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Three's a Crowd in Presidential Race?

Aired February 23, 2004 - 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 comes the Bush campaign.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I fully understand it's going to be the year of the sharp elbow and the quick tongue.

ANNOUNCER: Can the Democrats stand up to the coming attack?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that what he will do tonight is run away from his own record, because he doesn't have a record to run on.

ANNOUNCER: And presidential candidate Ralph Nader has a message for the Democratic Party.





ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, James Carville and Bay Buchanan.



Our usual hosts on the right have run so far from President Bush's record that they couldn't get back in time for the show. So, sitting in on the right today is Bay Buchanan, president of the American Cause.

We'll debate what the addition of Ralph Nader means to the presidential race right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

With a $500 billion deficit and looming, President Bush has told America that we don't have money for a lot of things. For example, we don't have money to fund education or job training or reduce the cost of health care. But we recently learned that -- what we do have money for. We have money to pay a bunch of known liars to keep producing lies.

Knight Ridder is reporting that the Pentagon has set aside between $3 and $4 million to fund the information collection program of the Iraqi National Congress. This is the same program that exaggerated and outright fabricated -- make that lied -- about intelligence that President Bush used to argue the case for his war. The information collection program of the Iraqi National Congress has gotten it so wrong so many times that nobody's buying what they have to say.

Well, that's not quite true. George Bush is buying it, literally, and it's going to cost us upwards of three million bucks.



CARVILLE: Yes, ma'am? This is the Mardi Gras beads. There's more real going on in New Orleans tomorrow Mardi Gras than going on in George Bush's administration.


BUCHANAN: Listen, you say they lied.

There was no lies whatsoever. There was they did not have their information correct. There was no question. That it's a big difference from a lie.

CARVILLE: Chalabi is...

BUCHANAN: And another point, though, is, they did give him invaluable information...


BUCHANAN: Concerning the military, Saddam Hussein's military positions and his security, etcetera.



BUCHANAN: Which saved American lives.

CARVILLE: They went in and told us -- they went in there and told us where all the weapons sites were. There were no weapons there. These people are the biggest charlatans on the face of the Earth. And we're paying them our taxpayer money.



Massachusetts -- Massachusetts judges have told the gay community to start planning for June weddings. But San Francisco's mayor didn't see a need to wait at all. He dismissed the law of the state as a minor issue and invited gay couples to tie the knot immediately, even if illegal. If that wasn't enough to upset your week, our spineless leaders finished the job quite nicely.

The California governor took days to find his voice. And while he did tell the rogue mayor his gig was up, don't expect the little fellow to be held accountable for his crimes. Why not? For the same reason you've heard virtually nothing from our national leaders. They are afraid of the issue, afraid to defend the sacred institution of marriage. May heaven help us. Or am I even allowed to say that, James?

CARVILLE: You can say, heaven help us. What I don't understand is, why should I be depressed if gay people get together? It doesn't -- I don't know -- it doesn't ruin my day. I see it on TV.

And, you know, I just keep going about my life. I -- I...


CARVILLE: Actually -- I actually like gay people. I wine with them, I dine with them. I like to be around them.


CARVILLE: They're friends of mine. If they want to get together, it doesn't upset me.


CARVILLE: I go to bed at night and get up in the morning.

BUCHANAN: James, there's absolutely not even the gay -- homosexuality.


BUCHANAN: This is much more about marriage. It's everything about marriage.

CARVILLE: Well if they get married, it doesn't threaten my marriage. But, anyway, so be it.



CARVILLE: In Stalin's Russia, they made problems disappear by just airbrushing them out of official photos. In George W. Bush's administration, they make problems go away by hitting delete. A couple of months ago, the Bush administration got into trouble for rewriting a report on the state of the environment. In that report, they made one small change. They changed it to say that global warming doesn't exist. Right. Recently, the Bush administration was at it again. And this weekend, they admitted that they improperly altered a report about racial and ethnic disparities in health care.

For example, they cut out statements about how black children are more likely than white children to be hospitalized for asthma and how Hispanics get worse care when hospitalized for heart attacks. To me, those would seem to be important points in a report about health care and minorities. Then again, to me, it also seems important to have a president who tries to solve problems, rather than try to make them disappear.

