'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Sept. 29

Guests: Jay Rockefeller, Orrin Hatch, David Ignatius, David Gergen, Anne Kornblut, Richard Holbrooke

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Thousands of journalists and politicians are already in Florida for what history says will be the decisive night of the 2004 election.  Tomorrow‘s first presidential debate.  How important are these debates?  History shows if you win the debates, you win the election.  Lose the debates, you lose the election.  Ladies and gentlemen, those are the stakes.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL‘S special coverage of the first presidential debate.  We‘re live, as you can see, from the student center at the University of Miami in beautiful Coral Gables surrounded by students and neighbors. 

And tomorrow night, a short walk from where I am sitting right now, President Bush and his challenger, Senator Kerry will face each other for the first time before a huge American audience for a debate that history says will decide this election. 

To help us preview the debate, and the candidates‘ preparations for the debate, we‘ve assembled top journalists and political professionals to weigh the stakes and try to assess the strategies.  Including tonight, a crack team of NBC News reporters, and state-of-the-art political pros. 

Joe Trippi, and until recently, top Bush election attorney Ben Ginsberg, former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who is helping Kerry, “Washington Post” columnist David Ignacius, four-time presidential adviser David Gergen, and U.S. Senators Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, and Orin Hatch, Republican of Utah. 

But first, our panel, sitting to my left.  Tonight, NBC White House correspondent Norah O‘Donnell, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman who is also an MSNBC analyst, Ann Kornblut of the “Boston Globe”  and MSNBC‘s Patrick J.  Buchanan.  Thanks for joining us tonight. 

You know, I have to start off—we‘re going to deal with the crowd as we go along here tonight.  We are in fact the guests at the University of Miami, as you can tell.  A school which is taking an unusual intense interest in this election, because we‘re here for the first debate, of course.  What an honor it is for President Donna Shalala of the University of Miami to have this amazing event here tomorrow night. 

And the quote, the question raised about himself by Jim Stockdale in an earlier debate back in 1992, who are we and why are we here?  I‘m going to start with Norah O‘Donnell.  It is a very tough question.  What are you going to do as a reporter watching this debate the next couple nights?  To try to understand the report. 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s the ultimate job interview, the debate.  And voters decide whether to hire or fire you.  So, who connects best with voters sitting at home in their living room, and who explains better why the other person is unfit to be commander in chief.  They‘re simple goals that they will to have achieve, and who speaks most clearly about their own record.  And explains their own record.

MATTHEWS:  And if President Bush fails in this debate and subsequent debates, do the American people look at him and say you‘re fired?

Is that what happens? 

O‘DONNELL:  You know, that was like, I set you up for that line, wasn‘t it? 

MATTHEWS:  I like being Donald Trump, if only for a moment.  Howard Fineman, what are you going to do here the next couple nights? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, without being grandiose about it, we‘re here because of them.  Because the country and the young people here deserve a real debate about foreign policy and defense policy and the war in Iraq.

ANNE KORNBLUT, “BOSTON GLOBE”:  I guess I shouldn‘t say we‘re here for the weather, the restaurants, after all this.  I think we‘re here, especially the print reporters, we‘re here for the turning point, the big moment in the debate when something happens.  I mean, this is going to be one of the most...

MATTHEWS:  Will you know it when you see it, Anne, do you think? 

KORNBLUT:  I would like to think so.  The buzz starts, usually starts, in the filing center where we‘re all sitting. 

MATTHEWS:  You anticipate the big night tomorrow night, that it will be a moment of failure or success?  In other words, will one candidate blow it by saying, Poland is free when it is under the iron curtain?  Or will it be a great commentary on our times by one of the candidates?

KORNBLUT:  One candidates success could well be the other one‘s failure.  So, I think we‘ll see both at the same time.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s some game. 

KORNBLUT:  Don‘t you think? 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a reasonable proposition.  Patrick Buchanan, you‘ve been in presidential debates as a participant. 

PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC:  I‘m here to see history made, Chris.  I think the president of the United States has an opportunity to put this race away tomorrow night if he stays on message, if he stays on the offensive and he avoids one of those moments like, you know, bring it on or something like that, showing arrogance or something.  I think there‘s a real possibility that this election could be decided in the first half-hour or hour here tomorrow night. 

MATTHEWS:  Can he say something here tomorrow night that will win and earn the support of traditional American conservatives like Patrick Buchanan? 

