updated 10/4/2004 12:17:57 PM ET 2004-10-04T16:17:57

Guests: Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Al Franken

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight‘s top headline, Bush looks baffled, as Kerry wins the first debate.  The “Real Deal”?  The president better focus soon or he‘ll be packing for Crawford come January. 

Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, where no passport is required and only common sense is allowed. 

Tens of millions of people watched the first battle last night in the presidential debate, but George Bush seemed to zone out after the first 20 minutes.  Was he wishing that he were home watching “SportsCenter?”  No one really knows, but instead of delivering a knockout blow, the president let John Kerry climb back into the presidential race. 

And later, we‘re going to have liberal comedian Al Franken‘s take on last night‘s debate and talk about next week‘s V.P. matchup.  

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

From Miami, Florida, here‘s Joe Scarborough. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, welcome to the show.  We are in Miami, Florida, live at the Biltmore Hotel, an absolutely beautiful place.  We want to thank Ivan (ph) for setting us up here.  It‘s been great tonight. 

It‘s been, I will tell you what, a great past couple of days as we have been following this presidential debate.  And what an extraordinarily important debate it is. 

You know, President Bush let his supporters down last night.  We‘re going to talk about it in tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

George W. Bush walked on stage at the University of Miami last night as the United States commander in chief during the most important war since FDR led America through World War II.  It was, of course, also the first presidential debate between the two part‘s nominees since the terror attacks of September 11.  Now, add to that the bloody chaos in Iraq and the war of liberation in Afghanistan, and you had to the makings of the most substantive debate in decades. 

Both candidates seemed to be on top of their game for the first 20 minutes, but then the president became strangely unfocused, as if he had something better to do than to explain to Americans and our allies exactly why it is that we‘re spending billions of dollars in Iraq and losing more young American soldiers‘ lives every day.  Now, simply put, the president‘s performance was embarrassing.  The fact that George W. Bush could do little more than tell us 11 times that he has a hard job, and then ask for 30 additional seconds to tell us that he has a hard job, and then slump and look around during the debate like some junior high school jock thrown in debating class by his parents, was an absolute disgrace. 

You know, the president of the United States not only let down his supporters at home last night.  He let down his allies overseas, politicians who have put their own political careers and in some instances their lives on the line for the war that George W. Bush has been supporting. 

Now, making matters worse is the fact that he has allowed his opponent to get away with advancing dangerous policy positions without consequence.  This is, after all, the same John Kerry that told our most steadfast allies in Australia that they were more likely to be killed by terrorists attacks because they supported America in the war on terror.  And this is the same John Kerry who still, despite his protests and that of his supporters, has still not told Americans what his position in Iraq really is. 

But you know what?  Republicans shouldn‘t be angry with John Kerry tonight.  They should focus their critiques on George W. Bush.  The fact that he is still unable to pick apart Senator Kerry‘s inconsistencies when it mattered the most and the fact that he doesn‘t have a long enough attention span to tell Americans for over 90 minutes where he is leading them in this war on terror points to a greater character flaw. 

You know, George W. Bush had better get his act together soon or he‘s going to find himself following in his father‘s political footsteps and packing his bags next January.  And that‘s tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

Right now, let‘s go to MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.  We also have Douglas Brinkley, the author of “Tour of Duty.”  We have Katrina Vanden Heuvel.  She‘s, of course, the editor of “The Nation,” and Larry Kudlow, host of CNBC‘s “Kudlow & Cramer.” 

I want to thank all of you for being here.

And, Pat Buchanan, let me begin with you.  I know that‘s a harsh, harsh assessment of the president‘s performance last night.  I know him.  I like him.  I support him.  I have supported him in the past.  But I just don‘t understand what it is about this Bush family that, when they get into presidential debates, they look distracted. 

Why can‘t they focus for 90 minutes straight on extraordinarily important events like presidential debates? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think, Joe, what the president did—and that was a very, very rough commentary, I agree. 

What the president did, he‘s been out on the campaign trail.  What has he been doing, Joe, for six months?  He‘s been giving the rally speeches, at which people respond and cheer when he pointed out, Kerry said one thing and then he said another, and he said one thing and then he said another.  And he gets these responses, these cheers, and they energize him. 

So he started off last night giving segments of those speeches.  Only, he didn‘t get back any cheers.  He got back the stern visage of Mr. Lehrer looking at him and no response from the audience.  And I think it knocked him completely after the game. 

