updated 5/4/2007 10:31:47 AM ET 2007-05-04T14:31:47

Guests: Jim Dyke, Jonathan Martin, Steve Schmidt, Frank Donatelli, Ron Paul

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  Welcome to the show. 

We have some breaking news.  Presidential candidate and Illinois Senator Barack Obama is now under Secret Service protection, CBS—NBC News has just confirmed as of this hour. 

The Obama campaign is deferring all questions about the details to the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security.  That‘s all we have.  But, when we have more, we will bring it to you immediately. 

Now, we are just four hours from the first Republican presidential debate.  That‘s from the Reagan Library Simi Valley, California.  The event will air exclusively here on MSNBC.  It will also stream on MSNBC.com.

And we will spend the next hour previewing it all, with reports from NBC News political experts and our friends and partners in this event at Politico.com.  A candidate or two will stop buy.

And we will analyze the stakes, the strategies, the likely winners and losers. 

A week ago, the Democrats took to the stage in Orangeburg, South Carolina.  And, except for the firebrand performance of Mike Gravel, the former senator from Alaska, the candidates mainly concurred with one another about the Bush administration, the war in Iraq, and the vital importance of universal health care. 

The Republicans, meanwhile, are in a far different situation.  Their party is perceived to be culpable for the mess in Iraq.  But direct assaults on President Bush likely would alienate the most important part of tonight‘s audience, and that is, of course, Republican primary voters. 

They‘re still with Bush, for the most part.  So, how many fireworks should we expect tonight, and from whom? 

Joining us now, live from the Reagan Library, NBC News political director Chuck Todd, and senior political reporter for “The Politico,” Jonathan Martin. 

Welcome to you both. 

JONATHAN MARTIN, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, “THE POLITICO”:  Hey there, Tucker. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Thanks, Tucker.

CARLSON:  So, Chuck, we‘re going to hear a lot about Fred Thompson, the one man who is not there tonight.  Strikes me the most important man who is not there tonight will be George W. Bush. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  How do these guys respond to him?  I mean, that‘s kind of the—that‘s the lurking unsaid question here, is, how do they feel about George W. Bush?  Will any one of these candidates attack him, do you think? 

TODD:  I doubt it highly that they‘re going to attack Bush. 

I think what they are going to do is try to do a couple things.  One is to show sort of a detailed distance from Bush.  You know, pick one, pick a couple of things that they feel like, by showing distance, it shows leadership or electability or something like that.

But they have got to be very careful.  It‘s a very, very thin line for them to walk.  So, I just don‘t see you are going to see a lot of Bush bashing.  I think you really are going to see a lot more bashing of each other a little bit. 

I think these guys are more likely to butt heads than are—than the Democrats did, because the Democrats all seem to agree on everything.  These Republicans don‘t agree on some basic tenets of the Republican Party. 

CARLSON:  No, that‘s exactly right.

And both of you, in fact, wrote pieces on that in the last couple of days, you, Chuck, on what does it mean to be a conservative, and, Jonathan, on who has the Reagan legacy here. 

Who is, do you think, most plausibly the conservative now in this race, Jonathan? 

MARTIN:  Well, one of the folks I talked to from the old Reagan days said, if you combine Romney, McCain and Giuliani, you would have a pretty good Reaganite candidate. 

But the fact is, you obviously can‘t do that.  And, so, there really is no natural heir to the Reagan mantle.  The Reaganites are split between many of these top three candidates.  There are still quite a few in the Reagan circle who are waiting to see what Fred Thompson does.  And I think that, if Fred Thompson does get in the race, he may attract some of the old Reagan crowd. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  You, I thought, made a really thoughtful point, when you said that one of the reasons the Reagan era was so appealing was because you had the very polarizing, but also very clear issue of the Cold War. 

There was a Soviet Union.  And that was obviously bad, at least to conservatives. 

MARTIN:  That‘s right. 

CARLSON:  And that made it very easy for people who disagreed with one another on other issues, economics or social issues, to come together, united against the Soviet threat. 

What is kind of the lodestar now for the Democratic Party?  What is the one thing every Republican, rather, agrees on now?  Is there one? 

MARTIN:  Well, I think the closest similarity is probably the war on terror. 

But, as Chuck mentioned, even on that, there are some very important differences on how to approach the war on terror and, you know, the whole challenge of Iraq that is certainly part of that. 

So, this is now a party that, unlike the Reagan days, is more divided, be it on cultural issues, economic issues, or even on some foreign policy matters.  You know, the old black-and-white ethos of good vs. bad and of East vs. West has gotten a lot more complicated.  It‘s a lot more murky these days than it was back then. 

CARLSON:  Does it strike you, Chuck, as ironic that the Democrats met last week in South Carolina, a state they‘re unlikely to carry in the general election, the Republicans, for their first debate, are meeting in California, which is, obviously, a pretty tough state for them come November 2008?  Do they have a chance here?  And why California? 

TODD:  Well, I think Rudy Giuliani would like to say he has a chance here.  And they have already been sending around statements, talking about the fact that—bragging about the fact that Giuliani would give Republicans the best chance of carrying California since a certain California Republican was on the ticket, a guy named Ronald Reagan. 

