Noting Huckabee-Paul debate disagreement on Iraq, Luntz declared Huckabee's position "principle[d]"

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY & JEREMY HOLDEN

On Hannity & Colmes, Republican pollster Frank Luntz cited Republican focus group responses to an exchange over Iraq policy between Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul, and, echoing Huckabee's assertion about needing not "to lose our honor," declared: "Clearly, principle won out in this exchange." Luntz cited no evidence that the focus group participants favored Huckabee's comments because they thought that the comments -- in contrast with Paul's -- were based on "principle." In fact, Paul's position on the Iraq war has been consistent, though originally sharply at odds with public opinion.

On the September 5 post-presidential debate edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Republican pollster Frank Luntz cited Republican focus group responses to an exchange over Iraq policy between former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), and, echoing Huckabee's assertion about needing to not "lose our honor," declared: "Clearly, principle won out in this exchange." Luntz made his declaration about which side "won" the exchange in the opinion of the focus groups after showing a video clip of part of the exchange with lines on the screen showing the focus group's response to have been more favorable to Huckabee. He did not cite any comments from focus group participants or any other evidence that the participants favored Huckabee's comments because they thought that the comments -- in contrast with Paul's -- were based on "principle." Nor did he explain his suggestion that Paul's position on the war was not based on principle.

In fact, Paul's position on the Iraq war has been consistent, though originally sharply at odds with public opinion. On October 8, 2002, Paul said, "There is no convincing evidence that Iraq is capable of threatening the security of this country, and, therefore, very little reason, if any, to pursue a war." He was only one of only six Republicans in the House to vote against the resolution authorizing war with Iraq. Paul has also been calling for a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq for more than two years.

Reporting on the same exchange during the debate, the September 6 edition of CNN's Your World Today aired only Paul's statement that "[w]e've dug a hole for ourselves, and we've dug a hole for our party. We're losing elections, and we're going down next year if we don't change it," followed by Huckabee's assertion that, "[e]ven if we lose elections, we should not lose our honor. And that is more important than the Republican Party." By cropping Paul's quote to leave out his substantive arguments for withdrawing from Iraq, CNN suggested that Paul's argument was entirely about electoral politics. CNN did not broadcast Paul's remarks that, "when we make a mistake, it is the obligation of the people, through their representatives, to correct the mistake, not to continue the mistake" or his claim that he did not believe the U.S. should remain in Iraq just to "save face." Nor did CNN note that Paul -- contrary to the initial desires of a majority of the electorate -- opposed the Iraq war from the beginning.

In response to an announcement in April by PBS that, immediately after the June 28 Democratic presidential forum, "public feedback on the performance of the candidates will be conducted by noted pollster Frank Luntz, who will also appear on 'Tavis Smiley' on PBS the following evening to discuss his findings," Media Matters for America criticized Luntz's involvement and noted his history of partisan GOP activity and record of reported reprimand and censure by this peers. In 1997, the American Association for Public Opinion Research reprimanded Luntz for comments he made to the media regarding his polling work on the Contract with America, according to a 2000 Salon.com article. Similarly, Washington Post polling director Richard Morin reported in 2000 that the National Council on Public Polls "censured pollster Frank Luntz for allegedly mischaracterizing on MSNBC the results of focus groups he conducted during the [2000] Republican Convention." As Media Matters has also documented, Luntz has worked for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), a primary election opponent of Paul and Huckabee's, and has heaped praise on Giuliani this year.

In September 2004, MSNBC dropped its plans to include Luntz in coverage of that year's presidential forum following a letter from Media Matters that outlined Luntz's GOP ties and criticism from his peers for misrepresenting and withholding results of his research.

From the September 5 post-debate edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

COLMES: And joining us now from Manchester, New Hampshire, political pollster Frank Luntz. And Frank, you've been doing dial groups and focus groups. In fact, you went to the FoxNews.com website earlier tonight, you can see the dials as they were turning upward or downward as the candidates were speaking earlier this evening.

LUNTZ: It was a very interesting response. The reaction was not as positive this time as it had been for the other debates that we'd been testing. And it was interesting that our group was a little bit disappointed with what they heard and, in some cases, what they didn't.

They thought that the candidates were not as clear as they were expecting, there wasn't quite enough specifics as to what they were going to do. But even the style itself seems to be just a little bit short on -- on -- on a communicative nature.

I want to show you the one exception to that. The single most interesting reaction was between Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. Now, you can see these dials go up and down. The red line represents moderates turning their dials. The yellow line represents conservatives. Watch what happens when the two of them go back at each other. Clearly, Mike Huckabee was the winner, and Ron Paul was the loser. Let's take a look.

[begin video clip]

HUCKABEE: Congressman, we are one nation. We can't be divided. We have to be one nation under God. That means if we make a mistake, we make it as a single country. The United States of America, not the divided states of America.

PAUL: No -- when we make a mistake -- when we make a mistake, it is the obligation of the people, through their representatives, to correct the mistake, not to continue the mistake.

HUCKABEE: And that's what we do on the floor of the Senate.

PAUL: No. We've dug a hole for ourselves, and we've dug a hole for our party. We're losing elections, and we're going down next year if we don't change it. And it has all to do with foreign policy, and we have to wake up to this fact.

HUCKABEE: Even if we lose elections, we should not lose our honor. And that is more important than the Republican Party.

PAUL: We're losing -- we've lost over --

[end video clip]

LUNTZ: Not losing our honor. Clearly, principle won out in this exchange. But this wasn't actually the -- Mike Huckabee did quite well. But this wasn't the top response. [Sen.] John McCain [R-AZ], who had not been doing well in the sessions that we've done up to this point, exceeded expectations.

