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updated 8/31/2004 11:04:45 AM ET 2004-08-31T15:04:45

Guest: J.C. Watts, Jon Meacham, Sen. George Voinovich, Sen. Mike Dewine, Ken Duberstein

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  J.C. Watts, let me ask you about this party. 

Ron Silver—he got the best hand so far, and he‘s a Dem.

J.C. WATTS (R-OK), FORMER CONGRESSMAN:  Hey, that‘s the way it goes, man.

MATTHEWS:  But...

WATTS:  Zell Miller, Ron Silver, Zell Miller‘s going to speak.  You know, I think that shows pretty much what George Bush is trying to do.  I think he‘s trying to throw out a large net and grab many fish.  And it doesn‘t—he doesn‘t want just catfish, he‘ll take catfish, he‘ll take carp, he‘ll take tuna, he‘ll take whatever he has to take to get it done.  And I think that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  But you don‘t think it‘s fair to ask...

WATTS:  ... a good thing.

MATTHEWS:  ... ask why the speakers who have spoken on behalf—strongly—in fact, I‘ve looked at some of the notes from tonight, the speeches to come—they don‘t say Iraq.  Why not?  Why don‘t they use the word Iraq?

WATTS:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t have any inside knowledge of that. 

Maybe Andrea can share something with us on that.

MATTHEWS:  Why wouldn‘t they—I want an analysis here.  Could it be that the war on terror is extremely popular...

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  And the war in Iraq is not.

MATTHEWS:  ... the idea of protecting this country, but that piece of it—in some people‘s wording, it is part of the war on Iraq—war on terrorism.  In other people‘s way of looking at it, OH, I‘m for the war on terrorism, but I don‘t like that Iraq thing.  Is that it?

MITCHELL:  In our latest poll—absolutely, Chris.  Our latest poll, people are not happy with the way the president has conducted the war in Iraq, the post-war occupation.  They do not believe that the casualties, of the cost of Iraq...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why is it that when the...

MITCHELL:  ... have been worth it.

MATTHEWS:  ... war on terror fight, every time there‘s a poll, it says, Who‘s best to fight—to fight the...

MITCHELL:  That‘s his strongest point.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why can he—his way of fighting the war on terror is to go to Iraq.  How can...

MITCHELL:  People do not see that connection.  They see the war in Iraq, bad.  War on terror, good.  George Bush is trying to make that connection tonight.  That‘s what John McCain‘s job is tonight.

WATTS:  But you know, Chris, as I said earlier, I really do think people want to believe this president when it comes to the war on terror, what we‘re trying to do in Iraq, what we‘re trying to accomplish there.  But if the president sits back—when he‘s out front and when he‘s letting people know what his vision is, what the cause is, what the purpose is, they follow him.  They come with him.

But when he‘s—you know, I‘ve always had a problem with the president not doing enough, not being out enough before the American people saying, This is why we‘re there, this is what we‘re doing, this is what we‘re trying to accomplish.  When he‘s sitting back on his heels playing defense, I think he loses.

MATTHEWS:  Jon?

MEACHAM, “NEWSWEEK” MANAGING EDITOR:  But on a pure political basis, you can‘t beat something by saying Amen, which is what John Kerry is doing, effectively.  He‘s saying, I would have done it, I would have voted for it.  So just speaking in pure political terms, Bush should be mentioning it, it seems to me, because he‘s got a guy running against him who‘s saying, Me, too.

MATTHEWS:  A choice, not an echo.

MEACHAM:  An echo, not a choice.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s like an echo, not a choice, is what I‘m hearing.  Joe?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  You know, there are really three issues in this campaign.  One is Iraq, a mixed message.  The other is the economy, very mixed.  We‘ve had explosive growth followed by lagging growth.  Big deficits.  I mean, and the third issue is going to be the war on terror.  That‘s why the Republicans are leading with the war on terror tonight.  It‘s the one unifying issue they have.  And let‘s face it.  Karl Rove has no idea how the economy‘s going to be going over the next two to three months.  He has no idea what‘s going to blow up in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  The one thing they can control is the message on the war on terror.

MATTHEWS:  And the person who...

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s why they lead with it.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  And it is particularly the president‘s job.  You know, my way of putting it this way, and I think it cuts to the Republican heart positively, Who‘s going to get your kids home safely from school?  Which party?  John Kerry‘s party or George Bush—it‘s a brutal way of putting it, but who do you think will get your kids home tonight?  And I think Bush wins that argument, I think.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I...

MATTHEWS:  Jon?

MEACHAM:  With the single exception of John Kennedy, for the last 52 years, it‘s been Republican presidents who have seemed stronger as commanders-in-chief.  And this is a—fundamentally a Republican message.  It drives Democrats crazy.  Bill Clinton, in that very interesting speech up at Riverside Church yesterday, said, I hate it when Republicans call us soft on defense.  But in point of fact, this has been a Republican issue.

MITCHELL:  That‘s why they thought—the Democrats thought this year

·         and it still may prove true, that by having a Vietnam veteran who had good credentials on foreign policy as their nominee, that they would inoculate against that.  Look, that‘s why Hillary Clinton, who has presidential ambitions, obviously, as a senator from New York, is the first senator from New York to seek a position on the Armed Services Committee.  She‘s trying to punch that ticket, as well.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  But you know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  She has a lot of room to move to her right.  A lot of room to her right.

MITCHELL:  But she‘s done it effectively.  I‘ve got to tell you, the rank and file...

MATTHEWS:  By the way, the one...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... the noise we‘re listening to now of helicopters overhead, I think—I don‘t want to be too complicated about this, but I think it contributes to the notion not of a city under siege, but a city in control by the police force and by the leadership of this city and the country, that can take a little trouble, that, in fact—you can hear the sirens right now.  And it says this president can be nominated in a city that‘s not going to vote for him, a city where there‘s a half million people demonstrating against him yesterday and a city with, like all big cities, crime problems.  And in that environment of trouble, potentially, this party can rule.

