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MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, January 25, 2004
GUESTS: Gen. Wesley Clark, Democratic presidential candidate, Gloria Borger, CBNC, David Broder, Washington Post, Tom Brokaw, NBC News, Ron Brownstein, Los Angeles Times
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS(202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)
Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, January 25, 2004
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the last 48 hours before the New Hampshire primary. John Kerry, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, John Edwards and Joe Lieberman campaign furiously.
The last time a general was nominated for president was 52 years ago. Can this man do it again? Where does he stand on the issues? Our guest: General Wesley Clark.
Then the last time a senator was elected president was 44 years ago. Can this JFK, John F. Kerry, do it again?
And how will this speech affect the voters?
DR. HOWARD DEAN: And then we're going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House! Yah!
MR. RUSSERT: Insights and analysis from Tom Brokaw of NBC News, Gloria Borger of CNBC's "Capital Report," David Broder of The Washington Post and Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times.
And we are in the Bedford Village Inn, live from Bedford, New Hampshire, this morning talking with one of the contenders for the Democratic nomination for president, former General Wesley Clark.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me update you and our viewers on the very latest in terms of viewer attitudes towards this race. Here is the Zogby/Reuters/MSNBC tracking poll: John Kerry, 30; Howard Dean, 23; Wesley Clark, 13; John Edwards, 9; Joe Lieberman, 9; undecided, 13. Some polls have Kerry up by as many as 20. What's your sense of the race?
GEN. CLARK: Well, my sense of the race is there are still a lot of undecided voters out there and people are really concerned about the country's future, not only Iraq but also the problem of jobs and how to struggle and get by in America. So they're looking at all of us, and I'm just having a great time talking to the voters and telling them my story and listening to theirs.
MR. RUSSERT: The chairman of the Democratic Party, Terry McAuliffe, said this the other day. "After Feb 3"--a week from Tuesday--"if you haven't won one of the nine contests, you need to rethink your candidacy." Would you abide by that?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I don't know. I mean, we're strong all through the country. We've got good organizations in South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Michigan, Wisconsin. So we've got a lot of strength. We've got a nationwide campaign. We feel very good about things.
MR. RUSSERT: But you have to win?
GEN. CLARK: Well, we do expect to win.
MR. RUSSERT: Here?
GEN. CLARK: Not here, but, you know, I wouldn't rule anything out anywhere. We're going to do as well as we can everywhere.
MR. RUSSERT: And then go down to South Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri?
GEN. CLARK: Right. And keep this thing rolling. I mean, we've got a lot of strength. We've got an incredibly strong base of support, especially in the South, but really all across the country. You know, there are 50,000 to 70,000 people that urged me to get into this from the draft, and people have quit their jobs. They're full-time volunteers. It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen. I mean, it's just real passion and we've got hundreds of people up here in New Hampshire this weekend from San Diego and Seattle and Texas and Florida just trying to help because they believe we need a higher standard of leadership in this country. They know we can do better than George W. Bush and that we have to.
MR. RUSSERT: You have talked extensively about leadership in your campaign as a former military general, and particularly on the issue of terrorism, this is how the Concord Monitor up here captured some of your comments: "Wesley Clark said the two greatest lies of the last three years are that Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks couldn't have been prevented and that another attack is inevitable. He said a Clark administration would protect America in the future. `If I'm president of the United States,' Clark said, `we are not going to have one of these incidents.'" How can you make an ironclad guarantee like that?
GEN. CLARK: I didn't make a guarantee. What I said is, "We're going to do a lot better." What's happened is this administration did not do everything it could have before 9/11 to prevent the terrorist strikes. And after 9/11, President Bush has taken us into a war that we didn't have to fight, a war in Iraq, and we were still at threat condition orange over the holiday period because Osama bin Laden still on the loose because we were distracted. We're going to really put the emphasis on going after Osama bin Laden, strengthening homeland security and making America safe. We're the strongest nation in the world and we don't have to live in fear.
MR. RUSSERT: Much of the planning about September 11 by the hijackers probably occurred during the Clinton administration. Isn't that fair?
GEN. CLARK: Well, it goes back a long way, but here's what's striking about this. When the Bush administration came to office, they were warned that the biggest threat to the United States was the threat of terrorism and Osama bin Laden. And yet on the 10th of September there was still no U.S. government plan as to how to deal with it. Yet, a lot of effort had been invested in things like national missile defense. All of the experts on the outside and the inside kept telling this administration, "Don't get sucked into national missile defense. Your biggest threat is terrorism." And, yet, they didn't want to listen. For them, it was a political issue. It was ideological. It was national missile defense rather than terrorism.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, General, when you say we are not going to have one of these incidents, are you giving false assurances to people that you can prevent another terrorist attack?
GEN. CLARK: I think when the administration says that another attack is inevitable, what they're saying is, "We don't want to be blamed," and what I believe is that leadership has to stand up and be made accountable. This administration should be held accountable for not doing everything it could to protect America before 9/11. And I will do everything I can to protect America.
MR. RUSSERT: But if you became president, there could be another attack?
GEN. CLARK: No one can guarantee that there can't be another attack. But what I can guarantee is that we'll do everything possible to keep this country safe from terrorism, and we won't use fear as a--in a political agenda.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq. This is something you wrote in The Times of London, April 5, 2003: "...the military tasks will not be over until we get the weapons of mass destruction. They are there in Iraq, somewhere."
