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Larry King Live
Who Won the New Hampshire Presidential Debate?Aired January 26, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, it's a debate doubleheader in New Hampshire, as presidential hopefuls square off and come out talking. We'll get first-person spin from Al Gore's only rival, Democrat Bill Bradley.
Joining us with our on-scene analysis from the Granite State, syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne, plus Tucker Carlson, CNN political commentator and staff writer for "The Weekly Standard." And in Washington, David Gergen, editor at large, "U.S. News & World Report," Bill Kristol, editor and publisher of "The Weekly Standard," and presidential historian Michael Beschloss. They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We're on an hour late tonight because of the two debates, which you -- hopefully, you have just seen. And we've got a great round up of analysts here to look at this, and Bill Bradley will be joining us in a while as well.
Let's start with Bill Kristol in Washington. Any big winner tonight, Bill?
BILL KRISTOL, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think Alan Keyes had the best debate, as he always does, quite an extraordinary performance. I thought on the Republican side, McCain and Keyes were vibrant, they appealed to their own supporters.
I think Governor Bush played it safe. He is the front-runner, you would expect him to play it safe. But of course, he's not the front-runner in New Hampshire. What does that tell you as a strategic matter? It tells me that he has decided he can lose New Hampshire respectively, he's going to play safe, and he was on the stage there in New Hampshire, but his mind was in South Carolina and he didn't want to take any risks to endanger his lead in South Carolina, I think.
KING: David Gergen, on the Democrat side, how did you see Bradley-Gore?
DAVID GERGEN, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": The surprise to me was the Sherlock Holmes dog that didn't bark. I thought Bill Bradley was going to come roaring out of the gate and go after Al Gore, and land some blows on the Clinton/Gore administration, and I didn't see that ever happen and it really surprised me. He did raise a number of questions about Al Gore's campaign tactics, whether he's been misrepresenting his positions, but I thought that, that was partly beside the point for a lot of voters who are wanting to hear not how are you guys campaigning, what are you saying about each other, but what do you offer to us for the future.
And Gore has come out very peppery, he has managed to somehow on this health care issue --because he is a very good debater, you know, he reminds you of Richard Nixon in some ways. If you would only listen to these debates on radio you would think that Al Gore wins every one of them. Sometimes his style is a little bit off.
KING: But you knew the night -- you were there that night when he debated Perot on this show.
KING: And you couldn't be a better debater than he was that night.
GERGEN: Well, he knocked him out of the park. He deflated Ross Perot's balloon that night. We've never -- Perot has never been the same since. And Al Gore on this health care issue has somehow managed to sound -- make Bill Bradley's health care plan sound like it is way too expensive, but it doesn't do anywhere near enough.
KING: Michael Beschloss, what's your overview? You could take either debate or both.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, you know, one thing I was interested in, Larry, and had been throughout the last four or six months has been how much Al Gore is going to really mention Bill Clinton, in what way he is going to relate to him. And we heard Al Gore tonight refer to Bill Clinton as a great president. Tomorrow night, we are going to see him behind President Clinton, as he gives the State of the Union.
So I think what we may see the next number of weeks is an Al Gore who is no longer hesitant to talk about President Clinton, somewhat embarrassed if someone brings up the subject of impeachment, but someone who now I think feels self-confident enough that he is happy to embrace a lot of the Clinton administration.
And on the Republican side, I agreed very much with Bill. You saw George W. Bush very much sitting on his lead, and I think that does suggest that he doesn't want to give a performance that might cause him to win in New Hampshire, but might damage him later in the campaign.
KING: Tucker Carlson, on the Republican side, do you agree with both Mr. Kristol and Michael Beschloss that George W. Bush played it safe, in that if there were winners on the Republican side tonight it was McCain and Keyes?
TUCKER CARLSON, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": No, I -- actually I don't. I mean, I think, yes, I agree that he played it safe. But I think the winners were probably both McCain and Bush. I mean, you had the great mosh pit debate, where the other three fringe candidates sort of took turns beating up on each other and having this really odd discussion.
I talked to a McCain adviser after who said, you know, it was such a sideshow I expected a guy on stilts and a hula hoop to appear on stage at some point. I think Americans like sane candidates and I think after watching that it really sort of put the race in perspective. McCain and Bush really are so superior to the options.
KING: And what did you think of Democrat debate, Tucker?
CARLSON: Well, I thought that Bill Bradley just kind of looked punch drunk at the end. I mean, Gore has this wonderful technique where he relentlessly attacks Gore -- I mean, every question, well, thank you, Judy, and you know, that is why my opponent is a shiftless moron. And then Bradley will try and come back and then all of a sudden Gore will say, well, you're attacking me in negative way again. So it's like Bradley cannot even respond, because if he does it's a negative attack. It's a wonderfully effective strategy and I think it's worked.
KING: E.J. Dionne, someone said to me at breakfast today, who ever said Al Gore was boring? Has he changed?
E.J. DIONNE, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I think he has changed over a long period of time. I mean, first of all, I'm grateful to the Republicans. It shows how far out of it I am thanks to Keyes and Gary Bauer, I now know what a mosh pit is.
On the Democratic side, I think what was remarkable is Bradley succeeded in getting the nature of Gore's campaign into the debate, but by the end of it Gore was saying things like, I haven't accused of you lying, so suddenly Gore turned it around, and even though it was his campaign that was under attack it seemed that Bradley didn't succeed in driving that home and that Gore was attacking him back. Similarly with that "Boston Globe" article, I think that Bradley could have hammered that with some of the specifics, and he brought it up and then he didn't choose to do any more.