BUCHANAN: James, you have it wrong again.

Not one statistic was deleted or changed in that report. Not one. All they did was, they focused their summary on the positive aspects of that report.


BUCHANAN: And then, when they realized, when the top guys realized it, they are the first to say, let's change it and make a more balanced


CARVILLE: How did they realize it? Did the mistake just fall out of heaven? It was pointed out to them by the wonderful Democratic Party, in its ongoing effort to protect children and people that need...

BUCHANAN: You know...

CARVILLE: ... health care...



CARVILLE: ... from the tyrannical insurance companies and giant pharmaceuticals...

BUCHANAN: No, James...

CARVILLE: ... that are funding this administration.

BUCHANAN: James, it was...

BUCHANAN: Got it wrong again. It was Dr. Frist, a good old Republican, who let them know about it.

However, let's move on here. Leaving office after two terms, Bill Clinton called for a constitutional amendment that would allow a president to serve more than two terms. Now Arnold Schwarzenegger, a foreign-born American, wants to amend the Constitution so foreign-born Americans can become president. Al Sharpton, a presidential candidate going nowhere except into debt, calls Ralph Nader's presidential bid an ego trip.


BUCHANAN: And John Edwards, a multimillionaire attorney, tells his supporters to brown-bag it for lunch this week and send him their savings. Don't you just love politicians?


CARVILLE: You know, I do.

And the one that I want to stand up for is Al Sharpton. I'd rather spend a year with Al Sharpton than 30 seconds with Ralph Nader.



CARVILLE: I can't -- I can't think -- outside of Jerry Falwell, I can't think of anybody I have greater contempt for than Ralph Nader.

And, you know, I don't know what kind of -- I don't know Reverend Sharpton, if he's on an ego trip. But no one in the history of the world is on a bigger ego trip than Ralph Nader. But, hey, look, politicians, they want to run for office.


BUCHANAN: Listen, James, every politician out there has an ego that's too big for us to even discuss here on this set.

CARVILLE: You know what?

BUCHANAN: You know that and I know that.

CARVILLE: I would never accuse someone of having a big ego. I got a trifle of one myself.



CARVILLE: To tell you the truth.

BUCHANAN: And we'll have to deal with that this whole half-hour.


BUCHANAN: But Ralph Nader says he's joining the race for president. And Democrats are howling. They blame Nader for their loss to George Bush in 2000. Up next, we'll debate whether Nader, plus President Bush and the Democratic nominee, mean three is a crowd in November.

And is life on the campaign trail anything like it is for a rock star? We'll look at one thing that the two have in common a little bit later.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to the live Washington audience, call 202-994-8CNN or e-mail us at Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



CARVILLE: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The old saying, two's company, three's a crowd was never truer than in the 2000 presidential Ralph race, when Ralph "ego maniac, rotten" Nader made it easier for the Republicans to steal an election from Al Gore. Ralph is running again. He will make a difference -- will he make a difference this time?

In the CROSSFIRE, Republican consultant Ed Rogers and my dear friend Democratic strategist and all-around good guy Peter Fenn.




CARVILLE: And, Ed, you're a good guy, too.



CARVILLE: You're a good guy.

Go ahead, Bay.

BUCHANAN: All right, let's start right there, Peter, Ralph Nader getting into the race. Obviously, all the results of his 2000 race showed he took two, 2 1/2 times as many from Democrats as he did from George Bush. Bad news, very serious. How serious?

FENN: You know, I think it is serious. I think any time you have a candidate gets on the ballot, it's going to be serious.

I think that -- Nader is suddenly going to be a verb, as in, you're Naderized. That is, you're screwed.


FENN: You know, I hate to say it. But the other thing, though, about this right now is you cannot find a former Nader supporter to come out for him. I mean, I think they could fill the back seat of one of his Volkswagens or Pintos or something with his vocal supporters. That's about it.

BUCHANAN: That sounds like a prayer to me.

FENN: I hope.


CARVILLE: Ed, Bay knows more about ballot access. She got her brother Pat on 50 states. Wouldn't you be...

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: There was some erasure that took place after the fact.

