updated 5/16/2007 12:33:31 PM ET 2007-05-16T16:33:31

Guests: Charmaine Yoest, Shmuley Boteach, Chuck Todd, Bill Press

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  The Reverend Jerry Falwell died today in Lynchburg, Virginia.  Falwell was, of course, one of the most influential religious leaders in American life in the late 20th century.  He founded the Moral Majority in 1979.  He is credited with the formation of the so-called religious right.  That‘s part of the bedrock of the Republican base.

Falwell experienced sudden cardiac death this morning.  We will spend a good part of the show putting together his life, his career, putting that all into perspective for you.

To start, we welcome two men who understood Jerry Falwell‘s influence as well as anyone, MSNBC analyst and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, and host of MSNBC‘s “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” and former Congressman from Florida Joe Scarborough.

Welcome to you both.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  Hey, thanks.

CARLSON:  Joe, are we overstating it to say he really was one of the truly powerful people in American politics on the right? 

SCARBOROUGH:  No, not at all.

I will tell you, though, if you ask people in Manhattan, or you ask people in Georgetown, or ask people Los Angeles about Jerry Falwell, they would roll their eyes and tell you that he was a right-wing religious bigot, fanatic, they said.  They just—they never understood that Jerry Falwell—when they said that about Jerry Falwell, that they were saying that about millions and millions of people in Middle America. 

I remember clearly when my parents started getting mailed to them these Moral Majority letters back in 19, I guess, 79, 1980.  And it was like a thunderbolt, a thunderclap, coming—coming into Middle America, because it came after my parents and millions and millions of people had to sit through 1968, and Woodstock, and the radicalism, you know, Kent State, Mayday, all of this stuff that happened—George McGovern.

And Jerry Falwell was a guy who—who said, you know, enough is enough.  We have a moral majority.  I know that—that phrase just drove leftists crazy.

CARLSON:  Yes, it did.

SCARBOROUGH:  He was right.  He was dead right. 

And you know what?  If you want to—if you want to hate Jerry Falwell, hate Jerry Falwell.  But he spoke, in his time, for just tens of millions of people. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  I don‘t think there‘s any question.

But, Pat, John McCain famously insulted Jerry Falwell, described him and Pat Robertson as agents of intolerance in 2000...

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Right. 

CARLSON:  ... and lost the campaign shortly after in South Carolina. 

Now, he, of course, spoke at Liberty University not long ago, and issued this fairly long, seemingly heartfelt statement upon Mr. Falwell‘s death.

Is Falwell still the power broker he was? 

BUCHANAN:  No, he‘s not.

Jerry Falwell, I remember meeting him, Tucker.  They came up to Washington, he and Pat Robertson, and I was introduced.  They were just starting the whole thing, the Moral Majority.  You take ‘79 ‘80, the Moral Majority—Joe mentions his parents.  My dad was as devout a Catholic as they come.  And these people were basically Baptists and Christians.  And he would contribute to that.

And what they did was, really, they gave voice and they gave a face to this tremendous movement of resistance and opposition to the culture that was being corrupted, all the garbage coming through TV. 

I mean, I think that Jerry Falwell and, at the time, I will say, Pat Robertson were the two principal voices of the Moral Majority.  The Moral Majority was Jerry Falwell‘s operation himself, run, I believe, right down there out of the Thomas Road Baptist Church out of Lynchburg.

And I would say he was the principal voice of that.  And it was an enormously powerful movement.  At the same time, look what he did.  He took this small Thomas Road Baptist Church, turned it into a mega-church, then had a college.  And then he had a university, Liberty University, which was huge. 

He told me, Pat, my ambition is to have Liberty University play Notre Dame for the national championship. 

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  Well, he was—it‘s interesting.  He was a sports fanatic.  I once did a profile of him for a magazine and spent some time down at Liberty with him.  And I was struck by two things, one, the intensity of his passion for sports, and, two, how he almost never talked about politics in private.  In fact, I never heard him say a single nasty, polemical, even ideological thing about anybody. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  I remember him going on to me about how Geraldo Rivera was one of his closest friends.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  He was not a mean guy.  That image of the guy is utterly opposite than the man himself, who was not a mean guy at all, who was a big bear of a man, and who had a good sense of humor.

And I will say this.  He took a horrendous amount of awful abuse.  Who was that guy from “Penthouse” magazine?

SCARBOROUGH:  Right, Larry Flynt.

BUCHANAN:  All that garbage.  And he really took it like a man.  He behaved like a man.  And I think he was enormously—he was influential, but, basically, he put a voice and a face to an enormous movement in this country, reacting to the ‘60s... 

CARLSON:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  ... and the excesses of the ‘60s.

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Tucker, if you don‘t mind me saying, going back to the John McCain story, I remember clearly, when I was up here in 2000, picking up “The Washington Post.”  And I‘m sure Pat saw this same story, same thing, picked it up, saw what he said, saw what John McCain said about Jerry Falwell.  And I turned to—to a friend and said, it‘s over. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  And my friend said, what do you mean?

I said, it‘s over.  There is no way that John McCain will win the Republican nomination. 

He was—listen, he was—he...

CARLSON:  Why is that?  So, Thomas Road Baptist Church has, what, has 22,000 members. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

CARLSON:  It‘s a big church, but it‘s not 300 million members. 

BUCHANAN:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  It‘s not the nation.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

CARLSON:  So, were there that many people who followed Jerry Falwell‘s cue? 

SCARBOROUGH:  No.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Or was he a metaphor?

SCARBOROUGH:  There were—he was a metaphor. 

