Guest: Nicolle Devenish, Joe Lockhart, Jon Meacham
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: We‘re back.
There it was, the big debate. It ran a bit over, about 10 minutes late, but let‘s talk about it right now. And I think we can come up with a jury decision rather quickly.
Andrea Mitchell, you are a straight reporter. You can‘t make political judgments. But what do you think the country‘s judgment will be as to who won this encounter?
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think Dick Cheney did awfully well at, first of all, putting John Edwards in his place, saying that I have been presiding over the Senate and I didn‘t meet you until tonight. Talking about his not having been on the job was pretty devastating.
MATTHEWS: Not only is he new to politics. He is late to politics.
MATTHEWS: Ron Reagan, who won?
RON REAGAN, NBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that was Cheney‘s best line.
I don‘t think we are going to see—I don‘t think we saw in this debate what we saw last time, which was a pretty clear winner that would be obvious to anybody.
MATTHEWS: Speak for yourself.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” Speak for yourself.
MATTHEWS: Don‘t drop that “we” in there.
SCARBOROUGH: Oh, my God.
MATTHEWS: You didn‘t see a clear winner. I think other...
Well, go ahead.
REAGAN: I was going to say, in the last debate, we saw a clear winner.
MATTHEWS: Right. How about this time?
REAGAN: This time, I think the chattering classes, and I include all of us among them, will come out on the side of, there was a stature gap there, and it was to Cheney‘s advantage. I am not sure that that stature gap is going to be quite so apparent, though, to the general public.
MATTHEWS: Will it be apparent enough for “The New York Times” to mention at top of the fold tomorrow? Will the liberal press admit that Cheney won?
JON MEACHAM, “NEWSWEEK”: That‘s a very good question. I think that the vice president did very, very well. He turned in a strong and serene performance, compared to Edwards, who I think seemed like Kerry-light.
He seemed to have series of talking points he wanted to get in. A lot of them direct echoes of Kerry, but he did not offer them with the same authority. And Kerry managed to make experience a virtue.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, I got in trouble last week when I said George Bush lost that debate. I tell you, tonight, no doubt about it. Edwards got obliterated by Dick Cheney.
This is the most surprising part. This debate actually turned in Cheney‘s direction when they started talking about domestic issues. I thought Cheney handled the foreign policy issues very well. But when they talked about taxes, there you had John Edwards saying, well, we support middle-class taxes. Dick Cheney says, yes, you didn‘t even vote for them this week. You weren‘t there.
Gay marriage, John Edwards talked about gay marriage for, what, five, six minutes. Then he says, we don‘t think you would even talk about—we shouldn‘t even be talking about gay marriage. Dick Cheney responds by saying, thanks for saying nice things about my daughter.
SCARBOROUGH: Tort reform. Here, you have John Edwards saying, well, there‘s not really a connection between lawsuits against doctors and the rising costs of health care insurance.
Everybody knows that‘s not true. I think the “SNL” shot, the “Saturday Night Live” shot this weekend is actually going to be the reactions, the facial reactions that John Edwards has every time he‘s zinged. There is no doubt about it. He was in over his head tonight. It really wasn‘t a weak performance by Edwards so much as it was an extraordinarily strong performance by Dick Cheney.
MATTHEWS: I think the allegory I thought would—the analogy would be a water pistol against a machine gun.
Every once in a while, he would take a squirt at the vice president, and then he would just—the vice president would just turn the Howitzer on the guy. It was all the points about attendance record, the tremendous amount of homework the Republican candidate for V.P. did here, the incumbent. I don‘t think this well-rehearsed and well-briefed senator from North Carolina was ready for the assault.
Do you think, Ron?
REAGAN: No, I don‘t think so.
I will mention the one remark that Dick Cheney made that was so extraordinary at the beginning, where he denied ever drawing a parallel between 9/11 and Saddam. All of us, our jaws hit the table.
