Some polls show former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president in 2008 — though he's yet to announce any plans to run.
But that didn't prevent "Hardball" host Chris Matthews from questioning Giuliani Tuesday on issues that are certain to figure in any presidential campaign - including abortion, stem cell research, and who should lead the Supreme Court, plus his views on two potential opponents - Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney.
Following is a partial transcript from the interview.
On partisanship vs. being moderate
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Mr. Mayor, do you think this country’s getting more politically moderate than it was a few year’s back?
RUDY GIULIANI: Well, actually, I think the country is politically moderate. I mean, I think that represents where a majority of Americans are most of the time. Sometimes an issue kind of pushes it to the right or to the left, but by and large, I think most people who are not heavily involved in politics, I think, essentially, they are reasonable people, they want reasonable solutions, they want things to work, they want politicians to work together to accomplish things instead of serving maybe some ... extreme ideology.
MATTHEWS: What about pure partisanship? Howard Dean, the new Democratic Party chair, the other day said that your party, the Republican Party, doesn’t have anybody in it who has ever earned an honest living. Would you call that a moderate, bipartisan statement?
GIULIANI: No, that’s the kind of partisan statement that I think turns people off, because it’s so over-the-top. I think people respect partisanship. You know, you have a set of beliefs. You may be a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative on certain issues, but I think what they expect is respect for the other side.
So my position on the war was that I was in favor of the war in Iraq, but I didn’t disrespect people who had the other view. You’re entitled to the other view. War is a serious thing. People can have different views about it.
MATTHEWS: Is there a chance you might be wrong about the war? That it may turn out to be bad for the United States?
GIULIANI: Oh, you never know. History proves us sometimes right and sometimes wrong. My view was that it was an important thing to do to get Saddam Hussein out and to give us a chance to create an accountable government in Iraq.
But other people have other views, and same thing on taxes. I generally believe in lowering taxes. I had a city council that was mainly Democratic. I had some people that agreed with me on that, some people who disagreed. But, you know, decent people can disagree about whether or not taxes should be higher or lower. Respect for each other, I think, is what the American people very much want. They certainly want political disagreement. That’s what democracy’s about. But I think what’s lacking is respect for each other’s position.
On Supreme Court judges
MATTHEWS: Well, let’s talk about judgeships, because I know you’re pro-choice, and you’re for gay rights, and you’re a little bit off the center mark of the Republican Party. Maybe you’re in the center of the country.
But we’ve got all this Supreme Court actions coming up this summer. It could well be — I hate to be ghoulish about it — but we may have a resignation, a retirement from the chief justice. Do you think [current Justice Antonin] Scalia would be a good choice to move up from associate justice to chief justice?
GIULIANI: Well, he’s somebody I’ve known for many, many years. I worked with him in the Justice Department during the Ford administration. I have tremendous admiration for him. And he’d be a terrific chief justice.
MATTHEWS: Well, he’s a popular guy in this town. I just wonder whether you think he fits in that category of not being extraordinary, in other words, not being a reason for a Democratic filibuster?
GIULIANI: I don’t think he would cause a Democratic filibuster. I mean, there are people who disagree with him. Probably somebody disagrees about everything. But I think he would move through. When you think about it, he doesn’t really add anything to the political calculus of the court or the ideological calculus of the court, because he is where he is, and he’s on the court.
It’s going to be whoever gets appointed if Justice Scalia is elevated. Whoever gets appointed to replace Justice Scalia will probably be the one that gets the most scrutiny.
MATTHEWS: You’re an attorney and a former prosecutor. You know that the big issue’s whether to change the balance on the court with regard to abortion rights. Right now, it’s about 6-3 for abortion rights, counting O’Connor, and the conservatives, and also Kennedy.
Do you think that, if you were president, would you stick with that balance, and would you try to maintain it, or would you go with a pro-choice...
GIULIANI: I selected 100 judges or so when I was the mayor of New York City. And I participated in the selection of judges when I was in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration.
I never looked it at that way. I wouldn’t pick a judge based on whether I knew or didn’t know their position on choice. I’d pick a judge based on their overall record, how intellectually powerful are they, how accomplished are they, are they going to be fair.