And then Kerry, who is a polished debater, did a very effective job of jabbing him each time he answered a question and then answering the question well.  Kerry came prepared to debate.  Mr. Bush came prepared to give these sound bites.  He got no response from them, and you started to see this exasperated look on his face.  He was miffed.  Why do I have to take this stuff? 

And I agree with you.  I think he really damaged himself last night.  And if you cut the sound down, Joe, and you ask yourself, which of those two people looks like the president of the United States, I think most Americans would have to say John Kerry. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Larry Kudlow, I was very disappointed in the president‘s performance.  I was disappointed that he wasn‘t more disciplined during the cutaway shots.  I was very disappointed that he seemed so focused for the first 30 minutes, but seemed to lose the way after that.  What was your take? 

LAWRENCE KUDLOW, CO-HOST, “KUDLOW & CRAMER”:  Well, I think he had a bad hair day, so I‘ll concede that point right off the top. 

(LAUGHTER)

KUDLOW:  But you were pretty rough on him. 

Let me just challenge you, Joe, a little bit on this.  I believe on style, Kerry won handily.  But on message and content, I think Bush won.  And I want to read you some results from the Gallup poll on this subject.  Bush better—who handles Iraq better?  Bush, 54-43.  Better commander in chief, Bush up by 10 points.  Demonstrated he‘s tough enough for the job, Bush up by 17 points. 

In other words, I think Bush pinned Kerry‘s ears back on a few crucial places.  No, I don‘t think Bush followed up.  I think he let a lot of opportunities slip away.  But, on the whole, I think these ratings show the country sees Bush as the war leader to defeat the Islamofascist terrorists. 

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR, “THE NATION”:  Last night, I thought...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Give me one issue, though, Larry—I‘m going to challenge you now, though.  Give me one issue where he pinned John Kerry‘s ears back. 

KUDLOW:  Well, I think he nailed him on the global test, which is about the United Nations running American foreign policy.  And I think he also nailed him on the vote against the $87 billion appropriation, although in both cases I will concede—I think I‘m a pretty good debater.  I would have liked to see Mr. Bush with stronger follow-through, but I think those were two very important issues and it reminded people of Kerry‘s flip-flops. 

The other thing is, Bush himself read Kerry‘s flip-flops at one point and I think that was very effective, too. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Katrina, now let‘s talk about John Kerry‘s weaknesses. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I thought he did a great job presenting himself.

But, still, on the issue of Iraq, it—really, it still is a muddled

message.  That is one of the critiques of George W. Bush, that he didn‘t go

in there and say, Senator Kerry, you still haven‘t clarified your position

on Iraq.  Tell me, how did John Kerry

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on.  Let me ask you the question and then—

Katrina, let me ask you the question and then you‘ll answer.  It is going to be a short question.  How did John Kerry advance his Iraq policy last night in the debate? 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I think he advanced his candidacy.  It changed the dynamics of the race, Joe. 

Here is a man who came in forcefully, factually, systematically exposing the incompetence and lack of credibility of this administration.  We saw last night a shrinking president.  A denier in chief met a challenger who looked more like the commander in chief. 

And I think on several very important issues, John Kerry exposed how this administration misled us into a war that is a catastrophe.  That is crucial.  And I think he defined strength. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  What is John Kerry‘s Iraq policy? 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  You know, John Kerry‘s policy is referendum on the failed policies of this administration, if there‘s any accountability or responsibility in the decency of American citizens, a change of course. 

John Kerry is talking about restoring American, the respect for America in this world. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Where is he taking us?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  This administration has taken America‘s reputation through the mud and has made us isolated and less secure.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Katrina, I have heard this.  What I want to know is

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  He redefined strength, too, Joe, because on your show

·         on your show, sometimes

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Please, Katrina.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... stubbornness means strength.  Recklessness means strength.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Conviction, integrity and judgment mean strength.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, Katrina.  All I have asked you and all I want to know—and I have been very harsh on George W. Bush tonight. 

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I don‘t think you have, but yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All I want to know is, where the John Kerry taking us in Iraq?  Don‘t talk about George Bush and where he‘s been.  I want to know, where is John Kerry going to take America in Iraq over the next four years?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  John Kerry is going to slowly move American men and women out of a catastrophe that this administration has led us into.  He will do so by restoring alliances.  But he will have to speak honestly to the American people, because this is an insurgency which as, he last night, invoking the president‘s father, put it correctly, this is an occupation in a brutally hostile land. 

There is no military solution.  And I think Americans are waking up to that, even while we want to maintain our security and dignity. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s go to you now, Doug Brinkley. 

