Guest: John Fund, Mark Leibovich, Ed Rogers, Steve McMahon
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tuesday night in the swing state of Ohio, the running mate‘s debate.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The world is far safer today, because Saddam Hussein is in jail, his government is no longer in power, and we did exactly the right thing.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, (D-NC) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is no connection between the attacks of September 11 and Saddam Hussein, the 9/11 commission has said it, your own secretary of state has said it. And you‘ve government gone around the country suggesting that there is some connection. There‘s not.
MATTHEWS: The lines are drawn and the stage is set for the Friday match-up between President Bush and Senator Kerry. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. And welcome to HARDBALL. Last night, Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards in an intense and informative debate that ran overtime, sparred over major issue facing Americans from Iraq to the economy. Cheney‘s mission, to reverse the damage from the president‘s performance at the first debate with John Kerry and to strengthen the president‘s position going into the second debate this Friday in St. Louis. Senator Edwards‘ mission, to keep Kerry‘s momentum going into the second face-off with the president.
Was the mission accomplished for either candidate?
Also last night after the vice-presidential debate, we aired a report by NBC‘s Brian Williams pointing to cases where the candidates said things that were contradicted by previous statements.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: So much was said tonight, how do you separate facts from assertions, gray areas, thing like did the two men meet? We have narrowed down some of these subject matters and you‘re right.
We watched tonight with our own experts by our side, checking these facts as they came out. And the first exchange we‘re going to show you came during the second round of questions. What you‘re about to see is Vice President Dick Cheney who Senator Edwards charged tonight, has repeatedly linked Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. This was the vice president tonight in his own defense.
CHENEY: The senator has his facts wrong. I have not suggested there‘s a connection between Iraq and the 9/11.
WILLIAMS: But here is the vice president on “Meet the Press” one year ago. September 14, 2003. He was asked to define success in Iraq.
CHENEY: We will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most specially on 9/11.
WILLIAMS: So Vice president Cheney from tonight‘s debate and from “Meet the Press,” just over a year ago.
MATTHEWS: The Republican National Committee today criticized me for saying on “The Today Show” this morning that the taped remarks we showed last night and the vice president‘s statement on “Meet The Press” established the fact that no uncertain terms that the vice president has asserted that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. The RNC said we were being selective and cited this clip from the same “Meet the Press.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM RUSSERT, MEET THE PRESS: Can we keep 150,000 troops beyond next spring without, in effect, breaking the army?
CHENEY: Tim, we can do what we have to do to prevail in this conflict. Failure is not an option. And we go back again and think about what is involved here. This is not just about Iraq, or just about the difficulties that we might encounter in any one part of the country in term of restoring security and stability. This is about a continuing operation in the war on terror. It is very, very important we get it right.
If we‘re successful in Iraq. If we can stand up a good representative government in Iraq, that secures the region so that it never again becomes a threat to its neighbors or to the United States. So it is not pursuing weapons of mass destruction. So that it is an safe haven for terrorists. We will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years but most especially on 9/11.
They understand what is at stake here. That‘s one of the reason they‘re putting up as much of a struggle as they have is because they know if we succeed here, that that will strike a major blow at their capability.
RUSSERT: So the resistance in Iraq is coming from those who were responsible for 9/11?
CHENEY: I was careful not to say that. With respect to 9/11, 9/11 as I said at the beginning of the show, changed everything. One of the things it changed was that we recognized that time was not on our side. That in this part of the world in particular, given the problems that we‘ve encountered in Afghanistan, which forced us to go in and take action there, as well as in Iraq, that we, in fact, had to move on it.
The relevance for 9/11 is that what 9/11 marked was the beginning of a struggle in which the terrorists come at us and strike us here on our home territory. And it‘s a global operation.
MATTHEWS: So when they say the vice president said “we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists, who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11.” He wasn‘t saying Iraq was responsible for 9/11.
When I first heard the vice president say that on “Meet the Press” in September of last year, I was struck by the assertion that the tragedy of 9/11 was based in Iraq. That the vice president was pointing a finger at Saddam Hussein‘s role in 9/11. The RNC says that‘s not true. I‘ll leave it to you the viewer to decide on that one.
Joining me right now are Democratic strategist, Steve McMahon. And Republican consultant Ed Rogers who worked most effectively for the first President Bush.
Let‘s talk about the biggest news today. You go back over that if you want to, but let‘s talk about the big news today. This WMD report, is this already old news, Ed, that their‘s no WMD in Iraq and it doesn‘t really effect voting right now?
ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, I don‘t know if it‘s necessarily all old news. I do think it is an evolving story. And what is offered up in this report is important.
It says that Saddam Hussein deceived his neighbors, deceived his own military, deceived the world into thinking that he had weapons of mass destruction. And then he wanted to use the corrupt U.N. process to erode the sanctions and refurbish and restore his weapons of mass destruction‘s programs that he had had in the past.
