updated 5/8/2007 12:06:02 PM ET 2007-05-08T16:06:02

Guests: Reed Timmer, Joel Taylor, Eugene Robinson, Mort Zuckerman

DAVID SHUSTER, GUEST HOST:  If presidential politics were baseball, President Bush would be mired in one of the worst slumps in big-league history.

I‘m David Shuster, in today for Tucker Carlson.

There are political storms.  Then there are those delivered by Mother Nature.  In just a few minutes, we will bring you a live report and some incredible video from tornado-ravaged Greensburg, Kansas. 

But we begin with the president‘s political slump, which continued unabated Monday—strike one, the release of the latest “Newsweek” poll, which shows the president‘s approval rating has dipped to 28 percent.  That sub-freezing number is not only the worst showing in the president‘s years in office, but it is a number lower than any president‘s since Jimmy Carter. 

Strike two for the Bush presidency, today, the latest edition of “U.S.  News & World Report”—the lead story is titled “A Sinking Presidency.”  and the cover asks if—whether he‘s resolute or delusional. 

In other words, one week after the president was left off “TIME” magazine‘s list of the 100 most influential people, there is more negative news for Mr. Bush on newsstands now.

And Then there was the president‘s awkward encounter today with Britain‘s Queen Elizabeth.  Her visit to the White House began this morning.  And, amidst all the pomp, circumstance, and protocol, the president produced some royal discomfort. 

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 -- in 1976. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Ouch.

Our own Willie Geist is investing the Bush gaffe, and will be here later, along his own analysis of the queen‘s visit.

But, to discuss President Bush‘s latest political troubles, we welcome the publisher of both “The New York Daily News”: and the aforementioned “U.S. News & World Report,” Mort Zuckerman, and the columnist for “The Washington Post” Eugene Robinson.

And, first of all, Eugene, you were London bureau chief for “The Washington Post.”  They are already playing that gaffe.  How bad is it? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, it‘s very difficult not to do something wrong around the queen. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  There are so many dos and don‘ts.  I went to an investiture at the palace once.  You walk this way.  You stand here.  No, no, no, don‘t do that.  Oh, please, don‘t—whatever you do, don‘t do that other thing. 

So, it‘s not hard to do.  And it‘s kind of funny. 

SHUSTER:  But, Mort, I have got to confess.  I looked at this tape five times, including the (INAUDIBLE) view, where you can actually see the queen. 

When the president looked over to try to sort of correct himself.  The queen looked down at her notes.  Her notes were folded.  Then, only when the president started continuing with the speech, the queen looked over, presumably over at Prince Philip. 

What was going through her mind at that moment?

MORT ZUCKERMAN, CHAIRMAN & PUBLISHER, “THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  I

think many people in England, never mind in this country, have real difficulty figuring out what goes through the queen‘s mind. 

So, I‘m—that‘s not something that anybody can figure out.  But I do think he handled it very well, when he made his quip afterwards, and brought a lot of laughter from the audience. 

So, I think he managed it all very well.  I don‘t think it was anything to—as we say, to write home about.

SHUSTER:  But is it anything that “The New York Daily News” is going to splash on a headline tomorrow? 

LISOVICZ:  Well, we might find a way to take that story into account and turn it into something funny, which is what it was, but on his part and her part in various ways.

But this queen is not exactly the most relaxed person we have ever encountered.  I can recall many incidents, since I grew up in Canada, where she said things that are really astounding, including coming to Toronto after she had first become queen, and they gave her the wrong speech, the speech she was to have she delivered at the end of her trip to—and she delivered it from the beginning, from beginning to end. 

(LAUGHTER)

ZUCKERMAN:  So, these happens, you know,?  So, I must say to you, I‘m not that concerned about it.  I think he handled it very well, in fact.

ROBINSON:  Had it been for her mother, the queen mother, I know exactly what she would have done.  She had a one-sentence all-purpose reaction to anything, which is, aren‘t the flowers lovely? 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  Every event she went to, whether she...

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  Well, the flowers are not so lovely at the “U.S. News & World Report,” as far as the Bush presidency is concerned. 

The article says “Sinking Policies.”  Robert Dallek is quoted in the piece as saying, “Everything he, the president, touches turns to dust.”

ZUCKERMAN:  Well, I mean, there‘s no doubt but that the president has had an awful time of it on almost every level you can think of.

But, of course, overwhelmingly, it‘s the war in Iraq, which he has been mired in and has been unable to craft a policy at this point.  He‘s lost the confidence of the country, of the Congress, of the media.  And it‘s very difficult for anybody to figure out how he is going to emerge from all of this. 

He is somebody who genuinely believes in his policy.  I mean, anybody who speaks to him knows that this is not a matter of politics for him.  It is something that he really believes is in the national interest.  And, so, he‘s going to follow it through.

But he has, somehow or other, lost that ability to persuade the American public, and, therefore, the American Congress, to go along with him.

SHUSTER:  But, Eugene Robinson, doesn‘t the president know that, whether that he wants a set a timetable or not, come January 2009, if a Democrat is in the White House, we‘re out of Iraq; that‘s it?

ROBINSON:  Well, I think he maybe knows that.  But I think he also knows that he is going to pursue his policy.  And I think he genuinely hopes and thinks that it will bear some fruit between now and then.  The country disagrees.  The country doesn‘t see a graceful exit.  It doesn‘t see victory in Iraq, because it‘s difficult to know what victory is.

And he keeps redefining it.  But I think he genuinely believes that he‘s going to get there. 

