Meet the Press Netcast   |  November 18, 2007

Political roundtable

Nov. 18: Rod Brownstein, E.J. Dionne, Gwen Ifill and Chuck Todd speak with NBC’s Tim Russert on “Meet the Press.”

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MEET THE PRESS NBC NEWS (202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Only 46 days to go to the Iowa caucuses . The Republican race still volatile, the exchanges grow testy.

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY: Giving a better deal to the children of illegal aliens than we give to U.S. citizens from, from surrounding states is simply not fair and not right.

FMR. GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE: Mitt Romney would rather keep people out of college so they can keep working on his lawn, since he had illegals there.

MR. RUSSERT: The Democratic race in Iowa too close to call, which is why we witnessed this at Thursday's debate .

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): What the American people are looking for right now is great answers to tough questions, and that is not what we've seen out of Senator Clinton .

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): Senator Obama 's health care plan does not cover everyone.

MR. RUSSERT: Insights and analysis from Ron Brownstein of the National Journal and author of "The Second Civil War : How Extreme Partisanship has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America "; E.J. Dionne , columnist, Washington Post ; Gwen Ifill of PBS ' " Washington Week " and " The NewsHour "; Chuck Todd , NBC News political director; Byron York , White House correspondent of the National Review .

And we continue our celebration of 60 years of MEET THE PRESS . This morning, a remarkable look back at the men and women who shaped our history.

But first, what a week for politics. Welcome, all. We'll try to put it all into context and perspective. Let's go right to it. This is the latest poll from the Democrats in Iowa . Look at this: Hillary Clinton , 27; Barack Obama , 25; John Edwards , 21; Bill Richardson , 10.

Chuck Todd , what does it mean?

MR. CHUCK TODD: Well, we have a very tight race, obviously, in Iowa . And I think we're seeing -- you're starting to see particularly the Clinton campaign get very nervous about what's going on in Iowa . They're now adding -- they're spending more money there, they're adding more operatives, they've hired more staff. You're starting to see the national folks parachute in. I think they're, they're very concerned.

Obama , the one place where everything has worked well for him has been in Iowa . They have a very good staff, a very experienced staff, and it's probably the one place where maybe they trump the Clinton campaign when it comes to being ready for the, for the big, big show .

MR. RUSSERT: Ron Brownstein , why is there such a disparity between the national polls and Iowa ?

MR. RON BROWNSTEIN: Well, because the candidates are better known there. Voters have more exposure to them. They're getting more independent information than they are in the national polls and the states that are later in the calendar. And Iowa traditionally has been a place that has given an opportunity to candidates who aren't necessarily at the top of the national polls.

You know, the question -- to me, the disparity that's fascinating is between the Democratic and Republican races in Iowa . You have the Democrats engaged in this all-out death match with enormous staffs, enormous investments of time, and enormous spending on advertising. On the Republican race, really, you've had Mitt Romney almost alone in buying television advertising , candidates not really spending nearly as much time as the Democrats . And now Mike Huckabee moving to take advantage of that vacuum and perhaps try to catapult himself into the race. It's really extraordinary to see the difference in the investment of time and resources between the two parties as well.

MR. RUSSERT: Gwen Ifill , as a reporter what are you looking for over these next 46 days to try to make sense of this race?

MS. GWEN IFILL: Well, we're looking for all the little bits , because right now everything is moving inch by inch. And it all counts , obviously, because of the ferocity of the campaign . You can see how much it counts . So if John McCain has decided he's not going to compete anymore in, in Iowa , and that he's going to take all of his resources to New Hampshire , that counts a lot. It counts a lot if, if Mike , Mike Huckabee is enough of a threat to Romney that the two of them actually start sparring with each other. Who thought at this stage that Mike Huckabee would become a target? It counts a lot because you can start to see real unhappiness, almost nastiness, real personal dislike among some of these top-tier candidates to the degree that they're fighting over just edges. They're fighting just for tens of votes.

MR. RUSSERT: Let's take a look at that. This was a debate Thursday, and this is how Senator Obama responded early on. Let's listen.

SEN. OBAMA: Senator Clinton , I think, is a capable politician, and I think that she has run a terrific campaign . But what the American people are looking for right now is straight answers to tough questions, and that is not what we've seen out of Senator Clinton on a host of issues. On the issue of driver's licenses or illegal immigrants . We saw in the last debate that it took not just that debate but two more weeks before we could get a clear answer in terms of where her position was.

MR. RUSSERT: E.J. Dionne , she's a capable politician, phrasing with very fain praise, I would say. Also straight answers to tough questions. Obama 's trying to frame the election that he is the candidate of candor as opposed to Senator Clinton .

