MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: National polls show a clear front runner. But in the critical state of Iowa it’s a much closer race, with just 13 weeks to go to the Iowa Caucuses. Why does John Edwards believe he would be a stronger nominee than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? We’ll ask him. Our guest, Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards.
Then, the money primary making news, and the Republicans prepare for their Tuesday debate. Insights and analysis from David Broder of The Washington Post, David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg News and Ted Koppel of the Discovery Channel.
And 50 years ago this week, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and the race to space began. Joining us, the man who has covered every American manned space flight, and the author of “Live From Cape Canaveral,” NBC’s Jay Barbree.
But first, he is in Iowa this morning, a make or break state for his campaign.
Senator John Edwards, welcome.
FMR. SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC): Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: A week ago Wednesday in the New Hampshire debate, Democrats woke up the next morning, I think somewhat surprised that the three top candidates, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, all said that they could not pledge that all American troops would be out of Iraq by the end of their first term in 2013. Another one of your opponents, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, issued this statement about you. He says, “Edwards says” “he would get all of the combat troops out of Iraq, but he would leave behind thousands of non-combat troops in the middle of a civil war.” This “is not ending the war... Leaving behind thousands of non-combat troops contradicts Army doctrine and common sense. It is simply irresponsible. ... History teaches us that putting undermanned forces in the middle of sectarian conflict, whether in Somalia, Lebanon or anywhere” “is a recipe for disaster. John Edwards would change the mission. I,” Richardson, “will end the war.”
Is he correct?
SEN. EDWARDS: No, of course he’s not correct. They will—unless we’re going to close the embassy in Baghdad and have the only American embassy in the world that we provide no protection for, there’d have to be some troops in Baghdad for purposes of protecting the embassy. Now, what I’ve also said that is also ignored in that statement is that we do need to maintain quick reaction forces just outside of Iraq.
Now, there are some real differences between myself and Senator Clinton on this issue. I am not for maintaining troops—combat troops—inside Iraq, for a lot of reasons. I think number one, they’ll have a target on their forehead while they’re there. Number two, it continues the perception that America is occupying Iraq. What I would do instead is outside of Iraq, probably in Kuwait, maintain a quick reaction force. And that quick reaction force would be focused on the possibility of al-Qaeda operations, not terrorism at large. The problem with what I hear with Senator Clinton saying, and I’ve heard others say is when you talk about maintaining troops, combat troops inside Iraq, based there, and they’re focused on anti-terrorism activity within Iraq, that’s very similar to what President Bush says. It’s very hard to understand what—where that ends, where the limits are.
I do think we need to end this war in Iraq. I’m for getting our combat troops out of Iraq. I’m going to be responsible and protect the embassy like we do everywhere else in the world, but we will maintain a quick reaction force just outside of Iraq in Kuwait, so that if there are al-Qaeda—let me be very specific, not general terrorist activity. I mean, terrorist activity can include any sort of action against civilians and against the state. I’m talking specifically about public enemy number one, al-Qaeda, that’s responsible for a small percentage of the insurgent activity in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: But as I hear you, you would have significant combat troops outside of Iraq but on the border prepared to go into Iraq for combat duty?
SEN. EDWARDS: But I want to be really clear about something, Tim. I’m saying something very different than what Senator Clinton’s saying. Senator Clinton has said she will maintain troops inside Iraq, and that they will engage in combat operation, combat missions, I think is her term, inside Iraq. I will not do that. To me, that is a continuation of the war, and this war needs to be brought to an end. I do think that America, like we would anywhere else in the world, is focused on al-Qaeda, focused on public enemy number one, and we have to be ready to respond if they’re planning attacks inside Iraq, attacks against us or our embassy inside Iraq, or attacks outside of Iraq. We have to be prepared to respond to that, and that’s why I’d keep a quick reaction force in Kuwait. But I would not, as Senator Clinton would, keep combat troops inside Iraq and continue combat missions in Iraq.
I want to be able to say next fall, when I’m the Democratic nominee, and I’m standing with the Republican candidate, that Americans have a very clear choice. They can choose a Republican who wants to continue the war or a Democrat who wants to end the war. We can’t just be a little bit better than them. We have to be very clear that voters have choices in this election.
MR. RUSSERT: And Senator, your evolution on the war in Iraq is quite extraordinary. You were an original co-sponsor back in October of 2002, voting for the war. When you were running for vice president, October of 2004, even though we had not found weapons of mass destruction, you still said your vote was the right course to pursue. And in February of this year, you were on MEET THE PRESS, I asked you if you would cut off funding for the war in Iraq, and you said no. You now are in favor of cutting off funding, aren’t you?
SEN. EDWARDS: No, sir. No. I’m saying the same thing now I said in February. What I have said all throughout the course of this campaign is what we need to do and what the Congress needs to do is they need to force George Bush’s hand. I think the American people sent an absolutely clear mandate in November of 2006 that they expect the Congress to stand strong, to be firm. And the way for the Congress to do that is to ensure that every funding bill that goes to this president actually has a timetable for withdrawal. And if Bush vetoes that, they should send another bill for the timetable for withdrawal and they should stand their ground. There’s a difference between doing that, Tim, and just cutting off funding for the troops.