In my case, I selected judges for municipal courts, so they were largely going to handle criminal cases. And I wanted judges, frankly, that were tough. And I only wanted judges who were going to be a little tougher on bail and on letting people out, but not necessarily excessive on that.
So the idea of selecting a judge, you know, the litmus test, I don’t think practically works. I’ve seen the selection of Supreme Court justices — when Justice O’Connor was selected by Ronald Reagan, I was in the Justice Department. And you look at somebody’s entire record. And you don’t actually know what they’re going to decide about these things.
MATTHEWS: But you know, the good old days, when FDR could take Felix Frankfurter and discover he’s a conservative, or Ike could pick Warren and find out he’s a liberal, so to speak, or Souter can get picked by George Bush, Sr., aren’t the days over where you could actually pick a guy and not know which way he’s going to go?
GIULIANI: I don’t think so. It’s too complex. It’s too complex.
MATTHEWS: Well, what about the interest groups? Like, you’ve got Ralph Neas and the People for the American Way, with Norman Lear behind him. And you’ve these guys like James Dobson and Focus on the Family on the right side of things. Do you think those crowds will ever let you get by with picking somebody that they don’t know about?
GIULIANI: Yes. I think they have to, because in many cases — I mean, first of all, you might select somebody who hasn’t really taken a position on any of these issues before.
MATTHEWS: Can you get them passed, if they have no paper trail?
GIULIANI: I think so, depending on how powerful their credentials are. You know, are they very accomplished lawyers, very accomplished judges? Do they have the intellectual capacity and the integrity for the job? If they’re very powerful candidates, I think there isn’t going to be as much focus on one individual position.
MATTHEWS: Well, let’s put together a Giuliani slate for the court next summer. Suppose you put Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia up for Rehnquist’s seat. Then you move up Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for associate justice. Would you like that ticket?
GIULIANI: I think beyond talking about Nino, who’s on the court, you shouldn’t talk about other selections for the court. I mean, the attorney general is a terrific lawyer and really doesn’t have — although he was on the Texas court, he doesn’t have a whole record as a federal judge. So it’s hard to know how he’s going to decide.
MATTHEWS: So he’d be perfect by your standards? You could actually pick a guy without nailing down his position on Roe v. Wade.
GIULIANI: Well, I don’t know that you want to pick somebody just for that reason, but I think you want to pick somebody who’s going to be a very good judge, a very solid judge. The Supreme Court requires tremendous intellectual capacity to be a contributing justice. I felt someone like the attorney general would certainly fit that category very, very well.
MATTHEWS: Are you available?
GIULIANI: No, I’m not available.
MATTHEWS: Why not? You just described yourself, high intellectual caliber, hard to figure politically, no paper trail on Roe v. Wade.
GIULIANI: And somebody that’s a little bit harder to figure on some of these issues probably has a better chance of getting confirmed. But no, I’m not a candidate.
On leadership: Does America want more moderates?
MATTHEWS: Well, about four out of five people, according to the latest poll, say that they’d like to see moderates in politics and they’d like to see their politicians be more independent of their party positions. That may explain why you and John McCain are leading in the latest Marist poll for the Republican nomination next time.
GIULIANI: Well, I think what people want to see are to get things done. And I think they realize that, if you’re too excessively tied to one position, there’s no room then to get anything done, because you’ve got to do some compromising, sensible compromising.
You know, that was the core of Ronald Reagan’s success. Very strong positions, understand what they are, fight for what you believe in. I did that when I was the mayor. I wanted to do major tax reductions. I did, but I never was able to do them at quite the level I wanted to do it, because I had to compromise them in order to get them done.
MATTHEWS: Do you think we can find a compromise on some tricky new issues — and these issues keep emerging over the horizon — like federal funding of stem cells? The president is adamant. He doesn’t believe we should use any of these fertilized eggs which were available in all these fertility clinics.
Where do you stand on that, in terms of federal funding?
GIULIANI: I hope we find solutions to it. I think that there have to be restrictions on it. You have got to be careful about human cloning. You have to be careful about not in any way creating any encouragement for not being respectful of human life.
