MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: The Bush Fall.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) I don't plan on losing my job. The American people may decide to change. That's democracy. I don't think so. I don't think so.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Four years ago, George W. Bush took office as a polarized president after a polarizing election. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 gave him the gift of being a unifier, the commanding heights of politics. He maintained that position through the historic midterm elections of 2002, when his Republican party made huge gains in an election that traditionally favors the party out of power.

But since then, the president has squandered that commanding heights status on Iraq, and now he's back to political polarization. His presidential approval ratings are now down, between 42 and 46 percent. No post-World War II incumbent has ever been reelected with such a low approval rating at this point in his presidency, and Bush's own strategist and pollster, Matthew Dowd, says that if his numbers shrink by 3 to 7 points -- below 40 -- it will be practically impossible to win. But there is a floor to Bush's fall, and it's the GOP base, about 38 percent of the electorate. Bush commands approval of at least 90 percent of that base.

On the handling of Iraq, Mr. Bush's approval rating is even lower than his overall rating -- 35 percent. And while his approval rating on the economy -- 41 percent -- is low, it is improving as the economy improves. But that success is being undercut by the 23-year high gas prices.

Beginning late in the summer of 2003, generic polls showed Bush's reelect number was weak. And today, the generic match up -- Bush versus "someone new" -- is Bush 42 percent, someone new, 53 percent. In the Bush-Kerry match up, Kerry leads in almost every poll. This means that in the electoral college, Kerry stands at 325, Bush 213.

Question: How serious is this situation? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think the president is in a serious situation, John, politically. He's had a terrible seven weeks. His numbers are as low as they have ever been. There has been no good news coming out of Iraq. It is dominating the front pages; Abu Ghraib and those dreadful pictures continue. But if you take out "somebody new" and you put in Kerry, in a number of polls, the president might be losing by three or winning by one. The president is a weak incumbent running, but he is running against a weak candidate. If the election is about Bush right now, I think Bush would lose. But frankly, if the election were about do you want John Kerry as president, Bush would win.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I thought it was a referendum on Bush.

MR. BUCHANAN: Bush is going to make it a referendum on Kerry.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Bush can do that?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, I do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But Iraq and the economy are focused squarely on Bush.

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly. If Kerry made it a referendum right now on George Bush today, I do believe Bush would probably lose the election, but it's six months off.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, how serious is the situation?

MS. CLIFT: The country barely knows John Kerry at this point. What they're looking at now is President Bush and they're reevaluating his leadership. It's not the first time in his presidency. They reassessed after 9/11. And his handlers have spent almost the last three years propping up the man to match the myth. Well, welcome back to reality.

And the president's handling of the postwar occupation has really made voters question his very competence. And the same skills that he was once praised for -- the first president with an MBA, relies on a small circle of advisers, equates dissent with disloyalty, and never admits a mistake -- those are now looking to be real flaws in leadership. And so his strengths are being reassessed, and his strength is national security -- was.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm going to skip over you, Tony. I want to get to get back to you in connection with the Hill.

How do you read this situation? Could this become a blowout? There's talk about a blowout now.

MR. VERVERS: Oh, certainly. If Iraq stays on the front pages from now until November, it's going to be a blowout and George Bush will lose. But that's not going to happen. It's going to fade eventually. We'll have to see how much toll it takes in the long run.

I would disagree with Eleanor a little bit. I think people are getting to know John Kerry and they're getting to know him in some key states, thanks to $70 million worth of advertising. There's an argument out there among Democrats who say that that has had no effect on the election. But I think it's helped George Bush stay in these clear almost dead-even heats. It's kept him alive to some extent.

MS. CLIFT: When you say Iraq will fade, on what do you base that? (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, let's talk about that.

MR. VERVERS: June 30 handover, June 30th handover date. I think we all agree it can't get much worse.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, starting as early as July 1 in Iraq, politicians are going to mount their campaigns for the presidency, which election will occur in January 5, about six months away, or less than that, of 2005. And there's a very good chance that demagogues will rise up and use as their campaign theme that Americans are occupiers and they have to go. So I don't see how you can conclude that there's going to be a relaxation of this tension --

MR. VERVERS: Well how does that -- don't you think American voters -- do you think American voters will be necessarily persuaded by arguments made by Iraqi politicians? I mean, I think maybe that won't help.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, but I thought I understood you to say --

MR. VERVERS: It will.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that the situation was going to quiet down.

