This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, November 29, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq so that we don't have to face them in our own country. By helping to build a peaceful and democratic country in the heart of the Middle East, you are defending the American people from danger. And we are grateful.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: The hot story is flying high. Obviously President Bush flying high all the way to Baghdad to visit the American troops over there. This was a spectacular visit when the president went for Thanksgiving dinner with the troops, the, I believe the 2nd Armored Division, the 1st Armored Division, rather. It was a surprise, for one thing, that was -- gets the media excited.

It was, and it surprised me too. It was emotional as you saw the president there. He was very emotional in, in talking to the troops and in greeting them and so on. It was needed, for sure. You know, Iraq duty these days is not exactly a day at the beach.

It was an example, I think, of real bold presidential leadership. It was very good politics, no question about that. And Mort, you know, the president got the word from the generals there, very, very optimistic word from the generals and so on that he talked to there. I know you discount them because you think they won't be candid with the president because they really want more troops but won't tell him. I disagree with you entirely.

Here's what they actually told him, according to the president. He said, "I met with the key generals and colonels, the commanders in the field. They reported to me that we're on the offensive, that we're using the tools necessary to suppress the handful of the killers, and we're making good progress."

Now, I think that sounds like good news. He's not making that up. But the, to steal a word from your vocabulary, this was a big week for the president for two other reasons. One, of course, I mean, the economic news. Look at these economic indicators, Mort. I mean, some of them ... economic results, not just economic indicators that show that the economy is roaring. These numbers are dazzling. And so swallow hard.

Secondly, the passage of a prescription drug benefit. I'm not, you know, in favor of it. I think it's way too costly. But it's a remarkable achievement and takes away this whole Medicare (search) health care issue that the Democrats have had. Bottom line, the president is a lot better bet for reelection in 2004 than he was a couple months ago.

MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: You didn't need to use the word "but." You could have used "and," you know.

BARNES: ... yes.

KONDRACKE: But all that, all that stuff is very good for, for Bush.

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: It was a gracious visit.

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: The troops clearly loved it. It was a dynamite political stunt. And, as usual, the Democrats did the best they possibly could to shoot themselves by being utterly sour about this presidential visit.

BARNES: Yes.

KONDRACKE: Howard Dean's campaign said, "It's good that the president -- that President Bush made the trip, but it doesn't change the fact that these brave men and women should never have been fighting there in the first place."

And John Kerry's campaign said, "When Thanksgiving is over, I hope the president will take the time to correct his failed policy in Iraq that has placed our soldiers in a shooting gallery, and when they return home, treat them with the respect, dignity, and benefits that they deserve."

I mean, that Kerry statement sounds like he wants withdrawal ... early, which is a surrender, a surrender ... in fact.

Now, all that good domestic news that you, that you cited means that Iraq is going to be the big issue of the campaign. But, and what counts is not how we got in, the way Howard Dean talked about it, but rather, are we winning the peace next summer?

Now, the generals and the colonels may have said to Bush that everything is going hunky-dory, but if you look at Mosul (search), a northern city where things used to be quiet, it's now dangerous. And the -- we're now yielding once again to Sistani, this grand ayatollah, the Shi'ite ... and hurrying up now nationwide elections, apparently, which is not a good sign. I mean, Bush says we're staying. I hope he's right.

Now, the other hot story is the Democrats in the dumps.

I mean, The Washington Post had a story even before the 8.2 growth percent rate figures came out, right after the Medicare victory, Bush's Medicare victory, quoting our friend Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute as follows, "When you lose the political initiative, things like this happen. The other party steals your ideas and advances them in a somewhat bastardized form. It's the result of Democrats not getting their act together and getting behind an agenda that can help rebuild their majority in Congress."

Now, the fact is that between congressional Democrats and presidential candidates, I mean, the Democrats have positions on everything ... taxes ... how to restore manufacturing jobs ... environment, energy ... the independents, all that kind of stuff. The problem is, nobody pays attention to it. They get no respect and they get no attention. The press mainly focuses on the fights between them, who's ahead, who's behind, and Bush-bashing, you know.

When they get a Democratic presidential nominee, then, obviously, attention focuses. The problem is that if it's Howard Dean, and Iraq is the main issue, basically, the Democrats are in the position of rooting for American failure, which is a terrible position ... for a party to be in.

So my bottom line is, I mean, Bush looks like he's on the way to reelection.

BARNES: You know, you could have called this hot story flying low, because I think the Democrats are. I'm not sure, even if Iraq is not clearly in a win position a year from now, that the Democrats will benefit from that. I don't think American voters want a McGovern-like Dean, who didn't want to get there in the first place, and is purely antiwar, or people like Senators John Edwards or John Kerry, who voted for the war, but then voted against funding it.

So that leaves you with Lieberman and Gephardt, and, and they're candidates who could make something ... because they both voted for the war and to fund it, and they would have a chance. But first they've got to win the nomination, that's for sure.

KONDRACKE: OK.

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