SCARBOROUGH:  And they come back to ground zero.  But I want to go back to this Democratic issue.  You‘re right, the Democrats have yielded that ground since 1960.  A lot of us have thought that was going to change this year with John Kerry.  Everybody‘s been talking about these swift boat vet ads.

Listen, three weeks from now, four weeks from now, that‘s not the issue that hurts John Kerry.  What hurts John Kerry on defense, what hurts him on national security is he gave up the Iraq card.  He said, I would have voted for it, knowing everything.  I would—you know, and that‘s the thing.  When the dust clears and when people really start sorting through it, when did John Kerry start to lose ground?  It has nothing to do with these ads!  It had to do with the fact that he yielded the high ground before these ads started up, and that was the difference.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... an hour ago to me, or two hours ago, the sense that the campaign stopped being a big choice the minute one guy said, I‘m with the other guy.

Anyway, the panel‘s sticking with us for a while—in fact, throughout the night.  We‘re joined right now by NBC‘s Chip Reid, who‘s down on the floor with both senators from the key state of Ohio—Chip.

CHIP REID, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s right, Chris.  And they are front and center.  We have Senators George Voinovich and Mike Dewine.  You are right in the front row, front and center.  That says something about Ohio here.  And in fact, Karl Rove said that Ohio is ground zero in this election.  And I know you both have reputations as straight shooters in the Senate.  I‘m not trying to butter you up.  That is simply your reputations.  I know I will get the straight poop here.  Is George Bush in trouble in Ohio?  And after all, no Republican president has ever won without Ohio.  Is he in trouble there?

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH ®, OHIO:  I think that John Kerry is in trouble in Ohio.  And I mean that sincerely.  I think that after the Democratic convention, you would have thought that he would have had a much better bump than he has, and I‘m hoping that as a result of this convention, that George Bush will be back in the lead in the state of Ohio.  But it‘s going to be nip and tuck all the way to the end.

REID:  You‘ll agree with that?

SEN. MIKE DEWINE ®, OHIO:  The election‘s a dead heat right today. 

The president is treating Ohio like—as he told me, Like I‘m running for governor.  And he was there last Saturday.  My wife, Fran, and I and our daughter, Anna (ph), spent the whole day with him on a bus.  He got phenomenal crowds.  I tell you, it was like it was late October.  And he went through rural western part of the state.  People were standing out there, great crowds.  He‘s coming back Wednesday to Columbus.  He‘s coming back this Saturday again.  So that‘s three times in eight days in Ohio.  It‘s amazing.

REID:  Why does Kerry have traction there, enough to make it nip and tuck?  Is it because of the economic difficulties, especially in the manufacturing sector?

VOINOVICH:  Sure.  And the president has been very careful about saying we‘ve got an economic recovery.  You know, he inherited a terrible situation with the recession.  Then he had 9/11.  And then we had the scandals in the financial markets.  This country, you know, should be in really bad shape, and his policies have kept us going.  But the fact of the matter is, there are too many people in Ohio who are not working, and there are too many people in Ohio today that are worried about their jobs.  And he‘s got to communicate with them, and he‘s doing it on the stump today.  He‘s saying, I know that you‘re still hurting, but we‘ve got the programs and the policies to turn it around for you.

REID:  Another issue.  After the debacle in Florida in 2000, Ohio tried to switch to electronic voting.  Not working.  most people are going to be voting on punchcard ballots in November.  Do you worry, with a close election, a recount, we could have Florida all over again in Ohio?

DEWINE:  We‘ve never had that problem.  We‘ve had punchcards for a long time, we‘ve never had a huge problem with that.  But look, it‘s going to be a close race, and I think that is a legitimate issue.  It‘s a legitimate concern.  But I don‘t think we‘re going to really have that problem.

REID:  OK, great.  Senator Mike Dewine, Senator George Voinovich, thank you very much.  And ground zero in Ohio, according to Karl Rove.  Chris, back to you.

MATTHEWS:  This whole—the whole question here of this—do you think we‘re going to have it sorted out, J.C., by election day, when people are voting to say President Bush is doing a good job on the war on terrorism, they‘ll know that they‘re distinguishing his domestic fight against enemies coming here from his fight overseas in Iraq, or is it all going to be under one big rubric?

WATTS:  Oh, I think both.  I think you have to—I think the president‘s talked about doing it on both fronts and saying that we have to protect the homeland, have to fight them over there on their own turf and, you know, not have to fight them in New York and Norman, Oklahoma.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the argument.

WATTS:  That is the argument.  And I think when the president‘s laying out a concise message and he‘s on the offensive concerning those things, the president does very well.  When he‘s not out there talking, again, I repeat, he doesn‘t do very well.

MATTHEWS:  You made your point.  He‘s got to get out there and campaign and he‘s going to win the election.  But he‘s certainly doing well in Michigan today.  It looks like he‘s having the time of his life, and I‘ve never seen John Kerry have the time of his life campaigning.

And we‘re joined right now by the anchor of the “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS,” Tom Brokaw, and also NBC News Washington bureau chief and moderator of “MEET THE PRESS” Tim Russert.

We just saw—gentlemen, we just saw the president‘s father, the former president, 41, as they call each other, coming into the convention hall tonight.  That‘s a delicate thing, isn‘t it, the father here in this role?

TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR:  Well, I think it‘s one more iconic image, if you will, about a kinder, gentler Republican Party George Bush represents to so many American voters, the best of internationalism.  They remember how well he managed the first war against Iraq, and when the Berlin Wall came down, both Gorbachev from the Soviet Union and Kohl from Germany were openly praising George W. Bush—George Herbert Walker Bush for his role as an internationalist and how successfully he managed that.

