Guests: Ron Silver, Howard Fineman, Chuck Todd, Liz Marlantes, Chuck Todd, Mark Wallace
RON REAGAN, MSNBC HOST: That seasonal music can mean only one thing. It‘s AFTER HOURS on MSNBC, live from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. They call it Wash U., which suggests all sorts of exciting, yet hygienic possibilities.
Now the presidential debates where tonight‘s swing voters grilled the candidates and the candidates came out swinging.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don‘t see how you can lead troops if you say it‘s the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president didn‘t find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so he‘s really turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception.
BUSH: I‘ve got to answer this.
CHARLIE GIBSON, DEBATE HOST: (OFF MIKE)
KERRY: And with reservists being held on duty...
BUSH: Let me answer this, what he just said about...
KERRY: Well, I wanted to get into the issue of Iraq.
BUSH: You tell Tony Blair we‘re going alone. Tell Tony Blair we‘re going alone. Tell Silvio Bellasconi we‘re going alone. Tell Alexander Kwasniewski of Poland we‘re going alone.
We‘ve got 30 countries there. It denigrates an alliance to say we‘re going alone to discount their sacrifices.
KERRY: This president chose a tax cut over homeland security. Wrong choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: Well, that was darn near testy.
I‘m Ron Reagan.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC HOST: And I‘m Pat Buchanan in for Joe Scarborough.
So how did the candidates do tonight? Our all-star panel will tell you who they think won and why.
REAGAN: And we want to know who you think was tonight‘s winner. Let your vote count in our terribly unscientific online poll at TV.MSNBC.com.
Plus, later in the show, we‘ll take your calls and e-mails.
BUCHANAN: Joe is under the weather tonight. We wish him a speedy recovery, and he‘ll be back next week. I will be staying up late with AFTER HOURS and keeping Joe‘s chair warm.
Let‘s bring in our panel. Liz Marlantes of the “Christian Science Monitor”; Chuck Todd, editor in chief of “The Hotline”; “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman; and also from our spin room, actor, political activist and Bush supporter, Ron Silver.
REAGAN: Surprise Bush supporter, Ron Silver.
Ron, let‘s go to you now. Are you out there in the spin room?
RON SILVER, ACTOR, POLITICAL ACTIVIST: I liked President Reagan, too, Ronnie.
REAGAN: Are you spinning or being spun?
SILVER: I think I‘m being spun, but I‘ll spin the best I can.
BUCHANAN: Give us your objective take on who you think won the debate, Ron.
SILVER: It was pretty clear, Pat, don‘t you think? I mean the president had a very, very good night tonight. He married style with the substance tonight. And I think he did what he needed to do.
And in the famous words of Ron Reagan from Coral Gables, I think we‘ve got a race again.
REAGAN: What do you think, Howard? Do you think we‘ve got a race again?
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”: Yes, I think we were inevitably going to inevitably going to have a race again because the dynamics of press coverage are going to require it, number one.
I mean, Mike McCurry, Kerry‘s spinner said, look, I know you guys are going to call it for Bush because you want the rubber mats next week. But I think the viewers who called it narrowly on points for Kerry were probably right on the points, on the debating points.
But George Bush had to be more relaxed, more presidential, more in control, give a better answer on the war on terrorism than he did last time. He accomplished that in the first half hour of the debate, so he helped himself.
REAGAN: Chuck, he was certainly more aggressive.
CHUCK TODD, EDITOR IN CHIEF, “THE HOTLINE”: He was, and there‘s a fine line. I would call it—they want to call it passion. And there‘s sort of a fine line between passion and aggression. And it was mostly passion, but there was that moment with Charlie Gibson that was a little aggression.
I don‘t think President Bush lost a single supporter tonight, but I am not sure if anybody out there, these persuadables that are out there that we all think there are a few percentage points of, I don‘t think that the president lured a single persuadable voter.
And that—barring being able to do that, it‘s hard to call it a win for the president. At best, it‘s a draw.
REAGAN: Liz, earlier Pat and I were discussing whether men would approve of the president‘s performance. You thought that he would go over well with men. OK, you‘re a woman. How did it seem to you?
BUCHANAN: He was assertive, dynamic, tough, taking control—even that moment when he moved Charlie Gibson aside. Look, let me answer this. Let‘s get this clear. We‘re not letting you get away with that.
It seemed to be very strong and men would respond to that. How did the ladies respond?
LIZ MARLANTES, “CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR”: Well, I don‘t know. I would never claim to speak for all women. But I would say I actually would, in many ways, characterize the president‘s performance as heated, and to me, at times, it seemed very defensive actually.
I felt like he was shouting at the audience occasionally, which in a town hall format, one of the things that was so striking to me about this debate, it was really an attack fest. I mean both candidates were on the attack the whole time, which, in a town hall format is a little bit weird.
You‘ve got this audience that‘s sitting close in. It‘s kind of intimate. And yet they‘re both absolutely—I mean it was a bloodbath in many ways. And so that, I think, it was a difficult note for both men to strike.
But I thought that Kerry had a subtler and more in control way of getting his attacks across, whereas Bush often seemed to be careening from, you know, very heated defense of his policies and very strong attacks on Kerry.
BUCHANAN: Let me go to Howard. It seems to be undeniable, though, that Kerry—well, who I think performed admirably down there in Miami. He was cool, crisp, presidential. He did not perform as well as he did in Miami, and the president clearly—of course, it would have been difficult not to do worse than he did in Miami.
But I thought the president was—I agree with you. He was very strong and did seem loud. But it just seemed to me that the president was in control, and it was Kerry who was, wait a minute, let me answer that. Wait a minute, all the way through.
