updated 2/22/2008 11:38:45 AM ET 2008-02-22T16:38:45

Guests: Steve Schmidt, Nick Gillespie, Hilary Rosen

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  John McCain takes on the “New York Times” after the paper publishes a piece that suggests but doesn‘t prove that McCain had an inappropriate relationship with a Washington telecom lobbyist nine years ago and may have used his influence as the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee on her behalf and behalf of clients. 

Responding to the article, which posted on the “Times‘” Web site about 7:30 last night, McCain and his wife met the press this morning in Toledo. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  Obviously, I‘m very disappointed in the article.  It‘s not true.  At no time have I ever done anything that would betray the public trust nor make a decision which in any way would not be in the public interest and would favor anyone or any organization. 

CINDY MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN‘S WIFE:  He‘s a man of great character, and I‘m very, very disappointed in the “New York Times.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Well, the firm for whom the lobbyist in question, Vicki Iseman, works also attacked the “Times” in a statement that called the report‘s allegation, quote, “completely and utterly false and beneath the dignity of a quality newspaper.” 

Responding to criticism of this reporting and the timing of the publication of this story “New York Times” executive editor Bill Keller wrote this, quote, “On the substance we think the story speaks for itself.  On the timing, our policy is we publish stories when they are ready.  Ready means the facts have been nailed down to our satisfaction.  The subjects have all been given a fair and full chance to respond and the reporting has been written up with all the proper context and caveats.” 

The “Times” piece has raised at least as many questions as it has answered.  Among them, is there anything more to the story than we saw this morning in print?  How much damage will it do to the McCain campaign?  Could it actually help him in the end? 

We‘ll address all these issues and preview tonight‘s Democratic debate in Texas coming up. 

But joining us first to discuss the McCain story in the “New York Times” is senior advisor to John McCain Steve Schmidt. 

Steve, thanks for coming on. 

STEVE SCHMIDT, SENIOR MCCAIN ADVISOR:  You bet, Tucker.  Great to be with you. 

CARLSON:  So what‘s your theory for why the paper ran this? 

SCHMIDT:  Well, my theory is that you have to understand “New York Times‘” recent history.  After Jason Blair, after Judith Miller, the “Times” went through a painful period of self-examination.  It changed its sourcing policies, said there would be no more blind quotes, there would be no more background quotes that were untethered to contacts. 

They broke their policy in that story.  And the reason they did it is because “The New Republic” was getting ready to write a story that talk about the dysfunction and disagreement in the “New York Times” newsroom about this story.  When it became clear that “The New Republic” was going to write this story—about a story that the “Times” had killed twice, that wasn‘t going to publish, they made a decision to deal with that by releasing the story. 

I believe it is a crisis management tactic to keep the glare off of activities in the “New York Times” newsroom where they have had controversy over recent years. 

This story is outrageous.  This story is not true.  Senior journalists in America, like Mort Zuckerman, Richard Stengel, managing editor of “TIME” magazine, said it would never have been published in their news journals. 

This is something that you would expect to see, frankly, in the “National Enquirer”.

CARLSON:  So. 

SCHMIDT:  .about Britney Spears. 

CARLSON:  So to—and I‘m not defending the piece, but just to understand—to make sure I understand your theory, in order to preempt a piece in “The New Republic,” which does not have a huge circulation, the “Times” which does have a huge circulation. 

SCHMIDT:  Right. 

CARLSON:  .published a piece that wasn‘t ready for print. 

SCHMIDT:  Yes, again, the—it‘s important to understand the recent history of the “New York Times.”  The Jason Blair scandal, the resignation of the Howard Reins, its executive editor at the paper, the Judith Miller controversy, the “Times” made a big show of saying, we‘re going to change how we conduct our news business.  There‘s going to be no more blind quotes, there‘s not going to be. 

CARLSON: Right. 

SCHMIDT:  .any more loose sourcing.  They violated that—that new policy very hypocritically today.  And the reason they did, I think, was to divert attention from this “New Republic” story that pointed out—and it‘s out today—it points out the dysfunction and the disagreement in the “New York Times” newsroom about this story, which everybody in Washington knew about over the last several months. 

You knew about it, I knew about it, because of the indiscretion of the “Times” reporters who were writing this, who were gossiping about it all over Washington. 

CARLSON:  But here‘s what strikes me, Steve.  This piece never would have gone to print without On the Record quotes from John Weaver, the former political director of John McCain‘s 2000 campaign and a close adviser, apparently even still, to the campaign.  He‘s quoted throughout it.  He didn‘t need to be quoted, he chose to be quoted.  In so doing he hurt McCain, hurt your campaign.  Why did he do that and why are you still defending him? 

SCHMIDT:  Well, Tucker, I disagree with your conclusion on that.  I knew that John Weaver was quoted in that story because when John Weaver was quoted in that story back in December when he sent that quote in, he sent that quote forward to the leadership of the campaign.  We cooperated with this story.  All of the exculpatory information that we provided to the “New York Times” about all of the times that John McCain had a different opinion or was on the different side of this lobbying firm‘s clients, they didn‘t include any of that. 

All of the people that the “New York Times” talked to that said this story is utterly preposterous, complete and total nonsense, none of those people were quoted in the story, contrary to Mr. Keller‘s assertion about the story being in context and being fair. 

CARLSON:  OK. 