So anything that they can do in this party now, in this convention hall, to remind them of the linkage between the son and the father, I think that they think that that may play powerfully to those groups that we‘ve been talking about here all night long, the moderate swing voters.

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t there a real—Tim and Tom, isn‘t there a real policy difference, in all honesty here, between the father‘s approach to the Christian right, to war in the Middle East, to fiscal policy, tax policy?  It seems like on every front, the son has tried to distinguish himself from the father.

TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  He sure has, Chris.  In fact, in an interview in “The Washington Times,” he talked about not making the same mistake his father did, in terms of the first Persian Gulf war, suggesting he should have finished Saddam Hussein off.  In fact, Bush 41 wrote a book explaining why he didn‘t go after Saddam Hussein, laying out the case that George W. Bush pretty much ignored, in terms of going to war with Iraq.  And remember, Brent Scowcroft, former President Bush‘s closest national security adviser, was outspoken to his opposition to the war in Iraq.

But George Bush—Herbert Walker Bush, Chris, is here as a father, and you won‘t see him without Barbara Bush at his side.  This is the message they‘re sending tonight.  Mother, father, proud of their son, W., period.  I don‘t think you‘ll hear former president Bush giving many substantive interviews on foreign policy differences with his son.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s very...

BROKAW:  But we‘ll find out tomorrow morning when I talk to him.

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  Although Brokaw is going to try.

BROKAW:  I‘m going to talk to him tomorrow morning.  In fact, I know, Chris, that there is some anxiety on the part of Bush 41, so to speak, about what‘s going on in the Middle East.  But this Bush family has enormous family loyalties, as you know, and they pull up the drawbridge when it comes to trying to divide the family.  And the last thing that President Bush 41st would do is to be critical of his son in any public fashion.  And I‘m told by his close friends that he‘s extraordinarily discrete even in their private conversations when these issues come up because his circle of friends really are drawn from the Brent Scowcroft/James Baker crowd that helped him run the international foreign policy.  It was really one of the high-water marks of his own administration.

So I don‘t think that he‘ll take on his son, even though, as Tim pointed out, his son said, I‘m not going to make the mistakes my father did.  And when Bob Woodward said to President George W. Bush, Do you consult with your father, he said, A higher father.  So there‘s a little tension there, but I don‘t think you‘ll see that spilling out into the public.

MATTHEWS:  One of the mistakes I guess you could argue that George Bush, Sr., Made was back in the ‘92 convention, when, in order to appease the right wing of the party, the opposite ambition of this convention, they brought in Pat Buchanan to give his cross-dressing speech, and of course, Marilyn Quayle to give a very tough speech in defense of women who don‘t work outside the home, basically.  They seem to be avoiding that kind of a more screeching conservativism in this convention.

RUSSERT:  Completely.  And that‘s why you‘re seeing Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  There is no outspoken conservative, social conservative front and center.  George W. Bush has locked up the base of his party, Chris.  All he‘s playing for in these four days is that undecided 10 percent.  You‘ll hear the president talk about single women repeatedly on the campaign trail, single mothers.  And it‘s quite interesting, the contrast that George W. Bush had at his convention from his father.  The reason?  Because in the last four years, George W. Bush and Karl Rove spent a lot of time working with the conservative base, issues like abortion, partial-birth abortion, stem cell research.  They are very, very happy with their role at the convention this week.

BROKAW:  And Chris, I would just say that I think one of the really significant differences between the father and the son is that the son is not at all ambivalent about his conservative ideology, and I think his father is always struggling with it and the Republican Party.  He was the head of Planned Parenthood, at one point in his life.  In fact, he ran as a moderate Republican when he was running for the Congress down there.  And he came from a different milieu when he became a national politician.  George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, started life as a conservative, and he‘s become more conservative as he‘s (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

RUSSERT:  And he has said, Tom, he would never say, “Read my lips, no new taxes.”

BROKAW:  Right.  Right.

RUSSERT:  He‘s not repealing the tax code.

BROKAW:  Right.  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  That must be an amazing conversation when the father says, Don‘t make the mistakes I made.  Of course, I was right.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much, Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert.

That—this conversation, we could do this all night.  I find it fascinating, we all do, family differences, where the old man—he‘s not that old, he looks great, by the way—learned a lot, stuck to his principles.  He‘s a moderate Republican, 41.  The son is a conservative and much more political, I think, than the old man.  Don‘t you think?

MITCHELL:  Oh, absolutely.  And in fact, in 1988, one of the people who was working with Lee Atwater to help elect George Herbert Walker Bush was, you know, W. Bush.  And he was one of the real political...

MATTHEWS:  Watching the old man get down to the—can you imagine, gentlemen, what it‘s like, and lady, to watch your parents move out of the White House because they were kicked out politically, what that does to you, in terms of the searing—J.C., the searing experience of that?

WATTS:  Oh, Chris, that leaves a bad mark on the heart, but—and I think another thing that needs to be pointed out, there‘s a difference in personalities in W. and H.W., 41 and 43 -- 43 was—you know, grew up a Texan in Midland, Texas, around oil fields, you know, Friday night football, you know, growing up in Maine, you know...

MATTHEWS:  His accent is real, in other words, the kid‘s.

WATTS:  You know, W‘s got...

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS:  W‘s got great social skills.  He gets to know you.  He makes it personal.  He‘s got some—he‘s kind of Clintonesque when it comes to his social skills.

