Updated [3:18 ET]: Video added
During an interview with Fox News's Bill O'Reilly on Tuesday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer cited recent foreign policy successes for President Obama and wondered: "Republicans have run on a perception that they are tougher on national security, that they're the ones who can keep Americans safe....has Barack Obama done a lot to erase that perception?" [Audio available here]
The O'Reilly Factor host replied: "I mean, it's all about the economy. I don't think foreign affairs is going to be much next year, although Iran is a wild card. If Iran causes trouble in Iraq because the President, you know, is withdrawing all of the troops at the end of the year, that could become a campaign issue." Lauer somehow twisted that response into this: "But right now, what you're saying is Republicans have no right to claim the mantle of 'We are the party that's tough on national security'?" [View video after the jump]
Later, Lauer turned to the 2012 GOP field and wondered if Herman Cain was a "serious candidate" or if voters were just "being taken for a ride" by the businessman. He also warned that if Mitt Romney won the election the Republican Party would be so divided that it would "make the John Boehner/Tea Party thing look like child's play."
Here is a full transcript of the October 25 segment:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
MATT LAUER: Lifelines. President Obama unveils his new plan to ease the housing crisis as GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry gets set to announce his flat tax proposal, and Herman Cain releases a new ad that features his chief of staff smoking a cigarette. This morning we'll talk about it all with the always-opinionated Bill O'Reilly.
7:01AM ET TEASE:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And the economy, of course, is the big issue in the presidential race. It's probably where this campaign will be won or lost, Matt.
LAUER: Some details are already emerging about the plan that Texas Governor Rick Perry will lay out in South Carolina today. It could give you an interesting choice when it comes to the amount of taxes you will pay. Will it help Perry regain some of the momentum he's lost during recent debates? That's just one of the topics we'll discuss this morning live with our friend Bill O'Reilly.
7:08AM ET SEGMENT:
LAUER: Now to politics and the race for the White House. On Monday, President Obama unveiled his plan to fix the housing crisis. Here to talk about that and the GOP field is Bill O'Reilly, host of The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News. He's also the author of the new best-seller, "Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever." Bill, good to have you back.
BILL O'REILLY: Thanks Lauer, I appreciate you having me in.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: The Factor; Bill O'Reilly on Obama, the GOP & Abraham Lincoln]
LAUER: It's always a pleasure. So President Obama unveiled this new slogan yesterday, "We can't wait." When you consider the economy right now and what President Obama is facing, couldn't that also be a Republican bumper sticker, 'We can't wait until November'?
O'REILLY: Yeah, I can't wait until the debates are over.
LAUER: You've had enough of the debates?
O'REILLY: 97 debates. You know, it's going to be a new cable channel, just Republican debates, all 24/7. Yeah, you know, they have their slogans, they have their little rallies, and you know, we've been doing this forever so it's nothing new.
LAUER: A couple – about ten days after he took the oath of office, sat down with Barack Obama, he said, "Look, if I can't fix this economy in three years it's going to be a one-term proposition." You look right now, there's 9.1% unemployment, 2 million homes fell into foreclosure this year, I think 10 million are underwater. Is there any reason right now in this snapshot in time that the Republicans should not be able to beat Barack Obama?
LAUER: In the election?
O'REILLY: If the election were held tomorrow, the President would probably lose. But you know, a year is a long time and the economy could get better, things could rise up and President Obama is a nimble guy, is a smart guy, so the Republicans would be foolish to count him out, but of course they have the advantage. I mean, the President's going in very weakened.
LAUER: Over the last 20 years or so, Bill, it seems Republicans have run on a perception that they are tougher on national security, that they're the ones who can keep Americans safe. We've seen that in campaign ad after campaign ad. When you consider over the last several months Barack Obama oversaw the killing of Osama Bin Laden and Awlaki and Qadhafi is now out of power and in fact dead, has Barack Obama done a lot to erase that perception, that idea that Republicans have run on for so long?
O'REILLY: Yeah. I mean, it's all about the economy. I don't think foreign affairs is going to be much next year, although Iran is a wild card. If Iran causes trouble in Iraq because the President, you know, is withdrawing all of the troops at the end of the year, that could become a campaign issue. But right now, it's all about the wallet.
LAUER: But right now, what you're saying is Republicans have no right to claim the mantle of 'We are the party that's tough on national security'?
O'REILLY: They can claim whatever they want, Lauer-
LAUER: But is it true?
O'REILLY: I think Mr. Obama's done a pretty good job on the war on terror, with the exception of Iran.
LAUER: How did he play Libya? When you look back now, hindsight being 20/20?
O'REILLY: Played it well.
LAUER: Played it well. He never put U.S. troops on the ground.
O'REILLY: We didn't lose anybody, you know, cost us between 30 and 50 million to bomb – you know, look, all of this is nitpicking. The big issue is America is on the down cline of its power, there's no doubt about it, but it's all economically based.
LAUER: We'll talk about economics in a second. On Friday – last Friday – President Obama announced that he'd pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of the year, fulfilling a campaign promise from 2008.
LAUER: When you heard him say it, Bill, did you think, 'Wow, that is great military strategy,' or, 'That is pure political strategy'?
