Guest: Rick Davis, Steve McMahon, John Fund, Jay Carney
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight, the politics of war. General Schwarzkopf on the latest in Najaf and President Bush‘s plans for troop redeployment. Plus, political theater, the art of editing your opponent‘s words in the heat of a presidential campaign. Have the candidates gone too far? And Republican strategist Rick Davis and Democratic consultant Steve McMahon checking the partisan pulse. Seventy-seven days until the election day.
Live from Los Angeles, let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. The uprising in Najaf continues.
Radical Shi‘ite cleric Muqtada al Sadr refused to meet with a delegation of Iraqi political and religious leaders today and rebuffed their plea for him to convert his militia into a political organization. Meanwhile, delegates to the Iraqi government conference in Baghdad demanded for the first time ever that U.S. forces withdraw from Najaf.
General Norman Schwarzkopf led U.S. forces during Operation Desert Storm. General, what kind of predicament does that put our troops in, to have the host government, or at least a portion of it, asking us to leave the scene of a fight?
GEN. NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF, U.S. ARMY (RET.), NBC NEWS MILITARY ANALYST:
Well, you know, I‘m sure that nobody quite expected that to happen, particularly from the Shi‘ites. If there‘s one group of people that suffered more under the hands of Saddam Hussein than anybody else, it was the Shi‘ites by the thousands. And now they‘re the ones that are standing, you know, in the way of continuing with the building of the government on the basis of the fact that the U.S. has troops there. It‘s sort of an interesting situation.
MATTHEWS: Well, apparently, we got a quote here from one of the people over there, said they‘re forced to take an anti-American position in order to legitimatize themselves. Have we found ourselves into a Catch-22, where anybody who sides with us is unpopular in Iraq, and therefore, we have to find a way to be there with everyone saying we‘re no good being there?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, you and I both know it‘s not the first time we find ourselves in that situation.
MATTHEWS: Well, what do we do about it? We got troops in the field getting signals from the host country, at least a big portion of it, we got to get out of the action. Meanwhile, we got commanders stuck out there looking for orders from a host government now, an interim government that isn‘t our government. Whose side do we take? Do we take the side of the host government, the executive, which is an interim government, or do we take the side of the delegates yelling from the conference in Baghdad?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, I think, you know, we‘re committed to the host government, and obviously, that‘s who we‘re going it take our guidance from, as long as it makes sense. We‘re not going to do something stupid. We‘re not going to do something that risks the lives of an awful lot of our troops over there. But we‘ve got to continue to support the host government, at least for the time being, until all the chips are on the table.
MATTHEWS: Yes, the tricky part is deciding what the host government is. Is it the interim executive under Allawi, or is it these people yelling their lungs out in Barack—in Baghdad?
Let me ask you, General, about this war scenario. Before the war there was talk of a cakewalk, a lot of it. There was talk of decapitating the enemy, Saddam Hussein, and finding ourselves with a country joyous to be liberated. And now we find ourselves with almost 1,000 Americans killed -- Americans killed, it‘s getting close to that number, it‘s 944 today—
6,500 wounded, many of them, as you know, very seriously, amputees.
Why wasn‘t our intelligence operation up to telling our military people that that‘s what they‘re going to face when they got in country?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, you know, that‘s a very, very good question. I think—I think that we did take that into consideration in the planning. I‘m sure it was taken into consideration. We just guessed wrong. We got the wrong information about how severe the Shi‘ite resistance was going to be. We always knew that the Sunnis and Shi‘ites were fighting against each other. We knew the Kurds up north wanted a piece of the action, and they were all going to be looking for their share. But I don‘t think that even in our wildest dreams—our wildest nightmares, I guess I should say—did we believe that the Shi‘ites would go as far as they have gone in blocking the whole process.
I mean, this guy today was offered, let‘s face it, full amnesty and a position in the government, and he still turned it down. So I‘m not quite sure what else they can put on the plate.
MATTHEWS: But isn‘t nationalism a stronger force than money? Or a stronger force than being allowed to participate in somebody else‘s political theater? In other words, wouldn‘t he be better off politically to stand up against us, and then when we leave, he‘s the hero, rather than playing ball with us as an occupying force?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, that‘s probably what he intends to do. He wants to be a player. He wants to be a big-time player, and he knows that one of these days, we‘re going to withdraw, and maybe he‘s just sticking around, making sure everybody understands what he‘s looking for before the game.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about something that you, as a military man, know a hell of lot more than I do. That‘s the G2 role, the role of an intelligence officer supporting a commander like yourself. Are you concerned that under this new reorganization that‘s being proposed, that a national intelligence director would have the loyalty of intelligence officers in the field and their loyalty wouldn‘t be strictly and totally to their commanding officers?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, I certainly hope that‘s not the case. I don‘t mind at all, you know, having different opinions, but my intelligence officer has to report it to me like it is, like they see it.
And I tell you, I‘m following this very, very closely, this whole debate, because I‘ve been a victim of this stovepipe business, where right in the middle of the war, in the middle of the build-up to the war in Saudi Arabia, I found out that there was information that belonged—that was known to the station chief of CIA in country that would have been terribly important to me, and he would not report that information to me. He insisted on going back to his—to CIA headquarters, and then I had to raise hell about the fact that here I got somebody in my own command who was getting intelligence information that was very, very important to me, and I couldn‘t even get hold of it.
MATTHEWS: Suppose you wanted simple—something basic to the field of battle, like the order of battle from the other side, you want to know who you‘re up against tomorrow morning in a battle situation. Do you think it‘s appropriate for the G2, for the intelligence officer to have to get that information to his boss in Washington, the national intelligence director, before it gets to you?
