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'Special Report' Panel on Fred Thompson Factor; Progress in Iraq

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from September 6, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The whole world watches and waits as the determination of the American people is tested. My friends, if we show weakness and division, we will pay a heavy price for it in the future. We must show the determination that we are going to be united as an American people and do whatever is necessary to prevail not only in Iraq but in the worldwide conflict that lies beyond Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: That was Fred Thompson out in Iowa today reciting lines that will be familiar, if they aren't already, to Thompson partisans. Those lines were pretty much part of his video by which he announced his candidacy, and are going to be, I think, part of the stump speech which he tried out for the first time today to some applause, if you heard.

Some thoughts on his candidacy and on last night's debate from Fred Barnes, the executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Nina Easton, Washington bureau chief of Fortune Magazine and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call — FOX News contributors all.

Well, all in all, 24 hours later, Thompson is in. The debate has unfolded, with whatever results it had. Where do we stand—Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I thought Thompson's entry turned out to be—it was better than I thought. I have been very bearish on Fred Thompson, thinking that he raises these expectation that he couldn't meet. But just that bite of his speech was so much more emphatic and authoritative than the speeches he has been giving. I went to one a couple weeks ago in Indianapolis and had seen another one, and they seemed lackadaisical, and drifting, and so on. That was very good.

He was especially good on Jay Leno, in which a couple of his answers on Iraq and the war on terror were excellent, better than I would have expected from him.

But, particularly, this, when he said—he was asked by Jay Leno, "Were you in favor of the Iraq war in the beginning?" And you know what he said? He didn't beat around the bush or make excuses or qualifiers. He said, yes, he was, and then went on to explain what would have happened had he we not gone into Iraq. It was a very good answer.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: I thought that he made a mistake by ducking the debate last night. But now that it's all over, I think it was a shrewd decision.

There were eight guys on the stage there on the stage in Durham. He is all by himself on the Jay Leno show, bigger audience—sorry—and he gets all this attention. It's one against eight.

So I think it was a wise decision. And, as Fred said, I thought his delivery was forceful, and his answers to Jay Leno were sensible and stuff. What's missing so far is any kind of a signature initiative, a rationale. He is saying that I'm the one conservative who hasn't changed my mind about things—

HUME: Isn't the message I am a consistent conservative enough to make him attractive to a lot people and set him apart from much of the rest of the field?

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREUA CHIEF OF FORTUNE MAGAZINE: He still needs details, some plans. This week—

HUME: He is just starting.

EASTON: As he pointed out on Jay Leno, he is just starting. He set out to steal the show, and he stole the show. And he also got some good digs in at his opponents last night, by the way, on Jay Leno, where he said, "Some of these guys have been wanting to be president since they were in the high school choir."

And then he went on to talk about how they have been off spending millions of dollars, and I don't need to do that. I get in now, and I have just started. So he managed to even get the digs in.

But that speech—there was some reports that it got a fairly tepid response from the audience. And I continue to believe it was smart for him not to be at the debate and do this on his own terms. He really did steal the show.

But I also think it's going to be a temporary balloon. And he set very high expectations, and I don't see the evidence yet that he can meet them.

HUME: What about the debate? Who did himself good? Who did not? What—Fred?

BARNES: Seldom in the debates do you see quite as strong a consensus as I think there was on the debate that you moderated last night in Durham, and that is that John McCain was very good and may have given his campaign a significant boost, and that Mitt Romney suffered a little.

I, personally, thought that Rudy Giuliani just dragged on way too long touting his record in New York City as mayor, which is an impressive record, but I thought he belabored it. And the rest of the stuff didn't matter.

KONDRACKE: I agree. I think McCain did himself some good. And he needs to do himself some good. He has got a reverse—a long decline that has been going on. His people think this is the beginning of the turn around. We'll have to see.

I disagree with Fred on Giuliani. I think every time a question was asked of him he managed to remind people about his record, including the question about flaws in your personal record and family values. And he said, "Look, I'm not a perfect human being, but I have done great things in New York."

He managed to flip everything back to that. I didn't find it tiresome. I thought it was convincing.

HUME: Nina?

EASTON: I don't think it changed the dynamic of the race, which was the big question. I think McCain came off looking like a senior statesman, which is what he is. I think Giuliani, in these situations, he looks really comfortable in his skin, you have to say.

HUME: And what about Mitt Romney?

