Guests: Joan Walsh, Howard Fineman, Pat Buchanan, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Tim Russert, Bill Richardson, Chuck Todd
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Well, tonight moderator, Tim Russert, nailed down the candidates on issues like Iraq, Iran, Social Security. Senator John Edwards was one who came out with a clear strategy to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton on the issue of combat troops in Iraq and U.S. military action, potentially, against Iran. Salon.com‘s Joan Walsh and Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman is here with me in New Hampshire and down in Washington, MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan, joins us from there. I want the first assessment and I‘m going to call this a verdict, Patrick J. Buchanan, you‘ve been a presidential candidate. Who won tonight‘s debate?
PAT BUCHANAN: Hillary wins if she does not lose and she did not lose.
So I think Hillary won tonight.
MATTHEWS: Okay, let me go right now to Joan Walsh.
JOAN EDWARDS, SALON.COM: I think Edwards made a strong impression and I think he pushed her back, he brushed her back a little bit. So I would go with Edwards.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK: Looking at another part of the equation, I think Barack Obama, who we were focusing on before the debate, didn‘t show up big tonight at all. I was told before the debate, that actually he had a cold and wasn‘t feeling well. That wasn‘t just spin. He was off his game; he was murky in his answers, there was no urgency about it and he opened the door for somebody like Edwards to emerge as the main challenger to a candidate, namely Hillary, who is already acting like she‘s president. She refused to answer a lot of the questions based on the notion that she was already negotiating as President of the United States.
MATTHEWS: After Hillary, who did well tonight? Do you believe it was Edwards, Pat?
BUCHANAN: I agree 100%. I think Edwards was strong in his offensive and I think, frankly, he moved too far to the left for the general election. But he clearly did what we talked about before the show, Chris, which he emerged as a non-Hillary, anti-Hillary candidate, if you will. I agree Barack Obama had a very bad night. It was boring. He seemed listless, repetitive and formulaic, so I think he had a bad night. I would say Edwards and Hillary, helped themselves most. I think with Barack Obama, is another set of downs and he didn‘t move a yard.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at what we‘re all talking about. This is the willingness, in fact, the strategic purpose of Senator Edwards coming into this debate tonight with a purpose, to separate himself from Hillary Clinton on the issue of Iraq. Let‘s watch the exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS: I heard Senator Clinton say on Sunday that she wants to continue combat missions in Iraq. To me, that‘s a continuation of the war. I do not think we should continue combat missions in Iraq. And when I‘m on a stage with the Republican Nominee, come the fall of 2008, I‘m going to make it clear that I‘m for ending the war. And the debate will be between a Democrat who wants to bring the war to an end, get all the American combat troops out of Iraq and a Republican who wants to continue the war.
HILLARY CLINTON: Tim, could I just clarify? I said there may be a continuing counterterrorism mission, which if it still exists, will be aimed at Al Qaeda in Iraq. It may require combat, special operations forces or some other form of that. But the vast majority of our combat troops should be out.
EDWARDS: But, can I just say, my only point is, I don‘t have any doubt that Senator Clinton wants to take a responsible course. There is a difference, however, in how we would go about this. I think democratic primary voters are entitled to know that difference and it‘s simple. I would have our combat troops out of Iraq over a period of several months and I would not continue combat missions in Iraq. Combat missions mean that the war is continuing. I believe this war needs to be brought to an end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Howard, I thought that was a good effort by him to clarify the difference between himself and the front runner in a courteous fashion. He said yes, it‘s a smart position you‘ve taken, it‘s not my position. You say keep combat troops there. She and then, of course, did her usual sort of pyramid play and said yes, to fight Al Qaeda. But he still stuck to his position.
FINEMAN: It was definitely done; it was courteously done but earnestly done. Seemingly from the heart, this is what matters here and it forced Hillary to respond. Hillary, through most of these debates, we‘re now in the seventh one, has rarely felt it necessary to follow up, to give an addendum and say what I meant to say was, to clarify. He forced her, in his deft trial lawyer fashion to answer for herself and did he also on Social Security. His answer on Social Security was specific.
MATTHEWS: Does everyone agrees that was good shot by John Edwards?
WALSH: Excellent shot, also on the Iran question a great shot.
MATTHEWS: Do you agree as well, pat, this was an opportunity to open up a distance between himself—and I want to get back later when we have our guests on, but he clearly did the same thing on the Iranian resolution today saying Hillary Clinton is there once again giving the president the authority to go to war through some sort of bogus resolution whose real purpose is to begin the rationale for further military action against another country.
BUCHANAN: They‘re both doing the right thing for themselves. Edwards is running to the left. He‘s running in the primaries against Hillary. Hillary Clinton is behaving as though she‘s got the nomination. The only concession she makes over there are those she got to, has to. Her statement on that Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Chris, let‘s face it, to the Jewish community in the country and to the ones who are anti-Iran, who are in the center of American politics, that‘s whom she‘s appealing to and she‘s hoping to hold the left in the general. But they‘re going after her on this. But in the general election thing, she did the right thing.
MATTHEWS: But was Edwards right in saying that‘s another version of the Iraqi Liberation Act which is another prelude to war?
BUCHANAN: I agree with Edwards‘ position.
MATTHEWS: Is he right in his main arguments that this is setting up an excuse to go to war? Where we are declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization which gives the justification to the president to act?
BUCHANAN: They‘re moving incrementally to give the president a blank check to attack Iran, correct. Politically, she‘s still helping herself in the center and Edwards is helping himself on the left.
MATTHEWS: I think it was great. I think it was a great division. Let‘s go right now to a real participant in tonight‘s debate and that‘s Senator Joe Biden. Senator Biden, what do you think happened tonight when you were there? Did something happen? Did the earth move tonight? Did the shift occur in the campaign tonight?
