The McLaughlin Group Host: John McLaughlin Panel: Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist; Eleanor Clift, Newsweek; Rich Lowry, National Review; Michelle Bernard, Bernard Center Taped: Friday, March 23, 2012 Broadcast: Weekend of March 24-25, 2012






JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Anoint-Mitt.

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R, Republican presidential candidate): (From videotape.) I'm running for president because I have the experience and the vision to get us out of this mess.

We're going to ensure that America's greatest days are still ahead.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In Illinois this past Tuesday, it was Mitt Romney's night. Romney won the Illinois primarily handily, 47 percent to Rick Santorum's 35 percent, Ron Paul's 9 percent and Newt Gingrich's 8 percent. Romney added 43 Illinois delegates to his column, bringing his total delegate count to 563, more than double Santorum's 263 delegates. He's nearly halfway to the magic 1,144 needed to clinch the GOP nomination.

So is this primary marathon now a done deal? Republican power players hope so. Jeb Bush, the former two-term Florida governor and George W.'s younger brother, endorsed Governor Romney in a written statement on Wednesday. Quote: "Primary elections have been held in 34 states, and now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall," unquote.

Q: Does Jeb Bush's endorsement of Romney seal the deal for Romney? Pat.

PAT BUCHANAN: I think Jeb Bush is a little late to the party. And frankly, what is more important than that, I think, is Jim DeMint and the tea party, in effect, stacking arms and moving toward the Romney camp. John, Romney has gotten more than 50 percent -- he's got about 55, 50 percent of all the delegates. He's headed straight to the nomination.

And when you look at the way the Democrats -- Biden talking about a man of steel in Ohio and attacking the Republicans by name and the president of the United States acting like drill, baby, drill, moving on the XL pipeline, I think there's a real possibility, not a certitude, that you could have a Republican House, a Republican Senate, a Republican president in Mitt Romney, and a new conservative Supreme Court.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Jim DeMint is who?

MR. BUCHANAN: He's a senator from South Carolina who's the paragon of the tea party.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He did not endorse Romney.

MR. BUCHANAN: He didn't have to. But what he says, when he says it's OK to move in that direction, they're starting to move.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he the most prominent public figure backing the tea party?

MR. BUCHANAN: He's the most -- well, I think he is. The congressman from Texas sort of runs one part of the tea party, and he indicated -- gave his blessing to a Mitt Romney nomination as well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So tea party backing for Romney is big.

MR. BUCHANAN: That is the beginning of the closing of the party behind Mitt Romney's nomination. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, done deal, right?

ELEANOR CLIFT: The dream lives on for Pat. (Laughter.)

I thought the Bush endorsement had an eat-your-peas quality to it, like, OK, Romney's going to be it; let's all hunker down and get behind him. So I don't see it as this glorious Republican sweep like you do. I wouldn't, regardless.

And the victory of Romney in Illinois was overshadowed by his aide's remark, saying, OK, when we get to the general, we'll reset things. It's just kind of like an Etch-a-Sketch. We'll shake things up and start all over again.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.)

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think some of those etches that Romney made during the primary is going to be a little hard to undo. He has spent the last several months -- in fact, the last four years -- telling everybody how conservative he is. He's to the right of Santorum on a number of issues; immigration. He wants to abolish all funding for Planned Parenthood, Title X.

So I don't -- I don't see this as the standard Republican running to the right and then shifting back to the center like the late, great, sainted Richard Nixon.

MR. BUCHANAN: Two terms, Eleanor. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is this endorsement, or the equivalent thereof, or this call on the part of the former vice president, does it mean as much as people think it means?

RICH LOWRY: No. I mean, it is late to make a difference. It's just symbolically it's part of the rallying around --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does he want the funding of the other candidates to stop? Is that what he's trying to achieve?

MR. LOWRY: It's a signal that this is the -- this is going to be the nominee, and let's all get around him. And I'm sure, ideally, he'd want everyone else out sooner rather than later. But Eleanor's right. This was not a splashy endorsement. It was kind of done with cat's feet; the same thing with the DeMint statement --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And in writing.

MR. LOWRY: -- because they realize that the establishment rallying around Romney is very much a double-edged sword. So they want to send the signal without hurting him. Now, the Etch-a-Sketch thing was just an extraordinary gaffe on the part of Romney's communications guy. It was vivid. It was memorable. It was kind of funny. It was just perfect for going viral. I think, though, in the general election -- that kind of thing drives Pat and drives me crazy, but in a general election, if the part of the attack against Romney is that he's super cautious, highly flexible and very pragmatic, that just may help him reach the middle of the electorate. (Laughter.


