|Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback||
Larry King Live
Michigan and Arizona Primaries: The Force is with John McCainAired February 23, 2000 - 0:00 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEFF GREENFIELD, HOST: Tonight the primary force seems to be back with John McCain. Just three days after losing big in South Carolina, the senator beats Bush in Michigan and Arizona.
Joining us from Phoenix, CNN political commentator Tucker Carlson, staff writer for "The Weekly Standard." In Detroit, syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne. Also in the Motor City, Robert Novak, co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE" and "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT AND SHIELDS." And in New York, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of "The Nation."
It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Hi, I'm Jeff Greenfield, sitting in for LARRY KING LIVE. We have a terrific panel for the next hour. And at some point during the next half hour or 45 minutes, we expect to go to CNN's Jonathan King for a live interview with Senator John McCain. But first let's look at what happened tonight.
Tucker Carlson, you were with Senator McCain when he found out he had won. Was it a surprise to him?
TUCKER CARLSON, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think it was. And the striking thing was how happy he looked. I was with McCain shortly after he won in New Hampshire, and he had a kind of befuddled expression, sort of like the dog who caught the car finally. I don't think he expected to win there, and I think it took a couple days for it to sink in, for him to sort of process it.
Tonight it was just -- it was pure pleasure. He was on a roll. I went with him from his house here to the hotel, and it was striking that he got right off the bus and just ran right on stage, no preparation at all. I don't think he even looked at his remarks or tried to, you know, prepare in any way. He just went right into it. He was -- he was pumped up.
GREENFIELD: Now, in the days after New Hampshire, some in the McCain entourage began talking a little bit kind of confidently about, well, who our running mate might be, who might be in the cabinet. Is there any sense of cockiness on the senator's staff now?
CARLSON: I don't think so. I mean, you know, they -- the McCain staff leaven everything with this kind of ironic humor. The first thing John Weaver (ph) said when they won was "They'll be after us now." I mean, there's really the sense that it's very much an insurgent campaign. I mean, essentially, a week ago the McCain campaign staff in Michigan was really, you know, two college students and a fax machine. I mean, they really didn't prepare.
That's not just spin when they say "We're running a guerrilla campaign." They mean it. They're disorganized. They lose your bags. You know, they don't -- they don't give press releases out, in contrast to, say, Gore or Bush, who are, you know, flooding you and filling your suitcase with releases and crowding your e-mail. The McCain people basically don't have anything. I mean, there really is seat-of-the-pants.
GREENFIELD: E.J. Dionne, even this evening, when the exit polls were showing a slight McCain lead, the Republican -- the Bush campaign was saying, "Well, you know, we're going to get out that Republican base vote by 8:00 o'clock tonight, and we're going to win." Was it a shock to them, as far as you know? Did they expect to win?
E.J. DIONNE, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: They were stunned. I was over just before the show at the Bush wake that was supposed to be a victory party and talked to the speaker of the House, who was part of the Republican establishment mobilizing for Bush. And he said he had absolutely no idea that this was happening in the state, that he hadn't seen anything on the ground that would lead him to believe this.
I had a sense traveling around the state that you had a very different view when you were out in the western part of the state, which is very conservative and loyally Republican, and then when you got into the Detroit area. And the first hint I had that something might be happening was last night I watched the debate between Gore and Bradley with a state representative and his wife, a Democrat. It was a whole group of Democrats. They had already gotten -- the state legislator had gotten two calls from the McCain campaign pointing out to them that they could vote in the Republican primary without sacrificing their right to vote in the Democratic caucuses.
The McCain people -- it wasn't just sort of some organized outside group that pushed Democrats into this. The McCain campaign knew it needed those Democrats to come in to win.
GREENFIELD: Now, Bob Novak, do you think, in some sense, that that is going to come back to haunt the McCain campaign in those states where only Republicans can vote? I mean, the Bush campaign was spreading the word earlier this evening that, in effect, the primary had been hijacked. Now, you've been around politics a long time. Does that cut any vote with primary voters?
BOB NOVAK, CNN "CROSSFIRE": I don't know if it cuts any vote with primary voters or not, but it certainly afflicts the McCain campaign that they can't get Republican votes. I almost compare it to George Wallace trying to get the Democratic nomination when the Democratic loyalist voters in most places were totally against him.
To hear -- with all due respect, to hear what we've heard so far, it sounds as if there was some great upset in the Republican voters of Michigan and that nobody thought that they would defect from Governor Engler and Governor Bush. Well, they didn't defect. They got an enormous Republican vote. What they didn't expect was that more than half -- let me repeat -- more than half the voters in the Republican primary would not be Republicans. When have you ever seen that in any election in any party? It's absolutely dysfunctional, and it is a lucky break for Governor McCain that he had an open primary on a day where there was no Democratic primary in the state of Michigan.
Now the question is, can he -- does he have the wit and the flexibility not to satisfy the liberal media that loves him but to satisfy Republican voters in the close primaries ahead?