BUCHANAN:  I believe that John Kerry, because of his campaign and because of the attacks on Kerry and the perception that he‘s a Massachusetts liberal and a waffler, he has brought home almost all the conservatives and the Republicans to George Bush.  John Kerry, Chris, has just, has a hellish job tomorrow night.  It is difficult to figure out how he‘s going to succeed.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go around the table, starting with Norah.  What do you know about the preps?  What are these guys trying to accomplish?  Let‘s start around the table with Kerry.  Because I know Anne Korblut and the Globe has lots of insight here.  What do you hear about what Kerry is up to tomorrow?  Any word about what he is up to? 

KORNBLUT:  Kerry has to answer in short answers.  He has to explain himself. 

MATTHEWS:  Because? 

KORBLUT:  Because he has been painted as inconsistent on Iraq.  As a flip-flopper. 

He has to answer that in a clear way.  He has to do a better job than did he this morning on “Good Morning America.”  In particularly, one of the most, the lines that the president use that‘s resonates most around this country is, you voted for the war and then you didn‘t vote to fund the troops, the $87 billion.  Kerry has to explain that tomorrow night.  He has to explain why he voted those two ways.  The American people don‘t yet understand that.  That‘s what‘s weighing him down.

MATTHEWS:  Did he hurt himself this morning?  Tell us what he said at the G.M.A. interview this morning. 

KORNBLUT:  He may have hurt himself, he may have helped himself. 

MATTHEWS:  What did he say? 

KORNBLUT:  He was asked why he made that comment.  I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it.  He said to Diane Sawyer, well, I was very tired.  I made it late at night.  In fact, he made it at a noontime rally.  And so the Bush campaign said he must have been checking Paris time on his watch.  It‘s a low blow, but it is sort of the mocking that they have done of Senator Kerry to great effect.  Making fun of him in a way that resonates perhaps with voters.  And it is part of the skill that they‘ve used.

MATTHEWS:  Kerry, what does he have to do, Howard? 

FINEMAN:  He has lots of things to do.  He has to speak clearly and concisely, as Norah says.  He has got to lay down the attack on George Bush‘s foreign policy without being disrespectful.  He has to say there were more terrorist deaths around the world this year than ever.  That thousand of Americans died, #200 billion spent, Iraq is less safe, we are less safe. 

He has to do that.  And then he has to explain clearly and simply, how his plan to fight the war on terrorism is different from and better than George Bush‘s.  He has a lot of things to do, and he has got to do it in a concise way. 

One of the things the prepers are working on is how to be concise.  And how to make that attack concisely.  Because he hasn‘t done it in the campaign yet. 

MATTHEWS:  When he accepted the nomination up in Boston, his way of dealing with time limits was to talk faster.  I‘m the last person that should complaining about that.  But if he tries to get in a 1,000 words in 100 words‘ space, will he hurt himself? 

FINEMAN:  Absolutely.  He did at the convention, our carly (ph) Joe Scarborough was right about that.  He did hurt himself in that way.  He has got to eliminate the word “but” from his vocabulary.  Everything can‘t be an either-or proposition.  This is night when John Kerry has to eliminate the if‘s, and‘s and but‘s from his speech if he can. 

MATTHEWS:  Anne, you worked for the Boston Globe. you know John Kerry.  You worked with John Kerry, you know John Kerry et cetera.  Can he kill Senate speech?  Can he kill the 20-year habit of talking like a senator from Massachusetts in one night? 

KORNBLUT:  Look, I think the expectations now have been set so low for Senator Kerry.  He comes out and utters a single declarative sentence, I think we will say that he mastered that art.  So, I think actually, you know, the bar is so low for Kerry that it may not be as difficult as we‘re all making it sound for him to come out there... 

MATTHEWS:  So, do you think he‘ll be able to speak a New York Daily News English? 

KORNBLUT:  I don‘t know if he‘s going to be speaking in headlines. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I just mean active verb, simple sentences. 

KORNBLUT:  He certainly—what we‘ve seen for a long time now is the Bush campaign extracting sentences from Kerry‘s speeches that really don‘t make him look very good. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re not always honest about it, to be fair. 

KORNBLUT:  Sometimes they‘re not.  At other points in the same speech, he makes simple declare I have the sentences.  I think we might be surprised. 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s not only has the problem of the flip-flopper.  If he does what Howard said, if he goes after it too hard, the thousand dead, we‘re losing this, things are going to hell in a hand basket, it looks like he‘s poor mouthing America in a time of war, Chris.  The most powerful card in American politics is the patriot card.  No anti-war candidate in a war in the United States has ever won.  It is a very difficult thing to do.  He has to do the second half of Howard‘s thing and come around and I‘m a fighting, a fighter in the war on terror.  Bin Laden goes down. 

