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Aired September 27, 2004 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.
In the CROSSFIRE: This week, President Bush and Senator Kerry square off in their first debate, taking on Iraq and other foreign policy issues. They're starting early on the campaign trail.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The mission was not accomplished when he said it. He didn't know it and didn't understand it. It's not accomplished today.
ANNOUNCER: Bush's adviser say their opponent is keeping them busy with their debate preparations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, it's kind of funny. He has to like practice twice as hard because he's trying to keep up with all of Senator Kerry's positions that he's taken over the course of the last 17 months.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He probably could spend 90 minutes debating himself.
ANNOUNCER: What are the expectations? Which candidate is better prepared? Debating the debates today on CROSSFIRE.
ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, James Carville and Tucker Carlson.
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.
President Bush and John Kerry are getting in some extra work this week preparing for the first of their three debates this Thursday in Miami. And Bush starts the week with pretty good numbers from the latest "USA Today"/CNN/Gallup. He holds a 52-44 percent lead among likely voters and a 53-40 percent lead among registered voters.
JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: You can bet that Iraq's future is going to be a major topic. President Bush said the mission in Iraq was accomplished, even though it wasn't. And he says that he would do it again.
All that and the best political little briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."
The gross stupidity of the al Qaeda war becomes increasingly evident day by day. In an administration that has dedicated itself to misleading the American people about what's happening in Iraq, there was a setback when Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell had the courage to say on George Stephanopoulos' Sunday TV show that, contrary to what this president and other leading members of the administration have been telling us, the situation is, as John Kerry said, worsening in Iraq.
In addition to that, "The New York Times" has reported that the Army is so fearful of recruiting -- in recruiting and troop retention that they are having to rethink the length of tours in Iraq. Yet, President Bush continues to tell us everything there is going fine.
CARLSON: You know, that is such a campaign talking point, the idea that the Bush administration is lying to us, as if the truth about Iraq is unavailable to the average person.
CARLSON: Look, you can read in "The New York Times" every single morning what is happening in Iraq.
CARLSON: You can see it here on CNN.
CARVILLE: So why does President Bush keep insisting
CARVILLE: Why does he keep insisting that it's going fine?
CARLSON: Because he's defending a war -- hold on -- that he started.
CARLSON: But the idea that the truth is hidden from us is ridiculous.
CARVILLE: Do you think the war is going fine?
CARLSON: No, I think it's going badly.
CARVILLE: OK. Well, thank you.
(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: And everybody who reads the newspaper knows that.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CARLSON: Come on, James.
CARLSON: No, no, but you're so vested in this: Bush is a liar. Bush is a liar.
CARVILLE: If he tells us the war is going fine, even he's not so stupid as to believe this war is going fine.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CARVILLE: So the only other question is that -- he's -- he's not -- he's not leveling with us.
CARVILLE: All right.
CARLSON: Let's say you had a critically important decision to make and not much time to make it. Presidents of course face similar situations every day. How would John Kerry handle such a situation?
Well, long-windedly, for one thing. If you have been one of the few able to stay alert during one of his speeches, including today's in Wisconsin, when he blasted President Bush for having a secret plan to hurt dairy farmers, you know Kerry would never use two words, when 27 will do. He is slow. A "New York Times" article this weekend points out the Democrat candidate took four weeks -- that's a full month -- simply to decide on the design of his campaign logo.
Should it contain the American flag? Should it not? Kerry couldn't decide. His indecision is so bad that his handlers finally took away his cell phone to keep him from speed-dialing friends to ask for yet more opinions before not making up his mind. Here's the bad news. If John Kerry is elected president, they'll have to give him his cell phone back.
CARVILLE: Well, that's...
CARLSON: Four weeks to design a campaign logo? Come on. Come on, James. CARVILLE: The man might be a graphics artist or something.
CARVILLE: How the hell do I know? I'll tell you what. He would have spend more than four minutes thinking about whether to take the United States to war or not. And that's the difference between them, too.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CARVILLE: It's not between two logos.
CARLSON: I'm not sure he has time, because, after the logo, there are the sweatshirts. There are the banners, literally. There are the T-shirts.
CARVILLE: You got the brochures.
CARLSON: That's exactly right. And John Kerry is up late nights designing it all.
CARVILLE: Perhaps the single most cynical political act of this or any campaign in modern times was perpetrated by the Republican National Committee when it sent out a piece of direct mail to people in West Virginia and Arkansas claiming that, if they voted Democratic, the Bible would be banned.