GREENFIELD: Katrina vanden Heuvel, I heard -- have heard in my home of New York a number of people -- liberals, people on the left -- who at least were thinking about a flirtation with John McCain. They found his persona fascinating. They found his personal biography fascinating. And they weren't that thrilled with the probable Democratic running mate -- I mean, nominee, Al Gore. From your sense with "The Nation," which is a magazine on the liberal left, do you think there's any chance that the argument of independents, the flirtation with John McCain, can continue once he moves to the conservative Republican states?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, "THE NATION": Well, I think he's in a bind, and he stated it pretty clearly tonight. He said, "I am a Republican conservative reformer." Those two terms are usually antithetical. In a sense, John McCain is a one-and-a-half-trick reformer. He has the campaign finance, and he has taking on tobacco interests. But if you look at his record -- you had Pat Robertson on tonight -- this man is -- gets nearly 100 percent approval rating from the Christian Coalition.
He is now going to have to, as he said tonight, show that he is for the protection of the unborn, for greater defense spending, for a lot of the conservative issues that he is known for in the Congress. So it's going to be a straddle. And I think the only reason to really look at his potential candidacy, his nomination for the Republican candidacy as interesting would be that he says he will not take soft money.
And if you believe that money is corroding our political system, it would be very interesting to see what the Republican Party would do, the rebellion inside the ranks if their presidential candidate refused to raise or take soft money. And it would lead the Democratic candidate to have to take no soft money because Gore and Bradley have said they won't take soft money if McCain doesn't. So that could be a very interesting experiment for our democracy.
GREENFIELD: I want to come back, in fact, and talk about how much issues are playing a role in this nomination fight. We'll do that in just a moment when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today Michigan sent a powerful message across America, a message -- a message that our party wants real reform from the real reformer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREENFIELD: We are back with our assorted seers, sages and pundits to talk about John McCain's victory in Arizona and, I think more significantly, in Michigan.
I want to share with the panel the following. After South Carolina, one of Governor Bush's top strategists said to me "You have to understand issues are not driving this election, it's persona. And we," the Bush campaign, "have captured that."
In Michigan, according to our exit poll, of the people who said issues were most important, Bush beat McCain by 15 points. On the people who cited personal qualities as the most important factor, McCain beat Bush by 19 points.
Bob Novak, you are an issues kind of guy. You've written a book called "Completing the Revolution." Could this be a campaign in which the normal issues that drive a Republican nomination, even, Bob, tax cuts, may be taking second place to the persona of John McCain?
NOVAK: If persona controls the election, the nomination, Jeff, George W. Bush is gone because he cannot compete in persona with this war hero, who is a -- who is a magnetic figure. The problem with John McCain is part the fact that his colleagues don't like him, and for good reason, for the most part. The problem is that he is on the issues -- he is in trouble, and he has gone into this campaign consciously attracting Democratic votes, which elect -- which nominate -- which won him the Michigan primary today. As he has done that, he has moved further and further away from Republican orthodoxy.
Now, Katrina said that Republican reformer, conservative reformer, is an anomaly. It doesn't work. But as a matter of fact, there are Republican reforms. The trouble is that neither Governor Bush nor Senator McCain, particularly Senator McCain, are very good at them. That's tax reform. That's Social Security privatization. There's any number of kinds of Republican reforms. But the reforms that John McCain talks about, for the most part, are Democratic reforms.
GREENFIELD: Let me -- let me move to E.J. I'm going to cite your book, too. I don't want to plug everybody's book, but I happen to remember you did a book, I think, called "Why Americans Hate Politics," right?
DIONNE: God bless you, Jeff.
GREENFIELD: Now, is this not a possible scenario, that one of the things that's happened in the McCain campaign is that generally apolitical voters who don't care that much about issues are finding in McCain a reason to like politics again and are getting into the process and changing the whole equation? DIONNE: Well, I think you're certainly seeing some of that, especially among young voters, not so much in South Carolina, where there are a lot of young Christian conservatives, but certainly in New Hampshire. And I think there were a lot of people turned off by politics who are turned on by McCain and his very fierce attacks on the political money system. He sounds much more populist than most Democrats do.
And I want to go back to something Bob said because he's right about McCain having a problem appealing to Republicans. Bush got essentially the same percentage of Republicans here as he got in South Carolina. But he's got another problem which is that if you look at independents in this state, independents voted a little better than 2 to 1 for McCain. And I think the problem there is that Bush is not giving people who are not partisan Republicans, who kind of like him, you know, who trust him -- he's not giving them a good reason to vote for him.
Tonight at this wake, I was talking to a very loyal Bush guy, a Michigan Republican, who said, "Look, when people think of McCain, they say reform, straight-shooter and war hero. And when they think of George Bush, they say Dad's son, rich and establishment choice." And as he said -- and this is a Bush guy -- when you compare one list to the other, you know which list most voters are going to choose.
GREENFIELD: Tucker, your -- the magazine for which you write, "The Weekly Standard," seems to be very enamored of McCain, and it is an essentially conservative magazine. So square that circle. If Bob's right that McCain is running essentially to the left, how is a conservative publication like "The Weekly Standard" so attracted to him?
