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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

JOINED BY: TONY BLANKLEY, ELEANOR CLIFT, LAWRENCE KUDLOW AND MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN

TAPED: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2002
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 21-22, 2002


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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
-------------------------

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Pre-9/11 Terror Warning.

ELEANOR HILL (staff director, Joint Inquiry Committee): (From videotape.) From 1994 through as late as August 2001, the intelligence community had received information indicating that international terrorists had seriously considered the use of airplanes as a means of carrying out terrorist attacks.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This disturbing revelation from Joint Inquiry Committee director Eleanor Hill was just one of many stunners disclosed this week at Congress's first public hearing on 9/11 intelligence failures. Newly released committee findings reveal several warnings, beginning in the mid-'90s, that planes were being considered as tools by terrorists. Among other startling disclosures: In April 2001, five months before 9/11, a source tells this to the intelligence community:

MS. HILL: (From videotape.) (In progress) -- that bin Laden would be interested in commercial pilots as potential terrorists.

(In progress) -- that terrorists sought, quote, "spectacular and traumatic," close quote, attacks, and that the first World Trade Center bombing would be the type of attack that would be appealing.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Many FBI agents said they had no knowledge of this December '98 declaration from the CIA's director:

MS. HILL: (From videotape.) George Tenet provided written guidance to his deputies at the CIA, declaring, in effect, a, quote, "war" with bin Laden.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And it doesn't get any more disturbing than this: an intelligence report from August 1998.

MS. HILL: (From videotape.): (In progress) -- that a group of unidentified Arabs planned to fly an explosive-laden plane from a foreign country into the World Trade Center. The information was passed to the FBI and the FAA. The FAA found the plot highly unlikely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The FAA wasn't the only one that found such a scenario "highly unlikely." Here's National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR CONDOLEEZZA RICE: (From videotape.) I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Another agency that got plenty of warnings: the NSA, the National Security Agency -- 33 reports between May and July of 2001 indicating a major terrorist attack was on the way.

On September 10, 2001, one day before the atrocities, the NSA intercepted two communications that warned in Arabic of imminent attacks, but those messages were not translated until September 12, the day after.

As for the White House, it refuses to release internal documents on what the president was told and when he was told it.

Question: The White House has refused to cooperate with this joint Republican-Democrat, House-Senate intelligence special committee, professing that to do so would compromise classified information. Is this a realistic approach? Or is it the real reason? I ask you, Lawrence.

MR. KUDLOW: Well, I'm not sure. I mean, everybody knows that there are real problems with the intelligence agencies throughout the community. Everybody knows reforms are necessary. But let me add one thing, John, to your otherwise erudite and brilliant lead-in, and that is this. It was Congress who tied the hands of the CIA and the FBI repeatedly. And it was Congress in the 1970s, with the Frank Church, Otis Pike hearings that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And who after him? Who after Church?

MR. KUDLOW: Well, I'll tell you this. In the '90s, it was Robert Torricelli who prevented the CIA from even talking to potential agents --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are there others, too? Are there others too?

MR. KUDLOW: And it was Congress in the '90s that underfunded the CIA by up to $30 billion worth. So my point is, yes, we probably need a good reform on performance-based criteria, but it's these very same members of Congress who helped strip away, restrict, bureaucratize and make politically correct our intelligence community.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Senator McCain wants an amendment attached to the homeland security bill which would provide for a special blue- ribbon commission to exhaustively look further into these failures on the part of this administration and other administrations. Do you think that's a good idea?

MS. CLIFT: I do think it's a good idea, but first I want to say to Larry, those warnings that John just documented on the screen, I don't think any of the Church commission parameters interfered with that. So I think we're talking --

MR. KUDLOW: Well, you don't know, Eleanor. It's just a simple matter of funding and --

MS. CLIFT: Well, there was plenty of evidence there.

MR. KUDLOW: -- tying their hands. I --

MS. CLIFT: Wait a second.

MR. KUDLOW: I agree with you they -- (inaudible) -- problems.

MS. CLIFT: There's plenty --

MR. KUDLOW: But it's not clear to me that they functioned properly.

