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updated 12/23/2007 12:51:16 PM ET 2007-12-23T17:51:16

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  Our Meet the Candidates 2008 series continues, an exclusive interview with Republican Ron Paul.  He has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 18 years.  In 1988 he was the Libertarian Party candidate for president.  Since October he has raised nearly $19 million.  That is more than any other Republican candidate for president. Our guest, Dr. Ron Paul.

Then, only 11 days to the Iowa caucuses, the candidates unveil special holiday political commercials.

(Videotape)

FMR. GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE:  What really matters is a celebration of the birth of Christ.

(End videotape)

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SEN. HILLARY CLINTON:  Where did I put universal pre-K?

(End videotape)

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FMR. MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI:  It'll be a really nice fruitcake with a big, red bow on it.

(End videotape)

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Barack Obama's Daughter:  Merry Christmas.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  The very latest polls and strategies with John Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times, and Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News.

But first we're joined by Dr. Ron Paul, Republican candidate for president.

Dr. Paul, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX):  Thank you.  Nice to be here.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let's start right at the very top, the issues.  This is what you have been saying on the campaign stump, "I'd like to get rid of the IRS. I want to get rid of the income tax." Abolish it.

REP. PAUL:  That's a good idea.  I like that idea.

MR. RUSSERT:  What would happen to all those lost revenues?  How would we fund our government?

REP. PAUL:  We have to cut spending.  You can't get rid of the income tax if you don't get rid of some spending.  But, you know, if you got rid of the income tax today you'd have about as much revenue as, as we had 10 years ago, and the size of government wasn't all that bad 10 years ago.  So there're sources of revenues other than the income tax.  You know, you have, you have tariff, excise taxes, user fees, highway fees.  So, so there's still a lot of money.  But the real problem is spending.  But, you know, we lived a long time in this country without an income tax.  Up until 1913 we didn't have it.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, but you eliminate the income tax, do you know how much lost revenue that would be?

REP. PAUL:  A lot.  But...

MR. RUSSERT:  Over a trillion dollars.

REP. PAUL:  That's good.  I mean, we--but we could save hundreds of billions of dollars if we had a sensible foreign policy.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well...

REP. PAUL:  And if you go--if you're going to be the policeman of the world, you need that.  You need the income tax to police the world and run the welfare state.  I want a constitutional-size government.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you replace the income tax with anything else?

REP. PAUL:  Not if I could help it.  You know, there are some proposals where probably almost anything would be better than income tax.  But there's a lot of shortcomings with the, with the sales tax.  But it would probably be slightly better than the income tax--it would be an improvement.  But the goal is to cut the spending, get back to a sensible-size government.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you had a flat tax, 30 percent consumption tax, that would be very, very punishing to the poor and middle class.

REP. PAUL:  Well, I know.  That's why I don't want it.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you have nothing?

REP. PAUL:  I want to cut spending.  I want to get a--use the Constitution as our guide, and you wouldn't need the income tax.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let's talk about some of the ways you recommend.  "I'd start bringing our troops home, not only from the Middle East but from Korea, Japan and Europe and save enough money to slash the deficit."

How much money would that save?

REP. PAUL:  To operate our total foreign policy, when you add up everything, there's been a good study on this, it's nearly a trillion dollars a year.  So I would think if you brought our troops home, you could save hundreds of billions of dollars.  It's, you know, it's six months or one year or two year, but you can start saving immediately by changing the foreign policy and not be the policeman over the world.  We should have the foreign policy that George Bush ran on.  You know, no nation building, no policing of the world, a humble foreign policy.  We don't need to be starting wars.  That's my argument.

MR. RUSSERT:  How many troops do we have overseas right now?

REP. PAUL:  I don't know the exact number, but more than we need.  We don't need any.

MR. RUSSERT:  It's 572,000.  And you'd bring them all home?

REP. PAUL:  As quickly as possible.  We--they will not serve our interests to be overseas.  They get us into trouble.  And we can defend this country without troops in Germany, troops in Japan.  How do they help our national defense?  Doesn't make any sense to me.  Troops in Korea since I've been in high school?

MR. RUSSERT:  What...

REP. PAUL:  You know, it doesn't make any sense.

MR. RUSSERT:  Under President Paul, if North Korea invaded South Korea, would we respond?

REP. PAUL:  I don't--why should we unless the Congress declared war?  I mean, why are we there?  Could--South Korea, they're begging and pleading to unify their country, and we get in their way.  They want to build bridges and go back and forth.  Vietnam, we left under the worst of circumstances.  The country is unified.  They have become Westernized.  We trade with them.  Their president comes here.  And Korea, we stayed there and look at the mess.  I mean, the problem still exists, and it's drained trillion dollars over these last, you know, 50 years.  So stop--we can't afford it anymore.  We're going bankrupt.  All empires end because the countries go bankrupt, and the, and the currency crashes.  That's what happening.  And we need to come out of this sensibly rather than waiting for a financial crisis.

MR. RUSSERT:  So if Iran invaded Israel, what do we do?

REP. PAUL:  Well, they're not going to.  That is like saying "Iran is about to invade Mars." I mean, they have nothing.  They don't have an army or navy or air force.  And Israelis have 300 nuclear weapons.  Nobody would touch them.  But, no, if, if it were in our national security interests and Congress says, "You know, this is very, very important, we have to declare war." But presidents don't have the authority to go to war.

MR. RUSSERT:  You...

REP. PAUL:  You go to the Congress and find out if they want a war, do the people want the war.  But it's totally unnecessary.  I mean, that, that, to me, is an impossible situation...

MR. RUSSERT:  If...

REP. PAUL:  ...for the Iranians to invade Israel.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is what you said about Israel.  "Israel's dependent on us, you know, for economic means.  We send them" "billions of dollars and they," then they "depend on us.  They say, `Well, you know, we don't like Iran.  You go fight our battles.  You bomb Iran for us.' And they become dependent on us."

Who in Israel is saying "Go bomb Iran for us"?

REP. PAUL:  Well, I don't know the individuals, but we know that their leaderships--you read it in the papers on a daily--a daily, you know, about Israel, the government of Israel encourages Americans to go into Iran, and the people--I don't think that's a--I don't think that's top secret that the government of Israel...

MR. RUSSERT:  That the government of Israel wants us to bomb Iran?

