Not Going Negative

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," January 1 , 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, "HANNITY & COLMES" CO-HOST: We are less than 48 hours out of the Iowa caucus and all eyes are on the candidates. Every move is being scrutinized. Mike Huckabee, well, he has had much of the attention focused his way, from his war of words with Mitt Romney to yesterday's cancellation of an attack ad.

And presidential candidate Mike Huckabee joins us from Iowa tonight. Well, there is some good news, governor, and that is that you're up by six points, according to the Register.

MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a great headline to wake up to this morning, a six- point lead in the Des Moines Register poll, maybe the last big poll to come out before the caucus. And we were very encouraged by it. I think it's proving that staying positive is the right thing, and, most of all, our message is getting out there to Iowa caucus voters. A lot of the people I saw today, Sean, said they're first-time caucus-goers. This is their first time. Some of them are in their 50's and 60's but they're going out to caucus for me. That's exactly what we want to hear as we enter these last hours.

HANNITY: Governor, let's go to the controversy of the hour, which is this ad, this news conference that you had, where you ran this ad, and then you said, but I'm not going to run the ad. And there were even snickers among the press. Here, let's roll the ad to remind our audience.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney's record, over 700 million in new taxes, left office with a deficit, no executions, supported gun control, and Romney's government mandated health plan provided a 50 dollar copay for abortion.

HUCKABEE: If a man's dishonest to obtain a job, he'll be dishonest on the job. Iowans deserve better.


HANNITY: Governor, it seems like you know what they're saying, that you had the benefit of running an attack ad, but seemingly seemed like you're taking the high road by saying, I'm not going to run the ad, and then you ran it.

HUCKABEE: Well, we didn't run the ad, Sean. What we did,we pulled it. I knew that if we said we had made one and didn't reveal that it existed, there would have been this cynicism of the reporters that said oh, you really didn't have one. But we did. And I don't know how you obtained that copy because we didn't give it to anybody.

We had a box of CDs of them. We gave them to no one. We showed it in that room for those reporters, and the only way they could have gotten it would have be to tape it, I guess, off a camera from the screen. But the fact is we pulled it. It was my decision. It was the right decision. I understand people are going to be cynical. But you know what? At the end of the day, what matters is the decision that we made to stay positive and not to go nuclear, not to engage in the same level of politics that has been relentlessly used against us and used against John McCain in New Hampshire.

We just need to change the course of the discussion.

HANNITY: But it's a fair question. And if you really felt that way about it, why would you run the ad while you're saying you're pulling the ad?

HUCKABEE: Well, for the reason that I said just a moment ago, because if we didn't show the ad to the reporters, I think we thought, well they would have said we didn't have one. So we didn't give them the copy of a big thick folder of material that we had — we destroyed that.

HANNITY: But you played it.

HUCKABEE: We played it only for the room of those people. We did not give them the copies that we had. But Sean, more importantly is the fact that I think people have given me the position that I'm in in Iowa because it has been a positive campaign. No doubt that a lot of the negative attacks — mailboxes have been full, phone calls every night, people have been inundated with television commercials. It's been very nasty, very negative. Not just with me; John McCain in New Hampshire is getting the same thing.

And we decided that, you know, if you talk about Ronald Reagan's legacy and his whole understanding of the leadership of the Republican party — you can't be Reaganesque if you violate the 11th commandment of Ronald Reagan.

HANNITY: You say about Governor Romney in this ad — these are very hard words Governor — and you said about him, if a man's this dishonest to obtain the job, he'll be dishonest on the job. Governor Romney responded. Let's roll that tape and get your reaction.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think Governor Huckabee was able to fool the media with his press conference. I don't think he'll fool the people of Iowa. It's a little like going up and saying, I'm not going to call my opponent any names. But if I were going to call him some names, here are the names I would call him.


HANNITY: Do you really believe he's dishonest?

HUCKABEE: If you tell things about somebody that aren't true, if you tell people that I cut Meth sentences when I didn't, if you tell them that I spent money and created this huge budget, which I did not — and the New York Times verified that those figures were wrong — if you tell people things that even may have a sense of half truth but aren't the whole truth, they become the untruth.

The question taht I had was, do I counter-attack? And I finally decided, I can't fix in 30 seconds the damage that was done to a 10 1/2 year record I had as the longest consistent executive running a government in this presidential race.

But here's what I think people are looking. They're for somebody who has consistency. And I had to ask this question, do I want someone to elect me because I've done a better job of disabling my opponent than he has done of disabling me? And I finally decided that's not what people are looking for.

ALAN COLMES "HANNITY & COLMES" CO-HOST: Hi Governor. It's Alan Colmes, welcome back to our show. Is Mitt Romney too dishonest to be president of the United States?