So, I think that that‘s a message Giuliani would send.  But, if you‘re going to get into comparison, I think it‘s fascinating how the Democrats started at a historically black college, in South Carolina State, Orangeburg, South Carolina, a town with a very high population of minorities, and the Republicans are starting in Simi Valley, California, Southern California, a very affluent white suburb. 

I mean, it really sort of gets at the two—shows that both parties are sort of talking to both of their bases, but may be talking to base—is that the picture they want to give to swing voters?  I‘m not sure...

CARLSON:  Huh.  Interesting. 

Jonathan...

TODD:  ... particularly on the Republican side. 

CARLSON:  ... who is going to be the surprise—sort of the surprise winner of this debate?  I mean, there‘s—it seems to me McCain and Giuliani, and Giuliani particularly, since he is the front-runner, certainly in California, it is a pretty high bar for him to impress the jaded people who analyze who wins and who loses. 

But is—a lot is at stake for Romney, it strikes me. 

MARTIN:  No, certainly. 

I mean, Romney is somebody who has done a very good job with the so-called inside game.

CARLSON:  Right. 

MARTIN:  He has raised a lot of money.  He has gotten support from a lot of the Bush crowd, from a lot of GOP insiders and activists.  But he has not yet really made that much of an impact with the sort of broader primary electorate. 

There are still a lot of Americans who are going to see Mitt Romney tonight for the very first time.  They don‘t know anything about him at all.  So, he is still a blank slate.  And this, I think, debate tonight provides him a fantastic opportunity to really start defining his message. 

CARLSON:  Do you think, Chuck, that McCain made a mistake recently when he seemed to go after Bush on the question of Katrina and the government‘s response to the hurricane there, which is a pretty sore subject with Republicans? 

It‘s a pretty tender subject with Democrats, too.  And McCain just went right at it and said, essentially, the Bush White House was incompetent in its response.  Was that a good idea? 

TODD:  You know, I think, if you‘re going to go after the Bush White House with Republican voters, only do so on management issues.  I do think there are some Republican voters who were embarrassment—embarrassed by Katrina, and, frankly, by, in some cases, the management of the Iraq war, over the issue of management and competency. 

So, if you‘re going to make—if you‘re going to go after the president, go after it there a little bit, and at least will be understand, and it‘s not as if it will get attacked.  You know, don‘t go after the president on tax cuts and some of his core beliefs.

CARLSON:  Right. 

TODD:  But, if you go after him, go after him on some managerial front.  You know, there would be some forgiveness in this. 

But I have to say, I know your premise is that there is a lot at stake for Romney.  I think—I think it‘s McCain is the focus tonight.

CARLSON:  Yes.

TODD:  I think it is McCain that has the most at stake.  He‘s the guy that has got to show that he has turned things around. 

He—you know, it‘s—I don‘t think it was a coincidence that he announced, re-launched his campaign last week, rolls right into this debate, which has been on the slate for a long time, and tries to show that he can pick up momentum.  I think he is trying to send a signal to key donors and key activists that, you know what?  This—this candidacy is far from over. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  I guess—I see what you mean. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  I think that that‘s—I mean, I understand what you‘re saying.  And I think you possibly could be right. 

I guess I‘m just impressed that McCain is doing better at least than I thought he was going to be doing in the three first primary states, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.  It makes me think that maybe he is doing better than some of us had predicted. 

Do you think so, Jonathan? 

TODD:  Well, don‘t forget, Tucker, I think the problem—I‘m sorry. 

CARLSON:  No, no, go ahead.

TODD:  But, don‘t forget, Tucker, the problem is, in—McCain is losing some favor in—quote, unquote—“national polls...”

CARLSON:  Right. 

TODD:  ... because independents are turned off by the fact that McCain is actually getting closer to President Bush.  So, as he is improving his standing with Republican voters, he hurts it nationally.  And the media sometimes picks up more on that national number than they do in the state... 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Oh, there‘s no doubt. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Everybody—I mean, all the—everybody who covers it, I mean, everybody I know thinks McCain is dead.  It will just be interesting to see if that—it turns out that way.

TODD:  Because they read the Gallup poll.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  No, right.

TODD:  They read the Gallup poll, not the Iowa poll. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Thank you both very much.  I appreciate it. 

MARTIN:  Thanks, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Rudy Giuliani is probably the candidate with the most to lose in Simi Valley, though that‘s, of course, as you just heard, open to debate.  What will his strategy be, in any case?  A key Giuliani adviser joins us next with a preview.

Plus, John McCain had his campaign in a lockstep with the president‘s war policy for most of the last year.  Will that position help or hurt him with his competitors on stage tonight?  The McCain campaign stops by in just a moment. 

This is MSNBC, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Rudy Giuliani is leading the pack of 10 Republican presidential candidates.  So, he‘s got the biggest target on his back at the debate tonight.  How will he handle it?  We will ask a top campaign adviser next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 5, 1998)

DAN QUAYLE ®, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have as much experience as Jack Kennedy when he sought the presidency. 

LLOYD BENTSEN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I served with Jack Kennedy.  I knew Jack Kennedy.  Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. 

Senator, you‘re no Jack Kennedy.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Want to bring you an update on the breaking news we brought you about 12 minutes ago.

