Guest: George W. Bush, John Kerry
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: From Democracy Plaza in New York‘s Rockefeller Center, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw talks about this historic campaign for the presidency. Tonight, a HARDBALL election eve special.
Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews. And welcome to HARDBALL‘s special election eve coverage. We‘re live from Democracy Plaza here in New York City, outside Rockefeller Center, world headquarters for NBC News, on this, the night before the presidential election. This hour, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” anchor Tom Brokaw and I will preview what‘s at stake in tomorrow‘s election.
But we begin tonight with Tom‘s interviews with both presidential candidates, starting with President Bush.
TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR: This is my map I used on election night, down in front of the desk. There it is. Give me a surprise on election night off this map. We all know about the battleground states. Do you think there‘s a surprise in there somewhere for you?
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You‘re trying to make me a prognosticator?
BUSH: A pundit?
BROKAW: Yes. We‘ll put it right below. We‘ll just superimpose it.
BUSH: Thank you. Yes, I don‘t know. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin—these are all states I did not win last time that I believe I‘m going to carry this time. Yesterday in Minnesota, at a huge rally in Minneapolis, the governor whispered in my ear, you know, We‘re going to win. And so I feel confident and feel comfortable that we‘re making good progress in states where I did not win last time.
BROKAW: You think we‘ll know Tuesday night, given all these disputes across the country?
BUSH: I certainly hope so. I think it is vital that whichever one of us wins, wins that night because it‘s really important. People are watching this election closely from around the world. But I do think it‘s important for us to get the election over with and get on with the people‘s business. And we‘ll see how it goes Tuesday night, but I really think it‘s important not to have a world of lawsuits that stop the will of the people from going forward.
BROKAW (voice-over): Later, the president sat down with me for an extended interview.
(on camera): Mr. President, is this a referendum on Iraq primarily this election?
BUSH: I don‘t think so. I think it‘s a referendum on leadership. I think it‘s a referendum on who can set goals and who‘s got a vision for peace and security for our country and who‘s got a vision for a compassionate and hopeful America. A leader must be steadfast and strong. A leader must make decisions on principle. You know, tactics change, strategies change, but principles should never change. And I think the American people are going to decide which person, which human being, has got the capability of leading this nation forward into what I believe is going to be a hopeful 21st century.
BROKAW: One of our principal allies in that part of the world is the president of Pakistan, Musharraf. He‘s a great friend of yours. When I asked him if invading Iraq made it worse for the United States and that part of the world, he said, quite simply, Yes.
BUSH: Well, I just disagree. I think my first duty is to protect the American people. And I think one who would argue that the world has—would have been better off with Saddam Hussein in power simply doesn‘t understand the nature of the world in which we live today.
BROKAW: Mr. President in the opening of his debate, Dick Cheney, your vice president, said, If I had it to recommend all over again, I would recommend exactly the same course of action for Iraq. Even if you knew that there was no storage of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, even if you knew that the Republican Guard could fade into the north and the west with their weapons and mount a very effective insurgency against us, even if you knew that we didn‘t have enough troops to secure all the sites in Iraq necessary to be secure at the time, you would recommend exactly the same course of action?
BUSH: Well, Tom, the bigger question is, Should we have removed Saddam Hussein in the first place?
BROKAW: But then the answer is what happens afterwards, as well.
BUSH: But that‘s easy to second guess. I‘ve never known you to be a Monday-morning quarterback like this. I mean, of course, we can look back, and history will judge whether we could have done something differently. But you‘ve asked me the question in the context of, really, Should we have removed Saddam Hussein in the first place? And the answer is, Yes, sir. We should‘ve.
History will judge whether we could have done things differently after we went into Baghdad. We planned for a lot of contingencies. We planned for major disruptions in oil supplies. We planned for refugee flows. We planned for mass hunger. In a war, not everything goes exactly as planned. But the fundamental question at the heart, to me, of what you‘re asking, was did we make the right course of action? Did we do the right thing to secure America? And yes, we did.
BROKAW: This is not Monday-morning quarterbacking on the part of “The Economist”...
BUSH: Well, I don‘t want to—sorry. I didn‘t mean to accuse you.
BROKAW: That‘s all right.
BUSH: I don‘t want to insult my...