MR. VERVERS: It's got to. If it doesn't, then Bush has got no chance whatsoever.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you see any indication in the military activity over there of any cessation of hostilities? Or is it getting worse? And has the military, as you will see in a moment, made up its mind?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think it's getting a little worse, John. And I think General Abizaid and those others expect that when the transfer comes to the Iraqis, are the Iraqis going to be able to tell the Americans you can't go into Fallujah, you can't go into Najaf? There are real problems I see coming up all the way through to November.

But I do believe this, John. If there's some major act of terrorism -- God forbid -- in this country in October, I think Bush will win.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think it would give him a boost?

MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, I think the country would rally around him in a second.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that yielding to perhaps what the candidates say while running for -- the Democrats running for the House and the Senate and Kerry --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that the reason why we were hit is because there was an over-concentration on Iraq, which was a mistake in the first place?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you recall when the hostages were taken and Carter looked like a failure, he remained -- he soared. The country stayed behind him for four months.


MR. BUCHANAN: He crushed Teddy Kennedy in the primaries.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Faced with this torrent of bad news, cracks are beginning to show in the GOP ranks. Here's the number one Republican in the House of Representatives, Speaker Dennis Hastert, when asked about Republican John McCain's comments that cutting taxes during wartime showed a lack of sacrifice.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

REPORTER: I heard a speech by John McCain the other day, and he was --


REPORTER: John McCain, sir.

REP. HASTERT: Where's he from? (Laughter.)

REPORTER: He's a Republican from Arizona. He --

REP. HASTERT: A Republican? (Laughter.)

REPORTER: He's a Republican. Anyway, his observation was, "Never before when we've been at war have we been worrying about cutting taxes." And his question was, "Where is the sacrifice?" So we have the war in Iraq and we all --

REP. HASTERT: If you want to see the sacrifice, John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda. There's the sacrifice in this country. We're trying to make sure that they have the ability to fight this war.

(End videotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there any political value coming out of Hastert's public spat with McCain? I ask you, Tony.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: No. It's remarkably foolish. Here's a man who has maintained his anonymity well, and now suddenly leaks through a camera to attack McCain on the most -- one issue that no one can question the man, you know, his capacity to sacrifice, six years in a POW camp. It was foolish.

It's part of a problem. As the polls have slipped for Bush, the Republicans in Congress are acting like schoolgirls with a mouse in the room. They're leaping around and peeing in their panties -- (laughter) -- and it is the most foolish performance I've seen in a long time. They need to stop that because --


MR. BLANKLEY: Just to get back to the first question that I didn't have a chance to chat in --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Anthony --

MR. BLANKLEY: In fact --


MR. BLANKLEY: -- this is a very winnable election for Bush.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. When Jim Jeffords shifted his party allegiance, do you -- and he said he was being, in effect, tormented by the White House, do you think that McCain under these circumstances, where the sarcasm of the number one person in the House of Representatives is being directed at him, might be pushed over to join Kerry as a vice presidential running mate?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, no. McCain is much too smart. He understands there's a lot of animosity with him. He's going to stick in the Republican Party. Now, should Kerry get elected, I could imagine him as secretary of Defense.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If McCain were on the ticket, what impact would it have? Hold on, Eleanor.

MR. BLANKLEY: He won't be on the ticket.


MR. BLANKLEY: He won't be on the ticket.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If he were. What impact would it have on Kerry's campaign?

MR. BUCHANAN: Kerry would win.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Kerry would win?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think so.


MR. BLANKLEY: Don't bet on it.

MR. BUCHANAN: I think he would take -- I think he would --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On that, what percentage --

MR. BUCHANAN: The media would go -- the media --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of Republicans do you think that McCain would bring over?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, it's independents and people like that, John. It's going to be a close race.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does Kerry need him for independents? He's doing very well with independents.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, yeah.

MR. BUCHANAN: The excitement factor would be enormous, I think, and that's the one thing that would really be dramatic.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. It would be a unity ticket. And the fact that John McCain even entertains this and --

MR. BLANKLEY: He doesn't entertain it.

