updated 9/2/2007 2:22:04 PM ET 2007-09-02T18:22:04

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  A draft report from the investigative arm of Congress finds little positive progress in Iraq just two weeks before General David Petraeus returns to Washington with his own report.

Former Senator Fred Thompson will finally become an official presidential candidate this week.

The political fallout over the arrest and resignation of Republican Senator Larry Craig continues.

And Clinton, Edwards and Obama locked in a very tight race in Iowa just four months before the Iowa caucus.

With us, a special Labor Day weekend political roundtable.  He helped put Bill and Hillary Clinton in the White House in 1992, Democrat James Carville.  She worked for Bush 41 and Bush 43 and now supports Fred Thompson, Republican Mary Matalin.  He’s worked for both John McCain and Mitt Romney, Republican Mike Murphy.  And he’s worked for John Kerry, John Edwards, Al Gore and more, Democrat Bob Shrum.  The race for the White House through the eyes of Carville, Matalin, Murphy and Shrum only on MEET THE PRESS.

Welcome, all.  It’s Labor Day, and what a way to kick it off, with this brain trust.  Let’s go right, right to it.  What a week in politics!  This was the scene yesterday, Boise, Idaho, Senator Larry Craig.

(Videotape)

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R-ID):  To my wife and my family, I apologize for what I have caused.

It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce that it is my intent to resign from the Senate, effective September 30th.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  A much different tone than we saw on Tuesday when Senator Craig was blaming the local newspaper, The Idaho Statesman, for his difficulties. Let’s watch the senator on Tuesday.

(Videotape)

SEN. CRAIG:  I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport.  I did nothing wrong, and I regret the decision to plead guilty.

Let me be clear, I am not gay; I never have been gay.  Still, without a shred of truth or evidence to the contrary, The Statesman has engaged in this witch hunt.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Mike Murphy, how have we gone from a witch hunt by a local paper to resignation in five days?

MR. MIKE MURPHY:  Well, I want to start by saying I have a very narrow stance. I think that’s the catchword everybody’s going to remember out of this.  What happened is the Republican leadership very quietly made it clear to Senator Craig, I think, that they had the elephant gun ready and they were going to increase pressure on him.  The RNC even might have done something.  And I think Larry Craig did the political calculation that he was in a situation where it would only get worse for him, and so he resigned, which I think is a good thing for the Republican Party.  And hopefully we’ll put this behind us.

MR. RUSSERT:  It was a different reaction in terms of speed by response by the Republicans to this crisis than it was to Mark Foley, the congressman from, from Florida...

MR. MURPHY:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...during the page scandal.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Did the Republicans learn something from that?

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, well, I think there’s a general feeling in the Republican Party right now that what we don’t need is more trouble.  We got plenty.  And I think so that the fact that Senator Craig gave a not particularly compelling explanation.  He blamed it on the Boise paper when he, you know, caught a moral charge.

MR. ROBERT SHRUM:  Not particularly compelling!

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, yeah.  Not—so I, I think that there’s a new focus in the Republican Party now on, on not having problems.  And we have Vitter, too, so I think small tolerance and small patience for this sort of thing.  And I think, also, it’s Idaho, and Larry Craig took a look around the political landscape and thought he was going to spend the next year of his life into a campaign, making these Shermanesque statements and battling this, and it looked like a losing fight.

MR. RUSSERT:  Bob Shrum, Mike Murphy mentioned Vitter, a reference to Senator Vitter of Louisiana, who has acknowledged that he solicited a D.C. madam, and yet there’s no calls for his resignation.  Senators say, “Well, that happened when he was a member of the House.” He did not plead guilty to a criminal offense.

MR. SHRUM:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is there a difference or is it a double standard?

MR. SHRUM:  Well, if he committed murder in the House, I don’t think they could give that defense.  I think there is a double standard.  What happened here is that Larry Craig was involved or solicited a male, and I think that really upset the base of the Republican Party.  He also looked ridiculous.  He went from 1 percent name recognition to 99 percent in about 24 hours.  And there was a wide stance in terms of his hypocrisy between what he had said about gay people and his own personal conduct.  It was a purely political decision.  The difference wasn’t, as the Republicans have said, that Vitter faced no criminal charges or had no criminal charges.  The difference was that Louisiana doesn’t have a Republican governor who can appoint a Republican successor.

MR. RUSSERT:  They have a Democratic governor who would, would appoint a Democrat replacement.

MR. SHRUM:  That’s right.

MR. RUSSERT:  And so you think that muted that Republican response?

MR. SHRUM:  Oh, absolutely.  And I think they made—look, they made a very practical decision here.  It wasn’t a decision made according to a set of principles, it was to keep the base happy and to try to avoid the ethical taint that they faced in 2006.  I don’t think this will be easily forgotten. I mean, this is water cooler conversation and jokes will proliferate about this for a long time.

MR. RUSSERT:  James Carville, in 1999 Larry Craig was on this program talking about William Jefferson Clinton, the president of the United States, and his behavior.  This is the way Senator Craig talked about the president.

(Videotape, January 24, 1999)

SEN. CRAIG:  And I will tell you that the Senate certainly can bring about a censure resolution, and it’s a slap on the wrist.  It’s a “Bad boy, Bill Clinton, you’re a naughty boy.” The American people already know that Bill Clinton is a bad boy, a naughty boy.  I’m going to speak out for the citizens of my state who, in the majority, think that Bill Clinton is probably even a nasty, bad, naughty boy.

(End videotape)

MR. JAMES CARVILLE:  You know, I’ve said many times that those who are not willing to give pardon and mercy are those that don’t need pardon and mercy. Clearly, Senator Craig is not one of these people, nor, I suspect, is anybody on this television set or are very few people like that.  And I couldn’t—I remember that, as you remember a lot of things.  And I remember that people know the way that he, he used gays in, in terms of gay marriage or gays in the military.  He was very, very far out there.  And I think the American public has really sort of turned against this kind of thing, and I think he was exposed for being the kind of hypocrite that he was.  By the same token, you could not look at that event yesterday and be a human being and not feel sorry for that man, to some extent, and feel sorry for his family.  But, you know, the, the message here is just shut your mouth and lead the life.  And I think that’s what the American people want, want, want people to do.