CARVILLE: Wouldn't you be pleased to see Ralph Nader hire somebody like Bay Buchanan to get him on all these ballots?


CARVILLE: Wouldn't that be just...

ROGERS: I don't think Bay's available, but I will acknowledge the obvious.

BUCHANAN: For a price.


ROGERS: That, if you're enough of a left-wing crazy to be for Ralph Nader, it is unlikely that Bush is your second choice.



ROGERS: So -- but I'm all for Ralph getting into the race.


CARVILLE: I understand.

You know what? I very much admire you, because this is -- for anybody that is for Ralph Nader is really for George W. Bush. And I admire you Republicans for having the integrity and honesty to say that. And I hope that people around the country know that. And when the Nader people go with these petition drives, I hope people understand that. I appreciate your integrity and honesty.


ROGERS: He had a much better platform with the Green Party last time. I don't think that he is going to attract a meaningful portion of the American electorate this time. But I am glad he's got the Democrats all upset.

CARVILLE: He has us upset.

ROGERS: There's some satisfaction in that.

FENN: But here's the problem. When you have an electorate that is so down the middle, when you have a 50/50 country, when you have 51-49 Senate, 12 votes in the House, state legislators right down the middle, then you can find a state where 10,000 votes, 5,000 votes, 500 votes makes a difference.

And what our worry is that, even if he gets 1 percent or 1.5 percent across the whole country, it doesn't take much to swing stuff.


CARVILLE: I just think it's very important out there for any Democrat, anybody that's for Ralph Nader, just substitute George W. Bush. That's all it means out there.


BUCHANAN: All right, Peter, let's go on to John Kerry. He's a little upset with the president and the president's surrogates, because he claims that they have -- they have somehow questioned, drawn into question his patriotism.

And yet all they're doing is referring to a voting record. Let's just look real quickly at a voting record that he has concerning the military. He's voted against -- and I think we're going to put it right up here, just a few things here. This is not everything.

Voted against B-1 and B-2 bombers, the F-14, the F-15, the F-16 Apache helicopters, the Patriot, the Trident, Tomahawk cruise missiles. The list goes on and on, Abrams tank.

Now, is it not clear that his record is one of an absolute dove, no less dovish than any presidential candidate we've had since George McGovern?

FENN: This is a strong candidate on defense. This is someone who understands defense, who will go to the mat for his country.

You know, you have over 6,000 votes. You have a lot of bills where things are all pulled together. If -- once you have a debate on this -- I'd love to see a debate on national security between Bush and Kerry. And so would Ed.


FENN: I mean, this is fundamental.

But to call him soft on defense, to call him somebody who's ready to sell the United States down the river is a joke. It's not true.

ROGERS: Hey, his voting record is clear. He is a taller, thinner version of Teddy Kennedy. Maybe Kennedy is the conservative senator from Massachusetts, compared to the voting record of John Kerry.

CARVILLE: This is something I find interesting about Republicans.

ROGERS: Please.

CARVILLE: There was a report by a Missouri professor from a great journalism school, a great university, about William L. -- as we say in Louisiana -- Benoit -- B-E-N-O-I-T -- some people say Benoit. He found that, over 50 years, Republicans were more likely by a third to engage in personal attacks on their opponents, and that George W. Bush, by 2 1/2, a factor of 2 1/2 times, made personal attacks against Al Gore, as opposed to policy.

What is it about Republicans that they like negativity and personal attacks and things like that and they want to stay away from issues?


CARVILLE: Historically and now, what is it about you guys that you love these personal attacks on people and you're scared to run on your record?

ROGERS: What is it that made the Clinton administration break the mold on the politics of personal destruction? Any time there was a criticism, any time there was a revelation, it was attack, attack, attack. And that had nothing do with the Republicans. That was just the way the Democrats are.

CARVILLE: Ed, from 1952 to 2000, by 44 percent to 33, Republicans made personal attacks.

ROGERS: Some bogus...

CARVILLE: George W. Bush attacked Al Gore in TV spots 43 percent of the time, Al Gore 16 percent. You all love scummy, slimy personal attacks, because you don't have anything to run on. That's the problem. You don't have a policy position.



