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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

PANEL:
PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK
TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC

DATE: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2004

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Spine Versus Judgment.

John Kerry launched a biting and tightly-argued challenge against the judgment of George Bush in the first presidential debate on Thursday night. Mr. Bush returned fire by saying, in effect, Kerry does not have the spine to be commander-in-chief.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE): (From videotape.) I believe in being strong and resolute and determined, and I will hunt down and kill the terrorists wherever they are. But we also have to be smart, Jim. And smart means not diverting your attention from the real war on terror in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden and taking it off to Iraq, where the 9/11 commission confirms there was no connection to 9/11 itself and Saddam Hussein.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) What my opponent wants you to forget is that he voted to authorize the use of force, and now says it's the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place. I don't see how you can lead this country to succeed in Iraq if you say wrong war, wrong time, wrong place.

SEN. KERRY: (From videotape.) The terrorism czar, who has worked for every president since Ronald Reagan, said invading Iraq in response to 9/11 would be like Franklin Roosevelt invading Mexico in response to Pearl Harbor. That's what we have here.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) My opponent looked at the same intelligence I looked at and declared, in 2002, that Saddam Hussein was a grave threat. He also said, in December of 2003, that anyone who doubts that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein does not have the judgment to be president.

SEN. KERRY: (From videotape.) I've had one position, one consistent position -- that Saddam Hussein was a threat; there was a right way to disarm him and a wrong way. And the president chose the wrong way.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is this what the voters' choice boils down to, judgment versus spine? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, I'm not sure that's it. What happened down there in Miami was this. John Kerry came in to debate. He was poised. He was authoritative. He was controlled. He put on the best debate performance of his life.

And the president came in to respond to him with the anti-Kerry sound bites which have caused Republican rallies to cheer. But the president could not get any response from Jim Lehrer or the audience to these sound bites that he was delivering out there. So as a result, when the cutaways to the president went on, he looked peeved. He looked miffed. He looked petulant, even.

And so John Kerry won this debate going away. And what John Kerry did was diminish, to a good degree, the image of him as a flip-flopper and all the rest of it, because he didn't look like that. Whether it's going to have a lasting impact or effect at the polls, I don't think we're going to know until around the middle of next week.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Well, first of all, spine and judgment don't have to be mutually exclusive attributes. And I think the point that John Kerry was getting across is that he had the judgment but he also had the spine.

And you had a real contrast between these two men. President Bush operates by belief. He has this passionate belief in his convictions, sometimes to the willful exclusion of facts, whereas Kerry operates really by reason and intellect. And those virtues had been mocked by the president and his minions over the last few weeks, and Kerry went into that debate as a cartoon figure. And when he didn't show up to be this flip-flopper lacking core convictions, he gave a very different impression. He looked presidential.

He was in command of the facts and he comported himself with great dignity, as opposed to Bush, who got really agitated as though he was annoyed that he had to be there. I mean, he's the war president. Why did he have to go through this? He didn't look at his watch like his dad did, but he might as well have.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're getting into demeanor here, Tony. You're free to talk about that, and also the basic question: Was this a faceoff between judgment versus spine, and did it work for either party?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I agree with Eleanor that it's a false dichotomy. You need both in a leader. Let me focus --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How did Kerry emerge on that front? Did he emerge as though he did have spine? Was Bush defeated in that? And did Bush defeat Kerry on the matter of judgment?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I think on judgment, Kerry's first example, that we diverted resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, is provably wrong. We never diverted --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are we going to argue merits or are we going to argue about performance?

MR. BLANKLEY: You asked judgment. He doesn't have the judgment to even get the facts right. General Tommy Davis (sic/means Franks) had to come out afterwards and say he was in charge of both those operations; it never happened. There was never any diversion. So judgment -- I wouldn't say that Kerry makes any points on that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, because somebody's going to actually check the facts and say --

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that he misquoted Franks.