FINEMAN:  He has to say he shares the freedom of—the goal of freedom around the world.  He just would just do it differently. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to come back and ask everybody why the president runs the risk of being too rosie in his outlook and giving Kerry the opportunity to give a reality check.  Coming back with the panle.  We‘re going to be talking to Kerry campaign adviser... 



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ...as NBC dispatched identical telegrams both Mr.  Nixon and to Senator Kennedy.  The telegrams invited the candidates to join in the great. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over):  The presidential campaign was forever changed in 1960 when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in four nationally televised debates.  In their first match-up, Nixon refused to wear make-up and Kennedy stole the show. 



MATTHEWS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  We‘re going to be going to him right now.  The Bush campaign declined to give us someone to come up against Richard Holbrooke.  I guess they‘re afraid of him tonight.  Ambassador Holbrooke, thank you for joining us.  You‘ve been working with the candidate, Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president in preparation for tomorrow night‘s debate.  What advice have you given him? 

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FMR. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.:  Are those people cheering for you, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  I think (UNINTELLIGIBLE) your eminence has preceded you.

HOLBROOKE:  You just score a touchdown or something down there?  Is Donna Shalala down there or something? 

MATTHEWS:  She‘s here.  But I want to ask you, sir, stop killing time. 

There‘s a time limit on this program as well as the debates tomorrow night. 

What does your candidate have to do tomorrow night to succeed? 

HOLBROOKE:  I think that it is a great opportunity for him to tell the American public the truth, undiluted by these bizarre, disinformation ads like one I saw a few hours ago, virgin McCarthyism where they show Osama bin Laden and they show Mohammed Atta and they imply somehow a connection with John Kerry.  He‘s going to get his message out.  He has a clean shot.  The president will be unscripted and will have to deal with the realities of Iraq and other national security issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe he will challenge the president on those advertisements and say, Mr. President, I served this country, I faced the fire of the enemy, I don‘t think my patriotism should be questioned. 

HOLBROOKE:  I don‘t know what he will do.  If I did know, I couldn‘t tell you.  All you can do is speculate.  I listened to your panel just now.  And I thought they made some very good points, particularly Howard Fineman. 

See, I‘m just sucking up to Howard again. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That will get me.  That and a dollar will get me a cup of coffee in the student union. 

HOLBROOKE:  But I think that the issue here is clear.  Iraq is not going as well as the president and his senior advisers have said it is.  And the senior advisers are publicly disagreeing with each other and with him.  The American public will have to decide whether they want to offer four more years to an administration which has misled them on Iraq from the get-go on weapons of mass destruction, on democracy, dancing in the streets, and is presumably therefore telling them about future events and an equally overtly optimistic rose-colored way. 

MATTHEWS:  The challenge, it seems to me, faced by your candidate, John Kerry, is that all those things you‘ve said, he said before.  And yet, almost half the American people believe that Iraq was involved in an attack on our country on 9/11.  The vice president continues to suggest that there was a threat from nuclear weaponry from Saddam Hussein, that it was in fact a connection to al Qaeda.  They continue to say that the construction efforts over there are going along well.  And they‘re not being reported sufficiently by the American press.  In other words, their argument will stand tomorrow night.  When will yours begin to sell? 

HOLBROOKE:  First, I challenge every premise in your question.  According to the polling data, over half the public knows the truth, despite the administration misleading it.  And the other half has to just learn by listening to reality.  And I think your question is frankly not fairly phrased, Chris.  The fact is that the administration has been successful in fooling some of the people all of the time and most of the people some of the time...


MATTHEWS:  I have fresh information on public opinion.  And the opinion is that the president would do a better job in handling the situation in Iraq than your candidate.  Isn‘t that a challenge for him tomorrow night? 

HOLBROOKE:  That is because the president and the administration misled the public on the reality in Iraq.  And the public has to look at the reality.  Look, it comes down to this.  If the president, Donald Rumsfeld and his colleagues and Dick Cheney are right, then NBC News is wrong.  Then Fox News is wrong.  Then CNN and CBS and ABC are all wrong because you can‘t have it both ways.  Even “Newsweek” is wrong if the president is right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me to go Pat Buchanan.  Pat, take over here with Ambassador Holbrooke.  Your questions.

BUCHANAN:  Ambassador Holbrooke, it appears to me that the country believes directly that we‘re moving in the wrong direction, it believes that the Iraq war was not worth the cost but it is also prepared to reelect the president of the United States because quite obviously, it feels by almost 2-1 he‘s a stronger, more decisive leader, and we want him to lead the country.  How does John Kerry turn that around tomorrow night? 