MR. DIONNE: You know what strikes me is, I think the Clinton and Obama campaigns actually agree on how voters are seeing this choice, and I think they agree that there are a lot of voters out there who may have a preference now and could easily change it. I think the way people are looking at Obama is as somebody who could break with the past. We wouldn't relive the '90s, as he likes to say, meaning we wouldn't relive all the divisiveness of the Clinton years nor the Bush years. But they're worried about whether he can -- he's experienced enough to be president. With Clinton , yes, you have a very capable politician, which was a mixed blessing from Obama , but you also have somebody who could take over the government tomorrow morning. She loves to use "ready from day one" as one of her standard lines. And I think there are a lot of Democrats who are confused about whether they want the big change with Obama or the tough experience candidate with Clinton . And then you've got John Edwards there who speaks to a kind of heart of the Democratic Party , particularly sort of the labor wing of the Democratic Party . He's kind of fought his way back in with the attacks on Mrs. Clinton . We'll see if that can sustain itself.

MR. RUSSERT: It is interesting that Senator Obama chose the driver's licenses for immigrants as the way of saying Senator Clinton had a hard time with that question. Here's what happened to Senator Obama at the CNN debate . Let's watch.

SEN. OBAMA: I am not proposing that that's what we do. What I'm saying is that we can't be.... No, no, no. Look, I have already said I, I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that driver's licenses at the state level can make that happen.

MR. WOLF BLITZER: Senator Obama , yes or no?

SEN. OBAMA: Yes. But...

MR. BLITZER: OK.

SEN. OBAMA: ...I, I am going to be fighting for comprehensive immigration reform . And we shouldn't pose the question that somehow we can't achieve that. I believe that the American people desperately want it. That's what I'm going to be fighting for as president.

MR. BLITZER: Senator Clinton :

CLINTON: No.

MR. RUSSERT: Now, no as opposed to Obama 's difficulty in answering that question. Compare that to Senator Clinton 's answer two weeks ago. Let's go back to that debate .

SEN. CLINTON: What Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform . We know in New York we have several million at any one time who are in New York illegally. They are undocumented workers. They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds. It's probability. So what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is to fill the vacuum.

I just want to add I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it.

SEN. CHRIS DODD: Now wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute.

SEN. CLINTON: And we have failed. We have failed.

SEN. DODD: No, no, no, you said, you said yes.

SEN. CLINTON: No.

SEN. DODD: You thought it made sense to do it.

SEN. CLINTON: No, I didn't, Chris . But the point is what are we going to do with all these illegal immigrants who are driving on the roads?

SEN. DODD: Well, that's a, that's a legitimate issue.

RUSSERT: Do you support his plan?

SEN. CLINTON: You know, Tim , this is where everybody plays gotcha. It makes a lot of sense . What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problem. We have failed, and George Bush has failed. Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of, of real desperation, trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York , we want to know who's in New York . We want people to come out of the shadows. He's making an honest effort to do it. We should have passed immigration reform .

RUSSERT: Byron York , what do we learn about Senator Obama and Senator Clinton about those two performances.

MR. BYRON YORK: Obama 's mistake was absolutely mystifying, and Democratic strategists said to me it's almost as if he'd read her answer from the previous debate and thought it was the right thing to say, and he stumbled on it again. She, however, learned finally to say no, although she wasn't asked "Why did you changed your mind and when did you change your mind ?" Obama also made another strange lapse when he got on kind of a high horse about the vote to declare the Iran Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization , said that was a bad idea. And

the moderator said, "Well, you weren't actually there for that vote, were you?" And he said, "Well, no, I wasn't. I was running for president." And that was a mistake. I mean, just mystifying mistakes that he made in this debate .

MR. BROWNSTEIN: You know, moving away from their tactical encounter for one second, the, the vote -- the broader point, which I think they both got to, The lesson of New York is that it is impossible to deal with this issue of driver's license for illegal immigrants , or for that matter almost any issue relating to immigration on a piecemeal basis. The only way that you're going to find some sort of consensus about what to do is through a comprehensive solution. I mean, there's -- the, the politics of this become untenable when you have to parcel it apart and try to deal with them one by one.

But I would say, also, in terms of the tactical maneuvering, the most dangerous thing for any politician is to play into a pre-existing storyline. When Dan Quayle misspelled potato, I mean, if Bill Clinton had misspelled potato, no -- everybody would've said he was tired. Dan Quayle , it was like, "He doesn't know how to spell potato." For Hillary Clinton , clearly the answer that you just played, played into what is her biggest vulnerability in this race, the sense that she may be too political, too evasive, not always telling, you know, the, the -- fudging answers and so forth. So, in that sense , her response was very much a clear attempt to shore up that...