SHUSTER:  Let‘s talk a little bit about the news in Iraq.  This weekend, 12 U.S. soldiers were killed.  Nearly 100 Iraqi civilians were killed in a civil war.

The president and the administration keep talking about progress.  And, in some cases, yes, there is some security progress in Baghdad.  But, politically, we find out that the Iraqi parliament is taking two to three months off this summer.  There‘s been no agreement on oil revenue.  There‘s been no agreement on de-Baathification.

How big a problem is the political mess in Iraq right now for the Bush administration? 

ZUCKERMAN:  Well, I think it‘s central to everything that we‘re trying to do there.

If there‘s any chance that the American public will be willing to sort of extend the stay of American forces there, it‘s a sense, at least, that Iraqis, as manifested by what their government does, is going to be contributing to the solutions, and not to the problems.

And, so far, in fact, we have had real problems getting them to react.  Of course, what we—we have two problems to deal with.  One is, you have a religious conflict between the Shiites and the Sunnis, which is hundreds of years.  And, in Western history, we don‘t know quite how to deal with that.

But the other part is, how do you deal with people who are essentially willing to die as martyrs, as they call it, in the interest of their religious cause?  There are an unending supply of suicide bombers there.  Nobody in the world has ever found a way to stop people who are willing to die and blow themselves up in the process, particularly in the details of day-to-day life, in a bus, or in a supermarket, at a flower shop, in an ice cream shop.

One of them, I mean, they brought in two young children into the car, and that was the way they got in, because nobody thought they would blow up the young children.  And that‘s precisely what they did. 

SHUSTER:  But that doesn‘t have anything to do with the will of the

Iraqi political figures to reach some sort of accommodation.  And isn‘t the

Congress off to the right track now by saying to the president, look, you -

the House Democrats today are rolling out this idea:  We‘re going to fund the war until July.  At the end of July., show us benchmarks that have been meet regarding the politics in Iraq, and then we will keep funding. 

ROBINSON:  Yes.  I mean, what are benchmarks, though?  Benchmarks are

are they enforceable or not?  Does the president...

SHUSTER:  How about an agreement that the Iraqis have agreed to settle their oil differences? 

ROBINSON:  That would make a huge difference.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Look, I think this is the delusional part of White House behavior right now. 

They are acting is if there was some sort of evident will on the part of the Iraqi government to solve these problems politically.  There seems to be no will to do that, let alone whether there is the ability to do it, if there were the will to do it.

And they seem to completely ignore that and just say, well, the Maliki government is going to do this and they are going to do that.  No, they are not going to do it.  And they couldn‘t do it if they wanted to, I think.

So, but that‘s where are.

ZUCKERMAN:  The fundamentals of this thing is that the Maliki government is a Shiite government.  The Shiites have been suppressed by the Sunnis for years for, God knows, hundreds of years.  And they are determined, since we were the ones who introduced democracy, since they were the majority of the population, they‘re now in power.

They‘re going to use us, if anything, to reduce the power of the Sunnis.  And they are going to do it, so that they can maintain the goodies of that society.  We do not understand that kind of tribal conflict. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  And is that the problem now?  The White House just still doesn‘t understand it? 

ZUCKERMAN:  No.  I think they understand it.  There‘s very little that they can do about it, because, no matter what we set forth as our agenda, that‘s not their agenda.  Their agenda is to maintain the power of the Shiites.

And they‘re supported, of course, by Iran in this thing.  And we simply just do not know how to maneuver between two religious groups who, admittedly, were set against each other‘s throats by al Qaeda.

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  Why not, then, blame the political problems there on the Shiites the Sunnis not being able to get along, blame it on the government, and say, look, you have got three months to solve this; otherwise, we are getting out?

That would seem like the easiest political escape route for the Bush administration in all this.

(CROSSTALK)

ZUCKERMAN:  Getting out is not going to be the easiest solution for us. 

We have two terrible choices, which is staying in and enduring this sort of war of attrition, in which American forces are—there are some dead and some wounded every week.  And this is magnified by the media here in this country.  That‘s sort of one very bad solution.

The other very bad solution is that we leave, and this country gets taken over by these radical groups, and it becomes empowered by the oil and empowered by their victory, that becomes a platform for further attacks on other countries.  This is not Vietnam.  In Vietnam, we never had to worry that they were going to cross the ocean. 

These people are out to get us.

SHUSTER:  But, politically, it looks worse. 

And, Eugene Robinson, I want to ask you before we go here.  The 28 percent approval rating in “Newsweek”, that‘s the worst since Jimmy Carter.

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  Is that number only going down now? 

ROBINSON:  Yes.  I mean, it‘s hard to imagine it could go much lower. 

But I think it will probably go a little bit lower.  And then you reach—you know, Republicans have stuck with him.  The Republican base has stuck with the president on Iraq policy and on much else. 

And, so, I think we will get down to a number that represents that, and then we won‘t get any lower.

SHUSTER:  Eugene Robinson and Mort Zuckerman, we‘re going to talk politics again with you later in the show, but great to have you here talking about the queen‘s visit.

But, up next, the most powerful tornado to strike the Eastern United States and—strike the United States in eight years devastated Greensburg, Kansas, over the weekend; 1,500 people used to live there.  Not anymore.  Ten people were killed, and almost all the town‘s residents were left homeless.  We will have a live report from Greensburg, including an amazing story of survival.

And the governor of Kansas expresses concern that the resources to respond to this weekend‘s tornado strike are being limited by the war in Iraq—how America‘s emergency preparedness at home may be diminished by our military mission in the Middle East.