HOLBROOKE:  Well, Pat, your question is biased and unfair.  The ratios are not 2-1.  And its misrepresentation of the facts that has given Bush a slight but significant edge which John Kerry will turn around by making his case.  Here we are, talking in the most (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and polemical terms about polls which all of you otherwise say don‘t mean much yet.  A margin of error, a difference between the two which can be made up.  Why don‘t we talk about the issues, Iraq, the war on terror, homeland security.  Pat, I‘ll leave the spin to you and your panel.  I‘m not here to spin for John Kerry...

BUCHANAN:  Let me ask you this...

HOLBROOKE:  Let‘s talk about the issues. 

BUCHANAN:  In leading the country in the war on terror in Iraq, the nation by an overwhelming majority prefers the president, even though it  believes the war has not gone as well as he said it would.  And even though he believes a lot of things that aren‘t going well, they still prefer the president. 

How does Kerry sell himself as the man to replace the president? 

HOLBROOKE:  It is great being interviewed by you.  You can ask the question and then answer it.  You don‘t need me.  Let‘s talk about the issues.  The fact is that this administration has weakened us internationally.  We are weaker today than we were three and a half years ago.  You yourself know that.  You have said that yourself on some of the programs.  And the fact also is that not only in Iraq, but all over the world, things are going in the wrong direction for the United States. 

The American public will have to decide...

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you. 

HOLBROOKE:  Will you let me—let me finish, you know.  You asked me on the show.  If you want to interview yourself, do it on some other time.  The issue for the American public is very basic.  Do they really four more years of America to be more isolated in the world, to give Vladimir Putin and the Russians to have a blank check for Mr. Abuse of democracy, to ignore most of the major problems in the world.  To have our forces, military forces stretched too thin.  If they do, if they think Iraq is really going that well, let them give George Bush four more years.  The facts are otherwise, and there‘s plenty of time left for the American public to reassess the situation. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Ambassador, this morning issue came up again with the candidates candidate, John Kerry.  What in fact did he mean when he said he voted for the $87 billion for reconstruction in Iraq before he voted against it. 

Could you parse that statement? 

HOLBROOKE:  Anyone who knows the Congress, and you certainly do, because when I first met you you were working for speaker Tip O‘Neill, understands exactly what he meant.  He voted for the $87 billion if it was linked to a tax cut to eliminating the tax break for the top 2 percent.  He said it and technically correct language which the Republican have effectively misinterpreted in order to diminish the seriousness of his positions as the U.S. Senator. 

MATTHEWS:  Norah O‘Donnell has a question. 

O‘DONNELL:  Why doesn‘t Kerry tie that to, what he has been an argument... 

HOLBROOKE:  I‘m sorry, Norah.  I can‘t hear you. 


HOLBROOKE:  I can‘t hear you.

O‘DONNELL:  Can you hear me, ambassador? 

MATTHEWS:  OK, do you want me to repeat the question for you? 


O‘DONNELL:  Sure.  Why doesn‘t he tie, which I think was Kerry‘s point, that the financial cost of the war in Iraq, that‘s why he originally voted against 87 billion, because of the tax cuts and the cost of the war, that it has ballooned the deficit. 

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t your candidate explain his vote on the basis of fiscal responsibility that other priorities were more demanding of the American taxpayers‘ dollars? 

HOLBROOKE:  I‘m sorry.  I think that‘s nonsequitor.  We need to support—we need to support the troop in Iraq.  You cannot let the troops go into combat underequipped, underfunded, undersupported, that would be grossly wrong.  And John Kerry has made that clear repeatedly. 

MATTHEWS:  I guess you‘re getting an applause here.  I guess that was for you. 

Thanks very much for joining us, United Nations ambassador Richard Holbrooke.  Once again, the Bush campaign denied—again, I‘m saying this once again, declined to give us someone to go up against Ambassador Holbrooke.  When we come back, HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster takes a look at how President Bush and Senator Kerry are prepared for tomorrow night‘s event.  HARDBALL‘s coverage from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Miami continues on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  It‘s about 24 hours now before the first debate of this presidential election.  Both campaign have tapered down intensity that mark the candidates debate preparations over the past week.  Now it‘s all about getting rest, focusing on key theme, and getting revved up for tomorrow night. 

HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster has the latest. 


DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL ELECTION CORRESPONDENT, (voice-over):  With the hours ticking down to the presidential debate, both campaigns say the intense practice in strategy sessions are over.  And according to veterans of this process, this is now the time when the candidates simply try to stay relax asked focused. 

FRANK DONATELLI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  This is very grueling.  An hour and a half on national television, not looking at your wrist watch, hopefully, knowing that just the slightest misstatement could be spun by the other side.  It really requires a level of—a tremendous level of concentration. 