This is a direct insult to the intelligence of the people in these two states and goes to show you the length in tactics that the Bush administration will stoop to retain its grip on power that it received not as the result of an election, but as a result of intervention by right-wing friends on the Supreme Court. Residents of West Virginia and Arkansas, the Republican Party has told you what it thinks of you. They think you're a pack of hicks and fools. Come November, you can tell them what you think of them.
CARLSON: Oh, what a crock.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CARLSON: What a crock. I have never in my life, James, met a group of people who has more contempt, literally dripping with contempt, for rural Americans than liberal Democrats, as you know.
(CROSSTALK) CARVILLE: Telling these people that Democrats are going to take their Bibles away, Tucker, you know what? You're ashamed of that. I know that you are.
CARLSON: Actually, I didn't
CARLSON: Why would I be ashamed of it?
CARVILLE: I'm going defend you right here on TV, to say that you're appalled that they have such a low opinion of people in West Virginia and Arkansas.
CARLSON: The reason that the rural South no longer votes Democratic, James, the reason that the rural South, where you're from, no longer votes Democratic, is they don't believe your party shares their values. You know that's true.
CARLSON: And you know it's a problem.
CARVILLE: Thank God you have the courage not to defend that grotesque behavior.
Well, yet another sign that critical, key Kerry supporters are fleeing from a campaign in disarray. First, there was Senator Zell Miller, a lifelong Democrat, driven to the GIP (sic) by the recklessness of his own party. Now "The Akron Beacon Journal" reports that former Democratic Congressman and key Kerry supporter Jim Traficant is throwing his support behind President Bush. The operator of a Web site that collects autographs famous and infamous posted a handwritten letter from Traficant declaring that -- quote -- "Bush is the answer for America."
The newspaper says the handwriting in the letter appears to match Traficant's own writing. Congressman Traficant himself, however, was not able to verify the authenticity of the document because he's currently a guest of the federal prison system.
CARLSON: Convicted of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. Officials say he'll be able for comment at some point in 2009.
CARLSON: After which Kerry will be but a bad dream for the rest of America.
CARVILLE: You know what? I'll tell you what. I have got to give you credit. You've got Zell Miller and Jim Traficant. What a pair. Geez. I wish I could draw to something that
CARLSON: Actually, you know what? I would say Zell Miller and Jim Traficant are a lot more appealing than Barbra Streisand put together. I mean, honestly, who do you rather have baby-sit your kids, Barbra Streisand or Jim Traficant? I think you're going to choose Traficant.
CARVILLE: Traficant would have a lot of help. He would have the whole Federal Corrections Department.
CARVILLE: So I would probably leave them with him.
CARLSON: He's just more straightforward and less creepy.
CARVILLE: You know what? Who has better hair, me or Jim Traficant?
CARVILLE: And I want you to give me an honest answer right now.
CARLSON: Yours is less expensive. He paid a lot for his.
CARVILLE: He does -- it can be...
CARLSON: Well, next, debating the debates, as both campaigns try to manage expectations for Thursday's showdown. Will John Kerry finally tell us about how he feels about the war in Iraq? And once he tells us, will he stick to that explanation or will he bring a new one in the next debate?
Later, has the campaign gone to the dogs? We'll tell you about some psychic canines who have a better track record at predicting elections than we do.
We'll be right back.
(APPLAUSE) ANNOUNCER: Get ahead of the CROSSFIRE. Sign up for CROSSFIRE's daily "Political Alert" e-mail. You'll get a preview of each day's show, plus an inside look at the day's political headlines. Just go to CNN.com/CROSSFIRE and sign up today.
CARVILLE: The White House communications director says the president has been studying twice as hard as John Kerry for this week's debate. He was trying to poke fun at Senator Kerry, but he was putting out that our president has to spend more time cracking the books. What to do about the Iraq mess will be a big test for both men. How will they do it?
Today in the CROSSFIRE, Democratic strategist and dear friend Peter Fenn and Republican consultant, another dear friend from K Street days, Stuart Stevens are here.
CARLSON: Peter Fenn, thanks a lot for coming. I never start with polls. Not that interested. But these polls out, the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup polls, are actually pretty interesting. Bush is leading overall among likely voters.
But here are two smaller polls I think are even more interesting. Bush is killing Kerry on terrorism, 62 percent to 36 percent. But here is the most interesting poll. And I actually don't understand this at all. Who would better handle relations with other countries? Kerry, 40 percent, Bush 56 percent. The key critique -- Kerry's key critique is, Bush has alienated the rest of the world. Why do people say this?
PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, you have an incumbent president, first of all. So they automatically have an advantage there, Tucker.