However, you don’t want to stand in the way of science, either. And it seems to me that there’s a lot that can be accomplished here. I think what Arnold Schwarzenegger accomplished in California was right. I supported that. I think that we’re going to see a lot of that research move to places like California, not be available all over the country the way it should be. Maybe even some of it moves to Europe and Asia, where you could make some significant advances where we would be behind.
So I think you can’t fight science. You’ve got to be reasonable; you’ve got to be intelligent about it; you have to be careful that you don’t let it get too far. But you’ve got to encourage this research. It’s vitally important, I think, to saving lives.
MATTHEWS: Well, the Republican-dominated House has already passed a bill to federally fund research with regard to these fertilized eggs, these embryos, which are available because they’re sitting on the shelves or they’re in freezers right now, because people have tried to have babies. And when they have succeeded having a baby, there are extra fertilized eggs available. Do you think they should be used for experimentation?
GIULIANI: I agree with that bill. I think this is one of those places where both sides have to respect each other, as both having a high regard and respect for human life.
I mean, one way to look at it is the way the president is talking about it. The other way to look at it is, this offers the opportunity to save human life, and to preserve human life, and to increase the quality of human life. And you don’t want to stand in the way of that.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the president should sign the bill?
GIULIANI: Well, I would. And I think it’s a good bill. Everything I know about it is. I supported it, so unless there is something I’m missing about it, I think it’s a bill that should go into law.
On Hillary Clinton
MATTHEWS: You know, I said before, looking at the poll data, that you — and I know you’re not announcing for president any day soon — but the poll data shows that people are looking for moderates like yourself or John McCain....
Hillary Clinton is moving to the center in a way that seems to be impressing some people. She’s on [the U.S. Senate] Armed Services [Committee]. She authorized the president to go to war as a senator. She seems to be talking tough. She seems to be talking openly about some sort of colloquy or national conversation about abortion rights in a way that liberals of the past haven’t, more pro-life militants have not.
Do you think that she’s a credible moderate?
GIULIANI: Well, I think that’s what she’s trying to prove. And she has a few years to do it.
MATTHEWS: Do you buy the act?
GIULIANI: Do I buy the act?
GIULIANI: Well, I have to see how it all ends up. If this represents her position, if that’s the way she’s going to conduct herself in the Senate over the next year or two, if she gets re-elected in two years, she has an opportunity to do that. She has an opportunity to define her position. Everybody does. And you...
MATTHEWS: Well, Ronald Reagan — you know how effectively he ran that brilliant ‘80 campaign, where he was able to take some of his sharper ideological positions and sort of pull them back.
MATTHEWS: And he really ran a very successful campaign, based on he could get the economy moving faster. He almost ran a John Kennedy kind of campaign. “I’m going to cut taxes. I’ll get the economy rolling, get the country moving again.” And he was able to discipline himself politically so that his best suit was showing and his more troublesome ideological pieces weren’t.
Is Hillary trying to do that, or is she trying to do a larger move than simply, oh, presenting a more cosmetic front?
GIULIANI: I don’t know that ... she’s as ideologically rooted as Ronald Reagan was. Ronald Reagan was probably the most ideologically rooted president that we had, until possibly, you know, President Bush, George Bush, the present President Bush, 43.
So I don’t know about Hillary, if this is much of a switch for her. But I also think the election in ‘80 turned a lot on leadership. I think that none of it would have worked if it wasn’t against the backdrop of a country in which they had lost some confidence in the leadership of the country.
And people were willing to sacrifice maybe even their desire for moderation for a man they thought was a strong, principled leader. I think they were correct. He was the right choice.
GIULIANI: But I think that had a lot to do with it, too.
MATTHEWS: I agree. Do you think Hillary’s less of an ideologue than maybe I thought she was? Do you think she’s more pragmatic?
GIULIANI: I think she is pragmatic. I don’t know how much of an ideologue she is, or how much she’s going to be in this campaign. I do think she’s pragmatic. I think she’s tried to get things done in the Senate.
MATTHEWS: Do you think she’d have a problem of what to do with her husband if she ran for president or were elected?
I mean, what would you do with a former president in the White House? What would he do? Would he do the parties, and organize the table settings, and the diplomatic stuff? Or what would he do all day?...
