December 16, 2003 | Broadcast

American Morning

Joining us from Washington to put their spin on the spin, Cliff May, former RNC communications director now with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Good morning.

And Democratic consultant Victor Kamber of the Kamber Group. Good morning to you.

Let me start off with you, Cliff. We just saw Howard Dean there speaking. He made this major policy speech yesterday. Does the capture of Saddam Hussein, does it badly damage him?

CLIFF MAY, FMR. RNC COMM. DIR.: I don’t think it — well, look, there are two things. One is it damages him somewhat in terms of his race for the nomination. But I think there is a certain inevitability about that. I think a lot of Democrats wonder a lot more today than they did a few days ago whether Dean should be their nominee. He’s been branded as the anti-war candidate. He’s branded himself that way. Al Gore branded him that way. Al Gore said going into Iraq was the worst mistake America has made in its foreign policy in 200 years.

Obviously, from the poll you showed, most people don’t agree with that. But 10 months is a lifetime in politics. By next October, who knows where we’ll be in the war, and who knows what will happen. But it does set up the war as the defining issue of the campaign, with the Dean as the anti-war candidate, and Bush saying, we have to confront and beat our allies — beat our enemies.

O’BRIEN: Victor, do you agree with that, that the war will be the defining point in this campaign? And if so, how are the Democrats dealing with Saddam’s capture?

VICTOR KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: First of all, I think the war will be an issue. Frankly, if we’re still at war, I’m glad we’re using that word, we’re not seeing another mission accomplished by this administration. The capture of Saddam Hussein, while a wonderful thing to get rid of this tyrant, by no means is this war over. I think since Saddam Hussein Has been captured, we’ve lost, what, two American lives and 20 more have been wounded. If this continues, about four or five a week dead Americans, 25, 30 a week who lose their arms, their legs, their eyes, how long does that continue? We still have a president that basically has no policy of how to get out, how to extricate us from this conflict. We have no world leadership involvement. Much of the praise we got from our allies and former allies. They’re still not involved.

O’BRIEN: Let me jump in here. I want to show you, Cliff, a poll, both of you, this poll, a CNN/”USA Today”/Gallup poll: Was the situation in Iraq worth going to war over? Sixty-two percent of Americans say yes, 33 percent say no.

Cliff, have the Democrats basically painted themselves as the party of negativity, that for them to succeed, the war has to go badly?

MAY: There is some truth to that. It’s even worse than that for Democrats. I don’t see it in any kind of gleeful way. Anything that’s good for the country right now is bad for the Democrats, obviously. And anything bad for the country is good for the Democrats.

Now I think the Democrats, and a lot of people agree, maybe even Vick would agree, would be better off with a candidate like Joe Lieberman, like Dick Gephardt, or John Edwards, who are pretty close to the president in saying, there is a war we have to fight, we’ll win battles, as we did this weekend, we will lose some battles, but we have to win the war, compared to somebody like Howard Dean who is saying, what I think I hear Victor saying, is let’s find an exit strategy, let’s get out of this, let’s cut and run, and maybe they won’t come after us. I don’t think most Americans, and this poll proves it, believe what we can do is cut and run, because the enemy will come after us in New York, in Washington, wherever they can find us.

KAMBER: I’m not suggesting cutting and running; I’m suggesting a plan. But, Anderson, the thing that’s shocking, is your poll, that indicates there was only a marginal change after the capture of Saddam Hussein. You did the polling immediately after Saddam Hussein’s capture, with the idea to see what support. You only show a marginal change of 3 percent. I mean, we don’t see the 65 percent — excuse me — the 85 percent that happened when we went to war.

MAY: You and I know that you don’t expect to see that. The 65 is absolutely overwhelming.

KAMBER: I understand that, Cliff. All I’m saying is I think it is the bump from the weekend. I think the true test of Americans will be in a month when we see how many more dead and how many more wounded.

COOPER: Final thought.

MAY: Victor, you’re right, it’s a small bump because basically Americans know we have to fight and win this war. Howard Dean yesterday gave a foreign policy speech. It wasn’t that. It was a wish list. He said, let’s have a more peaceful world, let’s get Jacques Chirac to agree with us. He had no idea, no strategy how to do it, it wasn’t a very serious foreign policy speech.

KAMBER: He’s no different than the president of the United States, who has no idea how to resolve the conflict.

COOPER: We have to end it there, gentlemen. Clifford May, appreciate you joining us, and, Victor Kamber, nice to talk to you.