updated 3/31/2008 12:09:33 PM ET 2008-03-31T16:09:33

Guests: Tucker Carlson, Ryan Lizza

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  The race for the White House 2008 and what a race it is.  Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, toe to toe on some policy issues but a lot of difference on personality and the Reverend Wright, the pastor for Barack Obama.  Hillary trip - Hillary‘s trip to Bosnia and whether it was embellished.  Here to put that all in perspective, two political, seasoned journalists, I might add.  Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker magazine and MSNBC‘s own Tucker Carlson. 

Welcome both.

RYAN LIZZA, NEW YORKER:  Thanks for having us.

RUSSERT:  What a week.  Tucker, let me start with you.  We went out in the field to do a poll about Barack Obama and Reverend Wright, what the impact had been last Monday and Tuesday.  And it happened to be right in the middle of Hillary Clinton and the embellishment of her trip to Bosnia.  What do you make of that whole story?

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it was a godsend for Barack Obama.  I was surprised by the numbers that NBC got back from the poll that she apparently was not as wounded as greatly—he was not as wounded as greatly as I thought he would be.  I have been traveling around the country this week. 

I was in L.A. with Democrats earlier in the week.  I was amazed by how rattled they were by the Reverend Wright story.  And the main question it raised is, who is Barack Obama?  Is he the guy we thought he was?  Clearly I was not in a representative focus group because it looked like for whatever reason this Bosnia story, the fact that she embellished her trip there and claimed to be in peril when she was not apparently in great peril caught somehow. 

And who knows why these stories do, there have been a lot of stories about Hillary and a lot of other politicians embellishing parts of their biographies but sometimes one out of 12 just hits in the right way and this one did and it was very damaging to her.

RUSSERT:  Why do you think it did?

CARLSON:  I think because there was a predicate for it.  Again, because I think that there were probably a half a dozen other stories like this well-known in the press corps.  Her claim that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary five years before he summitted Everest, et cetera, et cetera.

And again, I‘m not pounding on Hillary, you could look deep enough and you‘d find this in any politician‘s past.  But there was this growing sense that she was hyping particular foreign policy experience and that all began this conversation in the wake of that red phone ad. 

You know, are you prepared at 3:00 in the morning?  And the Obama people raised the key question, which is, well, where is evidence you are prepared?  And she was never able to answer that and it culminated in this story.

RUSSERT:  Ryan?

LIZZA:  You know, in the beginning of this campaign, last year when the Obama campaign was sort of thinking through how you take on Hillary Clinton, a lot of the research they did made them realize that if they just got in a fight with Hillary over policy, that‘s a debate that she‘s going to win. 

They had to do basically two things.  One was keep the campaign at a higher level.  Talk about change and hope and these intangibles that Obama stacks up in a superior way to Hillary on.

And then if things that got really nasty, if they had to go after Hillary, the way to go after her was not from the left or the right ideologically. but you have to go after her character.  That even Democrats have doubts about whether she is honest and trustworthy.

And this story just played into that attack that the Obama people had been making recently.  That—you know, it‘s the attack that George Bush did to Al Gore in 2000.  She is an exaggerator.  She is—in this case actually made something up and last week the Obama campaign sent out this memo listing chapter and verse of things where Hillary Clinton has not been honest in this campaign.

So these characterological assaults rather than ideological assaults have always been what the Obama campaign thought would be a strong point against Hillary and this just played right into that.

RUSSERT:  How do you get something so wrong as a candidate?

CARLSON:  You make it up.  And I guess the point of this—and again, I give everybody a pass on these things.  The first couple of ones, because it‘s very common to see this.  But this story, the Bosnia story, gets right to the foundation of her campaign. which is, I have the experience.  I am ready to lead on day one, in her oft-repeated campaign slogan.  I was there in the White House for eight years.

Well, recently we saw the release of partial—really, a partial accounting of her schedules during those eight years and learned that in a lot of cases, at least from the schedule we‘ve seen so far, she wasn‘t there.  When the World Trade Center was attacked, and for the first time in ‘93, her husband sped off to New York. 

And as the Obama campaign has told everybody in the last week, she instead went to a Parade Magazine photo shoot and then went to see “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Kennedy Center.  This is again, attacking her right where she lives.

LIZZA:  Look, the most charitable case is, OK, she‘s a first lady going to Bosnia, there is enhanced security for her trip.  It is not a peaceful place and so she is sort of putting two and two together and saying, well, there was sniper fire in Bosnia somewhere.  I remember there being a little bit more security on that trip than a usual first lady trip. 

And her just sort of putting these facts together and spinning a narrative that sounds like she was in harm‘s way when she obviously wasn‘t.  I mean, that‘s the most charitable case.  I mean, one can imagine someone doing that.

RUSSERT:  It‘s so interesting having watched this up close in terms of politicians when they get in trouble, many of them will say, oh my God, I‘ve made a mistake.  Get everyone in a room.  What has happened?  Let‘s find out exactly every detail.

LIZZA:  Yes.  Get the facts out.

RUSSERT:  Hillary‘s second explanation was, well, I had to stop to say hello to this girl quickly and then I kept moving on.  That was wrong too.  As if there was no attempt to find out what really happened.  Let‘s recreate it with everyone who was there.

LIZZA:  And look, this is the part of Hillary that we‘ve known for a long time.  I mean, this goes back to Whitewater and sort of not admitting that you‘re wrong.  And this is the sort of flip side of why people respect her, because she‘s tough and she doesn‘t back down.  But sometimes she doesn‘t back down when she should.

RUSSERT:  Tucker, she also had an editorial board meeting with The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review which surprised me because the paper is owned by Richard Mellon Scaife.  He was in the editorial board meeting.