MATTHEWS: Let me just suggest big time here. It isn‘t only a failure of performance relative to that of the vice president‘s. It seemed to me the problem with John Edwards is, he has never really opposed the Iraq war, until recently.
The Democratic Party really never came out and said it wasn‘t necessary, it was bad philosophy, it was making us enemies of the world. They tried to “me too” the president, oh, we went too fast or we might have stayed too long, and we didn‘t get in fast enough from Afghanistan. They never questioned the need to take down Saddam Hussein. And that‘s why they can‘t win this argument. That‘s what I think.
MITCHELL: Well, in fact, I think Dick Cheney had a very tough case to defend, because the American people see what‘s happening on the ground in Iraq.
When he talked about democracy is coming to Afghanistan, you didn‘t hear John Edwards say, it‘s only in Kabul. The warlords still control the rest of it. You didn‘t hear John Edwards challenge him, saying that there‘s been so much progress in Iraq. So even though Dick Cheney had a really tough case to defend, he kind of steamrolled over John Edwards on the foreign policy points.
SCARBOROUGH: And what is John Edwards going—what is John Edwards going to say, Andrea? What can John Edwards say? After all, he supported this war up.
SCARBOROUGH: Until the headlines started going badly.
MITCHELL: ... John Edwards did not make a strong enough argument against what‘s happening on the ground and let Dick Cheney steamroll over him on foreign policy.
SCARBOROUGH: There‘s a reason why, though.
First of all, he supported this war before. He had some of the strongest statements of any Democrat in Washington, D.C. And there‘s another issue here, OK? The American people, whether they support this war or oppose this war, the American people have decided, we are going to stay there. So his message tonight is, things are going poorly in Afghanistan. The American people are saying, so? We have got to stay there. Things are going poorly in Iraq. Well, what are you going to do about it?
SCARBOROUGH: There is not a viable alternative that can be presented by the Democratic ticket, because the American people have decided, for better or for worse, we have to stay in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s an argument. I am not sure it‘s going to be the same in two months.
MATTHEWS: But let me ask you something that is dramatic about the evening. We are having a vice presidential debate with an incumbent president, George W. Bush, who is running for reelection, I believe on the same ticket as Dick Cheney.
MITCHELL: Cheney never mentioned
MATTHEWS: I never heard the president‘s name, except that he was the gay basher. He was the one, according to Cheney, that wouldn‘t let his sister off the hook—his daughter off the hook.
I just thought that was the strangest absence. Why was—Edwards, to his credit, was at least there as the vice presidential candidate, talking about his presidential candidate.
And Cheney, to his credit, kept bashing Kerry. But the president‘s name never came up. I found it fascinating.
REAGAN: Well, Cheney can be forgiven for forgetting who actually is the president.
REAGAN: This is the COO of
MITCHELL: Oh, come on.
SCARBOROUGH: Come on.
MATTHEWS: But if you were President Bush...
SCARBOROUGH: Cheney didn‘t bring the president up.
But the main thing he did is what we talked about before. We said he was going to talk about John Kerry. He was going to hammer on the record. He was going to let the American people know that John Kerry is not up to the task of leading this nation in the war on terror.
SCARBOROUGH: And all John Edwards could keep going back to is, he did really well on Thursday night. Not enough.
MEACHAM: I think that‘s the key point. I think John Edwards was busy delivering a stump speech all night, while Dick Cheney showed up as the trial lawyer.
MITCHELL: And debating.
MEACHAM: Good point.
MEACHAM: They were not in the same room.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s hear from the other view.
We‘re going to go right now to somebody who I think is going to say Edwards did better than some of the people here thought, including me.
Joe Lockhart is a senior adviser to Kerry-Edwards campaign.
Joe, I thought—we were just pointing out how odd it was that the incumbent president‘s name hardly came up tonight and your party is trying to take him out of office.
JOE LOCKHART, KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, I don‘t think that‘s the case.
