updated 10/12/2004 10:21:42 AM ET 2004-10-12T14:21:42

Guests: Tucker Eskew

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Those are the two rams at the top of the hill pounding their heads together for an hour and a half, and it didn‘t move further in either direction. 


MATTHEWS:  Andrea, who seemed to move the most of the other ram in the other direction? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  I think it‘s too early to call this because they were both so tough.  It was, I thought, a great debate, because the questioners were good.  The questions were tough.  Charlie Gibson handled it brilliantly. 

They each misstated each others programs.  John Kerry overstated the job laws under George Bush by quite a good measure.  It‘s 800-something-thousand in four years, not 1.6 million.  And George Bush misstated John Kerry‘s education positions and health programs.  So there was a lot of misstating. 

I thought the president was on the defensive over Iraq, though, and that he misstated the Duelfer report, the broad conclusions of the Duelfer report, that there has not been weapons found, not that Saddam was trying to evade the sanctions.  He recast it the way he has been for the last 48 hour, putting the best face on it.  So I think that that is the downside, but I thought it was a very tough, not at all warm and fuzzy debate. 

And it remains to be seen whether these guys were too tough for the pallet of the American voter. 

MATTHEWS:  They struck me as a couple of GS-18s (ph) going at it.  I didn‘t hear any grand philosophical statement, like your dad used to give us.  I saw no human empathy, like Bill Clinton used to give us, no connection to average people who have lost their jobs, nothing about us, the people, all about their debating apparatus. 


RON REAGAN, NBC CONTRIBUTOR:  It was odd in that respect. 

Here are two guys—here are two guys in a room with citizens who are going to vote, and they couldn‘t connect with them ever.  They were talking at them.  It was abstract.

MATTHEWS:  Nothing anecdotal.  Nothing about Mrs. Sally McGee or very little human empathy.  It was a battle of, I thought, technocrats, I just thought. 

REAGAN:  Maybe the deracination of this format let them down. 


MATTHEWS:  What‘s it mean?  What‘s that mean?


REAGAN:  It was—all the nature, all the humanity was sucked out of this.  They couldn‘t actually exchange remarks or talk to the people.  They just had to take the question, then answer it at them. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you an example on the issue—point to you the issue of stem cell research.  You have spoken passionately on that question with regard to diseases like we have talked about, Parkinson‘s, Alzheimer‘s, juvenile diabetes.  Not one of them gave a human case to it. 


MATTHEWS:  They didn‘t


REAGAN:  Well, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeve.


MATTHEWS:  Well, they mentioned them, but I didn‘t sense—I would have said, do you want your grandkids to die of the diseases your grandparents died of?  I mean, bring it home.  And they didn‘t seem to know how to do that.

REAGAN:  Yes.  John Kerry could have done a better job in pointing out the moral incoherence of Mr. Bush‘s position.  He tried to when he said, well, if you regard these things as—these cells as human life...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

REAGAN:  How can you be for experimenting on any of them?  But I think he could have driven that point home. 

MATTHEWS:  And I think the president did well.  I saw him wink twice, certainly an air of confidence exuding there. 


MATTHEWS:  How do you think he did to compared to—well, in regard to himself.  But how did you think he did? 

BEN GINSBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  I thought he did very well. 

I thought what he succeeded in doing today, even if there weren‘t the

real-life examples in talking about people, was that he made John Kerry

confront his record in the Senate against the statements he‘s made in his

presidential campaign and showed that the presidential campaign is, by and

large, a series of statements that are in contradiction to John Kerry‘s

Senate record.  And so that‘s going to play out I think


MATTHEWS:  Did you like the fact that he excoriated Teddy Kennedy‘s Senate record at one point there in great detail? 


GINSBERG:  Well, it‘s hard to tell the difference. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is hard for him to tell the difference. 

Pat, your thoughts on the work of both candidates? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think the president was outstanding at times and he was spectacular at times.  He did so much better than he did in Miami.  It was a different man in the arena. 