SCHMIDT:  So John Weaver, like the campaign, answered a question for the “New York Times,” believing at the end of the day that the “Times” would act with some rationality, some degree of fairness.  And instead what we saw was a salacious gossip, filled with innuendoes, piece of trash that. 

CARLSON:  But wait. 

SCHMIDT:  .probably would be too good to be in the national—you know, too bad to be in “The National Enquirer.” 

CARLSON:  But hold on, hold on, Steve.  Some of the salaciousness comes directly from the lips or apparently from the keyboard of John Weaver, among them, this.  He said, there was, quote, “a discussion among the campaign leadership about Vicki Iseman.” 

First of all, is that true?  And second, if it is true, you will concede that lends weight and authenticity to the claim that she was a problem.  Is it true?  Was there a meeting? 

SCHMIDT:  Mr. Weaver talked to the “Washington Post” later today.  And what he said was that he went to talk to Miss Iseman about Miss Iseman, according to Mr. Weaver, saying that she had influence on the Commerce Committee.  Mr. Weaver went and talked to her about it eight years ago.  And that‘s the end of it.  I‘ve never been involved in a discussion with that.  But I think that the point here is this, is that people are drawing an inference from the salaciousness of the story that that conversation was about an inappropriate relationship, and it was not. 

At the end of the day, this story should never have been on the front page of the “New York Times.”  It‘s about gossip, it‘s about innuendo, it‘s salaciousness, it‘s based on anonymous sources.  You can‘t defend yourself against anonymous sources‘ smear. 

CARLSON:  I agree.  I agree with you. 

SCHMIDT:  You know. 

CARLSON:  I‘m not defending the piece.  I just think that Weaver screwed you by going on the record, because all of a sudden, there‘s John Weaver saying, yes, we were meeting about Vicki Iseman.  We were so worried that we‘re meeting with—about Vicki Iseman. 

Holy smokes, I read that and I thought, well, maybe it is—John weaver is saying that.  I don‘t get it, I must say. 

SCHMIDT:  I—you know, maybe call us naive, but it was beyond our wildest comprehension that a story like this could appear on the front page of the “New York Times.”  Wearily, it‘s something that you would expect to see in “Star” magazine or “The National Enquirer.”  It is based on nothing.  It‘s one of those questions that, yes, hey, when did you stop beating your wife?  How do you defend against that? 

There‘s very few stories that are as unfair as this.  This is in the same league as the CBS story on the president and the forged documents.  Very unfair to Senator McCain.  But we do have total, faith and confidence in the fairness of the American people. 

And on your network today, you‘ve seen the images from Europe, from Belgrade, the violence. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

SCHMIDT:  Here are the issues that Senator McCain wants to talk about in this campaign. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

SCHMIDT:  And tomorrow those are the issues that Senator McCain is going to be talking about.  We know we had to do this today because of that outrageous story but tomorrow it‘s back on the business of the American people.  It‘s back to the issues the American people demand that we talk about. 

CARLSON:  All right. 

SCHMIDT:  And we‘re just not going to play this game anymore. 

CARLSON:  Steve Schmidt from McCain campaign. 

SCHMIDT:  Thank you, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Thanks a lot, Steve.  I appreciate your coming on. 

SCHMIDT:  You bet. 

CARLSON:  And a quick programming note.  Be certain to tune in right here tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.  We‘ll be joined by Bob Bennett, John McCain‘s attorney and also the author of a new memoir. 

So what does all this mean for John McCain‘s presidential candidacy?  Could the timing of today‘s “New York Times” piece actually be good for him in the end?  We‘ll tell you in just a minute. 

Plus, Barack Obama is backpacking NBA basketball arenas in Houston while Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, can‘t fill even an arena that‘s home to a minor league hockey team.  It‘s sad.  But we‘ll bring you the details anyway. 

We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

C. MCCAIN:  My children and I not only trust my husband but know that he would never do anything to not only disappoint our family but more—disappoint the people of America.  He‘s a man of great character and I‘m very, very disappointed in the “New York Times.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  So much has been made of the timing of this “New York Times” piece.  But “Times‘” executive editor Bill Keller addressed the subject directly as part of his official statement this morning.  How will the story this morning and its timing affect McCain‘s run for the presidency? 

Joining us now MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and editor and chief of “Reason” magazine, Nick Gillespie, a great libertarian. 

Welcome to you both. 

It seems to me, Pat, that this is probably unbalanced, not a great day for John McCain.  On the hand, they‘re trying to salvage everything they can.  I want to put up on the screen part of an e-mail going out from McCain to his supporters today. 

Quote, “The New York, Times, the newspaper that gave Moveon.org a sweetheart deal to run advertisements—attacking General Petraeus, has shown once again it cannot exercise good journalistic judgment when it comes to dealing with a conservative Republican.” 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  You know, I think it‘s a very good day for John McCain if there‘s nothing more to this story. 

CARLSON:  Well, good point. 

BUCHANAN:  He—“The New York Times” has come out and said, you know, yesterday, in effect, they implied that he‘s having an affair with this lobbyist, with this firm, and because of this affair with his mistress he‘s doing favors for the firm and for whom they represent. 

McCain says we had no affair.  She says we had no affair.  He says no aides came to him and warned him.  He said he did them no favors.  In effect, he‘s calling “The New York Times” a liar.  “The New York Times‘” credibility is on the line.  What do we get from Bill Keller?  We know there was a big battle inside over whether to publish this story.  Keller says he came in Tuesday afternoon and says go with it or something like.  He put the credibility of his newspaper on the line.  You‘ve now got McCain‘s people saying this is a smear, “National Enquirer” journalism from your previous guest. 