FINEMAN: There were a number of points, I thought, where the president really put Kerry on the defensive, which didn‘t happen the last time around. It happened on things like Kerry‘s record, his voting record in the Senate, on his pledges about taxes.
I mean, I think George Bush, much more than last time around, was able to make Kerry feel uncomfortable about his own record and explaining his own record. That was the best of what Bush did.
There were other times when Bush was pretty lame. For example, his answer about importing drugs from Canada, which may have been the weakest moment for him in the debate.
But the key thing for Bush was to say that this is about the war on terrorism, not just in Iraq. And he did that in the first half hour in a way he hadn‘t done before.
REAGAN: I sense a video clip coming up and, indeed, John Kerry said he never flip-flopped on Saddam Hussein. And here he is saying that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: Well, let me tell you straight up. I‘ve never changed my mind about Iraq. I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat. I‘ve always believed he was a threat, believed it 1998 when Clinton was president.
I wanted to give Clinton the power to use force if necessary. But I would have used that force wisely. I would have used that authority wisely, not rushed to war without a plan to win the peace.
I would have brought our allies to our side. I would have fought to make certain our troops had everybody possible to help them win the mission.
When this president rushed to war, pushed our allies aside, and Iran now is more dangerous, and so is North Korea, with nuclear weapons. He took his eye off the ball, off of Osama bin Laden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: And proving that we‘re fair and balanced, the president here explaining how September 11 changed America‘s role in the world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I vowed to our countrymen that I would do everything I could to protect the American people. That‘s why we‘re bringing al Qaeda to justice, 75 percent of them have been brought to justice.
That is why I said to Afghanistan, if you harbor a terrorist, you are just as guilty as the terrorist. And the Taliban is no longer in power, and al Qaeda no longer has a place to plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: All right. Now, Pat, you disagree with the president on the war, don‘t you?
REAGAN: Are you—are you convinced now?
BUCHANAN: Well, here‘s...
REAGAN: Did he convince you?
BUCHANAN: No, I am judging the debate by, you know, how well the president did, whether he was mature or not, not whether I agreed or disagreed with the war.
REAGAN: I know. But did he make an effective case? Did he sway you at all?
BUCHANAN: I would have to rewrite about 25 or 30 columns.
Let‘s get Ron Silver‘s take on it because this is the reason, one of the reasons, Ron, I think you are behind President Bush. You think he is an effective war leader.
BUCHANAN: You think Iraq was the right thing.
SILVER: Absolutely. I think—I think John Kerry actually made a mistake tonight by emphasizing Osama bin Laden because it makes him seem like he understands the situation we‘re in, in a very small way.
We were attacked by a thug. He‘s hiding out in a cave, or he‘s in New Jersey somewhere. And once we get him, we‘re OK. And the president here has made his case for a grander strategy and a grander vision. He understands the ideological enemy that we are against.
Like communism, it may take 40 or 50 years. And it is a global fight.
And it makes John Kerry‘s vision a little smaller.
Also, somebody brought up before—and I think it was a very good point—opportunities missed last week to make the 20-year record of John Kerry in the Senate an issue, and it does put him on the defensive.
And I have yet to hear anyone in the press ask John Kerry to explain his January 12, 1991 vote against the Gulf War because it met John Kerry‘s global template, global test criteria.
The U.N. said OK, he invaded Kuwait. He rocketed Saudi Arabia. He rocketed Israel. The Senate voted for it, and we had a grand coalition; and John Kerry voted, no. He has to explain that to somebody in the press or someone.
REAGAN: Do you think many people remember that George H.W. Bush initially wasn‘t going to go into Iraq after Saddam invaded Kuwait?
SILVER: Well, after a couple of days...
BUCHANAN: It was about four days until he said, this will not stand.
REAGAN: I think Thatcher got on him, I think...
REAGAN: I think Thatcher got on him. Don‘t be wobbly, George.
BUCHANAN: Don‘t go wobbly. Don‘t go wobbly, George.
I am not sure about that point. But look, I want to ask all of you. Do you—it seems to me what the president did do was what he failed to do last week.
And in other words, he kept making the case—he did make the case against the Kerry record repeatedly and toughly. And Kerry would come out, in effect say, wait a minute, you are not citing it correctly.
MARLANTES: Well, one of the things that I started to feel when I was watching this debate is that in many ways the argument over Iraq feels stalemated to me. It doesn‘t feel like there‘s a lot to be gained for either side, at this point.
BUCHANAN: All the energy and toxicity...
MARLANTES: It‘s being driven...
BUCHANAN: ... has been drained out of it, right?
MARLANTES: It‘s being driven by events if anything. That‘s what‘s going to sway it. And neither sides arguments, they are making the same arguments over and over again at this point.
But what was interesting in that sense about the debate, they haven‘t been arguing as much over domestic issues, over other things. And that part, I think, is much more fruitful as we go to the next debate, which is going to be all on domestic issues.
MARLANTES: And there‘s been this conventional wisdom throughout this campaign that Bush is stronger on foreign policy and Kerry has an edge on domestic. I‘m not completely sure that‘s true.
BUCHANAN: I‘m not either after tonight. I thought, you know, Kerry on a lot of issues would clean the president‘s clock on this domestic. The president held his own in the second half of that...
TODD: Well, you know...
FINEMAN: Go ahead, Chuck.
TODD: Yes—no, but in reverse, he‘s—I think he‘s winning the foreign policy argument. Which is why—I mean the Bush camp—I was talking to Matthew Dowd. He is looking forward to the domestic debate because they are tired of this Iraq issue.
