Fox News Beltway Boys see the GOP presidential field as now being a two man race.
HH: The Beltway Boys, we rounded them up early, Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard, Morton Kondracke of Roll Call, together they’re the Beltway Boys. You can watch them tomorrow night at 6:00 on the Fox News Channel, 3:00 on the West Coast, and of course, most nights on Brit Hume’s show. Gentlemen, welcome. You know, we’ve had fires all week long, and so we haven’t been focusing on political news. So I wanted to start there, especially on the Republican debate on Monday. Fred Barnes, who won? How is this race stacking up right now?
FB: Well, certainly, Rudy Giuliani always does well in debates, he steps forward immediately to try to win the crowd. It’s a different strategy than the one Mitt Romney has. Mitt Romney’s been solid and prepared in every debate. So I would say they both did fine. McCain had one great line, that helped him. I think Fred Thompson tends to fade in these debates. Mike Huckabee’s a myth, and the others don’t count.
HH: Can we pause for a moment? Mike Huckabee’s a myth. Would you explain that?
FB: Well, there’s the myth that Mike Huckabee, the great conservative. And I think we’re quickly learning from pieces by John Fund and Quin Hillyer, who actually was an editorial writer in Little Rock during the Huckabee governorship, that Huckabee’s not really very conservative at all. He is on social issues, like most Baptist ministers, Southern Baptist, anyway, and yet he raised taxes and kept many Clintonistas in his administration, and did not govern the way, say, Romney has, did in Massachusetts, or Jeb Bush did in Florida, and we can think of the other conservative Republican governors, Bill Owens in Colorado, and so on.
HH: Morton Kondracke, do you agree that Huckabee’s a myth?
MK: I just don’t think Huckabee’s going to go anywhere. He’s personable, he’s likable, he’s got a populist streak. He does realize that there are people suffering in this economy, and expresses it. Now I’m not sure that the fair tax, which is his signature economic program, is going to do much for those people, because it’s going to raise their sales taxes to, what is it, 23% or something like that in order to eliminate income taxes, which I think probably net benefits people who are upper income. But at least he talks a good game about that. I don’t think, I think he’s got a chance to surprise in Iowa, you know, maybe finish second or something like that, maybe. But after that, he’s done, I think.
HH: It seems to me, Fred Barnes, that the Giuliani folks, and the Thompson folks, want Huckabee to be alive through Iowa to bleed Romney a little bit, and a vote for Huckabee’s really a vote for Giuliani and Thompson in the early contests. Is that a good analysis?
FB: Well, it is for Giuliani. It’s not for Thompson. I mean, Thompson, look, if Huckabee beats Thompson in Iowa, where Thompson’s competing, Giuliani really isn’t, or shows no evidence of it, if he beats Thompson there, that’s an embarrassment for Thompson. It might help Giuliani marginally, but I think…
MK: Which is an interesting point. For the life of me, I don’t understand why Giuliani doesn’t go compete in Iowa.
FB: Well, you know, he’s the mayor of New York City. With all that entails, that’s part of the reason, though he has a great story to tell about having changing it. But he’s a social liberal, and New Hampshire is much better for him, as is…and he’s doing well in South Carolina.
HH: Do you think he owns a pair of jeans or boots, Fred?
HH: Do you think Rudy owns a pair of jeans?
FB: (laughing) I’ll bet he does. Look, even I do, but I just never wear them.
HH: How about, Morton, do you think he’s got overalls somewhere in the closet there in Manhattan?
MK: I’m sure he could find some.
HH: Let’s turn back, then, to the Romney-Giuliani race, which is really what this is all about.
HH: Morton Kondracke…
FB: That’s why there’s a story about this, we’re going to be talking about this on the Beltway Boys tomorrow, that it’s essentially a two man race at the moment.
HH: I’m glad you’re talking about that tomorrow, because I agree, but I cannot get, for the life of me, a lot of conservatives to focus on the fact they’ve got a choice…
HH: And it doesn’t involve these other people. So Morton, is that going to clarify in time for those two guys? I’m sure they both want it to clarify that way. Maybe Rudy a little bit less so. What do you think?
MK: Well, I mean, it sort of depends on what the polls indicate about Thompson. You know, Thompson is not going anywhere. I mean, he just not breaking through, and in any particular state. I think he’s, I forget exactly where he is, but he’s, you know, he’s not leading in any state, that’s for sure. So if he doesn’t go anyplace, then it will clarify that it’s a two man race. I think it’s developing into a two man race, because Thompson’s not going anywhere. Unfortunately, McCain is gaining in various places, but I don’t see that he’s got the money to do much if he did score well in New Hampshire. I don’t know where he’d go with it if he had.