And so right now the ball is in the “New York Times‘” court.  And Tucker, if they don‘t have any more than they have shown and the McCain people are on the offensive, I think Keller ought to be out of there and Punch Sulzberger should be called on the carpet because they put the credibility of a great institution, OK, a liberal institution.  But the “New York Times” is a great newspaper.  It‘s the gold standard of American journalism and they dragged it down into the gutter on a story which we‘ve been told has nothing at all to do with it. 

This is a head to head—look, either John McCain is not telling the truth, which case he‘s out of the race if that‘s discovered, or “The New York Times” doesn‘t have the story and there was no affair and they implied something as false in which case the person that put out the story deserves to be thrown out on the street with (INAUDIBLE). 

CARLSON:  I agree with that.  Nick, Nick. 

NICK GILLESPIE, “REASON” EDITOR-IN-CHIEF:  I got to say that it‘s a pretty good day for John McCain and Pat Buchanan is going on and on.  To me, Senator McCain is afraid that the “New York Times”—you know, it‘s going from a gold standard to, what, a silver standard?  Your magazine endorsed Ron Paul not too long ago.  He‘s out of the race unfortunately, I think, for all of us freedom loving Americans.  But if Pat is talking up against “The New York Times” and in favor of John McCain, this is actually working in John McCain‘s favor. 

CARLSON:  But don‘t you think. 

GILLESPIE:  But conservatives like Pat shouldn‘t like McCain. 

CARLSON:  Well, (INAUDIBLE) 

(CROSSTALK)

GILLESPIE:  Good anti-war conservatives. 

BUCHANAN:  This is—no, I don‘t think this is conservative versus liberal.  I mean, this is “New York Times”. 

GILLESPIE:  Oh come on. 

BUCHANAN:  No, no. 

GILLESPIE:  In a political season and a presidential race, you‘re saying oh, it‘s about something larger? 

BUCHANAN:  No, you know, what I‘m saying this, if they had done this to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama and it weren‘t true, I hope every journalist would say, wait a minute, you got to deliver the goods.  You can‘t destroy somebody like that. 

GILLESPIE:  This is the story. 

CARLSON:  If they did this to Barack Obama, I think they—I think they would have a mob of baristas from Starbucks that would have burned the building down. 

GILLESPIE:  This is a weekly source story but it is - as you were saying it is not an anonymously sourced story.  There is a very good source on the record, who has confirmed the source. 

BUCHANAN:  From what? 

GILLESPIE:  Who has said that he went and talked to this woman and said stay away from the campaign. 

BUCHANAN:  But look. 

GILLESPIE:  Wait, and if we go back into McCain‘s biography, when he and Cindy McCain got married under very rushed circumstances after the first Mrs. McCain disappeared from the scene, both John McCain and Cindy McCain were lying about their ages.  You can read about it in a—by a colleague of “Reason,” Matt Welch‘s great book, “McCain, The Myths of a Maverick.” 

You go back and if you start to look at the. 

CARLSON:  But wait a. 

GILLESPIE:  Wait, wait.  Wait, wait, wait. 

CARLSON:  Do we care?  I mean. 

GILLESPIE:  No, I don‘t care.  I care who John McCain is sleeping with slightly less than I care who Mike Huckabee is sleeping with, which is to say not at all.  But if you go back and McCain is running on honor and integrity, and if we‘re talking about lobbyist, then we can go back to his latest book, his most recent book, “Hard Call,” where he—you know, he has always talked about how the Keating Five stuff was fake, he‘s never had anything to do with lobbyists. 

In his most recent book he admits he did favors for Charles Keating, and I‘m quoting here, “I did so for no other reason than I value Charles Keating‘s support.”  He is on the record as being in bed with lobbyist in a way that matters. 

CARLSON:  She‘s—I‘m actually kind of impressed that anybody in the Senate would admit it.  Look, lobbyists are important in Washington but nobody admits it.  I don‘t know.  I need you discredit it for me. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  (INAUDIBLE), excuse me. 

GILLESPIE:  But McCain‘s whole public profile is on honor and integrity and cause is greater than himself. 

BUCHANAN:  No, no, no, what we got today, though, is we got a clear-cut statement, I had no affair with that woman.  She said the same thing.  I did her no favors but I had no affair.  And his wife comes out there and she stands behind him.  So we got here a question of—wait a minute, I don‘t care what he said about the Keating Five.  But you‘ve got a statement, if John McCain is not telling the truth, his candidates—it‘s discovered, his campaign is over, his integrity and credibility are ruined because he‘s walked out in front of the American people. 

CARLSON:  That‘s true. 

GILLESPIE:  I think. 

BUCHANAN:  .and said this is a flat-out lie. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  No, I mean, Bill Clinton did that 19 times.

GILLESPIE:  Pat, I suspect you‘ll remember that ‘92 campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  We‘re going to come back and talk about this in just a minute.  But we are out of time for this segment.  We‘ll be right back. 

Rush Limbaugh criticizes “The New York Times,” virtually comes in defense of McCain today.  Will the “Times” piece help unite McCain and the conservative wing of the Republican Party?” 

