updated 4/16/2008 11:31:14 AM ET 2008-04-16T15:31:14

Guest: Sen. John McCain

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  From Villanova University, the “HARDBALL College Tour” with special guest John McCain!

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  So...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Incredible energy!

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s great.  Here we are at Villanova.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MATTHEWS:  This is...

MCCAIN:  With a son of Philadelphia, PA.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Thank you.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MATTHEWS:  The—this is the home of Big Five basketball, big—you know, Big East, the whole thing, you know?

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MATTHEWS:  So this is what it‘s like to be president, right this moment.  It‘s going to be like this if you make it.  You‘re a flip of the coin away from being the president of the United States, based on all the polls.  You‘re about 50/50.  The toughest question first is for you.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  Can I—can I...

MATTHEWS:  The question is...

MCCAIN:  Can I ask you a question first?

MATTHEWS:  No.

MCCAIN:  Cheese steaks, Pat‘s or Gino‘s?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MCCAIN:  Do you refuse to answer?

MATTHEWS:  The answer is, take your chances!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go—here we go, the tough one, and it is tough.  Right now, President Bush has a favorability as of today of 28 percent in the polls, the Gallup poll.  How will you be different than President Bush?

MCCAIN:  Well, I think that there‘s many philosophies and views and vision that  we share for America.  There are other areas, specific areas, in which we are in disagreement.  Chris, I think the American people will judge their—or make their choice for the presidency on who they believe, not only their record, but how they articulate a vision for the future.  That‘s why forums like these, very honestly, are things that are important to me to be on so I can communicate directly not only with the people of this country but with the young people of this nation.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s get to that.

MCCAIN:  So what‘s an area of disagreement?  Climate change.  Climate change.  I believe that climate change is real.  I think we have to act...

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MCCAIN:  And I‘ve said that for many, many years.  I would just like to put the question this way to my fellow Americans.  Suppose that we are wrong and there‘s no such thing as climate change but we go ahead and adopt green technologies and we reduce greenhouse gas emissions?  All we‘ve done is give our kids a cleaner planet, OK?  But suppose...

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MCCAIN:  Suppose we are right and do nothing.  Suppose we just continue this endless debate and continue the increase of greenhouse gas emissions, and we hand these wonderful Americans a damaged planet?  I think the answer to that is pretty obvious.  And by the way, that question was posed first—I saw it—by former prime minister Tony Blair.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re also- you disagree with him on torture.

MCCAIN:  Absolutely.  And could I take a few seconds on that?  Because I think it‘s important because I think it‘s what America‘s all about and what kind of country we are.  We should never, ever torture anyone who is in the custody of the United States of America because...

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN:  ... because the struggle we‘re in with radical Islamic extremism, which is going to be with us for decades, and that is that it‘s a military/diplomatic intelligence and ideological struggle.  If we‘re not any better than our enemies, then does it make it harder for young people to choose.

I was in Baghdad over Thanksgiving last year.  I met with a high-ranking member—former high-ranking member of al Qaeda.  I asked him, I said, How did you do so well after the initial military success that the Americans and the coalition forces had?  He said two things.  One was the lawlessness that—and the environment that took place after the Americans and their allies won the military victory.  He said, but the second was Abu Ghraib.  He said, Abu Ghraib was my greatest recruiting tool.  Everybody here knows what Abu Ghraib was.

So my point is that for the future of this country, we have to make sure that we remain a nation that does not do things that our enemies do.  And I promise you, my friends, I‘ll close Guantanamo Bay and we will never torture another person in our custody again.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN:  And I know we have a full hour, but I‘ll make my further answers shorter, but that‘s a very important question about what kind of a country we are and what kind of country we‘ve been and what kind of a country we‘ll be in the 21st century.

MATTHEWS:  I want to get back to that in a moment about the vision that you have for you‘re presidency.  Let me ask you a tough one.  That‘s Joe Biden, the ranking member of—you‘re smiling?  He‘s the ranking member.  He‘s right from near here, the state of Delaware, of course.  He‘s the ranking—he‘s actually the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.  And he said...

MCCAIN:  A good guy.  A really—one of the good guys.

MATTHEWS:  He said you‘re joined at the hip today with the administration on the future of Iraq policy, joined at the hip.