Tom Wolfe, actually, after the ‘04 election, was talking about how Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were always being attacked. 

And Tom Wolfe, who doesn‘t believe in God, but believes in the importance of religion, called it championism.  He said, you know what?  It‘s all right if I attack Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, but I don‘t want to hear outsiders attack Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.  I don‘t want to hear “The New York Times” editorial page or “Rolling Stone,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And, so, for me and for a lot of other people, when John McCain attacked Jerry Falwell, I was angered, not because I didn‘t think Jerry Falwell said some things that he should not say.  I was angered because it was like he was siding with the other side. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  He was basically saying, these are agents of intolerance. 

They represent a bunch of bigots. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s the subchapter of what he was talking—what he was saying.  That is the way it was received.  That‘s not what McCain said.  But you could see, he‘s talking about us when he‘s saying that.  And that‘s what...

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  The folly of it all, the folly of it, going after those fellows.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  You can disagree with them, but to cut loose like that? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

And I don‘t—I—by the way, just I—it‘s important to say this.  I don‘t fault John McCain for being angry after South Carolina.  I would probably strike out like that, too, if people had said the nasty things about me, which Falwell never said. 

But you‘re right, though.  It was an attack against people who privately would roll their eyes about what Jerry Falwell might say.  If you don‘t believe that God hear the prayers of Jews, great.  Keep it to yourself.  If you believe that, let‘s say, New Orleans was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina because of gay lifestyle in New Orleans, you know, don‘t say that on TV. 

So, there are a lot of people, again, who privately might have rolled their eyes at some things he said.  But, at the same time, don‘t—certainly don‘t want Republican presidential candidates attacking...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  I‘m amazed by what a success the guy was in earthly, in temporal terms. 

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

CARLSON:  I mean, here, he was the son of a bootlegger.  I think his family has been in...

BUCHANAN:  His father murdered somebody. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Is that true?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... his father shot and killed someone.  I believe that was in his memoir, you know. 

CARLSON:  Yes, it was probably—I think it was a pretty rough group.  And here‘s—he became this broadcaster.  I think of him as a broadcaster above almost anything else.  He had “The Old Time Gospel Hour.”

In my conversations with him, we talked almost exclusively not about abortion or gays or the presidential race...

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

CARLSON:  ... but about television.  He had a keen interest in broadcasting, made a lot of money doing it...

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

CARLSON:  ... I think in a fair way.  Nobody ever called him corrupt.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, that‘s what gave him that enormous audience, too. 

And, Tucker, that‘s—I just talked to someone else about this.  And that is what he went back to.  I think, after the 2000 election, he went back:  I have got to focus on my church.  I have got to focus on Thomas Road.  I have got to focus on my university.  We have done all that.

He would occasionally come on.  I‘m sure we did shows where you always bring in—get Falwell on.  He was always amenable to doing it by uplink from down there.

CARLSON:  Amenable? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  Eager.

(LAUGHTER)  

BUCHANAN:  But he would do it.  But he was—and he was a good guest. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  I never criticize people for loving to do TV. 

BUCHANAN:  He was a good get.  He was a good get, as they said.

CARLSON:  But he loved TV.  He loved television.

We will continue our discussion of the life and legacy of Jerry Falwell and his influence on American politics in the ‘ 80s and ‘ 90s, and the effect of his work on the politics of 2000. 

And which of the 2008 presidential candidates on the Republican side is favored by followers of Falwell‘s political leanings?  The GOP contenders debate tonight in South Carolina.  We will measure them against the standards of the Christian conservative movement Falwell started.

This is MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  A giant in the world of American religion and politics dead at the age of 73 -- he changed the way evangelicals operate in Washington.  How will Jerry Falwell be remembered? 

That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  The Reverend Jerry Falwell died today.  He had experienced heart problems in last few years.  He was found unconscious, without a pulse, this morning at his office in Lynchburg, Virginia.  He was 73 years old. 

Here to reflect on his life and influence, we welcome the vice president for communications for the Family Research Council, Charmaine Yoest. 

Charmaine, thanks for coming on.

CHARMAINE YOEST, VICE PRESIDENT FOR COMMUNICATIONS, FAMILY RESEARCH

COUNCIL:  It‘s good to be with you.

CARLSON:  Was—I know that his enemies always thought of Falwell as a true believer, as the—as a hater, as an ideologue.  That was not my experience of him at all in person, in fact, almost just the opposite.

Was he for real?  Did he believe everything he said, do you think?

YOEST:  You know, I‘m so glad you bring up who he was in real life, because I think that‘s one of the biggest memories I have of him, is meeting him in person, and just being struck by what an amazingly gracious man he was. 

And I think that‘s important for people to understand, because, when you‘re in the media, it‘s so easy to be caricatured, particularly when he was as adamant and strong about his beliefs as he was.  It was just a little too easy to take it and make him into a figure that he was not.

CARLSON:  Well, he seemed to have an almost ironic detachment from his own persona.  I remember being in his office right around the time he had attacked the Teletubbies as gay.  Tinky-Winky, he said, was a closeted gay character, or something to that effect. 

And in his office was a Tinky-Winky...

YOEST:  Yes.  

CARLSON:  ... character on top of his television.  And I remember thinking, hmm, I‘m not sure what to think.  Does he really believe what he is saying?  Is he—does he—is he laughing at his own joke?  What does it...

YOEST:  Well, he had a great sense of humor. 

And, you know, he was a man of amazing integrity.  When you think about the fact that he concluded his life, he ran the race with dignity and integrity, made it to the end, he didn‘t big the build mansions.  He—you know, our heart goes out today to his wife and his family. 

