THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES; ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, THE HUFFINGTON POST TAPED: FRIDAY, JULY 13, 2007 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF JULY 14-15, 2007
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Al Qaeda rising.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF (Secretary of Homeland Security): (From videotape.) All these things give me kind of a gut feeling that we are entering a period of increased vulnerability.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That intuition was offered by Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff on Tuesday. On Thursday, we heard from the National Counterterrorism Center, NCTC, a government organization that came into existence after 9/11 to integrate intelligence that flows from all the myriad agencies of the U.S. government.
The NCTC released a five-page report titled, quote, "Al Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West," unquote, concluding that al Qaeda had significantly rebuilt itself, improving its core operational capabilities.
Key to al Qaeda's success was Pakistan's peace agreement with tribal leaders. Under the agreement, Pakistan removed its government military presence from its North-West Frontier with Afghanistan. Now al Qaeda trains its recruits there.
So the, quote-unquote, "increased summer threat" is built on five key struts: One, an al Qaeda base strengthened to a point not seen since just before the September 11th terrorist attack; two, an increase of overall al Qaeda activity, as observed through Internet chatter and in recruitment; three, an al Qaeda cell now in the U.S., or on its way here; four, communications boldness by Ayman al- Zawahiri, the chief deputy to Osama bin Laden, as displayed in recent videos, and the ease with which they have been distributed internationally; five, executed terror plots and bombing in London and Glasgow, carried out by a highly educated group -- six MDs and one engineer.
Notwithstanding these five favorable indices of al Qaeda's reinvigoration, the Homeland Security chief emphasizes the following.
SEC. CHERTOFF: (From videotape.) At this point we don't have a particular threat, but it is a reminder that vigilance remains an important tool in our fighting back against terrorists.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Does the intelligence estimate about al Qaeda's strength mean that we have made no progress in the war on terror in five-and-a-half years? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: Emphatically no, John. It doesn't mean that. We've made tremendous progress. We've taken down al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We haven't had a single terror attack in this country. You've taken down various cells one after another. But there's no doubt about it, we're much more prepared for an attack than we were on September 10th.
However, the al Qaeda has reconstituted itself in Pakistan. And the great drawback for us is that it has constituted a brand new strategic base camp in Iraq that did not exist before the Iraq war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Eleanor? Do you see much for the $6 billion -- wait, how many billions of dollars have we spent?
MR. BLANKLEY: Undisclosed.
MS. CLIFT: It's $12 billion a month on Iraq and Afghanistan. It's probably up to close to --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Six hundred billion?
MR. BUCHANAN: Five hundred and seventy-seven, John, budgeted for this year for the two wars. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: For the wars. So you figure over the five-and- a-half years --
MS. CLIFT: It's an unimaginable amount of money. And what's happened is that al Qaeda has metamorphed and has metastasized. Maybe we have gotten some of the leadership of the old al Qaeda, but many more look-alikes have been inspired by our action in Iraq. And there's been a new Afghanistan born in Pakistan where they are openly holding these camps.
And it seems to me that Mr. Chertoff spoke the truth. And he's not on message with the White House, because the White House doesn't want us -- they don't want to ramp up the fear factor, because they're saying as long as we're fighting in Iraq, we don't have to worry here. And so Chertoff spoke out of school. I would take him seriously, and I hope that he and the rest of the intelligence apparatus are working at a faster pace and a more urgent pace, than they did in the summer of 2001.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, we've done a fair amount as a government, hardening some targets, improving some capacities. But the fact is -- and I reported this in my book two years ago -- that al Qaeda and the support groups around them are getting stronger, from Indonesia to Turkey to the Philippines to Britain.
The resource base for recruitment, both financial and manpower -- now woman power, to some extent -- is growing more and more. So the fact that we've done a lot doesn't mean that we're any safer. We're probably less safe, but it's not a reflection necessarily on failure to do stuff here. Our bureaucrats have been working hard. They're talking together better than they were. But it's not nearly enough.