O'REILLY: Look, the reason he had to do it is because the Iraqi government, Maliki, wouldn't give the United States troops a pathway to be tried by the USA. They wanted to try them in Iraq if somebody misbehaves over there. So no commander in chief could agree to that. So the Iraqis made it impossible for Mr. Obama to keep forces there. He should have kept, in a perfect world, 20,000 there to make sure Iran doesn't misbehave and Turkey doesn't go and brutalize the Kurds in the north. But he couldn't because the Iraqi government wouldn't give him that option. So he had to do what he did.
LAUER: Let's talk about the GOP field. If you look at a lot of the polls right now, Bill, you've got Herman Cain leading the Republican pack by a couple of percentage points. He's a guy, though, who has basically turned his back on the early primary states, New Hampshire and Iowa. He does not have an infrastructure to speak of. He's out selling a book. Is he a serious candidate?
O'REILLY: He's serious but he's doing it in an unorthodox way. And so, again, if the election were held tomorrow, Mr. Cain would not be the nominee.
LAUER: Serious, though, in terms of you think he really wants to be president?
LAUER: 27% of the people who are polled on the GOP side say, 'We would vote for this guy.' Are they being taken for a ride by Herman Cain?
O'REILLY: No. I mean, Herman Cain is what you see is what you get. Who wouldn't want to be president? You get a jet, you get a big house, Herman Cain, you know, you're ordering pizza, somebody else pays for it. It's a great job as far as that's concerned. But Cain is running a populist campaign. I don't think can he win, but I was wrong last year. I didn't think Obama could beat Hillary.
LAUER: Can Mitt Romney win? Is he a true-
O'REILLY: Of course he can win.
LAUER: Is he a true conservative?
O'REILLY: I don't know whether he's a conservative or not. He runs as a moderate Republican, of course he can win. If he's smart he'll run as America's CEO that, 'I'll restore the economy and put people back to work.' That's all he's got to do, basically. All the other issues are small ball. Guys like you and me make a living out of it but the folks don't really care. They want somebody to get the economy back on track.
LAUER: But that's the question, let's say he goes on and wins the White House.
LAUER: Is he, as a moderate Republican, going to face an incredibly uphill battle against conservatives? Is it going to make the John Boehner/Tea Party thing look like child's play?
O'REILLY: Look, Romney's been around for a long time. He makes deals, okay? He governed Massachusetts and he had to make deals with those pinheads there.
LAUER: But it's not particularly a deal-making period in our history.
O'REILLY: It doesn't matter, these guys make all kinds of deals. Could he govern? Yes. Can he win? Yes.
LAUER: Let's talk about Rick Perry. Rick Perry in the last eight weeks has lost about half of his popularity according to the polls. What happened to him?
O'REILLY: Well, he was in inarticulate in the debates and perception is reality. I got Perry coming on The Factor tonight for the first time. We tried to book him for months and he, you know, stayed away from the venue so we'll see what he's got tonight. Can he make a comeback? Yes. He's got a lot of money. He is much more conservative than Romney.
LAUER: Do you think his flat tax proposal that he's announcing today-
O'REILLY: I haven't heard it, I don't know.
LAUER: But do you think that's the kind of thing that can help him claw his way back?
O'REILLY: Flat tax is what people want. Tax code has to be revised. So if it's decent, he'll get some currency, pardon the pun.
LAUER: You've written this new book called "Killing Lincoln: The Shocking-"
O'REILLY: And you didn't even read it, Lauer.
LAUER: I haven't read it yet, no I have not.
O'REILLY: Because you're in bed at 5:00 in the afternoon.
LAUER: Because I'm reading things for other guests as well. But I'm-
O'REILLY: You're not reading things for other guests.
LAUER: But I'm going to get the title out here for you, okay? Because I know it's a best-seller, I know you haven't mentioned it on your show yet. "Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever."
LAUER: Is there a Lincoln out there right now running for president?
O'REILLY: I hope so.
LAUER: Who is he?
O'REILLY: That's why I wrote the book, because we need leadership in this country and Abraham Lincoln is the gold standard, the best American president ever. We need to find somebody with that kind of fiber to bring us back. And this was a departure for me, I took less money for this book, but I wanted people to know in a very accessible way, it's not some pinheady book. You could actually read it. I'll send you an audio so you can listen to it, Lauer.
LAUER: Thank you. On my commute in, in the morning.
O'REILLY: When you're kind of dozing off there. He goes to bed at 5:00, he's old. It's 5:00 in the afternoon, he's in bed. But that's why I wrote it. I wanted people to really understand what good leadership is. It's not a knock on Obama or Bush or Clinton. It's just that we need somebody special now in our history to bring us back because we're on the decline, there's no question.
LAUER: Bill O'Reilly, always good to have you here.
O'REILLY: Alright, Matt, good to see you man.
LAUER: Matt, you called me Matt, you slipped.
O'REILLY: They told me-
LAUER: You slipped.
O'REILLY: Because they told me, "Lauer feels bad when you call him his last name."
LAUER: No, you slipped, that's it. I'm going with that.