I think, quite candidly, Chris—maybe I am the only one here—I thought he wiped up the floor with John Kerry.  Kerry was hit with that opening question, which was rough:  How do you explain whether you are wishy-washy?  He went out and gave this explanation.  And the president came out.  It was like a boxing match where he dropped him in the first round. 

I never saw Kerry regain his footing.  You could tell, Chris, looking at the president‘s body language, the president was making jokes.  The president was winking.  The president felt confident.  And you could see the idea he felt he was winning.  I think all these little points about was this fact right, that fact right, that doesn‘t make any difference to 50 million people. 

Looking at that debate, it is impossible for me to say anything other than that the president of the United States defeated John Kerry handily.  He was boring and repetitive, using the same lines as last week.  And my guess is, you will see after this debate a firming up of the president‘s numbers and a rise in the president‘s numbers. 

REAGAN:  Well, we‘ll get to talk about this in a little bit on our “AFTER HOURS” show. 



BUCHANAN:  We may have a difference there, but I really—I just thought he was outstanding. 


MATTHEWS:  ... topic selection.  As we all know, the key to victory is get your topic talked about, because if we are thinking about taxes, we all can agree, as the amen chorus of the world, Republicans win.  Was anyone here as surprised as I was at the amount of time that Kerry allowed to talk about taxes?  Over and over again, even to get—being forced into making that pledge. 


BUCHANAN:  Kerry keeps talking about the two million—I mean, the 2 percent.

And the president went out there and let him hammer home the point again and again the middle class tax cuts we have done.  We have done this.  High taxes are no good.  They just—that all played completely into the president‘s hands. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought the word tax always works to Republicans. 


MITCHELL:  Not if your audience is concerned about the deficits. 

REAGAN:  Yes. 

MITCHELL:  You can make a very good economic argument about the tax cut and the shallowness of the recession.

But if you‘re worried about deficits, there is no question that the tax cut can contribute to the deficit.  And the questioner in this case was worried about the deficit.  And Charlie was trying to bring that home when he asked both of them, what would you cut to try to reach your stated goal of cutting the deficit in half in your next term or in the next four years if you are elected, John Kerry?  And neither of them answered it. 

REAGAN:  And I think this is an audience filled with people, I presume

·         I don‘t know them obviously—who got a couple of hundred bucks for a tax cut, not the people who got $50,000, $100,000 for a tax cut.  Sop they may be a little less impressed by that. 


MATTHEWS:  Let me select a small area and ask you all who won this one, Canadian drugs, the ability to get on a bus with other people from your parish or church or whatever and head across the border into Canada to buy drugs, like people do on an almost biweekly basis or so.  Do you believe the president was credible in saying that he‘s tried to open that door in the last four years?


MITCHELL:  No.  I think that...

MATTHEWS:  Pat, did you?

BUCHANAN:  Well, you know, I thought his point, maybe because I haven‘t heard it before, his point about the safety of the drugs and I‘ve got the same policy as Bill Clinton and we‘re working on it, there‘s no doubt, Chris, that on that issue, it‘s normally a winner for Democrats. 

Folks say, why can‘t I go to Canada, First World country, and get drugs?  And Republicans have to defend that on I think are principled grounds, but they are not the emotional grounds.  I thought the president handled that well, but I agree with you, that‘s normally Democratic territory. 


MATTHEWS:  In this case, even, do you believe that the safety of the drugs and these drugs that were pointed out by his opponent to be from America in many cases, if not most, that there has to be some new level of safety certification to buy drugs cheaper? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, as I say, I am fresh to this fact where he says we have got to make sure they are not coming in from Third World countries. 

What comes to my mind is


MATTHEWS:  Do you believe he‘s been working hard, as he put it, on that for four years?

BUCHANAN:  Well, he said he‘s going to have something done in December. 

Here‘s the thing.  You are asking me the answer.  Was it effective as an answer by the president?  Yes.  Now, there may be more to this policy that I‘m not aware of, but I thought it was a pretty effective answer. 