SCHWARZKOPF: Absolutely not. That would be insane if that were ever set up.
MATTHEWS: That‘s what—Rumsfeld is with you on that because the secretary of defense is raising that very red flag. It‘s not a yellow flag, it‘s a red flag.
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes, I can‘t imagine, though, that that‘s what is going to be the ultimate outcome. You know, if my G2 doesn‘t report to me and reports to Washington D.C., believe me, I‘m going to get another G2 the very next day.
MATTHEWS: You won‘t be able to...
SCHWARZKOPF: Maybe sooner than that.
MATTHEWS: Maybe you won‘t be able to under this reorganization. He‘s going to be working for something called the national intelligence director, and he‘s going to be able to report up the comm (ph) to him some. I don‘t know. It‘s very confusing, but I understand what your concerns about having somebody reporting to you in the field, not reporting to some bureaucrat back in Washington.
Let me ask you about this—back to the subject at hand, this war and the casualties Americans are taking right over there, and they seem to be taking it on a relentless course. Do you have a sense that the American people are aware that we have 6,500 wounded coming out of this battle so far, out of this front?
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes, I think that they are. I think that they wish—just like everybody else, wish it would come to conclusion and come to a conclusion that was beneficial for all concerned. I think they know the price we paid in wounded. They certainly know the price we paid in dead. We get that reported to us every single day when something happens, and that‘s a true tragedy. So I think the American people are aware.
I think the American people are holding out hope that the situation is going to resolve itself, you know, within a given time. And of course, I think maybe national elections in Iraq is what the next step that they‘re looking to see what happens as a result of those.
MATTHEWS: Are you worried that we will be obeying a divided command over there, that we‘ll be obeying perhaps Allawi, who seems to be a good guy, the interim president over there, and we‘re also facing a local situation with regard to the Shia down south in Najaf? There‘s a leader down there—like him or not, he‘s a leader. He‘s got people behind him. He‘s got a militia. Where do we find the good guy? And is that a problem for our military, knowing who that is?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, I think...
MATTHEWS: Are we just taking (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from Washington?
SCHWARZKOPF: I think all of the above, really. You know, it‘s not going to be easy, but there‘s certain people that are rising to the top as being leaders. You‘re right, this guy is a great leader. He‘s just a leader in the wrong cause, and their cause is for himself, I think, very much so, and his religion that he believes very strongly in. but you know, that‘s the challenge that we face any time we go into this type of situation. And that‘s—you know, who are the good guys, who are the bad guys, who are the people you ultimately want to rise to the top and take over so you can get the hell out of there? And that‘s—you know, we faced that a lot of places, to include Vietnam.
MATTHEWS: Are you watching this tricky business of us trying to get the Iraqi government‘s forces—very weakly trained people, so far, at least, I guess—to in there and to raid that mosque, that highly-sensitive—I hate to use the word “sensitive,” but it is—a mosque that means a whole lot to the people over there in that religion, particularly the Shia. Do you think we can get away with us getting somebody else to do it for us, almost like the Cuban invasion in ‘61?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, we better have our act together, and we better be able to do it the right way. You know, I think it‘s about the third-ranking monument in the Shi‘ite religion and a very, very important place. I hope that they‘re smart—well, I know that they are. I know they‘re smart enough to understand the ramifications of going in there and destroying that place. And whoever ends up having to go in, or hopefully, they can continue the negotiate and come out with some negotiated position. But you‘ve hit the nail right on the head. We can‘t go in there and destroy the whole place...
MATTHEWS: Yes, we‘re looking at it, General...
SCHWARZKOPF: ... then walk away and declare victory.
MATTHEWS: It looks like a very fragile place. It‘s obviously a religious shrine. And it looks like any kind of mortar fire or any kind of shell fire would destroy this place on the inside. And do you think it‘s possible to get the Iraqi forces themselves to go in and fight with fellow Shia in a place like that? It looks like fighting in St. Patrick‘s in New York.
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes. Yes. That‘s a very good parallel you bring up there. That‘s...
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s appropriate for me. And you, too. But I think it‘s appropriate for any religion to realize what it would be like if it was your religion, that they‘re fighting in the cathedral of your own religious preference or background. Well, it‘s tricky.
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes, sometimes it isn‘t easy to tell who the good guys are. You know that from...
SCHWARZKOPF: No, you‘re absolutely right. We can‘t go in there. We can‘t blow the place up. We don‘t want to create a situation where they blow the same place up, like those fellows, 26 of them, I guess, with explosives strapped to their bodies that are prepared to blow themselves up and the shrine at the same time. So you know, once again, be sensitive—that word “sensitive,” that‘s popular these days.
MATTHEWS: No, I think that‘s the right word. I‘m with Kerry on that word because I remember we kept troops in Saudi Arabia for 10 years and drove a lot of these young zealots like Mohammed Atta, who led his force against us in New York and Washington because we stayed in his holy land for a decade without even giving it much thought. I think “sensitive” is probably the smart word, without taking sides. I think the president uses the word too, by the way.
We‘ll be coming right back with General Norman Schwarzkopf after—we‘re going to talk about President Bush‘s plan to bring some of those troops home, 70,000 U.S. troops home from Europe and Korea. We‘re coming back with more with General Schwarzkopf.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with General Norman Schwarzkopf. General, we‘ve got a guy in North Korea. We didn‘t pick him. Nobody did. His name is Jong Il. I guess he‘s leader for a lifetime or dear leader or something like that. He‘s putting back a couple fifths of Jack Daniel‘s every night, looking at porn movies. And now we‘re going to withdraw a third of our troops from the DMZ. Is it possible that might send him the wrong signal?
