updated 3/15/2007 12:28:25 PM ET 2007-03-15T16:28:25

Guests: Chris Cillizza, Peter Beinart, Lynn Sweet, Rep. Duncan Hunter, Sen. Sam Brownback

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  Almost every person who might be the next president of this country, from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama, to John McCain and Chuck Hagel, was in the same room today, this room.  And we were there, too.

For the next hour, you will see and hear the highlights, the lowlights, the changing odds, the notable absences, and what it all might mean.  It was called the International Association of Firefighters Bipartisan 2008 Presidential Forum with the firefighters right behind me here.  It was held at the Hyatt Regency at Capitol Hill. 

Let‘s begin with the biggest names in the ‘08 race, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. 

Joining us now to discuss them, Chris Cillizza, who writes “The Fix” on washingtonpost.com, and Peter Beinart, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and editor-at-large at “The New Republic”.

Welcome to you both.

I‘m struck Rudy Giuliani, of course, is not here.  I was struck in watching Hillary Clinton speak that she is really not—that Rudy is really not the only 9/11 candidate.  I want to put up part of what Mrs. Clinton said.  Here it is about 9/11.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  When I first visited the site on the afternoon of September the 12th, I could barely see anything, the dark cloud was so thick.  But I could smell it, I could taste it, I could feel it.  I knew that the effects of 9/11 would last long after. 


CARLSON:  I can‘t remember the last time, Chris, I saw a Democratic harness 9/11 effectively in a political speech.  I thought she did. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE FIX”:  It was interesting.  You know, she referenced it not in that clip, but she referenced repeatedly that she had met with Harold Schaitberger, the president of the Firefighters Association, the day after September 11th, repeatedly talked about what it meant, how she tried to secure support and money for the forest responders.  I thought it was very effective.

And I know we‘re not there yet, but I would say, in contrast to Senator Obama, who I thought was actually somewhat dour, talked a lot of about Iraq, didn‘t talk as much about the issues important, I think, to the firefighters—you know, speak to your audience, as opposed to giving your normal stump speech.  I thought Senator Clinton did quite effectively.

CARLSON:  You know that moment when you just learn you‘re being audited by the IRS?  That‘s the way Obama seemed today.

But to Hillary, Peter, she has been the most hawkish, I think, of the major candidates on the Democratic side.  That‘s, of course, by design.  Is 9/11, her response to it—I was there, you know, I have the support of the firefighters—is that going to be a part of her campaign, you think. 

PETER BEINART, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  Yes, and it plays on the fact that I think most people across the aisle believed she was a good senator from New York.  She took care of New York issues, and this is a New York issue.  How you dealt with New York after 9/11 now has national resonance, of course, because that was a national event.  But I think the national security debate about Iraq is not going to be one that she can subsume within her response to 9/11. 

CARLSON:  Right.

BEINART:  Nor can Rudy Giuliani, I think.

CARLSON:  Though I‘m not sure they need to.  I mean, I think the threshold for the candidate is, are you tough enough to protect the country?  Do you care about national security?

She was the only candidate, on the Democratic side, certainly, to mention terrorists and to describe them as (INAUDIBLE), and these are evil people.  I was thinking as I was listening, I don‘t know the last time I heard a Democrat describe how evil the terrorists are, though you would think that would be kind of par.

CILLIZZA:  No, it was fascinating, too.  The over thing that I noticed was she talked about—I‘m someone who‘s been through this before.  I‘ve stood up to the attacks. 

Now, obviously she was talking about political attacks, but I think what she‘s saying is, I‘m a proven commodity.  I‘ve stood up to these people before.  I know what we‘re facing.  I‘m not going to make glib promises about what the future should hold for national security...

CARLSON:  Right.

CILLIZZA:  ... because I‘m an adult.  I lived with this for eight years.  I know that this isn‘t a simple solution—a simple problem with a simple solution.  And so I‘m not going to tell you that it is.  I‘m going to say, I‘m tough.  I‘m willing to stand up and fight for what I believe and the direction the country needs to go, but it‘s not going to get solved any time in the near future. 

You know, it‘s the tough but strong argument.

CARLSON:  I think the one thing we know about Hillary, Peter, the one thing we absolutely know, bottom line, she can‘t win, right?  She is unelectable.  Why do we know that again? 

BEINART:  No, I don‘t think we necessarily know that.

CARLSON:  I hear Democrats say that all the time. 

BEINART:  I would be willing to concede that she‘s probably not the most electable group in the Democratic field, but it may well be that 2008 is such a good year for Democrats, that I think that she should certainly win.  I think the Republican Party may be so dragged down because of Iraq, which may be -- 2008 may be 2006 on steroids, but I think Hillary Clinton could win.