EASTON: And Mitt Romney—full disclosure, my husband is an advisor to Mitt Romney—I thought he was not as strong as he could have been. But I also think he did manage to get in that jab repeatedly about immigration, and was Giuliani soft on immigration by making New York a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants.

HUME: What's the deal with Mitt Romney? Look, it should be specified that the polls say he is doing very well in the two earliest states, Iowa and New Hampshire. But nationally he hasn't seemed to break out.

And we see him in these debates. He's an extraordinary good looking man with a deep, rich voice, and a radiant smile, and all of what one would think to be a full set of tools. Why is there not more impact?

KONDRACKE: It really is a chemical thing. I don't think he's connecting with people at any level. He comes off as bionic, and formulaic. He has done what he needs to do—he's shifted on abortion, he's shifted on gay rights—

HUME: Is that the problem?

KONDRACKE: Yes. It makes him look artificial, on stems cells, and so on.

HUME: Fred, quickly.

BARNES: He hasn't generated trust among conservatives. In other words, look, they want a guy like Ronald Reagan who comes to Washington and thumbs his nose at Washington and gets things done his way as a conservative, and is not eaten alive by the Washington crowd. And he hasn't convinced people that he can do that.

EASTON: I think he has run away from the core of who he was. He was much better a year-and-a-half ago.

HUME: When we return, the all stars thoughts on the Jones Report about Iraq's army, and what the Democrat's in Congress are now saying about Iraq. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JAMES JONES, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET): Those three things, the surge, the Iraqi army's performance, and al-Qaeda's reversals have been positive in terms of the Iraqi security forces. But this progress will always be measured against the overall sectarian problem in the country, and it simply has to be a political solution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: That is retired General James Jones, who had been sent on a mission to evaluate the performance of the Iraqi security forces. And he came back with a report that said the army is doing very much better, indeed, and the U.S. surge of forces has had a real impact.

He was much more bearish on the progress of the Iraqi police forces, and suggesting, even, that they might need to be disbanded and start over again on that point.

Back now with our panel—this comes at a time, panel, when Democrats are now suggesting that they will settle in legislation for something less than an absolute deadline for the withdrawal of American troops.

So where are we now in this picture as we wait for the reports from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker?

BARNES: Something happened in August that Democrats didn't expect. They expected Congress would adjourn, recess, and Republicans would go out and particularly hear from voters that they better get right on Iraq and oppose the war, and start withdrawing troops. They better do that.

Republicans didn't hear that at all. They heard practically nothing about Iraq. And I've talked to a number today. What they heard about was immigration. People are mad about the Bush administration and others on immigration and the border being leaky, and so one. That's what they were mad about.

So this support for something stronger the Democrats thought they would get by peeling off Republicans really hasn't materialized at all. So, clearly, the White House, the president, the surge, Petraeus, and the whole Iraq policy are stronger now than they were prior to August.

KONDRACKE: I think the Democrats are just out of phase with what is actually happening. And the evidence of success on the military front is beginning to be overwhelming.

You have any number, and General Jones was the latest of the people who say that things are working in certain places in Iraq. The Democrats are impervious to good news about Iraq.

And even Chuck Schumer said yesterday that Anbar had nothing to do with the United States. It's like the people who say that Ronald Reagan had nothing to do with the fall of communism. It was all Gorbachev's doing.

HUME: He said our troops have been unable to protect those people out there. So because our troops were unable, they had to band together to fight the terrorists

KONDRACKE: Funny way to band together, they called us to help them out to fight against al-Qaeda. It's just flatly wrong.

So I thought that General Jones today was basically supportive of Bush. He said that militarily we were successful, that the Iraqi army is beginning to stand up—it is not ready yet, it won't be ready for another 12 to 18 months. He is in favor of a strategic shift on the part of the United States, but not a massive withdrawal from Iraq—

HUME: Which he said that would leave a mess.

KONDRACKE: Yes. It's a withdrawal to another mission.

EASTON: I disagree on your point about Democrats being impervious. In fact, some of them are less impervious than others. And I think the fascinating thing that is happening here is that Republicans who are divided over Iraq are now more united.

The Democrats now, I think you will see a split in the coming weeks and months, because the Senate Democrats are saying, "Look, maybe we don't need a set date for withdrawal. There is a responsible way to leave, even if we want to leave."

But there is a competing faction, and I think Harry Reid is the voice of this, who sees it in their political interest to ring bells, and sound alarms, and to play to the left where, by the way, a lot of the funding for the party is coming in. You turn off the money people and turn off the left if you look like you're playing with the Bush administration on this.

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