CARLSON: Well, I mean, I -- I guess I'm not sure I agree that he's running to the left. I mean, he's not running an ideological campaign. He doesn't have many ideological people on his staff. But I think it's essentially a campaign that pits the establishment versus someone who really is if not an outsider -- and McCain was born in Washington and has worked for the federal government almost his entire life -- but someone who really is radical.
I mean, I'm not sure even McCain himself understands exactly what he means when he says he wants to, you know, subvert the system in Washington. As people have noted, he can be light on specifics. But the impulse is genuine, and it's there.
I think part of the problem here for Bush is that McCain did what Bush said he was going to do. There's been a lot of whining tonight about how many Democrats and independents voted for McCain. But if you can remember back a month ago or even certainly a year ago, this was exactly what Bush promised to do, enlarge the party, bring in people from the outside. He used to brag about his friendship with Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock. He held up his media adviser, Mark McKinnon, a long-time Democrat, as evidence of his appeal to people outside the Republican Party. Here McCain does that, and Bush is up whining about how it's not really a victory, et cetera. It's...
CARLSON: It's odd how things have changed.
GREENFIELD: When we come back -- we have to take a break now -- I want to ask Katrina vanden Heuvel about the "liberal media" and its love affair with John McCain and whether she accepts that analysis.
We'll be back in a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: What a difference a couple of days makes! We took on -- we took on the iron triangle of big money, lobbyists and legislation, and we won another battle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREENFIELD: We go now to Phoenix, Arizona, to our senior White House correspondent, John King, who is with Senator McCain.
John, all yours.
JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jeff, thank you.
And Senator, thank you for joining us. First of all, congratulations on your wins tonight in Arizona and in Michigan. Governor Engler, obviously a Bush supporter, was on our air earlier tonight saying that -- essentially, that your victory was not a Republican victory, that you won the state of Michigan because of Democrats and independents, and therefore you could not claim title to leading the Republican Party.
How do you respond to that?
MCCAIN: Well, I extend my condolences to Governor Engler, who was the "firewall." Look, what I have proved tonight is that there's something out there that caused a whole lot of people, hundreds of thousands of people, to come out and vote. Twenty-eight percent of the voters, according to CNN, had never voted before, a million and a quarter people, as opposed to 500,000. I proved again what I've been saying all along. I'm electable because independents and others will vote for me.
Yes, I have a challenge to convince Republicans, and I think they'll be more convinced after tonight. Here in Arizona, Republican- only primary, I'm well over 60 percent of the vote. In New Hampshire, we won a majority of Republicans. So we'll do fine, but we also recognize that if you want to govern, you have to have attractiveness to independent voters and Democrat voters. Governor Bush has not been able to show that.
KING: You are one of the two leading candidates left in the Republican battle, and yet in your speech tonight, you said these words. Quote, "I want to rebuild our military, strengthen our families, protect the unborn and cut your taxes." Why would a Republican candidate for president feel compelled to have to say that? Shouldn't people know you're a conservative?
MCCAIN: Well, I've been painted as not being one by the Bush campaign. Obviously, I have to keep on with my message either at a victory celebration or anywhere else. I think I have to -- and also continue the message of reform. People are disconnected from their government. They want a reform of government, and I am the real reformer, and Governor Bush is clearly not.
KING: But if you have to stress your conservatism, heading now into a primary calendar where there are fewer and fewer open primaries where Democrats and independents can vote, are you worried you will lose your appeal to the new voters and the independents who have been your margin of victory so far?
MCCAIN: Oh, no. Independent voters and others know that I am a conservative. I think that why they're voting for me is because I will restore integrity to the institutions of government, that in this uncertain time we're in that I will provide them with the leadership that will provide them and their children with the opportunity this new prosperity is providing. And they -- I will reconnect them with government. And then finally, I'll inspire them.
KING: Already this has been a fierce campaign. Your victories tonight will make it an even tougher struggle. The tone of the campaign you have complained about. In Michigan, there were recorded messages from Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition, questioning your commitment to abortion rights and calling your national chairman, Warren Rudman, a bigot. The Bush campaign complains about anonymous calls saying he was anti-Catholic, trying to suggest they come from your campaign.
What do you think of the Robertson call and what it says about the tone of the campaign? And do you know anything about any involvement by any of your people in these calls Governor Bush is complaining about?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, if you read this week's "Time" and "Newsweek," everyone who observed it, the South Carolina campaign conducted by the Bush people was the nastiest in history, calls that were unbelievable, as well as an incessant barrage of attack ads. Reverend Pat Robertson calling Warren Rudman, a good and decent man, a bigot is what offended me. He can say what he wants to about me, although I disagree with his assessment. But to call Warren Rudman a bigot -- Pat Robertson should be ashamed of himself.
Governor Bush has a responsibility to stop those things. The depiction of Governor Bush was he did visit Bob Jones University. He did -- Bob Jones University does bar interracial dating, and Bob Jones University has many time been anti-Catholic. That's a matter of record. The people of Michigan were informed of that. That's a matter of fact. I didn't call anybody a bigot.