MR. BLANKLEY: Not misquoted. He mischaracterized the event. Two wars he mischaracterized.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think that Franks is in a position where he also wants to protect his own legend?

MR. BLANKLEY: If you're accusing General Franks of being a liar, you're welcome to.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, I'm accusing everybody of seeing through their own particular lenses --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, we all do. Let me just --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I happened to hear the Franks interview. But how many people did? Let's go to -- you want to make another point.

MR. BLANKLEY: I just want to say, we'll get to style later, and obviously Bush didn't do a good job on style. But as far as spine is concerned, we know the president's spine. Kerry's spine is in doubt. Judgment, I think both men's is in doubt.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you notice the extended reference to George Herbert Walker Bush's book dealing with not going into Baghdad and the quoting of that by Kerry to Bush? Do you think that got under the son's skin and it rattled him?

MR. O'DONNELL: It seemed that every --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was that some kind of a secret weapon that you knew about in advance? Were you hinting at that?

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah, all these published books that you can choose. There's nothing secret about it. Look, the whole debate process got under the president's skin in the first round. It didn't take Kerry -- it wasn't a matter of Kerry's skill. This president didn't want to be there. He was communicating that very clearly. He was also in over his head.

This is the problem that the Republicans have constructed by having this vacuum in which the Republican campaign has taken place -- the self-delusional quality of the Madison Square Garden rally convention where no contrary thought was ever allowed, and then these crazy Bush public events that the public has to have a ticket to go to.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean they protected him too much.

MR. O'DONNELL: They seal him off from all reality. And Jim Lehrer was bringing to him a reality that he had not been confronted with since the Iraq War started. And he cannot handle it. He is in way over his head.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In addition to that, is it not true, Pat -- you can speak to this -- every president lives in a hermetically-sealed bubble? Even though they say they're not yes men, the deference that is accorded to him can create an illusion of omnipotence almost, and omniscience.

MR. O'DONNELL: Look, I don't think they're wrong on that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that true or false?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think you're exactly right there. But all the points here, I think, are well-taken. I think the fact that Bush has not been subjected to tough interrogation by the press, which is not going to cheer him; he's not been subjected to debates; he's got a staff which, in effect, does not contradict him, in my judgment.

I think he went out there and felt that, as Eleanor says, he's a conviction-and-belief politician. He is not a man who's reflective and deals in a debate type of discussion. He is no good at that. And Kerry was very polished and effective at that. And the president was like a fish out of water.

MS. CLIFT: Ninety minutes is too long for President Bush. He's got enough material for maybe 30 minutes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean there was a --

MS. CLIFT: And he kept repeating himself. And it was like a campaign ad. It was all his slogans from his campaign ads.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, "It's hard work, it's hard work, it's hard work."

MS. CLIFT: And "mixed messages, mixed messages."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he had a reason for doing that, because that was also a subliminal statement that John Kerry is not hard at all; John Kerry is soft. That's the way I read it. That's why he repeated it. But there was also some fatigue setting in with President Bush, was there not? I mean physical fatigue.

MR. BLANKLEY: I think --

MR. BUCHANAN: Kerry was as -- look, Kerry came in there -- I mean, he looked like a million dollars. He --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He was a little nervous, though, in the beginning. They both were.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, you always are at the beginning. But he was very polished. He was in control of himself every single second. He knew when the camera was on him. He would nod. He handled it perfectly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's hit this important thrust made by the president. Whom do the American troops want as commander-in-chief?

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) I understand what it means to be the commander-in-chief. And if I were to ever say, "This is the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place," the troops would wonder, "How can I follow this guy?" You cannot lead the war on terror if you keep changing positions on the war on terror and say things like, "Well, this is just a grand diversion."

SEN. KERRY: (From videotape.) Soldiers know over there that this isn't being done right yet. I'm going to get it right for those soldiers.