CARLSON:  It struck me watching Obama.  This is a guy who hasn‘t run many campaigns.  I mean, he beat Allen Keyes, great.  But he seemed younger today than I‘ve ever seen him, and he seemed less certain of himself. 

CILLIZZA:  The challenge for Obama, I think—and Senator Clinton doesn‘t have this challenge—she has plenty other challenges.  But the challenge for Obama is that he has to appear serious, has gravity, be up to the office.  You know, the big question with him is, is a guy who spent two years in the Senate big enough for this office?

CARLSON:  Right.

CILLIZZA:  So, he has to in both tone and the words that he uses come across as serious-minded, recognizes the seriousness of the world situation that we live in.  The problem with that is that in a crowd where you want to get cheers, you want to get standing ovations, that dour, serious rhetoric doesn‘t fire people up.

CARLSON:  Well, you‘ve got to win the primary first.  And, I mean, Obama is running against, as he has said many times, against cynicism and for hope.  And that‘s fine, but running for hope does not an exciting speech make.  I mean, it actually almost put me to sleep.

And I don‘t—you know, I don‘t have contempt for the guy or anything, but it bored the hell out of me.  And judging by the audience‘s response, you know, I think they had the same feeling. 

BEINART:  Well, he has to make sure that he doesn‘t get too vague, that this thing doesn‘t become a little bit of a cliche. 

CARLSON:  That‘s right.  Totally...

When he talks about his own life story, I think he gives it meat, but he‘s got to find ways of connecting it to issues that people really care about.  The passion gap between him and Hillary is his key to victory.  He‘s the passion candidate in the Democratic Party that‘s very hungry for passion, but he has to find a way of keeping the passion, while also being substantive.

CARLSON:  But how can you passionate if you‘re not attacking people?  I mean, John Edwards comes out and says, you know who is responsible?  You are, President Bush.  You are, you evil Republicans. 

Obama fancies himself as above that.  It‘s sort of hard to generate passions based on abstractions, isn‘t it?

BEINART:  I don‘t think so.  I think there have been plenty of people who did it.  I think John McCain did it in 2000, evoked a lot of passion by talking about, you know, how America needed to stand up to the challenges.  The fact that we weren‘t coming together to deal with the new challenges we faced as a country.

It is possible if you are talented enough like Obama is, but it also has to have some meat. 

CILLIZZA:  I don‘t disagree with Peter, but I would say, in the passion gap, it struck me today that the passion was there for Senator Clinton and much less so for Barack Obama.  Now, one event does not a presidential candidacy make.

CARLSON:  Right.

CILLIZZA:  But, you know, I do think that he has boxed himself in somewhat in that he has presented himself as, I‘m going to be the candidate that is above the fray, I‘m going to be the candidate that doesn‘t take lobbyist money, doesn‘t take PAC money, doesn‘t attack my opponents.  It‘s hard in some ways, because anything that he does that makes him look political, whether it‘s giving a rah-rah speech and drawing some contrasts, he‘s—it makes him look...


CARLSON:  Well, that‘s right.  And I actually think this is not—I know it‘s a union that endorsed John Kerry in 2004.  I don‘t think it‘s necessarily—and all the members behind me right now, they can—in the commercial break will fill me in—I don‘t think it‘s a natural constituency for Hillary Clinton.  I don‘t.

I don‘t think this is a group that is poised to love her.  And you all seem to kind of like her anyway.  I mean, if she can win over a group like this, it‘s not, you know, a bunch of 35-year-old single women with Masters degrees, her natural constituency.

BEINART:  Hillary Clinton—in New York State, she has success in making inroads amongst people who naturally wouldn‘t be predisposed to like her.  And I think the closer she gets to people, the better chance she has of making that sale, because she doesn‘t conform to the stereotypes that conservatives sometimes paint of her.  She‘s very thoughtful, she‘s smart.

The question is, can she get to enough people to overcome those stereotypes?

CARLSON:  Boy, she could be president.  Boy, there‘s a news flash.  I mean, I think we‘ve been sort of assuming that she can‘t actually win, it‘s a vanity (ph) candidacy.  But no.  It could be real.

Coming up, former Republican front-runner John McCain spoke here today.  How did his oratory compare to his competitors?  Can he resuscitate his flagging bid for the top spot on the  Republican ticket in ‘08?

Plus, the elephant in the room today was the candidate who wasn‘t.  Where was Rudy Giuliani?  Why wasn‘t he here?  What does his absence mean for his campaign going forward?

We‘ll tell you.  Stay tuned.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS:  It‘s a noble calling what all of you do. 

You know that and I know that and the country knows that.