And so yes. I think it is relevant. I think it‘s important. I don‘t know if it‘s going to drive any votes. But it does add another piece to the puzzle, and offer a clearer picture of what was really going on in Iraq and Saddam Hussein‘s mind. And for the first time ever, offer some insight from Saddam himself.
MATTHEWS: Was that the case, that the president and vice president made for war when we went to war?
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes. It was. And Ed just talked about what was going on inside Saddam Hussein‘s mind, which wasn‘t in touch with reality. Let‘s talk about what was going on in the minds of Dick Cheney who said there were weapons of mass destruction when there weren‘t?
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go back to the importance of this. Because most Americans who are in the middle somewhere politically, it seems like nobody is anymore, we‘re scared to death that Saddam had a nuclear weapon. Whether that he might somehow develop one in the next five years or so. That was the real reason why most reasonable people said, dammit, I don‘t care about the Middle East that much, I don‘t want to get involved in that mess, but we better stop him.
MCMAHON: That‘s exactly right. And I think the Republicans and Dick Cheney maybe, in particular, were very careful so that if you parse their words, they didn‘t exactly say what it is you thought you heard. And I think the example that you just offered is a perfect one.
Dick Cheney, in fact, has gone around and made the war in Iraq synonymous with the war on terror for the last year and a half or two years. The vice-presidential candidate, John Edwards last night, called him out on it. And he is continued to insist that that‘s not what he was doing. When in fact, there are not just the example that you cited, but hundreds of other examples where he did that.
MATTHEWS: Well, 42 percent of the American people, I‘m sure this number gyrates a little bit, believe that somehow Iraq was involve in 9/11. The believe it. And how did they come to that belief if the president and vice president never suggested it? That‘s a question you‘ve got to ask.
ROGERS: Involved in 9/11, or relevant to 9/11.
MATTHEWS: No, involved in it. The answer is they believe they had a role in it.
ROGERS: I think it‘s a very different point.
MATTHEWS: They believe. 42 percent believe he was involved, Saddam Hussein.
ROGERS: Involved in, or relevant to. And certainly relevant to. And certainly relevant to. And the president stood in the well of the Congress before the nation and said specifically, Iraq wasn‘t involved in 9/11. But we had a new policy, a new Bush doctrine where we would not let peril draw nearer, that we would have preemptive strike against the people that would do us harm. And that‘s what was relevant to Iraq and that was what was stimulated by 9/11. So relevant to is an important aspect here. Is an important difference.
MATTHEWS: There was a lot of talk for months. In fact, the neoconservatives are the people who really wanted to push this war for ideological reasons. To liberate that part of the world and redraw the map. Whatever their ambitions were reasons, usually it‘s ideological. That they thought that there was a meeting between Muhammed Atta, the guy who led the 9/11 attack, the man who was the pilot going into the World Trade Center, had met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague and that was a consequential meeting. You heard this from the vice president, from a lot of people. Was that suggesting a connection to 9/11?
MCMAHON: Absolutely. And when you say repeatedly, which Vice President Cheney did on “Meet the Press” and other venues, especially on NBC for some reason, that Muhammed Atta had a meeting with the top commanders of the Iraqi security forces, what else are you to conclude?
MATTHEWS: But he always hedges. The vice president always said as just a possibility of something to think about. What does that mean? Put it in context.
ROGERS: It never means that it was absolute literal doctrine that a specific meeting took place. What was important to know is that there was a new policy, a new doctrine. We would not let peril draw nearer. Saddam Hussein by any standard deceived his people, deceived the world into thinking he had weapons of mass destruction. And on that baseline...
ROGERS: Not at all. Not one bit of deception.
MCMAHON: They absolutely did, Ed.
ROGERS: You think they lied. You think they lied? You think they knew...
ROGERS: The notion that we were not going to let peril draw nearer and the notion that somebody with his record, with his capability, that they had the weapons of mass destruction, it was the right thing to take them out and we are safer and we are better off because of it...
MATTHEWS: Do you think American people believe, let me ask you both, this is an open question, if we knew when we went to war there was no weapons of mass destruction, no stockpiles, if we knew there was no at all connection to 9/11 and in fact a real connection, would the American people have been sold on going to war?
What do you think?
ROGERS: I don‘t know. 20/20 hindsight. If we knew what when...
MATTHEWS: No, if the American people...
MATTHEWS: No, it is the point...
ROGERS: The benefit of the doubt goes against the terrorist...
MCMAHON: Ed‘s doing it right now. Ed‘s doing it right now.
ROGERS: He was a dictator who would use weapons of mass destruction against his own people, against his neighbors, the benefit of the doubt goes against him and with America and with the people who want to bring democracy and freedom to the rest of the world.
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t that shoot first and ask questions later?
ROGERS: In the case of Saddam Hussein the doubt goes against it. He had proven his record as someone who had and used weapons of mass destruction.
