KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Good evening.
Alongside Chris Matthews here on the campus of South Carolina State University, I’m Keith Olbermann, where the eight candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have just concluded their first debate of this campaign season.
Heading into tonight’s contest, it had been thought the spotlight would land, more often than not, on just two of the candidates, two of the four senators present, Senator Clinton and Obama.
And Chris, I guess, to some degree, that was true, but this was more of a generalized scrum out there, and not very much directed at each other, but more, again, at the Bush administration.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: It was civilized and therefore not that exciting. But I do think we did a pretty good pregame on it. I think that we saw what we expected. We expected-- There Michelle Obama, by the way, if anybody’s interested. That’s the wife of the senator from Illinois.
Let me—a couple things. I thought Hillary Clinton did really well tonight as a front runner. I think she held her place. I think her voice, her—her manner of presentation was very solid, until the very end, when she got a bit sharp. But that’s a small point. I thought she handled herself well as the front runner and kept her status.
I thought Obama was the most sophisticated. I thought he talked about the role of NATO, the role of combining alliances with a tough pursuit of terrorists, putting it together in a very sophisticated way. I thought the top—two people did very well tonight. I will just say that to start with.
OLBERMANN: And certainly none of them, although given many opportunities, really, with the exception of Mike Gravel, really took off on any of the other Democrats. There were repeated opportunities, questions posed, questions which made direct reference to other candidates’ positions, in which Senator Edwards was invited to criticize Senator Clinton for her stance, her vote on the war, and he didn’t do that.
MATTHEWS: Right. There was this thing, there was a—there’s a reference by John Edwards of high-falutin language, that was aimed directly at Obama. But such a glancing blow that it didn’t matter.
There’s Jackie Clegg, by the way, the wife of Chris Dodd there in the middle.
You know, I think that they did-- Nobody was willing to look the other person in the eye and make a direct reference, it seemed to me, except maybe in the very beginning-- No, I’m not sure if anybody really did much…
OLBERMANN: Well, the only—the direct references we had were their first names. Hillary Clinton referred to Barack and John, and Barack later referred to Hillary. And Senator Biden then chimed in with a reference to Hillary as well. We had a very, very cordial, very personal, as if that thing we were talking about beforehand, do you really want to show any kind of broad disunity, could be—
MATTHEWS: ... and in all—but in all fairness...
OLBERMANN: ... is it possible (INAUDIBLE) it was...
MATTHEWS: ... these names are (INAUDIBLE), are almost like Paladin or Capucine. These are names that are going to be first name, and that’s all you need to know. Hillary is, by the way, on the bumper stickers. It’s Hillary.
OLBERMANN: Right. Do you think of John Edwards as John?
MATTHEWS: No, I don’t think that’s enough information. But Barack is sufficient to recognize who we’re talking about.
There’s one of the young kids of Chris Dodd there.
OLBERMANN: And certainly we had the first, very possibly the first one-word answer in debate history, when Senator Biden was pressed to assure everyone that he would restrict his verbosity. And there’s the senator. And he answered...
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) puts these things together. We just saw him from D.C.
OLBERMANN: Senator Biden gave the one and only correct answer in that circumstance, the one-word answer, Yes.
MATTHEW: Because he wanted not to be...
MATTHEWS: Right, he wanted to prove that he could speak economically to the point of a single syllable.
I just didn’t think that they—that we saw, except for Kucinich and Mike Gravel, we did, and they were sort of the flame-throwers tonight, in the sense of drawing strong distinctions with the other candidates. In a way, Mike Gravel probably stole the fire of Dennis Kucinich, because he was so total in his rejection of the other guy’s position on the war in Iraq.
OLBERMANN: On war in general, on the war against—the so-called war against terror, on all of the elements that are underpinnings of the current administration, and sort of in the vocabulary of the Democrats, of the mainstream Democrats, even if they don’t support it, they—no one has come out and said, You can’t use these terms, and Gravel clearly did, and Kucinich not far behind him.
But I was wondering if the sequence of questions, what was your worst mistake (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: Yes, you’ll never get much help from these guys. They are incapable of self-reflection.
OLBERMANN: But didn’t you think Senator Clinton came as close as she had to saying her vote was a mistake? Again, she said (INAUDIBLE) description of a mistake listening to the Bush administration, but that...
MATTHEWS: The problem with that defense is that that would be adequate had she immediately condemned the war once it began. But several years passed. That’s the problem.
OLBERMANN: Well, I didn’t say it was as close as, perhaps, it should have been, I just said it was as close as (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: But it’s not good to say...
OLBERMANN: ... (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: ... continually that you were thinking that the administration intended to go to the U.N. for a solution several years left into the war, you didn’t think they were going to go (INAUDIBLE).
There’s an attractive couple if cosmetics matter, which they do.
OLBERMANN: Were you...
OLBERMANN: ... surprised that when offered an opportunity, basically a softball, on the comments from Mayor Giuliani, former mayor Giuliani of New York, in New Hampshire this week, about the country would be safer with a Republican president, that Democrats would—a Democrat elected would necessarily mean more casualties in a terrorist attack than a Republican elected, that not only Senator Clinton, but Senator Dodd and even Congressman Kucinich...
MATTHEWS: Yes, tell you why.
OLBERMANN: ... just deferred entirely from any reference...
MATTHEWS: Because they don’t want...
OLBERMANN: ... (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: ... Rudy Giuliani as their opponent, that’s why, because they’d rather attack George Bush, who’s leaving, than attack a guy who they make into a king.
Lyndon Johnson, back in 1966, made a huge mistake. He attacked Richard Nixon as a chronic campaigner. Two years later, he’s the nominee and won the election. You don’t want to crown perhaps the strongest other guy as the nominee.
OLBERMANN: You validate them, in other words, if you do that.
MATTHEWS: You identify them as your rival, and you build them up. And, by the way, if you attack Giuliani and you’re Hillary Clinton, you’re saying, He’s my equal, let’s go at it.
OLBERMANN: So that was our question, then, internally among the Democrats here. What would the ratio, the tension, the dynamic between Senators Clinton and Obama be at the end of the night, and would it be different than it was at the beginning of the night?
MATTHEWS: I think that she was not unlikable, that she achieved her goal of keeping her voice modulated. And I know I raise my voice occasionally. I think that she kept her voice into, and she was very controlled, and very professional, and very impressive.
I thought he was very sophisticated, however. Every time he was asked a question, he gave a multipart answer, which suggested a great deal of deliberation, and he doesn’t have a one-track mind on anything. He thinks on things on a number of tracks, including diplomacy, as well as warfare. He’s able to balance his answers with other answers, so that you hear a complete, almost—well, let’s say this, a presidential response to complicated questions.
OLBERMANN: You’ll remember (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: And I thought that was very, very—he was—I thought he was as good in this group as he’s been on the stage by himself, which is a heck of a standard so far.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, in 2004, one of the decisive elements, one of the things to draw from those debates, in the vice presidential debate that year, in which Senator Edwards did not come across favorably...
MATTHEWS: That’s right.
OLBERMANN: ... as opposed to Vice President Cheney, that there seemed to be too much youth, too much novelty, compared to this dour figure of the vice president...
MATTHEWS: Well, I have to say...
OLBERMANN: ... was there any—there was no sense of that with Obama. Was there any sense of that with any of the Democrats tonight (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: No one was overly impressed with anyone else. I have to say, by the way, that the mistake that John Edwards made in accepting this sort of avuncular status of a Dick Cheney, is a mistake that has been made, by and large, by the Washington press corps as well. They have not been tough enough on Dick Cheney and his policy making.
Well, let’s go right now to Senator Joe Biden. He joins us now from the debate stage.
We’re all impressed by your economy of language, Senator, when asked whether you use too many words, and you give one guttural syllable in response. What did you—what made you think of such economy at that moment?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look, I mean, how do you answer that question? The fact of the matter is, the American people are going to make a judgment, not the press, whether or not I talk too much or too little. And so I think it was the appropriate answer.
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, go ahead, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Senator, did you think, in the many questions about Iraq, that there were enough details given about what to do in Iraq by the—those who shared the stage with you tonight, or were you the only one that actually put out a plan, in your opinion?
BIDEN: Well, look, I mean, we’re faced with two false choices in Washington. One, stay the course with Bush, and hand it off, or leave, and hope for the best. And neither one of those is an answer. And everybody says there’s a need for a political solution, but if you notice, no one is willing to offer a political solution.
What is it? You leave, and all of a sudden the Iraqis are going to get happy and hang out together? The truth of the matter is, there’s one way to do this. You got to separate the parties. And I predict to you, everyone will eventually get to that spot. But it’s just—I find that—I wish we could have a debate on Iraq that was a 90-minute debate on Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Senator, are you impressed by the fact that you had Richardson behind you today, tonight, in supporting your approach, your federal approach to Iraq, to split it up into three groups, the Kurds, the Sunni, and the Shia. You also have Senator Brownback, a conservative Republican, apparently joining up with you. Is this something that’s happening in American policy making now, under your leadership?
BIDEN: Well, I think it is happening, Chris. And I mean that sincerely. I realize I’ve been out there a long time on it, and been a broken record on it. But it’s also happening in the region. This—you’re going to see it happen in Turkey. The Turks are going to figure out that a fractured Iraq is not in their interest. But three separate regions within a whole country is much better off for them. They’re going to find the Iranians concluding that.
And—but the question is, how much blood has to be spilt between now and that time?
MATTHEWS: Can you stop the war by convincing the Sunni minority, the 20 percent of the country that once held power under Saddam Hussein, that they will be able to enjoy autonomy under a new regime? Can you convince them of that enough for them to lay down their arms?
BIDEN: You can convince them, the tribal leaders, that they, if they are going to get an equal share of the revenue, that is as good as they can possibly get. And if they have regional control with revenue, you will find that they will find that supporting the insurgency no longer makes sense. But we haven’t even tried to convince them of that.
MATTHEWS: Why not? Was there an ideological reason...
BIDEN: Well, I think (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: ... why this administration won’t...
BIDEN: ... (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: ... allow that form of government?
BIDEN: ... (INAUDIBLE) -- No, I think it’s real simple. This administration, and a lot of my colleagues on this stage, are still wedded to the notion that there’s a possibility to have a central government in Iraq that is unity government and democratic. That is virtually impossible.
On your show four years ago, I pointed out, that is not a possibility. That will not happen in anybody’s lifetime. And everybody seems to be afraid to offer a solution, a political solution, for fear of being get shot at.
The bottom line is, never, in all of history, when there’s been a self-sustaining cycle of sectarian violence, has it ever ended peacefully other than separating the parties into a federal system under a loosely federated central government. It’s never happened. Didn’t happen in the Balkans, won’t happen here.
We should get about doing it. It’s a flawed strategy they continue to cling to, the idea of a central democratic government.
MATTHEWS: What do you think believe be the next step today, now that the Senate has signed on to the conference report? It’s going to go to the president, $124 billion for the war, with the string on it that in six months, the beginning of October, is a six months gradual withdrawal of our troops from over there. The president says he will veto. Where does it go from there after he does veto it?
BIDEN: I think he vetoes and he loses more Republican support. We come back at it again, and he loses more Republican support. We got to be relentless in this until we get 60 votes.
And what we have to do when he vetoes this, immediately move and take one piece out of that bill and pass it immediately. And that is to build these V-shaped-hull Humvees, these so-called MRAPs. They have five times the capacity to save lives of soldiers inside them. We should not screw around and wait while we have this political fight in order to be able to build those things. We should begin them now to save these kids over there.
MATTHEWS: Senator, when it comes down to it, when the president says the war effort will be shut down if you guys don’t pass an appropriation without strings, and he looks you in the eye and say, If you don’t vote for a clean bill, our troops won’t get the equipment and the funding they need, the ammo, the equipment, the armor, they won’t get anything they need to fight in the field, can he force you guys to say uncle at that point and sign a bill and send it to him?
BIDEN: No, he can’t. No, he can’t, because that’s not true. He’s being a hypocrite. He’s being hypocritical. Look what this administration did. The president said, If you don’t, in fact, give me what I want without restrictions, what’s going to happen is, I’m going to have to extend the tours of duty of the military, and then very next day, he extended the tours of duty of everybody in Iraq.
He turned around and said, If you don’t give me the money now, I have to shut down the war. That’s simply not true. They are being hypocritical.
We have enough money without doing another thing to take this through the next two months. We should show the president for what his administration is being, hypocritical. We should insist that the first step toward getting out of Iraq, and that is the very thing he’s vetoing, as you know, is the Biden-Levin language, which starts to draw down immediately, sets a target date to get out, and argues for the beginning of a political solution.
That’s the only answer, Chris, there is no other. This president has on us a dead-end collision with disaster.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, who appeared in tonight’s big debate.
OLBERMANN: And New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who was alongside the senator, is with us now, also from the stage.
Governor Richardson, thank you for your time again tonight.
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nice to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let me clarify, or let me ask you to clarify your position about Iraq that was addressed in the very first series of questions from Brian Williams, in the subject of not funding. If you were in the Senate or in the Congress right now, you would be advocating not funding, and that means what, in specificity?
RICHARDSON: Well, this is what I would do. I would not move forward with these funding issues. I would propose a resolution deauthorizing the war. This war was authorized on the War Powers Act on the pretense of weapons of mass destruction. There aren’t any. I believe the president should be held accountable, so I would propose a resolution deauthorizing the war.
The Congress passed one authorizing it. What would next happen is, the president can’t veto that. It most likely would be challenged under the War Powers Act, and it might go to the Supreme Court. But this resolution deauthorizing would be very clear. It would have what I advocate, no residual forces. It would have, get out of Iraq, all our troops, by the end of this calendar year. Redeploy them in Afghanistan, in the Gulf, to deal with other threats.
But I would be very clear. So I believe the president’s going to veto, and we’re not going to have the votes to come back. I would make a much cleaner, more aggressive tack right now, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Governor, whether it’s you or someone else, a Democrat or a Republican, do you expect that the 44th president of the United States will have to be deal with—be dealing with the endgame in Iraq, or will this—will a forced resolution of this be accomplished by the Democrats in the Senate and the House in the next year and a half?
RICHARDSON: Well, my view is that we’ve got to try it. We elected this Congress to get us out of this war, and I believe they need to be more aggressive. I commend them for what they’re doing. But the reality, Keith, is that this’ll probably be on the next president’s desk, hopefully mine.
And I’m very clear, I would make a withdrawal this calendar year. I would have no residual forces. Our obsession with Iraq has cost us other priorities, nuclear proliferation, dealing with Iran and North Korea, the threats of international terrorism, global climate change. I mean, the planet is saying to us, Treat us better. The need to become energy independent, because it’s a national security issue.
Issues like Darfur, international poverty. I mean, nobody talked about Darfur here. Why is it? Because it’s Africa? I mean, my God, there’s genocide there. We need to have a redirection of our foreign policy, and the key, the key is Iraq, getting out of there so we can address our domestic priorities, the problems of the middle class, education, better schools.
There are so many priorities this nation has that are bogged down in this analysts’ war that is depleting our resources, $500 billion per year, that it’s cost in its totality.
So I am so passionate about this issue. And I am different than these other candidates. You know, they’re on the one hand, on the other hand, we’re going to do this, benchmarks. Withdraw at the end of this calendar year, no residual forces, zero.
OLBERMANN: Governor, Governor Richardson, great thanks for your time and your participation tonight for making this a civil and enjoyable debate. Thank you kindly, sir.
MATTHEWS: Let’s go right now to Chris Dodd, the senator from Connecticut.
Senator Dodd, I wrote in a notes after one of your comments, “No more troops.” Is that your position?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, I’ve taken the position of supporting this—the Feingold-Reid legislation, Chris, that says that you begin redeploying now, and you complete that process by the end of March ‘08. That’s the Feingold bill.
And I say that because, frankly, this is a civil war we’re involved in here, and U.S. participation in a civil war—Brian Williams talked about George Patton. Can you imagine George Patton, what he’d think about sending the U.S. military into a civil war?
My view here is that we ought to be engaged in a far different approach to Iraq than the one that’s not working today. We’re more isolated, less secure, more vulnerable. And therefore, I believe until the Iraqis understand we’re truly not going to be there in perpetuity -- Secretary Gates was there last week and said it, Well, he said, the patience of the American people is not unlimited.
My word to the secretary would be, It’s already reached the point. The American public, Chris, is so far beyond the political leadership on this country in Iraq that it’s about time we got honest with ourselves and said, Look, the American people can handle the truth. The question is whether or not the political leadership is going to tell them the truth.
On this case, the policy has failed. We need a new strategy to have any hopes for a stable Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Would you stand up face to the face with the president and tell him, We’re not going to fund the war any more? Would you let this supplemental die because he won’t sign it and insists on a clean bill? Would you say, No clean bill, Mr. President, you got to make it without it?
DODD: Well, that’s what I would do. But look, I’m only one member of that body here, and so you’re going to take—isn’t just my vote. But that’s where I come down on this.
Now, look, I understand they had a (INAUDIBLE) in the supplemental. None of us are going to cut off troops, by the way, in terms of what they need during the redeployment. In fact, this administration has done more harm, in many ways, to our troops on the ground by not providing the kind of protection they deserved in many ways, than clearly anything we’re talking about here.
The troops will tell you, Chris, there is no military victory here. That’s what Jim Baker said, what Lee Hamilton said, every person who’s looked at it, senior military people. The sooner the Iraqis and we come to terms with that, the far better off we’re going to have a likelihood of putting a policy together in Iraq that would make some sense.
MATTHEWS: It just looks like there’s two big semis coming at each other on a highway. The Senate and the House of Democrats are saying basically, We’re not going to give you a clean bill to fund this war, we’re not going to give you a clean supplemental, Mr. President.
The president’s saying, At some point in May, I have to begin shorting the troops in terms of training and material, and it’s going to hurt the war effort. At what point do you say on the congressional side, We better be careful here, because the president’s going to blame us for hurting the troops?
DODD: Well, he’s trying to do that already. But the troops are far ahead of where the president is on this issue here. We’re going to provide whatever resources our troops need, and that clearly, they know that.
They also know, if you talk to them at all about it, they’ll tell you that in Iraq, us trying to sort out a Shia-Sunni conflict, a civil war in that nation, with 24 militias operating in Baghdad, Ba’athists, insurgents, and al Qaeda elements, the idea that we’re going to bring a resolution to a civil war there is something that we need to get beyond here. The sooner the president understands that, the better off we’ll be.
MATTHEWS: Let’s go to the legacy for a second, Senator. Hillary Clinton said she didn’t vote for the war, her husband, the former president, says, My wife didn’t vote for the war. But on the record, she voted to authorize the war. She interpret that tonight in the debate. No, I didn’t vote to authorize the war, although other people who voted to authorize the war did so with that purpose.
My purpose in voting yes, we can go to war, was to send the president to the U.N. to try to get more inspections. The problem with that argument is, we then went to war for several years, and Hillary Clinton didn’t blow the whistle and say, I’m against this war until the war turned bad. When did you turn against the war?
DODD: Well, I don’t know the exact date, but I thought -- First of all, I admitted the vote I made back in the fall of ‘02 was a mistake. None of us like to say that, but when you make one, I think you have to stand up and say so. And I made one there, clearly. My view was about (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: Did Hillary make a mistake?
DODD: ... to vote on this...
MATTHEWS: Did your—did Senator Clinton make a mistake?
DODD: Well, I’ll let you know, and she said it well, I’ll let other people draw their own conclusions about it. I’ve said what I think, what I did, and I regret having done it. That’s a legitimate question, Chris.
But the more important question that people want answered is, where do you go from here? Are we going to continue this in perpetuity, making the case that you can’t cut off the funds of this because you put the troops in jeopardy? I think that’s a sort of a specious argument here.
Most Americans, and military leaders, as well as those who’ve studied this issue, believe that we are isolating ourselves, we’re putting the United States at great risk by persisting in this policy. You have to stand up and say no to this.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, looking down the road, and I agree with you, we want to look to the future, this is about a presidential election next year. In terms of the rules of engagement, in the biggest sense possible of a war with Iran, do—when people say, We don’t want to take anything off the table, Mike Gravel, the former senator, perhaps he’s a bit outside of this debate, but he said, If you say that, you’re saying, we’ll even consider nuclear, a nuclear attack on Iran. Is that the way we should take phrases like, We can’t take anything off the table?
DODD: No, no, look, there are no illusions about Iran. They’re in guard—engaged in state-supported terrorism. They’ve publicly declared their intentions to acquire nuclear weapons. The debate is not whether or not you have to confront Iran, but how you do so.
And I agree with those who said this evening, I wasn’t asked this question, but you don’t take options off the table, the political, the economic, or the military. But I—if I were in the presidency tonight, I wouldn’t be drawing that arrow, that military arrow, out of my quiver.
I believe we can get the right results. I’d have direct negotiations with Iran, on a broad range of issues, including Iraq, including terrorism, including the issue of nuclear weapons, and a variety of other things.
Let’s—what the problem here is, Chris, you’ve got an administration that believes that negotiation, diplomacy. Can you imagine Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan not engaging? Richard Nixon would go to China, (INAUDIBLE) Mao Tse-Tung, Ronald Reagan would call the Soviet Union the evil empire and sit down with Soviet leaders on arms controls issues.
This administration is the first administration in my lifetime that treats negotiated and diplomacy as if it were somehow a sign of weakness or a gift you give to your opponent. That’s a huge mistake, and a complete divergence from where we’ve been as a nation over the last 60 years.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about tonight’s debate. It was very impressive. Brian let everyone finish their thought. There wasn’t any challenging that somebody went off the topic. Everyone was allowed to say they wanted to say what they wanted to say.
Do you think this kind of a forum, with so many candidates, allows someone like yourself to get the kind of notice you need to raise the kind of money and the kind of interest you need to get into the top rung of this debate?
DODD: Well, it’s a start. And I believe the people here in South Carolina, New Hampshire, as well as in Nevada and Iowa, are going to give all of us a chance out there. This race isn’t going to be won by who has the largest treasury. They’re going to sit and evaluate, as they have done historically.
I regretted this evening, for instance, Tom Friedman, who’s a friend, and I respect you immensely, but I’ve offered a corporate carbon tax weeks ago. And the fact that he said there’s no candidate that’s willing to do that is frustrating. I never got a chance to explain how I believe that’s absolutely essential. You cannot talk about eliminating global warming or moving away from the Middle East for energy supplies or dealing with the other economic issues without getting serious about this.
Again, the American people can handle the truth, in my view. You just got to be telling them the truth. So I didn’t get a chance to explain all of these issues, but I welcome the opportunity tonight to be on the stage as an equal here, talking about things I care about, the kind of leadership I’d bring to the presidency.
MATTHEWS: You know, it’s impressive and delightful to see Jackie and the kids on the stage with you. You scored a 10-strike with the family picture tonight, Senator. Congratulations on that bit of diplomacy itself. Thank you for joining us, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.
OLBERMANN: Twenty-six minutes have elapsed since the end of this debate, and we have not heard claims of victory or who won or who lost. This will now change.
Joining us now is our colleague Joe Scarborough in the spin room. He is with the Clinton campaign adviser Mandy Grunwald.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: Thank you so much, Keith.
We are here in the spin room. That’s—I saw the movie. This isn’t your first rodeo. So who won?
MANDY GRUNWALD, CLINTON CAMPAIGN ADVISER: We felt great about how Senator Clinton did. We thought she was presidential, we thought she made a strong case for change. The people are really ready for her leadership, ready for universal health care, ready for independent energy, ready to end the war in Iraq. And we thought she did a great job. We feel great about it.
SCARBOROUGH: Obviously, the issue that has plagued her in the early part of the Democratic primary, her vote on Iraq. How do you think she responded when she was asked, right out of the gate, whether she made a mistake on that first vote?