The Department of Homeland Security is saying that there is no confirmation that there was a threat against the Barack for President Campaign, but that that campaign has requested and now received Secret Service protection. 

So, Barack Obama, senator from Illinois, Democrat running for president, now has Secret Service protection, at the request of his campaign. 

We will bring you more as we learn it. 

Well, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani enters tonight‘s debate as the front-runner in most national polls, though at least one recent survey shows Mr. Giuliani is in a real dogfight with John McCain in key early primary states New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina. 

Giuliani the politician can play both the crime-fighting tough guy and the big-city charmer.  But he has not been in a public debate in 10 years.  So, how will he play it tonight? 

You‘re looking, by the way, at pictures of the walk-through.  There‘s the former mayor walking through the debate site.  His wife, Judith Giuliani, is in there somewhere. 

Here with clues as to how Mr. Giuliani will do tonight is the senior adviser to his campaign, Jim Dyke. 

Jim, thanks for coming on.

JIM DYKE, SENIOR GIULIANI CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Thanks for having me, Tucker.

CARLSON:  It strikes me that the question is, how does Mr. Giuliani respond to President Bush, the dominant figure in the Republican Party or Republican debate, held at the Reagan Library?  Bush looms large over it.  Does Giuliani make it clear that he disagrees with some of Bush‘s policies, or not? 

DYKE:  Well, I think you have to lay out your own vision for the future.  That‘s really what the American voters want to hear.  That‘s certainly what Republican primary voters want to hear.

And, then, you have to really support that, substantiate that.  So, I think you will hear Mayor Giuliani talk about his commitment to fighting the terrorists‘ war against us, his commitment to lower taxes as part of economic growth, and then substantiate that.

You know, you can make promises to voters, but you really have to be able to back that up with something.  And I think, when you look at his record in New York of cutting taxes 23 times, taking an $8 billion deficit, turning it into a surplus, reforming welfare, welfare to work, he‘s got a real record that—that supports the—the positions that he would put forward, the vision that he would put forward...

CARLSON:  Yes. 

DYKE:  ... and is really enforced with the sense that he can get the job done.  He‘s a real leader. 

CARLSON:  You have got to figure he may be asked the question, how do you feel about Bush‘s policy in Iraq?  Is the surge working?  Are we doing the right thing, staying the course, or not?  How do you think he will respond? 

DYKE:  I think he will respond that—that the surge is an important component of trying to win this battle in Iraq.  I think he believes that the battle of Iraq is part of a broader war on terror. 

I think we have seen that in the past couple of days, with a number of al Qaeda being caught or killed as part of the leadership.  You heard Osama bin Laden say that—that he has been directing attacks in Iraq. 

So, I think that‘s part of it.  I think he believes that we have to have a commitment to winning this.  And that means fighting to win in Iraq, and that also means having the tools to—to fight the global war on terror, the terrorists‘ war against us, as he puts it. 

CARLSON:  Since it is the Reagan Library, and Reagan spent so much time talking about cutting the size of government as a way to increase the freedom of the individual to do what he wants, can you think of anything, off the top of your head, that the federal government does that Rudy Giuliani would have it stop doing, any federal agencies he would shut, or any key functions of government he thinks could be better done by the private sector? 

DYKE:  Well, you mentioned Reagan in California, so, I think it‘s probably worth noting that, for the first time since Ronald Reagan, we believe there is a Republican candidate in the race that really puts California back on the map for Republicans.  So, I think that‘s important to note. 

I think he talks about a lot about health care and market solutions to health care, as opposed to government solutions.  That‘s an important part of how you address the health care crisis that we‘re approaching, how you deal with Medicare, how you deal with providing people health care in this country. 

He believes that the private sector can do things better, and, again, something that you saw in New York, his commitment to letting private solutions play an important role in how you address critical problems. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

Well, there has been a lot of talk about Mr. Giuliani‘s positions on social issues, a very, very specific question about that.  The Republican platform, as it stands, is an assertively, explicitly pro-life document.  You know, we are opposed to legal abortion—it says that in no uncertain terms.

If Rudy Giuliani became the nominee, would that platform change on that subject? 

DYKE:  Well, it‘s a little premature for me to be speculating about the platform. 

But what I can tell you is, Rudy Giuliani believes in his heart that abortion is wrong.  He reduced abortions in New York City when he was mayor.  Adoptions increased 60 percent.  So, you saw someone, again, not just talking in terms of definitions, but someone who recognized a problem, and helped solve the problem, solutions, reducing abortions with adoptions.

As far as his position when it comes to federal policy, he said he supports the Hyde amendment, which bans federal funding of abortion, except for cases of rape, incest and life of the mother.  And I don‘t think he would change that policy. 

I think the sort of final point, when you think about this—and you saw it with the ruling—I think it was last week—when the Supreme Court considered partial-birth abortion—he would appoint judges in the vein of Alito, Roberts, who are strict constructionists, who wouldn‘t be interpreting or making laws.  They, rather, interpret the Constitution. 

CARLSON:  Huh.  All right. 

Jim Dyke, senior adviser to Rudolph Giuliani, thanks a lot.  I appreciate it. 

