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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript

Interview

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MR. MATTHEWS: But we begin with surrogates from both sides. U.S. Congressman Steve Israel -- he's a Democrat from New York -- and U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter is a Republican of California.

Mr. Hunter, thank you for joining us. You went through this race with John McCain. He won the nomination to run to run for president, but look at these numbers. What do you make of a 13-point spread now, a 13-point lead in the "New York Times" poll today for Barack Obama with just about a week of campaigning to go?

REP. HUNTER: Well, first, I saw the AP spread, which was two points, and I think the real spread is probably somewhere in between. But John McCain was down 20 and 30 points in the primary at one point. That guy came back and won, and one reason he won I think is because people look -- they look at the depth of John McCain and I think if voters feel that this is a year and an era in which national security is the primary issue, and I think it's going to be. I think with what's happened in Iraq, Iran, the potential for an emerging Russia, they look at a guy who while he wasn't as eloquent as Barack Obama in his debates, he knows how to spell one word very well: win.

He knows how to win, and Barack Obama's major mistake was when he said we were going to lose in Iraq, he was against the surge, and if we had followed his suggestion, his proposal to get out, we would see al Qaeda recruiting halls jammed with volunteers right now and the extremists would be chanting that they had won this war against America.

I think if people look deeply into the background and the judgment of these two individuals, they will see an Obama who failed on the major test -- the major foreign policy test of his time and a John McCain who was absolutely right.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, Congressman Hunter, if you're right, the McCain is dead wrong because they have not talked about the Iraq war for the last several months. All they've talked about is a long list of issues that seem so sundry and novel as to be irrelevant. The fact that Barack Obama is a celebrity and was showing his big crowd in Berlin, that he taught sex education to young kids, that there was a lipstick on a pig reference, all these diversions that they've used, the fact that he might be anti-American, this whole thing that they're pushing about socialism, about Joe the plumber. What's that got to do with the security issue you say is the winner for him?

REP. HUNTER: Listen, McCain's -- all campaign have many, many dimensions, but in John McCain going after, for example, Joe Biden, talking about the major crises that Joe Biden says Barack Obama will face, the national security crises, John McCain came right back at him saying he hasn't been tested. I think John is wrong in that case. I think he has been tested. He was tested on Iraq and here was a guy with great teeth, great speaking style, excellent politician and a superb debater, but when it came to the major issue of his time -- could we win or lose in Iraq -- he was wrong. John McCain was right. Americans want a guy who's going to win on foreign policy because that's going to be the major issue for the next five to 10 to 15 years.

MR. MATTHEWS: Congressman Israel, we just heard from Congressman Hunter that the winning piece of this man's vocabulary, the winning piece of his resume is he has a nice smile, he has good teeth. Is that your assessment of Barack Obama -- why he's the first African- American with a real shot to be president of the United States and is 13 points ahead of his Republican rival -- that he has good teeth? Would you say that would be your estimate of his strength?

REP. HUNTER: Also a good debater and very eloquent.

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay. That sounded --

REP. ISRAEL: Chris, I agree with -- I like --

MR. MATTHEWS: -- (that's an ?) advantage apparently. Yes, Congressman Israel?

REP. ISRAEL: I like Duncan Hunter but he is dead wrong. I like Duncan Hunter but he is dead wrong. Look, the one thing I agree with Duncan on is that this is going to be a close race and Senator Obama takes nothing for granted. He is going to continue to work for every single vote because this country desperately needs change.

Where Duncan is absolutely wrong is on what people are responding to. Desperate campaigns are going to do desperate things, and John McCain and Sarah Palin are going to continue to throw everything they have at Senator Obama and we're going to continue to talk about tax cuts for 95 percent of the American people and new investments in renewable energy and holding the Wall Street fat cats responsible and accountable for the mess they've gotten us into. We'll keep talking about issues and change, and Senator McCain will continue to attack Senator Obama and try and shift the focus from issues because when he talks about issues, he knows that the American people are on to him and a vote for Senator McCain is a vote for four more years of George Bush's policies, and we can't afford that.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, Congressman Hunter, here's the question. You say that focus should be on security, and yet Barack Obama has focused on the economy, John McCain has focused on a number of issues, but he certainly hasn't focused on the war. You say the war is the winning issue for him -- prosecuting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terrorism generally. But clearly the polling shows the number one issue in the country, almost exclusively, is the terrible economy, which once again we saw hundreds of points lost today on the market.

