updated 2/14/2007 2:09:55 PM ET 2007-02-14T19:09:55

Guests: Peter Fenn, A.B. Stoddard, Virginia Buckingham, Sen. Mel Martinez

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: The House of Representatives debates the Iraq war three months after voters elected them to end it.  Hillary Clinton still hasn‘t said she is sorry for supporting the war in the first place and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts or possibly Michigan announces he is in the presidential race and begins by calling for more troops in Iraq.  But first, how the public feels about the war there.  A heading in this morning‘s “USA Today,” appeared to say it all. Quote, 63 percent want all troops home by ‘08.  That‘s according to the latest Gallup survey and it‘s probably accurate.  But it does not nearly tell the whole story.

Further down in the poll, we learn that while most Americans want to withdraw the military soon, a strong majority doesn‘t want to cut funding for additional forces.  In other words, bring home the troops, but keep sending more. If that sounds strange, consider this. While 70 percent say the war will help determine their vote in the next congressional elections, two-thirds have no clue where their own congressman stands on the war in Iraq.  In other words, we care deeply about the issue, but not enough to actually learn about it.  No wonder Congress is so confused about what to do in Iraq.  It turns out the public is every bit as confused.  So maybe it‘s time to stop listening to the public for once. Maybe it‘s time for individual members of Congress to do what they think is right.  There‘s an idea. Maybe it‘s time to talk to our panel about it.   Joining us now, A.B.  Stoddard, associate editor of “The Hill” and Democratic strategist and contributor to “The Hill‘s” pundits blog, the great Peter Fenn.  Welcome to you both. Nice to see you.

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: We raced across town. 

CARLSON: Nothing stops you, Peter.  You‘re like Santa Claus and the mail man. It‘s absolutely incredible.  Here‘s the most interesting poll number I have seen this afternoon.  A “USA Today”/Gallup poll, part of the same poll I was just talking about, who is handling Iraq better?  The public says Democrats 30 percent, the Republicans 27 percent.  There is a plus or minor margin of error in this poll of 3 percent which means there‘s no difference.

FENN: That‘s a huge victory for the Democrats.  Clearly, they don‘t like the way anybody is handling anything. 

CARLSON: But it‘s shocking to me. This is - I mean really by any fair measure, Bush‘s war.  I‘m not attacking the president.  I‘m merely acknowledging what is true.  He started this war.  Without Bush there would be no war. His party backed him on the war all the way and Democrats aren‘t getting credit for that. Why?

I think it‘s a pox on everybody‘s houses right now, but I think that one of the things you are seeing is they want Congress to step up to the plate.  By two to one, most polls are showing they want Congress to take over this war.  Who would ever think that they want Congress, 535 wonderful folks, to take over foreign policy?  But they are so frustrated I think and that‘s what you‘re seeing these poll numbers. So the question I think now is, will they see out of this debate, a clear strategy for ending this?

CARLSON: I must say, A.B., as you know in TV, you are never supposed to criticize the public, because the public is viewers and you need viewers in order to succeed. So I am in no way.

A.B. STODDARD, “THE HILL”: Some voters?

CARLSON:  I‘m not criticizing the brilliance, the inherent brilliance of the American people, each and every one of them, however, can you possibly make sense of the following two facts?  The public wants all the troops out by ‘08, but they don‘t want to defund troops going into - new troops, the (INAUDIBLE) They want to pay for that.  What the hell does that mean?

STODDARD: It‘s like Barack Obama.  They love his inexperience but they can‘t elect him without the experience.  I think that fundamentally, the choices for the Democrats in charge of the Congress are to push substantively for a withdrawal of troops by a date certain or to start monkeying around with the purse strings.  They‘re afraid to do either. What we are seeing this week is a nonbinding resolution that is certain to pass with the help of Republicans.  It will bring tremendous political pressure to bear upon a president who does not respond to political pressure and it is the beginning of a long process.  What the Republicans are saying during the debate this week and I think that actually Republicans are not crazy and this will resonate, is they are saying, they are talking about the fact that this is a push to defund the troops, to compromise the troops, that the Democrats will not protect the troops and that‘s an argument that will resonate.  Jack Murtha, who is the defense appropriations chairman, plans to set up a package of conditions which will block funding and ultimately that argument is really dangerous for the Democrats. 

CARLSON: Peter, let‘s get to this. I want our viewers to know what we‘re talking about.   This is the part of the text, is the essence of the text, what they say in (INAUDIBLE) is the (INAUDIBLE) of the nonbinding resolution. Quote, Congress disapproves of the decision President George W.  Bush announced on January 10 to deploy more than 20,000 additional U.S.  combat troops to Iraq.  We disapprove.  That reeks, that is redolent of impotence. 

FENN:  Well, I‘ll tell you what I think is going on here Tucker. The decision has been made that they go with this resolution.  They get Republicans onboard. They get it passed. It sends a message to this president that he must change policy, that he has to change strategy, not just silly tactics.  And then from there, you can begin to have the tougher debate that we are talking about, which is date certain, which is when do you start pulling these folks out and my sense of this is and everybody thinks I‘m crazy, I think that this president and this war has about two months.  If stuff isn‘t happening within about eight weeks, then the public is going to say, all right, come on now. 

