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Larry King Live
Republicans Square Off in California DebateAired March 2, 2000 - 10:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, GUEST HOST: Tonight, Republican rumble. White House hopefuls George W. Bush John McCain and Alan Keyes square off again.
Joining us with a debate scorecard, in Washington, Bill Kristol, editor and publisher of "The Weekly Standard"; also here in Washington, Mary Matalin, GOP strategist and co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE"; in Los Angeles, Dee Dee Myers, former press secretary for the Clinton White House, now contributing editor for "Vanity Fair"; also in Los Angeles, E.J. Dionne, syndicated columnist for "The Washington Post" and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
It's all next on LARRY KING Live.
I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry. Larry has the night off. He'll be back here tomorrow with an exclusive interview with Bob Jones III, the president of Bob Jones University. You won't want to miss that.
Jeff Greenfield will be joining us tonight as well. But let's begin with Bill Kristol.
You heard the debate. Give us your assessment. Did the candidates do what they had to do in order to secure some support this evening?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": It would have been a more interesting debate with Bob Jones III in there, I think, you know? It was a surprisingly dull you debate for what has been a very interesting campaign, I mean, ironically. I don't know that it changed much, frankly. I guess Governor Bush will be happy insofar as he seems to be ahead in the key states, and nothing, no blows really landed on him. But Senator McCain was fine as well. I think it will not be a big story.
BLITZER: No big story here, Mary Matalin?
MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": No rumble there, no rumble here. I'll have to agree with that. Bush wanted and did come out of the box reiterating his original message, I am a reformer with record. And he got quite passionate on the essence of that Texas record on education. And McCain wanted to say, has to say given what's happened in these primaries, I'm a Republican. And given what's happened in recent days, he wanted to say, and I'm a temperate Republican. And Alan Keyes was the conservative Maya Angelou, so...
BLITZER: Dee Dee Myers, who -- did any of these three candidates -- did any of them score some points this evening?
DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY: You know, I think I agree with both Mary and Bill that I don't anything that happened during debate changed the dynamic at all, really. I think that Governor Bush looked more passionate than we've seen him in a number of previous debates. He looked pretty steady on his feet. I think it was basically a good night for him but not a great night.
I think John McCain did a fine job, but he didn't do anything that's going to change, again, the sort of status of the race. And I think it was important that he shake things up a little bit if he wants to win the beauty contest in California, which is pretty critical to his chances.
BLITZER: Why is the beauty contest critical if it's a winner take all as far as Republican voters are concerned?
MYERS: Right, because he's going to lose the delegates here. It's a big state. It's pretty representative of the country. And I think he needs to do something that, again, shows that he's more electable in a general election than Governor Bush. I think that's been an important part of his message and of his appeal in recent weeks, that he's a better general election candidate, that he could put together a winning coalition that the Republican Party has lacked in national elections the last two cycles. And if he can't -- if he loses both the delegate count and the popular vote here, I think that argument becomes pretty weak.
BLITZER: E.J. Dionne, did any of these three candidates do anything that hurt themselves in the course of this campaign?
E.J. DIONNE, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON POST": I don't think they did anything that hurt themselves. I was surprised a little bit that McCain didn't try to stir things up more, because he has a real shot on Tuesday to win enough victories to keep this race rolling for awhile. And I was surprised also that he didn't as forcefully express himself as a conservative.
I mean, his biggest problem is he's got to win Republican conservative votes, and he tries that when he brings out Reagan and talks about that. But I don't think he pushed that hard except when he attacked Bush on education. I think whenever the education issue comes up, that is the one time you when see Bush talk with real passion and real knowledge. Details tumble out in a coherent way, and so I think that Bush needs to plan a lot of education questions in all future debates.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff Greenfield, our senior analyst, you were there. You were there last night, you were there tonight. Give us a flavor of what came through from your vantage point, which was pretty unique.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Right, and, of course, being in the room of a debate may be the least valuable place to be in judging it, since 99.99 percent of the viewers were not in the room. But the one thing that struck me here that I'm curious to whether you folks who watched it on television felt it was the absence of John McCain in person, I think hurt him. I'm remembering back to New Hampshire, when John McCain turned to George Bush on the campaign finance issue and said, I can take Al Gore, and you'll have to remain silent. And the body language was very powerful in favor of McCain.
