updated 9/14/2007 2:36:21 PM ET 2007-09-14T18:36:21

Guests: Roger Stone, Bill Press, Eugene Robinson, Ryan Lizza, Richard Wolffe

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  President Bush‘s approval rating stuck at poor and the country eagerly awaiting the next election.  The man who would save the Republican Party, former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, takes a beating from conservatives. 

Welcome to the show.  Despite a fairly good showing in yesterday‘s NBC-“Wall Street Journal” poll, Mr. Thompson today absorbed twin shots in “The Washington Post,” one from conservative George Will and the other from the prince of darkness himself, Robert Novak.  Will‘s column compares Thompson‘s candidacy to New Coke.  That‘s not good.  The very metaphor for useless innovation and an unwanted product.  Between his announcement, his speeches and his television appearances, how badly has Fred Thompson‘s run for White House begun?  We‘ll talk to a leading Republican consultant in just a minute. 

Meanwhile, President Bush prepares to address the nation on his plans for the Iraq war.  Leaks from U.S. officials this afternoon confirm the president will lay out a strategy that lines up very closely with the recommendations of General David Petraeus.  We expect the announcement of a small drawdown by Christmas and further desurging by next summer.  If the leaks and/or assumptions are true, how will that plan play out politically?  Can the president count on moderate Republicans in Congress, especially in the Senate, to remain loyal and give him authority to prosecute the war in whatever way he wants?  We‘ll preview the speech and the potential political fallout. 

And it‘s beginning to feel a lot like the 1990s around Bill and Hillary Clinton.  Among the familiar themes from days gone by—a fundraising scandal featuring a rich fugitive from the law, and Mrs.  Clinton‘s aim to save the country with her health care reform.  Will America tune in or turn off to the possibility of President Clinton part deux?  We‘ll assess it.

We begin today with Fred Thompson and the spanking he took in today‘s “Washington Post” by two of America‘s most famed conservative columnists.  Will Republican primary voters share the dim view of Thompson‘s candidacy?

Well, joining us now with his analysis of the Thompson campaign so far

is Republican consultant Roger Stone.  Roger, thanks for coming on

ROGER STONE, GOP STRATEGIST:  Tucker, great to be here. 

CARLSON:  To put this in some context.  Here‘s what you said in a column in April, and I believe you came on this show to explain it in further detail.  But here is part of your view of Fred Thompson this spring. 

“The president Americans want is in fact the guy they see on “Law & Order”—wise, thoughtful, deliberate, confident, without the cockiness of Bush, urbane yet country.  Thompson would use his prosecutor image to make the resurgence of al Qaeda the No. 1 issue of his campaign.  A pledge to find and crush the terrorist network will provide Thompson flexibility on his future support of the Iraq war after the failure of the surge.” 

You had high hopes for Fred Thompson.  And you thought terror was going to be the defining issue in his campaign.  How do you feel now that you have seen the campaign? 

STONE:  Well, sadly, the campaign doesn‘t seem to have any defining issue.  I must say, I‘m very disappointed.  I did have high hopes for Fred Thompson, but I think both conservative columnists in “The Washington Post” today made excellent points. 

First of all, he‘s not put together a campaign capable of winning the White House.  To turn away experienced Republican operatives with years of presidential experience like Scott Reed or Jeffrey Bell, and put your campaign in the hands of Mary Matalin, who failed to get the only Republican in 75 years, the only Republican president reelected, and perhaps the worst campaign of all time, the Bush ‘92 campaign.  And then further drive the current vice president‘s approval ratings into the teens.  Has convinced me they don‘t have a team that knows how to elect Fred Thompson... 

CARLSON:  But wait a second.  And I‘m not just saying that because I like Mary Matalin—and I do very much—but I also...

STONE:  She was a bride‘s maid in my wedding.  She‘s a friend of mine, but I think she‘s done her candidate a disservice here. 

CARLSON:  But in the end, it‘s the candidate himself who wins or loses.  This is from George Will‘s column today, and I thought it was devastating.

So Thompson goes on Sean Hannity‘s show.  And Hannity doesn‘t ask any vicious questions or anything.  He basically says, what sets you apart from the other candidates?  Here‘s Thompson‘s reply.  Quote: “To tell you the truth, I haven‘t spent a whole lot of time going into the details of their positions.”

What the hell is that?

STONE:  Precisely the point.  But who in the campaign has said, Senator, you need to have a compelling message that makes you different than these other candidates.  He‘s the candidate.

I frankly think George Will‘s column was more devastating.  He not only doesn‘t know his own record, he‘s now trying to obfuscate his own record as to why he supported McCain-Feingold. 

This is a grave disappointment.  Unfortunately, Fred Thompson appears to me to be all potential, and that potential is not being realized. 

CARLSON:  But what is the potential?  I mean, what is the rationale?  It seems to me every campaign is driven by a central idea or every winning campaign is, anyway.  The losing ones aren‘t.  General Wesley Clark, you never figured out why he was running.  If you were to sum up in one sentence why Fred Thompson wants to be president, what would it be? 

STONE:  You can‘t do so.  You can do so for Rudy Giuliani, who I think has defined extremely well why he ought to be the nominee and why he ought to be the next leader of the free world.  You want him on that wall, as Matt Bai said last weekend, in the fight against terrorism.  We need him on that wall in the fight against terrorism. 