Sometimes, though, Washington forgets that.  They praise your work, they cheer you on when you race up the stairs, but when it‘s time to get you healthcare or buy radios or the equipment that you need, those supporters sometimes disappear like a puff of smoke. 


CARLSON:  Barack Obama‘s appearance here at the Hyatt in Washington at the presidential cattle call was undeniably underwhelming.  And that qualifies as a genuine surprise given his increasingly legendary presence and the power he usually has over audiences. 

Could it be that Barack Obama‘s intellectual power is better suited to the written word than the spoken word?  And could that affect his presidential run?

For analysis, we welcome a reporter who has covered him extensively both in Illinois and in Washington, and actually around the country, “Chicago Sun-Times” columnist Lynn Sweet.

Lynn, welcome.


CARLSON:  Do you think in the end—I read Obama‘s first book and was impressed by it. Could it be that he‘s better in print than he is out loud?

SWEET:  No, I just think in this case he might have had an off day.  He seemed a little tired.  He‘s been on the stump constantly.  I think it was an interesting speech in that he did not want to through, almost calculatedly, red meat to a bunch of union members. 


SWEET:  He did not.  He had a speech, Tucker, where he did not mention the word “union” even once. 


SWEET:  And the others did—notably, Chris Dodd and Hillary Clinton.

CARLSON:  And he also didn‘t ask for the votes of the people in this room.  It‘s traditional in politics, I think it‘s effective, to say, “You know what?  I‘m running, and I want you to vote for me.”

Does he see himself as above pandering and vote-grabbing?

SWEET:  Well, I don‘t know if asking for a vote is pandering.  I think that‘s one of the things you do in politics.

CARLSON:  I think it‘s legitimate.  I agree.

SWEET:  It‘s that people don‘t like to give you a vote or an endorsement unless you ask for it.  Now, Bill Richardson said, “I love you if you don‘t endorse me, I‘ll love you more if you do.”

CARLSON:  Right.

SWEET:  So, the thing is, I think it was part of just how he wanted to position himself.  So you can‘t put him as too pro-labor, you can‘t put him as too pro-business.  It‘s part of, I think, of how Obama wants to present himself, is that he doesn‘t want to put a foot firmly in any camp.

Now, in a union crowd like this, where some of the candidates did just come up and say unabashedly, “I‘m union,” Hillary Clinton say...

CARLSON:  Oh, yes.

SWEET:  ... “I‘m sticking with you.”  And that is a different kind of message.

Now, this endorsement for this union doesn‘t come up for a few months, so I don‘t know if today‘s appearance is determinative.

CARLSON:  You listen to Barack Obama for a living.  You listen to him maybe more than anybody but Mrs. Obama.  Maybe more. 

His sentence structure always strikes me as very complex.  It‘s almost like he‘s reading a prose poem every time.  And it‘s not, I don‘t think, suited to whipping an audience into a frenzy.

Is he always this way? 

SWEET:  No, no.  And I‘ve seen him—I‘ve seen him excite crowds.  And I‘ve seen him at rallies where he—he (INAUDIBLE) rhetoric.

And yes, I think he believes if you give him a choice between a simple declarative sentence...

CARLSON:  Right.

SWEET:  ... and a complex compound one, he would take, you know, the longer one all the time.  You know, he‘s not a newspaper writer, where he‘s doing simple declarative sentences, and that‘s probably perhaps his outlook on life.

I think on this one, I‘d just put it on an off day.  You know, Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd whipped up the crowd. 


SWEET:  He can if he wants to—I think part of it was that he didn‘t necessarily choose to have a speech that would talk more about the things that could touch the buttons of a crowd like this, which certainly—which would be on more strictly union issues.  Again, this was a speech to a union without the word “union” in it.

CARLSON:  Right. But here‘s—he did talk about himself to some extent. 

And I want to put up one thing that he said that got my attention.

Here‘s Barack Obama on his own appeal.  This is what he says.


OBAMA:  When people talk about this campaign, they ask me why it is that we‘re generating so much excitement.  I say it‘s not me.  It‘s not me that‘s generating interest and excitement.  It‘s the American people waking up after a long slumber and making a determination that we can have a better America.


CARLSON:  Why do people love me so much?  Because America has come to its senses, is what he is saying.

Do you get the—is he aware—is he burdened by his own suddenly popularity?  Do you think it weighs on him?  Or am I psychoanalyzing too much with him?

SWEET:  Well, I think, Dr. Tucker, political psychotherapist...

CARLSON:  It feels that way.  It feels like this is a guy who‘s like bowed under the way of his own sudden celebrity.

SWEET:  Well, he has said stuff—well, it‘s not in a way—you know, he‘s seen it coming.  That‘s why he‘s running for president.