SEN. JOE BIDEN(D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don‘t think it moved but I think it‘s starting to move. Look, the thing that I think came across here is that there‘s only a few candidates who are going to campaign on what they‘re actually going to do. There‘s a lot of talk up here that really doesn‘t follow through with what they‘re going to be able to do as president.
MATTHEWS: You took a position, which is so un-Clintonian, you said something about Social Security. You said we should extend the taxes up to higher income levels. Hillary Clinton did what she always does, what her husband always does is refuse to pay a price for political office. To always defer to someone; always avoid taking a position within any interest group that might offend some interest group within the Democratic Party. It seems the whole tactic of the Clintons, never take a stand that offends anybody in the whole room full of Democratic Donors and then you get elected because you don‘t offend anybody. You on the other hand said darn it, we‘re going to look at what needs to be done on Social Security and we‘re willing to take steps.
BIDEN: Yeah, well look, Chris, the idea, I‘m not sure that all the interest groups share her view. What she really said was I will use the Social Security system, I‘ll hold it hostage to get a balanced budget or move toward a budget. Look, the president is supposed to lead. How can a president say we‘re going to start negotiations and I‘m not going to put anything on the table? She said I‘m not going to negotiate away my position. She‘s negotiating away Social Security solvency while she waits for something else. With all due respect, I don‘t it‘s a very popular position either.
MATTHEWS: But the Clinton‘s always do this ‘slip-sliding-away‘ thing. They beat Paul Simons with this back in ‘92, she‘s following the same playbook now. Don‘t take positions on anything that offends anyone and you can slip-slide your way into the nomination. Isn‘t that what she did tonight? I mean, I‘m asking you, you‘re running against her, I‘m not. Isn‘t that what she does when she gets on stage with you guys?
BIDEN: No. Well, let me put it this way, at least on this issue she did and I think that people are looking for some authenticity. I think that‘s one of the problems here. I think that people are looking for straight answers, there‘s no easy answer but there are answers. There‘s real hope. And, I think that being noncommittal is going to win it for you in Iowa, New Hampshire and these other states. We‘ll soon find out.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of her commitment on Iraq to keep the troops in there so she can do the old Betty and Veronica play here, where I‘m for pulling the troops out but I‘m for keeping the troops in. It‘s like Archie, you know, Archie Andrews, I mean, she seems to say I‘m coming home but I‘m staying. You know, what is it? I feel like Jackie Mason here, she‘s in - she‘s out. The question is do you think she has an authentic policy proposal or is your policy proposal for a federalization system over there where you share the oil revenues; you break up the land into different confessional groups. Is that the solution you believe in? Do you think she really believes you keep a certain number of troops there forever to fight Al Qaeda and you take the other ones home? I mean, does that make sense to you?
BIDEN: Well, no, it doesn‘t make sense any more than Bill Richardson is saying bring in Muslim forces. The last thing you would bring in is Muslim forces, you know, they are either Sunni or Shia. I mean, my problem is none of my colleagues seem to understand the circumstance in Iraq. The fact of the matter is there needs to be a political solution and no one offers one. Although, in fairness, she and Chris Dodd voted for my bill today.
MATTHEWS: What was her little shot at you about how the resolution that was passed by the three quarters of the Senate today, with your name as sponsor, was somehow different than your previous proposal. What was she taking that little edge off you for there? Why was she saying it?
BIDEN: Well, she was saying that, I think, to undercut the significance of the resolution. Look, I‘m the only guy who that has ever been able to get 26 Republicans to do anything on a substantive issue in the United States Senate. If anybody thinks they‘re going to end the war without bringing around Republicans, I don‘t know what they‘ve been doing, I wish they would show up a little more.
MATTHEWS: So you think she‘s a little, does she hear your footsteps?
She‘s a little nervous do you think?
BIDEN: Well, I‘m not going to characterize what it is. I think, it‘s made it very difficult for all of these candidates to vote against the position I offered 2 years ago. That everyone is coming around to a consensus position. I sat on the stage in the first debate; I promise you every one of these candidates will end up supporting the position I have. Three of them have come around to that position and I think it makes it hard for them to do that. I think that‘s all it‘s about. It‘s politics.
MATTHEWS: Well at least you have a solution to avoid a civil war. Senator, you‘re the only guy with a solution to avoid a civil war sitting over there and clamping it down with our Army for the rest of our lives. And trying to create an army of Shias to fight the Sunnis is no way to avoid a civil war. It‘s a way to take sides in a civil war. That‘s what I think.
BIDEN: You can‘t do that Chris. I think that‘s (inaudible), honestly.
MATTHEWS: It‘s wonderful to have you on. I think your position is winning out here. Congratulations on having a solution that people are beginning to buy, thank you very much. Senator Joe Biden who has a policy prescription that the others seem to lack. Howard?
FINEMAN: You know, the more I think through the debate, I think this really wasn‘t one of Hillary‘s better performances. I think Tim Russert really took her on several times; he tripped her up on the torture, the trick torture question about her husband‘s position. But I think that was interesting.
MATTHEWS: What about when she said, “I know this is of special interest to you.” For whom is Social Security not a special interest. I mean that was the strangest kind of response to someone.
FINEMAN: She was trying to demonstrate her superior preparation. She was trying to say, “I‘m Hillary Clinton, I studied you Tim, I got the 20 page memo on you”.
MATTHEWS: I‘ve got you figured out boy. Yeah right. I just thought that was outrageous. There‘s not a senior citizen in America that doesn‘t think that the future of Social Security is of ultimate relevance to them. And (inaudible)
FINEMAN: She gave a three-part non-answer. She gave a lot of three-part non-answers as though she was already president.
WALSH: I was shocked by that, I was shocked that she did not feel compelled to put some cards on the table about that one.