You know, he really, really has—when you look at the totality of his life, he was willing to go out there and stand on principle and take the slings and arrows.  And, when people criticized him, he took it with good humor.  When it was called for, he came back and he corrected himself, and he said, well, you know, that wasn‘t what I meant in the context.

So, you know, he really, really deserves to...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  And he was not your average televangelist, in the sense that he wasn‘t commuting to work by helicopter. 

YOEST:  Exactly. 

CARLSON:  I went to his house.  And it was kind of a middle-class house.  I mean, he wasn‘t—he raised a ton of money, but I don‘t think there‘s any evidence he did it for his own personal enrichment.

Do you think it was good, in the end, for American politics, even for conservative politics, when church entered the debate, when preachers, religious figures, start get—started to get explicitly partisan and political?

YOEST:  Oh, well—oh, absolutely. 

The only—the only thing I would—would clarify is not so much the partisan angle.  I think people very frequently see partisanship, when what you are really seeing is conviction, moral conviction. 

And that‘s what Reverend Falwell was all about, was saying that people of faith need to articulate those principles in the public arena that apply to public policy, you know, defending the rights of the unborn, because they—you know, they are the most defenseless among us.  They don‘t have a voice, unless people with conviction are willing to take the risk to stand up and tell the square.

CARLSON:  But what‘s been the net effect of that?  The Moral Majority founded in 1979 -- there have been literally millions of abortions every year for the last 28 years, since it was founded. 

YOEST:  Sure.

CARLSON:  Were there discrete victories you can point to, to say...

YOEST:  Well, just last week, the partial-birth abortion ban that the Supreme Court upheld, that‘s a huge victory.

Sure, there‘s a lot of further way to go, but a lot of us are still hopeful that we‘re looking at a post-Roe America.  I think that you are seeing real movement on the abortion issue.  It‘s a thorny issue.  It‘s going to take a long time.

But, you know, another thing that Reverend Falwell, I think, himself would have said is, you know, victory in the public arena is really not the ultimate end.  The objective is to stay true to principle, to articulate it consistently, and to stand up for what is right, no matter what the cost is, no matter what the end result is.  That‘s not what you‘re responsible for. 

CARLSON:  What do you think he meant when he said that liberalism in America brought about 9/11 or contributed to the—to the attacks of 9/11? 

YOEST:  You know, I know that he has been criticized for that.  And, again, I think I am going to have to leave his record, you know, as he..

CARLSON:  Right. 

YOEST:  ... as he explained it, because there were some things that he took on, but—that were very complicated.  And you have to give him credit for being willing to—to really rigorously apply his faith in the public arena. 

CARLSON:  He was—he was bold. 

YOEST:  He was very bold...

CARLSON:  He was.

YOEST:  ... and—and willing—willing to do it consistently. 

CARLSON:  Charmaine Yoest, thanks very much.

YOEST:  Thank you, Tucker.

CARLSON:  I appreciate it.

YOEST:  Thank you, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Well, coming up next: more on the Reverend Jerry Falwell.  He died today, as we said.   We will continue our discussion on his life and legacy, his influence on American politics, in just a moment.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  If you‘ve just tuned in, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, the founder of the moral majority and one of America‘s most influential religious leaders over the past three decades, has died.  He was 73.  Joining me now with his thoughts about the life and legacy of Jerry Falwell is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author and host of the TV show “Shalom in the Home.”  Rabbi, thanks for coming on.

RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH, “SHALOM IN THE HOME”:  It‘s great to be on, Tucker.  Thank you for having me.

CARLSON:  What do you think his legacy is? 

BOTEACH:  I think it‘s positive and negative.  The positive aspect is that he gave religion a lot of political muscle.  Religion was treated as something that is for the church and the synagogue, but it had not place in public political discourse.  And that‘s of course absurd, because religion isn‘t just about faith.  It‘s about morality.  It‘s about ethics. 

And people have a personal morality that they want translated into the public arena.  Having said that, I feel that Jerry Falwell, like a lot of my evangelical brethren, so narrowly and rigidly defined morality that it suddenly became about gay marriage and about abortion.  Now clearly family values is not only about whether gays can marry.  Seven to ten percent of the population is gay, at most.  There‘s a 50 percent heterosexual divorce rate.

Likewise, what does abortion have to do with the destruction of families when the vast majority people divorcing and ruining families have children.  So this rigid, narrow definition of morality was bound to cause great fractures and fissures in society.  It became the secular/religious wars that we‘re seeing more and more of.  Whereas really, had we talked more about divorce, that‘s a universal theme that all of us can agree has to be reduced.  Had we talked more not about abortion, but the culture of male womanizing, disrespect for women, misogyny. 

I think that these moral issues could have been portrayed as more universal and it wouldn‘t have provoked the kind of secular backlash and the kind of religious wars that we currently witness in America. 

CARLSON:  Are you kidding?

BOTEACH:  No.

CARLSON:  If you go after divorce—you know, everyone knows someone who‘s been touched by abortion but everybody in the world is related by blood to someone who has been divorced.  Divorce is something that affects almost all 300 million of us.  If you had gone after that, man, you would have—you would have a civil war on your hands.  

BOTEACH:  Well, that‘s the whole point.  We all can agree that divorce is so tragic, because it‘s one of those empirical statistics that isn‘t only out there among statisticians.  It‘s actually empirical.  We all know someone who is divorced.  We‘re all related, as you said, to someone who is divorced. 

Divorce is the great family values issue of our time.  You didn‘t hear Reverend Falwell talking about it.  You don‘t hear a lot of my evangelical brethren talking about it.  And I think the reason is that religion thinks that is best served by identifying boogie men.  Let‘s go after the abortion clinics.  Let‘s go after these gays who want to get married. 