CARLSON: Jim Moran, the congressman, the liberal congressman Democrat from Northern Virginia I think agrees with me. Here‘s what he says. He says, this nonbinding resolution, we strongly disapprove. We are so mad.  He said that‘s only the bark.  The real bite comes with the spending bill.  But does it really? I have trouble believing A.B. that the Democrats have the stones to say, you know what, we‘re not paying for it. 

STODDARD: See, there‘s a difference between cutting funding and blocking it. What they are trying to do is put these conditions, one is closing Guantanamo Bay, one is about military readiness, limiting the number of tours.  If you have gone to Iraq a certain amount of times you can‘t go back.  And so they are trying to make Bush certify that the troops already, make Bush certify that these soldiers won‘t be sent out again.  Put him on the record and really put him in the box and they think that those conditions might actually be met, but blocking funding, that‘s a long, long way down the path (INAUDIBLE) cutting funding. 

CARLSON: I‘ll say one thing. They are going to close Gitmo. They are going to close Guantanamo Bay. Jim Moran told me personally.  He was just down there to look at it. There are a lot of pretty evil people at Gitmo.  There‘s probably a random al Qaeda (INAUDIBLE) but there are some actually would be terrorists there. We‘re going to let most of them go Peter. 

FENN: No, we‘re going to have them up here on the eighth floor of this building. 

CARLSON: They‘re welcome to have a cup of decaf with me. But most of them are going to go back to Europe and the Middle East, the near East and they‘re going to.

FENN: If you‘ve got something on these guys, we charge them, we put them in prison, we prosecute them.  (INAUDIBLE) other countries.  Who knows? But look, let‘s get to the basic substance here.  If we don‘t as Democrats come up with dates certain when things have to happen, look, even the McCain resolution says that the Iraqi government shall perform the following kinds of tasks.  There are conditions that people are putting on this, and I guess my central point here is that I think that the patience of the American people is over. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t see that in the polls.  I don‘t see that they know what they think of this. Let me ask quickly, A.B., the White House is not lobbying Republicans to oppose the resolution against the White House.  Why is that? They lobby a lot and everything. Why not lobby on this?

STODDARD:        I think the calculation was made that on the Senate

side there were some numbers to work with and on this side, they absolutely

cannot keep - they can‘t - it‘s between 20 and 60 is the estimate and that

they can‘t peel off that many.  If you look at what the Republicans -

CARLSON:  (INAUDIBLE)

STODDARD: It is. If you look at what the Republicans are doing, they were dancing with the one that brung them in the ‘06 election and they‘re not - going to happen to them again.  They (INAUDIBLE) of course cut and run debate in June. They all went on the record sticking by the war. That was a mistake.  And so what you‘re going to see Republicans do this week is not defend the president‘s strategy, but talk about the importance of how we fight the war on terror, the global war on terror and as John Boehner said today, he said our troops in Iraq are our greatest force for freedom.  We need to give them the chance to win and that kind of language actually will, it really will resonate.  Try not to laugh Peter.

CARLSON:  I‘m starting to - we‘ve got one of those Geico cavemen ad we need to do.  Coming up, another day, another presidential candidate jumps into the race.  Are we three cheers away from saying President Romney? It‘s possible. I‘ll tell you how possible. Plus, how about President Clinton II?  That‘s a real possibility too, unless Hillary Clinton‘s own party gets sick and tired of waiting for her to admit she was wrong on voting for the Iraq war.  Why the hold up?  Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY: I believe that the family is the foundation of America and that it needs to be protected and strengthened.  I believe in the sanctity of human life.  I believe that we‘re overtaxed and government is overfed. I believe that homeland security begins with securing or borders. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  It‘s not as if Mitt Romney hasn‘t defied the odds before.  He was the Republican governor in the people‘s republic of Massachusetts after all. He officially entered the presidential race today, intending to be the first Mormon president and facing questions about his newly transformed positions of abortion, gay marriage, the economy, among many other issues.  Here with her analysis is columnist with the “Boston Herald,” Virginia Buckingham. She wrote a piece on Romney‘s flip-flopping in today‘s paper.  Virginia, thanks for coming on.

VIRGINIA BUCKINGHAM, “BOSTON HERALD”: Good to be here.

CARLSON: You heard Mitt Romney.  He is committed to protecting human life.  He‘s for smaller government. He‘s a kind of full flown right winger, always has been.  True?

BUCKINGHAM: Hard to say. The guy has tried to be a lot of different things in the short time that he was here in Massachusetts.  He ran as a moderate Republican, pro-choice, pro gay rights.  I was very puzzled as I covered him from the “Herald” when he started raising taxes and raising fees.  So the fact that he is not a fiscal conservative either I think should just give voters a lot of pause about what this guy is really all about. 

