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Special Report Roundtable - May 15

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD GODWIN, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY EXEC VP: Dr. Falwell was a giant of faith and a visionary leader and he is a man -- has always a man of great optimism and great faith, and he has left instructions for those of us who have to carry on, and we will be faithful to that charge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILSON: Some surprising, some sad news today with the passing of the Jerry Falwell, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, the man who was in charge of Liberty University, the man who was in charge at one time of the Moral Majority, leaving the scene today unexpectedly with some heart complications. We're here with some analytical observations of all this from with Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the Weekly Standard; Jeff Birnbaum, columnist of the Washington Post; and Bill Sammon, senior White House correspondent of the Washington Examiner, of course all of these fine gentlemen are FOX NEWS contributors.

Gentleman, good to have you here us in the Columbia, South Carolina. We'll talk more about the debate in a moment, but let's start by talking a little bit about what Jerry Falwell meant. At one time, Fred Barnes, Jerry Falwell, and immensely influential person in conservative Christian circles.

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARDS: Absolutely, and not just conservative circles but in American political circles because he spurred on of the most important transformations in modern times and basically taking a group, millions of conservative Christians who'd been apathetic about politics, really since the 1920s and turning them into an active, lively, concerned voting block, that basically joined the Republican Party and gave the Republican Parity rough parody with Democrats. We would not have a realignment that brought the parties to pretty much to even status without this role that Falwell, not alone, but he was certainly one of the principal actors, and he stirred it. And here's what's also important about it, Brian. It stayed. It still exists. These people are still in politics, still conservatives and mainly still republicans.

WILSON: You know, it's fair to say though, they -- in recent years he's moved more away from the political circles and focused more on his education responsibilities and his religious life.

BILL SAMMON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: He has but that influence has remained in politics, in fact, I think tonight at this debate, abortion is going to be a major issue. I do not think it's an exaggeration to say that it remains a major issue in part because of Jerry Falwell putting social issues like that into the political mainstream, you know, and not just abortion, I mean, you know, gay marriage and a whole host of social issues are font and center on today's political radar because of people like Jerry Falwell.

So, he's had tremendous influence. He's been caricatured by the left because he's a Christian conservative and certainly he said some things that were over the top, but he's done a half a century of good works, and I think, on balance, he's done more good than the five missteps that he's made that everybody keeps quoting all of the time.

WILSON: It is true, the left pretty much made him a poster boy for.

JEFF BIRNBAUM, WASHINGTON POST: That's right, a poster boy for intolerance. A lot of people remember his complaint about the supposedly homosexual Teletubby, that was Tinky Winky, by the way, a lot of people will remember.

He complained gays quite often including when Ellen DeGeneres, the comedian, came out on television. He complained about that. But I think that those things are just bumps in the road, essentially, for what was an amazing career. It wasn't just that he organized the Christina right into a lasting, in fact, permanent part, I think, of the Republican Party.

He also learned how to use television and was one of the first televangelists and really brought together a community of Christians in a way they had not been together before, and then he took the extra to bring them into politics. I think that is an amazing legacy, and I agree that it will be talked about tonight. The values issue -- when they're talked about tonight, it will be, I think, an important legacy of Falwell.

WILSON: Do you think that some of the candidates on the stage will be make reference to this tonight?

BARNES: I think probably all of them.

WILSON: All?

BARNES: Well, one thing about Liberty University, that Jerry Falwell founded, you know, there's been a big revival of Christian colleges around the country, not lead by Liberty, but Liberty has become -- it may be the biggest Christian university in America. I think it has about 25,000 students and one of, of course, Jerry Falwell's aims was to train Christian political leaders. In fact, I had dinner last night with a speech writer for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Barton Swane (ph) who's a Liberty graduate.

WILSON: We're going to have to leave it right there. Good discussion. We are, of course, in Columbia, South Carolina, for tonight's big debate. We're going to talk about what's ahead tonight, what the candidates have to do to break through all of the clutter when you have 10 people on the stage. Taking a commercial break. We'll be right back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You want to let people understand what you stand for and hopefully connect with people who are looking for someone who can change things in Washington.

RUDY GIULIANI (R-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You go over the questions and you think, you know, it is kind of like, for a lawyer, kind of like moot court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILSON: A couple of the top GOP candidates say in the back hallways here at the Koger Center in Columbia, South Carolina, where they we're preparing for the First in the South FOX debate tonight. Ten GOP candidates will be on the stage tonight, trying to -- some of them will be trying to break out of the pack, some will trying to get out without being harmed, as you heard Brit Hume say earlier.