MATTHEWS: It‘s how they destroyed Paul Tsongas back in ‘92. Let the other guy propose reforms, you talk reform but don‘t say anything, ever.
FINEMAN: Yeah but, Chris, there‘s too much time left before the first voting for her to three-point plan her way all to January.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to our presidential candidate, Chris Dodd is joining us right now, the Senator from Connecticut. Sir, thank you for joining us. What did you make of the discussion about entitlements? You‘ve been familiar with this issue for years and, of course, the applaud it‘s given to Tip O‘Neill and Ronald Reagan for solving the issue of Social Security Solvents back in the ‘83 for all these decades and the unwillingness of the frontrunner in this campaign to take a stand?
SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, listen, this is what this process is supposed to be about, Chris. Many people want clarity, they want leadership, they want to get demonstrations of that, they want to know who can an election, but also what you stand for and where you‘ve been and what you‘ve tried to do and succeeded in achieving throughout your career, whatever it may have been. So I was sort of mystified about the unwillingness to take with but rather not as difficult a choice, quite frankly, that Ronald Reagan and Tip O‘Neill had to make some 24 years ago. The answer here is not that complicated. A lot less painful than those answers were. So I‘m rather stunned that we had, sort of, this vague, unwillingness to be clear about what you would specifically do on a major fiscal issue in the country.
MATTHEWS: Are you surprised that Hillary Clinton‘s solution to problems of entitlement reform was simply form a bipartisan commission and throw the challenge off to some anonymous conference committee?
DODD: Yeah, again, commissions, death by commission. I can‘t think of any way to quickly kill an issue than form commissions on it and the issue needs to be dealt with in a more of a holistic way, as I tried to explain, you‘ve got a lot of other issues. Health care is a major part of this equation. Chronic illness, Medicare questions, prescription drugs, all play a part in this thing. It‘s going to take people who know how to do this whether or not you have the experience and the background to actually bring disparate elements together to make a difference on these questions. That‘s what I‘ve tried to do over 36 years with some success I made on major issues. And if you can‘t demonstrate your ability to do that, that‘s a serious question in this campaign.
MATTHEWS: Do you find it difficult to debate a woman?
DODD: No, not at all. I haven‘t faced one in the eight elections I‘ve been involved in, but I think here this is a question of looking for leadership. There‘s no more important election, Chris, in our lifetime than the one that‘s going to be conducted about 14 months from now. When you consider all the issues on the table, the reputation of our country in the world today, the lack of safety and security as a result of our policy in Iraq, I found it stunning tonight on the Iraq issue, quite candidly, that leading candidates were unwilling to say they intend to have our troops out of that country by 2013. I thought we all understood here, at least I believed this to be the case, that our safety and security, our isolation and vulnerabilities are directly related. We‘re turning Iraq into an incubator for Jihadists. The policy is not working, we need a change of direction and the idea that you are unwilling to make a clear statement about your willingness to redeploy those forces out of Iraq in the next 6 years, I found breathtaking considering how important it was to voters last fall in electing a Democratic Congress to make a difference. That‘s the issue tonight that I found rather remarkable.
MATTHEWS: Do you think that Hillary Clinton is trying to have it both ways in the war on Iraq by maintaining a combat troop presence to fight Al Qaeda, that‘s her phraseology, which avoids having to say I‘m pulling the troops out. Is that a strategy to keep everyone happy with a policy that really does divide Americans.
DODD: Well, one could draw that conclusion. Look, in the epicenters of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, not in Iraq, all we‘re doing in Iraq is expanding the ranks of these organizations because of our continued presence there. Ask any soldier who‘s been there, I should be careful and not say ‘any‘ but as we talked about before, I was at Walter Reed with a soldier from Connecticut. Basically the quote again, he said we go into an area, we spend a month and a half to clean it up. And hour and a half after we leave, it‘s right back to where it was before. The civilian population is not telling us where the IEDs are, the ammo dumps are here, 90% of the Sunnis think it‘s all right to kill Americans. How much longer at 10 billion dollars a month, what do you need to know about this to know that it‘s not working? It‘s failing, we need to change the direction and the idea tonight that leading candidates were unwilling to say with clarity how they would leave and an unwillingness to understand that our continued military presence in that country puts rack(ph) at risk and our interests in that part of the world in great danger.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much form staying around. Good work tonight in the debate. Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Here‘s a tough moment between Hillary Clinton and the moderator of the debate tonight, Tim Russert. Let‘s take a watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSSERT: If Israel concluded that Iran‘s nuclear capability threatened Israel‘s security, would Israel be justified in launching an attack on Iran?
CLINTON: Tim, I think that‘s one of those hypotheticals.
RUSSERT: It is not a hypothetical, Senator. It‘s real life.
CLINTON: What is real life is what apparently happened in Syria. So let‘s take that one step at a time.
RUSSERT: My question is -
CLINTON: I know what the question is. I think it‘s important to lay out what we know about Syria because we don‘t have as much information as I wish we did. But what we think we know is that with North Korean help, both financial and technical and material, the Syrians apparently were putting together and, perhaps over some period of years, a nuclear facility. And the Israelis took it out. I strongly support that. We don‘t have anymore information than what I have just described. It is highly classified, it is not being shared. But I don‘t want to go a step further and talk about what might or might not happen down the road with Iran. But I think it is fair to say..
RUSSERT: My question was.
CLINTON: . what happened in Syria, so far as we know, I support.
RUSSERT: My question is would the Israelis be justified if they felt their security was being threatened by the presence of a nuclear presence in Iran and they decided to take military action, would they be justified?