GRUNWALD: I thought she made a very strong case for herself. She was clear that she made a sincere vote based on the information she had at the time. She took responsibility for her vote. And she wouldn’t do the same thing with the information she has now.
But she also made the important point that we have to start looking forward and figure out how to end the war in Iraq. And she made a strong case that she’s the leader to do that.
SCARBOROUGH: She was challenged by Dennis Kucinich, who I know speaks for, well, about 2 percent of the vote right now, but he certainly speaks for a large segment of the Democratic base that would like Hillary Clinton to step out and say, I’m sorry, I made a mistake, you know, I wouldn’t do it again.
Why doesn’t she just come out in a high-profile debate like this one and say, I made a mistake, I’m terribly sorry, like the other candidates did?
GRUNWALD: As I said, she believes she made a sincere vote based on the information she had at the time. Mr. Kucinich made a great case for himself tonight, and she made her own case.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, (INAUDIBLE) smile suggests you’re not really concerned about Dennis Kucinich in your rearview mirror.
GRUNWALD: I think all those candidates did a good job tonight. I think we have a great set of Democrats running this year. I think people are done with George Bush, and we have a great set of candidates. Obviously, I think Hillary would be the strongest president, and the strongest candidate. But we have a terrific field of candidates, and it shows in the excitement that we’re generating around the country.
SCARBOROUGH: What about Barack Obama? Rate his performance tonight.
GRUNWALD: I’m not going to rate the performance of the other guys. You’re a pundit, you can take care of that for yourself, (INAUDIBLE) and their campaigns can make their own case (INAUDIBLE).
SCARBOROUGH: Well, then, let me ask you this question.
GRUNWALD: I know you want to try to mix it up a little bit.
SCARBOROUGH: No, I don’t want to mix it up. But obviously, I know you love all eight candidates being in this race. But it would seem to me that your life would be a lot easier, you could pick up more clients over the next year, if Barack Obama had just stayed in Chicago.
SCARBOROUGH: So (INAUDIBLE)...
GRUNWALD: ... Hillary (INAUDIBLE)...
GRUNWALD: ... has got to go out and earn this nomination. That’s what she’s said from the start. She’s going to do it the old-fashioned way and try to earn every vote. And that’s what she’s going to do. And whether Barack Obama’s her strongest challenger or John Edwards or Chris Dodd or Bill Richardson, or whoever it turns out to be, she’ll deal with whatever challenge comes, and she’ll prove she’s the strongest candidate, the old-fashioned way.
SCARBOROUGH: So she did what she needed to do tonight?
GRUNWALD: I think so.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you so much, Mandy Grunwald.
GRUNWALD: Good to see you.
SCARBOROUGH: Greatly appreciate it.
Keith, back to you.
OLBERMANN: Joe, Mandy, great thanks.
And Chris, one thing that was noted at the end of the debate, you noted Senator Dodd’s family out there. Of all the spouses of all the relatives of all the friends who were out there, one senator’s spouse was not present. Did you notice former President Clinton?
MATTHEWS: Yes, he’s apparently in Russia.
OLBERMANN: That’s right.
MATTHEWS: So he had a good mission for (INAUDIBLE) to go to the Boris Yeltsin’s funeral. I must say that’s a worthy mission for (INAUDIBLE).
OLBERMANN: And then, of course, becomes the question, and we’ll obviously face it again later on in these—the debate year...
MATTHEWS: You know what I’ve learning...
OLBERMANN: ... (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: ... I’m just watching Mandy...
OLBERMANN: ... (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: ... is a pro. You know, it is so interesting to watch what she did there. She turned down a chance that Joe gave her to take a swat, just a light swat, a whittle whisk of the fly swatter, at Barack, and she wouldn’t take it. Her strategy is to talk to the interest groups, the gay groups, all the various interest groups of the Democratic Party, the labor groups, whatever, the ethnic groups, work them, build up a storm of interest group support. They don’t want to even talk about Obama. Obama’s on the outside (ph) trying to win the idealists’ support. They don’t want to talk to each other.
OLBERMANN: She was the National Hockey League goaltender of the week during that interview with Joe.
MATTHEWS: Well, they do not want to engage. That’s clear tonight.
OLBERMANN: This is MSNBC’s continuing coverage of the hours after the first Democratic presidential debate here at South Carolina State University. Alongside Chris Matthews, I’m Keith Olbermann. And again, we keep hitting this point that it was a—an extraordinarily, for the most part, polite event, an extraordinarily bloodless event...
OLBERMANN: ... an extraordinarily non-debate-like event. Is that a fair statement?
MATTHEWS: Yes, this could have been on public television!
MATTHEWS: No, it was great. I thought it was great. I think everybody in a positive sense spoke to their constituents, and I don’t think anybody failed tonight to enliven the people who are out there raising money for them and working hard for them. I think they did feed the troops tonight in terms of emotional support.
Anyway, former Alaska senator Mike Gravel was there tonight, and we’ll have to talk about him at some point tonight. I think Andrea Mitchell could be our expert on Mike Gravel and the role he played. He made Dennis Kucinich look like a mainstream liberal tonight, which I thought was a role in itself.
OLBERMANN: It was an extraordinary performance from Senator Gravel. And again, we mentioned that Harold Stassen sort of curve towards his—to his...
MATTHEWS: Yes, with the exception that the last time this guy put his name in nomination was in 1972, so that’s 35 years ago. And here he is back again. He looks a little different, but he’s—I thought he had some good points. I think his radical assessment of the Democrats’ position made a lot of sense to a lot of people who vote Democrat, which is, Why do you keep carving it and trimming it? Why don’t you just come out and say, This is bad foreign policy to go to Iraq? It was wrong in its conception. It will be wrong if we do it in Iran. It’s wrong to keep resorting to war in the way we’ve been doing it lately. It is a fairly legitimate argument, but obviously not shared by most of the candidates.
OLBERMANN: Well, as a—you would think that there might be some provocateur quality either to what former senator Gravel said or what Congressman Kucinich said...
MATTHEWS: Speaking of the guy...
MATTHEWS: Mike Gravel, Senator Gravel, thank you for joining us. Do you think you made an impact tonight, sir, in taking on what seems to be your view of the conventional wisdom of the Democrats?
MIKE GRAVEL (D-AK), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think somewhat, not as much as I would have liked. And when you say that, you know, everything was polite—look, I didn’t get the same amount of time as the others. And I’ll tell you, I’m prepared to mix it up. I don’t know why we’re dancing around. The Congress is not getting us out of Iraq. And their whole...
MATTHEWS: OK, let’s not dance around, Senator. Let’s not dance around...
MATTHEWS: Why do people like Hillary Clinton—why do Hillary Clinton and the other candidates at the top, with the exception, perhaps, of a few of them—why are they careful not to challenge this president’s central foreign policy of war in Iraq and potential war in other countries? Why don’t they challenge it?
GRAVEL: Because they are running for office, and it’s business as usual. It’s politics as usual. They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to rock the boat. And so they just dance around the issues, and they’ll keep on doing it, as long as you in the media keep building them up.
GRAVEL: Does that answer your question, Chris?
MATTHEWS: No, I think it’s a strong counterpunch to me, Senator. Where have you been since 1972?
GRAVEL: You deserve it. You deserve it.
MATTHEWS: Where have you been, Senator, in this debate since 1972? The last time I saw you was at the Democratic convention in 1972, putting your name in nomination for vice president.
GRAVEL: I did not put my name...
MATTHEWS: Here you are, 35 years later...
GRAVEL: ... in nomination. Wait a second. First off, Chris, you got it wrong, and the media’s got it all wrong. I did not put my name in nomination. The national committeewoman of the state of Alaska put it in, and I was entitled to free (ph) speakers (ph), and I thought it was important to stand up there and show people what I am and what I stand for. So I didn’t nominate myself. I was putting forth my views at that point in time, which I thought were accurate then and are just as accurate today.
MATTHEWS: Where have you been for 35 years, sir?
GRAVEL: Hiding under a rock for 10 years because...
GRAVEL: ... I was so disgusted...
GRAVEL: I was so disgusted with the way that Congress works that when I left office, I thought I was a failure. I didn’t realize that I had a record of ending the draft, of starting the nuclear critique, of creating the Alaska pipeline. You name it, my name is on all of the major environmental legislation which took place in the ‘70s. But when I left office, I felt terrible about the system. I went in as an idealist, and I was getting corrupted by the system. And thank God, I lost and got out, and I didn’t come back.
What I did is, 10 years later, I started developing this concept that Americans are the ones that should come in as lawmakers, not me, Americans. And so when I filed for office, it was to bring attention to the National Initiative, which is a federal ballot initiative to empower you, Chris Matthews, to be able to make laws. You’re just as qualified as anybody in the Congress (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about—what do you think of—what do you think of Barack Obama? Do you think he represents your thinking in terms of the fact that the war in Iraq misconceived? That’s the phrase he uses, not—he doesn’t quibble with it. He doesn’t say there aren’t enough troops. He doesn’t say we didn’t wait long enough or we didn’t build a big enough alliance. He said it was a bad idea. How’s that different from you?
GRAVEL: Oh, considerably. Considerably. Why didn’t—well, why didn’t—why doesn’t he filibuster the funding? Why doesn’t he go to Reid and say, Lookit, what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to have a law, not a resolution, we’ve got to have a law that says, If you don’t get out of Iraq, what you’ve got to do is prosecute the president criminally for disobeying the law. Now, if you don’t set that confrontation...
MATTHEWS: But how can you get—but you’re trying to criminalize the law by saying it’s a felony. I heard you say that. I couldn’t believe—how can you pass a law if this president won’t sign it? You know the Constitution. How can you...
GRAVEL: Wait a second!
MATTHEWS: ... make it felonious...
GRAVEL: Whoa! Wait!
MATTHEWS: ... to have Bush’s foreign policy...
GRAVEL: Oh, come on! Chris! Chris!
MATTHEWS: ... if he doesn’t sign the bill making himself a felon?
GRAVEL: Chris! Chris!
MATTHEWS: It makes no sense, what you’re saying!
GRAVEL: Well, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, Chris, if you knew something about the tactics of the Senate. How the hell do you think I was able to stop the draft with a five-month filibuster? I’m a good tactician. Let me tell you how you do it, Chris. Real simple. What you do is you know that he’s going to veto it, and so that means you need a two-thirds vote to override his veto. What you do in the Senate, what you do in the House...
MATTHEWS: ... get 16 Republicans...
GRAVEL: Chris! Chris!
OLBERMANN: ... to declare President Bush a felon?
GRAVEL: Give me a break. They will. Trust me, they will. You know how you do it? Every single day, the Speaker brings up this legislation, and you have a vote on overriding the veto. And you do the same thing at noon in the Senate. And then the American people can clearly see who is for the continued killing. Of course, you’ll have failures (ph) to get the generals that are there. And then the people will be able to identify, here’s the president, he won’t do anything, here’s the Congress, they don’t have the guts to really face up to the problem. But you do it every day. Then Americans will get to see this. They’ll be able to see black and white.
Right now, what’s happened is with the diddling around that’s happening, the Democrats have given shelter to the Republicans with the constitutional argument that they’re using, which is accurate. It’s accurate, Chris. And so...
MATTHEWS: What’s your next step, Senator? What are you going to do next? What are you going to do next in this campaign to keep your excitement about your idea to declare the foreign policy of this administration to be a felony? What’s your next step?
GRAVEL: Next step is just go to the next debate, Chris, and maybe I’ll get the same amount of time as the others.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much. Senator Mike Gravel, two-term senator from Alaska, back in action, as you saw him tonight—Keith.
OLBERMANN: Zell Miller has just endorsed Mike Gravel’s candidacy.
MATTHEWS: No, I think they come at this from very different directions. Both entitled to speak, by the way, on HARDBALL.
OLBERMANN: And as we heard in this debate, both—at least Senator Gravel.
MATTHEWS: No, he’s—he’s a—you know, I have to tell you—Andrea Mitchell, thank you for joining us. You’ve been sitting there while Mike Gravel has been back.
MATTHEWS: And I thought—I thought it all (INAUDIBLE) Wasn’t that a great answer? I said, Where have you been for 35 years, and he said, Hiding under a rock! I mean, finally, an honest answer from one of these politicians. It was great.
What do you think?
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well...
MATTHEWS: A radical—a radical challenge to conventional thinking that the war issue has to be an incremental argument about spending, supplementals and putting strings on them and hoping for six months, and this guy just says, Declare the president a felon if he keeps fighting the war.
MITCHELL: He is a radical. He’s a bomb thrower.
MITCHELL: And it’s refreshing. I mean, we probably don’t expect him to become the frontrunner or the nominee, and he puts the rest of them on the spot, and I think it’s terrific and...
MATTHEWS: He made Kucinich seem rather tame.
MITCHELL: He did.
MATTHEWS: ... seriously about the—was there enough of a radical or clearcut sharpness of difference between what we heard tonight for an hour-and-a-half from these Democrats, from what we hear from the president in his period press conferences?
EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST”: Well, you know, that’s why I think Gravel was—was refreshing, and I—and useful in this debate. As you said, he did make the Kucinich position seem like almost a middle way...
ROBINSON: ... to pull out immediately, which is also the Richardson position. It kind of...
MATTHEWS: ... president in jail.
ROBINSON: Right. It kind of helped cast in relief the various positions...
ROBINSON: ... and I think did raise some question about the—you know, the more incrementalist approach...
MITCHELL: They were all against Kucinich’s impeachment. I didn’t see Gravel’s hand, but...
MATTHEWS: Nobody raised their hand.
MITCHELL: Nobody raised their hands on impeachment of Dick Cheney. What you saw tonight were Democrats who are so hungry to win that they are thinking about the general election campaign.
MATTHEWS: But aren’t they also...
MITCHELL: ... beat up on each other and...
MATTHEWS: ... hesitant...
MATTHEWS: ... hesitant to draw a truly alternative position?
OLBERMANN: Chris, let’s get this up with Senator Obama at the post-party.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The real star of the Obama family, Michelle Obama, is in the house. Some of you may know that Michelle actually has her grandfather with some South Carolina roots, came from Georgetown. So I just wanted you to know that we got a—we got a South Carolina connection. In addition to these two outstanding state legislators, this is the future of South Carolina right here. And we appreciate all the work that they’re doing.
Well, look, I am not going to give a big speech. The only things I want to do are to say, number one, thank you to South Carolina State for the outstanding hospitality. You guys put on a wonderful show, and everybody is so grateful and appreciative of all of you. So thank you. Students, faculty, administration, we appreciate you.
The second thing I want to say is that I have had a wonderful time traveling through South Carolina because the issues of South Carolina are the issues of America. We know that we’ve got a health care system that is broken, that is bankrupting families and governments, and we got to fix our health care system, which is why, by the end of my first term, we’re going to have health care for every single American in the United States of America!
We know, because I had a town hall meeting in Florence just to talk about education, that we’ve got an education system that has to be transformed. We can’t just have a slogan saying, Leave no child behind, that leaves the money behind for new schools and teachers with higher pay and making sure that the young people who are attending fine institutions like South Carolina State University, Bulldogs—making sure that all of them have the kinds of scholarships and grants and not just loans that they need to make sure that they can get the education to compete in the new global economy.
None of these things are going to happen until we bring an end to this war and until we have a new president. And I hope that during the course of my campaigning here in South Carolina that I am going to have the opportunity to prove to you that through a process of bringing about a transformation of politics, not only can you elect a new president, but we can change the way we do business in this country.
I hope that I have a chance to work with you because I can’t do it alone. I’m confident in my ability to lead this country, but it’s only going to happen if this campaign becomes the vehicle for your hopes and your dreams. So let’s get started. Thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate you.
OLBERMANN: Senator Barack Obama at the post-debate party. And to be generous to the senator, it is impossible to spend any time here in the bosom of cordiality of South Carolina without hearing yourself talking slightly more like South Carolinians than wherever you happen to be from. I arrived at noon today and found myself talking that way by about 4:00 o’clock.
Having said that, let’s go back out to the post-party. Tucker Carlson of MSNBC is standing by with thoughts in the wake of tonight’s debate. Tucker, good evening.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “TUCKER”: Keith, I think you just saw the difference, it’s a stylistic difference, but I think it’s even deeper than that, between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. Senator Clinton came out and immediately got specific and earthy, as befits the atmosphere here in the gymnasium. There’s a gospel band, Voices of Christ, up on the stage. She comes out and immediately says, The music here, world-renowned, terrific. I love South Carolina. You’re ROTC program has produced all these generals, details about the school itself. The crowd loved her.
Barack Obama you’d think would be a natural favorite here, comes out and immediately starts talking about, in a—in an impressive way, but in a much more airy way about universal health care and the need to compete in the new global economy, and receives a much less enthusiastic response. His big applause line during the debate, at least in this room, was when he said the Confederate flag belonged in a museum. Translation, parochial issues always play best in environments like this. People care about the issues that are local, and that’s one of them.
Interesting, though. Hillary Clinton always goes to specifics and always goes to specifics that relate to the crowd she’s speaking to. Nobody’s better informed than she is. Obama, by contrast, is the most abstract politician, and one of the most talented, I will say, but certainly one of the most abstract I think I’ve ever watched.
CARLSON: Well, I was—I was going to say, Chris, I thought the most interesting line and maybe the least talked-about line of the entire night, certainly the best question—it came from Brian Williams, when he asked the candidates, How have hedge funds made America a better place? The answer, in my view, is they haven’t. But it’s an obvious open for anybody who’s running a campaign on economic populism, as a lot of these candidates are, particularly John Edwards, but also to some extent Hillary Clinton. And both she and Edwards took passes on that.
Now, you’d think, if you’re John Edwards and you’re running on behalf of the working man and against corporate greed, you would take the opportunity to slam the most obvious manifestation of corporate greed and parasitic capitalism, hedge funds, which nobody understands, everyone’s suspicious of. Maybe there’s some envy involved. But hedge funds are a big, fat, easy target for any Democrat, and I believe maybe some populist Republicans running for president. And he took a pass on it. Amazing!
MATTHEWS: I agree with you completely. The Democratic Party is not the party it used to be with regard to economic redistribution and economic justice, perhaps.
Let’s go right now to Joe Scarborough, who’s with Dennis Kucinich—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Thank you so much, Chris. I am here with Dennis Kucinich and his wife, Elizabeth. Dennis, I must say, a lot of people in the spin room throughout the debate were saying that you were framing the debate. You took on Barack Obama over Iran. You took on Hillary Clinton regarding her vote going into Iraq. How do you think the debate went?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it went well because it gave me an opportunity to distinguish the path that I would take America on from the ones that my dear friends have already taken America on. So I think Americans are looking for a candidate who will reconnect this country with its greatness, which never was about the strength of our arms, it’s the strength of our principles, of our belief in humanity and compassion and sharing that—those ideals with the world. It’s never been about a military mission (ph).
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know, though, Brian Williams talked about your candidacy and asked you how you could become relevant. How do you become relevant? Do you think a debate like this is going to help you connect with enough Democrats in South Carolina and across America to get you up above 5, 10 percent?
KUCINICH: Well, I think what—yes. And what I think has happened is, tonight I was able to establish that you can’t say you’re a peace candidate and keep voting to fund a war, and also to raise questions about people who say all options are on the table with respect to Iran. What does that mean? We need to look at the philosophy of anyone who would want to be president and what’s their world view because if you can’t describe someone’s world view, you can forget (ph) their behavior. And so I’m really talking about taking America in a new direction, one of peace and prosperity. The two really are inseparable. And so we can have jobs for all, health care for all, education for all, but we can’t keep creating war for all.
SCARBOROUGH: Help me crack this code because I don’t understand. Why do we have a Democratic Party that overwhelmingly opposes this war, why do we have a Democratic Party that wants us out on a timeline, that would support your position of eventually defunding this war, and yet the two main candidates are two candidates that have voted identically over the past two years?
KUCINICH: You’re right...
SCARBOROUGH: Where’s the disconnect?
KUCINICH: Well, I think that the disconnect comes from the public waiting for more information. And so my—as I have the opportunity to get this message out that—Democrats have the power to end the war now. We don’t have to fund the war. We don’t have to give funding to keep the war going for another year. The timetables they’re talking about are essentially non-binding. We’re talking about privatizing Iraq’s oil, which is a prescription for war (ph) far into the future. And we’re not talking anything about getting those private armies out of Iraq which help to keep the conflict going.
So people will see my candidacy as someone who really is talking about a profound shift in direction, away from not just unilateralism, preemption and first strikes, but towards using diplomacy as an instrument of connecting and reconnecting with the world, going to Iran and Syria, looking at the Middle East as something that’s an imperative for us to help resolve the differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
SCARBOROUGH: And you talked about engaging Syria tonight. You talked about engaging Iran. Sounded like you could have been on the Baker commission. Now, you have with you—because I told you I thought you did much better this time than you did even four years ago, and you said it was because of your new campaign adviser.
SCARBOROUGH: ... introduce her to America.
KUCINICH: My wife, Elizabeth. And I’m one very lucky guy because I not only have someone who I love deeply and who loves me deeply but someone whose political acumen is extraordinary. And so we’ve had a lot of opportunities to talk about our hopes and dreams not only for America but for the world.
SCARBOROUGH: Elizabeth, how did he do?
ELIZABETH KUCINICH: I think he did wonderfully well. I’m very proud of him.
SCARBOROUGH: Compare—compare—Dennis, if you could—I’ll throw this to both of you—do you think Barack Obama, do you all think Hillary Clinton—do you think they’re both being hypocritical when they say they oppose the war but they’re going to continue funding the war? (INAUDIBLE)
KUCINICH: I would never call my good friends, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama hypocrites. But I do think that when...
SCARBOROUGH: But you said, though, tonight it was inconsistent and you can’t oppose this war while you’re still voting to fund this war.
KUCINICH: That’s right. And what I’m trying to do is to show the Democrats there’s a different approach. That’s why I wrote HR-1234, which is truly a plan to end the war. I talked to people at the U.N. about it in drafting it, and they say that the international community is ready to support a United States president who will say we’re going to leave the region and who is making sure that we create policies that enable Syria, Iran and other countries to get involved so that we can create a transition out. So...
SCARBOROUGH: Dennis, let me ask you (INAUDIBLE) Sorry to interrupt you. But (INAUDIBLE) one other issue. Barack Obama has been painted as the anti-war candidate. Hillary Clinton has been attacked for supporting the war and not backing down on that. And yet if you look at their votes over the past two years, are they identical? Have they not voted the same exact way on every single war issues?
KUCINICH: They both voted consistently, 100 percent of the time...
SCARBOROUGH: Then where does that perception come from?
KUCINICH: ... (INAUDIBLE) fund the war. I think the perception comes from—that Barack Obama, before he became a member of the U.S. Senate, gave one speech in opposition to the war. But then when he got to the Senate, he gave one speech before he announced his candidacy for president. Now, I’m not—I think that comparisons are in order here. By reflection (ph), I’ve given over 160 speeches challenging the underlying logic of the war...
SCARBOROUGH: And also the votes, if you compare your votes with his or anybody else’s.
KUCINICH: But I think what the American people are looking for is a president who will be consistent, one who’s already shown the judgment and the wisdom not to take those choices.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Dennis, thank you so much.
Hey, Chris, let me throw it back to you. I don’t know if you have a question for Dennis or not, but...
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) thank you. I think Dennis did very well tonight. The congressman did well. Anyway, thank you, Joe and Congressman Kucinich.