You know, John Kerry said something remarkable tonight. And I have been waiting for, to see, if somebody was going to sort of borrow your father‘s line. Instead of the, are you better off now than you were four years ago, are you safer now than you were four years ago?
When he said this, he said, we were safer before Bush came to office, was a remarkable line and stark. And I am surprised that more people haven‘t picked up on it.
REAGAN: Well, well be back with our panel. Ron Silver, you‘ve got to leave us for a bit, but you‘ll be back in our next half hour.
And as we go to break, we want to hear from you. Vote for you who you thought won tonight‘s debate in our unscientific, online poll. Just log onto TV.MSNBC.com. We‘ll update you on the results later in the show.
Don‘t go away. The party is just getting started here at AFTER HOURS.
REAGAN: So, did President Bush or Senator Kerry win tonight‘s debate?
We want to hear from you what you think. Give us a call at 888-MSNBC-USA.
We‘ll be back with more AFTER HOURS in a minute.
BUCHANAN: Welcome back to AFTER HOURS live from the second presidential debate.
Which candidate is the victor this evening? Did either make history? We‘re back with Liz Marlantes of the “Christian Science Monitor”, “The Hotlines” Chuck Todd, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman.
Howard, let me ask you. Was there a great memorable line tonight besides want some wood?
FINEMAN: News to me.
BUCHANAN: What was that all about?
FINEMAN: The timber...
BUCHANAN: Want some wood.
FINEMAN: The timber company. The timber company. When he said, it‘s news to me.
Well, of course the Kerry people immediately ground out the fact sheet that showed in 2001...
BUCHANAN: He got $84.
FINEMAN: Bush got some small -- $84. So, you know, he kind of walked into that one.
I actually think more than any one quote, although the, you can run but your can‘t hide one from Bush is pretty good.
FINEMAN: And the Kerry one at the beginning was good. I think
rather than a verbal moment, it was the physical moment of George Bush walking toward Charlie Gibson...
TODD: Charlie Gibson, yes.
FINEMAN: ... and basically he was like the OK corral in saying, I‘m going to answer this question or else.
BUCHANAN: Get out of my way.
FINEMAN: Get out of my way. I‘m answering this question. And, you know, how you view George Bush and how you view this election depends very much on how you respond to that.
If you‘re a Bush supporter, than you think, right on, brother.
FINEMAN: You know, if you think it‘s time to get to the table for negotiations with Charlie Gibson and the United Nations, you know, than you think the other way.
BUCHANAN: I think that‘s...
REAGAN: How do you think that‘s going to play?
TODD: No, I‘ll tell you, you know, John Kerry has been struggling with women, or at least before the first debate had been struggling. It was a dead even match.
I‘m not going to speak for all women, Liz. But I would imagine that that moment isn‘t the type of thing that‘s going to sway this undecided woman that‘s out there. And it is the swing vote, this 35-55 year-old, white woman is the prototypical swing voter. And I would guess that wasn‘t a good moment for him.
BUCHANAN: How about the security moms, Liz? Would they have liked that?
MARLANTES: I don‘t know. Like I said, I mean, the whole performance seemed very heated to me.
I had another moment, though, that I thought...
BUCHANAN: What was it?
MARLANTES: ... that I thought was very interesting, which was when which Bush, either through a Freudian slip or—I‘m not so sure it was unintentional—referred to Senator Kerry as Senator Kennedy...
REAGAN: Who has the most liberal record...
MARLANTES: Exactly. Exactly. Because I do, as I was saying before, I think we‘ve got this fight over domestic issues coming up, and he wants to hit Kerry on taxes...
MARLANTES: ... as he started to do tonight. And in a way, I think the flip flop argument, which he has been making throughout the campaign. That also feels like it‘s lost a little of its steam, to me, lately. And I think he‘s going to try and attack Kerry‘s overall record more...
FINEMAN: They switched that. They are no longer the flip flop.
FINEMAN: Now it‘s the real John Kerry who is the antiwar...
TODD: Who is not a supporter...
FINEMAN: ... big government—now this is the real John Kerry.
BUCHANAN: That‘s the thing. Let me go down—that line, the president clearly, deliberately used it twice. He‘s got the most liberal voting—he got an award for the most liberal voting...
TODD: An award, right.
REAGAN: Can you imagine? What does it look like?
MARLANTES: He got the gold star.
BUCHANAN: Does he literally have it up in his office?
TODD: It was a ceremony. Right, you know. That‘s my parent company.
BUCHANAN: But clearly, Howard, the president obviously feels this works because he used it twice, and Kerry was, get these labels out of here.
FINEMAN: Yes. I thought that was—that was one of the times when Bush was successfully on the attack...
FINEMAN: ... because all Kerry was saying was, don‘t give me these labels. You know, that‘s not really an answer.
He has a big, long, complex big government voting record with a few exceptions in it to defend, and that‘s what Bush‘s whole line of attack on domestic policy will be from now to the next and through the next debate next week.
REAGAN: And how does John Kerry defend 30 years or 20 years in the Senate in, you know, in a two-minute answer? How do you do that?
FINEMAN: Well, also, he said, Kerry said at one point, well, I haven‘t proposed $2.2 trillion in new spending. But he didn‘t say—and Bush didn‘t ask him, or Charlie Gibson didn‘t ask—well, all right, how much, actually, are you proposing?
TODD: They are going to go after that. You know, I was thinking about all the fanatic stuff and we‘ve been judging Bush. Didn‘t we do this to Al Gore four years ago?
