updated 9/2/2004 9:10:54 PM ET 2004-09-03T01:10:54

MSNBC Election Anchor and host of “Hardball” Chris Matthews speaks with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani tonight in the 8-9 p.m. hour ET during MSNBC’s convention coverage. Among other things, Matthews asks him about his rousing speech at the Republican National Convention, terrorism, the Republican party, Senator Miller’s speech last night and... Hillary Clinton.

Following is a transcript of their conversation:

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  There was a real happening the other night, Mayor, when you spoke to the American people.  I know you’re a famous guy, but what changed last night, the other night?

FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI:  I think the emotion of it.  I mean, I felt like I had chance to really explain what President Bush has been doing, why it’s so important.  And it’s very personal with me, because of, you know, what happened on September 11.

And so there are a lot of personal feelings about it, and I think that was all—I was able to get a lot of that out.

MATTHEWS:  Did you really say at the time of 9/11, that very day, “Thank God, George..."

GIULIANI:  Sure, I did, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Those words?

GIULIANI:  Yeah. 

MATTHEWS:  “Thank God George Bush is our president”?

GIULIANI:  I said it then, and I repeated it right afterwards on a number of interviews, some of them going way back to 2001.

MATTHEWS:  What did you mean?  I mean, were you thinking of alternatives...

(CROSSTALK)

GIULIANI:  We were trapped in a building, the police commissioner and I and a number of our staff.  We got out.  And we had our first press conference.  And then we were walking up the street, watching people. 

And I had just called the White House before—right before the building came down I was on the phone with the White House asking for air support for the city.  And that’s what came back into my head, and do we have air support, do we have planes?

And I leaned over to Bernie—and I was really thinking about the election, which was only eight months earlier—I mean, that big, contested election was eight, nine months earlier.  And I was thinking, from my point of view, the way I look at what has to be done with terrorism, “Thank God George Bush is in the White House,” instead of Al Gore, who I thought would have reacted differently to it, more of the kind of symbolic way in which we were dealing with terrorism, which I had objected to very strongly when we were doing it.

I thought we made a big mistake with Yasser Arafat during the time we were doing it.  I thought we were making a big mistake by romanticizing it, by not taking a good look at how he was undermining peace, and we were making concessions to him.  And I thought we had to engage terrorism more.  And I had a feeling that George Bush would do that, that he’d be stubborn, he’d be tough, he’d be determined.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GIULIANI:  And that was—I mean, that probably describes the feeling even in more detail than I had it.  It was more of an intuition. 

MATTHEWS:  Street-level thinking, right?

GIULIANI:  Yes, tough guy.  You know, he’s not—when they start criticizing him, he’s not going to worry about the New York Times editorial that says the war is going—every war goes on too long.  Abraham Lincoln had editorials telling him to end the Civil War; it was going on too long.

Every president has to face that.  Franklin Roosevelt had to face that. 

And I thought George Bush had a better chance of facing that than somebody like Al Gore, that it would have been—it would have been a mistake.

MATTHEWS:  You know, watching you, Mayor, over the years, when you wouldn’t let Yasser Arafat come into the opera house and you wouldn’t take the 10 million bucks from the Saudi Arabian crown prince or whoever it was, and it’s kind of like a Sharks and a Jets thing with you, right?  You’re a Jet, they’re the Sharks.  Right?

GIULIANI:  No, no.

MATTHEWS:  It’s very street level, it seems to me. 

GIULIANI:  It’s an objection to the moral equivalency that we used to practice.  There are people that shouldn’t be at the international bargaining table, because they kill too many people. 

If you’re a terrorist, there is a chance you can overcome it when you get a chance to create a decent government for your people.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GIULIANI:  That can happen.

Yasser Arafat, there was a chance, maybe he could have done that.  But very early, he made it clear he couldn’t.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GIULIANI:  And we didn’t notice it; we didn’t watch it.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Right.