CARLSON:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  I mean, she encountered him.  This is a man who spent millions of dollars investigating Troopergate and Whitewater, who suggested that Vince Foster did not commit suicide. in fact died in an apartment that was rented by Hillary Clinton.  That Ron Brown, the commerce secretary had been perhaps murdered rather than an accidental flight.  And yet she sat down with his paper.

CARLSON:  Well, this—I mean, apparently, Dick Scaife and the Clintons have reached some kind of detente.  Scaife met with Bill Clinton earlier and they apparently kind of buried the hatchet.  This is the end of a long process I think that has been going on.

The Clintons, like a lot of politicians, have a weird attraction to people who hate them.  You‘ll find this if you‘ve been very critical of a politician, they always kind of single you out and come over and try to win you over because they‘re politicians. 

They want to win over the last guy who doesn‘t like them.  And this is true in spades for Bill Clinton.  So that was the background there.  I thought that the interview was fascinating, though, for what she said, bringing up the Reverend Wright thing, which is—you know, of course it‘s a legitimate issue, but I was struck by how thin the good will for Hillary is. 

The second she did that she was landed on by so many commentators for bringing up this issue at a time to draw attention away from Bosnia, as if it was like illegitimate, as if it was wrong.  She was sowing hate by bringing this up.  I mean, she really didn‘t get a pass from anyone for doing that.

LIZZA:  Look, it‘s totally legitimate for her to say that and look, there are some political reasons to do it because she was in trouble with the Bosnia story but it‘s fair game, that‘s something we‘re all talking about.  She should be allowed to respond to it. 

And look, this is the—this meeting with Scaife, which is kind of mind-blowing if we had gone back in 2000 and someone told you, oh, she‘s going to sit down with this guy in 2008, this is the culmination of eight years of the Clinton machine basically going to their enemies and trying to sort of reach some detente.  I mean, it started with her Senate career when she reached out to all of the people that said the worst things about her husband in the ‘90s.

RUSSERT:  Who had voted for impeachment.

LIZZA:  Right.  She did something on adoption with Tom DeLay.  She worked with Gingrich on health care.  She worked with Santorum.  And all the most conservative.

CARLSON:  Lindsey Graham.

LIZZA:  Lindsey Graham.  All the conservatives.  This was the setup to her presidential campaign so she could say, hey, I am not as polarizing as my reputation.  Look, I‘ve reached across the aisle with these folks.

Then we get a sense that backfired in the primaries because instead of being sort of, you know, the standard-bearer for anti-Bush, you know, the standard-bearer for liberals in the Senate, she was this sort of moderate, sort of go-along, get-along person, which I think some liberals didn‘t like.

RUSSERT:  We‘re going to take a quick break and come back.  More Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker magazine, Tucker Carlson of MSNBC.  The race for the White House after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we‘re back.  Tucker Carlson, Ryan Lizza, the race for the White House.  We‘re talking about the Clinton campaign.  Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton reaching out, trying to make amends with the vast right wing conspiracy, the godfather, Richard Mellon Scaife, as James Carville called him.  Matt Drudge.

LIZZA:  Oh, another great example.  I mean, the Clinton campaign actually has an operative—a very, very smart Democratic operative, one of the best in the business named Tracy Sefl, who—her job is basically to build a relationship with Matt Drudge and sort of.

RUSSERT:  A minder.  Like in China.  You get a minder.

LIZZA:  Right.  Exactly.  And to feed Drudge anti-Obama stuff and pro-Clinton stuff.

RUSSERT:  Does it work?

LIZZA:  You know, I think it went through a period when it was working, just based on reading The Drudge Report and not knowing anything else.  I think he sort of soured on Hillary.

RUSSERT:  The New York Post had been very favorable until recently.

CARLSON:  Absolutely.  Well, Murdoch held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton.  I think they‘re not stupid, they understood where things are going and that she‘s not likely to get the nomination.  But the Drudge relationship paid off big early in the primaries when they—when Drudge, which really is the quickest way into the bloodstream of say, cable news.

LIZZA:  Yes.

CARLSON:  Had a headline of her fundraising numbers that did not make the all-important distinction of what the money was for—without getting into it, but you raise some for the primaries, some for the general, and just put the aggregate number up there, making it look like, you know, Hillary, unbeatable, and she dominated, at least again, on cable news, the news for that day and that was thanks to Matt Drudge. 

LIZZA:  Yes.  That was a big successful Drudge moment for them.  I think since then, Matt has—I don‘t think he has been on Hillary‘s side.

RUSSERT:  Let me turn to Barack Obama, Reverend Wright.  His campaign, they describe it as the precipice they were looking over and they didn‘t know what was going to happen for the last two weeks. 

In our poll, minor damage.  Independents pretty much stayed with Barack Obama.  Republicans, some, particularly southern Republicans said, that‘s it, no more, I‘ve heard enough about Barack Obama when I hear the words of Reverend Wright.  Has he been able to survive this challenge to his candidacy?  Is it over?

LIZZA:  I don‘t think it‘s over.  I think you don‘t put something like this past you with one speech.  It has raised enough doubts among enough people that it will come back in the general election for sure.  The McCain people will, if not explicitly do it, at least implicitly make some hay out of it. 

And—you know, but it does suggest that people in some—or in the majority of voters‘ minds they, make a distinction between a friend or a pastor and the actual candidate.

No one believes that Barack Obama believes what Reverend Wright believes.  Now it does raise some judgment questions about why he sat in the pews all those years while this guy was saying similar stuff. 

But a very smart McCain adviser made the comparison to Bill Clinton in ‘92 when they were tarring him with all the countercultural stuff.  Did he go to Russia and renounce his citizenship?  The draft-dodging stuff. 

And he said, the way he got over that was by telling a narrative about himself that he was this quintessentially American character and the culmination of that was the “Man from Hope” speech at the convention. 