CARLSON: He raised taxes and raised fees. A lot of has been written about his fledge in 1994 to be more pro gay rights than Ted Kennedy, basically to become gay himself.  His pro-choice to pro-life conversion but very little has been written about the fact that he is a big spender and a taxer.  Give us the Cliff Notes on that.

BUCKINGHAM: Basically, he came in facing as many governors did a huge budget deficit and he did cut some growth in spending absolutely and reorganize some of the state government, but in addition to that, unlike his immediate Republican predecessors he raised $500 million in fees, everything from home sales to marriage licenses and then he raised corporate taxes.  The reason that it‘s not very well known is there‘s a kind of little things like taxing how a subsidiary of a corporation is filed with the revenue department, little things that are very hard to kind of get across to the regular voter.  He didn‘t raise income taxes or sales taxes, but he did raise business taxes and it‘s a record he has to live with. 

CARLSON: When you say he raised fees for marriage license, that is just for heterosexual marriages?

BUCKINGHAM: That was before the gay marriage debate, yes.

CARLSON: OK, so he didn‘t, just to be totally clear, he didn‘t raise

fees on gay marriage certificates then

BUCKINGHAM: Well, it would be on all. 

CARLSON:  He‘s an equal opportunity tax raiser then. Now he said, I was reading the other day in his ‘94 race, I am not in line with NRA and today he says, I am in fact an NRA member.  It seems on so many issues he as has been noted a lot, has moved right pretty dramatically.  When did this happen? Did you notice the beginning of this change or was it subtle?

BUCKINGHAM: It was a couple of years into his administration when it was pretty clear that he wasn‘t going to run for re-election when he started down this path, and we have a history of it here unfortunately.  We just had (INAUDIBLE) John Kerry, that was very well known for his flip-flopping and I think the wind surfer ad.  If Mitt Romney were a wind surfer, that would fit him pretty well as well. 

CARLSON:  He opened his speech today in Michigan, Now he lived in Michigan when he was young, but he just left the office of the governor of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Why do you think he chose Michigan and not your state? 

BUCKINGHAM: Because he is trying to run away from the fact that he was governor here and the only way he got elected governor here was by being a moderate Republican and he doesn‘t want to remind people of that.  So I think he‘s trying to get as far away from Massachusetts as he can.

CARLSON:  That‘s pretty tricky. No one will notice he was governor of Massachusetts.  How do you think he‘s going to do among all nine Republicans in Massachusetts? Does he have a lot of support there still?

BUCKINGHAM: It‘s interesting, because you would think, given there is just a small little lot of us here that he would have universal support.  But he really doesn‘t. Just yesterday, John McCain picked up some support from some pretty prominent elected Republicans in the state, former Governor Paul Cellucci is supporting Rudy Giuliani.  Governor Wells, former Governor Wells is supporting Romney. So it‘s splitting and I think you‘re going to see that there‘s not universal support for what he did which is not take a no new taxes pledge and raise taxes. 

CARLSON: Let me ask you finally a very subjective question that maybe you‘re uncomfortable with answering. But you covered him you said for the “Boston Herald.” Did you think he was straight in his dealings with the press?

BUCKINGHAM: He kept us at arm‘s length most of the time.  There‘s a little joke that he had a velvet rope around the governor‘s office to keep the media at bay and he has made a lot of jokes at the local media‘s expense as he‘s hit the campaign trail but those of us who are closest to him know him best and I think he‘s going to find that the record that we saw is going to be covered and is going to be part of this campaign. 

CARLSON:  Boy, there‘s an indictment, Virginia Buckingham of the “Boston Herald.” Thanks a lot.  I appreciate it.

BUCKINGHAM: Thanks Tucker.

CARLSON:  Well, tomorrow, on the “Today Show” will have an exclusive interview with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  If you want to know more, tune in then. Coming up, Hillary Clinton now opposes President Bush‘s war in Iraq, but many in her own party want her to admit her mistaken vote to start the war in the first place. Why won‘t she admit it?  Sorry always seems to be hardest word as Mrs. Clinton‘s husband knows all too well. So how will Bill Clinton affect his wife‘s run for the White House? He‘s a political genius sure, but is America ready for more Clintonian drama?  That‘s all ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D) ILLINOIS: It‘s not just the failure of leadership.  It‘s the smallness of our politics, the ease with which we‘re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: Our chronic avoidance of tough decisions.  Barack Obama‘s eloquences on Saturday about making tough decisions is at odds with at least one part of his record.  According to this morning‘s edition of the politico, as a state senator in Illinois, Senator Obama used the non-committal vote of present rather than yes and know on both abortion and gun laws up for a vote and so the close inspection of his limited record begins.  Here to explain what present means (INAUDIBLE) the daily Obameter, we welcome once again associate editor of “The Hill,” A.B. Stoddard and Democratic strategist and contributor to “The Hill‘s” pundits blog, Peter Fenn. Welcome to you both.

Our chronic avoidance of tough decisions.  Now I‘ve sucked up to Barack Obama as much as anybody in the mainstream media. I‘ll concede it. I kind of like the guy. However, this is pretty appalling.  According to politico, he voted present rather than yes or no.  You understand what yes or no means. (INAUDIBLE) no big negative.