GIULIANI:  Because we have—Americans have a tendency to want people to be good people. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GIULIANI:  And we make this mistake a lot.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—about terrorism.  I noticed in your remarks the other night, you dated the beginning of terrorist attacks against the United States with the attacks on Israel with regard to the horrible events of Munich, and of course the Achille Lauro you mentioned.

Why didn’t you start with the senator from New York, Robert Kennedy?  When Robert Kennedy was hit by Sirhan Sirhan, basically Mideast politics, you know?

GIULIANI:  It could be.  You could go back to that...

MATTHEWS:  Isn’t that terrorism?

GIULIANI:  Yes, you could go back.  I mean, I thought of that as more an individual act. 

And I didn’t want to revive the debate over whether an individual act of some degree of anger on the part of Sirhan Sirhan, or was it some kind of a conspiracy?  I don’t really know the answer to that.

But it would seem to me that the PLO bombing, hijacking rather, would be the start of it.  But, yes, you could go further back to than that even.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about fighting terrorism and the role of the commander in chief.  President Bush, who you support so dramatically, made a decision, let’s not wait until we catch Bin Laden.  Let’s get onto Iraq and take on Saddam Hussein.

Now, that’s like those decisions that presidents make.  It’s like Roosevelt said, Europe first.  Remember, not Japan—even though they attacked us.

GIULIANI:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think that was a good decision?

GIULIANI:  It was a good decision because you have to deal with terrorism on a group of levels.  You can’t just deal with it in one place. 

And the president predicted it.  On September 20, 2001, he said, we’re going to have to deal with Al Qaeda.  But it won’t begin and end with Al Qaeda.  There are a number of other groups that we’re going to have to deal with.

When he said that, I knew sitting there next to George Pataki and Mrs. Bush, I knew for sure he was going to deal with Iraq.  If you’re going to take apart world terrorism, you have to take out Saddam Hussein.  It’s just a matter of time. 

He could have done it a little earlier.  He could have done it a little later.

But you’re not going to be able to destroy international terrorism without getting rid of one of their pillars of support.

MATTHEWS:  Well, if you only have so many policemen and only so many armed forces, wouldn’t it make more sense to deploy them into Afghanistan and catch the guy in Tora Bora rather than step aside and move down to the Iraqi front?

GIULIANI:  No, I don’t think so.  You know, everybody is sort of a preacher of their own experiences.  I saw it more like the way we dealt with organized crime.  You had five families.  If you just took out one family, the other four might even get stronger.  So you had to go after all five at the same time, even if it diverted your resources a little.

I mean, I think it made sense to try to pursue it a number of different ways.

And I think the side benefit we got was we got Gadhafi to surrender without having to use arms, without having to use resources.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about last night:  I had a little tussle with him myself.  Senator Miller, the Democratic...

GIULIANI:  I’m willing to sponsor a duel in Weehawken.  We’ll use fake guns.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  At that very point, I said do you really mean it when you say the Democratic candidate for president really wants to reduce our armed forces in the war against terrorism to the use of spit balls?

And he said, well, that’s a metaphor.  OK, we can go from there.

But do you think that speech was a little too red hot?

GIULIANI:  You can only give that speech if you have a southern accent.  If I had given that speech, I would have been in deep trouble because they would have said I was being too tough or whatever.

Look, it was a very dramatic moment.  He’s a member of the Democratic party all his life.  He’s making a very dramatic statement, so I think a lot of emotion would be attached to it.  So I thought it was an appropriate speech—tough speech, but an appropriate one.

And I think his point is all based on the record.  John Kerry has voted against defense spending so often that you have to have the sense that he doesn’t really appreciate the need for a very strong national defense.  And you can raise that issue—nobody’s talking about his Vietnam service.  We respect—I’m one...

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe he would disarm...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS?:  ... if he were president?

GIULIANI:  He did.

MATTHEWS:  But you believe he would do it?

GIULIANI:  He did it.

MATTHEWS:  How’d he do it?

