The Web     
Powered by
powered by Yahoo!
Return to Transcripts main page


Democrats Debate in the Desert

Aired October 9, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: Here they go again. Will a debate in the desert heat up the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination? We set the scene for tonight's showdown in the Grand Canyon state -- today, on CROSSFIRE.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to the East Coast edition of CROSSFIRE. In about 15 minutes, we'll cross the continent once again, where governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger and California Congressman David Dreier, who is a frequent CROSSFIRE guest and, coincidentally, head of the Schwarzenegger transition team, will be holding a news conference.

We'll take you there live.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: And then, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN, the nine Democratic presidential candidates will participate in a 90-minute debate. CNN's Judy Woodruff will moderate the session. The candidates will also be able to spend part of the debate sitting with a group of real-live undecided voters and taking their questions. Ought to be pretty interesting.

But here at CROSSFIRE, we got a couple guys to take our questions about the presidential race and all things political. They are two of the best minds in the political business, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.

Guys, thanks.

CARLSON: Peter Fenn, thanks for joining us.


CARLSON: I want you to take a look at two polls. The first doesn't mean much. The second means...



CARLSON: The second means a lot.


CARLSON: The first one is a "USA Today"/Gallup poll, also CNN. It puts retired General Wesley Clark first among registered Democrats at 21 points. You'll notice Howard Dean is behind him at 16 points. That's the poll people talk about.

Let me show you the much more relevant poll. And that's a poll taken only in New Hampshire. And that puts Howard Dean at 29 points. You'll see retired General Wesley Clark at five points. This is in a state that actually matters.


CARLSON: My question is pretty simple. Truly, Howard Dean is pretty much the uncontested front-runner this race, isn't he?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think there's no question that he's come out of the pack. He's the one that everybody's been talking about for the last several months. Now they're talking more about Clark, hence his numbers nationally.

But there are 30 primaries and caucuses in five weeks.


FENN: There's a lot of action out there. There's a lot to happen in the next 2 1/2 months.

CARLSON: Well, question, just given that you've admitted that he is the uncontested front-runner, the doctor, I want you to read a quote from Jeb Bush that kind of sums up the way a lot of Republicans feel.

FENN: Were we set up or what there?

CARLSON: This is from Jeb Bush, the Florida governor. "Dean's my man," says Jeb. I'm a big Dean guy. I think that being governor of a state that's got a budget half the size of Miami-Dade County makes him eminently qualified to be the Democratic candidate."

Bottom line, Peter, it's a disaster that this guy is your front- runner, isn't it? It's a disaster.

FENN: It's extraordinary. It's extraordinary that we would hear from Jeb Bush, who has no dog in this fight, of course.

CARLSON: He's a Dean man.

FENN: Oh, my goodness. yes, of course, he is. Yes, right. Listen, the real issue here -- you're right about polls, though. The real issue is the tanking of this president because of his performance in office. He's losing about 10 points a month.


FENN: I mean, he starts at 80 and he's down in the 40s. He'll reach Gray Davis pretty soon.



BEGALA: Let me demonstrate case in point. A CBS/"New York Times" poll asked people this. Our president, first, though, let me say, was in New Hampshire today, the only Northeastern state he carried against Al Gore. He spoke to National Guard troops. And he spoke to them. I'll just leave it at that.

But the American people were asked in the CBS/"New York Times" poll about our president's ability to handle an international crisis, once his strongest suit. Look at this. Back in April, 66 percent of Americans thought they had a lot of confidence, had confidence in Bush's ability to handle an international crisis. Today, it's down to 45 percent.

Alex, the majority of Americans don't believe our president can handle an international crisis. That's because he hasn't been able to, has he?


ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That's actually not what I think the poll said. What it says is, are concerned about it. And I think that's a very valid expression of concern in a very complicated world.


BEGALA: About his ability, though, Alex. The question was about the president's ability to handle it. And I think the people are looking at his debacle in the desert and they are saying, you know, he hasn't handled it very well.

CASTELLANOS: I'm sorry? You're saying that what the American troops did in Iraq was a debacle.

BEGALA: No. What George W. Bush did by sending those troops in there with no plan, no clue, no idea, and no allies was a disaster. That's what I'm saying.