Fred Thompson has no such compelling message, and no one around him who seems to understand that he needs one. 

CARLSON:  There‘s a feeling that the conservatives in the party, particularly the religious conservatives, the evangelicals who are still a big force in the Republican Party, don‘t have a natural candidate.  They don‘t trust Mitt Romney.  They don‘t like Rudy Giuliani.  Fred Thompson is their guy. 

In Will‘s column you have Thompson admitting he doesn‘t go to church. 

Is he a natural evangelical candidate? 

STONE:  No, I don‘t think he is.  I think that his skills as a communicator are enormously valuable, and I like him for that.  But what is it he is communicating? 

First of all, in terms of his conservatism, he is a Howard Baker, Tennessee, Virginia, mountain valley Republican.  It is conservative, but it‘s not Ronald Reagan conservatism. 

Secondarily, in his own lifestyle—and I‘m not criticizing him—but he has not been a leader on evangelical issues.  I don‘t think that he‘s a natural leader for that constituency.  I frankly think the message aimed at the resurgence of al Qaeda and the need to crush them would have been a more compelling message than the non-message in his current campaign. 

CARLSON:  And finally, a mechanical question, can he raise the dough?  I mean, how much would he have to raise to be competitive with Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani? 

STONE:  I think it will be extremely difficult.  Now, he could spend the money he does raise more wisely, but in order to do that, he would need somebody who has experience in running a successful presidential campaign on his team.  I don‘t see that person. 

And a budgeting mistake, as Bob Dole learned in 1988, it can be crucial.  Meting out those limited resources to get to the super September 5th (sic) primary is very difficult.  It will take somebody who knows what they are doing. 

The candidate is not supposed to be the campaign manager.  When the candidate is the campaign manager, Tucker, he usually loses.  Richard Nixon in 1960.  He‘s an able guy, he‘s a fine communicator.  He has no message that I can see.  He doesn‘t seem to have the money or the ability to raise the money, and he does not seem to have anybody around him who knows that he needs those things.  It‘s a grave disappointment. 

CARLSON:  It‘s all very depressing.  I mean, they are going to wind up with Mitt Romney as the nominee.  (inaudible)...

STONE:  Rudy Giuliani. 

CARLSON:  Roger Stone, thanks a lot.  Roger, good to see you.

STONE:  Glad to be with you. 

CARLSON:  Well, no doubt Bill Clinton looms large over everything he‘s near.  Could his presidential legacy, though, cost his wife her chance at the White House? 

Plus, Rudy Giuliani is catching heat once more for his comments on illegal immigration.  The mayor who had squeegee men arrested now says illegal immigration is not a crime.  Details in a minute. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  You see the same pattern with every president once he leaves office—nostalgia seeps in as voters forget about the scandals, the missed opportunities, and remember only the good times, real or not.  Case in point, President Clinton.  Millions of people would gladly put him back in office if only the Constitution allowed it.  Now, his wife Hillary is trying to ride those good vibes back to the White House.  Plenty of Republicans are horrified by that possibility, but should Democrats be nervous too about the legacy question?  “New Yorker‘s” Ryan Lizza wrote about the Clinton legacy this week.  He joins me.  Ryan, thanks for coming on. 

RYAN LIZZA, NEW YORKER MAGAZINE:  No problem, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  So I mean, the conventional view is, you know, that‘s the center of the Hillary Clinton campaign, the third term for Bill Clinton.  Is this something that campaign is worried about, his legacy? 

LIZZA:  Well, look, they have made a decision based on two factors, that using him, at least right now in the primaries, is only—that the pluses outweigh the minuses.  And the first thing is, look at the polls.  I mean, 90 percent of Democrats have positive approval of Bill Clinton.  So there is a very small audience out there that is going to vote against Hillary because her husband is front and center. 

And the second thing that some of the Clinton advisers told me is part of the case that they are trying to make for Hillary is that she, you know, she‘s ready to get in there on day one and get this job done because she know what being president is all about.  And they think that, you know, having Bill stump with her and make the case, that‘s what is needed right now after the mess of the Bush years, is someone that doesn‘t learn on the job.  That he is sort of the best Democrat to make that case for her.  So those are sort of the two reasons they say that the risk of him actually overshadowing her—because he‘s obviously a better campaigner, he is a better communicator than she is—I mean, he is a better communicator than most of the candidates in American politics.  They say the risk of that overshadowing problem is outweighed by these other positives. 

CARLSON:  You say that her case is that she‘s ready to lead because she‘s seen it before.  Her case appears to be—according to your piece—she‘s ready to lead because she‘s done it before. 

Listen, this is a quote from your piece in the “New Yorker,” and I‘m quoting now.  This is Mrs. Clinton.  “You know, here we are with middle class people worrying about whether they are going to keep their homes and afford their health care and send their kid to college.  So, unfortunately, after making progress during the ‘90s on a lot of these bread-and-butter issues, I‘m back to facing them again and will have to deal with them as president.” 

Was, just to be totally clear, was she president during the 1990s? 

LIZZA:  No, I was sort of surprised that she used some of that language, because as you know, during the Clinton years, Hillary shifted back and forth between being the co-president and being just, you know, someone in the background that wasn‘t deeply involved with policy depending on the political circumstances. 

