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Murder Mystery of the McStays Five Years Later; Navy SEALs Allegations; The War of Words over the Benghazi Attack; Training Mission, or Mission Creep?; GOP Wins 2014, Can They Win 2016?

Aired November 8, 2014 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to the program. I'm Michael Smerconish. We have a great program for you today. Digging down on some important stories with great guests.

Up first, a murder mystery with a shocking arrest. Police say that they have the man who killed an entire California family five years ago. But how did they miss him when he was literally right in front of them. His exclusive interview with CNN and some of the bizarre things that he told us.

Also, would a Navy SEAL lie over the question of who killed Osama Bin Laden. A former Navy SEAL says that it was him but why are other SEALs up in arms about the revelations?

And the president is sending more troops to Iraq with twice as many boots on the ground to root out ISIS. Will this mission (INAUDIBLE).

And the award-winning CBS reporter who says the president and her own news organization misled her and America about Benghazi but is this really a case of media bias? All that and more. Stick around.

We start with the murder mystery that has baffled police for almost five years. And now finally, an arrest in the killing of a California family, the McStays - a husband, wife, and their two young sons. They disappeared from their home near San Diego in February of 2010. When police went to their house they found food still on the table. But only their two dogs in the house. The family's remains were found just a year ago in the dessert.

The most shocking aspect of this awful story, the identity of the man accused of killing this family - Charles Chase Merritt was Joseph McStay's business partner and a close family friend.

CNN correspondent Randi Kaye spoke exclusively to Merritt before any one knew he was a suspect. She covered this story for years and joins me now.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Michael, in his only television interview, Chase Merritt talked to me about his final meeting with Joseph McStay and that was the day that McStay and his wife and two young sons suddenly vanished. The interview was January of this year and the McStays had disappeared nearly four years earlier on February 4, 2010. Merritt was McStay's business partner and he says a close family friend.

The two had met for lunch that day and nobody ever heard from Joseph McStay again. Merritt had the attention of authorities because he was with McStay just hours before he disappeared. Listen.


KAYE (on camera): You were the last person who saw him.

CHASE MERRITT, MCSTAY'S BUSINESS PARTNER: I'm definitely the last person who saw him.

KAYE: Did Jessie have any enemies that you knew of?

MERRITT: No. Everybody loves Jessie.

KAYE: Any idea why someone would want to harm him and his family?

MERRITT: No. There's nobody that I know of in his entire life, that I'm aware of, that would have any reason to hurt him.


KAYE: Now, police say Chase Merritt murdered the entire McStay family and Merritt may now face the death penalty. You may recall the family's remains were found last November in two shallow graves in the Mojave Dessert, now marked with giant crosses. By then four years had passed and all the while loved ones were wondering what happened and who could wipe out an entire family, including two beautiful small children. Merritt told me about being questioned by authorities.


KAYE: You took a polygraph test. What did it show?

MERRITT: I don't know.

KAYE: You passed the polygraph.

MERRITT: Apparently. I mean, I haven't - after I took the polygraph test, law enforcement has not contacted me at all since. So, I kind of simply assumed, apparently that resolved any issues that they may be looking at with me.

KAYE: Did detectives ask you if you killed Joseph McStay and his family?

MERRITT: I don't recall being asked that.

KAYE: Nothing that direct. Not directly.

MERRITT: No. I don't recall them being that direct.


KAYE: He night that Joseph McStay disappeared Chase Merritt told me that he got a call from McStay's cellphone. He says it was late and that he was tired so he didn't answer it. He said he was watching TV at that time with his girlfriend and he didn't feel like having a long conversation.

When we spoke, he suggested that that was a missed opportunity, not taking that call. But now, it's hard to know what to believe if Joseph McStay was the one making that phone call or was it someone else. Michael.

SMERCONISH: Wow. Randi, thank you for that.

What a great report. Will check back with you later.

Now when the McStays went missing, desperate relatives reached out to a Texas company that specializes in finding missing people. The company is called Texas Equisearch, and it specializes in high-profile cases like the disappearance of 17-year-old Natalie Holloway in Aruba and the murder of two-year-old Kaylee Anthony in Orlando.