What I found extraordinary about this is nobody came out and defended this guy.  I mean, nobody said, “He’s a good man, done a bad thing.” “Here’s a decent guy who’s obviously been struggling with a problem.” “Here’s somebody who”—I mean, nobody.  No Republican, no, no, no, no operative, no journalist. Nobody said, “Well, Larry Craig’s got nothing.” And I mean, they didn’t throw him under the bus, they hit him with the bus.  I mean, he’s like, boom! Flattened him.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mary.  Mary Matalin:

MS. MARY MATALIN:  If you’re a liberal and you cheat on your wife, it’s a private affair.  If you’re a conservative and you cheat on your wife, you’re a hypocrite.  Normal people, when the husband cheats on the wife, the wife does not consider the politics before she gives a response on this.  Normal people out there did just what James just referenced, they looked at Mrs.  Craig, and I remember looking at Lee Hart and through the years this—these poor suffering families.  The first thing normal people thinks are—think are, “What?  Is—this is a family tragedy.” The second thing they think is, “Why is everybody in Washington glued to this?  And can’t—and don’t you guys have something better to do?” And thirdly, I didn’t listen to the tape, I didn’t watch any of this, but the people that I talked to are not particularly Craig fans, or critics, said, “That sounds like entrapment.  Don’t the cops have better things to do than tap dance in bathrooms in the airport?” I’m just telling you the normal person view at the end of all...

MR. SHRUM:  But he pleaded guilty, Mary, that was the—I mean, he pleaded guilty.  I mean, that killed him.  I mean...

MS. MATALIN:  I—but my larger point is, I think this has no political legs. And I further think, to the extent we’re discussing it in the political arena, I don’t think the best strategy for Hillary Clinton is to attack the Republicans by defending her husband for a 10-year-old charge.  She doesn’t want to re-bring up those scandals.  This week she also had the other Johnny Chung redux scandal, so if I were you guys, I would just move, move ahead and not put Clinton and Craig in the same pot.

MR. CARVILLE:  Yeah.

MR. MURPHY:  They don’t have an inch of anything to say about this.

MS. MATALIN:  Right.

MR. MURPHY:  And they were very silent about it, to their political credit.

MS. MATALIN:  Right.

MR. MURPHY:  Because this sort of stuff is a, a sweater that, if you pull the thread, it can, it can be very troublesome for both parties.

MR. SHRUM:  I think trying to go back, trying to go back to the Democrats on this...

MR. CARVILLE:  Right.

MR. SHRUM:  And I saw Tom DeLay doing this, isn’t going to do the Republicans any good.  Republicans—I agree with you on this, Mary—they need to move beyond this.  And I think, actually, the ultimate result of this is the Craig’s list of social issues—bashing gays, going after a woman’s right to choose—is going to have a lot less power in the 2008 election.  I just think...

MR. MURPHY:  But there’s one...

MR. SHRUM:  ...people are going to laugh if these wonderful family values candidates like Giuliani and Thompson get up there and start talking about these issues.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, but there’s an ugliness in all this, too.  I, I think Craig is an unsympathetic figure.  But there has been this case of bloggers on the far left trying to expose closeted politicians if they don’t fall completely into lockstep with a certain liberal gay agenda.  And I think that’s unfair.  It’s a form of McCarthyism, really.

MR. SHRUM:  Don’t you think the ugliness was voting against the hate crimes bill, as Craig did...

MR. MURPHY:  No, no, no, but what Dems do is...

MR. SHRUM:  ...and then going into a men’s bathroom...

MR. MURPHY:  This is—no, it’s...

MR. SHRUM:  ...and soliciting a police officer?

MR. MURPHY:  Of course, that was ugly, but, but the point is, there is a tendency to apply an identity politics test now, which, which has a real chilling effect on politics, that somebody’s private life has—or their, their race or their gender or their orientation—has to dictate where they stand politically.  If you’re a woman, you have to be a pro-choice Democrat.  I mean, that calculation cheapens politics, and it’s unfair to people in public life who do have private lives.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mitt Romney, a man that you worked for when he...

MR. MURPHY:  Uh-huh.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...ran for governor of Massachusetts, Mike Murphy, Larry Craig, endorsed him...

MR. MURPHY:  Supporter, yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...was a key component of his Idaho campaign, and Mitt Romney on Tuesday, the day this all broke, went to the cameras and said this about Larry Craig:

(Videotape)

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA):  (From “Kudlow & Company”) Once again we’ve found people in Washington have not lived up to the, the level of, of respect and, and dignity that we would expect for somebody that gets elected to a position of high influence.  Very disappointing.  He’s no longer associated with my campaign, as you can imagine.

I think it reminds us of Mark Foley and Bill Clinton.  I think it reminds us of the fact that people who are elected to public office continue to disappoint.

And we’ve seen disappointment in the White House, we’ve seen it in the Senate, we’ve seen it in Congress, and, frankly, it’s disgusting.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  He just threw him overboard.

MR. MURPHY:  Well, I, well, I think politically he had to get him out of the campaign.  And I think it was disappointing, what he did.  I think Mitt’s totally right to say that.  There could’ve been a little more grace to the statement, just as somebody who’s been around politics a long time.  You maybe would throw him half a sentence, you know, for his family or something like that, but I think the fundamental strategy of distancing himself was the only thing Mitt could have done, and I’m sure it’s how he felt.

MR. RUSSERT:  How about linking, how about linking Larry Craig to Bill Clinton, James Carville?

MS. MATALIN:  Yeah.

MR. CARVILLE:  You know what?  Just like Larry Craig and Mitt Romney, they can’t, they can’t, they can’t help themselves.  But what, what, again, I was shocked by, was shocked by when Larry Craig was on this program, what he said, and shocked by, by Mitt Romney, there’s not an element of humanity in any of these guys.

MS. MATALIN:  Mm.

MR. CARVILLE:  I mean, Mitt Romney could’ve said, “He was my chairman, he obviously did something wrong, I know this is a difficult time for his, for his family, the man”—nothing!  I mean, this was the coldest, most antiseptic thing that you could possibly hear from a politician.  And it was just like Larry Craig, he couldn’t wait to get out there and pontificate and, and, and make a complete fool of himself.  And, you know, the reason—one of the reasons that Democrats have been reluctant to put this out front because we are smart enough to know that our party also consists of human beings.  And, you know, when you have human beings, you’re going to have this kind of behavior, be they Republican or Democrat.  But what the Republicans do is they go and pontificate and all this great Americanism and how people need to lead their life and everything, and I think the American public would just love if they would shut up about that and lead the life themselves.  That’s what’s going on here.

MS. MATALIN:  You know, who, who’s saying that the Republicans are pontificating are Democrats who are completely obsessed with defining and demonizing Republicans.  Of all the debates—and there’s some every three days, there’s a debate—these candidates have been talking about national security issues, economic issues, energy issues.  This is the demonizing Democratic definition of Republicanism.  And you know what?  Normal people—that would be voters—are just sick of this.  This is not a dispositive issue in this cycle, where national security and economic issues in a global economy are.

MR. SHRUM:  Listen, Republicans demonized gay people for political purposes in 2004.  Bush, when he was first asked about a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage seemed to indicate he had no interest in it, then somebody took him into a room...

MS. MATALIN:  No, no.

MR. SHRUM:  ...and said, “We can get something out of this.”

MS. MATALIN:  Excuse me, Bob, you were not there.