GIULIANI: The First Gentleman.
MATTHEWS: And he’d be saying things like, “Hey, I know Putin,” and not to come over. I mean, what kind of situation would that be?
GIULIANI: I think the proper title would be First Gentleman.
MATTHEWS: That would be great. It sounds good to me. He’d have to be a gentleman, too. Mark that.
On the World Trade Center
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the World Trade Center. Where are you on rebuild the World Trade Center a la Trump, go with the Libeskind model, the Freedom Tower, or something else? Where are you on this?
GIULIANI: Something else. I understand the emotions for rebuilding the entire thing and making it bigger than it was before. Some of my colleagues that lived through the event with me and have as strong an emotional investment as I do, you know, feel from the very beginning, they felt you’ve got to rebuild it, you’ve got to rebuild it exactly the way it was before, and you’ve got to show the terrorists that they can’t take this away from us.
I don’t agree with that. My view is, the emphasis should be on the memorial part of it, not the size of it necessarily, not trying to replace all of the office space, because I think that it’s going to be a mistake to do that.
I think that what we should be striving for is a beautiful, grand memorial that will allow people to come there, relive what happened, understand what happened, and then do some office space, and maybe some performing arts centers, and things that uplift the spirit. But think about it a little bit differently than just replacing office space.
MATTHEWS: You know, when I fly by, like everybody does who flies into New York a lot, you see this — almost like an amputated part of the city at the bottom, at the Battery.
GIULIANI: Well, you want to build something — you want to build something...
MATTHEWS: You want to fill that in, or would it be better to just have that cavity there to sort of remind us what happened?
GIULIANI: I think you want to build something beautiful there. But I think there has to be space left to recapture what you’re talking about. And I’m not — you know, I’m not an artist. And it’s hard for me to really convey this correctly. But the enormity of the space that is there artistically and emotionally conveys something to people.
I remember from the first days and taking the first group of people, including President Bush, their first reaction is, “Oh, my God,” you know, “how horrible and how extensive this is.” The damage was worse than I think they even imagined or saw on television.
And there’s something about seeing that space that conveys how enormous this was. And if you can recapture that by not filling it in completely, I think that would be — that would probably be the best way to memorialize it and even the best way to create development.
I mean, the two Twin Towers, when they were fully operational before September 11, always had a hard time filling up the office space. That’s just the reality. And it had to be significantly subsidized by the city by not charging the full property tax.
So I’m not in favor of rebuilding all of that office space, because I don’t think you’ll be able to fill it. And many people will believe that you’re not able to fill it because people are afraid of a terrorist attack. The reason you won’t be able to fill it is they weren’t able to fill it in the first place. There should be somewhat less office space and more emphasis on performing arts, beautiful memorial, getting a sense of the enormity of the space, and not filling it in with just office.
On Cheney for president
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about a tough one, because you never know with this fellow. He’s a serious guy, and you know him well and like him, probably. Dick Cheney, the vice president of the United States. You know, he was heading up the selection committee for vice president. Lo and behold, he became president—vice president. You know, he won that selection.
Lots of talk. Bob Woodward has gotten a lot of credit lately for, you know, having Deep Throat and being a hero, Watergate. He has predicted, in my hearing, that Dick Cheney may well—in fact, he predicts he’ll end up the nomination for president, 2008, of your party.
GIULIANI: Not totally out of the question. I know what the vice president said in the past, but you have a right to revisit those things. I think a lot of what he said in the past had to do with his health and health issues. And if he’s comfortable that those aren’t issues...
MATTHEWS: Can you take him?
MATTHEWS: Can you take him, Mr. Mayor?
GIULIANI: Who has any idea at this point? But if you’re asking me is Dick Cheney somebody who has a right to consider running for president, gosh, there are very few people who have more of a right to consider it. Of all the people that we’ve mentioned, he’s probably done more than anyone else.
MATTHEWS: Great. Thank you very much.
GIULIANI: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Thank you for coming on.
GIULIANI: And congratulations on eight years. It’s been terrific. Very, very interesting. Very entertaining, and very good.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.
GIULIANI: Thank you.
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