MCCAIN:  Why should I be surprised that Joe Biden—not surprised that Joe Biden in the year 2008 would be disagreeing with me?  Look, I have open and honest discussions with Joe Biden, and they‘re respectful ones.  He‘s a fine man.  We have a fundamental difference of opinion about what we should be doing there, as we have for a long time.  Joe Biden wanted to divide Iraq into three countries.  I rejected that idea as unsound and a threat to our security.

But the point is that I think we are succeeding.  And I know we‘re going to have a long conversation about this.  We need to continue to have a conversation with the American people.  The war was mishandled terribly for nearly four years by Donald Rumsfeld and this administration.  I fought against it.  I argued against.  And I argued for the new strategy, which is succeeding.  It‘s long and hard and tough.  We just passed not that long ago the 4,000th brave young American who was sacrificed in this conflict.  But I believe that the strategy is succeeding.  I believe the benefits of success are enormous.  I believe the consequences of failure are also enormous.  So I think there‘s a lot at stake here.

We can look back at the past and argue about whether we should have gone to war or not, whether we should have invaded or not, and that‘s a good academic argument.  But we‘re there now, and the question is, is what we do in the future.  And I believe that after the war is over that we can enter into a security agreement with the Iraqis.  And I‘m sure the 100-year issue will...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... because I‘d like to talk about that.  You said we will have a military presence for 100 years, which will be a period like our occupation in Japan, or our occupation, actually, in Korea and Germany.  But in Japan—we had a Republican president elected in ‘52.  He went to Korea.  He signed an armistice.  And we‘ve had 55 years of only limited casualties.  Only, like, one year in the ‘60 we had a bad year.  Generally, it‘s only been 90 people killed, all the way back to ‘53.  How do we get to that point in Iraq, where we can have this 100 years or endless period of military presence?

MCCAIN:  First of all, the conversation was at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire.  I believe in town hall meetings.  I think they‘re so important, and not only so that I can hear from people but we can have an exchange.  And I was in a back-and-forth with an individual, and he said, Well, you‘re going to be there for 50 -- I said, Maybe 100, after the war is over.

In South Korea, the point you made, there was an armistice.  We maintained a military presence there.  Americans were fine with that because it provided stability and it was a deterrent from North Korea again attacking South Korea.  So that security arrangement was fine.  After this war is won, then we may or may not—I hope that maybe there‘s a security arrangement such as we have with Kuwait or other countries, but maybe not.

But Chris, the point is American casualties.  If we‘d had a continuous loss of brave young Americans in South Korea after the armistice, I think Americans would have said, Bring them home.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MCCAIN:  But as you said, we didn‘t.  So the key to it is American casualties.  And so I believe those casualties are declining.  I believe it‘s long and hard and tough, as we‘ve just seen in the last couple weeks with this uptick in violence and more losses.  So I think that over time, as the Iraqis take over more and more of their responsibilities for their own security, then American troops withdraw and gradually withdraw.

MATTHEWS:  Do we have to defeat all the people in that country who are interested in advancing Iranian influence before we can leave?

MCCAIN:  I don‘t think so.  I think we have to establish an environment of security—political, economic and military—so that people can lead their normal lives.  I think there‘s going to be upheaval and ethnic and sectarian violence for a long time in that region.  We see now the Iranian trying to reassert an age-old Persian ambition, as you know...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MCCAIN:  ... to increase their influence, particularly in southern Iraq, and they‘ve had some success there.  So I think there‘s going to be violence and I think there‘s going to be difficulties.  But I think we‘ve got to reach a point where the Iraqi military and law enforcement are able to carry out those responsibilities, and not the Americans being on the front line.

That‘s happening in Mosul as we speak, and we‘re doing pretty well.  And in full disclosure, in frankness and candor, straight talk, the Maliki movement to Basra had a very big down side to it because, you know, we saw a thousand police and military desert their posts.  But the rest of the military did a pretty good job, did a pretty good job.  We did secure the port of the Basra.  Maybe I‘m digging for the pony here, but...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I‘m just wondering how long it takes to get there.