MATTHEWS: There‘s no doubt he wasn‘t trustworthy.
Let me ask you this, did anybody watch the debate last night and not have a partisan opinion? I‘ve gone over the numbers, see if you know this, too. I find like five Republicans thought that Edwards had won, five Democrats thought the vice president won. Everybody seems to be fixed now. Is there a polarization in our political society right now where nobody‘s going to change their mind anymore. We might as well have the election now and get it over with - Steve?
MCMAHON: There‘s clearly a polarization. I think everybody got something that they wanted from the candidate they supported. The Edwards people thought he was terrific.
MATTHEWS: But didn‘t he look like he was smacked in the face all night? Why did he look like he‘d been hit hard the whole night?
MCMAHON: Watching Dick Cheney was like watching road rage in slow motion for an hour. I swear...
MATTHEWS: I thought Edwards looked slammed on that issue, I‘ve never met this young man before.
MCMAHON: It was interesting that you guys—I was watching your network yesterday because it is the best, as you know. Your folks were pretty quick to conclude that Cheney won the debate.
MCMAHON: When you took a look at the independent voters who were surveyed over the last 24 hours...
MATTHEWS: By CBS.
MCMAHON: By CBS and then by Stan Greenberg (ph) who I understand was (UNINTELLIGIBLE). The undecided voters, and how you find undecided voters at this point is beyond me.
MATTHEWS: What are there? Three left?
MCMAHON: All three of them thought that by a margin of between 15 and 18...
MATTHEWS: I met one in Cleveland, by the way. We‘ll be right back. Steve, sorry to cut you off. We have to come back with Steve McMahon and Ed Rogers and talk about the big debate coming up Friday night which is perhaps the deal maker for this campaign. And don‘t forget tonight, at 9:00 Eastern and 2:00 a.m. Eastern, join me and Tom Brokaw for “Picking Our Presidents, Secrets of the Great Debates.” It‘s one of the best things I‘ve been involved with. It‘s so much fun. All this behind the scenes scoop about past presidential debates and how they worked up. It‘s must-see TV for you political junkies out there and everybody who cares about how we pick our presidents. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with two political pros. Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and Ed Rogers, who is a Republican consultant. Look. Friday night, this is sort of what we call boxing the rubber match. Both sides can claim a victory pretty handily now. The president and vice president both splitting. What about this, Ed? What does the president have to do to say he can talk to people? Is this about connecting with people out there in this town meeting format?
ROGERS: Sure. The debates are about connecting with people who no question about it, the president has to be himself. The president has to evoke the kind of passion, the kind of humanity that he really does display. I think it is overstated, the differential between Kerry‘s performance and Bush‘s performance in the first debate. I feel good about how things are teed off with the president right now. I‘m not too worried about this debate.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it would be more fluid when he has people to talk to and they respond?
ROGERS: I do.
MATTHEWS: I think he missed the applause, myself.
ROGERS: I think the president is—he wears his humanity on his sleeve. So he will feed off the notion that there are real people in the crowd, real people asking questions. I think there will be a lot of good chemistry that will suit this president well.
MATTHEWS: Speaking of chemistry, John Kerry, can he connect?
MCMAHON: I think he needs to go out and do pretty much what he did last time.
MATTHEWS: But he was very formal last time. Can he be that formal?
MCMAHON: He was formal but he needs to project a certain image. He wants people to think of him as the president of the United States. I think he was very successful in that regard. The president on the other hand needs to first demonstrate that he can answer a question from somebody that‘s not handpicked and given a question to ask him. And the second thing is, instead of going out with five simple declared statements and repeating them over and over, I think he would be better off to come out with about 15.
MATTHEWS: By the way, Charlie Gibson will play a role in this. Charlie‘s a hell of a charmer, too, and Charlie will be able to bring up a lot of issues. Stem cell, abortion rights, gay marriage. This could be a real potpourri of hot topics.
ROGERS: I think Charlie will keep it from being superficial. It will be deep and the humanity of the two candidates will come out in a much more robust, in a much fuller way. I‘m looking forward to this debate.
MATTHEWS: I‘m waiting for some fights between the candidates and the people. That is what I would like. No, I don‘t believe that. Mr. Candidate, Mr. President, you‘re wrong. I would love some hardball between people and the candidates.
ROGERS: I think Bush would, too. He does a lot of this.
MATTHEWS: Will the Secret Service have to break it up?
MCMAHON: The challenge for these guys is actually just the opposite for Kerry as it is for Bush. If you think about it, John Kerry has the ability, like Bill Clinton had, to dig into any issue. You‘re sometimes worried when he‘s digging into it that he might go too far and he might sort of lose the forest in the trees. The president is just the opposite. He doesn‘t really dig into any issue and he sometimes leaves you wondering why he didn‘t answer the question or why he didn‘t go beyond sort of a simple well-rehearsed sound bite.
