updated 8/30/2004 6:39:54 PM ET 2004-08-30T22:39:54

Guests: Karl Rove, Douglas Brinkley, Scott O‘Grady

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I want to be your president for four more years to make our economy stronger.  I want to be your president for four more years to make our  future brighter and better for every one of our citizens.  I want to be your president for four more years to make our country safer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BROKAW, NBC ABCHOR:  Good afternoon, everyone.  From Madison Square Garden in the heart of New York, the 2004 Republican National Convention  now is under way here in New York City.  And security is extremely tight.  So are the poll numbers in the presidential race.  Today‘s agenda includes tributes to the tragedy and the heroism seen so clearly and graphically in this city on September 11,  2001.  It‘s meant to highlight President Bush‘s leadership in the war on terror.  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell is   standing by on the convention floor now to give us an idea of  what we can expect today and throughout the week—Andrea. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Tom, as you said, they are going to highlight 9/11.  Here we are in New York City so close to ground zero.  And there has been some criticism that the Republicans might be trying to exploit the tragedy.  But, in fact, they believe, they say, that there is no way that they could hold this convention without talking about 9/11.  And the Boston convention, the   Democrats did the same thing. 

And also, they have, of course, tonight, Rudy Giuliani, who was the bipartisan hero of the   response to the nation‘s tragedy.  He will be speaking.  He will be highlighting president‘s leadership, so will, of course, John McCain, a former rival of the president‘s, but he has now completely embraced the  president, at least in his active campaigning for the re-election of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. 

The vice president came out as they were beginning the roll call earlier today in the morning session here on the convention floor.  He and wife Lynne, their daughters, Mary, who is helping run the campaign, and Liz, who is also deeply involved in the campaign, and their three granddaughters who are big celebrities here on the floor for the convention delegates.  A big rousing cheer for them. 

And then when they left and they dropped the roll call for a bit, finished the platform, acceptance of the platform, which is far more conservative, of course, then the wishes of those who are speaking, including McCain and Giuliani, moderate Republicans.  But the platform is, of course, to reassure the base.  The speakers are to reach out to independent and swing voters.  And that is going to be the message as they try to shape this convention to try to get more momentum from the advantage that they now see in polls where is they are now leading John Kerry narrowly as they go into their convention—Tom.

BROKAW:  Thanks very much.  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell on the floor of the convention.  Joining me here in the NBC News booth is Karl Rove, the president‘s senior political adviser, the mastermind of his election first as governor of California—Texas and then president of the United States.  California was (ph) a little tougher task for you, I think, it is fair to say. 

Andrea was just talking about the presence here of John McCain, George Pataki who will introduce the president on Thursday, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudy Giuliani, all moderate Republicans compared to the platform, certainly, and even to the president‘s own ideology.  Since so much of this week is going to be about the president‘s strong leadership, why not Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld and the others who are the architects of this policy on the war on terror and the war in Iraq? 

KARL ROVE, SR. ADVISER TO PRES. BUSH:  Well, it has been a long-held tradition that the members of the war cabinet, the secretary of state, secretary of defense, the national security adviser, don‘t make partisan, political appearances.  So I think you will see footage of them here this week, but I don‘t think it would be appropriate for the secretary of Defense or the secretary of state or the national security adviser to be speaking to the nation from the podium of the Republican National Convention. 

BROKAW:  In the past week, the president has called the war in Iraq a “catastrophic success.” He also said he miscalculated what would happen once so-called major combat came to an end.  If you were the parent of a child that had been lost in Iraq and you heard a president say, it was a miscalculation on my part  or it was a “catastrophic success,” which means it‘s a catastrophe as well as a success, wouldn‘t you be   outraged? 

ROVE:  No, look, let‘s put in it context.  When he was talking about miscalculations, what he was talking about was writing a war plan and executing a war plan and having the war plan roll out in a different way than was anticipated.  For example—two specific examples that he has talked about, one is there was an anticipation that there would be more big setpiece battles, that it would take longer and that there would be resistance that would require big engagements between U.S. and coalition troops and Special Republican Guard and Republican Guard units. 

It didn‘t happen.  We went—our military was so powerful and went through so many units so quickly that the Special Republican Guard and the Republican Guard melted away.  There are big concerns about food and refugee flows in the immediate aftermath of the war that did not materialize.  That is to say, we had lots of food ready to go in.  Some of it was needed, but nowhere near the amount that was anticipated.  And no major refugee flows occurred, which was a big concern of the war planners, that the   battle front would be disturbed by large number of people, hundreds of thousands of people if not millions of people leaving major cities in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE:  Look, the American people know, if you‘re a family who has got somebody in theater, and I can speak to that personally because I‘ve got—my wife‘s cousin has been over there and is about ready to go  back.  He was there for 14 months.  I have met a lot of these families.  They have confidence this president is going to finish the job, that he‘s going to get the job done in Iraq, which is going to have enormous consequences for the security of the United States and the peace of the region. 