MR. RUSSERT: So you would not cut off funding, and if funding ran out because George Bush kept vetoing the funding measures, what would you do?
SEN. EDWARDS: If I were president, I would’ve already been bringing the troops out. If George Bush is still president, then he’ll be in the position of either having to sign the legislation, which means he’ll have to meet the timetable for withdrawal, or the money will dry up and he’ll have to start withdrawing troops out of Iraq. Either way, the Congress has done exactly what the American people asked them to do in November of 2006, which is what they should do.
MR. RUSSERT: There’s been an interesting discussion about John Edwards. Here’s how U.S. News & World Report wrote it, “The Evolution of John Edwards.” And they say this:
Edward is—“Edwards has changed considerably from the happy-face centrist who refrained from attack politics in ‘04. His appeal today is based in large part on his sharp-edged anti war stand. ... This cycle, Edwards hopes to ride a wave of liberal anger and generalized dissatisfaction.”
And then this from the Associated Press: “Analysis: Is Edwards Real or a Phony?”
“Edwards ... ran as a moderate Democrat for the Senate in 1998 and the White House in 2004, calling universal healthcare policies irresponsible,” “impractical. Now he’s more liberal, shifting to the left along with Internet-fed forces within the Democratic Party, and vows to give healthcare to all.”
Have you shifted your views for political expediency, or has been there, has been there, has there been a profound, philosophical change within you?
SEN. EDWARDS: I’m exactly the same person that I was in 2004. I run for president for exactly the same reason. You know, I run for president, Tim, on behalf of the, my father, who worked in a mill all his life, the men and the women who worked in the mill with him, the men and women I grew up with who lost their jobs when that mill closed. Providing that kind of chance and opportunity to everybody is at the core of, is the core of why I’m running for president of the United States. That has never changed, and it is exactly the same today.
I do believe that there’s been some changes both in America and in the world. The war in Iraq is much worse than it was in 2003 and 2004, and it’s continued. Our healthcare situation is dysfunctional. It does not work. And I am convinced that the only solution to this is true, universal healthcare.
Global warming is now, by anybody’s measure, a crisis. A crisis that America has to deal with and has to respond to. We have five million more people who’ve fallen into poverty while George Bush has been in office. And we’re becoming a country made up of just a few rich people and everybody else. What I believe, and I believe it to my soul, is that these problems cannot be solved with small incremental change. They can’t be solved with caution. We need big, bold ideas. We need a president who’s willing to take on a system that stops those bold ideas from going into place and that’s exactly what I intend to do as president.
MR. RUSSERT: A new poll out in Des Moines today shows you second place to Hillary Clinton. But half the voters in Iowa believe that there may be a contradiction between your lifestyle and that it undermines your credibility. This is voters from Iowa saying this. One of the things that’s been discussed is this: “Hedge Fund Ties Help Edwards Campaign.” “Two years ago, former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, gearing up for his second run at the Democratic presidential nomination, gave a speech decrying the ‘two different economies in the country: one for wealthy insiders and then one for everybody else.’
“Four months later, he began working for the kind of firm that to many Wall Street critics embodies the economy of wealthy insiders - a hedge fund. Edwards became a consultant for Fortress Investment Group. ...”
“It was an unusual choice of employment for Edwards, who for years has decried offshore tax shelters as part of his broader campaign to reduce inequality. While Fortress was incorporated in Delaware, its hedge funds were incorporated in the Cayman Islands, enabling its partners and foreign investors to defer or avoid paying U.S. taxes.”
Why would you associate yourself with a hedge fund like that, when you’re decrying the existence of two Americas?
SEN. EDWARDS: I think this is a perfectly fair question. And let me answer it. First of all, I was the first candidate, Democrat or Republican, to lay out an aggressive plan to get rid of the tax breaks that are available, including the offshoring that you just spoke about, that are available to hedge fund managers. They’re not right, they’re not fair, and they don’t—are not available to ordinary Americans like the ones I spoke about just a few minutes ago.
Number two. If you look at what I have spent my life doing, including the time since the last election—which is exactly you’re focused on right now—I did a whole variety of things. Number one, I ran a poverty center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which I started; I traveled the country, helping raise the minimum wage in six different states; I was personally involved in 20--with 23 unions in organizing campaigns, organizing thousands of workers into unions. My wife, Elizabeth, and I started a college-for-everyone program, for kids who are willing to work when they were in school to be able to go to college; I personally did humanitarian work in Africa.
These are the things that I spent my time doing, and I don’t apologize for them. I’m proud of what I’ve spent my life doing. I—my whole life and the arc of my life has been about one single thing, which is to try to make sure that everybody in this country has the same kind of chance that and opportunity that I’ve had. And that’s why I want to be president of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: But working for a hedge fund that has foreclosed on mortgages in Louisiana, is that the kind of image that you want to put forward in a presidential campaign?