MR. MURPHY:  (Unintelligible)

MR. SHRUM:  Let me finish, Murphy.  Murphy, let me finish because...

MS. MATALIN:  You just make this stuff up.  You’re wrong.

MR. SHRUM:  I didn’t make it up.

MS. MATALIN:  I was there when Bush...

MR. SHRUM:  At first he indicated—he indicated at first he didn’t have much interest in it, then he went out and campaigned on it.  But the point is, you demonized gay people.  And I agree with you, by the way, we ought to get past identity politics.

MR. MURPHY:  Well, but you’re in the middle of it right now, Bob.

MR. SHRUM:  But not even you—not even you could have elected Larry Craig as an openly gay person in the state of Idaho because there’s a whole segment of the country that has decided that somehow the gay people are not legitimate. We need to include them in our society, we need to give them rights, we need to vote for hate crimes laws, not vote against them and then go into a bathroom stall.

MR. MURPHY:  But, but the argument I would quibble with you on is when you say the president demeans gay people because he doesn’t support gay marriage, that’s what the Democrats do.  They turn a policy debate into a personal attack on a whole sector of the population.  And I think that is the Democratic...

MR. SHRUM:  I’m not just talking about gays, I just said hate crimes.

MR. MURPHY:  No, no, no.  But you started out with gay marriage.

MR. SHRUM:  And the president—why won’t the president support a hate crimes bill?

MR. MURPHY:  The president’s against hate crimes.  You guys just struck...

MR. SHRUM:  Why won’t he support a bill to punish hate crimes?

MR. MURPHY:  Oh, come on.  Look’s...

MS. MATALIN:  No, Bob, that’s not—you know what...

MR. MURPHY:  (Unintelligible)...discuss legislation and then you say we’re divisive because we won’t support your version of it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me, let me, let me move on.

MS. MATALIN:  Can I just make a point?

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me, let me, let me move on.  Wait a minute.

Another Republican senator has decided to retire...

MR. MURPHY:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...for very noble reasons, John Warner from Virginia, and he foreshadowed his decision last week here on MEET THE PRESS when I asked him whether he would run again.  This is the way he analyzed his decision.

(Videotape)

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA):  The Senate requires you to go full-bore six or seven days a week, tremendous energy.  Go to Iraq, jump in and out of helicopters, get on the cargo planes, no sleep.  And that’s in different things we’ve got to do all around.  And I’ve got to assess, at this age, whether it is fair to Virginia to ask for a contract for another six years.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  At age 80 he decided he did not want to ask for that contract. He just wasn’t sure that he could meet his commitment to the people of Virginia.  But that now opens the seat up in Virginia.  Former Governor Mark Warner, a Democrat, considered a very strong candidate.

Mary Matalin, the Republicans have Congressman Tom Davis, former Governor Jim Gilmore.  But the Democrats could have two senators from Virginia, Jim Webb and Mark Warner, if he ran.

MS. MATALIN:  That’s—it’s a tough state.  It’s a, it’s a trending, trending purple, but only purple.  It’s a—it’s still a red state, and the reason and the rationale for Warner’s—Warner—Mark’s previous victories has—have been, and this is why he was considering running for the presidency is that he’s a good, conservative Southernesque, NASCAR, gun-toting kind of Democrat.  That’s how he’ll have to run in Virginia, which the more conservative Democrats that win just keep proving that conservative governing philosophy is the predominant one in this country.

MR. RUSSERT:  James Carville, the 2008 is looking more and more attractive to the Democrats in terms of...

MR. CARVILLE:  Oh.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...increasing their margins in the Senate and the House.

MR. CARVILLE:  What else there is, I think there like eight Senate seats, vacant Republican seats that are really, really in play, maybe one Democratic seat.  But not just, not just Virginia.  You got—we got Alaska, Oregon, Minnesota, New Hampshire.  The real good—depending on what happens in Nebraska, Nebraska could be at least a 50/50 state for, for the Democrats. And then you got—the Republicans also have some problems with North Carolina, Kentucky, even Texas, New Mexico.  So there’s no doubt that the Senate is looking, looking very good for, for the Democrats right now.  Now, who knows? I mean, Governor Warner has not made up his mind.  The Republicans are likely to have a primary between Congressman Davis and former Governor Jim Gilmore, which would be—set up a classic kind of right/left...

MR. SHRUM:  Yeah.

MR. CARVILLE:  ...battle of right/moderate battle, I guess I should say, within the Republican Party.

MR. RUSSERT:  Are the Republicans worried about the Senate, Mike Murphy?

MR. MURPHY:  Totally.  I think we have a shot to get it back, but it’s getting tougher mathematically.  We have 22 seats to defend—I think they have 12 or so.  And we got some incumbents in trouble, and we got a bad political environment.  Now, I do think the political environment’s going to get a little better.  I think the Democrats are, generically, a little too cocky, but in these state-by-state races, the situation like in Virginia where you lose a strong candidate and you pick up the threat of Warners—the other—the Democratic Warner, should he run, you know, it starts to tilt the numbers in a rough, rough direction.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the presidential race.  A man by the name of Fred Thompson, Bob Shrum.  This is the way Stephen Hayes writes about him in today’s Weekly Standard.  I’ll share it with you and our viewers.  As “several Fred Thompson supporters believe he made a mistake by waiting to join the race.  They worry that his wink-and-a-nod candidacy has undermined his main strength:  his ability to present himself as a” plain spokesman, “no-nonsense conservative.  What’s more, they say, Thompson’s refusal to actively campaign reinforces what rival campaigns have suggested is Thompson’s chief weakness: laziness.” Here’s the cover of Newsweek magazine out today, “Lazy Like a Fox: Sure he’s laid-back, but don’t be fooled.  Fred Thompson’s good old boy style masks a drive that’s propelled him to the front of the field.” What do you make of the candidacy?

MR. SHRUM:  I, I don’t think his problem is laziness.  I mean, Mary can speak to that.  She’s worked with him.  (To Murphy) You’ve worked with him.  I think that he made a mistake in waiting so long.  He almost became the first noncandidate ever to implode, and he’s raised the stakes very high as he announces late.  People are—he’s going to be held to a very high standard as he begins to answer those first questions about Iraq, about health care, about the whole set of issues these other Republicans have been talking about.

One of the things that’s happened, I think, is you have a really restless, concerned Republican Party.  My friend Murphy, and I don’t want to steal his line without attributing it, said all of these guys have a glass jaw.  Any of them could be hurt by someone going after them on a whole set of issues.  I think there’s a lot of unease about Giuliani, who’d be a strong candidate in the general, but who the social conservatives don’t like.  There’s a lot of unease about Romney, who’s a big flip-flopper.  And there’s going to be a lot of unease about Fred Thompson for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he seems to have been on both sides of the issues in some cases.  So I think you have a Republican Party that’s in disarray, frightened and looking for a solution.