CARLSON:  Right.  Good point.

SWEET:  But, the thing is that he has often that he‘s the receptacle of other people‘s hopes and dreams and he realizes...

CARLSON:  Right.

SWEET:  He‘s a political warship, Tucker.  And he understands it.  And I think that‘s what he was talking about, that if people had some kind of suppressed—not that I‘m trying to be a psychologist here—if they have suppressed political desires, he could awaken them on that.  And that‘s what that was about. 

CARLSON:  What if they have mommy issues? 

SWEET:  Money?

CARLSON:  Mommy issues or toilet training issues or...

SWEET:  Oh, I‘m not going there.  I‘m not going there.

CARLSON:  OK.  Well, then that‘s another show.

SWEET:  I‘m...


CARLSON:  Lynn Sweet, thank you.  I‘m glad you‘re not going there.  I won‘t either.

Coming up, speaking of going where, where was Rudy today?  America‘s mayor most famous and beloved for his leadership in New York City on 9/11 didn‘t make it to an event held by America‘s bravest first responders.  What gives with that?

Plus, Rudy Giuliani‘s recent wins appear to have been John McCain‘s losses.  The former front-runner was in this room today.  How was his speech?  Will it give him a much-needed boost?  And can his campaign for president rebound?

Stick around for that. 




SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  We are gaining the initiative, and the enemy is beginning to react to us, rather than the other way around, as has been the case in the past. 


CARLSON:  John McCain today, at the Hyatt in Washington before the Fireman‘s Union.  Joining me now, Chris Cilizza, who writes “The Fix,” the “Washington Post‘s” site, and Peter Beinart, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.   

Peter, pretty bold for McCain or any other candidate to get up in March of 2007 and say, we need to win the war in Iraq and the surge is a good idea.  I mean, talk about unpopular.

BEINART:  Yes, I‘m against the surge, but give McCain credit.  I mean, this is a political dog and he is doing it clearly out of conviction.  I don‘t think he has any choice really.  At this point, he is so wrapped around both the Iraq war and the surge that it would be absurd for him to try to walk away from it now.

He staked his political career on this.  And he is going to rise or fall up with it. 

CARLSON:  Chris, can we just give up the canard, which has always been false, that if you say something true but unpopular, people will respect you.  They hate you for saying some thing that‘s true and unpopular.  They want you to say something that‘s popular.  

CILIZZA:  The one thing they hate more than something that is true but unpopular is flip-flopping, is changing your position.  Peter is exactly right.  John McCain recognizes that he doesn‘t have any option.  If John McCain all of a sudden came out tomorrow and said, you know what, the surge is a bad idea.  We should get out of Iraq.  That‘s what people hate. 

Any time a politician plays to type, it‘s the old I voted for it before I voted against it, saying what people want to here.  People don‘t like that.  They like genuineness more than they like what they perceive to be -- 

CARLSON:  But they‘re not giving McCain a pass on this.  I mean, my sense is the Republicans have a problem with McCain, because they think he is too old.  They think he‘s too liberal.  And the rest of the public, independents, conservative Democrats, are upset about his position on the war.  Poor guy, I mean, who supports him? 

BEINART:  That‘s true, but one thing he has going for him is that Giuliani and Romney have staked out the same position.  People just don‘t know it yet. 

CARLSON:  Why is he taking all the heat? 

BEINART:  Because people know McCain because he‘s been in the Senate. 

He has been so high profile.  But I think that once people start to realize that Giuliani‘s views on Iraq are just as unpopular as McCain‘s, his national numbers are going to start to dive too.  And then Republicans are going to say, well maybe he‘s not as electable either.   

CILIZZA:  Right, just one quick thing.  Remember, you don‘t run against generic Republican candidates.  Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani have flaws of their own and those are the flaws that John McCain needs if he‘s going to win the nomination.  

CARLSON:  And they have specific, unusual, and, if I can say, pretty interesting flaws.  There‘s nothing generic about their flaws.

They were not the only candidates there today.  There were some second tier candidates, and some of them were pretty good, including Duncan Hunter, Republican congressman from San Diego.  I talked to him in the hallway.  Here‘s what he said.   


CARLSON:  Congressman, you‘re a Republican.  This is a union that has endorsed Democrats historically.  Why did you come here? 

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Well, you know, the firefighters are a lot like our American military.  They risk their lives for our country.  They certainly deserve this audience with all the folks running for president.  I like them. 

CARLSON:  I like them too.  But do you think the membership is following the leadership?  In other words, when they endorse a Democrat for president, do you think the members vote Democrat?