DYKE:  Thanks for having me.

CARLSON:  Well, making a mark is one thing, but making the right mark is quite another.  Al Gore pretty well botched it in the 2000 debates.  What can tonight‘s combatants do to be remembered in the right way? 

Plus, John McCain has allied his Iraq policy with President Bush‘s. 

Could that be the wisest thing to do in a Republican primary after all? 

The Straight Talk Express blows through our station—next. 

This is MSNBC, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Admiral Stockdale, your opening statement, please, sir? 

ADM. JAMES STOCKDALE (RET):  Who am I?  Why am I here? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Ten men onstage.  One will get the Republican nomination and possibly the keys to the White House.  With a total of fewer than 10 minutes of talk time each, how is any of these guys going to stand out? 

Joining us with his best advice on how to win is someone who knows the White House well and the path to it, former Reagan political director Frank Donatelli.  Frank, thanks for joining us. 

FRANK DONATELLI, FORMER REAGAN POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Hi, Tucker.

CARLSON:  So the last debate a week ago tonight in Orangeburg, South Carolina, the man who spoke most was Barack Obama.  He got 12 minutes out of 90 to speak.  So these guys, there are 10 rather than eight, they are going to have even less time. 

How do you create a memorable moment?  How do you change viewers‘ minds in 10 minutes, eight minutes? 

DONATELLI:  Well, it‘s very difficult to do.  And my first bit of advice to all the candidates will be, don‘t force it.  This is the first quarter of the game.  Most coaches, most football coaches script the first 10 plays anyway, and with plenty of time to go. 

I think what they ought to do is focus, No. 1, on just making the points they have been making in their speeches and so forth.  This is not the time to freelance.  Don‘t make a factual mistake.  And if a good, memorable line hits you, then so be it. 

But I think it would be wrong to force it.  They should probably focus much more on repeating the lines that we have already heard. 

CARLSON:  Lloyd Bentsen gets a lot of deserved credit for his very famous response to Dan Quayle, which we showed a minute ago.  I think it was in the very first couple of paragraphs of his obituary.  But that was scripted, that was something that the campaign had thought through, had anticipated the John Kennedy comparison, and they had that ready to go. 

To what extent is all of this scripted?  If you‘re advising a candidate, as you have done, do you walk through every scenario and prepare the candidate for a potential moment like that one? 

DONATELLI:  Well, look, most of the questions can be anticipated, and I‘m sure all of the candidates have their 60-second answers for the main questions that are going to be asked, with regard to the big issues. 

Then they probably have some answers for—to deflect some tough questions about their vulnerabilities, and they probably have a couple of attack points, too.  If they‘re attacked by somebody, they probably have a pretty good response. 

But the problem with these debates when you have 10 candidates is that it‘s really hard to create spontaneous interaction, because you have so many candidates.  At the very least, it gives all of the voters an opportunity to see these candidates against each other. 

CARLSON:  So let‘s just go through quickly what some of the obvious criticisms will be.  And just off the top of your head, tell me how you would advise a candidate to respond. 

John McCain, you used to be a maverick, but now you‘re sucking up to the president, aping his war policy.  You have lost the respect of your peers and your former friends.  Haven‘t you sacrificed yourself upon the cross of George W. Bush? 

DONATELLI:  Well, I think what I would just say there is repeat that he supports the president where he thinks he should be supported, and he would oppose him where he thinks that he is wrong.  And just go ahead and repeat a couple of things that he has been talking about in all of his standard campaign appearances—that he is for lower taxes, he is against earmarks, that he is the foremost supporter of the war on terror.  Just repeat that basic mantra. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  Rudy Giuliani.  Mr. Giuliani, you‘re an appalling social liberal.  How do you propose to lead the Republican Party when your views are nowhere near the official views of that party? 

DONATELLI:  I think I would start by saying that I‘m going to appoint men and women who are strict constructionists and will interpret the Constitution wisely, which he has been saying.  But then I would pivot immediately.  I heard your last guest, who was a Giuliani supporter, immediately pivot and talk about leadership and electability.  Anytime Giuliani can talk about those two things, he‘s in good shape.  When he is talking about abortion, it‘s very bad. 

CARLSON:  No, I think you‘re exactly right.  He says, I‘m the guy who can beat Hillary Clinton in November. 

And finally, you‘re Mitt Romney.  And the criticism is, you claim to be a lifelong hunter, you have been hunting twice, you are an appalling phony and a flip-flopper.  How do you respond? 

DONATELLI:  No, I‘m not.  And let me tell you what else I‘ve done.  I‘m the only candidate that has a strong record in the private sector.  I‘m a successful businessman.  And I‘m the only—one of the only candidates that‘s been a strong executive in a very liberal state.  I really would try to pivot as much as I can and talk about your strengths and just parry that particular question. 

CARLSON:  So do you think Romney will—and I think it‘s a completely fair point, to point out that he ran Massachusetts as a Republican? 

DONATELLI:  He ran Massachusetts as a Republican and he vetoed a lot of bills.  And if it wasn‘t for him, Massachusetts government would be bigger and more inefficient, and he did the best he could. 

CARLSON:  No wonder you were the political director under Ronald Reagan.  Frank Donatelli, thank you very much.