How could you, president, President Clinton, the CIA, the British--How could everyone be so wrong about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I think the intelligence community needs to tell us that. But I think it's more than the intelligence community, because I think what this administration has done is play politics with intelligence, and really lean on the intelligence community to come up with the answers they've sought. So a lot of us...
MR. RUSSERT: That's a serious charge.
GEN. CLARK: A lot of us who have not been privy to secret intelligence simply listened to what people told us. Secretary of state--Rumsfeld told a group of retired generals shortly before the war, he said, "I know where 30 percent of the weapons of mass destruction are." Now, when the secretary of defense tells you something like that, you have a tendency to believe him.
MR. RUSSERT: What evidence do you have that politics were played with the intelligence services?
GEN. CLARK: Well, let's look at it this way. What's happened in the last few days is that there was a memo that came out of the Department of Defense that was sent over to the Congress, that was leaked, highly classified, sensitive, compartmented intelligence, leaked and published in a Weekly Standard. Now, the standard rule on anything like this is never to confirm it because if you confirm something like this, you're giving away maybe sources and methods. The vice president said that that was the best explanation of the connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. So he's essentially using a leaked memo to confirm his predisposition to believe that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. That's playing politics with national security. It risks our intelligence community, our sources and methods, it's wrong. And as president I won't tolerate that.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that in the future, if the president of the United States, President Bush or any president, went forward and said, "North Korea has nuclear weapons. Iran has nuclear weapons. We have to do something about it," people in the world or in the United States would accept that at face value?
GEN. CLARK: They won't, Tim, because this administration has hyped the intelligence to get us into Iraq. The president still didn't admit the truth in the State of the Union speech that there aren't any weapons of mass destruction there. David Kay said there weren't when he gave up his position. And we've damaged the credibility of the presidency, we've damaged our national credibility on this issue of weapons of mass destruction.
MR. RUSSERT: All that being said, is the war in Iraq worthwhile?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I'm very glad that we got Saddam Hussein out of there. But I wouldn't have done it that way. Because what it did is distract us from our focus on Osama bin Laden and the people who attacked this country. That would have been my first priority because they're the ones who are the threat to America. There was no imminent threat to the United States from Saddam Hussein. But there is, and has been, an imminent threat from Osama bin Laden and terrorists. And I believe that it's the job of the president of the United States to focus U.S. effort on the highest priorities first. And I would have gone after Osama bin Laden and the terrorists.
MR. RUSSERT: But during the debate on the war, Howard Dean has said repeatedly that all the other candidates were for it. He cites your comments, the Associated Press, that you would have supported a congressional resolution, that you encouraged Katrina Swett, who's running for Congress here, to vote for it, that as recently as September 18 of 2003 you said you would have voted for it. You were for giving the president authority despite your reservations?
GEN. CLARK: I was for giving the president the authority to go to the United Nations with the will of the Congress, that something had to be done about Iraq, but not for giving him a blank check to go to war. I would not have voted for the resolution as it was actually finally formulated, and I did not agree with the decision to go to war when he did it. As you and I discussed back in February, this was an elective war. He chose to do this, and, Tim, he went to war without an imminent threat, without a connection between Iraq and the events of 9/11. He went to war before the diplomatic alternatives were exhausted, before our allies were on board, before we had a plan for what we were going to do when we go to Baghdad, and without adequate forces on the ground to do it with. So I don't support the way the president's made these decisions. I think it's been bad leadership.
MR. RUSSERT: Since you've been up here in New Hampshire, I've noticed a lot of news coverage--it was brought up in the debate the other day--about Michael Moore's endorsement of you, and I want to give you a chance to clear up this incident if we can. This was Michael Moore on January 17 greeting you at a rally, and then he offered these words.
MR. MICHAEL MOORE: The general vs. the deserter! That's the debate!
MR. RUSSERT: "The general vs. the deserter! That's the debate!"
GEN. CLARK: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Is it appropriate to call the president of the United States a deserter?
GEN. CLARK: Well, you know, Tim, I wouldn't have used that term and I don't see the issues that way. This is an election about the future, and what's at stake in this election is the future of how we're going to move ahead with the economy, how we're going to keep the United States safe and what kind of democracy we want to have, whether we want an open, transparent government or whether we want a very closed and secretive government. To me, those are the issues.
And I was in bowling alleys in Manchester last night talking to people, and nobody mentioned anything about President Bush and his military record. But what they are very concerned about is they don't have work. And when they have work, the work doesn't pay enough to really support a family. That's why what we've done is we've initiated the preparations for the most sweeping tax reform in 30 years. And here's what we're going to do, Tim. If you're a family of four making $50,000 or less, you're never going to pay federal income taxes again. And if you're a family with children making $100,000 or less, you're going to get a tax reduction of about $1,500 a year.
Now, I spent most of my adult life making less than $100,000 a year. In fact, more than half my time in the Army, I made less than $50,000 a year. My mother was a secretary in a bank, and so we struggled, from the time I was a kid growing up all the way through my military career, with what we were going to do at the end of the month and whether we could afford to get a car repaired and what if the seats had a hole in them and how you were going to pay for braces, and all of those issues were important. What we want to do in this campaign is help Americans. We want to take back the White House so that we can help ordinary working families in this country.