FENN: He‘s gun shy.

CARLSON:  You learned early, at your father‘s knee.  He voted present on questions like partial birth abortion, indeed two votes, whether carrying a concealed weapon ought to be a felony or a misdemeanor, another gun, privacy of sex abuse victims and then he voted on this, a series of bills that sought to protect a child if it survived a failed abortion.  Now it seems to me, if you can‘t even vote yes or no on that, if you can‘t even vote to protect the child that survives an abortion from being killed and you claim you‘re on the side of the downtrodden?  Hush, be quiet. You speak with forked tongue.

FENN: I‘ll tell you, he may have felt that there were problems with these bills, that he didn‘t like the way they were worded.  He didn‘t like the constitutionality.

CARLSON:  Why not vote no?

FENN: Exactly right Tucker. I mean why not vote no and some of those they passed with no dissenting votes and he was voting present.  There was one about having sex clubs within 100 feet of a school or something.  I understand not taking the easy way out on stuff, but by doing this, what he‘s doing is sending a message that I‘m just not going to take a stand on this stuff and especially the partial birth stuff which I think is very tough.  You either say yes or you say no.  You can explain your vote.  You can talk about it.

CARLSON: How about protecting a child that survives an abortion? If you can‘t - I‘m serious.  Any person, I don‘t care how pro-choice you have, if you can‘t see that -- 

FENN: He viewed that as a Roe v. Wade foot in the door.  (INAUDIBLE)

CARLSON: Then he‘s extremist.

FENN: Well, no, no, no. My point here is that the way to not be an extremist is not by how you cast a vote, it‘s how you explain your vote and he had a responsibility I believe to say yes or no and he didn‘t do it and he should be held accountable now and should be asked now. 

STODDARD: I think it‘s going to be a real problem for him. It is your responsibility. That is your job.  When you take a job as a legislator, you vote.  That is what you do. 

CARLSON:  (INAUDIBLE) You spend your whole life watching the legislative process. What does this mean, present? Why do they have that option?

STODDARD: I actually don‘t really know.  It is very - it is not—you use it on—sometimes, people do it on really tough votes which I think is slightly wimpy, but it is an  option, but it‘s not something that you use with regularity.  It‘s extraordinary. 

FENN: In this case, it‘s a no vote really because obviously (INAUDIBLE).  Sometimes people try to pair their votes and they will not vote because someone couldn‘t get to a vote or there‘s some problem and they‘ll go and that would be a present vote.  But as far as I can tell... 

CARLSON: You are describing very small politics.  (INAUDIBLE)

FENN: I don‘t mean to get into the nitty gritty of this. 

CARLSON: No, no, but I‘m just saying, that‘s a kind of - that‘s not an expansive sort of I‘m above it all way of looking at the political process.  That‘s a kind of partisan  hack or very timid way. 

FENN: You‘re making a deal.  Somebody will do it for you. You do it for them and in order to let the person off the hook.  But the point here on this is that they are going the examine his record in the Illinois legislature and they‘re going to look at it very closely and they‘re going to look at flip-flops and they‘re going to look at things like this and he‘s going to have to answer to that as if he were right up there on Capitol Hill. 

CARLSON:  A.B., I asked you this question before but I‘m interested to know if your research has turned up anything different. Can you find a single example where Barack Obama claims not to be the candidate of the left or the right, has been anything but the candidate of the left?

STODDARD: No, no I have not. Have you? I have not. What he is doing is obviously effective.  He didn‘t say Democrat.  He didn‘t say Democratic Party.  He is.

CARLSON: I liked his speech.

STODDARD: He‘s talking the talk right now and the walking for this is going to come later, but obviously, he is trying to build—his candidacy is fueled by excitement and not by his record.  It‘s the non-record. It‘s the un-candidate and he‘s got to go with that.

CARLSON: Well, I was all for it until today and this actually, this is.

FENN: For his record

CARLSON: I‘m all for the non-record. I‘m all for the candidate of mystery. Coming up, the House of Representatives debates the Iraq war which is more than the Senate has done. Coming up, we‘ll be joined by the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Senator Mel Martinez of Florida to answer questions about the quagmire in the Senate over the quagmire in Iraq.

Plus Hillary Clinton has picked up the biggest name in American politics as a full-time advisor, but will Bill Clinton do more good or more harm for her chances at the presidency? We‘ll tell you. We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

CARLSON:  In a mere 20 months, we will elect a new president, if we can survive 20 months of hype and talk and news and non-news about all of the candidates, all 5,000 of them.  For his part, political guru Karl Rove says that the extraordinarily early start to the 2008 campaign ultimately will harm the process.  In fact, there is strong evidence that early polls and trends don‘t mean diddly in the end. 

Here to discuss the first inning of this 20 inning political ball game, we welcome again associate editor of “The Hill,” A.B. Stoddard, and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.  Welcome to you both.

Let me just say that I gave credit to the “Politico” for breaking that story about Obama‘s voting record, in fact, the “Rothenberg Political Report” broke that, and so I am sorry for the mistake.   