MS. IFILL: And for Barack ...

MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...in the second debate , and was going to shore up that vulnerability.

MS. IFILL: And for Barack Obama , Ron , the, the, the pre-existing storyline is that he's not experienced enough. Whenever he does anything that seems to take a shot at Hillary Clinton , they come back by saying, "Look how inexperienced he is. If he were a more experienced candidate, he wouldn't be making this mistake, he wouldn't be making this statement." And the problem with this, of course , is that nuance is lost. There is a lot of nuance in the immigration debate . There are a lot of nuances in a lot of these issues. This is a very issue-rich debate , but that gets lost in kind of the back and forth.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well...

MR. E.J. DIONNE: You know, that's right, but the -- that's absolutely right. The issue is, why did they both flub the immigration issue? And I think the answer is that both of them want to say something that's very difficult to say in this climate, because they are torn politically between two constituencies. Latino voters are going to provide Democrats with a lot of votes in the next election. They don't want to say something that offends them. They're also worried that some swing, particularly white, voters really are against this driver's license thing. So they're doing this political balancing act.

And then, substantively, as Gwen says, makes a lot of sense to say, "Well, better to have people on the road having licenses than not," but this is become a kind of passionate ideological issue instead of a practical, how-do-you-solve-this-problem issue. So even though Byron 's absolutely right, Obama should've been better prepared. The fact they both flubbed it reflects a fundamental problem Democrats are going to have in dealing with immigration .

MR. RUSSERT: John Edwards , who has been very stern in his criticism of Hillary Clinton , continued that at the beginning of the CNN debate . Here's Senator Edwards .

FMR. SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: Senator Clinton says she will end the war. She also says she will continue to keep combat troops in Iraq and continue combat missions in Iraq . She says she will turn up the heat on George Bush and the Republicans . But when the crucial vote came on stopping Bush , Cheney and the neocons on Iran , she voted with Bush and Cheney .

And the most important issue is she says she will bring change to Washington while she continues to defend a system that does not work, that is broken, that is rigged and is corrupt, corrupted against the interest of most Americans .

MR. BLITZER: All right.

MR. RUSSERT: This was Senator Clinton 's response. Let's watch.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, I, I, I respect all of my colleagues on this stage, and, you know, we're Democrats and we're trying to nominate the very best person we can to win, and I don't mind taking hits on my record, on issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it's both accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook.

MR. RUSSERT: Chuck Todd , Senator Edwards , like a trial lawyer, laying out his case on Iraq , Iran and fund-raising. Senator Clinton saying that's throwing mud.

MR. TODD: Well, it's interesting, you know, Edwards , he seemed to back off, by the way, as that debate went on. I mean, partially, I think he got intimidated by the audience.

MR. RUSSERT: The audience played a big role in this debate .

MR. TODD: They, they, they did, and it's, you know, both Obama 's folks and Edwards folks were very, you know, upset about the audience, this or that. The Clinton folks not acknowledging anything -- that they had anything to do with it. At the same time, you know, were saying, "Hey, if you can't take it, you know, you could've stood up there, you could've fought back at the moderator, you could've done these things." And, you know, their comment was, "If you're whining about the format, it means you lost the debate ." And frankly, I mean, I think the Obama folks know they had a bad -- they didn't have a good night. The Edwards folks had a really bad night. And this is just one night, but if he starts fading too quickly, it -- the, the odd thing here is that's actually not good for Clinton .

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Mm-hmm.

MR. TODD: Because the quicker this is a two-person race, the, the better for Obama and the more stark -- I mean, because when you go to this whole second choice thing -- and I tell you, polling Iowa is a mess, trying to understand it. But when you go to the second choice, when you don't get that threshold and, you know, all this stuff, Obama does, right now, a lot better than she does because of this change argument, because he is more change than she is.

MR. RUSSERT: Ron Brownstein , yesterday Robert Novak had a column with this headline:" Hill Shills Hint at ' Bam Slam ," suggesting that there had been information -- scandalous information about Obama that agents for Hillary Clinton had been passing around, but not using against the campaign . The Clinton campaign said absolutely untrue. But it played out all day long.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Oh, totally. Well, look, we are now in the -- what I call the speak now or forever hold your peace moment for the other Democratic candidates. Hillary Clinton has gotten up to 50 percent in the national polls, she was way ahead in New Hampshire , and, beginning in that debate in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, they have decided they have to make their case. They're going to make it with every opportunity they have. I think I'm a little surprised that the Obama campaign picked up so much on an unsourced Bob Novak column. Bob is a great reporter; he's been here for a long time. Traditionally source is stronger in the Republican than the Democratic Party . And I think it's just a sign of how eager both sides are. I mean, not a leaf will fall in the forest between now and, now and Iowa and New Hampshire without Obama and Edwards looking for a way to make this into a contrast with Hillary Clinton , because that is ultimately what you have to do against a front-runner. And look, we are seeing -- Richard Ben Cramer wrote that classic book , " What It Takes ." The primaries, as crazy as they are, ultimately show us what is in the spine of these candidates. And I think this is the time of testing for Clinton that she really hasn't had before.