MR. RUSSERT: But words are important, and as you well know under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, if you're a deserter, the punishment is death during war. Do you disassociate yourself from Michael Moore's comments about the president?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I can't use those words and I don't see the issues in that way. But I will tell you this: that Michael Moore has the right to speak freely. I don't screen what people say when they're going to come up and say something like that. That's his form of dissent, and I support freedom of speech in this country, and I would not have characterized the issues in that way. I think this is an election where we have to look at the future, not at the past. And so what we're doing is we're taking the campaign to the American people on the issues of jobs, education and health care. We can do so much more for people in this country if we just have a government that cares about ordinary people. And that's the way I grew up.
We never had any money in my family and, you know, my father died when I was not quite four and we moved back to Arkansas, and she moved in with her mother and dad. My grandfather, he worked in a sawmill. He basically sharpened saws in the sawmill. We never had anything, and I was just a very lucky young man. I made good grades and I believed in public service, and I owe a lot to this country and I want to help this country do things for other people.
MR. RUSSERT: The right of dissent is one thing, but is there any evidence that you know of that President Bush is a deserter from the United States armed forces?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I've never looked into those, Tim. I've heard those allegations. But I think this election has to turn on holding the president accountable for what he's done in office and comparing who has the better vision to take the country forward.
MR. RUSSERT: One of your major supporters uses words like that. Isn't that a distraction?
GEN. CLARK: Well, it's not distracting me, and I don't see any voters out there who are distracted by it. I've talked to people all across this state, and not one single person has mentioned that. I will tell you this about Michael Moore, though. I think he's a man of conscience. I think he's done a lot of great things for ordinary people, working people, across America. And I'm very happy to have his support. He's free to say things, whatever he wants. I'm focused on the issues in this campaign and how to take America forward.
MR. RUSSERT: You are a former military general, as the world knows. This was the cover of The Advocate magazine, a magazine for gay readers. If you became president, would you issue an executive order overruling "Don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military?
GEN. CLARK: No. What I would do is go to the leaders of the armed forces and ask them to review the policy and come back and provide, to my satisfaction, a policy that is fair and that allows qualified people to serve. I don't believe the United States armed forces should be the last institution in America that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you support gay marriages?
GEN. CLARK: I support equal rights, and what that means is if people want to enter into a contract where they have the right to visitation in a hospital, just as though they were family, they should have that right. If they want the rights of survivorship, they should have that right. If they want the right to put their partner on an insurance policy, they should have that right. And whether that's called marriage or not is really--that's up to the church or synagogue or mosque and the states. But equal rights in America is a requirement; that's what we stand for as a nation, and that's what I support.
MR. RUSSERT: You told The Advocate that in Massachusetts, if you say you're going to form a civil union, but we're going to call it a marriage, that as far as you're concerned, it's a marriage.
GEN. CLARK: That's up to the states.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to another issue that's come up in the campaign, particularly from Senator Joe Lieberman and the other candidates, talking about your candidacy: "The Kerry campaign has sent fliers to potential New Hampshire voters criticizing the general's lobbying, and in an e-mail sent to reporters over the weekend, Kerry spokesman Mark Kornblau said, `Wes Clark was a high-paid Republican Washington lobbyist who cashed in on his military record.'"
GEN. CLARK: Well, I don't engage in that kind of negative politicking. I think this is a campaign that has to be about the issues. And what I've seen going around the state of New Hampshire is people who really need the leadership to get Washington moving. Now, in my military career, I had probably one of the broadest careers anyone could ever have. I taught economics and political philosophy. I was a White House fellow in the Office of Management and Budget in the Ford administration. And I spent three years in the business community; I did investment banking. I looked at companies and tried to help them grow. I formed my own consulting company. And I brought good ideas to government that would help keep our country safe.
But if you look at all of that, what I've got is a broad range of experiences to get this country moving, and I think that's what this election is about. This election is about how to explain to the American people that we're at the end of an era, Tim, the era when you could give tax cuts to wealthy Americans and say with a straight face to the American people, "Let's just give these wealthy people the money, and one way or another they're going to make jobs for us." Well, that era's gone. The hollowness of the president's economic strategy is apparent to me on the basis of the people I meet in New Hampshire, in South Carolina and across the country. This nation has to produce jobs. I know how to do that. When I'm president of the United States, next to keeping America safe, producing jobs, well-paying, family- supporting jobs, is going to be my top priority.
MR. RUSSERT: You're not concerned that your acknowledgement that you had voted for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and that you earned $500,000 from a company that talked about a program to screen airline passengers that is controversial will hurt your candidacy?
GEN. CLARK: No, because I think Americans are looking for someone with a broad and diverse background. I know there are people that would like to drum people out of the Democratic Party, but I want to bring people to this party. I think I'm the only candidate who can do it. We can reach out and bring in Independents, we can bring in moderate Republicans. Listen, we'll even bring in people who voted for Reagan and even Richard Nixon, and we're not even going to ask them to repent because people learn during their lives. And there'll be a lot of people who'll come to this party and vote for new standards of leadership in Washington when I'm the candidate.
MR. RUSSERT: Big discussion this week about abortion and your position. Outside the legalities of Roe vs. Wade, do you personally believe that life begins at conception?