MICHELLE BERNARD: That was a very nice way of saying which Mitt Romney are we going to see in the fall? (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if Jeb Bush wants to endorse, why didn't he endorse before the primary?

MS. BERNARD: Well, that is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is kind of a put-down of Santorum. It's a put-down of Gingrich.

MS. BERNARD: Well, quite frankly, in my opinion, it's a put-down of everybody. This is an eat your peas and kind of like it type of thing. Jeb Bush, who is very, very well liked in the Republican Party and very, very well liked by many, many people, has not shown up with --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking about hard-line conservatives, now.

MS. BERNARD: But what I'm saying is this was a coveted endorsement and it came in the form of a press release. We didn't see the two of them standing together and making this, you know, overly joyous announcement that he had the endorsement of Jeb Bush, again, which is very, very coveted. And I think this is more of the same and that we see he is inevitable. Mitt Romney is going to win the delegate battle. But it is still very much anybody but Mitt Romney. He's not exciting. He's not exciting the base.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, this is all pretty good conversation, but I'm a little surprised to hear you fail to point out that Jeb Bush is withdrawing himself as ever being a white knight in this election.

MS. BERNARD: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's not going to run in this election.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's some talk about that. MS. BERNARD: And he is withdrawing himself from the possibility of being vice president, because he might want to run in 2016.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, that's another thing that happened, just what you said, the possibility of a brokered convention. They all realize now it is dead and gone. The only way Jeb Bush is going to be the nominee is if somehow it happened that it was all locked up for several ballots. That is dead and gone. They know Romney's going to win on the first ballot.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's done the delegate math too, Bush has, and he knows, on the basis of the delegates --

MR. BUCHANAN: I think he's very late.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that it's a very long shot that anybody could overtake Romney.

MR. BUCHANAN: If he wanted to be vice president, he should have come out earlier.

MS. CLIFT: Well, falling short of the needed number of delegates is not unusual. Walter Mondale didn't have enough, and he had a strong challenge from Gary Hart.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And we saw what happened.

MS. CLIFT: Well, yeah, he lost in the fall.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much did he lose by in that election?

MR. BUCHANAN: Twenty-two points.

MS. CLIFT: A number of states, John, yes. (Laughter.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Forty-nine to one.

MS. CLIFT: The point is, the party --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible) -- with George McGovern? Am I right?

MR. BUCHANAN: Forty-nine to one. He did as well as McGovern did -- 49 to one.

MS. CLIFT: The party rallies around, and the Republican Party has three super-delegates in each state. They're not going to hand the nomination to somebody who hasn't bothered to get in the race. That was always a fantasy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think Romney just pays lip service to the conservative Republicans, do you? MS. CLIFT: Well, whether --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible.)

MS. CLIFT: -- he's paying lip service or not, he's harnessing himself if he becomes president, because he's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he wants to be -- he wants to get the nomination.

MS. CLIFT: He's going to -- yeah, he's going to have to appoint a very extremely right Supreme Court judge. He's going to be placating his base, just like George H.W. Bush did. He gave us Clarence Thomas, who's going to keep on giving for a number of decades, probably.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit Q: Jeb Bush is angling to become Romney's vice presidential running mate. Yes or no?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think he would certainly like to be, but he's mentioned --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He would like to be.

MR. BUCHANAN: Certainly he would like to be. He would put him on a fast track. But I think he's mentioned Rubio. He said the party should pick Rubio. And that's being sort of semi-gracious. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you sure it was Jeb Bush, or was it Jeb Bush Jr., who said --

MR. BUCHANAN: Jeb Bush said --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- who likes the idea of Rubio being a vice presidential candidate?

MR. BUCHANAN: Jeb Bush doesn't have a son named Jeb Bush Jr., first, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the son's name who is --

MR. BUCHANAN: George P. Bush.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- a practicing lawyer?

MR. BUCHANAN: George P. Bush. And it's Jeb Bush himself recommended Rubio.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, Rubio is basically Bush's protege. But to put Bush on the ticket would really be back to the future. Bush didn't run because he didn't think it was time for another Bush. MR. LOWRY: That's exactly right.

MS. CLIFT: So I think adding himself to the ticket would be another anchor on Mitt Romney.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what he's just done has excluded him from being on the ticket.