BROKAW: That‘s OK. I‘m a grownup here.
BROKAW: But these are legitimate and important questions for the American people. “The Economist,” which is a well known conservative international publication, said invading Iraq was not a mistake, but changing the regime so incompetently was a huge mistake. It‘s cost hundreds of lives of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis. And “The Economist,” then reluctantly endorsed your opponent, Senator Kerry, saying it‘s a choice between the incompetent and the incoherent, and they went with the incoherent.
BUSH: Well, I—look, you know, if I worried about editorials, I‘d be a nervous wreck. My job is not to try to win the kudos of those who write the editorials, my job is to protect the American people. And we are making progress in Iraq. Iraq‘s going to have elections. Freedom is moving. Freedom is marching forward, and the world is better off. And the question in this campaign is, Who has the ability to protect America? Who has the goal and the concept and the strategy to keep this country secure? And when it‘s all said and done, I believe the American people will decide it‘s me.
BROKAW: The other issue that has developed quite dramatically in the last week or so is the disappearance of hundreds of tons of explosives from an ammunition depot in Iraq. Rudy Giuliani, who has been one of your strongest advocates, said on the “TODAY” show the other day it was not your fault, it was the fault of the troops who failed to secure that site. Is that fair to those troops?
BUSH: Well, first of all, there‘s a lot of data, a lot of conflicting information about the ammunition sites. What is a fact is that we have secured or destroyed 400,000 tons of ammunition. What is a fact is that this was a place, when Saddam Hussein was in power, that had a lot of, you know, dumps. And it was a dangerous place. And we—our troops are doing their job.
BROKAW: But was Rudy Giuliani right to blame the troops for not...
BUSH: I never blame our troops. I‘ll be glad to blame myself. I‘m the person that has committed our troops into combat. I stand with our troops.
BROKAW: Mr. President, Osama bin Laden is back on videotape. How can the fact that he is alive and at large be seen as anything other than a failure of your administration?
BUSH: Well, first, he‘s not going to intimidate or decide this election. And secondly, we are systematically destroying al Qaeda, and we‘ll eventually get Osama bin Laden. In the meantime, we‘re destroying his network, slowly but surely, systematically destroying him.
BROKAW: Tell me about the role of the economy in this election.
BUSH: The national unemployment rate is 5.4 percent. That‘s lower than the average rate of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. And 1.9 million new jobs in 13 months is a good sign that we‘re moving forward. And the fundamental question for the American people is, Who‘s got the strategy to keep the economy growing? And I tell the people, I‘m going to keep your taxes low. We‘ll do something on regulations. We‘ll do something about these lawsuits.
And my opponent‘s going to raise taxes. He is. He‘s going to raise taxes on the job creators. Most small businesses in America pay individual income taxes. And when you run up the top two brackets, you‘re taxing the job creators. I think that‘s bad economic policy to do that.
BROKAW: I asked John Kerry the other day if there were any Republican ideas that he thought were good ideas, that he would invoke if he were elected. And he said, Yes. I think that faith-based charities, for example, is a good idea. Are there any Democratic ideas that you think have real merit?
BUSH: Well, I‘ve—I have embraced Americorps, which was an idea of my predecessor. And Americorps is something that I‘ve supported and helped get funding for in the Congress. Americorps is a good program and it‘s providing good results.
BROKAW: On election day, how much difference do you think, for your campaign, the place of Evangelical Christians in this country will make?
BUSH: You know, you want me to be a pundit, and I‘m not a very good pundit. I just hope my voters show up, and I‘ll win if they do. But that‘s—why don‘t you leave that to the people who are going to analyze the election? I think if the people who understand my policies, understand that I share their values, understand that this world is getting better because of the firm action that the United States has taken—and if they show up, we‘ll win.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, Tom Brokaw‘s interview with Senator Kerry. And later, Tom and I will preview the big night tomorrow night. You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s live coverage on the eve of the presidential election from Democracy Plaza, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Democracy Plaza. NBC‘s Tom Brokaw spent time on the campaign trail with both presidential candidates. Late last week, Tom caught up with John Kerry, campaigning in the Midwest.
BROKAW (voice-over): I caught up with Senator Kerry on Thursday‘s as he traveled from Ohio to another critical toss-up state, Wisconsin.