CLINTON: Well, Tim, I‘m not going to answer that because what I understand is that there was evidence—let me just finish and then Mike and Dennis can answer. But there was evidence of a North Korea freighter coming in with supplies. There was intelligence and other kinds of verification. So I don‘t think it‘s a question of if they feel it. That is a much higher standard of proof. Apparently it was met with respect to Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Some fascinating television, Timothy. I caught a couple of things because I was watching you on Sunday when you had her on the program, on MEET, and I thought that she was able to move quickly away from some of your questions. Whereas tonight twice you forced her to say I won‘t answer that question. Both on the issue of a potential Israeli strike against Iran and, of course, the issue of what are you going to do, particularly, to save the Social Security system. In both cases she said I will not answer the question. I haven‘t heard politicians do that before. That‘s a first.
RUSSERT: That‘s quite striking and it‘s clearly her strategy. She has, I think, does consider herself the front runner and is thinking very much about general election strategy, absolutely, and not going to take positions that can be used against her in a general election. Everyone knows, Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives that Social Security and Medicare are not sustainable. There‘s 40 million people now, there‘s going to be 80 million people, something is going to have to happen. Tip O‘Neill, your old boss, Pat Moynihan, my old boss, they got together with Bob Dole and Ronald Reagan and hammered out a solution which made a lot of people unhappy but they did something. That‘s why it was quite striking to hear all the other candidates willing to say “yeah, we‘ll try something.” She did take anything off the table but she won‘t put anything on.
MATTHEWS: Well, but the thing is on the issue of Social Security, half the people watching right now are already on it, probably, and the other half hope to be on it because the alternative is not to be on it, which is not a good alternative. I thought you made an excellent point about the 1930s where we had a life expectancy barely above the retirement age. Today, we hope to live 15 years beyond Social Security and beyond retirement. I thought it was interesting, you couldn‘t get her to say raise taxes, change the benefits or change the amount of income taxed. That pretty much defines inaction, doesn‘t it?
RUSSERT: We‘re on a college campus tonight, okay? We‘re saying in 20 years, 80 million people will be getting Social Security, including you and they‘re going to pay for it.
MATTHEWS: How many people here are confident that they will get Social Security when they turn 65 years old?
I think that‘s a no. How about this end over here. Who‘s going to pay for it? I‘m getting a lot of nos. Somebody 65 just said they‘re not confident.
RUSSERT: Let me ask you, do you think this changes the nature of the race?
MATTHEWS: Well, I think a couple things tonight I thought was interesting that finally Hillary Clinton has a rival. I thought that John Edwards came into tonight with a strategy. You were moderating and you had to notice this that that on two occasions you asked the questions that exposed and he helped this exposure of his difference with her. She said get all the troops out of Iraq, she‘s still doing this, what I call, this Betty and Veronica pyramid play of saying I‘ll keep the hawks happy, I‘ll keep the doves happy, I‘ll keep some troops in forever to fight this Al Qaeda potential threat over there. On the issue of Iran, you pushed her and pushed her and pushed her. Edwards challenged her on two fronts, on Iran and on Iraq and when he said her vote today in the Senate resolving the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization is another one of these pretext to wars, another one of these steps like the Iraqi Liberation Act that will be used at some point to say the president has the justification to attack and I thought that Edwards was dead right in raising that. You, obviously, gave it some thought before hand.
RUSSERT: It is interesting as we sit here tonight, Chris, Democrats all across the country, who watched this debate, reading the wires, reading the blogs, reading the newspapers, watching HARDBALL tomorrow will all hear that the three front-runners said we‘re not going to commit that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq in January of 2013. That‘s five years from now. And I think a lot of Democratic voters will find that very interesting.
MATTHEWS: Especially those voters who cast votes last November for that very purpose.
RUSSERT: What did you think of former Senator Gravel saying get off the campaign trail and stay in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Well I think he‘s familiar, as you are, with the process in the Senate and there is a question why don‘t they do it like a Jimmy Stewart movie and simply go up and say damn it, I‘m staying here, we‘re bringing the bunk beds in, we‘re going to stay here until they break. They have gotten to be so courteous about filibusters they don‘t even occur. I thought that Kucinich‘s call for lowering the voting age to 16 was bizarre. I mean, do you get it with your bicycle? Do you get it with your driver‘s license? When do you begin to vote? I thought it was interesting that Kucinich wanted to lower the drinking age to 18 because we must trust our young people. He said then we got to trust them to drink which I thought was fairly knowledgeable. I just thought it got a little bizarre there. I thought it was interesting, you asked them if they had favorite biblical verse. A couple of them didn‘t. A couple of them went to prayer cards in St. Francis and poor Richardson couldn‘t come up with anything. He had something that had nothing to do with the bible. They were all New Testament answers and they were all very positive, very liberal. I thought the Sermon on the Mount was an old Tip O‘Neill favorite. I thought it was interesting that Dodd said the Good Samaritan. I was very warmed by that.
RUSSERT: How about Biden and the Pharisees?
MATTHEWS: What was he saying, the Pharisees sitting in the first row in the temple?
RUSSERT: I‘m sure.
MATTHEWS: I think he might have been talking about people who believed they were superior to the public and in the back row. In fact, when I go to church, I know you do too, you check and see who‘s sitting in the first row. Who are the Pharisees out there? Well, there‘s going to be more of these, there‘s going to be a CNBC debate, which will be interesting. Do you think they‘re getting a little bit eroded, some of these people? I find Hillary is in a, kind of, remember Archie Moore, the boxer, the mongoose, put the arms up, nobody can hit me? And the only guy that could knock him out was Marciano. Can Hillary keep putting up her arms like this from here till January and still win all the big contests, going in like this? Can she be the mongoose?
RUSSERT: Unless the other candidates change the equation. For example, Senator Dodd said in a statement, “I know why President Bush wants Hillary Clinton to win.” Okay, Senator, why? He didn‘t want to answer that. He didn‘t want to answer that. Why?
MATTHEWS: Because they have too many consultants telling them don‘t say anything.
RUSSERT: But he put a statement out.