GEN. CLARK: I believe that that's an issue that people have to wrestle with themselves.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, what about you, though? How do you feel?
GEN. CLARK: What do I believe?
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah.
GEN. CLARK: I believe in the standards of the law and what we've got is and what the voters want to know is what's my position and I'm pro-choice. And I think those are personal issues that every person has to wrestle with for themselves. But I think a woman's right to reproductive choice, it's a right that's part of our freedom and liberty, guaranteed by the Constitution, and that's a right that I'm going to protect, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: But you can understand that some people believe that life begins at conception.
GEN. CLARK: I can understand that some people believe things all over--when you're dealing with an issue like this, you're dealing with an intersection of so many different strains of thought--science and medicine and law and people's personal convictions--and that's why we believe that a woman's right to choose is fundamental. This is something that's a very personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, her faith, and that's why we support choice.
MR. RUSSERT: General Wesley Clark, be safe on the campaign trail. We'll be watching the next 48 hours.
GEN. CLARK: Thanks, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: And when we come back, our political Roundtable, Tom Brokaw, David Broder, Gloria Borger, Ron Brownstein. Insights and analysis: What's going to happen here in New Hampshire? What issues are resonating? A lot more coming up.
MR. RUSSERT: Countdown, 48 hours to the New Hampshire primary, after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Welcome all. Let me show you again that latest tracking poll: Kerry, 30; Dean, 23; Clark, 13; Edwards and Lieberman, 9 each; undecided, still up at 13 percent.
Tom Brokaw, there have been a lot of polls out this morning showing John Kerry winning anywhere from 7 to 20 points, but the undecided is still double digits. You've been around New Hampshire for a lot of campaigns. What's your sense?
MR. TOM BROKAW: David and I were talking about that earlier. You know, you can come in here with a big lead and then get absolutely mousetrapped in the final 24 hours. Four years ago, John McCain came in here and clocked George W. Bush. You'll remember that. Pat Buchanan beating Bob Dole. But in this case, all the objective evidence is that John Kerry has something substantial going for him. Nothing succeeds like success for him. And it is the state that's right next door to his home state. It's an astonishing turn in American politics. Three weeks ago, everybody was saying Kerry made a terrible mistake. He's made a big investment in Iowa. It's going nowhere. He's turned the state over--New Hampshire, which should have been his strongest bet--to Clark, who's in there with no competition at the moment, and to the governor from next door, Dean. And it's all flipped.
MR. RUSSERT: Conventional wisdom turned on its head, one more time.
MR. BROKAW: Once again.
MR. RUSSERT: During the Iowa campaign, which we covered, we saw Howard Dean speaking out forcibly against his opponents, negative ads on the air, and then everyone said, "Well, Kerry and Edwards won Iowa. The lesson is make nice." Which was the case until last night at the dinner where Howard Dean, leading up to dinner, decided to make some direct shots at John Kerry. Let's watch.
(Videotape, January 24, 2004):
DR. DEAN: Here is a gentleman who is running who votes no in 1991 when there are troops in Kuwait and the oil wells are on fire, and then votes yes when it turns out not to be a threat. I would be deeply concerned about that kind of judgment in the White House.
MR. RUSSERT: "Deeply concerned about that kind of judgment in the White House." He also said that in Iowa there was under-the-table campaigning, beating up on people. Ron, why are we seeing these kinds of charges, allegations from Howard Dean just three days before the primary?
MR. RON BROWNSTEIN: Because the set of contrasts that the candidates have been using this week simply aren't powerful enough to change the basic dynamic that came out of Iowa. We emerged from Iowa with John Kerry with a substantial lead here in New Hampshire, and so far this week, as a result of Iowa, as a result of the sense that there was a backlash against the issue attacks from Dean against the field and Gephardt against Dean, they tried to focus on personal characteristics and experience, but that only takes you so far. The contrasts aren't strong enough. John Kerry has a lot of experience. Voters see him as someone who's capable of being president. They've got to find some other ways to do it.
The Howard Dean argument, I think, is the prefiguring of where he's going to go if he comes out of here strong. What he's going to try to do--strong enough to continue, he's going to try to argue that's he's a politician of conviction; he makes tough decisions. John Kerry is someone who floats with the wind, against the Gulf War in '91 when that was popular in the party, for it in 2002 when that was popular in the party. It's the first stage of a broader argument he's going to try to make if he's around with enough strength on Wednesday morning to make it.
MR. RUSSERT: The big elephant in the room this week here in New Hampshire has been, as the Dean campaign calls it, "I have a scream speech," from Iowa. David Broder, I want to watch that speech, and then come back and talk about it.
High-five with Tom Harkin, then taking off the jacket, rolling up the sleeves, and letting it rip.
(Videotape, January 19, 2004):
DR. DEAN: We're going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico. We're going to California and Texas and New York and we're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan, and then we're going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House! Yah!
MR. RUSSERT: That led to headlines all across the country and replaying. This is how The Daily News characterized it, a cartoon sketch on their front page: "The Wheels Come Off," the Dean campaign. Was that speech truly significant, and should it have been?