CASTELLANOS: No, I -- we -- Paul, we freed a nation from a terrible dictator. There's more electricity, more jobs, more business, more oil being produced in Iraq today than just six months ago, when that statue came down.

There's now a sea of democracy in a place where we need stability. The world's a little bit better off today because of our president's courage.


CASTELLANOS: Unfortunately -- ask the American people the other side of that question, whom would you trust more? Would you trust Dean, who can't even manage his own opinions, much less foreign policy?


CASTELLANOS: He's been on every side. He's for the war. He's against. He's for the tax cut. He opposes.

BEGALA: Sorry to interrupt. Let me press this, though, because I actually sort of expected a different answer, in this sense.

You are -- and I'm not blowing smoke -- one of the smartest people in politics, period, and certainly in the Republican Party.


CASTELLANOS: ... trouble




I watched the coverage of our president's speech. And it seemed to me to be a bit of a P.R. mistake, a political mistake, honestly, that if a guy like you were advising him, I think you probably would tell him, don't go out and say, all is well, everything is perfect. Why not tell the truth, say, look, we got problems? They're very tough. I have got some new plans to try to solve them.

Why not acknowledge that the thing is messed up instead of going out and governor us this happy horse manure, like he did today in New Hampshire?

CASTELLANOS: First of all, I think there's a lot to be proud of and there's a lot that's gone well that's not being reported. And I think one the reasons the numbers are down, I think, for the president -- which, by the way, comparable to the numbers that Reagan and Bush had at this time. And I think, last I checked, they did OK.

But the numbers are down. It's because of the negative news media. There's been a barrage of negative news coverage that focuses not on the reality of Iraq, not on the reality of the economy.


FENN: When kids are coming home in body bags, you cannot blame the media for that.


FENN: This is a dysfunctional -- this is a dysfunctional family. You've got the secretary of defense going after the national security adviser today.


FENN: You've got the CIA going after the State Department and the Defense Department. You've got a dysfunctional family.


CARLSON: Wait. Peter, you know what? I know you want to change the subject away from your own party -- wait, hold on. There's a debate tonight. And I want to ask you about some of the people involved in it.

CASTELLANOS: We don't have a dysfunctional family. We have a close family.


CARLSON: I want to talk about your family, the Addams family. And I want to talk about retired General Wesley Clark. You've probably been surfing this morning. And if you have, doubtless, you've seen the open letter posted on it, which attacks the candidate himself, describes him as being weak, potentially a man -- quote -- "who cannot obey the law, cannot uphold the law."

His campaign, it describes, as a disaster. And I'm quoting now: "The campaign of Wesley Clark is nothing more than the Gore campaign with a better candidate." Now, if your friends are saying this about you


FENN: I'm not sure these are our friends. Unsigned opinions on Web sites. It's extraordinary to me...

CARLSON: Not any Web site. It's

FENN: So, yes, they put it on there. What does that prove?

Look, you've got nine strong candidates. You're going to see them all tonight. Will they have differences with each other? Absolutely. But the biggest differences will be night and day between who they are and who George Bush is and the leadership



CARLSON: Let me ask you one question. Let me ask you one question, then. Didn't you find it interesting that when John Kerry announced for president officially down in South Carolina, the stage was packed with his old Army buddies, guys from the swift boat on which he served?

General Wesley Clark, at his announcement, I didn't see any friends of his that he made over 30 years in the armed services. And, in fact, the reaction from the armed services, people who know him best, has been hostile, almost uniformly. Why is that?

FENN: Look, you're a general. You're in charge of a war. You have got people sniping at you all the time.

CARLSON: So you have no friends?

FENN: Look, what I think we're going to see here in this candidacy...

CASTELLANOS: There's a Dr. Strangelove quality


FENN: I'm not worried about it. Plus, the fact, these guys are notoriously nonpolitical. Most of them do not register to vote as party members. Some of them don't even vote.

CASTELLANOS: You're wrong about Wesley Clark, though, Peter. He's very political. He's so political, he's been a Republican and a Democrat.



BEGALA: We're running out of time. One issue that may come up in the debate in Arizona this evening is gay civil unions, something that Howard Dean as governor signed into law in Vermont and something that your party's chairman, Ed Gillespie, in an interview with "The Washington Times," said he wants to make a centerpiece issue. In fact, he wants to change your party's platform to say that civil unions, not just gay marriage, but civil unions will be against the policy of the Republican Party.

