This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," December 13, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Our top story tonight — has President Bush entered the most important and dangerous stretch during his five years in office? The most recent Gallup poll gave the president a 42 percent approval rating, five points higher than last month. His nets are still negative, but is it really a marked improvement?
The same trend is true of the Associated Press-Ipsos poll and our own FOX News poll, which both show a five- or six-point increase in just the last month. Some observers say it's because of strong economy, economic news. Others point to the president's tougher and more public defense of the war in Iraq.
Either way, between the confirmation hearings for Judge Sam Alito and the State of the Union Address, the month of January is shaping up to be a make-or-break month for the administration.
And joining us now with analysis, the host of "Morning in America," FOX News contributor Bill Bennett.
Dr. Bennett, welcome back to the show.
BILL BENNETT, HOST, "MORNING IN AMERICA": Thank you. Purplefingerforfreedom.org, OK? Purple finger.
COLMES: There you go.
BENNETT: Thank you.
COLMES: You know, some would say some of these actual numbers, four points here, five points in that poll, are actually within the margin of error. And if you look actually deeper into the polls, 59 percent in the Gallup poll disapprove of the president's performance in Iraq, 39 percent approve; 58 percent in the USA Today poll say he has no plan. The summer numbers are pretty much the same.
If you look at the actual questions behind these, it doesn't look that great for the president.
BENNETT: Well, somebody's got to be a pollster, you know? They're nice, because they're improving, the trend looks good. And I think it's evidence that when he talks he does well. When he talks spontaneously, he does even better. He did that Q&A, which was very good.
But, I mean, the main thing is, you know, Alan, you heard me say it a hundred times. It's the only thing I know for sure about politics in Washington and that is you're on offense or you're on defense. He was on defense for quite a while, and now he's on offense.
I mean, it's a speech every three or four days. And these are good speeches. And he's showing more confidence — I think even you will admit — by going into the Q&A.
COLMES: Well, I'm glad that he's — he actually should be talking to the American people. I'm glad he's doing it. I'm glad he's doing Q&A, and I'm glad it's now, not only to adoring audiences.
BENNETT: Yes, that's right. A couple of tough questions yesterday.
COLMES: You know, some conservatives will say, oh, polls don't really matter, especially when it's a poll that's not favorable. Let's say it's a CBS poll, where they're denounce the pollster. So to get all excited over a few points in a few polls is probably not the right thing to do, would you agree?
BENNETT: Well, that wouldn't be me, would it? I mean, you know, you love to make hay out of these polls when he's going down. He's going up now, and that's a good thing.
But it really doesn't matter. What matters is the state not of the polls but the state of his conviction, and his conviction looks pretty clear. The other thing that matters is the facts, and the facts on the ground look very encouraging. I was very pleased to see that the Sunnis are coming along, encouraging people to vote. Very active campaigns going on over there. It's really quite amazing what's happened in 32 months.
COLMES: All right. If the new government comes in and says, "We would like the United States out," do we then get out? Do we listen to what the new government says?
BENNETT: Well, of course we listen to what the new government says, consistent with our mission. But I don't think they're going to do that, because I think, if they told us to get out categorically, it would be an act of suicide any time in the near future.
COLMES: Well, the Iraqi president, Talabani, has said we should leave. The Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers, Sunni leaders, some polls will say that, you know, 60, 70, 80 percent would like us out of the country.
BENNETT: Yes, well, we'll say again, again, polls, shmolls. But, I mean, we have to look at the situation on the ground.
We did work this hard, we did not lose 2,130 or 2,140 men to see this country be gave up to the worst elements in that society and from other nations. So we have to read the situation.
Remember, we want to establish democracy in Iraq. We want these people to ultimately take over and take responsibility for their country. But we're fighting a war on terror, and we have to send a very clear and unequivocal message that we leave when we're dang-gone ready to leave.
COLMES: I understand. You say leave when we're doggone ready. It seems to me that you're then kind of glossing over listening to the Iraqis, the people in whose country we are now. And if we stay and they want us out, don't we then risk being occupiers and not liberators?
BENNETT: A very important factor, Alan, is what it is they want. But whey will be looking at the facts on the ground, as well.