Now she‘s trying—I think she‘s taking much, much more responsibility for at least the good things that went on in the Clinton years and for all the obvious reasons. 

I think they are also aware of what happened in the general election with Al Gore, when he went through this psychodrama of whether he was going to run on the Clinton years, whether he wasn‘t, whether he had to separate himself from Bill Clinton or not.  I think they want to establish out front that she‘s not going to hem and haw about that.  That is not to say that she agrees with everything that happened in those eight years—we can get into that—but at the very least, they don‘t want her to be seen as straddling on that issue. 

CARLSON:  Do they want her to be seen as steely and ambitious?  It‘s almost an aesthetic question, but I think it‘s an important one, maybe because she‘s a woman, maybe not.  But when she says things like, you know, I have dealt with this before and I am going to have to do it again as president, I mean, there‘s a certain toughness about it that‘s not entirely attractive.  Are they worried about that? 

LIZZA:  Well, I thought there was also a certain presumptuousness...

CARLSON:  Yes.  Very much.

LIZZA:  ... in it, right?  But you know, this is part of—I think part of the way she talks about it is part of their inevitability strategy.  In other words, talk like you are going to be president, talk like you are the inevitable nominee, talk about how you‘re going to be back in there, and you will in fact be the nominee.  Remember, this is how Bush did it in 2000. 

CARLSON:  That‘s right.  During the recount.

LIZZA:  You sort of will yourself to victory.  That‘s right, you sort of will yourself to victory.  And you know, Karl Rove had that famous philosophy that at the end of the campaign, the undecideds like to go with the person who is going to look like the winner.  So part of being the winner is looking like one from early on. 

CARLSON:  That‘s exactly right.  And I remember Bush coming out there during the recount and saying, well, I‘m president now. 

Finally, there‘s this psychodrama or we imagine a psychodrama anyway between the Clintons, Mr. and Mrs.  You did what I wish I could do, which is you went out on the trail and just watched them interact with each other.  And your piece opens up with this really subtle and interesting vignette about watermelons, which you are going to have to read the piece to get it.  But the bottom line question, what is the dynamic like between them when you watch them together? 

LIZZA:  Well, when you watch them campaign together, the obvious differences between them really comes out.  He is the best campaigner that most of us have ever covered.  And she is a, you know, sort of average campaigner.  I mean, she‘s very smart and engaging and can talk to voters and seem very involved, but she doesn‘t have that same connection with voters that Bill Clinton is famous for.  And when you watch them side by side, that difference is very, very obvious. 

When you watch him give a stump speech and introduce her and then watch her give a stump speech, his stump speeches are better.  There‘s just no doubt about it.  He connects better with an audience. 

That is not to put her down.  He connects better with audiences—he‘s better than Obama, he‘s better than Edwards as well.  But the difference is somewhat stark. 

There was a moment when they were campaigning at a state fair in New Hampshire, and Hillary and the governor of New Hampshire were well ahead of Bill.  They separated at the state fair.  And he kind of just looked around and said, you know, did I just shake more hands than they do?  Where did they go?  Of course...

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA:  ... talking to everyone. 

CARLSON:  Talk about a rhetorical question, do I shake more hands?  Yes, you do, Mr. President.  Ryan Lizza, the new piece is in “The New Yorker” and worth reading.  Thanks a lot, Ryan. 

LIZZA:  Thanks, Tucker, take care. 

CARLSON:  We‘ve talked about his.  Next we talk about hers.  Hillary‘s political record isn‘t perfect.  How will her legacy affect her bid for the White House? 

And in just a few hours from now, President Bush will say things are going so well in Iraq we can, quote, “begin seeing troops come home.”  Too little too late?  A preview in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  There‘s a tried and true political strategy that helped George W. Bush, among others, get elected a couple of times.  It‘s straightforward—attack your opponent‘s perceived strength.  John Kerry, for instance, thought his Vietnam War record would help him, silly him.  Fast forward to this election season, and Hillary Clinton, her husband is a popular former president.  A formidable strength for her, right?  Maybe not.  Here to discuss what troubles lie ahead for both Clintons, we welcome the “Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson and national syndicated radio talk show host Bill Press.  Bill...

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  Another Bill, Bill Maher, raised a question, that, while a joke, actually I think is pretty incisive.  And he said this in an online forum today.  He asked Mrs. Clinton this—“why would Americans vote for someone who could be fooled by George Bush?”  Actually it‘s a pretty good question, actually. 

So her line is, the president is so widely unsophisticated that I bought his hokum.  A lot of Democrats in the Senate didn‘t, but I did.  She‘s basically saying, you know, I‘m not that clever. 

PRESS:  Well, people fooled by George Bush would include John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and a lot of other Democrats over at the United States Senate.

CARLSON:  Well, there you go.  There you go.

PRESS:  And probably, what, 80 percent of the American people.

CARLSON:  No, but a lot of Democrats—it just gets to, I think, her central weakness, which is she voted for the war.  She didn‘t bother to read the classified intelligence report on it.  A lot of Democrats voted against the war, those who read the intelligence report.  I mean, you see the point.

PRESS:  I see the point. 

CARLSON:  She gets past that.

