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Hannity

William Weld on John Kerry

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," Sept. 30, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Our next guest knows exactly what President Bush is up against in the big debate tomorrow. Former Massachusetts governor William Weld debated John Kerry eight times during the 1996 Senate race. He joins us now.

How are you, Governor?

WILLIAM WELD, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: I'm great, Sean.

HANNITY: Good to see you. You're looking good.

WELD: Thank you (ph).

HANNITY: Thank you for being with us.

Did you think at the time that you won those debates?

WELD: I thought I held my own in the debates. It wasn't until this year when I went back and read the transcripts that I realized how good this guy is.

And I think his mastery of the subject matter is so great that he can listen to what the other person is saying and pivot and twirl better than if he had to, you know, pay some attention to substance as he went along. And I think that's the advantage.

HANNITY: So now you think — in retrospect you think he won?

WELD: It's never been clearer than it is now that he won those debates, yes.

HANNITY: That's an interesting, fascinating take.

All right. I saw one of the interesting exchanges, or two of them. One is when he was going after you about being soft on crime and you brought up, "You're the guy that game weekend furloughs."

You also debated a topic that I think is relevant now, over the death penalty for terrorists who kill Americans. And you were challenging him on not supporting those.

Let's show a little exchange here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY: The reason that I am opposed and a lot of U.S. attorneys and others are opposed to applying the death penalty against anybody who commits a crime abroad or in any terrorist act is that most countries in the world have laws against extraditing people to the United States because of the death penalty.

So if in fact you have a death penalty, in fact, in the United States, you're never going to get your hands on those terrorists, Governor, because no country will extradite them to us.

Columbia recently changed its constitution and withdrew its extradition. So in fact, your policy is a terrorist protection policy. My policy is a policy to put them in jail for the rest of their life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HANNITY: Governor, you haven't aged a bit.

He has since flipped on the issue. Give us some insight into him.

WELD: I just remember at the thinking what a, you know, piece of prestidigitation, you know. It was just a contortion almost, because I was very strong on the death penalty and he was on the other side. And so to say that, you know, my position was the one that was soft on terrorism...

HANNITY: He does that a number of times. He did that on the crime issue. And you're like, "You're the guy that gave weekend furloughs."

WELD: But you've got to give him credit. He got out of a logical box there. He talked his way out of a logical box.

COLMES: He is not in favor of the death penalty for terrorists and then he says, "Well, 9/11 happened."

President Bush was against nation building, and now he — he said, "I'll never do nation building." And now he's doing it. And that's because 9/11 happened.

People change their point of view based on changing events. There are times when one evolves a position.

WELD: I think something like the change on terrorists because of 9/11, I think that's understandable.

COLMES: All right. Now, let me — first of all, I thought it was interesting. Some of the things that got said during that debate, he told you you switched positions faster than Dick Morris, the president's adviser.

WELD: I thought that was a cheap shot.

COLMES: You thought it was a cheap shot. He said the prisoners were less frightened of you than Inspector Clousseau.

And he said that you could talk but not perform. Was all that fair? And is that fair rhetoric in a debate?

WELD: All is fair in love and war in a high stakes event.

COLMES: Or are you personally offended by that stuff?

WELD: No, I mean, I thought — I thought they were canned. I mean, I was hoping people would see them as having been fed to them.

COLMES: But everybody goes into a debate with some canned lines ahead of time, right?

WELD: I think that's fair to say.

COLMES: You probably did a little of that?

WELD: Yes.

COLMES: What should...

WELD: I tried to make them related to the substance, as opposed to Inspector Clousseau and Dick Morris. So...

COLMES: How would you debate John Kerry differently now?

WELD: Well, I probably would treat him with greater respect for his positions and ability even than I did. As I was saying to Sean, I think it's very important to be able to listen to what the other person was saying.

And one thing I think I did wrong was I wasn't paying enough attention to what he was saying. I was saying to myself, this is typical liberal, Democratic pap. It doesn't mean anything. It's — it's rehearsed.

And yet, when you read it, it reads very well. The guy speaks in complete paragraphs. It's one of his great strengths.

COLMES: That really changed the dynamic in that race. Shall we look at this presidential race the same way, that this debate tomorrow night, particularly the first one, can change the dynamic of this presidential race.