REP. PAUL:  I, I don't think there's a doubt about that, that they've encouraged us to do that.  And of course the neoconservatives have been anxious to do that for a long time.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you cut off all foreign aid to Israel?

REP. PAUL:  Absolutely.  But remember, the Arabs would get cut off, too, and the Arabs get three times as much aid altogether than Israel.  But why, why make Israel so dependent?  Why do we--they give up their sovereignty.  They can't defend their borders without coming to us.  If they want a peace treaty, they have to ask us permission.  They can't--we interfere when the Arab leagues make overtures to them.  So I would say that we've made them second class citizens.  I, I think they would take much better care of themselves. They would have their national sovereignty back, and I think they would be required then to have a stronger economy because they would have to pay their own bills.

MR. RUSSERT:  You talked about September 11th in one of the Republican debates back in May, and this is what you said.

(Videotape)

REP. PAUL:  They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free.  They come and they, and they attack us because we're over there.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  "Because we're over there." And then you added this on Tuesday: "But" al-Qaeda has "determination.  The determination comes from being provoked."

How have we, the United States, provoked al-Qaeda?

REP. PAUL:  Well, read what the lead--the ringleader says.  Read what Osama bin Laden said.  We had, we had a base, you know, in Saudi Arabia that was an affront to their religion, that was blasphemy as far as they were concerned. We were bombing Iraq for 10 years, we were--we've interfered in Iran since 1953.  Our CIA's been involved in the overthrow of their governments.  We're bought right now in the process of overthrowing that nation.  We side more with Israel and Pakistan, and, and they get annoyed with this.  How would we react if we were on their land--if they were on our land?  We would be very annoyed, and we'd be fighting mad.

MR. RUSSERT:  So under your doctrine, if we had--did not have troops in the Middle East, they would leave us alone.

REP. PAUL:  Not, not immediately, because they'd have to believe us.  But what would happen is the incentive for Osama bin Laden to recruit suicide terrorists would disappear.  Once we left Lebanon in the early '80s, the French and the Americans and Israelis left Lebanon, suicide terrorism virtually stopped, just like that.  But while we were there, that was suicide terrorism killed our Marines, because we were in Lebanon.  So we have to understand that.  We have to understand how we would react if some country did to us exactly what we do to them, and then we might have a better understanding of their motivation, why somebody would join the al-Qaeda. Since we've been over there al-Qaeda has more members now than they did before 9/11.  They probably had a couple hundred before 9/11.

MR. RUSSERT:  It sounds like you think that the problem is al-Qaeda--the problem is the United States, not al-Qaeda.

REP. PAUL:  No, it's both.  It's both--al-Qaeda becomes the violent.  It's sort of like if you step in a snake pit and you get bit, you know, who caused the trouble?  Because you stepped in the snake pit or because snakes bite you? So I think you have to understand both.  But why, why produce the incentive for these violent, vicious thugs to want to come here and kill us.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think there's an ideological struggle that Islamic fascists want to take over the world?

REP. PAUL:  Oh, I think some, just like the West is wanting to do that all the time.  Look at the way they look at us.  I mean, we're in a, we're in a 130 countries.  We have 700 bases.  How do you think they proposed that to their people, saying "What does America want to do?  Are they over here to be nice to us and teach us how to be good Democrats?"

MR. RUSSERT:  So you see a moral equivalency between the West and Islamic fascism.

REP. PAUL:  For some people, some radicals on each side that when we impose our will with force by a few number of people--not the American people--I'm talking the people who have hijacked our foreign policy, the people who took George Bush's foreign policy of a humble foreign policy and turned it into one of nation-building which he complained about.

MR. RUSSERT:  The president himself?

REP. PAUL:  The president himself has changed the policy.  You know, I mean, he ran--I liked the program he ran on.  That's what I defend.  And--but all of a sudden--and it didn't change after 9/11, it changed the first meeting of the Cabinet according to Paul O'Neal.  He says immediately it was on the table. When, when were we going to attack Iraq?

MR. RUSSERT:  You mentioned September 11th, a former aide of yours, Eric Dondero said this.  "When September 11th happened, he just completely changed," talking about you.  "One of the first things he said was not how awful the tragedy was, it was, `Now we're going to get big government.'" Was that your reaction?

REP. PAUL:  Well, I'm, I'm surprised somebody like that who's a disgruntled former employee who literally was put out.  But, yes, thought...

MR. RUSSERT:  He said he quit because he disagreed with you.

REP. PAUL:  Yeah, no.  The point is, Randolph Bourne says war is a helpless state.  I believe that statement.  When you have war, whether it's a war against drugs, war against terrorism, war, war overseas, war--the mentality of the people change and they're more willing to sacrifice their liberties in order to be safe and secure.  So, yes, right after 9/11 my reaction was, you know, it's going to be a lot tougher selling liberty.  But I'm pleasantly surprised that I'm still in the business of selling liberty and the Constitution and there's still a lot of enthusiasm for it.  So all the American people don't agree that we have to have the nanny state and have the government taking care of us.  So I have been encouraged.  I might have been too pessimistic immediately after 9/11 because, in a way, it has caused this reaction and this uprising in this country to say, "Enough is enough.  We don't need more Patriot Acts, we don't need more surveillance of our people. We don't need national ID cards.  We don't need the suspension of habeas corpus.  What we need is more freedom." So in one way I was pessimistic, but in another way, now, I'm more encouraged with the reception I'm getting with this message.

MR. RUSSERT:  And you actually go further.  You said this.  "Abolish the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency and dismantle every other agency except the Justice and Defense Departments." And then you went on.  "If elected president, Paul says he would abolish public schools, welfare, Social Security and farm subsidies."

REP. PAUL:  OK, you may have picked that up 20 or 30 years ago, it's not part of my platform.  As a matter of fact, I'm the only one that really has an interim program.  Technically, a lot of those functions aren't constitutional. But the point is I'm not against the FBI investigation in doing a proper role, but I'm against the FBI spying on people like Martin Luther King.  I'm against the CIA fighting secret wars and overthrowing government and interfering...

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you abolish them?

REP. PAUL:  I would, I would not abolish all their functions, but I--the, the, the...

MR. RUSSERT:  What about public schools?  Are you still...