MR. YORK: Novak did not even write that an agent for Clinton had told him that. He simply said it was going around in Democratic circles.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right.

MS. IFILL: Yeah, it was...

MR. BROWNSTEIN: More of a cocktail party ...

MS. IFILL: ...you know, the -- one of the more curious pieces we've seen surface. But what made it curious, of course , was the ferocity of the response. I think I spent a big part of my turkey shopping day yesterday fielding phone calls from the campaigns about this. The Obama people say, "Listen, we're just not going to take it, and it's time for us to say, yes, we're not going to take it. There's been whispering campaigns out there about us before, about madrassas, etc., and we're not going to let it pass this time." Of course , it's because the stakes are higher. The Clinton people say, A, they didn't do it. They use words like "umbrage," "How dare they suggest that Hillary would do a thing." And then they go on to say, and get this, "They started it." So there's this kindergarten stuff going back and forth. But it -- but Ron is right, what's underneath it is this incredible, bitter, high-stakes battle which I think is just beginning to engage. Forty-five days left? Fasten your seat belts.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Forty-five day controversies.

MS. IFILL: That's right.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: At the debate , an issue emerged which I thought was interesting -- trade. Senator Clinton was asked about the North American Free Trade Agreement , which President Clinton considers one of the most important achievements of his administration, and this is what she said:

MR. BLITZER: Was NAFTA a mistake?

SEN. CLINTON: NAFTA was a mistake to the extent that it did not deliver on what we had hoped it would.

MR. RUSSERT: That's in stark contrast to what Senator Clinton had said. Here she is in '04:"I think, on balance, NAFTA has been good for New York and America ." Ron Brownstein , you've written in your book, "The Second Civil War ," about Bill Clinton . You interviewed him and talked to him.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: David Broder last week talked about what will the roll of Bill Clinton be in a Clinton administration , two presidents in one house, and how does that work out? And you have an issue like trade here, which there appears to be a disagreement. You had the president jumping in, defending his wife over the last couple weeks, sometimes very vociferously. Tell us about your conversation.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: OK, couple of things. First of all, I think, if you look at Hillary Clinton and where she has positioned herself on, on, on a broad array of issues, on domestic issues she has been less willing to challenge conventional wisdom within the party than her husband. She has been pulled back by, I think, by the greater partisan tide, whether it's education, trade, entitlements. She is less willing, I think, to sort of push against the party consensus, whereas on foreign policy she has been willing to take some risks to try to maintain a centrist position for the general election .

In the book, I had a very interesting conversation with Bill Clinton in which he talked about what he did wrong as well as what he did right about trying to reach out beyond the partisan divides that he inherited in 19 -- when he arrived in 1993 . And he offered some very specific advice to the next president about how to try to assemble a broader coalition and really try to reach out to voters who don't necessarily agree with you. Now this, of course , is a point of dispute in the Democratic race between Obama and Clinton , arguing about who could unite the country better.

And what was fascinating about the interview with Clinton was his insistence on finding issues where you can work with the other side. Now, that's something that Hillary Clinton -- people who disagree with you on nine out of 10 issues, find the 10th one, then you can build a habit of cooperation. Clinton has been able to do that in the Senate , but on the presidential campaign trail -- and I think that this Obama thing shows that -- she -- the other side of her has also come out, a very, very tough partisan who responds with a punch when she gets a punch. And I wonder -- the question, I think, for her is which one of these instincts would predominate if she becomes president? Intellectually, I think she agrees with him on the importance of building broad coalitions, but, in her gut, she is a little more of a -- kind of a street fighter in, in her initial response than former President Clinton .

MR. YORK: But it's, but it's also how much of a role he will actually have and will he have some sort of power role. And this is something that Democrats actually like this idea. I mean, Republicans are terrified by it, but Gallup recently asked, "Would you like to see Bill Clinton play a policy role in a Hillary Clinton White House ?" And Democrats said yes, 75/23; Republicans said no, 75/22. The same...

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Byron , Byron , they've been through that experience once, and it really didn't work out that well the other way.

MS. IFILL: And when some...

MR. BROWNSTEIN: And I can't imagine they'd want to go too far in that direction again in reverse.