And I completely agree with Chertoff. I think it was right for him to express concern. A lot of us have been talking with intelligence people. They've all been expressing concern for many weeks. David Ignatius of The Washington Post, a very careful reporter, said on TV a few weeks ago that he was concerned about it. So this has been bouncing around the community, and Chertoff simply spoke up. I think he should have.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Arianna, welcome.
MS. HUFFINGTON: Thank you, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are your thoughts on this?
MS. HUFFINGTON: I think we have actually regressed. I think it's worse than not having made any progress. I think our presence in Iraq means that there's a kind of opportunity cost. And instead of being where the real enemy is, which right now clearly is in Pakistan -- that's where they are gathering; that's where they are strengthening their forces -- we are in Iraq. Our resources are there. Our attention is there. And this president seems absolutely determined to stay there, despite all the reports this week that the real enemy, the real threat, is coming out of Pakistan.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you take note that Rumsfeld had planned a way to apprehend al-Zawahiri, and it would have involved going into Pakistan and it was called off because he didn't want to upset Musharraf over there?
MS. HUFFINGTON: Exactly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And the question is, what is the possibility of that happening again?
MS. HUFFINGTON: Well, that is really the problem.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And why was that story surfaced this week? Do you think some of this was designed, on the part of the administration, including the sentiment expressed by the head of Homeland Security that he feels it in his belly, was this designed to keep the Republicans in the Congress at bay?
MR. BLANKLEY: No.
MS. HUFFINGTON: Well, I think, on the contrary --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was it designed as a kind of a prelude to the president's press conference?
MR. BLANKLEY: John, there was --
MS. HUFFINGTON: -- it had the opposite effect, because if the clear threat is coming out of Pakistan, then it should have the opposite effect on Republicans contemplating how to vote in terms of the Iraq withdrawal.
MR. BLANKLEY: John, it was Andrea Mitchell on NBC who did the reporting about the Rumsfeld decision not to do it. She's hardly a cat's paw for Bush. I mean, she does very good but aggressive reporting that the White House hates. So it's hardly part of a White House plan.
MS. CLIFT: The inability of this administration to capture Osama bin Laden is symbolic of the movement's ability to regenerate itself.
MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MS. CLIFT: And what the White House is doing now is it is trying to conflate the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq with what happens in Afghanistan when it's --
MR. BUCHANAN: John, the central problem here --
MS. CLIFT: -- two entirely different subjects and movements.
MR. BUCHANAN: The central problem here is the invasion of Iraq. And the four-, five-year war in Iraq has enormously enlarged the pool of hatred and resentment of the United States out of which these volunteers come. And they're now going into Anbar Province, getting their training and coming out. Had it not been for Iraq, I think we would be far better off in the war on terror.
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make one quick point. I think we should have some sympathy for this administration. I know no one does. But in a couple of years, probably a Democrat is going to be running the White House, and they're going to find out how intractable and how dangerous this world is. And then I'm going to --
MR. BLANKLEY: -- try to be more sympathetic to the Democratic president than you are to this Republican president.
MS. CLIFT: Nobody doubts how dangerous the world is. What the country is looking for is somebody to effectively deal with that, as opposed to making it worse.
MR. BLANKLEY: I mean, take Pakistan. You criticize him for not going after him in Pakistan. But you understand that it wasn't a question of humoring Musharraf. It was a question of undermining his regime and letting nuclear weapons turn loose. These are hugely difficult questions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me ask you this about Pakistan. Was the release of that story -- let's go back to that. Was the release of that story about Rumsfeld designed to send a message to Musharraf? Namely, "You either cooperate with us or we'll go forward with that kind of Rumsfeld plan." In other words, this is kind of a fearmongering for him and it's fearmongering for the Congress.
MS. HUFFINGTON: John, if I had to guess, if I had to guess, I would say that it's the intelligence agencies, many people there who are worried about our continuing presence in Iraq that, as Pat said, is making it much harder for us to fight effectively the terrorists who are gathering strength. And, in fact, right now, by making it clear that our policies have not been effective, it may affect Republicans how they vote.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the president announcing a third front, and that's Pakistan?