MR. LOWRY: It hasn't excluded him. But he's not angling to get on the ticket. He believes it's too early for a Bush. If he didn't believe that, he would have run himself.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he shut down -- he wants to shut down the whole process of bidding, so to speak.

MR. LOWRY: But how does that -- that doesn't sort of rule him out as a --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he would look like the world's greatest ego.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because, you know, he sets the whole thing up and he really wants to be vice president.

MR. LOWRY: I don't think Romney's going to pick him, and I don't think he wants it.

MS. BERNARD: Look, I don't think he wants it. I think if he wanted it, he would have come out a lot earlier. He's made these statements about Marco Rubio because Jeb Bush is probably one of the only people in the Republican Party that has a halfway normal stance on immigration, and they know that if this election comes down to demographics, the Republican Party --


MS. BERNARD: -- needs to do something -- MR. BUCHANAN: -- he would take this in a split second if it were offered to him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who would?


MS. BERNARD: I don't believe it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Vice president?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, he's going to run for president eight years from now.

MR. BUCHANAN: This would set him up.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eight years from now.

MR. BUCHANAN: You don't do a Rockefeller and turn it down.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He will be 64 years of age --

MR. BUCHANAN: But if you take the vice presidency, you're a good soldier and you set yourself up.

MR. LOWRY: I don't think he needs it.


MS. BERNARD: But wouldn't he only take it if he actually thought that Mitt Romney could actually win? If he thinks Mitt Romney can't win, why would he take it?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Florida Shooting.

The outrage sparked by the shooting of a teenager in Florida continues to escalate. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot to death on the night of February 26 in Sanford, a suburb of Orlando. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch officer who shot Trayvon, has not been arrested. Zimmerman is claiming he shot the teenager in self-defense.

Here's Zimmerman on the phone reporting to a 911 operator the presence of a suspicious person.

(Begin audiotaped segment.)

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: He's got his hand in his waistband and he's a black male.

911 OPERATOR: Are you following him? MR. ZIMMERMAN: Yeah.

911 OPERATOR: OK, we don't need you to do that.

(End audiotaped segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What happened next is the critical question. Zimmerman says he retreated from Martin, who then attacked him from behind. Trayvon Martin was not armed, and his family's lawyer, Benjamin Crump, says Zimmerman is the aggressor and that Zimmerman targeted Martin because Martin was black.

Records show Zimmerman made 46 calls to the police in 2011, mostly reporting African-Americans. The local police said Florida law prevented them from arresting Zimmerman. Florida's stand your ground law, passed in 2005, states that a person who feels threatened, quote, "has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force," unquote.

Now Washington is involved. The U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division is investigating whether a hate crime has occurred in Sanford.

TOM PEREZ (Department of Justice Civil Rights Division): (From videotape.) We're conducting a thorough, independent investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Martin.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Q: Is there any evidence to substantiate Zimmerman's claim that he acted in self-defense? Michelle Bernard.

MS. BERNARD: No. At least from everything that I have read so far, there is no evidence to either contradict it or to substantiate what he has said.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about Martin putting his hand in here to apparently leave the impression, simulate that he's got a gun?

MS. BERNARD: Well, we don't know that he was doing that. What we do know is that Trayvon Martin was a young child. He was armed with a bag of Skittles candy and a can of iced tea; that this fellow saw an African-American kid in a neighborhood, and for whatever reason decided that he was going to follow him. And then the only other thing we know is that Trayvon Martin is dead. This is a huge travesty of justice. And many people in the African-American community, myself included, feel like this is our generation's Emmett Till.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it forensically possible to determine who was the aggressor?

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, here's the thing.

There is some evidence -- and we don't know how substantive it is -- that the police claim that Zimmerman, when they found him, had a -- was bleeding from the head and bleeding -- had a cut, was bleeding from the back of the head.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And a bloody nose.

MR. BUCHANAN: And a bloody nose, and had grass stains on his back. Now, I don't know how valid that is. But if that were so, it may have been that this guy Zimmerman foolishly got out of his truck and got into a fight with this 17-year-old kid, and the 17-year-old may have been beating him up and winning the fight.

MS. BERNARD: But it's impossible to --

MR. BUCHANAN: Hold it. Hold it. Let me finish.


MR. BUCHANAN: And then this Zimmerman may -- who had a gun on him might have said -- we've got to find out who was screaming on the tape, John.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michelle, what's your quick point?