HUNTER:  Here‘s what I know:  These people care deeply about national security.  My strong point is national security.  I think a bring a lot of votes out of this constituency.  And you know something, for any Republican to win, he needs to bring home the Reagan Democrats.  You look into this crowd of firefighters, people that have served the country in the military.  They risk their lives at home. 

They have conservative principles.  They believe in family very strongly.  They are the Reagan Democrats.  We need to bring them back into our party and win this next presidential election with them.  And I think they‘re necessary to win the election.

CARLSON:  Why aren‘t there more conservatives running for the Republican nomination? 

HUNTER:  Well, it looks to me like there are quite a few conservatives. 

CARLSON:  Would you call Giuliani conservative?

HUNTER:  No, I wouldn‘t. 

CARLSON:  Would you call McCain conservative? 

HUNTER:  I would say on some issues, yes.  But you‘ve got Sam Brownback, conservative, clearly, on some issues, wrong on a few.  You know something, what I‘m going to do is play my game.  I have got strong boarder. 

I built the border fence in San Diego.  I wrote the law that extends it across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas for 854 miles.  That has resonated throughout the country.  That helped me win the straw poll among elected Republican leaders.  In Arizona, we came in one point behind McCain and Giuliani, who had been campaigning for a year and a half. 

CARLSON:  Then why isn‘t anyone else talking about it?  Apart from Tancredo, you never hear Republicans talk about immigration, and the need for stricter enforcement. 

HUNTER: I think they have been convinced to have a different direction, probably by corporate America.  I think they get the strong points on boarder enforcement dulled by corporate America.  We have to know who is coming into this country.  In fact, having a strong border and enforceable border is no longer primarily an immigration issue.  It‘s primarily a national security issue. 

We‘ve got to know, number one, who is coming in, number two, what are they bringing with them.  You have to know that.  That‘s a non-negotiable. 

CARLSON:  You are obviously far more conservative than the president on this issue and I think on a lot of other issues.  Is there space in this race for someone to run to the right of Bush explicitly? 

HUNTER:  Absolutely.  I think there‘s a great opportunity for me to win this race as a conservative who can appeal to people‘s notions about having a strong national defense, enforceable border, two way street on trade.  You know, the middle class and the Republican party have never been for pushing our jobs off shore, especially pushing them to communist China. 

CARLSON:  Communist China, I have not heard it called that in a long time. 

HUNTER:  Let me tell you, the communists that I see are the tough old boys in the military, who are buying ships, planes, missiles, who just shot a satellite out of space.  Presumably, you don‘t practice to shoot your own satellites out of space.  They just popped a submarine up in front of Kitty Hawk on October 26th

They are arming at a double digit rate, in a very sophisticated way, and they‘re using American trade dollars.  When you make that argument, that tugs at the heart strings of Republicans and Democrats. 

CARLSON:  Finally, if Giuliani is as popular as the polls suggest he is among Republicans, and he‘s aggressively pro-choice, and he is, that suggests that Republican primary voters don‘t care about abortion anymore.

HUNTER:  I think it just suggests they haven‘t focused on the issues.  I think their image of Rudy Giuliani is a good guy, is him shaking his fists at the terrorists on 9/11.  I think that‘s the image that most Americans have.  And that‘s a good image, and he‘s a good guy.  But I don‘t think folks have looked—

You know, the Republicans are all good candidates, good guys.  We have got real differences on the issues. 

CARLSON:  So, you think they care about the social issues? 

HUNTER:  Absolutely.  They haven‘t had a chance to focus.  I mean, we‘re two years out of this election.  Folks have a lot of things to do.  You‘ve got to take the kids to school.  You‘ve got to get work.  You catch a bit or a piece of a show.  I‘m sure that they spend a lot of time on yours Tucker.  That‘s where they sit down and really concentrate.

But, you know, Americans need to focus.  When they see what we stand for—I make a lot of progress.  I‘ve gotten into these straw polls, coming just a couple weeks ago, into this campaign.  I won the Arizona straw poll.  I came in less than one percentage point away from Giuliani and McCain.  They spent a fortune down there is South Carolina.

I had one Marine with me.  That‘s my son.  And, you know, somebody said, well of course Hunter was there.  He‘s with his one Marine son.  I said, yes that‘s true.  One Marine versus 550 consultants, it‘s a fair fight. 

CARLSON:  Duncan Hunter of California, thank you very much. 


CARLSON:  Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas is also running for the Republican nomination.  No one would call him front runner.  Very few suspect that he‘s going to win the Republican nomination, much less the presidency.  But he did speak today and gave a very interesting speech.  I caught up with him shortly after.


CARLSON:  Is it your impression that the Republican party is changing rapidly? 