PRESS:  And you know, that‘s the argument that Barack Obama is making.  And I‘m not a Hillary supporter or a Barack Obama supporter, but I‘m not sure that voters are going to make their decisions based on how she voted eight, five years ago, or whatever, as opposed to where she wants to go. 

And if you talk about going forward, there‘s really very little difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  And I think that‘s more important than how she voted and how he might have voted had he been in the Senate. 

CARLSON:  It may be more important politically—I think you‘re probably absolutely right there.  I just think this is very revealing.  This is the moment, you know, this is why we elect you is to make momentous decisions about life and death, and you blew it, buddy. 

What do you think, Gene, of Mrs. Clinton running on the Clinton legacy but then running against the Clinton legacy on a bunch of key issues like trade? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST:  Well, I think that‘s exactly what she‘s going to do.  She is first going to run on the Clinton legacy in the primaries, and then if she gets the nomination, she will run, if necessary, against the Clinton presidency.  That‘s what you would do...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Absolutely.  If I had sold my soul to Satan, absolutely, and were in politics, on either side.  But even now, though, she‘s saying I am, you know, I was the co-president, vote for me, but I‘m against NAFTA.  I‘m against like the centerpiece of the first...

ROBINSON:  I wasn‘t there that day. 

CARLSON:  She‘s going to use~ that. 

ROBINSON:  Look, if you‘ve got Bill Clinton as, you know, an asset that you can deploy in your campaign and you have got the legacy of the Clinton years about which Democrats feel warm and fuzzy, you‘re going to use it.  And if it‘s convenient to step away from that for a day, or for an hour, or for the answer to one question, you‘re just going to step aside.  I mean, I just think it‘s smart politics. 

PRESS:  And you know what, Tucker, time has really erased a lot of the warts for Democrats of the Clinton presidency.  Now he‘s like a legend.  And I think Hillary is in a position where she can evoke the best without getting tarred with the stuff that didn‘t go so well.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  ... unacceptable to today‘s current Democratic Party?  If Bill Clinton ran on the issues he ran on in ‘92, he would be laughed off the stage as a right-wing cook. 

PRESS:  He would not run on those issues. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  He would run a state-of-the-art campaign as he did in ‘92.  But I don‘t think all Democrats have forgiven everything about the Clinton years.  Because I do talk to people and hear from people who, you know, Democrats, who raise the Lewinsky affair and the whole kind of, you know...

CARLSON:  Gays in the military. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  ... character things.  In the context of, we have to do everything we can to get rid of George Bush.  If I have to vote for Hillary Clinton, I will.  And of course, there are a lot of Democrats who really like Hillary Clinton.  But not every Democrat has forgotten that. 

CARLSON:  I know.  There are principled Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS:  Huge net plus for Hillary. 

CARLSON:  I mean, I like the fact—as I said many times, I love—actually, I love the fact that he‘s loyal to her in public.  I think that matters, and he‘s a huge supporter of her campaign for president. 

But at some point, and I try not to do it on this show, people are going to start psychoanalyzing this.  And here you have his wife like attacking his legacy in a pretty direct way on important issues, and he stands there and takes it.  He‘s like, yeah, she‘s the best.  What is that about?

PRESS:  You know what?  That‘s about getting Hillary elected, which is No. 1. right now.

CARLSON:  (inaudible) about his legacy.

PRESS:  And recognizing the reality. 

ROBINSON:  Well, people are going to have to acknowledge at some point, too, that they have been married for 30 however many years. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  I mean, there‘s a connection there that they understand and maybe not everybody else has to. 

CARLSON:  I totally agree.  I have always—there‘s clearly something deeply weird going on there, but there‘s something deeply weird going on in a lot of marriages, and I do think as much as I wouldn‘t vote for him, I think I would never question the sincerity of their bond.  Ever.

PRESS:  You know, if Bill were running today, if Bill Clinton were running today, he would be questioning and running against some of the things he did. 

CARLSON:  No, that‘s right.  I guess if that appeals to you, you know, vote for her. 

PRESS:  There you go. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  ... Bush will address the nation on Iraq.  We‘ve got a sneak peak at what Mr. Bush might say, straight ahead.  We‘ll tell you how many American troops are likely to actually come home. 

And later in the show—Fred‘s finally in, but could we see another famous Republican enter the race?  Is it Newt Gingrich‘s turn to try and save his party from Hillary Clinton?  We will be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Still to come - two hours, thirty minutes and counting until the president‘s address to the nation on Iraq.  We will bring you advanced access to that primetime speech, plus, Petraeus with a political bull‘s eye and could Newt add one more to the trail?  All that in a minute.  First here‘s a look at your headlines.

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger.  Here‘s what‘s happening.  A top Sunni sheikh who is working with the U.S. and against al Qaeda in Iraq was killed by a roadside bomb in his home in Anbar Province.  He had met with President Bush during a surprise visit to Iraq 10 days ago.

About 100,000 homes and businesses are without power after Hurricane Humberto hit southeast Texas and Louisiana overnight with 85-mile-an-hour winds and heavy rain.  Ten inches of rain fell in some areas and there‘s widespread damage.  At least one death is being blamed on Humberto, which has now weakened to a tropical depression.

A manhunt continues in a Miami suburb for a man who shot four police officers, killing one of them.  Police say the gunman opened fire with a high-powered weapon during a traffic stop.