SHUSTER:  For the last several weeks, President Bush and John Kerry have both reviewed videotape of the other and have conducted debate practice sessions with live standins.  New Hampshire Senator, Judd Gregg pretended to be John Kerry.  And for the Kerry campaign, President Bush was played by former Clinton lawyer Greg Craig.  The aggressive exercise is supposed to sharpen and discipline each candidate‘s response. 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  We don‘t want to be too personal.  You don‘t want to be too harsh.  You want to make your points in a way that people can accept them and agree with them, hopefully, and think that you‘re doing it in a way that‘s fair.  And that isn‘t overly critical. 

SHUSTER:  The practice sessions are also intended to eliminate certain words or phrases. 

DONATELLI:  We‘re talking about social security.  You never talk about privatizing social security.  You talk about strengthening social security.  You don‘t call the president a liar, because to a lot of people, that seems very harsh and perhaps over the top.  But you can suggest the president doesn‘t tell the truth about important facts, fudges facts or hides them. 

SHUSTER:  And by now, both President Bush and John Kerry may be ready with their one liners, if the opening presents itself.  In 1988, a youthful Dan Quayle at campaign events had mentioned Jack Kennedy.  When Quayle repeated that during the debate, Lloyd Benson was waiting. 

LLOYD BENSON, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I served with Jack Kennedy.  I knew Jack Kennedy.  Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine.  Senator, you‘re no Jack Kennedy. 

SHUSTER;  In general, according to strategists, the candidates will go into the debate with an overall message that ties everything together. 

DONATELLI:  A positioning statement, something that he‘s comfortable returning to again and again and again, that define the difference in this race. 

SHUSTER: Judy Carter after Watergate said...

JIMMY CARTER (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  We‘ve been hurt.  People feel we‘ve lost something precious.  That‘s not necessary. 

SHUSTER:  Ronald Reagan, after Carter hit hard on the economy. 

RONALD REAGAN ®, PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  Are you better off than you were four years ago? 

Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? 

SHUSTER (on camera):  For this debate, foreign policy will be center stage.  The question is, will either candidate connect in a way that their campaigns are counting on.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 


MATTHEWS:  Thanks, David.

When we come back, Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, he‘s here for Kerry.  And Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, he is here for the president. 

And don‘t forget THE HORSERACE, our roundup of all the week‘s electioneering every Friday at 7:00 Eastern here on HARDBALL.  You can visit THE HORSERACE on the Internet at... (INAUDIBLE)




MATTHEWS:  We‘re back at the University of Miami, as you can see.  This is an amazing school.  Donna Shalala is president.  She has done an amazing job down here. 

But as intellectual as this school gets, it still has great weather down here.  And I can tell they have fun down here. 


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia is about to join us.  He is vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  And Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah is a member of the Intelligence Committee as well.  He is also chairman of the House—or, rather, the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Senator Hatch and Senator Rockefeller, a tough question that was prompted by the news report we just had on.  If you were Prime Minister Tony Blair, would you release those two women from jail in Iraq so that that guy can live, that citizen, that subject of the U.K., Mr. Bigley? 

Senator Hatch first.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH ®, UTAH:  Well, I would do everything I could to try and get them out of there.  There‘s no question.  You‘re talking about the women in Iraq? 


MATTHEWS:  The captors have demanded that they release the two women, one of whom was already on her way out apparently. 

Well, if you were prime minister of England, would you let those women go, that he could live? 

HATCH:  Well, I think I would consider it.  I certainly would look into every aspect of it.  And I would certainly try to do everything I could and make sure that we protected our citizens. 

MATTHEWS:  No, this is a question where one citizen dies, so that we can keep two of our prisoners. 

HATCH:  Well, I‘m not familiar with that.


MATTHEWS:  It‘s a tough one.  I‘m asking it because it‘s the kind of predicament we‘re in over there in Iraq right now.  And I want to ask you to share in the predicament. 

HATCH:  Well, I don‘t think you can make deals with terrorists.  I think you have got to stand up to them.  And if you don‘t stand up them, it is going to be another thing next week.  So you just have to stand up. 

And that‘s what this fight is all about.  We just can‘t just back away from it or walk away from it.  We‘re going to have to stand up.


MATTHEWS:  OK, Senator Rockefeller, how would you react if you were confronted, as Tony Blair is now, with this awful predicament to decide whether this guy gets beheaded or not, basically? 

ROCKEFELLER:  I think Orrin Hatch answered the question exactly correctly.  You do not negotiate with terrorists.  That‘s not a cliche. 

Terrorists, particularly the ones who are jihadists, killing for them is not a means to an end.  It is an end in and of itself, to kill Americans, to kill people who are friendly to Americans.  No, you don‘t negotiate. 