Speaking of mistakes, I want to but up on the screen—

FENN:  Some how I think this is going to be a Democratic mistake. 

CARLSON:  It‘s not actually.  This is a mistake of social science.  This is a mistake of polling.  I want to put up on the screen some early polls from elections past, just to give our viewers a sense of just how predictive these polls are.  These are from this morning‘s “New York Times.”  This a “New York Times”/CBS News poll from August of 2003, and here‘s who was leading for the Democratic nomination at that point, Joe Lieberman 14, Howard Dean 11, Dick Gephart 10, John Kerry, equal with Al Sharpton, at five percent.

Let‘s go to 1992.  In 1992, October of 1991, not even that far away, a year before the election.  Jerry Brown was out in front with 12 percent, followed by Doug Wilder of Richmond at eight, Bob Kerrey at seven, Bill Clinton at five.  This is unbelievable.  

And finally, 1988, a long time ago, but we all remember this campaign.  Of course, Mike Dukakis got the nod in the end.  In January of 1987, not that far before, right about where we are now, he was at one percent.  Gary Hart at 33, Mario Cuomo at 17, Jesse Jackson at nine. 

These are a joke, basically.

FENN:  So why are we talking about these polls all the time?

CARLSON:  Exactly, our polls now mean, at least according to this, mean nothing.

FENN:  Honestly, Tucker, what‘s being measured there is simply name identification.  That‘s is what is going on, and I think that‘s one of the problems.  People say Hillary Clinton is 20 points up.  Well sure, you know. 

STODDARD:  It‘s important because Kucinich is going to overcome her. 

Just give him a couple of years. 

CARLSON:  But actually, what is interesting, on the Republican side, A.B.—the Times also listed Republican polls—even polling far out, before the actual primaries, was accurate.  In other words, Republican, they nominate the front runner, but who is the front runner now? 

STODDARD:  Well, it was McCain until a few minutes ago.  I mean, it really was, even among Republicans who don‘t like John McCain.  Up until the election it was John McCain, like it or leave it, and now with his stand on the war and the surge, and some more visibility for Mitt Romney, who announced today, and obviously Giuliani coming out, it‘s really—these are tough times for John McCain and there‘s real question about whether or not he has the footing that he has worked so hard on building in the last two years. 

CARLSON:  He certainly has.

(CROSS TALK)

FENN:  He‘s got all of the Bush consultants.  He is going to be fine on money, I‘m sure, but still the rock star in this is Giuliani.  The interesting thing about the polls now, because they‘re all well known, Romney less so obviously, but Giuliani‘s positive to negative ratings are off the charts right now.  But that‘s good news and bad news, because there‘s the expectations game.  How long can you hold that?  Do you just start to tank?

CARLSON:  Well, here‘s a poll on the Republican side that I think is meaningful and it‘s a poll about people‘s biases, essentially their bigotry.  “USA Today”/Gallup Poll, 72 percent of voters asked said they would vote for a qualified Mormon, 72 percent, less than three quarters.  That compares with 94 percent who said they would vote for a black nominee and 88 for a female nominee.

Another poll, only 38 percent of voters said they would definitely consider backing a Mormon for president.  This is a bigger problem than I realized for Mitt Romney. 

FENN:  I think it‘s a serious problem for Romney, both in the general election and in the primary.  In the primary he is going to have evangelical, who have some of the biggest problems with Mormons, and he‘s going to try to give the John Kennedy 1960 Catholic speech to a group of evangelicals, to see if he can get himself out of this.  And, you know, I am going to be an American president, not a Mormon president. 

STODDARD:  Right, he‘s saying he‘s running for a secular job, but he said it‘s not his job to explain the Mormon religion to the public.  I mean, I always want to hope that that‘s not going to be a problem for him, and that once people get to know Mitt Romney, they‘re going to say, oh, I didn‘t know that he was Mormon, or something, you know, that he will become popular among the people that he‘s going to become popular with for other reasons. 

CARLSON:  Well maybe he‘ll change his religion.  The reason I said something so harsh is—I got this from today‘s “New York Magazine.”  Now, maybe—I‘m assuming this—I don‘t get a lot of political research from “New York Magazine,” but I couldn‘t resist.  I thought this was so interesting.  It said that Romney used to hold up his father, former Michigan Governor and presidential candidate George Romney, as an example of his hero.  He now leaves his father conspicuously off the list of his political heroes, instead siting Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight David Eisenhower. 

Could that really be true that he is throwing his father over board, at least in public, or not mentioning him because he is too liberal for Republicans?  Is that true?

STODDARD:  I mean, the minute that the media says that, accuses him of that, then he‘s going to start talking about his dad later in the week, and probably wisely so.  I think that, you know, Mitt Romney, this just all goes down to his fundamental flip-flop problem and Giuliani has one too.  The interesting thing about the choice for Republicans right now, unless somebody else emerges, and unless, you know, the party really gets behind somebody else, it‘s a choice between two flip-floppers and someone that told the religious right off.  And so it‘s really hard.