I mean, it is odd that it‘s George Bush that is in the role of what Al Gore was in. You know, Al Gore wasn‘t hot enough in that first debate. Then he was too hot.
All of a sudden I‘m realizing we‘re judging—we‘re judging Bush‘s temperament, and that didn‘t do Al Gore any good. And I am guessing this is not doing the president a lot of good.
FINEMAN: That‘s a very good point.
TODD: This is not doing the president a lot of good.
REAGAN: And is it important? I mean, it may be important to voters, but does it really matter if the guy swaggers a little bit? Does it matter that Kerry looks down his nose?
FINEMAN: What is remarkable about it is Chuck is absolutely right.
He‘s dead on. It‘s a brilliant point.
Here we are, the guy has been president for almost four years, and we‘re still debating his personality, which is a remarkable and unusual thing. I don‘t know quite what to make of it.
MARLANTES: And the other thing to note, throughout this campaign, it‘s been assumed that Bush has a big likability edge over Kerry. There was a new “Time” magazine poll out today that showed Kerry was actually ahead in terms of which candidate voters saw as more likable.
Now, Kerry‘s—Kerry campaign advisors actually say they are not sure that is completely accurate.
MARLANTES: They still—it was a significant shift...
REAGAN: I‘ve never understood that. I have never personally understood that. I know it‘s just me, and I know that I‘ve got a bias and all that kind of stuff. But I‘ve never gotten that thing with, oh, Bush, he‘s so likable.
FINEMAN: The thing about Kerry, though...
REAGAN: He‘s not very likable.
FINEMAN: The thing about Kerry is, he hits it down the middle of the
fairway most of the time. I mean, he doesn‘t have the wild swing.
Sometimes George Bush is spectacularly inspiring, I think. Now, Ron, you wouldn‘t agree. Some people would.
BUCHANAN: But isn‘t he more...
FINEMAN: But Kerry is—Chuck is so right because Kerry is not drawing attention to himself and his own personality.
BUCHANAN: But isn‘t it in a way, it seemed to me—I mean, as I say, Miami I thought he was terrific, but tonight it seemed repetitive and boring and your mind drifted because here come the same words, phrases, answers.
Bush is a more interesting figure for the simple reason that maybe he‘ll fumble the ball right in front of you. On the other hand, he might...
FINEMAN: What was the question that Kerry gave such a long and convoluted answer to that the president said, I just can‘t—I just can‘t follow that.
FINEMAN: And I agreed with him. I couldn‘t follow that one. I can‘t even remember what it was about.
BUCHANAN: I think he is so natural and human.
TODD: I think that was intentional on the Kerry campaign...
TODD: ... because I really believe they thought, hey this is great. We have drawn peoples‘ attention to Bush‘s personality. And everybody is going to be watching to see if Bush smirks or if Bush scowls or if Bush winks, which he did wink a couple of times. That was really weird.
BUCHANAN: But isn‘t...
REAGAN: One thing it proves...
FINEMAN: It was on abortion. The question was on abortion. The question was, is abortion murder. And Kerry gave such a complicated, embroidered answer...
FINEMAN: ... that it said a lot about Kerry, I thought, and was not
a strong moment for him.
BUCHANAN: But OK...
MARLANTES: But on the whole, what Kerry did do was he kept the focus on Bush. And in a way I think that is what his campaign wants to do. There is a sense that if...
MARLANTES: ... they can make this election about the president and the president‘s record, they will be in good shape.
BUCHANAN: All right, but...
REAGAN: He used the word president 63 times.
BUCHANAN: Times. But each time he did...
TODD: That was absolutely the purpose.
BUCHANAN: The president seemed to me to come out smoking. You are right. It was hot at times, but the president was making his case. And Kerry‘s keeping jabbing him.
It just seemed to me that, you know, I don‘t know how Kerry came off as an attractive—did you think he was an attractive figure, tonight, as he was in Miami?
MARLANTES: I think people are going to come away from this debate with a feeling about Bush one way or the other first. And Kerry—Kerry was almost secondary in the debate.
FINEMAN: Kerry‘s whole campaign—Kerry‘s whole campaign has been, I‘m not Bush, so the whole focus of the Kerry campaign has been on the president.
TODD: And I think...
FINEMAN: That‘s where the word count is revealing.
TODD. I think that‘s why the likability number flipped is because this was an election that was a referendum on John Kerry up until the Miami debate.
BUCHANAN: How could you like the guy at the Miami debate? I mean look...
TODD: And it flipped...
BUCHANAN: ... the Miami debate...
TODD: Well, it wasn‘t just the Miami debate. But it flipped then because suddenly everybody was reminded, oh, that‘s right, we‘re making a decision about whether to hire or fire Bush.
BUCHANAN: Let me tell you why it flipped. You could not watch those cut aways from Bush—and I was in my hotel room, and watching, I started laughing after a while because he was so exasperated, peevish, angered.
Obviously, that‘s not a likable guy that was there.
TODD: He was better played (ph) tonight, yes.
BUCHANAN: But tonight—But tonight it‘s, I mean, I found it a much more attractive, temperament (ph).
MARLANTES: He still had some of those big...
REAGAN: He was still angry.
MARLANTES: I mean, you look at his face. He‘s so tightly coiled. He‘s got the jaw. He‘s doing the blinking thing. I mean, he definitely has a little...
TODD: This is the problem that Bush has...
BUCHANAN: What Bush was doing was very good.
TODD: But Pat...
TODD: This is the problem that Bush has, is I was in that press room tonight. And the press corps, as a whole, wants to write the anger story. They really want to write it.