MR. DAVID BRODER: Yes, it is significant, and I think probably should have been in a couple of dimensions. One, particularly women voters that I've met up here really do worry about what that suggests. I was talking with a very articulate woman who had been planning to vote for Governor Dean and said, "You know, I lose my temper. But a president has to deal with diplomatic issues and has to keep his calm." The other thing is that I just think that this is one of those universal moments. Every single voter that I talked to, I believe without exception, this past week has mentioned it. It's--the Dean people last night at the dinner down in Nashua were furious with you guys for keeping running this over and over and over again. But it has just penetrated.
MR. RUSSERT: You should know we offered Governor Dean the full hour to come on the program this morning and talk about it and a whole lot of other issues. He has declined and he's declined a lot of interviews, opting for things like the "David Letterman" show, trying to deflect this. This was the governor on "David Letterman" the other night.
(Videotape, "The Late Show with David Letterman"):
MR. DAVID LETTERMAN: Top 10 ways I, Howard Dean, can turn things around.
DR. DEAN: Show a little more skin.
MR. RUSSERT: Gloria Borger, besides the attempt at humor, Governor Dean also did something else that he had suggested he wouldn't do. This was Governor Dean in January of 2003 talking about the role his wife might play in the campaign:
(Videotape, January 6, 2003):
DR. DEAN: I do not intend to drag her around because I think I need her as a prop on the campaign trail.
MR. RUSSERT: Doesn't need her as a prop on the campaign.
MS. GLORIA BORGER: Guess what?
MR. RUSSERT: Then we heard in an announcement that he was going to do a prime-time interview show which brought back memories of this in January of 1992, Bill and Hillary Clinton appearing on "60 Minutes" the weekend before the New Hampshire primary, trying to deal with some of the problems that Governor Clinton was experiencing back then. He did give an interview to Diane Sawyer. This is what Governor Dean said about his speech in Iowa:
(Videotape, "PrimeTime Live"):
DR. DEAN: I would not make the case for a moment that that was presidential; not for a moment.
MR. RUSSERT: And then his wife, Dr. Judith Steinberg, was asked for her insights into the issue, and here's what she had to say.
(Videotape, "PrimeTime Live"):
MS. DIANE SAWYER: How often does he lose his temper around you?
DR. JUDITH STEINBERG-DEAN: I can't remember the last time. He just doesn't get that angry. I mean, he doesn't. You know, he's very kind, very considerate, and it just doesn't happen.
MR. RUSSERT: What's your sense? Does that work?
MS. BORGER: Well, the Dean campaign thinks it's worked. They're sending out 120,000 of those videotapes to potential voters around the state because they think that it brings out the softer side of Howard Dean. I believe, look, he brought his wife there, she said, "By the way, I am Judy Dean. Call me Judy Dean. Don't call me Dr. Steinberg." He brought her there to soften his image. She was very authentic. If you compare that to Bill and Hillary Clinton and their "60 Minutes" interview, I think Judy Dean did come across very differently from Hillary Clinton. She's a private person. She's a doctor. She has important work to do. She's said she loves her husband. The thing that bothered me, though, quite frankly, was when Diane Sawyer kept asking all of these questions, Howard Dean kept answering them for his wife, and I kind of would have liked to hear from her a little bit more in the interview.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Can I make one point? The worst thing that can happen to a politician is to do something that confirms an existing preconception. I mean, if Bill Clinton had misspelled potato, everybody would have said he was tired. But when Dan Quayle did it, it was like, "Ahh, uh-huh, it's proof." If John Edwards had blown up in a moment of frustration or excitement, as Howard Dean, it would have been a stray moment. But as long ago as last November, I had a woman at a Dean rally in Iowa say to me, "Well, I love what he says, but if he ever becomes president, I hope he counts to 10 before he talks to the leader of China or Russia or wherever." And what really hurt him here is he provided a dramatic symbol of the doubts that were already there. He really crystalized something that existed. He didn't create this on Monday night. It was there, and he really brought it to a point.
MR. BROKAW: You know, the Dean people were saying in Iowa that their campaign represented a perfect storm, and then they got caught in a perfect storm, frankly, with the scream. And they're living in this new all-news cable universe all the time, so it is going to get played. Those are the new rules. And it gets to what I think is the fundamental issue for Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire and probably in the succeeding primaries as well: Who's electable? Who's going to be able to beat George Bush in the fall? They're not looking at the fine print in the way that they have in the past. They want somebody who has a kind of larger image out there, who's up to--stand up against an incumbent president in the United States and his very considerable machinery that they know that he has in place. And I think they had doubts about Dean going in, and those doubts, I think, have been reaffirmed for a lot of people in the course of the last five days.
MR. BRODER: Tim, I don't disagree with anything that's been said, but I think we'd make a mistake if we thought that this has destroyed Governor Dean here in New Hampshire.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah.
MR. BRODER: He has a lot of loyal and committed support in this state. You saw it at the party dinner last night. And with the polls all over the lot, I'm going to be surprised if this turns out to be a blowout for Senator Kerry.
MR. RUSSERT: In fact, John Zogby's track yesterday showed the race tightening. He was probably the only pollster to show that, but he showed it closing rather dramatically.
