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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: McCain's Broken Crusade.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): (From videotape.) Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right. (Cheers, applause.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So attacked Senator John McCain this week, using this broadside against evangelical leaders to cement rival George Bush to the Christian right.

SEN. MCCAIN: (From videotape.) Governor Bush is a Pat Robertson Republican who will lose to Al Gore.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But McCain's maneuvering has backfired. In Tuesday's Virginia primary, with its 56 delegates, religious conservatives voted against McCain four to one, and Republicans generally three to one. And neither independents nor Democrats responded to McCain's dark strategy in sufficient numbers to hijack the primary from the Republicans. The margin was nine points in Bush's favor.

And on that very same day, even while polling was in progress, McCain intensified his blasts against Robertson and Falwell. "To stand up and take on the forces of evil -- that's my job. And I can't steer the Republican Party if those two individuals have the influence that they have on the party today. You're supposed to tolerate evil in your party in the name of party unity?"

That's when the dam broke. Bracketing Robertson and Falwell with Farrakhan and Sharpton is one hateful thing, but calling Robertson and Falwell "evil" hit critical poisonous mass. McCain was way, way out of bounds. His endorsers bailed out.

WILLIAM BENNETT (Empower America): (From videotape.) To call them "evil" is quite something else. This is way over the line. I think it's pretty extreme, quite extreme, reckless, and self-destructive.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: McCain's venom also drew the fire of religious leaders.

RICHARD LAND (Southern Baptist ethicist): (From videotape.) I'm amazed that John McCain says, "I'm a uniter, not a divider, and I practice the politics of inclusion, not exclusion. And so get out of here, Jerry Falwell. Get out of here, Pat Robertson. You're excluded."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Gary Bauer, McCain's key supporter among Christian leaders, reprimanded the senator. "I must, in the strongest possible terms, repudiate Senator McCain's unwarranted, ill-advised, and divisive attack on certain religious leaders. I call on Senator McCain to retract his recent statements and apologize to Pat Robertson and the Reverend Jerry Falwell, as well as all men and women of faith."

But no apology, no retraction from McCain. Indeed, quite the opposite.

SEN. MCCAIN: (From videotape.) I have taken a stand. I stick to that stand. That position and that message is very clear -- that we have to be an inclusionary party. I reject the politics of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and I will continue to do so.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: John McCain likes to get into the Luke Skywalker persona. So is the force still with John McCain, Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: Well, in fact, those are comparisons with "Star Wars," John, and the fact is that he is talking about the evil force in that way. I think it sounds like he has been consulting the computer Hal in the movie "2001." (Laughter.) He's gone haywire on this thing.

The fact is that John McCain, for the last 10 days, could have emphasized conservative issues on basis of positions that he has already taken; on education, education choice, on individual retirement accounts and Social Security, and national defense. He has got real strong conservative positions on that.

But instead of sending that message out, he has diverted himself to this holy war against Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Falwell is not even in politics anymore. It delights the folks on the Straight Talk Express, including the press because 90 percent of the press are liberals and they dislike the Religious Right leaders. But it's not really working with Republicans' primary voters, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor Clift?

MS. CLIFT: Well, this is death by anecdotes. And that same liberal media and the Republican establishment, are hanging his latest phantasmagorical anecdote around his neck and carrying the Luke Skywalker persona too far.

But what he has done is he has taken a huge gamble; and that is, by alienating the leadership of the Christian right, he hoped to send a message that would invigorate moderates, independents and disaffected Democrats. Two things wrong with that: It's too early in the primary process; he needs Republicans. And secondly, it makes him look intolerant; I mean, he has basically awakened a sleeping giant, but it was the wrong one. It was the Christian right he woke up.


MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. What's happened to McCain happens to a campaign that doesn't have a strong well-thought-out strategic plan. This has been an innovative campaign, jumping from issue to issue. And he got pulled away from his message, in the first responding too much to the Bush -- there is a theory going around, by the way, that the Bush camp was doing all those little negative shots at him to try to induce him to wander off into the briar patch with them. But in fact, he has wandered off into a zone that was not useful for him, and he is paying a terrible price.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think that, even in terms of Luke Skywalker, his campaign worked against him; he sounded like a whiner? Very much out of character -- mythic character, would you not say?