KING: What's the state of your relationship with the governor? The two of you acted like old buddies in New Hampshire. When you lost in South Carolina, you said voters would face a choice between experience and pretense. Tonight, obviously, you won two states, your home state and a very important state, Michigan, a key November state. Did you speak to the governor tonight? And what's the state of your relationship?
MCCAIN: No, the governor has not called me. I hope it's good. He's a good man from a good family. I would not have run under any circumstances the campaign he ran in South Carolina, but that's something that -- that he'll account for, not me.
KING: Let's look ahead. Next week Washington state. Obviously, you've targeted there. Will you try to make a major play in Virginia? And look ahead even further to March 7th. You say on the bus all the time this will be decided on March 7th. What do you have to do? You have two wins tonight, but obviously, there are Texas, Florida, coming up. He would be favored there. What do you have to do next week and the week after that to convince the Republican Party that you should be its man?
MCCAIN: Work hard. We're doing very well. We're ahead in some states, like Washington and Connecticut and some others. We're close in California and New York. We'll get a bounce out of this one tonight. I'm very happy with where we are, but I've got a lot of work to do and a lot of effort and a lot of time on the "Straight Talk Express." And we'll continue to have fun. We've had fun throughout this thing, and it's been a great, great ride and one that I can't tell you how happy I am.
KING: Very quickly -- you have the resources to go on?
MCCAIN: Oh, yeah. Over the Internet, mccain2000.com, we've received well over $3 million since we won in New Hampshire, and it's coming in more heavily. We'll have enough money to be competitive. And actually, we're getting a little closer to Governor Bush because he's spent around $60 million already. And we obviously haven't done that. We -- so I think we'll be competitive. But earned media also will matter, particularly in California.
KING: We thank you for your time.
MCCAIN: Thank you, John.
KING: And congratulations again.
Back to you, Jeff, in Washington.
GREENFIELD: Thank you, Senator. Thank you, John King.
We'll be back with our panel for the rest of the way in a moment.
GREENFIELD: We are back with our panel for the rest of the hour.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, you no doubt have heard the complaints among some conservatives that the liberal media has been conducting a kind of love affair with Senator McCain, that this is kind of curious since he defines himself as a conservative, but they say, "Well, he's taking on the Republican establishment. The Republican right doesn't like him, therefore the liberal media have embraced him."
What's -- as a member of one of the people who will actually admit to being a member of the liberal media, what's your take on this?
VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, I don't think there is a liberal media, Jeff. I think -- you know, Bill Kristol was on CNN a few days ago, and he said, you know, "The media isn't as biased and liberal as some people think. In fact, it's quite conservative." I mean, listen, McCain is like white heat. He's a good story. He kibitzes. He's on that bus. He's a former POW.
But maybe one reason some of the voters aren't connecting to the issues has to do with the coverage. If you look closely at this guy, you would see that he has a near-perfect 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition, as I said. He has this message of taking on the special interests, even while he's taking in all the money from the special interests.
I think the love affair is going to shift some, and we've seen a little more self-awareness on the part of the press. But it's -- it's to the detriment of a real discussion of issues. And I would say that Bradley has been the victim of that press coverage because Bradley -- one could argue that he is as liberal as anyone, serious presidential candidate, since Teddy Kennedy in 1980. And he has been the victim of a tale of two reformers where one of the reformers just walked off with the good talk.
GREENFIELD: E.J., that's an interesting point, and the Bradley people will make it, that the McCain victory in New Hampshire, to use the cliche is that is now required, took all the oxygen out. Is that what happened to the Bradley campaign? Has McCain been Bradley's biggest enemy?
DIONNE: Well, yeah, in a lot of ways, I think that's true. But I think this started happening in New Hampshire. I run into a lot of those Bradley-McCain voters that we talked about a lot, and they probably weren't as big a group as were originally described, but there were a lot of them up there. And as the campaign went on, I think it was McCain's passion and also his sense of humor that really started grabbing people and pulled voters in that campaign toward McCain, away from Bradley.
Ron Brownstein also used a book title -- a book about Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. He talked about "the warrior and the priest," and I think in this case, the happy warrior proved more attractive than the priest.
I want to go back to what Katrina said because it's very funny what happens with the perception that the press is 100 percent pro- McCain. I have written favorably about McCain for a long time on campaign finance reform, and I got an e-mail from a conservative reader who said, "You know, you guys, as soon as he wins the Republican nomination, you guys are going to turn on him and tear him down."
And I thought about that, and I said, "You know, I haven't written at all about all those areas that Katrina described, where McCain's record is very conservative." So I wrote a piece that included a conversation I had with Senator Paul Wellstone, a very liberal senator, where I asked him, "Is McCain a liberal?" And he simply cracked up laughing.
Then I got an e-mail from a conservative reader who said, "Aha! You're just trying to prove McCain isn't a liberal to help him in the South Carolina primary." So on this one, you can't win either way. I think there is a perception out there. I think there is a fondness for McCain. I don't think there's any doubt about that. But I suspect -- I think it's also more complicated.
GREENFIELD: We got to take a break, but when we come back, we're going to let Bob Novak take a crack at this, and Tucker Carlson, our two members of the non-liberal media, for sure.