Tim Miller is the leader of the company. He's been on the McStay case and joins me now from Houston. How surprised were you? You've spoken to this guys several times yourself. How surprised were you by this arrest?

TIM MILLER, TEXAS EQUISEARCH: I don't know if I was extremely surprise. You know, when we got down there. We actually went in the house. I talked to Chase a couple of times on the phone and I didn't want to talk to him a whole lot because we're searchers, not investigators. I certainly didn't want to get in trouble with San Diego Sheriff's Department, feeling as we were interfering in a police investigation.

But I think early on when we got in there, it was obvious that somebody knew the family, that took the family and the question was why did they murder the children. It was obvious why they murdered the children if the children were old enough to recognize what you could say almost, Uncle Chase. That's how close he was to the family.

SMERCONISH: In other words, he would have been Tim, a known entity to the kids and theoretically, he would have felt the need that he had it in for the parents, he would have felt the need to kill the kids if they had witnessed his behavior.

MILLER: Well, definitely. And we felt that early on. And we went in that house. We really didn't want to go in that house and we told Michael at that time "Michael we don't need to be going in that house. It's a crime scene. We're not going to contaminate a crime scene." And Michael was just firm that we went in the house and looked at stuff in the house which we found real odd about going in that house. And Michael actually went in the back window, came to the side door and let us in. Steff Watts (ph) was there with me.

We actually videotaped probably everything we did in that house. Was in there probably an hour and a half. And I remember going upstairs and looking in the McStays' closet. I looked at Michael and said "where the hell is all the clothes?" There's no clothes in here and there was one pair of his wife's shoes in there and they were high heel shoes. Michael said that they were doing construction in the house and she was planting flowers and (INAUDIBLE).

SMERCONISH: Is it fair to say now, you look at the lack of clothing and you say that maybe he was setting that up so that to create the impression that the family had willingly disappeared. We only have 20 seconds left but tell me, is that what you think?

MILLER: I think that's pretty obvious that that's exactly what happened and then we searched, we had drone airplanes, we went down to the border and then I met with detectives and they showed me the video of a family crossing the Mexican border and they said it's pretty obvious it's them, they left on their own. You know, I think - anyway San Diego Sheriff Department kind of close the book at that time.

SMERCONISH: Final - give me one final question, if I might. Motive? What would be the motive of this guy?

MILLER: I think Chase is the only one that knows and you know, I'm sure investigators had their theories but I think we're going to be surprised when it comes out.

I don't believe to this day that Chase was involved by himself. I still think somebody else was involved.

SMERCONISH: Interesting.

MILLER: We'll see where that goes.

SMERCONISH: OK. Tim. By the way, everybody, tune in Tuesday, 9:00 p.m. for Randi Kaye's special report "Buried Secrets: Who Murdered the McStay Family?"

Tim Miller, thank you so much.

When we come back, the man who says he killed Osama Bin Laden, did he? I hope a Navy SEAL wouldn't lie, right? I'll talk to the man who wrote the book on the raid that killed the world's most wanted terrorist.

And the president is sending a lot more troops to Iraq. He says it's just to train Iraqis and Kurds but with more American boots on the ground, where will it end?


SMERCONISH: Hey, welcome back to the program. Big question this week about a big moment in recent American history. Who exactly shot Osama Bin Laden? A second Navy SEAL has now come out of the shadows to claim that he's the one who fired the shot that killed Bin Laden in May of 2011.

Robert O'Neill is a highly decorated SEAL but his story is contradicted by some of his colleagues. Do they all want credit for firing that fatal shot? Or is this what happens in a fog of war? In an audio interview with reporter Alex Quaid, he says that he and his fellow SEALs were motivated by what happened on 911, the tragedy at the World Trade Center.



ROBERT O'NEILL, NAVY SEAL: The way it was a single mom who went to work on a Tuesday morning and later - a few minutes later decided to jump instead of burning to death as her last gesture of human dignity was (INAUDIBLE) jump. That's why we went for her.

For the - all the people (INAUDIBLE) who was on a Gulf trip and his entire office was lost, his brother was killed.