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK ®, KANSAS:  I think parties are always changing, by people that come in and are searching for ideas that they want emphasized or deemphasized.  The core philosophy of the party is not.  It‘s for pro-growth, smaller government, social conservative, strong foreign policy.  That‘s been the core of the party.

CARLSON:  The government has grown under this Republican president and this Republican Congress, and the front runner, at least judging by every poll taken in the last three weeks, is someone who is not socially conservative, so what does that tell you?  If the president is not for limited government in his actions and the front runner is not for social conservatism, is it the same party? 

BROWNBACK:  What it tells you is that we have been at war since 9/11, which this administration—that will be the history on this administration, is 9/11 and the war on terrorism, and the growth that took place surrounding that.  I think that we have a long campaign before this is decided about where the Republican party is. 

I can tell you, as I am campaigning in Iowa and South Carolina and across the country, people there are conservative, but they don‘t know where the stances of all the candidates are.  We‘re in March of the year before.  So there‘s a long time for that to be figured out. 

CARLSON:  But I‘m seeing polls that show that even self-described evangelicals, religious people, church goers, are willing to vote for an aggressively pro-choice candidate.  What does that mean? 

BROWNBACK:  Well, I haven‘t seen those polls.  And that hasn‘t been my experience either.  I think people do want to know where you stand on the issues.  I think that is a big deal, for particularly a Republican party base voter, but also for us to win in the general and have our folks really mobilized to push forward to win in 2008. 

CARLSON:  I have watched a lot of Republican speeches, Republicans vying for the nomination.  You‘re the only person I ever heard mention the word abortion, ever.  Why is that? 

BROWNBACK:  It‘s at my core.  I believe that life is sacred.  And I think it‘s something we should stand boldly for.  And a big part of the reason we haven‘t matured about more is we haven‘t talked about it.  It‘s been in code words.  We should talk about what this is really like. 

CARLSON:  Do you think Bush has been good for the Republican party or bad? 

BROWNBACK:  I think he‘s been good, but he‘s at the end of his second term, and quite frankly, most presidents are not particularly popular at that point in time.  And Iraq has consumed this presidency.

CARLSON:  But they typically have a vice president who is then running for president.  This president decided that he didn‘t want a vice president who would be trying to achieve greater political power, for whatever ever reason, some say because he‘s insecure, or for whatever reason.  But it leaves the party in a pretty tough place, doesn‘t it? 

BROWNBACK:  Well, I don‘t think so.  It leaves the party in a place to be able to discuss new ideas, and to say, what direction should we be going. 

CARLSON:  What do you think of Hillary Clinton? 

BROWNBACK:  Fine lady, intelligent, sharp, smart.  I look forward to the battle of ideas with her, because I don‘t think her ideas are in the majority bloc of where the U.S. public is. 

CARLSON:  So you think she‘s an ideologue?  She has certain—she is a person who is governed by her ideas primarily? 

BROWNBACK:  I think there are clear ideas that she stands for and I think once those are out there and the public gets to choose, and that‘s what a presidential race is about, a battle of ideas.  I think the ideas that I represent, represent a majority, a center right majority, where the country actually is. 

CARLSON:  Are you proud of voting for the war in 2002?

BROWNBACK:  I am, because I am proud of the troops that have served. 

I am proud of what they have done in moving forward democracy and liberty in a part of the world that has never known her.  But we have a long way to go for this to be stable, and we are not going to stabilize it just militarily.  It must be a political solution. 

CARLSON:  So you think it was worth it?  If you could do it again, what I hear you saying is that you would do it again.  You would vote for the war again.

BROWNBACK:  Yes, because I don‘t think you can go back and say, OK, what I know now, would I have done that.  That‘s not fair to do that.  It‘s not fair to the troops that have committed their lives.  We have to see this on through.  This is the leading edge of the battle in the war on terrorism. 

CARLSON:  Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, thank you very much. 

BROWNBACK:  Thank you Tucker.


CARLSON:  Coming up, Rudy Giuliani was a no show at today‘s parade of presidential hopefuls here in Washington.  What was the strategy behind that, assuming there was one?  And will his absence hurt or help him?  Those questions and answers coming up next.

Plus, when it comes to sports, John McCain just made the most conservative possible choice, and it‘s likely to be a terrible mistake.  McCain madness.  Stay tuned for the details. 


CARLSON:  The most notable absence from today‘s gathering of 2008 presidential candidates before the International Association of Firefighters was the Republican front runner, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.  The question is, who snubbed whom. 

According to Mr. Giuliani‘s campaign, a scheduling conflict prevented him from coming today, and he wanted to be here.  There has been some bad blood between the union and the former mayor.  For example, IAFF president Harold Scheitburger said this to the “New York Times” this morning, quote, “Rudy does not deserve our support.  If he‘s going to run on his 9/11 reputation, he‘s running on a very shaky foundation.” 

