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CROWLEY: Yes, absolutely, you smiled during it, though, I thought that was interesting. You've debated both. Size up this debate for me.
MCCAIN: I think it's going to be excellent. I think both candidates are well-prepared, and understandably, you'll see their surrogates lowering expectations, oh, I don't know how our guy will compete, and that's part of the whole routine.
CROWLEY: But who is tougher?
MCCAIN: Pardon me?
CROWLEY: Who is the tougher debater?
MCCAIN: I think both are excellent in their own way. I think you could argue that Mitt has had a lot more recent experience, obviously. But also, Candy, part of it depends on who is moderating.
CROWLEY: Oh, thanks.
MCCAIN: I don't want to put any pressure on you, but the tenor of the questions and all that are dictated by that.
But, second of all, I think sometimes we expect a major breakthrough, you know, the comment that -- that doesn't happen very often. It happened with Reagan and Mondale. It happened with Reagan and Carter.
But, frankly, I can't remember the last time there was one of these comments that grabbed everybody's attention because, frankly, the candidates are too well-prepared. They're well-scripted.
I guarantee you if I was in that debate, I would know seven of the 10 questions you're going to ask because they're the obvious, the ones you have to ask. So I think they're going to be excellent. I think they're good for America. I wish -- I'm not saying I approve of the moderators.
CROWLEY: No, no, don't do that, for heavens sake.
MCCAIN: But the fact is they are important -- becoming a more and more important part of the political scene. I mean, they're -- look at the primary debates, how they got the attention of the American people. I think you're going to see more viewers at this first debate than you have in history.
CROWLEY: Wow. Let me ask you about the Romney campaign in general. And something that Charles Krauthammer wrote Friday caught our attention. He wrote, in part: "For six months he has," meaning Romney, "been matching Obama small ball for small ball. A hit-and-run critique here, a slogan-of-the-week there. His only momentum came when he chose Paul Ryan and seemed ready to engage on the big stuff: Medicare, entitlements, tax reform, national solvency, a restructured welfare state. Yet he has since retreated to the small and safe. And when you're behind, however, safe is fatal."
Has Romney been too safe?
MCCAIN: I don't think so. I think he has been running a very vigorous campaign. I think most people approve of his selection of Paul Ryan. Look, it's tough. It's very difficult.
CROWLEY: Why is he behind, then?
MCCAIN: I think he is behind because I think Americans probably feel better than they did before about jobs and the economy even though it's terrible. It's sort of the Stockholm syndrome.
CROWLEY: Right, they still feel pretty bad though, right track, wrong track -- well, that's interesting. Tell me -- I mean, just stretch that out a little bit.
MCCAIN: I think Americans see a glimmer of hope. There is slight improvement in the economy. And I think that some people, for example, a state like Ohio, a battleground state, thanks, in my view, to the governor that the unemployment is down.
That's true in some of the others. I understand how tough this campaign is. I do believe that media coverage has something to do with it, but I'm not -- that is what it is. But I think most Americans will still be making up their minds after these debates and maybe right up to Election Day.
CROWLEY: Let me turn your attention to overseas, because I know there are some things that concern you, but let me first ask you about Libya, the deaths of those four Americans, including the American ambassador to Libya, on September 11th.
Friday we got the administration's sort of definitive statement that this now looks as though it was a pre-planned attack by a terrorist group, and some of whom were at least sympathetic to al Qaeda.
Why do you think and are you bothered that it has taken them this long from September 11th to now to get to this conclusion?
MCCAIN: I think it interferes with the depiction that the administration is trying to convey that al Qaeda is on the wane, that everything is fine in the Middle East. And the fact...
CROWLEY: You think it's political?
MCCAIN: I think there are certain political overtones. How else -- how else could you trot out our U.N. ambassador to say this was a spontaneous demonstration?
CROWLEY: Maybe they thought that at the time.
MCCAIN: Five days later? That doesn't pass the smell test. It was either willful ignorance or abysmal intelligence to think that people come to spontaneous demonstrations with heavy weapons, mortars, and the attack goes on for hours.