We’ll be right back after this. And when we return, Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod. You’re watching MSNBC’s coverage of the first-in-the-country Democratic debate, only on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: We rejoin you from the campus of South Carolina State University. You’re watching MSNBC’s first—coverage of the first Democratic primary. Alongside Chris Matthews, I’m Keith Olbermann. The Democratic presidential candidates have finished that first debate of 2008, and now comes the spin.
Joe Scarborough of MSNBC is in the spin room with Senator Obama’s adviser, David Axelrod—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Thank you so much, Keith. You know, David, coming into this debate, you have a candidate who’s been compared to JFK, Bobby Kennedy, basically everybody other than Jesus Christ. Short of raising somebody from the dead, he wasn’t going to meet expectations, those type of expectations. As you said, that was the down side of the up side. But how did he do tonight? If an American had been reading this fawning press all these months and then saw him tonight, would they be disappointed?
DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: No, I think they’d—I think that they would be impressed. They’d see a guy who was solid, in command and thoughtful, and also someone who talked about the need to change our politics, and not only talked about it but demonstrated it in the way he talks about issues. He’s someone who has—throughout his life, he’s brought consensus where there wasn’t consensus, and he’s brought people from various perspectives and partisan positions together to move things forward.
And I think people in this country are so desperate for that now. They want someone who can cobble this American community back together. I think that’s the change they’re looking for. When they looked at that stage tonight and they watched this debate, I think he was the one who represented (INAUDIBLE)
SCARBOROUGH: And David, what did he do tonight that proved him—pardon me for using a George Bush phrase—but proving that he would be a uniter and not a divider?
AXELROD: Well, I mean, I think you can look at individual questions, but you know, on the abortion question, for example, I thought the way he answered that question really spoke to the fact that, you know, this is an issue that’s been used as a wedge issue in our politics for a long time, and he talked about finding common ground on this issue around the issues—around the possibilities of preventing teen pregnancy and some of the other things that are contributing to the need for abortions.
But—and then, you know, he talked a lot about I think what’s on people’s minds in terms of changing the nature of politics in Washington. You know, we talked before we were on the air about the fact that 90 percent of his campaign contributions are $100 or less, many of them coming from people who’ve never been involved in the system before. And when he talked about changing the ethics laws in Illinois, when he talked about challenging the power of lobbyists in Washington, I think those are things that people are very concerned about (INAUDIBLE)
SCARBOROUGH: But you know, the Democratic base is obviously most concerned about the war in Iraq. They see it as a terrible failure. And your candidate has been getting a lot of support from anti-war supporters.
SCARBOROUGH: And yet Dennis Kucinich said tonight, in response to a Brian Williams, question, that you can’t be against the war while supporting funding for the war. And yet Barack Obama has supported funding for the war consistently for the last two years (INAUDIBLE) continue to do the same over the next year-and-a-half.
AXELROD: Well, Joe, you’re right about one thing, that Senator Obama was opposed to this war in 2002. He spoke about what the ramifications of the war would be in terms of landing us in a civil war of the sort that we’re in right now...
SCARBOROUGH: But (INAUDIBLE) funding, though, right?
AXELROD: ... weakening our ability to go after al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Everything he said turned out to be true. He also said that while our troops were there, that, you know, having created a bad situation, he said we have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in.
SCARBOROUGH: All right.
AXELROD: And that’s been his position.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, David, stick with us because my colleagues, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, want to ask you some questions—guys?
MATTHEWS: David, I want to ask you about the format tonight. Do you think that your candidate, Senator Obama—I thought he did great. He was very sophisticated, I thought, in most of his answers. Do you think that he was hampered by the fact that you had a radical critique going on of all mainstream Democrats and elected officials by Mike Gravel, and to some extent, by the congressman from Cleveland, that it made your guy seem more like he was part of the establishment than he would like to have seemed?
AXELROD: No, I don’t think that, Chris. I do think that it’s difficult in a field of eight, in this kind of drive-by format, to really have, you know, thoughtful dialogue on a lot of the issues. And I think that was the greatest problem.
I don’t think—look, Barack, has been—he’s been in elective office as a state legislator for eight years and come to Washington—he’s used to vigorous debate. I don’t think that he was concerned about that. The fact is that he was an opponent of this war from the beginning, and he’s been pushing as hard as anyone in Congress for a responsible way to get us out of there and get our troops home. This plan that was passed today was really modeled on something that he introduced in January for a phased withdrawal. So I think people understand where he’s been and what he’s all about.
MATTHEWS: I understand, as an orator, that he may one more time. And I have another format idea for you: a full hour of “HARDBALL,” town meeting with some college university kids, where Barack Obama can speak for, say, not counting commercials, maybe 40-some minutes. Do you think that would be an appropriate format for him? And can you commit to it now and get this dicking around over with and say you’re going to do a town meeting with us?
AXELROD: Chris, we’ve discussed this before. I always enjoy coming on your show and talking about it. I think...
MATTHEWS: Well, let’s end the conversation right now, and let’s have an agreement, and let’s get him in a town meeting for a full hour, and you won’t complain about time limits that way.
AXELROD: No, I understand. We would love to do it. We love going to college campuses...
MATTHEWS: Well, OK, don’t love it to death. Just say yes.
AXELROD: Well, we will work it out with you. We want to work it out with you. We’d love to give him that opportunity, give you that opportunity, and mostly give the kids that opportunity. So we’re going to work this out.
MATTHEWS: Axelrod, let’s just get it together here. Look, I think you’re right and your candidate does better when he gets to give a much grander oration, 20-minute answers for all I care, allowing for commercials. Let’s do it. Let’s get together. Let’s make it work with your guy. We can give you the format you want. We can give you a solo performance with the audience you wish if you’ll just say yes.
AXELROD: Well, I think we should work it out, Chris. I think we should work it out.
MATTHEWS: Nice try.
AXELROD: I feel like I’m sliding into a “Saturday Night Live” skit here.
MATTHEWS: You wish, buddy. By the way, Axelrod, I think your guy did great tonight. You don’t have to spin me, but you’re trying real hard. Here’s Keith.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Axelrod, now that Chris is done trying to book his show, this may be nitpicking, but the only real time that a Republican, other than one currently in office, was invoked in this debate in a question was when the question was asked about Mr. Giuliani’s comments about a Republican president being better for the country, in terms of safety in a terrorism attack, than a Democrat would be. Were you satisfied with your candidate’s answer on that, because he began with the subject of first response and seemed only to get to the actual response to terror rather belatedly in that answer.
AXELROD: Actually, Keith, if you go back and look at the tape, I think the question he got was different than that one. The question he got was about what would happen if Al Qaeda hit America again. And so it was appropriate for him to say, “Here’s how I’d secure the country in the immediate aftermath, and here’s what I would do after that.”
I think he would have liked to have answered the Rudy Giuliani question. He was very strong in responding to that yesterday. We’ve been divided enough around this issue of terrorism. We’ve got to unite the country behind it. He said that yesterday. He would have said it again today had he gotten the opportunity.
OLBERMANN: Were you satisfied with the tone of this debate, that obviously—we on the sidelines always like to see fireworks, which perhaps endeared the former senator, Gravel, to us more than it might have to you, but were you satisfied with this? Was there enough difference among the candidates? Was there enough of the contentiousness without drawing blood?
AXELROD: Well, you know, Keith, we didn’t come here looking for contentiousness. The fact is, we’re trying to lift this country up, not tear it apart. That’s one of the reasons why Senator Obama is doing as well as he’s done.
I know, for you guys, conflict is better TV, but I also think that it is true, that in this kind of format, with such short questions, eight people on the stage, it’s pretty hard to get a good dialogue going, and not to open up this whole discussion with Chris again about the “HARDBALL” college tour.
But, you know, so it has its limitations, and that’s, I think, a bit of a frustration. But everybody had to live within that, those constraints, and, you know, we’ll see what happens next time.
OLBERMANN: And, you know, we haven’t done this often, David, but “COUNTDOWN” has, on occasion, devoted all five of its numbered stories to just one particular topic, so that if—perhaps I don’t want to get into a competition with Mr. Matthews here, but if the senator would like to come on in another long format, perhaps we could divide each of the five segments into one topic that we could discuss at length, for five or six minutes at a pitch.
AXELROD: You know, Keith, I think before I leave, we ought to give Joe a chance to make a pitch for SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
SCARBOROUGH: I was going to say, can I get in on this?
AXELROD: You know, I want to give everybody equal time.
SCARBOROUGH: You need to speak to Middle America, baby. Come on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
MATTHEWS: For a full hour.
OLBERMANN: A full night, a full night of Obama programming.
AXELROD: ... negotiator for all you guys to do one-stop shopping.
MATTHEWS: David, let me run through some things. I’ve been watching your candidate with great fascination, as have so many Americans. I’ve noticed that, if you collect the string of what he talks about, not just that he’s against the war, but I looked at the way that he jumped quickly on the Imus matter, very strongly with a strong point of view, on the Schiavo case, bringing that up tonight was very impressive to me, because it struck me at the time that, although the cultural conservatives felt at the time they had the American sort of sense there, the zeitgeist, that they missed the boat on that, and I think they realized that afterwards, they had missed it. The public really did really feel that they had interfered, the Congress, in a private matter to their own political, actually, deficit.
Is this going to be a big part of the Obama campaign, these pieces of cultural information, Imus, Schiavo, where it’s a real—your guy is really offering a radical alternative to what we’ve had for these last several years.
AXELROD: Well, I think there’s a widespread perception, Chris, in this country that we’ve been sort of driven by these divisive issues and that it’s kept us from doing the things we need to do together as a country. I think people are really looking for someone who can coddle that American community together, kind of push back against the sort of politics we’ve seen in Washington, and lift our discourse and discussion, find common ground. That’s what Barack’s done all his life as a legislator, as a community organizer, as a U.S. senator. And I think that’s one of the reasons why people are coming to him with such enthusiasm.
MATTHEWS: Can I just make one point? I thought it was very important—and it wasn’t just your candidate, but another of the others did—there are a lot of people in this country who believe a woman has a right to choose on abortion at any stage of pregnancy, more or less, within reason, but they also are very concerned about the loss of life, loss of potential life, and they have all kinds of concerns about that morally.
And I think it’s good that candidates are offering up a comprehensive position on life, and not simply saying, “Pro-choice, pro-life,” the slogans, but saying, “Let’s try to create as many options as possible for life, given the fact we live in a free country.” I thought it was very impressive. I thought it was when the Clintons said that back in ‘92.
I think people want to hear that candidates are pro-life and also pro-freedom, even in the worst kind of decisionmaking they have to make in their whole lives. And I think it’s very important to show that kind of sensitivity. And I think Barack Obama did that, and a couple of other candidates did that tonight. It’s refreshing for the Democrats to not just talk like a knee-jerk, pro-choice party, but to offer a pro-life attitude and a pro-life freedom that the other points of view haven’t been given in the past. Just my thought.
AXELROD: Look, the fact is that this is a terribly difficult issue for people. And I think it’s been cheapened in our debate. And I think part of that process of bringing the country back together is talking about these issues in a different way, and listening, not just talking, but hearing other people’s points of view. So even if you disagree, you can disagree, as he says, without being disagreeable, and try and find things on which we can agree, like teen pregnancy programs, and adoption programs, and all kinds of other options that should be part of the discussion.
MATTHEWS: Here, here.
OLBERMANN: The chief strategist of the Obama campaign, David Axelrod. Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.
AXELROD: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: We will hear from the other campaigns, the Clinton and Edwards campaigns, in particular, and our panel, Andrea Mitchell and Eugene Robinson standing by with us here, when we continue. You’re watching MSNBC’s coverage of the first in the nation Democratic debate from South Carolina State University.
OLBERMANN: Welcome back to South Carolina State University, where the Democratic presidential candidates met for their first debate tonight. Alongside Chris Matthews, I’m Keith Olbermann. We’re joined now by Clinton campaign communications director Harold Wolfson.
Thanks for coming over.
MATTHEWS: It is great to have you here.
HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Good to be here.
MATTHEWS: It is really good. We just had Axelrod.
WOLFSON: How was he?
MATTHEWS: He was not committal on the campaign. No, I’m just kidding. He was very good.
Let me ask you, I thought Mrs. Clinton did very well, the senator did very well tonight, because I thought that—she is the front-runner in all the polls, and she has to maintain a certain presence as front-runner. She can’t—she avoided criticizing anyone else. She talked about the president mostly. She turned down a chance to attack Rudy Giuliani, which I thought was very smart. Why anoint your opponent?
But why do you think she stuck to the word “stubborn,” that the president is stubborn? Why is that important?
WOLFSON: Well, the president is stubborn. I mean, I think that is a commonly held belief, not just among Democratic primary voters, but among the American people. He has stubbornly insisted on staying the course in Iraq, even though it’s not working, and the American people voted to change it.
OLBERMANN: Was the ninth person in this debate George Bush? It seemed as if he was argued against as much as anyone who was on that stage.
WOLFSON: He might have been the fourth person in the debate. I mean, yes, look, all of the Democrats—this is a good field of Democrats, and the Democrats are united that the policies and programs of George Bush need to be changed and reversed. And so I thought the Democratic Party made a very convincing case tonight to change course in Iraq, to change our economic policy, to do something about health care reform. It was a good night—I think it was a good night for Hillary Clinton, but it was also a good night for the Democratic Party.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the NBC poll that shows that they’re only 5 points apart now, Hillary and Obama?
WOLFSON: I prefer the “Washington Post” poll that showed them 17 points apart. Look, there are a lot of polls. We have polls today, Quinnipiac polls in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Florida, that showed her up 20 percent. There are going to be a lot of polls. At the end of the day, nobody’s going to hand this to Hillary Clinton. She’s got to earn it. She’s got to go out every day, and work hard, and make her case. I mean, front-runners never have it easy, and we knew we were never going to have it easy, and that’s what she expects.
OLBERMANN: But in the subject of earning it, Howard, do you need to go into a debate at some point, if not now, then later on, and really bloody your opponent, even if it’s another Democrat?
WOLFSON: I hope not. I mean, I like the fact that Democrats are out there making a positive case for themselves, talking about the failed presidency of George Bush. As a Democrat, I don’t think we need to be beating up other Democrats. Hillary Clinton was going in with nothing up her sleeve. She wanted to make the case that she was ready to lead from day one, that she has the experience and the strength to do it, and I think she did.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the decision on the war. Mrs. Clinton, as senator, has made a point of saying, “I’m not going to apologize.” Fair enough. That’s a political decision, in terms...
MATTHEWS: ... no, also, because Republicans will use it against her and say, “It’s a woman’s right to change her mind.” There will play all kinds of gender games on her probably.
But here’s what I don’t understand. She has said that her vote to authorize action was basically to help the president negotiate a United Nations supervised inspection of possible weapons of mass destruction, which would have apparently, had it succeeded, would have avoided the war. But then, if that’s the case, and if that’s her position as of now, why did it take her so many years to really attack this war, to really challenge the war?
WOLFSON: Chris, I don’t think that that’s fair. I mean, I think, if you look at the record, she has been an early and clear and consistent critic of the way this...
MATTHEWS: When did she say it was a mistake to go to war? When, the first time?
WOLFSON: I don’t know the exact date.
MATTHEWS: That’s an important date, because if it wasn’t until 2005 or 2006, that means that she was, in fact, in support of the war as it progressed, not just as an outside possibility.
WOLFSON: No, she was critical much before that. I could give you...
MATTHEWS: Of the war or the way it was being fought?
WOLFSON: Yes, both.
MATTHEWS: No, of the war.
MATTHEWS: Did she say it was misconstrued, misconceived? Did she ever challenge the decision to go to war?
WOLFSON: I couldn’t give you the exact date.
MATTHEWS: Well, we’re going to get that date. We’ve got to do a Google on that.
WOLFSON: We should.
MATTHEWS: Because I think...
WOLFSON: I assume that my crack research team is watching now, and I suspect...
MATTHEWS: ... e-mail tomorrow and establish a date where she did say this was a profoundly wrong decision to go to war.
OLBERMANN: Not to undermine what you’re saying, but is there a danger, in terms of trying to find a way out of Iraq from any presidential candidate, from either party, of getting too hung up on the “when did you join the society” thing? Is it not the convert the strongest zealot, as the old line goes?
WOLFSON: Well, I don’t know if it’s a question of being a convert, but I do think the American people are more concerned about what you’re going to do to end the war than what you did four years ago. And I think people are asking themselves, “Who has the strength, who has the experience, who has the ability to end the war, effectively, decisively?” And I think that’s Hillary Clinton.
MATTHEWS: Because the concern is progressive, it’s forward. We have a situation with Iran right now, and if the person says, well, all we did was make a mistake on the WMD, then you would argue, well, it’s OK to declare war in Iran, because they have a nuclear weapon. And a lot of Americans would say, “We do not want to go to war with Iran even if they do have a nuclear weapon. We don’t want to go to war with another country in the Middle East.”
WOLFSON: Well, she has said that you can’t take anything off the table, but nobody’s talking about war as a first resort here. I mean, we ought to be talking to Iran. She has talked about the fact that this administration ought to be talking to Iran. You don’t make peace with your friends; you make them with your enemies. And we ought to be talking to Iran.
MATTHEWS: And you believe that this administration didn’t make a fair effort at avoiding a war with Iraq?
WOLFSON: I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks that they didn’t make a fair effort.
OLBERMANN: That phrase, “nothing off the table,” was made a point of this debate in one of the few contentious moments. Define it. What exactly does “nothing off the table” mean, if it does not mean, well, war is a first option?
WOLFSON: No, it doesn’t mean war is a first option, but it means that the American president always reserves the right to use force to protect us and protect our country. Look, I thought an important moment in this debate was when Senator Clinton was asked, God forbid, two American cities are taken out by a terrorist. She gave a clear, decisive, forceful, strong answer that balanced protecting our people with wisdom. And I thought it was a homerun for her.
OLBERMANN: Did you think Senator Obama did not give an adequate answer to that question?
WOLFSON: I think that’s a fair question, and I would not...
MATTHEWS: Are you under wraps not to criticize Obama?
WOLFSON: I’m not under wraps.
MATTHEWS: No, because, I mean, we asked that of Mandy Grunwald, one of your colleagues in the campaign, and Hillary Clinton passed up a chance to criticize Rudy Giuliani tonight. It seems like you have a strategy—you don’t have to acknowledge this, just tell me I’m not wrong—to basically...
WOLFSON: I’ll probably nod.
MATTHEWS: ... but, yes, you wave people off on the phone, you know. If you don’t say anything for 10 seconds, they’re telling the truth.
MATTHEWS: If you don’t say anything for 10 seconds, are we to assume that the strategy of Hillary Clinton is to basically challenge the president?
WOLFSON: The strategy of Hillary Clinton is to talk about herself, her own experience, her own record...
MATTHEWS: Or the stubborn president.
WOLFSON: ... her own ability to lead, and obviously to contrast what she would do with what this administration has done.
MATTHEWS: The idea of stubborn, it’s such an interesting word, because it’s not to say he’s wrong, or that he’s lightweight, but it suggests a kind of a brain-dead charge. You’re basically saying the president is no longer thinking; he’s just sticking to where he’s been. Now, that’s a fair assessment, but it’s a tough assessment, to say that he’s stuck with Gonzales, he’s stuck with Condi Rice, he’s stuck with Iraq, everything now he’s just going to play out his hand until January of 2009.
WOLFSON: You have made the case for his stubbornness right there very effectively.
MATTHEWS: No, I’m saying, is that what you’re arguing?
WOLFSON: Absolutely. Look, I heard today him praising Paul Wolfowitz. I mean, how many members of this administration are going to come under fire, are going to be shown to have problems being able to lead, and he’s going to stick with them and praise them? I mean...
MATTHEWS: What do you think is his basis, his motivation for never changing his mind from now until he leaves office?
WOLFSON: I can’t say, but it is—I wish he would stop doing it.
OLBERMANN: A final question, on the thing that we wished didn’t make any difference, but does. Stylishness, a stylistic approach, was there a point in this campaign where Senator Clinton said or somebody said to her, “We’re going to change somewhat your approach, we’re going to soften your image, we’re going to make you more user-friendly, we’re going to make you more off-hand”? The joke tonight about being asked to list the major mistakes and saying we didn’t have time for the list of all of her mistakes. Is that a conscious thing? Or is that something she reached on her own? How did it come about?
WOLFSON: Look, you know...
MATTHEWS: Is humility a tactic?
OLBERMANN: Not for either of us.
WOLFSON: I was going to say, not on this set.
The humility in that case is authentic. Look, she knows that she made mistakes during health care reform, and she’s admitted before, and she’s going to admit it now and in the future.
MATTHEWS: I thought, by the way, just having studied and written speeches for people, and watching oratory, I thought she was really good. I thought all through the debate tonight she was modulated. Her voice didn’t rise. You know, it’s tough being a woman debater, because you always have to raise your voice to keep up with the heavier-voiced people. I thought everything about her was professional. I thought it was calm, collected. Only in the last exchange did she get a little sharp. Nobody was paying attention at that point. I think it was great preparation on your side. I think you did a great job.
WOLFSON: Well, look, I think she did a great job.
MATTHEWS: How about a town meeting?
WOLFSON: Are you inviting me?
MATTHEWS: No, the boss.
WOLFSON: You know, I think she is going to be doing town meetings all the time. I mean, her best format, in my opinion, is a town hall meeting. I mean, she...
MATTHEWS: Look, she’s done it with us. And she’s done a good job, up in Albany.
WOLFSON: And she did great. She is great. When she is Iowa and New Hampshire or here in South Carolina and Nevada, she does a great job in these, you know, couple hundred, thousand, 2,000 person formats.
MATTHEWS: She even took me to dinner before the town meeting.
WOLFSON: Did she?
MATTHEWS: Introduced me to all the local pols and all their local...
WOLFSON: Who bought?
MATTHEWS: No, I took the check. I’m allowed to have dinner.
WOLFSON: All right.
MATTHEWS: No, she was very nice about it and very charming. I thought she did well tonight. I thought Obama did well tonight. I think even Mike Gravel made his points.
WOLFSON: Who didn’t do well?
MATTHEWS: I’m not going to do that yet. I think that...
WOLFSON: Neither am I, by the way.
MATTHEWS: I think some of the also-rans really tried to get in the game tonight and didn’t quite make it. I think there was a shortage of time. I agree with Axelrod to that extent. The 90 minutes divided by eight. Wait until you see next week. It will be 90 minutes divided by 10. It’s going to be a little more crunched.
WOLFSON: Well, it’s your debate. What are you going to do?
MATTHEWS: It’s going to be more frustrating. We’re going to have to keep moving faster and give everybody a shot.
OLBERMANN: He’s going to do most of the talking.
MATTHEWS: You know, Keith, it was really...
OLBERMANN: Thank you, Howard Wolfson...
MATTHEWS: ... we had a great partnership until now. Anyway, thank you.
OLBERMANN: All right.
WOLFSON: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Let’s go over to our colleague, Tucker Carlson, who is standing by at the after-party with the governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson—Tucker?
CARLSON: That’s right, Keith. I’m standing in a gym with a jazz ensemble in the background next to the governor of New Mexico. It’s a little surreal, but we’re glad to have him.
Governor Bill Richardson, thanks for joining us.
RICHARDSON: Nice to be with you, Tucker.
CARLSON: You said tonight—Brian Williams asked you, would you vote to fund the troops? And you said, point blank, no.
RICHARDSON: No. What I said is that I believe the troops—we need to get our troops out by the end of this calendar year. I would want to be sure our troops have the proper equipment.
What I would like to see is a de-authorization of the war. And I would use diplomacy to give Iraq a chance, to give them, for instance, a chance of reconciliation of the three religious groups. I think other countries should have the burden of security and reconstruction, Muslim countries, Iran and Syria. I’d invite them in. I’d talk to Iran and Syria. They want stability on their border.