MS. BERNARD: If you listen to the tape between Trayvon Martin and his girlfriend, he's talking to his girlfriend on a tape and he's saying there's this man following me. And she's saying to him, run. We don't know anything else. But it does not seem, from anything I've heard, that Trayvon Martin could have in any way been the aggressor. And we should remember, he could have been defending himself. If I had a strange guy --


MS. BERNARD: -- chasing me around and engaging in what might be racial profiling, I would do everything I could to kick his butt.

MR. BUCHANAN: That's exactly right. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do we know he was on the phone with his girlfriend?

MR. BUCHANAN: We got her.

MS. BERNARD: I've looked at the tapes. The tapes have been made public.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The tapes are there?



MS. CLIFT: He was on the phone with his girlfriend and he said that he was being followed. And we know that Zimmerman was being counseled by the 911 dispatcher not to follow this young man. And so if there's a claim of self-defense, it would only be after he aggressively pursued him. And so you're getting into a very tricky area of the law. And you do have a new law in Florida, signed by Jeb Bush --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about -- go ahead.

MS. CLIFT: -- who we recently talked about.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the injuries to Zimmerman? Why is it that The Wall Street Journal, according to what I have here, that in their article this week they do not mention Zimmerman's injuries? This is a curious editorial omission, given that Zimmerman claimed self-defense.

MR. LOWRY: Yeah. Look, all the evidence that we have of these multiple calls and the call to the emergency line of the police department is that Zimmerman was pursuing Martin, and Martin had reason to be fearful of this man, who was not an officer of the law and is a stranger and who's running after him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And who was told --

MR. LOWRY: And if he's running after him, that can constitute an assault. We may never know what actually happened in the real confrontation, but it was a mistake of the police not to charge him with something. The grand jury that has been empaneled, I believe, will charge him with something. And he should be tried in a court of law, not on TV, not in the street demonstrations.

But I do have to object. This is nothing like the Emmett Till case --

MS. BERNARD: Well, I -- MR. LOWRY: -- where they deliberately set out to murder, mutilate, throw that child in a river, and got off. It was nothing like this.

MS. BERNARD: Well, that's your personal opinion, and I respect that. But I have to tell you, first of all, this happened over a month ago. It had been -- completely been ignored by the mainstream media. It was not until black radio hosts, black television correspondents, working primarily in black media, started bringing attention to the fact that this has happened to Trayvon Martin in our --

MR. LOWRY: Let me --

MS. BERNARD: Let me just finish, though --

MR. LOWRY: Sure.

MS. BERNARD: -- because it's very important to note, in our community, things like this happen over and over and over again. And if you listen particularly to the stories of black mothers all over the country who have to talk about how they have to raise their son --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quick question.

MS. BERNARD: -- to be careful of these kind of things happening, it is no different.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A quick question to the panel. Stand your ground --


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- is the law. They want you to stand your ground and not run in Florida.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does that breed vigilantism? Doesn't it breed vigilantism?

MR. BUCHANAN: It gives you the right, if you're under assault and the guy's coming after your property or going to beat you up, you stand your ground and defend yourself with a weapon.

MS. BERNARD: Absolutely.

MR. BUCHANAN: Now, I happen to agree with Michelle. I think -- now, this is just speculation. I think the guy got out of the car and this kid had had enough of this guy hassling and followed him, and he turned around to fight him. And my guess is he was beating him up, and the screams came from Zimmerman. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see --

MR. LOWRY: John -- John --

MR. BUCHANAN: And Zimmerman pulls out his gun.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see the size of Zimmerman and did you see the size, as far as we could see, of Martin?

MR. BUCHANAN: The kid -- we don't know --

MR. LOWRY: He was supposed to be 140 pounds.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A hundred forty versus, what, his 230?

MR. LOWRY: John, the drafters -- the drafters of that stand your ground law said this is not what it was meant for.

MS. BERNARD: Exactly.

MR. LOWRY: It was not meant to run after people.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right.

MR. LOWRY: Let me just --

MS. CLIFT: That's not what it was meant for.

MR. LOWRY: One last point. I want to agree --

MS. CLIFT: It's not what it was meant for. But in this case, Zimmerman was using it like a hunting license.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is stand your ground meant for?

MS. BERNARD: To protect yourself.

MS. CLIFT: It is -- it originally was in your house, that if somebody attacked you, you could stand your ground and you could resist. Outside of the house, it was a custom that if there was an altercation, your first duty was to retreat, not to seek --

MR. LOWRY: Yeah. But, you know, Martin --

MS. CLIFT: -- confrontation.