I mean, come on, these are not the issues that are going to strengthen families.  Even if we assure that there‘s no gay people left in America, do you really think that‘s going to affect the heterosexual divorce rates and the destruction of families?  Is it going to change the kind of misogyny we see on American campuses, which is what leads to abortions, men sleeping with women without any kind protection.  They should respect them enough to marry them first anyway. 

People aren‘t talking that.  Even secular radical feminists would have agreed that men should respect women.  Too many of my religious brethren are interested in identifying the enemy, and they galvanize a lot of support from their flock by identifying an enemy.  And while that might help in fund raising and thinks like that, it doesn‘t help in terms of really advancing a moral agenda in America. 

CARLSON:  Yes, I think that‘s too cynical a reading.  I mean, I think also there‘s a big difference between the questions of gay rights and abortion.  According to evangelicals, abortion is a matter of life and death.  It matters intrinsically.  It will never not matter.  They believe people are being killed by the millions.  So that‘s always going to be a big deal.

Gay rights strikes me as an issue that is tapped out politically.  Most Americans accept that gay rights are here to stay.  We‘re going to have gay marriage.  I don‘t see anybody winning elections—in this cycle, you will not see anybody win anything on the basis of attacking gays.  Do you still think that‘s a resonant political issue? 

BOTEACH:  Well, in 2004, George W. Bush was the most hated man in the world and he was kept in power because 22 percent of people voted for moral values and there were 11 referendums then about gay marriage.  That was just two and a half years ago.  But my main point is that Reverend Falwell‘s legacy is both positive and negative.  It‘s sad.  It‘s tragic.  It really is.

I debated him several times about gay marriage on national television.  We had other debates on MSNBC together on Joe Scarborough‘s show.  My paint point is that religion doesn‘t have to be divisive.  There is a consensus on a universal morality that all of us can subscribe to.  How many secular believe really disagree with the ten commandments?  How many people disagree that adultery is wrong, that you shouldn‘t covet someone else‘s wife. 

We can talk about a universal morality that actually brings about social cohesiveness, instead of social divisiveness.  And it‘s not merely cynical to say that sometimes religion can make the mistake of identifying a secular boogie man.  I mean, Reverend Falwell, by his own admission, made that mistake right after 9/11.  At a time when the whole country was galvanizing around a consensus that there were bad terrorists who had attacked, he spoke about how our own sins may have brought this upon us. 

Now I‘m not going to use that as a single statement of his legacy, because that‘s not fair.  He did so much to advance religion.  But he himself admitted that he had done that.  And I think it can become more pervasive than we‘re prepared to admit.  We don‘t need boogie men.  America needs more unity.  And religion, above all else, should provide that unity. 

CARLSON:  Yes, but don‘t you think that whenever a religious leader aligns himself with a political movement, a secular political movement, it‘s the religious leader who is tainted, and not the political movement?  In other words, one waters down the other.  The political sphere always waters down the religious sphere.

BOTEACH:  Well, I happen to believe that religion must have a place in the public discourse, but I think that religion should influence politics from above instead of being directly involved, because historically we do see that religion becomes tainted and often utterly corrupted by having power.  And that was true of Europe for 1,000 years and America was a radical departure from that in separating church and state. 

Now, we can‘t become extremists and say that kids can‘t even have a moment of silence in public schools.  And what Reverend Falwell was good at was showing, hey we went a bit too far.  You can‘t purge god from society to such an extent.  This is no longer moral values.  But you can‘t tilt it in the other direction either by saying that secularists are the great problem today, because secular people also have values. 

I would rather try speak about a universal morality, like I said, the ten commandments, rather than talking about secular people destroying the country.  What we need in America are religious figures that actually know how to galvanize all people towards a common universal morality.  But by saying that secular people are the big problem—I mean, all we see on the “New York Times” best seller list right now, Tucker, are all these books in favor of religions, all these books saying that religion is poison or religion is horrible.  I mean, it‘s not that extreme.  And most people wouldn‘t subscribe to those kinds of extremes.

CARLSON:  All right, Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, thanks a lot Rabbi.  I appreciate it.   

BOTEACH:  Thank you.  It‘s good to see you, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Ten Republican presidential hopefuls debate again tonight.  Will this go around shake things up in the Republican party or will tomorrow seem more status quo?  We‘ll tell you when we come back. 

Plus, Jerry Falwell led a religious movement that shaped American politics.  How powerful is the religious right today.  Is its influence steady, growing, or is it going away?  You‘re watching MSNBC, the place for politics. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

CARLSON:  The Reverend Jerry Falwell‘s name was synonymous with the Reagan revolution of the 1980s and political candidates ever since have paid homage to religious conservatives, often for fear of alienating such a unified and powerful voting bloc.  One example of the power of Christian conservatives, Rudy Giuliani‘s recent meandering on the abortion issue can be understood, at least in part, as a sign of respect for the power of social conservatism Jerry Falwell embodied.

Here with more on Reverend Falwell‘s political legacy is NBC News political director Chuck Todd. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Good afternoon.

CARLSON:  Good afternoon, Chuck.  There were statements issued by almost all the Republican contenders. 

TODD:  Immediately. 

CARLSON:  John McCain first in line.  I haven‘t seen any from the Democrats.  Will they?  Should they?  What‘s the protocol?

TODD:  I assume that they won‘t.  I think, this case, maybe you send out something, but this is a Republican political leader, is my assumption is how Democrats might do it.  I think Howard Dean—you know, If you don‘t have anything nice to say, don‘t say anything at all.  And that‘s my guess on how some Democrats will handle this, frankly. 

