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Morton Kondracke and Charles Krauthammer on the presidential field, and foreign policy.

Friday, February 1, 2008
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HH: It’s Friday, that means one or both of the Fox News Channel Beltway Boys. Today, it’s Morton Kondracke, editor of Roll Call, and Charles Krauthammer, who’s a Washington Post columnist. Welcome to you both, gentlemen. Let me read you a list. On the one hand, you’ve got Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mike Reagan, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Lars Larsen, National Review and Rick Santorum endorsing or all but endorsing, Rush hasn’t formally endorsed, Mitt Romney. On the other hand, you have Arnold, Rudy Giuliani, and today, the Los Angeles Times. Last week, the New York Times endorsing John McCain. How do you explain the list that I just gave you, Morton Kondracke?

MK: Well, belatedly, the right wing talkers have decided to gather around Mitt Romney. If they’d done it at the beginning, you know, he might have a chance to win the nomination. I mean, he’s got maybe a 10% chance now, but I just think they’ve arrived too late at this. And you know, they diddled around, and considered Fred Thompson, who went nowhere, and I guess they never considered Mike Huckabee, but they stayed out of it. They just weren’t happy with anybody, and now they’re trying a late stop McCain movement, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to work.

HH: That’s the horse race side, and I watched you guys, and I know what you think. I tend to give him a much higher chance than 10%, more about 30-40% because of recent arrival numbers from Missouri and Georgia. But I’ll ask you, Charles, rather than looking ahead and predicting, why does this list exist?

CK: Well, you’ve got, McCain’s got Ted Olsen. Now you’ve got one guy on the other side. Look, McCain is a serial apostate, and everybody knows that. And he enjoys sticking his finger in the eye of conservatives. He’s done that. On the other hand, if you think the war is the issue of our time, and everything else will work itself out, but if you lose the war in Iraq and the war on terror, everything else doesn’t count, and you see McCain as the one guy who will not move on the war, and see where Romney is a novice, he’s sincere, but he’s a novice, and also that he probably doesn’t have a chance of winning in the general, then you’d say I go with McCain, and I know it’s going to be a rocky ride.

HH: You know, I think that’s the best analysis. Bruce Herschensohn took that line yesterday, and you say yeah, it is going to be a rocky ride. Now I want to ask you, I get e-mail after e-mail, probably 2,000 of them over the last three days, I will never vote for McCain. I’m not part of that camp. I denounced Ann Coulter in the first hour for her silliness on Hannity & Colmes last night, saying she’d campaign for Hillary. But how big of a problem, if in fact Romney does not pull off a Hillary-like comeback in New Hampshire, how big of a problem does he have healing this rift, Morton?

MK: Well, I think it’s considerable. I mean, Fred’s got a whole, Fred Barnes has got a whole riff on what he has to do, and you know, he has to be foursquare on judges, he has to emphasize where he agrees with him on social issues. He’s got to stop talking about capping trade on global warming. I think he’s got to keep his temper under control. He’s got to make a no new taxes pledge, and then he can get them. The problem with that…and he’s got to sort of make peace with them personally, I mean, you know, call up Rush and be on Rush’s show, and stuff like that. They’re never going to completely trust him ever. His problem doing that, and the more visible it is, the more likely it is that the independents who have been relying on him as a straight shooter are going to say oh well, he’s just another one of them. And his chance to win is to be able to hold the Republican base and reach out to independents. I think the Bush base is not enough to win this election, because the Bush base is so demoralized.

HH: Charles, I watched the Democratic debate last night, and I’m pretty sure you did as well. Barack Obama is a phenomenon. It’s a different level of grace on stage. I don’t think a 72 year old guy can beat him. Do you?

CK: No, and I don’t think Romney can, either. I don’t think anybody can. The man is unbeatable, and if I were a Democrat, I’d be wanting him to win. And as a conservative, I pray every night that Hillary will win, because she is a beatable…if Obama wins, it’s over. We might as well call it off in advance, the way they do in Little League, the mercy rule, and save everyone the money and the time on the general election. But if Hillary is the nominee, which I think is probably a slightly better than even chance. Then, I think McCain can win, and he would be the strongest candidate by far.

MK: I disagree with that. I think that Obama, for all of his charm, is definitely beatable by a strong national security candidate. After all, the man just was endorsed by MoveOn.org. Now this is a guy who’s claiming to reunite the country, and you know, get everybody working together, red and blue and all that kind of stuff. What Republican is going to be able to, on what policy issues is he going to be able to unite the country when he’s the MoveOn.org candidate? I think McCain…

HH: Morton, you’re too serious.

CK: No, I disagree.

HH: I think McCain could conceivably beat him.

HH: Yeah, you’re too serious. That’s not how Americans vote.