REP. PAUL:  OK, but let's go, let's go with the CIA.  They're, they're involved in, in, in torture.  I would abolish that, yes.  But I wouldn't abolish their right and our, our requirement to accumulate intelligence for national defense purposes.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you...

REP. PAUL:  That's quite different.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you eliminate the income tax, you take away half the revenues for the federal government.  What you're left with is the Defense Department, Social Security, Medicare and pensions.  Everything else is gone. So you have to start making choices if you're going to keep...

REP. PAUL:  All right.  We can.  The big one is overseas expenditure.  You have to develop a transition.  You have to start paying down the deficit, balance the budget.  But you have to say I believe the most reasonable place to save is in foreign policy, hundreds of billions of dollars.  Because it gets us into trouble, it ruins our national--our defense is poor now.  Then the Department of Education, who--we elect conservatives to get rid of the Department of Education.  We used to campaign on that.  And what did we do? We doubled the size.  I want to reverse that trend.

MR. RUSSERT:  What about public schools?

REP. PAUL:  That's what I'm trying to...

MR. RUSSERT:  Are you still for...

REP. PAUL:  No, I'm not--I've never, I've never taken the position--is it in my platform?  And...

MR. RUSSERT:  It was--when you ran for president in 1988, you called for the abolition of public schools.

REP. PAUL:  I, I bet that's a misquote.  I, I do not recall that.  I'd like to know where that came from, because I went...

MR. RUSSERT:  And Social Security?  You're OK with Social Security now?

REP. PAUL:  I think we need to get--give--offer the kids the chance to get out.  But right now, if I don't--if we don't save the money, we can't take care of the other.  For instance, Social Security, I never voted to spend one penny of Social Security money.  So I'm the one that has saved it.  Now, if I save the money in this military operation overseas, I say take that money--and, and I say this constantly--don't turn anybody out on the streets. People we have conditioned--yes, technically we shouldn't have them, and it'd be nice to get rid of them, but I would say take care of the people that are dependent on us.  Let them--and the only way you can do that is cut spending. If we don't, they're all going to be out in the street.  Because right now Social Security beneficiaries are getting 2 percent raises, their cost of living is going up 10 percent.  A dollar crisis is going to wipe them all out. That's my point.

MR. RUSSERT:  When I looked at your record, you talked about big government and how opposed you are to it, but you seem to have a different attitude about your own congressional district.  For example, "Congress decided to send billions of dollars to victims of Hurricane Katrina.  Guess how Ron Paul voted.  `Is bailing out people" that choose--"that chose to live on the coastline a proper function of the federal government?' he asks." And you said no.  And yet, this:  "Paul's current district, which includes Galveston and reaches into" the "Brazoria County, draws a substantial amount of federal flood insurance payments." For your own congressional district.  This is the Houston Chronicle:  "Representative Ron Paul has long crusaded against a big central government.  But he also" "represented a congressional district that's consistently among the top in Texas in its reliance on dollars from Washington.  In the first nine months of the federal government's" fiscal "2006 fiscal year," "it received more than $4 billion." And they report, The Wall Street Journal, 65 earmark-targeted projects, $400 million that you have put into congressional bills for your district, which leads us to the Congressional Quarterly.  "The Earmark Dossier of `Dr. No.' There isn't much that" Ron--Dr. "Ron Paul thinks the federal government should do. Apparently, though, earmarks" for his district "are OK.  Paul is the sponsor of no fewer than 10 earmarks in the water resources bill," all benefiting his district.  The Gulf Intercoastal Waterway:  $32 million.  The sunken ship you want to be moved from Freeport Harbor.  The Bayou Navigation Channel.  They talk about $8 million for shrimp fishermen.

REP. PAUL:  You, you know...

MR. RUSSERT:  Why, why would you load up...

REP. PAUL:  You got it completely wrong.  I've never voted for an earmark in my life.

MR. RUSSERT:  No, but you put them in the bill.

REP. PAUL:  I put it in because I represent people who are asking for some of their money back.  But it doesn't cut any spending to vote against an earmark. And the Congress has the responsibility to spend the money.  Why leave the money in the executive branch and let them spend the money?

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, that's like, that's like saying you voted for it before you voted against it.

REP. PAUL:  Nah!  Come on, Tim.  That has nothing to do with that.

MR. RUSSERT:  If, if, if you put it in the bill and get the headlight back home...

REP. PAUL:  No, I, I make the request.  They're not in the bills.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and then you, then you know it's going to pass Congress and so you, you don't refuse the money.

REP. PAUL:  Well, no, of course not.  It's like taking a tax credit.  If you have a tax credit, I'm against the taxes but I take all my tax credits.  I want to get...

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you were true...

REP. PAUL:  ...the money back for the people.

MR. RUSSERT:  If you were true to your philosophy, you would say no pork spending in my district.

REP. PAUL:  No, no, that's not it.  They steal our money, that's like saying that people shouldn't take Social Security money.

MR. RUSSERT:  For...

REP. PAUL:  I don't advocate that.

MR. RUSSERT:  All right, let me ask you this...

REP. PAUL:  I'm trying to save the system, make the system work.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask you this...

REP. PAUL:  But no, I think you have it all mixed up.  Now, you're confused.

MR. RUSSERT:  All right.  It's all facts.

REP. PAUL:  You're confused.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is The Wall Street Journal.  You load up the bills with special projects...

REP. PAUL:  I--no, no, no.  No, you don't.

MR. RUSSERT:  You do.  You do.  You deny that you have, you have...

REP. PAUL:  How many of them ever got passed?  But the whole point is, we have a right and an...

MR. RUSSERT:  They pass.  You vote against them, but you take the money.

REP. PAUL:  You don't quite understand.

MR. RUSSERT:  OK.

REP. PAUL:  They take our money from us, and the Congress has the authority to appropriate, not the executive branch.  And I'm saying that I represent my people.  They have a request, it's like taking a tax credit, and I put it in--the whole process is corrupt so that I vote against everything.

MR. RUSSERT:  All right, let me ask you this.  But if...

REP. PAUL:  I vote against it, so I don't endorse the system.

MR. RUSSERT:  But when it passes overwhelmingly, you take the money back home.

REP. PAUL:  I don't take it.  That's the system.

MR. RUSSERT:  The system.

REP. PAUL:  I'm trying to change that system.  To turn it around and say I'm supporting this system, I find it...