MS. CLIFT: My turn. There's plenty of blame to go around, but -- you can argue the Clinton administration didn't do enough, but they did a heck of a lot more than the Bush administration did in their first nine months in office, because when the Clinton people went out, they told the Bush people that terrorism was going to be the number- one priority, but the Bush people were focused on the big strategic threats. They wanted to put a missile defense system in place; they're worried about China. They didn't want to look at the sort of low-level asymmetric threats. And the reason they don't want a commission and that they're stonewalling information is political embarrassment. They don't want to look like they weren't paying attention.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that Bush's refusal to cooperate enhances the probability that McCain's amendment will pass?

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm not sure. It's hard to parse the politics. But I want to go back to the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You never want to talk about what I want to talk about.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now you want to go back to her?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I want to make a fundamental point about this whole inquiry about intelligence failures. Everything that everybody says is right. But having said that, the suggestion that we could have avoided the tragedies is completely wrong. I happen to have run a long article by an intelligence analyst --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where was that?

MR. BLANKLEY: In The Washington Times, September 11th --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you do there?

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm the editorial page editor.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, great. What did he say?

MR. BLANKLEY: And we're putting out a heck of a page.

MR. KUDLOW: It's a great newspaper.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's doing a great job.

MR. KUDLOW: Great newspaper.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's very soft on the editorial corrections, though, you know.

MR. KUDLOW: He's improving.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He believes in affirmation.

MR. BLANKLEY: I want to --

MS. CLIFT: Also soft on the Bush administration.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead.

MR. BLANKLEY: He has been a 25-year veteran of analyzing the data, putting the dots together, (in a sense ?). He laid out how hard it is. He compared it to -- he said the dot analogy isn't a good one. It's like a puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle where you don't have the cover of the box, where you have about 10 percent of the pieces, where most of those pieces have been manipulated to be deceptive, and you've got a time frame to try to get to a conclusion and take an action. That's why, even if all this information had been known by the president -- whichever president at one time, what could they have (done ?)? Could they have closed down the airline industry indefinitely, waiting for the attack? Could they have emptied the towers indefinitely because there's a rumor that there might be? The problem is that having said all of this -- that we need to fix the intelligence mechanism -- I don't think the problem's going to go away.

MR. : Yeah --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I suggest you take that monograph and send it over to Carl Levin and let him write his reviews, because he's an authority, really, on connecting dots. He's been terrific in these hearings.

MR. BLANKLEY: The people who are the authority in collecting dots are pundits and journalists and politicians --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MR. BLANKLEY: -- and it's not a mechanical dot-connecting function.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: And they're great at after the fact, to connect the dots. But let me just say that what I think even this preliminary information reveals -- one, is that the CIA performed a lot better than a lot of people thought they were doing. I think they really did pull together a lot of information. The real problem was that there was a disconnect between there intelligence and applying it domestically. We've never really had a shift in -- whereby the domestic concern over terrorism sort of was what animated the FBI. The FBI fell down across the board on this thing, because they're interested more in prosecuting crimes than --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are there any politics involved in this inquest?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Look, I think -- the president has stated this, and I actually happen to support that view: This is not the time to go through an inquiry. It'll divert everybody's attention from what this should really be about, which is trying to prevent terrorism.

MR. KUDLOW: John, look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I know that you are a newspaper editor and publisher, and I guess you are also the businessman that keeps the whole thing going, right?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: So far, so good.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Well, I don't want to embarrass you by reading extensively from The New York Times, but I'm going to do it -- an editorial that appeared on Friday.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They're one of the two good papers in New York. (Isolated laugh.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "The newly bellicose mood on Capitol Hill materialized almost overnight. Last week Democrats wanted the Security Council to act first and were calling for measured consideration of the political and military issues involved in going to war. The haste is unfortunate, all the more so because it is clearly motivated by campaign politics. Republicans are already running attack ads against Democrats on Iraq. Democrats favor fast approval of a resolution so they can change the subject to domestic economic problems.

"Congress has a solemn obligation in our constitutional system to weigh issues of war and peace, and to do so as free from partisanship as possible."

Do you want to comment on that?