From the transcript of the September 5 Republican presidential primary debate at the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore Center:

CHRIS WALLACE (moderator and Fox News Sunday host): Congressman Paul, your position on the war is pretty simple: get out. What about, though, trying to minimize the bloodbath that would certainly occur if we pull out in a hurry? What about protecting the thousands of Iraqis who had staked their lives in backing the U.S.? And would you leave troops in the region to take out any Al Qaeda camps that are developed after we leave?

PAUL: The people who say there will be a bloodbath are the ones who said it would be a cakewalk, it would be a slam-dunk, and that it would be paid for by oil. Why believe them? They've been wrong on everything they've said. So why not ask the people -- why not ask the people who advised not to go in -- into the region and into the war? The war has not gone well one bit. Yes, I would leave completely. Why leave the troops in the region? It was the fact that we had troops in Saudi Arabia -- was the -- one of the three reasons given for the attack on 9-11. So why leave them in the region? They don't want our troops on the Arabian Peninsula. We have no need for our national security to have troops on the Arabian Peninsula. And going into Iraq and Afghanistan and threatening Iran is the worst thing we can do for our national security. I am less safe, the American people are less safe for this. It's the policy that is wrong. Tactical movements and shifting troops around and taking in 30 more and reducing by five -- totally irrelevant. We need a new foreign policy that says we ought to mind our own business, bring our troops home, defend this country, defend our borders --

WALLACE: So if -- so, Congressman Paul, and I'd like you to take 30 seconds to answer this. You're basically saying we should take our marching orders from Al Qaeda? If they want us off the Arabian Peninsula, we should leave?

PAUL: No. I'm saying -- I'm saying we should take our marching orders from our Constitution. We should not go to war -- we should not go to war without a declaration. We should not go to war when it's an aggressive war. This is an aggressive invasion. We've committed the invasion of this war. And it's illegal under international law. That's where I take my marching orders, not from any enemy.

[...]

CHRIS WALLACE (moderator and Fox News Sunday host): Governor, if that's the best we can hope for, should we continue the surge?

HUCKABEE: We have to continue the surge, and let me explain why, Chris. When I was a little kid, if I went into a store with my mother, she had a simple rule for me: If I picked something off the shelf at the store and I broke it, I bought it. I learned I don't pick something off the shelf I can't afford to buy.

Well, what we did in Iraq, we essentially broke it. It's our responsibility to do the best we can to try to fix it before we just turn away. Because something is at stake.

Senator McCain made a great point -- and let me make this clear: If there's anybody on this stage that understands the word "honor," I've got to say Senator McCain understands that word because he has given his country a sacrifice the rest of us don't even comprehend.

And on this issue, when he says we can't leave until we've left with honor, I 100 percent agree with him because, Congressman, whether or not we should have gone to Iraq is a discussion the historians can have, but we're there.

We bought it because we broke it. We've got a responsibility to the honor of this country and to the honor of every man and woman who has served in Iraq and ever served in our military to not leave them with anything less than the honor that they deserve.

PAUL: Can I respond --

WALLACE: Go ahead. You wanted to respond? He just addressed you. You go ahead and respond.

PAUL: The American people didn't go in. A few people advising this administration, a small number of people called the neoconservatives hijacked our foreign policy. They're responsible, not the American people. They're not responsible. We shouldn't punish them.

HUCKABEE: Congressman, we are one nation. We can't be divided. We have to be one nation under God. That means if we make a mistake, we make it as a single country. The United States of America, not the divided states of America.

PAUL: No. when we make a mistake -- when we make a mistake, it is the obligation of the people, through their representatives, to correct the mistake, not to continue the mistake.

HUCKABEE: And that's what we do on the floor of the Senate.

PAUL: No. We've dug a hole for ourselves, and we've dug a hole for our party. We're losing elections, and we're going down next year if we don't change it. And it has all to do with foreign policy, and we have to wake up to this fact.

HUCKABEE: Even if we lose elections, we should not lose our honor. And that is more important than the Republican Party.

PAUL: We're losing -- we've lost over -- we have lost -- we have lost over 5,000 Americans killed in -- we've lost over 5,000 Americans over there in Afghanistan, in Iraq and plus the civilians killed. How many more you want to lose? How long are you going to be there? How long -- what do we have to pay to save face? That's all we're doing is saving face. It's time we came home.

BRIT HUME (moderator and Special Report anchor): Gentleman, thank you.

From the September 6 edition of CNN's Your World Today:

ISHA SESAY (co-anchor): Well, speaking a little bit more now on that GOP debate that [CNN national correspondent] John [King] and [co-anchor] Jim [Clancy] were just talking about. As we were saying, the rest of the GOP candidates squared off for their fifth debate in New Hampshire. There was plenty of passion about Iraq. Most of the eight Republicans defended the war -- that is, except for Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who said the troops should be withdrawn. Well, that led to this fiery exchange with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

[begin video clip]

PAUL: We've dug a hole for ourselves, and we've dug a hole for our party. We're losing elections, and we're going down next year if we don't change it. And has all to do with foreign policy, and we have to wake up to this fact.

HUCKABEE: Even if we lose elections, we should not lose our honor, and that is more important than the Republican Party.

PAUL: We're losing -- we lost over --

[end video clip]

SESAY: Both sides got applause from the crowd in Durham, New Hampshire.

Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, CNN
Person
Frank Luntz
Show/Publication
Hannity & Colmes, Your World Today
Stories/Interests
Ron Paul, 2008 Elections
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