MR. RUSSERT:  Well.  Well...

REP. PAUL:  ...rather ironic and entertaining.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, when you stop taking earmarks or putting earmarks in the, in the spending bills, then I think you'll be consistent.

Let me ask you about this...

REP. PAUL:  Turn--you...

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask this.  Term limits.  You ran on term limits.  "I think we should have term limits for our elected leaders." You've been in Congress 18 years.

REP. PAUL:  But I never ran on voluntary term limits.  There's a big difference.  I didn't sign a pledge for a voluntary term limit.  Matter of fact, some of the best people that I worked with, who were the most principled, came in on voluntary term limits.  Some of them broke their promises, and some didn't, and they were very good people.  So some of the good people left.  And it's true, I, I didn't run on that, Tim, you're wrong on that.  I support term limits.  You know, I, I, and I voted all--we had 16 votes one time on term limits, and I voted yes for them.

MR. RUSSERT:  Yeah.

REP. PAUL:  But voluntary term limits is a lot different than compulsory term limits.  It's good to have a turnover, but that isn't the solution either. It's the philosophy of government that counts.  It's only...

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you believe in the philosophy of term limits, why wouldn't you voluntarily...

REP. PAUL:  Well, it's, it's one of those, it's one of those things that's not on--I mean, you don't see that out I'm campaigning on that.  I mean, I don't think it's--I don't think it's the solution.  Philosophy is the solution.  What the role of government ought to be, so if you have a turnover and the same people come in and they believe in big government, nothing good is going to come of it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask you about immigration because that's a big issue here, and there has been a profound change.  Back when you ran for president, 1988, libertarian, you said, "As in our country's first 150 years, there shouldn't be any immigration policy at all.  We should welcome everyone who wants to come here and work." You've changed your view.

REP. PAUL:  And, and during that campaign, I remember I got into trouble with Libertarians because I said there may well be a time when immigration is like an invasion and we have to treat it differently.  And I think, in one sense, with the welfare state out of control--see, my approach to immigration is somewhat different than the others.  Mine is you deal with it economically. We're in worse shape now because we subsidize immigration.  We give food stamps, Social Security, free medical care, free education and amnesty.  So you subsidize it, and you have a mess.  Our hospitals are being closed. Conditions have changed.  And I think that we should have--and, and 9/11 has occurred.  Why shouldn't we be looking at people coming in?  So there's--this, this means that we should look at immigration differently.  It's an economic issue more than anything.  If our economy was in good health, I--believe me, I don't think there'd be an immigration problem.  We'd be looking for workers and we would be very generous.

MR. RUSSERT:  You say you're a strict constructionist of the Constitution, and yet you want to amend the Constitution to say that children born here should not automatically be U.S. citizens.

REP. PAUL:  Well, amending the Constitution is constitutional.  What's a--what's the contradiction there?

MR. RUSSERT:  So in the Constitution as written, you want to amend?

REP. PAUL:  Well, that's constitutional, to do it.  Besides, it was the 14th Amendment.  It wasn't in the original Constitution.  And there's a, there's a confusion on interpretation.  In the early years, it was never interpreted that way, and it's still confusing because people--individuals are supposed to have birthright citizenship if they're under the jurisdiction of the government.  And somebody who illegally comes in this country as a drug dealer, is he under the jurisdiction and their children deserve citizenship? I think it's awfully, awfully confusing, and, and I, I--matter of fact, I have a bill to change that as well as a Constitutional amendment to clarify it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask you about drugs and go back again to your '90--'88 campaign and see where you stand today.  "All drugs should be decriminalized. Drugs should be distributed by any adult to other adults.  There should be no controls on production, supply or purchase for adults." Is that still your position?

REP. PAUL:  Yeah.  It's sort of like alcohol.  Alcohol's a deadly drug, kills more people than anything else.  And today the absurdity on this war on drugs, Tim, has just been horrible.  We now, the federal government, takes over and rules--overrules state laws where state laws permit medicinal marijuana for people dying of cancer.  The federal government goes in and arrests these people, put them in prison with mandatory, sometimes life sentences.  This war on drugs is totally out of control.  If you want to regulate cigarettes and alcohol and drugs, it should be at the state level.  That's been my position, and that's where I stand on it.  But the federal government has no, no prerogatives on this.  They--when they wanted to outlaw alcohol, they had enough respect for the Constitution to amend the Constitution.  Today we have all these laws and abuse, and they don't even care about the Constitution. I'm defending the Constitution on this issue.  I think drugs are horrible.  I teach my kids not to use them, my grandchildren, in my medical practice. Prescription drugs are a greater danger than, than hard drugs.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you would decriminalize it?

REP. PAUL:  I, I, I would, at the federal level.  I don't have control over the states.  And that's what the Constitution's there.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask you about race, because I, I read a speech you gave in 2004, the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.  And you said this: "Contrary to the claims of" "supporters of the Civil Rights Act of" '64, "the act did not improve race relations or enhance freedom.  Instead, the forced integration dictated by the Civil Rights Act of" '64 "increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty." That act gave equal rights to African-Americans to vote, to live, to go to lunch counters, and you seem to be criticizing it.

REP. PAUL:  Well, we should do, we should do this at a federal level, at a federal lunch counter it'd be OK or for the military.  Just think of how the government, you know, caused all the segregation in the military until after World War II.  But when it comes, Tim, you're, you're, you're not compelled in your house to invade strangers that you don't like.  So it's a property rights issue.  And this idea that all private property is under the domain of the federal government I think is wrong.  So this--I think even Barry Goldwater opposed that bill on the same property rights position, and that--and now this thing is totally out of control.  If you happen to like to smoke a cigar, you know, the federal government's going to come down and say you're not allowed to do this.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you would vote against...

REP. PAUL:  So it's...

MR. RUSSERT:  You would vote against the Civil Rights Act if, if it was today?

REP. PAUL:  If it were written the same way, where the federal government's taken over property--has nothing to do with race relations.  It just happens, Tim, that I get more support from black people today than any other Republican candidate, according to some statistics.  And I have a great appeal to people who care about personal liberties and to those individuals who would like to get us out of wars.  So it has nothing to do with racism, it has to do with the Constitution and private property rights.

MR. RUSSERT:  I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln.  "According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery."