Here, he was kind of Max Headroom. And Governor Bush was working with the audience, he was working with the panel, he was playing with Alan Keyes. I think John McCain not being here, if you want to do this winning and losing thing, in that sense, I think John McCain hurt himself by not being physically here.
BLITZER: All right, Bill Kristol, you were a viewer. You were watching. Did it hurt John McCain to be there via satellite on a TV screen as opposed to being on the stage?
KRISTOL: I'm not sure, Wolf, but I agree with Jeff in this respect: What is John McCain's core theme? Reform. I mean, that is what has energized the McCain campaign, and that is what he can say he is because of campaign finance reform primarily. But he has become the candidate of the reform impulse, which has percolated along through the '90s. Perot in '92 -- until he turned out to be a bit of a nut -- Powell, the enthusiasm for Powell in late '95, Ventura in '98. McCain is the heir to that sense that we want to shake up politics as usual, we want to clean up politics.
And I thought he missed an opportunity tonight by not making that case as forcefully as he could. He didn't get the kinds of questions that made it easy for him, admittedly. But, you know, this is the very day that Maria Hsia, was convicted -- right? -- of working with Al Gore...
BLITZER: The Democratic Party fund raiser.
KRISTOL: The Democratic Party fund raiser close to Vice President Gore. What is John McCain's core message to Republicans? I can beat Al Gore as a drum. And why can't Governor Bush? Because he's going to have trouble being the reform candidate. He's taken $70 million, he's let people sleep over at his house, et cetera.
McCain -- I was surprised he didn't really use the fact that Maria Hsia was convicted today to really emphasize that he can go after Gore on the Clinton-Gore administration's greatest vulnerability, which is ethics, and the fact that people want a change from that kind of politics.
BLITZER: Mary, you're shaking your head.
MATALIN: Well, what McCain has done is box himself and has given Bush an opportunity when he says there's only one reform, it's only my campaign finance reform, campaign finance reform. which -- oh, by the way, only Clinton and the Democrats agree with. And nothing else can happen until then. Bush has proved that not to be the case in Texas when he took on the teachers unions and special interests and got education reform. He took on the trial lawyers and got tort reform. He took on the insurance companies and got health care reform. He's saying, forget -- the opposite of what McCain is saying, they can't do anything until I get reform, with which I've to date have not been able to get one Republican or more than a handful of Republicans to sign onto, which points to another one of his weaknesses. He's reaching out to Democrats. He's winning Democrats and independents on their issues. He's not winning any Republicans because he's running on Democratic issues, which the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, pointed out for all of us.
BLITZER: Yes, but Bill Bennett, the conservative thinker, he also pointed out that mathematically, for a Republican to win, since the Republicans are in the minority, they need those Democrats and those independents.
MATALIN: They need Democrats -- and this is what Ronald Reagan did. Of course we need Democrats. I'm on old Reagan Democrat, and you know how Reagan got me from the South Side of Chicago? On his issues. What John is doing is taking -- he's going to Democrats on their issues. And right now, they're cross-overs -- he's calling them cross-overs, but cross-overs stay with you. These voters are cross- dressers. They come over in the party, they vote, and they're going to go back when the Democrat runs in the fall.
BLITZER: All right, we'll pick that up. We have to take a quick break. I know that E.J. Dionne, Jeff Greenfield, Dee Dee Myers, everybody wants in. We're just beginning.
Stay with us on LARRY KING LIVE.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, when I went to Bob Jones, I followed a long tradition of both Republican and Democratic candidates that went to lay out their vision. Ronald Reagan went to Bob Jones, my dad went to Bob Jones. Bob Dole, the Democrat governor from South Carolina the week before.
I talked about bringing people together so America can achieve its greatness. I talked about lifting the spirit and the soul of this country. I regret I did not speak out against that school's anti- Catholic bias. I missed an opportunity. I make no excuses. I make no excuses.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE.