Mr. : John, I --

MS. CLIFT: The Republicans are using the war like a giant wedge issue, and the Democrats are sacred to death, and they're going to get more cowardly the closer --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We have infomericals, if you want to see them.

MS. CLIFT: If this was a secret vote on passing a war resolution, it would fail. You'd have -- the public position of members of Congress --

MR. BLANKLEY: You don't know that! You don't know that!

MS. CLIFT: The private comments --

MR. BLANKLEY: You don't know that!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor finish! Let Eleanor finish!

(Cross talk.)

MS. CLIFT: I have not. The private comments of leading Democrats and thoughtful Republicans on the Hill are not for a preemptive strike. They're scared of the politics.

(Cross talk.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me respond to that for one second. Because if these politicians that you're talking to are telling you that in the national interest they ought to vote no, but are going to vote yes, then you ought to reveal their names so we can find out what kind of scoundrels they are.

MS. CLIFT: They have serious questions about the war, but politically --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, hold on. We got to get back -- we got to get back to Mort here.

MS. CLIFT: He doesn't just get to yell at me, and he gets to yell at me too.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I understand. No, no. I would never do that. But let me just say this --

MS. CLIFT: I think that's what you're doing, sir. It's called hectoring. (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Okay, look. Politics is inescapable in any issue like this. Let's just talk about how the Democrats are approaching the whole issue of national security. On the terrorism bill, in terms of insurance, they're catering to the trial lawyers' lobby. On the issue of independence in terms of national energy, they're catering to the environmental lobby. On the homeland security bill, they're catering to the civil service unions. And on the whole issue of the war, they said all summer, let's have a dialogue on this thing, and when the president presents it as a piece of legislation, they say let's not vote on it until after the election.

I mean, everybody plays politics with this. I don't think that's the issue.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking about this editorial --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: John, can I -- John, can I get --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute! No, n
o. I want to get back to -- one minute --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I love it when you quote the New York Times editorial board as your position. Anytime you do that, I'd love to be here and talk to you about that. You must be really desperate --

MS. CLIFT: It made a lot more sense than your position --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible) -- on the war resolution that the president is seeking from the United States Congress. And they continue to say, "One or two days of rushed hearings on Capitol Hill can't begin to delve into the complexities. Before risking the lives of American troops, Democrats and Republicans should closely examine Iraq options --"

MR. KUDLOW: We already have. We already have had it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- "and make a decision on the merits rather than on the advice their campaign strategists."

MR. KUDLOW: We already have had it.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Larry, we have had a national --

MR. KUDLOW: We already had it.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Larry, hold on a second! We have been having a national dialogue on this thing for several months.

MR. KUDLOW: Right. Right. Right. Several years.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It may not be in the form -- it may not be in the form of a Senate hearing, although we're going to have that too -- it's not going to happen overnight. And we have had a full discussion of it. So I think that is not something. There are other reasons to go forward.

MR. KUDLOW: Can I get into this? I just want to try to correct the record. Let me say to Democrats like Joe Lieberman, to Democrats like John Edwards, to Democrats like Richard Gephardt, who have become strong supporters of this Bush resolution, I say thank you. You have done us a great national service. I say thank you.

I don't think the politics are as overwhelming as you think, Eleanor. And I think this is such a serious issue with respect to all the implications of this war, a year after that bombing, we are acting in self-defense. It's a good thing we've got bipartisan --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's get out. Exit question --

MS. CLIFT: There is a lot of ambivalence in this country --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --

MS. CLIFT: -- and the president has not made the case yet of what is involved.

MR. KUDLOW: You should see his poll ratings --

MS. CLIFT: And I hope he's playing hard ball just to get --

MR. KUDLOW: You should see his poll ratings right now. Take a good look at how they --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We must move on.

MS. CLIFT: War by poll? You're for that?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're getting very excessively unbuttoned here. And I want you all to relinquish when I say let's move on. Can we reestablish that? Okay.

MS. CLIFT: As long as they will acceded to that wish as well. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, thank you.

Exit: Given this dismal record of failure to act on so many 9/11 warnings, should President Bush welcome an independent, blue ribbon, outside commission to investigate what went wrong and how to fix it? Is it self-evident that he needs help? I ask you.