MATTHEWS:  I got to tease right now.  We‘re waiting for the big speeches tonight from Senator John McCain—that‘s going to be a fireball, I‘ve already read it—and Rudy Giuliani—I love to say it like a boxing announcer because he sounds like he‘s a boxer.  When we come back, we‘re going to take a look at the rise of Senator McCain.  But as we go to break, a look back at some of the great moments from President George Herbert Walker Bush‘s life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It is getting very lively here, down here on 34th Street and Broadway in New York, and it‘s only the first night of this convention.  We‘re covering the Republican national convention, of course, and in about—boy, 45 minutes—they are stringing this out, I‘ll tell you—Senator John McCain‘s going to be speaking to the convention, and he‘s going to give a barn-burner.

For a preview, I‘m joined right now on the McCain rise to power, and his whole success ever since coming back to the States after being a POW, from election correspondent for our own HARDBALL program, David Shuster.  He‘s on the convention floor—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, you will recall that four years ago, relations between John McCain and George W.  Bush were so strained that McCain left the Republican convention two days early, only returning for the final night because of a last-minute request by the Bush team.  This year, of course, the president needs those moderates who love John McCain, and John McCain, according to his own friends, believes that if he is seen as helping the Republican Party in doing everything he can to elect George W. Bush, then the door is open for another John McCain run for president in 2008.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  Watching them together these days, one might never know that George W. Bush and John McCain were once bitter rivals, but McCain, the son and grandson of Navy admirals, has always put honor and loyalty above personal feelings or comfort.

The defining chapter in McCain‘s life came during Vietnam.  The Navy aviator was shot down over Hanoi, badly injured and taken as a prisoner of war.

BUD DAY, FORMER POW:  I didn‘t think he would make it (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  His body was saying, Let‘s die, and his mind was saying, We‘re not doing that.

SHUSTER:  McCain was kept in solitary confinement for two of the five-and-a-half years he would spend in prison.

JOHN MCCAIN, PRISONER OF WAR:  Tell my wife I love her and hope to see her soon.

SHUSTER:  Eventually, McCain‘s captors learned his father was the U.S.  admiral in charge of the Pacific fleet.  Looking for a propaganda advantage, they offered to release McCain, but that would break the POW code of “last in, last out,” so McCain refused to leave his buddies.

In 1973, McCain and other POWs were finally let go.  Eventually, McCain settled in Arizona and decided to run for Congress.  He beat back accusations of carpet-bagging, spent a year trying to meet every voter in his district and won.  After two terms as a Reagan foot soldier, McCain won a race for the U.S. Senate, and in 1988 he spoke at the Republican convention.

MCCAIN:  This November, we must not forget.  We must not retreat. 

Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Republicans, duty, honor, country.

SHUSTER:  In the 1990s, McCain felt that honoring his country meant pushing campaign finance reform and attacking colleagues on both sides engaged in wasteful government spending.  And in 1999, he launched a long-shot presidential campaign against a more popular frontrunner, George W.  Bush.  McCain took a shot right from the outset at the governor‘s lack of foreign policy experience.

MCCAIN:  There comes a time when our nation‘s leader can no longer rely on briefing books and talking points.

SHUSTER:  McCain devised a New Hampshire strategy, conducting more town hall meetings than the rest of the field combined.

MCCAIN:  And I believe one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life has been the last 11 months, as we have had over 50 town hall meetings in this state.

SHUSTER:  And he took risks.  He told voters there were things he didn‘t know, turned his bus, “The Straight Talk Express,” into a non-stop rolling press conference.

MCCAIN:  If the message is reform, then you‘re not afraid of losing.

SHUSTER:  On primary night, McCain won New Hampshire in a landslide, beating George W. Bush by 18 points.

MCCAIN:  And we have sent a powerful message to Washington that change is coming.

SHUSTER:  That very night, McCain rolled into the next primary state of South Carolina.  Within days, the energy and imagery of his campaign had turned a 15-point South Carolina deficit against Bush into a 10-point lead.  Mr. Bush appealed hard to the religious right, and he appeared at an event where veterans accused McCain of being a traitor.

MCCAIN:  That‘s just an unacceptable act, and one that, in my view, is something that I will never be able to tolerate.

SHUSTER:  But under the radar, the attacks from Bush supporters were even worse.  Flyers called McCain‘s wife a drug addict.  Religious leaders called the senator unstable.  And there was a whisper campaign about McCain‘s black daughter, who was actually adopted from Bangladesh.  McCain lost his momentum, and South Carolina gave George W. Bush a crucial primary victory.

MCCAIN:  Why do I feel like Luke Skywalker trying to get out of the Death Star?  They‘re coming at us from all directions!

SHUSTER:  McCain would go on to win the next two primaries in Michigan and Arizona, but his hope for an early Bush knockout was over.  The Bush juggernaut gained speed, and McCain was out of the race a month later.

MCCAIN:  I support him.  I am grateful to him.  And I am proud of him.

SHUSTER:  Early in the president‘s term, the Bush-McCain relationship continued to be prickly.  The Arizona senator pushed hard for campaign finance reform, something Mr. Bush initially opposed.

MCCAIN:  I find it somewhat entertaining that those who are in favor of campaign finance reform want it brought up at the earliest.  Those who are opposed want it brought up at the latest.

SHUSTER:  McCain also forcefully argued against the president‘s tax cuts and sparred with Mr. Bush over the patient‘s bill of rights.  But then came 9/11.  McCain‘s support for the president became far more visible.  He was an administration cheerleader on foreign policy, despite continued independence and differences on stem cell research, environmental issues and economic policy.

This spring, McCain‘s longtime friend, John Kerry, asked the Arizona senator if he would consider joining the Democratic ticket.  McCain was flattered, but said no.  Honor and duty meant supporting the Republican Party‘s nominee, and he‘s been helping President Bush ever since.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

What a difference four years makes.  And Chris, you remember that four years ago, John McCain went into the Republican convention to his speech to “Star Wars,” the reference to battling the special interests, trying to get out of the Death Star.  I‘ve been assured that will not be the entry music or the focus tonight.