BROKAW:  But at the same time, among the general American public, there are more doubts and  reservations.  Let‘s just share with you, if we can now, some recent questions that we asked in our NBC News poll.  First of all, that important question at this time of year, which is “right track or wrong track?” I don‘t have to tell you that the president‘s numbers about the wrong track are down lower than I suspect that you would like to have them be.  There it is right there.  Either 36 percent in the right direction, wrong track 50 percent.   That‘s up 2 points.  

“Iraq, was it worth it?” Again the public is saying, not worth it, 49 percent to 43 percent.  And then this interesting question on the economy, Mr. Rove, is the middle class - “is it improving or not improving for the middle and working class?” 61 percent to 30 percent, that‘s 2 to 1, not improving.  Those are tough numbers.

ROVE:  Well, look, I am not sure that I agree with your numbers as being indicative of anything.  What was the right direction, wrong track for Bill Clinton in October of 1996 before he scored a big victory?  39 percent.  I mean, we give so much scientific precision to these numbers it really doesn‘t exist.  If you are a parent and you turn on the television and see the kind of things that people see on television or read about in the newspapers, you may consider the country going in the wrong  direction, but you see George W. Bush as somebody who is standing on your side and dealing with the coarseness of the modern   culture.

But look, here is the bottom line, this election is going to be about a couple of big issues.  One is going to be about Iraq and another one is going to be about the economy.  And it‘s going to be not a   question of one person, but it‘s going to be a question of two and the comparison between the two.  And given a choice between the  strong and resolute leadership of this president in confronting the war on terror or this  president‘s prescriptions for getting our economy growing again, the American people, I have no doubt, are going to side with...

BROKAW:  Are those the twin themes and in that order, a strong leader against a war on terror and we‘re going to get this economy repaired, maybe not right away?

ROVE:  Well, I don‘t think that‘s all the campaign is about.  But those are the two biggest issues.  There are other issues though.  People want to know, do you share my values?  Are you going to take my side and help me bring about a more hopeful and optimistic country?  Do you have an idea of what it is that you want to do?  Do I have a sense of who you are that gives me confidence that you‘re not going to change with the  rising of the sun or next poll or focus group?  I think the election is about a lot of different things, but those are going to be the two dominant things. 

BROKAW:  Whatever happened to that flight suit the president was wearing and that big banner  that said “Mission Completed (sic)”?

ROVE:  Well, the “Mission Accomplished” banner, as I understand it, is in the possession of the U.S.S. Lincoln crew, which is exactly what the banner was meant to honor.  This aircraft carrier was on the longest deployment of any nuclear carrier in the history of America.  They fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They have every right to say their mission was accomplished.  I remind you in the speech the president made from that deck, he said there was a lot of work ahead.  We have major combat operations concluded, but there is a long way to go in bringing about a  secure Iraq.

BROKAW:  You and I were watching, before we went on the air, the scene of the president at  ground zero when he came up here and said, “the world will hear from you as well.” That was a riveting and iconic moment for him, but I gather we won‘t be seeing a lot of the video of the president on the Lincoln in his flight suit with “Mission  Accomplished” behind him. 

ROVE:  Well, I think you will hear a lot from this president about Iraq and about doing—getting the job done in Iraq.  I mean, I—it was a great moment, it was a good speech and we honored properly the sailors on the U.S.S. Lincoln.  And they have had every right to crow about having a mission accomplished because they did.

BROKAW:  Another issue that has blown up in recent weeks of course are the anti-Kerry veterans of Vietnam, the so-called “Swifties.” They said today that they are going to continue to buy commercial time and continue their ad campaign against John Kerry.  The president has said he does not believe that John Kerry lied about his service in Vietnam.  And told Matt Lauer on “THE TODAY SHOW” that he believed that John Kerry acted in a heroic way.  These men are saying that he did lie, so the president in effect is saying he believes John Kerry and not these guys. 

ROVE:  Well, the president has said he wants all these ads down.  This is not an issue that he would have raised or did raise.  He wants all these ads down.  I remind you that these 527 groups that spent $63 million trashing this president with some of the most scurrilous advertising, including ads that compared him to Adolf Hitler.  And these are—we would rather have the campaign fought between the two national parties and the two candidates, not these shadowy 527 groups.