But I'll tell you, I think that this mistake of the Bush campaign to put that foreign policy debate front and center first debate, that is going to come back to bite them, because I'll tell you, I think Kerry is going to come out there, come out very strong. This last week in Iraq and the situation -- even the Republicans in the Senate, even the secretary of state have said these things are going badly. All over the world, people are appalled at our Iraq policy.
CARLSON: But not here. And that's the interesting -- that's why you must have some level of cognitive dissonance here. Here, you believe that this is a reckless president who has hurt America by invading Iraq. And yet the majority, strong majority, of likely voters think he's doing a great job. How dumb are they?
FENN: Well, I don't think it's a question of our voters being dumb, because when the election comes, John Kerry is going to win this battle. But how can you believe that this war -- you yourself don't believe that this war is going well. You can't -- you admit it's going badly.
CARLSON: Of course it's not going well.
FENN: And this strategy from the beginning has been a disaster. If you believe that this...
CARLSON: But they still trust Bush.
FENN: ... war is going well, after spending $200 billion, after 1,000 lives, then, I'll tell you, you believe that our great vice president's $35 million from Halliburton is chump-change. Forget it.
CARVILLE: Stuart, I'm going to something I very seldom do. I'm going to really try to interview you consultant to consultant about these up-and-coming debates. And I think, between you and I, we have done probably more campaigns than we like to think about.
I think -- I actually think that Senator Kerry is going to do fine.
STUART STEVENS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: So do I.
CARVILLE: I think he has got a good team, from everything I hear from
STEVENS: He's a good debater.
CARVILLE: I hear awful good things. And I see that Mr. Rove has said that he's watched all of his debates. And what is the assessment from the Bush camp? Are they optimistic about it? Or where would put the assessment, in talking to your friends in Republican circles?
STEVENS: I think the feeling is that it is not spin to say that Kerry is a formidable debater. He was a prosecutor, had these Weld debates, which I did Weld. And he kicked our butt.
CARVILLE: Right. But Bush has done well.
How do the Bush people think -- I'm not -- look, they got -- as I figure it, the debates are 90 minutes. Jim Lehrer will talk for 20, so at least 70 between them.
CARVILLE: They got six days to get ready for 35 minutes. If you can't do that, you can't do much.
STEVENS: I think they'll be ready. I think they'll be ready.
CARVILLE: Do you think... STEVENS: Look, I think that, in retrospect, we always look at debates wrong. I think we look at these great moments from debates because they are the things that we remember.
But I think what people get out of debates is a sense of who the people are. I think that's what killed Gore in the first debate. If you read the debate, probably, Gore did pretty well. When you saw it, his manner bothered people.
I think, with Kerry, the question is, can John Kerry articulate a consistent position on foreign policy in a credible way? And I think that's the great challenge for him. Now, you know what the president's position on Iraq is going to be.
STEVENS: It's really true, I think it's fair to say, that you go into this debate not really knowing what John Kerry's position is going to be when he steps up on the stage Thursday night at the most critical issue of our time.
STEVENS: That's -- that's...
CARLSON: Now, Peter Fenn, I'm fascinated by this latest Democratic talking point. Maybe you can help me.
After years of hearing that George W. Bush is not only insane and evil, but also really, really dumb, so stupid he can barely remember to breathe, we're hearing now this week that he's this brilliant debater.
I'll just read very quickly. Paul Begala says he's a highly accomplished debater. Howard Dean says a very, very good debater. Tad Devine says a good debater. Joe Lockhart says he's always wins his debates. My favorite, Christine Anderson from the Kerry campaign -- quote -- "Say he's fantastic debater."
So which is it? Is he a moron or is Cicero? Tell me.
FENN: Listen, Cicero -- I love that Cicero comment, because James and I think it's a town in Illinois, but that's OK.
FENN: Look, the -- the -- there's no question that guy has won every single debate he's been in. Now, is it because of his intellectual curiosity? Probably not. Is it because he can deliver a message that's simple? Yes, that's probably it.
But, you know, one of the Republican consultants said last time -- I know if it was you, Stu, but it could have been -- after the expectations have been set so low for George W. Bush in the presidential debate, they said, if he shows up remembering to have his pants on, he'll win that debate.
CARLSON: No, but let's be totally honest. Let's be totally honest here for a second. I have dealt with Kerry a number of times. Kerry actually is a very articulate character. No joke. He is. He is smart. And he has high verbal intelligence. Bush can barely speak English sometimes, OK? You have got to be, as just as a cool analyst here, you have to say, advantage Kerry.