We just wanted a rejustification of this is it. We are going to die but we're going to die when the house blows up but knowing that (INAUDIBLE).

So any way, (INAUDIBLE) answer is 911 is very significant. It's the whole reason we're there.


SMERCONISH: This week he told the "Washington Post" that he was one of three SEALs who climbed to the third floor of the Bin Laden compound in Pakistan. He says another SEAL fired he first shot at Bin Laden when he poke his head out of the door but that that shot missed. Then O'Neill says he went into the bedroom where Bin Laden stood behind one of his wives and he fired the shots that killed the Al Qaeda leader. But sources in SEAL team six told CNN's Peter Bergen another story.

They agreed that the three SEALs moved up the stairs that the point man fired the first shot but they say he wounded Bin Laden as he looked out the door. Then Robert O'Neill and a third SEAL finished him off as he lay on the floor.

Joining me now to sort it all out is Peter Bergen. He's CNN national security analyst. He has written a lot about the raid including what I think is a definitive account, an excellent book called "Manhunt." Peter, what's going on here? Do they all want to be known as the man who killed Bin Laden? Do they believe it? Are they lying? Is this what happens in the fog of war?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Michael, I think that - only Robert O'Neill is definitely saying that "I'm the man who killed Bin Laden." Other accounts suggest somebody called the point man who hasn't publicly identified himself and apparently will never do so is the person who took the kill shot. On some levels, Michael, in a way, does it even matter? I mean, it was obviously a team effort.

If you took one person out of the team, the whole thing would have collapsed and let me give you an example. The helicopter pilot who basically - the first helicopter got in a lot of trouble. He was so skilled that he was able to put it down despite the fact that in almost any other situation, it would have crashed. If there had been a helicopter crash right at the beginning where people are injured, the whole thing would have been called off.

So, A, it's a team effort. B, I think you used the term fog of war. It was a moonless night. There was no electricity in the house. There was no electricity in the neighborhood. There was a helicopter down. There were three firefights before you get to Bin Laden. This all took - all of those events took place in about 15 minutes. You know, it was confusing.

SMERCONISH: Peter, what seems clear is that many shots were fired into Bin Laden, maybe some after he was already dead. It makes me wonder, is this an explanation as to why the autopsy photos were never revealed because the Navy SEALs - and I wouldn't blame them when they had the chance, with Bin Laden on the ground, they all took a shot and hit him in the face.

BERGEN: Right. I mean, apparently, I've never seen the pictures but I've talked to people who had seen the pictures. They're pretty gruesome. I mean, it's Bin Laden with a giant hole in his head. And there was a discussion by the principals and the cabinet about whether to release these pictures and there was - I think a reasonable decision was made not to release them because it was seen as potentially inciting a lot of anti-American violence.

But, you know, there's really two accounts here, Michael. One is a more heroic one, from Robert O'Neill, the shooter saying that he took the shot that killed Bin Laden and there's also a (INAUDIBLE) no easy day and other accounts who say the point man, winged Bin Laden and he was finished off on the floor by Robert O'Neill (INAUDIBLE).

We'll never really know. That house is now demolished. There's no forensic evidence. This whole event probably took place across 10 seconds. So, you know, people's accounts are just regular car accidents are often very, very confused.


BERGEN: It just - we will never know definitely.

SMERCONISH: Peter Bergen, thank you so much. "Manhunt" lays it all out. We appreciate you being here.

BERGEN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: You know, revelations from members of SEAL team six are not sitting well with the remainder of the SEAL community that prides itself on anonymity. Eric Greitens is a former Navy SEAL officer who has been deployed all over the world to fight the war on terror. He has also written three books including "The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL." It was "New York Times" bestseller. He joins us from Cambridge.

Eric, I don't know if you'll remember but close in time to the killing of Bin Laden, you came on my radio program and I said to you "I'd love to know who took that shot because someday I'd love to buy him a beer and I bet everybody else feels the same way" and you said to me "I sure hope it never comes to that." What has happened in the interim?

ERIC GREITENS, FMR. NAVY SEAL: I think one of the things, Michael and it's really important is that one of the things we want to emphasize in the SEAL community is there's a real focus on teamwork. And you know, when you and I were talking and we're talking about that, we said "you know, we didn't want these identities to be revealed because in part we want to make sure that everybody knows that SEALs emphasize a team work effort."

