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MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Matthews" - Transcript

Interview

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MR. MATTHEWS: Former Homeland Security Secretary and former governor of Pennsylvania Tom Ridge is the national co-chair of the McCain campaign. And U.S. Congressman from New York Peter King is a homeland security adviser for the Giuliani campaign.

So the battle is joined, gentlemen. I ask you, Governor, who will better protect this country, if he's elected president, as commander in chief, Rudy Giuliani or John McCain?

MR. RIDGE: Well, I certainly think that any focus group taking a look at 20-plus years of public-sector experience of both candidates would conclude hands down that the man that's ready from day one to be commander in chief, because he understands the role of America in the world and the responsibilities of America in the world, is John McCain.

MR. MATTHEWS: And Congressman King, what is Rudy Giuliani's experience in foreign policy and national defense?

REP. KING: Well, as far as national defense, as far as foreign policy, when he was in the Justice Department, he was involved in negotiating treaties with countries in Central America. Certainly, being mayor of New York, he dealt often with leaders from the United Nations. But on the initial issue of who would be best in the war against terrorism, I think clearly Rudy Giuliani.

I have a great regard for John McCain, but I believe Rudy is certainly -- I've known Rudy for many years. We've discussed this issue intently. And he is absolutely focused on it. He would strongly enforce the Patriot Act.

He believes in tough interrogations. He would not be -- like, for instance, the way John McCain goes out of his way to talk about waterboarding. You wouldn't find that from Rudy Giuliani. He knows that Islamic terrorism is everywhere. He knows it has to be stopped. And he was on the front lines in New York, and he will continue to be. This is his passion.

MR. MATTHEWS: Governor --

MR. RIDGE: Well, I'd have to respond to my friend --

MR. MATTHEWS: -- is torture the issue of this campaign?

MR. RIDGE: -- Congressman King. Well, I think --

MR. MATTHEWS: He's willing to torture?

MR. RIDGE: I think there's no presidential candidate on either side that understands the use and necessity from time to time of military power, but also understands its limitations. But the other qualities of leadership that John would bring as commander in chief dealing with the rest of the world is he understands the value of smart power; that is, diplomacy and developmental assistance.

He also understands, unlike some of these other candidates, the value of -- the soft power of American values. He said a long time ago that waterboarding is torture. It's inconsistent with how we train our soldiers. And it's not in compliance with the Geneva Convention. So you've got a man who understands the military, but who understands soft power and hard power.

MR. MATTHEWS: Why does he say he doesn't -- but he says he doesn't understand economics. Isn't that a hell of an admission at this time?

MR. RIDGE: No, I think he understands --

MR. MATTHEWS: He says he doesn't.

MR. RIDGE: Well, you know, it's part of the Straight Talk Express. He understands what you need to have a pro-growth, pro- family economic policy, and that's cutting taxes, eliminating the alternative minimum tax, making --

MR. MATTHEWS: But he says he doesn't understand economics. He said it twice recently.

MR. RIDGE: Well, you know, one of the challenges with John McCain is he doesn't -- I'm sure he would be the first guy to tell you he didn't get an A in economics at the Naval Academy. But he understands what drives growth. He understands the coalitions you need to build in the House and in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, to deal with fiscal policy. And I'm quite confident that with the assistance of people like Phil Gramm and Jack Kemp and others, he quite understands what we need to do to get out of this mess we're in now --

MR. MATTHEWS: Congressman, do you think Rudy Giuliani is up to beating Hillary Clinton if she's the nominee? I mean, last time they were supposed to go at it in New York State, it didn't actually happen. He didn't actually run against her. Do you have a sense that he's really got it in his gut to take on Hillary Clinton --

REP. KING: Absolutely.

MR. MATTHEWS: -- in a debate?

REP. KING: Chris, he absolutely has it.

MR. MATTHEWS: Do you think he can beat her in a debate?

REP. KING: Absolutely.

MR. MATTHEWS: Do you think he could beat Hillary Clinton in a debate?

REP. KING: Absolutely. Absolutely. He would beat her.

MR. MATTHEWS: I wonder. I wonder.

REP. KING: Maybe you do. I don't. I'm absolutely convinced he'd win.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, she's done well in almost every debate so far, you know, with some exceptions.

REP. KING: Well, she has not gone against Rudy Giuliani. Rudy Giuliani -- listen, his record as a trial lawyer, his record as a prosecuting attorney; he's an outstanding debater.

But let me go back to what Tom Ridge said about economics and John McCain. The fact is, as mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani cut taxes 23 times. He has the most comprehensive tax cut policy on the agenda right now. John McCain, he voted against the Bush tax cuts. And even though he's saying it was because there wasn't enough spending, the fact is, if those tax cuts had not gone through, Republicans would not --

MR. MATTHEWS: I know -- spending cuts, I think he said.

REP. KING: What's that? Okay.

MR. MATTHEWS: I think he said not enough spending cuts, Congressman.

REP. KING: Okay. Without that -- okay, having said that, without spending cuts, the fact is, if he would rather have not had the tax cuts, because there were no spending cuts, that would have been bad economics, bad for the country, and against Republican philosophy.

And at the time also Senator McCain said -- it wasn't just because a lack of spending cuts, but also because he said they favor the rich; they favor the upper class. That is classic liberal Democratic talk. That goes against the policies of Ronald Reagan and that goes against decades-old Republican tax cut philosophy.

And I go back to my other position I said before.

We are in a war against Islamic terrorism, and you have to have tough interrogation. I don't want to see 5,000 or 10,000 Americans die because we don't want to put someone through 30 seconds of discomfort which is not going to cause them any lasting damage, and a presidential candidate should not be talking about it. We shouldn't be saying publicly what we're going to do or not do.

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay. Last word, Governor.

MR. RIDGE: Well, Senator McCain has consistently -- remember, he was part of the Reagan revolution way back when and supported the Reagan tax cuts. What you also don't remember --

REP. KING: Yeah, but he voted against the Bush tax cuts, Tom.

MR. RIDGE: Under Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan also limited the growth of government. Since Ronald Reagan left the presidency -- and unfortunately there have been a lot of Republicans on watch -- the average taxpayer -- the government has risen about $2,500 per man, woman and child. And John McCain has said, "Look, you can cut taxes, but at the same time you've got to reduce spending." Now, quite clearly he wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, exactly. And we know he'll cut spending, because he's been a deficit hawk for a long time.

MR. MATTHEWS: I've got to ask a question. Congressman King, have you ever seen a candidate engage in rope-a-dope as long as Rudy has? I mean, is he waiting for the eighth round like Muhammad did against Foreman?

REP. KING: No, he's --

MR. MATTHEWS: I mean, isn't this a little late in the match to be winning a round?

REP. KING: No, no. This is the first all-Republican primary, and it should be Republicans who pick the nominee. This is the first all-Republican primary. But, you know, Senator McCain can't have it both ways. He said he was against the Bush tax cuts, and now he wants to extend them. If you're going to have straight talk, you can't be saying you're against them and now you're for them when he's running for the presidency. And it was those tax cuts that we as Republicans believe reinvigorated our economy and produced the many jobs we've had over the last several years.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, let's not forget, you can do almost anything if you're running against Romney. (Laughs.) Anyway, thank you, Congressman Peter King.

REP. KING: Thank you. Thank you, Chris. Thank you, Tom.

MR. MATTHEWS: And thank you, Governor Tom Ridge.

MR. RIDGE: See you, Peter.


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