REP. PAUL:  Absolutely.  Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war.  No, he shouldn't have gone, gone to war.  He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic.  I mean, it was the--that iron, iron fist..

MR. RUSSERT:  We'd still have slavery.

REP. PAUL:  Oh, come on, Tim.  Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world.  And the way I'm advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did.  You, you buy the slaves and release them.  How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years?  I mean, the hatred and all that existed.  So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war.  I mean, that doesn't sound too radical to me.  That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

MR. RUSSERT:  You're running as a Republican.  In your--on your Web site, in your brochures, you make this claim:  "Principled Leadership.  Ron was also one of only four Republican Congressmen to endorse Ronald Reagan for president against Gerald Ford in" '76.  There's a photograph of you, Ronald Reagan on the right, heralding your support of Ronald Reagan.  And yet you divorced yourself from Ronald Reagan.  You said this:  "Although he was once an ardent supporter of President Reagan, Paul now speaks of him as a traitor leading the country into debt and conflicts around the world.  "I want to totally disassociate myself from the Reagan Administration." And you go on to The Dallas Morning News:  "Paul now calls Reagan a `dramatic failure.'"

REP. PAUL:  Well, I'll bet you any money I didn't use the word traitor.  I'll bet you that's somebody else, so I think that's misleading.  But a failure, yes, in, in many ways.  The government didn't shrink.  Ultimately, after he got in office, he said, "All I want to do is reduce the rate of increase in size of government." That's not my goal.  My goal is to reduce our government to a constitutional size.  Completely different.  I think that--matter of fact, he admitted in his memoirs that he had a total failure in Lebanon, and he said he relearned the Middle East because of that failure.  And so there--he--you know, he...

MR. RUSSERT:  But if he's a total failure, why are you using, using his picture in your brochure?

REP. PAUL:  Well, because he, he ran on a good program, and his, his idea was a limited government.  Get rid of the Department of Education, a strong national defense.

MR. RUSSERT:  George Herbert Walker Bush, this is according to Ron Paul: "`Bush is a bum,' Paul wrote in" "November" 15th, "1992 issue of his newsletter, the `Ron Paul Political Report.'" And asked about the current President Bush, whether he voted for him in 2004:  "Paul says no:  `He misled us in 2000.'" Asked if he voted for Bush in 2000.  No, "`I didn't vote for him then, either.  I wasn't convinced he was a conservative.'" And actually, in 1987, you submitted a letter of resignation to the Republican Party:  "I therefore resign my membership in the Republican Party and enclose my membership card." If Reagan's a failure, Bush 41 is a bum, and you didn't vote for Bush 41--41's a bum and 43 you didn't vote for, and you resigned from the Republican Party, why you running as a Republican candidate for president?

REP. PAUL:  Because I represent what Republicanism used to be.  I represent the group that wanted to get rid of the Department of Education, the part, that part of the Republican Party that used to be non-interventionists overseas.  That was the tradition, the Robert/Taft wing of the party.  There was a time when the Republicans defended individual liberty and the Constitution and decreased spending.  So the radicals, the ones who really don't belong in the Republican Party and why the Republican Party is shrinking, why the base is so small, is because they don't stand for these ideals any more.  So I stand for the ideals of the Republican Party.  I've been elected 10 times as Republican.  I've been a Republican all my life except for that one year that I ran as a Libertarian.  But, no, I represent the Republican ideals, I think, much more so that the individuals running for the party right now.

MR. RUSSERT:  If, if you do not win the Republican nomination for president, will you run as an independent in 2008?

REP. PAUL:  I have no intention to do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Absolute promise.

REP. PAUL:  I have no intention of doing that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, but no intention's a wiggle word.

REP. PAUL:  Well, OK, I deserve one wiggle now and then, Tim.  I mean, what the devil...

MR. RUSSERT:  So no--so no Shermanesque statement.

REP. PAUL:  You know, I...

MR. RUSSERT:  "I will not sun as an independent."

REP. PAUL:  Well, I can be pretty darned sure that I have no intention, no plans of doing it, and that's about 99.9 percent.  I don't like people who are such absolutists, "I will never do this, or I will win, I'm going to come in first." I don't like those absolutists terms in politics.

MR. RUSSERT:  But the door's open a little bit.

REP. PAUL:  Not very much.  It really isn't.  I, I don't--Tim, we just raised $10 million in two days.  We haven't even had a race, we have February 5th coming up.  We have a campaign to run.  Why--do you ask all the other--how many other candidates have you asked, "Are you going to run as a third party candidate if you don't win?" Have you asked John McCain that?

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, if someone has a history of running as a third party candidate, sure.  You ran in '88 as a Libertarian.

REP. PAUL:  Yeah, well, I know...

MR. RUSSERT:  It's a logical question.

REP. PAUL:  ...but there are independents.  So I--ask them, too.

MR. RUSSERT:  I will.

Before you go, Mike Huckabee, Republican candidate for president, ran this commercial for Christmas and many thought that the shelf in the back looked like a cross.  You were asked about it on CNN and this is what you said.

REP. PAUL:  It reminds me of what Sinclair Lewis once says.  He said when fascism comes to this country, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross.

MR. RUSSERT:  What does that mean?

REP. PAUL:  What?  Fascism or the definition of fascism?

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe that Mike Huckabee is...

REP. PAUL:  Oh, I didn't say that.  I said it reminded me--as a matter of fact they caught me completely cold on that.  I had not seen the ad, and they just said there was a cross there.  And, you know, it was an instantaneous reflex because I knew of Sinclair Lewis about being cautious, because, you know, I--what prompts this is things like the Patriot Act.  You know...

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me go back...

REP. PAUL:  No, no.  If you're not a patriot...

MR. RUSSERT:  But let me go back to this ad.  You do not believe that Mike Huckabee, that ad commercial represents the potential of fascism in the form of a cross.

REP. PAUL:  No.  But I think this country, a movement in the last 100 years, is moving toward fascism.  Fascism today, the softer term, because people have different definition of fascism, is corporatism when the military industrial complex runs the show, when the--in the name of security pay--pass the Patriot Act.  You don't vote for it, you know, you're not patriotic America.  If you don't support the troops and you don't support--if you don't support the war you don't support the troops.  It's that kind of antagonism.  But we have more corporatism and more abuse of our civil liberties, more loss of our privacy, national ID cards, all this stuff coming has a fascist tone to it.  And the country's moving in that direction.  That's what I'm thinking about.  This was not personalized.  I never even used my opponents names if you, if you notice.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you think we're close to fascism?