And in fact, just a few minutes before coming on air, Chris, I had an opportunity to speak with two people who were instrumental in John McCain‘s presidential campaign four years ago.  They both said that this is a great night for the McCain supporters.  They said, Look, you don‘t have the Mitch McConnells of the world who are leading the charge tonight for the Republican Party.  It is John McCain.  And one other thing, Chris.  These supporters, these campaign activists for McCain from four years ago, they fully expect that John McCain will run for president in 2008 -- Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, David Shuster.

Senator McCain will be speaking at the top of the hour from the convention floor, from the podium.  And when we come back, we‘re going to check back with our panel as we await the big speeches tonight—by the way, McCain‘s coming here, too—John McCain, who‘s coming here afterwards, after his speech, and the big speech of the night, I have to say, former mayor—former mayor of New York, Winston Churchill‘s role model of the century, Rudy Giuliani.

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘S live coverage of the Republican national convention on MSNBC.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s coverage of the Republican National Convention, live, as you can see, from Herald Square at 34th Street and Broadway. 

Right now, let‘s go to down to the convention—let‘s go—we‘re going to stay with the panel. 

Let me ask you about this thing we‘re talking about. 

John McCain, we all met him as a maverick.  Is he a maverick for the future? 

Jon, Jon Meacham, you‘ve studied this guy, written about him.  Has John McCain sent himself on a course to be the nominee of this party in four years?

MEACHAM:  He believes that he represents the true soul of the party, which is T.R. and Reagan and less George W. Bush, frankly.

So what he‘s doing here, in true Republican fashion, is paying his dues.  He‘s saluting.  He‘s a soldier.  And when you think about John McCain‘s life story, endurance is in fact lesson.  If the worst thing that has ever happened happens to you, which is what happened to him in Hanoi...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MEACHAM:  You can wait out a couple of election cycles. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about this in generic terms.  When you say he‘s in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, you mean reformer. 

MEACHAM:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Trust-buster, in a sense, a guy who is going to go out there and clean up the process. 

MEACHAM:  Environmentalist.

He‘s not a knee-jerk, laissez-faire guy, then? 

MEACHAM:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Free enterprise kind of person.

MEACHAM:  No.

(CROSSTALK)

MEACHAM:  No, it‘s government in the cause of reform.  It‘s being a bully pulpit.  It‘s being aggressive.  And it‘s also appealing to a broader part of the country. 

A senior Bush official told us at “Newsweek” today that McCain has become the referee of American politics for a lot of people.  If McCain says, no, that‘s a foul, people listen to him.  And I think he really has reached this kind of iconic status. 

MATTHEWS:  But he may be a referee, but he‘s endorsing President Bush tonight. 

MEACHAM:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  So, tonight, he‘s putting on a different role.

I think he has got three roles.  He‘s a referees.  He calls fouls.  He also competes with different ideas and different approaches.  And I think ultimately he wants to join the Republican Party so that he can be the nominee.  I figured out, by the way—his birthday was yesterday.  In four years, he will be 72, but I think he‘s healthy enough.  We‘re getting to be a very old society.  And 72 is a bit older than Reagan, but can he do it? 

MITCHELL:  Absolutely. 

And tonight, what he is doing is validating George W. Bush.  He is going to try to make the connection between the war on terror, the war on the country that we can‘t name, Iraq, and try to bring those two things together and say that the war in Iraq was not a discretionary war, that there was no choice, that it was not a choice between letting things continue as they were, that Saddam Hussein was big trouble and was dangerous down the road. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it—isn‘t it safe to say that John McCain, despite the love of the media for him, which is manifest in many locales, including this one sometimes, he‘s just as hawkish, if not more so, than George W.  Bush? 

MEACHAM:  Sure. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Absolutely.

He certainly is.  And there are lot of conservatives from this laissez-faire wing of the party that you were talking about that never forgave him in 2000 in the campaign for talking about tax cuts for the rich. 

I remember when I saw my friends from Congress, Lindsey Graham going out talking about tax cuts for the rich, I was like, my God.  But I‘ve talked to more conservatives over the past six months and said you know what?  We don‘t care what John McCain did on taxes.  We don‘t care what he‘s done on anything.  When the planes hit the towers, he saluted.  He got behind the president.

And for that—in fact, I could name a couple of very conservative guys that write for newspapers that have said the same thing.  They said, we will never ever forget what John McCain did when this country, when this commander in chief needed him. 

MATTHEWS:  David Brooks and Bill Safire, they were sitting next to him at dinner last night. 

Anyway, let‘s go right now to...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, there were actually two or three more.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go right now the podium.  That‘s where NBC‘s Brian Williams is standing by—Brian.   

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR:  Chris, this is an interesting speech by John McCain tonight. 

In part, it reads like a man who does have to go back to work in the U.S. Senate and get along with his friends who happen to be Democrats on the other side of the aisle.

In part, to summarize, it says, look, I‘ve been there.  War is hell.  No one wants it.  He mentions Saddam by name.  It ends with a very rigorous call to arms for fellow Republicans to get behind this president.  So you could say he takes a little bit something off the direct criticism of John Kerry.  But this speech by John McCain is in the first person of a former warrior—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Brian Williams. 

Right now, let‘s go down to the other part of the convention floor to NBC‘s Chip Reid, who is with former Reagan chief of staff and my friend Ken Duber-dog Duberstein—Chip.

(LAUGHTER)

REID:  I don‘t know if you could hear that, but Chris was up there introducing you as Ken Duber-dog Duberstein.  Do you have any comment on anything back at Chris? 

KEN DUBERSTEIN, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT:  All I can say is that he was a very good press secretary for Tip O‘Neill when he was a liberal speaker of the House. 

REID:  There‘s a low blow at a Republican Convention. 