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes, well, it‘s very, very possible. But worse than that, it‘s going to send a very, very, very wrong signal to the people in South Korea. They‘re the ones that are going to be looking at what this is going to result in.
MATTHEWS: You know, you got all those—you know more than I—all the tunnels over there, all the crap that‘s been planned over there. The North Koreans, they‘re all obsessed about destroying the South. They‘ve got everybody within range in Seoul. Everybody‘s in range down there. They are building tunnels. They‘ve got them all underground there now. Withdrawing troops—is there any case for it that you can think of, at this point in history?
SCHWARZKOPF: Any case for it?
MATTHEWS: Any case for withdrawing troops from—our U.S. GIs from the DMZ? Apparently, we‘re drawing down by a third the number of troops we have there now.
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes, well, I‘m not surprised...
MATTHEWS: Under Doug Feith—under Doug Feith‘s new plan, the undersecretary‘s plan.
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes. No, I‘m not the least bit surprised by that. I got to tell you that I had a young officer that worked for me many, many years ago, and he was on Rumsfeld‘s planning staff when Rumsfeld first walked in the door. And he said from the very first day, that was the ultimate objective of Rumsfeld, was to—to reduce the size of the force and to streamline it, to modernize it, to—and you know—and sure enough, that‘s come to pass.
MATTHEWS: What about Europe? You know, we‘ve had a pretty good run with Germany the last half century. We‘ve had a good run with Britain, even occasionally with France. We‘ve had a good relationship with Europe, with the military alliance, NATO, et cetera, since World War II. Why do we want to pull troops out of there now and make it seem like Europe is yesterday? “Old Europe,” as Rummy calls it, or somebody calls it that. Is that the signal we want to send, we‘re out there alone now?
SCHWARZKOPF: No, I don‘t think so. I think the—you know, the bottom line is that the cold war is over, period. That‘s what we‘re saying. And you know, we don‘t need to have trip line troops over there. You know, once you‘ve crossed that line, you‘re at war. I think that we‘ve come to understand that—but you know, under the doctrine that Rumsfeld is advocating, that we‘re going to have these, you know, high-powered rapid reaction forces that can get over there very quickly and some kind of airplane that hasn‘t been invented yet or some kind of other way to get over there very quickly, and therefore, we don‘t need to have them in place at the time, we can get them there quick enough to something else about it -- that‘s going to be a very expensive proposition to put together, by the way.
MATTHEWS: Well, does this suggest—I don‘t want to be too diplomatic talking to a military man. But does this suggest an insensitivity to Europe to say, You were our friends a while ago. We got some new friends. We‘re primarily focused now on the Middle East, fighting the Arabs. We don‘t really need a frontline force in Europe. We don‘t need your alliance anymore. People are writing about that in the paper today, that the German-American relationship is founded on a close working-together relationship in defense of Europe and common interests.
If we drop that physical relationship of having men meet other men and women meet other women in a constant contact with the Germans, we‘re losing something important. Do you buy that or not?
SCHWARZKOPF: I buy it halfway. You know, we are leaving troops there. We are leaving families there, so it‘s not a complete withdrawal.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the other question. That‘s boots on the ground in Arab countries. Are you confident about putting more troops in places like Qatar? We put them in Saudi Arabia, and we got into a bit of trouble with a guy named bin Laden. Do you think we can be comfortable putting boot on the ground, regular basing of troops in that part of the world, the Mideast and the Persian Gulf, rather than Europe and in Asia? Are we safer putting them there?
SCHWARZKOPF: No, I don‘t think we‘re safer putting them there. They may be more available if you need them, but we need those kind of bases. I‘ll tell you, Qatar is amazing. When we first started dealing with Qatar, we were at odds-end (ph) against them. We had given the Bahrainis missiles and—or they had come—they had come—Qatar had come on air defense missiles and they wouldn‘t tell us where they got them from. And we had no diplomatic relations with Qatar at all. And my first visit was not the warmest in the world. But I‘m quite frankly amazed at what Qatar has allowed us to do in putting that headquarters there for this—for the battles that we‘re fighting now.
MATTHEWS: What do you think of the civilian leadership of the Defense Department that‘s making these decisions, especially Feith, the undersecretary? Tommy Franks wasn‘t too complimentary to him in his recent book. Is your sense that the civilians in the Defense Department now are smart about military tactics, or they‘re hopelessly ideological?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, I think they have a predetermined concept of exactly what it should be and the roles that they should be playing therein, and sometimes those roles, you know, overlap a little bit, and sometimes they‘re playing soldier when they really shouldn‘t be playing soldier at all. That‘s nothing new. As I said, I‘ve been in the Pentagon...
MATTHEWS: Well, but are these guys particularly un-street smart?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, I think that, you know, this—the questions you raise about Korea, what‘s it say to North Korea when we pull the troops out of there after—you know, and what‘s it say to the South Koreans—those sort of sensitivities I don‘t think were really considered, or may have been considered and just ignored in coming up with the final plan of what - - you know, the final plan has yet to see what exactly is going to happen and how it‘s going to transpire.
SCHWARZKOPF: Saying it‘s going to happen is one thing, but making it happen is something entirely different.
MATTHEWS: OK. We going to come back with one final segment. I want to talk about the stretching of our troops perhaps too thin around the world, and whether politically or whatever, we‘re going to be talking about some kind of conscription in this country. More with General Norman Schwarzkopf when we come back.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Norman Schwarzkopf, former general. General, let me ask you a question. General Shalikashvili, a friend of yours, I know, is in bad health right now. He‘s suffered a very serious stroke. He said something in a letter to the editor of “The Wall Street Journal” right before he was struck, saying that he thought generals, once they‘ve retired, should be allowed to have political opinions about their country and express them. Do you go along with that?