And this person said, you know, what Obama should have done is not give a speech on race, he should have given a speech on patriotism because that‘s the question that the Wright thing has raised.  I thought it was a very interesting point.

CARLSON:  That is interesting.  I think that the speech confirmed a lot of what we knew about Barack Obama.  He‘s unusually eloquent, unusually smart.  He has got a subtle mind.  He is honest in ways that politicians aren‘t.  We sort of knew that.  That speech definitely confirmed it.  Many people were wowed by it as a result.

It didn‘t answer a more basic question that I believe still lingers in the air, which is, what was he doing with this guy lo those many years?

And I think in fact if you read the speech, there are some internal inconsistencies that will come back to haunt him.  For instance, he is much lauded for making the point that there is white resentment about affirmative action and that actually that is a divisive factor in our society. 

Then he goes on almost in the next paragraph to endorse affirmative action.  So like, it‘s bad for America but I am for it.  No one has called him on that because that‘s the nature of primaries.  They move so fast there‘s not time to say, well, hold on a second, but there will be that time if he becomes the nominee.

LIZZA:  Just one thing on this church.  I‘ve been to this church.  And I‘ve been through a service there.

RUSSERT:  Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

LIZZA:  In Chicago.  Obama was at the service and he is a major celebrity at this church.  You have to remember, 20 years ago when Barack Obama first arrived in Chicago, he was an outsider. 

He was working for a bunch of white Jewish guys who were trying to organize in inner city black Chicago.  And he was going around to these churches, trying to get them to work together to deal with the losses from some steel plants closing.

But he was an outsider and he writes about this very eloquently in his book.  And this church sort of gave him a sense of community.  When he joined the church and started going and finally found Jesus Christ it sort of—it changed his life in a lot of ways. 

But he was coming in from the outside, right?  And this is a church—this is a fairly mainstream church in Chicago.  It has got 8,000 members.  Oprah Winfrey goes to this thing.

So for us, we do have to deal with the complication of this very radical pastor overseeing a huge, 8,000-person church in inner city Chicago that in some sense is mainstream. 

In fact, when he first joined the church, people warned him, no, no, no, don‘t go to that church.  It‘s too—what they call, it‘s a “buppie” church, black—it‘s for black yuppies basically.  You need to go to a church with a little bit more street cred.  So from his perspective this was like the mainstream place to go.

RUSSERT:  Was it both a religious and a political home?

LIZZA:  I think so because, look, the most cynical interpretation is -

and I don‘t think he went—he joined this church—like, Dick Morris says he joined this church because he wanted a political base.  And maybe in the back of his mind there is some of that.  I think his original political aspiration was to become mayor of Chicago and certainly this would be an appropriate home if that‘s what you wanted to do politically.

I take him at his word that what was happening is he was trying to organize these churches.  And the pastors kept saying to him, well, look, you‘re trying to get us all to work together, I don‘t see you in the pews on Sunday.  Why is that?

So he started to think, well, you know, that‘s a good question and he gradually started going to the services and sort of became a part of the community.  So it was part of this transition from outsider who was viewed very warily by the locals to sort of becoming a member of the community.

CARLSON:  Except, here‘s the problem that I think, again, will flower into a larger problem then it is currently.  Obama, maybe more than anybody since George W. Bush, maybe even more than Bush, maybe going back to Pat Robertson, has held out his explicitly Christian faith, his faith in Jesus, as one of the reasons you ought to support him.

Now part of that is a way of saying, no, I am not Muslim despite what e-mails you may be getting, and I understand that.  But he really has, really to a greater degree than anybody I have watched in a long time, said, I‘m a Jesus guy. 

He has allowed his theology explicitly to become a part of his campaign, at which point I think it becomes legitimate to say, OK, what is your theology?  What is the theology of this church.  And that is something that a very secular press corps is reluctant to do but I think at some point those questions will come up.

RUSSERT:  Ralph Nader referred to Obama as the “liberal evangelical.”

CARLSON:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  We‘re going to take another quick break.  Ryan Lizza, Tucker Carlson, race for the White House right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we‘re back.  Ryan Lizza, Tucker Carlson, talking about the race for the White House.  In the debate in Cleveland I asked Barack Obama about Louis Farrakhan‘s kind words about him and didn‘t invoke the name Reverend Wright back then.

There is some concern in the Obama campaign about support with Jewish Americans, because of the things that Reverend Wright has said, the things that Louis Farrakhan has said. 

Barack Obama has taken a lot of steps, a lot of private meetings trying to reassure Jewish voters.  And yet Hillary Clinton seems to do remarkably well with that group against Obama.  Is that a potential problem in the general election if Obama is the nominee?

CARLSON:  It‘s a huge issue.  It‘s a real issue for Obama.  That is a weakness that you almost never hear about it but it‘s absolutely real.  I did some reporting on it this very week.  And it‘s one of the reasons Obama did a remarkable but little noticed thing. 

He, of course, got a lot of publicity for saying, I will meet with America‘s—the leaders of countries with whom American disagrees.  You know, I mean, truly disagrees, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, doesn‘t matter. 

But I will not meet with Hamas, which doesn‘t make any sense, actually.  And the Obama campaign, I spoke to the head foreign policy person, Susan Rice, about this, and said, you know, what‘s the explanation?

And as smart as she is, I didn‘t feel it was a satisfactory explanation.  I think the real explanation is, it‘s a political one.  You can‘t.

LIZZA:  Now wait a second, wait a second.  The head of state of a government, no matter how bad that government is.

CARLSON:  Right.

LIZZA:  . is fundamentally different from a terrorist organization in occupied territories.

CARLSON:  It‘s a democratically-elected terrorist organization.

LIZZA:  Fine, but there is—you can always.

CARLSON:  It represents the will of the people.