REP. HUNTER: Well, listen, if you look at the speeches of both John McCain and Barack Obama, you're going to see, of course -- as Steve mentioned, you're going to see energy independence. There's not a politician in American today who doesn't talk about energy independence, about bringing in alternative energy sources, about revitalizing the economy. John McCain and Barack Obama both went back for the summit that ultimately produced the bailout votes that we had in Congress. So I think you've got a split on that. When I think everybody is -- and you see the John McCain tax cuts, you see the Barack Obama economic plan.

So I think that Americans, when they level all of that out, are going to see the one preeminent issue of the next five to 10 years and that's security, and on that crucial issue of whether or not this massive investment of American blood and American money that went into winning in Iraq would have been lost with Barack Obama. It was won with John McCain. And I know that may not show up on the polls, but I think people think about those things when they got into that booth to vote for the American president.

All the things that Steve talked about, the economy, energy independence -- those things are all the function of Congress, of thousands of independent voices, of business, lots of factors, but winning a war is a function of one man: that's the commander-in-chief. And I thought Barack Obama had a great statement when he said, you know -- he said the surge won't work. He said, I've talked to many generals and I can't find a single one that says the surge will work. That's before it worked.

But there was one guy that thought it would work.

REP. ISRAEL: Hey, Chris --

REP. HUNTER: That's John McCain.

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay. The interesting thing here -- Congressman Hunter, you're an expert on the military, but you're arguing something that does not hold up in the polling data. I've never heard -- if you say this election should be won or lost by the candidates based on who's for victory in Iraq, the polling shows the public doesn't expect victory in Iraq. They want to end that war someway that gets us out of there and ends the occupation. You say go for victory. It seems like the public isn't interested in that goal right now.

REP. HUNTER: No. My point is -- I disagree with you. We have won in Iraq. I think the Iraqi army holds, the Iraqi government holds. We have won that war, and there's going to be another crisis. You see over across the border in Iran those centrifuges going up that could be used at some point to make nuclear weapons material. They need to have a guy who when he gets that phone call --

MR. MATTHEWS: That doesn't square with what I -- okay.

REP. HUNTER: -- late at night is going to make the right decision.

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay. I want to bring us to Congressman Israel.

REP. ISRAEL: Chris, Chris -- he forgets about Afghanistan. Duncan has mentioned Iraq, he has mentioned Iran.

MR. MATTHEWS: Let me tell you something -- let's stay on -- okay. Okay. There's the problem, gentlemen.

REP. HUNTER: Yes. Let Steve get into this.

MR. MATTHEWS: The president of the United States -- no. The president of the United States says --

REP. ISRAEL: Let me just get this in quickly. I just came back from Afghanistan.

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay. Report.

REP. ISRAEL: I just returned from Afghanistan and the fact of the matter is that one of the casualties of the war in Iraq is the war in Afghanistan, not only by my standard but by the admission of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by Secretary Gates who say that the climate in Afghanistan is getting grim despite the best and most heroic efforts of our troops. It was this fixation that the Bush administration had, and the McCain camp wants to continue this fixation that has made it more difficult for our troops in Afghanistan.

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, the only problem with the argument by you, Mr. Hunter -- now, Mr. Hunter you've got to respond and explain this. You say the war has been won. If the war has been won in Iraq, why does the president say very recently, our commander-in-chief and the leader of your political party say, we can't spare a soldier over there. We've got to keep the 140-150,000 troops in country. We can't spare a soldier. If we've won the war, why can't we spare a single troop in that country right now?

REP. HUNTER: Well, first, we have spared a troop. We brought back now what 25 percent of the combat brigades. We've come down from 20 combat brigades to 15. We'll continue to march down, as we rotate the Iraq soldiers, the Iraq battalions into the battlefield and rotate out Americans in an orderly manner. If we had all rushed out by the end of 2008, which is what Barack Obama said -- he said we would all be gone by 2008 -- you would have chaos over there right now, but more importantly, you'd have al Qaeda claiming victory over the Americans.

And as you know, Chris, this war against terrorism is also a war of -- involving confidence and morale, and the bad guys would feel, if they had a victory over the United States, they'd be recruiting people like 60. But hey, Steve, thanks for going to Afghanistan. Steve's a great member of the Armed Services Committee and I very much respect his judgment in these important areas.

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you both of you. Congressman Israel, and thank you, Duncan Hunter.

REP. ISRAEL: Thank you.


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