And you know just like Peter was saying not only where there were dozens of SEALs on the target that night. You have the pilots who were involved, not to mention there were people who worked for 10 years on the intelligence, there were people who worked on logistics, people who worked on special operations and this was a real victory, not just for navy SEALs or the special operations community but this was a real victory for the American military and a victory for everyone who supported the American military and we want to make sure that everybody understands that SEALs really emphasize humility and ethics of service.

SMERCONISH: Within your tight knit community, did you all know Rob O'Neill's the guy?

GREITENS: You know, within the community, one of the things that was emphasized was that we knew that there were a lot of people who were on the target that day, who had spent years preparing, training, preparing for an operation like this. We considered every single one of them to be best operators in the world. And our emphasis always in the SEAL teams was not on who took a particular action but we know that our missions are only accomplished when everybody does their job and that's what happened that night.

SMERCONISH: Eric, final question if I might? Are you troubled by the fact that he has apparently been speaking across the country about his role as a SEAL including on this mission although I understand not telling people he took the definitive shot?

GREITENS: You know, Michael, I'd say to you the same thing that Admiral McRaven said. You know, Admiral McRaven was our special operations commander. He actually is the guy who studied journalism. He wrote a book on special operations tactics. He gave one of the most widely shared commencement addresses. He said it's important for navy SEALs to be out in public. The American people invests billions of dollars in special operations and the naval special worker. They need to understand that we're out there as public servants. But the emphasis always was on two things.

One is that when we're out in public we always want to make sure that we keep tactics, techniques and procedures secret, that need to remain secret.


GREITENS: And we do that to protect SEALs who are involved - just today we got 1,500 more troops who are heading to Iraq. We need to make sure that we keep these things secret. And the second thing that we always emphasize, Michael, that this is a team effort and we want to understand virtues of service and humility right out in front.

SMERCONISH: Eric Greitens, thank you. Great to see you again. Thanks for your service.

GREITENS: Great to be on with you as always.

SMERCONISH: All right. Up next, Sheryl Atkisson, an award-winning investigative reporter for CBS News, she says that she has the scoop on what the president and her own news organization wasn't telling the rest of America about that deadly night in Benghazi.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back to the program. Former CBS News reporter Sheryl Atkisson has made a lot of news lately with charges that she has seen liberal bias in the way that CBS and other major news outlets cover Washington. In fact, she says that she is a victim of it. A case in point she says - one of the most memorable moments of the 2012 campaign. In the second debate between President Obama and Governor Romney, moderated by our own Candy Crowley, there was disagreement as to whether the president had initially characterized the attack on our outpost in Benghazi as an act of terror.


MITT ROMNEY, FMR. MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: I want to make sure we get that for the record. Because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST: He did in fact, sir, so let me call it an act of terrorism.

OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?

CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror. It did, as well, take - it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea - there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.


SMERCONISH: A transcript of the president's remarks in the Rose Garden a day after the attack showed that Obama had indeed used the words "acts of terror," but there remained a question as to whether he was speaking of Benghazi in particular. Nevertheless, the media largely treated the matter as if Obama had been vindicated.

Not quite, according to Emmy-award winning journalist Sheryl Atkisson in her new book "Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstructionism, Intimidation and Harassment in Obama's Washington." And she joins me now. Sheryl, how does this fit into what you see as a larger narrative about the media?

SHERYL ATKISSON, FORMER CBS NEWS INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: What happened was there was actually a hidden interview that CBS News had with the president the same day he made the Rose Garden speech. He spoke to Steve Croft of "60 Minutes," and Steve naturally asked his first couple of questions about the Benghazi attacks. And Steve made the observation "Mr. President, you avoided using the word terrorism today in your speech."

And was asking why he did that, and the president acknowledged, right, and he explained that why he did that was he said it was too early to tell and so on. At the time, maybe that wasn't a big deal, but certainly after the question was raised in the Romney debate and we were sitting on a clip that appeared to prove President Obama's version was wrong and Romney's version was correct, I didn't know that tape existed.