TODD: They were ready to write it this week that he was, you know, coming out slashing at Kerry. And I‘m wondering if we‘re going to see the coverage tomorrow, and if we‘re going to see a lot of lines and writing that is, gets more to the anger...
FINEMAN: Well, you know why?
TODD: ... than gets more to the passion.
FINEMAN: You know why that will happen, though? It will be happening because of what I said, which is that the Charlie Gibson moment...
TODD: Moment. Gives everybody...
FINEMAN: You have to have a quote...
TODD: That‘s right.
FINEMAN: ... or a moment or something to hang your theory on, and he gave it to them in that.
TODD: I have a feeling he‘s going to lose—he‘s going to lose the spin war this weekend.
FINEMAN: A little different, but I was in the same room talking to the same people, living the life of the same people. They‘re going to give Bush some credit for defending the war on terror.
BUCHANAN: Howard, let me ask you this. The tactic of Kerry, you can see it once—you know, to move around and get, sort of get in the guy‘s face and go right at him. Kerry, I mean, did it again and again and again.
Was this done, do you think, to provoke Bush into some kind of—the facial expressions or to some kind of explosion? Because it got to the point where he was just picking at him and picking at him and picking at him.
I thought Bush was handling himself very well. You could see inside by that smoke coming out of his ears, but he was handling himself very well.
FINEMAN: Karen told me...
BUCHANAN: He controlled himself.
FINEMAN: Karen told me to count to five, and I‘m doing that...
REAGAN: Let‘s check in with our very unscientific, online poll. Who do you think won tonight‘s debate?
Seventy-one percent of you said John Kerry, 29 percent of you said President Bush. You can vote, too. Just go to TV.MSNBC.com.
We‘ll be right back with more AFTER HOURS live in St. Louis, Missouri.
REAGAN: The party is just getting started here at AFTER HOURS, as it always is. We‘ve got much more coming up live from Washington University in St. Louis, the site of the second presidential debate.
But first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC news desk.
REAGAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Pat Buchanan has a lot more experience working rope lines than I have, in your political career here.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC: That‘s exactly right.
REAGAN: Could we ask the people...
BUCHANAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we‘ve got going here and right now let‘s talk to the Kerry-Edwards people here now. You‘re with John Kerry, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am.
BUCHANAN: OK. What was his best moment tonight?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say that John Kerry‘s best moment was on the Supreme Court question, which I thought was an excellent question. I think that Bush, first of all, didn‘t really understand the Dread Scott decision very well. The way he interpreted it.
REAGAN: That was a strange moment, wasn‘t it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was very strange. I think it showed his lack of knowledge. And I think that Kerry did a great job of convincing America that he would do a much better job of picking a more unbiased candidate.
REAGAN: Now aren‘t you reassured, though, that if he‘s reelected, President Bush will nominate Supreme Court justices who will not overturn the Dread Scott decision?
Frankly, I was quite reassured by that.
BUCHANAN: That was not his strongest moment.
REAGAN: Slavery is not coming back in the second Bush term.
BUCHANAN: Well that decision was right down here, wasn‘t it? The Dread Scott decision? That‘s where it was handed down.
Now you are—we‘ve got—Bush/Cheney. You‘re in the midst of it now. What do you think—how do you think the president did, and what do you think was his best moment tonight?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I thought he was more decisive than Kerry. I thought Kerry spoke in more abstract terms and, you know, especially with the health care issue I thought that, you know, when Kerry made comments that, you know, he‘s going to lower the health care costs for Americans—well, what about all the hospitals that are going bankrupt?
BUCHANAN: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, you know, how is he going to take care of those issues? And I thought that George Bush‘s strongest point was being decisive.
BUCHANAN: All right.
REAGAN: Let me ask you a question that Chris asked somebody last night, and it‘s a tough question. I‘m assuming that you support the war in Iraq, is that right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I mean, it‘s...
REAGAN: The question is, though, are you willing to fight in Iraq?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
REAGAN: I thought that much. And I‘m happy for you; I‘m glad. I don‘t want you to be fighting.
BUCHANAN: Let‘s get to a Kerry supporter here and ask them—again -
· right here—right? You‘re a Kerry supporter, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m a Kerry supporter, absolutely.
BUCHANAN: Did the president do a better job tonight than he did in Miami?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He did a job that was worse than the job in Miami and I can‘t believe he keeps getting called—that he‘s doing OK, he‘s doing—the bars seem different for the different candidates.
Seems like all the president has to do is barely show up and talk his talking points and that‘s called a good job or a better job.
BUCHANAN: You don‘t think he was better than he was in—I mean I—even Miami I thought the president lost and I was sympathetic to him; I think?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wasn‘t scowling as much, but I‘m sure his handlers told him not to.
BUCHANAN: So you‘re argue—being honest now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. And substantively I thought he was more aggressive, but I think he needs to be. He realized he‘s falling behind and that‘s a hard thing for, I think, a person in his position to be. I mean I think he‘s having a tough time out there.
BUCHANAN: You all are one of the finest colleges in America here, there‘s no doubt about it. I mean, great scholastic aptitude tests. Don‘t you think though for Middle America that Mr. Kerry was a little bit too wonkish tonight?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wonkish? He needs to be as what he is which is clear and concise and full of facts. America wants facts. They want knowledge. America can handle knowledge. I don‘t think they‘re afraid of having full figures and they‘re not afraid of statistics. They‘re there; they‘re ready for it. They don‘t want to be talked down to.