CARLSON:  So you believe Howard Dean will not be asked at his next public appearance 50 times about the legacy of Jerry Falwell‘s and he‘ll be able to control himself and not say anything? 

TODD:  I don‘t know.  It will be curious to see.  Obviously, as a reporter, I would want to ask that question just because you‘re hoping to see if you get that moment.  But the thing is, if you can split this in half, the fact is, he was a very powerful force in the Republican party.  He created it.  He created the bridge between religion and politics. 

And more importantly, look, we‘re seeing it play out now.  The fact is religious conservatives, of the three sort of wings of the party, religious conservatives, economic conservatives and the foreign policy conservatives, there‘s only one that really can veto a candidate and it‘s Christian conservatives.  That‘s why John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are desperate to make sure they don‘t alienate Christian conservatives.  They don‘t want to be the least favorite candidate among that crowd.

CARLSON:  How do we measure the influence of evangelicals in the Republican party?  I mean, I have always thought that they were the single most important voting bloc.  That‘s been an article of faith for me my whole adult life.  And yet watching Rudy Giuliani at the top of the polls in places like Alabama has shaken my faith that they really are in charge. 

TODD:  But that‘s assuming that Christian conservatives care more about social issues or about this war on terror.  You talk to Republican based conservatives in the south, and they view this war in Iraq now as a war in Iraq, but as a war against Islamic fundamentalism.  So in some ways, it‘s more important to I think the Christian conservatives, this war, than social issues right now.  And I think that Rudy Giuliani is the person right now seen as the general of this field. 

There really isn‘t a military leader.  No offense to Senator McCain.  Obviously he‘s got military service, but that Patton type figure or that General Eisenhower—Giuliani is sort of that candidate right now for these folks.  And I think Christian conservatives care more about that issue now than they do Roe v. Wade. 

CARLSON:  That is remarkable.  How do you think McCain has done winning back, or in his long attempt to win back the affections of evangelicals?  He alienated them, of course, in 2000.  He‘s been trying to mend fences.  Is it working?

TODD:  Well, there‘s a new poll out today in South Carolina, by a respected Republican pollster, showing McCain ahead.  And in South Carolina that was where he lost.  And there‘s probably—the two states in this early contest where Christian conservatives have a greater influence than in other states are in Iowa.  Pat Robertson proved that in 1988.  He sort of created the Iowa Christian conservative movement in those 1988 caucuses.  And in South Carolina.

Right now, John McCain is over-performing in both of those states, in

comparison to how he‘s doing in the national polls.  So if you just look at

the poll numbers, I think it‘s working.  Look, he just needed to make sure

he was never going to be the first choice among Christian conservatives. 

He just had to make sure he wasn‘t the last.  And I think he made some inroads on that.  We will find out soon enough as this campaign wears on. 

CARLSON:  He has been trying.  Chuck Todd, NBC News political director, thanks a lot, Chuck.

TODD:  You got it.  Thanks Tucker. 

CARLSON:  So where does the religious right stand relative to its apex?  Is the movement more or less powerful than it used to be.  Which direction is its influence heading?  Here with his thoughts is the author of “How the Republicans Stole Religion: Why the Religious Right is Wrong about Faith, Politics and What We Can Do To Make it Right.”  You know where he stands.  He is Bill Press, nationally syndicated radio show host.  Bill, welcome.

BILL PRESS, “HOW THE REPUBLICANS STOLE RELIGION”:  Thank you.

CARLSON:  So obviously, you‘re not a huge fan of the religious right, but, as objectively as you can, tell me, is its power waning? 

PRESS:  First of all, I have to say about Jerry Falwell—I mean, Jerry Falwell, I got to know him pretty well, because through “Crossfire” and “Spin Room” and other shows that we did together, he was always there, always available.  He was a good guest because he was such a true believer, so strong in his beliefs and willing to express them. 

He once called me his favorite liberal.  I‘ve been nervous about that ever since because I‘m not sure what it means.  And, just picking up on what Todd said, he had tremendous influence.  I mean, his brand of Christianity, for me, was much to narrow and much too negative, but he had a tremendous influence on the—he changed the face of American politics. 

He created the Religious Right, the religious conservative movement.  He identified it with the Republican party.  I think he took over the Republican party, to the point where he could veto any potential candidate.  And do I think though that this year we have seen that his influence was finally starting to fade.  His influence, as well as the influence of evangelicals.

CARLSON:  That must be a disappointment for liberal, because for many years, Jerry Falwell was the embodiment of all they disliked, didn‘t understand, distrusted about not just the Republican party, but about the whole center of the country, you know, religious, midwestern, southern America.  He was kind of the man they loved to hate.  Now he is gone.  Who do they hate? 

PRESS:  Well, there‘s still—Now Falwell gone, but Pat Robertson and James Dobson are still powerful enough that there‘s still enough there for liberals to get their juices flowing.  But I think when you look at the lineup of the Republican party today, and you sort of alluded to it just a minute ago—when you look at the fact that the front runner, maybe a John McCain, who just four years ago was calling Jerry Falwell some crazy man; when you look at Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich ready to jump in the race, and you know the best Republican Party can come up with is two serial adulterers.  And Jerry Falwell‘s best response is well, they‘ve sinned, yes, but they‘ve asked forgiveness.  That‘s a far cry from where Jerry Falwell could really dictate who the presidential candidate was going to be.