MATTHEWS: He‘s been rehearsing now for months now. He has been doing these town meetings over and over again saying, all the time saying, having his people say, I‘m afraid of town meetings. I think he has gotten himself into a situation where he wants to be.
ROGERS: I think you‘re right. This is a forum that suits him. This is a forum that he‘s used to. This is a forum where he can read faces and the crowd. He can draw energy from the people in the audience.
MATTHEWS: Will they wear business suits or will the president show up in his cowboy gear which he always looks good and I‘m dead serious. And will John Kerry show up in some sort of casual clothes?
MCMAHON: I think they both will and I think they both should. And I think the president may have been (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I don‘t think he‘s been (UNINTELLIGIBLE) anybody. He‘s going to have to demonstrate...
MATTHEWS: Anyway, I think it will be a tough rubber match. I‘m not
sure either guy will win. We might get a real draw Friday night. Thank
you, Steve McMahon, Ed Rogers,
MCMAHON: He‘s going to have to demonstrate—he‘s going to have to demonstrate...
MATTHEWS: Any ways, I think it‘s going to be a tough rubber match, and I‘m not sure either guy‘s going to win. We might get a real draw Friday night.
Any ways, thank you, Steve McMahon, Ted Rogers. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: It‘s hard to miss the clashes Tuesday night between Dick Cheney and John Edwards. Their statements were strong and often impressive. But some of the charges were misleading.
HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster joins us now with more -
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL ELECTION CORRESPONDENT: It was indeed a feisty debate but it was also one where the experts stay truth got stretched most prominently by the incumbent, Dick Cheney.
SHUSTER (voice-over): From vice president Cheney, the misleading statements started with this:
CHENEY: The senator has got his faction wrong. I have not suggested there‘s a connection between Iraq and 9/11.
SHUSTER: But Cheney suggested exactly that a year ago on “Meet The Press” when he describe Iraq as...
CHENEY: The base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially 9/11.
SHUSTER: On two earlier appearances, he claimed a connection between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence agents.
CHENEY: It‘s been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with the senior official of the Iraqi intelligence serves. We have a report that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center.
SHUSTER: But never mind Iraq. The vice president‘s most powerful came when slammed John Edwards‘ Senate attendance record.
CHENEY: Now, in my capacity as vice president, I am the president of the Senate, and the presiding officer. I‘m up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they‘re in session. The first time I ever met you was when walked on the stage tonight.
SHUSTER: The problem is that Cheney and Edwards met at the very least, at a prayer breakfast three years ago. Not to mention at the swearing in of North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole.
For his part, John Edwards made his own share of misleading claims, starting with Iraq.
EDWARDS: Regardless of what the vice president said, we‘re at $200 billion dollars and counting.
SHUSTER: In fact, we are at 120 billion, another 54 billion has been allocated, but the $200~ billion figure won‘t be reached until next year. Edwards also overstated the number of U.S. jobs lost by the administration.
EDWARDS: In the time they‘ve been in office in the last four years, 1.6 million private sector jobs have been lost.
SHUSTER: The actual number is 900,000. Meanwhile, as both campaigns accuse the other of making false debate claims, both campaigns are running new misleading television commercials.
KERRY: It is time to lift the political barriers blocking the stem cell research that could treat or cure disease like Parkinson‘s.
SHUSTER: The truth is, there‘s no political barrier on private research, only on government funded use of embryos.
From the Bush campaign,
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Frivolous lawsuits. John Kerry and the liberals in Congress side with the trial. They oppose legal reform 10 time.
SHUSTER: But some of the votes were stopping frivolous lawsuits, they were corporate give any ways as described by Democrats.
SHUSTER: In any case, both campaigns have more hard hitting ads coming out on Thursday. And then there‘s another opportunity for the campaigns to do what they with the facts Friday night when the president and John Kerry get together for their next debate—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Can‘t wait—David Shuster.
When we come back, more fall out from last night‘s debate with the “Washington Post” Mark Leibovich and John Fund of the “Wall Street Journal.”
And don‘t forget to join ~Tom Brokaw and myself for “PICKING OUR PRESIDENTS: Secrets of the Great Debates.” A look back at some of the best moments in America‘s rich history of presidential debate. That‘s tonight at 9:00 Eastern. Your watching HARDBALL ON MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: This half-hour on HARDBALL, who had the edge in Tuesday night‘s vice presidential debate and who will come out stronger in Friday‘s presidential debate? “The Wall Street Journal”‘s John Fund and Mark Leibovich of “The Washington Post” are here.
But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Joining us now, Mark Leibovich, national political reporter for “The Washington Post,” and John Fund, columnist with OpinionJournal.com and author of the new book “Stealing Elections.”
Let me go to Mark first of all.
Last night immediately after the debate between the vice presidential and the vice president himself, there was a lot of buzz certainly on our network that Cheney had done very well, very well, indeed, in fact that he was the victor. How is that playing during the day, that assessment?