Plus Hillary Clinton‘s campaign says winning primaries has pretty much nothing to do with winning the general election.  True, except you can‘t be in the general election without winning the primaries.  Has the Clinton campaign spin machine spun off the rails at last? 

This is MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, HOST, THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW:  The only important thing to me, I don‘t care what‘s in this story.  The story is not the story.  The story is that this paper endorsed McCain, sat on this story, and now puts it out just prior to McCain wrapping up the nomination.  And McCain says he‘s disappointed.  Why?  Why is anybody disappointed or surprised by this?  They are who they are.  A snake is a snake, a tiger is a tiger.  “The New York Times” is “The New York Times.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Assuming his grip on the Republican presidential nomination, John McCain has struggled to win over conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh.  As Limbaugh and most of the rest conservative radio rallied to McCain‘s defense today at the idea that the “New York Times” handed McCain‘s political campaign a politic gift emerged. 

Back to discuss that idea is MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and editor in chief of “Reason” magazine, Nick Gillespie. 

Nick, this is what Mike Huckabee said.  This is really striking.  I want to put this up.  Mike—so Mike Huckabee is still running against John McCain. 

GILLESPIE:  That‘s right. 

CARLSON:  This story comes out rather than leaping on McCain, he says this.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  You know, I‘ve campaigned now on the same stage and platform with John McCain for 14 months.  I only know him to be a man of integrity.  Today he denied that any of that was true.  I take him at his word.  I have no further comment other than that.  I think, you know, for me to get into it is completely immaterial.  Again, I only know him what I know him to be and that‘s a good and decent, honorable man. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  So why are conservatives, particularly ones who, in that case are running against John McCain but others who don‘t like him and have said so, why are they giving him a pass? 

GILLESPIE:  Well, first off, I don‘t know if they are giving him a pass.  But Huckabee is clearly running for a vice-presidential slot. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

GILLESPIE:  And this is not a bad way to pick up something like that.  But I think to the extent that the “New York Time” is the enemy, John McCain becomes a lot more appealing to conservatives, because they want a Republican in the White House not a Democrat.  It‘s as easy as that.  One of the things that I find this story is very distracting about is that it takes us away from the general odiousness of John McCain‘s political program. 

I mean this is a guy who was a warmonger.  Pat, you would have to agree.  That‘s not a good thing and that‘s not a good position for the American people.  His campaign finance reform laws are direct attacks on the First Amendment.  He wants to federalize everything.  This guy is not a conservative but conservatives and conservative Republicans will back him to the hilt against the Barack or Hillary. 

CARLSON:  Because he‘s a Republican. 

GILLESPIE:  Absolutely. 

CARLSON:  You buy that, Pat? 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think John McCain could ignite the enthusiasm of the American right or a lot of the American right.  I can see how they can be opposed to Barack Obama.  It‘s hard to see how they could get enthusiastic about John McCain.  Some of us, I mean, for the reasons you mentioned, he‘s no good on the border.  He‘s no good in my judgment on trade and I‘m afraid he‘ll get us into another war. 

But let me say about Huckabee, he did exactly the right thing. 

CARLSON:  He did, oh absolutely. 

BUCHANAN:  You can‘t study this issue.  First, if anybody stands up and says it‘s false, I did not do this, the allegations about me and this woman are wrong, I mean, you say it and you know the guy, you say I stand behind Jones.  If he says it‘s not true, I believe him until proven otherwise.  I think he‘s a man of honor and integrity.  I don‘t want to get into your story.  It‘s exactly the right thing to do.  And tonight I would suggest that Mrs. Clinton and Barack Obama say something like the same thing. 

GILLESPIE:  I‘m sure they will. 

CARLSON:  I was talking to Laura Ingraham, the radio show host, this morning.  She had, I though, a pretty good point.  She said, you know, McCain comes out and says he‘s disappointed with the “New York Times.”  Why can‘t he be as hostile in taking on “The New York Times” as he was with, say, fellow Republicans like John Cornyn who. 

BUCHANAN:  You know that‘s a very good—what bothers me somewhat about McCain is, although his surrogates are ripping the “Times.” 

CARLSON:  Yes, they are. 

BUCHANAN:  And they‘re smearing, lying, you know, all the standards are down to “National Enquirer,” but he said, you know, I am disappointed.  Frankly, if somebody comes out and accuses you of immoral conduct in a charge which can sink your campaign and it‘s false, it seems to me you come out with guns blazing. 

GILLESPIE:  Yes, but McCain is also playing to the independents, because he‘s got the Republican nomination locked up.  He‘s got to come across to mainstream America. 

BUCHANAN:  But this is a (INAUDIBLE) moment. 

GILLESPIE:  And this is where—but this is where his problems lie, not with the sex scandal but with his policies.  The war stuff is not popular with the American people and that‘s a big problem.  And then oddly his immigration, his immigration stance before going into this, his bill and his amnesty bill, which, Pat will rail against, is actually very popular.  About 60 percent of Americans think that illegals here should be granted of some path to citizenship. 

CARLSON:  I think in this (INAUDIBLE) 

GILLESPIE:  And he‘s waffling. 

CARLSON:  But hold on.  I mean, if McCain gets out there and says, look. 

GILLESPIE:  It‘s about three quarters or two-thirds to three quarters American think Iraq was a mistake. 