MS. CLIFT: -- fields it in a humorous way and doesn't come out and criticize Kerry --


MS. CLIFT: -- is a great contribution to the Democratic cause. (Chuckles.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's in it for McCain?

MR. BLANKLEY: He -- he --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. In his response to Hastert, McCain took the high road.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): (From videotape.) Well, I agree with him that these young men and women are making enormous sacrifices and I have visited them. But I think we owe them something else and that is not to come back to a bankrupt nation. I'm a loyal Republican. We are now in the biggest spending, tax-cutting binge that we've ever been in history and we're doing terrible things to the future of this country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: How many Hill Republicans are as worried as John McCain about what he's described as the huge spending binge by President Bush and his accumulating mammoth deficit? How much is it tearing up the Republican party, do you hear from your ace sources? I ask you, Vaughn Ververs.

MR. VERVERS: It's actually -- there's a lot of Republicans who are very concerned about this. They have been for a long time. But this isn't going to tear apart the party in an election year. They're going to stick together to some extent. This isn't going to tear them apart.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are they --

MR. VERVERS: But it's conservatives who have been worried about it for a long time.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make a point. It's a lot of grumbling about the deficit, a lot of grumbling about other things about the Bush administration, but none of it that can't be fixed with a blip up for Bush's polling numbers.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, John Kerry --

MS. CLIFT: Well, you've got four Republicans in the Senate that are preventing the passage of a budget resolution because they want a pay-as-you-go; they want tax cuts to be paid for. It's a responsible position and John McCain is absolutely right. And the Senate -- they're all so scared to death, the Republicans, that they're going to lose the Senate. Five open seats in the South. They're guaranteed to get one. It should have been a sweep for them and those other four seats are competitive. The Democrats should win the Senate.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, there's tremendous upset in the Republican party over immigration, over manufacturing jobs, over the deficit, over the war. But I'll tell you this: John Kerry will bring the dissident tribes home, I predict, by the fall.

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: I really think all the Republicans and conservatives, grumbling as they are, my guess -- they're going to come home in November.

MS. CLIFT: They're not going to win the election if the -- through independents.

MR. BUCHANAN: They ain't going to go for Kerry.

MR. VERVERS: If John Kerry doesn't do it, Nancy Pelosi will do it with some of the comments she made --

MR. BUCHANAN: Or Teddy Kennedy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: If Bush sinks this fall, will the GOP majority in the House be dragged down in the undertow? I ask you, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Nope. Tom DeLay gained -- (laughs) -- them seven seats in Texas. That will hold the House, even if Bush loses.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, the manipulation in Texas will probably hold the House, but the Senate is in reach for the Democrats and that's a huge development over the last couple of months.


MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, it would have to be a catastrophically bad night for Republicans. The Democrats would have to run the table on every competitive seat in the House. It's extremely unlikely to happen. The House --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Even in the instance of that kind of a blow-out?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think even in that -- if he had a --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A blow-out for Kerry.

MR. BLANKLEY: If you had a 60-40 election, anything could happen. If you have anything much less than that, Republicans would hold the House.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the answer? Do you agree with Tony?

MR. VERVERS: Absolutely. Republicans narrowly hold the House and I think that the Republicans narrowly hold the Senate, too, because they are fighting on friendly battleground states for themselves. I think they narrowly hold on to both, even if Bush goes down.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ververs is right. So is Tony. When we come back, top U.S. generals in Iraq believe we are winning the battles, but losing the war. Why are they speaking up?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Listen to the military.

Item: Iraqi Governing Council president killed with six others by a suicide car bomber at a checkpoint leading into the U.S. Green Zone as they were standing in line.

Item: U.S. air-strike kills 40 at a wedding party, say the Iraqis, including many women and many children near the Syrian/Iraqi border. The U.S. military says the camp was a safe haven for foreign terrorists.

Item: Specialist Jeremy Sivits at his court-martial pleads guilty to perpetrating Abu Ghraib prison abuse and will implicate three others.

Item: Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz pleads for $25 billion more money for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, refusing to say how much for each.

Item: Abizaid declares Iraq problems wider and deeper. The single most consequential statement of the week came from Central Command --CENTCOM -- Commander General John Abizaid, the highest officer in the military chain of command in Iraq and the region, who said this:

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID (CENTCOM COMMANDER): Our doctrine is not right. It's just not right. I mean, there are so many things that are out there that aren't right in the way that we operate for this war. And there are a lot of systems that are wrong out there that we had better fix if we're going to beat this enemy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: When Abizaid says we need a new doctrine, is he also talking about a new doctrine to justify going to war? Vaughn?

