MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Matthews" -Transcript
MR. MATTHEWS: A small group of Christian conservatives met in secret over the weekend to discuss the possibility of fielding a third-party presidential candidate if Rudy Giuliani gets the Republican nomination next year. Is there a division on the Republican right? Will pro-lifers bring the GOP down? That's the "Hardball" debate tonight.
Tony Perkins was at that meeting in Salt Lake City. He's the president of the Family Research Council. And U.S. Congressman Peter King is a Republican from New York State. He's a Giuliani supporter.
So let me ask you this right now, Tony Perkins. Are you running for president?
MR. PERKINS: No, Chris, let's take that off the table.
MR. MATTHEWS: Are you available the way that, say, Dick Cheney was available after he headed up a search committee for a VP and ended up the person he discovered?
MR. PERKINS: No, not hardly. And let me make this very clear. This was more of a proclamation of principle rather than a declaration of intent. There's no desire to run a third-party candidate. But there's been a line drawn which I think most pro-life conservatives are not willing to cross.
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, what is the difference in the words you just used from the words I used, saying you guys are threatening a third party? What's the difference?
MR. PERKINS: Well, I mean, the intent here is not to create a third party. What we're saying is, like myself, you know, I came to the political process, I ran for office, held office, because of the issue of life. And the vast majority of social conservatives came to the Republican Party because of the life issue and the other social issues. If the party leaves those issues, I think it's unreasonable for them to demand that they stay in the party. And I don't think they will.
MR. MATTHEWS: Congressman King, what do you make of this rump group meeting out there and talking about basically bolting?
REP. KING: Well, I have, you know, great respect for Tony Perkins and what he's trying to do. But I strongly disagree with him on this. I am pro-life myself.
I'm supporting Rudy Giuliani for a number of reasons, one of which is that on the life issue, the judges he would appoint to the Supreme Court, judges like Alito and Scalia and Roberts, they are strict constructionists. And that is where the battle is going to be fought. It's going to be fought in the courts. And on federal funding of abortion, he supports the Hyde Amendment, would not allow federal funding of abortion.
But also, among Republican primary voters, those who are church- going, those who are self-professed evangelicals, Rudy Giuliani is getting the most votes of any of the Republican candidates among them. And I think it's because of leadership, because of terrorism, and because he is basically a neighborhood guy who does represent basic values.
People may disagree with certain aspects, but on the overall issue, he's the one who can defeat Hillary Clinton and he's the one who, on issues such as life, will be able to advance, I believe, the pro-life cause by his appointments to the courts.
MR. MATTHEWS: Tony?
MR. PERKINS: Well, I would -- with all due respect to the congressman, I think his record on judges is not all that strong. And secondly, we just had a very strong administration and we would have had Harriet Miers on the court had we not opposed the president's nomination there.
The court is no longer the trump card. There's no guarantee that a Republican is going to nominate strong conservatives for the court. There's more issues here. And I think when -- and he's on record having stated that he supports taxpayer-funded abortion. I think it's very difficult for those who have --
MR. MATTHEWS: Is he still on that? Let me check that fact. I want to always check facts on this show. Congressman King, does Rudy Giuliani support breaking with the Hyde Amendment or what? I hadn't heard that before.
REP. KING: No, Mayor Giuliani has said and continues to say that he supports the Hyde Amendment. He would not provide federal funding for abortions.
MR. PERKINS: So he's changed his position. He's changed his position on that.
REP. KING: Well, it's been consistent throughout the campaign, certainly for the last five or six months I'm aware of.
MR. PERKINS: But in the past he's on record -- he's on the record stating that he opposed previous President Bush for opposing taxpayer-funded abortion.
REP. KING: The fact is, he is running for president now. This is the position he's taking now. This is his position. And you can expect him to keep it when he becomes president. And I think, again, if we're trying to advance a conservative cause and not just look for possible statements in the past that are different from that, I would say let's go with someone who, certainly in the conservative party, would be considered a far-right conservative and someone who right now, among Republican primary voters --
MR. MATTHEWS: Mr. Perkins --
REP. KING: -- is doing extremely well among conservatives.
MR. MATTHEWS: -- do you think the Democrats are -- do you want to play the role Ralph Nader played with the Democrats? I mean, the Democrats think this guy ought to be set on a desert island somewhere out in the Pacific because he played a role -- in fact, his votes killed Al Gore's chances. Do you want to be there? Do you want to be part of the Al Gore party or the Ralph Nader party of 2008 that destroys the Republican coalition?