GIULIANI:  By voting for it.  He voted for the peace dividend.  He voted for many, many things that would have taken weapon systems away from us.  Now, when I say he did it, he didn’t succeed very often because members of his own party voted against him.

MATTHEWS:  And they weren’t decisive votes that he cast.

GIULIANI:  Right.  So I shouldn’t say he did it; I’ll say he indicated on the record that he would do it.  And all we have to go by—what’s the best indication of what kind of commander in chief he’s going to be?  He’d like you to think it’s what he did in Vietnam for four months.

I kind of think it’s what he’s done as a mature United States Senator for 20 years, which is to vote against defense methods.

MATTHEWS:  Didn’t you threaten to veto, to refuse to sign the appropriations, because you thought it was too much?  You weren’t against the whole appropriation, but you meant to signal to legislature or to city council that you wanted to sign it 20 percent less because you needed to protect the budget. 

Isn’t that what Kerry did?  Or anybody...

GIULIANI:  Were there times he did that as a Senator?  Of course, absolutely.  But he voted against defense spending so often that he was at the outer fringe.

Look, this is not meant again to use the “L” word as a bad word:  liberal or conservative.  But he was the most liberal member of the United States Senate.

One of the reasons he was was because he probably voted against defense spending more than any other member of the Senate, including Teddy Kennedy and other liberals.

MATTHEWS:  Do you feel more at home in the Republican Party today than you did even a couple of years ago?

GIULIANI:  Tremendously.  When I started in 1989, I was all by myself, almost.  There was no George Pataki, Christie Whitman, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I mean, there are a lot of us now who are what you guys all call moderate Republicans, conservative on fiscal policy, conservative on foreign affairs.

MATTHEWS:  Don’t they call you that now, a yankee?  A yankee.  You’re a yankee.

GIULIANI:  Well, in some parts of the country, I’m too moderate.  In some parts of the country, like New York, I’m too—here in New York, you know, I’m too conservative.

MATTHEWS:  Can I make a prediction?  You’ve got a lot of invitations right now to give speeches.

GIULIANI:  Yes, I do.

MATTHEWS:  Will you be a major road show for the Bush-Cheney ticket?

GIULIANI:  Well, I certainly am going to be out there campaigning for them, as I have been.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  But will you be going to Cleveland, will you be going to Philadelphia, will you be going to St. Louis, all those very close-call states?

GIULIANI:  Some are scheduled already.  Have a trip to St. Louis scheduled and some others.  The rest, it’s up to the campaign.  I mean, I campaigned with the president.  In 2002, I was 30 states for Republican candidates.  So I hope I can do, you know, at least as much for the president...

MATTHEWS:  I thought it was the best big city speech I ever heard in my life.  I thought it was better than anything Cuomo ever did or Hugh Carey ever did.  It was about ethnic diversity.  It was dynamite.  You think it’ll sell on the road?  In a place like Jackson, Mississippi, is the Rudy Giuliani message going to sell?

GIULIANI:  I’ve given it on the road many times.

MATTHEWS:  Really?

GIULIANI:  Maybe not quite that one.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

GIULIANI:  But I’ve been in all those places.  And I think it is one America.  I mean, I think definitely...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Zell Miller contributed to that unity?

GIULIANI:  I think Zell Miller made a very, very compelling statement, that John Kerry...

MATTHEWS:  Was it a unifier for the country?

GIULIANI:  Yes.  For those of us who believe that the defense of this country can’t be compromised...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The reason I asked that, it’s not because I had a tussle with him last night, which is boring, but because...

GIULIANI:  I think it was—actually thought it was some of the funniest television that I’ve seen in a very long time. 

(CROSSTALK)

GIULIANI:  And you weren’t together, so you couldn’t use...

MATTHEWS:  Here’s my point.  John McCain, who’s another one of the leaders of your party, went on the other night and gave a wonderful speech at the end about—at the end of his remarks.  And he said, “We have to learn how to compete with other Americans as friends.”  And I didn’t think that the—well, do you think that the Zell Miller remarks were the same tone as the McCain remarks?