When I was in a rope line just the other day coming out here from Wisconsin, a couple of young returnees were in the line, one active duty, one from the Guard. And they both looked at me and said, "We need you. You've got to help us over there."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about Bush's point? Will and can the troops follow Kerry? Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: Of course. First of all, we have a disciplined military and they will follow the commander-in-chief. And they know better than anyone, because they're on the ground, how they have been cheated in the fact that there wasn't a plan to get the peace, that they were under-equipped.

And Kerry has made excellent points here, and I think he really handled the question about his allegedly changing positions by stating his core positions in succinct fashion. That little red light on the podium, Kerry ought to take it everywhere he goes. It really helped him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think he cleared the president's point that the troops will and can follow him even though he said that this war is a colossal diversion.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, as Eleanor said, obviously the troops will obey orders. But the larger point is that he made it inadvertently against him in the debate when he said, "How do you tell a guy to die for a mistake," and then he called this war a mistake, and then Lehrer asked him, "Well, does that mean that you'd be asking these men to fight for a mistake?" And that's the problem.

Yes, obviously our men are going to do their duty. But it's awfully difficult if your commander-in-chief says, "This is a mistake; we shouldn't be here. You shouldn't be fighting and dying there, but go charge into the battlefield."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --

MR. BLANKLEY: That's a terrible way --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think, when the absentee ballots come in, that the majority of the ballots are going to share the view of those Wisconsin guys?

MR. BLANKLEY: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do not?

MR. BLANKLEY: Everybody believes that the military vote will be disproportionately for Bush.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you think that will be the case?

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You want to make a quick point?

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes. Look, Bush has a tremendous point here. It's one of the best points of his campaign. However, I don't think he made it effectively. What Kerry did was answer it with a little anecdote about a couple of soldiers, but the anecdotes are what people remember. So in terms of the debate, I think that Kerry wins. But in terms of the broader point --

MS. CLIFT: Well, he also answered it substantively.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He also said -- he also enlarged it to say that the troops know that this war is not being handled right. Now, you've seen videotape and I've seen videotape --

MR. BUCHANAN: There's no doubt that there are some problems now with the troops over in Iraq that did not exist as of a year ago. What the president is saying is Kerry is responsible.

MS. CLIFT: But he also handled it substantively. He also handled it substantively because he said you separate the war from the warrior and you take care of the troops. And he also acknowledged the famous Pottery Barn rule of Colin Powell's, that you may not have favored the war, but we're there, we broke it, and we have a commitment to fix it. And that's a responsible position.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.

MR. O'DONNELL: Look, it's not our job to lie about war to make troops feel good. And I don't care what they feel.

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me finish.

MR. O'DONNELL: I don't care what they feel about the truth of this war. If John Kerry thinks this war is a mistake and if the United States of America elects him president, the troops are going to have to live with that. And they know better than anyone else whether it was a mistake or not.

MR. BUCHANAN: The commander-in-chief should not undermine the troops --

MR. O'DONNELL: He's not undermining anything.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to make a point here?

MR. BUCHANAN: He'd demoralize them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, the human --

MR. O'DONNELL: I don't care if they're demoralized. They have to go to war and be prepared --

MR. BUCHANAN: The commander-in-chief does care.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- to live with the debate that goes on in the United States about whether it's right or wrong.

MR. BUCHANAN: But if you're going to be commander-in-chief, you cannot be demoralizing the troops in wartime, even if you think the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hey, Pat --

MR. BUCHANAN: -- war is a mistake.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, don't you think, don't you know, that those troops talk with their parents, talk with their sweethearts, talk with their wives, talk with their children, and they are informed about the debate going on over here?

MR. BUCHANAN: Kerry's most vulnerable position is the very fact that people think that he is poor-mouthing America in a time of war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In point of fact, does that have any impact on the troops at all?

MR. BUCHANAN: I believe it does.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I believe it does not.

MS. CLIFT: They are demoralized because they are targets in a country that doesn't want them. That's why they're demoralized.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to move on.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me --

MS. CLIFT: They're not demoralized because a potential president is pointing out that this war was unnecessary.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, let Tony in.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, none of us know what each of these hundreds of thousands of fine young men and women are thinking. But I want to make a point about the problem that Kerry had regarding American voters, which is what we have some knowledge of, theoretically.