MATTHEWS: I know he did, what did he say tonight? Did he follow through in his statement?
RUSSERT: What I want to hear is the conversation tonight between president Clinton Hillary Clinton about president Clinton‘s comments last year on MEET THE PRESS that we ought to have an exception that if we know the number three guy in Al Qaeda knows a bomb is going off and where it‘s going off, it‘s okay to beat the hell out of him. Have a presidential (inaudible).
MATTHEWS: Let me tell you how short Hillary‘s leash is. She was asked by you, sir, about whether we‘re going to get full disclosure of contributors to presidential libraries. And she did not feel that she had the latitude in her husband‘s absence to give you an answer. She said, you‘ll have to ask my husband, as if you‘re a guy going door to door trying to sell someone and says you‘ll have to wait for my husband to get home. It was unbelievable that she wouldn‘t answer that. Never mind, let‘s drop this. I just thought it was extraordinary that their deal doesn‘t have that much clarity to it. Anyway, up next, another of the candidates from tonight‘s debate, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. He‘s coming here.
You‘re watching MSNBC‘s coverage of the Democratic presidential candidates‘
debate, live from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire on MSNBC
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to MSNBC‘s live coverage of the Democratic debate tonight up here in Hanover, New Hampshire, home of Dartmouth College. We have joining us right now Governor Bill Richardson.
Governor Richardson, you stood out tonight as someone who was willing to say, I‘ll bring the troops home, this sounds almost ludicrous, by the year 2013. It sounds like one of those years that Social Security is going to go broke. But it is in fact the deadline that Tim Russert established. Are you surprised you‘re the only candidate for president in the Democratic Party to say you‘re really bringing the troops home in your first term?
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, I was very surprised, because what is very clear is that Senator Edwards, particularly Obama and Clinton, basically said that they can go into their second term with still troops in Iraq. That‘s no way to end the war. And I think they have to level with the American people. Do they really want to end the war or are they going to keep the troops there for an indefinite period? I believe you can‘t have it both ways.
I have called for a complete reduction of all our forces. I would put some in Kuwait, some in Afghanistan. But you can‘t start the political reconciliation process. You can‘t start the peacekeeping. You can‘t start the Iran and Syria coming in to try to have stability in the region without getting all our troops out because they become targets. Our kids are dying. It‘s getting worse every day. There is all the sectarian conflict.
MATTHEWS: I agree with you completely.
RICHARDSON: So this gives me, I think.
MATTHEWS: It‘s not even a war, it‘s a bunch of Americans getting killed by IEDs. It‘s not even a regular war of combat and guts and valor, it‘s just guys taking sacrifices day after day and getting killed as they drive around in trucks. It‘s a horrible situation.
Let me ask you this, do you think the Democrats would have carried the Congress as they did in the last elections in November had they said as a party that we‘re not going to get the troops out even by 2013? Do you think that would have sold and brought you back control of Congress?
RICHARDSON: No, we wouldn‘t have won the Congress. And I am really very angered right now and frustrated by the Congress not taking any concrete action. What they need to do is stop doing these funding resolutions, these benchmarks and de-authorize the war. There could be a national movement built on this under Article I. Senator Byrd has a resolution.
The president cannot veto this. He probably would contest it in the courts. But I am so frustrated by them going back, passing sense of Congress resolutions, not reducing troop levels. The only funding that I would vote for in the Congress would be to have a withdrawal.
But they don‘t want to bring the troops home. They say they‘re only going to have combat forces, senators—Obama particularly. You know, here‘s somebody that challenged me when I said I know the region. I went head-to-head with Saddam Hussein. And so I‘m just not seeing any real responsible plan to end the war by Senator Clinton and Obama.
And a lot of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, around the country, are going to notice, and that‘s going to give my campaign traction. As you know, I‘m moving up slowly and I believe this is going to be.
MATTHEWS: Yes, you are.
RICHARDSON: . the decisive issue in this campaign.
MATTHEWS: I noticed a dichotomy in your public policy—your foreign policy between your very tough position on Iraq in calling for a withdrawal of our troops expeditiously, and yet I sense some hawkishness from you with the issue of Iran. Am I right?
RICHARDSON: Well, Chris, I think the question was, first of all, on Israel. Israel is very important to American security. And.
MATTHEWS: Sure. But your position about U.S. policy toward Iran seems hawkish to me. You seem to be ready to move against Iran militarily, militarily.
RICHARDSON: Well, yes. But I would only do that as a last resort. First, diplomacy. Then economic sanctions. But we need to bring Russia and European countries in a concerted strategy to do that to Iran. And we don‘t have the credibility or the support from European nations and Russia to bring effective pressure on Iran.
So as a last resort, I don‘t see how some of the candidates didn‘t answer two basic questions. Does Israel have a right to defend itself? The answer is yes. Secondly, would you permit nuclear weapons in Iran? Absolutely not. But it is how you get there. You get there through diplomacy.
And the lack of clarity by some of my opponents on basic fundamental foreign policy issues—you know, Senator Obama got irritated at me when I basically said, you‘re not ending the war, you‘re not telling us what the troops are going to be there for, how long they are going to stay. You‘re telling us they‘re going to be there by the end of your first term. That is not ending the war. And this is going to be a defining issue for me in this campaign.
MATTHEWS: When you say Israel has a right to defend itself, you are certainly firm ground, but are you saying that Israel has a right to blow up what they believe to be nuclear targets in Iran simply because they believe that Iran is in the process of building nuclear weapons, or do they have to wait until there‘s actually a system that might deliver that weapon? What is your threshold question? Because you‘ve taken a position here that Israel has a right to act.
There‘s a difference between preemptive attacking and preventing attacking. In ‘67, Israel defended itself against what was coming at them, an attack by the Arab nations. And that was a preemptive attack. And everybody in the world that had any good heart supported that.