MR. KUDLOW: I think, John, the time is past. I think we're now focused on regime change in Iraq, pure and simple, and a whole new policy is being put into play, which we're going to talk about in a moment.

I think it is regrettable we didn't pick up the signals. But you know what? Almost every expert testifying says this: that Mr. Deutch, when he ran the CIA, utterly dismissed the terrorist threats; that in fact when Mr. Freeh ran the FBI, he ran it as a politically correct, legalistic bureaucratic operation, couldn't even get decent computers in. I mean, don't blame the current situation. They are making important changes on personnel and policy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm going to forgive them all.

Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: (Chuckling.) Right.

The combination of arrogance and secrecy in this administration won't allow them to go ahead with a blue-ribbon commission, unless there's an overwhelming political momentum behind it. And that's not there -- not yet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And will also not release any files relating to this.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: They shouldn't do a public blue-ribbon commission. They should do a tight internal restudy and reform and the system that needs reforming.

MR. KUDLOW: Yeah. Yeah, that's --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: See, I don't think the time is past. I just don't think the time is yet ripe. I would wait till after whatever we do in Iraq is completed, and then I would try and make sure that we have a serious study of it, because in particular we've got to connect the foreign intelligence with domestic operations.

MR. KUDLOW: How about the British models? MI5, MI6.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well --

MR. KUDLOW: Change all that around.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let's not reform the whole thing -- (inaudible) --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. Right.

MR. KUDLOW: And how about a performance-based review? See, guys like Porter Goss --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not too long, now.

MR. KUDLOW: -- guys like Porter Goss are worried that there's going to be another witch hunt against the CIA. But if you could have a true performance-based review that would lead to some reasonably good reforms, then fine. So be it.

But I believe the -- look, we're about to invade Iraq. That's front and center, not this other stuff.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not till February.

MS. CLIFT: Not necessarily.

MR. KUDLOW: We're -- already started that war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer to the question is, it's a good idea to have that committee. But I concur with you; I think it should be delayed. As a matter of fact, I don't know why these hearings are going on now, right -- five weeks before an election.


When we come back, the Bush Pax Americana.

(Announcement.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Bush Pax Americana.

Late this week, the White House sent Congress a foreign policy bombshell: President Bush's comprehensive doctrine for American global dominance. The document is titled "The National Security Strategy of the United States." It jettisons long-standing bipartisan U.S. foreign policy objectives, including nonproliferation treaties, nuclear deterrence and containment -- all gone. Instead of these policies, the U.S. will rely on unchallenged American military supremacy. So reports the New York Times, which on Friday published the final draft of the Bush strategy in advance of its receipt by Congress, in an extraordinary press exclusive.

With regard to what the document says, first of all, it talks about preemptions. And if I can organize my cards here, I'll be happy to tell you what it says.

Well, maybe you can tell me what it says from your copious reading, Mr. Editor.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes. (Laughs.) Yeah --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. We have it here now.

MR. BLANKLEY: (Laughing.) Yeah. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self- defense, by acting preemptively against such terrorists." And it goes on to deny further sponsorship, support and sanctuary to terrorists by convincing or compelling states to accept their sovereign responsibilities.

Now, you were one time assistant or deputy attorney general in the state of -- in Los Angeles. If someone said to you, "I shot her because I felt that she was threatening -- she was a threat to me, and I acted preemptively in so doing," can you see the absurdity of that position?

MR. BLANKLEY: Then the sovereign, the state, would say that the individual citizen doesn't have the right to assert.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But what about the state's right --

MR. BLANKLEY: The analogy -- the analogy is false --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about if India drops a bomb on Pakistan, a nuclear bomb, and says, "We are striking preemptively against Pakistan."

MR. BLANKLEY: The analogy is false because in this instance, we are -- the government is a sovereign state and we have to act in our interests. Citizens have to obey the sovereign. The sovereign has no higher authority than their own responsibility.

The point is, this principle was enunciated by Bush in his State of the Union address. This is a very compelling, and I agree, dramatic intellectual filling of the president's opening statement and the beginning of a long debate.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, this is a doctrine -- this is a doctrine of infinite arrogance, and it takes every opportunity to say that we can go alone. And it pretends it's forward-looking, but it basically adopts the Cold War paradigm of overwhelming force at a time when military force is not going to protect us from the terrorist threats and the asymmetric threats that we see.