You first, Senator Rockefeller.  Imagine you were going out there tomorrow and debating the president here a few steps from where we‘re at right now, at the University of Miami tomorrow night.  What would be your killer punch?  How would you attack the policies of this administration in Iraq? 

ROCKEFELLER:  In a broad statement, Chris, I would say that, in the years in my entire lifetime, I have never really witnessed such a series of blunders, missteps, misleading of the American people in any event. 

Now, you might say, well, what about the Vietnam War?  Yes, Lyndon Johnson misled us in the Vietnam War.  But that was a regional war.  It did not have worldwide terrorist consequences.  So I think it is the greatest presidential blunder in my lifetime. 

MATTHEWS:  Since when? 

ROCKEFELLER:  Since I was born. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Rockefeller?  Since you were born.  Worse than Vietnam? 

ROCKEFELLER:  Yes, because Vietnam was a regional conflict, where we definitely miscalculated.  But it stayed there.  It was not a matter of creating a worldwide jihadist movement dedicated to the killing of Americans, wherever they might be.  That, we‘re going to live with. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Senator Hatch—let me go to Senator Hatch with a complementary question.  That is, what should the president do to reduce the threat of being defeated? 

HATCH:  Well, first of all, I don‘t agree with Jay on his comments.  I don‘t think this is nearly the problems that Vietnam was. 

But I also have to say, we have to take on terrorism all over the world or we‘re going to have to take it on here, one way or the other.  And I think the president has done what‘s right. 

But your question was to...

MATTHEWS:  What would be your recommendation to the president in tomorrow night‘s debate regarding Iraq? 

HATCH:  Well, I believe that the president has to stand up and say that this is important for to us stand up against terrorism around the world.  And it‘s a lot better to fight it over there than it is here. 

And, of course, I think he can point out the various statements by Senator Kerry, who made it pretty clear in both his ‘98 speech on the Senate floor and also in a speech after 9/11, that Saddam Hussein needed to be taken out and anybody who didn‘t agree with that really didn‘t deserve to be president.  And I think he can point those things out, plus the fact that we are making headway, not only there, but around the world. 

And we do have the terrorists on the run and that we‘re going to keep them there.  We‘re doing everything we can to interdict their funds, catch them.  We‘ve caught a lot of the leadership both in Iraq and in Afghanistan.  We just to have finish the job and get Osama bin Laden, Zawahri, al-Zarqawi and the others that are causing such havoc around the world. 

ROCKEFELLER:  Chris, can I comment? 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Jay Rockefeller, Senator Rockefeller.

I only have one question to ask you left.  Does your candidate, John Kerry, risk losing conservative Democrats, war supporter, Joe Lieberman, people like that, Dick Gephardt, perhaps, who were strongly in support of the war if he takes a hard Howard Dean-type position tomorrow night? 

ROCKEFELLER:  I don‘t think he‘ll take a hard Howard Dean-type position tomorrow night.  But the answer is, no, he won‘t. 

Americans, ever since George Washington retired from office and warned us against foreign entanglements, Americans have never been anxious to go to war.  We‘ve had to sometimes, but it has had to be for good reasons.  This president has not—gave us wrong reasons and has refused to admit they were wrong.  That‘s a terrible thing to do to the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Let‘s go back to the panel now.

I had a question pending from the earliest part of this hour.  I want to go back to that now.  You were all very kind to review what John Kerry has to do.  What does George Bush have to do?  And I want to ask a pointed question.  Does he risk giving two rosy a picture of what is happening in Iraq? 

Norah O‘Donnell.

O‘DONNELL:  I think the president and his advisers acknowledge that he may have to retool his answer on this issue, in part because Powell over the weekend said the situation on the ground in Iraq is getting worse. 

That is difficult to square with the president‘s comments when he was

standing next to the Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, saying progress is

being made.  It is one or the other.  And he has got to present and tell

the truth to the American people about what‘s happening on the ground and

how he is going to protect our soldiers‘ lives.  And that‘s the challenge

for the president.  I think that they‘re calculating that.  I have a

feeling that


MATTHEWS:  You know what?  They should change the talking points they‘re giving to their surrogates if they‘re going to change him tomorrow night.


O‘DONNELL:  Yes, but at the same time...

MATTHEWS:  I hear the surrogates on this program every night giving the rosy scenario. 

O‘DONNELL:  But, at the same time, the president will also be saying, but John Kerry is the man who is unfit to lead and continue the war in Iraq. 

FINEMAN:  Yes, Norah is right. 