LIZZA:  It represents the will of the people, but it is not—they‘re not the head of a state the way Ahmadinejad is the head of Iran.

CARLSON:  I kind of—I mean, that was sort of—I mean, that‘s slicing it a little bit thin.  I mean, because the Obama campaign is very much like the Bush administration in that it takes as an article of faith that we want to raise up the people—you know, democratically-elected leaders. 

Democracy is the most important thing, they believe, along with the Bush people.  Hamas, I mean, there is no getting around it.  They were elected.  And we‘re going to ignore them, why?

LIZZA:  Well, you‘re not going to ignore—I mean, you‘re not going to ignore them, he‘s just not going to meet with the leader.

CARLSON:  He‘s not going to meet with the leader.

LIZZA:  He‘s not going to meet with the leader.  I mean, look, obviously they are going to meet, in some part of the peace process you have to deal with Hamas.  But that doesn‘t mean that Barack Obama or any president actually has to meet with the head of Hamas.

CARLSON:  But how much more could you say that about North Korea?  I‘m just saying—look, I‘m not suggesting he should meet with Hamas at all.  I mean, my views aside.  I‘m just saying.

(LAUGHTER)

LIZZA:  You would meet with Hamas.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  I would not meet with Hamas.  I would do a lot of crazy things.  You know, that‘s why I would love to be president.  But look, the point is, it seems inconsistent to me and it seems hard to defend given the criteria he has already set out.

And I believe it‘s a reflection—I‘m certain it‘s a reflection of this big problem he has got.

RUSSERT:  It was one of the debates.  I asked about our policy with Cuba, the so-called wet foot policy where if a Cuban got a foot on land he was allowed to stay here. 

LIZZA:  You‘re in.

RUSSERT:  And I said, what about from Haiti or from Venezuela or from some other place?  And the candidates really didn‘t have an intellectual response.  It was, look, well, Cuba is unique.

LIZZA:  Look, it‘s classic example of—there is no doubt about it, that the Cuban-American—Cuban-Americans are more politically organized and better organized than the Haitians or other countries where—that want the wet foot policy as well.  And Florida is an important state and there is just no doubt that that is what drives the policy.

RUSSERT:  Are you suggesting that foreign policy gives way to political consideration?

LIZZA:  I am suggesting—I think there is some possibility.

CARLSON:  That will change.  I believe that specific policy will change based on conversations I‘ve had with the Obama people.  If Obama becomes president, I think there are a number of people working for him at this stage of the campaign, anyway, who believe it is morally offensive, for instance, to exclude Haitians but allow Cubans and I think they will change it.

LIZZA:  And it‘s a big issue in the African-American community.

CARLSON:  As it should be.

RUSSERT:  Oh, sure.  And Venezuela, with Hugo Chavez?

CARLSON:  That‘s right.

RUSSERT:  Someone fleeing that country, why not embrace them?

CARLSON:  Exactly.

LIZZA:  I know that—maybe this is the benefit for some Democrats with Florida becoming a little bit more of a Republican state in the general election.  Doesn‘t look like it‘s so much of a tossup anymore, Democrats don‘t have to pander that much on that issue.

RUSSERT:  What about lifting the embargo against Cuba?

CARLSON:  I think there is a lot of support for that.  I think that—among—in the business community there is certainly a lot of support.  There are no Starbucks there.  Why not?  You know, it‘s like, we can use a new market.  I think that will change too.

LIZZA:  And that‘s one of those issues that‘s not totally Republican-Democrat.  A lot of farm state Republicans who want to trade with Cuba are for it, the business community on both sides is for it.  So that one cuts more geographically than strictly along partisan lines.

RUSSERT:  The sense that we‘ve tried this for 40 years, maybe it‘s time to try something different and flood them with democracy and capitalism and Starbucks.

LIZZA:  Well, as Jon Stewart said originally, finally, the embargo has worked, Castro is no longer the leader.  We finally succeeded.

CARLSON:  Forty-nine years, right.

RUSSERT:  But do you dare think that John McCain or Barack Obama would say this in a campaign publicly?

LIZZA:  I‘m not sure that McCain would because McCain, sort of his whole image on foreign policy is to be sort of a communist crusader.  But I think there‘s a chance that Obama would be open to it, but I‘m sure he has a position on this but I‘m just not sure of it.  He would obviously be the candidate that would be more likely to be open to it.

RUSSERT:  Mike Huckabee as governor of Arkansas was outspoken about lifting the embargo.

CARLSON:  Right.  For rice exports.  But that‘s not the way to hit it.  The way to hit it is to say, look, there are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles living in South Florida who want to see their families.  And because I care about them so much, because I love the Cuban-American community so much, we‘re going to lift the embargo so those families can be reunited.

RUSSERT:  Traditional family values.

CARLSON:  That‘s exactly right.

(LAUGHTER)

LIZZA:  And the other way this will change is the Cuban-American community is divided generationally.  The older generation is much more in favor of the tough stance.  The younger generation, which doesn‘t vote in as solid a bloc, is more open to changes.

RUSSERT:  We‘re going to come back, right.  I heard Tucker say I think Obama will probably be the nominee.  I want to come back and talk about that.  Carlson with the scoop right after this.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we‘re back talking politics.  This is the race for the White House 2008.  Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, and John McCain has locked up the Republicans. 

Tucker, I heard you sneak out a little line saying, Obama probably will be the Democratic nominee.  That‘s your thinking?

CARLSON:  Well, the conventional view is, at least in Washington, that

it‘s over.  That Hillary Clinton—so I actually give her a higher shot of

a 25 percent chance in my view that she becomes the nominee. 