MR. VERVERS: Well, I don't know. I didn't hear the question that was asked to him. It sounded like that might have been cut a little bit, but it sure sounded like that's what he was saying -- we need a new doctrine in Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean we have to start from scratch? Is that how you read it?


MR. BUCHANAN: No, no, no.

MR. VERVERS: (Inaudible) -- it in the mid-stream, you know.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me explain something. I think the general reminds me of Eisenhower. He's a tough, honest man who's going to say bluntly what needs to be said. Obviously, his judgment is that the fighting doctrine they're currently using is not working adequately, and he's coming to Congress to say we need to modify it. I'm very happy that finally the generals are speaking bluntly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, we'll convey that to the generals, General Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm sure that they'll appreciate it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, let's pin that down. General Abizaid, can we win this war militarily?

GEN. ABIZAID: (From videotape.) I can comment in saying that while we can't be defeated militarily, we're not going to win this thing militarily alone.

MR. BUCHANAN: All he's saying there, John, is very simple. Ultimately, you fight the war for a political solution, and the ultimate solution politically is going to depend heavily on the Iraqis. He is saying that the enemy cannot defeat the United States in battle, it cannot defeat the United States in war, but for the overall strategy to succeed and make Iraq a democracy, the Iraqis are going to have to do it.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me -- let me add --

MS. CLIFT: And he's also --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on! Let Eleanor in here.

MS. CLIFT: He's also --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, please speak right up.

MS. CLIFT: He's also been in the position of the civilian leadership in Washington saying, oh, well it's all up to the local commanders whether they want more troops or not, when everybody knows that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld doesn't want to send more troops. And so now --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me -- let me add. Eleanor's right --

MS. CLIFT: -- are we going to send more troops or not?

MR. BLANKLEY: Eleanor's right. I think until about a month or two ago, there was a tendency for the senior generals not to speak up and give the counsel that they thought best because they didn't think they were going to give advice that wanted to be heard. And they started speaking up about a month ago, and I'm delighted they did. I think the civilian leadership needed to hear the shrewd judgment of the generals, and I think that's going to be helpful to the long-term victory.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As I read and heard Abizaid, I thought he was saying something that had been pent up because he wanted more forces over there and Rumsfeld didn't want more forces over there because Rumsfeld is still a strong exponent of the Rumsfeld doctrine, which means we can do a lot with fewer soldiers.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I -- without --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, let's continue. We want to continue this.

Okay: "Don't even think about it. I'm not going to be the fall guy if conditions in Iraq further deteriorate."

That was an overheard side remark on April the 5th by CENTCOM Commander General Abizaid.

What is he saying there, Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: What he's saying is that there is a possibility that this thing can come unraveled and that the military, even if it does a splendid job in winning battles and in winning the war, if it's under civilian control that's one way we can lose it; another is, he can't guarantee a political victory in Iraq, and no one can.

MR. BLANKLEY: And there's another --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor in.

MS. CLIFT: -- you some of the supporters of the war say we're tying the hands of the military. That's not what he's saying. He's saying that they can succeed militarily, but they can't succeed politically. And that's where there is no plan. And the president's going to --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Hold on.

MS. CLIFT: The president is going to address the nation on Monday night. Let's hear whether he's got some course correction here. Maybe he has a secret plan.


MR. BLANKLEY: Let me add, because there's another piece that you're missing here. One of the things that generals have been complaining about privately is the lousy interface with the civilian Americans, Bremer and that gang there, and they're frustrated. The decisions -- bad decisions made by Bremer are costing Marines' and Army soldiers' lives, and that's part of the doctrine that's got to change.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think the reason why the military commanders are speaking up is because they don't want to be saddled with what they now see will be a rap.

MR. BLANKLEY: They also --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In other words, it's a big --

MR. BLANKLEY: They also --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute. There's a bigger --

MR. BLANKLEY: -- they want to win. They want to win.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, no, there's a bigger turn that's taken place.

MS. CLIFT: We're on the brink --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They now feel it's unwinnable, militarily, and the --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BLANKLEY: No, they don't.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They really do.