CARLSON:  But it depends how you sell it.  Look, I agree with that.  If you come out there and say this war was a great idea, we can build beacon of democracy in the Middle East, because (INAUDIBLE), people are going to write you up at as a nut case. 

GILLESPIE:  No, but. 

CARLSON:  If you‘re saying by contrast what he is saying, which is America should not be humiliated and should not surrender. 

GILLESPIE:  You know what? 

CARLSON:  .I think you get a lot of people agreeing with that. 

GILLESPIE:  No, it‘s first off, he‘s saying we‘re going to be in Iraq for 100 years, we‘re going to bomb Iran, nothing‘s off the table.  No, no, no, but I‘m saying, that is a very unpopular position. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, what is popular? 

GILLESPIE:  Only Ron Paul early on in the race picked up on the anti-war sentiment and Barack Obama is the anti-war candidate. 

BUCHANAN:  But here‘s we‘re saying, McCain‘s strong position is, it is not 100 years certainly.  It is, look, it‘s Bush‘s position.  Whether you think whether this war was right or wrong, we can‘t turn around and have a strategic disaster and a humanitarian catastrophe.  Americans at the grassroots, even people that don‘t like the war like me, I mean, they respond to that.  They don‘t want another—they don‘t want them coming off the embassy rooftops again. 

GILLESPIE:  This “New York Times” story has done the job of uniting conservatives behind McCain.  It‘s unfathomable that given everything that you‘ve written against the war in their magazine, now you‘re saying like, oh no, McCain has a point here. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  You‘re raising this factor that maybe John Weaver, by speaking on the record to the “New York Times” and allowing this story to go into print was doing what was best for John McCain. 

GILLESPIE:  It may will.  It may will. 

CARLSON:  We‘ll be right back. 

Neither Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama has weighed in yet on this report about John McCain.  Should they? 

Plus Jesse Jackson says Democrats are putting too much focus on the battle between black and Hispanic voters in Texas.  And he says that division could destroy in the end the Democrats‘ chances of winning the presidency.  Is he right? 

You‘re watching MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

CARLSON:  Senator Hillary Clinton may be the only politician happy to pick up today‘s “New York Times” and see the front page story about John McCain and ethics.  But that raises another issue; how should Democrats handle the story?  Should they handle it at all? 

Here again, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and editor in chief of “Reason Magazine,” Nick Gillespie.  Pat, Hillary Clinton, I mean, the conventional view is, of course, don‘t get in the way when your opponent is having problems.  Hillary Clinton needs all the attention she can get.  She‘s got less than two weeks to make her case.  She‘s going to lose if she doesn‘t.  What can she make out of this story to draw attention away from McCain and to herself?   

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s what you do.  You say, John McCain is an honorable man.  I worked alongside him.  When he says something like this and he denies the allegations in that story, I believe him.  But we do have to deal with this issue of lobbying in Washington.  They are all over the place and go into that issue.  That‘s what I would do. 

Frankly, that‘s more a Barack issue than it is a Hillary issue.  If I were Barack, I‘d do that.  Set aside the McCain thing; I believe McCain.  Then go after the issue of lobbyists in government and influencing things. 

Frankly, Tucker, it‘s a stronger issue for Barack. 

CARLSON:  It is.  Maybe Hillary Clinton can say, you know what, I disprove of this kind of conduct.  I think it‘s morally wrong. 

GILLESPIE:  It is.  Hillary—

BUCHANAN:  It would get a great laugh, Tucker. 

GILLESPIE:  Hillary Clinton is like Wendy, the Snapple Lady.  She‘s a relic from the ‘90s who is not going forward.  I‘m sorry. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t even remember Wendy, the Snapple lady. 

GILLESPIE:  Exactly.  She‘s the “Blair Witch Project.”  It‘s finished.  One of the things about the Democrats that‘s going to be really awful tonight, about Ohio, you‘re going to see demagoguing with stuff that you would be comfortable with, talking about how do we bring jobs back to Ohio, to the industrial Midwest.  This is actually an issue where McCain has been pretty good.  He‘s said, look, it‘s over.  These jobs aren‘t coming back.  You need a new economy. 

It is going to be a grim spectacle tonight, not because nobody cares about the Democrats right now, but the topic that they are going to be demagoguing on, each of them is going to be hurt at the end of the day. 

CARLSON:  Can I just say, Pat, Mark Penn, who I believe has made about 10 million dollars running the Hillary Clinton campaign, and lord knows, he earned every dime, has made the point, which I‘ve never heard before—I‘m going to put it up on the screen—it doesn‘t matter what happens in Wisconsin or Hawaii, or, for that matter, maybe Texas or Ohio.  He says this, and I‘m quoting, “winning Democratic primaries is not a qualification or a sign of who can win the general election.” 

Yes?

BUCHANAN:  I think she has this point. 

CARLSON:  What does that mean? 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s a good intellectual argument, but he‘s saying Barack Obama is getting all these votes that the Republicans can‘t get, but I get all these votes that they can, in the center of politics.  She has a very good point.  McCain can get the Hillary Clinton votes.  However, it‘s irrelevant.  You have to get the nomination, Mr. Penn.  And to get the nomination, you have to be ahead in pledged delegates or popular votes.  It doesn‘t look like she‘ll be ahead at either. 

CARLSON:  It doesn‘t.  Dana Milbank had a piece today in the “Washington Time,” which I hesitated to even excerpt or read from because it is mean, but this is journalism.  We tell the truth regardless of the personal costs. 