KING: Bill Kristol, does it appear from both these debates tonight that abortion is going to be way at the top of the list of the campaigns this year?
KRISTOL: I think it will be high and it will be an important issue in the general election campaign. The truth is the next president does appoint two, three, or four Supreme Court justices. Roe v. Wade has two-vote majority. A Republican president, even if he doesn't have a litmus test would appoint different justices from a Democratic president. It will be a legitimate and important issue in the general election. And one thing Republicans will have to think about is which of their candidates can articulate the case for the pro-life side best. I mean, Gore and Bradley are -- they are totally pro-choice, they are comfortable making that case.
KING: But isn't it also true, Bill, that most polls show that about 60 percent of the people are pro-choice?
KRISTOL: Most people -- Americans are in between, actually, the strict pro-life and the strict pro-choice position. Both parties have a potential problem on the abortion issue. You have Democrats who don't want to sign a partial-birth abortion bill that three-quarters of Americans support. You have Republicans who are for more restrictions on abortion, it's true, than most Americans support. So really a premium has to be put on who can make the case, and it is a question mark for both Republican front-runners, Bush and McCain. Both of them seem a little bit tentative and awkward in making the pro-life case, but that is why I think Tucker may be underestimating Alan Keyes.
I never challenge Tucker's political judgment, but Keyes had a very strong debate, and for the 15 to 20 percent of social conservatives even in New Hampshire, who really want an articulate spokesman, I think Keyes was pretty impressive tonight. I wonder if Keyes couldn't beat Steve Forbes.
You know, one of the -- weird things always happens in campaigns. I would not be surprised to see the -- New Hampshire end up something like McCain, Bush, Keyes. Suddenly, you have Keyes going on to South Carolina, you know, with 15, 20 percent of the vote. Admittedly a protest candidate, but it really could change the dynamic of the race and it would keep...
KING: Let's talk about...
KRISTOL: And Larry, as you say, it will keep abortion front and center in a way that Bush and McCain don't want.
KING: That is right. Let me get a break and come back and talk about Steve Forbes, who has not -- first time he was mentioned tonight was then. Bill Bradley should be with us sometime in this hour.
Tomorrow night, we will be on with a special program right after the State of the Union and a live show at midnight Eastern.
We'll be right back with the panel. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARY BAUER (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was a little surprised this week to see you fall into a mosh pit, while a band called the machine rages on, or Rage Against The Machine played. That band is anti-family, it is pro-cop killer, and it's pro-terrorist. It's the kind of music that the killers at Columbine High School were immersed in. I don't know, don't you think you owe an apology to parents and policemen on that one?
ALAN KEYES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Actually, I don't, because I was in no -- accusing of me having some complicity in that music would be accusing me of -- I don't know -- being responsible for the color of my skin. When you can't control things, Gary, you are not morally responsible for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: David Gergen, how did Steve Forbes do tonight? And is it a essential that he do very well next Tuesday?
GERGEN: It's essential he finish third, and if he can, at least second. I think if Alan Keyes beats him, as Bill Kristol has suggested, that will be a terrible blow to the Forbes campaign. I don't known where he goes from there. He can go into Arizona, where he's done well in the past. But I do think that -- I thought his performance tonight was extremely uneven, and not anywhere near as impressive as say John McCain's, who -- I thought John McCain had the best debate tonight that he's had in this whole series
KING: You did.
GERGEN: Yes, I did. I thought he was -- he found his voice again. He was off the defensive. He was -- he stumbled around a little bit. But I think when he came back on that abortion point about his daughter, and said, I will keep my children out of this campaign, he turned at that moment, and he became a much more effective. He calmed down. He got his message out exactly the way he wanted to get it out. I think he turned to Keyes, and it wasn't a very harsh moment, without displaying temper. I think he, in effect, said look, I've served for 17 years, and I'm not going to have you lecture me about this. I thought that was very effective response he did to that.
And frankly, I thought he did very well against Governor Bush. I did not think that it was Governor Bush's best night. I do think Bill is right. I think -- and Tucker is right. I do think he played it conservatively, and he gave John McCain an opening McCain was looking for. McCain could come out of this, if he wins New Hampshire, it's going to keep this race wide open, and that's exactly what the Bush people do not want to happen.
KING: E.J. Dionne, what's your assessment of Steve Forbes?
DIONNE: I don't think he did move very much tonight. And the polls suggest that he has gotten no bounce here so far out of Iowa, and I think he needed to make a strong impression. And that, as Bill said, on some of the socially conservative issues where Forbes actually did very well in Iowa, in picking up some socially conservative votes, I don't think he had the same power tonight.
I do think on the abortion issue, which was raised earlier, you saw two interesting moves. On the Democratic side, Bradley, I thought, had a very clever formulation. He quoted Mrs. Clinton, talking about people who change their position on that. It interjected the Clinton name in the debate, and then it put Gore in a position of either disagreeing with Mrs. Clinton or ignoring the question.
On the Republican side, what was so striking about George Bush, is that he's back to general election mode. In Iowa, he was really pushing hard for the socially conservative, Christian conservative vote. Here, his answer was a little of this and a little of that -- I am pro-life, and people of good will can disagree. That's a general election message.