MCCAIN:  Well, I think that right now, the priority should be Mosul, which is one of the last outposts of al Qaeda.  There‘s a saying that people have that al Qaeda can‘t succeed without having control of Baghdad, and they can‘t survive without Mosul.  So this fight‘s going to take a couple months.  As you know, it‘s block by block...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MCCAIN:  ... neighborhood by neighborhood.  So in Basra, the Iraqi military has made some progress there, but the infiltration of the Iranians, the sectarian violence and competition between Shiite militias is intense, and it‘s a very tough situation.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Senator John McCain with more questions now from the students.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back at Villanova University outside Philadelphia, a week before the Pennsylvania primary on the Democratic side.  We have here with me—the man who‘s called the presumptive—I love that phrase—the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, a man who‘s a flip of the coin away from running this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  This is—we got...

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MATTHEWS:  I think we have the Cro Magnon men over here.  Here we go. 

Your question, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good afternoon, Senator McCain, Mr. Matthews.  My name is Matthew Brady (ph).  Senator McCain, the day following Barack Obama‘s speech on racism at the National Constitution Center, he remarked on comments he made during his speech about his racist grandmother, referring to her as a “typical white person.”  Would you characterize yourself, as Barack Obama would phrase, as a typical white person?

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN:  May I say first that I thought that Senator Obama‘s speech was an excellent speech and I think it was well presented.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MCCAIN:  I think it was an important statement that he had to make at the time, and I think it was—I think it was good for all of America to have heard it.  I can‘t comment directly as to how I portray myself, except to say that I hope that all of us learn over the years the need and the importance of treating everyone in this nation only and solely on the attributes they have and their ability to follow their ambitions and their hopes and dreams as far as they‘ll take them.

And I think that this campaign has contributed to that debate and that progress, and so I applaud him for the statement he made, the differences that will take place and that will be discussed between myself and Senator Obama, if he‘s the nominee, or Senator Clinton, if she‘s the nominee and would be the first woman nominee in history, as you know, of a major party, then that will be on our vision for America, our values, our beliefs and our views of the role of government in America.

But I do believe that I will present a vision of optimism and strength and the profound belief and conviction that America‘s best days lie ahead of us.  So I‘m sorry if I basically ducked the question, but...

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  ... but I want to say that I think Americans, all Americans, want a respectful campaign.  They want that and they want (INAUDIBLE)

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi, Senator McCain.  My name is Peter Doocey (ph).  I‘m a junior here.  And I‘m sure that you saw your—one of your Democratic opponents, Hillary Clinton, recently drinking whiskey shots with some potential voters.  Now, I was wondering if you think that she‘s finally resorted to hitting the sauce just because of some unfavorable polling.  And I was also wondering if you would care to join me for a shot after this.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN:  I did not see the clip of it, but I certainly heard about it. 

And whatever makes Senator Clinton happy is...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MCCAIN:  ... is certainly—certainly what she—the...

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  You know, I‘ve had two of the best questions, or the toughest questions that I have ever had...

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t they great?

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MCCAIN:  ... in the last two questions. 

I think it‘s important for all of us to show that we understand Americans and appreciate them.  I happen to be a big sports fan.  What I would like to do is take everybody and join everybody that can to me as the Suns defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs coming up. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  That‘s what I—oh, I see we have...

MATTHEWS:  Well...

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  No, I—I think it‘s important for us to keep on the things that we enjoy. 

I enjoy hiking and fishing and swimming and the beauty of Arizona.  And I also enjoy sports a great deal, including some of the teams that are right here at Villanova.  But I also want to say...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MCCAIN:  ... that...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MCCAIN:  And I‘m rambling a little.  But as a mediocre high school athlete, there‘s nobody I admire more than great athletes. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘m so proud of Villanova, because we came here hoping for the best.  And we got two of the most wiseass questions in the world.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s just a tribute to the academic rigor of this school.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  We will be right back with more from Villanova. 

I‘m so proud of this place. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back at Villanova. 

And we have had enough softball, Senator.  It‘s time for the show to start here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  These two wise guys with these setup passes to you, those alley-oops...

MCCAIN:  Those last two were...

MATTHEWS:  ... alley-oops right at the basket.  You had to put them in.

Let me ask you a tough one here. 

MCCAIN:  Those weren‘t tough? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We have done the Abu Ghraib stuff.  We‘re getting to the domestic Abu Ghraib here. 

Is Barack Obama an elitist? 

MCCAIN:  No.  But I do believe that his statements were elitist. 