MARK LEIBOVICH, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I think it sort of washed itself out.
I think the overall wisdom is that it was something of a draw. Some people obviously gave to it Cheney. Some people said Edwards exceeded expectations. I think, in general, what most people will say is that that was sort of a perishable event. And the fact that really there was a disagreement on who won or lost is not going to make for any memorability, except for the tone, which was pretty intense.
MATTHEWS: John Fund, your assessment after 24 hours? How has it turned? Or has it turned at all? Is it still seen as a Cheney victory?
JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: I think it was a Cheney victory on points. I also think it did something psychological.
Bush partisans were very depressed last Thursday after the president turned in a very weak performance. They‘re now re-emboldened and reinvigorated. The slide has stopped and they are charged up for the Friday debate. And that of course is going to be Bush‘s moment of truth.
I think Cheney, by the way, showed himself to be workhorse. And I think he successfully painted John Edwards by talking about his thin Senate record as a show horse.
MATTHEWS: What did you make of his assertion that he had never met him before? That was a powerful moment in the debate as we watched it.
FUND: It was clever.
MATTHEWS: It seemed like a thunderous blow against a new arrival on the scene, someone who hadn‘t really earned his papers yet, more or less. Do you think it worked?
FUND: Here‘s the significance of that.
Obviously, it‘s not quite true, because they appeared together at a prayer breakfast in early 2001. But for purposes of business on the Senate floor, Cheney was correct.
The real interesting thing is, regardless of what the technical accuracy is, Edwards did not respond to it. He left it on the table. He sounded like someone who realized it wasn‘t in his talking points, but he couldn‘t react properly.
MATTHEWS: In other words, Mark, it was close enough to the truth, he didn‘t want to fight about it.
LEIBOVICH: Yes, clearly...
FUND: He may not have remembered it.
LEIBOVICH: Right. Exactly.
And, also, it‘s the kind of thing that Edwards could have dispatched pretty easily. He could have said, actually, Mr. Vice President, we met on this occasion and on that occasion. And, obviously, I didn‘t make too big an impression. And people would have laughed and the line probably would have dissipated.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but suppose—we‘ve talked this through so many times in the last 24 hours. Suppose the vice president then retorted, well, I just never associated you with the Senate floor, because I never saw you there. Wouldn‘t that have been a rebuttal that would have blown him away as well?
LEIBOVICH: Maybe. I don‘t think there were really any blowing-away moments last night, to be honest with you.
I think, again, it was tough attack by Cheney at that moment. But, ultimately, the tone was very, very harsh, one of the harshest in presidential and certainly vice presidential debate history. But, again, I think people before the debate yesterday and certainly after the debate today are looking to Friday as really the next big event.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s look at that bite, because I think John was right. Although it was technically inaccurate, it certainly had some thunderous dramatic effect. Here it is, the vice president saying he never really met the guy he‘s running against.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reason they keep trying to attack Halliburton is because they want to obscure their own record.
And Senator, frankly, you have a record in the Senate that‘s not very distinguished. You‘ve missed 33 out of 36 meetings in the Judiciary Committee, almost 70 percent of the meetings of the Intelligence Committee.
You‘ve missed a lot of key votes: on tax policy, on energy, on Medicare reform.
Your hometown newspaper has taken to calling you Senator Gone. You‘ve got one of the worst attendance records in the United States Senate.
Now, in my capacity as vice president, I am the president of Senate, the presiding officer. I‘m up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they‘re in session.
The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: God. You know, I think Tom Brokaw compared that to a meeting in the principal‘s office, Mark.
It does seem to display—these guys are only about 12 years apart, maybe less.
MATTHEWS: It displays a kind of—an advantage of some kind. How would you describe that advantage that the vice president seems to exploit there?
LEIBOVICH: Well, one word, gravitas.
I think, if you look at the caricature of each, Cheney, depending on whether you like him or dislike him, is either a gray eminence or a prince of darkness, whereas Edwards is either a bright face or a lightweight. I think clearly Cheney played to the lightweight imagery there very effectively.
MATTHEWS: Let me—let‘s take a look at right now what John Edwards said about that. He apparently did he some cleaning up today. And here he is responding to that charge that the vice president had never met him before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, unfortunately for the vice president, just as there was a videotape of him sitting with me at the National Prayer Breakfast, there‘s also a lot of videotape out there of him suggesting there‘s a connection between Saddam Hussein and September the 11th.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Mark, it seemed like one of the ambitions of the challenger
going into last night‘s debate—in fact, he was relentless on the subject
· was to try to separate Iraq from the war on terrorism. Do you think he made the points he wanted to make last night?
LEIBOVICH: I think he probably did.
That‘s sort of a continuum of what Kerry was trying to do and did very effectively last week in Miami. And I think one of the things that Edwards was, if not haunted by, certainly conscious of, is the Lieberman example. Joe Lieberman at the time was praised as a statesman in going against Cheney. It was a very civil debate. And yet Democrats, a lot of Democrats haven‘t forgiven him for that.