Now, we may come to have to strike Iraq. But you need to go through the U.N., you need to play that string out. And then you have the company of the world with you. You do not do it -- you don't foreclose the U.N. and say we're not going to agree with the U.N.; we're going to do it anyway. That's not how you conduct world diplomacy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We have also an item in this tremendous 33-page analysis of the president, his new strategy, "Nonproliferation treaties have failed." As a matter of fact, he scorns them. As proof, he cites Iraq, Iran and North Korea. "The U.S. will rely on counterproliferation. We must deter and defend against a threat before it is unleashed."

I see that as a species of preemptive strike.

I'm going to move on to something else, which is military global supremacy. "The United States must and will maintain the capability to defeat any attempt by an enemy, whether state or non-state actor, to impose its will on the United States, our allies, or our friends. Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing or equalling the power of the United States."

So, for the first time ever in the history of the Republic, the stated goal of U.S. foreign policy is total military supremacy.

And he goes on to say that he has no intention of allowing any foreign power to catch up with the huge lead of the United States that has opened up since the fall of the Soviet Union.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, you can take this, which I think is -- at best, is ambiguous, and say that what he means is what?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: What he means is that we're going to maintain our military power so that it is absolutely hopeless for anybody else to try and be equal to us or to surpass us.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he suggesting here that he will use the military power to suppress others' military power buildup?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No. What he is saying is that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that what he's saying?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, that is not what he's saying.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It sounds a little like it, doesn't it?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, you can give it --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's the way The New York Times on its front page says to interpret it. If you were Chinese and you were listening to that -- you were reading that, would you be less impelled or more impelled to cease and desist building your armament, as they're currently doing, or would it spur you to build the more?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: When I read The New York Times, I think I'm reading Chinese. That's exactly the problem. Look. Let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As opposed to your --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: As opposed to the New York Daily News, which, you know, that's the voice of the people. But let me just say --

MS. CLIFT: Boy, everybody gets to do a promo. (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Let me just say this. The United States has to have a different doctrine from everybody else, for a simple reason: We are the target. We are the country that is threatened. Nobody has suffered on this kind of terrorist attack the way we have, and we have to develop a way to protect ourselves. Europe doesn't feel that threat because they don't have that threat. Therefore --

MS. CLIFT: You don't protect yourself with more weapons.

MR. KUDLOW: Can I just weigh in on this?

(Cross talk.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- the United States had to decide --

MR. KUDLOW: I want to weigh in. Mort is correct on this and I want to elaborate on it. This is a question of self-defense in pursuit of freedom and in pursuit of defeating tyrannies and dictators who are coming out to get us. It's the expansion of Bush's first- strike-preemption speech at West Point. And if you want to hearken this back to something equally significant, remember Truman. Truman changed our World War II policies of trust with Stalin and created NSD 68, which instituted the policy of containment. That left -- that was our operating doctrine for many --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It worked pretty well.

MR. KUDLOW: It worked well. Reagan changed it. Now Bush is formally changing it. This is in pursuit of --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we have to move on.

MR. KUDLOW: -- freedom and our own self-defense. That can't be wrong.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll go back to this, hopefully, next week. It certainly is an extraordinarily interventionist doctrine. And when we look back upon Somalia, Chile, Guatemala, Bay of Bigs, Iran, Iraq, Haiti and Vietnam, we haven't done all that well in our interventionist posturings in recent decades.

We'll be right back.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president wants the U.N. to pass a resolution. Putin and China and France do not. Will it pass?

MR. KUDLOW: It will pass, and France and Russia are going to vote for it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You want to make a bet on that? See me privately.

MS. CLIFT: The president can get it, the disarmament, but he'll have to come back for regime change if the Iraqis block the inspections.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will he get it?

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't know. It's about 50-50.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will he get it?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, he will get it, with the ability to back up the inspections with force.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is, he won't get it.

Bye-bye.