DONATELLI:  Thank you very much.

CARLSON:  For your wise advice.  I‘m sure they‘re listening and taking notes. 

Well, think you have to wait until next November to cast your vote for president?  Think again, buddy.  MSNBC.com will let you rate the candidates right after tonight‘s debate.  We‘ll tell you how to do that in just a minute.

Plus, John McCain has got a lot of work to do to regain his long-lost frontrunner status.  Can he get started tonight?  A senior McCain adviser drops by right after the break to tell us.  Stick around.  This is MSNBC, the most impressive name in news. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN F. KENNEDY:  ... is an effective leader of his party.  I hope he would grant me the same.  The question before us is, which point of view and which party do we want to lead the United States? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Nixon, would you like to comment on that statement? 

RICHARD NIXON:  I have no comment. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Amazing.  For all of you who will be watching tonight‘s Republican debate will be asking yourselves the same question, who do you want leading this country?  And you don‘t have to wait until November 2008 to make your voice heard, thanks to MSNBC.com‘s online component to tonight‘s debate. 

Here to explain how it works, we welcome the political director of MSNBC.com, Lauren Vicary.  Lauren, you sign on and what do you do next? 

LAUREN VICARY, MSNBC.COM POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, the great thing about this feature, it‘s the same one that we used with the Democrats, so you get to compare the candidates once again.  And what you do is you go on, and before the debate, you can actually look at the clips of the candidates on the campaign trail, stump speeches, various appearances.  You can rate them beforehand on a sliding scale.  We‘ve already had nearly 70,000 people vote today already on this.

And then, as soon as the debate starts, we take it down for just a little bit and put up clips of the candidates from the actual debate.  And what‘s great is the users can then go and look at those chips as well, vote again, and they can compare the before and the after of the candidates. 

We saw quite a shift last week with the Democrats.  It was interesting to see how many of the positives went up for some of the candidates.  It will be interesting to see that again tonight. 

CARLSON:  It will be, and I will be there, checking on every single development.  Lauren Vicary of MSNBC.com, thanks a lot. 

VICARY:  You bet, Tucker.  Thanks. 

CARLSON:  Well, as early as we are in the ‘08 election process, the ride has already been up and down for Senator John McCain.  He was the early favorite, but his poll numbers have since lagged.  His trip to Baghdad netted him more negative than positive publicity.  But what goes down sometimes do go back up, and the most recent poll by the American Research Center has McCain ahead in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina, the three early primary states. 

So what are his goals tonight and how is he going to achieve them?  Here to tell us, senior McCain campaign adviser, Steve Schmidt.  Steve, thanks for coming on.

STEVE SCHMIDT, SR. MCCAIN CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Great to see you, Tucker. 

Thanks for having me. 

CARLSON:  Thanks.  So McCain took a dig at Bush the other day over Katrina, essentially called the administration incompetent.  Pretty fair, I thought.  Is he going to repeat that again tonight at the debate?  What is his position on Bush going to be tonight? 

SCHMIDT:  Well, he agrees with the president on some issues; he disagrees with the president on some issues.  What this debate is about tonight is who is going to be the next president and what do you want to do as the next president.  And Senator McCain is going to talk about that. 

I think when it comes to issues like Katrina, I don‘t think there is anybody out there, from the president on down, who thinks that the federal government response was appropriate or right.  And we need to do better.  And Senator McCain calls ‘em like he sees ‘em on all of these issues.  And he‘s going to communicate tonight he is the most prepared of all the candidates to lead this nation, to confront the threat of radical Islamic extremism that is the great challenge that this country faces to its security in the early part of the 21st century. 

CARLSON:  Lots of conservatives are mad at McCain because of his position on campaign finance, as you know.  It really stuck in their craw.  Is he going to address that tonight?  Does he have second thoughts about McCain-Feingold? 

SCHMIDT:  I think Senator McCain would be happy to talk about campaign finance reform tonight.  What he would say is that there is too much money by too many special interests in Washington.  When you read on a daily basis the FBI raiding another member of Congress‘ offices or another staffer being indicted for ethical wrongdoing, that‘s not the type of money that comes from citizens across the country who generously give their resources and invest in candidates whose ideas they share.  You know, what the campaign finance did is made it impossible for a corporation to write a million-dollar check to a political committee to buy influence a day before a vote.  And he will be happy to have a conversation with the American people about that issue. 

CARLSON:  OK.  I‘m a little confused, though.  I mean, if he is upset about the pernicious effect of money in politics, then why is he planning on blowing off the campaign finance limits, not accepting matching funds and just self-financing the campaign?  I mean, isn‘t that kind of antithetical to the whole spirit of campaign finance reform? 

SCHMIDT:  Well, Tucker, I respectfully think you‘re conflating two issues.  When you look at campaign finance reform and what that law did—what that law outlawed is soft money, which was a term used to describe corporate donations.  So...

CARLSON:  Right, but I‘m not just talking about the law. 

SCHMIDT:  ... a big company being able to write...

CARLSON:  I understand.

SCHMIDT:  Big company being able to write—well, but you are conflating two issues. 

CARLSON:  No, but I‘m not simply talking about the piece of legislation.