SEN. EDWARDS: Well, when I—first of all, when I found out that there were foreclosures going on in Louisiana, in New Orleans, which is specifically what you’re asking about, I responded immediately. Called the people at Fortress, told them that they needed to take action. I thereafter took any investments that I had in those—in that operation out. On top of that, we have started a fund, a home rescue fund, with a local community activist group in New Orleans to actually provide help to people who are having their homes foreclosed on in New Orleans. My point is really not complicated. If you look at where I have spent my time, and what my life has been about, instead of isolating one thing in a short period of time, it is very clear what my life has been about. I have spent my life fighting for the kind of people I grew up with, for the poor, for the disenfranchised, and I will do it as long as I’m living. I will do it when I’m president, and I will do it when I’m an ex-president.
MR. RUSSERT: The exchanges between the Edwards campaign and the Clinton campaign have gotten quite pointed in recent days. I want to ask you about this one. “Edwards plays the Bubba card.” “The official name of this campaign swing is ‘economic fairness for the North Country,’ but [Edwards campaign consultant David ‘Mudcat’ Saunders] ... and the boys call it ‘let’s help John Edwards screw those who screwed us tour,’ Mudcat says. Us being rural America.”
“And who would that be?”
“‘Who screwed us?’” Saunders “asks, voice rising in incredulity. ‘The Clintons screwed us.’”
How did the Clintons screw us?
SEN. EDWARDS: Well, Mudcat has, has a way of saying things that I wouldn’t say exactly the way he does. What I would say is that the system in Washington where corporations, big corporations and their lobbyists have entirely too much influence, has resulted in rural Americans, ordinary Americans being left behind. And my view is that we have to have—we have to change that system to bring about the substantiative change for real people to have the opportunities that they need.
Now, I think the system’s rigged. I don’t think status quo works, and I think we have to be willing to take it on. And I’ve said repeatedly, and this is similar to what Mudcat just said, I believe we cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats. We have to actually return the power in the government to ordinary Americans. And that—and the reason that matters is not in the abstract, you know. Lobbyists, the way the system works in Washington, that’s all process. But the reason it matters is because it’s—those things stand as an impediment to universal healthcare, to attacking global warming, to addressing economic inequality in this, in this country. It, it—they stand as an impediment to stopping the kind of private contracting of Blackwater that we’ve seen in, in Iraq. All that has to change in order for us to be able to help the very people that, that I’m talking about, and Mudcat’s talking about.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you something else that Mudcat said, and ask you if it’s your view. “The toxic coattails of Hillary Clinton could not only cost us an absolute certainty at the White House, but it also could cost us the U.S. House of Representatives. ... Not only do we lose the White House, but the collateral damage from Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket could cost us Congress.” Do you agree?
SEN. EDWARDS: Here’s what I think. I am the candidate running for president on the Democratic side who’s actually won an election in a red state running against the Jessie Helms political machine. I know what you have to do to win in battleground states, and to win in tough, tough congressional districts, and what you have to do to put out your message that works in those kind of places. People—I understand people who vote in those places, and they connect and relate to me. So I do believe when I am the Democratic nominee for president that there is no place in America that I can’t go and campaign and help our congressional candidates and help our Senate candidates.
I think at the end of the day it’s for voters to determine what impact Senator Clinton would have. But I think there are clear choices between the two of us. I’ve been elected in a red state, I believe that, at least based on the empirical data that’s out there, indicates that I am the strongest candidate on the Democratic side in these battleground areas, in these battleground states. And I think that does matter for a very simple reason, because I am strongly in favor, as president, of pushing a, a progressive agenda. If we want big ideas, if we want to change the system, if we want the kind of things I’ve talked about universal healthcare, attacking global warming in a serious, serious way, dealing with income, all those things, if we want to do those things, we need to strengthen our numbers, the Democratic numbers, in the House and the Senate. And I am completely convinced that I can do that.
MR. RUSSERT: But Senator, do you believe, like your top—one of your top advisers said, that Hillary Clinton would lose the presidency and very well lose the Congress for the Democrats?
SEN. EDWARDS: I honestly don’t know the answer to that. I mean, I think there’s a lot of conflict out there about that question. That’s a question Senator Clinton should have to answer. I think voters are going to have to make that determination. But I think I—right now, that’s an unknown.
MR. RUSSERT: But other people, including your wife, Elizabeth, have made these kinds of suggestions. It’s the elephant in the room. Let me read what Elizabeth said. “I do not”...
SEN. EDWARDS: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: ...”think the hatred against Hillary Clinton is justified. I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t begin to understand it. But you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist, and it will energize the Republican base. Their nominee won’t energize them, Bush won’t, but Hillary as the nominee will. It’s hard for John to talk about, but it’s the reality.” Why is it hard for you to talk about?
SEN. EDWARDS: No, I think—what you just said is different from what you asked me just a minute ago. What you said about Elizabeth’s statement I think is true. I hear a lot of those things when I’m out on the campaign trail. People—I, I don’t want to ignore the first part of what she said. She’s not saying it’s fair, she’s just saying that it is out there in America. And I hear the same things over and over and over. What I think is impossible to predict is how that plays itself out during the course of a presidential campaign.