FENN:  Then kissed up to the religious right. 

CARLSON:  But here‘s the really interesting point, who will potentially be running against somebody who is being criticized for not flip-flopping and that‘s Hillary Clinton.  Right?  Democrats and I think all sensible people want her to apologize for her vote on Iraq.  Richard Cohen had a really smart piece today, in which he said, Hillary Clinton claims that she had no idea that vote was going to result in war.  And yet she goes around, in almost the same breath, and says the Bush administration was obsessed with invading Iraq from the very beginning.

You can‘t believe both at the same time.  Why doesn‘t she apologize? 

FENN:  I think everybody knew how much gravitas was in that vote. 

Everybody knew that this vote was giving Bush the go ahead, green light. 

It wasn‘t giving him a blank check.

(CROSS TALK)

I don‘t think she claims that. 

(CROSS TALK)

She said so that he would have his options open.  But, you know, look, however you deal semantically with this, here‘s what I think Hillary should do this:  I think she should say—she shouldn‘t apologize for the vote.  She should say, do I regret that vote?  You bet.  Do I regret the president‘s actions and the way he has run this war?  You bet.  Do I regret the way we‘re going right now?  You bet. 

You know, I would take it to that level and the problem is that it is clear that this is not going to go away anytime soon.  People keep talking. 

CARLSON:  This is the most important vote of her entire life and she failed America in voting the way she did.  Why not just apologize?  Charlie Rangel today, on our air, said, yes, she should apologize.  Why shouldn‘t she?  I don‘t really get it.

STODDARD:  She just does not want to hear the flip-flop.  She doesn‘t want to be called a flip-flopper.  She was never sleep again.  OK, this is the problem for her.  She was savvy then.  She‘s savvy now.  There is a reason why she doesn‘t want to say this was a mistake.  She doesn‘t want to be accused later and she‘s doing the straddle.

I think her problem is this, that she is fueling this by this very tough talk, about how if we in the—she said at the Democratic National Committee, a few weeks ago, if we in the Congress do not end this war by 2009, if I am president, I will.  Well, she is not trying to end this war in the Congress.  She is waiting for these other members of Congress to end it. 

And then she says things like, we‘re not going to sit around and baby sit a civil war.  So her rhetoric is becoming increasingly aggressive, which makes the activists in the party want her even more to use the word regret, renounce, mistake.  She is talking around it by saying, if I knew what I knew then, I wouldn‘t have voted.  That‘s essentially regret, but she—those loaded terms are things that she‘s struggling to avoid, and I don‘t see how long she can.  

CARLSON:  The problem with talking around it is it gets you into lying, and you have to all of a sudden pretend that you were misled, when, in fact, you went in with pretty open eyes, and you just made the wrong choice.  A lot of people did.  A lot of people—most Americans supported the war.  It wasn‘t just Bush and Hillary Clinton.  It was ordinary people supported, and we were all wrong.  OK, so I think it‘s OK for her to admit it. 

She said Bill Clinton is her full time political adviser, she told an audience this weekend.  She mentioned him, according to one account, eight times in a single speech, all right, that Bill is the guy she talks to about politics.  I just wonder Peter, and this is a bipartisan question, are even Democrats ready to relive the drama, the unending, hey, look at me America, drama of the Clinton years? 

FENN:  Listen, certainly part of the drama they‘re not ready to relive, right?  But I think there‘s a lot of respect for Bill Clinton out there.  I think there‘s a lot of regard for his presidency and the eight years versus this eight years.  I think the other thing that is inescapable here is that he is campaign manager in chief.  I mean, he will remain so.  He is a brilliant political mind.  You know, there‘s nobody better.

Plus, on policy issues, he is policy wonk and he‘s right there beside her.  Now, what people don‘t want—they are voting for her for president, they‘re not voting for a two-for, in a sense.  They may get a two-for.   

CARLSON:  He‘s the character in the Peanuts, whether every he goes, there‘s a cloud around him.  I mean, Bill Clinton, despite his many strengths, there‘s always controversy. 

FENN:  But ultimately they are going to be comfortable with her.  If they‘re comfortable with her, they get him, that‘s fine. 

CARLSON:  It seems like a bigger deal than that.  It‘s not like getting Mrs. Bush or something, it‘s getting someone who is going to be in the headlines all the time. 

STODDARD:  He could advise quietly.  She could rely upon his wisdom for the campaign silently.  She is pumping his name in New Hampshire and Iowa because those people—it‘s politically useful for her there.  They really love him.  It‘s a double edged sword.  The RNC, the Republican National Committee, I mean, they would just dream that she would say something like that.  I‘m sure it will lead a fund raising letter by the end of the week, this Bill and I have beaten them before and will beat them again tough talk about Bill Clinton.  It‘s exactly what the Republicans dream about. 

FENN:  Democrats like that though.  Democrats do like them. 

CARLSON:  Our viewers should know that that was a verbatim quote from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

STODDARD:  Yes, that is.

CARLSON:  You‘re good.  You‘re good Alexandra.  A.B. Stoddard, Peter Fenn, thank you both very much.  