GILLESPIE:  Regardless of the facts. 

CARLSON:  Not of the facts.  He had the facts.  He was on the scene at

a Hillary Clinton rally, I believe, in Texas.  Here is what he said, quote,

“organizers had pulled out all the stops: a two dozen piece mariachi band,

Mexican dancers, a cowboy-cowgirl dancing act, a goth rock bank, even a guy

throwing out t-shirts and shouting, who‘s excited.  But it was no use.  In

the top row of the arena, Jose Bustos, wearing a Clinton t-shirt and

sticker, had section 120 to himself.  He surveyed the crowd.  Quote, ‘we

were expecting a little more,‘ he said,”

BUCHANAN:  That advanced man ought to be dropped off a bridge somewhere, Tucker.  Nixon would not have tolerated that.  Get into the hall with the moving walls where you keep moving them in to make sure they are all in there, if there are ten of them in front of you. 

CARLSON:  That‘s poignant.  Does it tug your heart strings a little bit? 

GILLESPIE:  I feel bad for Hillary Clinton.  I feel good for America that her political or her presidential aspirations are pretty much over.  I feel bad for her because I feel like she did a lot of work.  By all accounts, she does good constituent services as a senator, and she just has had her thunder stolen. 

BUCHANAN:  There is an element of sadness here, and there is in this town a spirit of piling on.  We saw this drooling enthusiasm to see her go down the tubes in New Hampshire.  She came back.  I would love to see her win Texas and Ohio and coming fighting back, and have Barack Obama knocked on his heels. 

I love a good fight.  It‘s not my league.  It‘s their league.  I‘d like to see it. 

CARLSON:  I mean this with all sincerity.  It is such a difficult thing to run for president.  You‘ve done it.  It‘s such a physically demanding task.  It‘s also all-encompassing.  Every part of you is invested.  All these people really believe in you, and you are, in the end, ashamed.  

BUCHANAN:  Even with your favorite team up there, you like to see the underdog scoring and putting the pressure on.  You don‘t like to see them run up the score. 

GILLESPIE:  I hope we can agree at least that no matter who is in the final election in the end, the American people will lose. 

CARLSON:  Good, spoken like a true libertarian. 

Here‘s Karl Rove‘s case, in a pretty interesting column for why Barack Obama is actually not as strong as I think many Republicans fear he is.  He says this, “Mr. McCain can now question Mr. Obama‘s promise to change Washington by working across party lines.  Mr. Obama hasn‘t worked across party lines since coming to town.  Was he a member of the Gang of 14 that tried to find common ground between the parties on judicial nominations?  Was Mr. Obama a part of the bipartisan leadership that tackled other thorny issues, like energy, immigration, or terrorist surveillance legislation?  No, Mr. Obama has been one of the most dependably partisan votes in the Senate.”

Which is totally true. 

BUCHANAN:  Karl Rove says the gang of 14 and the immigration bill are big winners for McCain.  They are moving to the left.  I‘ll tell you that. 

CARLSON:  Obama has gotten a lot out of saying, I don‘t hate you.  I respect you on the other side.  We can work together. 

GILLESPIE:  But Rove is also wrong.  Obama worked with Tom Coburn, a very conservative senator, on a government transparency and earmarks bill.  Obama has signed a transparency oath about spending and about legislation.  No, no, no.  I agree that Obama is an empty suit and that what the campaign going forward will be for Republicans is to reveal just how transparent and how empty he is. 

BUCHANAN:  I paint him way out there with McGovern.  I paint him to the left of Bernie Sanders, which is where the “National Journal” says he is.  Did he vote for Roberts, John Roberts?  There is -- 75 or -- 76 percent of them voted for Roberts.  Even Leahy voted for Roberts.

GILLESPIE:  One of the differences with somebody like McGovern—we have to remember that the war is going to be a major issue.  The American people are not behind this war.  They might want an orderly withdrawal and they will get that and what not.  But this is not Vietnam, where the popular opinion was in favor of the Vietnam War for most of the time. 

CARLSON:  Hold up.  The second something really dramatic happens beyond our borders and reminds people that there is something on the other side of the ocean, the second Pakistan explodes -- 

GILLESPIE:  We don‘t know when that is going to happen.  Clearly people are tired of a McCain kind of national greatness conservatism and a foreign policy that gets thrown in out of that.  It‘s like if McCain is talking about going to Iran, if he‘s being in Iraq for 100 years or even 10 more years, the American people will recoil from that pretty quickly. 

BUCHANAN:  You got six months before the convention to define Barack Obama.  If Republicans can‘t define him as so far out of the mainstream and so inexperienced as not to be able to trust him with the election, he will win.  But I think they can do it. 

CARLSON:  McCain is pretty well positioned to make the argument, I think—this is Rove‘s argument—that Obama is inflexibly partisan.  The one thing we know, and maybe they‘re wrong, but the American people actually don‘t like inflexible partisanship.  They like Obama because he seems above and beyond. 

GILLESPIE:  McCain that a strong pull among independents. 

CARLSON:  He can point to the same things that his conservative enemies have been pointing to, McCain/Feingold, McCain/Kennedy, that‘s the selling point. 

BUCHANAN:  Sure, in a general election, he can point to those.  Frankly, that‘s an argument that Hillary has got.  People on both sides of the aisle say we can work with Hillary.  Has anybody worked with Obama?