I’ve lived through a presidential campaign. What I know is that voters have a very clear choice. Democratic voters have a very clear choice between Senator Clinton, with both all the good and bad that comes with her, and John Edwards, who has actually won in a red state and who can compete every single place in America. And we cannot lose this election. This is not about me, it’s not about Senator Clinton. It doesn’t matter what happens to us, personally. Our lives are going to be fine. The question is, what’s going to happen to 47 million Americans who have no healthcare coverage. What’s going to happen to women who are diagnosed with breast cancer like Elizabeth and have a 30 to 50 percent greater chance of dying because they have no healthcare coverage. What’s going to happen to families who are sending their children to serve in Iraq and possibly die in Iraq.
We cannot lose this election. There is too much at stake. And I think it’s important for Democratic primary voters to know simply that they have choices. I’m not saying anything bad about Senator Clinton. She’s a good candidate. But there are clear choices between Senator Clinton and myself, and I want voters to know that.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have both out raised you in terms of campaign finance and fund-raising. You have now opted for public financing. The DailyKos Web site has said this makes you a very dangerous candidate because between the time that primaries are over and the conventions start, you’ll only have about $40 million to spend to ward off Republican attacks. That—and this is one of the reasons why you should not be the nominee, because you’d be in such a weakened position.
SEN. EDWARDS: Do you want me to respond?
MR. RUSSERT: Please.
SEN. EDWARDS: I—this is going to be an election, Tim, it’s not going to be an auction. You know, we’re not going to determine who can raise the most money and thereby who should be president of the United States. It’s an amazing thing to me that when you do something that you believe is right, same thing I did in 2003 and 2004, that this is the response. What I know is true, I know that when we get to after February 5 and it’s pretty clear who the Democratic nominee for president’s going to be, that there needs to be absolutely clear divisions between me as the Democratic nominee and the Republicans.
And I am completely convinced if I have, and I believe I will, beaten two celebrity candidates who will probably have spent over $200 million during the course of the nomination process, I can certainly beat a Republican who’s carrying George Bush’s baggage. And the way I will do it is not on the basis of money, but on the basis of what America needs, on the basis of principle stand, on the basis of big and bold ideas. I want people to see clear differences between me and them, them being the Republicans in this case. They will be awash in corporate money. You can take that to the bank. I will not.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator John Edwards, as always, we thank you for your views and be safe on the campaign trail.
SEN. EDWARDS: Tim, thank you so much.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the race for the White House through the eyes of David Broder, David Brody, Margaret Carlson and Ted Koppel. And the race for space through the eyes of Jay Barbree, who’s covered Cape Canaveral for 50 years. They are next, right here, only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, David Brody, Margaret Carlson, Ted Koppel after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’re back, welcome all. Let’s start with the Democrats. Here’s the latest national poll: Hillary Clinton is at 46, Barack Obama 25, 11 for John Edwards. Here’s Iowa, out this morning, Des Moines Register poll: Clinton 29, Edwards 23, Obama 22. And the money primary, it’s called, Hillary Clinton this quarter raised $27 million, Edwards raised $7 million, Obama $20 million. Look at those totals: 62, 30 and 75. Edwards says he has $12 million on hand; Clinton and Obama, we do not know, they will not say. But we estimate about $30 million on hand.
David Broder, after the debate in New Hampshire, you wrote this: “During the [New Hampshire-Dartmouth] debate, [Clinton] rarely came out of a defensive crouch, as if,” as if “determined to protect her favored position. ... When asked what her attitude would be toward an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, she refused to answer such a ‘hypothetical’ ... she would not play. Instead, she endorsed the recent Israeli attack on Syria - a safe stand.”
“Her greatest evasiveness occurred on the volatile issue of Social Security. ‘I’m not putting anything on the proverbial table’ - meaning no painful tax increases or benefit cuts. ... That is a position that would be hard to maintain in office, but it offers maximum protection for the campaign.”
“It went on like that through several more topics, until a final question about baseball fandom. ... What if it is the Cubs” and “the Yankees [in the World Series, she was] asked. ‘I guess I’d have to alternate,’ she said, triangulating once again.”
“This dodginess got her through the two hours. Whether it can get her through the next three months is a different question.” Cubs-Yankees, probably not.
MR. DAVID BRODER: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: But as to Social Security, Iran, Iraq, and other things, your take.
MR. BRODER: Well, she’s in an interesting position, because if you believe the national polls, this election’s over. I don’t believe that has anything to do with what’s really going on out there. The voters that you meet are still very undecided about this election, and they are appraising these candidates every day on the basis of what they’re hearing or not hearing. And I believe if Mrs. Clinton sticks to her position of not saying anything about any subject, she would pay a price for that over the time between now and January, when the actual voting begins.