WELD: Well, I'll tell you, I think John Kerry is a great debater. So I have to agree with you that he has an opportunity to shine here. This is his real natural milieu.

COLMES: Hasn't the party been lowering expectations for Bush, though? They want to play that game but make it think whatever George Bush says is better than expected.

So that's a game that the Republicans can play.

WELD: I didn't think I was chopped liver back here in '96. I'd just been reelected with 71 percent of the vote.

And I lost to this guy, and I lost in large measure on account of the debates so when I say he's a great debater, it comes from the heart.

HANNITY: All right. We're going to take a break. More coming up. We'll talk about what weaknesses either one of them might have in some of the debates here.

And should Kerry be aggressive? Should he be aggressive?

And we'll talk about the different styles you can anticipate tomorrow. The stakes are quite high for Kerry in the upcoming debate. So will he be able to keep his flip-flopping to a minimum? We'll ask Governor Weld next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLMES: Welcome back to HANNITY AND COLMES. I'm Alan COLMES.

We continue with former Massachusetts Governor William Weld.

You're a libertarian Republican, socially liberal. Many conservatives said too liberal to be a Republican, and yet you are supporting President Bush, who is nowhere near where you are on the political scale, right? In many respects you probably agree with John Kerry on a lot of...

(CROSSTALK)

WELD: On a couple of issues. Abortion, yes.

But I'll tell you. I do know President Bush well, and welcomed in him as a freshman governor after I'd been in for a term. And I do have a strong sense that the guy is a compassionate conservative. I talked to him as he was formulating the No Child Left Behind law. And I know he believes that he doesn't want any kid to be denied opportunity...

COLMES: Right.

WELD: ... and he believes that and acts on that, I think, a lot more than many other...

(CROSSTALK)

COLMES: But there's a whole range of issues — William Weld is not a conservative, per se.

WELD: Well, I'm very conservative on fiscal policy, on crime, on welfare, and I agree with the president on education. It's really...

COLMES: What do you agree with John Kerry?

WELD: I hate to say it — the sex issues, abortion and gay rights, is where I'm over there on the libertarian side.

COLMES: And you probably agree with John Kerry on those issues?

WELD: Absolutely, yes. No, my position is libertarian and anti- government, if you will, on almost all issues.

COLMES: The debates you had with John Kerry are considered models. They've compared to the Lincoln/Douglas debates. But the debates we are going to see are not going by those rules, are they? They're not going to engage with each other. They're not going to question each other, not follow up questions. So we're not going to see the same kind of presentation.

WELD: I think it's a pity, in a way, you won't see the direct exchange between the candidates in these debates. You could say that that's bad for Senator Kerry because he is so skillful and can, you know, throw a punch and knows the issues so well.

On the other hand, you could say that's bad for President Bush, because it deprives him of the opportunity to hone in and repeat question his opponent and really pin him like a butterfly to a specific stance on an issue. And that could be something that President Bush would want to do if he had the opportunity.

COLMES: Having debated John Kerry, people would ask you, "What advice would you give to President Bush?" I want to ask you the converse question. What advice would you give to John Kerry, knowing him as well as you do, debating George Bush?

WELD: Well, I'd say, you know, relax, stay relaxed. You don't have to get an A-plus on substance in this debate. You're not running for president of the Oxford Union or the Yale debating society. And have a good time.

COLMES: You have said he knows the issues cold.

WELD: Absolutely.

COLMES: That he is very articulate on the issues, but debates are about so much more than that, those little moments that you can't predict or define, right?

WELD: That's exactly right, yes. It's the interstices, when someone...

COLMES: But he will not use the word "interstices" probably during the debate.

WELD: That's absolutely correct. But, you know, the viewers probably get as much when people aren't talking as they do when they are talking.

COLMES: So what do you look for? What should we be looking for in the debate?

WELD: I look for attitude. I'm not sure you're going to see it with the camera angles that they've agreed to. But I, and like, I think, the majority of people, I look for personality, character, and attitude. And it's not necessarily what's being said.

COLMES: What do you think the issues are?