Supposing they say, "Well, look, we'd like you to go." We say, "Well, our preference is to go, too," which it always is, you know, given an ideal state of things. But supposing we point out that not enough of their army is ready, not enough of their military police, not enough of their police department are ready to do the job, and that more of their citizens will face slaughter. It will then be irrational for them to push us out of the country, and they won't.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Hey, Bill, I like the purple finger, my friend.
BENNETT: Thank you.
HANNITY: A symbol of solidarity for people that need it, as the spread and the winds of freedom spread in the region.
BENNETT: It's a way to go over the heads of what I call the alien media nation, you know, not you guys, but some of the other folks.
HANNITY: You know, maybe the president's poll numbers are up, maybe they're down at different times, and they apparently seem to be on the upswing right now. But at least this president has had resolve, Bill.
HANNITY: I see what Alan's friends in the Democratic Party have done to undermine our troops while they are in harm's way, undermine the war effort every step of the way, saying they can't win, accusing them of terrorist acts against women and children in the dark of the night, cutting and running, retreat and defeat. You know something? At least this president has been consistent and stayed strong in principle.
BENNETT: Yes. It hasn't been well put; it hasn't been well pitched. They really have not done a good job here. First of all, they're all over the map. And now the fury that they are expending at Joe Lieberman is quite striking. Look, to put it simply, they are directionless, they are demoralized, and they are, I'm sorry to say, defeatists, and that's not a good thing to be in a war.
HANNITY: It's almost like the Kerryization of the Democratic Party, that is, "All right, I'll be for the war. It'll help me now. I'm against the war now. I'll fund it, but I won't fund it. I'll do this" — Hillary is in that position, Kerry is in that position.
You know, they all laid out the case for weapons of mass destruction. Now they want to pull out. Now they're accusing our troops of crimes. It's amazing that they sort of politically have been able to navigate through those waters, hasn't it?
BENNETT: Well, this is the party of my birth, Sean. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. All we know, as Irish Catholics, were Democrats. And it was a party that I was proud to be a member of, when it stood for human rights, when it stood for these ideals, indeed intervening in other nations, as Republicans watched aghast.
But the shoe is on the other foot now. It's a shameful retreat from human rights.
HANNITY: Let me ask you: What has the Republican Party done wrong? I would argue that they went to sleep after the election and they stopped laying out the case of why we went, why we need to be there, and what we were doing at every critical juncture. Did they stop for a while?
BENNETT: Well, yes, again, offense and defense. You know, they dropped the ball. Or they called a time out, whatever.
There are some swishes in the Republican Party who fail to see the argument here and the forcefulness of the argument. And they misinterpret it, as many Democrats did, worry and anxiety on the part of the American people, which is always going to be there when there's a war going on, with some kind of radial, you know, notion of disengagement, so I think that was a disapproving thing, too.
But the White House didn't let the president get out and take his message, as he's been doing effectively over the last few days. And I think it was, again, very striking that he did the Q&A. A couple of those questions were quite tough. I thought he handled himself very well.
HANNITY: Yes, but also that they're back on offense. And now that they're again laying out their case, they weren't doing that throughout the whole summer, Cindy Sheehan.
BENNETT: That's — they tried to...
HANNITY: ... tried to sleep on it.
BENNETT: This is some of the handlers who were trying to say, "Let's bring up a more pleasant subject." Well, the American people are grown up. There's the one, two and three issue in this country is the war in Iraq. After that, there's immigration.
COLMES: By the way, they're going to change the name of the Democratic Party to Alan's friends, I understand.
COLMES: More after the break with Bill Bennett. Also coming up tonight, we'll go to Iraq where the historic elections are just two days away. Colonel Oliver North will have a live report.
Then you have seen the coffins of American soldiers returning home on airplanes, but some families are upset because not every picture looks like this. You'll hear the emotional story of one family that fought for the honor of our fallen heroes.
And we'll go live to San Quentin and talk about what happened last night with Tookie Williams.
HANNITY: As we continue on "Hannity & Colmes," I'm Sean Hannity.
Still to come tonight, we're going to go live to Iraq with a report from our own Oliver North, two days now outside of this historic election.
We continue now with Bill Bennett, host of "Morning in America." Bill, I want to just — just before Dean imploded for the latest implosion, he was predicting the Democrats would win the House and Senate in '06, they'd take back the White House in 2008.