MR. RUSSERT: Ted Koppel, after debate the spinners are out, saying she didn’t get caught, she didn’t make a mistake. The debate moment was hers. And then for days or weeks afterwards were these articles saying, “Yeah, but she wasn’t specific on the questions.” What matters?
MR. TED KOPPEL: She’s playing it safe, and, you know, so far ahead right now, all I keep thinking about is the wonderful administration of President Howard Dean, who in February, right, was still so far ahead that they thought John Kerry was out of the race four years ago. I think David’s right. We’re—it’s much too early, but she, she is clearly the one to beat. Remember that wonderful movie from way back with, with Robert Redford, “The Candidate,” where he feels free, this young man taking on this entrenched California senator, feels free to say anything that’s on his mind and comes roaring up so that he’s within, 6, 7 points, and then his handlers start getting to him. Make sure he’s cautious, right? Got to watch out for those handlers. They can overdo it sometimes.
MR. RUSSERT: Who would have thought, Margaret Carlson, if I asked you who would be the first candidate to invoke September 11th in a campaign advertising, most people would bet Rudy Giuliani. That’s not the case. Let’s watch.
(Videotape of Clinton political ad)
Voice #1: She stood by ground zero workers who sacrificed their health after so many sacrificed their lives, and kept standing till this administration took action.
MR. RUSSERT: Hillary Clinton.
MS. MARGARET CARLSON: Well, she’s going right at the heart of what looks like her opponent at the moment, Rudy Giuliani. And Rudy and Senator Clinton are in a dance right now, because the stronger she gets, the stronger he gets. Because Republicans want to unite behind a tough person. But that ad is very much like Hillary. It was very good to get her in a gas mask, but it’s safe, it’s conventional and it’s uninformative, just as she was in the debate. And, yes, she broke the political sound barrier with her 50, breaking 50 percent. But, as David and Ted had said, there’s always Iowa. And Iowa has a very good smugness detector. And if she continues as she is, dodging your questions and others, they’re going to look askance at that, and those polls we just saw in Iowa, and there’s one in which Obama’s actually leading, I think pose trouble for this particular tack that Hillary’s taking.
MR. RUSSERT: David Brody, Margaret mentioned Rudy Giuliani/Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton proposed, Senator Clinton proposed, suggested, perhaps, a $5,000 bond for every baby born in the United States. The Giuliani campaign has now issued this Hillary bond, as you can see, trying to draw once again the contrast between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani is basically using Hillary Clinton as a stalking horse to secure the Republican nomination.
MR. DAVID BRODY: That’s right. And I was in California with Giuliani about a week, week and a half ago, and this is pretty much what he said to fund raisers, on the trail. I mean, he is talking about Hillary Clinton and nobody else. I mean, it’s invoking the 11th commandment, as for, as Ronald Reagan would say, you know, thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. Because if you think about what Giuliani has to do here, he has to say, “Listen, I’m electable against Clinton,” and at the same time, he’s going to need to pick off support from Fred Thompson supporters, from Mitt Romney supporters, to a certain extent, John McCain supporters as well if he’s going to win the nomination. Therefore, no reason to go at these folks in a primary season. He needs to just focus on Clinton alone.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you the Republican money primary as it’s being suggested. The third quarter, Giuliani out raising all his opposition. Fred Thompson, his first quarter, showed $9 million. Then, cash on hand, Giuliani, 15; McCain, 3.6; Romney, 9; Thompson, 7. That does not count the $17 million Romney has lent his campaign. Translates into these national polls. Giuliani ahead, 27, 23, 13, 11 in one; 30, 23, 15, 10 in the other.
Iowa, little different story. Romney, 29; Thompson, 18; Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, at 12; Giuliani is fourth at 11, John McCain is 7. David?
MR. BRODER: Well, as you know, I’m a Huckabee fan, so I’m very pleased to see him showing in Iowa. But the interesting thing to me about the Giuliani campaign and what David was saying about his focus on Mrs. Clinton is, if you project that kind of a, of a general election, what’s the reason to think that Giuliani would be the strongest Republican candidate against Mrs. Clinton? Both of them come from an urban base, his, his base overlaps heavily with hers. Wouldn’t they be better off with somebody who has a very different kind of a base?
MR. BRODY: Yeah, that’s a good point. I would say that what he’s going to say on the campaign trail is he is the 50-state candidate. He believes that he can put states in play that Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney and others cannot.
MR. RUSSERT: Giuliani, in fact, his campaign, David, issued a memo saying “The mayor puts blue states like Connecticut, New Jersey, Wisconsin, California, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington” state “in play,” that he secures all the states that John Kerry and Al Gore could not win; plus, he puts all these other sates in play, ironically suggesting he does that because he’s more moderate on social and cultural issues, which flies in the face of his campaign to secure conservative voters.
MR. BRODER: Exactly. I mean, he’s delivering so many different messages, it seems to me. Looking past this primary to a hypothetical general election, I really wonder if that argument’s going to hold up under the scrutiny of the next three months.