We weren't even told of it --at least I was working on the story and was not told of it. Instead I was directed by the New York office to use a different clip which I felt in retrospect was entirely out of context, and use it in a way that appeared to defend the president's version rather than presenting the sound bytes that would have shown that Romney was perhaps correct.

SMERCONISH: In other words, at a time when there is a debate between Rs and Ds about the president's words and what they meant, sitting in the CBS vault, is a piece of sound, a piece of video from a Steve Croft interview the morning after Benghazi that hadn't seen the light of day. I have it, let me show it to everyone so they know what we're talking about. Play that.


STEVE CROFT, "60 MINUTES" : This morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya attack.

OBAMA: Right.

CROFT: Do you believe that this was a terrorist attack?

OBAMA: Well, it's too early to know exactly how this came about, what group was involved. But obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure we bring these folks to justice one way or the other.


SMERCONISH: I know the way that you see this is that CBS deliberately sat on this because they didn't want to harm the president and the media had already moved on. I should point out that Steve Croft doesn't say you never used the word terror. He says you avoided it. I think he used it once. ATKISSON: Yes. He used it in his Rose Garden speech, I think it's indisputable, once he segued to discussing that this was the anniversary of 9/11 and no acts of terror should go unpunished that sort of thing. So he said it, but it didn't appear to be, you could read it different ways but in direct reference to Benghazi. And it didn't really become important until I think it was raised in the debate.

And I want to point out that "60 Minutes" from what I viewed, the evidence I viewed, sent that transcript and the information over to the CBS Evening News so they have it. It's not as though "60 Minutes," were sitting on the clip, it's in my opinion from what I know, the people in the CBS Evening News that had possession of the clip and not only didn't use it but directed us to use a different clip from the same interview as context.

SMERCONISH: But Sheryl, if I'm Steve Croft and this is playing itself out and I'm the one who scored that interview, and asked that question, wouldn't I be up in arms? Wouldn't I be saying "Hey, I've got video that the country needs to see, and that didn't take place"?

ATKISSON: It may have. I didn't talk to Steve, and I don't know what actions he took. But it is my understanding that some folks at "60 Minutes" did re-send that transcript over when it became relevant after the debate as if, my read, to remind Evening News, "You have this clip, remember, you may want to use it," and yet still it wasn't used.

This is the type of story that would normally be a day of air story on the Evening News rather than at "60 Minutes" type piece. But I don't think we can rule out that there were other actions taken, I'm just not aware of them.

SMERCONISH: In the book, you describe yourself as being politically agnostic. Critics say yes, but all of her big hits are taking down Democrats. Hillary with regard to gun fire in Bosnia, Fast and Furious, now, Benghazi.

Respond to that if you would.

ATTKISSON: Well, the factual record shows otherwise. The Emmy Award I won last year involved an undercover investigation I did on the hypocrisy of Republican freshmen fundraising, as we caught them in Key Largo hobnobbing with the sorts of donors that they imply they wouldn't really hobnob with. Prior of that, I won an Emmy Award investigating the Bush administration's bait-and-switch on TARP, the bank bailout. I've probably done an equal number of stories examining Democrats and Republicans regarding shenanigans in Congress.

And lastly, I like to talk about the praise from MSNBC at the time for investigating Republican Congressman Steven Buell's suspicious charity after which he resigned from office. So, the factual record is different from the narrative some are trying to advance today.

SMERCONISH: Sharyl Attkisson, thank you so much for being here.

ATTKISSON: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: When we come back, American boots on the ground in Iraq, more of them heading to Iraq. It's supposed to be a training mission. But nobody knows how far it will all go. We'll talk to a former military commander and get the lowdown on what it will take to beat back ISIS.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back to the program.

President Obama is sending additional 1,500 troops to Iraq. The White House says the soldiers will not have a combat role, but instead will train Iraqi and Kurdish forces to battle ISIS. This new deployment brings the total number of American troops on the ground in Iraq to 2,900. The administration's also asking Congress to approve an additional $5.6 billion in the fight against ISIS.

Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona is a CNN military analyst and former U.S. military attache in Syria.