So I think John Edwards has been—he‘s been harping on the message of the day, which has been Iraq for the last two or three weeks. And it was, again, just last night was a culmination of that.
MATTHEWS: John, that‘s a strange assignment, John Fund, to give a guy who basically supported the war for most of the last couple years. He is much more hawkish than Kerry, much closer to Dick Gephardt and to Joe Lieberman on the issue the war than he is to John Kerry. And yet he was given this assignment to say, we really didn‘t have to attack Iraq.
FUND: Well, I think John Edwards did go effectively through his talking points and point out that the situation in Iraq is bleak and doesn‘t particularly look good right now.
Where he failed, though, was I think to properly explain to the American people in simple, clear terms why the Kerry-Edwards plan, whatever that plan is right now, since it just jelled on September 22, is going to get us out of—either out of Iraq if you are against the war or will win the war if you want to win the war.
And that was his dilemma. When Dick Cheney said, you couldn‘t stand up to Howard Dean in the primaries, that‘s why you changed your mind in supporting the $87 billion for the troops, John Edwards didn‘t have a proper response. Again, once he got off his talking points, there wasn‘t much there.
MATTHEWS: Did you get that sense, Mark, that he was briefed, but he wasn‘t deep?
LEIBOVICH: Yes, I did in some ways.
I think John Edwards is very, very smooth and very, very articulate, obviously, but he is not particularly good on his feet. He is nimble-minded, but not in a way that really translates into one-liners or anything that could even be considered spontaneous in a setting like last night.
MATTHEWS: Like not being able to remember that he actually spent a couple of hours sitting next to the vice president.
There were tons of moments where he could have been glib, funny, if not lighthearted. I think Edwards, as he proved in his disastrous “Meet the Press” interview and in some other settings over the course of the campaign is—he is very, very well prepared, but not necessarily someone with great political instincts, at least in the heat of battle.
MATTHEWS: Did you get the sense, Mark, that he could have gone either way on the war in terms of his presentation last night, that if someone had said to him two or three days ago or a week ago, look, we want to you prepare a brief, we want you to make a case for the war with Iraq, that he would have been just as passionate? Because he wasn‘t that passionate;.
LEIBOVICH: Yes, there was a sense of that. There was a trial lawyer‘s sort of preparation either way and prepared to argue either side of the case.
And John Edwards has sort of a baseline of passion that you can either describe as being canned or overwrought, depending on who is looking. But, yes, I think, especially in contrast to Cheney, who has a real, real grasp of issues and has a real gravitas and never really changes his tempo, someone like Edwards in that situation can be somewhat exposed.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I get the feeling you‘re watching a playwright fighting a theater critic, John, that it wasn‘t really a battle of two premises or two points of views or two philosophies of foreign policy. It was a critique of a foreign policy by someone much junior to the person who was criticizing him.
FUND: Well, I think John Edwards came to basically defend John Kerry. And he constantly evoked his name last night. Cheney didn‘t feel that necessity to constantly evoke President Bush.
MATTHEWS: Well, he certainly didn‘t. Did you notice that the president was almost unspoken, the name of the president was almost unspoken last night?
FUND: I think Mr. Cheney was Mr. Steady.
And his mission there was to say, look, this administration is in good hands, regardless of what happened in last Thursday‘s debate. And these two people can‘t be trusted because they‘re all over the map.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I know. He is trying to discredit the witness, the professional witness.
Anyway, we‘re going to come back. I want to talk to both these guys to try to figure out what happened last night that is going to cue and key what is going to happen Friday night out there in Saint Louis at Washington U., because I think every one of these leads to the next one. We‘ll talk about how this does carry the chain of events further.
And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, “The Wall Street Journal”‘s John Fund on the issue of gay marriage from Tuesday‘s vice presidential debate.
HARDBALL back after this.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with John Fund of OpinionJournal.com.
Mark Leibovich of “The Washington Post” was called away to assignment.
Here‘s an exchange, John, from last night over the issue of gay marriage. Let‘s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And you can‘t have anything but respect for the fact that they‘re willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It‘s a wonderful thing. And there are millions of parents like that who love their children, who want their children to be happy.
And I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and so does John Kerry.
I also believe that there should be partnership benefits for gay and lesbian couples in long-term, committed relationships.
But we should not use the Constitution to divide this country.
No state for the last 200 years has ever had to recognize another state‘s marriage.
This is using the Constitution as a political tool, and it‘s wrong.
GWEN IFILL, MODERATOR: New question, but same subject.
As the vice president mentioned, John Kerry comes from the state of Massachusetts, which has taken as big a step as any state in the union to legalize gay marriage. Yet both you and Senator Kerry say you oppose it.
Are you trying to have it both ways?