Politically speaking, with the retreat, defeat attitude, the implosion of Dean, and Kerry, and Pelosi, and the left wing of Alan's party...
COLMES: My party.
HANNITY: ... do you think it has any impact the other way for the Republican Party? And who do you like in '08 for the Republicans for president?
BENNETT: It's very interesting. Yes, I think it does have implications for '06, certainly. And, again, I think it was a misread by Dean and others.
They interpreted Americans' anxiety, again, distress. No one likes to hear about casualty numbers, worry about the war, because, you know, you get — the way the news is presented, no wonder people worry about the war. And of course, there are things to worry about every day.
But they interpreted that as the American people were ready to retreat and then this message of, "We can't win." And that's something that the American people — they just don't want to hear. They don't have much interest in hearing...
BENNETT: ... particularly when it isn't true. But I think the signal to Republicans is to be strong, support the president. I heard General McInerney earlier on FOX, on Brit's show, saying he just got back and it's clear we're winning the war and we're winning public support.
HANNITY: But what about the implication? Do the Republicans maintain the House and Senate in '06? And who do you like, who are you looking at for '08 for the presidential side, assuming that Alan's party will nominate Hillary?
COLMES: It's called the Alan Party.
BENNETT: Alan and his friends. It may be small enough to get in a room.
HANNITY: Who do you like in '08?
BENNETT: I'll tell you whose stock is rising, is John McCain' s. And, you know, I got a lot of true-blue conservative listeners out there, Sean. And there are things that McCain does they don't like, but he is Mr. War. He is for this war. He is as articulate a defender as the president has, and I think he's been improving his stock dramatically.
COLMES: Hey, Bill, we've only got a second left here. What Democrats said we should retreat? What Democrat waved a white flag and said "surrender," as that shameless Republican — you know, Sean's Party...
COLMES: ... who said retreat? Who said that?
BENNETT: No, no. What they said was what they were shown saying in that RNC ad. And a lot of people think that constituted retreat. I think, when you take the reasonable meaning of words to say we should withdraw immediately and we cannot win...
COLMES: No one said immediately.
BENNETT: That doesn't sound like forward to me.
COLMES: Who said immediately?
HANNITY: Pelosi, after the election.
COLMES: No, she didn't.
BENNETT: Yes, yes, right. That's right.
BENNETT: ... Murtha's refinement on this.
COLMES: ... And Murtha said consistent with the safety of the troops. You could pick one Democrat who might have said it, but then you want to smear the whole party with what one person said. Democrats have not in general said we should retreat or we should immediately withdraw.
BENNETT: It is a leadership position, Nancy Pelosi. And if you poll the Democrats, back to where you started, you will see this is a party, vast majorities of which want us to withdraw as soon as possible.
COLMES: As soon as possible. Donald Rumsfeld talked the other day, last week, about removing 20,000 troops before the end of the year. Rick Santorum supported the president, according to a Quinnipiac poll, hurt his chances, are hurting his chances in Pennsylvania. And by a two to one margin, Pennsylvania voters say, you know, they don't support him for re- election if he supports the president.
BENNETT: I think, if that's the case, I think Carl Levin and Teddy Kennedy and those guys should just say, "We're with the president." What you just said was there's no disagreement. So if there's no disagreement, what are they criticizing him for?
COLMES: Is Chuck Hagel with the president?
BENNETT: No, he's not with the president. And that's...
COLMES: So there's diversity in the Republican Party, too, right?
BENNETT: Pardon me?
COLMES: There are different opinions about the war in the Republican Party, too.
BENNETT: You bet there is. You bet there is. They're not all saints. I don't know if this comes as a revelation to you, but maybe I just know them better than you do.
COLMES: Would you campaign with the president? Would you have him campaign with you if you were running for office, as Rick Santorum...
COLMES: ... has gone to the other side of the state when he's been in Pennsylvania?
BENNETT: Absolutely, I would, because it's the right thing to do. And you got to run on the right thing to do. And we're at a war. And this commander in chief is showing some courage.
HANNITY: Yes, absolutely, a backbone, unlike...
BENNETT: Thanks, guys.
HANNITY: ... Alan's friends.
COLMES: My friends. That's the name of the party, Alan's Friends.
HANNITY: Thanks, Bill, for being with us. Appreciate your time.
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