KING: Michael Beschloss, is playing it safe smart?
BESCHLOSS: Well you know, it depends on which side. I think it is, in this case, because, on the Gore side, he's doing wonderfully. Bill Bradley has had a very hard time showing why the Democrats should throw out an incumbent vice president who wants to get nominated. In recent history, over the last 50 years, every time a vice president wants that next nomination, he gets it. And for that to be overturned, there has to be an awfully good reason. Bill Bradley hasn't been providing that, and he sure didn't provide it tonight.
On the Republican side, in a way, it's sort of a mirror image, because George Bush has been suggesting, I'm the one who can beat Al Gore or another Democratic nominee in the fall, and the burden has been on the other Republicans to show how they -- why George W. Bush should be unhorsed. And despite the fact that I agree this was not George W. Bush's best night, it's hard to see the others connecting in quite that way.
KING: Tucker Carlson, what's your read on Steve Forbes, tonight and throughout this campaign?
CARLSON: Well, I mean, I think, you know, if he is in fact beaten by Alan Keyes here it's -- any candidate beaten by Alan Keyes has a moral obligation to pack it up and go home as far a I'm concerned.
But you never know with Forbes. I mean, flying in here the other night from Iowa on the Forbes plane, a friend of mine was honored and said told me that the Forbes people were thrilled that they had done well in the Alaska caucus. Now I cover politics; I had no idea the Alaska caucus was taking place.
So there is a sense in which the Forbes people are able to buck one another up, sufficient that, who knows, maybe he'll be running into next year.
KING: By the way, are all of you saying that you buy Bill Kristol's idea that Alan Keyes -- we'll start with you, Tucker -- Alan Keyes could finish second next Tuesday -- or he could finish third rather?
CARLSON: Well personally, I mean, I think he was hurt by the mosh pit stuff. But no, of course it's possible. I mean he is -- look up here, anyway, the candidates talk a lot about policy. There's this terrible debate, of course, on the Democratic side over this health care plan. But if you ask people what they are interested in -- and I think polls bear this out -- it's style and substance -- temperament: Who puts on a better show? McCain puts an infinitely better show, I think, than any Republican, apart from Alan Keyes, who of course puts on best show. It's a bit of a sideshow, but a great show nonetheless. So he may do well.
KING: Does anyone disagree? E.J., do you think Alan Keyes could finish third in New Hampshire?
DIONNE: I were to bet, Forbes beets Keyes, but if Keyes comes in third, tonight will the birth of the Keyes/Kristol ticket, I think.
KING: We will pick up from there and come back with David Gergen's thoughts on that and Michael Beschloss' as well. We'll include phone calls. And sometime in here, Bill Bradley will be joining us.
This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE FORBES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Under your leadership, spending has gone up 36 percent, almost twice the rate of the Clinton/Gore administration. On your so-called tax cuts, your own budget director said that six out of 10 Texans did not get a tax cut in this last round. And on education, you've dumbed down the standards to the point where in Texas, your SAT rankings has gone from 40th in the nation to 46th in nation. What can you tell the people of New Hampshire and of America that you won't do in Washington what you've have done in Texas?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So many half stories, so little time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Bill Kristol, if Alan Keyes does finish third, as you've guessed and already announce that you'll be on his ticket, or Carlson has put you there, would that mean Gary Bauer would exit this thing?
KRISTOL: Let me first make a Shermanesque statement, that if asked, I will not serve as Alan Keyes vice president. I didn't really mean my speculation about Alan Keyes coming in third to become the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and motif of our discussion.
Yes, Gary Bauer will get out I think if Alan Keyes beats him, which means you're -- and Forbes, I think may have to get out if Keyes beats him. So then you could be down to a three-person race, which does change the dynamics of the race. It forces more attention, as I say, on abortion and the social issues than either Bush or McCain want.
One more point, Larry, just on the Republican side. I said Bush was playing it safe. Let me just give a concrete example of that. What is the issue Bush was saying they were really going to go after McCain after in New Hampshire? Taxes. Bush got one question. He directed it at McCain. What did he ask about? Education. And they had an exchange where McCain really held his own I think against Bush on education. He didn't push the tax issue. The polling is showing that McCain may be getting slightly the better of the "Social Security, pay down the debt, tax cut" debate. I think Bush actually could push the issue in a systematic way, might be able to get some votes off that issue, but he's backed off, he's playing it safe and hoping the establish establishment saves him down in South Carolina.
KING: Go ahead, I'm sorry.
DIONNE: I'm sorry. I think Bush did press him some on taxes and may have had some effect. He did say this is a tax plan that Al Gore would love, but I think what's striking about both Bush and McCain is they're each protecting their flank. Bush is now talking about protecting Social Security. McCain keeps reminding people that he would cut taxes too. So they're both playing a kind of double game here.
KING: David Gergen, does -- how well -- what does Bradley have to attain next Tuesday? Is there a percentage point that he has to reach?
GERGEN: I think he has to win.
KING: Has to win?
GERGEN: Yes, he has to win. In a two-man race, he has to get over 50 percent in order to make -- in order to keep his campaign viable. I think there's an awful lot of pressure on him to withdraw if he loses this. If he comes in, say, below 40, it's hard to see how he stays in other than the fact that he's got the money.
But what's the rationale? What's the reason?
There is no sort of holy war going on within the Democratic Party. These are two candidates who are rather close together.