(on camera): The conventional wisdom in both parties at the moment is you got to have two trifectas. You got to win two of the big three—
Pennsylvania, Ohio or Florida—and you‘ve got to win two of the smaller three—Iowa, Minnesota or Wisconsin. Do you buy that?
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Tom, I leave all of that to other people. I really do. I‘m campaigning on what makes a difference for the lives of Americans all over the country. And it‘ll sort out Tuesday night. What‘s important is that I think America can do better than we‘re doing today. That‘s what‘s important.
BROKAW: What‘s also important to the American people is the integrity of the election system...
KERRY: Yes, it is.
BROKAW: ... and there are lots of anticipations of things going wrong
· votes not getting counted right, people being rejected from the polls—in both parties. Are you confident that this can be solved on Tuesday, or do you think it‘ll have to be settled in the courts?
KERRY: Oh, I don‘t think it‘s going to be settled in the courts. I‘ve got 10,000 lawyers. We‘re going to be out there in America on election day working to protect people‘s constitutional rights. We‘re not trying to stop anybody from voting, we want to make sure people vote.
So Madison, are you ready to make it happen?
BROKAW (voice-over): Once we got to Wisconsin, Senator Kerry was greeted by a huge crowd, 80,000 people, who turned out to see him, and not incidentally, rock star Bruce Springsteen.
(on camera): Are you at all tempted to get up there in the old Bill Clinton mode and sing along? Don‘t want to be a side man for Bruce?
KERRY: I might play a little rhythm guitar, but I‘m not going to sing. I know my limitations.
BROKAW (voice-over): A short time later I sat down with the Democratic nominee for an extended interview.
(on camera): In the final analysis, isn‘t this election really a referendum on terror and Iraq?
KERRY: No, not exclusively. No. Not exclusively.
BROKAW: But primarily?
KERRY: No. Americans want to know that I will make the country safe. And I‘ve shown, each step of the way, how I can do a better job than George Bush. For instance, George Bush went to war without the numbers of troops necessary. George Bush rushed to war without a plan to win the peace. He‘s pushed our allies away from us and made it more expensive for the American people.
Then you get to the other issues—health care, education, jobs, paying people a decent wage, making America fair again. And I think people will understand I have a better agenda than George Bush.
BROKAW: They have been making sport of your comments in “The New York Times” that you want to reduce terrorism to a “nuisance” in America, saying it‘s not a nuisance, it‘s a reality, and we‘re involved in a war here. Was that the wrong choice of words on your part?
KERRY: Of course we are. Of course we are involved in a war here. And what I was talking about is winning that war. The president is the one who just the other day said in an interview that whether or not we can be safe is up in the air. That‘s a quote of the president. Well, I don‘t think it is up in the air. What I was talking about was how you make America safe so that it doesn‘t bother us, so it‘s not something that‘s in our lives, tearing at the fabric of our country. I will defeat terror.
BROKAW: This week, you‘ve been very critical of the president because of the missing explosives in Iraq. The fact is, Senator, we still don‘t know what happened to those explosives, how many for sure there were there, who might have gotten away with them. Is it unfair to the president, just as you believe he has been unfair to you, to blame him for that?
KERRY: No, it‘s not unfair. The truth is, they were warned about the ammunition dump. They didn‘t give the right orders. They didn‘t secure it. The ammunition is missing. Those are the facts. And it happened on this president‘s watch.
BROKAW: But the flip side of that is that if you had been president, Saddam Hussein would still be in power because you...
KERRY: Not necessarily at all.
BROKAW: But you had said you wouldn‘t go to war against him, and he would have his hands on that 350,000 tons or...
MATTHEWS: ... or however -- 350 tons, or however many it is.
KERRY: No, that‘s not true because under the inspection process, Saddam Hussein was required to destroy those kinds of materials and weapons.
BROKAW: But he wasn‘t destroying them.
KERRY: And we would—but that‘s what you have inspectors for. And that‘s why I voted for the threat of force, because he only does things when you have a legitimate threat of force. It‘s absolutely impossible and irresponsible to suggest that if I were president, he wouldn‘t necessarily be gone. He might be gone because if he hadn‘t complied, we might have had to go to war, and we might have gone to war. But if we did, I‘ll tell you this, Tom. We‘d have gone to war with allies in a way that the American people weren‘t carrying the burden and the entire world understood why we were doing it.