GIULIANI:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That’s what I’m asking.

GIULIANI:  There were two different purposes.

GIULIANI:  He was trying to point out why he disagrees with the candidate of his party, which is a very dramatic—very dramatic thing.  And John was trying to give an overall view of foreign policy and how we should approach it and how, now that we have some of these differences, how we can bring some of these people back into being—you know, having a strong alliance...

MATTHEWS:  I think you’re going for—I think you guys are going for the roll-up.  I think McCain, you, Zell Miller, the president, the vice president have decided—maybe you haven’t said this openly—that you’re not interested in some close election without a mandate.  You want to give this president and this vice president, this ticket, a mandate to rule the next four years, which they really didn’t get electorally the last time.

I want to ask you, are you guys going for a roll-up, bring back the Reagan Democrats in Scranton where the president’s going tomorrow night, bring back the ethics, bring back the Reagan people from the Democratic Party.

GIULIANI:  I said this this morning to the Missouri delegation:  We have to approach this as a very close election, fight for every state and hope that we can get the kind of momentum that we make it even bigger than that. 

And I hope it isn’t just the optimism of coming out here, but I have a feeling that maybe it can be a little bigger than we thought a week ago.

MATTHEWS:  Something like 80 -- a big Reagan roll-up.

GIULIANI:  I’m not giving any predictions.  Once Frank Luntz did that to me.  He predicted I was going to win by 60 percent.  And I won by 18 points and 59 percent.  And the New York Times began by saying I didn’t reach expectations.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there was one advantage:  Nobody’s heard of your opponent since.

Let me ask you about Reagan Democrats, because you and I were raised Catholic.  We’re Catholic.  We know that’s a big part of the country, the people who grew up in big cities.  You call them ethicists—stupid word.  But—because everybody’s ethic—but the idea that a lot of people who have been voting democrat their whole life, do you think they’re going to break with Kerry and Edwards and go with your party this time like they did for Reagan in ‘80 and ‘84?

GIULIANI:  A lot of it has to do with personal attachment to the candidate.  It was Ronald Reagan who spoke their language and was able to reach them.  And I think George Bush has that appeal.

I think the thing that’s missing here—George Bush is a terrific candidate.  I think people are going to see that tonight.  I saw it on the stump many, many times.  But he’s a terrific candidate.  The more he gets out there and the more he reaches people, he’s going to be able to bring those people along with him.  And he talks their language.

I was really happy that he got the New York City firefighters’ endorsement last night.  I was really happy because they belong on each other’s side.  They’re the same kind of guys.  And that’s the kind of person he can reach.

MATTHEWS:  Did he get all the firefighters?

GIULIANI:  He got the New York City Fire Department.  Yes. 

GIULIANI:  But a lot of unions don’t reflect that. 

MATTHEWS:  I know they don’t.

MATTHEWS:  Look down there, that center down there—the stage.  It’s going to be a theater in the round.  And George Bush is going to show that he can really take on the challenges of leadership and be almost really the leader of the country, I should say.  Would you like to play that role? 

(LAUGHTER)

Would you see yourself down there someday, Mayor?

GIULIANI:  I’m trying my best not to create any speculation beyond 2004.  I mean, you don’t want to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  You afraid of Hillary?  You afraid of Hillary?

GIULIANI:  Am I afraid of her?

MATTHEWS:  You’re afraid of Hillary.

GIULIANI:  Come on.

MATTHEWS:  You’re afraid to take her on.

(LAUGHTER)

GIULIANI:  You’re trying any way you can get me.  I’m still sponsoring that duel, if you keep this up. 

MATTHEWS:  Will you join me in a town meeting this fall?

GIULIANI:  I will.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani, probably the most impressive mayor in the history of this country.

(LAUGHTER)

And someday president, maybe.

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