Colonel, you're the military guy. I'm the political guy. But let me tell what you I see. I see an announcement being made on a Friday, three days after the midterm elections, was this calculated to avoid a political debate in the midterms?

COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think it was, Michael. And this is not something that just happened. I talked to some people at the Pentagon and these troops have already moved. Most of them are already in Kuwait. So, this has been planned for some time. And we're getting the announcement just now.

SMERCONISH: Is 2,900 troops, 1,500 more, is that enough for what this mission entails?

FRANCONA: It actually seems for the advisory mission that they describe, initially this sounds like a lot of troops. So, I'm wondering what more they are going to do. I know they are bringing more training people over because they realize that the Iraqi military is in such bad shape.

I think the numbers tell us just how bad the assessment was. When the Pentagon took a look at the Iraqi army, the status of the leadership, status of the troops, the status of the equipment, they said this is really bad, we're going to have to bring more people in here to fix this.

So, I think training is kind of a loose word because I think we're going to be doing a lot of on hands leadership training, and a lot of on hands, let's get this fixed. Because we've got to give the Iraqis back something they can use. If we expect the Iraqis to go out into the field and take on ISIS, something they have proven very inept at doing without American troops with them, as advisers in those units, in those battalions, we're going to have to invest a lot more money and training and time, and getting these people back up to speed.

SMERCONISH: Is the real story here that the announcement was yesterday but that these troops are already en route if not already in Kuwait?

FRANCONA: I'll leave that up to the politicians to hash out. But it's been no secret at the Pentagon that they were moving these people. And we've seen them gathering there.

And the announcement, of course, comes after I think the decision was made. I think that it's probably better to have the troops ready to go in and then make the announcement. I don't assign a sinister view to that.

But I was shocked when I heard the numbers, doubling the size, and you know, we hate to use that term mission creep, but it has to. We cannot do what we wanted to do with the small cadre we had there. And I think that realization is sinking in, in Washington.

SMERCONISH: Colonel, final question if I might. Is the number misleading, 2,900, 1,500? Aren't there also contractors in place and frankly, we should be adding them in the mix if we really want to know how many Americans are over there?

FRANCONA: I think that's a good point. But I think it goes further than that, Michael. Let's look at who is in Jordan, who's in Kuwait, who's in the UAE, who's in Qatar. I mean, if you take the totality of the U.S. effort that is focused on Iraq, all of these air strikes that are flown in Syria and Iraq, very, very few if any are being flown from Iraq. All of those are from out of country.

So, the numbers are misleading. It's going to be in the tens of thousands.


FRANCONA: Not 3,100, 2,900 they are talking about.

SMERCONISH: Glad I asked.

Colonel Francona, thank you as always for your expertise.

I'm going to take a quick break. And up next, Republicans cleaned up in the midterm elections. So, does that mean they are going to have an easy task in 2016 in winning the White House? I'll speak with a man who crunched some numbers for us.


SMERCONISH: Hey, welcome back to the program.

Do Republicans automatically have an advantage in the 2016 presidential election because they trounced Democrats in the midterms? Believe it or not, the answer is no. So, what do Republicans need to do if they want to capture the White House in two years?

Neil Newhouse is a Republican pollster. In fact, he was Mitt Romney's principal pollster in 2012.

Neil, thank you for being here. Educate my audience about the big blue wall. What is the big blue


NEIL NEWHOUSE, MITT ROMNEY'S POLLSTER IN 2012: Well, Michael, the big blue wall, it is consistent number of states that have gone Democratic in the last election cycles that makes it extraordinarily difficult for Republicans to make it to that 270 electoral vote.

But, Michael, I -- to back up a second. We're all four days away from the midterm elections, we already stopped talking and stopped celebrating those midterms elections, and are looking forward to 2016.

So, what 2014 means for 16 is not that much. You look at what happened in 2010, for instance, Republicans had a terrific year in 2010, picked up 60 seats in the House, set us up for a big win in 2012. What happened, we lost that election.

So, you can't -- you can't look at 14 and say hey, we got a strong advantage going into '16. It's going to a very tough election.