You‘re watching MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  At least 10 people killed by massive tornadoes in Greensburg, Kansas, but there have also been incredible stories of survival.  We will hear one of them next.

(CROSSTALK) 

SHUSTER:  At least 10 people were killed and an estimated 95 percent of Greensburg, Kansas was destroyed by an F-5 force tornado, the most powerful twister to strike U.S. soil in eight years. 

The pictures of the storm‘s wake are gut-wrenching, as is every story of individual survival.

NBC News‘ Charles Hadlock reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES HADLOCK, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Gene (ph) and Jill McIntosh (ph) are seeing their neighborhood for the first time since Friday night‘s tornado.  Nothing looks familiar. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You don‘t recognize it.  I mean, I‘m trying to think, what was here on this corner?  Oh, it was a big beautiful house that had flowers everywhere. 

HADLOCK:  Like the rest of Greensburg, it‘s all gone now.  There isn‘t a home left untouched. 

Gene (ph) is a church pastor, and wonders what has happened to everyone he knows. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s the trouble.  You don‘t know where—where are they?

HADLOCK:  Their street is eerily vacant. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Here‘s our house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, good lord.  Look at...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And we were in the basement. 

HADLOCK:  Their two-story home was ripped open, the sides of the house peeled away. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I thought parts of the house were ripping off, it sounded like.

HADLOCK:  But, unlike other homes on their street, theirs is still standing, sort of.  Family treasures can still be found. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Keep your eyes open for a wedding ring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s your (INAUDIBLE) shirt.

HADLOCK:  Daughter Catarina (ph) found something unexpected. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I heard the little kitten meowing over here under lots of rubble.  Pulled up a few things, and there she was.  I have never seen her before.

HADLOCK:  She says she will name the kitten Twister. 

After surveying his home, Gene McIntosh (ph) went to see what was left of his church.  He had trouble finding his way.  The tall landmark steeple he‘s used to seeing is missing.  The church is battered.  The pews are filled with debris, instead of people. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The cross was right here.  It‘s just painful.

HADLOCK:  McIntosh (ph) says it‘s the memories made in this church, the weddings, the funerals, the celebrations, the basics of small-town life, that he will miss the most. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Well, that was just an incredible report from NBC‘s Charles Hadlock.  And we thank him for that.

But joining us now are a couple of people who were actually chasing the storms this Saturday.

But NBC‘s news channel Leeana Gregg (ph). 

Actually, she‘s not with that.

So, we are going to go to Reed Timmer and Joel Taylor. 

Reed and Joel, are you guys with us? 

REED TIMMER, STORM CHASER:  Yes. 

JOEL TAYLOR, STORM CHASER:  Yes. 

SHUSTER:  First of all, I want to show a little video of what you guys shot on Saturday, so our viewers understand why we‘re talking to you.

Let‘s roll a little bit of the tape.

Actually, what we have is, we have video of you two at what looks like to be about 100 yards from one of the tornadoes that eventually ripped through Kansas. 

First of all, what were you guys thinking? 

TIMMER:  Well, we were approaching it from the north.  We saw the tornado to the right of the road.  And we thought it was moving northeasterly.  But we also knew that it was moving slow. 

So, we approached it from the north.  And we knew he had an exit strategy.  We knew that we could put it in reverse if the tornado was moving more northerly.  And that is just what happened.  When we got up to it, we were probably 100 yards away, and it was moving right towards us.

It hit a barn.  And there was big chunks of the bar moving around it rapidly.  We saw the debris go around it probably four times.  And then we decided it was time to get out of there and back up, and put it in reverse. 

SHUSTER:  And, Joel, what...

TAYLOR:  Yes. 

SHUSTER:  ... on earth were you doing out there? 

TAYLOR:  Really, for us, it‘s kind of—it‘s an adrenaline rush.  And we were coming up on this storm.  And we had a large tornado on the ground. 

And, this one, we actually got a little closer than we normally like to.  We were a little bit worried there for a second.  We were able to, obviously, back up far enough to get safe again.  But it‘s just—it‘s really exciting to witness these kind of events.

TIMMER:  But we also have to let you now our top priority out there is to call in reports and let the National Weather Service know that a tornado is on the ground, so we can help warn people in the public.  And our second priority is to document the tornado. 

SHUSTER:  And, Reed, I understand that you are working on a Ph.D. in meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. 

Based on what you have witnessed—and, again, some incredible video there—what do you recommend for people who find themselves someplace with a tornado approaching?  Based on what you saw, is there a way that you can outrun the tornadoes or look at what direction it‘s coming from and make a good judgment about what to do? 

TIMMER:  Well, the best advice is never to try to outrun a tornado.

But, of course, you should use your best judgment.  And, if it‘s a very slow-moving tornado, and you‘re in a vehicle, the best thing to do is to probably try to outrun it.  But you also should—if it looks like if you can‘t, then getting into a ditch is the next best thing. 

SHUSTER:  Getting into a ditch? 

TIMMER:  Yes.  Or, if you can find a shelter, get in the interior of your home or—being below ground, of course, is the safest option. 

SHUSTER:  How about driving your car backwards, like what you guys were doing? 

TAYLOR:  The tornado was actually slow enough moving that we were able to do that.

Most of time, that‘s not going to happen.  Usually, if you‘re in a car, if you can move at right angles to the tornado‘s motion, you can get yourself out of the path.  You just want to make sure you get yourself far enough out of the path that you‘re not going to affected by the tornado.

TIMMER:  Joel and—I was actually—we actually switched spots when the tornado was at its closest.  And Joel nearly abandoned me, actually, when we were out there.  He didn‘t think I had enough time to get in the  vehicle.  And, if that would have happened, I would have had to get in a ditch.