I think we actually have a little airspace here that you can fly in.  I want to go back to the Bush family.  Let‘s put this in historical perspective.  I think most American were stunned when George Bush Sr.  looked at the watch back in 1992.  I think a lot of Americans were stunned last night at how unprofessional and unpresidential George Bush looked in the cutaways. 

I think a lot of Americans were stunned that George W. Bush last night seemed to be distracted himself after 30 minutes into the debate.  What is it about this Bush family?  And is there any historical parallel of any candidates on the major stage like this, just seemingly—seeming to zone out? 

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, NBC ANALYST:  Well, Joe, a few days ago when we spoke, I mentioned that, if you go back in presidential debates and look at, say, 1960 and how poorly Nixon did just by looks, the way he acted, and John Kennedy, of course, won that.

Lyndon Johnson in ‘64 and Nixon in 1968 and ‘72 refused to debate on worry that they were going to have their war policies or at least kind of presidencies put under a microscopes in a different way.  And they weren‘t, Johnson and Nixon, fabulous debaters.  George W. Bush is not particularly good at it. 

Why or how he did that distracted kind of arrogant smirk routine at the cutaways, I kept wondering, did somebody instruct him to do that?  Was he trained to do that?  Did he think that Kerry had been so diminished that he would kind of look down his nose at him as if this guy was already dead meat?  If that‘s what he did, if he did it on purpose, it was a terrible mistake.  And if that is just the way he is and he wants to behave, I think it‘s cost him quite a bit. 

It has not cost him the election.  He‘s still ahead in the polls.  We‘ll have to wait until Sunday and Monday to see them, Joe, but it cost him momentum.  John Kerry now and Democrats and his supporters feel good.  It‘s helping the grassroots effort for the Democrats tremendously to have this victory.  They have had a tough six weeks and now they feel their man is on message. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what?  I think you‘re exactly right.  And I think the most important thing that happened last night in this debate is, it reenergized the Democratic base and told Democrats, you‘ve got a chance to win this race. 

Katrina, thanks a lot for being with us.  It was interesting, to say the least.

And coming up, according to the elite media, John Kerry was crowned king of last night‘s debate.  Hey, I crowned him king, but you are going to hear what newspapers from across America said when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, the first presidential debate is over and we‘ve got the very latest polls.  We‘ll tell you what they are when we come back in just a minute.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”) 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kerry‘s people couldn‘t be happier.  Their candidate went up against a sitting war president who has never lost a debate and held his own. 

JON STEWART, HOST:  And, Rob, what is the mood over there at the Bush camp? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Triumph, John, orgasmic triumph.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Their man faced off against John Kerry, a golden-tongued virtuoso of words.  Captain of the Yale debate team, he‘s been honing his oratorical skills since the age of 3.  The way they see it, by not allowing himself to be reduced to tears, the president was a big winner tonight. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, we‘re back with our panel right now.  And we‘re going to add Flavia Colgan.  She of course is an MSNBC political analyst. 

Flavia, what were your thoughts on the debate last night? 

FLAVIA COLGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Oh, I thought that Kerry definitely won. 

He connected in an emotional way, which is so important on TV.  And he did it not by wearing earth tone colors or trying to be an alpha male.  He did it by being himself, a man of gravitas, a man who is obviously calm and in control and under pressure situations.  And he gave crisp, sharp answers.

And I thought that Bush, especially in the cutaway shots, looked juvenile almost and certainly defensive and a bit annoyed.  And I thought that Kerry really showed that Bush was a bit out of touch.  And Bush just kept saying the same thing over and over again.  And he sounded a bit like a parrot, instead of a president. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  It was very obvious that he had been briefed and that he was going to keep hammering the same issues over and over again. 

And I think, again—Howard Fineman said it last night.  I think he was right.  He got 30 minutes worth of material for a 90-minute debate. 

COLGAN:  And you know what that did?

What it did was his father, in one moment, by looking at his watch, showed that he was sort of out of touch.  But Bush and his words and the way he kept painting this rosy picture in Iraq really showed the American people that he‘s out of touch.  People know what is going on.  People the situation is deteriorating.  Body bags are coming home.  Jobs are hemorrhaging out of this country and health care costs are on the rise. 

To sit there and watch the president of the United States try to pretend like everything is sunny and great, I think people take major umbrage with that.  And I think he lost a lot of points.  And although his conversational style appeals to middle America, I think that him not being straight and sort of really squaring with them in terms of some of the mismanagement hurt him a lot. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, obviously, I disagree with Flavia on many of those points.