BROKAW: Are you committed to the idea of elections in Iraq? And if you‘re president, will you send in more American troops to make sure that they can be done in a secure fashion?
KERRY: No, I don‘t think we need more American troops. And yes, I am committed to elections. Yes, I am committed to success. No one has talked about cutting and running.
BROKAW: The president says that liberty is not a gift of the American people but that liberty is a gift of God almighty to every man and woman. Do you agree with his statement?
KERRY: I think everything is a gift from God almighty. Liberty, our life itself, all of the blessings of this country are a gift from God. But that doesn‘t mean that you can automatically make other people accept what you want them to. You have to bring them to the table in a thoughtful way. That‘s been all of history‘s truth.
MATTHEWS: More of Tom Brokaw‘s interview with Senator Kerry after this. You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s live coverage on the eve of the election day from Democracy Plaza on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Democracy Plaza, which is as beautiful as it looks on television, and this special edition of HARDBALL. More now of Tom Brokaw‘s interview with John Kerry.
KERRY: Your colleague from Massachusetts, Senator Ted Kennedy, says that he‘s proud to be a liberal. Are you proud to be a liberal?
KERRY: It depends on what the issue is, Tom. You know, I‘m an ex-prosecutor. I‘ve sent people to jail for the rest of their life. What does that make me? I voted for Welfare reform. I believe in the 2nd Amendment. I‘m a hunter.
BROKAW: But you don‘t deny your liberal credentials.
KERRY: On certain issues, I‘m a liberal, Tom. On certain issues, I‘m a conservative. I think what people need it do is look you in the eye and look you in the gut and see what you‘re going to do to make their lives better. We need leadership that unites America.
BROKAW: What Republican ideas do you like, and would you be willing to try to get moving forward in your administration, if you‘re elected?
KERRY: Well, you know, I‘ve supported faith-based efforts. I just don‘t support them the way the president defined them. But I think it‘s important to have faith-based interventions, whether it‘s counseling or soup kitchens or shelters.
BROKAW: You‘re very protective of your family and very proud of them, I know. Do you regret invoking Mary Cheney in your debate with President Bush?
KERRY: No. Again...
BROKAW: You don‘t regret it at all?
KERRY: Tom, it was done with respect and it was done with a pure sense of admiration for Dick and Lynne Cheney, who I think, obviously, love their daughter and are very proud of their daughter. She‘s made it a public thing. He‘s made it a public thing. And all I was trying to do was honor the reality that people are who they are.
BROKAW: Someone has analyzed the president‘s military aptitude test and yours and concluded that he has a higher IQ than you do.
KERRY: That‘s great. More power. I don‘t know how they‘ve done it.
BROKAW: Do you think too many people this your party underestimate?
KERRY: I think people have always underestimated President Bush. But I‘m proud that in those debates, I didn‘t underestimate him.
I like the president. I just disagree with his choices. He chose not to give health care to Americans when he could have. He chose to block people importing drugs from Canada, when he could have done otherwise. He chose to create the biggest deficit in American history so wealthy Americans could get a tax cut. I disagree with that value system. That, to me, represents the wrong choices for our country.
BROKAW: Vice President Cheney says it‘s going to be 52-47 for their ticket. What do you say?
KERRY: You know, that‘s bravado. Here‘s what I‘ll say about Tuesday. I hope America comes out and votes in record numbers because this is the most important election of our lifetime. And I believe America can do better. We can go to work, we can be stronger at home, we can regain our respect in the world, and I hope Americans will give me the chance to make them proud.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, Tom Brokaw and I will talk about the preview of tomorrow night‘s election results. You‘re watching HARDBALL live from Democracy Plaza only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this special election eve edition of HARDBALL. We are at NBC News headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which has been turned into, as you can see, a wonderland of democracy.
Earlier today, I talked to Tom Brokaw to put this extraordinary election in perspective.
MATTHEWS: What stands out about this election to you?
BROKAW: I think the country is reengaged.