This is not like Teddy Kennedy's challenge of Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan's challenge against Gerald Ford. It's very different. They're two rather similar candidates.
But here's the essence of what I think the real issue is tonight, Larry. The -- all the evidence suggests that Al Gore is surging. He's surging against Bill Bradley and he may be surging against Al Gore. I wouldn't be surprised to see...
KING: Against George Bush you mean.
GERGEN: I mean against George Bush, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some polls coming out in the next few days saying -- seeing him draw a lot closer.
It's very -- the chances are strong right now that Gore may score a decisive victory Tuesday. We have to wait and see. Bill Bradley could still pull this out. He's a very good man. He can still pull it out.
But from the George Bush standpoint, to have people wake up on Wednesday morning and see big Gore victory, Gore surging and Bush lose, I think is not good news for Republicans. It's not good news for George Bush. I would think they would have come into this debate tonight and the next few days, pour it on, try to win this thing in New Hampshire, try to force McCain out of the race, and then they'll have a clear sailing to the nomination and he'll like a strong winner.
If he wins Iowa and New Hampshire back to back, it would give Bush, as his father would say, that would give him big mo.
KING: Michael Beschloss, must -- must McCain win Tuesday?
BESCHLOSS: I think he is almost entirely out of the race unless that happens. And you know, the other thing on the Al Gore point, you know, we all laughed four to six months ago when Bill Bradley was running against Al Gore very strongly and Gore said, you know, I'm so delighted to have Bradley in the race, it's going to make it a more interesting campaign and me a better candidate. And I think you saw it tonight that that was absolutely true. Had Gore been running without opposition during the last six months, I think you wouldn't have seen such an accomplished performance.
KING: We'll be back with more. This is LARRY KING LIVE. We're on an hour late because of the two debates. We'll be on following the State of the Union tomorrow night. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's be honest here, Bill. What you're uncomfortable about is that when you put out your health care plan and you realize that nobody in New Hampshire or Iowa can take advantage of it...
BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's not correct. That's not correct.
GORE: And when you realize that more than half of all the seniors get not a penny from your prescription drug benefit, you realize you made a mistake, but instead of correcting the plan, you decided to shoot at the messenger that pointed out what's wrong with the plan.
BRADLEY: Both of those things are incorrect. That is not correct. The fact of the matter is, as I said earlier, if you had a $10,000 in pharmaceutical costs for prescription drugs, your plan would cap that at $1,000.
GORE: How much money do you have...
BRADLEY: Wait. Wait.
GORE: How many expenses do you have to have before...
BRADLEY: Your plan would stop that at $1,000...
GORE: ... you get any money in your plan? BRADLEY: I'm sorry. This is a tactic. See, this is a tactic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: At the top, by the way, we'll get a call or two in here. The latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup tracking poll of likely voters in the Democratic primary has Gore beating Bradley 53 to 44, and in the Republican primary McCain beating Bush 43 to 36.
Salt Lake City, hello.
CALLER: Hey, Larry. My question is for Michael Beschloss. Historically, I remember Michael Dukakis seeming very inept versus George Bush, that he didn't want to embroil himself in politics as usual. And I get the sense that Bradley in challenging an incumbent doesn't see himself doing that as well. And I just feel that there's a certain sense of ineptitude, that you don't want to address things directly against the incumbent. And I think that's a big mistake coming from his standpoint.
What do you think?
BESCHLOSS: Well, you. You know, one of the big lessons that Michael Dukakis left in American politics was that if you are challenged, you should fight back. And that is a lesson that Bill Clinton took to heart very strongly in 1992. We've been seeing him practice it really over the last seven years.
And I think you're absolutely right, because when we look back on this campaign, if Bill Bradley loses, we might well say that one reason he did lose was because the only chance he had to topple an incumbent vice president was to really go into this campaign with both fists.
KING: Tucker Carlson, does Bradley -- do you agree with David Gergen, Bradley has to win Tuesday?
CARLSON: Oh, I don't think there's any question. I mean, there really is no state more perfectly suited to Bradley than New Hampshire. The Democrats here tend to be much better educated, much wealthier, whiter than Democrats in the rest of the country. This is natural Bradley territory.
I think there's a sense of he can't make it here, he can't make it anywhere. And it looks at this point like he's not going to make it. I think the heart issue hurt him. But most of all, I mean, I agree with almost everyone else who said, you know, when you get smacked down, you have to smack back. And I think it says something about his kind of sense of himself that he's above the fray.
But you know, if you want to be in politics, you have to be in politics.
KING: E.J. Dionne, is Michael Beschloss right? This turned into a benefit for Gore, Bradley running?
DIONNE: Oh, I think that's definitely right. In fact, George Bush is in this race in two ways. His son is in the Republican race, and I think the Gore campaign studied very, very carefully how George Bush the president rehabilitated himself in 1988.
He had the wimp factor. He was seen as weak. He was seen as not being a good candidate, and he rehabilitated himself in significant part by going on the attack and starting to win some victories.
He did that here in New Hampshire against Bob Dole, and then he did it again against Michael Dukakis.
And I think Michael made another point, which I agree with, that the difficulty for Democrats -- Democrats do not want to repeat the 1988 experience again. And I think it's incumbent upon Bradley to show Democrats that in a tough attack, a situation, he can fight back. And I think so far his reluctance to do that has hurt him with Democrats.