But the poll numbers that came out weren‘t very positive for the president.  ABC News‘ poll had Kerry winning 45 to 36 percent.  The CNN/”USA Today”/Gallup poll had Kerry winning 53 percent to 37 percent.  CBS 43-28 percent, again, Kerry over Bush.

What‘s the long-term impact?  Will we remember in November? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think, look, if the president of the United States loses this election, which I don‘t believe he‘s going to do still, he will have lost it right here, when he had a chance to put this away, Joe.  This was a very important night.  There‘s no doubt about it. 

But let me come a little bit to the defense of the president.  I think the president, when people say, look, he‘s bullish on Iraq, he says it‘s going well, he‘s speaking of freedom, we have got to realize this is a commander in chief of 140,000 guys and women who have put their lives on the line.  What do they want him to go out and say?  Gee, it‘s worse than I thought; we‘re losing people every day; good heavens, we lost so many now;

I‘m not sure how we‘re going to get out of here?

He‘s the commander in chief and he‘s leader of the nation.  He has got an obligation to inspire and lead us on.  This is what he is trying to do.  I think last night he came closer to saying, look, it is a long, hard slog.  It‘s not going to be easy, but we‘re going to get this job done.  So I don‘t fault him on that at all. 

KUDLOW:  Yes, I think there‘s so much—I am hearing so much defeatism and pessimism.

And, Joe, if you‘re going to read the Gallup poll on the debating points, you should go back to the issues that I raised.  I‘m reading from the same Gallup poll.  We had Frank Newport on our show, “Kudlow & Cramer,” this evening.  And I want to go to the point about how Kerry connected with the audience. 

According to the Gallup poll, who was more believable?  Bush, 50, Kerry, 45.  Who was more likable?  Bush, 48, Kerry, 41.  And again, the killer to me, again, on message and content and leadership, who demonstrated he‘s tough enough for the job?  Bush, 54, Kerry 37. 

Now, look, when Mr. Kerry repeatedly talks about colossal errors, incredible mess, wrong war, wrong place, wrong time, that sends a defeatist message.  It is a fundamentally pessimistic message.  And I think it is a turnoff to most American voters.  The very same people who will acknowledge that Kerry was a better debater last night would also acknowledge that they continue to support Bush on the substance of the policies and the strength of his leadership. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Douglas Brinkley, let‘s put this in historical perspective.  We were talking last night before and after the debate how long it would take for Americans to digest what they saw on TV.  They would go to work and they would talk by the water cooler, that they would talk this weekend in little league baseball games, backyard barbecues. 

When are we going to start getting a sense, a real sense, of who won this debate in middle America?  Forget what I‘m saying.  Forget what “The New York Times” editorial page is saying.  What about middle America?  When do they make that determination?

BRINKLEY:  Well, I think it‘s going to be Sunday, Monday, when we get all the national polls in and see how this has affected battleground states like Ohio or Iowa or Wisconsin, Missouri, Pennsylvania. 

But clearly we‘re talking here not about—this is just one—sometimes we tend to believe whatever happened the night before is of earth-shattering importance.  Last night was a very important debate for John Kerry.  He was now able to be a credible alternative as commander in chief.  People are giving him a second look and they‘re getting to know him for the first time.  He clearly won the debate.

But we have got two more coming.  And President Bush‘s poll numbers and support are very strong, so we‘re in for a humdinger of an election. 

And of course the media I think is in some ways glad that Kerry did well,

because if this was

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, exactly. 

BRINKLEY:  If this was a walk, a Bush walk, who would be tuning in to these television shows?  They want the tension of it 50/50 down to election night. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘re exactly right, Douglas.  I can‘t help but laugh when you say that, because I heard so many media people say to me last night, thank God we‘ve got a great pennant race all the way to the end. 

But when the history is written on this presidential campaign, and you may well be one of those people that‘s writing it, do you think last night may be remembered as the night that Americans gave John Kerry a second chance?  And if he ends up winning, is it that defining moment where John Kerry once again stepped up to the challenge, like he did in 1996 in the Senate debates with Bill Weld, and showed Americans that he was worth getting a second look at? 

BRINKLEY:  Absolutely.  And those cutaways we keep talking about of President Bush, we‘ll be looking at them four years from now of what not to do during a debate. 