GILLESPIE:  She‘s in a prayer group with Sam Brownback.  She ought to be bringing that out heavy duty.  That might help her. 

CARLSON:  She‘s a duck hunter. 

GILLESPIE:  That‘s right.  I think we‘ve seen enough duck hunting in American politics.  If McCain should work the immigration angle, because that will also help with Hispanics, and it is very popular with the American people.  You might disagree, but Americans might say, we are anxious about immigrants, but we love them when they are here and we want people to work.  McCain owns that issue in a way that Obama doesn‘t. 

BUCHANAN:  The most powerful social constituency with white working class Democrats—the immigration issue beats them all.  It beats gay marriage.  It beats all these other red button, hot button issues.  It‘s the number one issue.  If McCain can energize these people—frankly, that‘s the white working class, do you want to win them? 

CARLSON:  Also, if the predictions of the coming economic downturn are even half true, if it‘s going to be even half as bad as people who seem to know what they are talking about are suggesting now, do you really think that facing a profound recession and actual unemployment, something we haven‘t seen in a long time, the people are going to say, you know what, people have an absolute right to come here and take our jobs.  They‘re not going to say that.

(CROSS TALK)

GILLESPIE:  The last time I checked unemployment, we have like recent increases in applying for unemployment benefits.  We‘re still looking in the very low single digits.  But if that changes, a huge if, and I don‘t think any economic downturn is going to be as disastrous as people are predicting, because of the global economy. 

BUCHANAN:  People are already nervous. 

GILLESPIE:  Doesn‘t help McCain, for sure, or the party in power. 

CARLSON:  Thank you, gentlemen, very much.  Coming up, the Lone Star showdown, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama line up against one another in a debate in Austin.  The big question, will Hillary come out swinging?  Of course she‘s going to come out swinging.  The question is how hard. 

Forget “Dancing With The Stars,” we‘re dancing now with the president.  How Bush spent his time on his African adventure.  We have the tape coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama meet for another head to head debate tonight.  But it‘s not like debates you‘ve seen before.  Hillary Clinton is losing.  She‘s got less than two weeks to make up a lot of ground.  The question is, can she do that tonight?  If so, how. 

Joining us now is someone who knows the candidate well, who is on the scene in Texas, Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hilary Rosen.  Hilary, thanks for coming on. 

HILARY ROSEN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Tucker.  How are you? 

CARLSON:  I‘m great.  I‘m wondering if either candidate will address the McCain story.  I bet they will be asked about it.  What should they say? 

ROSEN:  Well, I think they should probably both say Senator McCain is an honorable American.  They don‘t know any facts and they don‘t have a comment on it.  It would be really dumb for them to get involved.  Don‘t you think? 

CARLSON:  I do think that.  On the other hand, I think that even losing a single day of news coverage is a big deal for Hillary Clinton right now, who really needs every angle and advantage she can possibly get, because of where she is.  She‘s in a tough spot.  Shouldn‘t she try to leverage this in some way? 

ROSEN:  Well, I‘m not sure entirely how she can leverage it.  I think your analysis is right.  Senator McCain was going after Barack Obama in the last 48 hours.  Senator Clinton needed that pressure to be kept on him.  There was a little more scrutiny, the media was a little more interested in the substance of whether he had legislative accomplishments or not, the substance of what he‘s saying.  I think this McCain thing is not very good for Senator Clinton. 

CARLSON:  No.  I don‘t think it is either.  Everyone expects Senator Clinton to come out and go after Obama.  I agree with that.  I think she kind of has to.  I think it‘s fair that she does.  I‘m wondering though, her attacks so far, and some have been legitimate, haven‘t gotten her much.  What can she say new tonight.  Can she come out and look in the screen, hands in the air pleading, and say, America, this guy should not be president.  For the love of god, don‘t vote for him.  What do you think of that? 

ROSEN:  Well, I think it‘s good you‘re not an adviser.  She can‘t look desperate.  It‘s important she not look desperate.  On the other hand, I don‘t think she can stick with the same old attacks.  I haven‘t actually talked to the senator‘s advisers.  I don‘t know what the plan is.  I think they are very focused on trying to make the distinction between the two, this choice message. 

I actually think she should do something a little more than that and different.  She knows so much substance about what she would do on that first day.  It‘s not just knowing what to do on that first day but knowing that the Bush administration has had 16 environmental laws that they have overturned or ignored.  They have done strip mining.  They have done—they have changed all the Medicare reimbursement plans.  They have hurt childhood education. 

She needs to be a little more specific.  And I think that would put Senator Obama on the spot to prove he actually knows what he‘s talking about.  I‘m not quite sure that she‘s achieved that yet in forcing it with him.  Otherwise, her message seems almost potentially as empty as his does. 

CARLSON:  Boy, when I watch her speak, I feel like I‘m getting a tutorial in how government works.  If anything, she‘s been specific to her own detriment.  Do you really think Americans are looking for details?  They seem eager to support a guy about whom they know nothing.  They don‘t seem to want to be bored with the details. 

ROSEN:  She‘s never going to be the candidate that is full of soaring rhetoric.  What she does have, though, is why does it matter that her experience matters.  That‘s a message that she still hasn‘t quite gotten across.  That‘s her opportunity tonight, I think. 