MS. IFILL: But was Senator Clinton part of the poll?

MR. YORK: Yeah.

MS. IFILL: I mean, does she get to, does she get to vote?

MR. TODD: No, you have to ask, I think the way you have to ask it -- look, Bill Clinton is a asset in the Democratic primary. OK? That is crystal clear , that is why he is going to spend almost as much time in Iowa as she is. But in the general, if she's the nominee, they're going to have to say exactly what he's going to do, an exact job description because Joe Biden , I think, is the one who says, he goes, "Why would you want to be vice president? He's there." I mean, you know, there is a -- she is married to the vice president or the next -- or the chief of staff, or the secretary of state or the secretary of treasury .

MR. DIONNE: Did you know -- first of all, I'm glad you mentioned Joe Biden . It's probably one mention. He's had a bunch of good debates. But what I wanted to do is talk about the trade issue. People forget Bill Clinton finessed the trade issue, too, all the way through the '92 election. If Bill Clinton were running now, I think he'd do exactly what Hillary Clinton is doing. He didn't really take a firm stand on that until the end of the campaign .

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Mm. Mm. Mm.

MR. DIONNE: Trade is one of those issues that really divides the Democratic Party between the old blue-collar, labor-oriented voters who are really angry about the loss of jobs and income, and the upscale Democratic voters who take free trade as a matter of principle. This is a hard issue inside the party .

MR. RUSSERT: Let's go to the Republicans . Here's the latest poll in Iowa : Mitt Romney , the former governor of Massachusetts , 27; Mike Huckabee , former governor of Arkansas , 18; Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York , 16; Fred Thompson , 10. The scrutiny of Huckabee now intensifies as he moves up in the polls. Thearkansasjournal.com, Club for Growth , has been circulating a tape of Mayor Huckabee talking to the -- his state legislature back in 2003 about taxes. Let's watch.

FMR. GOV. HUCKABEE: Again, let me state what I've said privately as well as publicly, but I want to get it on the record again: There's a lot of support for a tax at the wholesale level for tobacco, and that's fine with me.

Others have suggested a surcharge on the income tax . That's acceptable. I'm fine with that. Others have suggested perhaps a sales tax . That's fine. Yet others have suggested a hybrid that would collect some monies from any one or a combination of those various ideas, and if that's the plan that the House and Senate agree upon, then you will have nothing but my profound thanks.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Ooh. Ooh.

MR. RUSSERT: Max Brantley , who's covered the governor for the Arkansas Times , has been a critic of the governor, had a story on salon.com, the headline, "The Dark Side of Mike Huckabee : The national media seems to have a crush on our ex-governor, but here in Arkansas , we know better." And he goes on to itemize some of the improprieties he thinks that Governor Huckabee of Arkansas engaged in.

Byron , what role will this tape, these kinds of articles, have on the Huckabee candidacy?

MR. YORK: When I interviewed him about this around the time of the Iowa straw poll , which is what got him going, a lot of these things had not been talked about yet. And he, you know, he makes his case, but I think one thing that you should point out is certainly the Club for Growth has been going after him on the issue of taxes, but not all Republican tax activists feel that way. I talked to Grover Norquist , who's head of American tax reform , and he said, "Well, he signed my pledge. Ronald Reagan had raised taxes when he was governor. And as long as he abides by my pledge, it's OK." So not all Republicans are attacking him on this tax issue.

MR. RUSSERT: Mm.

MS. IFILL: Is anybody else having a flashback, kind of a little acid flashback to 1991 ? That same headline could've been written, "The Dark Side of Bill Clinton : America has a crush on our ex-governor, but we know better." We had a lot of that. What is it about Arkansas ?

MR. RUSSERT: And Mike Huckabee is from Hope , Arkansas .

MR. TODD: Yeah.

MS. IFILL: Hope, Arkansas .

MR. DIONNE: Yes, yes.

MR. RUSSERT: The same town as Bill Clinton . Mitt Romney has now jumped on Mike Huckabee 's position on immigration . Huckabee had a program in the state where scholarships were given to illegal, the children of illegal immigrants ." Romney , seeking to protect his narrowing lead in Iowa , assailed" " Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani over supporting tuition breaks and broader sanctuary for illegal immigrants " on "their children. `Giving a better deal to the children of illegal aliens than we give to U.S. citizens from surrounding states is simply not fair and not right.'"

Huckabee responded:" Mitt Romney would rather keep people out of college so they can keep working on his lawn, since he had illegals there." A story about Guatemalans working on Mitt Romney 's lawn service.