I think the comments about America and small towns in Pennsylvania, which I guess would apply to across America, the values and the faith that they have, I think, is immutable and unshakable.  I think that the fact that they like to hunt has nothing to do with their economic conditions. 

I think that they respect and cherish the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  And I think their faith, as I said, is something that goes on in bad times and good.  These people were the ones that went through the Great Depression and then went to war and made the world safe for democracy, and came home and built a better nation than we have today. 

And I think that it‘s from the small towns and the large, but, from all over America, that people have hope and optimism and faith in this nation and their future, and a real feeling of the unique nature of the United States of America.  And we are a unique experiment in history.  And the greatest thing about America and these young people out here today is the small—from the—people from the small towns in Pennsylvania want to continue to serve a cause greater than their self-interest. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think a guy, Barack Obama, who grew up in not exactly easy circumstances—he—his father went back to Africa after he was just born, basically.  He was raised in Indonesia, a Third World country, a white American mother, basically never had any breaks, except he‘s a smart guy, obviously.

But why do you think he thinks like an elitist, or talks like one, if he‘s not an elitist? 

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know what shapes his views.  I don‘t know what would cause someone to say something like that.  Frankly, that—those kinds of thoughts have never been in my—my realm of view about this great nation. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it relevant to the general election, if you face him in the general election?  Would you bring that back and remind him of that, remind the voters of that?  Or would your independent committees, do you think they would be doing it as well, or otherwise?

MCCAIN:  One of the things I—one of the things I regret most about this—this general election is the—quote—“527s.”  Many of the people in this audience don‘t even know what a 527 is. 

It‘s this independent—and I use the word loosely, “independent”—unlimited expenditure of money to run attack ads on—on candidates.  And it‘s unfortunate, because I think that Americans want a respectful debate, as I said before.  And I think they want to know about the qualifications of the candidate, not just attacks. 

I defended John Kerry when he was attacked on his war record in 2004.  And I would do so again.  But it‘s unfortunate, and it‘s against the ‘74 law.  And I won‘t go into that detail.

MATTHEWS:  Would you sit down with the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, Hillary or Barack, and agree to them that there will be no outside sleazeball attacks by either side, that you will tell your people you will condemn any attack, like a swift-boating, and you will both agree to do that up front, right after you get the nomination?  Would you do that?

MCCAIN:  I would love to do that. 

During the primary, there was a 52...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MCCAIN:  During the primary, there was a 527 that sprang up.  And I asked them to stop.  And I asked them to stop.

MATTHEWS:  Did they listen? 

MCCAIN:  They stopped.  They stopped. 

MATTHEWS:  So, it works? 

MCCAIN:  I think so.  I think so.  And I believe that it can.

MATTHEWS:  So, there will be no—there will be no shots at the other person‘s character by these—and other things about elitism or Bosnia or stuff like that for Hillary? 

MCCAIN:  Yes.  The response to that—and there was another candidate in the primary that a 527 ran attacks on me. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCAIN:  And that person said—with legitimacy—said, it‘s a free country.  I have the freedom of speech.  If I want to attack John McCain, I can. 

I mean, so we get into constitutional issues, obviously, here. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCAIN:  But—and I—and, again, I hate to get into these arcane aspects of it.

But we passed a law in ‘74, after the Watergate scandal, that said we would limit campaign contributions that an individual could make, because we thought that that influence...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCAIN:  ... of money that brought about the Watergate scandal was too much.  Well, this is obviously an evasion of a law that‘s still on the books. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you will take the federal money in the general? 

MCCAIN:  Pardon me? 

MATTHEWS:  You will take the federal money, and not take... 

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN:  I certainly will, with utmost consideration, do that. 

Senator Obama, a year ago, signed a piece of paper that said that, if the Republican nominee would take the public financing.... 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCAIN:  ... he would, too.  Now...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to hold him to that if he gets the nomination? 

MCCAIN:  Well he has now, in all due respect...

MATTHEWS:  Well, are you going to hold him to it publicly?

MCCAIN:  I have been trying to hold him to it, because that‘s all got to with what...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN:  ... America is about.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re getting stuff done here.

We will be right back.

We‘re getting stuff done at Villanova. 

MCCAIN:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  We will be right back. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MCCAIN:  Thank you. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back at Villanova on the “College Tour.” 