HUCKABEE: I think that Mitt Romney has every reason to run for president. The voters are going to decide in Iowa and the rest of America who's consistent on issues like abortion and gun control, which one of us - -

COLMES: Yes, but I want to know if you stand by the word — do you stand by the —

HUCKABEE: I never retracted the words, but I pulled the ad because I felt like it is the tone and the spirit of the ad — that that's not what we need. And I just want to believe that Americans really are looking for a different kind of approach to the political race of 2008.

COLMES: The point is, governor, you do stand by what that ad says, you're not disavowing that statement?

HUCKABEE: Alan, I made it very clear that when you say things about an opponent's record that aren't true or say things about your own record which aren't true, I don't know else how you call that but dishonest. If I make up things about my own resume, if I say I have endorsements that I don't have, the question is, do people want a president who has not been completely straightforward about endorsements, about positions, about events that have happened in his or her life? Those are serious questions that voters have to ask.

COLMES: Are you going negative now by saying the very things you're say now about Romney? You're doing the very thing you say you don't want to do.

HUCKABEE: No, I'm not going out there specific. You asked me a question. I'm trying to answer it, and I don't know how to answer it without being specific. So I'm trying to do that, but within the context of not simply going out there and making a bunch of statements that I think would be unnecessary and perhaps harsh. Let me get this ear piece working again.

COLMES: Can you hear me OK?

HUCKABEE: I hear you fine. Maybe I should pull it out.

COLMES: If you get the nomination, Mitt Romney would not be your running mate?

HUCKABEE: I'm going to support the nominee of our party. I certainly am not at a point where I get to pick the running mate yet. You know what I do think? I think I'm going to be in a position to pick a running mate. I think the people of Iowa are responding to not just this one decision; I think they're responding to all the decisions that I've made in my life and career, of having consistency when it comes to being pro-life, being a person who has cut taxes, a person who has run a government, fixed roads, improved education, things that matter to people sitting around their dinner table talking and trying to figure out how they're going to get through next week and build small businesses and the middle class.

We've got a lot of people in this country — let me just mention this — we've got alot of people in this country who feel like the Republican party has forgotten them, people who are in the middle class, small business owners, from which 80 percent of our jobs come. My strength in this campaign is not just coming from evangelicals, although certainly they're with me. I think it's coming from a lot of small business owners. It's coming from middle class people and working class people who want the Republican party to reach out to them.


COLMES: We now continue with presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. We're talking strategy here. Governor, are you making a strategic error leaving Iowa to go to Hollywood and do Jay Leno in the middle of the caucus?

HUCKABEE: No, not at tall. In Fact, I'm going to be campaigning in Iowa from 5:30 in the morning for our first event, until about 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. I will make a quick trip to California. I fly right back, and will be back late tomorrow night. And I'll be up early Thursday.

My main goal right now in these next 48 hours is to talk to as many people in Iowa as I can. And, quite frankly, I'll be speaking to a lot of them in person, and then I have a feeling I'll be talking to a lot of them on "The Tonight Show." I'm not missing any events. I'm just getting a chance to talk to them.

COLMES: You're accused of — by your detractors — of being too much on my side. They say you are too liberal. Are there areas where you think you are liberal?

HUCKABEE: Not liberal. I think that I'm a person who understands that Republicans ought to be talking about the environment. We ought to be talking about hunger and disease and poverty. That doesn't make me liberal, it makes me an American. It makes me an American concerned about those folks out there who are often forgotten. And our Republican party needs to make sure that every position we have on our platform empowers, emboldens, and gives everybody in this country a chance to reach the American dream.

I didn't start out rich. I started out a kid with a father who never graduated high school, a mother who came from dirt floors and outdoor toilets. Look, you know what? I'm excited the fact that a kid like me could run for president. I represent a lot of people out there in America who want to believe that American dream is alive for them.

COLMES: Mitt Romney says he's disappointed that you attacked the president by suggesting that he was not well-versed enough in foreign policy affairs. He said it's not a time to be mocking our president. It was in bad taste. We should come together and recognize the great work that President Bush has done. Is that a fair evaluation of your position on President Bush? And can that hurt you with Republicans?

HUCKABEE: It's ridiculous. I never said that. In fact, I was the one who supported the Bush tax cuts in '02 when Mitt Romney didn't. I was the one who supported Ronald Reagan and his father George Bush when Mitt Romney was on national television saying that I'm not a part of that Bush/Reagan thing; I'm an independent. I never supported Paul Tsongas for president.