Kerry came in, I think, underestimated in many ways.  Remember, the critique was that he made a mistake in Boston, but the Democrats held a good convention in Boston.  The Republicans simply held a better one.  And the swift boat attacks and some of Kerry‘s circular talking really hurt him the seven weeks.  But foreign affairs is one of John Kerry‘s strong suits. 

His father, Richard Kerry, was a diplomat.  Kerry since a boy he lived in -

·         speaks numerous different languages.  He is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he loves debate. 

And one of the things that you felt last night about Kerry, you could talk about Nigerian oil prices or the role of Slovakia in NATO, you felt Kerry had studied everything.  You felt like Bush really had a couple of campaign zingers he kept wanted to hold and wanted to keep going back to the flip-flop.  You are not going to win the president on flip-flopping. 

KUDLOW:  That is so unfair.  That is so one-sided.  That is just factually incorrect for a historian, among other things. 

BRINKLEY:  What was incorrect? 

KUDLOW:  What you just said. 

BRINKLEY:  No, what.

KUDLOW:  You should be ashamed of yourself.

BRINKLEY:  Well, tell me what. 

KUDLOW:  For saying that Bush just had a bunch of sound bites.  It was George Bush who had to explain to John Kerry exactly how we discovered the nuclear reactors in North Korea. 

It was George Bush who had to explain to John Kerry that we had one of Kerry‘s much vaunted multilateral operations, including China, to deal with North Korea.  It was George Bush who had to explain to Kerry exactly how the coalition was being put together to impose sanctions on Iran and their development of nukes. 

It wasn‘t George Bush who said, goofily, that the New York subway system closed down, which is factually untrue.  So I just think that that kind of slander is incorrect and you ought to know better.  You‘re a historian. 

BRINKLEY:  Larry, let me tell you, people in history remember a lot of sound bites.  You get an impression. 

Most people, as Joe asked, going to work today, the water cooler talk, aren‘t talking about all that.  They are getting an impression of what occurred last night. 

KUDLOW:  But you‘re a historian. 

(CROSSTALK)

BRINKLEY:  And that wasn‘t the question I was asked.

KUDLOW:  You‘re a historian.  And you should be talking details, not what you think people around water coolers are saying. 

Look, I will admit, as I did at the top of the show, that Kerry won the debate on style points.  I said it was a bad hair day for Bush.  Bush needed a nap.  Unfortunately, he took 20 winks during the debate.  Well, I wouldn‘t have done it that way.

SCARBOROUGH:  He did. 

KUDLOW:  I wouldn‘t have done it that way. 

But the one thing I won‘t hold is to suggest Bush that did not have the knowledge, the deep knowledge, after serving three and a half years as commander in chief, because he showed up Kerry on a lot of these issues. 

BRINKLEY:  I don‘t think he exhibited the knowledge as well as he should have last night.  And I think most people that have watched the debates would come to the same conclusion.  That is not a partisan comment.  That is just reality. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Let me get in on this.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on.  I have got to go to Flavia. 

But, first of all, Doug Brinkley, let‘s show Doug Brinkley again.  Put Doug‘s picture up there.  I think it‘s important also for John Kerry that, before the debate, he was the color of Doug Brinkley‘s tie.  Somehow he got enough makeup on to mellow out. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Flavia, I‘m not going to even ask you why he was so orange before the debate.  He looked like a starlet on the red carpet. 

I want to give you an interesting number here, though.  We‘re talking facts.  I‘m going to be shallow and talk about poll numbers for a second.  Before the debate—and this is a CBS News poll -- 28 percent of uncommitted voters were leaning towards Kerry.  Now, during the debate, from the uncommitteds, John Kerry gained 10 points.  George W. Bush gained 12 points. 

In the end, chances are good—and Pat has talked about this.  Lawrence has talked about this.  In the end, this isn‘t going to change the poll numbers a great deal, is it?  It‘s, again, mainly going to get the Democratic activists out that were about to give up on this guy, get them back into the race, saying, hey, you know what?  We‘re going to give him one more chance to beat the president that we loathe. 

COLGAN:  Joe, you‘re exactly right.  I think the main thing this did was to energize the base.

But I think that Doug also hinted at another thing it did.  And that was that the majority of Americans like George Bush.  They like him personally, but the majority of Americans also feel the country is going in the wrong direction.  And John Kerry showed himself last night as a real alternative.  He looked like a commander in chief.  He looked like a president. 

And I think what it does for undecideds and swing voters is to let them—is to give them a chance.  George Bush could have put this away last night.  It could have been a shutout.  And he didn‘t.  He didn‘t take that opportunity.  And I think one of the points that was made last night that was very important was that being steadfast and being stubborn are two very different things. 