We talked—John Edwards talked repeatedly about the Bush-Cheney record. Listen, I think the story of this debate was Vice President Cheney was given repeated opportunities to correct the misstatements he made, the misleading of the American public about Saddam Hussein‘s connection with 9/11, and he couldn‘t do it.
And then when we went to the domestic subject, he couldn‘t even seem to get the word jobs out of his mouth. He is here in Cleveland, that has had serious job losses, and he couldn‘t even seem to address the question. They can‘t defend their record, because there is nothing to defend. So I think this was a clear victory for John Edwards tonight.
MATTHEWS: What is your ticket‘s position on the issue of whether we should have gone to war with Iraq? Why draw the distinction between Saddam Hussein and bin Laden if you don‘t have a policy implication? What is the policy implication you are trying to make?
LOCKHART: Well, the policy, listen, this all got raised when the president, President Bush said, knowing what we know now, I would have done everything the same. Vice President Cheney said the same thing tonight.
And then he said, what would you do knowing what we know tonight? And, listen, it doesn‘t make sense to anyone, knowing that we don‘t have weapons of mass destruction, there‘s no imminent threat, and there‘s no connection to al Qaeda and the 9/11 bombing. So it‘s only the president and the vice president who say that they have done everything right and there‘s nothing going wrong. I think the facts on the ground speak otherwise.
MATTHEWS: Well, why would John Kerry say that, if he knew all that as well, he would have voted to authorize again?
LOCKHART: Because, listen, that is a question about giving the president the tools to go and confront Saddam Hussein?
MATTHEWS: But why give him the authority to attack a country we have no reason to attack? I don‘t understand why you give a president the authority to attack a country you just admitted you have been informed subsequently we had no reason to attack.
LOCKHART: Chris, the only way you can know, to get inspectors in, is to go and give the president the authority. Everyone knows that. They are trying to blur this by simplifying it.
Everyone knows that you have got to give the president the power to go in and send the inspectors in, so we know that there are no weapons of mass destruction and we know they are not reconstituting.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you about the charge by the vice president, which caught a lot of us here on the panel by great surprise, that he had never met John Edwards before, even though he is the presiding officer of the U.S. Senate.
How could that be, that a man that is presiding over the Senate for four years now, has never met one of the U.S. senators who has been there for four years?
LOCKHART: Well, you will have to ask the vice president how much time he has spent up there, because Senator Edwards has spent an enormous amount of time in the Senate and has done important work. And I am not even sure that‘s true. I think the vice president and Senator Edwards have met before. And I am not sure what he was getting at there.
MATTHEWS: Well, he was getting at the fact that the senator from North Carolina is a no-show. Obviously, that‘s what he was getting at.
LOCKHART: Well, no. The senator of North Carolina is not a no-show. I don‘t know where the vice president was, and if they have met before, I don‘t know why he came out and said that tonight.
It goes to the pattern of misleading. These guys can‘t under any circumstances level with the American people and tell the truth.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that the candidate for vice president of the Democratic Party, John Edwards, was successful tonight in scoring on the issue of misbehavior by the vice president with regard to the corporation that he was once CEO of?
LOCKHART: I certainly did.
You are talking about someone who has talked about the axis of evil, and now the American public finds out that the vice president, while he was CEO of Halliburton, was lobbying for lifting sanctions on Iran, a country we knew sponsored terrorism. Where is the consistency there? Was it the axis of evil, or was it in order to make a few more bucks for his company and for himself, his policy was, let‘s lift sanctions against Iran?
MATTHEWS: Do you believe he has misused his office since becoming vice president with regard to favoritism toward Halliburton?
LOCKHART: Well, listen, I don‘t think we know. He said that he wasn‘t getting any compensation from Halliburton. That turned out to not be the case. He said he had no connection to these no-bid cases. There‘s now some information out there that says he was involved in this. I don‘t think he came clean tonight, and there will still be questions about Halliburton.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you to draw the distinction. It got a little murky there. What is the argument between the two tickets over the issue of gay marriage?
