This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from September 1, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE DUNCAN, RNC CHAIRMAN: My fellow Republicans. It is my honor to call to order the 39th quadrennial Republican National Convention!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, CO-HOST: That's Republican Chairman Mike Duncan who gaveled this convention to order on this first Monday, but not for long and not for much, and much of what was done had to do with a fundraising appeal for the victims of hurricane Gustav.
Some thoughts on this whole deal now from Fred Barnes, executive editor to "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for National Public Radio, Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard, and Morton M. Kondracke, the executive editor of "Roll Call," FOX News contributors all.
What about it, Mort? The Republicans have this apparent terrible misfortune. The first day their convention plans have to be scuttled in favor of a little fundraising effort here and just a little bit of business. Is this all a bad thing?
MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": No. I think, assuming that the worst is over, and the worst has not been that bad, assuming that, I think it comes out actually a net plus.
One thing, President Bush and Dick Cheney, who are deeply unpopular in the country, are not a appearing on primetime.
HUME: Not appearing here.
KONDRACKE: No, but they are out in the country, so no reminders of them.
It's easy enough. This is a one-day dampening of the convention. They can reconstitute the rest of the convention quite nicely with Joe Lieberman and Cindy McCain coming back, presumably, to make her speech.
And they have handled it really well. The idea that they could shift from a planned convention to making it a fundraiser and all about helping folks hurt by the thing indicates flexibility on the McCain part.
And lastly, the five governors who are all Republicans who are handling this, plus the federal government, come out of this, you know, well.
So I think it's a big net plus, actually.
HUME: Do you agree with that, Bill?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Absolutely. And Mort's right. I don't say that too often, but I feel it's important to say that when it's true.
Look, less is sometimes more. They didn't need a four-day convention. A three or two-day convention will be fine. The drama will be the speeches, obviously, of Governor Palin and Senator McCain. And I think the McCain campaign has shown the kind of agility here in scrapping this.
You know, there is so much pressure, and I have been in these situations. It is all set up this way. We spend so much money. People expect this. The delegates will be disappointed. And the strong tendency is to say OK, let's go ahead with the way it was planned. And I think the McCain campaign has shown pretty good agility in scrapping it.
HUME: There is an interesting question, Mara, that kind of overrides this whole election, and that is the extent to which a more successful relief evacuation and response effort for this hurricane can erase what I think become I think a nearly indelible stain on the Republican brand from Katrina. Can it?
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes. I don't know if it can erase it completely, but it can go a long way to mitigate it.
Katrina, I think, more than anything else, is responsible for the Republican brand suffering the way it has. Yes, of course, if they do a fabulous job, that's going to help.
HUME: Of course, the smaller the storm is, the less of a challenging job they have to do.
LIASSON: And I agree with Mort and Bill--assuming this is a one- day natural disaster story and they get back to the convention tomorrow, it's fine. McCain's stock and trade is reacting to a crisis.
Of course, he has a mind for foreign policy crisis, but he is a man of action, and he is quick to turn on a dime. He has done this before in his own campaign when he had to he reinvent his campaign back in June.
But, look, I think that the one thing that has cost them is that he would have gotten a lot more attention to the Sarah Palin pick. Instead, Gustav was the big story. So I think that has cost him. Maybe he would have gotten a little bit bigger bounce than he has.
But I think all in all it will be OK if they can erase a little bit of the stain of Katrina and get back to business somehow.
HUME: Well, more on Sarah Palin later, Fred, but your thoughts on the effect of all of this.
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, Brit, I would like you to know that I agree with Mara at least as much as Bill agrees with Mort, and maybe more!
HUME: We work so hard, we built this panel up to four of you to make sure there was balance, and now we have agreement across the board! What's going on here?
BARNES: I can sum this up in three words: "Gustav trumps Katrina."
BARNES: Look, among Democrats, is that it reminds everybody of Katrina. No, I think it practically erases it. It reminds people of how well this was handled--a smaller problem, but as Mort says, five Republican governors plus President Bush.
And I also don't think it would have been a problem if people were reminded that President Bush is president and Dick Cheney is vice president. You know? I think they kind of knew that, whether they appeared here or not.
But all in all, this has turned out, I agree with Mort and Mara, a big net plus.
KONDRACKE: Can I disagree with Fred? It does not erase Katrina. Katrina is indelibly in America's memory. This was a much less severe hurricane. But it was handled well. I think it mitigates it to some extent, but it doesn't erase it.
BARNES: It erases Katrina for this reason, though--it is not McCain's problem, it is not the problem of these governors, and Bush will be gone. And this new Republican reaction was a good one.