REP. PAUL:  I think we're approaching it very close.  One--there's one, there's one documentary that's been put out recently that has generated a lot of interest called "Freedom to Fascism." And we're moving in that direction. Were not moving toward Hitler-type fascism, but we're moving toward a softer fascism.  Loss of civil liberties, corporations running the show, big government in bed with big business.  So you have the military industrial complex, you have the medical industrial complex, you have the financial industry, you have the communications industry.  They go to Washington and spend hundreds of millions of dollars.  That's where the control is.  I call that a soft form of fascism, something that is very dangerous.

MR. RUSSERT:  For the record, the Sinclair Lewis Society said that Mr. Lewis never uttered that quote.

REP. PAUL:  But others refuted that and put them down and said that--and they found the exact quote where it came from.

MR. RUSSERT:  To be continued.  Dr. Ron Paul, be safe on the campaign trail. Thanks for sharing your views.

REP. PAUL:  Thank you.  Nice to be here.

MR. RUSSERT:  As part of our Meet the Candidates 2008 series, we've invited candidates for president to appear here for in-depth interviews.  Next Sunday, Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, who announced his presidency last January right here on MEET THE PRESS, returns.  In addition, Democratic candidate, Senator Barack Obama, he'll be right here to talk about his campaign.  Four days before the Iowa caucus, Republican Mike Huckabee, Democrat Barack Obama, both next Sunday live from Iowa right here on MEET THE PRESS.  We're also archiving the transcripts and videos of the entire series on our Web site, mtp.msnbc.com, so voters can review the candidates' positions throughout the campaign.

Coming next, the very latest polls, strategies and commercials.  We have just 11 days to go to the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd, 16 days to New Hampshire primary on January 8th.  John Harwood, Chuck Todd are next, right here only on MEET THE PRESS.

MR. RUSSERT:  The very latest from Iowa and New Hampshire.  Our political roundtable--John Harwood, Chuck Todd--after this station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we're back.

Welcome, both.  Let's go right to the polling numbers.  This is the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.  The national numbers, look at that.  Rudy Giuliani is now at 20, down 13 points in a month.  Mitt Romney's up 9, Huckabee up 9, and McCain down 2, Thompson down 4.

Giuliani, what caused the decline?  Look at this.  In March he had a 58-to-14 positive/negative.  It's now 37/37 after an avalanche of stories about Bernard Kerik, his former police commissioner, about New York security guards and who they protected at taxpayers' money, about Rudy Giuliani's business interest, and it's taken a toll.

But let's go to the states, because this is what really counts.  Here's Iowa. Huckabee is ahead in both polls, 33 to 25 over Romney, 35 to 27 in other, the rest of the lineup there.

Let's go to New Hampshire, some new numbers out today.  The Boston Globe: Romney, 28; McCain, 25; Giuliani, 14; Huckabee, 10; and Paul, 8.  Three points between McCain and Romney.  An earlier poll had it a 7 point race.  And in South Carolina, Huckabee, 28; Romney, 20; Giuliani, 12; McCain, 11; Thompson, 10.  Chuck Todd, what does it all tell you?

MR. CHUCK TODD:  Well, there's no Republican front-runner, and until we find out how badly Mitt Romney wins--loses Iowa, and I think that that's the assumption they're under at this point, that, that they're...

MR. JOHN HARWOOD:  You called it already?

MR. TODD:  They know that--they're worried they're going to lose Iowa, but they're trying to close the gap.  They're trying to close this gap so that they look like they at least have a running start to salvage New Hampshire. Because their bigger fear right now, the Romney people are absolutely petrified of John McCain.  He is on the rise.

MR. RUSSERT:  So if Mitt Romney lost Iowa, a weakened Romney goes to New Hampshire, and if he's beaten there by John McCain?

MR. TODD:  It's done.  He's done.

MR. HARWOOD:  He's done if he loses both of those.  What they're hoping, as Chuck said, is that they either win--and I wouldn't, given how unpredictable this race is, I wouldn't rule out...

MR. TODD:  Fair enough.

MR. HARWOOD:  ...Romney and his organization pulling out a victory, but if he doesn't win, he needs to be strong in New Hampshire.  If he loses both of those back to back to Huckabee and McCain, he's got big problems.

MR. RUSSERT:  A--what Mitt Romney--there're several articles written about his talking about seeing his father marching with Martin Luther King in, in the '60s.  He talked about it in his faith speech, he talked about it here on MEET THE PRESS, and then was forced to do some explaining.  Let's watch what he said earlier this month.

(Videotape, December 8, 2007)

MR. MITT ROMNEY:  I saw my father march with Martin Luther King.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, last Sunday)

MR. ROMNEY:  But you can see what I believed and what my family believed by looking at our, at our lives.  My dad marched with Martin Luther King.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And then on Thursday, he sought to clarify what he really intended to say.  Let's listen.

(Videotape, Thursday)

MR. ROMNEY:  If you look at the literature or look at the dictionary, the term 'saw' includes 'being aware of' in the sense I've described. It's a figure of speech and very familiar, and it's very common. And I saw my Dad march with Martin Luther King. I did not see with my own eyes, but I saw him in the sense of being aware of his participation in the great effort.

(End videotape)

MR. HARWOOD:  Tim, I think, if you look at the way Mitt Romney's run his campaign, there's plenty to criticize.  Those of us old enough to remember "Leave It to Beaver" sometimes see Eddie Haskell in Mitt Romney going to every constituency group and saying, "You look so lovely, Mrs. Cleaver." In this case, though, I think when he's talking about his father, who was on the same side of--with Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement, marched in Grosse Pointe a few days after Martin Luther King marched in Detroit, I think that falls into the range of what our friend Bill McInturff, who does a journal NBC poll calls acceptable political hyperbole.  I don't think it's a big deal.