MR. WARREN: Well, I would say. Of course, as you do know, that the force is divided into both evil and good --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's the point of my question to him.

MR. WARREN: -- as clearly as John McCain.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what is your point?

MR. WARREN: My point is that I think he was basically on the mark substantively and was victimized by, I believe, the distortion of his own words. He was talking about Falwell and Robertson. It was then extrapolated by us in the media to be covering the entire Christian right in this country, which was a mistake.

However, I do think there is a winner in all this, and I think the winner in the fall is Al Gore, who probably would not have had the nerve to bring this up, but now that McCain has brought it up and Bradley's brought it up, he is going to beat, probably, the Republican nominee, George Bush, like a drum with his appearance at Bob Jones University.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Picking up your first point, the other mistake in cultural logic that he made was that if you attack Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, the religious conservative thinks you are attacking him or her.

Okay, George Bush. Is John McCain your friend?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX): (From videotape.) I don't -- I try not to take things personally in politics, and I'll of course assess things once the campaign's ended, but calling somebody an anti-Catholic bigot is beyond the reach.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Do you think that G.W. will bear a grudge? I ask you, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, the Bushes all bear grudges. With Barbara Bush, there's no second chance for anyone, and I think he is his mother's son in that regard. But this is such a scam the Bush campaign has going. He basically distorts what John McCain said -- John McCain did not call him an anti-Catholic bigot -- then he amplifies it, he repeats the message over and over, gets an even wider audience to hear it, denounces it, and in the end it's John McCain, who did not say these things, who looks like the intolerant one.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor --

MS. CLIFT: It's been a very clever campaign tactic.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The anonymous voice phoner was reductively, no matter how you try to exegete it, it was reductively calling John McCain (sic), de facto, a bigot -- an anti-Catholic bigot. It was.

MS. CLIFT: No. No. No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was. Simply because that word wasn't used, you're getting very Clintonian, Eleanor. Very Clintonian.

MS. CLIFT: No, I'm not.

(Cross talk.)

MR. BLANKLEY: John. John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to talk to you.

MS. CLIFT: Can I defend my position, please? I just --

MR. BLANKLEY: You already stated your position, twice.

MS. CLIFT: No, I want to say that when, by choosing Bob Jones as his very first stop after losing in New Hampshire, he sent a signal that he was tying himself to the Christian right, and that is what John McCain pointed out, appropriately so.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're attaching yourself at the hip to the religious right if you appear at Bob Jones University to get votes?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, Eleanor's wrong. Look, I've said some nice things about Senator McCain over time, but he, in this instance, clearly was trying to suggest that Bush was anti-Catholic bigot and it's phony of him and his people to say that they weren't suggesting that. That's why they made the phone calls.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to proceed now to Tuesday, March the 7th, and discuss those important primaries with you, because these will tell the story. We're talking about 554 delegates, right? Now, we'll take the closed primaries first. There you see on that screen, California, winner take all. The winner will be Bush on delegates, not necessarily the entire popular vote.

New York, 101 delegates, by congressional district. That could help McCain -- Bush, but McCain will carry the state by the majority. Ohio, 69, winner take all, by congressional district. That will help Bush significantly, I believe, but McCain will -- and Bush will carry it, unqualifiedly. Connecticut, 25, winner take all. That's McCain. Maine, 14, proportional, and that's McCain.

Does anyone disagree with those insights? I ask you, Warren.

MR. WARREN: I think we should get into it a little bit deeper. Maybe Westchester County. It's a very tricky ballot in New York, you know. But no, I think that's basically it. And I think that McCain now looks to be a goner, probably only comes up, maybe, with 200, 250 delegates.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will Bush carry any districts which is proportional distribution of delegates in New York?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How many delegates will he get out of 101, McCain getting the lion's share?