DUBERSTEIN:  But he was a great foil for Ronald Reagan. 

(LAUGHTER)

REID:  Let me ask you a question about Ronald Reagan. 

You obviously knew Ronald Reagan very well.  You were chief of staff for the last two years of his presidency.  You also know George Bush very well.  There are some people who like to compare the two and suggest that they‘re both two people who simply picked a direction, what they believed in, stuck with it regardless of the criticism, and other similarities, some people say.

A real softball question here.  Do you believe that there are those kinds of similarities between George Bush and Ronald Reagan? 

DUBERSTEIN:  Well, I can say that George Bush‘s last name may be Bush, but his heart belongs to Ronald Reagan. 

You know, he is somebody who has firm beliefs and he drives the nation that way.  He communicates well.  Ronald Reagan may have been the great communicator, but George W. Bush gets his points across on national security and fighting terrorism and creating more jobs.  You know, it‘s a little bit like, Ronald Reagan was the primary colors.  Nobody will suggest that George W. Bush is pastels.  He too is primary colors. 

It‘s the force of leadership and they‘re both very strong leaders. 

REID:  And he is a very direct communicator and very clear communicator, normally, as you said.  But in the last few days, he‘s said a couple of things that have raised some hackles of some and some criticism, for example, calling the Iraq war a catastrophic success, some people what he meant by that, and also saying that you don‘t win the war on terrorism.  Were those gaffes or do you think they are explainable statements? 

DUBERSTEIN:  Oh, I think they‘re very explainable. 

People from time to time also went after Ronald Reagan.  The gods of history now exempts him from all of that.  But occasionally we were very strong in our language and we were criticized for it, not only here at home, but in Europe.  And so George W. Bush will ride the top of that wave.  And I am convinced, very much like Ronald Reagan, he is going to have a big success come November. 

REID:  What has you most excited or what are you most looking forward to in this convention?  What speeches? 

DUBERSTEIN:  Well, obviously John McCain‘s speech and Rudy Giuliani‘s speech. 

But I think George W. Bush is in fact going to connect with the American people.  What Madison Square Garden is, is a real TV set right now.  It is warm.  It is cozy.  It is intimate.  It‘s not the Garden that I used to watch the Knicks and the Rangers at as an old New Yorker.  And I that is going to feed on how close George W. Bush can be with the American people. 

REID:  There was a time when George W. Bush fumbled the English language on a regular basis.  What happened? 

DUBERSTEIN:  Well, you know, people understand that Bush may not be as articulate as John Kerry.

But he also knows his voice, knows his beliefs and sticks with them and doesn‘t flip-flop.  That counts for an awful lot, because he is like every ordinary American.  We sometimes don‘t get our syntax right and our grammar right.  But people can relate.  And, remember, we like to like our presidents.  And George W. Bush, very much like Ronald Reagan is very, very likable. 

REID:  One last question.

You mentioned John McCain.  You certainly know them both very well. 

It must have taken a lot for John McCain to get to where he is now.  Feelings were extraordinarily bitter, am I right, at one point.  And now they‘re like traveling partners, best buddies. 

DUBERSTEIN:  And I think they‘ve come together and realized that, in light of terrorism, in light of 9/11, we are—it‘s important for the country to unite.  It‘s important for the Republican Party to unite.  And I think what we‘re going to hear from John McCain tonight is very much a strong endorsement, not only of the person of George W. Bush, but the policies on terrorism and making sure our national security is strong. 

REID:  Are they papering this over, to some degree?  Could this blow up again?

DUBERSTEIN:  No.  I think the two of them have really come together and I think they‘re now increasingly comfortable with one another.  And there‘s a comfort zone that McCain and Bush have reached.  And so they‘re all on the same wavelength. 

REID:  All right, thank you very much, Ken Duber-dog Duberstein.  I‘m not quite sure what that means, but maybe Chris Matthews will explain it back at Herald Square.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Chip Reid and Ken Duberstein.

We‘re back with the panel.

And the question is, who‘s going to come out tonight as the heir apparent to this presidential nomination of George Bush?  We‘ve got—we saw Bill Frist back here about an hour ago.  He‘s loaded for bear.  This guy is running for president.  He‘s apparently going to serve out his term and then he‘s going to run for president, relinquishing the chair—the leadership of the Republican Party in the Senate. 

I don‘t know what else Rudy Giuliani is living for except to run for president right now.  And, clearly, John McCain is living to be president.  You have got three biggies running against each other. 

J.C., active member of the Republican Party, who is going to come out of this a winner tonight? 

WATTS:  Well, Chris, I think any three of those guys would be positioned pretty well. 

But John McCain—we were talking about John McCain before the break.  And Ross Perot started something in the early ‘90s that John McCain has been able to tap into.  There was a portion of the voting base back then that they were not Republican or Democrats.  We call them solutionists. 

They were saying, hey, give me a solution.  Ross Perot provided some of

that.  And I think he would have been a serious candidate had he not

dropped out.  John McCain has tapped into that.  So whether or not John

McCain runs for president in ‘80, John McCain will be a factor in

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s the referee or he‘s the GOP.  Which one is he?

WATTS:  Well, I think John McCain is going to have to make that choice, but I think he‘s viable, whichever one he decides to do.  I think, if he wants to run, I think he‘s a legitimate candidate that will have to be dealt with in a Republican primary. 

MATTHEWS:  Would he win Oklahoma as the Bull Moose candidate of 2008? 

Would he? 

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS:  Well, I think John McCain will win Oklahoma, period. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a strong statement. 

MITCHELL:  Well, I‘ve got a question as to whether John McCain or Rudy Giuliani can appeal to the conservative base in the party, who have veto power virtually over any Republican nominee. 

Joe, maybe you can help me on that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, it‘s so funny watching the evolution of John McCain, John McCain, the Reaganaut of the 1980s.