MR. MURPHY:  I had this great line about glass jaws I was practicing in the green room.  Shrum...

MS. MATALIN:  That’ll teach you to...(unintelligible)

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, I’ve learned my lesson here, yeah.

MR. SHRUM:  Full attribution.

MR. MURPHY:  Got the five-finger discount.  Yes.  The issue with Fred—I think the most overrated thing in presidential primary, you know, huff-and-puffery in the pre-season is infrastructure.  You’ve got to lock down the infrastructure.  That’s spending eight million bucks to pay people to watch the other guy’s eight million bucks worth of people and report back, and then you have no money.  I think Fred can get in this late.  The question is can Fred perform?  They’ve had a lot of process stumbling in the last 60 days, a lot of people running in and out of the campaign.  They now have some professionals.  They’re going to do their announcement tour right away. They’re going to all the right places.  And if Fred is on his game, and Fred has a message beyond stories about the possum and the raccoon and grandma and whatever, and really has a, you know, strong message, he’s got the platform now to get right in this race.  And the other question will be money.  Can he really raise some dough?  So far it’s been weak.  But he’s got a big bite of the apple.  But as Bob says, and I agree with him on this, his expectations are so high now that if he doesn’t perform in the next 20 days, I think the big mentioning machine is going to crunch him down, and then money will be very, very hard.

MR. RUSSERT:  Fred Thompson will officially announce on Thursday, we’re being told.

Mary Matalin, he went to the Iowa state fair, and Fox News pointed out that after he left the Senate he was a lobbyist and he showed up at the state fair—here’s the photograph—wearing Gucci loafers.  Is there an image problem here?

MS. MATALIN:  Can I speak again as a normal person?  Not a single voter in my 28 years has ever voted on shoes or the process.  One guy, in 1992, said, “I voted against George Bush because I hate you.” OK, I think we lost for other reasons.  So all of this process stuff, nobody’s paying attention to.  The reason he can get in late now, and only he can not just get in this time, but he can win, is because he has the two magic ingredients to get in this late, and that is that he has superior rationale, a superior message, and he has the stature and the skills to be able to communicate it.

MR. RUSSERT:  What’s the rationale?

MS. MATALIN:  The rationale for the primary is, as Bob’s laid out all the vulnerabilities in the glass jaw candidates, he’s a consistent conservative, has been from the first time he read “Conscience of Conservatives,” through the conservative reform contest to Congress in 1994, usurping Justice Roberts through it.

MR. RUSSERT:  But he works for abortion rights’ groups.

MS. MATALIN:  No, he worked for a firm...

MR. SHRUM:  That was a brief bout of amnesia.

MS. MATALIN:  He worked for a firm—we can do this race like this, but you’re not where voters are.  But more than that, he’s a comprehensive conservative that speaks to Rudy’s vulnerabilities.  He has intelligence, homeland security and the national security issues, he has all the economic issues and he has the cultural issues.  The reason that’s...

MR. RUSSERT:  What are, what are Rudy’s vulnerabilities?

MS. MATALIN:  Just what Bob said.  I like Rudy a lot, but he’s not—he doesn’t scratch all three triads of the Republican triangle.

MR. RUSSERT:  Which are?

MS. MATALIN:  Which are national security, economic security and the cultural issues.  And the principles on which Fred believes and forms his policy are heartland, they’re first principles.  And he connects better with the heartland.  But the main superior rationale is he’ll be better in the general election.  He’s better than any of these guys against Hillary.  He’s not afraid of Hillary.  He’s a better politician than her, and he’ll get more blue states.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here, here’s the latest...

MS. MATALIN:  I’m on the team.

MR. MURPHY:  I’m, I’m...

MR. SHRUM:  That is really—that’s spin.  Good spin.

MR. MURPHY:  We’ll be hearing more of that, I think.

MS. MATALIN:  Thank you.  I’m, I’m looking at the clock.  I think James is going to chew it up in the break.

MR. CARVILLE:  Right, right, right.

MR. RUSSERT:  You should know I’ve offered Mayor Giuliani and Governor Romney a full hour on this program to respond.  They’ve not yet accepted.  But I hope they’ll come and make their own case, as well as Mary’s made a case on behalf of Fred Thompson.

Here’s the latest poll.  This is amongst Republicans.  National poll: Giuliani’s at 27; Thompson, who will announce on Thursday, 17; Romney, 15; McCain, 12.  But then asked the question, “Who has the best chance against the Democratic candidate?” Look at that.  Giuliani goes to 38; Thompson, 14; McCain, 13; Romney, 11.  They think Rudy’s a better general election candidate, Mike Murphy.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah, well, Rudy owns the national polls right now, and I think if the election were held today, he would be the best national candidate.  The problem is I don’t think the national polls mean anything until after the Iowa caucus because these polls are not based on any fully appreciation of any of the candidates yet.  And Rudy has a tremendous advantage of being really, really well-known and identified with a certain kind of strength that I think people, you know, find very appealing.  But I think all four of them have a glass jaw, which is what makes this a very interesting primary.  I think no—none of the big four kind of have a lock on this thing.  McCain’s glass jaw was immigration, and he got that hit and it knocked him right back.  A big, tough TV hit on Mitt Romney on kind of ideological gymnastics would hurt him.  A hit on Rudy Giuliani on social liberalism would hurt him, and I think a little bit of a hit on Fred Thompson could hurt him, too.  And we don’t really know what the Fred Thompson candidacy is yet, and I think the problem they’re going to have, just to give equal glass jaw time quickly to Fred, from a Republican point of view—and I like Fred, I think he’d be a pretty good president.  But I also think Fred doesn’t fit the super-conservative mold perfectly either.  Truth is, none of these guys do.  It’s like they’re all trying to haunt the George Allen space that got vacated, and I’m not even sure that was a ticket to the nomination.  So none of them quite fit, and we’ve got a very compressed schedule, where a few early states, I think, will run a domino effect.  And my big question, as a spectator now, is, is who’s going to hit who first with paid television?  (Unintelligible).

MR. RUSSERT:  Does laziness cut as an issue?

MR. MURPHY:  No, I don’t think so.  I think, I think Fred can fix that by executing the next two weeks well.  But Fred’s problem has been, there’s—he’s kind of been vaporware, as they say in Silicon Valley.  There’s a story of this great thing that’s supposed to happen, and then he goes out and he performs, and he hasn’t performed very well.  Now, he can fix that by performing really well, but now the stakes are high.  And we’re going to see in the next two weeks what he’s got.

MR. RUSSERT:  I remember when Ronald Reagan was accused of being lazy.  He said, “Well, you know, hard work never killed anybody.  But why, but why take a chance?”

MR. MURPHY:  Right, exactly.  Fred uses that line a lot.