EDWARDS: No. I think we‘ve both said the same thing all along.
We both believe that—and this goes onto the end of what I just talked about—we both believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But we also believe that gay and lesbians and gay and lesbian couples, those who have been in long-term relationships, deserve to be treated respectfully, they deserve to have benefits.
For example, a gay couple now has a very difficult time, one, visiting the other when they‘re in the hospital, or, for example, if, heaven forbid, one of them were to pass away, they have trouble even arranging the funeral.
I mean, those are not the kind of things that John Kerry and I believe in. I suspect the vice president himself does not believe in that.
But we don‘t—we do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
And I want to go back, if I can, to the question you just asked, which is this constitutional amendment.
I want to make sure people understand that the president is proposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that is completely unnecessary.
Under the law of this country for the last 200 years, no state has been required to recognize another state‘s marriage.
Let me just be simple about this. My state of North Carolina would not be required to recognize a marriage from Massachusetts, which you just asked about.
There is absolutely no purpose in the law and in reality for this amendment. It‘s nothing but a political tool. And it‘s being used in an effort to divide this country on an issue that we should not be dividing America on.
We ought to be talking about issues like health care and jobs and what‘s happening in Iraq, not using an issue to divide this country in a way that‘s solely for political purposes. It‘s wrong.
IFILL: Mr. Vice President, you have 90 seconds.
CHENEY: Well, Gwen, let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Boy, that was using the clock brilliantly, wasn‘t it, John? I mean, the vice president, could you read that poker face of what he thought the other guy was saying?
FUND: Well, Dick Cheney obviously did not want to discuss this subject at all. John Edwards threw up a fog machine, but he did one effective thing politically, Chris.
I think a lot of people in the audience, a lot of devoutly religious viewers, weren‘t aware that Dick Cheney had a gay daughter. And I think that was sort of a slight pressing of Dick Cheney and his base saying, you may not be aware of something. This guy is not everything you might want to think.
MATTHEWS: My God.
FUND: He is not the social conservative that you might want to think.
MATTHEWS: So it really was a stab at the guy politically to try to take away some of his naturally loyal conservative base?
FUND: I think it was one of the smartest things John Edwards did. It was very subtle.
MATTHEWS: But it was ruthless. It was ruthless.
FUND: It was very subtle.
MATTHEWS: I wouldn‘t call it subtle.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, let me ask you about this, because it seemed to me
he was saying—and a lot of people are concerned about this on both sides
· that no state can be required to give full faith and credit to another state‘s decision as to what a marriage is.
So, example, in Maryland, where I live, doesn‘t to have accept the marriage contract coming out of Massachusetts if it involves two people of the same gender. However, that‘s the issue that was raised by the Defense of Marriage Act, which John Kerry voted against.
MATTHEWS: Which would have protected the rights of states from being forced into accepting some other state‘s decision.
FUND: And that was Kerry‘s biggest lost opportunity. He wanted to get away from that issue so fast, he lost a great opportunity to say, if your guy had his way, we wouldn‘t have those federal protections.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about politics. You took about the—well, I‘ll use the word ruthlessness of John Edwards‘ move there, because he basically tried to wedge some of the vice president‘s constituency away from him by saying, hey, this guy has got a gay daughter. He is not like us, as if that‘s something you can choose.
What was Edwards up to with regard to the gay community? Was he saying to people who are gay in this country—and what does he—take the Kinsey numbers. Let‘s say a bigger version, 5 percent. They‘re voting. They‘re DINKs. They have double income, no-kids households in many cases. They all vote. They‘re very active and some of them are well off. They‘re both business people. They‘re very active in politics.
Is he trying to corral them to stay in the Democratic Party, even though party will not support their desire to marry?
FUND: Well, in political telegraph form, what he was saying is, look, I can‘t be with you on gay marriage. John Kerry can‘t be with you for political reasons, but we‘re a whole lot better than these other guys.
MATTHEWS: What‘s that?
FUND: Well, we are very sensitive. He went on and on about how he wants to extend benefits to gay couples. He wants to do everything short of declaring what they have as a marriage.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. Is this issue a plus or a minus for the Democratic ticket? Assuming that they don‘t grab too many of the cultural conservatives by the stuff we saw last night, is generally you have a sense that gays are going to vote Democrat this time; people who don‘t like gays are going to vote Republican?
FUND: Look, this is the most under-reported story in politics right now.
MATTHEWS: It is all over issues—yes, but you look at states, you‘re right. Missouri was a big vote. Every state that we have a vote on it, the vote, when you get to go in that booth alone, when nobody is watching, people vote against gay marriage every time.
FUND: Chris, Chris, no one wants to talk about the fact that the two groups most opposed to gay marriage in this country happen to be blacks and Hispanics. Nobody wants to talk about it. But they do not want to equate the civil rights struggle that gays are fighting with their civil rights struggle.