Coming up, a good public scolding from Chuck Hagel was the best the Senate could do on the war.  In a moment, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Senator Mel Martinez, joins us to talk about the quagmire in his chamber over the quagmire in Iraq. 

Plus, there are at least four men who‘s names are kicking around cable television as the possible father of Anna Nicole smith‘s orphan daughter.  We have the latest tally in just a minute. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  After 12 years in control of Congress, Republicans met a series of defeats last November so stinging that some in the party are openly worrying about long-term minority status.  So what exactly did knock the GOP off its feet and what can be done now to revive it.  Joining us now, a man who thinks about these questions full time, he is the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Senator Mel Martinez of Florida. 

Senator, thanks for coming on.

SEN. MEL MARTINEZ ®, FLORIDA:  Great pleasure to be with you.

CARLSON:  The conventional wisdom is that the unpopularity of the war in Iraq is what hurt Republicans in the last elections.  Do you think that‘s right?   

MARTINEZ:  Well, I think in part that is true, but I think there were also some other issues that the voters were letting us know a message that I think we received loud and clear.  They wanted us to return to our roots.  You know, they wanted us to return to being the party that believed in smaller government, smarter government, to lower taxes, continuing a policy of lower taxes, but also utilizing our resources a little better, no earmarks, things like that.  I think those were part of the message.

And Tucker, let me tell you, we heard it.  We heard it loud and clear, and we are doing things to change, not only in the way we act in the Congress, but also in the candidate recruitment that we are doing, and the way we intend to approach this next cycle. 

CARLSON:  If what voters really wanted was the Republican party to be more conservatives, to be more traditionally Republican, then why are the top three nominees for the Republican nomination right now Romney, McCain and Rudy Giuliani?  All three more liberal than your average Republican primary voter, it seems to me.  Why is that, I wonder? 

MARTINEZ:  Well I don‘t know.  It depends on the issue.  But I think we‘ve got a terrific array of candidates and I think all of them—today is Romney day.  Governor Romney announced this morning, a very exciting candidate, with a great record of accomplishment in a mostly Democrat state.  These are people who appeal to the broad consensus of America.  And so I don‘t think there‘s anything wrong with that.

And I think , at the same time, they stand for strong national security.  They stand for lower taxes and smaller government.  I think that‘s good. 

CARLSON:  Giuliani is leading a number of national polls and doing well in the early primary states.  He is pro choice and has always been.  Do you think the Republican party can nominate a pro-choice candidate? 

MARTINEZ:  Well, I think Rudy Giuliani is a very exciting candidate. 

He is someone who has shown America what he could do in a moment of crisis.  He led New York through a tremendously difficult time and America saw it on their screens.  I think he is someone they can trust to lead them at a time when America is at war.  So that‘s why I say, you know, haven‘t talked about John McCain, my colleague in the Senate, another terrific man.

CARLSON:  He absolutely his senator.  But I‘m just wondering, on this one issue of abortion, I don‘t think there‘s been a pro-choice Republican in the White House since Gerald Ford.  Do you think the party would nominate someone who supports legal abortion? 

MARTINEZ:  Well, I would tell you that Rudy Giuliani is a very special guy.  And while I am pro life—I‘m a staunch pro life guy, I know that when he campaigned with me in Florida, people loved him.  People responded with Giuliani.  He might be the exception to that rule.  I think this continues to be a party that has fundamentally pro-life, but I don‘t think it‘s out of the question that a pro-choice candidate might be elected, if he says things like he did last week, that he would nominate strict constructionists to the bench.  I think that‘s important. 

I‘m not advocating for any of these candidates.  I want a very vigorous primary process to go forward.  And I think these issues will get thrashed out as we go forward.  The voters have tremendous wisdom, and I think this party will nominate an exciting candidate, that again will appeal to most Americans, and we‘ll have success again in 2008.

CARLSON:  The one legislative issue that Democrats in the House and Senate seem open to talking about with Republicans is immigration reform.  They like the president‘s ideas on immigration.  Does that strike you as an indicator that maybe the president‘s positions are pretty far left of where the average Republican is on immigration? 

MARTINEZ:  No, I think that as people are learning more about what the president stood for on immigration, about what we‘re trying to do, as Republicans, at least in the Senate, to come together on a consensus, is that not only do we need to secure our border, but we need to do more than that, that we need to have immigration reform.  But it begins with securing the border, and I met Secretary Chertoff today and he was telling me, people are beginning to develop confidence that we mean serious business when we talk about enforcing our laws, securing the board. 

You know, they‘ve had raids.  They‘ve done a tremendous number of things about adding beds, so that we don‘t have this catch and release program, and things like that.  We are constructing a number of miles of fencing.  We are serious about the border, and I think Americans will understand that if we get that part of it right, then we can move forward with doing some other things like a guest worker program, a program that allows workers to come and work for a period of time, and return home, so that we can have a legal way to take pressure off the border. 

See Tucker, one of the things that people don‘t understand, we cannot secure the border unless we also provide a legal vehicle by  which people can come and work in this country.