We'll be back in a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I want to make a special plea tonight to my fellow Republicans. There are those who rule the establishment who want more than anything to defend Washington's big-money, big-spending status quo. They want to fool you about me. Well, here's some more straight talk. I am a proud Reagan conservative. I love the Republican Party. It is my home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREENFIELD: We are back with our panel for the rest of the hour.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, you no doubt have heard the complaints among some conservatives that the liberal media has been conducting a kind of love affair with Senator McCain, that this man is kind of curious since he defines himself as a conservative. But they say, well, he's taking on the Republican establishment.
The Republican right doesn't like him. Therefore, the liberal media have embraced him. What, as a member of one of the people who will actual admit to being a member of the liberal media, what's your take on this?
VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, I don't think there is a liberal media, Jeff. You know, Bill Kristol was on CNN a few days ago. And he said, you know, the media isn't as biased and liberal as some people think. In fact, it's quite conservative.
I mean, listen, McCain is like white heat. He's a good story. He kibitzes. He's on that bus. He's a former POW. But maybe one reason some of the voters aren't connecting to the issues has to do with the coverage. If you look closely at this guy, you would see that he has a near perfect 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition. As I said, he has this message of taking on the special interests even while he's taking in all the money from the special interests.
I think the love affair is going to shift some. And we've seen a little more self-awareness on the part of the press. But it's to the detriment of a real discussion of issues.
And I would say that Bradley has been the victim of that press coverage because Bradley, one could argue that he is talking as liberal as anyone, a serious presidential candidate since Teddy Kennedy in 1980, and he has been the victim of a tale of two reformers where one of the reformers just walked off with the good talk.
GREENFIELD: E.J., that's an interesting point, and the Bradley people will make it, that the McCain victory in New Hampshire, to use the cliche that is now required, took all the oxygen out. Is that what happened to the Bradley campaign? Has McCain been Bradley's biggest enemy?
DIONNE: Hey, in a lot of ways I think that's true. But I think this started happening in New Hampshire. I ran into a lot of those Bradley-McCain voters that we talked about a lot. And they probably weren't as big a group as were originally described. But there were a lot of them up there.
And as the campaign went on, I think it was McCain's passion and also his sense of humor that really started grabbing people and pulled voters in that camp toward McCain away from Bradley. Ron Brownstein also used a book title, a book about Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, he talked about the warrior and the priest. And I think in this case, the happy warrior proved more attractive than the priest.
I want to go back to what Katrina said because it's very funny what happens with the perception that the press is 100 percent pro- McCain. I've written favorably about McCain for a long time on campaign finance reform. And I got an e-mail from a conservative reader who said, "You know, you guys as soon as he wins the Republican nomination, you guys are going to turn on him and tear him down."
And I thought about that. And I said, "You know, I haven't written at all about all those areas that Katrina described where McCain's record is very conservative." So I wrote a piece that included a conversation I had with Senator Paul Wellstone, a very liberal senator, where I asked him, "Is McCain a liberal?" and he simply cracked up laughing.
Then I got an e-mail from a conservative reader who said, "A-ha, you're just trying to prove McCain isn't a liberal to help him in the South Carolina primary." So on this one, you can't win either way.
I think there is a perception out there -- I think there is a fondness for McCain. I don't think there's any doubt about that. But I think it's also more complicated.
GREENFIELD: We've got to take a break. But when we come back, we're going to let Bob Novak take a crack at this, and Tucker Carlson, our two members of the non-liberal media for sure. We'll be back in a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to make a special plea tonight to my fellow Republicans. There are those who rule the establishment who want more than anything to defend Washington's big money, big spending status quo. They want to fool you about me.
Well, here's some more straight talk. I am a proud Reagan conservative. I love the Republican Party. It is my home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREENFIELD: Back with our panel.
Tucker Carlson, what do you make of the argument that the liberal media -- or the media, let's put it that way -- are fascinated by the story of McCain? It's new, and it's fresh, and he's an interesting character. But that when the issues become to come to the fore, they will in fact turn on him because the media do tilt left?
CARLSON: Sounds like a conspiracy to me. It also sounds like a pretty good Bush talking point, the idea that the liberal press is pumping up McCain in sort of a Spiro Agnew tactic.
I think to some degree the press believes that McCain doesn't really mean it when he talks, particularly on social issues. Most reporters I know believe that McCain is if not pro-choice, then doesn't really care about the issue.
But no, look, there's a lot of talk about how much the press loves McCain. Clearly, he gives the press more access. But it hasn't helped if it's true.
In South Carolina, for instance, I was there. I covered it. And it was a deeply unpleasant and I think dishonorable performance from the point of view of Bush. I mean, it really was vicious. There were push polls in the northern part of the state that accused Mrs. McCain of being a drug addict. I mean, it got incredibly low.
And yet if you look at the coverage of it nationally, a lot of that didn't make the papers. And I think part of the problem is that reporters when they cover McCain like to hang around on the bus. And it's complicated and difficult to go track down who's making push polls or where do these fliers come from and finding printing companies, et cetera.