" Rudy Giuliani returned criticism from" " Romney by charging" "the former Massachusetts governor `probably has the worst record on illegal immigration .' Giuliani asserted that the number of illegal immigrants `expanded dramatically' while Romney was governor."

Chuck , all these candidates trying to position themselves on immigration , but the fact is Romney and Giuliani , as governor and mayor, did have so-called sanctuary cities in their state , and had much more "progressive" records on immigration than they're now letting on to.

MR. TODD: Well, I think this is -- they were -- they're prisoners of being on the coast, you know. Immigration really is a geographic divide in this country, not a ideological divide. I mean, it is, you know, if you -- if you're on the coast you're a little more open to this idea that, you know, sometimes you can't just legislate, you can't just deport people, what are you going to do? And, and Romney being a guy from Massachusetts , Giuliani being a guy from New York , that's it. But it's interesting, you know, Fred Thompson 's first basically major issue ad is on immigration . He hasn't really had to vote on it. He got to be an observer over these last three or four years. So it allows him to be the tougher-on- immigration guy. He comes across more, more authentic about it because he is -- got that Southern accent down, and I think that's playing well in Iowa . He's running it on Fox News nationally, which is a way to appeal to national Republican primary voters. So it is, it is a huge divide in the party , and yet because the front-runners all have a flawed, flawed stance on it, it's probably Thompson 's lone opening. You know, we hadn't really mentioned him here, but it is his lone opening in this race.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, I mean, we, we -- you've seen the reverse on -- in, in some Democratic primaries on issues like guns, where the candidates, in competition with each other, get pulled away from the center to the left. Certainly there is an arms race among Republicans to be the toughest on immigration . And even someone like Rudy Giuliani , talking about "sanctuary cities," which in his case amounts to a policy in New York City that said if you bring a child into

an emergency room , we're not going to ask you your legal status . You know, you kind of wonder how he hasn't pushed back and said, "Well, would you rather that child go into the school with a fever that hasn't been diagnosed and sit next to your son or daughter in second grade?" The party is taking, I think, a very calculated risk here. Obviously, there's a lot of -- there was a lot of backlash in '07 against comprehensive immigration reform . There is still majority support, in polling, for a comprehensive approach that would, that would include a combination of tougher enforcement and a pathway to legalization. And there is also the issue of what will happen with Hispanic voters. The Republican vote declined from 40 percent in 2004 to 30 percent in 2006 . At 30 percent there are a number of states they would consider safe that would be at risk in a general election . So the party is taking a very calculated gamble as they all tumble over each other to respond to what is very clearly a real sentiment for Republicans .

MS. IFILL: And for every moment that you're not talking -- that you're talking about immigration , you're not talking about Iran , you're not talking about Pakistan , you're not talking about Iraq .

MR. TODD: Is that a bad thing?

MS. IFILL: And that is -- that's not a bad thing to the Republican Party , which is why -- which is part of what's going on.

MR. YORK: Do you -- do you know what's amazing? In town meeting with, with John McCain in Iowa , and, of course , somebody always brings up immigration . And he almost jumped down the guy's throat. He said, "I got the message. I got the message." And the message is we have to secure the borders first. So even the man who was really associated with comprehensive immigration reform has backed off.

MR. DIONNE: You know, when you hear Giuliani and Romney , in particular, on some of these issues, immigration notably, the words that come to mind are flip, flop, flip, flop. And you're seeing this on a lot of issues. Very interesting difference between governors and presidential candidates. In, in both these debates, you've seen governors like Huckabee and Bill Richardson take the practical approach. Richardson said, "Yeah, I gave driver's licenses. It made sense ." Huckabee says, "Isn't it better to educate these kids so that they can move on?" What you have with Giuliani and Romney is they're trying to move away from the positions they took when they actually had to run a city or a state , and they're trying to be ideological. And I think YouTube is their biggest enemy right now, because everybody's going to be able to see these changes in position over and over again if they want to.

MR. RUSSERT: Mayor Giuliani ahead in the national polls. Mitt Romney , as we showed you, ahead in Iowa , ahead in New Hampshire . Giuliani 's ahead in national polls. A couple interesting developments over the last few weeks for Rudy Giuliani . Here's how his home city Daily News in New York played the story:" Lies Cons on Rudy 's Watch. Bernard Kerik lied, schemed and sold out the city -- all under the nose of his mentor and pal, presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani .

"That is the stark portrait painted in the 16-count indictment unsealed in White Plains Federal Court almost exactly one year before Election Day 2008 ."

And then the mayor responded this way:" Bernie Kerik worked for me while I was mayor of New York City . There were mistakes made with Bernie Kerik . But what's the ultimate result for

the people of New York City ? The ultimate result was a 74 percent reduction in shootings, and a 60 percent reduction in crime. Sure, there were issues, but if I have the same degree of success and failure as president of the United States , this country will be in great shape." Does that settle it, Byron ?