Do you support preventative action? If Israel thinks some day there might be a nuclear weapon in the hands of somebody in Iran, do they have a right to act as you see it?
RICHARDSON: Chris, any nation, like Israel, who right now is surrounded by Hezbollah, surrounded by Hamas, surrounded by hostile forces, without a Middle East peace process, I think the first step has to be diplomacy. But to answer your question, Israel has a right to defend itself. And the United States has to be.
MATTHEWS: No, but does it have a right to.
RICHARDSON: . behind Israel. But.
MATTHEWS: Does it have a right—you brought this up. Do they have a right to take preventive action? Do they have a right to attack a country that might someday get a nuclear weapon? That‘s the—I‘m just asking. If you can answer it, fine.
RICHARDSON: That‘s a national security decision that every nation needs to make. I believe that the United States has that right. But would I do it? No. I would use diplomacy first. I would bring international support to my cause. I would have economic sanctions. But look, our fundamental cornerstone in our Middle East policy is, yes, more dialogue with Arab countries, but the security of Israel is critically important to us.
MATTHEWS: Do you think as president you would preside over a more peaceful era than this president has?
RICHARDSON: I certainly would, Chris. I would have the two-state solution in the Middle East. I would have a Middle East peace envoy. I would talk directly to Syria and get them to stop helping Hezbollah. I would talk to Iran. But I think the key is take our troops out of Iraq. End the war in Iraq. That will allow us to focus on international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, becoming energy independent, tribal and ethnic conflict, protecting our homeland, our ports.
What we have is a misguided foreign policy where we‘re spending, by the end of the year, $750 billion in a war that has no end, that has no military solution. And that detracts from the real security needs of the American people. The threat of al Qaeda and international terrorism.
MATTHEWS: Well, Governor, I wish you well, because.
RICHARDSON: A nuclear weapon this size.
MATTHEWS: . you are gradually making your case in this campaign. I hope you don‘t run out of time because you‘re clearly raising some good issues. And I did like—as a citizen, liked the way that you exemplified the efforts by which you were able to bring successful action in these hostage situations, in these very tricky situations in the world where we‘re dealing with bad guys in the world, and you‘ve actually done something and not just talked about it. I hope you get a chance to make your case. Thank you very much, Bill Richardson.
RICHARDSON: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: . governor of New Mexico.
RICHARDSON: Thank you very much, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Up next, I want to thank—by the way, I want to thank Howard Fineman...
(CHEERING & APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: . and Joan Walsh for being with us, and Pat Buchanan. Up next, a whole new panel with NBC‘s David Gregory and Chuck Todd, our political assessor. He‘s going to give us an assay on who won this thing, I hope. We‘ll be right back with some real judgments as to who won tonight live from New Hampshire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I heard Senator Clinton say on Sunday that she wants to continue combat missions in Iraq. To me, that‘s a continuation of the war.
I voted for this war in Iraq. And I was wrong to vote for this war. And I accept responsibility for that. Senator Clinton also voted for this war.
What happened in ‘93 and ‘94 is we didn‘t get universal health care but we got NAFTA. And when I‘m president of the United States, you have my word I will never pull the universal health care bill.
We get rid of don‘t ask-don‘t tell, which is wrong today and was wrong when it was enacted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to MSNBC‘s live coverage of the Democratic presidential candidate‘s debate tonight, which was moderated by Tim Russert. John Edwards took on Hillary Clinton tonight, but will it be enough? Chuck Todd is NBC‘s political director. And of course, David Gregory is NBC‘s chief White House correspondent. And still with is from Washington is MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.
I want to bring in David first. And then I want to bring in you. And the simple question is, what we‘ve been talking about here is the possibility that maybe there has been a breakthrough tonight. That maybe John Edwards, in confronting Hillary on the issue of Iraq and Iran, was able to do something that Barack Obama has for some reason not chosen to do, which is to draw a real hard distinction on issues that matter—
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, I think Obama is more subtle about it. He keeps saying, I was against the war. If my judgment had prevailed, we wouldn‘t be in this predicament. It‘s still more subtle. It‘s a quieter campaign strategy. John Edwards came out and said, there are choices here, there are disagreements. I want to end the war now, 40,000 or 50,000 troops out as soon as I get into office. She wants more combat tours to fight al Qaeda.
She may not get a lot of debate about that. That may be supported even by the Democratic base. But there are distinctions and Edwards was prepared on that, and on health care to say there are differences for Democratic voters. And I don‘t think that Obama, for whatever reason, is framing it that way.
MATTHEWS: OK. That‘s the first step he has to take, David. How does he get past Obama to Hillary?
GREGORY: Well, by suggesting I think a couple of points. One is that I am actually presenting an alternative, that if you want an alternative, it‘s me against her. It‘s not Clinton-Obama. It‘s not that dynamic. And two, to make the implicit argument that everybody who thinks it‘s a Clinton-Obama dynamic ignores the fact that she‘s pulling away when he‘s number two. I‘m your real number two. I‘m your real liberal alternative.
But here‘s where he gets hurt tonight. You‘ve been talking about it. The top three contenders here say they‘re not going to commit to getting troops out by 2013. I mean, you‘re saying that in New Hampshire where the feelings against the war are very, very strong.
MATTHEWS: So that bunches them together.
GREGORY: It bunches them together. They say, ah, we can‘t.
MATTHEWS: And that helps Hillary. Every time they all look alike Hillary wins, ironically.
CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes—no, no, and it wasn‘t just that, I mean, Obama and Clinton me-too‘d each other all night. When it came to Iran, you know, not just the troops, the Iran question they seemed to be on the same page. The only odd distinction between the two—and odd, was on Social Security and that was because Hillary wouldn‘t answer the question because she‘s absolutely only thinking about the general, about taxes.