MR. RUSSERT: But that’s the wonderful thing about American politics, Ted Koppel. Mitt Romney has purchased 10,000 television ads. Rudy Giuliani, zero. What he does is, Giuliani has direct mail and niche radio, talking to conservatives saying, “You know, I’m not all that bad.” But to a general audience, he can’t go on and stake out conservative positions because it might cloud his more moderate image, which he’s also trying to hold on to.
Here’s an example. When he was mayor of New York, he used to have these radio interview shows live from city hall. Here he is about the National Rifle Association.
Mayor RUDY GIULIANI (“Live From City Hall ... With Rudy Giuliani,” WABC Radio, 1994): It really is absolutely astounding that the NRA continues to have influences in areas in which they make no sense at all.
MR. RUSSERT: Far different from his appearance at the NRA last week.
MR. KOPPEL: You think? Just a—you know, the...
MR. RUSSERT: What do we do as journalists to try to cut through this?
MR. KOPPEL: The amazing thing is, you see story after story after story, especially from the New York press, which after all knows Rudy Giuliani pretty well from his years as mayor, and he’s not the most popular fellow in town. And he has certain eccentricities, shall we say, that the New York press has highlighted over the last few months. Doesn’t seem to be making a dent anywhere else in the country.
MR. RUSSERT: Why?
MR. KOPPEL: It beats the hell out of me.
MS. CARLSON: You want a uniter, and he looks like a winner now. And so his political and social heresy, voters in the base are willing to overlook. And if you look at the poll, the second question, “What’s most important to you?” Republicans will say it’s defense and terrorism, and that’s Rudy all the way, so they’re—they just want to unite behind someone. This has scared them, this fractious primary. They’re usually behaving like Democrats are behaving, which is uniting early. So I think that explains why they’re willing to overlook everything.
MR. RUSSERT: And what generally happens in a campaign is that Giuliani’s opponent would say, “Hold on a second. Those aren’t the view you had when you were mayor of New York.” The difficultly is, Mitt Romney is one of his opponents, and Mitt Romney, when he was governor or Massachusetts, had many similar views. The Log Cabin Republicans, who are gay Republicans, have purchased an ad what they believe is the truth about Mitt Romney. Let’s watch that.
(Videotape of Romney political ad)
Voice #2: For years, he’s fought conservatives and religious extremists. Mitt Romney:
MR. MITT ROMNEY: I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it.
Voice #2: Mitt Romney opposed the gun lobby. Even Ronald Reagan.
MR. ROMNEY: Look, I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.
Voice #2: A record fighting the religious right. A pro-choice record. Massachusetts values. Mitt Romney.
MR. RUSSERT: David Brody:
MR. BRODY: Massachusetts values. You know, you know, I would say this, that listen, he has so many people against him, so many groups. I mean, it’s not just the Log Cabin Republicans, but it’s the Massachusetts Democrats, it’s the Democratic National Committee, it’s his fellow Republicans that are running against him. I mean, you can make the case that Mitt Romney has more people going—and groups going against him than Rudy Giuliani at this point. Now, the Romney campaign will say, “Well, that’s because they know he’s a threat and they know he’s going to win.” But what Mitt Romney needs to do is change the narrative. And the question is, has the flip-flop narrative that’s been so prevalent over the last six months, will that continue? He wants to make it on the competent CEO narrative. You know, the guy that’s a—that can come into Washington and change things. That will be very important as we go forward in Iowa.
MR. RUSSERT: But David Broder, if you run for mayor of New York, or if you run for governor of Massachusetts, you have to espouse beliefs, views, a philosophy, and people elect you. Then you run for president and say, you know, that was for that state or for that city, but now I’m a different person with different views?
MR. BRODER: It’s a difficult transition and we’ve seen that in the past. Also, Tim, when Bill Clinton was running, some of this positions that he took as governor of Arkansas, a pretty conservative state, did not help him win the Democratic nomination against more liberal candidates. So he had to do that—make that transition. But the most striking case was probably Jimmy Carter, who ran almost as a segregationist in Georgia when he was running for governor of Georgia, but then when he ran for president, locally for him had black, African American, credible people from his home state of Georgia who vouched for him, “This guy is for real. You can trust him.” And that’s how Carter got nominated.
MR. RUSSERT: Fred Thompson, a late entry into the race and second place in Iowa and the national polls, a little bit rusty on the campaign trail, Ted Koppel. He was asked about the Terri Schiavo case in Florida, and said “That’s ancient history, I’m not familiar with it.”
MR. KOPPEL: No fire.
MR. RUSSERT: He was asked about this, about—and he made this comment at the Soviet Union. “I’m afraid that the Soviet Union and China are not ever going to do anything that’s going to hurt them” “badly but we need to ratchet” up those “if at all possible.” The Soviet Union having gone out of existence in 1991. What’s the problem there?
MR. KOPPEL: Well, the problem is he seems to have been living in a cave for a little while. I mean, we and the, and the Chinese now are so interwoven—I’m leaving tomorrow morning for China, because we’re going to do our next programs on that subject. There is no way that you can—that you can unravel the relationship, economic and otherwise, with China, even if you wanted to. And the notion that China and as, as you correctly point out, a Soviet Union that doesn’t even exist anymore, are the threats we have to worry about, that’s, that’s problematic for him.