HH: You know, guys, I’ve done six Republic speeches or radio speeches in the last three weeks. I always take the poll. There have been a total of three McCain supporters in hundreds and hundreds of participants. It’s a myth, Fred Barnes, it’s an absolute myth that he got a bounce.
FB: Look, he’s moved up a little bit in New Hampshire. I don’t think that’s necessarily since the debate on Monday, but you know, there was some residual positive feeling for McCain after what he did in the 2000 primary. But here, my friend, Frank Luntz, the pollster who’s done four focus groups associated with the four Fox News Republican presidential debates, and what he’s found is that the people there who like McCain in the past don’t like him as much this time for a number of reasons, but particularly this, he’s not as feisty. He’s not as assertive. He’s more laid back. I like that better myself, but voters don’t. They like the old McCain, not the new McCain.
HH: Okay, key question, who does better against Hillary over the long, general election which begins, in essence, on February 6th, Morton Kondracke? Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney, taking into account everything you know that which is published and not published, that which is hidden behind the curtain and which has been on the front pages all these many months?
MK: Yeah, I don’t think the assaults on Giuliani have begun. You know, we have not seen that press conference where he announced that he was going to leave his wife, or that press conference where his wife had kicked him out of Gracie Mansion. We don’t know what’s going to happen to Bernard Kerik. I just think that there’s a lot of stuff hanging out there about Rudy Giuliani that is going to come back to haunt him. So even though the polls indicate that he’s the stronger against Hillary, by the time the Hillary people got done with Giuliani, I think he’d be pretty messed up.
HH: Fred Barnes?
FB: Well, and then there’s the third party problem, a pro-life candidate running against Giuliani. Now Giuliani’s made some steps to forestall something like that in the general election, but he hasn’t done enough yet, particularly on the abortion issue. So I would say, I guess Romney would have a better chance of gathering in all the conservatives, particularly the social conservatives, than Rudy would. And I agree with what Mort said, so I guess you’d have to say that Romney would be the better general election candidate, though he wouldn’t have a chance in some states that would be possible like New Jersey, would be possible for Giuliani, but certainly not probable.
HH: Romney does take it into the upper Midwest, though, doesn’t he, Fred Barnes, into Michigan?
FB: Well, certainly Michigan, and if you do Michigan, that might mean you do well in Minnesota and a few other states. Of course, the key one is Ohio. I’m not sure who would do the best there. Republicans have a lot of work to do in Ohio.
HH: How do you like Vice President Tressel?
HH: You know you’ve got a win.
FB: If he can win the national championship, maybe so. But he’s got to do it again.
HH: That’s the only Republican…I’m not sure he’s a Republican…who I think has a prayer of bringing Ohio along at this point.
FB: Well, he could be a Republican.
HH: We could draft him. Morton Kondracke, do you agree with this analysis that…
MK: He’s going to have to beat Vice President Strickland.
HH: (laughing) You know what? You’re right. And that is, believe me, I worry about this as a son of Ohio who was just back there and had our hearts broken by the Indians again. Ted Strickland’s turning a lot of heads, Morton Kondracke, isn’t he?
MK: Absolutely, yeah he is. He’s very popular, and he’s getting along with a Republican legislature. It’s amazing.
FB: Yeah, why would you pick Bill Richardson when you could pick Ted Strickland, and Ohio is a much more crucial state than New Mexico. There’s no question about that. And look, the truth is, the Red Sox are a better team than the Indians.
HH: Oh, Fred.
FB: They are such a well-balanced team.
MK: Oh, my God.
HH: Why don’t you step on my broken arm.
MK: Look, I can call this one. I can call this one. I said it was going to be the Red Sox, and you got killed, Hugh.
HH: East Coast elitists.
HH: Now, since we have a minute left, how about that Ohio State being at the top of the polls, though, Fred Barnes?
FB: Well, they deserve to be there. They’re unbeaten, and LSU’s not unbeaten, Southern Cal’s not unbeaten. The other teams that might be the rivals, I don’t think Boston College, who is unbeaten, is really a rival for the number one spot. So look, if Ohio State finishes unbeaten, defeating Michigan, which I think they have probably a better chance this year than they have in other years, they’ll easily be the national champs. And let’s see, who does Ohio State want to face in the BCS championship game?
HH: Oh, bring us SC, so we could smack them around. They’ve got…
MK: SC is so far down the list now.
HH: They’re number nine.
MK: They’ve got to crawl their way back.
HH: They’re number nine, and they get to beat up on Arizona before long. Gentlemen…
FB: How about LSU? LSU’s a very well-balanced team.
HH: We don’t want to play LSU.
FB: Yeah, I didn’t think so.
HH: (laughing) No. Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke, the Fox News Channel Beltway Boys, tomorrow night at 6:00, you can watch them again and it repeats later in the evening, and at 3:00 on the West Coast. Don’t miss it.
End of interview.