MR. LOWRY: Martin probably had a better --

MS. CLIFT: And stand your ground turned that on its head.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Seek confrontation? You're defending yourself. MR. LOWRY: Martin probably had more cause to stand his ground than Zimmerman did.

I just want to circle back to your point. I don't like Al Sharpton and that whole crew, but if they hadn't raised a stink about this, you're exactly right. It would have been ignored, and that would have been an injustice.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Getting back to stand your ground, the principle of self-defense is in the natural law. It's in the natural law.



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't need any dispositive law.

MR. BUCHANAN: But there was a previous --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why do we have a law like that?

MR. BUCHANAN: Because previously --

MS. CLIFT: The NRA wanted it.

(Cross talk.)

MS. BERNARD: There were times where you could be prosecuted. Someone could break into your home --


MS. BERNARD: -- and you're defending yourself --


MS. BERNARD: -- and shoot that person and be actually prosecuted because you didn't run away.

(Cross talk.)

MR. BUCHANAN: John, you know, in your --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We have a famous black journalist in Washington --

MR. BUCHANAN: You know, in your house, you are told earlier -- it may be changed now -- that you've got to -- if you want to stop somebody from entering your house, you've got to wait till he gets in there before you shoot him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit Q: Has there been a media rush to judgment in this shooting? Pat Buchanan. MR. BUCHANAN: Well, I agree with Michelle. They didn't bring it up in time and they didn't bring the issue -- but since then, there's no question about it that everybody is saying -- they're calling Zimmerman a murderer. And I don't believe that's true either.

MS. CLIFT: It taps into a fear that every black parent has in this country, and so therefore it deserves the attention it's getting.

MS. BERNARD: I don't -- I'm sorry.

MR. LOWRY: That's OK.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're out of sequence there.

MR. LOWRY: The furor has been helpful, but he deserves -- if he's charged with something, he deserves a trial where the facts went out.

MS. BERNARD: He -- there has not been a rush to judgment. He needs to be prosecuted. He needs to be arrested. And I want to make one final point. In my opinion, if the shooter had been black and the victim was white, he would have been arrested the day this killing took place.

MR. BUCHANAN: But would there have been a brouhaha if the victim had been white?

MS. BERNARD: Oh, absolutely.

MR. BUCHANAN: Al Sharpton would have been down there?

MS. BERNARD: No, but MSNBC and CNN and everybody else in the mainstream media would have been there. I don't know if Al Sharpton would have been there or not, but the mainstream media would have been there.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The police chief has taken a leave of absence.

MR. BUCHANAN: He's taken a leave of absence, right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was that a prudent move?

MS. BERNARD: Temporary.

MR. BUCHANAN: It's a wise move by him.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah.


MR. BUCHANAN: Because I -- look, I do agree with bringing it to the Justice Department, bringing objective people into it from outside, and taking another look at it, because this was an innocent kid who didn't deserve to die.

MS. CLIFT: We have a very different power structure today than we did in 1955, when Till --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Is it --

MS. CLIFT: -- Till was so savagely murdered. We have a black family in the White House. We have a black attorney general. And yet some of these caricatures and stereotypes, you know, persist down there into the roots. And so, I mean, I think this is --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me get out with this question. I want a yes or no answer. Is it possible that both of the people charged --

MS. CLIFT: Are victims.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- were acting in their own self-defense by their best lights? Do you understand?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think it's possible that this kid had enough. And I agree with you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. You think both of them could have been --

MR. BUCHANAN: He said, I'm going to do battle with this guy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Both of them could have been acting in self- defense. MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it possible?

MS. CLIFT: -- at different stages. But again, Zimmerman created this confrontation.


MS. CLIFT: And so the burden of guilt --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That is --

MS. CLIFT: -- has to fall on him.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That aside, could they have both been acting at the time in their self-defense?



MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no? Yes or no?

MR. LOWRY: Once there was a fight. But Zimmerman bears responsibility for the fight because stupendous misjudgments made him pursue --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That answer -- that answer is reductively yes, they could have been.


MS. CLIFT: And what if the neighborhood watchdog --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And your answer is yes?

MS. BERNARD: My answer is no. Zimmerman started this. He was racial profiling. And I do not believe that it was possible --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking about his psychological state at the time, what he was thinking. Was he acting in his own self- interest?