The problem Kerry has is that it seems that the majority of Americans, by a small number, want to see us win this war in Iraq, now that we're here, whether we should have been here or not. And he doesn't sound like a certain trumpet.

MR. O'DONNELL: He says he wants to win it.

MR. BLANKLEY: He sounds like an uncertain trumpet.

MR. O'DONNELL: He says he wants to win it. He wants to fight it to win it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's got a plan to get out. He's got a plan to follow through. He does not want to quit. I want to rephrase that. He wants --

MR. O'DONNELL: He wants to win it.

MR. BUCHANAN: If it was a blunder, why does he want to win?

MR. BLANKLEY: He makes the words he wants to win, but the aura that comes out of him is "This is a mistake; let's find an exit strategy."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, we've got a lot of ground to cover. The human toll: U.S. military dead in Iraq, including suicides, 1,055; U.S. military amputees, wounded, injured, mentally ill, all now out of Iraq, 28,150; Iraqi civilians dead, 21,200.

Exit question: Before the debate, Kerry had been virtually reduced to a political caricature, as Eleanor pointed out, by, among other things, the ads of the Swift Boat Veterans and the GOP convention attack. Did Kerry shatter that caricature, yes or no? We've got to get out.

MR. BUCHANAN: I don't think he shattered it, but he certainly went a long way to reducing it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, did he shatter it?

MS. CLIFT: Well, they're not going to be able to make fun of him the way they did before.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he shattered it.

MS. CLIFT: It's a lot harder, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He shattered it.

MR. BLANKLEY: He didn't have that caricature before because he had 45 percent of the vote, and I think he improved his image through the debate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did he shatter any caricature which may have existed in the minds and hearts of some voters?

MR. BLANKLEY: Amongst Bush voters, they thought he was a flip-flopper, and I don't think that's changed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think it's changed?

MR. BLANKLEY: But I never thought he had a caricature like that.

MR. O'DONNELL: Kerry transcended every caricature the Republicans have done about him, especially, by the way, because of all these rules that the Republicans came up with to protect the president. They all worked in Kerry's favor, including the lights. The United States Senate uses that light system in every single hearing. Kerry's been using that three-light system for 20 years. He handled it perfectly.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The caricature of it, to the extent that it existed, has been shattered.

Issue Two: The Global Test.

Listen closely, please, to the first sentence and the second sentence for the words "global test."

SEN. KERRY: (From videotape.) No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, nor would I, the right to preempt, in any way necessary, to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it, Jim, you've got to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test, where your countrymen, your people, understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) I'm not exactly sure what you mean, "passes the global test." You take preemptive action if you pass a global test? My attitude is you take preemptive action in order to protect the American people, that you act in order to make this country secure.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "Global test." This language was immediately seized on by President Bush, as you saw, and later that night by Vice President Cheney, who continued the "global test" attack in Colorado.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: (From videotape.) On the one case, we've got in George Bush a man who's done it, who's been there, done it for four different years now and done a superb job; and the wannabe senator who says that, in response to the question on preemptive action, he would support it as long as it passed some kind of global test.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is this a cheap trick by Bush and Cheney, or is it a true reading of Kerry's two sentences on the subject of preemptive strikes? Lawrence O'Donnell.

MR. O'DONNELL: It's a cheap trick. What Kerry is obviously saying is there's no specific test involved here. It's just that you have to have the sense that if you're doing a preemptive strike that your country is with you, which is where he began, and that the world will understand it.

That's the test: Will the world understand it? Not necessarily get the world to approve it, not even a majority of the world, but will he be able to communicate to the world why he's done it?

Now, it didn't surprise me when President Bush said, "I don't think I understand what you mean by a global test." I'm not sure the president understood anything that Kerry said.