(CROSSTALK)

TAYLOR:  Reed was taking his merry time to get back in the car. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  Give us a sense, Joel and Reed, about what is the—what is the taste, what is the smell like when you‘re that close to a tornado?  You hear what sounds like a freight train.  Describe it for us. 

TAYLOR:  Usually—the wind is usually blowing 78, 80, 90 miles an hour.  It sounds like a really loud water fall.  If you‘re close to a water fall, that‘s really close to what the tornado sounds like.   And then, obviously, there‘s a lot of times rain or maybe even hail in the air that‘s flying around along with debris, dirt, grass and sometimes buildings, and tumble weeds and trees and all that kind of stuff. 

TIMMER:  Luckily, this tornado, even though it was very violent, it didn‘t hit any structures.  It was mostly over rural areas, except for the barn.  But if this tornado had gone through a populated area, it could have been bad, just like the Greensburg tornado.  And even though we sound really excited in the video, once you hear about all the damage and devastation afterwards, your rush usually turns to sadness.  It‘s terrible to see what these things can do. 

SHUSTER:  What are you learning by up in a tornado that close?  Because we just ran that incredible report from Greensburg, I guess the same storm that produced another tornado that wiped out the town.  What have you learned specifically being this close to this particular tornado that you didn‘t know before? 

TIMMER:  We are actually hoping that we can use the video for research purposes, because it‘s rare that you get a video that close up in H.D.  quality, and you can actually see the trees, you know, just before the tornado hit it.  One tree was bent nearly to the ground and then ripped out.  We hope we can use it for research purposes. 

SHUSTER:  There‘s a flying debris there.  You always hear stories about cows that are picked up and thrown 500 yards.  Weren‘t you the least bit concerned about a piece of wood or some debris flying over where you guys were? 

TAYLOR:  Yes.  That‘s obviously always a concern when you are close to a tornado.  We try to stay just far enough back that we‘re not in any real danger.  On this tornado, it would have probably been better if we were another 50-100 yards farther away.  We did definitely get a little close to this one.  But the debris, obviously—that is a major concern, because that‘s what‘s going to do the damage to you. 

SHUSTER:  Joel, were you the least bit afraid? 

TAYLOR:  I got a little nervous for about 30 seconds when we realized it was moving directly at us, we needed to back up quickly.  It got pretty intense.  You can hear it in our voices.  Our voices get pretty high when we realize what is going on. 

SHUSTER:  Reid Timmer and Joel Taylor, we appreciate you both joining us.  Incredible work.  I think on behalf of your family, they would probably wish that you were doing something else.  But we appreciate your sharing the video with us and working on your PHD at the University of Oklahoma.  It should be fascinating.

Still to come, the governor of Kansas expresses her concern that Iraq war demands on the National Guard have left the state less able to cope with emergency responses to weekend storms, including the ones you just saw.  We‘ll talk about that with our panel straight ahead.  This is MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  The state of Kansas has begun the long recovery in the town of Greensburg, which was largely destroyed by a tornado on Friday night.  Like so many areas of American life though, emergency response has been touched by the war in Iraq.  This morning, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius spoke on the “Today Show” about the strain on the Kansas National Guard and its affect on the response to the Greensburg emergency. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D), KANSAS:  Fifty percent of our trucks are gone.  Our front loaders are gone.  We are missing humvees that move people in and out.  And we can‘t borrow them from other states because their equipment is gone.  So it really is a huge issue for states across this country to respond to disasters like this. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Joining us again to talk about this unfortunate reach of the war in Iraq are the publisher of both the “New York Daily News” and the “U.S. News & World Report,” Mort Zuckerman, and columnist for the “Washington Post” Eugene Robinson. 

Eugene, first, your reaction as you saw some of that video from the Charles Hadlock piece there. 

ROBINSON:  The video was incredible.  It‘s devastating what happened to that town.  In wide shots you don‘t really get a sense.  You go in tight and you see that that expanse used to be a house.  It‘s completely gone.  The trees are sheared off, as if by a giant lawn mower.  It‘s really amazing. 

SHUSTER:  Mort, when you see that kind of incredible video and then you hear the governor, even though she‘s a Democrat, say half of our resources that we would normally bring in to clean up this mess are over in Iraq, that‘s a problem for the Bush administration. 

ZUCKERMAN:  Yes, there‘s no doubt that the country has come to the conclusion that whatever the benefits are that you go to war to accomplish have not justified the sacrifice that this country has experienced, not only in terms of the loss of resources, but really in terms of the human costs and the political costs. 

So it‘s easy, in a sense, to make that kind of a charge.  It always happens in war time that a lot of resources get siphoned off and diverted from peaceful uses to war uses, both in terms of funding and in terms of physical resources and human resources.  That‘s the cost of war and you have to come to the conclusion that we had it in World War II.  There was rationing all over the place, et cetera, et cetera.

This always happens during a war.  But right now, the reason why it‘s so sensitive is because the country has come to the conclusion that the war was not worth the effort, whether it was because it was managed or it was the wrong policy.  Whatever it is, there‘s overwhelming national support against the war. 

SHUSTER:  Mort Zuckerman and Eugene Robinson are staying with us.  Queen Elizabeth dropped in on the president today.  We have the highlights and otherwise from the early part of the royal visit to Washington when we come back.  And we‘ll talk politics, of course, on the other side of this break.  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  With the first round of presidential debates behind us, there are fresh “Newsweek” poll numbers about all of the potential 2008 Republican/Democrat matchups.  And the news is not good for the Republicans.  In every possible head-to-head contest between front runners in both parties, the Democratic candidate out points the Republican.  Between current front runners Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani, Mrs.