And Mitt Romney was the one who earlier this year on "60 Minutes" made the statement that the president had left the war in a mess. I'm not running for Bush's third term. I love the president. I've been with him on the war. I've been with him on the surge when Mitt Romney wasn't. So it's absurd to say that I'm against the president. I think I've probably been one of his staunchest defenders.

But at the same time, if I think there are areas with which I disagree, then I express that. As far as this allegation of mocking him, that's nonsense. I haven't mocked the president. I have great respect for him and have known him a long time. I was a co-governor with him, and campaigned all over America for him in about 35 states. So if I didn't like him, I wouldn't have worked that hard for him to be president.

COLMES: Given what you just said about supporting the president, will you continue the Bush Iraq war policy if you're president of the United States?

HUCKABEE: I'm going to make sure we win in Iraq. I believe that that's what —

COLMES: What does that mean?

HUCKABEE: — we have to do in order, not only for the perseverance of our nation, but the perseverance in the Middle East. It means that the Iraqis can self-govern. It means that our military can come home with victory and with honor. Nothing less than that is acceptable.

And I think in the future, if we engage in conflicts like this, we will go in with an attitude that we will do whatever the generals give us indication is necessary to win early. He told us we needed 400,000 troops. We only went in with 180,000. Now we're going in with a surge, and it's working and it's working masterfully, and a lot of credit goes to I think not only General Petraeus, but Secretary Gates, who has given us good leadership at the Defense Department.

HANNITY: Hey governor, I mentioned earlier that you're up in the "Des Moines Register" poll by six points right now. How important is it for you to win Iowa at this point?

HUCKABEE: If we win, it's a seismic moment on the political Richter Scale.

HANNITY: Is that the Huck-a-boom?

HUCKABEE: Nobody should be able to win. I really would be, Sean. I guess it would be, Sean. The fact is, we've been outspent 20 to one here. Think about that. If we win — I mean, nothing like that's happened in American politics that anyone can remember. I think as long as we can come in in one of the first or second positions, we're still on our feet. But if we come in first and actually win this thing, it proves that money can't buy elections anymore, and that message matters more than money.

HANNITY: You have been under fire — as we've been watching the rise in the polls, the scrutiny has increased dramatically. Time, the magazine, has a piece out, "Huckabee's Growing Pains." But everything you say now comes under greater scrutiny. When you used the term the president's arrogant bunker mentality, when you talked about things about immigration in your book — that has come under scrutiny — the tax ad that came out against you.

I thought it was really pushing things to say — it was clear what you meant when you said apologies to the Pakistani people. It was clear in my mind you meant sympathy.

HUCKABEE: I said sympathy as soon as I said the other word. It was one of those slips of the tongue.

HANNITY: I'm a talk show host, I understand that very well, believe me. Do you think some of this is unfair? Do you think this is people just afraid of the growing popularity you now have?

HUCKABEE: You know, all is fair in love-and-war. And do I like it? No, but this is politics. This is a big boy game. If you can't handle the fastballs, don't step up to the plate. I haven't seen anything thrown at me that I hadn't seen before. Arkansas is a wonderful preparation ground, because I want to tell you, being a Republican in a state where 90 percent of the elected officials were Democrat, I promise you I have faced heat before.

All the things that are being thrown at me, they've been throw before. It's pure politics. It's the way it works. The reason that I'm weathering it is because this isn't my first rodeo.

HANNITY: Does it bother you at all? Do you get upset? Are you getting tired at this point? Are you glad that the first quarter is about to begin?

HUCKABEE: Nobody likes to have his record just put out there in dishonest ways. Nobody likes to be attacked. Nobody likes every word to be taken out of context and then somebody jump on it. But on the other hand, you know, if you want to be the leader of the free world, you've got to be able to face a lot of pressure and intensity of opposition. If you're going to be president, you know that on any given day maybe half or more than half of the country is mad at you. That's what being a governor helps you understand.

I was a governor 10-and-a-half years. I said, every day I've got to make ten new friends, because I made seven people mad at me for something I did or said. That's part of the way it works. I put it this way — I say it in my book that if you can't stand the sight of your own blood, buy a ticket and watch this from the stands, because you're going to come out of this game with some wounds and with some scars.

HANNITY: Same thing for talk show hosts, except we're not in the same power game. You could just Google Colmes or Hannity, and it's not often pretty.

COLMES: Better yet, don't do that.

HANNITY: We'll see you in Iowa. We're getting on a plane. We'll see you in Iowa tomorrow. Thank you for being with us, and all the best, good luck to you up there.

HUCKABEE: Well, make sure that Alan sits on the left side of the airplane. Don't let him sit on the right.

COLMES: He gets all the peanuts.

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