HUME: All right. We're going to talk a little bit more about the race, about Sarah Palin and about the news that affected her today coming up next. Stay tuned.
HUME: Governor Sarah Palin released a statement on behalf of herself and her family today which reads, in part, "Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we ever planned. We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby, and even prouder to become grandparents.
As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support. Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family."
This set off some noise, particularly in the left wing blogosphere, and perhaps elsewhere as well, to which Barack Obama responded as follows. Watch:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think people's families are off limits, and people's children are especially off limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to governor Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: So the question arises--Senator Obama's reaction, no doubt welcomed by the McCain campaign and by many other Republicans as well. Was that because, Fred, he thought that this was really legitimately off limits, or because he thought that attempts to capitalize on it would backfire and that this was the way to go politically, or both?
BARNES: You know, I thought, that for me, anyway, it reinforced the idea I already had, that Barack Obama is a very decent human being. And that was the right response, and more power to him. So it was a very nice thing to do.
You know, I was as surprised as everybody else by this announcement today, but I was even sort of dumbfounded by some of the criticism of the Palin family and Sarah Palin as a mother.
Sally Quinn of The Washington Post, who probably most accurately reflects inside the Beltway thinking better than anybody inside the Beltway, wrote this, she said this, the 17-year-old daughter getting pregnant "This may be a hard one for the Republican family values crowd to swallow."
That's exactly wrong. It is the Republican conservative family values group, many of whom are Christians, who are the most forgiving and accepting and most admiring of the fact that this 17-year-old girl is not going to have an abortion and is going to get married.
I mean these are the people who realize that we're sinful, we're imperfect, and that's why we're Christians, because we need Jesus Christ in our lives.
This doesn't understand that at all. It is a crazy notion that somehow that conservative family values people are going to be upset by this. They're going to be very understanding and forgiving.
LIASSON: And, on the contrary, what I have seen of conservative family values reactions on the Internet today is that they think this is fine. It has not dented Sarah Palin's aura as a conservative folk hero.
And, also, the other thing is that in terms of the people that they're trying to target -- the McCain-Palin ticket -- there are hundreds of thousands of families where they either have a 17-year-old girl who has gotten pregnant or they know one. This is a completely normal occurrence.
And I think that the campaign handled it fine, and Barack Obama's reaction was absolutely correct. And he even pointed out that his mother was 18 when he was born.
KONDRACKE: I agree completely with what Fred and Mara have said. However--
HUME: What has become of my panel?
KONDRACKE: Just a minute. I think it should cause conservatives to reconsider "abstinence-only" methods of preventing teenage pregnancy. Clearly it didn't work in this case.
LIASSON: You don't know what they were told!
KONDRACKE: Hold on just a second! We have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the entire industrialized world. We have the most reactionary federal government policy on sex education. And it seems to me that they ought to adjust, because kids do get pregnant. They do engage in sex, and abstinence only ought not be the only rule.
HUME: Hold it! Bill, your turn.
KRISTOL: I think normal people have the reaction that people's family lives should be private. Their daughters and sons' lives should be private. You don't have the foggiest idea, Mort, what her practices were. It is really inappropriate to even discuss it.
I find it disgusting, actually, to use someone's private life to...
KRISTOL: If you believe strongly that the federal government should have a certain birth control policy, fine, make that case. Don't use the example of a 17-year-old girl about who you know nothing to make that case.
KONDRACKE: Look, I know what her mother's policy is. Her mother's policy is abstinence only. Her mother's policy, government policy is abstinence only. Alaska has applied for funds under the abstinence only program.
KRISTOL: And birth control isn't available in Alaska?
KONDRACKE: I'm sure it is, but it's not encouraged.
HUME: So you think that's why she got pregnant?
KONDRACKE: Obviously... I don't want to go there!
HUME: Mort, you already stepped there.
KONDRACKE: The young woman got pregnant. They were not obviously using abstinence-only techniques. So--
KRISTOL: Birth control is all over the place, and teenage pregnancy has gone way down, right?
HUME: Let's take a look at the couple of polls here. The Gallup daily tracking poll, which at the end of last week said Obama was up eight now has that at six, and the Rasmussen daily tracking poll, which gets a somewhat larger sample and deals with likely voters as opposed to merely registered voters, has the margin at three.
So what does that tell us really quickly about the state of this race, Bill Kristol?
KRISTOL: The Obama convention bounce was less than they expected, less than I expected. The Palin announcement has been pretty popular, and a lot will be depend on the McCain and Palin speeches here.
HUME: All right, very good. Thanks panel, and thanks for not agreeing on everything. Mort, thank you for that.
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