And let me tell you something.  Nobody was more conservative than John McCain in the 1980s.  Campaign finance comes along, the environment comes along, all of a sudden, in ‘96, ‘97, you start seeing “The New York Times” editorial page writing nice things about John McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you are so good, Joe.  You are so good.  That‘s what I saw, too.

SCARBOROUGH:  And I just sit there going, what‘s happening?  And John

McCain

(CROSSTALK) 

MITCHELL:  You guys forget, it was the “Keating Five” experience which seared his soul and which turned him into a campaign finance reformer.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  No, I don‘t forget about it at all.  In fact, that‘s why John McCain moved that way. 

MITCHELL:  That‘s right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And he did it aggressively. 

But I‘ll tell you what.  People still look at John McCain as the conservative that was at Ronald Reagan‘s side in the 1980s.  They think of him as the conservative that was by George W. Bush‘s side after 2001.  Conservatives will take this guy in a New York second. 

MITCHELL:  What about Rudy Giuliani? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Giuliani will be a good vice presidential candidate for him. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me. 

You know why I think you‘re right?  Because, back in ‘96, who did John McCain endorse for president?  Phil Gramm. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  He did not even go—he went all the way to the right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s as far right as you can go, baby. 

MATTHEWS:  And that tells me that he‘s...

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s remarkable how far he has moved.

MATTHEWS:  And for the Democrats to think he could be on the ticket—you‘re so right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It has to do with the press.  We have got to work the press part of it out, because the press dumped on him all over for “Keating Five” and lately the press is his base. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They‘ve worshipped him. 

Did you see what Cindy McCain said when asked whether John McCain and John Kerry were close friends?  She said, well, we‘ve had a lot of senators out to Arizona and we‘ve never had them over and we‘ve never been to Nantucket or Sun City, said McCain, and then corrected himself, well, one of those places, Sun Valley. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s like Tonto saying to the Lone Ranger when they‘re surrounded by Indians, what you mean, pale face? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  All of sudden—have you noticed, all of a sudden, he doesn‘t know the guy?  He‘s never heard of Kerry.  He said, we‘ve never dined together. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ll tell you what.

MATTHEWS:  That is so unbelievable, to say that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Everybody that has ever worked with John McCain up close

·         and I know, J.C., you heard people talk.  I‘m not going to reveal any secrets.  Everybody says, this guy is tough as nails. 

You can tell that he—he‘d been if solitary confinement in Vietnam for two years, been over there for five years.  He is tough and I think he‘s going to do whatever it takes to win.  And I think the conservatives will embrace him. 

MEACHAM:  But he‘s both more liberal than most conservatives think and more conservative than most liberals think.  So one of the things, he‘s a dream date right now, but he‘s also somebody that, on examination...

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s the—you know what I think else?  And I will say something I usually don‘t say on HARDBALL.  He loves his country.  And I think one thing he did in those seven years over there in the Hanoi Hilton was fall in love with his country, because the more you sacrifice for your country, the more you love it. 

And I think he‘s right there.  And that may be a little too serious for this panel.  That‘s what I think.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  J.C.?

SCARBOROUGH:  He does.

WATTS:  I agree with that. 

And John McCain, hey, he wants opportunity for people in this country. 

He wants a strong defense.  You know, he wants to cut out the pork.  He wanted campaign finance reform. 

Why is it, if J.C. Watts is a conservative, if I, you know, if I take a different position than the president, I‘m still a conservative, but if John McCain takes a different position than the president, he‘s not a conservative?  You know, the unity of the Republican Party should not require unanimity. 

MATTHEWS:  All right, let‘s talk...

WATTS:  And I think John McCain—I‘ll tell you what.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I hope somebody is watching for Bartlett‘s history of quotations, because the unity of the Republican Party should not require unanimity. 

WATTS:  Should not require unanimity. 

MATTHEWS:  All right. 

WATTS:  In the eight years that I was in Congress, let me tell you,

there‘s no person that I admired more for their convictions and standing up

for what they believe than John McCain.  I didn‘t always agree with him,

but I sure appreciated

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  This is an important point, also. 

When it comes to economics, when it comes to fiscal restraint, there‘s really only one conservative voice in the United States Congress right now.  It‘s John McCain.  The Republicans‘ performance over the past three years has been the most shameful on fiscal issues, the highest deficit ever, the highest debt ever.  The economy is slowing down.  We could be facing very bad economic times.  And John McCain is the only Republican that has stood up and been counted, very conservative. 

MATTHEWS:  When we get off this convention jag, we have got to have a week or something and talk about that.  Why do both conservatives and Republicans on the Appropriations Committees of the U.S. House and the U.S.  Senate spend everything they get their hands on. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s unbelievable.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, we‘re at Herald Square in the center of Manhattan, the heart of Manhattan, 34th and Broadway. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be here all week long.  This is the miracle on 34th street, covering the Republican National Convention. 

In a few minutes, Senator Lindsey Graham, another big McCain guy—

God, this is McCain night here—will introduce his friend and colleague John McCain. 

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWD:  Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry! 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the Republican Convention here in New York.  We‘re waiting for Senator John McCain‘s big speech, which will be followed by Rudy Giuliani‘s big speech tonight.

Right now, we‘re joined by a man of history, presidential history.  Douglas Brinkley is an NBC News analyst.  He‘s author of John Kerry‘s biography, “Tour of Duty.”

Let‘s talk about the Republicans and what is happening here, not the Democrats.  It seems to me that you may be seeing a merging of two different kinds of Republicans, the Bush family Republican Party and of course John Kerry—or John McCain.

What is happening here?  McCain is showing his stuff tonight as a regular Republican.  Giuliani is making his bid for national acceptance by the Republicans.  And, of course, you‘ve got Bill Frist making a very strong statement right here earlier tonight.  Is this the first show for the Republican succession?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, NBC ANALYST:  Yes. 