And authorities say they are following new leads in the search for millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett.  He disappeared September 3rd after taking on from western Nevada in a single engine plane.  Now back to TUCKER.

CARLSON:  President Bush will address the nation tonight at 9:00 p.m.  Eastern Time to explain his strategy from here forward in Iraq.  Leaks in the speech indicate that the president‘s strategy will closely follow the recommendations of the testimony of General David Petraeus, the commander of all American troops in Iraq.

Mr. Bush is expected to announced plans to withdraw approximately 5,700 troops by the end of the year and reduce the American force from 20 brigades to 15.  No time frame is expected to be announced.  So what will happen after the speech?  What is the reaction going to be?  Here to tell us is the “Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson and nationally syndicated talk show host, the great Bill Press.

On the one hand, if you sit back, this is the president.  Yes, I know, he‘s returning levels to what they were before the surge.  But he is still announcing a withdrawal of American troops.  This doesn‘t take any wind out of the sails of Democrats?

ROBINSON:  It certainly shouldn‘t.  It‘s not a withdrawal of American troops.  He‘s being forced by circumstance, really, the number of troops that are available and ready to fight, he certainly would have been forced to order a drawdown of combat forces in any event, whether he had wanted to or not.  So this is taking credit for, you know, a summer shower, basically.

CARLSON:  Or the economy, as presidents often do.

ROBINSON:  I understand that.  But we should all understand we have gone in a circle but we have not really made much progress.

CARLSON:  I wonder, Bill, is it why much has been said this week, I don‘t have a lot to add, of the moveon.org attacking General Petraeus, that I think everyone recognizes now was unwise.  You could attack Bush.  Why would you attack a general with a Princeton PhD who is loved by everybody?  But the question still remains, to what extent does Bush protect himself by hiding behind Petraeus?  General Petraeus is a credible figure in the minds of most people.

PRESS:  I think this is the president‘s M.O. which is to hide behind generals.  He did it by hiding behind Colin Powell before the war started and I felt was politically very smart on his part.  He could not have sent anybody else up to the United States Congress with any credibility this week other than General Petraeus and Ryan Crocker.  Who is he going to send, Condi Rice?

CARLSON:  But what about the Democrats .

PRESS:  He was hiding behind .

CARLSON:  He was, and I said that.

PRESS:  And I we all know, though, it was the Bush plan, the Petraeus plan.  It was all cooked together from the beginning.  This has been very well orchestrated and we see the final act in the kabuki dance tonight.

CARLSON:  But what—I will grant all of that.  But what do Democrats say?  General Petraeus doesn‘t know what he‘s talking about?  Is that their argument?

ROBINSON:  I think Democrats, or anybody who really paid attention to what Petraeus and Crocker said, heard a story that‘s a bit different from the story the president tells.  You did not hear Petraeus and Crocker thumping their chests about victory.  In fact you heard them say they had discerned that there is not support, political support in this country, for a long-term, very large commitment of troops in Iraq.

CARLSON:  And there‘s not.

ROBINSON:  And those two things are not what we hear from the president, I suspect, not what we are going to hear tonight from the president.  So after the kind of - the president gets kind of a bounce out of this because Petraeus is a credible figure.  I think, you know, in the days that come as people really look at what he‘s doing and what they said and kind of compare the two, I think that after-glow tends to fade.

CARLSON:  I do think, one final thing on this, I said it a thousand times but I think the president‘s only good argument, the one that wins me over is not that we are going to make Iraq a better place.  I think that‘s unlikely at best.  But it would be a lot worse than it is now and a humiliation would make the world less safe and us less safe and that‘s really bad and it would empower our enemies, al Qaeda and Iran.

PRESS:  Right, and .

CARLSON:  What‘s the Democrats‘ response to that?  I ask it every day on the show.  I always say he says that, they don‘t respond and they always say, oh, they don‘t have an answer.  What‘s the answer?

PRESS:  But I think, on the other side, you‘ve got to look at, I mean, I thought the most telling point was when John Warner asked General Petraeus, is this war making America safer and Petraeus said he could not answer that question.  So then you ask the question, OK, we made a little military progress, zero political progress, more Americans killed this summer than ever before.

CARLSON:  Right.

PRESS:  We have been there longer than World War II and longer than the Civil War.

CARLSON:  Yep.  It‘s terrible.

PRESS:  Is it worth, you know, staying there and how many more American lives are going to be lost?

CARLSON:  The question is not .

PRESS:  That‘s the other side .

CARLSON:  I don‘t think it makes us safer.  That is not the question, the question is would a withdrawal in the next year make us less safe?  That‘s the question.  And I don‘t see a Democratic answer to that.  I don‘t see Democrats saying, we‘ve really thought this through and here‘s what will happen.  Here‘s what we think is likely to happen.  They sort of ignore it.  How can you ignore that?

PRESS:  I don‘t think they ignore it.  They say the war already has made us less safe.

CARLSON:  That is nihilistic argument.  It‘s terrible and it is always going to be terrible.

PRESS:  That leads to a time line of getting the troops home within the next year.

ROBINSON:  I think you have to deal with the reality of what forces are even available.  To be deployed in Iraq.  And I think that‘s what Petraeus and Crocker were dealing with.  And if you really look at what they are doing with this kind of patchwork, we will get a little island of peace here and an island of peace there and try to stitch them together and calm things down, is it looks very much to me like preparation for trying to I leave the place in, you know, as little of a mess as possible, but emphasis on, with the anticipation, indeed, we will leave.