MR. YORK: It, it does not settle it. Although, I mean, he actually has a point. I mean, he, he says, "look, I appointed thousands and thousands of people." And his campaign aides said to me, you know, "If you've got someone you've appointed and he's doing a bad job and he's not showing up, he's -- then you worry about him." They felt that Bernie Kerik did a great job. But it's, it's not going to go away.

MS. IFILL: Do they really think that's going to work?

MR. YORK: Well, it's, it's, it's one guy. I think obviously where he went too far was, was pushing him for homeland security .

MS. IFILL: More than one guy.

MR. DIONNE: He was one of the closest aides he had. I mean, one of the funny things the Daily News reported is they named the prison after Bernie Kerik . Of course , now he's recently been indicated they've taken his name off the prison.

MR. RUSSERT: I think that you have to -- I agree that people appoint a lot of people. When it's a guy who was this close to you , you have to ask a lot of questions, which is why Time magazine this week has an enormous story on this. I think this is the first time something out of Mayor Giuliani 's record has really gotten traction in the national discussion.

MR. DIONNE: Yeah. And the fact, I think, it is a reminder that if he is the nominee, we -- time will begin again, the morning after. We will begin to explore the New York record and debate it and discuss it in a way that we haven't so far.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Can I make one other point about Giuliani ? Fascinating to me that -- the contrast between the two races. If you look at Gallup polling in mid-April, Rudy Giuliani was at 38 and Hillary Clinton was at 37 nationally. Today she is at 48 nationally; he is at 28. The Democratic race has consolidated around a single candidate and a single question, really. Do you want Hillary Clinton as the nominee, I think, is the driving question. The Republican race continues to fragment. I mean, we really -- it is extraordinary to be this late into the season and not have a single Republican candidate at 30 percent, not have a clear indication of whether the winner of Iowa will be able to -- whether Romney or certainly if it's Huckabee somehow -- will be able to translate that into states down the road. It really is a very fluid and almost unprecedentedly open situation on the Republican side.

But you could argue that Republicans are also asking that same question -- "Do you want Hillary Clinton to be president?" -- and using it to their advantage.

MS. IFILL: Well, it's interesting, you know, I think the Republican race, you know, you're seeing now Giuliani 's made the decision to spend more resources now in Iowa , because Iowa 's, oddly, wide open as we've noted, you know...

MR. TODD: Yeah.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...we've noted because there's -- I think it's turned into two races: the race for first between Romney and Huckabee and then the race for third. Because the candidate that finishes fourth, which will be possibly Giuliani , possibly Fred Thompson , John McCain 's now apparently withdrawing, which I think's actually going to be a big mistake for him in the long run. But you have that, too, so the candidate that finishes third, you know, Giuliani could pull a Michael Dukakis here. If you remember, when Dukakis finished third in the Iowa caucuses , it was a victory."Hey, look, the Northeasterner came in here and, and was the top non- Midwesterner in the, in the field." So Giuliani can say "I came in late and used" -- and you could see how he could benefit, particularly if Huckabee won New Hampshire -- excuse me -- won Iowa and then Giuliani could use it to leapfrog...

MR. TODD: Just one very quick qualification. The history of Iowa influencing what comes next is much less consistent than the history of New Hampshire . So that it's just something to keep in mind.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Five days, though.

MR. TODD: It, it, it can...

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Five days.

MR. TODD: It can -- it can affect it, but is not -- New Hampshire is a big deal always. Iowa , it goes back and forth.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: But how much of this race has already changed? Think of what Chuck just said. It's a race between Romney and Huckabee . Huckabee 's name wouldn't have been mentioned on a panel like this two months ago. That's remarkable.

MR. DIONNE: Right.

MR. TODD: But if Huckabee still comes in fifth in New Hampshire five days later, did the tree, did the tree really fall in the forest, or, you know, did we...

MR. BROWNSTEIN: But how it affects first and second, though...

MR. TODD: I mean, we'll see. We'll see.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...and we know that it could -- because there's no way Romney could lose Iowa and win New Hampshire . I say no way, I mean, I'm sure anything's possible. But that is what, what makes this Republican race so nuts.

MR. TODD: Byron , what's your sense of the Republican race right now?

MR. RUSSERT: Well, in, in Iowa , Mitt Romney has aired commercials 5,000 times, and Rudy Giuliani has aired commercials zero times. My sense is that it's, it's still quite fluid. In the latest University of Iowa poll, 70 percent of the people who said they were for Mitt Romney said they might change their mind and support somebody else. Sixty percent of the people who supported Giuliani did, 50 percent of Thompson , 53 percent of Huckabee . Everybody says they might change their mind. So my sense is right now is the polls even in Iowa just don't matter.