CK: I disagree. If Obama is the candidate, issues are going to be irrelevant. The country is in a swoon.

HH: That’s exactly right.

CK: In the middle of his…

MK: Well, the country is kind of in a swoon, because he’s not winning the Democratic nomination.

HH: Oh, watch this.

CK: He came out of nowhere. The guy came out of nowhere, he was a state legislator a few years ago, and here he is, standing up on the stage, toe to toe equal in the Kodak Theater with Hillary Clinton, who was going to be the queen nominee, and it didn’t happen. I mean, he came out of nowhere.

HH: Morton, the stunning number…

MK: What I said tonight on Fox was that Romney is the frontrunner for the 2012 Republican nomination, and I think that if McCain somehow could beat Hillary, then Obama would be the frontrunner for the 2012 Democratic nomination.

HH: You know, I reported earlier, he raised $32 million dollars in January. Putting that in comparison, John McCain, who had a great month, raised $7 million dollars. It’s a tsunami. Gentlemen, I’ve got to get to two other stories, the Winograd report, and the use by the jihadists of a woman with Downs Syndrome today. It’s not a suicide bomber when you use someone who’s impaired that way. A) our enemy is as evil as it gets, Charles, and does Israel react to this report the way it used to react to the reports?

CK: No. On the first issue, it’s sort of indescribably barbaric. And it should remind Americans, and we appear to be inured to this, of the nature of this enemy. And we’ve rationalized it, it’s been six and a half years, and we forget, and you know, there are jokes late night about Osama and all this. It’s almost as if it’s entered folklore. These people are around. They are the most evil, nihilistic that we have ever encountered, at least in our lifetime. And that’s who they are, exposed, and also somewhat desperate, if you have to use unwilling people who are unable to sort of control themselves, or direct their own lives, as bombs, then it says that you are really at the bottom of the barrel.

HH: Morton?

MK: Go ahead…well, I just think that Americans will wake up the next time we get hit, and we will.

HH: But now, given who we’re up against, and given the report that came out in Israel, does Olmert, who’s obviously incompetent, how does he survive when this sort of enemy is not half a world away, but half a kilometer away?

CK: Well, the Winograd report flinched. Remember, he appointed it. It was not an independent commission like after the Yom Kippur war. And they flinched. Instead of naming the names, and calling for his resignation, as people had anticipated last year when the first after report had come out, it was simply a general condemnation, and he’ll escape. The Israeli political system is inert, deadlocked, and has no direction. And it’s going to hang on until the next election, probably is going to be a year and a half, with Olmert as a weak, weak prime minister, who may even deal away a lot of Israeli security as a way to keep in power over the next year.

MK: Or, or, or, he goes to President Bush and says Mr. President, we cannot have Iran having a nuclear weapon. I would like your permission to fly over Iraq in order to bomb out Natanz.

HH: Well, that’s what I want to finish on. I just finished an interview that will run all day a week from yesterday with the authors of Nuclear Jihadist. Have either of you had a chance to read this amazing book yet?

MK: No.

HH: Well, I would highly recommend it.

MK: Who wrote it?

HH: Douglas Frantz and his wife, Catherine Collins. He’s a longtime reporter out of Pakistan, she’s a Chicago Tribune reporter. They really know their stuff in this. And at the conclusion of it, I go back to Obama, if he is in fact winning, do you see that as increasing Bush’s determination to take out Iran’s program before he leaves, because Barack Obama never would, Charles?

CK: No, I don’t think so. I think he was undercut by the National Intelligence Estimate. He does not have any of the support a president has to have in order to do it. I think unfortunately, his time has run out on this.

HH: Morton?

MK: I think he will not do it, but if the Israelis really, really want to do it, I think there’ll be a furious debate within the administration. But ultimately, it’s his decision, and he might say yes.

HH: But you guys have both sat with him. I don’t think, taken his measure, I don’t think he cares about political support. I don’t think he’s going to allow this to be a can kicked down the road like…

MK: But he cannot…I don’t think that the Defense Department, filled by Bob Gates and those people, will pull the trigger for him under his orders if he doesn’t have an authorization from Congress.

HH: Well, wait a minute.

MK: But…

HH: That’s mutiny.

MK: Honestly…

HH: Morton, that’s mutiny.

MK: Well, I’m sorry.

HH: Charles, do you agree with that?

CK: No, I don’t think so, but I’m not sure it is the authorization of Congress that is required. A president has to have the moral authority. The president has a sense of what he can and can’t do. And he’s so weakened, after the NIE, he does not have it. And without it, he won’t do it wantonly.

HH: I think you both underestimate Bush. We will find out for sure in the next nine months. Charles Krauthammer, Morton Kondracke, thanks very much.

End of interview.

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