SCHMIDT:  Corporate—corporate money, you know, which Senator McCain believes is bad, is a different type of money than individuals writing checks to the candidate that they believe in.  He thinks that‘s a healthy part of the process. 

CARLSON:  OK.  So he does not think it is in any way preferable, morally or otherwise, to take matching funds over self-financing? 

SCHMIDT:  No decisions have been made.  You know, this stuff is a long time off in the campaign.  He‘s going to talk tonight about the big issues:

Winning the war against radical Islamic extremism, about making this country energy independent, to stop the incredible wasteful spending that‘s undertaken by the Congress.  And he will talk about how as president he will veto these bills. 

I mean, these are the issues that the American people care about.  These are the issues he spent the last month talking about, and these are the issues that I think you see lead to a rise in his poll numbers both nationally and in the early primary states. 

CARLSON:  Republicans always used to talk about getting rid of stuff, you know, they‘re going to abolish the Department of Education, the Department of Energy.  I think those are really admirable goals, nobody else agrees.  Is he for getting rid of anything?  Is he for actually shrinking the size of the federal government in any way substantially? 

SCHMIDT:  I think Senator McCain—you ought to ask him when you get him on the show.  I don‘t want to announce policies for him. 

CARLSON:  Oh, go ahead. 

SCHMIDT:  He certainly is—he certainly is going to talk, as he has been talking, about the need to make the federal government more accountable, to make it more competent, to make sure that it‘s in a position to deliver services during a terrorist attack, or during a natural disaster.  And we‘ve seen tremendous failings on the part of the government with regard to those type of situations here recently in this country.  So, making government work better is something certainly that he‘s been talking about during the last month, and he‘s going to continue to talk about during the course of the campaign. 

CARLSON:  Yes, but there is no—the Department of Homeland Security.  It just kind of arose out of nowhere, literally arose out of nowhere, and there was no offset, no part of the government was cut.  The government has grown hugely since 9/11.  And I know that McCain has been talking a lot about how government is bloated and all that.  Does he plan, though, actual, real cuts that would limit the scope or influence or spending of the government significantly? 

SCHMIDT:  Well, one of the things that Senator McCain has done over the course of the last month is talk about energy independence, talk about the threat of radical Islamic extremism.  It‘s May 1st.  We are going to continue to talk about those issues, and during the course of the campaign, Senator McCain is going to lay out a very deep and comprehensive vision for what he wants to do for the country.  The goal is not to announce all of those things at the first debate today, but, you know, this is part of a dialogue that he will have a chance to have with the American people and voters during the course of the campaign, through May, through June.  There‘s a long way to go.  And he‘s going to give a lot of speeches.  He is going to announce a lot of policies between now and the first primary states. 

CARLSON:  Do you think—I mean, McCain has spent all of these—he has been in the Congress since 1982.  He has spent all this time on foreign policy.  He is being beaten in national polls, which may or may not be significant, but they tell you something, by a man who has no foreign policy experience really of any kind, Rudy Giuliani.  Doesn‘t that kind of frost him?  And do you think Giuliani has the background to run America‘s foreign policy? 

SCHMIDT:  Well, the American people will make that decision. 

CARLSON:  Well, what do you think? 

SCHMIDT:  And that decision will be influenced very significantly by early primary voters where Senator McCain has a lead in all of these early states.  So I think that Senator McCain, without question, is the most prepared candidate to deal with this country‘s national security challenges in the first decade of the 21st Century. 

He has a record that is not matched by any of the other candidates who will be appearing on the stage tonight.  He will communicate his vision to deal with those threats, to deal with the challenges.  He has known war, and he has known peace.  And he is going to communicate to the American people tonight why it is that he wants to be president, as he has been doing in the early primary states as he has been doing traveling around the country. 

CARLSON:  Right.  OK. 

SCHMIDT:  So I think he is the most prepared candidate, and the American people will have to evaluate that. 

CARLSON:  Steve Schmidt from the McCain campaign.  Thanks a lot, Steve. 

SCHMIDT:  Thank you, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  You know the frontrunners in tonight‘s debate, but who among the lesser known candidates could make his mark tonight?  One of them stops by to make his case, next.  And the whole event gets under way in just over three hours from now.  The first Republican candidate‘s debate brought to you by MSNBC, politico.com and the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.  Stick around for more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  All 10, yes, 10 Republican presidential candidates will be squaring off in their first debate of the campaign season tonight on MSNBC.  How will the lesser known candidates stand out among the crowd?  We will ask one of them, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls, you will stand there in the polling place and make a decision.  I think when you make that decision it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  A nationally televised debate is perhaps the best—maybe the only opportunity for the less famous among the presidential candidates to make their marks with the public.  It is a place for those to force their issues with the leading contenders. 

Well, maybe the most interesting contender in this entire race is a congressman from Texas named Ron Paul.  Unlike virtually everyone else in the Republican Party, he is an actual libertarian.  He has also run for president before.  I‘m willing to admit, I actually voted for him as a libertarian in 1988.  I will get my conflict out of the way at the very beginning.  We welcome now from Simi Valley, California, Ron Paul of Texas. 

Congressman, thanks for coming on. 