The current tactic is—from the Obama people, is to overwhelm Hillary with calls for her, you know, to get out of the race.  The idea is, we are going to shame her into it.  You know, that sticking around, it is just—it‘s bad form, frankly.  It‘s a social faux pas.  It‘s tacky.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  Like that is going to work, like the Clintons are going to say, oh, is this embarrassing, you‘re right, we‘ll get out.  I mean, it‘s ridiculous.

LIZZA:  And you know, there‘s this talk of the Democratic elders that have to go to Bill and Hillary Clinton and tell them to pull the plug.  I mean, this is just—you know, to coin a phrase, a fairy tale. 

I mean, who are the Democratic elders?  Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore, these are all pro-Obama people as we—you know, based on their public comments and anything you can sort of suss out.

RUSSERT:  Al Gore is pro-Obama?

LIZZA:  Excuse me, Dean—I‘ll take Dean out of that.  I mean, look, if Al Gore is a man of his word based on his—what he has been saying the last couple of years on the issues, I mean, it‘s very hard to believe that he would support Hillary over Obama.

And then there is just the personal animosity that has developed between the Clinton world and the Gore world since they left the White House.

RUSSERT:  What would happen if Al Gore came forward publicly and said, we‘re hurting ourselves, 20 percent of Obama voters, 20 percent of Clinton voters are saying they‘re going to vote for McCain, we have to stop this, I‘m urging all fellow superdelegates like me to now endorse Barack Obama or -- and end this primary?

LIZZA:  I think what would happen is that the Clinton war room would go nuclear on Al Gore and try and dismiss him as never being on their side and an unfair broker here. 

But he is the person with the most gravitas and the most respect in the Democratic Party that—if he said that, it may actually end the race. 

CARLSON:  But here‘s.

LIZZA:  But I don‘t think if he went privately to the Clintons it would cause—Hillary is going to decide this on her own.  There is nobody that can change her mind.

CARLSON:  But here‘s what they would say—here‘s what James Carville would say about Al Gore.  He would say, look, of all people, he ought to have a vested interest in seeing all of the votes counted.  And we‘re not at the end of the process.  Every Democrat hasn‘t weighed in.  What, you‘ve got a problem with Democracy now?

And this is the same argument that I think may in the end potentially get her the nomination.  This Florida and Michigan stuff, both states have decided they‘re not going to re-vote, I don‘t think it‘s going away because I think the Clinton people, believe it or not, have a better argument, which is, we can have these elections, why aren‘t we having these elections again? 

What exactly is your principled opposition to allowing the voters of these two states to weigh in?  And what does Obama answer?  I don‘t know what it is.

LIZZA:  On the merits, I agree with the Clinton campaign‘s arguments that there is absolute nothing wrong with letting the process play itself out.  Everyone knew that there was a primary process that goes from early January to early June.  What is wrong with just having these contests and having a competitive race?

It‘s—you know, the whole argument is, the rules were set down, play by the rules.  That‘s why I don‘t think that Florida and Michigan should have a re-vote, because by the same token, the rule was, if you move your primary up, your votes don‘t count, you know, end of story.  So we should just set them aside. 

But I agree with you, and I disagree with a lot of Democrats who are saying that this has gone on so long and it‘s destroying the two candidates and destroying the party.  There are big primaries that have been much, much worse than this.

RUSSERT:  So what do you do about Michigan and Florida?

LIZZA:  Nothing.  I mean, they broke the rules.  They were told that if you moved your primaries up, your delegates aren‘t going to count to the convention.  Eventually after June, the superdelegates will probably put their cards on the table and tip the scales towards Obama and Hillary.  It will be clear who the nominee is before they go to convention. 

And then that nominee at the convention will say, OK, now we‘ll seat these delegates.

RUSSERT:  Be they now.

LIZZA:  . from those two states.  That‘s how I think it will play out.  I think it is very unlikely that after early June, this thing goes all the way to the convention.

RUSSERT:  Tucker, explain your 25 percent chance for Hillary.  How does she get there?

CARLSON:  Two ways.  One, it‘s just what I said, making the case for Florida and Michigan.  And you know, what we.

LIZZA:  But that‘s over.

CARLSON:  We‘ve got to—yes, but she has a great rhetorical case, which is, we‘ve got people who are—including Governor Corzine of New Jersey, who will put down their own money to pay for these private elections, in essence, and why not let the voters speak?  So she has got that, which she hasn‘t actually been hitting as hard as she might. 

Second, I think we are misreading who the audience here is.  All that matters is the opinion of the superdelegates, neither candidate can win without them.  These people think in very different ways than ordinary voters do.  The currency they deal in is power and toughness and endurance. 

And Hillary Clinton, I think, in the end, has one thing going for her.  She‘s the toughest human being in the world, in the whole world no one is tougher than Hillary.  No one has taken more abuse than she has. 

And it is possible that if he is beset by scandal again over the next couple of months, the superdelegates look at her and say, you know what, you can‘t stop her, maybe she‘s.

LIZZA:  I think they had one of their best runs with this Wright story and the fact that this poll shows that he overcame that, no problem at all, I mean, that has got to be deeply unsettling in the Clinton camp.

And this is—you know, you‘re right, she is the toughest.  And this is why it‘s going to be good Obama if he wins at the end of this.  He went up against the toughest person in the Democratic Party, someone who wouldn‘t quit, to the end, and won.

CARLSON:  That‘s right, exactly.

LIZZA:  That will—and at the end of the day, he‘ll be thanking Hillary Clinton.

RUSSERT:  You know, it‘s amazing, because it is all, Tucker, to use your phrase, happening so quickly in this primary season, when you step back and reflect on this, if Obama beat Hillary Clinton, that‘s a huge story, that‘s a giant-killer.

CARLSON:  It‘s unbelievable. 

LIZZA:  Absolutely.

RUSSERT:  I saw a National Journal magazine the other day from 2006 with Hillary‘s picture on the cover and all of the other candidates, Obama is not even listed. 