Dee Dee Myers, how did George W. Bush handle the controversy -- the controversial visit he made to Bob Jones University? How did his explanation fly tonight?
MYERS: Well, I think it's better than much of what we've heard from him over previous weeks. I think -- he took responsibility for it. He said he made no excuses. I think his answers generally have been sort of bumbling, and it wasn't until, I think, his campaign came to him with some of the tracking polls in New York that showed he was losing Catholic Republicans in states like New York that he decided he better take a more apologetic stance.
But I think he did pretty well on it tonight. That doesn't mean Democrats aren't going to wrap it around their neck in a general election in the likely event that he gets there. I think it will continue to be an issue, both the anti-Catholicism of Bob Jones, the, you know, their ban on interracial dating and the whole issue of the Confederate flag. I think, you know, Bush clearly moved pretty far to the right to win South Carolina, and that's not going to go away just because he now says he takes responsibility for it.
BLITZER: E.J. Dionne, George W. Bush does say he regrets not using that opportunity at Bob Jones University not to address those controversial issues about the anti-Catholic bias, the interracial dating. But John McCain still does not acknowledge that he made a mistake when he began -- when the whole issue about that Catholic Voter Alert came out and he said he didn't know anything about that when he was confronted by reporters, did the McCain campaign have anything to do with that. Only after the Michigan primary did they acknowledge that, yes, the McCain campaign was behind it.
DIONNE: I mean, yes, I think that that does look like a finger- wagging moment when he is giving what has long now been called lawyerly answers. And I think he'd be probably better off to acknowledge it. But I think this goes to the real problem of what's happened to McCain in the last several days. As Bill said, his message is reform. And I think this whole religious track, it helped him in Michigan because there are a lot of Catholics there, and he had to pivot off South Carolina and use his loss there to get himself a victory, which was very clever, and it's exactly what he did.
This week, the campaign got so mired in the question of phone calls and exactly what he did and did not mean in what he said about Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell that I think he pushed himself away from the thing that has been getting him a lot of votes. I think he scored a point tonight with the sleepovers at the governor's mansion in Austin, and we'll probably hear more about that.
But Alan Keyes made a good point. He said the Republicans aren't going to win this election on the economy, and that's very likely true unless something terrible happens in the next few months, and that McCain is saying, look, I have an issue I can use. I can go off after Al Gore more credibly, and I can make a case on reform more credibly. He's lost the thread.
BLITZER: Bill Kristol, if John McCain is part of the Straight Talk Express, why didn't he engage in straight talk originally and say, yes, we were behind that phone bank, that anti-Catholic Voter Alert?
KRISTOL: Is was the pro-Catholic Voter Alert, actually. Well, I think he thought the question was about whether he had authorized calls saying Bush was an anti-Catholic bigot, and he hadn't authorized such calls, so he answered...
BLITZER: Well, why didn't he -- as he was...
KRISTOL: ... and now we think he's clarified it.
BLITZER: As he was asked, though, during the course of the debate tonight, why not say, this is the McCain campaign with this alert to Catholic voters? Why not simply acknowledge that this was a campaign operation?
KRISTOL: Well, because the Robertson phone calls don't say, this is the Bush campaign...
BLITZER: But it wasn't the Bush campaign, it was Pat Robertson.
KRISTOL: It was. That's not true.
BLITZER: But there was no...
KRISTOL: The Bush was campaign paid for Pat Robertson phone calls in South Carolina. Look, we don't need to get -- I mean, to re- litigate all the negative campaigning on both sides. I believe that there's been a heck of a lot more on the Bush campaign's side against McCain, but Mary could argue with that.
BLITZER: Did the Bush campaign pay for the...
MATALIN: Does Bush...
BLITZER: ... Pat Robertson phone calls in Michigan? MATALIN: No, they did not pay for those calls. They were not happy that those calls went out.
KRISTOL: They paid for the Pat Robertson phone calls in South Carolina.