SCHWARZKOPF: Sure. I‘m—you know, once I‘m retired, yes, I‘m a retired general, but I‘m also a citizen of the United States of America, with all the rights that a citizen has. And I don‘t think there‘s anything wrong at all with somebody expressing their opinion. I‘ve expressed mine often enough, and I‘ve had people come back and express theirs, you know, in opposition to mine. That‘s the way a democracy works.
MATTHEWS: Who are you voting for?
SCHWARZKOPF: I‘ve—you know, I‘ve...
MATTHEWS: Boy, would I love to know!
SCHWARZKOPF: I‘ve always told you...
MATTHEWS: I‘d love to know.
SCHWARZKOPF: I‘ve always told you I‘m an independent.
MATTHEWS: But you got to vote, you know? Is it going to be for Bush, Kerry, or Nader. I don‘t think it‘s Nader, so how about one of the other two?
SCHWARZKOPF: What‘s wrong with Nader? You don‘t like Nader?
MATTHEWS: I‘m just—I don‘t think he‘s your man. I‘m just—I‘m trying to probe here, General. I‘m just probing. No comment?
SCHWARZKOPF: Let me put it this way. You know, I‘ll know exactly who I‘m voting for the day I pull the lever on that machine...
MATTHEWS: Tell me about...
SCHWARZKOPF: ... or push the buttons, whatever it happens to be.
MATTHEWS: Tell me about General Shalikashvili.
SCHWARZKOPF: A great, great soldier, a great human being, a fine gentleman. I met him the first time when I was a brigade commander in Fort Lewis and he was a Ranger battalion—or artillery battalion commander. And we—I just had great admiration for him. And then later on, when I was a corps commander out there, he came out and took command of the 9th Infantry Division. And once again, he—and by the way, he‘s got a great wife, too. She is just a lovely lady, and they‘re a great pair to command the troops in the government (ph).
MATTHEWS: Well, he‘s got a lot of guts saying what he did. I hope he gets—obviously, hope he gets through all this problem he‘s got with this stroke.
Let me ask you about the draft. You know, when you draw down forces by 70,000 troops in two different theaters, Asia and Europe, you got to wonder whether we‘re stretched too thin and whether we‘re getting to the end of the line in terms of the volunteer army. Do we have enough troops joining right now to meet our needs?
SCHWARZKOPF: Yes, I think we do now, and I don‘t think we should ever, ever consider the draft again. I‘ve got to tell you what. I‘ve been in both—the receiving end on both those—the all-volunteer force, and I was in the personnel business in the Army. We never had better troops than we have right now, who are these volunteers. And if we go back to the draft again, it—to me, it will be disastrous as far as the structure of the Army is concerned.
MATTHEWS: Doesn‘t it politically make it easier to go to war when the middle class and the people who get to go to college and have all the deferments, or whatever, even the college kids are all exempt from having to go, and it‘s just really working-class kids and a few others who join?
MATTHEWS: Well, basically, I‘m opposed to that, like anybody else is. That‘s why I say an all-volunteer force gives you the best type of force you can ever have. These kids out there today are very, very bright. They know what they want to do. They know what‘s—what‘s expected of them once they come into the Army.
You know, I like to point to the Rangers. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Rangers are, like, five-time volunteers, volunteer to come into the Army, volunteer to go to Ranger school, volunteer to be a paratrooper, I mean, and on and on and on. And they‘re there because they volunteered to be there. They know they‘ve volunteered, and they‘re going to do a great job. You know, and you give all of that up when you go to the draft and you start dragging people in who don‘t want to be there...
SCHWARZKOPF: ... and you‘re forced just to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
MATTHEWS: Well, General, let me ask you, do you think there‘s going to be a lot of recruitment going on when the young guy or young woman faces the prospect of storming a mosque in Najaf, with all the people in the city and the whole religion mad at for you doing it? Isn‘t it a little trickier career move than it used to be?
SCHWARZKOPF: Well, I like to think that the decision on those matters are going to be made by the commanders and not necessarily by the troops.
SCHWARZKOPF: And their commanders are going to make sure that the troops clearly understand why they‘re doing and how they‘re going to do it and make it happen.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.
SCHWARZKOPF: And you know, the commanders take care of the troops.
MATTHEWS: Take care of yourself. It‘s great having on you, as always, General Norman Schwarzkopf.
Up next: Strategists Steve McMahon and Rick Davis on whether the Bush campaign crossed the line by misquoting John Kerry on HARDBALL. You‘re watch it on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: This half hour on HARDBALL, did President Bush and the Republicans cross the line when they edited John Kerry‘s interview on HARDBALL for their purposes? Republicans strategist Rick Davis and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon will be here.
But first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC news desk.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Sometimes during a political campaign, success depends on your ability to spin your opponent‘s position so that you can chop it in half. It may or may not be fair, but it‘s a strategy that is on full display in this presidential campaign, and now HARDBALL is being used in the fight.
Here‘s HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The latest episode of what you might call historical revisionism came last week.
BUSH: And now almost two years after he voted for the war in Iraq and about 220 days after switching positions to declare himself the anti-war candidate, my opponent has found a new nuance.
SHUSTER: The problem is that John Kerry‘s position actually has not changed. And 220 days ago on HARDBALL, he did not declare himself the anti-war candidate. He answered this question.
MATTHEWS: Along with General Clark, along with Howard Dean, and not necessarily in companionship politically on the issue of the war with people like Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt. Are you one of the anti-war candidates?