MS. HUFFINGTON: No. On the contrary --
MR. BUCHANAN: You can't go in --
MS. HUFFINGTON: -- the president is announcing that he's completely disconnected from reality. Facts have no power over his decision to stay in Iraq no matter what. I mean, yesterday at the press conference he actually said that the people who invaded us, the people who attacked us on 9/11, are the people who are fighting in Iraq. It's the same big lie that he's been repeating again and again and again, and nothing seems to be able to take him off it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: What is the main factor fueling the rise of al Qaeda? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: The United States' invasion and occupation of an Arab country, Iraq, and the four-year war we've fought against the resistance in Iraq, that has created an enormous movement across the Arab and Islamic world to drive the United States out of there. And there are volunteers -- tremendous numbers of volunteers for al Qaeda.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you seen that happen before, where jihadists would flow from all over the world to any sector in order to evict an occupier?
MR. BUCHANAN: Sure. You've seen it in the Battle of Algiers.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where else have you seen it?
MS. CLIFT: Afghanistan.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You saw it in Afghanistan, did you not?
MS. CLIFT: Absolutely. And a western country invading an oil- rich Muslim country is a recipe for disaster.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So the question is, what's the biggest factor in the enlargement of the population of al Qaeda? And he's saying it's the Iraq war and you're saying it's the Iraq war.
MS. HUFFINGTON: And I'm saying it's the Iraq war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you saying it's the Iraq war?
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I agree the Iraq war has been a useful recruiting tool. But there are so many other -- the whole sweep of the movement of radicalism has become more and more persuasive to more and more Muslims for years. You look at the polling data going back into the late '90s and the early 2000s, and --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't see the catalyst effect of the war?
MR. BLANKLEY: I understand that. I agree that's been an element too. Another element, by the way, is the complete failure of an awful lot of western democracies to do what our Treasury Department has been asking for. The Muslim terrorist money is moving all over the globe, no thanks to an awful lot of West European countries.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They did it when Russia invaded Afghanistan. The jihadists flowed in from everywhere to protect Afghanistan, correct? MS. HUFFINGTON: Absolutely.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And we're seeing it now in Iraq.
MS. HUFFINGTON: But the other thing we're seeing is because we're focused on Iraq, we have not had the necessary resources, the necessary troops, to fight in Afghanistan. And as a result, we've actually weakened Musharraf, because he had to deal with all those warlords who were suddenly dramatically strengthened. We are reimbursing all the millions of dollars that it's costing Pakistan to protect and guard the border, but to no effect, because they're not going to --
MR. BUCHANAN: Musharraf has ceded the border to al Qaeda. And Tony's right; there's not a great deal you can do --
MS. HUFFINGTON: (Inaudible.)
MR. BUCHANAN: You've got nuclear weapons and a weak leader who, if he goes down, you could have an Islamic republic with nuclear weapons. That's worse than al Qaeda.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have a gut feeling that there's going to be a terrorist attack this summer?
MR. BUCHANAN: I agree with -- Chertoff shouldn't have said it. You know, it's like Greenspan saying, "I have a gut feeling" --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's okay for you to say it?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, if Greenspan says, "I've got a gut feeling the market's going to collapse," it'll collapse. He shouldn't say it, but I think he may be right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't see how this whole event was a prelude -- that is, the director of Homeland Security -- was a prelude to Bush's press conference?
MR. BUCHANAN: This is one of these Machiavellian --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you realize that by creating --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- by creating an atmosphere of fear, by creating an atmosphere of fear --
MR. BUCHANAN: You are paranoid, John. You are paranoid.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- he holds the Congress in place? He holds them in place.
MS. CLIFT: I would have agreed with you --
MS. HUFFINGTON: But it didn't help Bush. On the contrary, I think it had the opposite effect. How does it help Bush to have an official estimate of an increased strength of al Qaeda?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The atmospherics of terror are such that if the president then appears strong in Iraq, it's misconcluded by the American public that he is fighting terrorism. MS. CLIFT: I would have agreed --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And therefore, they give him more license to do so.
MR. BLANKLEY: Give Eleanor a chance to finish, please.
MS. CLIFT: Thank you, Tony. (Laughter.)
