Karen Hughes on the President's Debate Performance
This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," Sept. 30, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Welcome to a special post-debate edition of Hannity & Colmes. I'm Alan Colmes coming to you live from Spin Alley at the University of Miami. We'll be joined tonight by Richard Holbrooke, Peggy Noonan, General Tommy Franks, Senator Bob Graham and Dick Morris. But first, joining us now is senior advisor to the Bush campaign, Karen Hughes. Karen, thanks so much for being here tonight.
KAREN HUGHES, SENIOR BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
COLMES: Well this is one of those deals where the people who support the President will say he did great. People who support Senator Kerry will say he did great...
HUGHES: Well, I think what the American people will say is that they saw tonight a president who is absolutely committed to keeping them and their families safe. And he was able to wage and win this war against terror. On the other hand, they saw a candidate who sort of was incoherent, once again on his position on Iraq.
COLMES: But the question is, "Will minds be changed tonight?" That really is the goal. To get the swing voters, the independent voters.
HUGHES: Well, I think so. I think when people look at the President tonight, they saw his heart, they saw his strength, they saw that - how deeply he feels about the lives of the soldiers that he has put at risk for what he believes is absolutely the right reasons and for the safety and security of our country.
COLMES: Where do you think the President could have done a little better?
HUGHES: Well, I'm not the right person to ask that. Ask one of Senator Kerry's - I thought that he did a wonderful job of, again, showing his heart, showing the depth of his convictions of what we have to do to win this war against terror. Of showing how he comes to work every morning worried about protecting the American people and doing the best job he can of waging and winning the war on against...
COLMES: I don't think anybody...
HUGHES: And the great progress that we're making, and the great progress we're making in that...
COLMES: I don't...
HUGHES: Senator Kerry, on the other hand, had to - I think had one critical test tonight, and that was to try to establish some credibility on the major issue in this campaign, which is Iraq. And not only did he fail to do that, but he made his hole even deeper by saying that the war was a mistake. This was a war he voted for...
COLMES: Well, you...
HUGHES: That he said was the right thing to do...
COLMES: No Karen, you say that he made a - you know, that you don't think he advanced his cause tonight, but I thought he was actually pretty clear about that once again saying that he voted to give the President the authority under certain conditions. But he felt those conditions weren't met and that is why he felt he had been misled. And that why he cast the vote but didn't believe that the President acted properly.
HUGHES: The only problem with that, Alan is that in 1991 when he voted against the Gulf War, he said he knew it was a vote to go to war, that these votes are not votes to authorize force or to wait and see or to give authority. But they're votes to go to war. And that is -- he stood up on this floor of the Senate, he talked about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed, he talked about the only thing consistent, about Senator Kerry's position through all this has been his willingness to change positions when the heat gets on...
COLMES: But he said...
HUGHES: He did it during the democratic primary.
COLMES: He also said tonight, though, that when he voted back then and President Bush 41 stopped - and he actually quoted what Brent Scowcroft said about not going into Baghdad because there was no exit strategy to do that, and he was very clear. That was a very different kind of a war and he talked about that tonight.
HUGHES: And you know what? That exposed his fatal misunderstanding. And that is that he doesn't understand the difference that September 11th made. September 11th, we were attacked. And that's the difference. That is a big difference...
COLMES: Not by Iraq.
HUGHES: ...from 11 years before. By terrorists who want to gain informational materials to develop weapons of mass destruction. Iraq(ph) clearly had that capability.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: First of all I never saw the President this passionate or articulate or really on his game tonight.
HUGHES: I think those who work with him, we see that every day and we know that is how he feels about this. Because he understands the security of our country and all our families are at risk and I think he was able to get that...
HANNITY: And also, he came off as real -- I think what the President did very effectively tonight is he showed Kerry is weak, unreliable and unsteady as it relates to the war on terror. And a flip- flopper. The only thing consistent about John Kerry is he is inconsistent. That is...
HUGHES: And also that he has no plan. I thought the defining moment of the debate was when he turned to him and said, ask our allies to join us, and in a grand diversion? I mean, what kind of credibility would a President Kerry have in going to allies or going to troops or going to anyone and getting them to come with us and try to help is in this fight against the global terror network.
HANNITY: Karen, when John Kerry says tonight it was a colossal misjudgment; this is the same John Kerry that says, I support the fact that we disarmed him. And he -- he said he supported the decision to disarm him. How does he reconcile this?
HUGHES: I don't think he can.
HANNITY: I know he says it affirmatively and with confidence. But how to you go from that position to this one and have any credibility with the American people?
HUGHES: I don't think he can. In fact I think he further undermined his own credibility tonight in two sentences, one, he said, I think it was a mistake to go into Iraq, and next he said, no, but our soldiers are dying for a mistake. Well, you can't have it both ways. And he continued that pattern of trying to have it both ways. I think he made it clear he has no plan. I think his plan is to maybe have some sort of international conference. We've had lots of international conferences. The President attends them all the time. And an international conference was not going to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
HANNITY: Didn't we get the real answer yesterday, which I think was just frankly shocking for the American people when [Good Morning America's] Diane Sawyer (search) said to John Kerry, was it worth it? And he said it depends on the outcome.
HUGHES: It depends on the outcome. What kind of leadership is that?
HANNITY: I don't know.
HUGHES: That I guess if we win it was worth it, if we lose it maybe it wasn't. And I couldn't help but think, can you imagine a President Lincoln (search) standing at Gettysburg and saying it depends on the outcome...
HANNITY: It depends on the outcome.
HUGHES: Or Franklin Roosevelt (search) in World War II. It depends on the outcome. No. Those leaders understood you can be realistic and optimistic. But you send a signal to your troops, to your allies, to your enemies that we will win.
HANNITY: Clearly, the President went in very, very prepared tonight in this way. I was amazed that he had John Kerry's quotes down extensively, as it relates to Saddam, his weapons of mass destruction.
HUGHES: That was a little hard, too, because he kept changing them. It was hard because he had to keep changing the quotes he memorized.
HANNITY: Do you worry how the American people will perceive these debates? Is that a concern, in other words, that perhaps maybe they didn't know all of John Kerry's differing positions going in and tonight John Kerry, now 45 days out of the debate, about 10 days ago, had settled on a position, so he settles on it confidently? Does that concern you, that acting, or that veneer may come off as solid?
HUGHES: Well, I don't think so. Because I think the American people have to take everything he said tonight with a grain of salt because he could change his mind tomorrow. That is what he has done throughout the campaign.
HANNITY: And it is your job to hammering home the different positions.
HANNITY: It depends on the outcome. I voted for the $87 billion. I voted against it. He actually went after the President on the funding of armor. And I'm like well, he voted against the funding.
HUGHES: He voted against the funding of armor. Exactly. So I think he furthered -- somebody described him as a pretzel, that he's all twisted around himself on his conflicting...
HANNITY: Just like he went after the President on a war that he voted for. And I'm sitting there thinking, "What is that? How do you take that position?" Well...
HANNITY: So you feel good about tonight.
HUGHES: We feel great about - I think the American people again saw the President's real heart and passion, and I think they have no doubt that he goes to the Oval Office every morning with one thing on his mind, and that's how can I best protect the American people?
COLMES: Thank you very much.
HANNITY: Good to see you, Karen, thank you.
HUGHES: Thank you all very much for having me.
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