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am—yes, in the sense that I don‘t believe the president took us to war as he should have, yes, absolutely.
SHUSTER: That explanation, however, is edited out on a video mailed to eight million voters and posted on a Republican Party Web site.
MATTHEWS: Are you one of the anti-war candidates?
KERRY: I am—yes.
SHUSTER: It‘s not the first time the Bush campaign has twisted Kerry‘s words or taken his position out of context.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kerry voted against parental notification for teenage abortions.
SHUSTER: Actually, 13 years ago Kerry voted against a Republican bill that had no notification exceptions and voted for a Democratic bill that had some.
Last year during a debate over the Patriot Act, Kerry joined Republicans in trying to modify the act by giving more power to judges. But the Bush ad said, incorrectly, Kerry tried to repeal it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While wiretaps, subpoena powers and surveillances are routinely used against drug dealers and organized crime, Kerry would now repeal the Patriotic Act‘s use of these tools against terrorists.
SHUSTER: And when it comes to taxes...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kerry supported higher taxes over 350 times.
SHUSTER: Independent groups say the numbers are bogus, and that the Bush campaign counted some Kerry votes for lower taxes as a vote for higher ones.
The Democrats have also played fast and loose.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When President Bush says that he is going to help companies outsource jobs, it‘s infuriating.
SHUSTER: It might be infuriating, except the president never said that. He spoke about companies being able to compete.
And on Iraq contracts, despite a congressional watchdog review that found Halliburton, quote, “generally complied with applicable laws and regulations governing competition,” this ad said...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Bush administration gave Dick Cheney‘s old company no-bid contracts for Iraq on a silver platter.
SHUSTER (on camera): Democrats say, however, there‘s a difference between an independent group getting it wrong and a candidate, such as President Bush, stating something false himself. Republicans say President Bush has been accurate and is simply boiling down John Kerry‘s complexities.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
MATTHEWS: Rick Davis is a Republican strategist. He ran John McCain‘s 2000 presidential campaign. Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist, who recently advised Howard Dean‘s presidential campaign. You guys are about equally lucky, but let me ask you, Rick, about this simple question. Should the president be manipulating the words spoken on this program?
RICK DAVIS, REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: You know, I don‘t think he is manipulating them to the wrong degree. In other words, you can debate whether this is manipulation or not, but I don‘t think you can really debate that John Kerry has tried to hedge his position on this war and tried to play it both ways.
MATTHEWS: I agree with you, I agree he has hedged, but let me ask you this...
DAVIS: And that‘s how (ph) he communicated.
MATTHEWS: ... did he ever declare himself the anti-war candidate on this program? Because I‘m looking for evidence that he did.
DAVIS: Well, I‘m not—I listened to that whole tape of yours, I‘m not sure what his position was. I mean, that he would fight the war a different way, or that he wouldn‘t fight the war at all? I mean, what was the answer to the question you asked?
MATTHEWS: Did he—well, the question I put to him is, are you one of the anti-war candidates...
DAVIS: Anti-war. And he said, yes, I am.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s listen to the full sentence, Rick.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s listen to the full sentence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Do you think you belong in that category of candidates who more or less are unhappy with this war, the way it‘s been fought, along with General Clark, along with Howard Dean, and not necessarily in companionship politically on the issue of the war with people like Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt. Are you one of the anti-war candidates?
KERRY: I am—yes, in a sense that I don‘t believe the president took us to war as he should have, yes, absolutely. Do I think this president violated his promises to America? Yes, I do, Chris. Was there a way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable? You bet there was, and we should have done it right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: But for better or worse, Rick, that is the consistent line from Kerry that he didn‘t like the way we went to war. We rushed to war. He has never said, I‘m against going to war. I—by the way, I was trying to get him to say it, and he wouldn‘t give me a clear-cut answer.
DAVIS: Well, that‘s the problem with John Kerry.
MATTHEWS: You can accuse him of being wishy-washy—you can...
MATTHEWS: ... accuse him of being wishy-washy or a flip-flopper, but not both, and I think the president is saying he declared himself the anti-war candidate on this show. I don‘t think we have evidence of that. I think the president has to fix this.
But let‘s go to Steve and ask him what he thinks.
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Chris, not only do we not have evidence of it, we have evidence of just the opposite. What John Kerry did—you know, I was involved in the primary campaign, where the war was a very, very big issue.
John Kerry cast his vote and stood his ground. And what he did when he cast that vote was he believed the president of the United States when the president said he would go to war as a last resort. He believed the president when the president said he would try to involve other nations. He believed the president when the president said he had a plan to win the peace and not just the war.
It‘s not surprising that George Bush has resorted to the old tactics. What is surprising is that Rick would sit here and defend him. I mean, Rick‘s candidate, John McCain, in 2000, was the victim of a similar set of scurrilous lies that came out of the Bush campaign, and frankly it was disgusting then, it was reprehensible then, and it‘s reprehensible now. This is not an honest ad, and it‘s exactly the kind of thing that Senator McCain tried to outlaw in McCain-Feingold.
MATTHEWS: I‘m not—I‘m not going to go to mat with this. I‘m going to try it one more time with Rick. It‘s not the most important thing in my life. It‘s what I do here is try to get these guys straight.
Do you think it‘s fair for either party, Rick, to crop a sentence? Like, you know, it‘s just like cropping a picture, it seems to me. If you showed me a picture of standing next to Kerry, and I‘m also standing next to Bush on the other side, and just showed me with Kerry, I don‘t think that would be an honest picture.