REAGAN: Now there‘s an unfortunate fact here, which is that we have to go to a commercial break so we‘ll be back in just a minute with our panel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And this administration
has told you and all of us it‘s not a question of when it‘s a question of -
· excuse me—not a question of if, it‘s a question of when. We‘ve been told that.
The when I can‘t tell you. Between the World Trade Center bombing in what was it? 1993 or so and the next time was five years, seven years. These people wait, they‘ll plan, they plot. I agree with the president that we have to go after them and get them wherever they are.
I just think I can do that far more effectively because the most important weapon in doing that is intelligence. You‘ve got to have the best intelligence in the world. And in order to have the best intelligence in the world to know who the terrorists are and where they are and what they‘re plotting, you‘ve got to have the best cooperation you‘ve ever had in the world.
Now to go back to your question Nicky (ph), we‘re not getting the best cooperation in the world today. We‘ve got a whole bunch of countries that pay a price for dealing with the United States of America now.
I‘m going to change that and I‘m going to put in place a better homeland security effort. Look, 95 percent of out containers coming into this country are not inspected today. When you get on an airplane, your bag is X-rayed but the cargo hold isn‘t X-rayed. Do you feel safer?
This president in the last debate said well that would be a big tax gap if we did that. Ladies and gentlemen, it‘s his tax plan. He chose a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans over getting that equipment out into the homeland as fast as possible.
We have bridges and tunnels that aren‘t being secured. Chemical plants, nuclear plants that aren‘t secured. Hospitals that are overcrowded with their emergency rooms. If we had a disaster today could they handle it? This president chose a tax cut over homeland security. Wrong choice.
CHARLES GIBSON, MODERATOR: Mr. President.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That‘s an odd thing to say since we‘ve tripled the homeland security budget from $10 to 30 billion. Listen, we‘ll do everything we can to protect our homeland. My opponent is right, we need good intelligence. It‘s also a curious thing for him to say since right after 1993, he voted to cut the intelligence budget by $7.5 billion.
The best way to defend America in this world we live in is to stay on the offense. We‘ve got to be right 100 percent of the time here at home and they got to be right once.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: Oh, sorry. No, you can go ahead. You‘ve got your glasses on and everything, you might as well do it.
BUCHANAN: We‘ve still got our panel here. Liz Marlantes from “The Christian Science Monitor,” Chuck Todd, editor and chief of “The Hotline.” And “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman.
REAGAN: Howard, who do you think got the best of that exchange? I don‘t know about you, but I fly a lot—I‘m sure you do, too—but I‘ve been approached by flight attendants—I almost called them stewardesses, which would be a big faux pas.
Flight attendants. And people in the TSA, too, to say you know, this isn‘t working. This is really just not working.
FINEMAN: Well, I think what that was about from John Kerry was not so much homeland security as taxes. What he‘s trying to do is link up his critique on the war with his critique on George Bush‘s economic policy and he‘s trying to say this man wants to give tax cuts to the rich at the expense of homeland security.
FINEMAN: And you know that‘s a tough attack line and that‘s going to be Kerry‘s line and he‘s going to stick to it but the president had a fairly good response.
Here‘s the key thing. If that part of the debate is about the war in Iraq, George Bush is on the defense and is going to lose. If the president can successfully make it about terrorism generally his philosophy and approach to terrorism he wins because John Kerry doesn‘t really have an alternative theory.
Bring us to the table. If I hear about that table one more time...
REAGAN: To the war in Iraq...
FINEMAN: Yes. Yes. It‘s not going to work. Because Kerry doesn‘t really have an alternative plan.
BUCHANAN: Well, let me ask you about that and a point you brought up. It is—always an argument about whether we were wise to go in and did we do the right thing, did we handle it. It seems to me all the political juices are almost—have almost been drained out of that. And what gets me is why there is no question asked of simply what is your exit strategy and when do you expect the United States to be able to withdraw its fighting forces from Iraq?
Or second question would be if you know if General Abazaid said he needs 50,000 more troops in January would you send them? Something about the future. Why—I mean I guess that‘s a problem with the questions but neither of the candidates seem to address them.
MARLANTES: Well, in part I think because I think the future—those are all hypothetical and they may not be able to answer them and Kerry has answered those questions in a variety of ways on different occasions but the heart of what‘s divided the country over Iraq is the decision to go and that‘s what‘s driven the political debate so far but I agree with you it kind of—it kind of stuck.
I mean, they‘ve made their case and most Americans are on one side or the other and there may be a little shifting in the middle depending on whether things are going well or badly.
BUCHANAN: Go ahead. Let me ask you do you think the American—I mean—given your knowledge of the country and your reading of polls and things how long do you think the American people will support a war policy that continues at this level of casualties in Iraq.
TODD: I think we‘re very sensitive toward casualties and I don‘t think we‘re going to be able to support this very long and I feel you see it slipping away. You know, Bush...
BUCHANAN: You think it‘s five-year; ten-year war thing is off the table?
TODD: Well, Bush said something tonight—he said this is a long, long, long war. And I think he said the word long three times. I thought uh, oh. Boy that‘s going to move dials—I understand that. But do people hear the war on terror and this goes to Howard‘s point—do people hear the war on terror or do people hear Iraq? And they hear Iraq.
Now Bush said something that I‘ve never—I haven‘t been able to get my hands around because it‘s a new attack line this week. He says yes, Kerry says he‘s got a plan, it‘s a familiar plan to me, and it‘s called the Bush plan. Well, doesn‘t that—could that reassure some people who are thinking well, I thought maybe Bush but oh, shoot if Kerry is going to do the Bush plan too and I kind of like Kerry over here, I mean I‘ve been confused because Kerry is he a flip-flopper? Or is he going to do my plan? It‘s a little confusing of an argument.