CARLSON:  He wasn‘t even in it.

RUSSERT:  He was a non-candidate. 

LIZZA:  But the danger for Obama was that he just—he had won in New Hampshire, the thing was over and he is this sort of untested nominee.

CARLSON:  Right.  That‘s right.  That‘s exactly right.

LIZZA:  . where he never had this grueling race.  That would have been the bad thing.

RUSSERT:  You both use the word “tough” to describe Hillary Clinton.  It is so ironic, I always believe that when we would cover the first serious woman candidate for president of the United States, the issue would be, is she tough enough to be commander-in-chief? 

I would never hear that from Republicans, independents, or Democrats about Hillary Clinton. 

CARLSON:  Oh, I had never met another human being who could take the abuse, fair and unfair, that she has received since 1978, when her husband ran for attorney general of Arkansas.  I think the leader of Seal Team 6, put in her position, would assume fetal position, hide under the bed, move to Paraguay, couldn‘t deal with it.

She is a remarkable human being in that way, and I think about it, whether that‘s enough overcome this awesome deficit that she faces is another question.  But it‘s so amazing. 

RUSSERT:  We have Pennsylvania April 22nd.  Clinton with a considerable lead there.  If she wins there, she‘ll try to parlay that two weeks later, Indiana, North Carolina.  The sense that is growing in the political media community, Ryan, is that Clinton has to win all three to be able to keep the race going and say to the superdelegates, things are turning around.  I have the upper hand here, let me play this out through June. 

LIZZA:  Yes.  I mean, that is the scenario.  I mean, the downside of this long primary is that she does that, but still doesn‘t—the delegate count really doesn‘t move much.  Obama has got, what, over a 100-delegate lead?

RUSSERT:  Because of proportional allocation.

LIZZA:  Because of proportional allocation.  And that at the end of the day, she wins the big media story and Obama spends the spring just sort of getting beat up and defeated. 

And even though he beats her and even though the superdelegates grudgingly accept the fact that we can‘t overturn the will of the people, we do have to give this to Obama, he has had this really awful spring and he wins it with sort of some buyer‘s remorse setting in.

I mean, that is the sort of downside of these guys going to the end.

RUSSERT:  We have to take a quick break.  More with Tucker Carlson and Ryan Lizza right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Tucker, let me pick up on Ryan‘s comments.  Hillary Clinton starts winning these primaries and wins Pennsylvania, Indiana, pulls an upset in North Carolina, and they divide the delegates up. 

They get to the convention.  Obama is ahead in elected delegates, has won more contests and has—ahead in the cumulative popular vote, but the superdelegates say, oh boy, she really showed grit and toughness at the end, maybe she‘d be a better nominee.

How do they take the nomination away from Barack Obama?

CARLSON:  They don‘t.  I mean, that is a circular firing squad at that point.  They can‘t do that.  They can‘t alienate the single most important, reliable, loyal voting bloc in the entire party.  So they are not going to do—which is African-American voters.  And they would do that by doing that.

So I think they needed—they need to hang it on a philosophical justification.  They need to say, look, she won by some measure—the Obama campaign suggested this week that, you know, maybe she is going to get a bracket out from the Final Four to kind of, you know, figure whoever guesses better will be justified in getting superdelegates for it.

But they need something.  And I think their argument is kind of interesting.  It is interesting to watch, they are very smart, the Hillary people, well, she has won states that are more electorally important in the general election.

LIZZA:  Yes, which this—this argument, that primary battles in the Democratic primary really tell you anything about how that person is going to do in the general election is ridiculous. 

I mean, on both sides.  I mean, Obama is saying, oh, I won the caucuses in, you know, wherever, Idaho, you know, there is 10,000 Democrats in Idaho that came out.

RUSSERT:  So that‘s why I say to these campaigns—to the Clinton campaign I said, so you‘re going to win Texas and Oklahoma in the general?

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  No.  But you know, we have learned a new word—or at least in our political vocabulary, “metric.” A new metric, right?  And that is how we keep rolling out these words.  Two weeks ago it was a “narrative.” Now we have metrics, right?

LIZZA:  And if anyone knows metrics, it is Mark Penn, the pollster for the Clinton campaign.  And they are ingenious about coming up with these.

RUSSERT:  Now, Tucker, some other cynics who write for newspapers said, well, the whole strategy here is Hillary in 2012.  If she can‘t have it in 2008, what the Clintons are going to do is just wear down Obama to a point where he is unelectable, throw him out there as a sacrificial lamb, let him lose.  McCain ought to be a one-termer because he‘ll be 76 years old.  And Hillary will ride to the rescue of the party in 2012.

CARLSON:  The “Tonya Harding” strategy.  Look, here‘s—this clearly was the Clinton plan in 2004, when I believe they intentionally undermined John Kerry.  Nothing will shake me from that.  There is evidence that that‘s true, much dispute about it, I believe it is true.

They thought Kerry might lose, Hillary could come in.  I think that was a fair strategy.

RUSSERT:  They didn‘t help John Kerry?

CARLSON:  They did not—I think they undermined him in some way.  During the convention, in Boston 2004, remember, Bill Clinton had his book rollout that week.  I sincerely believe.

LIZZA:  Bill Clinton gave the most cogent case—made the most cogent case for John Kerry at that convention.

CARLSON:  OK.  Well.

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  The Clintons will argue with you on this point.

CARLSON:  I know they will.  And look, that is conjecture, and I‘ll—whatever.  Here is why that strategy, the one you just outlined, won‘t work.  Look at what the Democratic Party does to its failed nominees.  Where‘s Mike Dukakis lately?  He is like teaching in—you know, up in Boston.  One never hears from him.