And there were warnings, as you know, because part of it -- CNN put out part of Chris Stevens's diary. Look, things are going south all over the world. Look at this morning in Iraq. We've failed -- miserable failure in Iraq. It's unraveling.
Afghanistan, more insider killings, because this president doesn't believe in American exceptionalism and he keeps telling people we're leaving. Have you ever heard him say victory?
Finally he said something about Syria, but now we're going to give them communications equipment, which does very well against attack airplanes and helicopters and artillery and tanks.
CROWLEY: You're being sarcastic here. You want to give more?
MCCAIN: Of course, I'm -- of course, we need to arm them. The Iranians have admitted that they're on the ground. Russians arms are falling in. Iranian planes are flying over Iraq as we speak.
CROWLEY: But do you think the American people want that kind of a conflict, you know...
CROWLEY: ... sort of adding to it?
MCCAIN: I think Americans, I think the role of America is to lead, not to follow. And by the way, to blame it on the video, it shows the absolute ineptitude and ignorance of the realities. It's not the video... CROWLEY: They were blaming the protests against the American embassy and the deaths, in fact.
MCCAIN: Yes, it's the not videos. It's the radical Islamists that are pushing the videos which are then spreading throughout the Muslim world. So to blame the video is like blaming a killer -- the gun rather than the person who is pulling the trigger.
CROWLEY: But in some ways isn't Libya a bit of a cautionary tale for Syria in this way? We certainly -- regardless of whether you thought we were in Libya enough or we were leading enough in Libya, the U.S. certainly had a part in overturning a dictator, Muammar Gadhafi, and now we have a situation where the FBI, we are told, won't even go to Benghazi, which was the seat of the rebel -- the folks that we supported, because it's so dangerous there.
So they're investigating this from Tripoli, which is 400 miles away. What does that tell you, A...
MCCAIN: And thousands of Libyans demonstrated. They went after these militia extremists, which are al Qaeda-affiliated, themselves. The United States is more popular in Libya than any country in the Arab world, but they need help.
And after it was over, did we give them the assistance they needed? No. Their borders are porous. Al Qaeda is coming in. They don't have a strong government. But they have a people that like the United States of America.
In Afghanistan we are having Americans killed by, quote, "insiders," because they know...
CROWLEY: The troops that we're training.
MCCAIN: They know -- yes. The forces we are training in uniform. They just inflicted the greatest damage in an attack on Kandahar since the Tet Offensive. They destroyed six Harrier -- irreplaceable Harrier aircraft. And it's because the president has consistently overruled the recommendations of his military advisers.
The chickens are coming home to roost, and the president won't even talk about it.
CROWLEY: Let me ask you two quick questions. One of them, I just want to say CNN did not put out the ambassador's diary. They did report -- we did report off of it.
MCCAIN: Excuse me...
MCCAIN: OK, sure.
CROWLEY: I just wanted to make that clear to our viewers.
(CROSSTALK) MCCAIN: But, by the way, I don't have a problem with that. The reason why the administration objected so vigorously was because what was in what CNN reported. Since when are we not going to publish materials that probably were compromised to our enemies?
CROWLEY: Let me ask you, Peter King has called for Ambassador Rice to resign. Do you agree?
MCCAIN: No, I think she's the messenger. I mean, for her to come out and say what she said, obviously, was total ignorance of the facts on the ground, which, by the way, it was five days later. Five days went by.
We have reports now that intelligence people knew within 24 hours that this was a terrorist attack. And yet they sent her out to say things that were absolutely false, and continued to do so, which is, again, really either, as I say, willful ignorance or abysmal lack of knowledge of the facts.
CROWLEY: Senator Reid put out a statement yesterday where he said -- called it sad and disappointing that some people seem more focused on trying to score cheap political points off when this intelligence information came, than mourning the loss of the ambassador and the other three.
MCCAIN: Maybe Senator Reid doesn't care about Christopher Stevens. Maybe he doesn't care about those three other brave Americans.
CROWLEY: You know he does, though, right?
MCCAIN: We do. Well, to make a statement like that, of course, then politicizes an issue that all Americans should be concerned about what information there was and what caused this death. Every American, no matter whether Democrat or Republican. So he is the one that's taking the cheap political shot.
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