Colin Powell was walking point for the president.  He is putting that out there, so that Jim Lehrer will probably ask about it tomorrow night.  What did Colin Powell—what about what Colin Powell had to say?  George Bush‘s weakest poll numbers are the notion that he is somehow reckless; 50 percent of the American -- 55 percent of the American people in one of the recent polls said that he is not careful enough, that he is a reckless guy.  George Bush has to explain that he is not a war president by choice, that he is a war president by circumstance, that somehow he has got to explain that he is a man of peace. 

He has got to make that case if he is going to win the debate tomorrow night. 


KORNBLUT:  And certainly, stylistically, I think that Bush has a challenge in front of him that the Kerry campaign has identified, which is that he needs to not come across as swaggering, not come across as arrogant, which even his own wife has sometimes acknowledged that he can do when he... 

MATTHEWS:  Why does he have to change the style that seems to be working for him? 

KORNBLUT:  The style that works for him we usually see on the stump or

in a big setting surrounded by tons of only supporters.  This is going to

be a quiet room with a detractor and a moderator and


KORNBLUT:  ... audience.  But...


MATTHEWS:  ... people like that sort of cowboy—I thought people sort of liked it.  Or don‘t they like it? 

FINEMAN:  Not in this circumstance. 

KORNBLUT:  I think they certainly liked it after—after September 11, it seemed to be very effective.  But when there are troops dying and there are people getting beheaded in Iraq, it does present a risk. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, what he‘s got to do?

BUCHANAN:  The whole country knows this is a long hard slog.  It‘s not going as well as we anticipated.

The president will not hurt himself if he gets up and explains it is going to take time.  It didn‘t go exactly as—because this is what everyone believes and the majority are going to move toward Bush. 

Now, but Jay Rockefeller said something.  Suppose Kerry gets up and calls this the worst blunder in my lifetime.  Then they say—the moderator says, Senator, why do you vote to give the president a blank check to go to war and why did you say a month ago, you would have gone even if you knew he didn‘t have weapons of mass destruction?  What does Kerry say? 

MATTHEWS:  I think Jim Lehrer, by the way, will be very good at recounting those comments by both candidates. 

Anyway, I want no thank the panel, Norah O‘Donnell, White House correspondent Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, Anne Kornblut of the all-important hub of the universe, “Globe,” “The Boston Globe,” and Patrick J. Buchanan, who has been here before.

Anyway, let‘s talk about foreign policy.  When we come back, I‘m going to ask “The Washington Post”‘s David Ignatius --- what a great columnist he is—he‘s been stationed in Europe for years—and former presidential adviser David Gergen, four-time presidential adviser Gergen—right after this.




MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the debate tomorrow night.  We‘re covering it from the University of Miami, site of the debate.  In fact, just a few feet from here, the two candidates are going to meet before a huge American audience, perhaps 50 to 100 million people. 

Joining us right now are two of the smartest people covering politics from different perspectives, David Ignatius, a columnist for “The Washington Post,” who just moved back to the U.S. after four years in Paris as executive editor of “The International Herald Tribune,” and David Gergen, editor at large at “U.S. News & World Report.”  He‘s been an adviser to four presidents of both political parties. 

Let‘s ask them about this—how they look at this debate. 

David Ignatius first.  It seems to me that it looks like to most of the people on the program so far in this preliminary discussion that Al Gore‘s (sic) challenge is to gel on a foreign policy, go after the policy while being respectful of the president.  The challenge for the president is to give a realistic, but also optimistic assessment of the war in Iraq in a way that isn‘t too rosy, that gives—that gives the senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry, a chance to undercut him. 

David Ignatius, how do both men do the job? 

DAVID IGNATIUS, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  You know, I think it is going to be tough for each of them.  I think it‘s going to be very tough for Bush to reassure the country that things are OK in Iraq and also sound as if he is leveling with the country and not painting a rosy scenario that‘s unrealistic.

I think it is similarly difficult for Kerry to be critical of the president‘s policies in Iraq without sounding as if he is undercutting our troops and putting us at risk.  So I think each has a very delicate challenge.  And I think the country needs a serious debate about Iraq and where we‘re going.  And I really hope that, tomorrow night, we begin to get that. 

I have to be honest and say I don‘t expect it.  I think they‘ll probably play a very careful political game and try to avoid making mistakes that could be fatal. 

MATTHEWS:  David Gergen.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER:  Chris, I have a somewhat different take. 

I think the greater burden is on John Kerry tomorrow night.  This is make-or-break time for him.  He has to win the debate, not just tie.  Bush can play for a tie.  Kerry has to reverse the momentum of the campaign, so that he comes out of this debate with his base freshly energized and swing voters taking a fresh look at him and willing to tune into the next three debates after this.  I think that‘s a bigger burden for him.