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you.  Nice to be with you. 

CARLSON:  Well, I slobbered all over you in the intro, so I bet it is. 

PAUL:  Good job.

CARLSON:  Thank you.  I think you are the only Republican running for president right now who actually voted against the war in Iraq at the very outset.  Are you going to bring that up on the stage tonight? 

PAUL:  Well, if I have the chance, I certainly will because 70 of the American people now think that the foreign policy is going in the wrong direction, want a change.  So you can‘t win an election next year if you don‘t go with what the public wants.  And they want a change in foreign policy. 

But I was opposed to what was going on in Iraq a long time before it started because there was an Iraqi Liberation Act passed in 1998 indicating that that would be our policy.  So I was speaking out against a war for five years before it started and it has turned out that this war has not gone well. 

CARLSON:  Sometimes candidates who get in the race because of their ideas who really believe what they say, and I‘m putting you—I mean it as a compliment, in that category, you could feel the anger that comes off of them when they address members of their own party who they feel like have sold the true beliefs of the party.  Do feel the anger toward your fellow Republicans for squandering the opportunity they had in 1994?

PAUL:  No.  I don‘t have anger, but I‘m very interested in the philosophy because I think ideas change the world.  But I don‘t think that the ideas of this administration is wholly to blame for our foreign policy.  We have a foreign policy that needs to be addressed, not micromanaging troops.  We need to macromanage our foreign policy.  And that is what we haven‘t done well.

I just don‘t believe in the interventionist foreign policy.  I believe in the foreign policy of the founding fathers who talked about non-intervention.  Republicans over the decades have benefited by taking this position.  We have been generally the peace party. 

And you know, look at the Korean War, we won the election with Nixon -

with Eisenhower, and after Vietnam, we won, and even in the year 2000 we ran against nation-building and policing the world and a humble foreign policy.  That is the Republican position.  That‘s the conservative position.  And that‘s the message I would like to get out. 

CARLSON:  And where did the utopianism come in?  I mean, who introduced into the Republican Party the idea it was our moral obligation to bring democracy to the rest of the world?  That our soldiers ought to die so other people could have a different form of government?  Where did that come from? 

PAUL:  Well, unfortunately, it came from a very liberal Democrat named Woodrow Wilson.  Make the world safe for democracy.  So that idea has been around for a long time.  But it is the neoconservatives that have revived that idea here in the last seven years or so since they took over foreign policy. 

But they pushed the traditional conservatives out of the way.  The neoconservatives are not conservatives.  They come from the left wing of the Democratic Party.  They believe in entitlements.  And what have we done as Republicans?  We have fully endorsed the entitlements.  And that is why this country is in financial bad shape. 

I mean, we‘re overspending on our foreign policy and our military commitments, at the same time we are massively increasing the scope of government in Washington, increasing domestic spending either with these entitlements, doubling the size of the Department of Education, over-regulating. 

So I think in many ways, the Republican Party has lost its way.  And we deserve in this country to hear from the conservative Republicans and give them a chance to get their message out. 

CARLSON:  So but where—what is their outlets—I mean, for the—

I don‘t know, whatever the small percentage of Americans who are genuinely conservative or classical liberal or libertarian or whatever you call it, but who believe in freedom and limited government, and there are some left.  They‘re not being represented at all by the Republican Party.  Who do they vote for?  Who did you vote for last time?  Who will you vote for if you don‘t become the nominee?  Who holds their flag? 

PAUL:  Well, it depends on who our nominee is going to be.  And hopefully there is enough people now who are interested in these views that believe in liberty, believe in the Constitution, believe in limited government and balanced budget.  There is nothing radical about it. 

To me, the radical idea is overspending, over-borrowing and then resorting to printing money when you run out of it.  And you wonder why you have financial problems.  We are borrowing it from the Chinese to finance our military operations. 

I mean, most Americans are waking up to this.  So no, I‘m offering this.  Obviously I think I can provide an opportunity to represent these people and represent the country.  To me, it‘s the most practical thing to do and to me, it‘s also a traditional Republican conservative position. 

And unfortunately, like you indicate, the Republican party no longer has been acting conservatively, but the conservative views of this country, the traditions, the Constitution, there‘s nothing about that that we should be embarrassed about.  A conservative does not have to be embarrassed about being opposed to needless war, war that is undeclared. 

Here we‘re going to war, ever since World War II, we never declared war and have never won a war.  There is nothing conservative about that. 

CARLSON:  I agree. 

PAUL:  So this is a tremendous opportunity for conservatives to be heard. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  There is—when your operating philosophy is please don‘t bother me and I will try my best not to bother you, there is nothing embarrassing about that.  And I wish people would articulate it better.  Ron Paul, you articulate it well.  And I appreciate you coming on.  Thank you. 

PAUL:  Thanks a lot. 