BROKAW:  So it‘s OK with you, however, if they continue their ads?

ROVE:  We would like—I just said, we‘d like all the ads and activities of all the 527 groups to end.  We‘ve asked for them.  The Kerry campaign refuses to join with us in asking for an end to all the 527 activity.  They remained silent this spring when the president was being trashed by these ads that compared him to Adolf Hitler and said he was deliberately throwing away lives in Iraq, that he had a deliberate policy to send jobs to China.  I mean, all this trash the Kerry campaign was quiet on. 

We want all this stuff to end.  We passed the—the Congress passed and the president signed a bipartisan campaign reform act that said there are low—there are tight limits on how much money can be contributed to national parties and to political candidates.  These 527 groups are funded by literally multimillion dollar contributions from shadowy billionaires, three guys who contributed somewhere over $30 million.  George Soros, Peter Sterling (ph) of the University of Phoenix and Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance. 

Why are there one set of rules for wealthy billionaires and another set of rules for parties and political candidates?  Doesn‘t make sense. 

BROKAW:  But, Mr. Rove, you would not suggest that there‘s not a lot of money on the other side—on your side for...

ROVE:  For every dollar spent on the conservative side, the center right of this, there have been $25 spent on the liberal side of this.  Liberals have exploited this, again, funded by a handful of billionaires who do not like this president and want to defeat him.  And again, why is there one set of rules for them and another set of rules for candidates and political organizations? 

I would remind you, these are called 527 groups.  That refers to a part of the Internal Revenue Service code that says these are political groups that do not exist for the purpose of defeating or electing somebody to federal office.  How can these people who run these 527 groups with a straight face say we are not attempting to elect or defeat somebody in a political office when they are spending millions, tens of millions, probably at this point over $100 million on activities to defeat this president? 

BROKAW:  Let me ask you about one other issue.  The Log Cabin Republicans which is the gay Republican group, would like to open a debate on the floor of this convention about the platform plank that says that they don‘t approve of even the idea of civil unions for homosexual couples.  Why not have that kind of debate if you are an open and tolerant Republican? 

ROVE:  We could have a debate.  The party has rules regarding how minority planks are brought to the floor.  It requires a low threshold of support.  They‘re welcome to go out and try to line up the support to bring it to the floor, but there are rules just as both parties have rules so that there‘s a requirement of getting some minimal amount of support in order to bring an item up on the floor. 

BROKAW:  We want to just say as we go off the air here, show you a map.  And that‘s the electoral map of the country.  So-called battleground states are in there as well.  As you can see, Kerry is leading, Bush is leading.  Do you have any differentiation with that map as we...

ROVE:  I have big disagreements with it.  We‘re doing very well in Missouri.  We‘re up in Ohio.  The latest public polls in Ohio have us up.  Two polls this week in Pennsylvania have the president in the lead.  The latest poll in Wisconsin has him in the lead.  The Democrats are worried as heck about Oregon.  We‘re doing very—we‘re up in the latest public poll in Nevada.  The map is a little bit out of date. 

BROKAW:  And it could change again next week. 

ROVE:  And it will change again next week.  It will be that kind of election. 

BROKAW:  Karl Rove, thank you very much for coming.

ROVE:  Thank you. 

BROKAW:  Next, what President Bush and the Republicans need to accomplish this week.  I will be joined by presidential historian Douglas Brinkley who is the author of a book called “Tour of Duty” about the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.  Back in a moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Texas cast all its votes for her favorite son and the best father in America, George Bush. 

BROKAW (voice-over):  The 1988 Republican convention became a family affair for the Bush clan with George Sr. watching the proceedings on television, Texas delegate George W. Bush cast the convention‘s final votes, making the nomination for his father. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROKAW:  Governor Clements of Texas standing beside then just ordinary citizen George W. Bush.  I‘m joined now by Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian, director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies and an NBC news analyst.  Also the author of “Tour of Duty:  John Kerry and Vietnam.”

Let‘s talk first of all about George W. Bush in that scene.  What a lot of people don‘t appreciate about him is that he has a great passion for politics.  Ann Richards, whom he defeated in Texas, has said to her fellow Democrats, this guy knows what he‘s doing, he pays a lot of attention to Karl Rove.  The “New York Times” just this week wrote a long piece about how he‘s involved, wants to know what‘s going on in every precinct and that serves a candidate well. 