MATTHEWS: She was trained. That is training. Bill Clinton learned.
TODD: Don‘t let them attack you on taxes.
MATTHEWS: Bill Clinton never took a position on reform of any entitlement program. It‘s a smart move actually, but it‘s a very cynical move because you‘re saying to the public, I am not telling you anything I intend to do. Let me get back to Pat Buchanan, bring him in.
Pat, let‘s just reconnoiter here. It seems to me that John Edwards really made an effort tonight to try to make it a one-on-one fight between he and Hillary Clinton at the expense of Obama. Was he successful?
BUCHANAN: Yes, he was. He was the one taking Hillary on. And they were going back and forth. And I think Edwards helped himself but that doesn‘t hurt Hillary badly. She‘s going to have an opponent, and I think she prefers Edwards, who can‘t go the distance to Obama who can.
But let me say this, Chris. Look, Edwards and these folks and the Democrats, they came off tonight, I‘m speaking as a conservative now, as a nanny state party. They‘re not going to let me smoke in public, they‘re not going to let an 18-year-old Marine have a beer, but they‘re going to give 6-year-olds—teach them about homosexual marriage. I mean, you get the average American out there, this might be big stuff at Dartmouth, but I can tell you, out in Middle America, that doesn‘t sell. And they‘re going to have sanctuary cities.
MATTHEWS: No, I don‘t think it sold with Laura Ingraham when she was here either, come to think of it.
GREGORY: The issue was second-graders, would you expose that issue to second-graders? Not, do you want them to grow up being tolerant kids? It‘s, would you do it in second grade? And that‘s what.
GREGORY: They dodged it. Even John Edwards said, well, I don‘t know, that might be a little tough, second grade.
TODD: You know what Pat just wrote? He wrote—I would be not shocked if in 24 hours Pat‘s script is the—what Pat said is the script for a Mitt Romney radio ad to try to hit the Democrats on some cultural issues. Because there was that cultural divide.
MATTHEWS: Now we have the catechism of the Democratic Party. The catechism of the Democratic Party is, lots of information about the gay orientation early in life, right?
TODD: Right. And that culture thing—you will see Romney try to.
MATTHEWS: . Gravel, who tends to be a little bit out there on the Christopher Lloyd end of the party, you know, the gyro (ph) gear (ph) loose (ph) end of the party.
TODD: He said it himself, fantasy land.
MATTHEWS: Yes, he did say that kids who drink -- I mean, kids who fight ought to be able to drink. I have always thought that was a good argument. I don‘t know how you go to a USO and say, we brought your apple cider, soldiers.
GREGORY: He‘s out there saying in front of America, you don‘t have to pay your bills to the credit card company? Stick it to the credit card company? That‘s not a serious reform.
MATTHEWS: I wasn‘t defending him across the line.
TODD: . made a strong case for why he shouldn‘t be invited to any more debates.
MATTHEWS: . some great homework there, because I thought—I like to know a little bit more about these people‘s dossiers since they‘re out there. We assumed that somehow NBC or somebody has approved them for admission, when in fact they do have bankruptcies behind them.
MATTHEWS: And urban bankruptcies. A city-wide bankruptcy behind them.
GREGORY: But, you know, you—but, Chris, you often like to challenge conventional wisdom on this. And I think we can look at this and say, why is Obama not more directly confronting her? He must have a reason. Maybe it‘s a reason that‘s not going to work out.
But there may be something that resonates about how he speaks about the country coming together, about changing the politics in Washington, and some of the points you have mentioned. Her insistence of setting the tempo, of what she‘ll answer, what she won‘t answer, of deciding what‘s hypothetical, what‘s not.
I mean, she‘s controlling in these forums and putting it on her own terms. Maybe people think that‘s, you know, too prepared by half or too robotic by half.
MATTHEWS: Yes. But she has always had that—you know, you have dealt with her. You know if you have a town meeting with her, 10 minutes before the town meeting, one of the press people comes in and asks you the questions, what they‘re going to be. This is Hillary-land. You‘ve go to live in that land. We all live in that land. She wants—she doesn‘t want to have any risks. She wants to get the presidency without risk and that‘s not surprising if you‘re the frontrunner.
But here‘s the problem. Every time we score these debates, Pat, you get in here, I have a simple way of scoring the debates. I don‘t say who won and ask the people who won, because we‘re not debate masters here and we‘re not referees. This isn‘t high school. You ask them after the debate for a couple of weeks who do you like now. Having had the debates, you ignore the debates, you just say a couple of weeks later in the Gallup, who do you like for president. And you learn that there‘s a shift.
Like it or not, in the 2000 elections, people shifted from a significant support for Al Gore to afterwards a significant lead for the president. And that was because they didn‘t like Gore and they liked the president.
Let me ask you, Pat, is anybody going to change their preferences after tonight?
BUCHANAN: I think Edwards might get a little bump. But I think—let me say this about Hillary, I thought she showed personality, and in that exchange with Tim, she showed authority. She said in effect, wait a minute, don‘t keep pushing this on me. Here‘s what I‘m going to say.
And I think that‘s what a lot of people want to know about a woman candidate especially, can she be the commander-in-chief? So I think she helped herself very much now tonight in every way in that Obama was weak and that her new challenger is Edwards and he‘s far left and can‘t go the distance, and she didn‘t make any mistakes.
And I agreed with her on the Social Security thing in the sense, suppose she said yes, let‘s raise the wage base to $200,000? They would murder her in the general election, the Republicans.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Because—by the way, you notice how quickly John Edwards said, but let‘s have an exclusion for people that make between $97,000 and $200,000. He wanted to make sure that nobody or actually anybody that might be voting for him was going to get hurt by this thing.
But let me ask you this thing about the—my mind is lost right here.