MR. PERKINS: No, but I think, Chris, there comes a point where you draw a line on principle. And I think this is a principle issue, the issue of life. We are not going to sit down at a table and negotiate away the protection of human life and shake hands and get up and go forward. That's not going to happen on my watch.
MR. MATTHEWS: So you don't take Rudy Giuliani at his word when he says he's going to pick strict constructionists. You don't believe that?
MR. PERKINS: Look, we've had a number of Republican presidents who have stated they're going to do good on the courts, and we have a court that's dominated by Republican nominees. We've only tilted the court back to where it's balanced, and that was because we fought this administration on one of its appointees.
And this president is pro-life, adamantly, one of the strongest pro-life presidents we've had. To think that we've got a candidate, the first time we've had a major Republican Party presidential candidate who is adamantly pro-abortion, I don't have much comfort in that, Chris.
MR. MATTHEWS: What do you mean by -- why do you guys -- I'm sorry, this lingo drives me crazy. Do you say Rudy Giuliani is pro- abortion? Where do you get that language from? Do they teach it somewhere? He's never been pro-abortion.
Why do you say that?
MR. PERKINS: Well, Chris, if you're not opposed to abortion --
MR. MATTHEWS: No, if you're not for putting a woman in jail --
MR. PERKINS: -- you're supportive of it.
MR. MATTHEWS: -- for it, you're not for putting a doctor in jail for it --
MR. PERKINS: No, no --
MR. MATTHEWS: -- that makes you pro-abortion?
MR. PERKINS: Nobody's advocated that. What we said is that we should allow the states to rule on this. Roe versus Wade overturned and took away from the states --
MR. MATTHEWS: I'm sorry, I don't want to get involved here. It seems to me when people use lingo like pro-abortion when a guy simply believes you don't put people in jail for it, it's not the same thing.
MR. PERKINS: So, what, you're pro-life or you're not pro-life, Chris.
MR. MATTHEWS: Congressman King, your witness. I don't know how to talk like that. Go ahead.
REP. KING: Yeah, if I could say something -- and I am a person who is 100 percent pro-life. And, you know, whether it's Governor Romney or Senator Thompson or Senator McCain, none of them has a perfect pro-life record. The fact is, Mayor Giuliani has said on the issues as it faces now on life, on Supreme Court judges, on the Hyde Amendment, on partial-birth abortion, that he is with the pro-life side.
And to me, you know, this is not a perfect world. We live in a very imperfect world. But the fact is, you have to make very prudent decisions going forward. I think it would hurt the pro-life movement. I think it would advance the cause of pro-choice or pro-abortion, if Mr. Perkins wants to say that, if we run a third party or if we block Giuliani and we allow someone like Senator Clinton to become the president. That is the moral decision you have to face. Do you want Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Clinton? And who would advance the pro-life cause more? I say clearly Rudy Giuliani.
MR. PERKINS: Well, again, respectfully, I have to disagree. And you did bring up a good point. I think there are other candidates in the race that are pro-life, that have stated that they oppose Roe v. Wade and that they have pro-life credentials. And so there are other options on the table.
REP. KING: Yeah, but they also have pro-choice credentials, Tony. I mean, Governor Romney certainly has only become pro-life in the last year or so.
MR. PERKINS: But he has a very clearly stated position on it presently. Senator Thompson has a pro-life record in the legislature. McCain is questionable on the issue, but there are other options that are out there. That's why I'm saying that this is not a declaration of intent to create a third party. We're simply saying that there is a line which we won't cross, and that is we will not be supportive of a candidate who supports abortion. We --
MR. MATTHEWS: What percentage do you think, Tony, of the movement do you think you represent in that meeting out there in Salt Lake?
MR. PERKINS: Well, Chris, social conservatives are about a third of the Republican primary voters.
MR. MATTHEWS: And what percentage do you represent of that third?
MR. PERKINS: Well, you know, I don't know what the percentages are. And I think that there will be some that vote for Mayor Giuliani. But I'm hard-pressed to think that he's going to get the majority. There's just no way that he would get --
MR. MATTHEWS: Tony, I really appreciate you coming on tonight. You're a big newsmaker tonight. Your group out there, Richard Viguerie and the others, Dobson, you made a lot of news this weekend, and we very much appreciate your coming in here on Monday to make news with us.
And Congressman Peter King, you're always welcome, sir.