MR. BLANKLEY: John, that level of sarcasm isn't required. But the fact is, this was a --

MR. O'DONNELL: He was lost. The president was lost last night.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're the last person in the world to be talking about sarcasm, young man. By the way, nice threads today. Please keep talking.

MR. BLANKLEY: I like yours also.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, well --

MR. BLANKLEY: Look, this is a phrase -- I think it was a tactical mistake for him to use it. Rush Limbaugh is already calling it the Kitty Dukakis moment. And it goes along with everything we know or has been caricatured about Kerry, his connections with France and the U.N. and not being for America first. And this plays into we've got to get a permission slip. And we can argue --

MR. O'DONNELL: That's crazy. That's crazy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: We can argue the subtlety of the policy.

MR. O'DONNELL: He's just making up words. There's no permission slip.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, he appears to be giving --

MR. O'DONNELL: He said specifically, "I will conduct a preemptive war." What else do you want him to say?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, I want to read the first sentence in order to see whether or not this doesn't clear the air of what Mr. Kerry actually said. "No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded" -- c-e-d-e-d -- "nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America."

He then uses the word, "You can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons." It doesn't say, "You must prove it to the world."

MR. BUCHANAN: All right, let me respond. Look, does he mean what Jefferson said, "A decent respect for the opinion of mankind requires us to explain it," or does he mean the U.N. gets a veto?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you hear the first sentence I read to you?

MR. BUCHANAN: Global test --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That insulates him. It immunizes him against the charges you're bringing.

MR. BUCHANAN: Global test tells me U.N. veto over what we do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, Pat. What about the Trilateral Commission?

MR. BUCHANAN: The international community vetoes what he's talking about.

MR. O'DONNELL: He said at the Democratic Convention that he doesn't need --

MR. BUCHANAN: He's a multilateralist.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- U.N. permission. How many times does he have to say it to be understood by --

MR. BLANKLEY: His actions speak louder than his words, and he constantly --

MR. O'DONNELL: He has taken no actions. He's never conducted a war.

MR. BLANKLEY: His political actions --

MR. O'DONNELL: All we have is his words.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me ask you --

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me just finish this. Political actions of telling Bush that unless he got France and Germany on board, he hadn't got the international community.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, I've got a question for you. In the upcoming four years of the presidency, what is the least improbable -- that's the way I want to put it -- preemptive strike that the United States president could be called and might well be called upon to make?

MR. BUCHANAN: U.S. preemptive strike on the nuclear sites in Iran.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fine. You do that. Do you think that it would be a good idea to do what John Kerry says, and that is, you've got to get your countrymen, your people, to understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons, especially when you consider that we have 1.4 billion Muslims out there, most of whom hate George Bush --

MR. BUCHANAN: What is the global --

MS. CLIFT: It's called diplomacy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and are quickly learning to hate the United States?

MR. BUCHANAN: What is the --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think he would want to encompass that before taking a preemptive strike?

MR. BUCHANAN: What is the global test we would have to pass before he did it if he felt they were going to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The global test --

MS. CLIFT: Do you know who you can learn it from?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- is the awareness of a decent respect for mankind and getting them on board.

MS. CLIFT: It's called diplomacy. And if you want to know about it, you should ask the former President Bush. He did a pretty good job.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Who won the debate? Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: John Kerry, going away.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Amen.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, John Kerry obviously won the debate on style. It remains to be seen whether he's moved public opinion.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, did he win it on substance?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, he won it on style and he won it very --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who won it on substance -- George Bush?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think Bush had more policy statements that were sound and less inconsistency than Kerry. But on style, clearly Kerry won it.

MR. O'DONNELL: When you get to a debate where the president gets to a spot where he's literally run out of material and doesn't know what to do with a full two-minute slot, it's very clear who won the debate. I said here last week John Kerry was going to win this debate, was going to beat him badly, and he did.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're right. Lawrence is right.

Issue Three: Snap Polls.

