Denny Hastert on McCain's Strategy

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This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," May 8, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: As we move closer to the general election what is Senator McCain's strategy against the Democratic nominee? What's that going to look like? Joining us now in his first interview, by the way, since leaving office, former speaker of the House Denny Hastert.

Wow, you — this — you look healthy. You've been working out? It looks like you lost some weight, you look tanned, rested.

DENNIS HASTERT, FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: My wife said I cut my diet, and she's got me working out, so I feel great.

HANNITY: Well, welcome back to the show. Now you were a Romney guy, if I remember, correct?

HASTERT: That's right.

HANNITY: OK. So that.

HASTERT: Thank, God.

Click here to watch the interview with Dennis Hastert

HANNITY: Are you happy with Senator McCain?

HASTERT: Well, you know, he's our candidate, we went through the process, he won fair and square, and I'm going to support our candidate. I think he represents Republican issues and I'll support him.

HANNITY: All right. What do you think of the early criticism from conservatives, and I have had some opposition with Senator McCain, Gang of 14, McCain-Kennedy, McCain-Feingold, McCain-Lieberman? Do you think it's been fair that conservatives are, are questioning this continuous impulse he seems to show to want to get along with Democrats that I don't think have any intention of getting along with Republicans?

HASTERT: Well, look it, you know, I was a Romney delegate, I didn't always get along with Senator McCain either, but he went through a process, it was fair and square.


HASTERT: It was what our rules say, that's how he won the election, and I will support the winner, and I think John McCain will represent the Republican principles and even conservative principles...


HASTERT: ...better than any of the other people out there.

HANNITY: I could tell you more recently, in the last week, when he came out against that North Carolina ad that mentioned Jeremiah Wright, when he mentioned the Gang of 14, and he brought back up the issue of comprehensive immigration reform, I got to tell you, Mr. Speaker, there's a lot of anger among conservatives, and there's a distrust for him that he is a solid conservative, especially in light of the reaction after the last comprehensive immigration reform proposal.

Do they have reason to be concerned?

HASTERT: Well, you know, I think John McCain certainly has his own point of view. That was aired. Certainly, during the.

HANNITY: No, no, no. I'm asking about this week. I'm asking — he said this week that he wants to go back to comprehensive immigration reform, and when I interviewed him, he said nope, I just want to secure the borders.

HASTERT: Well, you know, here's what I think, and here's where I will urge anybody in this process, is that we need to secure the borders. You have to secure the borders first. I think that's where the senator ought to focus on and I think that's where Americans can follow him.

HANNITY: Yes. Now with that said, I think the strongest thing he has going for him — I don't really see a dime's worth of difference between Hillary or Senator Obama. They're going to raise taxes, they're going to cut and run and leave Iraq vulnerable to Al Qaeda and Ahmadinejad, they're weak on homeland security, interrogations, Gitmo, I mean, judges.

So he's got a lot of support, but doesn't he need to inspire his base?

HASTERT: I think he has to inspire his base. I think he needs to spend some time talking to conservatives and talking to mainline Republicans. I think he also needs to go out and — if he's going to win this race, he's going to be able to capture independents and some moderate Democrats.


HASTERT: I think that's the strategy that he's going to have to follow.

COLMES: Mr. Speaker, it's Alan Colmes. Welcome back to our show. You look great.

HASTERT: My pleasure. Thank you.

COLMES: By the way, I don't believe Democrats will be raising taxes for everybody. They've talked about the top 2 percent. We could talk about those issues.

But what I want to ask you. When Sean just asked you, are you happy about Senator McCain being the nominee, your answer was, well, he's our candidate. Not exactly — it doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement on his part.

HASTERT: Look, John McCain best represents the Republican principles of any candidate that's left in the fray. And I think John will work towards that. I worked with John early on in my congressional career, cut taxes, gave senior citizens the ability to go out and work and not be saddled with Social Security, so we share a lot of ideas.

COLMES: What are your differences with him?

HASTERT: Well, you know, I — it was basically House differences versus Senate differences. But we worked to cut taxes, sometimes John worked through that process, and it didn't happen by right away.

COLMES: Did you vote against the Bush tax cut?

HASTERT: But eventually we got it done.

COLMES: He voted against the Bush tax cuts. And now he says he's going to cut taxes.

HASTERT: But he also said that he will support the Bush tax cuts now. That's what he said.

COLMES: Is that a flip-flop?

HASTERT: Well, I'm saying that this is what he supports at this time.

COLMES: Well, let me ask you about your seat which went Democratic and more recently a Louisiana seat in a firmly Republican district went Democratic. Is that a signal about how unpopular Republicans are as of now? Do you take that as a signal about which way things are going in this country?

HASTERT: Look it, my seat, we had a pretty nasty primary, and we had a general four weeks later, and people never got a chance to mend their fences. I think that my seat will be a lot different when the — when general is here in November. We'll see.

COLMES: When you — if you're going to go against Obama if he's the nominee, do you fight him on the issues that Sean just raised, differences on the Iraq war, troop strength, taxes, things like that, or do you fight him on the issue of associations whether it's Bill Ayers or whether it's his pastor? Do you see those as the ways Republicans should fight against the likely Democratic nominee?

HASTERT: Look, I think if Republicans are going to win the presidential nominee or make headway in the U.S. Congress or the U.S. Senate, they have to take about real issues, things that Americans care about. I think Americans have primary fatigue. They're tired of the finger-pointing. They want to hear what we're going to do about energy, they want to hear what we're going to do about.

COLMES: So you don't care about his pastor? And you don't care about the Ayers thing? That's of no interest to you.

HASTERT: I didn't say that, I didn't say that. I think, but people — you know, we've got to give people credit for some common sense. If you look at a person who's gone to a church for 20 years and listened to that pastor for 20 years and stayed there...

COLMES: All right.

HASTERT: ...most people they disagree, they'd change churches. So you have to make your own decisions.

COLMES: We got to run. We thank you very much for coming on the program.

HASTERT: My pleasure. Thank you.

COLMES: Thanks so much.

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