I would have agreed with you in the past, because this administration has used the fear factor to elevate its standing with the American people. But nobody pays any attention to the president anymore. They don't listen to him. And this is not the message that Bush wants to send when he's trying to maintain support for the war in Iraq.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I don't have to --
MR. BUCHANAN: They smacked down -- Chertoff got smacked down by both Bush and Tony Snow, for heaven's sakes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, why? You know that.
MS. CLIFT: No, no. Chertoff --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just as --
MR. BLANKLEY: John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is uncharacteristic of Chertoff to talk about anything originating in his gut. So he gets a phone call.
MR. BLANKLEY: John, you're --
MR. BUCHANAN: You're moving way out there, John. (Laughs.)
MS. HUFFINGTON: John, the final proof that you are wrong is that the president at his press conference actually said the exact opposite. He said that al Qaeda is weaker because of our actions since 9/11. He said that. So if this was some kind of planned leak, then he wouldn't have contradicted his own Machiavellian plan.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, I think they jibe together. It works perfectly.
MR. BLANKLEY: Arianna, he's just that cunning.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think my position on this issue is quite clear. So I'll go to this.
Issue Two: Baker-Hamilton to the Rescue. PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) I understand why the American people are -- you know, they're tired of the war. There's -- people are -- there's war fatigue in America. It's affecting our psychology. I've said this before. I understand that. This is an ugly war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Opposition continues to grow against the war in Iraq. A new poll shows that 62 percent of Americans, a clear consensus, think the war was a mistake. They want a way out.
Six weeks ago, Democrat Senator Ken Salazar from Colorado drafted a new piece of legislation that calls for a new way out. Senator Lamar Alexander was the first Republican to support the bill, saying that the surge is a tactic; the surge is not a strategy.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): (From videotape.) The surge by itself, in my opinion, is not a strategy. A new strategy would say, "Let's get out of the combat business" and then to support equipping and training as promptly as we honorably can.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Senator Alexander and five other Republicans joined Senator Salazar in declaring that the war strategy should be that of the Baker-Hamilton report issued by the Iraq Study Group, ISG, after nine months of intense nationwide hearings and assessments.
The group is made up of 10 top political patriarchs, five Democrats, five Republicans. Democrats: Lee Hamilton, Vernon Jordan, Leon Panetta, William Perry, Charles Robb. Republicans: James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, Edwin Meese, Sandra Day O'Connor, Alan Simpson.
The Salazar legislation highlights key points from the Baker- Hamilton commission: One, shift the focus from combat to training; two, make U.S. support conditional on Iraq's progress in meeting benchmarks; three, establish a new diplomatic offensive in the region, including Iraq's neighbors.
Question: In his presidential news conference this week, did Mr. Bush give any indication that he's willing to shift course in Iraq? I ask you, Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: The president is playing for time. He wants the conversation about withdrawal to be held off until September, when the Petraeus report comes.
Look, I spoke with Senator Alexander this week, and he's basically saying that he wants to sound the alarm for the president to take advantage of what little bipartisan support there is. And this is not about ending the war, because the Iraq Study Group would not really end the war. It would enable a U.S. presence for quite a long time in the future. And Alexander is saying he doesn't think that bipartisan sentiment will exist in September. So --
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me answer your question. MS. HUFFINGTON: First of all, the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on for one minute, Tony.
MS. HUFFINGTON: First of all, the president made it quite clear that he's not open to any rational argument and he's determined to stay the course. Secondly, the Salazar-Alexander proposal is meaningless, because there is no binding withdrawal timetable. So it's just rhetoric. It provides political cover for all the Republicans who are jumping on the bandwagon, because they see their numbers back at home. They are running for re-election. So it's a pure political fig leaf. It will have no impact on our policy in Iraq.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do you explain either his steadfastness or his obduracy?
MS. HUFFINGTON: I think he's a fanatic. He's a complete fanatic. And fanatics are impervious to evidence. And he thinks history will judge him favorably, and that's it. He doesn't care about the Republican Party.
He doesn't --
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me answer --
MR. BUCHANAN: You want to know why Bush is like he is, John?