MATALIN: For advocacy calls. They did not pay for the call that McCain finds so offensive. They did not pay, they did not like that call being done, and they asked Robertson and he has since pulled back.
Now here's the problem with McCain on this issue. The two first tenants of the reform persona -- and Bill's right, he has captured that reform impulse -- was, I will -- no negative campaigns, big hurrah about taking down his negative ad, and, two, I will never lie to you. He violated both of those first principles over these Catholic calls. And worse for Republicans, he answered the charges in a Clintonian fashion. Oh, I didn't know what call you were talking about. I didn't call Bush a bigot. That was a triple -- that was a trifecta violation of the reform persona.
BLITZER: All right, we have to take a quick break.
When we come back, Dee Dee Myers. She knew Bill Clinton quite well when she was the press secretary at the White House. Was John McCain Clintonian in his response?
Stay with us on this special LARRY KING LIVE.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We wanted to tell people exactly what Governor Bush had done. I did not -- it did not accuse him of being an anti-Catholic bigot. It did not say anything except that he was there and waited three weeks before he repudiated it. But the fact is that that was a factual and fair statement and one that I stand by.
BUSH: If you don't think those phone calls labeled me an anti- Catholic bigot, then you weren't paying attention to what your campaign was putting out, I guess. Because the clear message was I was an anti-Catholic bigot. That's why people all over the country are wondering about my heart for a while. The good news is that America rejects that kind of politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE.
Dee Dee Myers, stand by for a second, I want to get your take on whether or not John McCain is being Clinton-like as some are suggesting.
But, Jeff Greenfield, you asked him a very pointed question in the course of that debate about his response to reporters when they asked about that Catholic Voter Alert. If you're part of the Straight Talk Express, shouldn't there be straight talk?
GREENFIELD: Yes, and I think that, that wound up hurting McCain because of this higher standard he had set for himself. You know, if it had been a conventional campaign where political reporters sort of say, OK, we know who these guys are, they're the pretty traditional people, so we'll cut them a little slack, but John McCain was so insistent and in fact not only had said, but had executed for a long time in this campaign a really radically different kind of campaign, and there is no question about it, this is not the press falling into the tank.
This is a guy who behaved differently. Everything is on the record, I'll talk to you as much as you want and in some cases more so. And it -- what it -- I think the whole idea of a traditional political gambit renaming a committee that didn't exist, then kind of fudging that, well, we didn't do it and then we did do it, it hurt McCain much more than if it had been another candidate because of the standard he had set, and I think it began to set in motion a series of questions about the McCain campaign that echo even today in the "Wall Street Journal" from Bill Bennett, who on our air just a few days ago was very enthusiastic about McCain.
BLITZER: Why is it so hard, Jeff, for politicians to admit they made a mistake and then move on, because the American people will always say, well, look, no one is perfect, people make mistakes, I made a mistake. Why can't John McCain simply acknowledge he made a mistake?
GREENFIELD: What's really weird about this is that John McCain has made almost a living out of admitting he has made a mistake. One of the first things that attracted people to his campaign was that extraordinary book "Faith Of My Fathers," where he describes himself as behaving like a jerk at the Naval Academy, where he describes himself as having contributed to the breakup of his first marriage, he's done that elsewhere, he described himself as not behaving like a hero in prison.
This guy has done this over and over again, and why would it have been difficult? See, I don't even think it's that -- Wolf, although you do make a point about politicians in general that's very valid. I mean, why would they not have said this is the McCain campaign calling, instead of the Catholic Voter Alert. I don't know the answer.
GREENFIELD: You know why? I'll bet it was because everybody was very tired. More things in politics, and I think Mary will confirm this, happen by accident or exhaustion than happen by conspiracy.
BLITZER: Dee Dee Myers, did you hear an echo of your former boss, Bill Clinton, in this whole exchange that John McCain had over the issue of that Catholic Voter Alert in Michigan?