One of the things I find most heartening about it is that we have huge issues before us, not just the war in Iraq and the war on terror, but a big cultural shift in this country. Economic roles seemed to have changed in the last four years. And the country wants to be involved in deciding where we go and how we get there. That‘s all the indications that we are seeing. I expect that we will see it in the voter turnout on Election Day as well.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the war—that people are anxious to express themselves on the war in Iraq?
BROKAW: I do.
I think they are unsettled by the war in Iraq, both those who are against it and those who have people who are involved in it and are for it, but they are unsettled by, it keeps not turning out the way that we are told that it is going to turn out. And any time that you commit young American men and women in this case to harm‘s way in distant lands, nothing gets the attention of the country more than that, than going to war, however large or small the war.
This war is turning out to be longer, more costly. The president says it is going to be worth it. The stakes are huge in terms of the future. If it is worth it, if it does work out the way that he says, it will be a historic change. If it doesn‘t, it could be catastrophic in that part of the world.
MATTHEWS: We watched your interview with the president. And there was an interesting point where you asked, do you think this election is going to be primarily a referendum on the war in Iraq. And he pulled back and he said, no, it is about leadership. What did you make of that answer?
BROKAW: I think that it really is that the war in Iraq is kind of the overarching issue and from that fall a lot of different issues, leadership, determination, the role of the United States in making it possible for people to make decisions for themselves around the world.
The whole question about how we fit into the international community, that falls under the war in Iraq as well.
BROKAW: Economic issues. What are our priorities? Are we going to spend $150 billion in Iraq and then have to pull back here? Can we have tax cuts and finance a war? What kind of an Army are we going to have? All of this stuff falls under the war in Iraq.
So, I believe that, in the larger sense, without taking one side or the other, that this is a referendum on the war in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Did you sense he didn‘t want it to be the case?
BROKAW: Yes, I think he would like it to be other things as well. I think he would it to—I think they feel strongly at the White House, for example, that this is an election about cultural issues as much as anything.
BROKAW: About values and about the role of the government in our lives and the direction that we are going to go.
So—and I think that all falls under that broad umbrella as well. But I honestly think that the overarching issue at the end of the day probably will be in Iraq, and you have to make that a very broad definition.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s look at the election another away, from the point of view of culture.
You have seen the NBC briefing and all the details that are in the polling by NBC and “The Wall Street Journal.” Let‘s talk about it. Tell me what you think about that picture that we get of a very strong bloc of people, 40, 45 percent of the people, who are not just voting against the Democrats and liberalism, but they really do treasure this president?
BROKAW: I think it is the single greatest issue for the Democratic Party going forward, that they have in a way ignored that part of America and have not reached out to them.
And I‘ve talked to a lot of evangelical and just other church-going Protestants in this country, as well as Catholic, but mostly the Protestants, I think, who are traditional spiritual Christians, church-going, try to live by the good book. They feel, so many of them, mocked by the Democratic Party, that they feel like they are dissed by them on a daily basis because of the values that they hold. They are belittled.
And so they have gravitated to the Republicans, even though they may not sure many of the same, if you will, economic priorities of the Republican Party. So, I really do think that that is a big issue. And I think that this president, for them, is the personification of the kind of leader that they would like to have. They are at ease with him.
Here is a man who at ease with his own spirituality. He talks about it comfortably. I don‘t think he wears it on his sleeve. I don‘t think that is fair to say that about him. When he‘s asked about it, he answered quietly and quite eloquently. And that says a lot about why he is a very favored candidate with that part of America.
MATTHEWS: Well, you grew up in the heartland in the Dakotas and you grew up around all these people. You are no stranger to them. You‘re no New Yorker born and bred. Where were they during the Kennedy administration? Where were they during the rise of Bill Clinton? Were they always there, these 40 percent of the people who are very fundamentalist in their belief?
BROKAW: They were, but I think it has taken on a greater edge, Chris, in part because the culture has changed.
You think about the use of language in the public arena now and music and what has happened with standards in films.
MATTHEWS: Right. Sure.
BROKAW: Al Simpson had a great line about Vice President Cheney expressing himself to Pat Leahy on the floor of the Senate and how much attention that got. And he said, I went to a film the other night and that same word was used eight times in the first 10 minutes. What is everyone so exercised about?
MATTHEWS: But within that cultural divide that supports the president, which you point—it‘s very strong. It could be half the country almost.