MS. BORGER: But there's just not a lot of time. You know, you could say if Howard Dean might have had another week or two, he could certainly recover. He's got to recover in a very short period of time, and that's very difficult.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, I agree with David, though. I feel that John Kerry is more benefiting from Dean's decline than he is advancing his own cause. I mean, really, the volatility that Dean displayed has made Kerry's assets look better: stability, experience, someone you can count on. But I don't really get the sense that we're experiencing something like we did with John McCain in 2000, where you have a candidate who is electrifying the state. That really doesn't seem to be what's happening. Kerry seems to be a very comfortable port in a storm for many, many voters. Howard Dean occupied a lot of real estate here. There are a lot of people, as David talked to, who really weren't even watching the other candidates for months because they had their guy. And all of a sudden their guy looks a little frazzled; they're looking around, and John Kerry looks like a reasonable alternative. But there have got to be questions for him down the road about how he could advance his own cause.
MR. BROKAW: And I continue to believe that Howard Dean has been very good for the other candidates and good for this campaign. I think he has sharpened a lot of these issues, frankly, and he's made all of them better. So, you know, we could have another bunched at the top coming out of here, but it's hard to see how John Kerry gets derailed in the next 48 hours. The big undecided vote that is out there could do that, I suppose. But here's a guy from right next door, and the electability factor, I think, is playing very large in New Hampshire and across the Democratic primary spectrum.
MR. RUSSERT: David, your paper yesterday had an editorial which picked up on a point that Ron made; that Dan Quayle, when he couldn't spell "potato," underscored the whole intellect issue. When George Bush, the former president, held up the scanner at the grocery store, it was the idea: "Well, he was in touch." When Al Gore mentioned starting the Internet, it was the whole notion of embellishing. Is there a story line that has developed about Howard Dean and his temperament that is important not only to the public but also to reporters?
MR. BRODER: Oh, absolutely. And Ron said correctly that this is a story line that now stretches way back almost to the beginning of the campaign. The odd thing is that there was very little in Governor Dean's history, in all those years that he was running the state of Vermont, that would have suggested that he was kind of an emotionally volatile person. But under the scrutiny that you get as a presidential candidate, he has done this more than once.
MS. BORGER: Well, you know, timing is everything, though. This was a very important moment for the Dean campaign. We've only seen him on the trajectory going up. People were watching him that evening to see how he would respond to defeat. They hadn't seen him do that before, and then they saw this kind of manic outburst, and it worried a lot of people. And I found the same thing David has found in talking to women voters; they didn't like it.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: I disagree only to the extent that he was going down clearly in New Hampshire in December and January, way before this. I mean, the comments about Saddam, the comments about Osama, the attack on the DLC, the centrist Democrats. There are a whole series of things. The calling of Terry McAuliffe--doubts were growing about him, and this sort of turbo-charged them and moved them forward. But he had fallen from the 40s into the high 20s in polling in New Hampshire even before the Iowa results. His negatives were going up. He was becoming a more polarizing figure. The anger that he sold in 2003, I think, became less attractive in 2004 when Democrats began to shift their focus from who would be the best nominee to who would be the best president. And it's on that scale that they think he's having trouble measuring up to some of these other candidates.
MR. BROKAW: Tim, I am struck by--I mean, you know, this is welcome to the NFL time for these guys. Running for president is very difficult. You just had a guest on here, General Wesley Clark, who has been struggling as well with a consistent message. And those two issues that you talked to him about, abortion and the president as a deserter--he was struggling for answers on that. And my guess is that a lot of people are looking at it and saying, "Well, tell us what you really believe here." This is a state that you have to win them, as we all know, voter by voter, coffee shop by coffee shop. And they're looking in. As I said the other night, in New Hampshire, they worry about whether or not you put the semicolon in the right place, you know?
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Can I ask you a threshold question? Why is John Kerry campaigning with his boat mates from Vietnam and Wesley Clark, the general, campaigning with Michael Moore...
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...and Madonna and George McGovern? What exactly are they trying to achieve with associating him with figures when his clear selling point should be what John Kerry is doing every day here in New Hampshire?
MR. RUSSERT: Well, in fact, I'm told that today there may be an event with General Clark and something that would create a connection to the war in Bosnia, Kosovo and the republic...
MR. BRODER: Tim, I was at the event where Michael Moore did that introduction and asked General Clark about it immediately after the event. I couldn't believe that he didn't kill that snake immediately. And here it is eight days later...
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. BRODER: ...and he's still trying to answer that question.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, Michael Moore is now saying it was a joke.
MR. BRODER: It was not a joke.
MS. BORGER: Well, it wasn't.
MR. BROKAW: But, also, Clark just a few moments ago, "I haven't checked out those allegations. I had been aware of them."
MS. BORGER: Why not?
MR. BROKAW: That's the phrase that he used. It was. And we do know that he had a big absentee record as a National Guard member in Alabama. That's fixed. But desertion...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: ...is a big--it's definitely...
MR. BROKAW: ...is a very serious, felonious rap.
MR. RUSSERT: Punishable by death.
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MS. BORGER: Also, in terms of veterans, you know, Clark has been saying, or said once, "I'm a general, and Kerry was a lieutenant," which didn't go over very well with the veterans that were traveling around with John Kerry, nor did it go over very well with John Kerry, who said, "Lots of lieutenants have shed blood."
MR. RUSSERT: That's why Fritz Hollings, the senator from South Carolina, came here and said, "When we go to South Carolina..."
MS. BORGER: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: "...we'll find out there are a lot more lieutenants than generals."