MS. HUFFINGTON: I think the only thing that can be done about it, actually, is there's a great blog on the Huffington Post by David Abromovitz (sp), professor at Yale, who said that what needs to be done is to block all his other exits. The Democrats have to basically cut funding, say, "We are funding the troops up to 'x'" --
MR. BUCHANAN: John, let somebody get in here.
MS. HUFFINGTON: No, not yet. But that's the only solution.
MR. BUCHANAN: Let me tell you what the president is doing, what he's doing. The president of the United States genuinely believes if we pull 15 combat brigades out, we will lose the war; there will be a humanitarian catastrophe and a geostrategic calamity. He doesn't want it to happen on his watch. He believes it deeply. He's made up his mind. That's why he is serene and fatalistic, not fanatic.
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me get into this.
MS. HUFFINGTON: Fanatic.
MS. CLIFT: He's delusional.
MR. BLANKLEY: Pat is right. But let me answer your question, because there's a little bit of a positive answer for your question. When the president has spoken about his goals as opposed to what he thinks is going to happen, he does talk about the goals in terms of Baker-Hamilton, but not until the reality on the ground will permit it.
Now, I think he's convinced that the reality on the ground is not going to permit it. But he's given a rhetoric open door, but I don't believe a policy door. MS. CLIFT: The war doesn't end until there are 67 votes in the Senate, and they're nowhere near that. But you're going to keep the pressure up through the summer, and in September --
MR. BUCHANAN: Eleanor, they will never vote to wrest policy from the president. They don't have the guts.
MS. CLIFT: I disagree. If it's clear that we're losing people -- and it's a humanitarian crisis already in Iraq -- the Republicans could come --
MR. BUCHANAN: They won't do it.
MS. CLIFT: -- against the president.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The purpose of the --
MS. HUFFINGTON: It's up to the Democrats. The Republicans --
MS. CLIFT: Then the party carries the burden of continuing the war, because they never will do it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The point of the surge and the reason for the surge was to restore a level of order and security to permit the al- Maliki government to make political changes. It hasn't happened.
MS. HUFFINGTON: It has not happened.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It has not happened. And Baghdad has quieted down a little bit. It won't happen with this government. The big question we have to face is, what do we do without the al-Maliki government to govern that country? What do we do? We need a new government there, because as Hayden has pointed out, the former head of the CIA -- maybe he's over there now -- he's pointed out --
MR. BLANKLEY: The current head of the CIA. And I wrote a column a few weeks ago where I said, "Yeah, we should think about changing the government." The fact that the Maliki government is going to be a failure --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you've got to concentrate on that and give us the answer.
Issue Three: The Silence --
MS. CLIFT: Our ability to engineer a new government is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of the Surgeons.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA): (From videotape.) The surgeon general is the doctor to the nation, a uniquely trusted figure who brings the best available science on matters of public health directly to the American people. What we will learn today is that this essential part of our government is in crisis. On key public health issues, the surgeon general has been muzzled.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The House Oversight Committee this week heard testimony of ex-Surgeon General Richard Carmona. He served the current Bush administration from 2002 to 2006, a four-year term as the nation's top doctor.
The surgeon general's duties are to provide Americans, quote, "the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and reduce the risk of illness."
On Tuesday, Dr. Carmona lambasted the Bush administration for substituting politics for science.
RICHARD CARMONA (former U.S. surgeon general): (From videotape.) Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointee's ideological, theological or political agenda is often ignored, marginalized or simply buried. The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Among other examples, Dr. Carmona pointed to stem cell research funding as an instance of where his analysis and his opinion were spurned.
DR. CARMONA: (From videotape.) I was blocked at every turn. I was told the decision had already been made. "Stand down. Don't talk about it."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Carmona says that his speeches were censored on issues ranging from second-hand smoke to AIDS to sex education to birth control.
DR. CARMONA: (From videotape.) You don't want Republican or Democratic scientific information. You want real scientific information.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Carmona also said that the administration told him to mention Mr. Bush's name three times on every page of every speech.