END OF REGULAR SEGMENT PBS SEGMENT FOLLOWS


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: McBride To Be?



JANET RENO: (From videotape.) Bill McBride is the Democratic candidate for the governor of the state of Florida, and I congratulate him.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Former Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno gave up all hope this week of leading the Democratic ticket in the race for governor of Florida. The primary election winner, Bill McBride -- he will challenge incumbent governor Jeb Bush this November. And a strong challenge indeed: A Florida Democratic Party poll shows that McBride is right behind Governor Bush, 48 percent to 43 percent. That five-point difference might be overcome by moderate Democrat McBride. And the national Democratic money machine -- operated by the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe, who vowed this to the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday: "There is only a five- point difference between Bill McBride and Jeb Bush. The biggest priority that we have is winning this governor's race. We will commit whatever resources it takes."



McAuliffe is a fundraising wizard. And McAuliffe's wife is the daughter of Bill McBride's campaign finance chairman.



Why the intense interest, Tony, in McAuliffe and the DNC beating Bush?



MR. BLANKLEY: Well, first let me point out that McAuliffe -- (inaudible) -- but is reliable as most of -- that was a Democratic Party poll they put out in order to try to make the race look competitive. The real polls -- the independent polls -- are showing about a 13- to 17-point spread, which is closer than it would've been between Reno and Jeb Bush, but it's still barely a competitive race. However, the Democrats are right to try to make a race out of it. They're going to suck a lot of Republican resources down there, force the governor and the national party to help defend, because he's the brother -- Florida is going to be a key state next time. So there's no doubt this is logical on their part, but I don't think they're going to get there. This is still going to be a Jeb Bush (reelection ?).



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now the election machinery broke down in the year 2000. It broke down in this primary 2002. What are the odds it will break down in 2004, would you say?



MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think they'll probably have it pretty much worked out by then, but the real question is, does it break down in the sense -- is it a black mark for Jeb Bush? I don't think it's going to hurt him very much, but it doesn't help.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's another side to that. What this machinery breakdown did is prevent there being the usual spangles and beads and hoopla for --



MR. KUDLOW: Victory. Victory. Victory.



MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, no --



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- for the victor, McBride, plus the opportunity to announce with fanfare his lieutenant governor selection.



MR. BLANKLEY: No, he was not.



(Cross talk.)



MS. CLIFT: But it was a lot better than that, because it reminded people of the anger that they felt after 2000, and that reminded the Democratic base, and that's who he's going to need. Jeb Bush helped create the McBride --



MR. BLANKLEY: It only broke --



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. Wait. Let Eleanor finish.



MS. CLIFT: Jeb Bush helped create McBride by running negative commercials against him, because he thought he would be the stronger candidate and he hoped to knock him out of the primary.



MR. KUDLOW: The same thing --



MS. CLIFT: So now Bush is going to have to really work hard here. He probably wins it --



MR. KUDLOW: The same thing happened -- let me just kind get a shot in. The same thing happened in New York when Cuomo bowed out and McCall did not get his victory lap, and it's hurt his momentum.



MR. ZUCKERMAN: McCall -- (off mike).



MR. KUDLOW: But in Florida, John -- I will make this point -- Jeb Bush is one of the best governors in the country, specially on taxes and education. The name Bush is very high right now. He's going to --



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does he have money?



MR. KUDLOW: He does -- plenty of money.



MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah.



MR. KUDLOW: And he's going to win by a landslide. That's what I believe.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He does have plenty of money.



MR. BLANKLEY: He's got a very strong team --



MR. KUDLOW: McBride has a thin base, the Democratic union base.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What happens if McAuliffe and the Democrats do not get a high-profile win, including the job of Terry McAuliffe? These guys have promised to deliver the House of Representatives to the party.



MR. KUDLOW: Yes.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They've promised to preserve their Democratic strength in the --



(Cross talk.)



MR. ZUCKERMAN: They will -- Terry McAuliffe has made the same promise about -- for about 13 races --



MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, every election. (Cross talk.)



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They've also promised payback. They promised payback to Jeb Bush and to the president. (Cross talk.) Wouldn't that be a sensational win for them, though?



MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh, sure. It would. ####



END