Now, is this a problem in light of the fact that Dick Cheney, the vice president, supports civil unions, and now Arnold Schwarzenegger, your new governor, our new governor, California's new governor, support them? Isn't that a problem for the Republicans, that Cheney and Schwarzenegger are anti-family, in the eyes of the kooks?


BEGALA: Kooks like Eddie, who I love.

CASTELLANOS: Like maybe Howard Dean. I think, actually, Dean, who if I'm not mistaken, is also opposed to gay marriage, but for civil unions.

BEGALA: Right, he has the Cheney-Schwarzenegger position. CASTELLANOS: So that's a problem for?

BEGALA: For the Republicans. Let me ask again. How does Dick Cheney threaten family values?

CASTELLANOS: I don't think he does.

BEGALA: So you would oppose the Republican move to change the platform to attack -- that -- in a way that would attack Cheney and Schwarzenegger, as well as all the Democrats?

CASTELLANOS: Paul, you know we're the party of inclusion and diversity.


FENN: Oh, that's a belly laugh.

CARLSON: That is, in fact, true.


CARLSON: We're going to take a quick break. Our debate -- our guests, both of them, Mr. Fenn, Mr. Castellanos, will be back after we take this quick break.

And then, of course, we'll be going to a news availability, Arnold Schwarzenegger, new governor of California. We're waiting for that in Santa Monica.

We'll be right back.




CARLSON: Welcome back.

We're still waiting for the start of California governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger's news conference, was an act, now a governor. We'll take you there live the moment it gets under way. This gives us more time, however, to preview today's other political news, an event you'll see tonight on CNN.

The debate among the presidential candidates on the Democratic side will be hosted by our own Judy Woodruff.

In the CROSSFIRE to debate the debate, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.

BEGALA: Alex, one of the things the Democrats will likely try to do in the debate is interpret California. Now, it's a terrible defeat for the Democratic Party. They may try to put the best light on it. It seems to me, a Republican pollster has actually given the Democratic spin the best I've seen. A man named Frank Luntz, Republican pollster, polled for Newt Gingrich, told the "USA Today" this: "I know anger when I hear it. And this is not limited to California."

Do you think maybe that there's an anti-incumbent move out there in California that could also threaten President Bush?

CASTELLANOS: Well, there was an anti-incumbent movement. It was -- Gray Davis was the incumbent. His favorable rating, I think, was 25. President Bush's is 50 out there.

There are other governors who have had to deal with deficits in their states, Pataki, Perry, Jeb Bush. They won reelection. There was one governor who didn't and who had a pretty tough job -- did a fairly terrible job. And I think that's what the voters saw.

CARLSON: Now, Peter Fenn, Senator Bob Graham of Florida came to his senses the other day and, after humiliating himself, dropped out of the presidential race. I am wondering who would be next.

You have John Edwards, who has destroyed his political career. You have Joe Lieberman.

FENN: Humiliated himself?


CARLSON: No, but truly, truly, went from being a serious


FENN: What a magnanimous thing to say.

CARLSON: No, went from being a serious guy who had the respect of everyone in Washington, to being a babbler spouting conspiracy theories about Halliburton.


CARLSON: But that aside, who is dropping out next? It's true.

FENN: I can't let that go. Halliburton, conspiracy theories?

CARLSON: Yes, saying that he wasn't want to vote for the appropriations because he didn't want the money to go to Halliburton. That's insane.


FENN: The Leave Every Child Behind Act that George Bush has out there on his education platform, where he's leaving $6 billion behind, I'll tell you where that money's going. It's going to Halliburton. They've gotten $2 billion already. And they're salivating with this $87 billion deal. (CROSSTALK)


CARLSON: You're scaring me, Peter. Come on back, Peter. I'm going to reel you in, buddy.


FENN: So let tell you about Halliburton. What? What was your question? Look, who is going to drop out?

CARLSON: No, truly. Shouldn't Edwards drop out? It's sad. Come on.

FENN: No, no, absolutely. They can do whatever they want. We've got nine strong candidates. We only need one to beat George W. Bush. And my sense of it is that any one of them is going to be able to beat George W. Bush.