CARLSON:  With a somewhat crowded field of 10, someone is bound to come out on top, right?  We hope so for our sake.  We will have our predictions of who it might be and who we would like it to be and it just may not be the same person.  That is all next with Joe Scarborough.  Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, 1992 DEMOCRATIC

PARTY V.P. NOMINEE:  I will make you a deal this evening.  If you don‘t try to compare George Bush to Harry Truman, I won‘t compare you to Jack Kennedy.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  We certainly don‘t expect to see any comparisons to Jack Kennedy at tonight‘s debate, but what about Ronald Reagan?  With Nancy Reagan sitting front and center, you can bet someone will try and tap into the legacy of our 40th president.  So who will it be?  And while we are at it, who will separate himself from the crowd of 10 for the best of reasons or the worst when they meet on the stage in Simi Valley.  Joining us tonight with his predictions, from the Reagan Library, is the host of MSNBC‘s “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY,” Joe Scarborough himself. 

Joe, so who is it going to be?  Who is the one who is going to say, I am the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan, do you think?  Or will it be all of them?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  All 10 of them are, Tucker.  They are all going to point to different things.  But let‘s look at the top three candidates.  You have got Mitt Romney that is going to talk about his optimistic outlook.  Now he can have that—he can beset carry the mantle of Ronald Reagan. 

You are going to have Rudy Giuliani talking about Reagan‘s leadership and how he is the heir apparent.  And you have got John McCain who I think has the most really riding on tonight‘s debate. 

I think John McCain needs to introduce himself, reintroduce himself to conservative Republicans across America and say, hey, you know what?  I remember being introduced to politics by Ronald Reagan, being taken to the CPAC meeting, which actually he may not want to say that, because he didn‘t show this year. 

CARLSON:  Good point.

SCARBOROUGH:  But John McCain can say that I am a Reagan Republican, maybe you disagree with me on global warming.  Maybe you disagree with me on campaign finance reform.  But look at my voting record since 1982.  Over the past quarter century, I have voted consistently with conservatives. 

I have voted with Ronald Reagan for six years.  I voted with George Bush senior for four years, and I have supported this president over the past seven years.  I am a conservative‘s conservative. 

And all of these people like Mitt Romney can talk about being conservatives, but I haven‘t flip-flopped on the big issues.  I am today what I have been for the past quarter century what I will be moving forward.  That‘s the message John McCain has to deliver tonight. 

CARLSON:  Well, and the truth is that is the truth, actually.  He just doesn‘t look like a conservative and he hates conservatives so he turns them off, but if you—on paper, and I think in some ways in reality, John McCain is a conservative. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and that‘s the interesting thing.  You know, John McCain got turned sideways with the Republican Party in 2000.  He upset—you know, he upset Christian conservatives.  He said some nasty things about Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and you know, I remember waking up... 

CARLSON:  So deserved, by the way. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I woke up, -- you know, it‘s funny.  I woke up reading that on the front page of The Washington Post, and I said, well, you know what?  This race is over.  You say “so deserved.” but you know, those guys say some quirky things once in a while.  But it is like Tom Wolfe. 

I remember after the 2004 election, Tom Wolfe talked about “championism.”  And he said, you know what, it‘s all right for me to attack those guys but I don‘t want Democrats attacking those guys, and to say it is—and I feel the same way.  It‘s all right for you or me to go after those guys.  I don‘t want to read it on the front page of The New York Times or the editorial page of it. 

And I think that‘s where the breach came with John McCain.  And he has got to go back and he has got say, you know what, guys, just like you said, the truth is the truth. 

CARLSON:  Well, that is the truth. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And these other candidates can run but they can‘t hide.  Since 1982, since Ronald Reagan introduced me on the national stage, since I ran for Congress at Ronald Reagan‘s urging, I have been voting conservatively for 25 years. 

And maybe I‘m a little quirky.  Maybe you don‘t like my position on global warming.  Maybe you don‘t like my position on campaign finance reform.  But as Ronald Reagan said, just because I‘m your friend 90 percent of the time doesn‘t make me your enemy 10 percent of the time.  John McCain hasn‘t gotten that message out.  I don‘t know why.  Tonight he needs to do it. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  And it‘s all personal.  And if he can just choke that back for a second, I think he can do it.  And quickly, in the minute we have got left, of all the other guys running, let‘s take the top three out, because we know they have a lot to lose here, they are going to play it safe, but the other seven not in the top tier, which one of them is going to throw a long ball tonight do you think and be the Mike Gravel of the Republican field? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, there are so many fascinating people.  As I look up there, a lot of great conservative leader, Brownback, Gilmore, Huckabee, all of them, Hunter.  I am looking, though, I think Tommy Thompson has the best story to tell. 

When we came in, in 1994, Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, the other Republican leaders were pointing to Tommy Thompson.  Tommy Thompson was for welfare reform before welfare reform was cool.  Tommy Thompson, also, he was vouchers—school vouchers.  I mean, this guy did some radical things up in Wisconsin. 

CARLSON:  No, that is right.

SCARBOROUGH:  He made a great difference.  And Tommy Thompson actually was—you know, provided the blueprint for a lot of the 1994 “Republican Revolution.”  He needs to get that message out there and talk about how he really is a reformer with results.  I think he may break out of the pack. 

CARLSON:  That‘s the sleeper candidate.  I agree with you.  Joe Scarborough, thanks, Joe.  Have a great time tonight. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thanks, Tucker.

CARLSON:  That does it for us.  Thanks for watching.  Up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris.  I will see you at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, tune in then.  Have a great night.

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

END   

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