MARLANTES: Well, I think one of the things that started to happen recently is that Kerry‘s case for change started to get a little bit stronger because again events—certain events have been making things tougher for Bush, polls have been showing that people are not happy with the direction of the country.
And Kerry has been trying to be the candidate for change all along. One of the things that Bush needs to do is make sure that he also is seen as a candidate of the future not just defending his record of the past but that he is seen as having something to offer in the future and I think in a way he‘s taking away Kerry‘s argument that he would be different...
TODD: He‘s trying to get rid of the change...
FINEMAN: My understanding of some of the Dow groups—when the president started talking about the WMD issue the numbers went way down real fast.
BUCHANAN: OK, you‘re watching AFTER HOURS live from the Gateway to the West, St. Louis, Missouri. We‘ll get much more from you including your questions and comments right after this short break. The number is 1-888-MSNBC-USA.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: We balanced the budget and we paid down the debt of our nation for two years in a row and we created 23 million new jobs at the same time. And it‘s the president‘s fiscal policies that have driven up the biggest deficits in American history.
He‘s added more debt to the debt of the United States in four years than all the way from George Washington to Ronald Reagan put together. Go figure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REAGAN: Go figure. Let‘s go back to the spin room for a moment. We‘re joined by Mark Wallace. He‘s the deputy campaign manager of the Bush-Cheney campaign. And Mark you prepped the president, didn‘t you, for this debate?
MARK WALLACE, DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER, BUSH-CHENEY: I did not personally but I was involved in the debate negotiations but I do think the president was prepped well because I thought he had a decisive victory tonight.
REAGAN: Of course you did. Now what about all those rules? OK, you were involved in the negotiations. What is this with this 32 pages of rules? Why don‘t you just let the two guys go at each other? They clearly wanted to?
WALLACE: Well, I think that‘s what happened tonight. I think that the rules and the format tonight were good for both candidates. I think it was a great debate for the American people. They saw big differences between the candidates and I think that President Bush was effective at really retethering Senator Kerry to his 19-year senate record and his various positions leading up to the debate.
REAGAN: Why you didn‘t answer my question at all. What is it about this 32 pages of rules? Why do we need them, why can‘t the two guys just have a civilized debate on their own and just kind of go at each other when they clearly wanted to?
WALLACE: I think you had that, though. I think tonight‘s town hall format really was the most freewheeling of the—of all three debates and I think the candidates really did go at each other in this debate tonight and it was good debate.
I think the reason that you have rules are—that are agreed to by both campaigns is that candidates in the past have had—have used the debates as an opportunity to filibuster or grandstand and have showmanship. And I think that‘s not what the American people want to see. They want to see a debate about substantive policy issues and I think the format is designed to have that debate on the issues and not allow a sort of—some of the showmanship that you‘ve seen in past debates.
BUCHANAN: Mark—Mark let me ask you about that when you mentioned showmanship. It seems to me quite clear that the president is much more comfortable when he can move out from behind a podium or off the stool and he communicates in body language as well as in words. Is that the feeling of the Bush campaign as well? That he‘s better in this kind of format than he is standing immobile behind that podium?
WALLACE: Well, I think any format that—when the president can connect with real voters I think that‘s a strength of his. I think he‘d much rather talk to a real voter posing a question—with all due respect to any of you and your colleagues in the media—I think he connects well and relates well to real voters.
BUCHANAN: OK Mark, thank you very much. And we‘re back with our panel, Liz Marlantes of “The Christian Science Monitor.” Chuck Todd, editor in chief of “The Hotline.” And “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman.
And joining us on the set now is political—now, wait a minute, I don‘t think he is. I‘m looking for him...
REAGAN: Not here yet. Where is he? Ron Silver, he‘s out there somewhere.
Well, he‘ll be here in a moment. But now we‘re here with our—speaking for Ron, Howard Fineman of “Newsweek.”
FINEMAN: Ask me a question.
REAGAN: You know we were asking a little earlier we were talking about this whole red, blue, you know liberal—how is it that the country is so divided and why is it so divided? Where is the line here?
BUCHANAN: I‘ll pick that up. It‘s a—there is as someone said a religious war going on in this country. I mean I really believe that. The issues involved, you know, morality and they involve religious beliefs about life and death.
And this is where you get into the stem cell research issue and it becomes so sensitive and touching and of course the right to life issue and the president handled it one way and Kerry.
They were both sensitive. But this is about belief, fundamental belief, and life.
FINEMAN: Pat, you can see that very starkly on the stem cell story—question—and the abortion story. I actually think it‘s kind of an obvious point but it was brought home to me tonight just how fully representative of the two different cultures George Bush and John Kerry are.
I mean, George Bush marching up to Charlie Gibson as a red state guy, you know. And John Kerry talking about the table and talking about science and talking about diplomacy and the planet is the blue state guy. The classic confrontation.
BUCHANAN: Isn‘t there, isn‘t there—you take a look at Kerry and you can see Cambridge and Harvard Yard and Bush tonight you see a little touch of Midland...
FINEMAN: Yale and Harvard.
BUCHANAN: Midland, Odessa.
MARLANTES: Bush has plenty of Harvard in him.
FINEMAN: And Andover.
BUCHANAN: But the bottom has the Kennebunkport, Yale, whatever that little school they went to—Milton Academy.