MR. RUSSERT:  James Carville, how, how do you see the Republican race?  Be counterintuitive.

MR. CARVILLE:  I think I—well, I got to be intuitive here, but I think it’s true.  I’ve never seen a guy have so much pressure on him starting a campaign as Fred Thompson’s going to have.  We’re going to know in four weeks.  He doesn’t have any slip-up, then he probably slips off the radar screen.  If he performs, then it’s not going to matter what his organization’s—it’s going to matter much less what his organization’s like.  But I mean, I—the, the amount of attention that he’s going to get over the next three or four weeks is going to be enormous, the expectations.  He—if, if he does as well as everybody else, that’s not going to be good enough.

MR. MURPHY:  Yeah.

MR. CARVILLE:  I mean, as a result of his waiting, there’s a, there’s a ton of pent-up demand and interest in this guy, and people are really going to be watching him.  He’s going to be on Jay Leno this week.  They—the people are going to pay attention.  Every speech he gives, people are going to analyze it.  It’s going to be a very interesting time in U.S. politics.  The Republicans right now, by every measure, from fund-raising to polling, anything else, are really dissatisfied with their field.  So I mean, I suspect there’s a lot of Republican hope out there for Fred Thompson, but...

MR. SHRUM:  But the long, the long tease requires a great performance.

MR. CARVILLE:  It does.  It does.  It’s built it up.

MS. MATALIN:  Oh, but the only—anybody who was teased was 500 people that are talking to each other.  The Republicans for the first time are having...

MR. SHRUM:  Mary, I love you, but you are not actually the ideal spokesman for the average person in America.

MS. MATALIN:  I am a normal person.  Yes, I was at school orientation while you guys were glued to the TV on Larry Craig.  This performance—you know, the Republican Party is getting to date for the first time since 1960.  We’ve always had a front-runner.

MR. CARVILLE:  Right.  You got a...

MS. MATALIN:  So on a date, if you don’t perform the first out of the box, guess what?  You get another chance.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mary Matalin, on Wednesday night, all the other Republicans will be on a stage debating in New Hampshire.  Fred Thompson will be on Jay Leno.  Is that appropriate?

MS. MATALIN:  And guess what?  Who do you think has the largest audience at that time?  Jay Leno has 31 percent of the audience at the time immediately preceding the video.  This is a message-driven campaign, and we want to drive people, and the biggest place to do that was Jay Leno.  We want to drive him right at 12:01 to hear Fred Thompson’s principles, which is the definition of performance.  I don’t know what they mean by performance.  I know what he means by performance.  It is getting your principles out there, and we want to drive him right to the video so they don’t have to go through the prism of us. You can read it, and you can see it, and you can hear it and deliver his principles.  Thank you, Jay Leno.

MR. SHRUM:  Performance, Mary, means, can he answer basic questions, I think, about, that people now have about Republicans.  For example, should you vote Republican for—to end the war in Iraq?  Should you vote Republican for a better health care plan?  Should you vote Republican for a better economy.

MR. MURPHY:  No, Bob, you’re...

MS. MATALIN:  Oh.

MR. MURPHY:  You’re going into the general election wedge issues.  Nice try, but this is the primary we’re talking about.

MS. MATALIN:  I hope Hillary hires you.  That’s great, frame it up there quick.

MR. SHRUM:  I’m not for anybody.

MR. MURPHY:  The question, can he...

MS. MATALIN:  There’s not a question he cannot answer.

MR. MURPHY:  Can he up his message game, and can he working a media environment more hostile than Fox?  Those are the two questions I think he’s set up to answer, but he’s got to go do it.

MR. CARVILLE:  Yeah, he does.

MR. MURPHY:  But the Leno thing will be good from a voter contact point of view.  It’s big, it’s flashy...

MR. SHRUM:  Right.

MR. MURPHY:  ...and there’ll always be another New Hampshire debate.  The question will be can he go into the real media grinder and impress some people with some depth?  That, I think, is what he has at stake, and we’ll see.

MS. MATALIN:  Well, he spent two terms in the Senate, come on.  Look...

MR. MURPHY:  No, I think he has the potential to, but he hasn’t done it yet.

MS. MATALIN:  ...he has very high expectations and there’s land mines out there, millions of dollars...

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we take a break—before we take a break and talk about the Democrats, I do want to talk about Iraq because a Government Accountability Office draft report came out this week.  General Petraeus will be coming back from Iraq within 10 days with another report.  Here’s the way The Washington Post described the most recent draft report from the GAO. Support—“Report finds little progress in Iraq goals,” “draft at odds with White House.  Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally-mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to the draft GAO report.  The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration.

“The strikingly negative GAO” report “comes as the White House prepares to deliver its own benchmark report the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from Amy General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.” They’re “expected to describe significant security improvements and offer at least some promise for political reconciliation in Iraq.”

Mary Matalin, if the war in Iraq is going on in November of ‘08, the way it is today, can the Republicans win?

MS. MATALIN:  Yes, because what we’re seeing for the first time last week, is a majority of people now support and believe that the war can be won.  This leaked negative aspect of the GAO report, which in no way measured the progress on the things that really matter:  Are the Iraqis making a difference?  Did not report on the Sunni split thing, did not report on the provincial progress, did not report on the political reconciliation, did not report on the religious reconciliation.  It does not comport with the critics of the president who say progress is being made, including front-runners Hillary Rodham Clinton and, and Barack Obama.  So people are very nuanced about this.  They understand not only that it can be won, but that it must be one.  They understand the consequences of defeat.  Further, two thirds of them trust—and nobody more than the generals—when Petraeus and Crocker come and give their report, that will be the positive time.

MR. SHRUM:  I hope, I hope the Republican hires you to make that argument in November of 2008.

MS. MATALIN:  I’ll make that happily.

MR. SHRUM:  Because let me tell, let me tell you something, this Petraeus report is going to be the eighth, ninth or 10th iteration of mission semi-accomplished.  It’s going to be the same thing General Westmoreland did just before the Tet Offensive when he came back and said there was light at the end of the tunnel.  We are bogged down in a civil war in Iraq, the country wants to get out.  I think you should run a Republican candidate who says, “Let’s stay indefinitely.”

MS. MATALIN:  Hillary doesn’t think that.  Obama doesn’t think that.

MR. SHRUM:  No, Hillary says we need to get out—wait a minute!

MS. MATALIN:  Baird doesn’t think that.

MR. SHRUM:  No, no, Hillary says we need to get out—wait a minute.  Hillary says we ought to get out of Iraq.

MR. MURPHY:  No, she doesn’t.

MR. SHRUM:  She ways we ought to get out of Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  Bob Shrum, will the election of November ‘08, presidential election, be a referendum on Iraq?