Is it fair to take a picture of a sentence and just cut out a part of the sentence?
DAVIS: Yeah, the reality is, I think...
MATTHEWS: Is that fair?
DAVIS: The RNC would have been better served to play that whole clip, because I don‘t think you would understand what Kerry‘s position is on the war by reading that clip.
MATTHEWS: I think you‘re right. So he‘s wishy-washy.
DAVIS: I think the more you play it, the better it is for George Bush.
MATTHEWS: So he is not a flip-flopper, he is a wishy-washy candidate.
MATTHEWS: I like wishy-washy better, because is he somewhere in the middle. Go ahead.
MCMAHON: Chris, it‘s just not true. It‘s not wishy-washy to say I cast a vote. I believed the president. It turns out the president wasn‘t truthful and he changed the rules. I mean, Howard Dean...
MATTHEWS: But why doesn‘t John Kerry say now he shouldn‘t have voted for the war?
DAVIS: Yeah, he cast a vote that says, let‘s go for the war, but I don‘t want to authorize the $87 billion to fight the war.
MATTHEWS: No, no, but...
DAVIS: What is his explanation for that?
MATTHEWS: A narrower question for that, why does the candidate for president say he would have voted for going to war with Iraq even though the No. 1 reason for going to war with Iraq, according to what the president told the world, was WMD.
MCMAHON: Well, here is what he did. He voted to give the president authority, and he made that—listen, we pounded him in the primaries on this. He didn‘t give an inch. He voted to give the president the authority to do what the president promised he would do, to bring in other nations, to involve the world, to put pressure on Saddam, and to go to war as a last resort. The president didn‘t do that. He rushed in.
MATTHEWS: Rick, pretend that we‘re in the middle of the night and we can‘t get any sleep. Let‘s turn over the pillow, OK? (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
Let‘s try something new.
DAVIS: I‘m for it.
MATTHEWS: McGreevey, should this guy just get out of town, go...
MATTHEWS: ... wherever his friend went, just get out of town and stop pretending he‘s governor?
DAVIS: Do we have to be (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
MATTHEWS: No, no, come on, you don‘t talk like that. Come on. Let me ask you this, Rick, without any nuances or double entendres, do you think the guy should just give it up and get out of there?
DAVIS: Yeah, he should have given it up and gotten out of there at his press conference. It‘s an embarrassing to the people in New Jersey that they‘re being manipulated politically by a guy who‘s on his way out the door. Don‘t let the screen door hit you on the way out, McGreevey. You ought to get out, and the Democrats in your state are going to run you out. I think within 48 hours, they‘ll have an election announced for this November.
MATTHEWS: You think so? How do the Democrats get the governor to do something that only he has the power to do?
DAVIS: Because what‘s happened is, they‘ve now opposed, Democrats, both in the northern part of New Jersey and the southern part of New Jersey, who can never agree on anything, have now gone to McGreevey and said, look, we don‘t want the Senate president to be the governor for two years without anybody outside of his district voting for him.
And you‘ve got Corzine out there lobbying for the job.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask Steve McMahon—let me ask McMahon—Steve—the trickier question. Not whether he should go or not, because I know deep down you know he has got to go, but how does Corzine run the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, recruiting candidates and hoping to take over the Senate this November, and then put himself on the ballot to run for governor this November? How does he do it?
MCMAHON: Well, I‘m not sure that he does, but if he does, you know, he is perfectly...
MATTHEWS: What would you advise him to do?
MCMAHON: I would advise him to do whatever he thinks is best for the state of New Jersey. I mean, look, New Jersey is a little bit like the Balkans. You have got a whole group of people that want McGreevey gone because they don‘t like McGreevey or because McGreevey, you know, did something to them politically. And then you have got a group of people that want McGreevey to stay, including the Senate president, who will become governor. And you‘ve got Senator Corzine, who is in a wonderful position. He could be treasury secretary in a Kerry administration. He could take over the Senate for Democrats. He could be governor. He can basically pick what he wants to be, and, you know, if you are a politician, there‘s no greater place to be on Earth than there.
MATTHEWS: Do you think Governor McGreevey is hiding behind his sexual identity?
MCMAHON: No, I don‘t.
MATTHEWS: Playing to the gay groups around the country and saying I‘m one of you, back me up?
MCMAHON: No, no.
MATTHEWS: He is not doing that?
MCMAHON: Chris, come on. The list of...
MATTHEWS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that‘s why I‘m asking the question. I don‘t have to come on. I just got to ask you the question. Do you think he‘s playing politics, sexual politics here?
MCMAHON: No. No, the list of politicians in this country who have had affairs with staff members and who haven‘t even suggested that perhaps they would resign at any point is long, and we both know it covers both sides of the aisle quite well.
I think McGreevey is basically doing what he thinks is best for the state. His political career is finished. He knows that.
MATTHEWS: When did he start doing that? When he did he start doing that?
MCMAHON: Well, I think when he—when it became clear to him how this was going to unravel and play out in the press.
MATTHEWS: You mean when he got caught?
MCMAHON: Yeah, right, when he got caught, but that‘s what happens all the time, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Do you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) doing the best thing for the state of New Jersey after being caught. That‘s an interesting morality.
MATTHEWS: Rick? Rick, would you jump on this one?
DAVIS: No, I‘m enjoying this conversation.
MATTHEWS: It‘s an amazing accusation to say, I became an honest guy in public service the day he got caught.
MCMAHON: No, no, that‘s not what I said. What I‘m saying is, when it became clear to him what the impact was going to be on the state, he did the right thing. He announced he was going to resign. He announced the reasons.