CARLSON: Tonight, Brian Williams asked you about your now-famous comment saying that you were withholding judgment on Alberto Gonzales, quote, “because he was Hispanic.” A guy just came up to me here and said the talk in this room was, if Barack Obama had said, for instance, “I support Condi Rice because she’s black,” his presidential campaign would be over in about 20 minutes. Do you agree with that?
RICHARDSON: No, I just was honest. I did call for Gonzales resigning. I just felt he had to get a chance to have his day in court with the Senate Judiciary Committee. I know the guy. I like him. What I simply said was, because he’s Hispanic, because he’s my friend, I’m a Hispanic, you know, I’ll give him another few days until he fully answers questions. When he didn’t answer questions...
RICHARDSON: ... when it appeared that he had forgotten everything, he wasn’t managing his department, I called for his resignation.
CARLSON: But there’s no way Obama could say something like that, do you think?
RICHARDSON: Well, I’m just being honest. This is the way I am. You know, I’m not a blow-dried candidate. I don’t have a bunch of consultants. I speak from the heart. I also think I’m the most experienced candidate with the most foreign policy experience. I’m a governor. I’ve actually done all of the things they talked about in the debate.
CARLSON: Were you surprised Democrats, for the past couple of years, have decided gun control is a losing issue? Were you surprised at the calls for gun control tonight?
RICHARDSON: Well, I just believe that, in the West, you have to respect the Second Amendment. And I believe Democrats should stop using gun control as a litmus test. I support the Second Amendment, and I think the tragedy at Virginia Tech was an issue of background checks not including those that are mentally ill in a way that prevented possibly this tragedy.
So I believe that you’ve got to respect our Constitution, our values. I think the Second Amendment is an issue that, for many Westerners, it’s a cultural issue.
CARLSON: Do you think the Second Amendment applies in the East, also?
RICHARDSON: To where?
CARLSON: Do you think the Second Amendment applies in the East, as well?
RICHARDSON: Well, it does. I mean, look, law-abiding gun owners are the sizable majority. In fact, 99 percent obey the law. And so the answer is not more gun control, more restrictions. It’s enforce the existing law, deal with those that are mentally ill that have a serious problem in not being part of a national database, and find ways in schools that we can have parents, and teachers and administrators talk to each other about those that are mentally ill, and having emergency response efforts at schools and universities to prevent such a tragedy.
CARLSON: Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, thanks a lot, Governor. I appreciate it.
RICHARDSON: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Tucker Carlson, great thanks, Tucker Carlson and Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Chris and I will return in just a moment. Howard Fineman will join us. Joe Scarborough has come up, if he can escape the spin room. You’re watching MSNBC’s coverage of the first in the nation Democratic debate from South Carolina State University at Orangeburg.
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, “COUNTDOWN”: Four United States senators, two former United States senators, a prominent governor, and a veteran congressman, eight Democrats who would be president, convening here on a warm spring night at South Carolina State University with remarkable conviviality and even informality.
Senator Clinton called Senator Obama Barack, and he called her Hillary, avoiding direct confrontation with each other, missing no opportunity to engage direct confrontation with the president and his administration, and, at least tonight, a record-tying performance from the senator from Delaware, Joe Biden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MODERATOR: An editorial in “The Los Angeles Times,” said, “In addition to his uncontrolled verbosity, Biden is a gaffe machine.”
Can you reassure voters in this country that you would have the discipline you would need on the world stage, Senator?
WILLIAMS: Thank you, Senator Biden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: There may have been an answer as brief as that in the history of political debate, but certainly none briefer.
This is MSNBC’s continuing coverage of the first Democratic presidential debate.
I’m here with Chris Matthews. And we’re joined now by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, and “Newsweek”’s Howard Fineman.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I have never heard Joe Biden...
MITCHELL: I mean, he was absolutely prepared for that. He knew it was coming, clearly. And it was brilliant.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”: That is going to lower his batting average a lot, isn’t it, that one-word answer?
That’s Mike Mansfield, right, Howard?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
Not only is it one word. It was one syllable—one short syllable, at that.
I want to start...
MATTHEWS: Joe, I want your views. I want your views. You were down in the spin room.
MATTHEWS: ... my print man...
MATTHEWS: ... my TV man...
FINEMAN: All right.
MATTHEWS: ... my all-occasion greeting card, answer this.
MATTHEWS: Who are the people in the print room, where they’re filing hard news stories for paper newspapers tomorrow morning, saying won tonight?
FINEMAN: Well, they may be a little cautious in the straight leads, but it’s clear that the consensus among the reporters that I talked to as I was going around the spin room and the press room was that it was a good night for Hillary Clinton.
She was calm. She was professional. She was collegial. She was on her mark. She was on her issues. She did superbly well. And, when those people from her campaign came into the room, they had smiles this wide. And I can tell when they’re fake. And they’re weren’t fake.
MATTHEWS: An authentic victory for Hillary tonight?
FINEMAN: Authentic victory for Hillary.
Barack Obama, in some respects, was off his game. He was off his rhythm. He is good in one on one. His thought pauses...
MATTHEWS: Was he frustrated by the fact there were eight people sharing 90 minutes?
FINEMAN: Yes, exactly. He’s not used to that.
And he also blew the question initially on, what would you do if two American cities were bombed and we knew it was al Qaeda? What happened was, he got that question first. It was from out of the blue. He got it. He didn’t answer it forcefully enough, in terms of retaliation and military force. Neither did John Edwards.
The people in the Clinton spin room couldn’t—they were hoping and praying that Hillary would also get that question. And she did. And she used the word retaliate. And Edwards—excuse me—and Obama spent the rest of the debate making up for what he knew was an inadequate—inadequate answer on the question of military force.
MITCHELL: And Richardson came back and made that point as well, even though the question hadn’t come to him, came back and...
FINEMAN: ... wanted that question.
MATTHEWS: Is there a thoughtful answer, Joe? I mean, if we knew there was a country called al Qaeda, we would bomb it. If we knew where they were right now, even if they didn’t attack us, we would bomb them. That is our policy, destroy al Qaeda.
That’s a tough one. I mean, I’m not sure what the quick answer would be. Did someone have a good answer?
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”: Well, that is a tough question. But it’s not that tough of a question if you are a Democrat trying to prove—and, believe it or not, in 2007, after seven years of bungling by the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress, Democrats still have to prove that they are tough on defense, like John Kennedy did in 1960, talking about the missile gap.
So, yes, Americans want to see Hillary Clinton, they want to see Barack Obama, they want to see John Edwards answer these questions forcefully.
I do think it’s interesting that the one moment that Barack Obama really seemed to spark was when Dennis Kucinich challenged him on Iraq. And even the camera shot was great, as Barack Obama turned around, and -- you know, and I thought stared down Dennis Kucinich. And I thought he gave his strongest answer.
And, as Howard and I were talking about earlier, that, in part, was in response to him bungling the earlier question about al Qaeda attacking two American cities. But I think that was the highlight.
But I agree with Howard. I—Hillary Clinton probably did best tonight.
MITCHELL: As a woman...
MITCHELL: ... I think it was very important for her to be very strong...
MITCHELL: ... on foreign policy.
And, look, she could have been beaten up even more on the issue of Iraq. But I think she even might have anticipated that Dennis Kucinich and others—but Mike Gravel’s anti-war rant against all of the candidates leveled the playing field, so she was not singled out...
MITCHELL: ... as much as she otherwise would have been.
MATTHEWS: He included Obama.
MATTHEWS: You did, as well, by keeping—asking the question, what is the difference between these people’s voting record since they got to Congress?
But you’re right. The fact that you had a real outsider, then you heard the penultimate outsider, Kucinich, force the others to all look like they were part of the same team.
MITCHELL: And I think the bottom line here is...
MATTHEWS: We were saying that beforehand, that that was going to...
MATTHEWS: Or you said that; it was going to happen beforehand.
MITCHELL: I mean, the politeness of this debate really tells you a lot about what the Democrats think they need to do. They want desperately to defeat the Republicans. They think they have got a great opportunity. And they just don’t want to bloody each other up in front—in the primary...
MATTHEWS: They want to prove they’re house-trained.
MITCHELL: Yes, exactly.
SCARBOROUGH: But, you know, I think it is good, though.
MITCHELL: You might say that.
SCARBOROUGH: I think it’s good to have people...
MATTHEWS: No, I think they have to prove they’re house-trained.
They don’t want to soil the carpet when they get the White House again.
SCARBOROUGH: I think it’s important, though, that you have these people on the far left making Barack Obama seem moderate, making...
SCARBOROUGH: ... the other candidates seem moderate, because, again, Rudy Giuliani said what he said not because he is stupid. He said what he said because he understands, in these private polls, this is where the Democrats are weak.
When you have candidates on the extreme left that make Barack—give Barack Obama that moment and say, you know what? Maybe I am opposed to the war in Iraq, but, listen, Iran may be another issue. Afghanistan certainly was another issue.
Again, it may not help him in the primaries, but it certainly will help him and help Hillary when they go to the general.
MATTHEWS: Will the Republicans run against Mike Gravel now, where they will say, here is what the Democrats are saying, and show Mike Gravel, and then show Kucinich, and say, this is what we are up against?
MITCHELL: Well, when you have a candidate who says that there are no enemies of the United States...
MATTHEWS: Who said that, Kucinich?
MITCHELL: Gravel said it.
OLBERMANN: Gravel said it.
MITCHELL: And that makes everybody else...
MATTHEWS: How about the one that said—Gravel said to make it a felony to continue the war, like, we have got to put the president in jail.
FINEMAN: But they are not going to say that. They are not going to focus on Gravel or Kucinich.
But they will focus on Obama and Edwards and say, in this sequence of questions, Hillary was the toughest of the three. And they’re going to—the Republicans—and I talked to a couple of them tonight—they looked at this debate. They think it helps them frame the issue of defense.
I don’t know if that’s right. A lot of the Democrats in the spin room were saying, look, the country has so changed on this, that the Democrat—the Republicans are just so wrong to think that you—that the only answer to the question of strength on defense is willingness to use military force.
This is the question you were getting at before. My only point on Obama was the tone of it. The tone of his original answer didn’t talk about retaliation, didn’t seem to...
OLBERMANN: Went to first-responders first, went to...
FINEMAN: Went to first-responders.
OLBERMANN: ... the bad response to Katrina from New Orleans and the Bush administration...
FINEMAN: Right. What is Katrina doing in there?
MATTHEWS: Right. But what is—is it so good to say, well, we will bomb somebody? I mean, is that the right answer? We will blow up somebody?
FINEMAN: My point is, the Republicans are thinking, that is what you need to say. And I don’t think the American people believe that either.
MATTHEWS: That’s right.
OLBERMANN: But, in that context, was what Senator Clinton said, which—which amounted to, if we are attacked, we should quickly respond, sort of fill in the blank on who you respond against...
OLBERMANN: ... does that answer then become sufficient, because it looks or sounds strong, or has the same echoes of strength as the Bush administration’s answers have been, and, in fact, practice has been the last seven years?
FINEMAN: I think it was Hillary playing it right smack down the middle of the American electorate, having the tone right, the sense of toughness, overcoming—in one evening, I think she has overcome all the questions about a woman—this is a big statement to make—I think she has overcome all the questions about a woman on that stage.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
FINEMAN: She didn’t command it unnecessarily, but she was utterly comfortable and in command when she had to be. To me, she settled the commander in chief question right there, if there ever was one.
MATTHEWS: I completely...
MATTHEWS: ... agree with you.
I thought that she avoided playing victim to the other candidates. She avoided demanding any special courtesy or protocol as a woman. She never appealed to her femininity as a reason to be any different or treated any differently.
MATTHEWS: And I thought, again, it’s so hard—and everybody disagree—well, a woman has a special challenge when it comes to political argument...
MATTHEWS: ... because we can raise our voices, and it works sometimes. When a woman raises her voice, the octave goes up. And Hillary didn’t do it.
SCARBOROUGH: But let’s say this is what she has to worry about, because the only time—I’m talking about people in the spin room—the only time people starting to raise their eyebrows would be on an answer to—where her voice started to go up.
MATTHEWS: At the end.
SCARBOROUGH: At the end, she started to sound a little shrill. That is the thing she needs to guard against.
But, no, she has—I think you are right. I think she has crossed that hurdle. There are a lot of people in the Democratic base that have been very angry with her position on the war. But, at the same time, she is doing what she needs to do. She’s doing what a woman needs to do and what the Democrats need to do.
MATTHEWS: The cosmetics tonight are very important.
First of all, her pearls, Grace Kelly, dynamite.
MATTHEWS: The pearls were great.
FINEMAN: No, let’s calm down.
MATTHEWS: No, I’m sorry.
SCARBOROUGH: He we go, the Philadelphia...
MATTHEWS: The pearls were great.
SCARBOROUGH: You know what? You just lost a lot of people.
MATTHEWS: I thought Michelle Obama—I thought, whatever you say about Obama, his wife looked perfect—perfect for the occasion.
MITCHELL: I don’t do fashion.
MATTHEWS: The perfect looking wife. She had the pearls as well, another Grace Kelly, well turned out, very dignified—not dignified—attractive, classy, as we used to say, like Frank Sinatra, classy.
MATTHEWS: You know, I thought those things were important.
SCARBOROUGH: You’re all Philadelphia, Chris Matthews, all Philadelphia.
MATTHEWS: No. I’m sorry. Those things are important. You guys are ignoring it.
Some people were, by the way, just watching tonight. They stopped listening a half-hour in.
MATTHEWS: And they noticed how pretty she is, Michelle, and they said, I like the fact he has got this pretty wife. He’s happily married. I like that.
They like the fact that Hillary was demure, ladylike in her appearance.
MITCHELL: ... about two brilliant lawyers, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.
MITCHELL: Excuse me.
MATTHEWS: Can I talk about...
SCARBOROUGH: Good-looking chicks.
MITCHELL: Yale and Harvard.
MATTHEWS: You guys jumped around for a week about poor, what’s his name, John Edwards’ haircut. You know, cosmetics are a part of this game.
MITCHELL: That wasn’t cosmetics.
MATTHEWS: What was that?
MITCHELL: That was authenticity.
OLBERMANN: Expense reports.
MATTHEWS: OK, expense...
OLBERMANN: ... expense reports.
OLBERMANN: And thank you for not introducing Governor Granholm into this particular part of the equation on the—on the...
MATTHEWS: David Broder made that mistake.
OLBERMANN: ... on the public scale.
But it’s a valid point. And I think we note it because we have a front-runner woman candidate for the first time. But what—as Chris said, we have picked apart the appearance of the male candidates, too. Why—what is the difference? What—what is the—why is it invalid suddenly—Is it political correctness? -- to raise the issue about a woman candidate and appearance and style and tone?
MITCHELL: No. I am semi-joking, but I don’t think that we about the cut of their suits or their jewelry. Tone, yes. Substance, yes, on all...
MATTHEWS: ... with these guys.
MATTHEWS: You know, they don’t wear a lot of jewelry, to be honest with you.
FINEMAN: I second Andrea on this. I do. I’m allowed. Don’t—don’t look at me like that.
MATTHEWS: The first pander of the evening was committed on this panel, the first full pander.
FINEMAN: It won’t be the last, I can assure you.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I can tell you that the first person I ran against was a female. And it is impossible to go after them in a debate.
Remember Rick Lazio...
SCARBOROUGH: ... going over to Hillary Clinton?
MATTHEWS: How about George Bush Sr., the ultimate gentleman, the old money guy, saying, I kicked her ass the other night?
SCARBOROUGH: Yes, exactly.
MATTHEWS: Remember that line about Geraldine Ferraro? That was a popular line.
SCARBOROUGH: We won’t even say, repeated what...
SCARBOROUGH: ... said about Lesley Stahl.
But, anyway, it is hard to go after...
SCARBOROUGH: ... a woman on stage in a debate situation.
And, also—and this sounds sort of shallow, too. But, you know, guys always have to wear the dark suits. One day, she showed up in a debate in this bright red Nancy Reagan type dress. And I’m like, oh, damn, I’m sunk. There is no way to compete against that.
When you talk about appearance, there are certain things women can do. I think Hillary...
MATTHEWS: She looked great.
SCARBOROUGH: ... is more like Margaret Thatcher, in that people that voted for Margaret Thatcher weren’t thinking, hey, I am voting for a woman. I’m voting for a tough leader.
MATTHEWS: But she’s a Tory.
SCARBOROUGH: I think the same thing here with Hillary Clinton.
MATTHEWS: Tory gets away with more than—more than moderate liberals.
SCARBOROUGH: I think Hillary Clinton, though, transcends gender. I think she’s about something much bigger than that, that, when people vote for her, they aren’t going to be thinking...
MATTHEWS: ... she transcends gender?
SCARBOROUGH: I think she does. You can ask people what they think about Hillary Clinton. They will give you six or seven words before they say woman. They will say liberal or Bill Clinton’s wife or...
MATTHEWS: You are not buying this, are you, Andrea?
MATTHEWS: Not in a million years. She is not going to get by without anybody noticing she is a female.
SCARBOROUGH: No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying she is not identified as a female candidate first.
FINEMAN: This is my...
SCARBOROUGH: She’s not. And there is actually polling out there that shows that. Why does that shock you?
MATTHEWS: No, I think that’s a point of view. I have never heard that before, because I think—I think it’s essential that she’s a woman.
SCARBOROUGH: I will send you the polls tomorrow.
MATTHEWS: Essential. It’s like, I think Colin Powell transcended ethnicity.
MATTHEWS: I think that would be a case, but—and maybe Barack Obama does.
But I think Hillary, in the end, I still think that there is that big—possibly that big green monster out there in the Atlantic Ocean called, I am not going to have a woman commander in chief. And I don’t know where that’s—that head is going to emerge.
MITCHELL: And she’s also trying to play to all those women out there, many women, who do like the fact that a woman is running...
MITCHELL: And they have all of these Web sites organizing women.
And Howard is right. She passed the commander in chief standard tonight. And it wasn’t a full pander, because I’m joining you.
FINEMAN: I was about to do my second pander.
MATTHEWS: What is that?
FINEMAN: That Andrea is right about the womanhood. She is—the thing is, she is a woman, but she’s showing that she can be plausible in that role, which is what was key.
This format benefited her, ironically. Where she is going to have a problem is where she is cross-examined on her stands on issues such as the war, such as health care and so on.
You have been doing it long-distance...
FINEMAN: ... for months, if not years.
MATTHEWS: That is not what you say when you are not on television, Howard.
MATTHEWS: I’m just kidding. We will be right back.
MATTHEWS: He’s just the same off camera.
We will be right back after this with the panel. Plus, we are going to hear from the Edwards campaign.
MATTHEWS: You are watching MSNBC’s coverage of the first-in-the-country Democratic debate, here from South Carolina State. They call it State.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Certainly, the mistakes I made around health care were deeply troubling to me and interfered with our ability to get our message out.
And, you know, believing the president when he said he would go to the United Nations and put inspectors into Iraq to determine whether they had WMD.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was wrong to vote for this war. Unfortunately, I will have to live with that forever. And the lesson I learned from it is to put more faith in my own judgment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OLBERMANN: We rejoin you from South Carolina State University. This is MSNBC’s coverage of the first-in-the-nation Democratic presidential candidates debate.
Along Chris Matthews, and Andrea Mitchell, and Joe Scarborough, and Howard Fineman, I am Keith Olbermann.
We just heard from John Edwards. It’s perhaps the first reference to the Edwards performance tonight in our coverage since the debate ended about an hour and 45 minutes ago.
So, let’s go to the spin room, where MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson is standing by with the Edwards deputy campaign manager, Jonathan Prince—Tucker.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON”: Thanks a lot, Keith.
Jonathan, I was really struck by a moment that, it seemed to me, where your candidate punted. He was asked by Brian Williams, how do hedge funds make America better? And it seemed a sort of perfect moment for the—really the first person in public life to even explain to the rest of us what hedge funds are or explain why they’re better. He’s an economic populist, John Edwards.
JONATHAN PRINCE, EDWARDS DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well...
CARLSON: Why did he take a pass on that question?
PRINCE: I don’t think he took a pass, Tucker.
I think that, first of all, he is not running for kind of economic analyst in chief.
I’m losing my IFP there a little bit. He’s not running for...
CARLSON: But he spends a lot of his time talking about economics.
PRINCE: Sure, he does. But I don’t think that he is there to talk about hedge funds in particular. It’s obviously something he did. And he got some terrific experience doing it.
PRINCE: Talking about kind of big, broad global economic issues.
But I think that what people want to hear about is what his plan for the future of the country is. I mean, he is certainly—and I keep losing my IFP, so, sorry about that—you know, he has certainly advanced a really just kind of substantive agenda on a host of economic issues, starting with ending poverty in 30 years.
Hedge funds, whatever their—their good points...
CARLSON: ... represent the transfer of billions of dollars to a very small group of people, very small group of people, concentrating the wealth in the hands of a few. That is the—as I understand it, the very core of the John Edwards for president campaign, is the idea that that is bad.
So, why wouldn’t he take the opportunity to say that?
PRINCE: Well, I think, first of all, you have heard him call for a host of, you know, measures.
For example, he has called for people to end the practice of deferred compensation. He—the hedge fund that he is affiliated with in particular is one that voluntarily took on a whole set of obligations, in terms of transparency and governance and disclosure by becoming public.
And it’s a fund that deals with a broad, broad range of global economic issues. And he spent a little—a year or so working there, giving them some broad economic advice.
But, you know, it frankly has—I think what people are going to looking to hear from him is really what his overall vision is for the country is. And I don’t think that hedge funds in particular are a big part of that. I think what—what people want to hear about from him is—what he has been talking about, which is universal health care...
PRINCE: ... which is ending poverty, which is...
I guess it seems consistent with the message I have heard from John Edwards. But, obviously, you disagree.
I was very surprised—many I shouldn’t have been—when the question was, how many of you have had a gun at home during your adult lives?
PRINCE: John Edwards, a Southerner, someone who talks in, of course, a Southern comment, who mentioned the lord tonight, who is very much immersed in Southern culture, has never, he said tonight, had a gun in his house.
Were you surprised?
PRINCE: I wasn’t surprised. He has had young children in his house mostly his entire life—his entire adult life—excuse me.
And he is certainly comfortable around guns. He has used gun as a kid, hunting and stuff like that. And he absolutely is a big believer in the Second Amendment, understands that guns are an important part of rural culture, the culture that he grew up in. But, no, I didn’t find that surprising.
CARLSON: Every candidate on the stage—and, again, this may be my projection—seemed so uncomfortable when the question of partial-birth abortion came up.
The vast majority of Americans are opposed to it. Every candidate on the stage, as far as I can tell, is in favor of it, wants it to be legal, anyway, is against the Supreme Court’s decision.
That is, almost by definition, an extremist position, in that it’s contrary towards the vast majority of beliefs.
PRINCE: First of all, I think that the—speaking for Senator Edwards...
PRINCE: ... I think that his problem with the Supreme Court decision is, first and foremost, that the law that was upheld doesn’t allow for any, not a single exception...
PRINCE: ... for a doctor who has made a judgment that his patient may need—the patient’s life may be in serious jeopardy or her health may be in serious jeopardy. The law allows no exception at all.
CARLSON: I understand. No, no.
PRINCE: I think regular folks have a big problem with that.
PRINCE: In fact, the law basically put the doctor in a position of having have to do his best for his patient or potentially go to jail.
CARLSON: No, no, I understand his problem with it.
I guess my point is, that law, in its current form, is supported by the overwhelming majority of the public. I’m not even arguing with it on a policy level. I’m just saying, his position is, by definition, completely out of synch with the majority of the country’s, by any...