Tonight he came back some. I don't agree with the general tone that this debate was a disaster for him. I don't think it was. I think he got some of his issues out. But he's still not the attacker that Gore is.
KING: Bill, does McCain -- does McCain have to win both New Hampshire and South Carolina?
DIONNE: I think he needs that. He almost needs the trifecta. He needs New Hampshire and then South Carolina, and he needs to do very well in Michigan.
KING: All right. Bill Kristol, I ask of you too as well. Do you think that's true?
KRISTOL: Yes. He certainly needs to win New Hampshire. He needs to win or come very close in South Carolina, which incidentally, if Keyes stays in, gives McCain a little better of a chance there. And then I think he'll win Arizona on the 22nd and would help if he won Michigan.
Think about it for a second, what we've just said. If he wins the four first primaries, the first four primaries, or even three of the first four primaries, what does that do to George W. Bush's inevitability?
I mean, I think that's the key thing people don't understand about the process. It is a dynamic process. It's a chess game. It's not like the NBA where there are 82 games: You go a little bit of a losing streak early on, you make it up later.
It's like chess. If you make a good move, it then leads to other better moves and better positions. And if you win New Hampshire, it changes the dynamic. South Carolina will be a five- or 10-point race two days, I believe, after McCain wins New Hampshire if he does. And suddenly, you've got a real race and people take a fresh look. That's why New Hampshire is so very important and really obviously crucial for McCain.
KING: Back with more of our panel. We'll reintroduce them if you joined us late. And we're late too, an hour late tonight because of the debates on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Part of my plan, John, says the schools that receive federal money to help disadvantaged students must measure the results. If the students improve, the schools would be rewarded. If not, the parents will be free to make a different choice for their students, their children.
I know this works because I've seen dramatic improvement in schools in Texas by setting high standards and results.
But two people have openly criticized this plan: you and the vice president.
Why don't you think -- why don't you think that high expectations will work? Why don't you think this plan will work?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, George if you're saying that I'm like Al Gore, then you're spinning like Bill Clinton. OK? Let's clear that one up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We are back on LARRY KING LIVE. Let's reintroduce our panel.
In Manchester, New Hampshire, is E.J. Dionne, syndicated columnist, who -- by the way, his column appears Tuesdays, Fridays in "The Washington Post." In Manchester, New Hampshire, is Tucker Carlson, our own CNN political commentator, and a staff writer for "The Weekly Standard," as well as a contributor to "Talk" magazine.
In Washington is Bill Kristol, editor and publisher of "The Weekly Standard." Also in Washington, Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, ABC News historical analyst and commentator for "The News Hour With Jim Lehrer" on PBS. And in Washington, David Gergen, editor at large, "U.S. News & World Report," and professor of public service at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
Let's take another call. Bloomington, Indiana, hello.
CALLER: Yes, Larry, I just wanted to know if it was true what I read in "Time" magazine that the Bush campaign would now rather face Bradley in the fall rather than Gore, and if so, isn't that a big comeback for Gore? KING: Mr. Kristol, we'll start with you.
KRISTOL: When I met with Governor Bush three or four months ago -- talked to him for about an hour -- it was pretty clear to me that he expected to face Gore. I think most Republicans have always thought Gore was too tough for Bradley and I think to the Bush campaign's credit they know Gore will be tough.
They know Gore will be, you know -- he can stand up there in October and say, with all due respect, Governor Bush, when we took over from your father, unemployment was 7 percent, the Dow was at 3,500, and welfare rolls were twice as large as they are today, and the crime rate was 50 percent higher than it is today. They know that Gore has a strong argument to make. They think, obviously, that they can win.
But I think the Bush campaign and other Republicans are realistic about how tough it will be to beat Al Gore. They don't expect the current 10, 12 point lead in the polls to hold up. They know it will be a very close race.
KING: David Gergen, wasn't there a time when it appeared that they were worried about Bradley more than Gore, as the questioner asked?
GERGEN: Absolutely. There were a lot of people, it may not be in the Bush camp, per se, as Bill says, but I think there were an awful lot of people on the Republican side who really wanted to face Al Gore and thought that Bill Bradley would be a bigger threat. I thought that frankly. I think what's been the one measure of how much this campaign is changed is that one of Bill Bradley's best arguments was that Al Gore couldn't win and that he could.
You remember, Pat Moynihan, Senator Moynihan said that when he endorsed Al Gore -- when he endorsed Bill Bradley he said Al Gore can't win. Today, in your "Time"/CNN poll, Larry, the latest one shows 60 percent of Democrats believe that Al Gore can beat the Republican candidate, only 40 percent of the Democrats believe Bill Bradley can beat the Republican candidate. That's a measure of how much Al Gore has surged. It's also a measure of why Bill Bradley's campaign is now in trouble.
I don't think he had a disaster tonight by any means, as E.J. raised that question. I do think that he essentially didn't do what he had to do, which was he had to take this back from Al Gore. He had to come out fighting and reseize the lead in this thing. I thought he was more energetic today, but I think he lost some of his poetry.
KING: Tucker Carlson, when a football team whoops another one team it's hard to analyze was the defense bad or the offense good. Has Gore gotten better or Bradley gotten worse?
CARLSON: Well, I think -- actually, I do think Gore has gotten much better. He looks better. Apparently, he's been on the Atkins' Diet. You know, he looks like this sort of fit body builder and he's more energetic. I mean, you know, he leaves a lot to be desired as a public speaker, but less than you think, if you remember him from a year and a half ago.