ROGERS: Again, the Clinton administration -- the Clinton administration broke the mold...

CARVILLE: The Clinton administration.

ROGERS: ... and taught us all something new...


ROGERS: ... about with smarmy and slimy and personal attacks. (CROSSTALK)


ROGERS: And some bogus story from some professor from somewhere, I don't know. It doesn't wash, James.


CARVILLE: ... Professor Benoit at the University of Missouri, your bogus university out there.



BUCHANAN: Let's put the bogus aside.

ROGERS: Bogus study.

BUCHANAN: Let's go right to the facts. The facts of the matter, Peter, is that the Democrats have attacked this president consistently and continually for the last, what, 10 months. And they've been on the air and using most of that time -- I think it's about 70 percent of the time on air -- attacking the president of the United States. That's what's negative. What is positive?

FENN: Bay, Bay, Bay..

BUCHANAN: Give me one positive thing about the Democrats.

FENN: Bay, he goes on, gives a State of the Union address. He goes down in the polls five points after he gives the address. The American people are sending him a message. You know? He did it to himself.



BUCHANAN: You did not answer the -- are you saying that the Democrats have not attacked him and assaulted his person ever?

FENN: No. Listen, I'm saying -- I'm saying this is going to be a fantastic campaign, because, if it goes the way you and I would like it to go, we're going to debate this economy. We're going to debate what happened to these tax cuts for the wealthy.

We're going to debate where his priorities are. And I'll tell you, we're going to debate foreign policy in Iraq, too. And my sense of it is, the American people are making a decision. They heard him out. They heard him when he gave that -- the hour-long speech.


FENN: And he tanked. CARVILLE: Ed, let me ask you. President Bush is a man who ran for president, said he would balance the budget, ran up $10 trillion in deficit. He said he wouldn't engage in nation-building, and he did it. He said he'd create 2.6 million jobs. We have lost jobs. He said that he wouldn't -- that he would fully fund Head Start and No Child Left Behind. He did no such thing.


CARVILLE: He said that he would protect us from carbon monoxide emissions. He didn't do anything like that. He said was for free trade. He engaged in a protectionist fashion against steel and sugar.

ROGERS: This is a long


CARVILLE: Yes. How in the world has George W. Bush going to stand there with a straight face before the American people and actually utter the words, John Kerry says one thing and does another, when, in the history of the Republic, no human being has ever said one thing and done another more than this president?

ROGERS: I think this election is going to be...


ROGERS: I think this election is going to be -- good question. I think this election is going to be real clear and concise.


ROGERS: It's going to be about who's for lower taxes vs. higher taxes, who's for a more affirmative, strong national defense, vs. a more weak, unilateral national defense.


ROGERS: That's what I think it's going to be about.

CARVILLE: Unilateral?


ROGERS: They were the unilateral -- most unilateral people in the world.


ROGERS: Multilateral vs. unilateral. That's right.

BUCHANAN: We know what he meant.

What's your answer?

(LAUGHTER) FENN: Oh, my answer is easy. My answer is, you take $280 billion budget surpluses and turn them into $560 deficits.

ROGERS: Why? Why did that happen? Why did that happen? Why did that happen?

FENN: You say he promised No Child Left Behind and you're leaving all the children behind, because


ROGERS: Why did that happen? Tax cuts? Tax cuts, guys?


CARVILLE: Yes, that's part -- that's 36 percent of it.

ROGERS: So raise taxes, you're for that. You're for raising taxes?

FENN: Ed, Ed, Ed, you know what's going on?

CARVILLE: For what?

ROGERS: Are you for raising taxes?


FENN: Folks out in that audience, out in that country are writing checks to all of us. They're writing checks to the wealthy.


FENN: They're writing checks to us.

ROGERS: You want to write a bigger check?

FENN: They need to get a check back.


CARVILLE: If you're in the top 1 percent of wage earners, if John Kerry is president, you're going to write a bigger check and the deficit is going to go down. Absolutely.


CARVILLE: And if Bush is in there, you're going to have $10 trillion of debt, just going to strangle the next generation. It's immoral.