MITCHELL:  Well, guess where it is a big issue?  It‘s a big issue in Michigan, where people go across the border and come back.


MATTHEWS:  To Windsor.

MITCHELL:  And Windsor, Connecticut, right.


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you another one.  The question that lady put at the end there about mistakes, the president‘s answer was tactical.  History will tell you that.  As for a major policy decision, I am not going to admit any mistakes.  Is that a smart answer? 


I think that‘s what he truly believes, first of all, and so the genuineness of the response comes through.  But, also, in the big issues that the woman was asking about, and I think he properly pointed out that is really an Iraq question.  That is his position.  That is his core feeling.  To say anything else would have been not a true answer. 

MATTHEWS:  So that‘s basically the Republican-Karl Rove presidential strategy that they‘re sticking to. 

MITCHELL:  You can‘t run away from it.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re not going to try to show their feminine side.  They‘re not going to try to show sensitivity or humility.  They‘re going to basically tough it out.  They‘re going to say, like us or leave us.  We‘re betting you‘re going to like us, right? 


BUCHANAN:  Chris, you made a good point there. 

The president tonight, I think he was strong, presidential and tough. 

This debate will really appeal to men. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  The president looked like in there—when he got Charlie Gibson and batted him aside and went out there and gave that answer, that will appeal to men, I think, very...

MATTHEWS:  And a female candidate would probably not wink to somebody in the audience.

BUCHANAN:  Well, no, I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Is that what you are saying? 


BUCHANAN:  The president looked like he came to fight.

MATTHEWS:  He did.

BUCHANAN:  And he did in it a presidential way.  And the fact when Charlie Gibson or somebody tries to interrupt you, he just said, excuse me, fellow, let me get this answer in, that is a strong, manly thing to do. 


REAGAN:  Or rude. 

MATTHEWS:  And, also, let‘s talk about the thing he calls—remember, he said that people say my swagger.  They look at my swagger and that‘s what we call walking in Texas. 

That walking around the floor there was very kinetic.  Is that something he does better than sit still? 

BUCHANAN:  Oh, he‘s—sure.  There is so much of a difference between this and Miami.  You can see he feels comfortable.  He feels almost—looks almost pumped up moving around there.  As I say, the body language of the president said, I won that round, I won that round. 


REAGAN:  In my neck of the woods, we call that walking something else. 


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this. 

And let me ask you about the opponent‘s strategy.  He didn‘t quite walk into his sort of personal space the way Al Gore did four years ago, but it was a very aggressive, forward-leaning, as Don Rumsfeld would say, a forward-leaning stance.  He came very close to the president, I would say within eight feet.  He definitely faced him down. 

Pat, you love this stuff. 


MATTHEWS:  Andrea, too.

Was that too aggressive for most men? 

BUCHANAN:  No, it was—it was—go ahead, Andrea. 

MITCHELL:  I think it was on the edge, because he was confronting him. 

Mr. President, you‘re wrong about this. 

It was very confrontational, very direct, not at all through the moderator or to the questioner. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MITCHELL:  And that was obviously


GINSBERG:  Haughty, not angry.

MITCHELL:  Not angry. 

REAGAN:  Not angry. 


REAGAN:  Tough, but not angry.


MATTHEWS:  Is that the way


MATTHEWS:  ... behave in the Oval Office?

GINSBERG:  John Kerry will be characterized, I think, in this debate as haughty.  And that sort of going into the president‘s face, glowering at him, all fits into that impression people are going to have. 


BUCHANAN:  Chris, there was a purpose there.  They know the president‘s got a temper and he kept going in his face, going in his face. 

MATTHEWS:  Taunting him.

BUCHANAN:  He was taunting him. 

And you could see the president was holding back.

MATTHEWS:  He was.

BUCHANAN:  And he would come out of the chair very quick.  The president held it very well, but I think Kerry did it too much. 

It‘s one thing to make one point and say, Mr. President, like that, but every time he‘s sitting there sort of lecturing him. 