CARLSON:  Very quickly, Mark Penn, is there any truth in Mark Penn‘s explanation that just because you win, you know, primaries, doesn‘t mean that you can win a general election.  Is that desperation or is there an argument in there I‘m missing? 

ROSEN:  Look, I think anybody in the Clinton camp would be crazy to try and deny Barack Obama‘s appeal.  He is an appealing guy.  He will excite the Democratic party if he‘s the nominee.  Frankly, I think she can excite the party if she‘s the nominee, too.  I don‘t think that‘s the issue here.  I think the issue that voters have to decide is what are really the substantive differences between them and who they are going to go for. 

I don‘t see any upside to the Clinton campaign beating up Barack Obama for who he is. 

CARLSON:  All right.  Hilary Rosen at the scene of tonight‘s debate. 

Thanks a lot, Hilary, have fun tonight. 

ROSEN:  Tucker, take care. 

CARLSON:  Be sure to tune in to MSNBC tonight for post-debate coverage, with live special editions of “COUNTDOWN” at 10:00 and “HARDBALL “at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. 

And now to cap it all off, the living equivalent of a glass of Amaretto, an after dinner drink in person, Bill Wolff. 

BILL WOLFF, MSNBC VICE PRESIDENT:  But unfortunately, not Italian, despite my wishes, Tucker.  As the political world is turned here in the United States all week Tucker, President Bush has been half a world away visiting five countries on the African continent.  Among other things, the trip has highlighted one of Mr. Bush‘s great charms and his corresponding deficiency. 

Again today in Liberia, the president was greeted with music and dance.  On the endearing side, Mr. Bush more than willing to dance along.  Everybody loves a willing dancer.  Once again, though, his technique appeared to be less than stellar.  As we the chattering class privately snicker at his absence of moves, we pause to remember, Tucker, that there but the grace of god go all of us. 

CARLSON:  Well, I went there. 

WOLFF:  Yes, indeed. 

CARLSON:  I‘m last to snicker. 

WOLFF:  Along with the grace of god you went there. 

CARLSON:  That‘s exactly right.  I don‘t mock a man for awkward dancing.  That‘s one of my rules. 

WOLFF:  About 50 percent of dancing is being willing to do it, the other 50 is being able to do it.  The first half actually counts more than the second half. 

CARLSON:  Exactly. 

WOLFF:  Sir Paul McCartney took time out from being recognized as the schlemazel (ph) on the business end of Heather Mills‘ desire for a giant divorce settlement to receive a lifetime achievement award from the British Music Company.  It appears that this ceremony is like the Grammies over here.  In other words, kind of random, way too long, and full of awkward performances in front of a listless audience. 

Anyway, Mr. McCartney accepted the award for his lifetime achievements, which include his work as a Beatles, the less well received Wings after that, the duet with Michael Jackson in the ‘80s that nobody likes to talk about, and his recent tune, which was just kind of sad.  Congratulations, Sir Paul, and thanks for some of the memories.  Poor guy. 

At least he gets a day off from being the butt of the Heather Mills lawsuit. 

CARLSON:  Really, if there‘s—yes.  If she were a country, she would be worth invading. 

WOLFF:  That‘s unkind, to say the least. 

CARLSON:  I meant it in an unkind way. 

WOLFF:  Fair enough.  As long as you‘re up front, I suppose.  A horse racing update from the southern hemisphere, Tucker, specifically Australia, where the toilets flush the other direction and apparently the horses go the wrong way, too.  Look at them running the wrong way. 

Down the stretch they come when out of nowhere—there he is.  It‘s a guy in his underpants running like his life is depending on it before he winds up on his face just short of the finish line.  The human in question was prodded into his scanty outfit and onto the track by his mates because they were having his bachelor party.  Of course, he finished well out of the money in this race.  Amazingly, the woman he was planning to marry did not call the whole thing off. 

There he goes, face first on the turf down under. 

CARLSON:  Of course she didn‘t call it off.  Any man who is bold and resourceful enough to get in his undershorts, especially those, get in public, he‘s going to be a provider. 

WOLFF:  Is that right?  What about a public embarrassment to the family. 

CARLSON:  That, too. 

WOLFF:  Finally, in the name of balance, I have a candidate-spouse update for you.  We have kept close track of the words and whereabouts of Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton and Cindy McCain lately.  What of Janet Huckabee?  Well, the wife of second place Republican in the field spent the weekend in the jewel of the desert, Las Vegas, Nevada, Sin City as it‘s sometimes called. 

Mrs. Huckabee found herself stuck staying at one of the Sinnier (ph) themed hotel, the Hooters Hotel and Casino.  She was in town to attend the middle wait boxing bout between Kelly the Ghost Padlock and the pride of Arkansas, an old Huckabee friend, Jermaine, Bad Intentions, Taylor. 

Her guy, Taylor, lost a unanimous decision and Hooters was not her first choice for accommodations.  But from what I understand, the wings are terrific.  So not all was lost in Las Vegas. 

CARLSON:  The coconut shrimp poppers, incredible. 

WOLFF:  Really good stuff. 

CARLSON:  I like the Huckabees.  Bill Wolff, thank you very much. 

WOLFF:  You got it. 

CARLSON:  That does it for us.  Thanks for watching.  We will see you back here tomorrow night, where we‘ll have a one-on-one interview with John McCain‘s Attorney Bob Bennett.  See you then.  Up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris.  Have a great night. 

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

END   

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

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