The discord, whatever its degree, centers on, or appears to center on Giuliani‘s management of the search and rescue operation at Ground Zero in New York in the weeks after 9/11.  A recent letter from the union leaders to the rank and file sharply rebuked the former mayor‘s decision to cut the number of firefighters searching the rubble of the Twin Towers in November of 2001.  The Giuliani campaign rebuts that allegation with a March 9th letter from retired New York City fireman Lee Iopi (ph), which states, quote, Rudy Giuliani has always been a steadfast and unrelenting supporter of firefighters and first responders.

He calls the union‘s allegations, quote, offensive and inaccurate.  Here to talk about Giuliani and his apparent alienation with a group with whom he is closely associated in the public eye, we welcome back Chris Cilizza, who writes “The Fix” on WashingtonPost.com, and Peter  Beinart, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and editor at large of the “New Republic.”

Now, I didn‘t quite understand how profound the enmity was, and then I was here this afternoon and saw this button.  Hold up this button, you can see, it says, hell no, Rudy.  There are people wearing this button on their badges, apparently it is real, this sentiment. 

I wonder, Peter, would it have been a bad idea for Giuliani to come anyway, despite the fact he might have been booed, and said, you know what, boo me if you like, but I‘m coming regardless, because I‘m not afraid? 

BEINART:  I think it would have been a bad idea for him, because it would have teed off the national press to start realizing that there are people in New York, and not just the fighters, who were not happy with how Rudy Giuliani dealt with 9/11.  There is this perception out there in the country that New Yorkers are unanimous in being happy, but there actually are a lot of critics, different elements of the city, and that will complicate his number one asset, which is the perception of what a great job he did after 9/11.   

CARLSON:  I must say Chris, I am amazed, and I suppose, impressed by the quick reaction from the Giuliani campaign.  We have gotten calls from them all day long, complaining about our coverage, in some cases fairly, in some case not.  But they are very concerned about this story. 

CILIZZA:  I think what they recognize is that this has the seed of being potentially bad.  I don‘t think it‘s the full tree yet, but it has the seed of being bad.  This gets at the root of Rudy Giuliani‘s candidacy, competence and the ability to keep us safe from terrorism.  You may not agree with me on abortion.  You may not agree with me on gay rights.  But I am the guy who can keep you the safest, and look at my demonstrated record. 

Well, if you have a group that came to be the symbol of that record, the firefighters, going into the building as everyone was rushing out, going through the wreckage of 9/11 on the grounds of Ground Zero, not with him, it raises a substantive fundamental question about his candidacy.  Is this guy who we think he is?

CARLSON:  Sure, plus, everyone likes firemen.  And I‘m not just saying that because they‘re surround our set here.  It‘s like the one group.  Not everyone likes cops.  Not everyone even likes the ice cream vendors.

BEINART:  Or reporters.

CARLSON:  Everyone hates reporters.  But I mean, everyone like firemen.  I wonder, does it get to the point, and I am not attacking Giuliani, who I think is charming and very talented, however, his foreign policy experience is, let‘s see, none.  Really, it‘s his experience on 9/11 and running the city of New York, that comprises the totality of his foreign policy experience, unless I am missing something, like an ambassadorship I didn‘t hear about.  Do you know what I mean? 

BEINART:  I think that‘s at the heart of his candidacy, which is going to become more and more apparent, which is to say, his foreign policy views are entirely symbolic.  They are like throwing Yasser Arafat out of the Opera at New York City.  They‘re really not serious.  Obama has more foreign policy experience than Rudy Giuliani, in terms of actually making decisions about the way America interacts with the world.  I think people are going to become more aware of that. 

CARLSON:  If they‘re so aware of that though—I mean, we keep hearing—I agree with you.  However, Chris, he is absolutely not in step with his party on any of the social issues at all.  He is way closer to Howard Dean.  And then he has got these issues about New York apparently.  None of that is having any effect on his poll numbers. 

CILIZZA:  Right, I mean, we‘ve seen him gain, in fact.  He has widened his lead in most, not every, but in most polls that we‘ve seen.  I still think, and I‘ve been saying this for a while, I still think most people have a very inch deep knowledge of Rudy Giuliani, September 11th, mayor, competent.  They may have some inkling of his social views.  Republican voters know he may be a little out of step with them.

But I don‘t think they have detailed knowledge of his social views.  I know they don‘t have the detailed knowledge of his business dealings after he left office and his personal affairs, divorces.  Those are the kind of things that as people get to know him more over the next three to six months, let‘s see if his numbers stay up.  I probably wouldn‘t have told you three months ago his numbers would be where they are -- 

CARLSON:  It may be bad for him, but it‘s good for journalism.  There‘s a lot to write about.  Chris Cilizza, Peter Beinart, thank you both very much. 