MATTHEWS:  He needed to modulate. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.  He was lecturing him.

REAGAN:  I don‘t think he was actually looking at the president some of the time.  Ben and I were actually talking about that. 


REAGAN:  There was an audience block right off the president‘s shoulder and he was looking at them much of the time. 


BUCHANAN:  The president was sure looking at him.

GINSBERG:  Maybe.  Maybe. 

MITCHELL:  You are right, Chris, that neither of them connected to individual questioners very well. 

But I thought that Kerry made more of an attempt at it, remembering peoples‘ names and trying to refer back, in fact, to one woman, Niki‘s (ph), question.  He was helped somewhat in that the questions were very—the questions were very, I thought, tougher on Bush than on Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s assemble the arguments and try to accumulate them in a couple minutes.  And I think you can. 

You said the president will come across quite well with male voters.  And I want to back that up in this sense.  If you will notice, whenever confronted with a challenge to his policies, he would basically say, yes, and look at Charlie and the questioner in the face.  Yes, you have asked me to raise taxes during a time of recession.  I have said no.  You have asked me not to give the troops the weaponry they need.  I‘ve said, I‘m going to give it to them. 

In other words, every time he said, go ahead, knock this off my shoulder, he basically almost said, it‘s my position, like it or not.  He never once said, yes, we could have done better or, no, I was wrong.  He was insistent on his courage. 

BUCHANAN:  Every single—every single time. 


MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, he turned opposition to other countries, which is fairly popular in this country, into an act of courage, which I thought was kind of hard to argue, but he did it well. 


BUCHANAN:  Oh, exceedingly well.  He was almost defiant. 

MATTHEWS:  Taking on the French is not an act of courage.

BUCHANAN:  He said, OK—yes, but he said, look, I‘ve made this decision.  The International Criminal Court.  They don‘t like it.  So what, in effect.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  And that appears to American gut patriotism out there.  And I think—I just...

MATTHEWS:  I think he was working the Buchanan pitchfork brigade. 



MATTHEWS:  I think he was going after those


BUCHANAN:  They probably—they are coming home, is my guess. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he was going to the


MATTHEWS:  ... conservative wing of the Republican Party.  He‘s looking at people who are highly nationalistic. 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s working at your friends in Western Pennsylvania, Chris. 


BUCHANAN:  The guys in Western Pennsylvania, working-class guys in West Virginia, Ohio, these guys who are concerned about their lost jobs, they like a tough customer as president.  And the president came off as tough, assertive, confident, even defiant. 


MATTHEWS:  He defended the Connally reservation, remember? 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  The right of the United States to insist that no foreign

government get to


MATTHEWS:  ... rule on behavior by Americans.

BUCHANAN:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let me ask you about the Kerry strategy.  Everybody has been very cheerful here so far in anointing the president the victor here. 


MITCHELL:  I didn‘t


MATTHEWS:  I call it the Brokaw rule of waiting two days now. 

But let me suggest something.  Kerry‘s strategy—you start.  Outline in it the way we have tried to outline the presidential strategy tonight. 

MITCHELL:  The Kerry strategy was to bring up jobs, bring up Iraq, be in the president‘s face, be strong, and continue to close the gap on commander in chief, that he can do it smarter.  He can do it better.  He will be tough, but he will be smart about it. 

And I don‘t—I‘m not ready to award either of them the victor here.  I said that the debate was good.  It was a good, strong exchange of views, that Charlie Gibson did a great job.  I thought the questions were excellent, but I‘m not sure yet who really won this thing. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought it was a court-martial, the way he was setting it up.  He was basically charging the president with failure of leadership, failure of command.  And every way he did was almost on a military bearing he brought to this thing. 

Watch Kerry tonight and you will see a senior Naval officer bringing a prosecution against a failed field commander, flag commander. 


MITCHELL:  Let me just make one more point.