MS. BORGER: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break and come back and talk about John Kerry. There have only been three sitting members of Congress ever elected to the White House. Why? Right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Here are the big three sitting members of Congress who were elected president of the United States: James Garfield in 1880; Warren Harding in 1920; John Kennedy in 1960.
David Broder, we now have two men, John Kerry and John Edwards, two U.S. senators, who finished, one, two in Iowa. Is there a problem for senators being elected president of the United States?
MR. BRODER: Sure. Because, they've had very little experience running a large operation or staff. And there's a particular problem, I think, for those who've spent a lot of years in the Senate. John Edwards hasn't been there so long that he forgot how to speak English.
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. BRODER: Kerry did forget for a long time, and then finally, at the right time in this campaign, began talking like a human being instead of a senator.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom Brokaw, John Edwards, last night, President Bush was quoted as saying, "I relish running against a trial lawyer. What's he going to do, sue people if they don't vote for him?" What's your sense of that?
MR. BROKAW: Well, I've been talking to some people in the White House political operation on the Republican side, as well. They rather relish, I think, the idea of running against John Kerry. They think he's got a lot of scar tissue from all those years in the United States Senate. They can tee him up as a liberal. It struck me that they're a little anxious about John Edwards. Four years, good family values, very good on his feet, and my own anecdotal impression among Democrats around the country is that people are really willing to take a second look at him. They don't know a lot about him but he seems to be winning to them in a lot of ways. But that would be--if he got the nomination, and ran in the fall, that would be a meteoric rise of almost historic proportions, just four years in the United States Senate to run against this very, very entrenched incumbent with all the machinery that he has going for him.
MR. RUSSERT: The White House has not been shy about the playbook against John Kerry. For example, they will say it's another Massachusetts liberal Democrat, referring to Michael Dukakis in 1988. Now, infamous ride in the tank, as we can see there. Also, they'll point out that John Kerry was Michael Dukakis' lieutenant governor, as we can see the two of them together. And, of course, John Kerry's primary patron, the liberal lion, Ted Kennedy. There he is in Waterloo, Iowa. Kerry and Kennedy, inseparable. You can hear the White House already. Gloria.
MS. BORGER: Well, first of all, John Kerry doesn't want to repeal all of the president's tax cuts. He's talking about keeping the tax cuts for the middle class so they won't be able to use that against him. I also think he's been very careful in this campaign to inoculate himself in a certain way. He is an authentic war hero. He has surrounded himself with veterans, as we were talking about before. He has surrounded himself with firefighters, who endorsed him. He's talking about the importance of first responders, homeland security. Those are issues upon which the Kerry campaign feels that the Bush administration is very vulnerable.
Look, when you've been in the Senate for 19 years, you have a real paper trail. You have an awful lot of votes. John Kerry cannot point to 10 things that he achieved in the United States Senate. In that delegation, Kennedy is really the legislator, I would have to say that. So, sure, they are going to pick on him for saying, post-Cold War, you know, "We ought to reduce the size of the CIA," and then complaining about intelligence after 9/11. But I think during this campaign he's done a pretty good job of inoculating himself against the Dukakis charges, in particular.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, all that being said, Ron Brownstein, no matter who the Democratic candidate is, the events in Iraq and the events in the economy...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: ...could be much more controlling than anything said in the campaign.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, absolutely. Look, when you have an incumbent president, the election is first and foremost an overwhelmingly--a referendum on the incumbent president. In the 50 years we've had modern political polling, it's been a very clear pattern. When we have an incumbent who is over 50 percent in his approval rating--Eisenhower, '56; Reagan, '84; Clinton in '97; Nixon in '72--it's usually a pretty stable race and pretty comfortable. It's when there are doubts about the incumbent that you get into this volatility, like we saw in '92 with Clinton and the first Bush, and in '80 with Reagan and Carter.
By the way, in the historical trivia contest, not only have there only been two sitting senators, Harding and Kennedy, ever elected president, only four other sitting senators have ever won their party's nomination. Of all of the great ones who've run over the years, it is a very tough jump to make. And in recent history, it has tended to be outsiders in the Senate--Gary Hart, John McCain, George McGovern, Barry Goldwater--who have run better than the great legislators. So that has really been--in a way, it's been the outside-of-Washington. They run as outsiders, as John Edwards has done. That's been a better path from the Senate than being someone who has a lot of bills on their resume.
MR. RUSSERT: After we leave New Hampshire, let me show you the rest of the primary schedule. A week from Tuesday, big shootout: Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina. Then on February 7, Michigan, Washington. On the 10th, Tennessee and Virginia. The 17th, Wisconsin, and then March 2, Super Tuesday, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont. Lots of primaries ahead of us.
David Broder, everybody's looking at South Carolina a week from Tuesday, and yet it's being called a firehouse primary. We may not have results from South Carolina, because of the difficulty in tabulating and so forth and the amount of money spent down there, until late in the night. We may actually know who won Arizona and Oklahoma before South Carolina, which reminds me of back in March of 1984 when Fritz Mondale won Georgia and Alabama...
MS. BORGER: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and Gary Hart the same day won Massachusetts, Florida, Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Washington and the sense was that Mondale had a big night. How much are perceptions important in terms of momentum, psychologically, for these campaigns?
MR. BRODER: Well, they are important, but I also think we're probably in for a spell of old-fashioned delegate counting, because I don't see anybody who's going to run the table on these next nine or 10 primaries, so we're going to be counting delegates for a while. But can I make a quick point about the president?
