Dean Takes War on Terror to Task

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Dec. 18, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.


HOWARD DEAN (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Saddam's capture and the Iraq war had virtually nothing to do with the war on terror.


TONY SNOW, GUEST HOST: Well, there you have it. Howard Dean (search), the Democratic presidential frontrunner is not at all backing away from comments about Saddam's capture. He said America was not any safer as a result of the capture. In fact, he's even taking Washington Democrats to task for their support of the war against Iraq.

Joining us now, FOX News political analyst Susan Estrich (search). Today's big question, Susan — does Dean's anti-war message have mass appeal? What do you think?

SUSAN ESTRICH, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Tony, I don't know if it has mass appeal, but, of course, he doesn't need mass appeal right now. He is running in the Democratic primaries. And I think his hard-core supporters feel very good about the fact that Howard Dean sticks to his guns and the fact that he hasn't changed his position on the war. I think it's reaffirming his strength among his hard-core supporters.

It is also making a lot of other Democrats, however, kind of nervous and giving some new strength, I think, to some of his opponents, including John Kerry (search), Joseph Lieberman (search), Dick Gephardt (search) and the rest of the gang.

So, it is making the primaries a little bit more interesting. But it certainly isn't changing our man Howard Dean out there, who's sticking to it. And even, Tony, did you see yesterday [he is] going after Bill Clinton (search) economics? It isn't just George Bush who he's taking on. This guy is really running as a liberal.

SNOW: Well, he is running as a liberal. Of course, that has a lot of Democrats in conniptions right now. But you said Howard Dean hasn't changed his stripes. As a matter of fact, he's had a series of arguments that may not hold together. Is the key to his success right now the body language, the way in which he goes after the president?

ESTRICH: Well, you know, I think the key to his success is that he's not a namby-pamby politician. I think maybe he is trying to be a Democratic Ronald Reagan, which is to say, what Reagan was able to do quite brilliantly was to run as a real conservative. Not, you know, tempering his conservatism. But at the same time, he didn't scare people. He was, you know, someone people could trust.

I think the challenge for Dean in terms of body language Tony — and what has a lot of Democrats frankly on edge, is can he soften his hard-core views enough to make people who don't agree with him nonetheless comfortable with him?

I think the line that got to me this week was one of my Democratic friends who came over to me nervously and said, “Is this what it felt like to be a grown-up during McGovern.?” Now, I'm not that nervous yet, OK. I mean, I think this guy is a really smart politician. But that is the nervousness among Democrats.

SNOW: But Susan, you know, he is sort of the anti-Clinton in the sense that Bill Clinton constantly was triangulating and trying to move to the right of his party. And, furthermore, when things got tough, Bill Clinton would resort to — he would appeal to people's human side. You don't see that cuddliness with Howard Dean. He doesn't have that arrow in his quiver.

ESTRICH: He sure doesn't see... and in that speech yesterday that he gave up in New Hampshire, he had that line, you know, “Bill Clinton said the era of big government is over. That had to be one of friend Dick Morris' lines.” And then he went on to outline an era of big government...

We've got a Democrat who is not apologizing, who is saying what he believes in. And that will probably help him in primaries and caucuses. The question is how is he going to translate that down the road and will some Democratic voters say , “Hold on, maybe we are rushing to fast, maybe we ought to give Kerry, Lieberman, Gephardt, Kucinich, somebody, a second look.” So maybe this will turn out to be a little more interesting than some people thought.

SNOW: Susan, we know Hollywood's all for Howard Dean. How about the rest of California? Could California be in play in 2004?

ESTRICH: Be in play for George Bush you mean?

SNOW: Yes.

ESTRICH: Well, maybe. I mean, let's see. You know, my friend, Arnold is doing really well out here. And there is no question that Arnold not only won here, but he is really rockin', as my kids would say. But that is a special situation. As of now, this is still a Democratic state. And it is down George Bush's list. But you never know, it depends who the Democrats nominate, I really think, and the economy.

SNOW: Susan, nobody hits the high notes like you do. Susan Estrich, thanks for joining us.

ESTRICH: Oh, Tony, you are the best.

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