MR. YORK: But if Romney did win Iowa and did win New Hampshire ...

MR. RUSSERT: Mm.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...then what happens?

MR. RUSSERT: That's, that's very, very strong momentum. You know, you talk to Giuliani and he has a strategy in which he kind of sort of counts backwards from February 5th and the Florida primary, the big, big primaries, and now is moving into Iowa to try to do better than expected. But if, if a single candidate wins Iowa and then New Hampshire -- Romney has done very strongly in, in South Carolina in the last couple of weeks -- that momentum is going to be very hard to stop.

MR. YORK: Gerald Ford , the last Republican I believe to win, as a sitting president, to win both Iowa and New Hampshire .

MR. BROWNSTEIN: And the calendar really -- and you know, it's weird. The Democratic calendar's actually a little spread out in January, where there's a gap, a, I think, major gap, that'll happen between New Hampshire and South Carolina with a big fight. Not on the Republican side because of Michigan and because it's so -- boy, that momentum's going to be stopped. I think the Giuliani people know it, which is why you're seeing them now coming to Iowa , and you're seeing them...

MR. TODD: It's hard to wait.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: And they know it, and they have to -- they don't have to win either state , but they need to come really close.

MR. TODD: Oh...

MR. DIONNE: And it's hard to wait until the end of January to begin winning races. The question, will you still be seen as viable that far into the process if you have not been able to break through and actually win something earlier. I think that's a very high-risk strategy, and, as you say, the Giuliani people...

MR. BROWNSTEIN: He's also...

MR. DIONNE: ...have shown signs of reconsidering it.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Giuliani has also been playing harder in New Hampshire , and that's a pretty good state for him potentially because a lot of libertarian kind of Republicans won't mind his pro- choice position so much, and, obviously, McCain is playing for everything up there, and there are signs of a mini McCain surge. And I think there's some certainty in the Republican race, you know, reflects the fact a lot of Republicans keep looking and say, "Who looks like a president in this lot? That is what we're choosing." I think that's allowed McCain to have a new life in the -- in this place.

MR. DIONNE: And the volatility. If Hillary Clinton wins Iowa , people assume that, well, that's the race, because Obama and Edwards will have a hard time . If Obama won Iowa , then what happens in New Hampshire ? Those independents can vote in either primary.

MR. RUSSERT: Exactly right.

MR. TODD: Will they go to the Democratic primary excited about Obama , or will they stay with the Republican and be excited by John McCain or Ron Paul or Rudy Giuliani .

MR. RUSSERT: What I feel...

MR. DIONNE: It sounds like a cliche, but the truth is that this all comes down in both parties to who wins this fight over change , and that's what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are fighting about, and John Edwards as well. And that's what's happening on, on the other side, as well. I mean, when, when, when Mayor Giuliani comes out and says "I changed New York ," that counts for something. Republicans are as unhappy with the way things are as they were before. That's why flip-flopping is such a dangerous charge in a race like this, because people want somebody who believes something and is consistent about it. I don't remember it being such an equivalent issue for both parties, and perhaps it's because there's no incumbent seeking office.

MS. IFILL: And because George Bush is at 32 percent in the polls...

MR. DIONNE: That's right. Right.

MR. TODD: ...and change is a really big word. And you what's funny about what you said, Tim , whatever anybody calls Hillary Clinton at a John McCain meeting, the McCain campaign is really rooting for Hillary to win Iowa because they want some of those independents to come into the Republican primary. And they're more likely to if the Democratic race looks over.

MR. DIONNE: Ten seconds.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, now, I, I was just going to say that I think McCain , this McCain / New Hampshire thing, he needs a spark in Iowa , and he might be making a mistake. But...

MR. TODD: To be continued. Thank you all.

MR. RUSSERT: We'll be right back and look back at the 60-year history of MEET THE PRESS , the longest- running television program in history.

A look back at our 60-year history on MEET THE PRESS after this station break.

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MR. AL GORE: ( May 1992 ) You have said that part of your $40 billion debt reduction plan...

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MR. PEROT: ( May 2004 ) Finally, Mr. Secretary, in February of 2003 , you...

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OFFSCREEN VOICE #1: ( May 2004 ) Yeah.

OFFSCREEN VOICE #2: ( May 2004 ) I think that was one of your staff, Mr. Secretary. I don't think that's appropriate.

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( April 2006 ) John McCain , thanks for joining us and sharing your views.

I haven't had so much fun since my last interrogation.

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