TRANSCRIPT: The Republican Debate

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Thompson, let me bring you in here, because Michael Gerson, President Bush's former speechwriter, now a columnist for The Washington Post, wrote a column about Mayor Giuliani a few weeks ago, where he said one of the consequences -- because of the mayor's pro-life position -- of a Giuliani victory would be to place the Republican nominee in direct conflict with the Roman Catholic Church.

How big a problem is that?

THOMPSON: I think it's a problem. I think it's a problem not only for the Roman Catholic Church, but it's a problem with the Constitution and the platform of the Republican Party.

Every year the Republican Party, both at the state level in Iowa, nationally, are parties that come out very avidly and passionately on being pro-life. And I think any candidate that's pro-choice is going to have a difficulty with the party faithful and those individuals that have come to this district and the state and national meetings and have avowed time and time again that this party, the Republican Party, is a party of pro-life.

So anybody that's not pro-life is going to have difficulties. That's the question.

Beyond that, however, I think you've got to look beyond just one issue. And the issue that really concerns me, of course, is the health issues of America.

And we get tied up in one particular issue and we really don't go to some of the major issues that are affecting America -- not that pro-life isn't -- but we have to get down -- and this debate should be about the major issues affecting the voters of Iowa and nationally, instead of trying to choose one person against another on this campaign.

THOMPSON: Every single one of us up here have got issues, positions, and every single one of us believe very strongly of those. And I think that speaks highly of the Republican Party.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You bring up an important point, and let me bring this to Senator McCain. Because some people have made the argument...

(APPLAUSE)

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... some people have made the argument that in this election especially, that Mayor Giuliani would be absolutely the strongest candidate, in part because of his pro-choice positions, but even more than that, in the general election, the most important issue is going to be national security, and an issue like abortion should be de-emphasized.

Do you agree with that?

MCCAIN: I think the respect and commitment to the rights of the unborn is something I've fought for, and it has a lot to do with national security. Because it depends on -- it says very much what kind of a country we are and our respect for human life, whether it be here in the United States or whether it be in China or Bangladesh or the Congo or anyplace else in the world. So I think it is connected.

But I also firmly believe that the challenge of the 21st century is the struggle against radical Islamic extremism. It is a transcendent issue. It is hydra-headed. It will be with us for the rest of the century.

I have served my nation and my country and the people of this country for all of my adult life. I am the most prepared. I have been involved in these issues. I have served this nation in the military and in the Congress, and I'm the best prepared and equipped and need no on-the-job training to meet that challenge.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You have also addressed the issue of Iraq, probably more -- as much as, if not more than any other candidate.

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