CARLSON:  It certainly is.  I have to say, as much as culturally, I‘m not from an evangelical background.  I‘m from La Jolla, California, so some of this stuff is foreign to me.  But I always have liked and admired and defended the evangelicals for a bunch of reasons.  One, I think they mean it.  I think they are sincere.  There are so many insincere people in America life.  They actually are true to what they believe.  They are not phony at all. 

I don‘t know.  It seems like the ebbing of their power isn‘t necessarily a good thing for our country. 

PRESS:  But here, Tucker, I think we see the peril of identifying too closely religion and politics.  Because I really do think when this history is written that the Religious Right—at one time, if you go back—and I do in my book—in 1970, Jerry Falwell was advising his people to stay out of politics.  Our job is to save our souls and the souls others.  Politics is not our domain.

And then some Supreme Court decisions went against him, and he says let‘s get in.  He jumped in with both feet with the moral majority.  I think what they found over time is they got more lip service than real service and action from politicians to their detriment.  You know, so from Ronald Reagan on, they got all the promises, including this president.  They didn‘t get much delivery.

I think that hurt them and I think when the Republican party saw that it could move away from them and didn‘t have to be bend to them, they didn‘t hesitate. 

CARLSON:  Because the truth is that the leadership of the Republican Party is almost as liberal in its personal lives as the leadership of the Democratic Party.  I mean, all elites have the same assumptions.  They are 100 percent pro-choice. 

They don‘t know anyone who goes to church or anyone who hunts.  I mean, they are all kind of the same in the end.  And I always thought they were embarrassed of the evangelicals.  And it always has annoyed me. 

PRESS:  So, despite all that Jerry Falwell and Robertson and others

did in terms of contributions, in terms of voter turnout, in terms of all -

you know, getting their churches whipped up and everything, putting these measures on the ballot, you know, to get Republicans out to vote, again, when the Republican Party could turn its back on the religious conservative, they did. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  I don‘t know, it would be kind of nice to see religious conservatives maybe repay the favor and maybe—you know what I mean?  Go somewhere where they are appreciated and back a party that shares its values for real, that isn‘t just pretending to. 

PRESS:  I have got a few Democrats that they might want to take... 

CARLSON:  No!  Are you kidding? 

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS:  Might want to take a look at.

CARLSON:  Any party that takes, you know, money from the divorce industry is not going to get their vote.  But the Libertarian Party, I don‘t know, it is an idea.  Bill Press. 

PRESS:  Falwell, a very, very powerful, important legacy for this country. 

CARLSON:  Yes.

PRESS:  And I say that as one who disagrees with him on almost every issue. 

CARLSON:  I liked him too.

PRESS:  Great contribution. 

CARLSON:  The Republican presidential hopefuls debate in South Carolina tonight.  What is at stake for the frontrunners?  Those would John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.  And who has got the momentum moving into the event?

Plus, al Qaeda shows clear and horrible signs of its presence in Iraq.  Could President Bush be right after all about the necessity of keeping U.S.  forces on the ground there given the fact that America‘s primary enemy in the world has essentially taken over parts of that country? 

This is MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  The Republican candidates for president go head-to-head tonight.  There is still no clear frontrunner in that race.  Conservatives are clamoring for a candidate of their own.  Will one of them emerge tonight?  We will tell you.  We will be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  On the day that Jerry Falwell died, The GOP candidates for the 2008 presidential nomination come together in Columbia, South Carolina, for their second debate. 

To this point, Republican voters have expressed dissatisfaction with the field, all 10 of them, which shows Rudy Giuliani maintaining strength in national polls, John McCain showing life in key individual state races, and Mitt Romney raising a ton of money and showing up all over the media, but still lagging behind in the polls. 

To talk about the stakes in tonight‘s debate and the likely strategy, we welcome back MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and nationally syndicated radio show host, Bill Press. 

Pat, what do you think?  Will the candidates—tonight are they going to open up with statements about Jerry Falwell‘s death? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Oh, I think they will probably ask about that.  And they will all have kind words to say.  And they will move through it very quickly. 

But I think the real question tonight is Rudy has got himself—Rudy has hit the tar baby here with the right-to-life issue and the abortion issue.  I think they are going to go to it and I think they are going to after on it because his position is just a passel of contradictions.  And they know it will hurt him in South Carolina.  

CARLSON:  Yes, what—if you were asking the questions tonight, Bill, what would you ask?  What would ask Rudy Giuliani?

PRESS:  Could you clarify once and for all, what is your position on abortion? 

CARLSON:  That is a solid question. 

PRESS:  You know, are you pro-choice or are you pro-life?  And how do you reconcile these two?  He has left himself so many—so vulnerable on this issue.  I agree with Pat.  I think the focus is going to be on Rudy on that issue. 

I also think they are going to go after Romney.  Because I think Romney, of all of them, walked off the stage the last time looking the most presidential.

CARLSON:  I thought he looked pretty good, yes.

PRESS:  Looking the smoothest.  Did pretty well.  And I think they are going to try to knock him down a little bit tonight. 

BUCHANAN:  Here is where you would ask Rudy the question.  Now you say, Governor—or Mayor, you have said you believe in a woman‘s right to choose, that is your bottom line, and yet you said you are going to appoint justices like Scalia, and they will take away a woman‘s right to choose.  How do you reconcile appointing Scalias and supporting a woman‘s right to choose? 

CARLSON:  It is a shockingly dumb position, actually.  I mean.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESS:  Or also, I could say—and again, I agree with Rudy more than disagree on this issue, but I could ask him too, I could say, you say you hate abortion, but you say it is OK with you if the Supreme Court leaves... 

CARLSON:  So wait, wait a second.

