?

WALSH:  I think it is the Democrats‘ dream, because I think McCain is a very flawed candidate.  He is a battleship, but he could also very much self-destruct.  I think he has cast his lot with a failing war and can‘t get out of it. 

And I don‘t think he likes the situation he is in.  A little bit of that interview today was like he was trying to gnaw his own arm off because it got stuck under this administration. 

So he is trying to have it both ways.  That didn‘t look good.  And I think he is going to really be sorry about the position he has put himself as the race unfolds. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I think he—he is like Bush, though.  He believes in what he is saying.

SCARBOROUGH:  I think so.  Craig Crawford?

CRAWFORD:  If McCain is the nominee, the Democratic candidates are going to have to stop Hillary in the primaries or she is going to be the next president.

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael Crowley, the music is playing, any final thoughts?

CROWLEY:  Joe, I have been reflecting on various trends in American politics...

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael Crowley, thank you for being here.

CROWLEY:  ... and I would like ask you some questions regarding...

SCARBOROUGH:  Joan Walsh, Pat Buchanan. 

WALSH:  Thank you.

SCARBOROUGH:  Greatly appreciate it.  That is all the time we have.  Hey, you know what?  We are going to the Web, with you next, Michael Crowley.  Thanks for being with us.  Have a good night.

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

END   

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