TODD: No, I just want to go back to this Obama point a minute. Because, you know, I think a lot of people are killing him tonight over the fact that he didn‘t go after her. He didn‘t.
MATTHEWS: Yes. I‘m part of that.
TODD: What Edwards did.
MATTHEWS: I‘m part of that killing squad.
TODD: And what strikes me about him is that I think Clinton is clearly running a general election strategy, right? She‘s very careful. She doesn‘t answer any hypotheticals. Obama is also running a general election campaign. The problem he‘s got is he‘s 20 points behind in the Democratic primary. And I think that his message may be right for the general election but he‘s not winning over Democrats.
MATTHEWS: OK. Pat had set up a very interesting dynamic, the new word of our trade. We always say dynamic. Pat said earlier—I want you guys to check this, he said that Hillary has less reason to fear John Edwards than she does to fear Obama. Should Obama pull an upset—or not an upset, just win in Iowa, which he could easily do, and then come up here, and on the strength of that be the slingshot and win here as well, he could go on and run the table against her.
Whereas John Edwards could win in Iowa, as you said, and he would still have a very hard time up here in Clinton country up against the—in other words he would be a morning glory. He would not be a long-term to her. What do you make of that, Chuck?
TODD: Well, look, Edwards also has another problem. Clinton is—if this thing goes for a long way, look, she‘s not going to get out of this race easily. Just because she loses a couple of early primaries or caucuses, she‘s going to feel as if she can go for the long haul, she can play a delicate game. And that‘s where Pat is right about Edwards.
MATTHEWS: But Obama would be the biggest man in the world. If Obama wins a couple of those early things, he is on the cover of The Economist, he‘s on the cover of Paris Match, he‘s everywhere.
TODD: Edwards wouldn‘t become that person.
TODD: The only problem that Edwards would have, even if he won Iowa and New Hampshire, is that the Democratic elite can‘t stand Edwards. There is this weird establishment problem that Edwards has and they take it as a badge of honor.
And they say, see, these people in D.C., they don‘t like me because I‘m speaking the truth or I‘m a populist. But you know what, at the end of the day, if he ends up as her chief challenger, I think she could rally the establishment and win this thing in one of these delegate fights. And that‘s the real hurdle Edwards would have if he...
MATTHEWS: Give me some names of the establishment?
TODD: I‘m not going to sit here and name names.
MATTHEWS: . the establishment over here. Who are these dark figures that.
TODD: It‘s called the Democratic National Committee.
MATTHEWS: Who are these people? Anne Wexler? Ann Lewis? Who are these people?
TODD: Yes, it‘s called the Democratic National Committee.
GREGORY: Also, I think there‘s something about atmospherics. You know, you take away from these debates—well, maybe we‘ll pick this up after the break.
MATTHEWS: See, my job here is to try to explain the vocabulary of people like yourself, and when you say, “the establishment,” I like to—I just want to know who these dark figures of the night are.
GREGORY: They are the people who are inside the pages of Paris Match.
MATTHEWS: Ah yes, the Parisian establishment. We‘ll be right back with David Gregory, a man of many voices and thoughts. We‘ll be right back with Chuck as well, Chuck Todd. And Pat Buchanan, a man who sees the conservative opportunity tonight. He just discovered the left-wing catechism of the new Democratic Party and he will use it. You‘re watching MSNBC‘s coverage of the Democratic presidential candidate‘s debate, live from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR: To have all troops out by January of 2013.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: By January—by April of 2007 and you can mark that on your calendars, if you want to take a new direction.
RUSSERT: Well, it‘s September of ‘07 now, so we‘re going to have a problem.
KUCINICH: Well, make that 2009. I‘m ready to be president today.
(LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Dartmouth College. If you‘re on the campus, it‘s beautiful behind us here and all around us. We‘re in New Hampshire, of course. And it‘s a beautiful time of year. And it‘s late at night. And we just covered the Democratic presidential debates here. I‘m here with David Gregory and Chuck Todd and Pat Buchanan.
In that order, gentlemen, tonight, who is going to have to do some repair work after tonight, anyone?
GREGORY: Well, I mean, I think it‘s ongoing for Edwards and Obama. I mean, I think that these—you can talk substantively about these debates but I also think that people who are tuning in, I think there are good numbers of people who are doing that, are just taking their measure. And they have certain take-aways that are maybe a little bit more visceral than they are substantive.
And you see Hillary Clinton, the general election strategy, talking like she is the president. Certainly authoritative and prepared. You‘ve got Edwards, who is taking the fight a little more aggressive, more of a contrast. And Obama, who is above the fray in many ways, who has got a national conversation going, but is it enough to really separate himself?
MATTHEWS: I think he floats like a butterfly but doesn‘t sting like a bee.
GREGORY: Well, right, and maybe that‘s the danger or maybe it‘s an advantage that he doesn‘t want to do it too early.
TODD: The only thing I‘d say—the only piece of advice I think that Clinton needs to worry about is, she did get testy at one point. During the Social Security exchange, she—you could tell she didn‘t like her first answer. And she felt like she had to jump in. It‘s the first time I‘ve ever seen her.
MATTHEWS: OK. Pat, anybody have to do any.
TODD: . where she had to fix (ph) a question.
MATTHEWS: Anybody clean up any mess tonight coming out of this thing?
BUCHANAN: I think Edwards should be encouraged to keep going where he has gone. It‘s a possibility for him. Hillary Clinton, basically keep doing what she‘s doing, don‘t make mistakes. I think they‘ve got to get into the locker room with Obama and get a new strategy for the second half.
MATTHEWS: Me too, I agree completely. Anyway, thank you guys. I think we all agree. Chuck Todd, thank you. David Gregory, thank you. Pat Buchanan. Join us again tomorrow night for “HARBALL” at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern. Right now it‘s time for “COUNTDOWN.”
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) 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 MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.