This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, January 3, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to 2004. I ... to stay focused on our economy so people can find work and stay focused on working to keep the peace. And by spreading freedom and by holding people to account who are willing to harm innocent, innocent people around the world. But it's -- I think 2004's going to be a great year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: I'm Mort Kondracke.
BILL SAMMON, GUEST CO-HOST: And I'm Bill Sammon, in for Fred Barnes.
Well, Bush said it, Bush's New Year, it's going to be great for him, at least he thinks it is. You know, he began it, interestingly enough, by firing off his first fundraising letter of 2004, and it contains a fascinating glimpse at his campaign strategy.
It all boils down to two words, Mort, that were in that letter, one, angry, as in Howard Dean, and two, optimistic, as in George Bush.
It's interesting how they're setting -- how they're framing this debate. If you read the letter, it says that, the Democrats are, "energizing their party's left wing with angry attacks." Secondly, Bush contrasts this with his own philosophy, which he describes as, "optimistic, compassionate, conservative philosophy."
Now, Karl Rove (search) once told me that he's a firm believer in the notion that Americans tend to elect sunny, optimistic personalities as president. You got, you got Ronald Reagan (search), Bill Clinton (search), the list goes on and on.
And I think the White House is essentially betting this time that Americans are not going to vote for angry white male, to borrow a phrase from a decade ago, which the left used against conservatives in the '94 elections.
So it's interesting to see, I think this letter is important in that it gives us that first glimpse into the campaign strategy. Up until now, Mort, the president has always said there'll be a time for politics, I'm not going to wade into it. The one exception being about three weeks ago, when I essentially goaded him into responding to Howard Dean. Remember when Howard Dean was musing that Bush might have had advance knowledge of 9/11? And Bush said ... Well, that's an absurd insinuation.
Aside from that exception, this marks the first time that Bush is publicly stating his campaign strategy. And again, it boils down to angry versus optimistic. I think it's a winning strategy.
KONDRACKE: Isn't it funny how George W. Bush becomes a compassionate conservative every time there's a, there's about to be a presidential election, and then forgets about it completely for the...
SAMMON: How convenient.
KONDRACKE: ... For the rest of the year. But he does have a lot of other things going for him going into the campaign.
Late Christmas sales were pretty good, the stock market is booming, the new unemployment figures are, new unemployment claims are the lowest there've been in three years. And in foreign policy, even though we haven't discovered weapons of mass destruction (search) yet, still the Iraq war is paying dividends for -- in Libya and Iran and maybe even in North Korea.
And then, on top of everything else going for Bush, is the subject of our second hot story, which is the Teflon Dean. I mean, no matter what this guy, Howard Dean, says or does, he is, remains the Democratic front-runner. I mean, he said that, and then he pulled it back, of course, that he wouldn't prejudge what ought to happen to Usama bin Laden after a jury trial...
SAMMON: The worst of the whoppers, it was that one.
KONDRACKE: Right, exactly, yes. And then, you know, he consistently says that Saddam Hussein ... his capture hasn't made America any safer, when plainly it has, and all of his foes say it has.
He said that he was suddenly going to, going to start talking about Jesus Christ and his faith in the South...
SAMMON: Only in the South.
KONDRACKE: ... in the South, after he said that campaigns in the South should not be about God, gays, and guns.
So, I mean, it's one thing after another. And here's what Congressman Dick Gephardt, his rival, had to say about all this backs and forths. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People want somebody who has steady, who have steady hands and who doesn't make contradictory statements almost every day. I mean, in the last days, Howard Dean's had to have a daily clarifying statement of some statement he made the day before. That's not the kind of candidate that can beat George Bush.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KONDRACKE: And then, of course, Howard Dean was asked to comment about all this kind of stuff, and he says, it's not lethal ammunition that's being gathered up, even by the Bush campaign. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People think we're going to have a hard time beating George Bush? I don't think so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KONDRACKE: Well, you know, a friend of mine, a Democratic friend of mine, encapsulated the whole thing for me. He said, look, if we're going to lose, we're going to go down fighting with our boots on. And at the rate they're going, with Dean as the nominee, the boots are going to be made of lead.
SAMMON: It's unbelievable. I mean, this guy started out with a brilliant campaign, and arguably is still waging a brilliant campaign that transformed him to -- from underdog to front-runner. But yet he is going through clearly the roughest patch right now of his road to the Democratic nomination.
I think it boils down to three things, gaffes, whining, and temper tantrums. Now, you, you did a good job outlining his gaffes. I would also add that that Usama bin Laden was by far the worst, to say that he's basically innocent until proven guilty. That is going to come back and haunt Dean.
But the problem, Mort, is that he now risks being typecast as sort of a gaffe-master in the way that Al Gore was typecast as the serial exaggerator in the 2000 campaign. It gets to be a real sort of monkey on your back, to the point where the press starts looking for every public utterance and trying to fit it into that template of Dean the gaffe-man, meister.
And so I think that's a very dangerous thing for him.
Now, the whining is also a problem. Recently Dean said that Terry McAuliffe (search), the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, should call off the dogs, meaning his Democratic rivals for the nomination, because they were attacking him too much.
Memo to Howard Dean, your own loose lips have caused you more trouble than all of the other Democratic candidates' attacks combined.
It's a problem of self-inflicted wounds, not wounds inflicted by these other rivals.
And it also, by whining, it runs counter to Dean's image as sort of a fearless fighter. It makes him look kind of wimpy, and it's not the right strategy at all.
Finally, his temper, I think, can really get him into trouble. You know, he is now saying that his Deaniacs, the million or million and a half people that he's got through the Internet and so on and so forth, he will no longer transfer them over to, if he loses the nomination, to the whoever wins the nomination.
Take a look at what he had to say recently, Mort. "If I don't win the nomination, where do you think those million and a half people, half a million on the Internet, where do you think they're going to go? I don't know where they're going to go. They're certainly not going to go vote for a conventional Washington politician."
KONDRACKE: Well, if he doesn't instruct them to go, should he not win the nomination, then he will be a pariah in his party. He should be saying, you know, I'll bring them along to whomever, whoever wins, and this is going to be fair and square. But anyway...
SAMMON: It smacks of taking my marbles and going home if I don't get to be the first one to play.
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