MR. RUSSERT: Sure.
MR. BRODER: Talking to Republicans up here, the State of the Union address, if it was indeed the kickoff of the campaign, did not quite cut it as far--even in their eyes, and David Brooks, the conservative columnist at The New York Times, I thought made a very interesting observation. It suggested to him that this president is isolated from where the voters are. Now, with that heavy emphasis on this being a country at war, that is not the way the voters see it at this point.
MR. BROKAW: And I don't--in fact, I didn't think that that message was very powerfully argued in the State of the Union. I think most people in the country after two or three days of taking it in felt that it was a rather tepid State of the Union, a kind of shopping list of things that they want to do, getting down to steroids with athletes and so on. And then they launch their campaign, and you're hearing more and more conservative Republicans, including the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, saying, "Hey, wait a minute. They're out of control up on Capitol Hill on the spending side, and the president just made a faint pass at that." It doesn't mean that he's got trouble within the party that they won't close ranks, but in the context of what's going on among the Democrats, it seems to me that the White House this past week didn't seize what could have been a big opportunity...
MS. BORGER: Yes.
MR. BROKAW: ...for them to draw a great distinction between what the Democrats are saying on the trail and what he says he can do come the fall.
MS. BORGER: The Newsweek poll out today, in fact, shows that the president's approval rating went down after the State of the Union speech, which is really quite unusual, which shows that it wasn't well received at all.
MR. RUSSERT: But isn't he trying to make Iraq a centerpiece of the war on terrorism? The war on terrorism is popular; Iraq less so...
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and they're trying so hard, Ron, to make Iraq into the public consciousness as part of the war on terrorism.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Right. Absolutely. Even when his ratings have gone down significantly on Iraq, they have stayed very high on defending the country against terror. And clearly, part of their goal is to, as you say, conjoin the two, but also to make the case that--they want to make the case that we are still at war politically, because they want to raise the salience of national security and qualifications as commander in chief. I mean, what happened to his father was that when the Gulf War was over, it was gone. It really had no relevance in voters' lives, and I think what is going to be different in 2004 is that it may wax and wane, but people clearly see this as an ongoing threat, and the bar, the threshold for serving as commander in chief is more important than it was, say, for Bill Clinton in '92. Now, if they have a Wesley Clark or a John Kerry, that's less of a comparative advantage than it might be against a Howard Dean.
MR. BROKAW: And I think, Tim, in the next five days we're going to hear a lot more about no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. David Kay has just started to speak out about that. The administration continues to insist that they're going to find them, but David Kay was an agnostic politically. He went over there as a thoroughly professional man that everybody believed in and he was appointed by this CIA to go find it and believed that he would find weapons and now saying he will not. That'll begin to take hold out there as well.
MS. BORGER: Last night, at this dinner here, John Kerry said, "If this president wants to make this a discussion about national security, bring it on," because he feels that he clearly has the credentials to take on George W. Bush. It's very dangerous turf for Democrats, as we know, because by a 2:1 margin, people in this country don't trust the Democrats on national security; they trust the Republicans. But Kerry is clearly laying down the gauntlet here.
MR. RUSSERT: But, David, the president and his people believe that the economy is strong, that that is going to be the fundamental issue, and that can override almost any other difficulty they'd encounter.
MR. BRODER: Well, here again, I find dissonance. All the statistics say the economy is booming. You talk to people, they don't feel great confidence about their own economic situation. And even in this state, which has low unemployment, it's not very hard to find people who say, "Boy, we've been hurting up here."
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Traditionally, pollsters, political strategists, political scientists have felt that unemployment is the variable, job creation is the variable that matters the most in shaping people's assessment of the economy. That number is the weakest one from President Bush. On the other hand, there is the sense that the stock market is increasingly important to people's sense of how the economy is doing, and that is doing pretty well. So we have a sort of an interesting divergence here in 2004. We have the possibility where Bush will become the first president since Herbert Hoover to have a net loss of jobs under his term, but at the same time have the stock market and the overall economic growth numbers look good. And it'll be fascinating to see how voters assess both of those in weighing how he's doing on bread and butter.
MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, here's the latest poll in South Carolina. John Edwards, as you can see there, with 21; John Kerry, 17; Al Sharpton, 15. Fifty percent of the people who vote in the South Carolina primary and Democratic primary are African-American. Wesley Clark, 14; Howard Dean, 9; Lieberman, 5; undecided, 18.
But we also saw polls in New Hampshire before the Iowa caucuses. A lot can happen. Tom, do you buy into David's theory that this primary fight could go on for some time?
MR. BROKAW: I do, because I think it will scatter out across the country. I think we all get so front- loaded and focused on New Hampshire and Iowa and make overarching conclusions about what's going on here. But there are still miles to go before we can sleep, and--to quote New England.
MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: My friend Brokaw's a poet, too. I can't believe it.
MR. BROKAW: And I actually think that the process will continue to be good for the party, because I think that they've gotten better along the way, each of them.
MR. RUSSERT: That has to be the last word. We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: Stay with the "NBC Nightly News" with Tom Brokaw and the "Today" show for the latest results in New Hampshire, and Decision 2004: complete coverage all day Tuesday and Tuesday night. That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.