MYERS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, he answered the question as it was technically posed to him and technically it was an honest answer, and how many times have we heard that from President Clinton? And I think John McCain did hurt himself. You know, I think Jeff is right. A lot of mistakes are made because people are tired, I'm willing to concede that, that may have been why John McCain answered that question so narrowly. I think it was a strategic decision not to put the campaign's name on the phone calls when they were making them, and I think that's fair in politics.
But McCain should have been more -- given a broader answer, I'm sure he regrets that he didn't, and he should just admit it, admit that it was a mistake and move on. He sort of did that yesterday, he said he was tired and he gave a narrow answer, but I think it's hurt him, I think that and his comments day before yesterday about Robertson and Falwell being the forces of evil and then having to block that back.
We've seen some mistakes in recent days that have caused the press to turn on McCain a little bit and start to question him, and while I agree with almost everything Jeff Greenfield says, I think the press -- I think McCain is running a different kind of campaign. He has set a standard that's higher for himself, but I think the press has fallen into the tank for him a little bit and there's not been that much discussion of his record or of his weaknesses, and I think when that starts to happen, we see a slightly different John McCain and I think he's a little bit less friendly to the press when the questions are harder.
BLITZER: All right, we are going to take another break. Bill Kristol is going to tell us if he's fallen in the tank and "The Weekly Standard" has fallen in the tank for John McCain, when we come back. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back to this special LARRY KING LIVE.
All right, Bill Kristol, you're the editor, the publisher of "The Weekly Standard," a conservative publication, a lot of people say you and most of your staff are deep into the John McCain tank. Are you?
KRISTOL: I went into the tank for John McCain a long time ago, Wolf, and I'm staying there. I'm not one of those guys who flip flops in and out of tank. No, look, I think McCain would be a good president, I prefer him to George W. Bush, I've made no bones about that. That's my judgment. I have no personal animus against Governor Bush, I just think Senator McCain is more impressive.
But the idea that we are sitting here seriously debating whether McCain is Clintonian when John McCain has run an incredibly forthright campaign -- he went to Virginia Beach and gave a speech and criticized Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. He didn't have third parties do it. He sustained in South Carolina one of the most relentless negative assaults I have ever seen from Bush and his surrogates.
And the notion that -- I mean, McCain has run, I think, an honorable campaign. There have been basically two campaigns in the Republican primary over the last two weeks, the McCain campaign and the anti-McCain campaign. Governor Bush gave up on a positive message, he's done some damage to Senator McCain. Maybe Senator McCain has compounded a little of that damage by fighting back a bit, but it's pretty hard for me to blame him for doing that.
BLITZER: Well, he did make a mistake in the way he handled the anti-Catholic -- the Catholic Voter Alert issue.
KRISTOL: I don't know. What is the mistake exactly? What is wrong in that statement?
BLITZER: Well, I guess the criticism is that it should have been labeled. This is the...
KRISTOL: That is totally new. No one has ever said that campaigns have to say when they call up people, it's the McCain campaign.
BLITZER: If you're -- but if you're the Straight Talk Express?
KRISTOL: If you're the Straight Talk Express you shouldn't tell a lie. It doesn't mean that you can't make phone calls that are factually accurate to voters.
BLITZER: E.J. Dionne, is this -- you've covered a lot of campaigns. Does this always go on, where there are these surreptitious phone calls that go out, the so-called shadow campaign out there? There are the ads, this is paid for by the XYZ campaign, but there is a secret effort out there to try to get votes?
DIONNE: Well, I think that these phone calls have become more and more common over time. I think more than any campaign that I can remember, the phone calls have been a big public issue in this campaign. And just parenthetically, the fact that we spent so much time on these phone calls is exactly what's going wrong in the McCain campaign. If we were talking about other stuff, it would be good for McCain. This is not.
But I think that, yes, because there is a smaller electorate, people have to target the electorate more carefully, I think these campaigns are getting these lists and putting out these calls because it's the cheapest way to contact people who will actually vote, and a lot of these calls are nasty. You can do it on the phone in a way you can't do it on television where everybody is going to see it.
BLITZER: Yes, Mary Matalin, you've been involved in some campaigns, there are companies now that organizes these kinds of phone banks and get these phone messages out to voters.