FENN: No, I don't think there's an advantage Kerry at all.
I think that you have two guys going in here at probably about the same level. And I think the question really is in this first debate whether folks come out of this saying, Iraq is a mess. We've spent $200 billion on the wrong thing. Look, the headline in "The Wall Street Journal" says, Homeland Security freezes hiring, budget cut by $1.2 billion. Now, is that the way to fight terrorism? Is that the way to go to war? No, I don't think so. So the key is
CARVILLE: There's something wrong with that.
CARLSON: You got that from CBS. Right. OK.
STEVENS: Same place that those documents come from.
CARVILLE: Yes, Stuart.
STEVENS: Yes, James.
CARVILLE: Let me go. Let me go back here, because, really, what we say is not going to be of any consequence after Thursday night.
STEVENS: I certainly hope not.
CARVILLE: I'm sure you will, but I know it won't. Thank God.
What do you think, like, what do the Bush people believe? How are we going to know? Everybody who is watching CROSSFIRE, we have got a great Republican consultant on here. We've got a great Democratic consultant. How can we tell who won after the debate? What do we look for, honestly? And I'm going to ask both of you all that.
STEVENS: I think you'll know if John Kerry comes across as someone who connects with voters, which I think he's failed to do. What's interesting about this race, in 1992, five weeks before the campaign, before the election, you guys weren't worried about what your message was. You knew what your message was. It was a question of whether or not that message was going to be a winning message.
Kerry doesn't have a consistent -- has yet to articulate.
CARVILLE: I'm trying to
STEVENS: If he does that and if he comes across as likable and he comes across as someone who seems to be able to connect with people...
CARVILLE: And Bush, what can -- what is it that they will be looking for him to do? And then I want to give Peter a chance to jump in and do this.
STEVENS: I think the president is going to defend his position and talk about the future. That's also -- the question here is not so much what situation is this or that. It's also, who is going to do the best in the future? And I think the president will talk a lot about the future. And I think that will be compelling.
FENN: I don't disagree with a lot of what Stu said, to be honest with you.
I think they're going to talk about the future, both of them. But I think one of the things that has happened is that John Kerry goes into this debate after six months of being eviscerated with nice ads that Stu and his group has produced, really tough, nasty ads that I think are above -- over the top. "The New York Times" clearly thinks that the approach is un-American.
CARLSON: Who cares what "The New York Times"
FENN: He's got to come in there and he does have to be likable and he does have to be short and pithy and not go into...
CARLSON: OK. Wait. Hold on.
FENN: He's not teaching a college class here.
FENN: He's looking into the camera and he's appealing to the American people.
CARLSON: OK. Enough about this. (CROSSTALK)
STEVENS: Let me just add one thing.
STEVENS: He also has to decide what he believes about key issues.
FENN: He knows what he believes. See, this is what is false. If you read his speeches, if you don't pay attention to your ads, it's very clear what he believes. But this is a referendum on
CARLSON: Peter, but let me ask you a one question.
FENN: This should be a referendum on where we're going.
STEVENS: Let me ask Peter one question, OK?
Do you think -- John Kerry in August said that, if he had it to do over, he would vote the same way on the war. Do you think he's going to have that position Thursday night?
FENN: He said he would vote to give the president the authority. And the trouble is that every time he makes a statement, it gets twisted and misconstrued and turned around.
CARLSON: Right. People have to try to understand what it means. I know that's mean.
FENN: No, no.
CARLSON: I want to ask you a question. Finally, I want to ask you a question. And it is this. His most significant surrogate, not just this week, but for the past 2 1/2 years, has been the senior senator from his state, Ted Kennedy, OK, who has done a pretty vigorous job of defending him when no one else would. This is a very serious question. You're going to hate it. Try to answer it honestly, nevertheless. If Kerry wins -- and he could -- will Senator Kennedy be offered a job in the administration? Why not secretary of state?
FENN: Oh, of course not. He loves being in the United States Senate. Why would he leave the United States Senate (CROSSTALK)
CARLSON: Why? Because -- then my second question is, do you honestly think you bring swing voters to the Kerry campaign by putting out someone like Ted Kennedy, screaming, red-faced?
CARLSON: You think he brings voters to Kerry for that...
FENN: Listen, he and many others, including Republicans, are making distinctions about this war in Iraq and why it is going badly and why it needs to change. You want to change the war in Iraq, you change presidents, you change secretaries of defense. You change all of it.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CARLSON: All right, we're going to take a quick break.