So I think the big story -- and I think it actually is a big story -- of how poorly the Bush campaign behaved in South Carolina probably will never be told in the detail it deserves. So I mean, if there's a liberal media conspiracy, it's not doing a very good job.
GREENFIELD: Bob Novak, what do you make of what Tucker just said? I mean, he's suggesting...
GREENFIELD: ... as a younger conservative that in fact this is mythological.
NOVAK: ... Let me give a small dose of reality to what I've been listening to for the last 20 minutes. My brothers and sisters in the news media, I'm not just talking about commentators such as are sitting around this table tonight, but I'm talking about reporters as liberal as they can be. The media is more liberal than the average conservative out there can dream.
They like John McCain. Why do they like him so much? Because on the things they care about that doesn't show up in the voting records, he is right in tune with them. When he says, "We don't want a tax cut for the rich," that doesn't show up in his voting record, but that's liberal propaganda. That's the liberal language...
GREENFIELD: Hold, Bob, just one second...
NOVAK: ... Wait, no, wait a minute, I listened to a lot of this and I want to have my say on this. And when he talk...
GREENFIELD: ... I do too. But I want you to answer a specific question. The liberal media likes a guy who is pro-life, against federal aid to the arts...
NOVAK: ... But they don't...
GREENFIELD: ... and pro-defense buildup?
NOVAK: ... They don't believe he means it on those things. What they think he means -- for example, let me give you a for example on tax reform. Republican Reagan conservative tax reform is trying to get rid of the system, having a flat tax or a national sales tax.
His idea of tax reform is closing tax loopholes for corporations. What tax loopholes for corporations? Well, he's very vague on that. But that kind of talk really fits in to what the media is expecting. They don't believe he's pro -- Tucker was quite correct. They say he doesn't mean it when he says he's pro-life. And many of his statements that kind of slip out would indicate that.
Finally, I have covered a lot of campaigns, as you said, Jeff. And the idea that this campaign in South Carolina was the dirtiest campaign in history is laughable. The first campaign I covered between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960 was much dirtier.
I mean, the stuff that went out about Kennedy being a Catholic, the stuff that went out about Nixon, was vicious. And when I hear John McCain putting on the sanctimonious airs that have made him something, as he puts it, less than Miss Congeniality with his colleagues and talking about how low down a campaign George Bush ran in South Carolina is really laughable. And that's what really makes a lot of Republicans angry with him.
GREENFIELD: When we come back, we'll try to get Bob out of his shell and tell us what he really thinks. We'll be back in a minute.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: We are reformers. We are reformers, Republican reformers who can make our party bigger and change politics in our country for generations. Don't fear this campaign, my fellow Republicans, join it. Join it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: During the past few days, my opponents both Republicans and Democrats have tried to ascribe to me statements I did not make and positions I do not take. Let me make it crystal clear to the good folks here and across America, I reject bigotry. I reject prejudice. I repudiate anti- Catholicism and racism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREENFIELD: That was Texas Governor George W. Bush speaking about some of the controversies that have erupted in recent campaign days.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, normally when a reform candidate gains traction, there is something else going on if you think about it. When Ross Perot gained traction in '92, it was at a time when there was a perceived recession, when George Bush the president was unpopular.
This time, you have a self-professed reformer doing very well at a time when there is almost nothing rippling at the surface of the water politically. People seem more content, if the polls are right, than at any time in history. Doesn't that perhaps explain why a reformer disconnected from conventional liberal or left ideology may be doing so well...
VANDEN HEUVEL: But I think...
GREENFIELD: ... that the public doesn't want the ideology?
VANDEN HEUVEL: ... But I take issue with the view that he's disconnected from ideology. He is self-disconnected from ideology. He has risen above it.
I think he is riding this conventional view of the Clinton fatigue and the Clinton legacy in a sense. There is a view of distaste for what's gone on in Washington, distaste for corruption, distaste with the special interests.
And he speaks about this in an amorphous way. I mean, this iron triangle is quite amorphous.
But I also think perhaps there is a crisis of conservatism, which Bob Novak speaks to in a way. There is a crisis of this Republican Party and what it will stand for as a result of what Clinton has appropriated from the Republican Party.
This is a time of, quote, unprecedented prosperity, when in fact it's not really that for millions of people. But Clinton has taken off the table the conventional Republican issues.
In fact, he has increased the military budget. He has reformed welfare. He has shrunk the size of the federal government for the first time since Eisenhower.
So what do people like Bob Novak have to speak for now in this post-Communist era? And I think we're seeing that play out in this sort of issueless way.
GREENFIELD: But E.J., that kind of goes to the point that if in fact the Bush campaign aide was correct that I quoted a while ago, that issues aren't driving this election, and if in fact crime, welfare, communism, three of the legs of traditional Republican ideology have been swiped, then maybe it makes sense that a conservative would be running as a reformer.
DIONNE: Well, yeah. I mean, I think on the conservative side, you've got, if you look at this race David Burkes (ph) has put it well that you've got one candidate who appeals to conservatives but can't get independents, and another Republican who appeals to independents but can't get conservatives. And there's a coalition problem.