MR. WARREN: No, I think -- well, I think that Bush could easily come up with 40 or 50, but it's very tricky because you've got some districts strictly in the New York area, where, you know, you don't have too many Republicans and just a few of them could swing things all the way to McCain's way. And the interesting thing in talking to county chairmen, they will admit that the McCain folks out there are a lot more activist and a lot more passionate than the Bush.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So people should be alert so if it's said on the announcements on the TV that McCain carries New York, you say, "Wait a minute, did he carry all the districts? What were his actual delegate counts? There are 101." And he can carry the state with 51. Bush could get 50.

MR. BLANKLEY: And it's trending against McCain in New York this weekend.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's take a look at --

MR. BARONE: John, just a minute. I want to disagree with your call on New York. I think that George W. Bush will win the lion's share of the delegates in New York, about 80; McCain will win about 20, 21; on the basis that Bush is running an aggressive campaign. Governor George Pataki has contributed to things, charging that McCain voted against breast cancer research. They're putting a lot of points up on the air on that.

I think that -- the other thing is that I think this charge of anti-Catholicism and the Bob Jones University is falling a little flatter than Jim's opinion of it was. I mean, the fact is, McCain invited the inference that Bush was a bigot; he did not say so himself. Eleanor is correct on that. But the fact is that the sort of outrageousness of the inference that people are being asked to draw there, I think, is undercutting the campaign. And if you look at the polls, he's not doing any worse --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to move on. I'm going to move on. We've got more primaries to look at. Semi-open GOP primaries. Take a look. That's Republicans and independents, okay? No Democrats.

Massachusetts, 37, winner take all, McCain. Maryland, 31, winner take all, Bush. Rhode Island, winner take all, 14, McCain.

Does anyone disagree?

MS. CLIFT: No. But, you know, the only states that McCain can really be certain of probably are Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He needs to win in New York and he needs to win the "beauty contest" in California if he's going to continue with the campaign, and if he's going to make his point that the future of the Republican Party lies in broadening out to Independents.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Three more primaries. These are wide open, so theoretically McCain country -- Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Georgia, 54 delegates, winner take all -- Bush. Missouri, 35 delegates, winner take all -- Bush. Vermont, 12 delegates, winner take all -- McCain.

Do you disagree with that Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think Vermont could end up going into the Bush column.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, we're way over here, so let's go around the horn and predict what the delegate count will be, as of close of business on Tuesday, that is close of political business on Tuesday, bearing in mind that the current distribution is Bush, 178; McCain, 106, as of today. What will it be on Super Tuesday?

MR. BARONE: On or about 466, Bush; 250 for McCain.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But that doesn't add up. There are more delegates there.

MR. BARONE: I said "on or about."


MS. CLIFT: Okay, I'm up to 604 for Bush and 224 for McCain. But a lot of Independents are going to feel like their guy got cheated out of the nomination, and that's trouble for the Republican Party.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're coming back to these numbers on Tuesday, so you'd better think this thing through.

MR. BLANKLEY: I think it's somewhere around 620 or so for Bush, and 150-plus or minus, for McCain.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: God, you've been overcome by Bush euphoria.

MR. WARREN: Now do you want the answer?


MR. WARREN: Five seventy-four to 249, and McCain takes those delegates, crosses his fingers, doesn't enter Florida and Texas, and packs his bags for Illinois, and that will be his last -- where his last stand will take place.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're very close. The answer is 579 for Bush and 253 for McCain.

Exit question. Very quickly, on a self-inflicted damage scale of zero to 10, zero meaning zero damage, 10 meaning metaphysical self-implosion, how much has McCain hurt himself with his attacks on the religious right?

Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: Seven. Largely because he's missed the opportunity to do other things.


MS. CLIFT: I agree with Michael -- seven.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, 9.2. But if Bush loses the general election, McCain could stand to reassert his argument about how to reform the party in the future.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Nine-point-two? You think that the wheels are off the "Straight Talk Express."

MR. WARREN: Once again we vastly -- and the secular liberal media were vastly over-estimating the impact of that vote on the Christian right. This has not been as gargantuan a miscue as we have thought. Two.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is eight. (Laughter.)

When we come back: Storm clouds in the Taiwan Straits. China is mad at Taiwan. Is Taiwan's status worth going to war for?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Storm Clouds over Taiwan Strait.

SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: (From videotape.) Taiwan has been a huge issue to them. It's come up in every single discussion I've had with them over the years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's Secretary of State Albright, saying that China is getting much more aggressive over Taiwan.

"Reunify, or we invade." The Chinese State Council declared a new policy two weeks ago. If reunification talks are unduly postponed, China will invade Taiwan.

"U.S.A., stay out or be nuked." If the U.S. were to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack, China could -- maybe would -- launch a nuclear missile attack on California. So threatened the People's Liberation Army, PLA, in its official Communist daily newspaper this week. It's the first time China has publicly threatened nukes.

Beijing-Moscow anti-U.S. axis. A month after a meeting between defense ministers, Beijing sent its foreign minister to Moscow to meet his counterpart. The two condemned any military interventions on the pretext of humanitarian need, AKA the Clinton Doctrine.

Chinese people say, "Okay to Taiwan war." Eighty-three percent of Chinese support a protracted three-to-five-year war with Taiwan if Taiwan were to declare its independence. So says a government poll -- maybe propaganda, maybe not.

Washington isn't taking this hard line sitting down. Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, 341 to 70. That's the margin -- 271 votes -- by which the U.S. House of Representatives one month ago chose to beef up Taiwan's defense. China is infuriated.

Give Taiwan a unique missile defense. Four ultra high-tech destroyers, costing $6.5 billion together, equipped with Aegis Spy 1 radar that can scan 288 miles of ocean surface and pinpoint hostile targets. No one has these beauties but us. Taiwan wants to buy them. Clinton plans to decide on whether to let them do so in April, but Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott wants Clinton to say yes and to hurry up. This is an alarming escalation, practically everyone believes, except Clinton, who seems insouciant, unworried about this tense Taiwan crisis.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (>From videotape.) I understand that this is the political season over there, as well. They are having a presidential election in Taiwan. And sometimes things are said in political season that might not be said at other times.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What's the case for discounting China's bellicosity? I ask you, Jim.

MR. WARREN: I am not sure it's Clinton's insouciance. (Chuckles.) And please also note, a man of principle, Trent Lott, for this must be a mere coincidence, that two of those billion-dollar ships would be built in the state of Mississippi, which he would love.

I think, first and foremost, Clinton is right about a little bit of election-time posturing, the election in Taiwan. But I also think that China's top priority right now is getting into the World Trade Organization. And they have botched this matter with Taiwan right now.

But, nevertheless, in the process of doing this, they do underscore the inherent contradiction in our policy, on one hand, wanting to defend Taiwan, and on the other hand, officially recognizing China as the sole government.

MS. CLIFT: But -- yeah. It's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, it's a rather long answer -- (laughter) -- but I appreciate your Gallic expansiveness.

MR. WARREN: "Insouciance."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: However, you are quite wrong that -- the principal reasons for not taking China's bellicosity seriously is the reason Clinton gave: There is an election coming up on March the 18th. And he wants --

MR. BARONE: John, there's an ongoing democracy over there, and that's what China is trying to squelch. And the thing that is amazing about this thing, which was made just three days after -- I believe it was three days -- that Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbott was in Peking, they didn't give him a hint that they were going to assert a sort of permanent state of belligerence over Taiwan.

The fact is this gives them a cause of going forward against Taiwan at any time, which they might take advantage of. And it's -- you know -- it is -- this is -- Clinton gave in on the "four no's" when he went to China for the nine-day trip where --

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. BARONE: He didn't allow himself to go --


MR. BARONE: If our commitment to Taiwan is asunder, we're -- also got other people there, and China -- in East Asia -- Korea and Japan -- and China is saying that they want --

MS. CLIFT: Nobody is ripping the relationship with Taiwan "asunder."

The president was just speaking realistically. In the last election in Taiwan, China did the same thing. It's a little saber rattling. (Cross talk.)

There is also an election season in this country. And on Capitol Hill, where they tend to be more extreme than on the presidential campaign circuit -- and George Bush has been responsible about China -- people on the Hill want to portray the Democrats as lackeys of --

MR. BARONE: But -- and look, Clinton sent in the 6th Fleet last time.