PRESS:  . Rove V. Wade in place.

CARLSON:  . you say you.

PRESS:  And also, you hate abortion, but then you give money to Planned Parenthood.  I mean, there is.

CARLSON:  Wait, clarify this for, if you would, Bill, why wouldn‘t you vote for Rudy Giuliani?  I know he is a Republican, you are not a Republican.  You don‘t like the Republicans.  But take away the partisan ID here, what exactly about Rudy do you disagree with on an ideological level?

PRESS:  I don‘t—I think there are better candidates among the Democrats, number one. 

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  But nothing (INAUDIBLE) -- no, but it is interesting.  Oh, I‘m sure you do feel that way, of course.  But.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  . nothing comes immediately to mind?  I‘m not.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  I don‘t want to put you on the spot. 

PRESS:  Let me tell you.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS:  I will be honest with you, right?  If Rudy were running as a Democrat, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights, and pro-choice, I would consider voting for Rudy Giuliani. 

CARLSON:  Consider, oh my gosh!

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS:  I think there are better candidates already among the Democrats.  I would take John Edwards or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton over Rudy any day.  But if he were running as a Democrat, he would be a legitimate Democrat. 

My point is, I think Pat‘s is too, he is committing suicide in the Republican primary. 

CARLSON:  Well, he would actually be more conservative than—or more liberal than Bill Richardson, who is strongly, you know, anti-gun control. 

BUCHANAN:  For sure.  Sure. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Pay, why has not Mitt Romney caught fire?  I mean, he has been everywhere this week.  He has raised a ton of money.  I think—I say this as someone who has criticized him, he does—looks good. 

BUCHANAN:  I mean, look, this is a mile and a furlong.  I think he came out of that debate very well.  We‘ve seen him all over television, on “60 Minutes.” He is friendly.  He is likable.  He is leading in New Hampshire. 

Let me tell you, the key thing to watch, Tucker, Iowa straw poll.  Find out who is really organized out there, and that will tell you.  And I think Rudy could be in trouble out there.  My guess is Romney and McCain are well organized.  But that is going to be the test. 

Look, if Romney can win in Iowa, or he comes in a strong second and wins New Hampshire, I think he is even money for the nomination. 

PRESS:  By the way, Pat mentions McCain.  Let‘s not forget him.  I think John McCain has to have a good night tonight too.  I think another night like the Reagan Library will really hurt John McCain. 

I mean, to me, he just came across as, he was giving rehearsed answers and kind of pretending to be tough and playing for the camera.  And it didn‘t really sound—didn‘t strike me as genuine John McCain. 

CARLSON:  Now you ran for president, Pat, so maybe this is a touchy subject, but do you think these debates ought.

BUCHANAN:  It used to be touchy, I have gotten over it.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  I think you ought to be proud of what you did, personally. 

But do you think.

BUCHANAN:  When they carry you out of the ring, Tucker.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  Should these debates include people with literally no hope of winning?  Ron Paul, whom I love, I may vote for him again, but he is not going to get the nomination, does it detract from.

BUCHANAN:  Oh, you have got to—you have to.  I mean, I think he is legitimate.  Look, he is going to get a solid bloc.  Frankly the bloc he gets is going to be denied to some other conservative who is running right now.  He is a real problem for Thompson. 

I think he belongs in there.  I do what they—I got break.  I mean, Tim Russert had me and Lugar on.  He had me and Specter on, debates right on—you ought to have the two-man debates as well as the 10-man, or maybe take these things to two hours or maybe have some five and fives, things like that.

But if you are going to have one big debate, I don‘t see how you—I don‘t know who you would show off there. 

PRESS:  Well, at some point though we have to narrow the field.  I mean, I‘m now saying right now.

BUCHANAN:  Well, I will tell you, the straw poll will do it. 

PRESS:  . because this is only.

BUCHANAN:  There will be corpses all over the place after that straw poll. 

CARLSON:  And when is that?

PRESS:  August.

BUCHANAN:  It is the August—around August 17th, something like that.  It is crucial because guys are out there.  You have got to organize out there.  You have got to get people out there, people on buses to spend all day Saturday, come out early.  It tells you who is organized. 

Bush did an incredible job.  He got every businessman to say, you are down for so many people. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  He got 7,000 people to a straw poll. 

CARLSON:  As I remember, I think this was you one of the—you running in this race, Pat, Steve Forbes gave a hot air balloon ride to everyone who voted for him, right? 

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  I think it worked. 

BUCHANAN:  His tent had French doors on it. 

(LAUGHTER)

PRESS:  I remember being there at the last straw poll with President Lamar Alexander and President Gary Bauer.

CARLSON:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

CARLSON:  Many presidents. 

It is the fourth day of the U.S. military search for three missing U.S. soldiers allegedly captured by al Qaeda in Iraq.  Is the terrorist threat in Iraq reason enough to sustain the American war effort?  Might the president be right about this after all?  We will return in a moment.  This is MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  This was the fourth day of the intensive search for three missing U.S. soldiers in Iraq.  They were ambushed on American patrol on Saturday morning.  Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the attack and has chided the U.S. and asked it to give up the search for the missing soldiers. 

Meanwhile, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Ron Kessler of NewsMax that the threat by the nuclear attack by al Qaeda in the U.S. is so real it wakes him up in the middle of the night. 

Given al Qaeda‘s presence in Iraq and the possibility that they are acquiring nuclear weapons, could President Bush be right after all, that a withdrawal from Iraq is a recipe for disaster?  Back to discuss it, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and nationally syndicated radio show host Bill Press. 