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Absolutely.  George W. Bush is a master politician.  He surrounds himself with great people like Karl Rove, but I think even more than that, he stole the playbook from Ronald Reagan.  He distanced himself from his own father and studied with Lee Atwater every move that Ronald Reagan makes. 

So when you go to Crawford, Texas, and you see the hay bales there and you see the president in his blue jeans giving that iconic cowboy, western, Texas, in Reagan‘s case California flavor, it‘s effective because that‘s one of the Marlboro Man image.  A kind of machoism if it moves, you shoot it.  That‘s a political style in Texas and it could be tough and it can be effective. 

BROKAW:  I want to choose my words carefully here because I don‘t want to offend members of the Bush family, but this president is more like his mother in that he‘s inclined to get in your face if he thinks that that‘s necessary, and his father is much less inclined to do that. 

BRINKLEY:  Absolutely.  His father George Bush is called a blue blood in many ways from the eastern establishment who left Connecticut for Texas, but is a gentleman.  This president goes for the jugular.  He is a tough, tough opponent.  He believes in doing whatever it takes to end up knocking out your opponent and it‘s going to—I think—going to be a very, very tough campaign. 

BROKAW:  In a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) way, you find yourself in the middle of a debate that‘s been going on in this campaign.  The so-called “Swifties” against John Kerry.  These were Swift Boat veterans in Vietnam who organized themselves.  They have an extensive ad campaign going on.  They‘ve written a book called “Unfit for Command.”

Just before we came on the air, I checked on Amazon.  It‘s number one.  Your book “Tour of Duty:  John Kerry in Vietnam” is about 1,500 on the bestseller list on Amazon.  In fairness, it has been out for a while and it has done extremely well.  Have you been surprised by the response to those veterans? 

BRINKLEY:  Somewhat.  I think—what surprised me is the way that it goes from the Internet to talk radio and then the power that you get of cable TV.  And the ratings have been high on these Swift Boat debates on cable.

So I was surprised it went for that many weeks.  I don‘t think that “Unfit Command” is a serious history book.  I think it‘s really unfit for publication.  It‘s filled with a lot of lies not just inaccuracies but lies, and the fact of the matter is the record has proven that John Kerry earned his Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. 

BROKAW:  But just this past week, a man who was an admiral, Schachte, who was his commander on the first mission which he went in for a Purple Heart said he really didn‘t deserve it, it was a blowback from an RPG.  I said that he shouldn‘t get it.  His commander at the time said he shouldn‘t get it and it took three months to get it. 

Have you looked into that? 

BRINKLEY:  I have looked into it and I write about it, and it is unclear when John Kerry got his first Purple Heart whether he was shot at or not.

But Tom, as you know—you‘ve written on World War II so much—

Purple Hearts aren‘t just for getting a big wound.  A small wound—like Kerry got shrapnel, a few in his arm—a few inches more, it could have been an eye, or it could have been a head.  That‘s what war is—it‘s that close.

Kerry was wounded on a very dangerous mission that night in December in 1968.  And the three men that were on the Boston Whaler with him all have the same story, and that‘s a man named Runyon, Kerry, and Zaldonis.

So, I think what you are getting is the right tossing out for the media these guys.  And I know some of them have dislike for John Kerry, particularly because of his April 1971 testimony in front of the Fulbright  Committee.  There‘s been a long grudge toward Kerry, and I think he saw it come out as the so-called Guns of August against Kerry when these Swift Boat Vets started going after him.

BROKAW:  Thanks very much, Douglas Brinkley...

BRINKLEY:  Thank you.

BROKAW:  ... he author of “A Tour of Duty:  John Kerry in Vietnam.”

Tonight, Republicans are focusing on courageous choices and actions.  And next, we‘ll be speaking to a man with an inspirational story.  You‘ll remember Scott O‘Grady, an Air Force pilot who was shot down over Bosnia.  He shares his struggles in enemy territory and his political point of view these days.  Some particularly harsh words for John Kerry.

Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROKAW:  Welcome back to New York, where Republicans are officially unveiling their presidential platform.  And today‘s theme:  A Nation of Courage.

One of the people publicly backing President Bush today is former Air Force pilot known for his courageous survival behind enemy lines in 1995.  Captain Scott O‘Grady‘s F-16 was shot down over Bosnia in 1995, and somehow he managed to survive.  And it became a heroic and epic tale in America, and eventually on the big screen, as well.

Were you happy with that movie version of it all?  You were a lot more daring in the movie than you were just trying to stay away from the bad guys.

SCOTT O‘GRADY, FMR. USAF PILOT DOWNED IN BOSNIA:  I actually had nothing to do with me making the movie.  It‘s not my story; it‘s not my movie.