BEGALA: Alex, let me also turn it back onto the Bush Cabinet, OK? Which Cabinet member will be fired first, those who helped bring us the jobless economy or those who brought us the endless occupation? We have a secretary of defense, Peter mentioned earlier, who is in open warfare now with the national security adviser. Meanwhile, nobody -- they're worried about protecting their turf, instead of protecting our troops.

Shouldn't the president fire at least Rice, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz to get somebody in there competent to clean this mess up? At least.



CASTELLANOS: I think considering that we got left the phony boom and the phony Clinton surplus, I think things are


BEGALA: The economy was terrible under Clinton. Run on that, Alex.

CASTELLANOS: Look, in September, we had positive job growth for the first time. Things are turning around. Housing starts are at an all-time 17-year high. So, all of a sudden, things are starting to turn around a little bit. If you want to reverse that, then maybe we could make some changes.

On the foreign policy front, Democrats, I think, are having a tough time tonight explaining what -- how their policy of doing nothing to prevent America -- protect America from terrorism is going to be better than what we're doing right now. (APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: And that's the question I want to ask you, Peter.


CARLSON: Wait, but hold on. Back to Howard Dean, your front- runner. When Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed by American forces in Iraq, I believe in July of this past year, Governor Dean expressed some dissatisfaction. He wasn't sure that was a good thing. A, do you think it was a good thing that they were killed?

FENN: I totally disagree with him.

CARLSON: Oh, you do?

FENN: Yes, absolutely.


CARLSON: Do you think voters are really going to look at a guy like that and say, yes, he'll keep us safe?

FENN: I have some questions about his foreign policy.


FENN: I have to tell you.


CASTELLANOS: There's a place for you on the stage tonight.

FENN: If there is, yes, good, I'll take it.

But here's the problem. You have George Bush just coming out of New Hampshire, trying to campaign in New Hampshire, build up his support there. One out of five people in New Hampshire in manufacturing have lost their job since he's been president. Over three million Americans have lost their job since he's been president. We have more people in poverty since he's been president. This country needs change.



BEGALA: Those people will get their jobs back when George Bush loses his. We've got a great country. We just got a crummy president. We know that from Bill Clinton.


CARLSON: They're going to hire them all at the DMV, yes.

CASTELLANOS: The Democratic answer tonight I think everybody is going to hear is the same answer the Democrats tried in California, which is, somehow, the American people are doing something wrong. They're not paying enough taxes. And that's going to be the -- every candidate on that stage tonight is going to be for higher taxes, one way or the other.

That's going to stimulate job growth?


BEGALA: Well, just for the millionaires and billionaires, for the Castellanoses of the world, maybe, but not for walking-around folks.


CASTELLANOS: That top bracket Dean is talking and Edwards are talking about raising taxes on, two-thirds of that are small businesses that make jobs. You just road-tested that in California. Are you going to try it again?


FENN: We're all for tax cuts to create jobs. We're all for tax cuts to stimulate this economy.


FENN: The latest facts show that the folks between $30,000 and $75,000 are paying a higher percentage of taxes now than they were in the eight years that Bill Clinton was president.


FENN: Wait a minute. Let me just finish; 50 percent of the taxes paid are paid by the top five -- or the tax cut goes to the top 5 percent.

Now, I happen to think that the top 5 percent of Americans could probably give up that $1 trillion that's out there to stimulate the economy.


CASTELLANOS: Democrats are for dry water. We want to cut taxes, except for the people who


CARLSON: Gentlemen, I'm sorry to interrupt you. We are going to have to go right to Santa Monica, California, where governor-elect of the state of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, announces his transition.

Here he is.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR-ELECT: Thank you. It's already much better. Very good.

Well, as I promised you yesterday, that today I will announce my transition team.

DREIER: I've just come from in from Washington last night. And so I officially...

CARLSON: Hey, that was, of course, governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and his transition chairman and frequent CROSSFIRE guest, Congressmen David Dreier of Florida.

We're rejoining the debate in progress with Democratic strategist Peter Fenn, Republican strategist and Alex Castellanos.

BEGALA: Alex, we just heard the governor-elect -- it's hard -- I got to wrap my mind around that -- announce -- and I am quoting him here -- this is thunderous statement -- "I want to have the best and the brightest" -- unquote -- working for me in California.

Now, I would have never thought that he'd come out for both the best and the brightest. When does he make the transition away from movie script platitudes and into the real hard work of governing? When is he going to name the first spending program that he'll eliminate?