MATTHEWS: That people believe in genesis being fundamentally true, that the world was created in seven days. I‘ve seen polls of that.
But what do you make of polls that show that half the people of this country believe there were weapons of mass destruction, at this moment still believe it, and believe the president is still telling them that and believing furthermore that the world supports us in Iraq? Isn‘t there a divide between the news media and the stuff that you put out every night on “Nightly” and what they are absorbing?
BROKAW: Yes, but that has always been the case, Chris.
There has always been a larger percentage of the American people than we would like to believe who have not been tuned in to what is going on in the world.
MATTHEWS: Right. This is not new.
BROKAW: It is not new. It just has application in this case to Iraq.
But if you were to go back and look at Vietnam or the civil rights movement or World War II, for that matter, there were a lot of people who just simply didn‘t pay enough attention. And one of the things that this administration has done very well is to define the issues on its terms. The whole Republican Convention was about that. They knew from the moment they put that gavel down on opening day what they wanted to do.
It‘s about terror and Iraq and about weakness on the other side. And that the drumbeat. And they had very strong advocates for that position.
MATTHEWS: This is tough question to answer for any American, but I will throw it at you, because I don‘t think there‘s an expert on this, but maybe you are.
This difference in opinion and emotion about President Bush, maybe I‘m one of the—I don‘t have a strong emotion about him. I think a lot of people don‘t. But it seems like every poll you take, people seem to have this sort of a visceral contempt and this visceral love. Have you seen this kind of thing before?
BROKAW: Yes, Richard Nixon.
BROKAW: I think he engendered that same kind of feeling, especially among Democrats.
BROKAW: It may not have been quite as sharp as it is right now, in part because we didn‘t have the exposure that we now have to these people because of MSNBC and Fox and CNN and this 24/7.
BROKAW: We are living in a video wall world.
MATTHEWS: So you really know the guy.
BROKAW: You really know him and you are dealing with him constantly. And talk radio has something to do with that and the Internet, which I keep saying during this election year cannot be overstated in terms of its impact.
BROKAW: And the dialogue that it generates out there across this new universe in America. As we sit here, some of these sites are taking 1,000 hits an hour.
MATTHEWS: I know. We are not living in the era of reserved judgment.
BROKAW: No. That‘s correct, exactly right.
MATTHEWS: We will be right back with NBC anchor Tom Brokaw.
MATTHEWS: I‘m back with Tom Brokaw.
Let‘s go through our electoral institutions and see how well they have done this year, from your perspective.
The primaries, did they do their job for the Democratic Party?
BROKAW: Oh, sure, I think that they did.
I‘m not in any way denigrating the efforts of the candidates who didn‘t get the nomination. I think that they all in a way made John Kerry better as a candidate. I think that Howard Dean in effect made him the winning candidate. He had to get his act together just mechanically, if you will, get his organization...
MATTHEWS: So Dean‘s strong, strident attack on the war helped Kerry?
BROKAW: Well, I think it helped define who Kerry felt that he needed to be. In the general election, it may have hurt him. He voted against the $87 billion, I believe, primarily because Howard Dean seemed to have a bead on him at that time.
MATTHEWS: That was the timing.
BROKAW: That was the timing. And if it hadn‘t have been for Howard Dean, he might have voted for it and John Edwards might have voted for it as well.
But if you look at that field and look at the Democratic Party, John Edwards and John Kerry were the two people who seemed to be the right combination to come out of it. Now...
MATTHEWS: What do you think went wrong with Dick Gephardt, a guy who looks very good now again?
BROKAW: I think he seemed yesterday, not tomorrow. I really do.
I think Dick Gephardt has been a really honorable public servant. They have a very high regard for him in the White House. They thought he was a man of great integrity. Whenever he came down there, he was only interested in doing what was right for the country. It was not a partisan battle for him. I think he is still an honorable man who should be very proud of his public service.
But I think the country, the Democratic Party at least, even in his neighboring state of Iowa, thought it was time to move on to someone else.
MATTHEWS: When you watched these guys go by all of your career covering it from this nice level here, really—this perspective is fabulous here at Rockefeller Center—but when you see these guys, good guys, apparently, like Hubert Humphrey, Nelson Rockefeller, do you ever feel that some of them would have been good presidents?
BROKAW: Oh, Sure.