Here are some polling numbers taken during and after the debate. Who won? Kerry, 53 percent; Bush, 37 percent; tie, 8 percent. That was today, Gallup, and it was registered voters. Who won? Kerry, 45 percent; Bush, 36 percent; tie, 17 percent -- registered voters. Kerry, 43 percent; Bush, 28 percent; tie, 29 percent -- uncommitted voters, 200 of them, CBS snap polls.

What do these polls tell us? I ask you, Tony Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, they say that he clearly won the debate. But interestingly, the ABC poll also had a before and after debate, what was the head-to-head. And before the debate, Bush was ahead 50 to 46, and after the debate, Bush was ahead 51 to 47. So Bush picked up a point and Kerry picked up a point in the actual head-to-head. So we don't yet know whether the fact that Kerry clearly won the debate means he's going to pick up support.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's a couple of other polls here. One is better on Iraq: Bush 54 percent; Kerry 43 percent. That's CNN/USA Today/Gallup, 615 registered voters.

MR. BUCHANAN: From the debate?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: From the debate.

MR. BUCHANAN: That is bad news for Kerry, my friend.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Better on Iraq? Well, we knew there was a wider margin before the debate.

MR. O'DONNELL: He's closing the gap.

MR. BUCHANAN: That is Bush's strong suit, and you're saying they came out of the convention --

MR. O'DONNELL: Kerry's closing that gap dramatically. These are very, very positive numbers for Kerry.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He was at about 33 percent. Now he's gained 10 percent, and Bush --

MR. O'DONNELL: He's closing the gap, Pat. That's what's important.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Fifty-four to 43 after the debate, the president better on Iraq?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you understand? He's gaining on Bush.

MR. O'DONNELL: Gaining.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And the stature gap will show in the upcoming debates and close that.

(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute.

MS. CLIFT: Bush had a huge advantage on the war on terror. And what Kerry is doing now is separating out Iraq. So I think that he's narrowing that. He may not tie Bush, but --

MR. BLANKLEY: You're wrong. That poll had -- the before number for Bush was at 54 and the after number for Bush was 54. Kerry went up from 40 to 42, or something like that, or 41.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, that is astonishing.

MR. BLANKLEY: It was essentially no movement before and after on --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you'll have to talk to my able researcher, Alice.

MS. CLIFT: Winning a debate, it's not enough to just win the debate. You've got to win the spin zone for the 48 hours after. And we see a very able spinner over here in Tony Blankley. (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: As opposed to you, who thinks nothing about the Democratic Party.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Spinners, be quiet. One more poll. Clear plan for Iraq: Kerry, pre-debate, 14 percent; post-debate, 52 percent. Bush --

MR. O'DONNELL: That's huge.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's outstanding.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- pre-debate, 24 percent Bush; post-debate, 39 percent Bush.

MR. O'DONNELL: That's the story right there. Kerry's credibility on Iraq is skyrocketing. And the public is not going to watch their president lose three debates in a row and vote for him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hey, on an uncommitted vote, you understand that to be independent voters, uncommitted?

MR. BUCHANAN: Not necessarily. They're just uncommitted. They might be Republicans and they might be Democrats who haven't made up their minds.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You saw those numbers. Those are uncommitted voters; small sample, 200. What do you conclude from that?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, I would conclude, if that last figure is true, that Kerry made tremendous gains there. I'm surprised he didn't do better on who's better to handle Iraq after the debate. I'm surprised.

MS. CLIFT: The thing is, Democrats had actually started to give up on Kerry. And he has now brought his base back.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: No matter who wins, the dollar sinks next year.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: John Edwards will replicate Kerry's successful performance next week in Cleveland.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: Intelligence reform bill may well not get out of Congress before the break.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: O'Donnell.

MR. O'DONNELL: Kerry will win all the debates. And I renew my prediction he will win the presidency.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Principal challenge to George Bush resulting from the three debates will be the emergence of a presidential stature gap. Bye bye.


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