MS. CLIFT: -- wait a second -- as lackeys of China --

MR. BARONE: He did the right thing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor finish.

MS. CLIFT: -- especially in the context of Maria Hsia, the Gore fundraiser, her conviction this week. It's a campaign strategy to portray the Democrats as, you know, puppets of China. It's a ridiculous strategy, I think --


MS. CLIFT: -- and flirts with national security.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I agree that at election time there is a bit more saber rattling.

But you want to look at how many more sabers the Red Chinese are building. And the reports are that they are building capacities, which will be available to them 2002-2005, the next few years, that will allow them to do the kind of invasion across the straits they can't currently do. So it's more than just saber rattling; they are building up. And that's measurable. Our government has measured --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know what the triad is?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What? Land, sea and mobile missile fleets.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They're building all three.

MR. BLANKLEY: And they're planning to be -- and they're planning to be able to attack from above, as well as to cross the Straits within five to seven years, and that's the response that -- that's why Congress voted overwhelmingly, Democrats as well as Republicans, to help --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But wait, what I want to ask you for --

MR. BLANKLEY: And it'll take about five years for our help to get them --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Now there is a separate question here, and that's whether it's a good idea to sell these two destroyers -- or are there four involved?

MR. BARONE: Four. You said four. The destroyers with Aegis missiles. (Pronounces "Aegis" with an initial e sound.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Four. The -- it's pronounced -- (using an initial "ay" sound) -- "Aegis," I hear. I had that same problem. (Laughter.)

MR. BARONE: (Using his original pronunciation.) "Aegis" is the correct pronunciation --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Using Mr. Barone's pronunciation.) "Aegis" is correct --

MR. BARONE: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- but the Pentagon pronounces it -- (using his former pronunciation) -- "Aegis."

Now, the Aegis is an extraordinary phenomenon; 288 miles it can see and detect a hostile target, right? Now is it a good idea to really give those to the Taiwanese --

MR. BARONE: Sell them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- or are we really giving them something that could easily fall into Chinese hands, either through spying or, even if there were reunification, the Chinese will simply then come into possession of these extraordinarily sophisticated, unusual, no-one-else-has-them systems? Including hyper-developed torpedo systems, too.

MR. WARREN: I'm sorry to curtail this history of radar -- (laughter) -- but the fact also is that right now Taiwan, when it comes to military technology and equipment, is superior to the Chinese.

But I think another lurking anxiety here on the part of the Chinese, what they're ultimately, I think, really worried about militarily, is that these -- this Aegis stuff becomes part of an integrated anti-missile system that Japan, the U.S. and Taiwan have.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, but look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Yeah. We've got to get out.

MR. BARONE: So they can't threaten us. We should want them not to be able to threaten us.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to get out. We've got to get out. You know that the Chinese are doing a lot of military buying from the Russians --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- which makes one of the points of that brilliant introduction, that there is a Moscow-Beijing axis that's getting stronger with each passing day, particularly with Putin in there pushing it along.

We'll be right back with predictions.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions.


MR. BARONE: The administration move for normal trade relations with China will fail in Congress.


MS. CLIFT: Bill Bradley went to Washington State as a symbol of what's possible. Looks like nothing's possible. I think he wins no primaries on Super Tuesday.

MR. BLANKLEY: The unions are going to organize sometime in mid-April a Seattle-style demonstration to keep China out of the WTO, here in Washington.

MR. WARREN: Many of the same Republicans who passed historic legislation cutting down farm subsidies will now do a 180 and pass even greater farm subsidies than the Clinton administration wants. Old habits die hard.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Prediction number one: The Taiwan Security Act will pass the Senate. Prediction number two: Clinton will give it a pocket veto. Prediction number three: The China-Taiwan issue will figure big in the fall U.S. presidential election, much like the Kennedy-Nixon Quemoy/Matsu hassle.

Do you remember that, Michael?

MR. BARONE: I remember that well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Next week, Super Tuesday, with a total of 2,016 delegates to be won by both parties.

Happy Mardi Gras!~