And you talk about how are we going to see if this debate was won or not over the next couple of days.  And I think a lot of that comes from the way the pundits and writers are going to follow it.  And part of that has to with, the Democrats are really going to have to create an echo chamber, the way Republicans do so effectively. 

And I think the three issues in terms of what I saw that really can really capitalize on are, one, a competence issue, not to go after Bush on his personality, but two, accountability, that he is not accountable for mistakes that have been made, and, three and most importantly, that he is out of touch with realities on the ground.  They have got to keep hammering that.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  I‘ll tell you what.  We are going to let Flavia keep hammering that when we get back.

Plus, we‘re going to throw it to Pat Buchanan next to get him in the middle of this slug fest talking about John Kerry and George W. Bush and where their campaigns go next week. 

That‘s when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns in a second. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Al Franken is coming by in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY to tell us how he thought the debate went.  Plus, we‘ll go back to our all-star panel and ask them what the candidates do next to try to lock down the White House. 

But, first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC News Desk.

(NEWS BREAK)

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

From Miami, Florida, once again, Joe Scarborough. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, welcome back to the show. 

We have been talking a lot about last night.

But, Pat Buchanan, let‘s look forward.  Where do these candidates go next in October? 

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s one thing we ought to look at, Joe. 

I understand that American troops, about 3,000 of them, are trying to invest Samarra, one of these Sunni towns in the Sunni Triangle.  And what‘s going to have to happen before those elections, you‘re going to have to take some of them down and you‘re going to have to drive the insurgents and the terrorists out. 

Now, if the president of the United States is about to launch an offensive in the Sunni Triangle in October of this year, I think that dominates the news, he as commander in chief, and I think the American people rally to him.  That could be upcoming and that could cancel out the effect of any of these debates, quite frankly. 

You recall, back in 1964, Lyndon Johnson was bombing North Vietnam;

‘68, just before the election, three days before, it looked like he had put together peace talks; 1972, Nixon—or Kissinger, peace is at hand on October 26, takes away any issue McGovern has.  I think actions and events could still determine the outcome of this election. 

BRINKLEY:  Joe, can I just say, yes, I agree with Pat and also the Afghanistan—the elections coming up in Afghanistan I think is going to be very important if those are held in a free and fair way. 

KUDLOW:  You know, another thing coming up, the next debate, which is a week from tonight, if I‘m not mistaken, on the economy. 

And there‘s been a whole spate of really strong first-rate economic number, including upward revisions to GDP and consumer spending and decline of inflation, construction, housing.  The stock market is roaring today.  And I think Bush has a lot of positive economic momentum at his back going into that debate. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, You know, Larry Kudlow, what‘s so interesting is, I have been traveling around the country this political season.  I was in Missouri this past week.  I‘ve been in Oregon, been in a lot of swing state.

And when I hear advertisements, political advertisements, Republicans, Democrats on the national, state, local level, they are not talking about the war.  They are talking about taxes. 

KUDLOW:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They‘re talking about tax cuts. 

KUDLOW:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  This is like 1980 all over again. 

KUDLOW:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t know what it is, but that issue in political season when they have got to decide how am I going to spend my remaining dollars, Democrats and Republicans talk about tax cuts. 

KUDLOW:  It is a great point. 

(CROSSTALK)            

SCARBOROUGH:  Do you think Bush is going to just hammer that point home in the next debate? 

KUDLOW:  Yes, I really do. 

And, as I said, I think the winds are at his back on this.  He missed an opportunity last night.  Kerry took a cheap shot about tax cuts for the rich vs. homeland security.  That‘s a bunch of hogwash.  What Bush has to say is, I cut tax rates across the board for everybody.  And we are seeing the fruits of this develop is a very strong economy.  And Mr. Kerry, as usual, is hoping for a bad economy.  He is the pessimist.  But the data show that the optimistic case is winning.  And if reelected, I‘m going to make these tax cuts permanent and let you have more incentives to work and invest and keep more of what you earn.  This is going to be a positive issue for Bush. 

(CROSSTALK)

COLGAN:  Joe, I‘ve got to stop Larry. 

First of all, I disagree with most of what they said, especially his fact-checking last night.  They could have done a miniseries on the inaccuracies that Bush pulled off.  And, look, I was in Pennsylvania.  I have lived in Michigan and Iowa.  And I am not an economist, but most people aren‘t—they don‘t want to hear about GDP.  They don‘t want to hear about these numbers.