But I also think, to go back to an earlier point, I think you're absolutely right about the sense of something going on out there. You have a sort of unconsummated marriage. And the person who's been waiting to get married to somebody is this Perot voter, this radical middle voter, if you will.
A lot of them voted for Ross Perot in 1992. They're people who are not particularly ideological. But they're angry about the way the political system works. They talk a lot about reform of one kind or another.
Bill Clinton in 1992 had an opportunity to marry a bunch of those voters to the Democratic Party. And for all kinds of reasons that we know about, and in particular the Democrats never passing campaign reform, they lost the opportunity.
McCain is giving the Republicans a chance to marry those voters and create a very substantial coalition. But because conservatives like Bob mistrust McCain, and he can give you some pretty good reasons for that, that marriage may never take place. And I think the Republicans will lose an opportunity.
GREENFIELD: When we come back, I want to talk political tactics. I want to talk political calendar, where this campaign goes next, and who's in the best position to capitalize on that delegate-rich bounty that's coming up. We'll be back.
GREENFIELD: Bob Novak, if I can ask you to take off for a moment your commentator's hat and put on your superb political reporter's hat. The conventional wisdom that is now evolving is we're now moving into Bush country in the sense that the primaries soon will close to independents and Democrats.
Only Republicans will vote. McCain in Michigan tonight I think didn't even crack 30 percent of the Republican vote.
Yet a few days ago in a New York poll conducted only among Republicans, McCain's within three points of George Bush. Is it possible that this curious momentum that sometimes develops in campaigns could actually begin to produce among Republicans a kind of bias remorse about Governor Bush, second thoughts about whether he may be the most effective candidate. Could this in fact happen?
NOVAK: I think it could happen. I think Governor Bush has been a much superior candidate in South Carolina and in Michigan than he was in New Hampshire where he was very unimpressive. How much that comes over when you lose two elections in one day, I'm not quite sure.
But certainly the momentum from this week's elections could create some serious trouble for Governor Bush. That's why Michigan was a very important election, not quite as important as South Carolina, but second in importance to that.
I would say that right now the states to watch are next week Washington state, where I think that Senator McCain could keep his momentum going by winning there. And then you go into the Super Tuesday elections on April 7...
GREENFIELD: On March 7.
NOVAK: ... Pardon?
GREENFIELD: March 7.
NOVAK: March 7, I'm sorry. And you have New York and California, two very big states. And I would say that that's make or break. If by some chance John McCain could win both of those states, finish first in both of those states and win the New England states, he'd have a good chance to be nominated.
I will tell you this putting back on my commentator's hat...
NOVAK: ... that it would cause tremendous heartburn in the ranks, not -- I don't know what the Republican establishment is -- but the Republican governors, senators and members of Congress who have been elected and really despair at the thought of him as the president.
GREENFIELD: That's a great point, Tucker. And I'd like you to pick up on it.
You know, there are two models of an insurgent campaign. One is the insurgent wins, and the party rallies behind the new leader, and he's the new chief ape, if you'll pardon the anthropological reference, and they go on him in. The other model of insurgencies is what happened to Barry Goldwater and George McGovern, where the losing faction of the party just will not sign up.
How deep do you think the distrust of John McCain is? Is it deep enough that if he could somehow get the nomination, he would still lose a good chunk of his party in the fall, they'd rather go down in defeat then sign up with this guy?
CARLSON: Well, it's interesting. The two examples you gave, McGovern and Goldwater, divided their parties among ideological lines. And I think that's one of the reasons the split remains so bitter.
There isn't a deep ideological gulf between Bush and McCain. When it comes right down to it, it's not quite clear where Republicans are going to go. I mean, they're certainly not going to support Al Gore.
I think Bush's biggest challenge in the next month is this questioning of negative campaigning. I mean, Bob pointed out, and of course he's right, that Bush didn't run the most negative campaign that's ever been run in South Carolina last week. But it was negative.
And most important, it contradicted the promise that is the edifice of the Bush campaign itself, which is, "I am a new kind of politician. I'm a uniter, not a divider, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."
And all this stiff that is slowly becoming -- it seems like it's phony now. People like me believed it. And every time Bush attacks McCain in a way that's perceived as unfair or below the belt, as normal as that is in politics, and of course it is, I think it damages that perception. And that perception is essentially all Bush has.
GREENFIELD: We're going to be back with our remaining moments with this panel. We'll be back with our remaining moments after a few moments.
GREENFIELD: E.J., it wasn't so long ago that we were imagining a Bush glide path to an easy nomination and Bradley and Gore tearing each other's throats out. Now it appears that unless a miracle happens, the Democratic nomination will be over March 7, and Lord knows when the Republicans' will be over. Should the Democrats take great comfort from that? Or is there a ticking time bomb in the potential of a McCain or a Bush nomination for the Democrats?
DIONNE: Well, the Democrats are tearing each other's throats out. But we've kind of put them in a closet, shut the door, and no one is paying much attention. That was a pretty tough debate they had last night.
I think that the Republican race so far has been pretty good for the Democrats. I think they were really worried that Bush was going to put this away early, have a ton of money to spend attacking them, presumably Gore was the thinking then, and that you wouldn't have a new gulf open in the Republican Party. I mean, a lot of Democrats believed the claims of the Bush campaign.