BROKAW:  Did you go see it?

O‘GRADY:  I eventually saw it.

BROKAW:  You did?

O‘GRADY:  Yes, but not when it was in the movie theater.

BROKAW:  Did you shield your eyes a little bit?

O‘GRADY:  That‘s Hollywood for you.

BROKAW:  You made some very serious charges against John Kerry in the last couple of days.  You said you believe what he did when he came home from Vietnam, in his testimony and in his trip to Paris, was an act of treason.  That‘s an extremely serious charge.  That betrayal of your country, punishment by death.

Do you really mean that it was a treasonous act?

O‘GRADY:  Well, I think you have to look at his testimony, and you have to understand what he did testify to.  He did meet both delegates over in Paris, but he did not meet with the U.S. delegate.  He did not meet with the South Vietnamese delegate.

He met with both Vietnamese delegates that are Communist—the Communists from the South Vietnamese; the Communists from the North Vietnamese, and that also had ties to the Viet Cong.

And he went over there knowingly breaking U.S. federal law.  He went over there in secrecy, and he met with an enemy when we were at war with them.  He then came back, and in front of that Senate on April of 1971, testified in support of all the resolutions from Madame Nguyen Binh.  So, he was supporting the enemy when we were in armed conflict against them.

BROKAW:  But that was at a time when we were in negotiation with the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese Communist party...

O‘GRADY:  And that‘s the problem.

BROKAW:  And he insists he was not negotiating with them; he simply wanted to hear what they had say.  And when he did come back, he described his meetings with them.  And at that time, there were a number of Americans  who were trying to find a way out of war who were involved in Congress.  And there were private emissaries, as well.

O‘GRADY:  Tom, there‘s a U.S. federal law that states that no civilian, without the expressed permission from our government, is allowed  to have negotiations with a foreign power, specifically when we are at war with them—when we have men in armed conflict engaged with that enemy.  When his fellow soldiers were dying over there and imprisoned over there, he was secretly meeting and illegally meeting with the enemy.

BROKAW:  There are any number of people who served with John Kerry who said what he did was appropriate, because he was trying to find a way out of an untenable situation.  And a number of them have said, in fact the focus is on John Kerry when it really should have been on the political leaders who led us:  A, into Vietnam in the first place; and kept us there well beyond when we should have been.

O‘GRADY:  Well, I think it is a little arrogant of John Kerry, as a private citizen, to thwart and go around the President of the United States, who was actively engaged in those peace talks with Henry Kissinger.

BROKAW:  So, you stand by your charge that it was a treasonous act?

O‘GRADY:  Well, I stand by the fact that what he did was he aided the enemy.  He supported their causes in front of the Senate.

When they were asked—I should say when the senators asked him, on the committee, what are the proposals that you support to be able to bring us to a peaceful resolution?  And he completely backed and supported the Communist resolutions and the Communist points to be able to have us be able to move out of that country.

And it‘s very specific to know what those points were.  We would withdraw from Vietnam without any assurance of our P.O.W.s‘ return, other than just the good faith of the Vietnamese Communists.  And the president  wanted greater assurances.

I really think that what John Kerry was doing actually was even damaging to those endeavors that Henry Kissinger was trying to make at the peace talks with the Vietnamese Communists.

BROKAW:  At the same time, his best friend in the United States Senate, and a man who worked with him for reconciliation in Vietnam, was the iconic prisoner of war John McCain.

O‘GRADY:  But you have to look at—it is his testimony.  It is truthful that he did illegally meet with the Vietnamese Communists.  He was there in secret, and that he did come back and support their endeavor when we were in armed conflict.

That would be like when we‘re engaged in a battle—like let‘s say we‘re pressing on to Baghdad at the time—and a U.S. soldier, all of a sudden, wants to go have secret meetings with Saddam Hussein and his representatives.  You can‘t do that, Tom.

BROKAW:  Scott O‘Grady, just one quick question:  Has the Bush campaign been in touch with you about all this, because they‘re standing back from your charges saying we‘re...

O‘GRADY:  That‘s just my personal opinion.

BROKAW:  Thanks very much, Scott O‘Grady, former Air Force captain—now motivational speaker living in Texas.

You can watch continuous coverage of the 2004 Republican National Convention all night on MSNBC.  And I‘ll be back here tomorrow with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, actor Ron Silver, and “Boston Globe” Columnist Mike Barnacle, among others.

And I‘ll see you tonight for “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS.”

That‘s all for BROKAW IN NEW YORK, first day of the Republican National Convention.

END   

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