Clinton had the edge 50-44.

Here to comment on the rise of the Democrats in every conceivable presidential match up are the publisher of both the “U.S. Daily News” and “U.S. News and World Report,” Mort Zuckerman, and columnist for the “Washington Post,” Eugene Robinson.  Eugene, as I go through these poll numbers, it‘s not just Hillary beating Giuliani, Edwards, you have Obama.  I mean, every single Democrat against every potential match up is winning, and not by small number either. 

ROBINSON:  Yes, right now, your generic Democrat is going to beat your generic Republican, you know, because of the history of the last few years and the Bush White House and the unpopularity of his policies.  A 28 percent approval number is going to bring your party down.  It‘s early.  We don‘t know exactly what the match up will be.  And we don‘t know how a campaign will develop.  But, nonetheless, where would you rather be?  I would rather be where the Democrats are. 

SHUSTER:  Right, but I certainly wouldn‘t want to be Mitt Romney among the Republicans.  According to this poll, he‘s beaten by Obama by 29 points, Edwards is up by 37, Hillary Clinton by 22.  What is going on with Mitt Romney?  He raised more money than any other Republican.  Why is he having such a huge problem? 

ZUCKERMAN:  Well, because he has not gained any, any popular traction.  Yes, he has raised a lot of money, given his background, and particularly his background in the financial world.  He‘s got a lot of good sources there.  I think the main reason that I can think of is that there‘s a feeling that he flip-flops so dramatically between his policies as a governor of Massachusetts and his policies as a national candidate.  He can say, you know, I‘ve grown, I‘ve changed, I‘ve learned.  It‘s very difficult to gain confidence in somebody who has so clearly tailored his political positions to the political campaigns. 

This country is not looking for somebody like that.  I think there‘s a real skepticism about him for that reason.  The other Republicans, I think, have skirted the edge of doing that, particularly Rudy Giuliani on various things.  But it hasn‘t been as obvious as Mitt Romney. 

SHUSTER:  McCain does slightly better than Romney in head to head matchups.  But there was some news with John McCain today.  David Kane, who as you know is the head of the American Conservative Union, a very influential conservative, said that John McCain has fatal problems in his campaign.  He is not trusted and doesn‘t have credibility.  How big a problem is this, Eugene, for McCain, at a time when he‘s still trying to seem to be the candidate that conservatives are going to have to go to? 

ROBINSON:  Well, we‘ve known for a time that they don‘t like him.  They don‘t like John McCain because of his history as a maverick, because of things he has said, because of things he‘s done in the past.  They don‘t like the guy.  We‘ve known that for awhile.  What this means is that he has not succeeded in his rapprochement with the conservative wing of the party.  And it is going to a tough nut for him to crack. 

SHUSTER:  At this points, should McCain simply give up on the conservatives?  I mean, we saw the other night he was pretty harsh on the president regarding the war, saying that it had been mismanaged.  There‘s a lot of talk now that McCain is retooling and trying to capture some of the magic around the 2000 campaign, when he was the maverick independent.  At this point, should the McCain campaign just ignore the conservatives and just try to go back to what worked for them before?

ZUCKERMAN:  I don‘t think he can ignore the conservatives.  On the other hand, he can‘t lose his entire identity.  And his identity was that of someone who was an independent candidate, who made independent moves, who opposed, way back when, the Bush tax cuts, because he thought it was fiscal folly.  I think he, however, has a real problem in that he has been right in terms of the way the war should have been executed. 

We needed more boots on the ground.  He has been saying that from day one, and he still says it.  That‘s one of the reasons why he supports the surge.  The problem is the country has moved so far away from that position that his identification with the continued prosecution of the war has really hurt him all across the country.  Look, when almost the country—almost 70 percent of the people in the United States think we‘re off on the wrong track.  That‘s a very, very difficult hill to climb for any Republican. 

And wherever the core is of the Republicans, 60 percent of the Republican vote being very conservative, he has got a problem.  He is independent and they don‘t trust him.  It‘s partly that they don‘t like him, but it is mainly that they don‘t trust him.  He has been too darn independent for them. 

SHUSTER:  But when they start to talk—the Republicans start to talk about the alternatives, Fred Thompson, Chuck Hagel.  There was some news with Fred Thompson.  Bob Novak, whether you like him or don‘t, very influential columnist here in Washington, and he criticized a Fred Thompson speech on Friday as uninspiring, saying that Thompson at times has been lazy. 

ZUCKERMAN:  Look, Gene, you jump in here, but I must say to you, I think Fred Thompson is going to be a very attractive candidate if he runs.  He is widely recognized.  He has a very positive image.  And he is a very likable man. 

SHUSTER:  He may be likable.  But Eugene, doesn‘t he have the same problem as the other candidates?  And that is his position on the war?  And right now, he‘s essentially an empty vessel that a lot of conservatives are putting their hopes in.  And if he is delivering speeches that are not much better, maybe even average compared to the other Republicans, Thompson could be a disappointment for a lot of people. 

ROBINSON:  He‘s a very good actor.  He will get the speech right.  I think the next time, he will have the speech right.  I think he will be a formidable candidate.  The rap on him has been does he want to dedicate every waking hour to a campaign for president, which is so consuming and draining.  There‘s a slight added question.  We didn‘t know about the health issues he‘s had before, and whether or not that might impact it.