BUCHANAN: And I don't what you're talking about. There's a whole lot of people are writing checks to Mr. George Bush. He's got the $200 million. CARVILLE: Sure. All the polluters are writing checks.


BUCHANAN: You see who has the support.


CARVILLE: Insurance companies are writing checks. Yes. Why wouldn't they? They got everything they wanted.


ROGERS: ... and the labor unions.

BUCHANAN: All right, we've got to go to a break, I do believe.

CARVILLE: Labor unions.


BUCHANAN: When we return, our guests will enter the "Rapid Fire." If you think this wasn't "Rapid Fire," we'll see what is. We'll ask how John Kerry will explain his many, many flip-flops.

You all stay right with us. And right after the break, is there anything we can do about the growing crisis in Haiti? Wolf Blitzer has the latest.




CARVILLE: It's time for "Rapid Fire," the shortest question-and- answer session in politics.

We're talking presidential politics with Republican consultant Ed Rogers and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.

I don't know why you're a consultant or a strategist, but what the hell.


CARVILLE: Whatever.

Go ahead.

BUCHANAN: Peter, as you know, in many campaigns, one of the -- a candidate is vulnerable when he can be exposed as somebody who is just constantly flipping and flopping on issues.

We have Mr. Kerry now on both sides of the issue of the war, on both sides of the issue on trade now and again on marriage. That's just a few of them. How are you going to create this man and to be a credible candidate when he's constantly changing on his positions?

FENN: Listen, I think he's very consistent. I think you have someone here who has a 30-year political record. It's a strong record. It's a consistent record.

Look, he has said what he feels about marriage and that it's between a man and a woman.


BUCHANAN: But he voted against it.

FENN: Oh, "Rapid Fire," sorry.


ROGERS: Not filibuster.

FENN: Filibuster, huh? OK.



BUCHANAN: But he voted against DOMA.

FENN: Listen, he didn't want to make it the kind of big national issue.

CARVILLE: Hey, Peter, just say consistency is the stuff of fools.



CARVILLE: ... consistent human being that ever lived is George W. Bush.


BUCHANAN: ... guy can match him.

FENN: Everybody can...

CARVILLE: No, no, not -- Ed, will the president be able to recover from the literal collapse that he's had in the public opinion polls in the last six weeks?


ROGERS: The president's plenty healthy enough in the polls, and yes.

You're seeing right now Kerry have probably the biggest lift he's going to have, even bigger than what his convention will be. I am very at peace with the president's polls.

CARVILLE: We will take your answer as yes.

BUCHANAN: Peter, the vision. Your vision is, Bush is bad. Now, that's hardly a vision. And you have to be optimistic to win an election. What are you guys going to do?

FENN: Are you kidding? Health care. No health care plan out there in the Republicans. We've got one. Education, you know, college scholarship loans, getting more kids into schools, paying the bills, instead of getting screwed the way they're getting it now?

The whole point here is that Democrats have had a program. They spent eight years saving this country. Now we're going down the tubes again.


CARVILLE: Tell me why LSU is such a superior institution from the University of Alabama?


ROGERS: Topically, topically, Alabama has their issues. But be careful.


ROGERS: You're only making it worse on yourself. Alabama is coming back.



A lot of politicians may think they're rock stars. Well, next, we'll show you one reason why they may have been so easily confused.

Stay with us.



BUCHANAN: Candidates, surrogates and media pundits all like to ride in style. And thanks to past excesses of the music industry, they can.

John Edwards is flying all over the country in a chartered jet. It happens to be the same jet once used by rock stars Paul McCartney and Ozzy Osbourne. When Cabinet secretaries John Snow of Treasury and Don Evans of Commerce needed to stump the Pacific Northwest for the Bush administration, they climbed aboard a tour bus once used by Bon Jovi and Styx.

Even the CNN Election Express is recycled. It was once the touring bus of Hank Williams Jr.


BUCHANAN: Apparently, all those rowdy vehicles have settled down -- James.

CARVILLE: Well, well, you know what? You got to ride what you can ride.


CARVILLE: All right. From the left, I'm James Carville. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

BUCHANAN: And from the right, I'm Bay Buchanan.

Tune in tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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