MS. BERNARD: I think he was thinking that there's a black man in front of me and I'm scared that he's in my neighborhood, and I'm going to shoot him. That's what I think he was thinking.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think they could have --

MS. CLIFT: And what was he doing with a gun to start with? MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- both been acting in their self-defense.

Issue Three: The Bales Effect.

DEFENSE SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: (From videotape.) There's no question in my mind that when you go to the war zone time and time again, whether it's Iraq or Afghanistan, there's no question in my mind that it impacts on individuals.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The massacre of 16 civilians in Afghanistan last week has reignited a smoldering debate over the psychological effect of the decade-long Afghan and Iraq wars on troops and on their families.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is an Army sniper. He is a former high school football star and the father of two. He was on a fourth combat tour in 10 years in Afghanistan when he allegedly walked off his remote base at 1:00 in the morning and began slaughtering civilians.

Of the 2,398,300 troops who have been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, some 411,200 have been deployed three or more times. Six years ago, in 2006, Congress mandated the Pentagon to study the impact on the mental health of our soldiers.

The 14-member blue-ribbon panel of mental health experts, half military and half civilian, reported that almost 40 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffer, quote, "daunting and growing," unquote, mental health problems. The main cause: Posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and brain injuries due to the concussive impact of IEDs, improvised explosive devices.

That number of victims seems to be 17 rather than 16 massacred.

Is Sergeant Bales a victim of PTSD, posttraumatic stress disorder, repeated combat deployments causing it? Eleanor Clift.

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think there's a lot of investigation to be done about his state of mind. But it is one of the drawbacks of the all-volunteer army that these repeated deployments have become essential. And there are psychological problems that arise out of that.

And mental health professionals are really concerned that people are going to look at these returning veterans as a ticking time bomb and if they're going to be stigmatized. And they're having a difficult time enough finding jobs and readjusting in society.

So I think we have to let this play out and see exactly what this gentleman's state of mind was. I mean, it's easy to kind of look at it and conclude that he obviously snapped, because his background doesn't suggest that he would do anything like this. MR. LOWRY: We've got to be careful, John, because you really don't want to get in territory where you're exculpating him for what he did, or allegedly did. You have tens of thousands of guys who've served multiple tours, which is a real strain in every way possible, but only one of them has allegedly gone out and massacred civilians in the most horrific way imaginable.

MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you read John Podhoretz in --

MR. LOWRY: I did.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- this week's column?

MR. LOWRY: I thought it was spot on.


MR. BUCHANAN: It may help --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We don't want to do that. I'd try to stay away from that.

Go ahead.

MR. BUCHANAN: It may help -- certainly, look, three tours of duty there, a fourth tour, the fact that this guy apparently lost part of a foot, the fact that they had a battle a couple of days earlier, a convoy, and one of his guys lost his leg. That may help explain some of his actions. But nothing justifies the mass murder of 16 people.

Can you imagine if we -- if the Germans, who did the Malmedy massacre of Americans at the Battle of the Bulge, tried to justify themselves by the fact they'd been in combat for four years? So nothing justifies this.

MS. CLIFT: Nothing's justifying it. But if it goes -- if he's court-martialed, I mean, it could mean the difference between the death penalty or not. So, I mean, I think you do have to take his state of mind into account.

MR. BUCHANAN: They haven't done a death penalty on one of these atrocities since 1961.

MS. CLIFT: No, but it's on -- MS. BERNARD: And the president would have to --

MS. CLIFT: It's on the table.

MS. BERNARD: And the president would have to sign off on it. I just think everyone has to be careful, again, to examine his state of mind. And also we can't put the wars on trial. We cannot give the impression that every man and woman who's fighting in the United States Army, for example, is a ticking time bomb that might --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did you think of --

MS. BERNARD: -- blow up at any minute.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- Karzai's anti-American statements?

MS. BERNARD: I think that -- I think they're deplorable, quite frankly. We have had -- we have lost many American lives in Afghanistan over a long period of time, trying to help that country stabilize, trying to make sure that we do what's in the best national security interest of our country, protecting women's rights, protecting the country from the Taliban. And for Karzai to in any way implicate that our actions in Afghanistan are similar to those of the Taliban is just wrong.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The whole Keystone pipeline will be approved by Obama before the election. Yes or no?

MR. BUCHANAN: You betcha.

MS. CLIFT: Yes, with a more environmentally --


MS. CLIFT: -- safe route.

MR. LOWRY: Yes, yes, yes -- a million times yes.

MS. BERNARD: Yes, yes, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. The answer is yes.