MR. SHRUM:  If, if the war is anywhere near what it is now, if Bush doesn’t come to his senses and begin to withdraw troops, I think it will be a referendum on Iraq, and I don’t think the Republicans have a chance.

MR. MURPHY:  I think far less than the Democrats suspect, which is the biggest error they’re making, politics is always changing, next week will be different.  There will be fewer troops there, and if the success in the Sunni areas continue, that’s a game-changer in Iraq.

MR. CARVILLE:  Sure.  Iraq is going to be a huge presence there.  General Petraeus told—himself told congressional people that he expected we’d be there for another nine or 10 years.  I don’t think anybody in the United States bargained for a 15-year war in Iraq, and that’s what they’re being told.

Now, there’s no way that you’re going to have that and not—and have a war for being the sixth year of this war come March 17th of 2008.  Sure it’s going to be a big thing.  This is going to be a big deal when, when the—on September the 10th or the 15th there’s going to be a huge civics lesson for the nation, and this is thanks to a Democratic Congress that forced these benchmarks and forced this discussion.  I think that’s one of the many—one of the enormous accomplishments of this Democratic Congress is to force this discussion that we’re going to have in the, in the United States, and we need to have it.

MS. MATALIN:  These benchmarks were designed to produce a negative report. They do not measure progress, and they measure apples and oranges.  The congressionally mandated progress report for the president is to show progress and the, and the GAO is to show completion.  So if an element of the benchmark has three parts to it and they’ve completed two, the president says they’ve made progress, and the GAO says “No, they’ve not made any progress whatsoever,” despite the fact that they’ve completed two thirds of what it requires to do that benchmark.  It’s all—this is all—and people know this out there.

MR. SHRUM:  No, they don’t.  No, they don’t.

MS. MATALIN:  They are sick of it.

MR. SHRUM:  No, they don’t.

MS. MATALIN:  Yes, they do.

MR. SHRUM:  No, they don’t.  They want us to withdraw from Iraq.  This is...

MS. MATALIN:  No.

MR. SHRUM:  ...the relentless rhetoric of redemption that started after mission accomplished turned out not to be true.

MS. MATALIN:  No.  Even twenty...

MR. SHRUM:  And General Petraeus...

MS. MATALIN:  Bob, read your own polls.

MR. SHRUM:  ...may be an excellent general, but we all know—we all know the administration’s going to put tremendous pressure...

MS. MATALIN:  There...

MR. SHRUM:  ...on him.  He’s going to come in there and the odds are overwhelming he’s going to say, “The surge is working.  I need more time.” And James is right.  They’re talking about having to be there for nine or 10 years.

MS. MATALIN:  They’re talking about a presence...

MR. SHRUM:  This country is not going to vote for a president—Petraeus has said nine or 10 years.  Country is not going to vote for a president who’s going to keep us there for nine or 10 years.

MS. MATALIN:  I—you keep talking like this, because even, even...

MR. SHRUM:  I will, Mary, I promise you.

MS. MATALIN:  ...there’s only 25 percent of the Democrats think that...

MR. SHRUM:  I will.

MS. MATALIN:  ...we should immediately withdraw.

MR. SHRUM:  I didn’t say immediately withdraw.

MS. MATALIN:  We have, but we have...

MR. SHRUM:  That’s another, now that’s another, now that’s a perfect Cheneyism.

MS. MATALIN:  We have presence, we have troop presence in the world.

MR. SHRUM:  I didn’t say immediately withdraw.  I just said they thought we should withdraw.

MR. MURPHY:  Luckily for the country...

MR. SHRUM:  Over a year to a year and a half.

MR. RUSSERT:  Murphy.

MR. MURPHY:  Luckily for the country, the real debate, and Clinton’s doing this, to her credit, is moving not to what people will vote for, Bob, but what’s right for the country.  It’s a cafeteria of bad choices.  Petraeus is going to show us some progress.  We ought to be adults about that.

MR. RUSSERT:  We’re going to take a break.  We’re going to come back and talk about the Democrats.  We’ll be right back after this.

MR. MURPHY:  Wait, she’s trying to kill me!

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  The race for the White House through the eyes of Carville, Matalin, Murphy and Shrum right after this station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

Let’s go to the Democrats.  Hillary Clinton, comfortable lead in all the national polls.  Here’s the latest on Iowa from Time magazine.  Look at this: John Edwards, 29; Hillary Clinton, 24; Barack Obama, 22; Bill Richardson, 11; the rest of the field down at the bottom, less than that.  And here’s the analysis from the Time magazine pollster, grouped like this:  “One reason the race remains fluid is that Iowa caucusgoers see strengths and weaknesses in each candidate.  Among the top four candidates, likeability:  Edwards, 32;” “Obama, 30;” “‘most likeable,’” “Clinton” “at 12 percent, below Richardson” at 16.  “Leadership:  Clinton holds a commanding lead over second-ranked Edwards, 36 to 23,” “Obama at 20, Richardson, 9.” “Special interests,” taking them on: “Obama dominates the ‘change in Washington’ category,” “a 10-point lead over Edwards, 35-25,” Clinton’s third, 19; Richardson, 7.  “Handling of Iraq,” it’s “Clinton, 27,” over “Obama, 19; Edwards, 18”; “Richardson, 16.” Protecting against terrorism, Clinton leads the field by a wide margin, picked by 27 percent,” “Edwards at 19,” Obama, 15; Richardson, 14.

James Carville, what does your old boss Hillary Clinton think of that?

MR. CARVILLE:  Well, I mean, first of all, I, I, I think that my old boss has to feel pretty good about her campaign so far.  And, and, and I say that as, obviously, as someone who’s very sympathetic to her both politically and, and, and personally.  But she’s performed exceptionally well, make no mistakes. And if you look at that poll in Iowa, that’s actually, compared to where she was six months ago, that’s pretty improved performance for her.

Having said that, I know this about my old boss, she, she doesn’t suffer under any illusions.  She knows she’s in a very talented field.  She knows that Iowa’s a, a, a very tough state.  Terry McAuliffe told me a couple of weeks ago that Governor Vilsack was—saw the field better, and I think he’s got his, his ear to the ground.  But, but, look, this is going to be, this is going to be a tough battle.  Edwards has been there, he ran well in, in 2004 in Iowa. He’s been working hard.  Obama’s got an enormous amount of enthusiasm.  This thing could, could get, could get interesting before it is.

I did think one interesting thing in that poll, I might add.  If you would’ve told anybody in the Democratic Party at the beginning of this year that Hillary would have the best Iraq numbers in the Iowa caucusgoers, we would have never thought that.  That was a pretty amazing political feat on the part of her and her campaign.

MR. RUSSERT:  One issue in which she received a lot of criticism from her fellow Democrats was terrorism.  She has been very critical of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove for politicizing the war on terror, and yet these were her comments in New Hampshire about that issue.