MATTHEWS: What did he think the impact would be of naming his boyfriend head of security and homeland security for the state of New Jersey? What do you think he thought the impact would be of that a few weeks after 9/11?
MCMAHON: Chris, listen, I don‘t condone anything he did, but I‘m also not Polyannish enough to believe it doesn‘t happen every single day in government and in politics all over this town on both sides of the aisle.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t think—you don‘t think—you don‘t think this is pushing the envelope?
MCMAHON: Sure, of course...
MATTHEWS: ... of corruption?
MCMAHON: ... it‘s pushing the envelope. Of course it‘s pushing the envelope.
DAVIS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) envelope of corruption, which is why they‘re going to have an election and not allow this governor to decide the future of New Jersey.
MCMAHON: You know what, at the end of the day, at the end of the day, Jim McGreevey didn‘t go to Congress and mislead the world and take a country to war and where people died.
DAVIS: No, how can you compare what‘s going on in the presidential race with Jim McGreevey, whose top fund-raisers have been under federal indictment and pleaded guilty to...
DAVIS: ... corruption...
DAVIS: ... lied to the people of New Jersey.
MATTHEWS: Steve, you gave him his defense. I did have sexual relation with that man.
MATTHEWS: That‘s his defense.
DAVIS: ... take yes for an answer.
MATTHEWS: And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s free daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, I love it, hardball.MSNBC.com. You are watching it on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, HARDBALL politics. Did President Bush cross the line when he edited John Kerry‘s interview on HARDBALL about where he stood on the Iraq war? HARDBALL, back after this.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with political strategists Steve McMahon and Rick Davis.
Steve, let me ask you about the debates coming up. It looks to me like something is going on in those debate commissions, whereby Dick Cheney is going to be allowed to sit down for an hour and a half like he did and schmooze with Joe—what‘s his name last time. If he gets to do that again, he can‘t be beat. What kind of a debate is this sitdown over drinks or whatever it is?
MCMAHON: Listen, I don‘t think it matters how Vice President Cheney...
MATTHEWS: It doesn‘t?
MCMAHON: ... appears at the debate, whether he stands or sits. He is going to have to explain the president‘s policies that resulted in an administration that has the first net job loss since Herbert Hoover, how we got into a war that we shouldn‘t have gotten into, and why the intelligence was so badly misstated, why the tax cuts have benefited the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the middle class. Are something we should extend and not repeal, so we can provide health insurance for every American. He has got a tough...
MATTHEWS: You don‘t think Joe Lieberman—Joe Lieberman got taken to the showers because of the setup where they‘re sitting down and schmoozing, telling jokes with each other, when they should have been having a hard debate? You don‘t think that helped the Republican incumbent—or helped the Republican candidate?
MCMAHON: I think those kind of situations help the challenger, not the incumbent, and in this case the incumbent is going to be Cheney, and he is the one who is going to have a lot of explaining to do. Whether he is sitting or standing, I think is less relevant than whether or not he is going to stand behind these policies and defend them, you know, effectively, and I just don‘t think they‘re defensible, and apparently the American public agrees.
If you look at the poll numbers right now in the right direction, wrong track, job approval rating, just about any domestic internal rating, and even the war in Iraq, which is supposed to be the president‘s great strength, his numbers are upside down. So he‘s going to have a tough time climbing out of the hole, and I don‘t think Dick Cheney helps him.
MATTHEWS: Rick, is President Bush going to agree to three debates and a vice presidential debate according to commission report?
DAVIS: Well, you know...
MATTHEWS: I hear the buzz out there is he is going to try to chop it down to two, which exposes him less.
DAVIS: You know what, maybe I‘m wrong about this, but I think George Bush is in a unique position where he wants to expose John Kerry to the American public as often as possible, because only under those conditions will people see the way, as you say, he hedges, he flip-flops. You know, he gets into these kind of situations. George Bush ...
MATTHEWS: I say hedges, you say flip-flops. No, Rick, when I say hedges, you say flip-flops. Let‘s get that straight.
MCMAHON: I say tomatoes, you say tomatoes.
DAVIS: But my point is, that I think a little public scrutiny of John Kerry. I mean, everybody knows George Bush. It‘s unlikely they‘re going to change a lot of their opinions about him from a debate. But people will change their opinion about John Kerry if they see him up close and personal.
MATTHEWS: Do you think—getting back to my first question, Rick, you think the president should chicken out of those three debates and go for two so he doesn‘t get as exposed? What‘s your position?
DAVIS: No, I think he ought to take the three debates, because, again, I think the more he sees—the more public sees of John Kerry, the better it is for George Bush.
MATTHEWS: I like these guys. Two human beings. Steve McMahon, three syllables, Steve McMahon. Anyway, and Rick Davis is only three syllables. When we come back, we‘ll find out what the White House is saying about all this, with “Time” magazine White House reporter Jay Carney. And “The Wall Street Journal‘s” John Fund. And don‘t forget, you can keep up with the race on Hardblogger, our election blog Web site. Rick Davis posted a blog this evening, just tonight! Go on hardball.MSNBC.com. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Jay Carney covers the White House for “Time” and John Fund is with “The Wall Street Journal.”
Jay, what are they saying at the White House, if anything, about the president‘s statement that John Kerry declared himself the anti-war candidate on this program?
JAY CARNEY, “TIME” MAGAZINE: Well, they love it, Chris. They love the debate. They‘re happy to argue with you that he essentially said he was the anti-war candidate, just like Matthew Dowd, Bush‘s chief strategist said on your program last night. And they figure the more often this is debated on television and the more often that clip is shown, the better it is for Bush, because at the very least, they assume, while Bush may be taking a hit for misrepresenting what Kerry said specifically, Kerry looks bad because he looks wishy-washy and is trying to have it all ways.