What the Democrats were spinning before the debate was that a draw would be in Kerry‘s favor, because he has got the wind at his back.  I‘m not so sure that‘s true, but because of the narrowing of the polls, he‘s got some momentum, because of the jobs number, because of what‘s happening in Iraq, the beheading today.  That is at least what they are claiming. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he was pulling all the ammo he could into his stockpile, but I‘m not sure he shot it all with enough command. 


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get reaction right now from the Bush campaign.

Tucker Eskew joins us now from the so-called spin room.  He‘s a senior adviser to the campaign. 

Tucker Eskew, are you feeling differently than you did last week after the first debate? 


It feels really good. 

This was a decisive victory for President Bush.  We finally got Senator Kerry to be accountable for his record.  The president had the line of the night when he said, you can run, but you can‘t hide.  And I think the bust of the night had to be John Kerry‘s attempt to look the camera in the eye and say that my position on Iraq has always been consistent, and, oh, by the way, John Edwards and I support tort reform. 

Those don‘t pass the sniff test, the laugh test, or the credibility test.  It was a great night on style and substance for President Bush tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that your assessment will be reflected in the polling that comes out in the next couple of days? 

ESKEW:  I think it will. 

You will find some polls of Democrats that will continue to stand by Senator Kerry.  He‘s got his base.  He played to his base.  I think the president certainly peeled some of that base off, though. 

You know, when John Kerry brought up the subject of intelligence—I don‘t think you‘ve yet discussed this—he talked about the first World Trade Center attack.  And he said, we‘ve got to have great intelligence.  The president saw that opening and pointed out that John Kerry had called for billions in intelligence cuts after that. 

And I think, on the credibility issue, the one that really sticks with me is when he made the case, John Kerry did, that the war on terror is really just about Osama bin Laden.  The president came back at him on that.  The president painted the global picture of the war on terror and I thought just put him away on that question. 

Style and substance, I also disagree with the thought the president didn‘t connect.  just one or two of your panelists have said that.  And I will take, for example, the question on embryonic vs. adult stem cell lines.  John Kerry could not answer that question.  The president connected with the woman who asked it, understood it, and really showed the kind of thoughtfulness that he did back in 2001, when he made the decision to be the first president to allow federal funding of those embryonic stem cells for the use of exploratory medicine. 

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, you have seen the same poll we have all seen that pointed to the desire of voters who intend to vote for President Bush that his second term be dramatically different than his first. 

Having seen those numbers, like we have all had, why do you think the president stuck to his policy decisions and said he hadn‘t really made any big mistakes? 

ESKEW:  Well, I think the president is a man of principle. 

And when he makes decisions, he thinks through them.  He is thoughtful about them, and then goes after them.  He pursues them.  The American people do like that.  Will there be change in a second Bush term?  It is already out there in an agenda that promotes more change, funding for high schools, more change in the way of Social Security, ownership, more change in the way of health care, where we‘ve really got to drive down costs, especially for small business. 

The president was able to pursue many of these issues tonight.  But I think, on national security and domestic policy, across the board, it was just a very clear-cut, decisive victory for us.  We feel very good.  Our people are fired up back here. 


MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that John Kerry was proper in his demeanor tonight in approaching the president so immediately, as he did so many times, walking up to him?

ESKEW:  Well, yes, I noticed that.  I also noticed the way his head tilts back and he kind of looks down his nose at people, the haughtiness, even almost smug at times.  I don‘t think that served Senator Kerry well. 

You know, Chris, I think you‘ll appreciate this.  It‘s fine to study words of other.  It is important to know the positions of other people.  But John Kerry has almost got a fetish for naming other people in past lives, in other positions.  He rattled off more names than a phone book, and yet we still don‘t really see into what he believes, where his head and heart is.  And you do get that so clearly with George W. Bush, even when you disagree with him. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said. 

Thank you very much, Tucker Eskew, who is with the Bush campaign. 

Coming up in the next hour, NBC‘s Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton from New York, and much more with our panel. 

We‘re in Saint Louis.  HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the second presidential debate continues after this. 





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