TODD: I‘ve always thought Kerry was Bush‘s father. I‘ve always thought in a weird way Kerry—I mean, his foreign policy ideas are actually more similar to Bush 41 and an internationalist—no absolutely. I‘ve always said that. And, he actually had the same background that in a weird way they have more in common than Bush and his own father.
BUCHANAN: Forty-three draws from Reagan, there‘s no doubt about it.
He draws from Reagan.
FINEMAN: As the great columnist Maureen Dowd pointed out in “The New York Times” the surest way to get George W. Bush mad is to praise his father.
REAGAN: Praise his father. Well, here‘s President Bush talking about how real leadership isn‘t a popularity contest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I remember when Ronald Regan was the president. He stood on principle. Somebody called that stubborn. He stood on principle standing up to the Soviet Union and we won that conflict yet at the same time, he was very—we were very unpopular in Europe because of decisions he made.
I recognize that taking Saddam Hussein out was unpopular, but I made the decision because I thought it was in the right interest of our security. You know I‘ve made some decisions on Israel that‘s unpopular. I wouldn‘t deal with Arafat because I felt like he had let the former president down and I don‘t think he‘s the kind of person that can lead toward a Palestinian state.
And people in Europe didn‘t like that decision. It wasn‘t popular but it was the right thing to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BUCHANAN: You know, that‘s one of the answers that I thought was one of the best answers the president had. And I thought he did miss an opportunity not going after Kerry who did not support President Reagan during the later years of the Cold War. He could have come at him. But I thought as an answer it was just excellent.
In other words, he said you‘re right. Well I‘m not popular in a lot of places we‘re not popular and here‘s why because we‘re doing the right thing regardless of it‘s popularity.
MARLANTES: Ah, it was vintage Bush and one of the things that it also did is it—Bush is much better I think at conveying a sense of who he is, his core values. When he‘s talking about policy he‘s able to do it in such in a way that it really becomes a statement about himself. Kerry is not very good at that and Kerry really didn‘t do that in this debate and Kerry came across as fairly wonkish, I agree with you.
BUCHANAN: Wonkish, yes.
MARLANTES: And you didn‘t come away from this debate with a very clear sense of Kerry the man or Kerry the core values that define him but I actually think that was intentional. I think in a way...
BUCHANAN: Why did a Kerry—I mean, in a way—because he was so effective Kerry—I mean, I was just startled at how Kerry—how effective he was...
MARLANTES: I think...
REAGAN: Kerry took himself out of the debate in a way?
MARLANTES: I think he almost did. I think they wanted to focus of this debate to be on Bush. Kerry did two things over and over again...
FINEMAN: The press had made the decision it was Bush first debate versus Bush second debate.
TODD: That story line was written, yes.
MARLANTES: Kerry amplified that. He used every answer right away. He turned it into an attack on Bush and then he backed it up with statistics about his own plan. That‘s what he did over and over and over again.
FINEMAN: Let‘s not forget, by the way that John Kerry has been on every Oprah, Regis show...
MARLANTES: Dr. Phil this past...
FINEMAN: Kerry was elsewhere but not tonight. Not tonight. Not tonight.
REAGAN: So Kerry‘s strategy in a way was to make Bush self-destruct or to allow him given the space to self-destruct? To start...
TODD: I don‘t know. I think that they knew the story line was written. They were going to—they knew—Howard Fineman and, you know, and his colleagues you know are going to write how did Bush do compared to how he did before and there was nothing Kerry could do to change the story.
REAGAN: Now occasionally we take phone calls on AFTER HOURS and let‘s take a phone call now from Pattie in Lakewood, Colorado. Who do you think won the debate tonight Pattie?
PATTIE, LAKEWOOD, CO: I absolutely think George Bush did. And I really...
REAGAN: Why do you say that?
PATTIE: I think he was strong, stronger than last week. He has his convictions. He does not flip-flop. And Kerry is scary...
REAGAN: Kerry is scary, did you say?
PATTIE: Kerry is scary and has a crooked smile.
REAGAN: A crooked man. Thank you Pattie.
TODD: I do think Kerry—and I hate to be superficial here. I actually thought Kerry had a terrible makeup job tonight and I‘m serious. You could see bags under his eyes.
Bush had a much better makeup job. I mean, the two you know that stuff matters.
BUCHANAN: It does matter.
TODD: And Kerry did not look as healthy...
FINEMAN: Behind the podium—just coming out from behind the podium
was an enormous help. For some reason in those 32 pages of rules the Kerry
· the Bush people allowed the podium to be 50 inches high. George Bush was barely peeking over the top of it.
TODD: It‘s true.
FINEMAN: But liberated from the podium he was a liberated...
TODD: Kerry‘s so tall he actually—he‘s always going to slouch on a stool—yes.
BUCHANAN: Kerry‘s more wonkish, he seemed to be more tired, he had—he didn‘t have the makeup job he did. But last week the formula was a winner. And—but why would they change a winning formula? And I guess they were maybe—again, we talked about this effort sort of look in his face and keep trying to sort of go at him and you could see George smoldering there to provoke him there.
Was this a—could you—could you find out—was this some sort of strategy?
FINEMAN: Well the difference this time was that George Bush was much more and much more successfully on the attack throughout the debate especially in the beginning and on domestic policy too. Bush made his points very effectively.
REAGAN: Listen I want to thank you guys for coming. Liz Marlantes, Chuck Todd, Howard Fineman.
We‘ve got much more coming up on MSNBC‘s continuing coverage of the second presidential debate AFTER HOURS. Ron Silver you‘re staying with us, you‘re out there somewhere I know.
But bye to the panel here and thank you guys for being here, really appreciate it. OK, we‘ll be right back.
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