MR. RUSSERT:  He did say that the New York--New England Patriots won the World Series and corrected himself to say Super Bowl, thank God.  Chuck:

MR. TODD:  I disagree.  I actually think this has turned into a little bit of a big deal.  The blogs are nuts on it, the conservative blogs, because it's not that this is the first time he's done something like this.  The problem is, is that it feeds into this idea that he will say and--say anything it takes to win over a constituency group.  The Eddie Haskell thing, that's a--that, that cracked me up because you do have that feeling.  He will say anything it takes to be liked, and that Martin Luther King thing.  And the fact is, it's been a real distraction.  Before it, you know, midweek last week, he stopped the bleeding in Iowa, he's being, you know, looked like he was finally starting, you know, Huckabee was getting on the defensive, and then he had to spend 48 hours dealing with this story.  Luckily for him, there's so many other things distracting all the political press, but this was one of those things, I don't know if it goes away.  Ask Al Gore what it's like when suddenly every word, it happens to get parsed.  Mitt Romney is not been good when the pressure's been on and the spotlight's been on.  And that's one of those moments.

MR. HARWOOD:  I agree it's become a political problem.  My point is on the substance, when he says "What I meant was, I was aware of it," that doesn't seem to me to be an unreasonable explanation.

MR. TODD:  But they don't even have George Romney ever appearing with Martin Luther King.  I mean, that was the problem is that there are many issues with it.  It may be that his father never even marched with him.

MR. RUSSERT:  But he was a crusader.

MR. TODD:  Absolutely, and nobody wants to take that away from his father.

MR. HARWOOD:  But I will say, Tim, you got to wonder how George Romney would feel about watching Mitt Romney in one of those debates a few days ago, criticizing Rudy Giuliani for saying that New York City was welcoming to illegal immigrants.  Mitt Romney, for the reason that Chuck mentioned, is sort of taken and run with that immigration issue.  George Romney might not like it.

MR. RUSSERT:  And John McCain, he wants Huckabee to win Iowa big, as we said. He also would like to see Hillary Clinton knock off Barack Obama and John Edwards in Iowa and try to lock up the Democratic nomination.  So all those independents in New Hampshire five days later would say, "You know what?  I'm not going to play the Democratic primary, let me go in the Republican primary and find John McCain."

Let's turn to the Democrats.  Here's the latest national poll.  Shows Hillary Clinton comfortably ahead 45, 23, 13.  But when you go to the states it's a much different story.  Here's two polls.  One, Clinton is up 30, 28, 26; the other it's Obama, 33; Clinton, 29; Edwards is at 20.

Then in New Hampshire, Obama--poll out this morning, Boston Globe--now pulling ahead of Hillary Clinton, in New Hampshire, 30; Clinton, 28; Edwards, 14; Richardson, 7.  But the Gallup poll had it tied 32, 32, Edwards, 18.

South Carolina, this is the poll.  Obama, 35; Clinton, 35; Edwards, 13.  And look at the breakdown now.  Hillary Clinton comfortably ahead with whites, Obama's third.  Blacks, who make up half the South Carolina Democratic primary, vote he's now comfortably ahead.

What does that tell you, Chuck Todd?

MR. TODD:  Well, it's interesting.  The Obama folks, and the Clinton folks right now will tell you that the one candidate they're worried about is John Edwards in Iowa as far as this point.  And I think it's interesting that when you have both camps saying they're both worried about this same guy, it tells you something's going on.  And this is what's so wild about Iowa compared to the other two states.  The other two states are two-person races.  Iowa is not.  It's a true three-way.  If anything, you get the sense that actually Obama and Edwards are now suddenly fighting it out for first and second, and Clinton is almost standing back saying, "OK, I'm going to go on this, I'm going to go on this final tour of Iowa and say it's time to choose a president.  You know, play `I'm the adult here.  Let them fight it out.'" And either hope she gets a John Kerry-like, John Kerry-like bounce, or Edwards ends up pulling out Iowa and she can suddenly weaken Obama and the others.

MR. RUSSERT:  If Hillary can't win Iowa herself, she would prefer that Barack lose to John Edwards.

MR. TODD:  Absolutely.

MR. HARWOOD:  Completely.

MR. TODD:  And, and by the way, she also doesn't want to lose to Obama.  I mean, one of the things that--they don't mind second place, but they certainly--you know, it's sort of like option one is winning.  Option two is fin...

MR. RUSSERT:  If Edwards, if Edwards won Iowa, could he catapult into New Hampshire and South Carolina?  Does he have the resources?

MR. TODD:  I think--I don't know if he has the resources after South Carolina.  I think the fact is he's not--he's not as far back in New Hampshire as he was four years ago when he couldn't get the bounce.  I think he can do, do the bounce.  But the problem they've got is, if it's a three-way--what if it's 32-31-30?  OK?  And, and Clinton's a 30 and, and Edwards is a 32.  Is that a victory?  It's probably not a victory at that point, and then you sort of move on and that's where Edwards could get lost.  I think he--if he wins Iowa, he needs a little bit of pad between first and second.

MR. RUSSERT:  If Obama wins Iowa, John Harwood, what happens?

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, if Obama wins Iowa, he's got a rocket going in to New Hampshire, and we've seen from this Globe poll that he's in a very strong position.  He will be hard to stop if he wins the Iowa caucuses.  But it's so interesting the games that people are playing and the positioning. The--Hillary Clinton would much rather lose to Edwards than Obama.  John Edwards has got to beat Obama in Iowa to make himself viable.  So everybody's got an angle to play.

MR. RUSSERT:  Electability is such a big issue for the candidates, saying "I'm the one who can go into November and win this election for the Democratic Party." The national polls, interesting on some of those issues, and the Obama people have been touting them.  Here's positive/negative on Barack Obama:  46, 26.  Hillary Clinton, the same poll, her positives 42, her negatives 44.  When you go head-to-head, Clinton beats Giuliani 46, 43; Obama, he wins 49-to-40. In terms of Clinton/Huckabee, Clinton wins 46-44; Obama, he wins 48-to-36. They get the same Democratic vote, but Obama does better with Republicans and he wins independents.  Clinton loses Republicans over...(unintelligible)...and loses independents.  Do voters care about this?

MR. HARWOOD:  Sure they care about it.  And they're going to be making assessments of these candidates all through the year, and the electability argument is something that's got some juice for Obama.  Let me tell you a story.  I was with an old school friend recently.  Classic Reagan Democrat, works in the auto body business, had a copy of the Lou Dobbs book, "War on the Middle Class" on his kitchen table.  And he said, `You know, I've been voting Republican for years, but I've decided they're for the rich.  I'm sick of the Republicans.' And I said, `Oh, so you're prepared to vote for Hillary Clinton?' He said, `Never.' There are millions of people like that.  How they decide this could impact what's going to happen in the general election.