But if those things don‘t slow him down or stop him, I think he will be a formidable candidate.  You know, you saw the debate the other night.  Nobody really jumped out and grabbed this thing.  Fred Thompson does have the charisma.  He has bona fide conservative credentials.  And—

ZUCKERMAN:  He‘s a good guy. 

SHUSTER:  What about Chuck Hagel?  There‘s still a lot of talk about Chuck Hagel as far as moderates.  He even mentioned that he may consider now an independent run with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who certainly has the money to bank roll an independent run if he wants to.  Is that wise politics for Chuck Hagel.  Are we looking at a possible strong third-party candidate in 2008? 

ZUCKERMAN:  I don‘t think Hagel is a strong third-party candidate, but I do think Mike Bloomberg is a strong third party candidate, because he is a brilliant and effective public servant, by far the best mayor that New York has seen.  He has done a lot of very tough-minded things to improve New York‘s condition.  I‘m from New York and I can tell you that he has been an amazing mayor.

Now Chuck Hagel cannot do that.  I mean, he doesn‘t have the resources to do it.  He doesn‘t have the political credibility to do it.  He might be a number two on a Bloomberg-Hagel ticket.  That I think is a real possibility. 

SHUSTER:  And if Hagel were to go to Bloomberg and say, you know what, I think you ought to run and I‘m going to stand with you.  I‘m going to run with you as your running mate.  Would that be enough to convince a Michael Bloomberg, you know what, I‘ve got some credibility with my running mate, I‘ve got somebody who has been around in Washington, I‘ve got the money, let‘s go for it?

ZUCKERMAN:   I don‘t think that is what is going to turn Michael Bloomberg one way or the other.  He is going to make up his own mind.  In part because of who he is going to see are the Democratic and Republican—he can wait quite a long time before he makes a commitment.  And then he will sort of have a much clearer chance, particular after the February 5th primary of next year.  He can wait until at least after that. 

Then he will have a pretty clear idea of who his opponents were and he can make a judgment as to whether or not there is enough of gap between them to allow for a centrist and very effective and bipartisan political leader to come in and make a serious campaign out of it. 

Remember, I mean, somebody who has—I don‘t know how to—I don‘t want to say this in the wrong way, somebody who, shall we say, did not persuade us of his general sanity, Ross Perot.

SHUSTER:  Ross Perot.

(LAUGHTER)

ZUCKERMAN:  You know, was ahead of George Bush and Bill Clinton until in some rather interesting escapade he really came to the conclusion that people were going to attack his daughter‘s wedding in some kind of crazy scenario. 

SHUSTER:  Speaking of attacks, there is a lot of concern in the Giuliani campaign that a lot of is coming at them and very soon.  And so we are going to talk with more of you and Gene coming up about Rudy Giuliani, who says that history will judge President Bush as great.  How will those words play in the Republican primaries and how would they play in the general election?  We will have analysis of the Giuliani strategy when we return.

And a funny thing happened to the queen at the White House today.  Funny  unless you‘re the queen, of course.  Our own royal visit correspondent Willie Geist offers his analysis only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Rudy Giuliani says history will judge George W. Bush as a great president.  But as the Republican frontrunner for the presidential nomination, was that really a great thing for Rudy to say or should he be ducking for cover?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  And we‘re keeping an eye on a news conference we are expecting at any time from Kansas where—for the latest on FEMA‘s reaction to the storms that essentially wiped out a town of 1,500 people.  We will bring this news conference to you, as you can see, when it happens. 

But in the meantime, we consider with Mort Zuckerman and Eugene Robinson.  Republican frontrunner Rudy Giuliani was in Iowa Friday night.  And he told a group of about 100 people that President Bush‘s response to 9/11 and his war on terror ensures that history will judge Mr. Bush to have been great president. 

With Bush‘s approval ratings at or below freezing in the current polls, it is a fairly daring comment, to say the least, for a presidential candidate to make.  So again, Eugene Robinson and Mort Zuckerman, bad idea for Giuliani to call President Bush great? 

ZUCKERMAN:  No, it‘s not.  It‘s absolutely not a bad idea.  Giuliani wants the Republican nomination and 60 percent of the Republican Party is conservative.  A great deal of them support the president on many issues, including the war, and especially because of his response after 9/11.  So from that point of view—from that political point of view, it‘s a great thing for him to say. 

SHUSTER:  I have got to correct you on one thing.  There was a poll in Iowa that found that 52 percent of Iowa Republicans support a withdrawal from Iraq. 

ZUCKERMAN:  I‘m not arguing that, look, when the country is so overwhelmingly in support of a withdrawal from Iraq, it includes a lot of Republicans.  But there is no doubt but that the Republican Party still by and large stays with the president on most of this stuff. 

And you—in order to get the nomination, he has got to say that.  I mean, they are taking all sort—virtually every one of them supports the president on Iraq, notwithstanding.  The only—somebody like Chuck Hagel is against the president‘s policy.  But if you look at the Republicans almost across the board and they all support the president on the war because they know they cannot get the nomination if they are that far from away the president‘s position. 

ROBINSON:  They are.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  . up for now.  But you know, it is going to be interesting when we get to the end of the summer after the Iraqi parliament has had its vacation and nothing has happened on the ground, you know, if things are looking as bad as I think they will be looking toward the end of the summer in Iraq, it will be interesting—I think there will be some impatience on the Hill among Republicans.

And then, you know, ask the question about Giuliani again.  He has got to go to history, though.  I mean, you are not going to say George Bush is great president now.  But history... 