First question. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi.  It‘s a pleasure to have you guys here.  And I promise to take it easy on you, Senator McCain. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m just curious, besides climate change, what do you think is the most important issue to our generation?  And I want to know your stance on that issue. 

MCCAIN:  Keeping the nation secure, obviously.  I mean, we have to always face that as our...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MCCAIN:  ... as our first priority. 

I think there‘s one other aspect here that—and it may not be as specific as you want.  But, as you know, there‘s a dramatic loss of confident and trust in government.  When you look at the approval ratings of the government, all parts of it, the last approval rating I saw of Congress, I think, was 19 percent. 

You get down that low, you get down to paid staffers and blood relatives. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  And we have—we have got to do business in Washington, so that we really carry out the agenda the American people have, not our own, not catering to special interests...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MCCAIN:  ... not doing, not—and—and one of those areas where we Republicans have failed as much or more, in my view, than the other party is in spending. 

We let spending get completely out of control, to the point...

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN:  ... where we have lost the confidence of the American people. 

We—we once spent $3 million not long ago to study the DNA of bears in Montana.  I don‘t know if that was a paternity issue or a criminal issue. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  But—and it gets—and you laugh and you joke about it when you read about these pork-barrel projects.  People talk about them all the time on Chris‘ show.  But, after a while, it runs into real money. 

In the last two years, the president signed into law two big spending bills that had 35 billion—billion—worth of earmark projects on it.  That could have been a $1,000 tax credit for every child in America, I‘m told. 

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN:  But the point is, it‘s got to stop.

It‘s your money.  It‘s not ours. 

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN:  And we begin to believe that it‘s ours and not yours. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)  

MCCAIN:  And that—and I—and I believe that being careful stewards of Americans‘ tax dollars is one of the most important ways of restoring trust and confidence on the part of the American people in their government. 

Then, we will take on fixing Medicare, Social Security, and the other serious challenges that we cannot hand off to your generation. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Next question, please. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi, Senator.  My name is Allie Flukes (ph).  And I would like to thank you for being with us.

In the past, you have talked about enforcing a rogue state rollback foreign policy.  Do you stand by that today?  And, if so, how will you implement it? 

MCCAIN:  I think we have a lot of challenges in the world.  I think the overriding challenge is radical Islamic extremism. 

As I said, I think it‘s an ideological struggle, at the end of the day, not that much different in some ways than our ideological struggle with communism and—and the Soviet Union. 

But I also think that, with the proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, we have to do what‘s necessary to try to prevent those countries from acquiring those weapons which could destroy us. 

In the Iranian situation, as we all know, overwhelming evidence is that they are developing nuclear weapons.  I think, at the end of the day, we can‘t allow them to have nuclear weapons.  But I think that we should join together with other nations, the French, the British.

By the way, in case you haven‘t noticed, we now have a pro-American president of France, which shows, if you live long enough, anything can happen in this world, as you know.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MCCAIN:  We can...

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN:  We can exercise and effectively act together with other nations, diplomatically, trade, economic, and other ways. 

In other words, I wasn‘t saying that we go around and declare war.  I am saying we nations of like values, principles and the belief in democracy and freedom should make efforts to modify the behavior of those countries. 

Does that help? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thank you. 

MCCAIN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Iran, because you said, let‘s not go back and argue about the roots of the Iraq war and the rights and wrongs.

There‘s a lot of stories floating around D.C., as you may know, true or false...

MCCAIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... that we are very intent on stopping the Quds Force in Iran, the radicals, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, et cetera, that are helping arm and supply and train people coming in and killing our guys in Iraq. 

Some people think the war with Iran has already begun, in proxy, in Iraq, and that we will go across the border, under this administration, and take a shot at those camps.  That will cause a retaliation from Ahmadinejad, and then we will go after his nuclear facilities. 

Would you be for that kind of escalatory move on our part that could yield that kind of ultimate result? 

MCCAIN:  I think, first of all, your statement about the Iranians arming and training and equipping elements that are in southern Iraq, particularly, but in Baghdad is—

MATTHEWS:  Call them special groups. 

MCCAIN:  We call them special groups.  Some say they were—a lot of them were responsible for the shelling in the green zone.  More importantly for carrying out some of the acts they have carried out—they are also, the Iranians, exporting some of the most lethal explosive devices, these copper—parts of them are copper that are most lethal. 