CARLSON:  It looks bad for Republicans now.  I think everybody agrees with that.  Republicans agree with that.  But that‘s possibly because Newt Gingrich is not in the race yet.  Here‘s what the former speaker of the House is saying.  He‘s still mulling a run for president.  And he says now, “I will decide based on whether I have about $30 million in committed campaign contributions and whether I think it is possible to run a campaign based on ideas rather than 30-second sound bites.  I will conduct workshops around the country through September 30.  After which I will make a decision.”

In other words, if America is worth of my entrance to the race.  If America is a serious, not a frivolous country, I will run.  I‘m not sure we can live up to the former speaker‘s high standard.  He is not really thinking about running for president, is he?

PRESS:  My advice to Newt is stay on Fox News.  You get a lot more exposure.  You get a lot more money.  And to me, he must think the American people have a short memory.  This guy has such ethical problems and such personal problems that he has kind of put behind him.  If he becomes a candidate, people are going to be all over him again and they will not be listening to his ideas, they will be talking about how many marriages he‘s got.

CARLSON:  No, they won‘t.

PRESS:  They talk about that with every candidate.

CARLSON:  2007, as long as he‘s not propositioning people in the john, he‘s fine.  Everybody‘s got a weird, checkered past.  I‘m serious.  Divorce is no longer a hurdle, as far as I can tell.  He‘s more interesting and smarter than anybody on the Democratic side apart from maybe Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich.  You‘ve got to give him that.

ROBINSON:  He‘s a free thinker and free speaker and he .

CARLSON:  Yeah.

ROBINSON:  And one cannot imagine, I cannot imagine Newt Gingrich going for an entire presidential campaign without saying something that disqualifies him to be president immediately.

CARLSON:  Campaign?  You mean dinner.  My gosh, yeah.

ROBINSON:  And where does he fit into this race for now?

CARLSON:  I don‘t know.

PRESS:  I think it‘s an indictment of Fred Thompson.  Newt said, wait, I‘m just going to sit back and wait and see how they all do.  Fred‘s been in less than a week and Newt is already saying, obviously, he has not cut the mustard so I‘m going to get in.

CARLSON:  So that‘s why I have been talking to Pat Buchanan about firing up the campaign apparatus.  I‘ll run as VP.

ROBINSON:  That could be Pat‘s .

CARLSON:  There‘s a perceived need.  I feel it anyway.  We have learned, as we always do, probably too much about the candidates, “Time” magazine has a survey of the different candidates on both sides asking, what do you like to eat?  What do you like to watch?  Here‘s the response from the former President Bill Clinton.  “We both loved “Gray‘s Anatomy” and did our best to watch it together before the campaign,” he said, “in the new season we will have to TiVo it!” exclamation point.

Now first of all, leaving aside the question of what grown man uses exclamation points, how many times do you think the Clintons watched “Gray‘s Anatomy” together?

ROBINSON:  Well, I wouldn‘t know.

CARLSON:  My question really is, can you just B.S. too much?  Can you reach a level, I just don‘t believe anything you guys say.

ROBINSON:  It‘s hard for me to picture, OK, hard for me to picture.

PRESS:  I‘ve got to tell you.  I think we know too much about some of these candidates.  I did not need to know Larry Craig had a wide stance.

CARLSON:  I agree.

PRESS:  I didn‘t need to know as Michelle Obama said last week, Barack Obama, in the morning his daughters will not climb in bed with him because he‘s snorey and stinky.

CARLSON:  Snorey and stinky.

PRESS:  Please.

CARLSON:  You know, he actually won some sympathy from me.  Rudy Giuliani said the other day—said the other day, let‘s put it up on the screen what Rudy Giuliani said about illegal immigration.  “Illegal immigration is not a crime.  Crossing4 the border and being caught is a misdemeanor,” misdemeanor is a crime, by the way, but anyway, “being an illegal immigrant in this country is subject to deportation but not prosecution.  That‘s just the state of the law and that‘s what the law of the United States is.”

Gee, this, and I know you are a more open borders guy.  You probably agree with Giuliani.  However, the irony of a guy who went after squeegee men saying, you can sneak into the country but it‘s not a big deal?

ROBINSON:  Well, but that was—this is consistent with where he was on immigration back when he was going after squeegee men in New York.  He‘s very big on the idea of New York as a caldron of immigrants and also big on the idea of, you prosecute and harass the petty criminals and the nuisance crimes.

CARLSON:  Which works.

ROBINSON:  Sure, that was effective.  Hard to do on a national basis, but it certainly works when you‘re a mayor.  So no, I think he‘s always been very receptive to immigration.  And he never sounds very credible to me when he tries to get tough on immigration and kind of toe the Republican Party line.  That doesn‘t sound like him.

CARLSON:  No, he doesn‘t.  And it‘s not hard to imagine how immigration becomes a security problem.  I‘m not bashing immigrants.  But if you don‘t know who is coming into your country, millions of people are coming here and nobody knows who they are, is it a stretch to think some are terrorists?  No, it‘s not.

PRESS:  Here is the question for me.  He has the security issue, OK?