PRINCE: I don’t have kind of—you may have lots of polling numbers at hand...
CARLSON: We actually do have polling numbers on....
PRINCE: ... got a big news organizations, and you get polling numbers.
CARLSON: But, moreover...
PRINCE: But I don’t agree with that.
I think that the—that the—if a large majority of the public knew that doctors were going to face jail sentences for devising a procedure that was going to save the life or prevent serious harm to a woman’s whose child, unfortunately was, going to be possibly stillborn or not viable, I think that they would be on the side of allowing doctors and mothers to make the very difficult decision on their own.
PRINCE: I don’t think people think the government belongs in the emergency room between doctors and patients .
CARLSON: Right. Well, that’s a clever talking point. But, in fact...
PRINCE: It’s not clever talking point. That’s what the law says.
CARLSON: On this subject, the polls are clear. And I am only asking if he is out of synch. That is my only point.
PRINCE: I don’t see it, though.
PRINCE: And, on top of it, as far as he is concerned, out of synch with polls is really not something he’s terribly concerned with.
CARLSON: I guess here’s my question.
PRINCE: But he’s concerned with what he feels is right.
CARLSON: To get up and defend a procedure that is so horrifying, it can’t even—we can’t even describe it on television, because it violates the breakfast rule, right, that is kind of getting on there on a limb a little bit. And I wonder if you don’t see that as a peril at all.
PRINCE: Again, I just don’t see that it is getting out on a limb to say...
CARLSON: OK. All right.
PRINCE: ... that government ought not to stand between doctors and their patients.
CARLSON: Horse race question. Here’s from this state.
CARLSON: He’s the only Southerner. You would expect him to be higher than third place.
PRINCE: This is one of those things they call softballs, because...
CARLSON: Yes. It’s a—I think it is a softball.
Joe Lieberman was ahead by, I don’t know, 15 points at this point in 2003. And we were at—I don’t know—somewhere, three, four, five in the polls.
CARLSON: Well, you won South Carolina last time.
PRINCE: As you know, without winning Iowa, without winning New Hampshire, without any intervening contest in Nevada, John Edwards won South Carolina by 15 points. So, I am very confident we will win South Carolina.
CARLSON: All right. Well, we have you on tape saying so.
PRINCE: I’m glad.
CARLSON: Jonathan Prince, thanks a lot.
PRINCE: Thanks a lot.
CARLSON: Keith, Chris.
OLBERMANN: We will take it here, Tucker. Thanks. Great.
And, when we return, more reaction from our panel.
You’re watching MSNBC’s coverage of the first-in-the-nation Democratic debate from South Carolina State University.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I’m proud of the fact that I put forward a plan in January that mirrors what Congress ultimately adopted.
And it says there’s no military solution to this. we have got to have a political solution, begin a phased withdrawal, and make certain that we have got benchmarks in place so that the Iraqi people can make a determination about how they want to move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Welcome back to South Carolina State University and MSNBC’s continuing coverage of the first-in-the-nation Democratic presidential candidates debate.
Alongside Chris Matthews and our panel, I’m Keith Olbermann.
And let’s turn to the “Atlanta Journal-Constitution” Cynthia Tucker, who joins us from Atlanta.
Cynthia, good evening.
CYNTHIA TUCKER, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, “THE ATLANTA-JOURNAL CONSTITUTION”: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: The Associated Press’ start on this story, its initial news report, suggested that Democratic hopefuls flashed their anti-war credentials. That was their lead on this.
Was that your assessment of what we saw tonight, in particular as it related to the two front-runners, Senators Clinton and Obama?
TUCKER: Well, Of course, the war took up a huge part of this conversation. But if anybody was flashing their anti-war credentials, of course, it was the people whose poll numbers barely show up. And that’s Gravel and Kucinich, the pacifists in the group.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and John Edwards all needed to be very clear that they disagree very strongly with the way President Bush is prosecuting the war in Iraq. At the same time, they needed to be very clear that they’re strong enough to protect the nation in a time of terrorism.
And, like most of panelists, I have to agree that Senator Clinton did the very best job at that, I thought. I also, like everyone else, thought Senator Obama stumbled in his first response on the question about if two cities were under a terrorist attack. But he will never make that mistake again.
The Republicans have already made it very clear, Rudy Giuliani especially, that they are going to attack the Democrats, as usual, as President Bush has done consistently, as too weak to defend the nation.
So, they had to sort of tread a thin line there. They had make it very clear that they disagree on Iraq, that they’re going to bring the troops home as soon as they have an opportunity to do so, but that they are strong enough to defend the nation in a time of terror.
OLBERMANN: Do the leaders, do you suppose, the front-runners in this Democratic campaign owe Mike Gravel a fruit basket or some sort of honorarium for making them look almost centrist in those two key issues about terrorism and about Iraq, that make their positions, no matter how different they might be from the current administration’s, seem so much more reasonable than, say, Mr. Gravel’s was?
TUCKER: Well, I think it is always useful to have someone like Kucinich and Gravel stand up there.
And, quite frankly, it was Kucinich who surprised me more than Gravel did. Gravel was certainly very, very feisty and added the needed sort of comic relief for the evening, or it would have so somber. I will be unhappy when he inevitably fades away.
But Kucinich kept—seemed to keep insisting that he could end war for all time, which, of course, is a hopelessly naive position. So, it certainly helped Edwards and Obama and Clinton seem very, very mainstream.
I would argue, however, that their positions are already pretty centrist. It’s the Republicans who try to paint them as being hopelessly weak-kneed and unable to defend the republic.
I also have to say, as others have already said, that Senator Clinton looked very presidential. I don’t think that she put aside forever the question of whether a woman can be commander in chief. I think that question will come up for her again and again. But, if she comports herself as well throughout the rest of this very long campaign as she did this evening, it—she—she is in a very good position to win this race.
And that’s something I did not think six months ago.
MATTHEWS: Cynthia, congratulations on winning the Pulitzer Prize last week.
TUCKER: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: What a great honor. And you certainly deserve it. As I said, if my name—if I ever won a Pulitzer Prize, I would change it to my middle name.
MATTHEWS: I don’t know how you don’t tell everybody just when you meet them, hi, I just won the Pulitzer Prize.
Anyway, congratulations, Cynthia.
TUCKER: Well, thank you Chris.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, Cynthia.
And coming up: MSNBC’s David Shuster will take a look at the truthfulness—or, if you prefer, truthiness—of some of the things we heard tonight in the first of our “Truth Squad” reports. The emphasis, as you heard there, is on the word truth.
You are watching MSNBC’s coverage of the first-in-the-nation Democratic debate from South Carolina State University.
OLBERMANN: And we rejoin you from Orangeburg, South Carolina, and the campus of South Carolina State University, where the Democrats met for their first presidential debate tonight.
We are joined now from Washington by two MSNBC political analyst, Pat Buchanan, who has been in the arena himself in presidential debates, and Bob Shrum, who has prepped presidential candidates again and again.
Gentlemen, good evening.
Bob, let me start with you.
It’s probably time to do this. Winners and losers, Bob Shrum?
BOB SHRUM, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the way you know that Hillary Clinton was a clear winner—and I don’t want to put Pat in an uncomfortable position—is, her press release post-debate features him comparing her to Ronald Reagan.
She came across as anti-war on Iraq. She came across as presidential. She was honest about her failure on health care before and said she was committed to universal health care, did it persuasively. Her answer on terrorism was superb. And she wound up with pretty powerful populist appeal.
I thought—you know, they stopped attacking Keith. And they—they didn’t attack Obama either in the debate or in the spin room afterwards. That has hurt them in the past. I think tonight’s debate helped her considerably.
OLBERMANN: Well, Pat?
PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I am going to have to answer to a lot of conservatives for that comparison with Reagan.
But I thought she was crisp.
BUCHANAN: I thought she was crisp. I thought she was sharp. I thought she was presidential.
And, when she said retaliate, it was very effective. She used the word prudent, I believe, as well, which I thought was important. And the contrast with Obama, who was gauzy and abstract, and we’re going to look for some first-providers, I mean, he was almost in the Dukakis league with, you know, what was going to happen if something happened to your wife?
And, so, I think Hillary Clinton came in here the front-runner. She leaves a stronger front-runner. I thought Biden did well and Richardson did well and Kucinich.
But I will say this. Obama and Edwards did not do well. And Obama, he cannot continue, if all he is going to give are what looks like canned answer, which don’t have—they don’t have much drama to them; they don’t have much concrete to them.
I think, when Tucker said he is too abstract, I think he is exactly right. I think Obama has got to sharpen that message down and be much more flexible and spontaneous. Every time he was asked a question, it seems like he went into parts of his speech.
SHRUM: Yes, time limits.
SHRUM: Time limits were Joe Biden’s friend. They were Barack Obama’s enemy. He took very long passages winding up at the beginning of his answers. And he never really got to the things that might move people or touch people.
He wanted to talk about universal health care, but he took a long time to get into it. I think he has run an incredible campaign so far, come very, very far, raised a lot of money. But I think, after tonight, he is going to have to do something to regain momentum.
OLBERMANN: Bob, the interview coach at a major all-sports network points out that when—when people are well-versed in being interviewed and they want to give a negative answer to a tough question, the first words out of their mouths are supposed to be, “No, not at all.”
OLBERMANN: On the question of whether or not, because he was associated with some dicey donors in Illinois, whether or not that reflected something of Senator Obama actually being linked to the old politics that he so roundly criticized, he began his answer with, “No, not at all.”
OLBERMANN: Is there—are we watching the education of presidential candidates here, that perhaps Hillary Clinton has moved on to the graduate stage of how to respond, how to get your message across and still look offhanded, but Senator Obama perhaps has not gotten that far?
SHRUM: I think that is true. I think that—that he is, in some ways, is a work in progress. As I said before the debate, he has been a shooting star. The question is, can he stay up there?
After the debate, I think he is going to have to do some things to stay up there.
But Hillary Clinton, the other thing that ought to be said is, she came across as very natural, very much at ease, very much more like the person who announced for president a few months ago than the person we saw in between and before this debate.
BUCHANAN: You know, let me say, Keith, that Hillary Clinton’s performance tonight tells me that—I know the Republicans say, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we got her in the race?
It tells me that, if she’s standing beside Rudy Giuliani or John McCain or Mitt Romney, I don’t think it’s automatic that they’re going to win the debate. She put on what I think was—it was an excellent performance. It was superior to all the other candidates there tonight.
And, when you come in as front-runner and do that—and she was very relaxed in it, and she didn’t seem tense at all. So, I mean, it’s hard not to give her an A or an A-plus. And, more important, her main competitors did not do well.
Of course, Edwards couldn’t do well when he gets a question about a hedge fund and his haircut, I think both of them in one question.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, gentlemen, Bob especially, because you know what you’re talking about in this particular regard. The Democratic Party is overwhelmingly anti-Iraq-war. It wants us out of that country. Most Republicans in Iowa, in the early polling, now say that they want to get us out, even though the Republicans, it’s not a partisan issue, necessarily.
Do you feel that Hillary Clinton came across as a stark alternative to Bush tonight, or did she simply seem a cosmetically acceptable centrist? In other words, did she give the Democrats a battle cry tonight, put me in there, I’m going to change things dramatically? Bob, do you think she met that goal? Or was that her goal?
SHRUM: Yes, I do. I do. And I wasn’t sure she could.
And one of the reasons she met it was, she basically said, look, if I’m president, we’re going to end that war. And, while she wouldn’t say her vote was a mistake, she said the war was a mistake.
Now, some of the other people on the stage tried to criticize her without using her name, saying, we can’t keep a residual force in Iraq. I would say, 98 percent of the viewers had no idea they were talking about her. So, I think that she did a very effective job tonight of sounding like she was against the war and of sounding as if she was committed to end it. And I think she probably is.
BUCHANAN: And she did not—with due respect, she didn’t sound like someone who said, this is so horrible, we have just got to get out right now. She sounded very—I think very responsible all the way through it, as I said, the term presidential.
And let me say another term. She sounded centrist. She sounded like someone that a lot of independents and moderate folks and moderate conservatives—in other words, she was not—she was not the Hillary Clinton of yesteryear at all.
SHRUM: I’m glad that Pat now thinks...
MATTHEWS: Are you ready to go with her, Pat? Pat, are you ready now, tonight, to go with Hillary Clinton?
BUCHANAN: No, I’m with Gravel, and I’m not going to leave him.
SHRUM: He’s recommending Gravel for the Democratic nomination.
OLBERMANN: Oh, on that note, Bob Shrum, Pat Buchanan, great thanks.
OLBERMANN: When we return, the “Truth Squad” will check the veracity of some of the things the candidates said during tonight’s debate, MSNBC’s David Shuster at the truth desk.
You’re watching MSNBC’s coverage of the first-in-the-nation Democratic debate from South Carolina State University.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Overestimating the competence of this administration and underestimating the arrogance. I really thought, working with the secretary of state and with other Republicans, I could impact on George Bush’s thinking. And that was absolutely not within my capacity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: If, in war, truth is the first casualty, in political debate, it multiplies.
MSNBC’s David Shuster has been looking at the truthfulness, the factualness, of some of the statements made by the candidates here tonight, and joins us now with a “Truth Squad” report.
David, good evening.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening to you.
There was a lot of talk tonight in the debate, of course, about Hillary Clinton’s evolving position on Iraq. And one of the first misleading statements we’re going to show you came when Hillary Clinton was talking about the president’s refusal to sign the Democratic funding measure for Iraq that would include a timetable for withdrawal.
Watch what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: He is stubbornly refusing to listen to the will of the American people. He threatens to veto the legislation we have passed, which has been something that all of us have been advocating for a number of years now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The operative word is “all of us.”
All of us? Actually, just a year ago, Mrs. Clinton was booed at an event for refusing to embrace the idea that there should be a timetable. At the time, Mrs. Clinton was talking about starting to remove troops, but was—it was less than a year ago when Hillary Rodham Clinton actually called for a timetable.
So, for her to say that she was part of the crowd that’s been advocating this for several years, that was misleading.
On John Edwards, he was asked about energy policy and was read an e-mail by Brian Williams from a woman who wanted to know why gasoline prices are spiking.
Here’s his response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARDS: ... is extraordinary demand in America. And we use 22 million barrels of oil a day. Twelve million of those barrels are imported. It’s the reason we have to make a bold transformation from what we are doing now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Now, that’s a bit of a surprising answer, given that Edwards has dealt with energy policy before.
It’s also surprising because most people who know about this issue know that reason that gas prices are actually spiking right now is because of refinery capacity. There have been no refineries built in the last 20 years. When a refinery is taken offline, it hurts the ability to get the oil processed and to consumers.
Demand is part of it, as John Edwards was suggesting, but the key problem right now is refining capacity. And Edwards might get hammered by energy analysts because of that.
As for Barack Obama, he was asked a question about what should happen if—in case there were an attack on two U.S. cities. And Barack Obama started talking about Hurricane Katrina, and then he added this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We have to review how we operate in the event of not only a natural disaster, but also a terrorist attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Now, the idea that we have to review something leaves the impression that there has not been a review.
Actually, the Senate itself has been conducting lengthy reviews—so has the House—about what should happen as far as disaster preparedness. There has been fair criticism that the changes that are being advocated are not enough.
But to leave the impression that there has not been any review, well, that is actually misleading.
At another point in the debate tonight, Barack Obama also said—quote—“We have got good plans and ideas on health care.”
Well, Barack Obama may have some ideas and may have some plans, but his campaign has not announced any plans on health care. And, for him to suggest otherwise, that is also misleading.
One of the biggest verbal gaffes tonight came from Bill Richardson, a diplomat who has got a lot of foreign policy experience. But, when he was asked what happens when communist leader Fidel Castro dies, here’s how he responded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we need to do is find ways to deal with a post-democratic Cuba. It’s going to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Post-democratic Cuba? Bill Richardson obviously meant post-Castro Cuba or post-communist Cuba.
And this is, of course, another reminder, Keith, that, in 90 minutes of debate, even somebody as experienced as Bill Richardson can have a verbal tick that will turn a verbal gaffe—Keith.
OLBERMANN: Indeed. And the Poles were not dominated by the Soviet Union, as we remember.
OLBERMANN: David Shuster in Washington, great thanks.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
Let’s turn to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and, of course, Howard Fineman of “Newsweek,” and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who, to that last point, is, of course, a former congressman from Florida.
It was a gaffe. Obviously, it was a misspeaking.
However, I imagine, in Florida, that might play a little differently than it would in the rest of the country.
SCARBOROUGH: I think there’s probably some riots right now in Miami.
SCARBOROUGH: Richardson is going to have to deal with that, though. So, no, I don’t think that will help him very much.
I do want to go back, talking about Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama tonight, because we have been talking about that.
Chris, you’re smiling. Don’t worry. I’m not going to talk about her pearls. That’s your domain.
But we forget how much Hillary Clinton has been through. You know, when we opened up the spin room, who came in there? Mandy Grunwald. She’s been around since ‘92, following Bill Clinton, through the Clinton wars of the 1990s. Hillary Clinton has been through this stuff for so long. What, 1978, she was the first lady in Arkansas.
Speaking of Cuba, one of her first crises, my God, what is that, 30 years ago, is when Cuban refugees went up to Arkansas and, remember, started burning those camps? I mean, this woman has been through so much, so many ups and downs, that this debate tonight is really nothing for her.
She has been through so much. And you have got Barack Obama, who’s—two years ago, was in Springfield. Tonight, he answered a question on ethics by talking about a bill he introduced in the Illinois state legislature.
And, so, if people are saying that he was a little flat tonight, and Hillary Clinton hit it out of the park, Keith, it’s not that she is in, like, what did you say, postgrad school for...
SCARBOROUGH: No, she’s not only written the book on politics, like Petraeus, but she’s the professor. And we’re going to see that throughout the whole campaign. She’s not going to make mistakes.
MITCHELL: Well, the remarkable thing about the polling this week is that she was only five points ahead of Barack Obama, that he had cut her lead in half, and that so many Democrats who were questioned found him a credible choice in a fall campaign against the Republicans.
The fact that, so quickly after his debut, really, on the national stage, national political stage, he was being viewed credibly by so being Democrats in that poll is astounding.
So, the fact that he didn’t have the confidence in this format tonight I don’t think is all that surprising. There are going to be more debates to come. It’s a long campaign. But I think you guys are right, that Hillary Clinton was the clear star in this. And experience counts.
FINEMAN: You know, I agree with Andrea on this. We have to turn this around a little bit.
Hillary is a professional. Edwards has—Obama has been an amateur. If you turn the lens around a little bit, he didn’t get blown off the stage here. He made some mistakes. It’s better to make a semi-Dukakis mistake in April of the year before the general than if you happen to be the nominee in the last three weeks of the campaign, which is what Dukakis did years ago. That’s one thing.
The second thing is, I want to correct myself on Edwards a little bit. I compared him with—to Obama, in terms of his answer on the two-cities question. Edwards did say that we have to respond strongly and swiftly. But, again, it was vague.
Hillary had the sense and the ear to use the word retaliate, to use a military word, which is what was required in that—in that situation. I mean, she really knows how to do it. She really knows how to do it. She really does.
MATTHEWS: So, what are we giving her, credit for saying the right word, or showing that the acuity of how tricky it is to deal with a terrorist organization?
MATTHEWS: If you can retaliate so easily, so clearly, then we wouldn’t have the problem we have today.
MATTHEWS: The problem of terrorism is identifying the enemy, after the fact, even. And it’s not so clear that the word retaliate is useful, until you know who your target is.
If you’re just going to go blow up another country, we did that. It’s called Iraq.
MITCHELL: In a way, Rudy Giuliani did her a favor, because, by taking on the Democrats in the arguably outrageous way, with full credit to my colleague here Mr. Olbermann, by being so beyond the pale, the way he attacked the Democrats on the issue of terror in New Hampshire the other day, he teed that up for her. She was absolutely ready for that question.
MITCHELL: She was prepared to prove herself on that.
FINEMAN: That’s the right question to ask Hillary: What did you mean by retaliate?
FINEMAN: I thought David Shuster did something very important here on Hillary. He caught her excellent ability to slide a couple of years there, and say—you know, encompass the notion that she had been calling for timelines for several years, when she hadn’t done it.
OLBERMANN: Howard, time flies away from—and time—time is sliding away from us right now.
We’re going to give you our great thanks, Howard Fineman, Joe Scarborough, Andrea Mitchell.
Chris Matthews and I will continue from South Carolina State University and the first Democratic debate.
You’re watching MSNBC.
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: Not only has the crowd here at South Carolina University State University spoken, not only have the candidates spoken...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The American people have spoken. The Congress has voted as of today to end this war. And now we can only hope that the president will listen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The first debate for the Democratic presidential nomination taking place tonight only hours after four of the candidates voted for the Senate version of the plan to fund and then end the war in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are one signature away or sixteen votes away from ending this war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Eight candidates united against a war but engaged in a fight against each other.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Clinton and anyone else who voted for this war has to search themselves and decide whether they believe they voted the right way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The searching and deciding now underway at this hour as to who came out ahead in tonight’s debate here on this campus of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.
Along side Chris Matthews, I’m Keith Olbermann. Our panel, once again, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC, “Scarborough Country,” of course, and Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post.”
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: I want to offer a radical departure from our—the kumbaya (ph) of the last hour too around here. Did any of the candidates display—Eugene, you start—a profile in courage? Did anyone stand up to the interest groups that makeup the Democrat Party on the Middle East, on abortion rights, on guns? Did anybody really say something tonight that might have incurred any opposition within the unusual Democratic suspects?
EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST”: No. Arguably, Gravel. As a matter of fact, there were opportunities for them to do that. The whole hedge fund business, which I’m not sure...
MATTHEWS: Well, that would be a contributors group.
MATTHEWS: But they could have said something about is this a good way to move money around in this country? Are we using capital to create jobs or are we using capital to manipulate, to move things around? And not to do it again.
ROBINSON: Not only that, but they could have gotten into income distribution, inequality, that whole...
MATTHEWS: Not one mention of that.
ROBINSON: That whole set of—not one mention of that. Not much about race.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
ROBINSON: In this setting. The after event was held in a gymnasium that’s named after the three students who were killed in the Orangeburg Massacre in 1968. There’s a real history in this city. That someone could have taken the occasion to mention and to comment on and to...
MATTHEWS: Why wouldn’t they?
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”: I don’t understand why they would. Were I a Democratic candidate with this setting—this is a unique historic setting for a debate. Most presidential debates are not held in communities that look like this. They’re not held in these types of colleges. It’s historic.
I am saying tactically, were I were a Democratic candidate, I had this history around me, following the Don Imus controversy, following another debate on race over the past several weeks, where people are talking about race—I do find it stunning that nobody seized upon that tonight.
ROBINSON: I thought that was interesting. And really, the one time race did get touched on, the candidate blew it. When Richardson was asked, “How come you didn’t call on for Gonzales to resign?” And he said he was Hispanic. And Richardson’s answer was lame for a smart politician. He said, “Well, I wanted to wait get his explanation of why he did all these horrible, unconstitutional things, unforgivable things.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You can call it lame. But maybe it was just disingenuously honest.
ROBINSON: No, but he...
MITCHELL: “He was my buddy and he was Hispanic.” I mean, there was something a little bit. . .
ROBINSON: Yes, but I think he should have explained why the first so prominent Latino candidate for the presidency of the United States...
MITCHELL: Obviously, in the right.
ROBINSON: ... might be ambivalent or might be rooting for the first Latino attorney general not to fail, even if they differ on policy.
MITCHELL: But you’re actually right. It is pretty stunning that none of them took the opportunity. I mean, we all know how you can turn an answer into whatever you want it to be. Just to say something about the venue...