But I think really the problem here is Bradley. He just hasn't shown heart and that's -- I mean, both of them are trying to, you know, capture the title as best fighter. It's sort of amusing to watch them each say, well, I'm a fighter, I'm a fighter, you know, I'm a bar fighter, you know, as if you're supposed to feel threatened by these bellicose animals, you know. But I think clearly Democratic voters want that and Gore has done a much better job of convincing them that he has it.
KING: Michael, is Bradley a -- would you call him a disappointment or is that too harsh?
BESCHLOSS: No, I think it is too harsh. I think the bar is so high for what he has to do, because it is so tough to get rid of an incumbent vice president, so that's what you're seeing here. But I think a lot of the fact that -- a lot of the reason why you've seen Bradley and Gore get so much into personalities and fighting with each other is because on major issues they disagree so little. There is not an overwhelming issue like Vietnam, or war and peace, or inflation, and in a situation like that, you see this kind of quarreling.
KING: E.J., what's your read on the Gore-Bradley -- has Bradley gotten worse, Gore gotten better?
DIONNE: No, I think it's Gore has gotten better. You're seeing in these debates the psychopathology of small differences, I think, some of the time. But I think there's another underlying factor here, which is that Bradley was running -- riding high back in November because Clinton fatigue was a real thing even inside the Democratic Party.
It goes too far to say that Clinton fatigue has become Clinton nostalgia, but I do think among Democrats they are not in a state of massive unrest now. They are in state of massive rest and you heard that in Iowa a lot from people who said, look, the economy is good, we're kind of happy. They're not as hostile to Clinton as distance passes. There is still a lot of hostility to Clinton in the Republican Party, but I think it's dissipating some in the Democratic Party.
KING: We'll take a break and come back. Bill Bradley should be with us momentarily. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRADLEY: What I think is going on here is pretty clear. In politics, as I said, people make misleading statements and most of them do it because they don't know better. You know better. You know what you're saying is not true, and quite frankly, I wonder whether if you're running a campaign that is saying untrue things whether you will be able to be a president that gets people's trust. If you're running a campaign that's divisive that's the kind of presidency that you'll also have.
GORE: Can I have a rebuttal?
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: All right.
BRADLEY: I think they deserve -- people deserve more respect.
GORE: Look, since that's a negative personal attack, can I have a rebuttal.
WOODRUFF: Go ahead.
GORE: Look, Bill, we've had some heated disagreements in this campaign. Let's keep it to the substance of the issues. I haven't accused you of lying. We can have a disagreement on the substance of the issues without you making negative personal attacks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We'll take another call. Brooklyn, New York, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Larry.
CALLER: My question is for the panel. I just wanted to know their thoughts on how they believe the Democrats responded tonight to the questions on China.
KING: We'll start with E.J.
DIONNE: To the question about China -- I'm sorry, I don't follow. The -- I don't think that the Democrats have a big dispute on China. I think the guy who is carrying the ball on this and forcing a real debate on this is Gary Bauer, who may not be in the race very much longer.
KING: David Gergen, what do you make of the Orrin Hatch story -- why he went in, the leaving today? How do you explain it?
GERGEN: Oh, Larry, I think that there are always people around you who sort of tell you -- you know, whenever Orrin Hatch goes somewhere, he's surrounded by people who admire him; they come up to him, they're warm about him, they respect him in the Senate. Back home, he's got lots of people who believe in him. And you get that fever, you know, for going to the White House, and he's been around the Senate so long.
I thought he ran a very decent campaign. I'm glad he got out when he did. I think he got out in an honorable way. And I think he'll go back to being a respected Senator.
And I must say, after he pulled out, I was so glad that Jack Kemp didn't get in this this year, because Jack would have had a hard time in this race with Bush in the race, and I think it would have hurt him, and I think he comes out now, he's got his a reputation intact, people respect him all over the country. So I think Orrin Hatch will go quietly into this good night and go back to being a good senator. KING: Tucker, should Gary Bauer leave?
CARLSON: I think he ought to. The McCain people don't, though. The McCain people believe that Bauer and Keyes help them, that they take votes from Bush, and I think that's probably right; or in case, they bring in new voters, thereby diminishing the overall percentage that Bush gets. This is part of the McCain campaign's sweater theory of victory. The idea is that the Bush campaign is this enormous sweater, and that New Hampshire is this little thread hanging off, and McCain is the guy who grabs it, takes off with it, and all of a sudden, Bush is naked. That's their scenario for victory. And the more time you spend around them, they don't go much beyond that; they're not too detailed on how he's going to pull it off. It's been more like, sort of, a religious quest or something like that than a campaign, but you know, it's not uncompelling; people start to believe it after a while. So when people believe things, they become true.
KING: Forbes, with all that money Bill Kristol, why didn't he take off? I mean, he's been running for four years.
KRISTOL: Well, look, Larry, he did well in Iowa. Let's be fair. He got 30 percent.
KING: Yes, but at a cost of a dollar per vote probably.
KRISTOL: Yes, though, Bush spent a lot in Iowa, too. I'm not sure that Bush spent less per vote than Forbes in Iowa. I didn't think he did a strong performance.