LOCKHART: Well, I think the argument is that John Kerry and John Edwards don‘t believe in a constitutional amendment for gay marriage. President Bush does. Vice President Cheney seems to not be able to make up his mind.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much for joining us. Please come back, Joe Lockhart, who is a top adviser in the Kerry-Edwards campaign.
I want to go back to the very interesting moment tonight. And anyone who is a parent or cares about the issue about sexuality and the fact that God made us what we are, it‘s my belief, at least, and how they feel about that as a human rights issue, and whether they thought that the position taken by the vice president was noble or not.
Ron, you want to take this? You talk about it a lot. And I think it‘s a question every parent, everybody thinks about. Should it be even-Steven in terms of relationship or not?
REAGAN: Well, listen, I think one of Cheney‘s best moments, not just in the debate, but throughout the year, is when he stood up for his own daughter and went against the administration.
MATTHEWS: But that‘s—let‘s be tough here, OK?
REAGAN: I was getting there.
MATTHEWS: His daughter Mary did not show up at the convention on the stage.
MITCHELL: She was on the stage tonight.
MITCHELL: She was on the stage tonight.
MATTHEWS: Is that a change, Andrea?
REAGAN: And traveling with her partner.
MATTHEWS: Is that a change? Is he getting more dramatic?
MITCHELL: She is the manager of his on-the-road campaign.
MATTHEWS: Is he now becoming more open about the relationship between him and his daughter politically, not just personally?
MITCHELL: She was in the box at the inaugural.
She has been—the only time she wasn‘t present was on that night.
MATTHEWS: That was significant.
MITCHELL: And that was, they said, her choice, because she had been so politicized by Alan Keyes‘ comments a couple of days earlier that I think she felt uncomfortable.
Look, she is on the road with him every day, in and out of every event. She is managing the road campaign. That‘s a very close, good family. And I think that we have to give them credit.
MATTHEWS: Well, she came up on the stage tonight, the partner as well. Heather came up as well.
MATTHEWS: How is this going to work out, though? Are people who are violently anti-gay, homophobic, if you will, and people who are gay and care about gay rights, is this going to join the issue or just muddy it up? Do you have any thoughts, Jon?
MEACHAM: I think it is muddied up.
I think you have to remember with Cheney in particular, he and—
Cheney and Bush come from two different wings of the Republican Party on this. Cheney is Western libertarian, sort of like Goldwater in his later years, who was in fact for gay rights. Bush has a commitment to the Christian right in a way that Cheney frankly does not.
I think we all are God‘s creatures. And I think that there‘s an emerging position and sense in the country that if you don‘t use the word marriage, you can use almost any other term, people are for it.
MEACHAM: I personally believe that marriage—we have changed the definition of marriage before, and so we can change it again. It used to be you couldn‘t marry if you were poor and you were rich.
MATTHEWS: You are not trying to get 270 electoral votes.
SCARBOROUGH: Let me tell you—let me tell you.
MEACHAM: Joe Scarborough, however, may be.
SCARBOROUGH: No, no, I can tell you right here—and, again, Edwards spoke about it for five, six minutes. Cheney was smart enough to speak about it for about five or six seconds.
The thing is, we sit here. We talk about gay marriage. We talk about an emerging pattern in the United States. Ask the good people of Missouri whether there‘s an emerging pattern in the United States on gay marriage. They voted it down, what, 75 percent to 25 percent? Listen, every time this issue comes up....
MATTHEWS: You mean in California.
SCARBOROUGH: People tell pollsters, we support same-sex unions. And then, even in states like Washington state, in California, in the most progressive states, they vote these amendments down overwhelmingly.
MATTHEWS: Because it‘s a private ballot.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, because it‘s a private ballot. And they tell pollsters one thing and they vote another way. We can say whatever we want to say, but this is a losing issue.