Question: Bush administration political censorship allegations have focused on EPA reports, on scientific global warming reports, on the politically motivated firings of the U.S. attorneys, and now on the politicization of public health issues. Do any of these constitute, separately or together, an impeachable offense?
MS. HUFFINGTON: Yes.
MS. CLIFT: I wish. MS. HUFFINGTON: But the question is --
MR. BLANKLEY: No, of course it doesn't.
MS. HUFFINGTON: Yes. But the question is --
MR. BLANKLEY: The president can --
MS. HUFFINGTON: Yes, but is this the best thing for Democrats to do? Or should they be focusing all their energy on stopping the war?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: My question to you is why did 36 percent of the country say that there is evidence out there that this president should be impeached?
MR. BLANKLEY: You should ask that 36 percent. I'm not part of it.
Look, the president will --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's a clever answer, but it doesn't answer the question.
MR. BLANKLEY: Whether wise or foolish, the president has every right to have control over political appointees. It's not an impeachable offense.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, they should function as automatons and say what he says? Have you heard of Pol Pot?
MR. BUCHANAN: If this guy was so unhappy, why didn't he resign? He stayed there four years. The guy's a crybaby.
MR. BLANKLEY: Absolutely.
MS. CLIFT: Oh, come on. Look, the country wants this administration to be over, and this is the latest example in a long line of efforts of this administration to politicize science. But I think they should enforce mentioning Bush three times in every speech, because if all the Republicans did that, it'd be the end of the Republican Party. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's the cult of personality.
MS. CLIFT: Well, yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then we're back to Joe Stalin.
Issue Four: McCain a Goner?
Senator John McCain is hemorrhaging -- staff problems, money problems and poll problems. With six months to go until the presidential primary, it looks like it could well be a three-way race for the Republican nomination -- Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson.
Question: Is this golden circle, these three, limited to three? Could there be a fourth in the remaining candidates for president?
MR. BUCHANAN: The only one I can see getting in who would be able to move into that group is Newt Gingrich, and I'm not sure he's going to do it. I think it's down to three. I think McCain is in real trouble. He's either got to win New Hampshire or he is really finished for good. MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I'm not sure that it's limited to three. I'm not sure. I think Gingrich could get in. Others could. I'm not convinced that anyone currently running has anything close to a lock on this race.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is John gone?
MR. BLANKLEY: I've always believed McCain was never viable in the Republican primary because he's a gadfly to the party, and parties don't nominate gadflies.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he supports the president on the war.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, that's commendable, and I admire him for that, but that's not going to get him the nomination.
MS. HUFFINGTON: He doesn't just support him on the war. He's become the cheerleader for the surge. I think he's gone. But I wouldn't rule out Chuck Hagel. The way the war is going, if it gets much worse, the Republicans may be looking for somebody who has been antiwar for a long time and principled on the subject.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When is Hagel going to quit playing Hamlet and announce, or decide?
MS. HUFFINGTON: I don't know. When is Fred Thompson going to quit playing Hamlet and announce?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fred Thompson's a little bit more --
MS. CLIFT: Fred Thompson is going to get in late in August. He's going to avoid the Ames straw poll. And you're going to see evangelicals flock to the Thompson candidacy. They need to show they're still powerful. I think Thompson's got a very inside track to the nomination.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of course, it doesn't make any difference anyway, because Mike --
MR. BUCHANAN: Huckabee?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- Bloomberg is going to be in the race, right?
MR. BLANKLEY: But not the Republican race.
MS. CLIFT: I don't know about that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not the Republican race, but the final race.
MR. BUCHANAN: That's the one chance the Republicans have is if Bloomberg gets in.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because he will draw from the Democrats. MR. BUCHANAN: He'll draw from Hillary. It puts New York in play.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because he's liberal.
MS. HUFFINGTON: But he --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you take note that Brownback won in two districts in Iowa, first in one district and second in another? The second district is the second --
MR. BUCHANAN: The straw poll is what you want to watch.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Arianna, give us a prediction.
MS. HUFFINGTON: I predict that Harry Potter, Senator Vitter and Antonio Villaraigosa are all going to survive.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Good. Forgiveness rules.