MR. RUSSERT: David Brody, Fred Thompson was in Des Moines talking about gay marriage, and his answer is that if the states decide they want gay marriage, and the legislature passes it, the governor signs it, so be it. How’s that going to play with evangelical Christians? MR. BRODY: Yeah, I mean, I think to a certain degree it was a little flip, those words, “so be it.” You know, the reality is, the Thompson campaign will say, “Well, well, who’s the better choice?” I mean, I mean, they were concerned for a bit here with Mike Huckabee. But when those numbers came out where he raised about a million dollars, there seems to be more of a, of a, a wait and see attitude now with Huckabee. So there’s, there’s a concern, there’s no doubt about that. But I think with Thompson, you know, he’s trying to fit the federalism issue regarding marriage, and he’s trying to weave the two together. And you know, for Fred Thompson, this is all about first principles. I mean, what he’s going to say is, whatever the situation is, whether it be marriage or anything else, it’s going to fit my first principles. Will that be enough? Will this—the idea that it’s generic enough for the voters is—really does remain to be seen.
MS. CARLSON: Well, he’s an intellectual conservative, and I’m not sure that’s going to play with the conservative base that he has to excite right now. You know, if the campaign is a pop quiz, Fred Thompson’s not going win it, because as Ted says, maybe he’s gotten a little rusty playing on, on “Law & Order.” But his, his positions should appeal to a certain conservative element, which is the, the federalism. I think, you know, he has to take a page from Hillary for this debate this week, which is he actually has to do his homework. And maybe clap the erasers. I mean, he needs to really be sharp and know what he’s talking about in this next debate.
MR. RUSSERT: This Tuesday, the first time he’ll be on stage with his fellow Republicans.
MS. CARLSON: Exactly.
MR. BRODY: And he’s got—what he’s going to do is he’s going to paint a different picture. I mean, he’s going to say that, you know, when it comes to Mitt Romney and to Rudy Giuliani, that they have not been a consistent conservative like he was in the ‘90s, and so that, that’s going to be a big part of it, as well.
MR. BRODER: And they have pulled him off the road the last four days to get him ready for this Tuesday night debate. They understand that this is a really important test for Thompson.
MS. CARLSON: With Senator Al D’Amato, a real tough guy.
MR. BRODER: Yes.
MS. CARLSON: Harden him up.
MR. BRODY: You know, when—in “Toy Story,” real quick, there’s that theme song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” And if someone wants to know what the Thompson campaign is all about, I mean, I think that’s what they’ll say, that he’s going to say, “Listen, you’ve had a friend of me in the ‘90s, you’ve had a friend in me now in 2007, and that it’s all about my first principles. And you can’t necessarily trust the other guys.” He’s going to go after Romney in the next couple months especially, because he needs to reach the medal round with Giuliani, and of course the Romney campaign wants to reach the medal round with Rudy as well.
MS. CARLSON: But if it’s toughness, Senator Thompson’s going to have to show a lot of grit against Giuliani, because that’s what’s helping Giuliani get over the political and social issues that conservatives don’t agree with him on.
MR. RUSSERT: Big debate on...
MS. CARLSON: That he can fight.
MR. RUSSERT: Big debate on Tuesday. Before we go, Ted Koppel, tonight at 9 p.m. on Discovery Channel, “Breaking Point.” An in-depth look at the overcrowding, understaffing of the California prison system. And one startling statistic. How much does it cost to go to Harvard University for a year?
MR. KOPPEL: It’s, it’s like $43,200.
MR. RUSSERT: And how much does it cost to house a prisoner in the California penal system?
MR. KOPPEL: Forty-three thousand. However, when the, when they let you out on parole, they hand you $200 bucks. So I think it’s, I think it’s a dead wash.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s the most important thing you found in this report?
MR. KOPPEL: The most important? I don’t know if it’s the most important. I guess the most important is that it’s so overcrowded. The, the prison system was built to house no more than 100,000 in California. It’s got 173,000. They’re controlling it by a form of institutionalized segregation in the prisons. Rather than breaking the gangs up, they’re putting the gangs together so that they can maintain some kind of order on the floor. It’s a disaster.
MR. RUSSERT: And our crime rate had gone up the last two years.
MR. KOPPEL: In California, I think the crime rate since three strikes and you’re out has actually gone down a little bit, but the fact of the matter is that it’s, it’s a problem that is just growing. We have more people in prison in this country than any other nation in the world.
MR. RUSSERT: Also, last week, Ted Koppel, and here we are in New York City, the Lifetime Achievement Award, being given that statue by a great lady, the sainted Grace.
MR. KOPPEL: Her sainted Grace.
MR. RUSSERT: The better half of the Koppel marriage, and paying his dues, this is how Mr. Koppel saluted the sainted one.
MR. KOPPEL: Oh, you rat fink.