MATTHEWS: Walter Mondale would have been at home in this group tonight. The first Bill Clinton, the one in ‘92, that ran against Paul Simons, would have been at home with this group tonight.
The usual Democratic positions are all advancing and a serious critique of what might be wrong with this country today.
SCARBOROUGH: Let me say, though, on one issue here.
MATTHEWS: Did you hear any critique?
SCARBOROUGH: I did. I didn’t hear a critique. I didn’t hear profiles encouraged going against Democrats’ interests. However...
MATTHEWS: Well, I have it from the president that the only difference is to dial back the war a bit.
SCARBOROUGH: But let me say, though, I did start to notice a slight subtle change of tone on the issue of abortion. Democrats have been wholly owned by the pro-choice special interest groups for some time. Democrats have been eviscerated in Red State America on this issue and...
MATTHEWS: But all supported the decision of the court.
SCARBOROUGH: But at the same time, though, again, I sensed some movement. I think there are a lot of people, like Donna Brazil. I remember after the 2004 election, she wrote an op-ed piece in the “New York Times” that said, “I went home. And I’m sick and tired of having to explain to my relatives in Louisiana why I belong to the party that supports abortion.”
Tonight, again, I think there’s some subtlety. There was movement. But I think that speaks as to why the Democratic Party’s going to do so well.
I think these candidates are really centrist. And I think Buchanan talked about it. They are centrist candidates. They are a united party.
Keith, you talked about it at the top about how this was a united Democratic Party on several issues.
The Republican is not united at all.
MATTHEWS: But don’t you expect, when you read the papers this Sunday, Joe and everybody. And you’ll read Frank Rich in the “New York Times.” You will read some commentary in the “New Yorker” and elsewhere, perhaps the “New Prospect,” whatever, and the “New Republic.”
There’s going to be a critique on these performances tonight because they did not offer change. The talked the word. But did they say anything about economic change, of social change of any kind of a different kind of America?
MITCHELL: This is a test of how the war has dominated all public policy discussion. Because instead of having a vigorous argument about economic populism or wealth distribution, there was so much focus on the war because that is what Americans care about in every poll.
SCARBOROUGH: And also the tax cuts. I mean that’s a losing issue for the Democratic Party.
MATTHEWS: One guy came in for tax breaks. That was Edwards saying, “Above $200,000, we’ll remove the tax cut.”
SCARBOROUGH: You’re exactly right. Walter Mondale would have been very at ease here. He said that in 1984 and he carried one state. I suggest this...
MATTHEWS: Well, he suggested raising taxes on everybody.
SCARBOROUGH: He’s not going to raise taxes. But I think that may be a reason why the Democratic Party can’t talk about these issues because...
MATTHEWS: They are playing it safe because they can win like this? Is that what you’re saying?
MATTHEWS: Exactly. They can win in the Senate.
MITCHELL: Nobody talked about Social Security, Medicare, about cutting back entitlements, which is the big elephant in the room.
MITCHELL: For saving Social Security. Nobody talked about that.
SCARBOROUGH: Or the question of challenges. The demographic challenges that we’re going to be facing in the next five years, starting in the next five years, nobody talked about it, no once tonight.
MITCHELL: You had a debate and nobody’s talking about...
MATTHEWS: I wish somebody would speak viscerally again. You grew up down here. You know, somebody had to tell Bobby Kennedy what it was like to be driving around the south as a black man, not being able to take his wife to a gas station to go to the bathroom.
MATTHEWS: You have to be taught the visceral realities of life. You can’t just read them like Adelaide Stephenson, blah, blah, blah. You’ve got to read it.
I wonder if it would have been nice tonight if somebody talked about what it meant to make 40 a year and not be able get health insurance with it, and to be basically freelance. In our business, we know so many people who...
MITCHELL: John Edwards.
ROBINSON: John Edwards—John Edwards...
MITCHELL: This role of counsel. What it’s like not being able to take your kid to a regular family doctor or yourself.
ROBINSON: But that’s exactly what—Edwards did do that. He did do that.
OLBERMANN: having to leave the restaurant for know paying the bill.
MATTHEWS: I don’t know...
ROBINSON: But he had to back into it. He had to back into it because the intro was the point of the $400 haircut, so...
MATTHEW: That was the strangest—what do we call—a segue?
ROBINSON: Yes. It was. It was.
MATTHEW: He got a haircut...
ROBINSON: But that’s not where I came from, he said. And then they got into it.
SCARBOROUGH: But he had to do that. And he is the guy that has been talking about there are two Americans. Anybody that’s sat in the emergency room at 11:00 at night knows there are two Americans.
MATTHEWS: You’ve been there.
SCARBOROUGH: John Edwards talked about it. But he could not lead with that tonight because of the haircut. Because of the hedge funds. But he did back into it.
ROBINSON: He did. But imagine what Bill Clinton would have done with this crowd, this setting?
SCAR BOUGH: Uh, my, God.
ROBINSON: He would have given some kind of tour de force.
MITCHELL: He would have come out from behind the podium and walked across the stage.
ROBINSON: And gave...
MATTHEWS: Did you watch when Edwards said, “Mike Gravel, you need medical attention. Let me help you with that. Here’s a...
OLBERMANN: Here’s a Medicaid card, Michael.
Did they whip when the subject of the Confederate flag in this state was raised? That specific question was raised about what we are doing here, to suddenly paraphrase Admiral Stockdale.
You know, that is a big issue in South Carolina, as you know. And Obama got a big reaction from the local crowd with what seemed, if you watch television, to be almost an offhand remark. The Confederate flag belongs in a museum. That really resonated here. And he and others could have done more with that.
SCARBOROUGH: That may make the headline in the paper tomorrow.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but the problem with...
OLBERMANN: Let’s listen—Joe, before we do it, let’s listen to exactly to that question and answer about the Confederate flag issue in South Carolina and Senator Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I think that the Confederate flag should be put in a museum. That is where it belongs. But we’ve got an enormous debate that’s taking place in this country right now. I mentioned black infant mortality rates going up. We have poverty in the inner cities and rural communities all across the country. And we have got to engage the American people and the people of South Carolina in that debate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So, Joe, we interrupted you to play that. Continue with your point.
SCARBOROUGH: That would have been the perfect time, as you suggested, to expand on this issue of race, to expand on the issue of two Americas, not just a black and white American, but a rich and poor America.
But it seems to me the mistakes that Democratic candidates make every 40 years are the mistakes that Al Gore made in 2000 when he didn’t want to talk about guns. And he didn’t want to talk about race because he might lose West Virginia and Tennessee. So what did he do? He drove down his vase (ph), and he ended up losing West Virginia and Tennessee anyways.
MITCHELL: And Arkansas.
SCARBOROUGH: And Arkansas.
MATTHEWS: He talked about the lock box.
SCARBOROUGH: exactly, the lock box. And then, John Kerry—remember? John Kerry carrying the shotgun? “I’m a hunter too.” I mean, my God, the Democratic Party is the party that has been talking about race in two Americas for 40, 50 years.
MATTHEWS: So what’s the smart play here, to go with your dramatic beliefs or to go with the safe middle?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, the smart play is to speak your heart on issues like race, on the fact there are two Americas. But you can do it. We are in a new century. You don’t have to speak like somebody may have spoken n the campaign trail in 1968 or 1972. But you can say, “We’ve come a long way. Look what happened here in 1968. The buildings are named after three people that were killed in massacres that occurred then.”
Now, if a top popular talk show host says three or four words that are off-handed, Americans won’t stand for that. We’ve come a long way. We still have a long to go.
Go to an emergency room. Go to a school two or three blocks from here. Look at the homes as you drive in here. We still have a long way to go. We’ve come a long way. We still have a long way to go. We can do better. That is the sort of message they should have delivered.
OLBERMANN: But does the symbolism of who we were hearing from tonight, and the positions they hold in this race, speak to that somewhat silently?
SCARBOROUGH: They do.
OLBERMANN: an African-American, a woman, a Hispanic-American among at least the top six in that group and certainly the two leaders. Isn’t that something in that too?
MATTHEWS: No, the problem with it is, you get the sense that they’re defending the hedge funds. You get the sense that they’re defending their contributor base. But in the end, that is what it is. They’d rather be careful about saying something against the people that they have to get the money from than offer an egalitarian entry here, some new way of looking at things.
You know, what we ought to do is have regulation of the hedge funds. We don’t have taxation of them. Instead, they just are hold harmless. “I don’t want to tough this thing because somebody’s going to be offended by it.”
SCARBOROUGH: But think about this, Chris.
MATTHEWS: They put them in the same category as trial lawyers, don’t touch the money base.
SCARBOROUGH: Has anybody tonight asked whether an African-American can be elected president or not? I have not heard it.
I mean, I sat through a fierce debate with top Democrats a couple of months ago in L.A., and they at there. And the debate was can a woman be elected president. Nobody is even asking the question can an African-American be elected president. It’s presumed that they can.
So, Keith, yes, I think the fact that Barack Obama is standing on stage tonight and many of us believe he can win the Democratic nomination speaks volumes about how far we’ve come since 1968.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Joe.
I think we’re going to know more about that as we get closer to the possibility that he wins the nomination. Then the gut check and all that other stuff. But I think we’re closer to the gut check with Hillary, by saying, “Yes, maybe.”
MATTHEWS: Maybe. Anyway, Andrea Mitchell, thank you.
Joe Scarborough, thank you.
Eugene Robinson, are all staying with us. And when we return, Bob Shrum and Pat Buchanan
A reminder, one week from tonight, next Thursday, May 3, I’ll moderate—and I got a good lesson tonight from Brian—the Republican’s first debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Semi Valley, California, the second of two big debates, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE GRAVELE (ph), (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I’m beginning to feel like a potted plant standing over here. But let me point out to you, in one sentence, I won’t hold their youth and inexperience against them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: That’s Mike Gravel (ph). He said he was hiding under a rock for 35 years.
Anyway, welcome back to Orangeburg, South Carolina and the campus at South Carolina State University where the Democrats met tonight for the first presidential debate.
We’re joined now from Washington by two MSNBC political analysts, Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum. As an exercise, gentlemen, and as a preview of next week, I want to ask you both to imagine how the Republican candidates would have tonight responded to the same sets of questions?
First of all, on the Confederate flag here in Columbia, South Carolina, Pat Buchanan, imagine, if you will, or can you command their own answers so far to the question? Would they support removing the flag? And in the words of Barack Obama, putting it in a museum?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No. We had that question when I debated in South Carolina myself, Chris. And I think what the Republicans will do, will answer is, look, first this is a decision for South Carolina. Secondly, an awful lot of people believe that this is really a matter of history, and heritage.
Let me tell you why that is the politically right answer. If you travel through South Carolina, all through those back roads, you can see little, tiny shacks there where those folks have the American flag out front and the old battle flag out front.
To them, it’s about their grandfathers and it’s about their heroism and bravery and General Lee and all that. And so I think Republicans would do wise to handle it that way.
I know McCain’s going to say it’s an outrage, and it ought to be taken down, but he’s going to hurt himself when it does it.
MATTHEWS: Bob Shrum, the issue of the flag, does it define the two parties?
BOB SHRUM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The Confederate flag, I think McCain, who I still believe is the most likely Republican nominee, will say take it down. I think Pat is absolutely right about that.
I assume that the rest of the Republican field will pander on this.
The problem that I have, and I think a lot of people have with the Confederate flag flying, is it seems to validate a war that was fought on half of human slavery. And the legacy of which was over a century of segregation.
So I think you ought to stand up. You were talking, in the last segment, about whether people ought to stand up for something they believe. I actually don’t really believe, for example, that Rudy Giuliani thinks that we ought to fly the Confederate flag in front of public buildings anywhere in the United States.
BUCHANAN: Well, let me respond, Chris, to the—sure.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let’s take the issue of the partial birth—let me take the partial birth—let me take the partial birth—I want to get to these points.
MATTHEWS: The partial birth abortion decision last week, on the Republican side, Pat, will there be a division? Will everyone say that was a good decision, just like the Democrats said it was a bad one? Will it be a partisan divide?
BUCHANAN: This is an issue on which the Democratic Party will be hurt in the fall. Yes, you are right, Chris. All of those Republicans, who’s their number one, if you had to name one justice. I bet all of them would name—most all of them would name Scalia or it would Roberts or Alito or Clarence Thomas.
And on partial birth abortion, they will say this is a grizzly, awful procedure. It was outlawed by a vote of Congress, signed by the president and the Supreme Court upheld it. And if we elect a Democrat, we will have partial birth abortion returned. And we don’t want that.
And this is one area where I think the Democrats have moved themselves into a position that is about—maybe a 10 or 15 percent position, because 70 percent of the country—or about 65 percent, is either for outlawing abortion or would like to see restrictions on it.
I think the Republicans are on solid ground and they will all take that position—Bob?
SHRUM: Well, it depends on which polls you read. I agree with Pat. The Republicans are all going to go down the line on this.
But if you read polls in a certain way, you make the argument Pat did. The fact is—and we saw it in 1989, in the 1992. If the Supreme Court ever significantly rolls back Roe v. Wade, Republicans are going to pay a huge price in the next election.
The Democrats have, in a way, the worst of both worlds tonight, because, until Chris Dodd finally spoke, no one said basically we are against third-term abortions, except when the physical health of the mother is seriously in danger.
I think you could get the country to agree with that, but you have to say it and argue it first.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about the third point that was sort of unanimity—everybody wanted to act tough. Of course, if we are hit twice, our two cities would that fall because of terrorism. What would the Republican response have been to that same question put by Brian Williams?
BUCHANAN: Yes. See, what Williams specified that we had been hit by al Qaeda. So obviously, you’re hit by al Qaeda, you find out where they are, and you go after them, and hammer them.
I think that the Republicans—the Republicans all would have taken a very tough line and responded like that.
I mean, the problem with Barack Obama’s response is that, you know, he was talking about—he was not talking like a president of the United States and a commander in chief. He was talking, you know, like a mayor, or something, you know, of a small town, who would get the first providers there, and so that—then Edwards doing the same. I think they were hurt. And you could tell that because all of them came back after Hillary said it, and said I’d like to get into this and said, “We really ought to retaliate.”
SHRUM: Yes, I think the Republicans would take a tough approach. I think all Democrats would take a tough approach.
The War on Terror ought to be something that unites us through the struggle against terror, whatever you want to call it. I don’t think the vocabulary is the critical question here.
If we are attacked, Hillary Clinton said, by al Qaeda, we would not only attack al Qaeda back, if she were president, we would attack any nation that helped them. I think most Americans would agree on that.
BUCHANAN: You know, let me—Chris, that gets into a point. Barack Obama asked about our three key allies said, “Well, there’s the E.U. and there’s Asia and Japan. He did not even mention Israel until Brian Williams brought it up.
When Hillary said we would go after the country behind them. That, quite frankly, is a signal to the Jewish community to whom she spoke, that I’ve got Iran in my gun sites. I know who they are and what they are up to. That was an enormously powerful answer from a variety of standpoints by Hillary Clinton.
SHRUM: On the merits, it was right, by the way.
MATTHEWS: Of course, there is a problem with attacking any country, unless you have the evidence that they had something to do with the attack. The fact that there may have been a meeting in Prague two or three years ago has not stood the test.
BUCHANAN: Well, exactly. I mean, you are right there. And I don’t think she indicated that we would go in indiscriminately attacking someone that we did not know was behind it.
SHRUM: In fact, she used the word prudent and was careful on how she framed the response. It was genuinely presidential.
MATTHEWS: What is the difference the, gentlemen, since you raised it Pat, between the Democratic Party position at the top—Hillary—and the Republican position—George Bush, the president, on how we deal with the threat from Iran? How’s there a difference between these two parties’ positions? I can’t see it based upon what you’ve said.
BUCHANAN: Well, let me tell you. And this is why Gravel was making a valid point. Hillary Rodham Clinton has used this formulaic response of all options are on the table. That, of course, means the war option is on the table for attacking Iran.
Well, it is not on the table because the Congress of the United States has not authorized war. But they keep using it because it’s very, very important, frankly, especially the Democratic Party, where 88 percent of the Jewish community voted Democratic, and Israel is deeply concerned about Iran. And they take this tough line. And it’s as tough as the president. And they have given the president of the United States a blank check to do what he wants to Iran.
SHRUM: I don’t agree with that, either in terms of the motivation Pat cites, which is to cater to the Jewish community. I am strongly pro-Israel. I don’t think that’s the reason we should take that position.
Secondly, and of the Democrats, serious Democrats on that stage tonight have called for negotiations with Iran, for contacts with Iran, for discussions with Syria, for implementing the recommendations of the Baker Commission. That’s clearly very different from what George Bush is doing.
MATTHEWS: But there is still the same bottom line. They all say we will try negotiations, but they are also, it seems to me, implying that if those fail, they will bomb.
BUCHANAN: That’s right. When you say all...
MATTHEWS: Isn’t that what they are implying?
SHRUM: Look, I think you don’t go into a—and Pat used to argue this during the Cold War. He was right then about this. I don’t think you go into negotiations with anybody, having taken the option of force off the table in the first place.
I think Republicans would love Democrats to say under no circumstances ever with Congress’s permission or without it, would we even think of attacking Iran. The circumstance may come when we have to do it.
BUCHANAN: Yes, but Chris, in the Congress, in the House. . .
MATTHEWS: We don’t necessarily go into a grocery store to buy some bread with a gun in your hand either. I mean, it isn’t—the assumption that you’re going to use force is not always there.
MATTHEWS: I mean, you have to decide to use it.
SHRUM: You should not take the missiles to the negotiating table with you.
MATTHEWS: This has got—everything’s on the table is becoming loose talk these days.
I’m sorry. Yes, Bob?
BUCHANAN: Well, you know, Nancy Pelosi took out of a piece of legislation on the Hill a resolution which said the president has no authority to attack Iran unless he comes to the Congress to get that authority. She took it out. The president is sitting there with a blank check right now to do what he wants to Iran, if they’re recalcitrant on their nuclear program.
SHRUM: I am not in favor of that.
MATTHEWS: I guess Kucinich isn’t the only one with a copy of the Constitution in his pocket.
Anyway, thank you, Bob Shrum.
Thank you, Pat Buchanan.
We will be right back from Orangeburg, South Carolina. You are watch watching MSNBC’s coverage of the first in the country Democratic debate from South Carolina State University.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to South Carolina State University with the Democratic presidential candidate debates. Was held here tonight. We are talking about who won. Lots of talk about Hillary Clinton.
We’re here with the panel. And we begin with Joe Scarborough.
Joe, you are leaving. Will you want to leave one last bouquet from all of us for Hillary Rodham Clinton? You know, we no longer have to say the wife of the former president because she is now so presidential in her own right. We can leave it at that.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”: She did well, tonight. I will give a bigger bouquet, as if I were Bill Clinton taking a bouquet and laying it at Yeltsin’s grave site.
Let’s talk about the Democratic Party in general. This is a party that likes—unlike the Republicans, this is a party likes the presidential field. They like Hillary Clinton. They like Barack Obama.
MATTHEWS: Yes, the voters do.
SCARBOROUGH: The democratic voters are happy. After tonight, you can see why. This is a field, for the most part, that’s you united. You go to the Republicans side, a lot of divisions on the Republican side. A lot of Republicans, about 50 percent...
MATTHEWS: What is missing on the Republican—the Democrats have all these credations (ph) of liberal to conservative to moderate. I mean, not conservative, but they’ve got a lot of moderates and...
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Seventy-three percent of the democrats are happy with what they have.
MATTHEWS: They have a lot of credations (ph) of options here.
SCARBOROUGH: The biggest problem is George Bush, over the last seven years, has done more damage to the Republican Party than any Democrat could ever do.
MATTHEWS: Who’s not running, besides Fred Thompson, who’s on the on deck circle here? Would Jeb be a better candidate?
SCARBOROUGH: Oh sure. Let me tell you something. If Jeb—for the first time in his life, Jeb’s last name is hurting him instead of helping him get ahead. If Jeb Bush had a different name, he would be the Republican nominee.
MITCHELL: He’s probably the most talented Republican.
SCARBOROUGH: He is. And he is so different from his brother. That’s not going to happen.
As it is, you’ve got Republicans—Washington is a town of suckups.
MATTHEWS: Anybody else?
SCARBOROUGH: Nobody has had the courage on the Republican’s side to come out early enough to say George Bush has been wrong on the war. George Bush has been wrong on money issues. George Bush was wrong on Katrina. He embarrassed us. George Bush has done all these things.
Because of that, they are still tied to him and he will be dragging them forward until November of 2008.
MATTHEWS: Do you buy her argument...
EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST”: ... cut him loose at some point though?
MATTHEWS: They will not do it.
Do you buy the argument...
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: Drag that out of them next week when you’re doing the Republican debate.
MATTHEWS: Well, did you buy the argument made by Hillary over and over, at least two or three times tonight, that stubbornness is the trait of this administration?
SCARBOROUGH: It is the trait of this administration. Cronyism is a trait of this administration. Gonzales—I mean, if you want to know what is wrong with George W. Bush, and what is wrong with the Republican Congress, just look at Gonzales. Look at the fact that this guy—everybody in America knows that he lied to Congress. And yet, George Bush said he did a great job.
And Republican Congressmen and Senators were steaming on Capitol Hill. They were so angry. And yet, not one of them came out and said, “Mr. President, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
MATTHEWS: Before we leave tonight, in your general iridation (ph) -- ingenious.
MATTHEWS: Tonight, you made a point that we will have to be responded by the Barack Obama’s campaign. You have issued a challenge. Find the vote in the United States Senate, since the arrival of Senator Barack Obama, in which he took issue and took a different position from Senator Clinton.
SCARBOROUGH: I don’t care about the one speech he gave back...
MATTHEWS: No, the voting record?
SCARBOROUGH: No, I’m saying, I don’t care, and Americans don’t care, about the one speech he made when he was back in Illinois. What have you done in Washington, D.C. that sets you apart on substance from Hillary Clinton? I don’t think that there is a vote there.
MATTHEWS: Could this be the George Wallace’s old traits come true again. “There is not a dime’s difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama when it comes to the war. We deserve better.”
MATTHEWS: Anyway, Joe Scarborough, thank you so much.
SCARBOROUGH: Thank you so much.
MATTHEWS: You’ll be out of here. You are going back to get dressed and get your new tie on.
But I am going to put on pearls.
OLBERMANN: Yes, a nice red touring jacket...
MATTHEWS: Post-democratic “Hardball.”
We will be right back with more coverage for you, taking it away. We will be back with more with Joe Scarborough coming up later. We’ll be right back in just a few minutes.
OLBERMANN: And we rejoin you from South Carolina State University where the Democratic presidential candidates gathered for their first debate tonight.
Chris Matthews is here.
I waited until the crowd stopped yelling before I put your name in there.
MATTHEWS: Thank you for the vote by name.
OLBERMANN: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson, who joins us now, and the “Washington Post’s” Eugene Robinson, constituting our panel for this segment.
Tucker, as you are in at the big desk here for the first time since...
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “TUCKER CARLSON”: Yes.
OLBERMANN: ... been room in the parties. Do you want to join the...
TUCKER: Up from the (inaudible) table.
OLBERMANN: Yes, do you want to join the general parade here?
TUCKER: Showbiz tapes.
MITCHELL: I have to tell you, you’re down enough.
OLBERMANN: That is so great. You’re like a thanksgiving...
TUCKER: Yes, I got my goose to see them, yes.
MATTHEWS: The second table, we know.
OLBERMANN: We know. We’ve kept a seat warm for you. So it’s not a problem.
MATTHEWS: So your thoughts coming from there?