John Kerry is a figure of contempt among many Democrats.  They don‘t -

unlike the Republican Party, you can‘t lose and then come back like Ronald Reagan as a hero.  It just doesn‘t work. 

LIZZA:  That‘s true.  Although, since we‘re in the land of wild speculation, speaking of heroes coming back, we should lay out other scenario that‘s out there.

RUSSERT:  It would be Al Gore.

LIZZA:  The Al Gore scenario.

RUSSERT:  I knew it! 

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  Here it comes, from Ryan Lizza.

LIZZA:  And I first heard this—Joe Klein had popularized it last week in TIME magazine, but I first heard this months ago from a—someone who could arguably be described as a Gore person, and said, hey, this is the dream scenario. 

The deadlocked convention, the first or second ballot, it‘s still deadlocked.  They can‘t decide.  Al Gore comes in, cuts a deal with Obama and they run as president and vice president. 

The perfect way for Gore to become the nominee, because he never actually wanted to actually go through the process of the primaries.  You know, it‘s this sort of Adlai Stevenson-like thing, you just sort of hang back and wait for the party to come to you. 

RUSSERT:  The ceiling in the Staples Center opens.

LIZZA:  That‘s right.

RUSSERT:  And down from the climate change clouds, Al Gore.

CARLSON:  Yes, like a Vegas act, on invisible wires, exactly.  Come on, come on.  I mean.

LIZZA:  Look, every other crazy thing has happened in this election.

CARLSON:  Yes, it‘s a cult of personality election.  As Tim put it at the very beginning, there is no major policy—you know, will universal health care be mandatory or not?  I mean, that is going to be—you know, it is not—it‘s an election about policy, it‘s not a primary about policy.  It‘s what—you know, who do you like better?

And so I don‘t believe that Obama‘s, for instance, magnetism and support is necessarily transferable.  You think the Obama people are going to say, you know, I loved Barack Obama, but I‘ll go with Al Gore.  I mean, come on.

LIZZA:  If it was the only way to get Obama on the ticket.  What if they run as a ticket, president and vice president? 

CARLSON:  I just think.

RUSSERT:  After 14 months, Barack Obama will say, you know what, I‘ll take number two.  You‘ve been off in Silicon Valley making tons of money, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, you take it. 

CARLSON:  It might be seen as mildly insulting.

LIZZA:  That‘s absolutely true.  It would only happen though in a process where it was completely deadlocked and there was no way for either of them to get the majority.  So in that case, it‘s desperate if you‘ve got nothing else.

RUSSERT:  What about—any chance of Obama-Clinton coming together in any form of ticket?

LIZZA:  You know, people always say they hate each other too much, these primaries have been too poisonous.  But you know, did Kennedy and Johnson like each other?  No.  They hated each other.  They came together.  And plenty of people—plenty of candidates who have hated each other have come together for political.

RUSSERT:  There is actually documentation when.

LIZZA:  . expediency.

RUSSERT:  . Jack Kennedy told Bobby it‘s going to be Johnson, Bobby said, you hate Johnson.  He said, yes, but he can carry Texas.

CARLSON:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  I mean, it was not complicated in John Kennedy‘s mind.

CARLSON:  Probably the last vice president to play a significant positive role in that way.  But I mean, I guess the difference is there wasn‘t YouTube.  I mean, now I do think this is one of reasons Democrats are so mad at Hillary—Obama supporters, anyway, is she has said so many things out loud on camera that are pretty, kind of, deal-killers.

For instance, you know, John McCain and I, we‘re qualified to be president.  This Obama guy, scary.

LIZZA:  I don‘t buy that that harms you in a general election.  This happens every primary season.  People say tough things about each other.  And then the other party‘s nominee brings it up, but you have two things. 

You‘ll have the actual Hillary Clinton standing there, saying, I support Barack Obama, forget what we said in the primaries, versus, you know, some quotes and clips that will be played of her saying mean things. 

RUSSERT:  But how do you say in July.

LIZZA:  People have short memories.

RUSSERT:  . he doesn‘t pass the commander-in-chief test, but in August he did?

LIZZA:  Well, Howard Wolfson of the Clinton campaign said, in between July and the convention he may actually, you know.

RUSSERT:  Oh what an enormous capacity for growth.

CARLSON:  He may pass the test.  He‘s going to do a little studying.

(LAUGHTER)

LIZZA:  People change positions all the time.  You know, unfortunately, people have very short memories in politics.

CARLSON:  Yes, but the attention that has been focused on this campaign is without precedent, at least in my lifetime.  I think we‘re all much more aware.  It‘s not like, oh, Bush called it “voodoo economics,” did you know—I mean, it‘s not like one statement.  It‘s months.

LIZZA:  But people also understand that people say stuff in politics that they may not actually mean.

CARLSON:  It has been pretty personal.  Maybe you‘re absolutely right. 

I mean, I don‘t know.

LIZZA:  And what did she say?  She said that I‘m prepared to be commander-in-chief, John McCain is prepared to be commander-in-chief.  It‘s an outstanding question about Barack Obama, right?  So.

CARLSON:  As far as I know.

LIZZA:  As far as you know.

(LAUGHTER)

LIZZA:  That‘s right.

RUSSERT:  Another quick break.  We‘ll be right back with more of our discussion.  The race for the White House, John McCain, he won‘t be ignored here.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RUSSERT:  And we‘re back.  John McCain, all of the polls, Tucker and Ryan, ask the generic question, come the fall, Democrat-Republican?  Democrat by 12 to 15 points.  Democratic year, recession, no third year (ph) of a Bush administration. 

Then you match up the names.  OK, how about John McCain-Hillary Clinton?  McCain 46, Clinton 44.  Barack Obama 44, McCain 42.  It‘s remarkable.  It‘s a dogfight at this stage between McCain and the Democrats even though everything is supposed to be against the Republican candidate.