MATALIN: Well, that's not the issue. The issue isn't putting out the call. The -- and here's the Clintonian aspect. To say that Bush went to this school that has this anti-Catholic bias was clearly trying to associate Bush with an anti-Catholic bias. Why he's saying he's an anti-Catholic bigot? The Clintonian part was to say, no, that's not what we were saying. Well, then why the heck were you making those calls if you weren't trying to trash Bush?
The Clintonian aspect was going all day through Michigan with his campaign denying that they made those calls, and then after the polls closed then admit that they made the calls. And then for him to continue to denying making the calls, that's the bad part about it, not the calls. Campaigns isn't bean ball. This is tough stuff. It's the standard which Jeff said this candidate has set up for himself which he himself violated.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to continue this, a lot more to talk about.
Tomorrow night, don't forget, Bob Jones III, the president of Bob Jones University Larry King's exclusive guest tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE. Larry will be back tomorrow night.
When we come back, Alan Keyes, what was he doing on that stage at the debate tonight? We'll talk about that.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: Where I have differed in the past and continue to differ with Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson is on issues such as the issue of President Clinton. I voted to impeach President Clinton. I don't believe he's a murderer. Mr. Falwell believes that he's a murderer. Mr. Robertson has espoused some cockamamie theories about the Freemasons. I believe that they have led the -- some very good and wonderful people in a message of intolerance. We share the same values, but their practice of politics is exclusionary and not inclusionary. I want the party of Abraham Lincoln, not the party of Bob Jones.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIFE. I'm Wolf Blitzer filling in for Larry King.
We're talking about the Republican debate today at "The Los Angeles Times" that CNN co-hosted.
Joining me here in Washington, Bill Kristol, editor and publisher of "The Weekly Standard"; also in Washington, Mary Matalin, GOP strategist and co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE"; in Los Angeles, Dee Dee Myers, former press secretary for the Clinton White House, now contributing editor for "Vanity Fair"; also in Los Angeles, E.J. Dionne, syndicated columnist for "The Washington Post" and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
All right, let's talk a little bit about Alan Keyes.
And, Mary Matalin, what was -- Alan Keyes is getting, what? Three, 4, 5 percent of the Republican vote? Should he have been there on the stage tonight as one of these Republican candidates in this debate on the eve of Super Tuesday?
MATALIN: I -- this is a personal opinion of a citizen, of a conservative. I enjoy Alan Keyes in these debates. I'm sure the format and the moderates and moderators and what don't like him, but I like him because he consistently makes conservative arguments on first principles. And I think that's why people are attracted to the Republican Party and to conservatives. And so much gets mixed up between Bush and McCain about calls and everything we've been talking about that you get away from what are the principles, the founding principles of the conservative party, which he is always so eloquent about. Does it disturb the debates? Probably, but I find it poetic and interesting. I like it.
BLITZER: Should he have been there Bill Kristol?
KRISTOL: Oh, I don't know. It's hard to say. He's no longer qualifying for matching funds and it could have been a case for excluding him, but every debate he's in he wins. You know, there've been 12 debates and Alan Keyes has won his 12 out of 12. He's not winning any primaries...
BLITZER: Who gets hurt...
KRISTOL: He wins every debate and he loses every primary.
BLITZER: Who gets hurt more, Bush or McCain?
KRISTOL: I don't know, neither -- well, McCain a tiny bit, because Keyes I think really falsely accuses McCain of not being pro- life. I mean, there's no distinction on the abortion issue in my view between Bush and McCain. they're both kind of queasily pro-life, but Alan accuses McCain of being pro-choice and does not make that acquisition against Governor Bush. I suppose it helps, in that respect, Governor Bush a little bit.
BLITZER: He made clear, Alan Keyes today, he could never endorse John McCain because of that position on abortion.
Dee Dee, as the Democrats look at Alan Keyes and what he's doing to the Republican Party now, theoretically moving the Republican -- the mainstream Republican candidates, John McCain, George W. Bush, further to the right, they must be sitting back and saying, hey, that's great. Keep Alan Keyes out there?