WELD: I think the issue in this debate is Iraq and foreign policy, and are we fighting a war, which would help Bush. Is it a clash of cultures or civilizations, which would favor the more nuanced Kerry approach. And I think the president has a huge built-in advantage there, because I think we are fighting a war. I mean, you get kidnappings and beheadings and car bombs and suicide bombs. That's not a cultural clash.

HANNITY: Hey, Governor, he took a number of cheap shots at you in your debates. We mentioned a couple of them earlier. Do you expect he is going to — in this situation, for the presidency...

WELD: First of all, I didn't think they were that cheap.

And second, for the presidency, he's not going to say, "You change your position more often than Dick Morris," or "They're more no scared of you than they are of Inspector Clouseau." That's unpresidential.

HANNITY: Yes. Because he has taken on a very aggressive posture since he's brought the Clinton people into his campaign, very aggressive. And he's been basically calling the president a liar, misled the American people at every turn. Will we hear that?

WELD: I think you're going to hear the anti-war John Kerry. And I think that's the real John Kerry.

I mean, the vote that I think was off that he took was the vote in favor of the second Gulf War. I think he didn't really want to do that, but there was a feeling at that point that you couldn't win as a Democrat against George Bush unless you were for the war. And then, you know, months later, Howard Dean did so well as an anti-war candidate, that changed the chemistry.

HANNITY: So this is the real — now, 44 days, with the aggressive anti-war John Kerry. This is the real John Kerry finally we found and...

WELD: I think so. Just in time.

HANNITY: Well, 50 percent of the people in Massachusetts in a recent survey — 50 percent, Governor — think he'd take any position, that he doesn't have any convictions, that he would take whatever position would benefit his political career.

WELD: Well, he knows a lot about a lot of issues. And the difficulty with articulating that is, if you're president of the United States, you make 50 decisions a day. I know. I've been a chief executive and president is even more so. And you don't have the opportunity to have two or three positions on the issue you're deciding. They're binary yes or no decisions. And that's a point that I think the president can and should stress.

HANNITY: What is the president's weaknesses here, going into this debate and what is John Kerry's weaknesses?

WELD: I think Kerry can show enormous candle power and that's a plus for him. And I would advise the president not to try to run for president of the Yale debating society, either. I do think the president comes across as warmer and more engaging in conversation, because he is.

HANNITY: Right.

WELD: Beyond a certain point, people come across as the way they really are.

HANNITY: Yes. Should the president keep challenging the different positions that John Kerry has had? I mean, you know, I'll give you an example. When Diane Sawyer asked him today, you know, so was it worth it? And his answer literally is it depends on the outcome.

WELD: Yes, I'm sorry. I don't mean to be unkind. But I watched that clip in the greenroom, and I thought it was from February or March during the Democratic primaries. I couldn't believe that was current.

HANNITY: It was from today.

WELD: Right, couldn't believe it.

HANNITY: Expand on that. Because of all the differing positions? This is — now, I run through my positions like this. Voted for the war, wouldn't fund the war, $87 billion before he voted against it...

WELD: Well, you know, it was not so long ago that the president asked him, "Would you have voted for the war..."

HANNITY: That was August.

WELD: Yes, August, "if you knew what you know now," and he said, "Absolutely, yes." This thing today was really 180 degrees from that, and I couldn't put a shine on that sneaker.

HANNITY: All right, but that was yes. And then he was asked on Imus's show, and he said no. And now he said it depends on the outcome. So that's three separate unique positions on the same question.

WELD: You can't say it depends on the outcome. That's like justifying an illegal search by the evidence that turns up.

HANNITY: But isn't that the problem John Kerry has? What I don't understand is, I think this is his biggest weakness here. It's almost to the point, I say, it's incoherent.

Now, the challenge, I think, for the president is to expose that. And he has to, I think, by memory have the quotations of Kerry. Would that be beneficial for him to bring those things up?

WELD: You know, I had by memory his votes, and I quoted chapter and verse, the number of the vote, the day it occurred and he still slipped away. He still slipped away. He got out of the logical boxes by talking and talking and talking very fast. He has the trident and the net.

(CROSSTALK)

COLMES: Hey, Governor, thank you very much. Appreciate having you here tonight.

WELD: Thank you, Alan.

COLMES: Nice to see you. Pleasure being on the program.

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