I don‘t think there‘s any doubt about Iranian ambitions in the region.  There‘s been a Persian ambition for a long time.  I don‘t think there‘s any doubt about the nature of this regime.  It‘s oppressive and repressive and extremist, as you know.

I think it‘s a threat, but I do believe that we can exercise a lot of options before we consider that one seriously.  As I said just a second ago, I don‘t think we can allow Iran to have nuclear weapons.  Also, by the way, they‘re dedicated to the extinction of the state of Israel.  That should alarm us when a country is dedicated to the extinction of its neighbor and is progressing towards the acquisition of the means of doing that, the capability of doing that. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the red line, senator? 

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know what the red line is, Chris, except to say that I believe that we can act with nations of values and principles that we hold dear, and exercise enormous pressure, diplomatic, trade, financial—there are financial institutions in Europe right now that are extending unlimited lines of credit to the Iranians.  Of course, why not?  They‘ve got their oil. 

I think they‘re a shaky government.  Their economy is poor despite their oil revenues, because of their lousy government.  And I think we have to exercise those options long before we consider a military one, because, as you just described it, I think the consequences of military escalation are very severe. 

I also think Russian—excuse me, Iranian—the Russians are blocking some of the progress we want to make through the United Nations Security Council, as you know.  The Iranians are close to, in the view of many people, reaching a, quote, tipping point at least in the technology.  They‘ve reached such a point in developing it that it is inevitable that they do develop a nuclear weapon. 

MATTHEWS:  And a delivery capacity.  They could create a missile. 

MCCAIN:  Yes, that‘s their intelligence, published intelligence that says that.  The other affect would be that every other nation in the region would then—they would feel compelled to develop nuclear weapons.  How do you think the Saudis would—

MATTHEWS:  The concern a lot of people have is we‘re fighting a war that‘s not done by any means in Afghanistan, as you know.  You‘ve been over there.  The Baghdad situation is very unstable for a while now, at least.  Can we take on a third Islamic war? 

MCCAIN:  I think it would be incredibly difficult.  But here‘s one of the things I would do as president: I would be calling in the leaders of Congress and the Intelligence Committee and I would say, look, my friends, here‘s a situation that‘s unfolding.  I think it‘s pretty much as you describe it.  Let‘s examine our options. 

If god forbid, and I say that with all sincerity, we have to put Americans in harm‘s way ago, I want you to be in on the takeoff, as well as the landing.  I would intensely and extensively consult with members of Congress.  And I can‘t say that we will never use that option of military involvement, and there‘s all kinds of military involvement, ranging from air strikes to all out war. 

I think there‘s so many options we have to explore.  If we ever have to go to the American people and send these young people in harm‘s way, we‘re going to have to make an even more convincing argument that it was necessary to do so because of our failure to find weapons of mass destruction.  I think that‘s straight talk. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why the red line is so important.  Is it weaponization or is it prior to that capability to develop a weapon?  What you call the tipping point, once they go beyond the tipping point, their ability to create these weapons, is that the point, or is it the weaponization itself of nuclear weaponry? 

MCCAIN:  I can‘t answer that. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t want to? 

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know exactly what the technology would be, how many weapons it would be.  That‘s a scenario that I can‘t envision all the details of.  But it would have to be made clear to the overwhelming majority of Americans that there was a clear and present danger, not just that it‘s going to be developing, OK, because there is a credit—getting a little straight talk, there‘s a credibility gap. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not preemptive, not preventive?  Preemptive?  Remember the Six-Day War?  The Israelis stopped the Arabs from coming at them.  That was preemptive.  It wasn‘t preventive.  It wasn‘t thinking about they might do it.  It‘s that they were doing it.  Is that the point we stop the enemy, when they‘re doing it or when they might be able to do it? 

MCCAIN:  Rather than using either one of those words, I think you would have to say, you can go to the American people and say, our very security and the lives of Americans are at risk.  Wherever they are in that process, you—

MATTHEWS:  -- strategic threat to our economy. 

MCCAIN:  To the United States of America. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Senator John McCain.  We‘ll be back at Villanova in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back at Villanova.  I  have to ask you a question about the other party and the fight that‘s still going on over there, especially in Pennsylvania here between now and next Tuesday.  Very unclear at this point how this one‘s going to turn out.  Why do you think so many young people are excited by the words of Barack Obama?  What he says? 