SCARBOROUGH: I am just going to tell you this. This is losing issue for the Democrats this year. I make no moral judgments. It‘s all a political judgment.
MEACHAM: The vice president of the United States just basically disagreed with you tonight when he said, look, I may be—I am mixed on this. The president made the call.
SCARBOROUGH: You know what? He stood by his daughter, like we would stand by our children.
MATTHEWS: I‘m sorry, everybody.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll be right back in a minute.
Let‘s go right now to the Chris Jansing, who is in the so-called spin room. I don‘t know how you can spin when you walk in a room called the spin room. It‘s too obvious.
She‘s with Bush-Cheney campaign communications director Nicolle Devenish—Chris.
CHRIS JANSING, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we used to call it the so-called spin room, Chris. But we don‘t even pretend that anymore. This is the spin.
But let‘s talk to Nicolle.
It‘s great to see you. Thanks for coming by.
NICOLLE DEVENISH, BUSH-CHENEY ‘04 COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Any time.
JANSING: The conventional wisdom was that the vice president had to stop—some of the polls, which show that the president lost the first debate in Miami. John Kerry was gaining ground on the Republicans. Did Dick Cheney do that tonight?
DEVENISH: Well, I disagree with part of the premise, but I think that the Democrats are wandering around behind me dazed and confused. This was a decisive victory for Dick Cheney. I think this was where the rubber met the road.
I think this is where John Edwards got first client that he couldn‘t defend. And that record that the vice president had down cold, he was able to really impeach the credibility of every political attack John Edwards launched tonight.
JANSING: Well, let‘s talk about some of the specific attacks.
First, the war on Iraq, did he really make the case that this is part of the war on terror, because that Democrats have said very clearly and some of the American people are having trouble buying the fact that we went to Iraq has made us safer.
DEVENISH: Well, I think the Democrats are so desperate now. They have convoluted their own position so much.
And, look, two questions that John Edwards wasn‘t able to answer tonight. He wasn‘t able to answer Gwen‘s very appropriate and very legitimate question about what exactly the global test was. The second was an inability to articulate whether, 27 days before Election Day, he thinks and Kerry thinks that the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein made us safer. Our record is clear. We do believe that.
Americans understand that our country is safer here and American cities are safer with Saddam Hussein out of power.
JANSING: What about the accusation that this administration is not being straight with the American people? There have been so many questions raised now about what‘s going on in Iraq. Can this administration continue to defend the progress that‘s being made?
DEVENISH: Well, look, I think that what the Kerry-Edwards ticket would like you to believe is that optimism and truth-telling can‘t coexist.
But we see plenty of debate within the administration. And we talk these policies through. But what wasn‘t truthful, what was the most dishonest thing we saw tonight was that John Edwards tackled with lies and political attacks and Dick Cheney was able to block those tackles with facts and substance.
JANSING: Well, let‘s talk about some of the facts: 45 million Americans without health care. We are standing in the city with the highest poverty rate. Do you think Dick Cheney really made the argument to a Clevelander who has lost his manufacturing job that the way to get more jobs is to be more business friendly?
DEVENISH: Well, I think he did.
And here‘s something else. We are in Ohio. We‘re in a crisis state for medical malpractice. And John Edwards, this was one fact that you would think he would have straight. He did not have his facts straight when he talked about the real savings and the real economic impact of an out-of-control and broken-down medical liability system. So I think people in Ohio will be most disturbed by the distortions that came out of John Edwards tonight.
This is a state that knows, that lives with the results of a broken medical liability system, and John Edwards just gave them spin and political attacks.
JANSING: Nicolle Devenish, communications director for Bush-Cheney ‘04, thanks very much—Chris, back to you.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Chris Jansing.
Coming up in the next hour, NBC‘s Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert and much more from our panel here in Cleveland.
HARDBALL‘s coverage of the vice presidential debate continues after this.
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