SHUSTER:  Right.  But the thing that we keep hearing about Giuliani, it may not—that may get him, not so much his comments about Bush and whether he is great or not.  But I talked to a Giuliani fundraiser the other night.  And this is not the first time I have heard this.  But the Giuliani campaign is preparing for a lot of stuff to come, a lot of negative stuff to come either from a Republican opponent or in a general election related to his second wife, Donna Hanover and whatever allegations that she may be preparing to make. 

Given that Giuliani already supports gay rights, gun control, abortion; and given the nastiness that his own campaign is expecting, is Giuliani simply a ticking time bomb or do you think the campaign like that is ready for the avalanche that may come against him? 

ZUCKERMAN:  I think that Giuliani‘s greatest vulnerability is what he did with Bernie Kerik, who became politician commissioner and who was his - - originally his driver, and who frankly has a very dubious background.  And the fact that he now maintains that he didn‘t remember being briefed on Kerik I think is going to make it very difficult for him to say that he is a good judge of people if he is going to be building a government and a cabinet.  And I think that will hurt him. 

So too might—we don‘t know yet what Giuliani Partners may have been involved with in terms of who they represented.  And so that may also be another thing that is going to affect him. 

Having said all of that, I think the country recognizes that Giuliani was up to the job after 9/11.  He became not only just America‘s mayor, but he was the spokesperson who calmed a very, very nervous country.  He was out there on the streets from morning to night.  He was there in the soot and in the dust.  And for that reason I think he will be able to blow by a lot of this because people define him in different terms then political insiders. 

SHUSTER:  But, Eugene, how far will that go?  I mean, I just looked at the Giuliani Web site.  Nowhere on his Web site is there a mention of his first wife, his second wife, his children.  I mean, at a certain point, doesn‘t that stuff begin to catch up with him? 

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, it is going to make people ask questions, I think.  And they are going to wonder about it, you know, what happened to your past.  But I agree with Mort.  I think that the really dangerous thing for him is the relationship with Kerik and perhaps, you know, look at his business dealings and how involved they are. 

SHUSTER:  We are going to cut you off, Eugene, and go to the news conference right now in Kansas for an update on the latest reaction to—and there is the governor there, Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, talking, of course, in front of a town that was utterly destroyed this weekend. 

GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D), KANSAS:  Good afternoon, everyone.  I‘m Governor Kathleen Sebelius.  And we are very pleased today to welcome FEMA Director David Paulison here to Greensburg, Kansas. 

The response of FEMA and the president has been extraordinarily swift.  By midnight on Saturday night, a little over 24 hours after this tornado hit Greensburg, we had a presidential declaration signed, and we got confirmation.  And today, we are pleased to welcome the FEMA director here in person. 

The regional director has been here on the ground since Friday.  And I think that means that we have got the assets and help of the federal government standing behind the State of Kansas. 

I know that our congressional delegation, many of whom are here today, are responsible for getting the attention of our federal partners and we are just very pleased that they are here and I‘m going to turn it over to Senator Brownback. 

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R-KS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you.  Thank you, Governor. 

Sam Brownback with the U.S. senators for Kansas, delighted that the director of FEMA is here.  We traveled out today from Wichita together.  This is a total disaster.  It is a difficult thing to see.  And I‘m sure it is a much more difficult thing to live through for the residents of Greensburg and the entire area. 

We wanted to make sure in getting here that they had all of the assets they need on the ground.  We had a good meeting with the people—emergency response here.  They say they have all of the assets that they need.  If there are more, we want to do whatever we can to get them here. 

The president of the United States will be coming out on Wednesday, and I am delighted to see that he will be coming out and also making a point that we are going to do everything we can to see that Greensburg comes back and moves forward. 

Our hearts go out to all of the families that lost loved ones and that obviously have had this enormous impact on their lives.  But you can‘t help but to note the spirit then of people that want to rebuild and they are going to rebuild. 

And they are going to rebuild Greensburg into even a better and stronger community into the future.  So I am delighted that the director is here today.  We are going to keep pushing to make sure that everything comes that they need, that the people of this community need.  And it will be there.  It will be there in a timely fashion. 

I‘m glad to call on my colleague, Congressman Jerry Moran who has been out in the area and working hard to make sure that assets are in place. 

REP. JERRY MORAN ®, KANSAS:  Senator, thank you very much.  Governor, Congressman Tiahrt.  I‘m Jerry Moran.  I represent this area in the United States Congress.  And again I‘m very pleased to see the attention that we are receiving from the federal government, particularly with the approval of the director of FEMA here today. 

I am pleased with everything I‘ve seen in regard to FENA.  Dick Hainje, the regional director from Kansas City, and Kansas is in that region, has been here from the very beginning.  It is good to have his boss here.  And it suggests to me that FEMA is paying significant attention to the circumstances that the people of the Kiowa County are facing due to this tremendously devastating tornado. 

FEMA has received criticism in some circumstances in the past.  In every dealing that I‘ve had with FEMA and unfortunately the state has had a number of disasters just in the last few months, in every dealing that we‘ve had with FEMA, they have been very helpful, very timely, very concerned, compassionate people. 

And so in part I would like the director to know how much we appreciate the attitude and approach that his agency has taken in regard to the lives and well-being of the people of Kansas. 

Also, there has been a tremendous response by volunteer organizations.  The Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Heart To Heart, just a number of organizations.  I‘ve been asked a number of times what we would like to communicate to the people of Greensburg. 

And that is that, yes, there‘s a federal government response that will be here today, tomorrow and into the future.  But in addition to that, there is a significant number of Kansans and Americans who care about the well-being of the people of this community. 