SMERCONISH: And one of the reasons is the map. And that's why I wanted to show the big blue wall.

But another of them, you wrote about this in "The Washington Post", is that the demographic issue. Neil, I found this significant. 2008, John McCain gets 55 percent of the white vote; 2012, Mitt Romney gets 59 percent of the white vote. What is it going to take for a Republican candidate to win in 2016?

NEWHOUSE: Well, if you assume that we're going to get the same percent of African-Americans and Hispanics that we're getting in the last election, it's going to take 64 percent of the white vote to win.

SMERCONISH: Sixty-four.

NEWHOUSE: That's a realistically unreal high number. I don't think we can get there. In order to really move this forward, in order for Republican to win the presidency in 2016, we've got to do much better among Latino voters and we've got to make some in roads among African- Americans.

SMERCONISH: OK. So, doesn't that, then, place particular importance on what's about to unfold between the president and presumed majority leader come January, Mitch McConnell on the immigration matter? Because here's Neil Newhouse, you are the number cruncher extraordinaire saying guys, if we don't start winning Hispanics and African-Americans, there aren't enough white votes to sustain us.

NEWHOUSE: Yes. The pressure between Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama on this issue is going to be pretty extraordinary. I mean, and even with the need to do well among Latino voters, I think if the president puts forth an executive action granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants I think that's going to cause real problems in the U.S. Senate. We have a lot of road blocks and a lot of things to get through but before now in 2016, and that immigration issue is just the beginning of it. SMERCONISH: The final point -- one year after the 2012 cycle together

with the Obama pollster, you did a cover story for "Esquire" and you said the real power in this country, the I's. Will the I's have it in 2016?

NEWHOUSE: Well, the I's certainly had it in 2014. Republicans won the independents by a wide margin. But the thing you have to be careful of, Michael, 2012, Mitt Romney won among independent voters. But you know what? It wasn't enough because the Democrats did a phenomenal job of getting out their vote.

I think if you step back at this right now, this marks essentially the end of the Obama administration and the beginning of Democrats now turning to Hillary Clinton to be their leader and to lead the party.

SMERCONISH: Neil Newhouse, great analysis. Thank you so much for being here.

NEWHOUSE: Michael, thanks.

When I come back from the break, the Israelis and Palestinians at each other's throats again. This time, violence on the streets of Jerusalem. Has a third intifada begun? Answers from the experts, next.


SMERCONISH: Hey. Welcome back to the program.

Remember, of course, the Gaza war wasn't all that long ago, scenes of civilians dying, Palestinians and Israelis. Well, if the situation in the Middle East continues to escalate, we could be seeing another round of sustained bloody violence. Yesterday, in East Jerusalem Palestinians threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Anger reached a peek on Wednesday when a Palestinian plowed his van into pedestrians at an East Jerusalem rail station. Two Israelis were killed. Police shot the driver dead.

Adding to the increasing tension, Israel's economic minister wrote an op-ed piece in "The New York Times" this week arguing that Israel cannot permit a Palestinian state to be established.

Joining me now, Rula Jebreal, a journalist and foreign policy analyst, and Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Rula, have we begun a third intifada?

RULA JEBREAL, JOURNALIST: Good morning, Michael.

No doubt, the provocations in Israel, confiscating lands, they've been taking place for the last two years. The miserable condition of living of Palestinians in Jerusalem. And if you add on top of this, also the provocation of the Mount Temple where Jewish extremists are pretending to pray inside, all of this might cause a response from the Palestinians. And it's all sanctions by the government, unfortunately.

SMERCONISH: And, Daniel, it might remind, at least me of Ariel Sharon visiting the Temple Mount, the Noble Sanctuary, which begun the second intifada. Did you see it differently than Rula?

DANIEL LEVY, EUROPEAN COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: There's no inevitably, Michael, to this escalating further. But to prevent it escalating, you need to do two things. One, dial down what's happening in immediately. That means both sides have to take responsibility.

But remember in Jerusalem, Israel is a sovereign power. Israel is the strength. Israel is the military. Israel is the police.