But I think the other side of the Democratic race, Bill Bradley was victimized by pure bad luck in that this new political calendar created all of these Republican races before there was a single Democratic race. And the Republican race got interesting.
But I think the Democrats are going to suffer from this fight between Bradley and Gore. There is bitterness there. It is mostly at the elite level. But I think it's going to play itself out in ways that could hurt the Democrats.
GREENFIELD: Bob Novak, you will correct me if I'm wrong, I know. You might even correct me if I'm right. But in my memory, the only bitter nomination fight after which a party wound up winning was Eisenhower-Taft in 1952. Generally, a bitter fight leads to defeat, I would suggest. Can a Republican Party survive a protracted fight between McCain and Bush that runs all the way through the spring?
NOVAK: Well, I hate to correct you, Jeff. I really do. But I have to because John F. Kennedy versus Lyndon B. Johnson was not bean bag. And the accusations that they made about each other with -- I got a kick out of Senator McCain who felt that it was just so terrible what they were doing to them.
You should have seen what LBJ was doing to Kennedy, who then named him as his vice president. And as I remember, Kennedy did win the election coming up.
So it has happened in other times. You're right. No fight is a lot better. But Al Gore is somebody who really does need no fight because he is not a terribly attractive candidate.
GREENFIELD: Bob and I will have a debate about his perception in 1960 when we leave the air. Katrina, let's talk about Al Gore, who is sitting there as H.L. Mencken said "smiling like a Christian with four aces."
I mean, it's hard for me to imagine how right now Al Gore isn't sitting there saying, "Just, I'll hold your coats. Go fight through April or May if you want because none of my people are leaving for either one of you once the issues get on the table." What do you think?
VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, he has to be happy that Bush seemed very bloodied, and not only bloodied, but Bush is being forced to cater to the very forces inside the Republican Party that make it very difficult to win a general election. And McCain, who as I said would be a great experiment to watch the refusal of soft money and force Gore to refuse soft money, which I think would make the Democratic Party unhappy at this stage, it would make the race interesting.
But I think the McCain electorate is very volatile and unstable. If you look at Michigan, and you look at the percentage of union voters who voted for McCain tonight, they're not going to be there in November. So Gore has to be sitting pretty, though he's become the fighter. And he'll bloody whoever the Republican nominee is come the fall.
GREENFIELD: Tucker, right now the polls suggest, and polls can be wrong, that McCain is easily the stronger opponent against Al Gore than George Bush. Be a contrarian unless you choose not to. Is it possible that that perception can change over time, that a couple of months from now we're going to look back on that and say, "How did we ever think that?"
CARLSON: Oh, of course, especially with McCain. I mean, as I said, this is a seat-of-the-pants run by a guy who's got some radical notions and has reporters hanging around him 18 hours a day. I mean, no telling what he'll say.
Sure, the whole thing could blow up tomorrow. That's part of why it's such a great story.
But I mean, I think I understand why in the face of the numbers you just -- I mean, look, it's clear that McCain has a better shot to beat Gore. Why do Republicans -- so many people still dislike him? I think on a gut level, they understand that he's out to make big changes, even if he doesn't understand what they are.
I was at a McCain rally the other day. There were two signs on the wall behind McCain. One said "burn it down," not clear what "it" was. And the other said, "McCain's fifth column."
Now you could laugh these off. But I think they're an indicator of what McCain has in mind, or more precisely what he has in his gut. I mean, he wants to overthrow something. I'm not quite sure he knows what it is. But that impulse makes people very nervous.
GREENFIELD: In the couple of minutes left, I hate predictions. I'm not going to ask you to predict who the nominee will be. So I have a different question for each of you to answer fairly quickly. Will this fight in the Republican Party be over March 7, or will it go on?
VANDEN HEUVEL: It's going to go on. John McCain is mad as hell. And he's in it for the long haul. And in fact, he's raising money. And I think he wants to I think change the template of the Republican Party. In some way, as Tucker Carlson said, he's not even clear how. But he's in it.
GREENFIELD: Bob Novak, does it end March 7, or do we go through the spring?
NOVAK: Thanks to what happened in Michigan, we go beyond. And it's entirely possible there could be hand-to-hand combat for delegates as you had between Gerry Ford and Ronald Reagan in 1976 right into the convention.
GREENFIELD: E.J., real quick. End on March 7 or not?
DIONNE: I think he goes on unless Bush wins some miraculous big victory in California. And I don't think that will happen.
CARLSON: I think if McCain loses California outright, he's out. And if Bush does, he's out. I think it ends there.
GREENFIELD: OK, I want to thank the panel. I want to thank Tucker Carlson -- actually, the entire panel, E.J. Dionne, Bob Novak, Katrina vanden Heuvel.
This race gets more and more interesting by the day. And that's another prediction that nobody would have made I think six months ago.
I'm Jeff Greenfield for LARRY KING LIVE. Much more about this race and the ones to come here and everywhere else on CNN. Thanks for joining us.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.