MYERS: Well, I don't know that he's really moved them very much. I think there was a lot of discussion about it. You know, I think Bill is right that with the exception of him saying that John McCain is not pro-life enough -- which would probably help John McCain in a general election with independents and Democrats -- I don't know that he's had that much effect. He's entertaining to watch, and once you start the process of allowing all the Republican candidate into the debate it's kind of hard to change the threshold and to kick him out. And so there he is. And he provides some moments of sort of -- I won't say "comic relief," but sort of he's sort of entertaining and morally consistent, and he adds an interesting dimension that I don't thinks affects the outcome of the election at all.
BLITZER: E.J. Dionne, you know, Alan Keyes makes the point that the mainstream broadcast media are racist. That's why he's not allowed to go on the major broadcast programs. They're keeping him off because he's a black man, and African-American. Others say that the only reason that they allow him, that they tolerate him in these kind of formal debates is precisely because he is an African-American, and no one wants to be accused of racism. What do you say in this debate that's going on on whether or not Alan Keyes should be included in these debates?
DIONNE: If I were Alan Keyes, I would say, that's an irrelevant question, and why are you asking me, Wolf? I was waiting for how long in the debate it would take him to say that. My count is it was 15 minutes to Jeff's question about religious tests.
Look, I do think the fact that he is an African-American and that he does make these protests makes people more reluctant than they might be to say, no, you can't come here anymore. It's also the case that Alan Keyes is entertaining. I was sitting next to somebody last night at the Democratic debate who said, this is so peaceable, I wish they'd put Alan Keyes in this debate because they could use him tonight.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to take another quick break. We're going to talk about guns, some substantive policy issues that were debated tonight, when we come back on this special LARRY KING LIVE.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN KEYES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will never again cast a vote for an individual I in conscience believe to be pro-choice, pro-abortion, not pro-life. Based on the confession of his heart in New Hampshire, when John McCain told us clearly that he would tell his daughter it was her choice -- and every woman is somebody's daughter, so if you tell the daughters of America it's their choice, you're pro- choice. He is pro-choice, he is not pro-life. I will not support a pro-choice, pro-abortion candidate. So that's clear enough. I've said it everywhere, and I say it...
JUDY WOODRUFF, MODERATOR: Time.
KEYES: ... again here. It's not possible...
MCCAIN: The fact is I am a proud pro-life candidate. It's a very, very difficult issue that was raised concerning one's family decisions. I am pro-life, and that's my position, and I'm sorry that Mr. Keyes continues to misconstrue it, but that's his privilege.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Bill Kristol, you have the unique advantage of knowing Alan Keyes very will. You were roommates many years ago when you were students at Harvard. Tell us about this man.
KRISTOL: Well, I think he would object to the way everyone just called him in a politically correct way, an African-American. He's a proud black American, but I think he thinks he's an American, not a hyphenated American.
He's no more an African-American than I'm an Russian-American. His ancestors were here a lot before mine were, so I was amused that we -- everyone was into P.C. talk about an African-American, when in fact Alan considers himself an American. He's an impressive guy, he's very smart and very eloquent. I don't think he's going to be president of the United States.
BLITZER: But did he get up every morning when you were students at Harvard and begin lecturing you about the lack of morals that you or your fellow students may be having in those days?
KRISTOL: Yes, that would have been a well-taken necessary lecture at the time. No, we were such -- I was such an exemplary roommate I didn't need to get those lectures. No, and that's not really fair to Alan. He's a thoughtful guy and he believes that abortion is the moral issue of our time and he believes that the moral crisis of our time is the crisis of our time and he makes that case eloquently. He's a perfectly pleasant roommate and he was just a nice guy to live with.
BLITZER: All right, Mary, if you're taking a look at George W. Bush, he was asked of some specific questions on substantive issues including the China-Taiwan situation, and about guns for example. He's not been in the forefront in supporting gun-control legislation and when Doyle McManus of the "Los Angeles Times" tried to pin him down on the issue of child-safety locks, who could possibly oppose putting child-safety locks on guns when there are child-safety caps on prescription drug capsules?