OLBERMANN: Yes, we’ve already heard Pat Buchanan anoint Hillary Clinton as presidential tonight. You want to join the chorus and the parade?
TUCKER: Well, I agree with that. She has always been presidential. She is actually a better campaigner and faster on her feet that she ever gets credit for being. I thought the moment where I was reminded how good she is, she’s asked by Brian Williams, “Is Wal-mart a good thing for America?” She was, of course, on the board of Wal-mart, lived in Arkansas for many years. And she gave kind of the perfect answer. “It’s a mixed blessing.”
MATTHEWS: Meaning it was good when I was there.
TUCKER: That’s part of what...
TUCKER: It also has the benefit of being true. Wal-mart is a mixed blessing, actually, depending upon who you are and what you want for the community.
MITCHELL: Cheap goods...
TUCKER: That’s exactly right. That’s a very smart answer. And she gave it quickly. I am also always impressed...
MATTHEWS: Does it bring about a better America, that answer?
TUCKER: Does Wal-mart bring about a better America?
MATTHEWS: No, that kind of politics where it’s the cosmetically tested, perfectly agreeable, non-consequential answer?
TUCKER: Well, far be it for me to defend Hillary Clinton. I think on this one issue, I think it’s the correct answer. Or at least it’s the answer I’ve arrived at. I’m not sure. I’ve seen the effects of Wal-mart up close and I think in some of the...
MATTHEWS: What do you think about Wal-mart? When you go into a small town, some mountain community, used to have a gift shop and a bakery and everything. And a little downtown area. That’s all dead now.
TUCKER: It is. It is. And...
MATTHEWS: They’ve got a Blockbuster look. That’s all they have left is a Blockbuster.
TUCKER: I’ve looked at it from an aesthetic point of view and from a cultural point of view, Wal-mart is terrible. If you are kind of poor, Wal-mart is—you know, if you are looking for cheap fishing lures or jeans or food, Wal-mart is a great thing for prescription drugs. It is a mixed blessing.
But the point is that was fast. That was acceptable. It was hard to argue with.
There are parts of Hillary Clinton that are still I think synthetic. When she was asked—another good question, I thought. Why are Republicans pretending to be gleeful about the prospect of running against you? And she said, “Well, because I’ve been so steadfast in my beliefs because my principles are rock solid, and that intimidates them.”
Well, that’s a crock, of course.
MATTHEWS: Yes, of course.
TUCKER: I mean, even her friends can see that she’s politically malleable. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s a bad thing. But you hardly look to Hillary Clinton as an example of principle. You look to Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel or people who don’t have a chance. But don’t...
MATTHEWS: In fact, that is the biggest knock on Hillary from people you talk to. It’s not that she’s a liberal, but she is synthetic.
TUCKER: That’s right.
MATTHEWS: That’s argument. She’s a position.
TUCKER: And I think a lot of Republicans are getting caught in 1997 when Hillary Clinton was...
MATTHEWS: But Andrea, here, is equally skilled at analyzing the American political landscape. Do you think that’s the number one knocker is that she is a woman?
MITCHELL: No, I think the number one knock is that she is not authentic, that she’s not spontaneous. There was an attempt, I think, tonight to soften her persona, to be more acceptable, don’t you think?
MATTHEWS: I think she was great.
I do think that we have to look for leadership in politics. And the business were in, which is to critique it, to demand courage and to determine the person who steps outside the obvious panda bear mode, which is to say the right things to the interests groups, and to say, “You know, we have to get a little tough in the Middle East. We’ve got to push all those countries together. We do have to do something about poverty.”
TUCKER: You will never see that.
MATTHEWS: All right, we do have to do about—let’s talk about something they can talk about, rich and poor in the country. We have to decide between the contributor base, and our constituency. And, damn it, Democrats ought to be looking out for the poor people, and not the people giving them money to run campaigns.
And you saw tonight that the Democrats were scared to death, almost like they’d been afraid to go after George Meanie (ph) in the old days. They are afraid to death that they might offend one of the people they’re trying to get at the next fundraiser in Manhattan to...
TUCKER: Well big business is not...
MATTHEWS: The Democratic Party is...
TUCKER: It’s such that the big idea is it’s big oil and the fact that—no, it’s actually hedge funds vantage. I mean, that is the modern equivalent of the head on Exxon-Mobile. And you see what I’m saying. They did not have the courage to make the obvious point that I, as a conservative, agree with. So if I agree with it, it’s hardly like that far out.
Maybe hedge funds are not obviously making America better. Maybe there is something unattractive, possibly even grotesque about a 29-year-old guy making hundreds of millions dollars for shifting money around. They can’t say that...
MATTHEWS: I wonder if they would have said anything about executive salaries, if they had been asked. Would they have said we have a too big a ratio now between the top and the bottom in American corporate life? Would they? I don’t know. Would they have done that tonight?
ROBINSON: I think somebody should have. You know, the figures are astounding. It’s many multiples of what it used to be, that ratio. The top earning hedge fund manager in the country last year made $1.7 billion. It’s just amazing.
MITCHELL: That’s not hard, given the...
MATTHEWS: Isn’t he the Senator from New Jersey?
I’m just kidding.
MITCHELL: The hardest thing for a Democrat to do, or a Republican, looking at the way the preceding Republican Congress has spent money. The hardest thing to do is to say, “What would you cut? What would you give up? How would you pay for retirement?”
And they did not get to that. But they are going to have to get that at some point.
OLBERMANN: They tried to get to that with health care, and it was not a satisfactory answer for a bunch of them.
MATTHEWS: We’ve been trying to get that answer out of politicians for thirty years. What would you cut in the federal budget? You all say we—even Ronald Reagan never identified a program he was going to cut.
MITCHELL: Waste and fraud.
ROBINSON: Hasn’t it suck in that, in recent history, the Democrats have bench more physically responsible than the Republicans?
ROBINSON: You know, relatively speaking, OK?
MATTHEWS: But they’ve begun to lose the argument of who would pick you up if your car was broken down on the side of the road? They lost that argument f the first time in history, I believe, to George Bush last time.
So in the effort to become more physically responsible and more corporate, they’ve lost the one edge they always had, that they looked out for the little guy.
MITCHELL: Who cares for people like me?
ROBINSON: And the polling public.
MATTHEWS: They are losing that maybe. But it’s not my job to correct them.
Thank you, Andrea Mitchell.
Thank you, Tucker Carlson. Great work in the “Spin Room.”
And a special thanks to Orangeburg native, Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post.”
We are coming right back.
And don’t forget, you can rate the candidates’ performance tonight. Just go on to our website right now, politics—that’s easy to remember—dot—that’s easy to remember—msnbc.com. politics.msnbc.com. So far we have more than 26,000 votes on our website tonight. And Barack Obama received the most positive votes.
See you, everybody. Smarty pants, Barack won tonight, not Hillary, with 46 percent, followed by Edwards with 36 percent. And Hillary leaping along in third place with 34 percent.
And so the people out there on the websites disagree with the punditry class.
You are watching MSNBC’s coverage of the first in the country Democratic debate from Orangeburg, South Carolina at the South Carolina State University. They call it State.
OLBERMANN: And we join you again from South Carolina State University. The Democratic presidential candidates met tonight for their first debate.
And throughout the night, MSNBC’s David Shuster has been the truthfulness of what the candidates said tonight.
David joins us now for another installment of the modern equivalent of the mod squad, his truth squad reports.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Keith, thank you. And last hour...
OLBERMANN: David, good evening.
SHUSTER: Good evening, Keith. And last hour, while we talked about misleading statements from Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, I want to begin this hour by talking about a statement made by Joe Biden.
He wrote the crime bill during the Clinton administration. So Brian Williams asked Biden if there was anything the federal government could have done to prevent the massacre at Virginia Tech. And here is part of Biden’s response?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should not have let the assault weapons ban lapse. Number two, we should close this so-called gun show loophole so you can’t go in a gun show and buy a gun that you could not buy walking into a gun shop.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Actually, as Joe Bidden knows, neither of those issues, the assault weapons ban or the gun show loophole, were at play at all regarding the Virginia Tech massacre. In fact, a lot of people say there was nothing the federal government could have done to stop Virginia Tech, short of banning semi-automatic hand guns. And that’s not something politically palatable at all.
So in any case, Joe Biden turned it around to talk about something he wanted to talk about.
Regarding Barack Obama, it’s pretty early in the campaign season for any of the candidates to be detailing some of their policy plans. But Barack Obama left the impression that he has a lot to say, a detailed plan about health care. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know what the challenges are. And we have got good plans and ideas on health care and education, and energy. What has been lacking is the political will to get it done. That’s the movements that I intend to build during the course of the campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: But the Obama campaign has not released any plan on health care. And for Obama to say otherwise, well that is misleading.
Barack Obama also talked about some money he received. He was the leading Democratic fundraiser as far as money that he can spend on the primaries from this first quarter of fundraising.
Obama had to return some of the money because it came from somebody who was corrupt. But then Obama talked a little bit further. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Prove how we have been running this campaign. I think what we have seen is I haven’t taken money from federally registered lobbyists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Now, actually, the “Los Angeles Times” reported recently that Obama raised more than $1 million in the first three months of this year from law firms that also do lobbying works. In other words, $1 million from organizations that do lobbying work.
And when you look at the top 130 fundraisers that Barack Obama has, two of them were federally registered lobbyists last year. So for him to say that he is not taking any money from lobbyists, that is also misleading—Keith?
OLBERMANN: Thank you, David Shuster, a comparatively good night for truth, surprisingly enough, in a political context.
When we return, we will hear from some of the crowd here at South Carolina State.
You are MSNBC’s coverage of the first in the nation Democratic debate.
OLBERMANN: Welcome back to South Carolina State University, as we wrap up our portion of our coverage of the Democratic presidential debate.
That’s Chris Matthews there, Keith Olbermann here.
And this campus has been alive all day with this.
MATTHEWS: Let’s let the people from the campus have some last words tonight.
Young lady, where are you?
There you are.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi.
MATTHEWS: What are you thinking tonight?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it is amazing for Orangeburg and South Carolina State and classes (ph) to be able to participate in something so amazing.
MATTHEWS: Jim Clyburn?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love him.
MATTHEWS: He brought us here, the Congressman from this area. What do you think about tonight?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is great.
A Joe Biden fan there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, this is wonderful. This is a historical day today.
MATTHEWS: For State. You call it State, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: for State.
MATTHEWS: What do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is awesome. I love it.
MATTHEWS: I like this, this economy of language.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over here, sir. It is a great to be a Bulldog today. And I am a freshman. And I’m enjoying it right now. This is my first year.
MATTHEWS: So what do you guys—I want to ask you about your place. I saw the beautiful football stadium here. Who do you all play next year here? Do you play South Carolina or where?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We play USC at USC.
MATTHEWS: You going to be—is that a—what is the spread on that usually?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We’ve never played them before.
MATTHEWS: Will that be a push? They’ll have the spread. They’ll have an edge? What do you think about them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We Bulldogs are going to try to eat some chicken next year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have an amazing in-state rivalry.
MATTHEWS: I’ll bet. Is this going to be a regular series, regular series?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the first time every playing them.
MATTHEWS: Look out University of South Carolina.
I have a degree from there, you know. I just got a degree, an honorary degree. What they think?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About today?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think today was an important day in history for all colleges. This is the first college that we actually had a debate at. So I think it was very good.
MATTHEWS: Keith, take over.
OLBERMANN: All right, Chris, thanks very much. That will conclude—I can’t repeat what they said.
Don’t leave me yet. We’ve got another minute to go.
MATTHEWS: I can’t.
MATTHEWS: I figured you might bring some more people in here.
OLBERMANN: Well, we’ve got a minute to wrap it up.
MATTHEWS: OK, one more thought from this guy.
OLBERMANN: One more though, young man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My thoughts on today?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today was a very historical day for South Carolina State. I think that this is a start, a new beginning.
MATTHEWS: Well, something big.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... O’Reilly.
OLBERMANN: All right, well, there we go.
MATTHEWS: By the way, they have the greatest weather in the world here. I know what month to come here next time, April, late April, May. June is probably OK. August, forget about it, I guess. Great weather.
Oh, it’s perfect down here. It’s a perfect campus. I’ve never felt a better mood. I’ve been so happy. The best is best university band I have ever heard. The cheerleaders are killers. They should get them for the Redskins. There are killers.
OLBERMANN: So we have a clear winner tonight—South Carolina State University.
MATTHEWS: Yes, the home state.
OLBERMANN: Joe Scarborough will continue our coverage next here on the MSNBC of the Democratic political debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president does not get us out of Iraq. When I’m president, I will.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was wrong to vote for this war. Unfortunately, I will have to live with that forever.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am proud that I opposed this war from the start because I thought that it would lead to some—the disastrous conditions that we have seen on the ground in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Welcome back to MSNBC’s continuing coverage of the first Democratic presidential debate, where eight presidential candidates introduced themselves to America.
Now of course, Iraq took center stage tonight, with the mainstream candidates justifying their earlier positions on the war, and the more extreme candidates calling for immediate withdrawal from that war.
Tonight, we’re going to ask who won, who lost, and most importantly perhaps, who the hell was that guy from Alaska? We are going to break it all down tonight from the campus of South Carolina State University, in the hometown of Gene Robinson.
Here with some of the answers is our all-star panel with me here in South Carolina: Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson; two-time presidential contender and former White House communication director Pat Buchanan; Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of salon.com; Congressional Quarterly columnist and MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford; Michael Crowley, senior editor for The New Republic.
Let’s start with Eugene Robinson, now explain—this is your home town, right?
EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I grew up about a thousand yards in that direction.
SCARBOROUGH: I want to start with a question that we’ve been talking about off-camera, here you have I think an historic setting for a debate, and yet the issue of race really was not broached once. Why?
ROBINSON: It really was not. I have no idea. I certainly would have had I been one of the candidates just because this is a new setting for this sort of debate. The cast of candidates is so diverse this time, this is an historic place. And it would’ve been a perfect setting I think for a Democratic candidate just to talk about from the heart about race, about how far we’ve come.
This is a community with terrible racial problems in the past and has come a long way, how far we hit still have to go. The Confederate flag is still an issue in South Carolina, there is lots that could have been elaborated on and talked about and I think really made an impact, but it did not happen.
SCARBOROUGH: Just never happened. And Joan Walsh, who won this debate tonight?
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: I think Hillary Clinton won by not losing. Joe, you know, none of the other candidates really stood out. They did not have a chance—they had a chance, but they did not take advantage of a chance to jump out, except for Mike Gravel, who I compared on my blog to uncle Junior Soprano, that was entertaining.
But, you know, I think that she showed us what she is made of and what we know she is made of, which is she is very, very solid and she does not make many mistakes.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Joan, after the Imus debacle, you and I e-mailed back and forth, talking about issues of race in the 21st Century, and the challenges that we have ahead of us. The Democratic Party has been obviously the party that has talked about race, that has been progressive on the issue through the years.
Why don’t you think race was discussed more tonight, especially since all of us were talking about the issue a couple of weeks ago?
WALSH: I was really struck by that, Joe. And i agree with what Gene had to say. I think that it is a very dangerous topic for Americans, and therefore people shy away from it. I think that is the real problem here. And you saw a lot of candidates, except for Mike Gravel, sticking to the script, being careful not to make a mistake rather than wanting to stand out and do something different. And so race would have been a risk, I wished they had taken it for sure.
SCARBOROUGH: Pat Buchanan, a lot of these candidates did not want to stand out. If you are Hillary Rodham Clinton, you certainly understand that you want to play it safe, I think she wins the nomination over the next 12 months by playing it safe. But what about Barack Obama? He, too, played it safe. But that strategy seemed to backfire on him tonight. Why?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don’t know that he played it safe, Joe. I mean, as you know, I was speaking to you before the debate, and I was expecting great things from Barack Obama. I thought he had a golden opportunity to really shine this evening, and he seemed to be giving us basically clips from his speeches and it was all gauzy and abstract and non-concrete, and I think in some cases non-responsive.
And so I found it a very disappointing performance by him. And I think because I was expecting more and I was not expecting too much, I have seen Hillary Clinton a number of times, but I think she was just at the top of her game. And so I think that is why she…
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Pat, a lot—I am sorry, Pat, we have got a slight delay here. But you know, Howard Fineman came to me after the debate, the Newsweek reporter, and said he thought the defining moment of this event, of this debate was when the question was asked about al Qaeda attacking two American cities.
And from hearing you talk tonight, you would agree, wouldn’t you? Hillary Clinton hit that one out of the park and Edwards and Obama bobbled it?
BUCHANAN: Right. I mean, Obama started talking about first providers and intelligence. And Edwards was all over the lot. And you finally were saying to yourself, when is somebody going to talk about what we are going to do? Al Qaeda has hit two cities. And she comes back in and said, we are going to be prudent but we are going to retaliate against those that did this.
And in response to her, everybody down the line started suddenly getting tougher and going back to the question in trying to emulate her. And that way you know she has really won it on the big question of this debate.
SCARBOROUGH: Michael Crowley, of course the issue of Iraq was front and center, and as Americans turned on their TV sets and tuned in to watch the debate, everybody’s eyes were on Barack Obama.
Let’s listen to what he had to say about the war in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I am proud of the fact that I put forth a plan in January that mirrors what Congress ultimately adopted. And it says there is no military solution to this, we have got to have a political solution, begin a phased withdrawal, and make certain that we have got benchmarks in place so that the Iraqi people can make the determination about how they want to move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Michael Crowley, do you agree that Barack Obama came up short on Iraq and other issues tonight?
MICHAEL CROWLEY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE NEW REPUBLIC: Well, I thought that Iraq answer was OK. I thought his answer to the question about a terrorist attack was disappointing. And I think generally speaking, it is like the setting is not what we have come to expect from Obama.
You know, we imagine him in these grand settings, and it is kind of like putting Andre the Giant in a tiny little house or something, and he has got to stoop over and when he is going through the doorways and he bonks his head. I mean, I just think that Obama—you know, I guess what I am saying is, it was a question of expectations. He has been built up into this sort of giant, great orator.
And then he is on the stage with Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel and he is having these back-and-forths where he has to assure Dennis Kucinich that he is not going to nuke Iran wantonly. And it all just I think slightly diminished him.
But I think also there is the temptation to overstate it, we all want winners and losers tonight. It was not his best night, but he is going to recover. He’s still a pretty strong candidate I think.
SCARBOROUGH: And, you know, Craig Crawford, it seems to me that Barack Obama, my God, when it comes to the expectations game, you would think the guy that was only two years out of the Illinois state legislature would have low expectations, and the woman was the first lady and a senator from New York for six years, and probably the highest profile Democrat for the past eight years would have high expectations.
By my gosh, Barack Obama has been compared to JFK. He has been compared to Bobby Kennedy. He has been compared to almost everybody over the past month or two this side of Jesus Christ. How does he live up to those type of expectations?
CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC ANALYST: He doesn’t. I mean, he wanted a media primary, and that is a double-edged sword because then the expectations are ginned up. We talked about it this afternoon. This afternoon I said I thought his expectations had been ginned up to such a level that he could not meet them and that Hillary’s have been downplayed it would not take much for her to meet them and exceed them.
And I think that is exactly what happened. The exchange that Pat Buchanan and others have talked about, I thought was very telling when he just fumbled that answer about what to do in the event of an attack, and she was presidential.
I mean, she came out there, and unlike a lot of other Democrats for a lot of years, and certainly the other Democrats at this debate, she sounded like somebody who knew how act like a commander-in-chief, of all things.
And then that is what provoked the spat that Obama later had with Kucinich, because when he tried to clean that up—when Obama tried come back and say military response is sometimes called for, then Kucinich jumps all over him as a warmonger, starts peeling away the anti-war vote. I mean, if this man’s expectations had not been too high, I certainly know it now, because he could not even handle Dennis Kucinich.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, and of course, the issue, again, that so many of these this candidates had to deal with is how they would handle a terror attack. Let’s listen to the front runners on what they would do if there was another attack on the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What we can’t do is then alienate the world community based on faulty intelligence, based on bluster and bombast. Instead the next thing we would have to do in addition to talking to the American people is making sure that we’re talking to the international community, because as has already been stated, we are not going to defeat terrorists on our own. We have to strengthen our intelligence relationships with them and they have got to feel a stake in our security by recognizing that we have mutual security interests at stake.
CLINTON: I think a president must move as swiftly as is prudent to retaliate if we are attacked and we can determine who was behind that attack. And if there were nations that supported or gave material aid to those who attacked us, I believe we should quickly respond. Let’s focus on those who have attacked us and do everything that we can to destroy them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Gene, before there was the debate, well, what does retaliation mean? It does not really matter, does it? We have these moments in the debate, Ronald Reagan asking, are you better than you were four years ago? And you have slip-ups, Gerald Ford saying that Poland was not under Soviet—I mean, so isn’t more about imagery, more about symbolism, more about the way you carry yourself? And by that standard, Hillary Clinton did exceedingly well.
ROBINSON: Well, I remember that moment in the debate. You know, her answer certainly got my attention, it riveted me. And Obama’s was not his—was far from his best moment in the debate. It was probably his worst in the sense because he didn’t really respond to the question as it was put, I thought.
I don’t know that I would make too much of it for a couple of reasons. One, after six years and counting of a president with an overly quick trigger finger…
SCARBOROUGH: Who knows how to talk like that.
ROBINSON: Right, who talks just like that, you know, we will retaliate and will retaliate now, and we’ll hit them. You know, after six years of that, people are tired of that. People would like you to think about it, make sure your hitting the right guys who did it and that this will make things better.
And you know, so I am not sure that people listening to the debate took it quite the same way that we’re taking it here. I don’t think it was some sort of catastrophic error by Obama and—or even something—you know, a hole that he dug for himself that he has got to climb out of.
SCARBOROUGH: And Joan Walsh, I was going to ask you, the Democratic debates, mostly likely with what Gene is saying here. While we pundits maybe saying tonight that Hillary Clinton responded strongly and swiftly, and proved she had what it took to be commander-in-chief, a lot of Democrats may be concerned out there, who have been very concerned with the way that George Bush has conducted himself for the past seven years, right?
WALSH: I think that is right, Joe. But I do have to admit that I sat there and said, OK, you guys, this is your moment to say, I will defend this country, I will retaliate, and I will do what is in our best interest. And I do—I think it was a big stumble for Obama not to come out of the gate and say that.
On the other hand, you are right, it is not the be-all, end-all moment. And it is a tougher question than it seems like because we really—al Qaeda is not a country, al Qaeda is not immediate—you know, launch the missiles, we know where they are. So, you know, the nuance is important. On the other hand, that was their moment to say Democrats will defend you and protect you. And anyone who did not, that is a problem.
BUCHANAN: Joe, let me…
SCARBOROUGH: Look, you know, we have got to go to break, Pat, but I will get to you on the other side of the break. I want to say goodbye to Gene Robinson.
Gene, tell everybody where you are staying tonight.
ROBINSON: I’m staying at my mom and dad’s house tonight.
SCARBOROUGH: Your mom and dad’s house. And she just lives right down the street, right?
ROBINSON: Right down the street, yes.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, she has got to be proud of you.
ROBINSON: Well, it is going to be a lot of fun.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thank you so much.
ROBINSON: Have a great night. Thank you, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Greatly appreciate you being here.
Hey, everybody stay with us. We’ll be back with a lot more. And when we come back, did any of the candidates pull forward up ahead to take the lead? Our panelists weigh in in just a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I take responsibility for my vote. Obviously, I did as good a job I could at the time. If I knew then what I now know, I would not have voted that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Welcome back to South Carolina State University, just a few hours ago we had the Democrats’ first debate of the 2008 primary season. And while it is quiet around here now, the words that were said in the hall behind us a few hours ago will echo across America for the next several weeks, and determining who is ahead, who is behind, and who accomplished what they needed to accomplish here this first night in this Democratic debate.