Let's talk to our panel now and see what they think is the most important thing that a candidate needs to do in this debate tonight. You're looking, by the way, live in a hall there as preparations are underway.

Fred, start out for us. What do these guys need to do tonight?

BARNES: Well, I think if you're one of the three frontrunners, so- called, and that's Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney, and John McCain, you don't want to hurt yourself. You know, when you're tied in the front and you don't want to say something that -- some sound bite that's going to be played for weeks that'll make you look foolish or stupid or something, you want to play defense. But if you're one of the seven also-rans, they don't want to be called that, but.

WILSON: Well, let's just fact it, there are major and there are minor candidates.

BARNES: There's top tier and there's the other tiers, if you're one of the people in the second tier of two tiers, you want to say something memorable. You want to have -- you'd love to have a sound bite to get on the air, something will make your candidacy stand out.

WILSON: Bill, there have been moments, though, when lightning does strike both in a good and a bad way. A good line gets tossed out and everybody is playing it the next day, and somebody goes from obscurity to being the person everybody's talking about. You can also flub it, and that's what you talk about for.

SAMMON: And I think when you flub it, then when the next debate comes along, you're the onus is on you to repair it and I think that's what we're going to see with Rudy Giuliani because he is widely seen to have flubbed the abortion question in the first debate. People were very critical that he was so cavalier about his answer: Well, it doesn't matter, it's OK if Roe versus Wade is overturned, it's OK if it's not overturned. I think tonight, he has to come out and decisively address the issue. It almost doesn't matter as much what he says as much as it matters how he says it. He has to be decisive, he has to be passionate and show that he cares about this important issue.

BIRNBAUM: I think it really will matter what he says, not just how he says it. And I think that Rudy Giuliani -- you won't see it, because he'll be facing at the camera, but he has a big target painted on his back, basically, that just about every other candidate, including the top tier, by the way, I think, they will want to take punches at him. He is the frontrunner, according to the polls, and a lot of the candidates there think that he shouldn't be because of his positions on abortion, on gun control, on gay rights in particular, and I bet all of those issues will come up and be -- and they'll be pointed at Rudy Giuliani. He will have to punch back in an effective way, or I think his candidacy will be damaged.

WILSON: You mentioned some key topics everybody is going to be talking about. What are the other topics, Fred, do you think people are going to be focusing on?

BARNES: Well, I mean, look, it's going to be on a range of issues, I think Romney's Mormonism will come up again, it's just bound to, it's a continuing issue, particularly because he did so poorly in this recent poll of Republicans in South Carolina, coming in in fifth place behind two candidates who aren't even candidates, and getting only eight percent of the vote. Raising the suspicion that, perhaps, it his religion that is holding voters back. He's certainly got a great -- he's got money, he's got an organization and so on, but he's lacking the voters.

SAMMON: Well, I think it's, you know, but you got to -- you have to give him credit for having an extraordinary couple of weeks. He is widely seen to have won the first debate. He's won the money sweepstakes. He raised more money than other Republicans. I think the other big issue, of course, is Iraq. I mean, I think Iraq will be a dominate issue, it's the issue of our era, and there's going to be a lot of questions about that.

BIRNBAUM: Well, I think there'll be a lot of questions on a lot of topics, and I think the candidates will be tested, and I think other than the Rudy Giuliani question, the Romney question is the big issue, I think. Can he, and also McCain, prove themselves to be someone who can replace Giuliani at the top.

WILSON: Now, we got 10 guys going to be on the stage. Everybody's got a preselected position and a podium that they're going to be standing behind, but there are two guys that the Republicans are still talking about who are not going to be here. Is that a good strategy, not to play right now?

BARNES: It's a good strategy up to a point. Fred Thompson appears -- he's giving speeches to Republican groups almost every night and he's on television a lot. At some point, he's going to have to pull the trigger here. I mean, being coy only takes you so far. Newt Gingrich says he's going to wait until September. If Fred Thompson gets an early and builds up some strength, that may not leave room for Newt Gingrich.

SAMMON: Yeah, there's more conventional wisdom now starting to coalesce around the idea that Fred gets in Newt actually doesn't get in because when you get right down to it, Newt's a brilliant guy, but he's probably not electable.

BIRNBAUM: The people who are in are in, and the people who are out, are not. You can't win the presidency without running for it, and unless Fred Thompson gets in, then he's not a contender, and so, all of this talk is just, I think, a manifestation of discontent with the candidates who are in already, which is a problem for the Republicans.

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