CARLSON:  OK, Senator Mel Martinez of Florida, chairman of the RNC, thanks a lot.  I appreciate it.

MARTINEZ:  Talk to you soon.

CARLSON:  Coming up, it‘s been hours at least since you heard the latest news from the Anna Nicole Smith story.  Sit tight for another couple of minutes for a curiosity quenching report from Willie Geist, our chief celebrity correspondent.  He joins me in a moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  When it comes to the Anna Nicole Smith story, you probably feel like Barack Obama waiting for a smoke break.  You‘re desperate.  You‘re itchy.  You want your fix.  Well, here to provide it, chief celebrity correspondent Willie Geist. 

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Tucker, you have been wasting our time for the last 55 minutes.  Let‘s get down to business my friend.  We‘re still crunching the numbers her Tucker, but it appears we have now reached the statistical tipping point, at which there are more men who claim to be the father of Anna Nicole Smith‘s baby, then men who do not. 

The latest to join the sweepstakes, Anna Nicole‘s former body guard, Alexander Dank (ph).  He told the entertainment show “Extra” that he had and Anna Nicole had a two-year love affair and that there‘s a good possibility he is the father of her five-month-old daughter.  Dank, by the way, will be a guest on “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” tonight, 9:00 p.m. eastern.  You got to tune in for that. 

Meanwhile, a report says that a couple of the other suspects for fatherhood are fighting Anna Nicole‘s mother over the body.  That‘s classy.  Larry Birkhead, the ex-boyfriend, who says he‘s the dad, has a legal hold on Smith‘s body as he waits for a DNA test, but Anna Nicole‘s estranged mother reportedly wants to take her daughters body with her as soon as possible.  Wow, hard one to follow. 

And I just have to say something here, I have been holding this back.  I will probably have to recuse myself from covering the story from here on out.  I‘m not saying for sure I‘m the father.  All I am going to tell you is that Prince Count Baron Van Anhalt and I were taking our annual fishing Tarpon trip down in the Bahamas, went over to Anna Nicole‘s place, one thing led to another.  Let‘s just say it is an either/or situation between me and the prince. 

CARLSON:  Here‘s my question Willie, since you have first hand experience—and that is a conflict, by the way.  I don‘t mean any disrespect, but Anna Nicole Smith didn‘t seem fully conscious for the last 15 or so years of her life.  How did she manage to get all these relationships in? 

GEIST:  Well, when you have 486 million dollars, men tend to overlook such things, you know what I mean, such as consciousness.  Well, you know, Anna Nicole Smith may have died, Tucker, but we were reminded last night that she didn‘t have the market on blond disasterhood cornered completely.  Smith‘s heir apparent Sharon Stone made a bizarre appearance at a Unicef fund raiser in Berlin last night.  She crawled all over the piano as Richard Gere played for the audience and then she revealed her dominatrix side during this delightfully sloppy performance as an auctioneer.  Enjoy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHARON STONE, ACTRESS:  You talk, you bid.  You look at me wrong, you bid?  Got it?  Naughty little Germans!  Naughty nasty little Germans.  That‘s why I keep coming back!  Because you‘re naughty, nasty.  You like it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GEIST:  Yes, Tucker, that was a purr at the end of that. 

CARLSON:  That was the only part I understood, by the way. 

GEIST:  I‘m not in the business of running galas or anything, but if I‘m running an auction, she is not the at the top of the list of auctioneers, I don‘t think, because she has trouble holding it together. 

CARLSON:  Well, unless you‘re running an auction in Germany, in which case most people won‘t understand anything she is saying anyway. 

GEIST:  You know, that‘s a good point.  I didn‘t think about that.  No one understood what she was saying anyway.  But nasty, naughty Germans.  I like it.

Well finally Tucker, I hesitate to even mention this next story, because it raises the bar a little higher than most of us were hoping to go for tomorrow‘s Valentine‘s Day.  A British man bypassed roses and those awful chalky “Be Mine” heart candies in favor of a beach front home.  The man had the house wrapped in paper that was decorated with hearts and then flew his fianc’e in on a helicopter to present the gift. 

Boy, I hope that paid off for him.  Tucker, it‘s a nice job by him, but kind of a rookie mistake.  As you know, the problem is where do you go from here?  Right?  It‘s Valentine‘s Day.  She is only your fianc’e.  When you get married, it is a long life ahead of you.  What I do is I keep the bar low.  Early on, you go a half dozen carnations, so by the time you hit jewelry, you‘re a hero.  It‘s just a rookie mistake by him.

CARLSON:  When is that?  That‘s like on your 15th anniversary? 

GEIST:  Yes, I haven‘t reached that.  But I‘m up to nine carnations now.  I‘m taking it piecemeal. 

CARLSON:  Boy, you‘re a good man Willie and a good husband. 

GEIST:  Thanks Tucker.  Happy Valentine‘s Day. 

CARLSON:  Happy Valentine‘s day to you, you old romantic. 

That does it for us tonight.  Thanks for watching.  Up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  We‘ll see you tomorrow, have a great night. 

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

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