Coming up, Republicans searching for the genuine conservative for their 2008 ticket, ought to take a look at John McCain‘s latest time sensitive decisions.  You simply cannot be more conservative than the Arizona senator when it comes to sports.  Stick around for the details. 


CARLSON:  Welcome back.  You know, Willie Geist is on jury duty this week, and when we have someone on staff out, we don‘t just pull someone off the street to fill in.  We go right to the top.  Joining us now, the vice-president of MSNBC, for prime-time, the captain of the Harvard Water Polo team, Bill Wolff. 

BILL WOLFF, VICE PRESIDENT OF MSNBC:  It hurts Tucker.  And as a matter of fact, they did pull me off the street.  They pulled me off MSNBC plaza, where I was hanging out this afternoon. 

Tremendous job today, but while you were busy today, Tucker, with matters like who will be the next president of the United States, the rest of the country has spent most of this day obsessing about which contestants will be voted off “American Idol” tonight.  As I am sure you know, Tucker, last night‘s performances were generally awful.  It‘s a safe bet that the best of the lot, Melinda Doolittle, she‘s my favorite, Lakisha Jones (ph), also a favorite, and young Jordan Sparks, will survive to sing another week. 

As for who gets the tearful boot tonight, it is anybody‘s guess?  Three people, Tucker, three people out of 12 forgot the words of the song they were the singing.  And none of those three people was really the worst of the night.  So, it‘s up in the air tonight Tucker.  I should point out, they forgot the words they were singing.  We‘re not talking about Gregorian chant or Egyptian hymns in the original Sanskrit.  These are Diana Ross tunes, tunes you can hear AM radio this day. 

They forgot the words.  And they are likely to survive, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  I‘m sorry I missed it.  I was up late reading the Almanac of American Politics.  I‘ve got to tune in more often.

WOLFF:  What are you wasting your time for, buddy?  This is “American Idol?”  This is the American electorate speaking.  I think last they had 1.3 billion people watched last night.  I think.  I read that somewhere on the Internet, which is never wrong. 

From “American Idol,” Tucker, to one of America‘s richest and most idle, MSNBC.com‘s Jenette Walls reports that recently bald, former pop star Britney Spears has found love again, this time it reportedly happened in alcoholics anonymous, and the lucky charmer is Jason Philya (ph), the 33-year-old lead guitarist of the rock band Riva.  I know you‘ve got all of their disks Tucker.

So says the next edition of “National Enquirer,” which, like the Internet, has never been wrong.  The tabloid also reports that Britney plans to move in with the guy after rehab, and believes he can help her, because he too is a recovering alcoholic.  Now, as research for this very important story, I went to the—awful?  Come on, have a heart Tucker.  AS research for this very important story, I went on the Internet and went to find the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and nowhere in the recovery process—yes, you have to admit you‘re an alcoholic, you have to give over to a higher power.  No where does it say fall in love with a rock singer. 

CARLSON:  Can I just say very quickly, Jeanette Walls broke that story.  She wrote one of the best books I‘ve read this year, called “The Glass Castle.”  That woman can write.   

WOLFF:  MSNBC.com most days, always excellent, always funny, and it is always stuff about which you‘re actually interested, the guilty pleasures of the news business, Tucker. 

Finally, speaking of guilty pleasures, back to politics.  I know you love them.  And the genuine conservatism of Arizona Senator John McCain.  At his web site, JohnMcCain.com, the Republican presidential hopeful has an NCAA tournament contest.  You can fill out a bracket, pick the tournament winners, and if you‘re the most accurate prognosticator, you get a McCain 2008 fleece, suitable for wearing.  Second place gets a hat.  Third place gets a lapel pin, Tucker.

Good luck to all entries.  But most significant politically is the posting of Senator McCain‘s own picks.  He has predicted that all four of the tournament‘s top seeds, Kansas, Florida, North Carolina and Ohio State will constitute the Final Four.  The top four teams, Tucker, will constitute the Final Four.  Now sir, that is conservative.  And I can say in a non-partisan way, probably wrong. 

Conservative, Tucker, and probably wrong.  It has never happened before in the history of the tournament that the top four seeds came to the Final Four.  Useful information. 

CARLSON:  Before I bet a dollar, Bill, I am calling you.  Bill Wolff from headquarters, thank you Bill.  And here from Washington, with the Firemen behind me—it‘s been a terrific day.  We will see you tomorrow.  Thank you for watching.  Up next, “HARDBALL,” with the great Mike Barnicle. 

Have a great night.



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