And I think the story of tonight is, you know, if question is, Could Forbes get a bump out of Iowa? There's not much polling evidence that he has in New Hampshire. And I don't think he was strong tonight in the debate. And as I say -- and I really meant in partly jokingly, but not entirely. I mean, Keyes was so strong on the social conservative issues that if you want the social conservative now in New Hampshire, I wonder if you won't vote for Keyes as a protest rather than Forbes. If Forbes is a 12 percent and Keyes is an 8 percent, it's not as if one of them is much more credible than the other.
So I don't think Forbes has taken off. He's been badgered from the right by Keyes and Bauer, and basically, I think most Republicans think it's a Bush-McCain race.
KING: Now let's get an assessment from each before our panel leaves us. And then we'll talk the rest of the way with Bill Bradley.
E.J. Dionne, you want to give me a prediction for New Hampshire next week, as of now?
DIONNE: Oh, I hate making predictions. But as of now, I would say McCain and Gore.
KING: McCain and Gore. Tucker Carlson, next Tuesday, just as of now?
CARLSON: I would say McCain and Gore, and lots of criticism at the Bush camp for not anticipating this early, and for letting New Hampshire go and not realizing how consequential that could be in the end.
KING: Bill -- an agreement there, Bill Kristol?
KRISTOL: I just love the idea of the McCain people telling Tucker the sweater theory and the idea of Governor Bush. You know, it shows how clever the McCain people are, that they spin each reporter in a way that they know will appeal to him particularly, and the idea of Governor Bush naked just resonates with Tucker.
I think Gore will win. I wonder if Bradley will get out. I mean, if Gore wins New Hampshire, Bradley will still be down 20, 25 points in almost all the subsequent states. There will be huge pressure on him from the Democratic establishment not to keep going in this what's become pretty nasty race on the Democratic side. If Bradley wants to run again in four or eight years, and he might well, I think he might decide to get out when the getting out is good and not stay in.
KING: About 20 seconds -- Michael Beschloss, next Tuesday?
BESCHLOSS: Well you know, we historians, Larry, are usually a lot better in dealing with the dead than people who are still living.
KING: Give it a try.
BESCHLOSS: But I pretty much endorse what my colleagues said. My guess would be McCain and Al Gore.
And the one thing I really regret is that this whole process has become so front-loaded. I would love to return to a system where this all takes about six or seven months, and there are all sorts of tests.
KING: And, David, finally, quickly, how do you see next Tuesday?
GERGEN: If Gore promises to never wear that tie again between now and Tuesday, I think he has a good shot of winning this. And I think Bush still can pull it out from McCain on Tuesday, but he's got to really pour it on in the few days.
KING: Thank you all very much for being with us. And when we come back, we'll talk with Senator Bill Bradley, the former United States senator from New Jersey, right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BAUER: This president sat in that office and we know what he did. In fact, he was on the phone with a member of Congress talking about sending our sons to Bosnia while he was in the middle of a disgusting act with a White House intern. KEYES: I think that this Congress, under the corrupt pressure from a Democrat Party that surrounded its corrupt president, that refused, in fact, to apply the necessary scriptures in order to call this nation back to accountability and integrity. They need to be held accountable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We are having a satellite problem with Manchester, New Hampshire, and as soon as we check in with Bill Bradley, we'll go to him.
So we'll go back to Bill Kristol, editor and publisher of "The Weekly Standard."
"The Standard," as we know, is a conservative magazine. Is it edging -- are you sort of liking McCain?
KRISTOL: We have our differences of opinion at "The Standard" actually in our slight preferences one way or the other. But just analytically, whatever one likes or doesn't like, he is running an impressive campaign. If you would had said six months ago, nine months ago, that John McCain is going to be, what, seven points ahead now one week out from New Hampshire. McCain chose to skip Iowa. The conventional wisdom was you couldn't do that, that the bump you get out of Iowa is necessary as an underdog to win New Hampshire. He seems to have gotten away with that. It seems as if he may well win New Hampshire, and that's why I just think, as an analytical matter, he has a real chance to win, that the conventional wisdom puts too much stock on a static analysis, where the national polls are 60-20, and they don't think dynamically.
And I think the McCain campaign, again, just as a matter of political professionalism and smarts, thought this through in a pretty clever way for a strategy for an underdog. They may not pull it off. God knows, Governor Bush has huge assets and advantages. But as an analytical matter, it's an impressive performance.
KING: We asked earlier, using the football analogy, if Gore is doing better offensively, or is Bush -- is Bradley doing worse defensively? On the McCain-Bush side, is McCain doing better or Bush doing worse than you thought?
KRISTOL: You know, I think if Bush had been really strong in those first two or three debates, he could have had squelched that McCain momentum just at the point where he got serious and they really got close to Bush in the polls in New Hampshire. So the Bush weakness was necessary, but not sufficient. McCain's also been impressive in the debates. Tonight, I thought he was little weak in the first half hour, but he came on awfully strong. And in those exchange with Bush, someone like me, who probably agrees with Governor Bush more on the substance of the issues on campaign reform and on taxes, thought that McCain won the exchange. It was just a pure debating matter, he looked for comfortable, more energetic.
So I think there's been -- McCain has been -- Bush has been a little bit weak, but it's unfair to really say that Bush has been very weak. I think McCain has been an impressive candidate.
KING: Do you agree with, Michael Beschloss, that the best thing to happen to Al Gore was Bradley coming in?