MR. RUSSERT:  The campaign between Clinton and Obama's gotten a bit testy. This was Jake Tapper, ABC broke this story:  "The campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton has registered the names of two Web sites with the express goal of attacking her chief rival," "Barack Obama.  It's the first time this election cycle a presidential campaign has launched a Web site with the express purpose of launching serious criticisms on a rival." And we saw this brochure put out in Iowa from AFSCME.  We'll put it on the screen here and share it.  That's the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.  "Barack Obama's healthcare plan is not up to the job.  John Edwards has said `as many as 15 million Americans would be without coverage'" "under Obama's plan." Quoting Edwards attacking Obama, paid for by a union that is supporting Hillary Clinton.

MR. TODD:  Even better, the head of that union is not for a healthcare mandate, Jerry McEntee.  So...

MR. RUSSERT:  Which is what Clinton's for.

MR. TODD:  Which is what Clinton's for.  So it really is sort of--you want to talk why Iowa is three-dimensional chess, it is the ultimate--I think it's more five-dimensional chess, if there's such a thing.  But it is--look, you want to have Edwards and Obama look like they're muddying each other up. Yesterday they had this big spat over third party groups.  Clinton, at this point, is now hoping to play what John--the role John Edwards was playing two weeks ago, which was, "Well, I'm standing on the sidelines just trying to talk about being president.  Let these two kids fight in the schoolyard." She's kind of hoping for the same thing.

Quick note, though, on these third party groups.  In the last--we're now 11 days?--pro-Edwards advertising is going to outspend now pro-Clinton and pro-Obama advertising in Iowa.  That is a stunning thing, because you have this new third party 527 funded by the SEIU, and it is now spending more on TV advertising, frankly, than even John Edwards.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is he denying that he knows anything about it?

MR. TODD:  He is denying that he knows anything about it.  They're campaign is officially saying please stop.  But of course, you know...

MR. RUSSERT:  How can a crusader against special interest money be helped by special interest money buying TV commercials that assist his candidacy?

GOV. ROMNEY:  Well, which is what Obama criticized him for yesterday.  And Edwards did feel on the defensive as the day went on.  Reporters beat him up over this, because he, in 2004, said that George Bush could have stood up to the swift boat guys and could have said, "Stop doing these ads." And by the end of the day...

MR. HARWOOD:  Tim, this is part of, this is part of our system in the post McCain-Feingold world.  It's baked into the cake for every candidate, both political parties.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here's Barack Obama on Hillary Clinton on Thursday, without ever mentioning her name.  Let's watch.

(Videotape)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL):  Now, I'm not going to mention names, but, I mean, the notion that I'm, I'm, you know, that a viability or electability argument is being made by somebody who starts off with almost half the country not being willing to vote for them doesn't make much sense.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  John Harwood, does that work?

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, he's going to try to make it work.  And you look at our poll numbers and there's some support for it.  But nobody can credibly argue that Hillary Clinton cannot win the election next year.  I think she trades in a narrower band than, than Obama; that her floor and ceiling are closer to one another.  Obama, depending on how he handles the experience argument in general election, could fall further and could rise further because of the potential unifying factor in his candidacy.  But look, Democrats go into this 2008 campaign with the upperhand, and that's going to benefit whoever's the nominee...

MR. RUSSERT:  Clinton...

MR. HARWOOD:  ...even if they have negatives.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Clinton campaign counters that by the time Obama became the nominee, his negatives would be almost as high as hers, so please don't...

MR. TODD:  It's a fair--look, eight years ago at this time Bill Bradley had a better rating than Al Gore in national polls, and John McCain had a better rating than George Bush in national polls.  And at the end of the day, neither one of those guys won their respective nominations.  So we should keep that in mind.

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, all these candidates have special Christmas TV commercials.  Did any of them work?

MR. TODD:  Look, I think the only one that worked is the one we all are still talking about, Mike Huckabee's ad.  He was the first one up, and it's the only one we seem to be talking about.

MR. RUSSERT:  It's a brilliant ad.  The other ones are clever, too.  Hillary Clinton's got an ad where she's looking for Christmas presents, and, "Oh, I forgot universal healthcare," or whatever it was.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ron Paul has his family singing, Barack Obama has his two young girls.

MR. HARWOOD:  He's got his kids saying Merry Christmas.

MR. RUSSERT:  John McCain, John Ed--everybody has one.

MR. TODD:  McCain's is strong, too, and he uses a cross.  The drawing of the cross in the, in the line, and talking about--he's at least in message.

MR. RUSSERT:  But...

MR. HARWOOD:  Edwards is a little pugnacious.  But look, everybody's got to navigate this unfamiliar calendar.  Nobody knows how voters are going to react to what goes on between Christmas and New Year's, and they're trying to be careful.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, you know, MEET THE PRESS has not been spared in this Christmas season by the funny papers.  The cartoonist, "Bizarro," Don Piraro, decided this was funny.  "Santa Meets Timmy Russert:  Let me remind you" "on December 12th, 1957, you said, `I will get you that red bike.'"

MR. TODD:  So you didn't get a red bike?

MR. RUSSERT:  No, I never got the red bike.

MR. TODD:  You never got the red bike.

MR. RUSSERT:  But I put it up on the screen for fat boy to remind him.  He better show this year.

MR. HARWOOD:  What you got for Christmas is Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama next Sunday.  That's going to be a great show.

MR. TODD:  I--we've all got what we want for Christmas.  It's this race. Unbelievable.

MR. RUSSERT:  Two races, two parties, two nominations and nobody knows who's going to win.

MR. HARWOOD:  I sure don't.  Maybe Chuck does.

MR. TODD:  Six plausible presidents, six plausible presidents at this point.

MR. RUSSERT:  Chuck Todd...

MR. TODD:  It's unbelievable.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...John Harwood, thanks very much.  We'll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  That's all for today.  Reminder, next week we'll be live in Iowa.  Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Just four days before the Iowa caucuses, and MEET THE PRESS will be there.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, happy holidays.

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