MR. BLANKLEY: They want to help win the war. They want to help --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Listen to this. More military opinion.

MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, you can't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now be patient. Army Major General Charles Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne, told The Washington Post that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. When asked if he thought we were losing, he said, "I think strategically we are," meaning we are losing -- losing the war.

MR. BUCHANAN: We're losing Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A senior -- just a moment. A senior general at the Pentagon also told The Post, quote, "It is doubtful we can go on much longer like this. The American people may not stand for it, and they should not."

Army Colonel Paul Hughes -- final quote -- former director of strategic planning in Baghdad, said, quote, "I promised myself when I came on active duty that I would do everything in my power to prevent that kind of Vietnam strategic loss from happening again. Here I am, 30 years later, thinking we will win every fight and lose the war, because we don't understand the war we're in."

Question: Is it time to listen to our senior military commanders, or should we continue to listen to the civilian armchair generals and neocons at the Pentagon, Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, listen, you've got to listen to the generals, and the generals are exactly right. In my judgment, we should not have gone to war in Iraq. The generals are correct. They not only won a magnificent victory, they will win every battle. But there is a real danger that we are going to lose this war on the ground, because there was a lack of understanding --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Wait, wait, wait --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, are they not collectively telling you that this will not happen, because they can't put the pieces together; we can't get the NATO -- we can't get NATO in there in time --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Wait a second. Wait second. I want --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We can't get the U.N. in there in time.

MR. BUCHANAN: Politically we've lost -- we've lost the hearts and minds --

MR. BLANKLEY: I want to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm talking militarily, Pat.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me get in --

MR. BUCHANAN: Militarily, we won't be beat.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Militarily, we cannot lose. But militarily, we cannot win. That's what they keep saying.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me get in just a second. Don't hijack the generals' statements to support an antiwar position. The generals want to win the war. They think there are some problems with doctrine and -- but they want to win the war, and they hope that civilians will listen. That's -- they've been speaking out now for about a month and a half.


MS. CLIFT: But it isn't a war that can be won --

MR. BLANKLEY: And the idea that you can find some retired colonel who wants to concede defeat -- (laughter) --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. It can't be won --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, I will stand on my exegesis.

MS. CLIFT: Right. Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You stand on yours.

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm sitting on mine. (Chuckles.)

MS. CLIFT: It's a war that can't be won by the generals. It depends on who we hand over sovereignty to, what kind of sovereignty there is, do they have any credibility, or do we set off a civil war. This is a lousy outcome.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Chalabi's fall from grace.

The home of Ahmed Chalabi was raided by U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police. The Iraqi National Congress offices were searched, and documents and computers were confiscated. Also, the $340,000 a month contract between the Pentagon and Chalabi for services was halted.

Question: How big an embarrassment is this for Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz that Chalabi, who some describe as an international charlatan, it now turns out played us as suckers, with phony intelligence for which we paid dearly in blood and cash? Vaughn?

MR. VERVERS: Talk about a chain of command problem. This isn't just an embarrassment for those guys, this is an embarrassment for the entire administration up to the top. If the impression is that this is the guy that the administration leaned on to make their argument, to make their case to go into Iraq, it's a terrible thing for them. Now, I don't think that's the case. I think that they brought him along because they agreed with him in the first place.

MR. BUCHANAN: There's more here than meets the eye.

MS. CLIFT: Chalabi --

MR. BLANKLEY: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Tony, please.

MR. BUCHANAN: There's more here than meets the eye.

MR. BLANKLEY: Pat's right.

MR. BUCHANAN: One of the charges is that Chalabi was giving highly valuable secret intelligence to the Iranians. I think Chalabi has moved his center of gravity toward Tehran and toward the Shi'as, and he may have sold out information he got from the very highest levels of the Pentagon.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make another --

MS. CLIFT: But what were we doing in bed with him?

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me suggest --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, Eleanor.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me suggest another theory.


MR. BLANKLEY: His biggest problem politically in Iraq was he was seen as an American cat paw. For whatever reason, he now is not seen as our man, and maybe, if you have a sneaky disposition, this may all be working in conjunction.

(Cross talk.)

MS. CLIFT: He's less popular among the Iraqis than Saddam Hussein. He has zero credibility.