(Videotape of News and Documentary Emmy Awards, September 24, 2007)
MR. KOPPEL: (Singing) You always knew we’d stay together. I thought that time would tell Well, anyplace you’re not so placed, I wouldn’t want to be. Guess I was wrong, so here’s your song, and please hold on to me.
MR. RUSSERT: I’m glad you can write.
MR. KOPPEL: Well, the sainted Grace is going to be on your side, even if I’m not.
MR. RUSSERT: Ted Koppel, David Broder, David Brody, Margaret Carlson, thank you all.
Coming next, 50 years ago, the then-Soviet Union launched Sputnik, a huge catalyst for the American space program. Jay Barbree of NBC News was there then and there for the last 50 years. He’s next right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. October 4, 1957, 50 years ago, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into space, and the space war was launched. One man has covered every manned American space launch. His name is Jay Barbree, and I am honored that he works for NBC News.
Jay, good morning.
MR. JAY BARBREE: Good morning, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: And you capture it all in your new book, “Live from Cape Canaveral: Covering the Space Race From Sputnik To Today.” After Sputnik went up, you understood better than anyone what this meant, that the United States would have to be engaged in space. You went down to Florida, and on May 5, 1961, the first manned space flight by an American, Alan Shepard. Tell us about that day.
MR. BARBREE: Well, that was a day that you’ll never forget. We saw that rocket climb above the tree lines, everybody everywhere stopped. They stopped their cars, they fell on their knees, they fell in prayer watching this go. Everybody was pulling for Alan Shepard, and that was the very first for this country.
MR. RUSSERT: February 20, 1962, John Glenn orbited the Earth. You said that—in your book, that was the most exciting day for you to cover.
MR. BARBREE: That is absolutely the truth. That man went into orbit, he closed the gap between the Russians’ orbital space flight and us, and he took the first step, really, on the road to the moon. That was John Glenn in 1962, February the 20th, and I’ll never forget it.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me take you through September 12, 1962. John Kennedy, president of the United States, addressed the nation and the world and uttered these words.
President JOHN F. KENNEDY: (From file footage) We choose to go to the moon in this decade.
MR. NEIL ARMSTRONG: (From file footage) That’s one small step for man...
MR. BARBREE: They not only went to the moon once in the decade of the ‘60s, Tim, they went twice, and it was all for a man that they wanted to do it for, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
MR. RUSSERT: The Challenger, January 28, 1986; the Columbia, February 1, 2003. Two unspeakable tragedies witnessed by Americans and, and people worldwide. Tell us about those two days.
MR. BARBREE: It had gotten down to 27 degrees, which was unheard for on the launch pad, the night before. Lot of engineers warned about launching, because they said these O-rings, these seals in these giant booster rockets, Tim, would not seal properly, they would not be malleable at this, this temperature. They were warned, but they went ahead and launched anyway. And that proved to be true, and we lost those seven people. Then 83 flights passed and everything went pretty good. And again we got arrogant, they got complacent, and when a huge section of foam came off of the external fuel tank and hit the leading wing of Columbia, it knocked a hole the size of a bowling ball in that front wing. Now, they didn’t look. They could have used our national spy satellites assets and they could have looked. Had they looked, they could have saved those seven lives. We went on the air constantly criticizing them because Atlantis was already stacked and in the barn, it could have been rolled to the pad, they could have gone up there and they could have flown inverted, cargo to cargo bay, they could have used a lanyard and they could have transferred those people back.
The bottom line comes down to this. This is an 8,000-mile diameter spacecraft we’re on. We’re all astronauts. We’re all living in a life support system that is only 10,000 feet in thickness, that’s keeping us alive on this planet. The day will come, if it’s not a genetic virus, if it’s not global warming, whatever, the day will come that we can no longer live on this planet. The only solution is to step off it to colonization of the moon and onto other planets. There are 150 or so planets that we could live on that in the coming years we’ll be able to reach.
MR. RUSSERT: What about Mars?
MR. BARBREE: Well, Mars, I’m afraid that’ll be in the 2030s.
MR. RUSSERT: And Jay Barbree will be there covering it?
MR. BARBREE: I hope so, buddy. If you’ll still have me, I’ll be right here for you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Jay Barbree, you’re an extraordinary man. We are blessed to have you covering the space program for a half century for NBC News. Take good care.
MR. BARBREE: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll continue our discussion with NBC’s Jay Barbree. And catch this, find out why he thinks there is life beyond Earth. Watch our MEET THE PRESS take two Web extra this afternoon. Our Web site, mtp.msnbc.com.
And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: This Tuesday, the nine Republican presidential candidates, for the first time including Fred Thompson, debate in Michigan. Watch it live, 4 p.m. Eastern on CNBC, and then again at 9 p.m. on MSNBC. That’s this Tuesday, 4 p.m., CNBC; 9 p.m., MSNBC. And you can now watch the re-broadcast of MEET THE PRESS Sunday evenings at two new times, 6 p.m. Eastern, 2 a.m. Eastern on MSNBC.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.