(Videotape, August 23, 2007)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY):  If certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it.

So I think I’m the best of the Democrats to deal with that.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  She playing the terrorism card?

MR. CARVILLE:  Well, I don’t—I mean, a, a—you, you cannot go to a Democratic event, or a—or any event where somebody doesn’t ask a question, what would happen to the politics if there were a terrorist attack in the country between now and Election Day?  That, that’s something that people ask about.  And I don’t know, my guess is, is that she might have even been addressing a question that she got when she was answering that question.  But I do think that she makes an important point, and, and I think all, all Democrats are aware of this, is that—and, and the polls now show that we’re even with the Republicans on protecting against terrorism, that she’s saying, “I’m not ceding that ground to any Republican.” And I—that’s probably her larger point, and I think it’s a very good one.

MR. RUSSERT:  But Chris Dodd and other Democrats said, “Wait a minute, Hillary, you’ve gone too far, suggesting that you’re better on the war on terrorism than we are, and you’re using it as a political wedge issue.”

MR. SHRUM:  Well, I think they’re just taking the opportunity to use it as a political wedge issue against her.  I think it’s one of the few missteps she’s made in what has been a very well-executed campaign.  It was an extemporaneous remark.

But look, we got to take the national polls and throw them out.  They don’t matter.  We got to take the Iowa poll and read it the right way.  What it says is that Iowa voters are shopping.  They’re going to move around, certainly among these top three candidates.  In the last three or four weeks before the caucuses, they’re going to make a decision and move in the direction of one candidate.  If Obama wins, for example, I think he could take off like a rocket.  I think John Edwards has been a real candidate in this race all along because of Iowa.  It’s a trap; he has to win it.  But if he does win it, he’s in strong shape.  And if Hillary wins it, she could conceivably close down the process.  But we have to think about this as a long game.  I think Obama is. I think Clinton is.  We can’t look at this today and say where this is going to go.

MR. RUSSERT:  We’re four months away, but we’re closing in.

MR. CARVILLE:  Yeah.

MR. MURPHY:  She was telling the truth.  I give her credit for it.

Here’s what I’d be worried about if I were in the Clinton world, which, of course, a planet I’ll never land on.  But still, the Iowa caucus is likely now to be even closer to New Hampshire, which means the bounce from Iowa is going to be more powerful than ever.  You look at these Iowa numbers, you’ve got Hillary, who’s very well-known and a bit polarizing, running a good campaign, but with inherent candidate problems.  If one of the lesser candidates—Richardson, who’s bought his way of some clever advertising, with 12 or 13 points, starts to falter or John Edwards runs out of money—and that vote becomes loose, I’m not sure it breaks to Hillary Clinton if Obama really gets his act together and steps up his game a click or two.  Then you have a very bad situation for Hillary Clinton in Iowa with very little time to recover through a very bounce-heavy primary schedule.

MR. CARVILLE:  I think, also, if either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama wins, it’s going to be much more significant than if Senator Edwards does.

MR. MURPHY:  Mm-hmm.

MR. CARVILLE:  I mean, for, A, they’re much, much better funded.

MR. SHRUM:  Right.

MR. CARVILLE:  They can go on.  It, it, it can be much more of a knockout punch in that sense.  If, if, if Senator Edwards wins by two points and they all sort of bunch together, it’s probably going to be less meaningful.  If somebody, if either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama is perceived to have come on strong at the end, then they’re going to go into—and as Mike points out, if you have that five, only a five-day lag time between Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s going to make an enormous amount of difference.

MR. RUSSERT:  One of the issues that Mary Matalin raised was financing the campaigns.  This is a picture that appeared all across the country this week. Norman Hsu and Hillary Clinton.  He’s a fund-raiser from California.  It turns out he was on the lam for a charge that he’s now turned himself in for.  The Clinton campaign originally said that there was no question about his integrity.  They’ve now changed their mind, have returned.  They’re giving the contributions to charity.

The Republicans have seized on this, Mary Matalin.  Here’s the—Hillary Clinton’s biography called “Living History.” And now the Republican Web site has renamed it “Re-Living History,” and they’re alluding to this man, Johnny Chung, a fund-raiser for the Clintons back in the first Clinton term who was infamous for this quote, “I see the White House is like a subway.  You have to put coins to open the gates.” Is this the kind of issue that is going to create difficulty for Hillary Clinton, or is it something that all politicians do?

MS. MATALIN:  Well, the reason she has run a near-flawless campaign is because she has to.  She has to.  And the things that she is most vulnerable on is she has to be, to be a credible change agent.  She has to keep moving forward, looking forward.  And anything that references the past, the Craig and the Clinton connection, which is ridiculous.  But this, that re-raises the Johnny Chung issue and all the scandals, which are just symbolic of all the scandals of those years, is the thing that she has to stay away from.  So of course she’s correct.  These guys can never vet all of their contributors, and she does have more than anybody else.  But in her case, and she knows it’s a vulnerability, she should have hired somebody to do special vetting on her FEC reports because if it was easy for the—whoever broke it, The Wall Street Journal, to get it, some, you know, some geek in the basement could have figured it out, too.  She, there’s an extra onus on her to not repeat scandals that are related to that with which she’s trying to avoid people thinking about.

MR. MURPHY:  They’ve always taken a wide stance in the Clinton world of fund-raising...

MR. SHRUM:  Oh.

MR. MURPHY:  I couldn’t resist.  Little callback to Larry Craig.

MR. SHRUM:  I don’t—this is, this is going nowhere.

MR. MURPHY:  No, no, no.  But seriously, and it has been a problem for them. It’s hard in any campaign to filter this stuff through because you take so many small contributions.  But what’s—this is an interesting, I think, look into the situation they’re all in right now, beyond just her.  They’re all having bad quarters.  This is the hardest quarter to raise money.  And so all the candidates are in a quiet internal panic about how do you find more money. So the pressure is on the finance teams to do it, and all of a sudden dodgier and dodgier characters are able to slip through.  But her problem is she just is held to a bit higher standard because of past problems.

MR. SHRUM:  She didn’t do anything wrong, Mike.  Nothing wrong.

MR. MURPHY:  And there’s more, there’s more on this guy, too.  We don’t really know where the money came from, this mystery guy.  All this dough, this thing is not over.

MR. CARVILLE:  You know, these campaigns, they have I don’t know how many contributors.  They have people that to this.  A guy named Fabian, who is, who is Romney’s finance co-chair, was indicted on I don’t know how many different things.  He was a Bush pioneer.  Do these guys know that?  No.  Look at Rudy Giuliani’s South Carolina chairman was indicted on cocaine trafficking.  Or look what happened to McCain’s guy in Florida.  These things are going to happen because these campaigns have sort of human beings here. In—Norman—sorry, I can’t pronounce that.

MR. MURPHY:  Hsu.

