On Hardball, Chris Matthews, Dana Milbank, and Pat Buchanan discussed what they agreed were the likely political benefits to President Bush and congressional Republicans if he were to launch a pre-emptive war against Iran.
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On the March 15 edition (7:00 p.m. ET hour) of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan discussed what they agreed were the likely political benefits to President Bush and congressional Republicans in November 2006 if Bush were to launch a pre-emptive war against Iran. Buchanan posited: "I don't think he's going to do it for political reasons, but if he did do it for political reasons, you'd do it in October," because "you'd get right up the polls ... you'd win the election." Matthews, who confessed to being "staggered by the possible truth" in Buchanan's comments, invited Milbank to comment. Milbank noted that "[t]here is undoubtedly a rallying effect," but, according to Milbank, the question regarding a possible war against Iran launched partially -- or purely -- for political gain is: "Exactly when do you do the action, and exactly how long do you stay up at the top of the heap here?"
As of this posting, the transcript of this exchange was not available on the MSNBC website, nor was it available in the Nexis or Factiva databases. The transcript of the March 15 (5:00 p.m. ET hour) edition of Hardball, which featured Buchanan opposite former Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, is available on MSNBC.com and on Nexis and Factiva. The transcript below was drawn from Media Matters for America's archive and from the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy weblog.
From March 15 edition (7:00 p.m. ET hour) of Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MILBANK: Of course, these are the issues that you're always -- that the Democrats are always going to be strong on. The [Sen. Russ] Feingold [D-WI] message is: because they're within striking distance on Iraq and on terrorism, national security, generally, don't cede that argument to Bush like they did in 2002 and 2004. I mean, it's not illogical what he's saying, and that is that -- in fact, Howard Dean did the same thing last week. He said, "I want to talk about national security" when he starts his speech. I mean, who would've thunk it that Howard Dean would be saying that?
They think that if they can draw even with Bush on national security, Iraq, these sorts of issues, their natural advantage -- which they're always going to have in healthcare, education, and, at this point, the economy -- is going to carry them through.
MATTHEWS: Well, that would make sense, given the fact that the president's numbers on Iraq keep going down. By the way, just before -- so we don't run out of time here -- here's the classic question they ask in The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. They say: Who do you want to run the Congress next time around? Who are you going to vote for? And you see that number there, a 13-point spread. That's a dramatic spread, Pat. I haven't seen a number that big.
BUCHANAN: Oh, that's enormous. This is why -- but again --
MATTHEWS: Democrats are going to sweep the Congress, take over both houses with this one.
BUCHANAN: But on Iraq, the [former President Richard] Nixon strategy was best for Vietnam. He says, you know, "New leadership will end war and win the peace." He didn't go after and attack [former President Lyndon] Johnson and turn it into that. He just said new leadership is coming. I think one thing is that -- the "X" question here is Iran. The president is going very, very tough on Iran; and, you know, he's talking about their nuclear weapons. And Cheney says they won't be allowed to get them. And McCain says the military option's on the table. You elevate this issue into a hot confrontation by fall, and the Republicans are back on their home court.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe, if we wake up tomorrow morning -- and things tend to happen like this. Dana, you first: If we wake up tomorrow morning, it's 9 o'clock, and we learn that the United States has attacked Iran, has attacked its nuclear installations, its laboratories, its bases, its silos, whatever, to pre-empt them from building a nuclear weapon, would the American people accept that and all the consequences that came with it?
MILBANK: Well, I don't know about accepting it, but it certainly would cause a rallying effect, you know, so, I mean, everything in this poll says lame-duck presidency. But you have to remember terrorist strike, national crisis -- well, he's still probably not going to get tax reform through -- but suddenly, he's a strong national leader again. So, you certainly can't rule out that possibility. You know on your --
MATTHEWS: Could they also think he's insane?
BUCHANAN: No, no. The Democrats --
MATTHEWS: I'm dead serious about this. Could that be too radical a move? I'm trying to find this out.
MILBANK: No, every time --
BUCHANAN: Democrats would support him. The Democrats would support him. [Sen.] Hillary [Rodham Clinton] [D-NY] would support him. [Sen. Joseph] Lieberman [D-CT] would support him. [Sen. Joseph R.] Biden [D-DE] would probably support him. They would say he should have come to the Congress for authority, but they would support him in the short run.
BUCHANAN: Because the whole country -- 57 percent of the country thought Iran is the great -- I mean -- is a serious threat to the United States of America.
MATTHEWS: Yeah, but a very small percentage say we should take pre-emptive military action.
BUCHANAN: Well, once, I know, nobody thought we should go into Grenada. But when [former President Ronald] Reagan went into Grenada, everybody said that was a wonderful thing to do. If he hit them -- but you wouldn't hit them tomorrow.
MATTHEWS: That was a -- that was a win.
BUCHANAN: Well, that was a win, but listen, you don't hit them, tomorrow --
MATTHEWS: But Granada can't get anything -- in the Arab world, in the Persian world, it's a lot of opportunities out there to do damage against us and Israel --
BUCHANAN: I don't think he's going to do it for political reasons, but if he did do it for political reasons, you'd do it in October.
MATTHEWS: Why? To win?
BUCHANAN: Sure, you'd get right up the polls. Just like, you'd go right up, you'd win the election.
MATTHEWS: Dana, I'm staggered by the possible truth in what he just said. That a blitzkrieg-type action by the president -- do something before the public even thought about him doing it -- would put him on top of the heap again.
MILBANK: There is undoubtedly a rallying effect. There's no way, there's no way around that. The question is: Exactly when do you do the action, and exactly how long do you stay up at the top of the heap here?