Now, Bill, I think everyone at this table has been against the war for a long time.  That is not the question.  The question is, President Bush‘s argument, that we can‘t leave now because Iraq is the headquarters of al Qaeda in the world, is right.  He is right.  It is.  The place is teeming with al Qaeda.  How can we leave given that? 

PRESS:  I don‘t think he is right about al Qaeda necessarily being the headquarters of the world.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  OK.  It is crawling with al Qaeda members and sympathizers. 

PRESS:  Yes.  But, Peter—Peter, Tucker, they weren‘t there before the war in Iraq.

CARLSON:  Yes.  I know.

PRESS:  You know, they have come in since then.  Wherever they are still, they are still up to their tricks.  They are still planning attacks against the United States.  But the gang that we see in Iraq every day as part of this civil war of mixing sides in there I don‘t think as a leadership of Iraq.

And I think we would be better off if we had focused instead of going

to Iraq on the leadership of al Qaeda from the beginning.  And I think this

look, they should not give up the search, and God help us, let‘s hope they find them, you know, today. 

But I think that the fact that they were kidnapped proves that this surge is not working.  We have put all of our forces in one place and what happens?  The insurgents go somewhere else where our troops are not as well-protected and they are able to kill five and pick off three.  And that is going to happen. 

CARLSON:  I‘m sorry.  I‘m just getting this in my ear now.  The president has chosen the war czar that the White House had been talking about.  Lieutenant General Douglas Lute.  He is right from the Pentagon.  He has been stationed here in Washington.  And he is now the new.

BUCHANAN:  Three-star?

CARLSON:  . czar.

BUCHANAN:  The new czar?

CARLSON:  . of the war in Afghanistan and of the war in Iraq. 

BUCHANAN:  I‘m afraid I don‘t know anything about him.  But let me say this, I think that we—obviously we made a mistake, I believe, going into Iraq . 

CARLSON:  Sure.

BUCHANAN:  The president may be right that if we pull out it really will be a disaster.  I think Anbar province, those people are crawling in Anbar province.  I think you are right.  They are all over the place.  And I think that the fear that the president may be right is the reason why that Congress up on the Hill has not cut off funds. 

It is afraid that the president may be right.  This could be a calamity in Iraq and it could all roll down the Gulf.  I mean, Bahrain has a majority Shia.  These al Qaeda—I think a lot of them are going to be driven out of the Sunni area by the Sunnis themselves.  But they are going to go somewhere in the Middle East. 

You hear talk about going after Jordan, going after Saudi Arabia.  I think we can have a metastasized cancer on our hands. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  And I think the president may be right about that.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Can I say, it is fair to blame—I think I—let me just say what you were going to say.  You were going to say, this did not have to happen. 

PRESS:  No.

CARLSON:  This is Bush‘s fault.  This is how I feel.  I think this was all exacerbated—these millennial-long hostilities were exacerbated by a series of bad decisions made by this president and the people around.  I will grant you that.  I mean, I‘m not defending the guy.

PRESS:  I was not going to say that.  All right.

CARLSON:  But isn‘t it irresponsible to pretend that once we leave Iraq—we should not have gone there in the first place, fine.  We are there.  If when we leave, it is going to be much more dangerous for the United States.  Can‘t we just admit that?  Isn‘t it irresponsible not to admit that? 

PRESS:  All right.  Now what I was going to say is two days ago the Iraqi parliament voted to set a timetable for the withdrawal of the American troops... 

CARLSON:  Who cares what they think?  I mean.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS:  What do you mean, who cares what they think?  It is their country.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS:  What I‘m saying is that.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  The point is, is what Tucker said true?  Is there a possibility of a calamity?  Is there real possibility.

PRESS:  My point is, Pat.  It is their country and they are not...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS:  They are not worried about it. 

CARLSON:  It is not—it is not—you know what, we.

PRESS:  So why should we be? 

CARLSON:  More than 3,000 Americans have died there, 24,000 injured.  It may be their country, we have a real interest there.  You know, these people are planning to take a two-month-long vacation this summer.  Let‘s just ignore what they—who cares what they think?

PRESS:  Who are we?  Who are we?  If they do not want us there, it is not going to work. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Let‘s suppose.

PRESS:  Let‘s accept that.

BUCHANAN:  Let‘s suppose they did not want us there, and if we got out it is a calamity for the United States and its entire position in the Middle East and other countries will roll down.  There will be dominos.  If that is possible, then you don‘t pay any attention to what they say, correct?

PRESS:  No.  Pat, I don‘t buy the domino theory in the beginning.  It is all this big.

BUCHANAN:  OK.  You don‘t agree it is going to happen.

PRESS:  It is all this “big if.”  We went through this in Vietnam.  Now we are going to here.  It is a scary theory that things are going to get worse.  It is already a bloodbath in Iraq.  Get out and let it divide up into three countries, which it is going to be eventually anyhow. 

BUCHANAN:  And you think that is all that is going to happen?

PRESS:  That is what is going to happen. 

BUCHANAN:  That is all that is going to happen. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  If I thought that.

PRESS:  Sunni, Shiite, and Kurds, over.

CARLSON:  Look, if I thought that was going to be the results of our withdrawal, I would be, you know, pinning myself to the White House gates, you know? 

PRESS:  I do think that is what is going to happen. 

CARLSON:  I hope you are right.  Thank you both very much. 

BUCHANAN:  Thank you, Tucker.

PRESS:  Thank you, Tucker, Pat.

CARLSON:  That does it for us.  Thanks for watching.  Up next, “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS.” We will be back tomorrow.  Tune in then.  In the meantime, have a great night.   

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

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