Pat Buchanan, Joan Walsh brought up I thought a great point. Here we have an anti-war party, almost predominantly anti-war, at least against the war in Iraq right now, and yet Joan Walsh was talking about the need for the Democratic Party—these Democratic candidates to step forward when this question was asked and give us that moment that, hey, as your Democratic president, I’m going to protect you, I’m going to protect your country, I’m going to protect America. By that standard, who passed, who failed?
BUCHANAN: Well, I mean, let’s go back to Barack Obama, because I think he is really hurt worst by this. First, it showed that he really did not think fast on his feet when the question came at him.
And secondly, he went into the old formula, it’s like Dukakis when they threw out, you know, Kitty Dukakis has been raped and murdered and he rolls into a discussion of why he is against the death penalty.
And so that was bad. And the final thing is, Joe, my sense is I think it hurt him among, let’s say the pundit community, because the question I had at the end of Barack’s performance is, hey, is there any there there, was this all hype? He is terrific looking. And he presents himself well. I mean, he looks like a potential young president, an African-American Jack Kennedy.
But then when the response came, I mean, that’s what I thought was, is this just a suit?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, and you know the thing is, Craig Crawford—I was just going to ask Craig Crawford quickly, couldn’t you say just the opposite about Hillary Clinton? A lot of people were looking at her, wondering whether she was too stiff, too awkward, whether her voice was too shrill.
If you look at the words that Hillary Clinton presented tonight, she was on top of her game. As far as substance goes, nobody came close to her. There was so much there there, I think that has to help her in the end, right?
CRAWFORD: Well, she is getting better at encapsulating her views within nuanced explanations, which is something her husband was always so good at. And this exchange we have been talking about was a perfect example of some real improvement on her part, because she gave a tough answer. Yes, I will hunt down the enemy and kill them and destroy them, but she also added some nuance in that answer, saying it would be prudent, say we would make sure they were behind it.
Going to Eugene’s point earlier, I agree, I don’t think Americans want to hear all that tough talk, you know, wanted dead or alive, but they do want some tough language with some nuance. And I think that is what she was trying to provide. And in that exchange, did an exceedingly good job of it. She is taking some lessons from Bill I think.
SCARBOROUGH: … any Democratic—yes, go ahead, Michael.
CROWLEY: Sorry, I keep jumping in. But I think that it was also revealing in another way. I wrote a long story about Hillary recently looking at her Iraq vote and how she reached her decision. And something that she and the people and around make a big deal out of is that she has been in the White House.
You know, in my reporting, I found that she was involved to an almost unprecedented degree as first lady in making foreign policy and advising Bill on decisions about war and peace. She pressured him to bomb in Kosovo.
And what she and people around her say is she has been at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue. And I think tonight we actually saw a reflection of that where she has referred to this as the “responsibility gene.” And she has—so I think she has had this perspective of, how do you respond as president when something has happened and you have a national crisis? I think it may just come to her more instinctively.
WALSH: I think that is true.
SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it. And also, though, you know, I have been saying this for several months now, when it comes to being commander-in-chief, in one of the most dangerous times at least since World War II, I don’t think there is any substitute for experience.
Hillary Clinton has that experience more than anybody else in this field. In fact, there is not even a close second. Hey, I’m going to ask our all-star panel to stay with us. We have a whole lot more to cover this first Democratic debate from South Carolina. We’ll be back with our all-star panel right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARDS: Anyone else who voted for this war has to search themselves and decide whether they believe they voted the right way. If so, they can support their vote. If they believe they didn’t, I think it is important to be straightforward and honest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, welcome back. Let’s go back to our all-star panel still with us. We have Joan Walsh, Pat Buchanan, Michael Crowley, and Craig Crawford.
Joan Walsh, coming into this debate, a lot of people could have expected John Edwards to do very well. He is from this area. He talks about two Americas. He has talked about race in the past. But he just seemed to disappear tonight. What happened to John Edwards?
WALSH: I had the same reaction, Joe. I was very disappointed. I thought this was both the time and a place for him to shine, and he really did not. I thought he flubbed the question about his own wealth in contrast with his stance on poverty. I really admire his stance on poverty.
I think they are wonderful. I think that question is a bit of a cheap shot, but he has got to get used to it. He has got to come up with a credible answer. And you know, relying on his remarkable father and the son of a mill hand story, it is just not going to take him through its second campaign.
So he just—he did, he lacked an edge, and again, he is somebody who might have benefited from some real courage on the race issue and simply did not take advantage of the opportunity.
SCARBOROUGH: Craig Crawford, do you think maybe he was spooked by the $400 haircut, by his work at a hedge fund, and thought that if he brought up two Americas he would be slammed by the other candidates?
CRAWFORD: Hey, I mean, it is a great country when you can grow up as the son of a mill worker and grow up to get a $400 haircut. Why not make that point? But I think actually—I saw this in 2004, Joe, I think Edwards has an attitude about these debates, that they’re just something to get through.
He does not build a campaign that is dependent on debate performances and debate profile—high profile in these debates. And I did think another question he flubbed, and it was—I have not looked up yet, but I think he got a similar one in 2004 and also flubbed it, but that question about a moral—you know, who do you look to for moral leadership? And he paused for what seemed like an eternity before he...
SCARBOROUGH: I was going to say, talk about pregnant pauses.
CRAWFORD: I mean, that is just standard stuff. I don’t know why he did not have a quick answer to that.
WALSH: Oh, I liked that, actually. I liked pausing and actually thinking—giving the appearance or reality of thinking about it. That didn’t bother me as much.
CRAWFORD: Sometimes it is good to show they’re actually thinking, that is true.
SCARBOROUGH: It was a dramatic pause. I wrote three blogs while he was sitting there thinking about it.
WALSH: Me too, yes.
SCARBOROUGH: Of course. I’m a fast writer there. Yes. So, hey, stay with us because coming up next, the tragic events that happened last week at Virginia Tech take center stage in South Carolina, so where did the candidates stand on the issue of gun control? And will it be a deciding issue in the Democratic primary in 2008? That and much more of our special coverage of the first Democratic debate returns in a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: How many of you in your adult lifetime have had a gun in house? One—Senator Gravel, Senator Biden, Senator Dodd, Governor Richardson, Congressman Kucinich.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Welcome back to MSNBC’s coverage of the first in the nation Democratic debate. Here now, two-time presidential contender and former White House communications director Pat Buchanan; Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of salon.com; John Ridley, he is a screenwriter and frequent contributor to National Public Radio; Michael Crowley, senior editor for The New Republic.
Pat, I want to show you that clip that we showed going to the break, when Brian Williams asked the candidates to raise their hands if they ever owned a gun.
Roll that tape again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: How many of you in your adult lifetime have had a gun in house? One—Senator Gravel, Senator Biden, Senator Dodd, Governor Richardson, Congressman Kucinich.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Pat Buchanan, how fascinating is it that it is the top three contenders, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, that have never had a gun in their home? And talk about the significance of that as a guy that appealed to a lot of conservative Reagan Democrats, independents, populists. Does that have an impact? Does that show a cultural divide?
BUCHANAN: I think it hurts one person, that is John Edwards. Edwards is a southerner, born in South Carolina, raised in North Carolina. And his daddy was a mill worker and everything. And so the very fact that he has never had a gun in his house, I mean, what that tells those folks down there is that fellow is a liberal, in my judgment.
Now Barack Obama in Chicago and Hillary Clinton up in the suburbs of Chicago, people think that is understandable. She spent most of the time in the Arkansas governor’s mansion and the White House. So I think it hurts—if it hurts anyone, it hurts John Edwards.
SCARBOROUGH: Michael Crowley, do you think gun control is going to be an issue this campaign? You had Al Gore in 2000 running against gun control, thinking that it would hurt him in Tennessee and Arkansas and West Virginia, he ended up losing those states anyway. So did the Democrats run away from gun control even in the wake of the Virginia Tech killings?
CROWLEY: I think they do. I think they just do not really want to talk about it. You know, they basically allowed the assault weapons ban to expire a couple of years ago. And you saw in their answers tonight, they by and large did not come out and say that, you know, what we need is a new wave of laws. They were pretty cautious about it.
You know, Hillary Clinton, I think, you know, was very narrow on the point of keeping guns out of the hands of crazy people, basically. But they don’t want a whole new wave. And look, I think that may be for the best for the Democrats. I mean, when they try to go overboard, you know, John Kerry went out and did that hunting photo op in Iowa, I mean, he looked totally goofy in the camo pants or whatever.
It is better for them to just kind of not talk about it that much, particularly in this case where it just does not look like draconian laws even would have stopped this kind of a shooting. So you know, substantively, they’re in the right place as well.
SCARBOROUGH: Speaking of going overboard, let’s play a clip from the most colorful figure tonight, former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE GRAVEL (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why not get out? What harm is it going to do? Oh, you’ll hear the statement, well, my God, these soldiers will have died in vain. The entire deaths of Vietnam died in vain. And they are dying in vain right this very second. You know what is worse than a soldier dying in vain, is more soldiers dying in vain. That is what is worse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: John Ridley, what is the impact of a man like the former senator—staking out a very clear left-leaning position. What impact does that have on people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the center?
JOHN RIDLEY, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, Joe, in Hollywood, we have this expression when you’re making a film and somebody is doing something completely different from what everybody else is doing, they’re making their own movie. And Gravel was making his own movie tonight.
RIDLEY: I do not know how else to put it. And I think—you know, there are ways to look at it. On the one hand, I think it makes people like Obama and Hillary Clinton and quite frankly almost half that crowd look reasonable, look centrist, the things that the Democrats want to look like, not like the far left fringe.
They want to ingratiate themselves with the center. On the same hand, to me, this entire debate tonight was sort of like the GM pavilion at the auto show. You just want to show people what you have, remind them that you have got good wares and that everything is OK. And later on you can pick out what you really want.
And I think the problem with having Gravel there is that it reminded a lot of people who are in the center that there is a far left fringe to the Democratic Party. And certainly there is one with the Republican Party, a far right fringe, but tonight we’re looking at the Democrats. I think it helped Obama, it helped Hillary Clinton. But I think for the Democrats it might have hurt them a little bit.
SCARBOROUGH: So, John, who—we haven’t spoken with you yet tonight, who do you think—if you’re talking about showing off your wares at a car show, who had the best wares and who had the most disappointing model?
RIDLEY: Well, I want to go back to one point. People have been talking about the one question in particular, the response to a terrorist attack and how Senator Clinton and Senator Obama answered that. You know, for Senator Clinton being a woman, I think this is one of the unspoken things, it is important for her to look tough.
And she looked tough with her answer. I do not think Barack Obama really fumbled the answer as much as people think. Because remember that for a lot of people, Obama has got to prove himself as being a populist and being in touch with the disenfranchised.
When he brought up Katrina, for lots of people, particularly in this audience, Katrina is on a level of 9/11. And to talk about being in favor of first responders and thinking about the people first and getting in touch with them and making sure that they are OK before we make a response, I think resonated with a lot of this crowd and a lot of people who are watching Obama.
And quite frankly, when he said that, the first thing I thought about was President Bush sitting and reading a children’s story for eight minutes. I don’t think it was a disastrous answer. And I think some people who have speaking tonight have said that it didn’t play particularly well with the pundits, but let’s remember, the pundits aren’t the ones who are necessarily going to elect the president. And the NBC poll, I know it’s not scientific, had Barack Obama ahead. So I think it played well with people.
SCARBOROUGH: You know—and Joan Walsh, while everybody is laughing about the Arkansas—the former Alaskan senator, and some people are saying Dennis Kucinich is too far left, there are a lot of people in the Democratic base, and people that volunteer, the people that give donations that were probably energized by these people tonight, right?
WALSH: I don’t know about energized, Joe. I mean, Mike Gravel really is kind of an outlier, and you know, isn’t somebody who is really familiar to the Democratic base. And I don’t—you know, I’ve make fun of him, but I don’t want to make fun of that line that you quote because it is actually, I think, the best line of the night and something that everybody needs to remember, that we—you know, we continue to send more soldiers to die in vain.
So I’m not sure that the base was tuned in to this particular debate. I don’t know that they found Gravel and Kucinich to their liking. I do not think they are really going to do very much in the polls. I think that they did make the rest of the group seem more centrist and more reassuring, and that is probably good for the party.
CROWLEY: Joe, can I make a quick point?
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Pat Buchanan—yes, go ahead.
CROWLEY: Well, just—at the time I was leaving, on DailyKos, which is one of the biggest liberal blogs, Gravel in a poll they had on who won, was beating Dodd, Biden, Richardson, and was neck-and-neck with Hillary. So some people on the left were kind of energized, I think, actually.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes. I think you are exactly right. Pat Buchanan, I tell you who was not energized, your former conservative base. All those Republicans who voted for you and 1992 and 1996, tonight they are staring in the mirror, wondering why they wasted their vote because you, Pat Buchanan, compared Hillary Rodham Clinton to Ronald Wilson Reagan. Explain yourself, man. A hurting, aching nation wants to know what is going through your mind, Pat? You’ve changed, you’ve changed, man!
BUCHANAN: I think Rush Limbaugh could be on my case in the morning. But listen, Joe, here is what I thought…
WALSH: Don’t worry, Pat.
BUCHANAN: I thought that—I mean, look, you know, I’ve watched Hillary Rodham Clinton, and I was not expecting great things from her. And I thought Barack was going to come through. And I thought, Joe, she was at the top of her game. And the one answer I thought was almost Reagan-esque was when she went into that answer on what she would do. We are going to be prudent but we’re going to retaliate against these folks. And if we find out a country was behind it, we want to be sure, but we are going to retaliate.
That is the natural, instinctive response. Now Reagan would have done much more smoothly and instinctively, and she seemed programmed, but she hit every single point correctly. And when someone—you know, even those of us, Joe, in the vast right-wing conspiracy have got to give them credit when they do well.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Pat, I think it is so cute that you say those in the vast right-wing conspiracy when we know that you were elected as the grand poobah for the next four years.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, everybody stay with us. Coming back, we are going to check on the “Truth Squad.” David Shuster is going to be here and he is going to tell us where the candidates were candid and where they lied. And then we are going to go back to our all- star panel after that. We’ll be right back.
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GRAVEL: You’re all excited, my God, how did I ever get here? Then about six months later you say, how the hell did the rest of them get here?
GRAVEL: And I’ve got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me. They frighten me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: What in your personal life, Senator Obama, have you done recently to make for a better environment?
OBAMA: We just had Earth Day and we actually organized 3,000 volunteers to plant trees, which...
WILLIAMS: I mean like, light bulbs.
OBAMA: I thought the tree thing was pretty good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Brian Williams, always the company man. I am surprised he did not say GE light bulbs, the kind that last longer and save energy. Anyway, we are back. You know, while the candidates were out there sparring with Brian Williams, MSNBC’s own “Bartleby the Scrivener” was in the back with his little eyeshades on, going over every single word that was being said. We bring him in now, David Shuster.
You are looking over the transcripts, you are writing every word down, you are checking it twice. Who told the truth…
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Joe, you are being far too charitable.
SCARBOROUGH: … who lied?
SCARBOROUGH: Tell us, who fudged tonight?
SHUSTER: Well, I want to start actually on a point that you just made because you bumped in with that soundbite of Brian Williams asking about the environment. It is worth noting, Joe, that none of these candidates, who were flying from Washington actually shared a ride on an aircraft. They were all taking private aircraft, which, of course, burn up fuel and hurt the environment. But that’s an issue for another day.
Hillary Clinton’s position, of course, her evolving position on Iraq was front and center in this debate right from the beginning. And when she talked about one aspect of her evolution on Iraq, she made a misleading statement.
I want to play a soundbite for you, when Mrs. Clinton is referring to the president’s refusal to sign the Democratic funding proposal for Iraq because it includes a timetable for withdrawal.
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CLINTON: He is stubbornly refusing to listen to the will of the American people. He threatens to veto the legislation we passed, which has been something that all of us have been advocating for a number of years now.
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SHUSTER: All of us have been advocating for numbers of years now, well, that is not correct. Because about a year ago, Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying, “I reject a rigid timetable that terrorists can exploit.” Now she says she is in that crowd of people who have been advocating for a timetable for years. That is not accurate.
As for John Edwards, he was asked about energy policy, specifically Brian Williams read a question that somebody submitted about why gas prices are on the rise.
Here is Edwards’ response.
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EDWARDS: There is extraordinary demand in America. We use 22 million barrels of oil a day, 12 million of those barrels are imported. It is the reason we have to make a bold transformation from what we are doing now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Now demand is part of the equation, but actually John Edwards probably knows and wishes he could have changed his answer. The big problem right now, Joe, is that refinery capacity is not there. There have been no new refineries that have been built in the last 20 years, whenever there is a mechanical problem or they have to take one off-line, that causes gas prices to spike, which is what is going on right now. So Edwards may face some criticism for that answer.
As for Barack Obama, he was asked about what he would do if two U.S. cities had been attacked, he talked about Hurricane Katrina, the reference to the bumbling of the government then, and then he added this.
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OBAMA: We have to review how we operate in the event of not only natural disasters but also a terrorist attack.
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SHUSTER: The interesting thing about that is the government has reviewed, as Senator Obama knows, how they would handle a natural disaster and an attack. And for Obama to leave the impression that there has been no review, well, that is misleading. There is legitimate criticism that perhaps the government is not proposing enough, but the impression that Obama was certainly wrong.
Obama also said tonight, Joe, that we have got good plans and ideas on health care. He may have good ideas, but his campaign has not released any health care plan yet. And for Obama to suggest otherwise, that is also misleading.
Finally, the one line, Joe, that we have been having a lot of fun of all night, and that is Bill Richardson, who has got more diplomatic and foreign policy experience than most of the people on the stage tonight, and yet watch his answer when he was asked about what will happen when Communist leader Fidel Castro dies in Cuba.
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GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we need to do is find ways to deal with a post-democratic Cuba. It is going to happen.
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SHUSTER: A post-democratic Cuba? We think we meant to say post-Castro Cuba or post-communist Cuba, as he said a few sentences later. But again, Joe, this is why we love these debates, 90 minutes, and we can always find a verbal gaffe here or there—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it, hey, MSNBC’s David Shuster, thank you so much. And boy, that is not going to win a lot of votes in South Florida. And, David, to an earlier point, just for the record, I believe in global warming, I believe it is the challenge of our generation. But I sure as hell would love a private jet to fly home on tomorrow.
SHUSTER: And, Joe…
SCARBOROUGH: I don’t care how big my carbon footprint gets.
SHUSTER: You did not pool with Chris Matthews on the way to South Carolina, did you? You had your own flight, your own car down there, your own gang driving your around?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I—actually, what I did, I drove up. I have my family’s automobile. We only have one. It is a green VW van, 1967 VW van, and we actually used dung and garbage.
SCARBOROUGH: We churn it up, and that is how we do it.
SHUSTER: Just like the old days.
SCARBOROUGH: I believe in keeping my—just like the old days. I believe in keeping my carbon footprint as low as small as possible unless of course I can afford a private jet. But not any time in my life. And David Shuster, thank you so much for bringing us the “Truth Squad.”
And we will be right back, won’t be talking about VW vans, but we will go to our all-star panel and get their final thoughts in just a moment.
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WILLIAMS: Can you reassure the voters in this country that you would have the discipline you would need on the world stage, Senator?
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes.
WILLIAMS: Thank you, Senator Biden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: The first Democratic debate is over. Let’s bring our all-star panel back in.
John Ridley, I want to start with you. The only time race was touched upon at this historic African-American university, at this historic debate, is when Barack Obama talked about putting the Confederate flag in a museum. Were you surprised that race didn’t come up more tonight?
RIDLEY: I was surprised that race didn’t come up more. I thought there would be—at least in the sense of the great divide and where our country is and things like that, I thought there would be more issues about race. I didn’t think it would dominate the discussion by any means.
And I was a little disappointed by Barack Obama’s answer. Not that I don’t think the answer was correct. I think it belongs in a museum. I wish there was a little more passion there. I wish there was a little more explanation there.
It’s a very divisive symbol. I don’t think it is anything that is going to determine the outcome of the entire election. So I think it was an opportunity for himself—for Barack Obama to put himself out a little bit, and he punted. He said something about it going into a museum and then he veered into—I don’t know, health care. It went somewhere. But it definitely was not about the Confederate flags.
SCARBOROUGH: Boy, it seems like all Democrats are afraid to touch race. Pat Buchanan, is that because they were concerned the Republicans would hammer them on the issue? I mean, what issues did the Democrats open themselves up to for attacks from Republicans next week?
BUCHANAN: Oh, on the race issue, I mean, I don’t know where you get much disagreement among the Democrats, if Brian had had a question for them. So I can understand that.
I think where they open themselves up, Joe, is in partial birth abortion and the Supreme Court, the Democrats seem to be saying we’re going to nominate more justices like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and we want to restore the partial birth abortion as an option.
To me that is a dead loser. That can get the Democrats sliced to pieces in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Iowa, swing states in the general election. You get the right to life movement hammering those, and they can really do a job on the Democrats.
I think they’re painting themselves too far out when they start defending partial birth abortion.
SCARBOROUGH: Swing states like Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, I agree with you. Michael Crowley, let’s talk about the impact of tonight. Does Hillary Clinton get a bounce in the polls?
CROWLEY: Well, you know, it’s always hard to tell, sometimes the post-game analysis by the pundits is disastrously wrong. Pat and I were joking about it, we think it’s the 1999 State of the Union Bill Clinton gave, which was completely panned for several hours afterwards and the polls showed the country loved it. So you don’t know.
But I will say that had Hillary had a really bad night tonight and Barack Obama had a good night, it would have been very bad because Obama had had that great fundraising, people were questioning Hillary’s inevitably. And I think if Obama sort of had another piece to that narrative, it would have been big trouble for Hillary. So I think Hillary kind of averted a disaster tonight. Joan had it right, she won by not losing, definitely.
SCARBOROUGH: And, Joan, let me ask you about Barack Obama. What does he do next to regain his footing?
WALSH: I think he just goes out and goes back to his game plan. You know, we were talking about global warming, Joe. A little corner of hell freezes over when I agree with Pat Buchanan. So we’re all safe for a few more years. We agree on Hillary. I disagree with him a little bit on Barack.
I think he’s being a little too hard on him. I don’t think this was a major disaster. I think there was plenty of there there, and we will see more of it. But he stumbled tonight. There’s no doubt about it.
SCARBOROUGH: John Ridley, who’s the big winner, who’s the big loser?
RIDLEY: I think the big winner is actually Joe Biden for me. I think Hillary and Barack Obama are right where they are. I had written Joe Biden off with the, you know, “articulate and clean” and all of those remarks. I thought tonight that he had pith, he had personality and had acumen. And I think he’s the winner in the sense that he doesn’t fall into the category of those who are done and are out of it.
If he gets to stay and play for another day, that I think you can chalk as a victory. So to me he gets the little W next to him.
SCARBOROUGH: Do you agree with that, Pat Buchanan?
BUCHANAN: I didn’t hear too well. He said Biden was the big winner?
SCARBOROUGH: Do you agree that Joe Biden lives to see another day?
BUCHANAN: Oh, listen, I think Joe Biden did outstanding. I think he did very well for himself. If I had to pick a number two—I think Hillary did very well. But I think if I had to pick a number two, I’d pick Biden as well.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thank you so much to my all-star panel, greatly appreciate it.
Joan, as always, Pat, John, and Michael, thank you. That’s all the time we have for tonight. Thanks for being with us, I’m Joe Scarborough. Good night.