On Sunday, the prayers were offered across this state.  The offering plates were passed.  People stop and ask all of us all of the time how we can contribute to the improvement and the well-being of the people of Greensburg. 

And finally, there are Kansans who are waiting with hammers and shovels and will be here personally to help this community rebuild.  And so, yes, we are pleased with the support that we have from the federal government.  It‘s necessary.  For this community to rebuild, it will take a significant contribution from the federal Treasury.

To ask this community to rebuild their schools, to rebuild their hospital, to rebuild their city hall, to rebuild their library, that‘s an almost insurmountable task when you look at the dollars it would take for a community of 1,500 people. 

And because of the efforts by the taxpayers of this country, because of the management of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA in particular, we have been assured today that those resources will be here for purposes of restoring the lives of the people who live here and rebuilding a community. 

So, Director, I am really here to say thank you very much for your participation and your interest. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you, sir. 

MORAN:  And my colleague from the neighboring congressional district who has been through tornadoes, we‘re glad to have Congressman Tiahrt with us today. 

REP. TODD TIAHRT ®, KANSAS:  Thank you, Jerry.  It‘s a pleasure to be with you, Governor, Director Paulison.  Kansans are resilient people.  They are fiercely independent.  And you are witnessing the reconstruction of a wonderful community. 

The outreach that people have given on an individual basis is really as overwhelming as the damage that you are looking at today.  The United Way of the Plains has announced a campaign to raise money for the people in the Greensburg area called “Greens for Greensburg.” Their Wichita address is where you can call to give donations.  And I hope people will reach out to the people of Greensburg and the surrounding area and help them rebuild this area. 

Under Jerry‘s leadership in the House of Representatives, we are going to be making sure that whatever resources the federal government has available that we can bring it to bear on this community to rebuild the infrastructure, rebuild the things that have made this a great community, even in a better and bigger fashion. 

But I‘m very pleased to see the director of FEMA here.  I am glad that Dave Paulison has spent time to come out here and look firsthand at what is going on in Greensburg. 

As we drove in on Highway 54 from Wichita today, we passed five FEMA trailers.  They are just waiting for the areas to be cleared so they can hook them up for temporary housing for the people so that they have some place to live—and this community has some place to exist while it is being rebuilt. 

I am very pleased by that quick response.  We have heard a lot of bad press in the past about FEMA.  But I‘m here today to bear witness that they were on the ground right away doing the things that we would hope they would do as citizens of the United States. 

So it is—we are pleased to be here with the Kansas National Guard.  They are doing an excellent job.  General Bunting and his troops have done a great job being a quick first responder.  But again, it‘s the local community that has really, I think—and the people in the neighboring areas that have jumped in the quickest.  And we are very pleased to witness at what the human spirit can do. 

MORAN:  I want take the prerogative to speak one more time, and I

apologize for that, but we have failed to mention something I think is very

important, and that is the local officials.  It has great to have

leadership from Washington, D.C., to have United States Sam Brownback and

Governor Sebelius from the State of Kansas, two members of Congress, but

this community will be saved and will be returned to a future opportunity -

we play a role, but it‘s a small role. 

The important thing—the difference that will be made in this community is going to be—will happen because of local leadership and because of local citizens.  And we failed to mention the city manager, the school superintendent, the mayor, county commissioners and city council members.  We have seen a tremendous example, a tremendous display of local leadership by a relatively young group of leaders in Greensburg, Kansas.  And for us to be here as federal officials I think is a bit presumptuous.

SHUSTER:  OK.  We‘ve been listening to the news conference there in, Greensburg, Kansas.  And Mort Zuckerman, Eugene Robinson, I have got to believe that the headline out of this is FEMA not incompetent.  Mort?

ZUCKERMAN:  Yes.  I mean, I think there is a lesson somewhere to have been learned at huge cost, of course, over the political fallout from Katrina and the sense that that was a completely mismanaged effort of emergency assistance. 

So of course they have learned it.  And now one of the things that they have learned is you had better show up on the site within 24 hours, which is a standard rule for any governor who knows when there is a disaster—a natural disaster in his state.  And it is always astonishing to me why they didn‘t learn it for Hurricane Katrina. 

Now of course they are going to do it.  They are going to show up.  They are going to make all of these nice sounds.  And the federal government is going to be there and FEMA is going to be there.  And nobody is going to say, “heckuva job, Brownie” until.

SHUSTER:  Eugene, the president.

ZUCKERMAN:  . they have made progress.

SHUSTER:  The president is going there on Wednesday now we learn.  But again, he is walking into a state where the governor has already complained about some of the equipment that is not there because it is in Iraq.  How does the president deal with it all on Wednesday?

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, I just keep thinking back to—I was in New Orleans after Katrina, I remember when the president came there and promised to rebuild a great city.  And you know, that has not been done yet.  You know, let‘s hope it works better for the people of Kansas—and from Greensburg, Kansas, than it did for the people of New Orleans. 

SHUSTER:  Yes, you would figure it would be easier to rebuild Greensburg, Kansas than to rebuild New Orleans. 

ZUCKERMAN:  Well, it is also not going to be easier to do that.  I mean, you cannot demolish a town and then rebuild it in a manner of weeks or months or even several years.  It is going to take some real time to do it.  And Katrina was an example—I mean, New Orleans is just a gigantic undertaking on many, many levels.

SHUSTER:  Mort Zuckerman, Eugene Robinson, thank you both very much.  My colleagues at “HARDBALL” have a great show coming up, a director (sic) with CIA Director George Tenet.  That starts right now.

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

END   

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