MATTHEWS: Well, he is wishy-washy. Let me ask—let me go to Fundy (ph) for a second. John, John, I‘m in a mixed position here as an analyst. I think he has made an effort to go right down the middle so that he doesn‘t offend either side on the issue of the war, but I don‘t think he has been jerking back and forth as much as the president said in that statement. When the president said, he voted for the war, he says he voted for the resolution, and then he called himself the anti-war candidate—all he did was say over again what he had done before. He said he voted for the resolution; basically I‘m an anti-war—I‘m—yes, but in the sense that I believe the president took us to war not as he should have.
But you know, I think it sounds like the same John Kerry over and over again.
JOHN FUND, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Chris, I just listened to your explanation, I couldn‘t understand it. I think he has circled the middle, I think he‘s jumped over the middle, I think he squared the middle. I don‘t know where in the world he is.
MATTHEWS: But is he zig-zagging?
MATTHEWS: Is he doing what the president said he said? He never said on this show, “I declare myself the anti-war candidate.” There was a long sentence he gave, which covered him.
FUND: No, no, it basically confused everyone, including himself, I think.
Chris, I‘m a journalist, I am always in favor of context. I think the whole sentence should have been put in. And I have talked to Republicans today. I think if you go back to that Web site later today or tomorrow, you are going to find the whole sentence there.
I think your audience should judge for themselves. They should go to John Kerry‘s Web site, try to figure out what in the world he is saying, and then go to KerryonIraq.com, and watch the whole 12-minute video. Rudy Giuliani said it‘s required viewing.
MATTHEWS: Fair enough. It is murky. Let me go—but as long as the White House is enjoying this, I just want to make them happy—just kidding.
Let me ask you this, Jay, about this whole question of the debates. Do you believe, covering the White House every day, that we will have those regular debates, three with the president and one with the vice presidential candidates? Do you think that‘s going to come about?
CARNEY: I think they will happen, because remember, in 2000, Chris, one of the serious missteps of the Bush campaign was to try to get out of the debates, to try to change the format, maybe have a debate on “LARRY KING LIVE” or something like that, and they really got hammered for trying to mess around with that.
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t that ironic, isn‘t that ironic, because they won the debates.
CARNEY: Right. And I think Rick Davis is probably correct, that in the end, the Bush campaign probably looks forward to the debates, as an opportunity at the very least for Bush to be a known quantity and for Kerry to make some sort of mistake that hurts him. So my guess is they will have the debates.
I do think you are right about the sit-downs. The sit-downs are definitely not in the Democrats‘ interest, with Cheney or with Bush. They‘d much rather have them standing up.
MATTHEWS: I think standing up creates a more arch environment, a more formal environment, more stark. One side against—it‘s so adversarial. Personally, I would rather see an adversarial...
CARNEY: A real debate.
MATTHEWS: A real debate.
Well, let me ask John what you think. And I noticed it‘s not a partisan question. Would you rather see a debate with two guys slugging it out or two guys schmoozing at a table like they‘re having drinks together?
FUND: I would like to have a mixed format. You know, they could have the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) around, they can have them sitting down, they could have them standing up.
I think what‘s more important is the expectations game, Chris. You are going to have fascinating byplay here. You‘re going to have both Kerry and Bush downplaying their debate chances, basically poor-mouthing their own chances.
MATTHEWS: You‘re right.
FUND: And so both sides recognize that Al Gore lost the debates in 2000 because everybody thought he would be the superior debater. Actually, he turned out to be like a snooty French waiter, and the American people turned against him.
MATTHEWS: I think you‘re right. Well, this time around, who is going to be the snooty French waiter?
FUND: Well, I‘m not going there, Chris. That‘s too easy.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think it‘s got an interesting—as always, there will be asymmetric warfare. One guy will be good at the personality, the other guy maybe better on the policy arguments. We‘ll see. Anyway, thank you very much, John Fund and Jay Carney.
We have a little more time here. On this McGreevey thing, John, should this guy walk and get out of there, do you think, just get it over this, the governor, after all this mess?
FUND: He‘s history. He will be history in 24 hours. The real story, Chris, is New Jersey has been corruptly run and badly governed by people in both parties. The state is sick. It needs a thorough house-cleaning. It needs old-fashioned, nonpartisan reform, and whichever party picks up that mantle is I think a party that is going to attract a lot of independent voters that are just sick of what this state has become.
And it‘s the state with the second highest per capita income, the highest education levels, and look what—how it‘s gotten.
MATTHEWS: Well, with states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, when they get too much sleaze, they always elect a WASP, under the theory that WASPs don‘t steal. What do you think of that, John? Let‘s go to Carney on that one. Are we going to have someone like Tom Kean...
CARNEY: Well, let me talk to you about WASPs.
MATTHEWS: ... or Christie Todd Whitman or Bill Scranton coming in there?
CARNEY: Well, no, I don‘t see Christie Todd Whitman coming back. But you know, I think Jon Corzine is the most likely future governor of New Jersey, and that‘s why Democrats are putting pressure on McGreevey right now, because they realize that if there‘s a scenario where McGreevey so sours the state...
MATTHEWS: OK, got to go.
CARNEY: ... on the Democrats, that there is a chance for Republicans to win, they could be in trouble.
MATTHEWS: I think Corzine is Belgian or something like that.
Anyway, thank you, Jay Carney; thank you, John Fund. Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. We‘ll be joined by former presidential candidate Howard Dean. Right now it‘s time for the COUNTDOWN with Keith.
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