I think there have been a number of people who might have been good presidents. I think that, for example, Dale Bumpers might have been a good president. He was a thoughtful man. I was very fond of Gaylord Nelson, for example, from Wisconsin. I saw a lot of people go through Washington. I think there are good people in the Senate right now. I think Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is an internationalist, a Republican conservative in his private values.
So I think that there are a lot of people out there who could be good senators, and I have known a lot of them over the years. And I‘m always very impressed by the sacrifices that they make to stay in public office and to stay on the job.
BROKAW: Financially and otherwise.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about one of the—quickly, I guess, yes or no.
Do the conventions still have a role?
BROKAW: They do for the parties, but not for the country.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go on to a hot one, debates. How big a role will they have played in this election?
BROKAW: I think debates are vitally important. And maybe three was the right number this time.
The country seemed to have an appetite for about that many. They were, I thought, wide-ranging in terms of what they told us about the candidates and where they stood on issues.
MATTHEWS: What did they tell us, do you think—when you talk to people and your report the news, what do you sense they got? Because, clearly, if you look at the polling, Kerry got into this race thanks to television and the debates.
BROKAW: Yes. He made the playoffs, is the way I described it.
BROKAW: I think, if he had not done well, if the president had done better in that first debate, I think that this race would probably be over at this point.
I think people always want to know how does a candidate think and comport himself or herself in the future out there in a debate across the aisle from his opponent and how do they articulate their philosophy and then defend it when there is a neutral moderator asking them questions. I have been saying repeatedly—I think I have said it to you, Chris, during the course of this campaign—electing a president is not about the fine print. It is about a comfort level, about, who are these people?
And I know a lot of folks over the years who have said, you know, I‘m not crazy about all of his positions, but I like him and I think I trust him to make the right decisions about my children.
MATTHEWS: But that first debate, was that a congeniality contest or was it a sharpness contest?
BROKAW: No, I think it was a combination of the two. I think that John Kerry articulated his positions extremely well.
He has been a debater most of his lifetime. He was a prep school champion. He debated at Yale. He was in the debating society in the United States Senate. He knew what the stakes were. We had been hearing for months that he was a fast closer. He debated extremely well against Bill Weld, as you know.
MATTHEWS: Well, that last part may be true, the fast—it is getting very close tonight.
But he debated very well against Bill Weld, who was a formidable
candidate when they were running against each other for the United States
Senate. I think the president—this is armchair psychology at this point
· I do think he was a little exhausted that day.
I also think, when you are president, whether you are a Republican or Democrat, George Bush, Bill Clinton, whoever you are, you are not used to people challenging you. There‘s a kind of hubris that just creeps up through the DNA in a way.
BROKAW: And when they come out and begin to hammer you, you are not accustomed to that.
MATTHEWS: And you don‘t like it either.
BROKAW: And I asked the president about that. I said, what did your mother say? And he said, oh, I know what you‘re asking about. She said, I thought I did a good job. Now, did I scowl too much? He said, I‘m not a very good actor. I‘m not good at that.
They had forewarned him in advance. And he said, I—they told me, yes, to think about it the next time around.
MATTHEWS: So reaction shots are an important part of our process now?
BROKAW: Of course they are.
And I—look, I think, going back to the primaries, I thought that the Democrats were well served this time, Republicans were well served the last time around by having all these debates in all of these primary states.
BROKAW: That‘s how you sort it out. That‘s what the process should be about. It shouldn‘t be about the consultants and the paid advertising and the robo-calls that come in. It really ought to be about, who are these people?
MATTHEWS: My toughest question, I‘ve saved for last, our electoral process and how you think it is working, the mechanics of electing a president.
MATTHEWS: The Electoral College, the counts on Election Day.
We will be right back for a salvo on the question of what Tom Brokaw thinks about how we are doing in the job of electing our presidents.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Tom Brokaw for the toughest questions, because they‘re about our future.
The Electoral College. Last time around, we had a popular vote winner, Al Gore, who was defeated for the presidency in the Electoral College. Are the people accepting the system we have now, the Electoral College?
BROKAW: Well, I think they were for a long time. I think four years ago changed their minds about that.