CASTELLANOS: I thought the best and the brightest, by the way, was actually a description of the Kennedy administration, which I actually have some respect for.

BEGALA: It was a book by David Halberstam about how we screwed up getting into Vietnam, actually, is what it was.

CASTELLANOS: I think one of the first things -- I think one of the first things we've got to do in California and I think they're going to try to do in California is find out how deep the hole is, because no one really knows. It's been such a chaotic mess out there.

And to his great credit, I think they're actually going to open up the books in that state and take a look.


CASTELLANOS: Look, don't you want to find out what the problem is before you...


BEGALA: Seriously, though, at some point... CASTELLANOS: Actually governing the state is not a 30-second sound bite.


BEGALA: Yes, and that was not even 10 seconds.

CASTELLANOS: But I'll tell you what's going to shock people in California. And that is that now, in the communications age, there's a different kind of governor out there. The mess is caused by the legislature that has locked this state into some horrible spending. There's now a governor that can bypass that and go straight to the people. It's going to be a different kind of


CARLSON: I'm going to have to ask you a question. No one's going to get beaten up here. This is a serious question.

We're not going to know the lessons of this campaign for a long time, maybe years. But it strikes me that one really obvious lesson is that personal attacks don't work. Democrats, at the end of this campaign -- we were out in L.A. this week. You know from watching, I'm sure, the whole campaign hinged on the idea that Arnold Schwarzenegger was mean to women. And it didn't work in the end. Will Democrats take that lesson


FENN: Democrats -- oh, excuse me.


FENN: The Republicans don't engage in personal attacks against Democrats?

CARLSON: Less than they used to

FENN: How much time do you have here?


CARLSON: No, I'm serious. I'm serious. Less than they used to. You know why? Because they didn't work during the Clinton years. And Democrats didn't learn that lesson.


FENN: Because Newt Gingrich is no longer speaker of the House of Representatives, because he thought that he'd run the '98 campaign on Bill Clinton's sex life. That didn't work.

CARLSON: Right. And the Democrats didn't learn that lesson, did they?

(CROSSTALK) FENN: The Democrats -- whoever the -- listen, they know Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was blunt about it -- somewhat blunt -- about what he did and didn't do. And you're right. It didn't have an effect.

But here's the key. Let me go to governing, because I think governing is very important. Here's what we -- we got -- he's got 1,100 jobs in that state to fill; 200 of them are top jobs. He's got to show that he can work with a legislature that is dominated by Democrats. The crazy thing about California is, it is one of two states to require super majorities, two-thirds, to pass a budget and to pass any kinds of tax increase.


FENN: That's a big job.

BEGALA: We've got 10 seconds. We've got 10 seconds.

How much time would the Republican -- oh, they're telling me we don't even have time to ask you this last question.

Alex Castellanos, we're going to have you back soon, Republican strategist.


BEGALA: Good job, Peter Fenn, Democratic strategist. Thank you both very much.


BEGALA: Well, the Democratic candidates are busy prepping for tonight's debate in Arizona. And we will cover that live tonight. So stay with us. We'll come back in a minute with "Fireback."




BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now for our "Fireback" segment.

Chris Roberts (ph) of Saint Louis, Missouri, writes: "As a Howard Dean supporter, I would like to say, Dick Gephardt should not" -- well, wait a minute. I've got the wrong one up here. Sorry.


CARLSON: Mary Slagle of Summerfield writes: "While listening to Arnold's comments during his victory, I suddenly understood. He wasn't groping those women. He was simply reaching out to them."


CARLSON: Those women voted for Arnold, too.

BEGALA: You make that point. And you're right to. Arnold Schwarzenegger carried the women's vote. Personal attacks don't work.

CARLSON: Maybe there's something deeper going on.

BEGALA: I'm not for going into people's sex lives here.

CARLSON: I'm not even going to theorize.

BEGALA: But I do think he's going to be completely incompetent to solve the state's problems. And that's probably how they should have attacked him.

CARLSON: He couldn't be more corrupt than the person he replaces.

BEGALA: He was not -- Gray Davis was not.

Speaking of Arnold, Arnold is speaking right now back up at the podium at his press conference.

CARLSON: Let's go to Arnold.

BEGALA: Let's go back to Santa Monica, California, and watch the new governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.



International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
Add RSS headlines.