Tim Russert is NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press.  He regularly offers MSNBC.com’s readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.

MSNBC:  Tim, George W. Bush is a 58-year old man, twice-elected governor of the state of Texas and now twice-elected president of the United States – the second time by a margin of 3.5-million popular votes and at least 274 electoral votes.  No one can dispute the fact he won this election.

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Tim Russert:  Absolutely.

His chief strategist, Matthew Dowd, has written a memo pointing out the historical significance of the size, shape and scope of the president’s victory – more votes for President Bush than any other presidential candidate in history and on and on.

It was very important to President Bush that he had a popular vote and Electoral College vote that was substantially bigger than he had in 2000, so there could be no doubt that he was, in fact, re-elected on his own merit and his own record.

MSNBC:  So, George W. Bush has won his second term.  Now what?

Russert:  I thought Vice President Dick Cheney used a very interesting word in introducing the President.  He said, “consequential presidency”.

George W. Bush believes that his presidency is consequential and potentially historic.  If he can bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan – two challenges that are in the fledgling stages, we should say.  But also, reform the tax code and reform Social Security – reform Social Security in a way that is going to set off a seismic debate in this country about that program.

A very important point about second terms – people forget – Ronald Reagan, in his second term, went about an arms control pact with the Soviet Union – his arch-enemy. 

For George W. Bush, his first term was for the voters.  I think the second one is for history and he’ll try to fix Social Security and Medicare as his top priorities.

MSNBC:  Before President Bush made his acceptance speech in Washington, DC, Sen. John Kerry offered his concession remarks from Boston. What are your thoughts on hearing Sen. Kerry?

Russert: John Kerry is not a distant, aloof man – as he’s most often described.

I have never seen anyone who runs for president not changed profoundly.  It tempers you.  It really finds a way into your heart and soul and you become a much different person.  And you remember those individuals you met along the campaign trial for the rest of your life.

Anyone who’s ever done it marvels at the breadth of this nation… as you go in hamlets in New Hampshire and farms in Iowa… and he was deeply touched by that.  You can not run for president without feeling an enormous bonding with the country.

Senator Kerry, I think, has grown enormously and emotionally as a candidate for president and this was an extremely gracious exit and one that is in the best interest of the country.

MSNBC:  Concession day is about reaching out.  But what will be going on within the next days and weeks – the second guessing about what went wrong for the Democrats, so that they don’t make the same mistakes going to 2008.

Russert:  It’s already started with the whole emphasis of whether or not John Kerry should have talked more about health care and more about Social Security and the economy, as opposed to the past week spent talking about munitions in Iraq.  I’ve already gotten the phone calls.

There’s also talk about the future of the party.  You’ve got John Edwards and North Carolina, with his supporters suggesting it’s going to take a southern Democrat like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.  Others saying, “No, You need a true believer.  Howard Dean could have rallied the base and gotten an even bigger turnout than John Kerry.”  Or, maybe Hillary Clinton saying we can go back to the good old days of Bill Clinton.  It’s already started – positioning for 2008.  And there’s going to be a deeply philosophical battle within the Democratic Party over those issues.

They’re all stepping forward, saying, “Well, perhaps we ought to start thinking about 2008.”  They won’t do this publicly yet, but it’s a party that has to really has to look inward and say, “Who do we want to be and how do we connect with the country as a whole about issues like faith and things that really do connect and matter to people.  It’s a big challenge.

Video: What happened?

MSNBC:  John Kerry now goes back to the U.S. Senate.  What can we expect from him as a senior member there?

Russert:  Well, John McCain went back.  He didn’t win the nomination.  It was a brutal primary fight against George Bush.  McCain has thrown himself into issues, trying to define himself as a senator and, I think, a potential candidate for president.

I look for John Kerry to immerse himself in the issue of health care, in the issue of intelligence and world affairs.  I think he found a home with those issues.  I’m sure he entertains in the back of his mind trying to run again in 2008, but it very difficult.  The Democrats are very unforgiving when it comes to their nominees.  Ask Al Gore.

MSNBC:  What do you think the political landscape will look like in 2008?

Russert:  I think we’re going to have two open primaries.  I believe Hillary Clinton will run for president.  I think John Edwards will run.  I think Howard Dean will run.  I think Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, will run.

On the Republican side, I think John McCain, will run at age 72.  Rudy Giuliani will run.  Bill Frist, the Majority leader of the Senate, will see Giuliani and McCain – two moderate Republicans – and he’ll run to the right.  I think there will be Republican governors who will run.  If Arnold Schwarzenegger can change the constitution, he’ll run.


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