Nine percent, 9 percent of blacks tell pollsters, there‘s an equivalence between their civil rights struggle and that of gays. And nobody wants to report it. Politically, this is a loser for the Democrats, especially in the states where something like this is on the ballot. That doesn‘t go to the merits of the issue, but it is a political loser.
MATTHEWS: Why did the vice president cut his remarks so short, then, if it was a loser for his party? Just sensitivity about his family or what?
FUND: Well, I think he personally does not favor a constitutional amendment. He mentioned that. He would have sent a very mixed message if he had gone on to explain why in the world he disagrees with the president of the United States. He basically just said, the president sets policy and I follow him.
FUND: And he wanted to get off that fast.
MATTHEWS: He was like Colin Powell: I‘m a good soldier.
MATTHEWS: Anyway, we‘re going to have more with John Fund when we return.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with John Fund.
You know, it‘s fascinating, Friday night, because the president of the United States, as well as the guy trying to take his job away from him, are going to be sitting before a bunch of people described as soft for Bush and soft for Kerry. No more of this malarkey about people being undecided. Why do you think the Bush people wanted it to be that kind of a makeup of the audience?
FUND: Because they don‘t really believe there are any undecided voters after all. Karl Rove says 5, 6 percent. So he was worried that people would sneak in under the undecided label, but they would really be there to pop questions about Bush under the guise of being undecided.
MATTHEWS: Is that based on history in these debates? I think it is.
FUND: Well, 1992, Carole Simpson‘s debate with the first President Bush, I was there. I think the audience was salted with pro-Clinton partisans. So somebody messed up.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me say what I think happened, my view. I agree with you. I agree with that kind of an interpretation.
My interpretation is these people that put these groups together go out and ask people if they have decided and they say, well, I haven‘t decided. Then they ask them, what particular concern do you have about government?
MATTHEWS: And they go to some particular problem they‘re having with the federal government.
FUND: Health care.
MATTHEWS: They want more health care. They want more disability payments. They want more stuff.
And because they are pleading for a special interest they want, they sound like Democrats.
MATTHEWS: People aren‘t coming on there to talk about the philosophy of progressive taxes or fiscal responsibility or even foreign policy. It is always, the problem revolves around the problem—I didn‘t this disability decision. I didn‘t get black lung. Can you help me? And it always sounds like a Democrat.
FUND: You‘re absolutely right. And, therefore, the Bush people, being stuck with this town hall format, which, by the way, Bush often does well with, because he‘s got a very folksy style.
MATTHEWS: Oh, yes, he‘s been doing with his—but that‘s with Republicans, of course.
FUND: Yes. But he did not want to be confronted like his father was by this question, well, tell me how you feel about the deficit and how has it affected you. And that‘s when Clinton had his great moment, because he marched right up to the woman and felt her pain.
MATTHEWS: Wasn‘t it—remember the case where somebody said—maybe this was a “Saturday Night Live” version of it—what can you do for me?
MATTHEWS: I don‘t have a job. I don‘t have anything. Do something for me. And the answer generally is a Democratic answer. We will give you this program, this training program. We‘ll give you this benefit. We‘ll give you this.
FUND: The mommy—daddy—vs. the daddy party.
MATTHEWS: And the Republican answer is get up on your feet and take care of yourselves, get out of it. And that doesn‘t sound good on national television.
What about this issue? It seems to me that the Democrats are driving a wedge between Iraq and the war on terror. That seems to be an obsession. And it certainly was last night. Is this because of fear that in the last three weeks of the election, the president will continue to conflate the two issues: We‘ve got to fight the terrorists in Iraq?
FUND: Well, there‘s also the fear, Chris, that there will be some incident in the last few weeks. And there‘s a tendency for people to rally around the president. Let‘s say the terrorists take out Saudi Arabian oil refineries and send the price of oil not to $50 a barrel, where it is now, but to $65 or $75 a barrel.
MATTHEWS: Or, more likely, there‘s an assault on our troops in Iraq.
FUND: Well, that‘s a given. There‘s going to be that. I‘m talking about something more spectacular.
MATTHEWS: I meant a big uptick in the violence over there.
FUND: It could be all of the above, Chris.
They‘re trying to insulate themselves, saying, whatever happens in Iraq, don‘t follow Bush as being the leader on the war on terror. This was a diversion.
MATTHEWS: OK, good luck with your book, “Stealing Elections.”
FUND: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: John Fund, it‘s great having you on, as always.
Tomorrow night, we‘ll be at Washington University in Saint Louis, the site of the next big debate, the first—the second presidential debate. Join us, HARDBALL, 7:00 Eastern, and special coverage is beginning at 9:00.
And on Friday, our coverage of the debate begins at 7:00 Eastern.
By the way, an hour from now, watch Tom Brokaw and me talk about the “Secrets of the Great Debates.” It‘s a hell of a show, especially for political enthusiasts.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, Inc.), ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.