Up next in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask why the Kerry campaign is again having problems figuring out where in the world it stands on gun control.
And, after the break, Florida cleans up after Jeanne, the state's fourth deadly hurricane since August. Wolf Blitzer has a damage assessment.
We'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Coming up at the top of the hour, Hurricane Jeanne has been downgraded to a tropical depression. But, in Florida today, coming home could be heartbreaking. We'll have details of the devastation. There's increasing concern about a possible terror attack right here in the United States before Election Day. Coming up, what homeland security officials are doing about it. And there's a new weapon in the homeland security arsenal. Look at this, a blimp. We'll take a look and we'll also take a ride.
Those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."
Now back to CROSSFIRE. CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It is time for "Rapid Fire." We take on the topics of the day and our guests fire back, briefly, we hope.
Joining us, Peter Fenn, Democratic strategist, and Republican consultant Stuart Stevens.
CARVILLE: Stuart, I got to get -- President Bush is, you folks points out, a man who believes what he says. Is that correct?
STEVENS: Yes, James.
CARVILLE: How in the name of a just, merciful God in heaven can this man say that the war in Iraq is going well?
CARVILLE: How can believe that? If he believe what he says, how can he sit there and say it's going well?
STEVENS: Do you want me to answer?
STEVENS: Look, the war in Iraq is a difficult business. It's always been a difficult business. The question is -- now, the question is, do you think Iraq is better off and headed in a better correction now than it would be under Saddam? Maybe you're in that Saddam was going to lose that next election or maybe that retirement plan he was on.
CARLSON: I'm sorry. This is "Rapid Fire." I've got to get Peter Fenn in here.
Amazing story in "The New York Times" today. Apparently, sometime ago, John Kerry's campaign sent in a questionnaire to a magazine saying -- quote -- that he owned a "communist Chinese assault rife." Now it turns out that it's not an assault rifle, but a single- bolt action musket that's 100 years old. If this campaign doesn't know the difference between a single-fire rifle and an assault rifle, how are you going to appeal to the red states? They have no idea what a gun is. It's pathetic.
FENN: Listen, he's got a shotgun. He goes out there and shoots.
CARLSON: Oh, no, he doesn't. That's pathetic.
FENN: Listen, I've got an Irish blunderbuss at home. It isn't rapid-fire. I can tell you that. But, look, you were all ready to pounce on him on another so-called flip-flop on this. (CROSSTALK)
CARLSON: He doesn't know anything about guns and he pretends to. Why does he pretend
FENN: I'd rather talk about flip-flops on the patients' bill of rights or flip-flops on Homeland Security Department or flip-flops on 9/11.
CARLSON: On the issues. On the issues.
CARLSON: All right, well, we, sadly, are out of time.
Stuart Stevens, Peter Fenn, thank you. I know. We were just getting...
CARLSON: We almost solved it. I know.
Well, we have got a sort of wag-the-dog-type story up next. Some really Hollywood hounds have made their White House predictions. You'll be knocked out when you hear who they are. We promise you puns.
We'll be right back.
CARVILLE: A rare celebrity endorsement for President George W. Bush, sort of.
Sylvester Stallone's mother tells "The Los Angeles Times" that her dogs say the president will be reelected. OK, technically, it's a prediction, not an endorsement. And it's not really a celebrity either, just the mother of one and her dogs. But when it comes to the good news from the Hollywood sector, the White House will take what it can get.
And before you scoff, consider this. Four years ago, these clairvoyant canines predicted Bush would defeat Al Gore by a couple of hundred votes. Actually, he lost by over a half-million. And they called Arnold Schwarzenegger's landslide victory in California in the governor's race. They're one for two. Clearly, the power of these prognosticating pooches should not be pooh-poohed.
CARLSON: You know, James, I don't even know where to go with that. But I guess...
CARVILLE: I just want to say one thing. I did not write that.
CARVILLE: Somebody stuck that on the teleprompter and I read it. I'm not
CARLSON: I guess my bottom-line feeling in politics is, Arnold Schwarzenegger's -- was it Arnold Schwarzenegger? No. Sylvester Stallone's mother's dogs says so, I'm there. Yes.
CARVILLE: That's it. You know what? Maybe so.
From the left, I'm James Carville. And that's it for CROSSFIRE.
CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE.
This programming note: The CNN Election Express, our bus, is hitting the road this Wednesday and Thursday. Our next stop, Miami, Florida. We'll preview the first presidential debate and have a terrific dinner. CNN will live coverage Thursday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern
"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now -- with no dogs.
We'll see you tomorrow.
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