CARLSON:  Right.

PRESS:  Now one item I want to know is how many issues over here can he defy the Republican Party on and still win based on the security issue?  Because we know gays, guns, you know, abortion, now immigration, where he‘s out of the way.

CARLSON:  I think guns is a bridge too far.  Even the Democrats .

PRESS:  Rudy‘s got at least four on that side and yet he clings to the security things and he still is leading in the polls although he is going down.

CARLSON:  I‘ve noticed this, Republican Party, tough shape.  Me and Pat Buchanan, as I‘ve said before.  Coming to a voting booth near you.

ROBINSON:  We‘ll run your campaign.

CARLSON:  Thank you for your vote very much.

A little over two hours before President Bush tells American what they can expect in Iraq in the year to come.  What exactly will he say?  Plus, a man who has covered him for the past eight years, a preview ahead.

Plus Italians pushing pasta to the side, is it possible?  What would Marco Polo think?  Willie Geist has some ideas, that‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  President Bush will make a rare Oval Office speech to the nation tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  He will announce the reduction of 5,700 American troops in Iraq by the end of the next year and up to 30,000 more by next summer.  Democrats already are saying it‘s not enough, though they don‘t appear capable at this point of doing anything about it.  What can we expect tonight?  For a preview, we are joined by “Newsweek‘s” senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe.  Richard, welcome.

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  Good to be with you, Tucker.

CARLSON:  So I can never figure out whether the early excerpts that we get from the White House to these speeches are really representative of the speech itself, or is there a surprise—this president loves surprises, obviously.  Are we going to hear something tonight we don‘t expect to hear, do you think?

WOLFFE:  In my experience, these excerpts are pretty accurate.  They don‘t tend to hold a huge amounts back.  Although there may be a couple twists and turns of phrasing.  The key phrases are already out there, return on success.  As if there‘s been a investment in the so-called surge.  And pretty clearly, the president wants to define what we have seen in the Iraq over the last couple of months anyway as success.  So those are the key words as well as the stuff that I know Tim Russert has been talking about, where they are calling the speech the enduring relationship, security relationship, with Iraq.

CARLSON:  But my view is that the only good argument the president has is it could be worse.  Is he going to hit that tonight?  Does the White House see that as a winning argument?

WOLFFE:  Well he made that argument strongly over the summer, remember his references to Vietnam.  There is talk about the moral imperative of being there and the need to support Iraq.  But I don‘t think there is that much talk about the sort of apocalyptic vision that he laid out in that Vietnam speech, that talked about obviously defeating terrorists.  But we have all heard that before.

CARLSON:  What is the Democratic response going to be?

WOLFFE:  Too little, too late.  That this had to happen.  The success is questionable, and that it wasn‘t sustainable anyway, the kind of troop levels.  So in terms of pressure, the administration, the president is talking about putting on the Iraqi regime.  It‘s pretty low.  He talks about the decades of tyranny and basically asks the American people for more time.  So I think the Democrats are going to be saying this isn‘t tough enough with a Maliki government which is really failed on most of the measures of progress.

CARLSON:  Does the White House see this at all in any way as a capitulation?  For real, rhetoric aside, do you think they see this as a failure and something they had to do?

WOLFFE:  This address, no.  I would actually say the mood in the White House is more upbeat than it has been for a long while and that‘s partly because of the polls, partly because Petraeus has done a good job in their view of shoring up support.  But mostly because they have a story to tell.  At least in Anbar and in Baghdad.  They think they have a story that they can portray success.  These are very cautious people.  And they have been burnt so many times and are aware how low they are overall in the polls.

So is this triumph?  Absolutely not.  But it‘s better than it looked at least for a few months.

CARLSON:  John Edwards, poor John Edwards, has bought two minutes of air time on our network, MSNBC, as a kind of rebuttal.  Any idea what he is going to say?

WOLFFE:  I expect him to be very critical, not just of the president but of his fellow Democrats.  John Edwards‘ position is about cutting off the funding now.  So he wants to use the power of the purse.  And I expect we will see some of that energy and passion.  It‘s not obviously a live response but it‘s an interesting tactic that he would take the time and spend the money right now on MSNBC.

CARLSON:  Yeah.  I mean I‘m completely for people spending money on MSNBC, of course.

WOLFFE:  Me, too.

CARLSON:  And finally, is this speech in any way aimed at Republicans, especially in the Senate, who the president needs and who he‘s afraid of losing?

WOLFFE:  Yeah, I think a lot of what we have seen over the past few months has been aimed at the Republican base.  And frankly, look at those numbers and look at how Republicans in Congress have come back on the same page.  You could not have predicted this a few months ago.  It really looked like it was all falling apart.  So this is where the energy is directed.  They are not thinking inside the White House they will win over Democrats or a bunch of independents even.  But if they can hold their base together, they can hold Republicans in Congress together, and then they can struggle on through to the end of the presidency.

CARLSON:  Yes, Richard Wolffe, the great Richard Wolffe.  Thanks, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, great Tucker.

CARLSON:  Britney Spears has taken quite a beating this week but she can take comfort knowing she still has the support of this person.  Willie Geist is on the ground in Los Angeles covering the Spears story for us live.  He will be here to explain what exactly is going on in the video you‘re watching or attempting to watch right now.  We‘ll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  . and now she‘s going to a custody battle.  All you people care about .