MCCAIN:  First of all, I think he‘s extremely eloquent.  And second of all, I think that there is a desire for change out there in America.  There is a desire for change.  And the kind of change that I think I can make is reaffirm America‘s faith in their future, in their ability to educate their children, to serve this country, and I think that I can provide that motivation. 

I think he has done a very good job at motivating young people, and I will contest every vote of every young American.  That‘s why I was on “The View.”  That‘s why I did Letterman.  That‘s why I‘m here, is because I have to do—I have to do everything I can to present a vision for these young people‘s future, because really, that‘s why I‘m running for president. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me—

MCCAIN:  That‘s why I‘m running for president, because of you. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your Republican party.  You‘ve been a maverick, and a lot of people like you because of that.  I want to ask you how much of a maverick you are.  Would you put a person on the ticket with you, like the former governor of this state who is very popular, Tom Ridge, even though he may disagree on the issue of Roe v Wade and abortion rights?  Would you put somebody on the ticket like that, on that one issue?  Would that stop him? 

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know if it would stop him, but it would be difficult.  I just want to say that Tom Ridge is one of the great Americans.  He served in the Vietnam War.  He served in Congress.  He served as a great governor of this state.  I am proud to call him my friend. 

MATTHEWS:  Why that one issue?  Why is it that one litmus test issue?

MCCAIN:  I‘m not saying that would be necessarily, but I am saying it‘s basically the respect and cherishing of the right of the unborn is one of the fundamental principles of my party.  And it‘s a—and it‘s a deeply held belief of mine.  But I just want to say, again, the admiration and respect and affection that I have for Tom Ridge—he and I came to the Congress together many years ago.  And I can‘t tell you how much I admire him. 

MATTHEWS:  A lot of people, senator—I looked at the polls.  They have some value, not just who‘s going to win, because that‘s not always predictable, even with the polls.  But a lot of people in Florida, for example, who say that they‘re pro-choice Republicans—I don‘t even like that phrase, pro-choice.  They support the woman‘s ultimate right to make the decision.  They like you, even though they disagree with you.  Explain that. 

MCCAIN:  The only thing I can say is that in America we can disagree sometimes on specific issues even if they‘re of the most important issues.  And I want to say that the rights of the unborn is one of my most important values, but we can have disagreement.  There is room for debate in our nation and our party.  We should have a healthy and respectful discussion and debate on these issues. 

I realize you‘re going to have to change the culture of America before there‘s full respect given to the right of the unborn.  I understand that.  And I look forward to the debate and discussion and a respectful fashion. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  We‘re right back with more from Villanova, the last section of the show. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back here at Villanova University, on the eve of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary.  And I‘m here with the presumptive nominee of the Republican party for president, a man that‘s about a 50/50 bet right now to be our next leader of the world.  The Republican party has had some amazing presidents since the beginning of the 21st century, Teddy Roosevelt, every Democrat‘s favorite Republican, who stood for conservation and trust busting, and Ike Eisenhower, who received the Nazi surrender, came back and gave us an era of peace and prosperity, and Ronald Reagan, the great communicator. 

What will you—and this is important, with all humility, when you go to bed at night and you think about what your presidency might be like, paint a portrait in those ways, a big iconic notion of a John McCain presidency. 

MCCAIN:  That‘s a very tough question.  Could I just preface my remarks, because I think this is our last section.  I thank all of you for being here.  I thank you for being who you are.  I thank you for being so fortunate as to attend this wonderful institution.  And go Wildcats.  Thank you very much.  Thank you. 

Chris, I think we all want to be remembered, and I think if it‘s a humbling experience to have the nomination of the party with predecessors like the ones you just described.  In fact, one of my real personal heroes was T.R., because Teddy Roosevelt had a vision for the future of America as it emerged in the 20 century as a great world super power.  And he had this incredible also believe and faith and confidence in the future of America. 

He was not perfect, but I strongly recommend that you read some biographies of him, because of his greatness and his strength.  Let me just say that I think that I want to be remembered as a person, no matter whether I‘m president of the United States or not, who had the great honor to serve this country in difficult times and sometimes under difficult circumstances.  I always try to do so an imperfect servant, but one who did so with honor.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Senator John McCain.  Thank you, Villanova University.  Everybody register to vote.

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

END   

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

Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,