KRISTOL: Yes, both because Gore has become a better candidate, but even more important, because it means he has won the nomination; he wasn't given it by Bill Clinton. That is the great challenge for vice presidents. Gore will now have beaten a legitimate challenge back. And I agree with David Gergen who made a very important point, if Gore beats Bradley in New Hampshire and Bradley either gets out or just isn't going anywhere, the polls between Bush and Gore will tighten to maybe 5, 7 points.
KING: Thanks for hanging extra, Bill. Thanks very much, Bill Kristol.
Let's now go to Manchester, New Hampshire, and Bill Bradley. Senator, how do you assess your performance, if it can be called that? I guess any appearance on television is a performance. How did you do tonight, Bill?
BRADLEY: Well, I think fine. Basically, I was fed up with his misleading statements and I wanted to hold him accountable tonight. I think I that achieved that in addition to laying out where I'd like to take the country.
KING: The critics are saying they want you to be tougher. You were a tough basketball player, you were there and -- that you should be hitting off the clinch. How do you respond?
BRADLEY: I thought I was doing pretty well counter punching tonight quite frankly, and I think that ultimately the people are going to make that decision. I think politics has become in some ways cliched in this regards and the real question is whether we can take it further. And I thought you saw a real contrast tonight between old politics and new politics. Now, for some people, they don't quite understand it yet and I can appreciate that, but if we are going to change this process which desperately needs to be changed, then we are going to have to try to do it a different way and that's what I'm trying to do in this campaign.
KING: Are you saying in a sense that it's not your nature to use as you used tonight in referring to the vice president, tactics?
BRADLEY: No. I mean, I think that clearly you have a strategy, you operate from that strategy, but you modify tactics in order to implement the strategy and that's what I was trying to do tonight in terms of pointing out time and time again how his statements about me, about my record, about my proposals have been incorrect and in fact misleading and I'm not the only one saying that, but third parties, A.P., "Washington Post", "Keene (ph) Sentinel," "Des Moines Register," all have said that.
So the question is what kind of politics do we want? Do we want a politics that holds people to higher standards, or do we want a politics where we just sort of spiral to the bottom and everybody attacks everybody?
KING: Well, do you fear the worst that maybe the latter is true?
BRADLEY: Well, we'll see. We'll see. Hopefully the American people will make that decision.
KING: Senator, what about Al Gore has surprised you in this campaign? Is he a better campaigner than you thought, worse, about as you expected?
BRADLEY: Well, what surprised me is kind of relentless attacks that are incorrect and kind of doing so without a conscience and that bothered me, because I thought that we could in this campaign at least have the possibility of getting to Election Day where people would have a chance to vote for two people they esteem as opposed to one that they can still barely tolerate.
KING: Is that different than he was when you were together in the Senate?
BRADLEY: We weren't really close in the Senate. We were on no committee together. I didn't really know him. I've spent more time in a debate room in this campaign than I had with him in any previous time.
KING: But he -- you are surprised than at the way he attacks?
BRADLEY: No. I'm just surprised that that's what he chose to do. I think that, that is truly the old politics. Now, look at the voter participation in this country. Why do you think it's dropping?
It's dropping because people are turned off of negative campaigning, and the more you campaign negatively, the more you depress the electorate, the more you depress the electorate the more special interests have control of the process, the more special interests have control of the process the less things get done like the things I want to get done, health care for all Americans, eliminate child poverty, campaign finance reform, common sense gun control.
If you have a politics that's dominated by special interests because negative campaigning reduces turn out, then you have essentially a democracy that is -- that's not what it could be.
KING: Why have you not brought up the character issue and that question around the Clinton-Gore administration?
BRADLEY: Well, I thought tonight I tried to make it very clear that I thought that someone who was untruthful in a campaign would have difficulty getting people's trust as president. I made that very direct. Somebody who is divisive in a campaign would likely be a divisive president. People have a chance to make that judgment. It's not all raw meat here. People understand, I think -- they can read between the lines.
KING: If you lose next Tuesday, are you staying in? BRADLEY: This is a very interesting question because this is the first time in history that we've had a primary set up this way. We have Iowa, New Hampshire, usually that led on to future primaries right afterwards. But now we have a national primary, a five-week national primary. The dynamic totally changes. We've thought about that from the very beginning of this race and I'm looking forward to it.
KING: So you're staying no matter what?
BRADLEY: Yes, I'm staying.
KING: Thanks so much, senator.
BRADLEY: Because, I mean, I think, Larry, I'm staying because, you know, I think I can win New Hampshire still. We still have six days to go.
KING: Senator Bill Bradley, former senator from New Jersey, always great having him with us. The.
We'll have a closing comment and tell you about tomorrow night right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRADLEY: You have done nothing in this campaign but attack this bill, this suggestion, this idea. And in fact, the "Keene-Sentinel" said, "Gore persists in mischaracterizing Bill Bradley's health care plan."
TOM GRIFFITH, WMUR-TV: Could you get to the question, Mr. Bradley?
BRADLEY: The question is, why?
GORE: Bill, under your plan, people here in New Hampshire would really be left out in the cold. Now, I know that you're uncomfortable hearing this, but I am going to defend Medicaid and Medicare. If a Republican candidate had proposed the elimination of Medicaid and the substitution of voucher, or subsidies as you prefer to call them, at $150 a month, you and I and every Democrat would be up in arms criticizing such a proposal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: State of the Union tomorrow night. We'll be on following it with a big panel discussion. Thanks for joining us. Good night.
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