CARLSON:  There is no party who has ever had a stronger tailwind, at least in my life, than the Democrats have now.  I mean, it‘s—Carville said to me a year ago, you know, kid was like, if we lose this election, we should just fold up the tent and sell insurance, because this really is the un-losable election. 

LIZZA:  It‘s true.

CARLSON:  And these are just, of course, a snapshot, and things change and the future is not, you know, a continuation of today and all of that.  But it is still remarkable that McCain even has a shot. 

LIZZA:  Yes, he is the—through no fault of their own, somehow the Republican Party nominated the one guy who could transcend the sort of brand crisis that they are—they have right now. 

The question is, McCain has this franchise, he has this—the McCain brand is very powerful.  But the big question for him is, will he be able to sort of exercise it through the campaign?  I mean, he still has—and we were talking before the show how the polls show that Republicans are consolidating around him. 

But he still has an issue of trust with the elites in the party.  And they have some big strategic decisions to make on policy.  Where do they end up on immigration?  Where do they end up on global warming?  You know, where do they end up on some of these issues that conservatives really care about? 

Because to exercise the McCain franchise and to actually win this election, McCain has to run as a different kind of Republican.  He has to run subtly against Bush.  But every time he tries to do that on some of these issues, he is going to raise doubts among the talk radio crowd and conservatives in Washington.  And you know, that‘s the line he is going to have to cross the whole way through. 

RUSSERT:  But, if Hillary Clinton is the Democrat, or Barack Obama post-Reverend Wright, won‘t those talk show hosts gulp hard and say, you know what, he‘s our guy?

LIZZA:  Yes.  He will rally his base, but still, he has to—at the end of the day, he has to put his cards on the table policy-wise.  And a lot of the Republican policy, the reason we see these generic polls, Democrats walloping Republicans by double digits, is when the rubber hits the road, it‘s about certain policies. 

It‘s about the war in Iraq.  It‘s about the environment in some key states.  And McCain has to make some big decisions about where he comes down on those issues.  And he has a wing of his party that, frankly, is out of step with where the middle is in this country right now. 

Now look, Bush won under similar circumstances.  In 2000, the Republicans were facing a similar problem, and Bush—how did he win?  He won by re-branding conservatism, by trying to become a different kind of Republican. 

The big difference between Bush in 2000 and McCain in 2008 is Bush had a huge store of goodwill among conservatives.  He had been wooing them for years with Karl Rove, bringing them back to Texas.

RUSSERT:  And they turned out.

LIZZA:  And they turned out.  So he had those conservative bona fides so he could move to the middle.  McCain has this problem where he is from the middle, so he has got to go the—he has got to start this race assuring the right wing.

RUSSERT:  And if he goes to the right, does he lose the center?

LIZZA:  Exactly.  I mean.

RUSSERT:  Tucker, were you surprised McCain was over in Iraq and a couple of times talked about al Qaeda being trained by Iran, right, and then corrected on camera by Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman?  Some called it a stumble, others said, he just plain got it wrong.

CARLSON:  I‘d be surprised—I‘d be surprised if it was anything more than a verbal gaffe.  I mean, I—you know, this is—and maybe I‘m giving him too much credit, I spent a lot of time with McCain, though, and I do think he is very—he is fluent in the language of diplomacy and foreign policy. 

I mean, he actually could pass the test, you know, who is the president of Burkina-Faso?  I mean, I don‘t know if he could pull that off, but he could come pretty close.  He is good at this stuff. 

And I‘ve got to think, you know, that was probably the jet lag talking.  If he does that a couple of more times, and then it becomes an age question, and that‘s a potentially devastating problem.  But I would be surprised if he does it again.

LIZZA:  You think people would start to say that, hey, he doesn‘t know this stuff because he‘s senile?

CARLSON:  Ellen Goodman, who is the first sort of big-name columnist I have seen do this, wrote a column very recently the other day saying, you know, is he all there?  I mean, a lot of—you know, a third of people over 70 or whatever, are losing mental capacity.  Maybe he is.  I mean, that—geez. 

You know, there has been a reluctance to say things like that out loud.  That‘s considered mean and unfair and almost a species of, you know, attacking someone‘s gender or race.  But if people start doing that, all polls show that‘s a major concern. 

Older voters don‘t want a president over 70, for some reason.

RUSSERT:  It‘s interesting, in our polling, final question here, people want the country to be united.  They want to come together.  Obama, they say, can do that, 60 to 34.  McCain, say they, can do that 58-35.  Clinton, 46 yes, 50 no. 

It‘s very—still polarizing.  But McCain, and this goes to your point, Ryan, he is looked at as a unifier, but if he has to deal with his Republican hardcore base, that may come apart as well.

LIZZA:  Yes.  And look, frankly, the record of both McCain and Obama in sort of bringing people together is mixed.  I mean, they both, you know, have grown up in a time where things are very polarized.  Obama points to some things he did in the state senate, you know, they‘re not that dramatic.  He didn‘t do a whole lot in the Senate.

And McCain, McCain didn‘t necessarily bring people together so much in the Senate as sort of buck his party on a number of issues.  So where they get the credibility on this issue I‘m not quite sure.

But anyway, you‘re right, McCain—his big challenge is, can he exercise this franchise that he has built up over the years?  Or is he so locked into the right that he never gets to that point?

RUSSERT:  And in 10 seconds, Obama‘s biggest challenge?

CARLSON:  I think Obama‘s biggest challenge is continuing to define himself before he is defined by other people.  Who is this guy?  That‘s still an outstanding question and he has got to answer it quick.

LIZZA:  Yes, absolutely.

RUSSERT:  We‘re going to save this tape and have you guys back after Indiana, North Carolina.  Tucker Carlson, Ryan Lizza, thanks very much. 

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

END   

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