And I think their theme is courage and you have two courageous people.  You have Rudy Giuliani, who is the icon of 9/11, and John McCain, who you have been talking about, whose history is just extraordinary, of surviving five and a half years of internment, a POW, a man who was beat by the North Vietnamese, a man whose theme is always no surrender.  So it‘s showing two authentic American heroes that are considered semi nonpartisan, even though they are Republicans, embracing Bush to the fullest. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the personal factor here?  Everybody knows who covers politics—maybe we‘re all wrong, but everybody thinks we know that John McCain doesn‘t have too much warmth for George Bush.  Is that something we‘re used to in politics, where people just don‘t like each other, but they make the deals they have to? 

BRINKLEY:  Well, it was tough.

George Bush was tough on John McCain, as you know, in South Carolina primary in 2000.  But you have to realize, McCain from Arizona is a Barry Goldwater Republican.  And Goldwater had a very intense independent streak.  When you read the biography of John McCain, he was always a maverick.  He was—he group up in the Panama Canal zone, went to 13 different schools, ended up to have—of course, his grandfather and father were admirals, but he‘s always been—gone to the beat of his own drum. 

The reason the media has learned to like John McCain is that he‘s a contrarian.  He‘s a conservative, but he‘s a contrarian.  And, at any minute, he can surprise you.  And the media loves that.  They don‘t like talking points. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the media love affair with John McCain will survive his becoming a regular Republican? 

BRINKLEY:  I think he‘s putting it into question this past week.

I think when he went to Nevada and gave that big hug to Bush and really showed the fact that he is a Republican, a conservative, and not somebody who plays both sides of the aisle, I think some Democrats that like McCain, independents may have gone away from him, but, tonight, it‘s going to be McCain, the war hero and somebody who is going to invoke Franklin Roosevelt and invoke courage and talk about God, honor, duty, all the things McCain does well.  He‘s not a great speaker, but he speaks from the heart and that makes him a great speaker. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a university professor at UNO right now, University of New Orleans.  Could you give me a technical bit of information?  Where does that steam come from that comes up from the sidewalks of New York? 

(LAUGHTER)

BRINKLEY:  I don‘t know, from the noise that‘s coming from behind us. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve always wondered.  I think my friend Rik Hertzberg wrote an article about this strange steam that comes up from New York City.  It‘s steamy here tonight. 

Let me ask you about Giuliani, a nice long Italian name.  I always wonder about ethnicity in politics.  Can you sell a guy like Rudy Giuliani in South Carolina and Louisiana, where you live?  In other words, is he a real contender because of his heroics? 

BRINKLEY:  You could.  Yes, he is, but I don‘t think in the same way that McCain is. 

I think Giuliani is sort of frozen in time with 9/11.  I don‘t know if he would translate—maybe Louisiana, because we have a heavy Catholic population—but I don‘t think as much in the deep South.  I still think there is some bias in this country towards Italian Americans, unfortunately.

But Giuliani is going to be able to talk in a way about what it‘s like to have survived the bullseye, to have survived terrorism and really take the case of Bush defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq and even probably take shots at Yasser Arafat and others. 

MATTHEWS:  I can‘t let you go without asking you a tough question, because you‘ve written this biography of John McCain—or John Kerry. 

This election seems to be taking a turn away from Kerry right now because of all the stuff about the swift boots, the ad campaigns, this very strong, ebullient effort here that may well create a phalanx of Republican support.  Apparently, the numbers who tremendous Republican support I saw at a meeting today, a briefing, for the president.  Is this one of those twitches in the campaign that could be lethal to John Kerry? 

BRINKLEY:  Well, Chris, back in April, May, it was George W. Bush that was in the jar.  He‘s like an insect by the media shaking up Bush.  You had the Michael Moore movie.  It seemed down for Bush.  August was tough for John Kerry.  With the swift boat attacks, he‘s been in the media jar. 

The question is, in September, will there be something that puts the media focus back on George W. Bush?  Right now, I think the media is leaning towards going after Kerry or at least scrutinizing Kerry‘s record in a way that Bush‘s record is not being scrutinized. 

MATTHEWS:  This week, if it‘s as successful as it seems to be starting

·         we still have to watch the speeches tonight and see if they‘re barn-burners or not.  But if you get a fast start tonight, and you get Schwarzenegger tomorrow night and Dick Cheney on Wednesday night and you get the president giving a great speech on Thursday night, will that shake up the opposition campaign in the way that the success of Howard Dean shook up Kerry last time in the primaries? 

BRINKLEY:  I don‘t think Vice President Cheney will shake them up, but I think Arnold Schwarzenegger will.  All he has to do is say, hasta la vista, baby, or girly men and the place will go wild.

But the key is obviously going to be President Bush‘s speech on thought night.  He needs to make the case to the American people.  His poll numbers are doing better, but it‘s still a dead heat in this country.  And I think he has not convinced the majority of Americans that the war in Iraq is being dealt with properly, that he made the right decision. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it possible that, in a time of war and continued warfare, with the president taking a strong position on the need to go to war with Iraq, basically saying it was a necessary war, saying it‘s part of the war on terror because it just is, a very clear position, and his opponent, John Kerry, not taking so clear a position, in fact, saying, I would have gone along with the war anyway, even if I had known there were no weapons of mass destruction, could we actually have an election for president in 2004 without a clear-cut decision about the war in Iraq? 

BRINKLEY:  It‘s possible. 

I think both candidates want to be responsible and don‘t want to say something that‘s going to harm our armed forces that are in Iraq, so there‘s a caution on Kerry not to say something irresponsible just to give raw meat to the crowd, but he may have to give the raw meat in September. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Douglas Brinkley.

END   

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