MR. SHRUM:  Hsu.

MR. CARVILLE:  Mr. Hsu is not a lobbyist or anything like that.  He was a guy that had raised a lot of money.  He’d obviously been in a lot of trouble before.  He’s going to have to reconcile this.  But somehow or another that this points to some kind of flaw in Senator Clinton, in judge—and other candidates ought to be careful about criticizing this...

MS. MATALIN:  No one said it’s a flaw.

MR. CARVILLE:  ...because they’re going to crop up with her.

MS. MATALIN:  It’s just a distraction she has to run a flawless campaign.

MR. RUSSERT:  Hillary Clinton is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

MR. CARVILLE:  Right.

MR. SHRUM:  Nobody, nobody, nobody, thinks that Hillary Clinton knew about this.  Nobody held Hillary Clinton accountable for this.

MR. CARVILLE:  Right.

MR. SHRUM:  Hsu’s given money to lots of other candidates.  The biggest story, by the way, in terms of the primaries, is the Democrats agreeing now not to campaign, all of them, in Michigan and Florida if they go ahead in Iowa.  That actually, in a perverse way, if the states stick to the calendar, could, for example, help Senator Clinton.  If no one campaigns and she wins Florida, wins the primary in Florida, wins the primary in Michigan, that could have a knockout effect in Iowa, could change things.

MR. RUSSERT:  Hillary Clinton, the front-runner of the Democratic primary, perhaps the front-runner in, in the national polls to even win the presidency outright, is the center of attention amongst Democrats and Republicans. Here’s Karl Rove, first on the Rush Limbaugh show and then later on MEET THE PRESS.  Let’s watch.

(Audiotape, August 15, 2007)

Mr. KARL ROVE:  I think she’s likely to be the nominee, and I think she’s fatally flawed.

(End audiotape)

(Videotape, August 19, 2007)

Mr. ROVE:  (From “Meet the Press”) She enters the general election campaign with the highest negatives of any candidate in the history of the Gallup Poll.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of John Edwards, weighed in on this debate in Time magazine.  This is what Elizabeth Edwards had to say:  “I do not think the hatred against Hillary Clinton is justified.  I don’t know where it comes from.  I don’t begin to understand it.  But you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist, and it will energize the Republican base.  Their nominee won’t energize them.  Bush won’t.  But Hillary as the nominee will.  It’s hard for John” Edwards “to talk about, but it’s the reality.” Is that fair?

MR. MURPHY:  I believe so, yeah.  I think she is the weak candidate.  I agree with Rove.  I, I think the generic Democratic category could be very strong based on factors that aren’t candidate-driven.  But of the Democratic candidates I see right now, I think she’s the weakest of the big three in a general election.

MR. CARVILLE:  Well, first of all, she’s gotten a lot, lot stronger since this campaign started.  I mean, it—I’d—to be fair, I would be more than fair to her because, as I said, I’m very sympathetic to her.  Everybody says she’s overperformed, and now she’s starting to lead in all of these national polls. These things are pretty sort of meaningless at, at this point.  Her negatives are nowhere near as high as President Bush’s was before the election of 2004. So I think that Mr. Rove was just out pontificating on “Rush Limbaugh.”

MR. MURPHY:  He’s doing one of two things.

MR. CARVILLE:  Yeah.

MR. SHRUM:  Either he’s getting some early licks in or he’s trying to attack her to help her with the Democratic base.

MR. CARVILLE:  Yeah.  All right.

MR. SHRUM:  But you got to be careful about this because we all remember how the Democrats in 1980 were saying, “Boy, we want Ronald Reagan.  Boy, can we beat Ronald Reagan.” And they got—we got Ronald Reagan, and I think we would have been a lot better off with almost any other Republican nominee.

MS. MATALIN:  I love this Svengali stuff that these guys attribute to Karl. How about a third option?  He was answering the question.

MR. MURPHY:  I didn’t attribute anything.

MS. MATALIN:  “Oh, this like three-bank shot.  He’s trying to do, stir up her base,” or—he was answering a question.  Everywhere people like us go is what—because Republicans are scared of Hillary Clinton.  We don’t get it. There’s nothing to be scared of.  It’s just not about polls and fatally flawed.  And one thing Karl has...

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you want to run against Hillary Clinton?

MS. MATALIN:  We, over which we have no control, we do not worry.  I would like to run against a classic Democrat because those sets of principles, that governing, governing—government-operating principle has lost consistently since the founding of this country.  She is a big government centralized thinker, and so that’s what we want to run against.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do Republicans want Hillary Clinton?

MR. MURPHY:  Well, I, to the extent we want anybody, I just, I just think she’s the weakest.  I mean, I don’t agree with my friend James on that she’s doing that great in the Democratic primary.  The fact she’s fighting for her—she’s fighting in the Democratic primary, doing OK, but that she’s in a fight with the assets of being a senator from New York, being pretty well-respected, the wife of a former, very popular Democratic president, and she’s not cake walking through this thing, to me, is a sign of weakness.

MR. CARVILLE:  We don’t have, I have poll, we don’t have cake walks.  That, that, I mean, we just don’t—we’re not that kind of political party.  We just—there’s s no—the Democratic nomination at every juncture is...

MR. MURPHY:  But when I look, when I look at the general, though, I see a Southern white Protestant, Edwards, who’s always trouble, like Clinton or Jimmy Carter for us.  I see Obama, who’s the perfect change candidate in a change election, and I see Hillary Clinton, who, to me, looks like backwards. And I’d rather run against the polarizing backwards than the other two.

MR. SHRUM:  But she’s done, you know, she’s done a smart thing, and strategy is necessity.  I said this earlier, and people thought I was criticizing her. They have actually redefined change as nostalgia.  And Bill Clinton said it, you know, yesterday’s news wasn’t bad news.

MR. MURPHY:  But he hasn’t gotten away with it.

MR. SHRUM:  You know what?  Compared to Bush today, I think people think the 1990s was a pretty good time.

MR. MURPHY:  Today, but it’s the...

MR. CARVILLE:  Right.  But the argument that Democrats should not, not nominate Hillary Clinton because Republicans don’t like her is not very persuasive.  I don’t—ah, it’s not just...

MR. SHRUM:  (Unintelligible).

MR. RUSSERT:  All right!  This debate will continue all day long here, all day tomorrow around the barbecues.  Mary Matalin, James Carville, Mike Murphy, Bob Shrum.  And we’ll be right back.

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MR. RUSSERT:  Find out who’ll be meeting the press right on your cell phone. Text MTP to 46833.  Receive weekly alerts on Friday afternoon with Sunday’s MEET THE PRESS guest lineup.

That’s all for today.  We’ll be back next week.  If it’s Sunday it’s MEET THE PRESS.  Happy Labor Day to all the hard-working men and women across our country.

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