You're going to have to have an Israel government acting responsibly and wisely with its power. But beyond that, just as you said, there was Gaza over the summer, there was the Sharon visit in the second intifada 14 years ago, it will require addressing the bigger issues that Rula refer to.

Are the Palestinians going to have -- are they going to have to same basic rights and freedoms that me and you have? Without that, if they continue to be disenfranchised, live without rights and occupation, unfortunately, we're going to constantly be living in the simmering situation because Israelis deserve security. They'll only get that security if Palestinians also have their rights and security.

SMERCONISH: I think here in the United States we regard Netanyahu as being so hawkish. And we lose sight of the fact that within the Likud, there are far more hawkish elements than even Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Is much of this a manifestation of him trying to control those elements within his own party?

JEBREAL: No, he's sanctioning this. I mean, you don't give a foreign ministry to somebody like Lieberman who's saying, transfer the Palestinians elsewhere, you don't give it to (INAUDIBLE) saying there's no way these Palestinians can have a state. Bibi Netanyahu after the war in Gaza, actually during the war in Gaza if I'm not wrong he went on air and he said, there is no way, under no circumstances I will relinquish control.

But today, my friend, we live in an aquarium world. What you saw these images were people are shooting inside of the mosque. Can you imagine if anything horrific can happen to that mosque which is the third most important holy site for Muslims around the world? Can you imagine what that means in terms of the regional dynamic? It will lead to more extremists. So if you don't want Hamas, give Palestinians something. Today, we cannot accept anybody can be enslaved in their own country.

SMERCONISH: Daniel, is part of the reason thus far there hasn't at least publicly been a U.S. role in this? The alleged chicken-ish comment that was repeated to Jeffrey Goldberg supposedly by a highly placed administration official?

LEVY: I think it was unfortunate use of terminology. I think the Americans understand the Prime Minister Netanyahu is the prime minister of Israel. He will have to decide how he uses the power. Domestic politics in America makes it difficult for the U.S. to use its leverage, vis-a-vis Israel. I think Netanyahu here, he decided what the coalition would be.

You were right, Michael, to point that extremism has become mainstream in his own party. But he's chosen to feed the beast. And I think Americans understand that he is going to take responsibility. They can't do it for him.

SMERCONISH: Respond that.

JEBREAL: I agree with Daniel and I think, unfortunately, what's happening in America today with Senate and Congress that is totally Republican and somehow majority Republican, our foreign policy is into upholding to the checkbooks of interest groups, I'm talking clearly about AIPAC and others and Sheldon Addelson. And America cannot be a fair partner, cannot be actually somebody that's not bias. And that is -- American interest in the region is compromised and standing in the world is compromised because of their bias towards Israel.

SMERCONISH: Netanyahu has more power in this Senate than Barack Obama.

JEBREAL: Absolutely, absolutely. And look, if you look at anti- Americanism, John Kerry said it clearly, what drives extremist in the world, the Palestinian issue is number one. We're creating a pressure cooker for extremists in the world, we're looking at ISIS and other states. But if you look at Palestinian humiliation in daily basis, and if you look at their oppression, and if you look at the denying of basic rights, and if you look at 47 years of occupation, where is that taking us?

SMERCONISH: Daniel, quick question if I might for you, the construction in east Jerusalem has also been a flash point. Netanyahu these are not settlements in the West Bank. This is different. This is our capital, future capital and should be treated differently.

LEVY: Yikes! That requires a moment of in history. Israel, after the '67 war, occupied the West Bank in Gaza and illegally annexed East Jerusalem and 29 Palestinian villages that never saw themselves a part of Jerusalem. When Russia did that in Crimea, it was considered illegal. It's just as illegal what Israel has done. The Crimeans had a referendum, the Palestinians never had that.

So any building in that illegally occupied area is wrong. It fuels the fire, 13 settlements. Huge neighborhoods have been built. Now settlers and extremists are moving into Palestinian neighborhoods, displacing Palestinians. Unfortunately, at some stage, Israel will either have to get a handle on what it's doing or it must give Palestinians equal rights.

SMERCONISH: I've got to wrap. I wish I had more time.

Rula Jebreal, thank you as always. Thank you both.

We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter so long as you can spell Smerconish. See you next week.