MR. BLANKLEY: Oh, you know that. How many Iraqis did you talk to?

MR. BUCHANAN: He's got more today.

MS. CLIFT: More than you have, Tony. (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Maybe not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that raid would have taken place on Chalabi's palatial mansion if George Bush hadn't signed off on it? In other words, is Bush now leaning toward -- away from the Pentagon and more toward Abizaid and Conway and the others over the (troops ?) on the ground?

MR. BUCHANAN: The National Security Council, the Bush-led National Security Council, I believe, had to sign off on this.

MS. CLIFT: Of course.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Would senior military commanders worry that our war-justifying doctrine in Iraq is wrong or doesn't exist, and, while we are winning battles, we are losing the war? Does the nation now need to think about early withdrawal? Pat?

MR. BUCHANAN: Look. The nation IS thinking about --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly! Yes or no?

MR. BUCHANAN: The nation should think about early withdrawal.


MS. CLIFT: The policymakers and the politicians are correctly looking at exit plans.

MR. BLANKLEY: No. We need to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no? Not yet?

MR. BLANKLEY: -- think how to win.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it on the table? It's not on the table? You want it off the table?

MR. BLANKLEY: No. We need to think how to win, not how to get out.

MR. VERVERS: We need to think how to win, not how to get out.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is it should be on the table and we should think about premature exit. Or mature exit. (Laughter.)

We'll be right back with predictions.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Out of time. Bye-bye.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: Here come the brides.

Scenes of celebration this week in Massachusetts, where more than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples lined up for this country's first-ever same-sex legal marriages. At the front of the line, Gloria Bailey and Linda Davies, partners for 33 years.

LINDA DAVIES: (From videotape.) We can protect each other. We can protect each other any time for the rest of our lives.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That quote-unquote "protection" is vital to the pair. Bailey is 63, Davies is 58. Senior citizens.

One in four same-sex couples includes a partner age 55 or older. If not allowed to marry, here is what they lose:

Tax breaks. Straight married persons inherit their spouse's property tax-free, but gay surviving partners, no matter how long the relationship, pay taxes of up to 48 percent on estates over $1.5 million.

Health care. Gay unmarried couples who apply for Medicaid do not have the financial protection given to straight married couples. Gay partners could be forced to sell a shared home in order to qualify for Medicaid-funded nursing care.

Social Security benefits. Married straight persons may collect a spouse's benefits after the death of that spouse. Unmarried gay partners have no such provision.

Inheritance. Gays whose partners die without a will do not inherit. Straight widows and widowers automatically inherit their spouses' property.

Question: Is the gay marriage movement driven by the tangible benefits that they would get if they were straights getting married? In other words, equalization of benefits is what's involved? I ask you, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think the desire to be recognized and have equal status with other married couples is the driving force. But yes, there are like a thousand different federal benefits that are at stake, and you delineated many of them. Civil unions -- if states grant civil unions, you're only guaranteed, then, state benefits. You still don't get the federal benefits. So there's a great financial stake here, too.

And frankly, I don't get why people shouldn't support these stable relationships. I mean, as you point out, many of these people are in their 40s and 50s. They've been living together for a long time, and they want to take care of each other in sickness and in health.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it worth undermining traditional marriage, Pat, as you believe, in order to give gays the right to marry?

MR. BUCHANAN: No. Of course it isn't, John. I think that what we're doing is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't want to be fair to the gays?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think this society is unraveling. I do agree to Eleanor to this extent. To many of the couples themselves living in these unions, they are concerned about the benefits and things like that. But this is a much larger social/cultural/religious effort. There is a social/cultural revolution going on in this country, and this is part of it. And American society is being remade from the top down by the order of judges; it's not being done democratically. But we are in a cultural and religious war in this country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So don't you think the American people are inherently fair, and this appeal to fairness, particularly where tangible benefits are concerned, will carry the day?

MR. VERVERS: I think poll after poll you see the American people on principle are generally fair and want them to get some benefits. I don't think that they'll vote for it, though, and I think this is going to be a stealth issue in this election. It's not one that you see the politicians -- you didn't see John Kerry, you didn't see George Bush running out and talking about this issue when marriages started in Massachusetts last week. You're not going to see them talk about it, but it's going to be under the radar screen in these states and it's going to have an impact. ####