And it will depend a lot about what happens tomorrow night. If there‘s a big electoral win and it‘s clear, I think people will kind of recede back into their comfort zone again. But if it‘s popular vote victor and the electoral vote goes to the opponent, I think people will say, wait a minute. This is just not fair.
I am still the son of rural states America.
MATTHEWS: You want those Dakotas protected.
BROKAW: I like to have them protected in the American West and in the Midwest and the rural states.
MATTHEWS: And that was the constitutional sense of having the Senate and the House.
BROKAW: Of course it was.
MATTHEWS: And to give a break to the smaller states.
BROKAW: You could have these big states in Florida, New York and California, the Pacific Northwest, determining who is the president is. It leaves out of rest of the country.
But, having said that, Nebraska and Maine have pretty good systems.
They divide it up a little bit. You get a little more proportional
representation. I think you can have that. I think the larger, more
immediate issue, however, is getting some uniformity in how we vote for
president, so we don‘t have what‘s going on now, this legal battle precinct
by precinct all across the country. Both campaigns...
MATTHEWS: Do you think there‘s any case to be made for why a local election official should design a ballot?
BROKAW: I think that they can do it for their states, but I really think we ought to have uniformity for the president and for the Senate.
MATTHEWS: A simple ballot that everybody looks at.
BROKAW: A simple ballot for the Senate and for presidency and for the U.S. House of Representatives. These are federal elections that we‘re talking about. And there ought to be some uniformity in that. It‘s like interstate commerce, practically. Let‘s get it figured out.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about looking back out, because there‘s a chance this is your last cycle in this role. Let me ask you, looking back, how good do you think the American people at picking presidents? That‘s a hell of question, but why not? Do they pick the right guy?
BROKAW: I think that they almost always pick the person that suits them at that time.
And when they feel that they‘re wrong, they turn them out, Chris. I am—after 42 years of doing this, I am still in awe of the judgment of the American people and I‘m mostly in awe of the system that we have in place and how well it works.
You look at this election, how strong feelings are, how big the issues are, and we‘re going to get through it without tanks in the street or people going to jail. That‘s...
MATTHEWS: Yes. And what about that number that show—we just got it from Peter Hart of NBC, the pollster, that there is only like 2 percent of the country that likes both Bush and Kerry.
BROKAW: I know.
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t that stunning?
BROKAW: It is.
It tells you where we are. But it also says something about the American political system as it is now in place. Both sides are able to exploit the other side‘s weakness in a way that we haven‘t been able to in the past through ads. And then there is the talk show circuit that goes on and all the other stuff of all the parts of the American political system that are in play now.
I was struck by the fact that over the weekend, Rudy Giuliani said, you know, when this is over, we‘ve got to find a way to get the country back to the middle and get it governing again. And I think that there‘s going to be, if you will, a slowly rising tide about all that. We‘ll see how it turns out.
MATTHEWS: Do you expect that, if either candidate wins, that person, that man, will extend the olive branch in some form, whether through Cabinet appointments or policy?
BROKAW: John—I have asked them both that in the last 24 hours—or in the last 24 hours, in the case of President Bush in the last five days.
And John Kerry insists that he will. And George Bush says that he understands the need to do that as well, although he believes—the president believes that we‘re still not one country, two nations. He thinks we‘re still united under God. We just have differences within that.
I guess what I think at the end here, Chris, is that the country has become polarized in a lot of ways. But the single greatest longing political thought that I know about there that is lingering after this election is that people are saying, bring us together.
BROKAW: Find common ground. We want to get together on this.
They do in this in their communities. They do it in the states. And they want to do it at the federal level.
MATTHEWS: Well, one of the institutions that does unite the country is the anchorman. And you‘ve done that.
MATTHEWS: No, I mean it.
BROKAW: Thank you very...
MATTHEWS: You‘ve never been a contentious force in this country.
BROKAW: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Tom Brokaw, what a great career. Thank you very much for giving us your time.
BROKAW: Thanks. Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Stay with us, because our election coverage continues with Andrea Mitchell, Willie Brown, Joe Scarborough, “Newsweek”‘s own Jon Meacham.
And at 11:00, “AFTER HOURS” is back with Ron Reagan, by popular demand, and Joe Scarborough.
You‘re watching MSNBC‘s special election eve coverage from Democracy Plaza, only on MSNBC.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
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