Their neighbor, their sons, their daughters don‘t have jobs.  Their health care costs are skyrocketing out of control.  Their Medicare costs are skyrocketing out of control.  And so are their property taxes.

SCARBOROUGH:  What about taxes? 

COLGAN:  Because Bush has not funded No Child Left Behind. 

(CROSSTALK)

KUDLOW:  The unemployment rate is 5.4 percent. 

COLGAN:  Larry, you need to get out of the studio.

(CROSSTALK)

COLGAN:  Larry, with all due respect, you need to get out of the studio a little bit more and go talk to people, because I‘m telling you, that‘s not what people say. 

(CROSSTALK)

KUDLOW:  I know.  You keep creating these anecdotes.  I am giving you a hard fact. 

The unemployment rate is 5.4 percent.  There are 140 million Americans working.  It‘s an all-time record. 

(CROSSTALK)

COLGAN:  You know what?  Bush can keep saying how great the numbers is until he‘s blue in the face, but that‘s not how people feel when they are not bringing home paychecks every week.  So we‘ll see.

And I think that Kerry did a great job in connecting the war in Iraq to domestic policy by saying that—and it polled wells—that this is taking away money from very need homeland security and domestic programs here at home. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Larry, I‘ll give you the last word.  You have got 10 seconds. 

KUDLOW:  George Bush needs to link a strong economy from his tax cuts, which will produce the resources to the fight the world war against terrorism.  That‘s what Reagan did.  Bush should do it, too. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thank you all so much for being with us, a great debate. 

And coming up next, we‘ve got Al Franken.  We‘re going to get his take when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  The SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY open borders program continues, as we welcome Air America‘s premier talk show host, Al Franken.  Now, as you know, you can catch al on Air America, but you can also catch him on the Sundance Channel.  He is also of course the author of “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”

Now, Al, before we get into the specifics...

AL FRANKEN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Thanks for all the plugs, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, I know.  If you‘ve got anything else, like, if you have salad dressing or a cookbook.

FRANKEN:  I got a C.D. out.  I‘ve got an album out called “The O‘Franken Factor Factor.”

SCARBOROUGH:  Nice.  Nice.  Well, we‘ll link it to our Web site and put that in as well, with your salad dressing and vegetarian cookbook.

FRANKEN:  Oh, thank you. 

How‘s your book doing? 

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s doing great.  It‘s just wonderful.  It‘s upset everybody, which I think is a pretty good indication that I‘m on the right track. 

FRANKEN:  Good for you.  Good for you.  Good for you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Tell me.  Obviously, you‘re supporting John Kerry.

FRANKEN:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Not a big fan of George W. Bush.

But before we get to the political specifics of the debate, did you see anything in there that looked ripe for picking for “Saturday Night Live” or other comedians?  If you had to write a script mocking something in George W. Bush‘s performance and something in John Kerry‘s performance, what would it be? 

FRANKEN:  Well, I suppose, in Bush‘s performance, it would be him and the cutaways. 

You remember four years ago there was this rule that they weren‘t supposed to cut away to the other guy while one guy was talking and whoever did the feed violated that rule and caught Gore sighing.  And that really hurt him.  And I think the same thing happened.  And there were a lot of, like, petulant sort of stuff coming out of Bush‘s face.  It was sort of the visual equivalent of a sigh. 

For Kerry, I would do the scribbling.  There‘s a scribbling joke somewhere, you know, cut to what he‘s scribbling.  And, I mean, there‘s...

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  I‘m not exactly sure what George W. Bush was thinking during those cutaway shots. 

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN:  He was thinking they weren‘t cutting away to him.  That‘s what he was... 

SCARBOROUGH:  He must have been thinking that.  I was thinking that he was thinking that he‘d rather be home watching “SportsCenter” at the White House.  I thought he looked terribly distracted last night. 

FRANKEN:  Yes. 

I guess this is what happens when Bushes become president.  Joe, I don‘t have much time to—I know this is an important interview, but I‘d like to look at my watch.  I mean, that‘s what his dad did. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what?  I know. 

And, again, you are sitting there thinking, OK, you have got 90 minutes to talk to America and the world.  At least try to act like you‘re focused for 90 minutes. 

FRANKEN:  I know.  I know.

SCARBOROUGH:  It truly is remarkable. 

Now, let‘s talk the politic of it.  Obviously, you think John Kerry won the debate last night.  Why? 