It is a delicate challenge.  But I think he has found his voice in the last couple weeks.  I think he‘s been—the idea of giving all these speeches on Iraq in the last few weeks has been shrewd.  It has prepared him for this debate.  He‘s begun to make his points.

I think, for the president, the question is not simply being realistic.  The president‘s best argument is, sure, we‘re going through a rough patch.  Nobody ever said it was going to be easy to defeat terrorism.  But what a president must do, what a country must do is to be steady and to be patient.  And if you keep changing your position, Senator Kerry, you‘ll never be able to lead this country to victory. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask, David Ignatius, how do you respectfully challenge the central policy of this administration, Iraq? 

IGNATIUS:  Well, you know, I think that Kerry has been very forceful in putting together a critique.  He‘s obviously at risk the more he does that of contradicting his own earlier positions. 

But I think that laying out his four-point plan for what to do about Iraq made sense.  The problem is, as Bush spokesmen and Bush himself have argued, we‘re already doing most of that.  A central pillar of Kerry‘s argument is that he would do better at getting the rest of the world to support us than Bush has.  And the problem is that that is really not realistic.  Europeans have made very clear in the last week that Kerry should not expect that Europeans will contribute troops in Iraq. 

The French foreign minister went out of his way really to send a warning to Kerry, don‘t expect that this is coming.  So I think Kerry is a little bit vulnerable in this argument he‘s making that he could do things significantly differently and better than Bush. 


GERGEN:  Chris, David Ignatius...

MATTHEWS:  David Gergen, put on your Democratic—I have to ask you about—we only have one question left.  David, put on your Democratic adviser hat and try to advise right now Senator Kerry.  How do you separate the war in Iraq from the war on terrorism?  How do you say, I agree with the war on terrorism, but going to Iraq wasn‘t essential to it? 

GERGEN:  I think he‘s started to make that argument finally, that the war against Iraq was a diversion from the war against al Qaeda, because we haven‘t caught Osama bin Laden yet and because the threats continue to be very serious in the United States homeland from Osama and his crew. 

I think that‘s easier to make that argument to make than it seems.  He can say—look, he can say, Mr. President, with all due respect, sir, you and your administration create a false impression that Saddam Hussein was tied to 9/11.  The 9/11 Commission and everybody else has now come along and said simply not true.  And you have carried us into this diversionary effort.  And now we‘re bogged down and we don‘t have the troop to finish the job in Iraq. 

He can make, I think, a very strong critique against what‘s happened.  I do think David Ignatius is absolutely right.  When it comes to how we get out of this, Kerry has not been very clear.  And the big test for him tomorrow night, is he going to commit to getting out within a year, in which case he‘s going to be very close to the Howard Dean position?  Or is he going to commit to victory? 

Because, if he commits to getting out within a year, it may help with his base, but Bush can drive a truck right through that argument, saying you‘re the defeatist candidate.  You‘re going to take us to the road to defeat. 

MATTHEWS:  And you could say, David, that expecting the French to help us in Iraq is the true rosy scenario. 


IGNATIUS:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, David Ignatius.  Thank you, David Gergen. 

You can...

GERGEN:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  ... presidential race on Hardblogger, our election blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com. 

And our live coverage of the first presidential debate from here at the University of Miami will continue in a moment. 



MATTHEWS:  We‘re back here at the University of Miami with the Hurricanes.


MATTHEWS:  I also want to thank the band here, because I played in the band in high school.

You guys are great.


MATTHEWS:  You‘re much better than we were.

Anyway, this person, what are you looking forward to, to the debate tomorrow night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m looking forward to Bush tell more lies and for Kerry to call him out on them. 



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m looking forward to the youth being talked about a lot by both candidates, because the youth have come out this year so much and supported so much.  They deserve to be heard as well. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Just by both candidates.

MATTHEWS:  All right, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m looking forward to hearing actually the truth this time.  That would be nice.  And I cannot wait to hear some more Bushisms. 


MATTHEWS:  What are—OK, what do you think?  What are you looking for tomorrow night?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kerry is going to get bushwhacked!  Yes!



MATTHEWS:  What are you watching for tomorrow night? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m just looking forward to hear both sides of the candidates. 

MATTHEWS:  Look at the camera. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m just looking forward to hearing both sides. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you open-minded? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am extremely open-minded. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re undecided?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Completely undecided. 

MATTHEWS:  The world has been looking for you.  We have found her, the undecided voter!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m the undecided voter.

MATTHEWS:  Back with more—we‘re back with more—we‘ll be back with more HARDBALL at 9:00 tonight. 




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