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  When Britney Spears melted down in public earlier this week, MSNBC was there.  We didn‘t just talk about it, we dispatched our correspondent Willie Geist to the scene where he joins us now live.  Willie?

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, I took the G.E. jet and came here as quickly as I could, Tucker.  They didn‘t know about it, but .

CARLSON:  I should say, Willie, what can you tell us?  Willie, what is the latest?

GEIST:  Hold on.  Here comes my straight face.  Well, Tucker, it‘s become very fashionable for people who don‘t understand Britney to mock her recent performance at the MTV Music Vide Awards.  Now the true fans, the good people who really know Britney, are rallying to her defense.  And one of them has done it in spectacular fashion.  If you have not seen the Internet video of 19-year-old video of Britney super fan Chris Crocker defending his girl, drop everything and enjoy a little emotional instability on parade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS TUCKER, PURPORTED BRITNEY FAN:  All you people care about is, readers and making money off of her.  She‘s a human!

Her song is called “Gimme More” for a reason.  Because all you people want is more, more, more, more, more!  Leave her alone!  You‘re lucky she even performed for you bastards!  Leave Britney alone!  Anyone who has a problem with her, you deal with me, because she‘s not well right now!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Hmm.  You know, demonic possession is one of those things you thought ended in the Middle Ages but I would send that man to an exorcism right away.

GEIST:  Britney is not well, luckily, Chris Crocker is there to sort of stand in and ebb the tide of emotional instability.  Wow that‘s—I can only hope to have fans like that someday, Tucker.

CARLSON:  May I just very quickly in one second stand up for Britney Spears, as I instinctively stand up for everybody who is hated by everyone?  Britney spears is not fat.  If you watch that video and you think Britney Spears is fat, you‘re sick.  She‘s not fat at all.

GEIST:  I agree with you.  Not to mention she just had two kids over the last couple of years.  I don‘t think she‘s fat either.  I think it was the detachment, the not knowing the words or the dance steps that sort of rattled people.

CARLSON:  She‘s clearly a troubled girl.  Still, the pounding on her about—That bothers me.

GEIST:  The good news is she‘s getting better with the help of people like Chris Crocker.  So good for her.

CARLSON:  Good.

GEIST:  I just hope Chris makes another video soon, maybe tomorrow. 

We can use it if he wants.

CARLSON:  I suspect one is in the works right now.

GEIST:  I have a feeling.  Well, enough talk about trashy Britney, Tucker.  Let‘s class the show up with a story about a DMV custodian turned “Playboy” playmate.  Patrice Hollis is “Playboy‘s” Miss September.  But before she started bunking up at Hef‘s place, she was cleaning toilets at a DMV in Henderson, Nevada.  She started doing a little modeling in her free time and was discovered about “Playboy.”  The DMV office in Henderson is so proud of Hollis, they put a photograph up of her up on the wall.

Tucker, who said nothing good ever came out of the DMV?  I will say, I have been to a lot of DMVs in my life.  I have never seen anyone who can be really presented in magazines.  I hope no one is offended by that.

CARLSON:  I think most Americans would agree with you.  I will leave that there and exercising self-control.

GEIST:  Usually a DMV is an easy place to attack.  It‘s nice to see something good come out of there.

CARLSON:  Yeah.  The one good thing.

GEIST:  One good thing.

There is a potential crisis brewing today in Italy, Tucker.  We should get to this.  Consumers there carried out a day-long boycott of pasta , if you can believe that.  Pasta prices expected to rise by as much as 20 percent in Italy.  Italians are not taking that lying down today.  How significant is that protest?  Italians eat 62 pounds of pasta a year on average, and that‘s about 10 times more than we do.  And in a recent survey, half of them said they prefer a good bowl of pasta over sex.  They are serious about their pasta.

Their protest and their will power end tomorrow when they will be back carbo loading once again.  Tucker, this is a big deal, as you know.  This is like protesting Big Macs in the United States.  It‘s pretty serious.

CARLSON:  Prefer pasta over sex?  There‘s a country that does a lot of bragging about their prowess in the sack but that number tells you everything.

GEIST:  That‘s one of those polls I don‘t believe.  Italians are a pretty amorous group, you know what I mean?

Finally, Tucker, your hometown Nationals, not much of a draw either at home there in DC or on the road.  Check out the stadium in Miami yesterday where the visiting Nats were playing the Florida Marlins.  There is no one there.  This isn‘t a protest of some kind.  They didn‘t print the wrong game time on the ticket.  It‘s just that no one wanted to spend their afternoon watching the Marlins and Nationals play baseball and I cannot blame them.  The official announced attendance was 10,121.  But by the look of that picture there, it looks like that‘s about 10,000 more people than were actually in the stadium.

Tucker, it‘s made worse because they play in a football stadium they shouldn‘t be playing in in the first place.  A sad commentary on the Nats and the Marlins.

CARLSON:  That‘s sad.  Poor Nats.  I think I am going to see them this weekend just to fly the flag.  Willie Geist from Los Angeles, doing reporting, thanks, Willie.

GEIST:  All right, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Thanks to you for watching.

That does it for our show.  HARDBALL with Chris is next.  We are back tomorrow.  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.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 NBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon NBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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