FRANKEN:  Well, I thought, oddly enough, he—and I am probably the 10th person to say this if anyone is watching 24/7 cable, which I haven‘t been today, but I‘m assuming this, that there is a certain threshold that a guy, a challenger, has to meet to look like a plausible commander in chief. 

And I think that it was clear that Kerry achieved that threshold and went beyond that.  And, actually, it looked like the president kind of dipped below it, just from an affect standpoint.  On the political argument, I think that, if you listened to the entire debate, that you got the—Kerry did make the point that he‘s been consistent on Iraq in so far as he said that, my vote for the resolutions to give the president authority to use force was to get the inspectors on the ground there in Iraq.  And once we had them there, the president screwed up. 

And then he didn‘t go in to all the other ways in which the president screwed up, but now we find ourselves in a situation.  And that is what he meant by the wrong war at the wrong time.  Now that we‘re there, though, and the situation has deteriorated so badly—and this is where I thought Bush fell down, which was his just inability to admit mistakes and his inability to concede that we‘re—that the situation is deteriorating. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, what I was surprised by last night, again, first of all, I was surprised that the president lacked focus, looked distracted, looked like he‘d rather be somewhere else.

And I thought John Kerry gave him several openings that he simply didn‘t take.  But, at the same time, I want to go to this whole looking presidential deal, because I have read some columns this week where people were mocking those of us on TV that—when we talk about somebody looking presidential.  But I think it‘s extraordinarily important that American voters look on the TV screen and, especially when it‘s a challenger, that the guys that they are looking at is somebody they would trust in the Oval Office for four years.

How important was it last night for the Democratic base, which, let‘s face it, has been very deflated since the Republican Convention...

FRANKEN:  Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  How important was it for the Democratic base to look at their man last night and say, you know what, maybe he can win after all?

FRANKEN:  I think you put your finger on it completely, Joe. 

There were grumblings about Kerry‘s performance.  And then last night, they disappeared.  I think this has changed the whole dynamic of the race.  I think democrats are now much more enthusiastic about John Kerry.  I have known him for a long time.  I have always felt that he would make a great president.  And I thought that he gave a very strong, but consistent with who I know, the guy I know, performance. 

And so I think—and then also combined with the president‘s odd performance.  It was just odd, especially like that unfortunate reference to Abu Ghraib, when he said that he tries to keep his daughters on a leash.  I thought that was terrible. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

FRANKEN:  Actually, that was a joke, Joe, a joke.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  I know it was a joke. 

But it really was—it really—I don‘t know what it is about the Bush family.  But they turn in some of the oddest performances in presidential debating history.  So we‘ll see what happens four years from now when Jeb meets up with Hillary somewhere in the presidential debates.  It will be very interesting. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  But, Al...

FRANKEN:  I‘m sorry. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Go ahead. 

FRANKEN:  You know, what I wanted to say was, when the president was gracious when he was asked about Kerry, can he be commander in chief, and I thought he gave a very gracious reply, and Kerry back. 

And it‘s weird.  I just felt that—I don‘t know what it is, but I loved that.  I really...

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  It was a nice moment.  There‘s obviously a lot of heat going on back and forth.  But I agree with you. 

And, you know, what was interesting—and we‘ve got to go.  They‘re yelling in my ear, Al.

FRANKEN:  I got you.  I got you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But I think this is important.  I think this is important, that that was the one time that both of these guys let down their guards.  They smiled.  And it made me feel—it made me feel proud to be an American.

FRANKEN:  I know. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That this is the way we elect our leaders. 

But, anyway, Al, they‘re going to yell at me.  I‘m going deaf in one way.

FRANKEN:  OK.

SCARBOROUGH:  Thanks for being with me.  And I look forward to having you back here sometime soon. 

FRANKEN:  Absolutely.  And keep plugging my products, would you? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I will.  I will.  Buy Al‘s salad dressing. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘ll give you the address you can write when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns in just a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, make sure to tune into MSNBC Sunday night for a special program, “Picking Our Presidents: Secrets of the Great Debates.”  That‘s Sunday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s time to head on, but, before we do, I want to thank the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables for having us here tonight. 

And you‘re going to want to watch MSNBC every night next week.  We‘re going to have special editions of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY previewing the presidential and vice presidential debates.  And we are going to ask you to tune into “AFTER HOURS” at the debates, when our political panel will give you some insights on each debate‘s winners and losers.  This is going to be a big week.  And we are going to kick it off next week with Imus on Monday morning, when he talks to Bob Schieffer.

So have a great weekend, and we‘ll see you Monday night.

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