MATALIN: And you're asking the same question that Doyle asked twice and answered. He's not opposed to safety triggers. What he is opposed to is some enforcement that is unenforceable. What, are you going to go to everybody's house? What he said on the larger question is more relevant, particularly for Republicans, and it distinguishes Republicans from Democrats on guns. Democrats say, let's get a new law and we -- and that will prevent all these tragedies.
We know in Columbine there were 21 laws violated. Republicans say two things: let's enforce the ones that are on the books and, two, this is not just about laws. This poor kid in Michigan, he had no parental oversight. He had a gun laying around in the house. His mother -- he comes from a broken home.
What Bush was saying about that case in general, which is why guns are on the table tonight, is parents have to be responsible for their children, we all have to be more responsible and not just say, government make more laws and that's going to solve these tragedies.
BLITZER: But Doyle McManus did say the law wouldn't be that there would be police going into homes to make sure that people are using those safety locks, but that manufacturers be required to install those safety locks when they sell you a gun.
MATALIN: And he said, fine, I don't know how else you want the question to be answered.
BLITZER: Well, he didn't answer that question.
MATALIN: He said, I have no objection to safety locks being installed. He said, 80 percent of them are installed now and I have no objection to that. I don't know how else there is to answer that question.
KRISTOL: Wolf, I don't have any view on the substance of this issue. I think there are probably good arguments against requiring the safety locks. But if you looked at that exchange and you are Republican and you think Governor Bush is going to be the nominee, you have to be a little worried, because Al Gore is going to clobber George Bush if he can't do better than answering that question on guns, and that's toward a bunch of issues, and I'm not making a pro- McCain point here.
I'm not so sure McCain can hold his own against Gore either. The truth is on lots of issues, education policy, guns, health care, right now the Democrats rhetorically have the upper hand. I don't say that cheerfully, but I think -- I was struck watching that debate that it didn't seem to me that Governor -- if you were a neutral independent voter, you didn't come away from that exchange thinking, boy, Governor Bush really put Doyle McManus in his place.
BLITZER: Dee Dee Myers, you know the Democrats are going to make gun control a huge issue whether it's John McCain or George W. Bush.
MYERS: Right, and I think it was unclear from that. I mean, it's one thing to have voluntary safety locks on guns, and it's another thing to require them, and it was unclear at the end of that exchange what Governor Bush's position is, and I think Al Gore is already looking forward to the debate where he gets to talk about things like concealed-weapons laws in Texas that Governor Bush signed.
It's one of the many areas where, I agree with Bill Kristol again, where the Democrats have an advantage on popular positions on a number of issues, and one thing that didn't come up much tonight at all was tax cuts, but you can imagine that, that will be a powerful issue in a general election as well.
BLITZER: E.J. Dionne, the point that I think Bill Kristol was driving this, when Governor Bush did say he would support so-called smart guns where you have some technology that only the adult that owns the gun would be able to trigger some mechanism by the palm, for example, that would be -- that would allow that gun to be fired, some people in the pro-gun movement, the National Rifle Association, think that's a big mistake as well.
DIONNE: Well, look, you know, on the safety locks issue, we have laws requiring manufacturers of cars to put seat belts in. We don't have special seatbelt police, and that's the same kind of issue with the trigger lock and that's why I think Bill is right on this whole question. Guns -- of guns.
Guns is an issue that's really switched its effect politically. It used to be that the only people who voted on the gun issue were strong supporters of the NRA -- they are still there and still have very strong views -- but now the other constituency that wants to do more to restrict guns is also voting on the issue, and so the anti-gun side can gain some ground.
And in terms of this proposal about the palm print, that sounds like something far in the future, and it's a good way to avoid specific things happening now. I mean, some people in the NRA are -- have a very principled opposition to any gun law. I suspect that's the sort of thing an awful lot of other gun owners would support as the least restrictive way to get something done.
BLITZER: All right, we are going to take another quick break. When we come back, the nuts and bolts of Super Tuesday. What do John McCain and George W. Bush have to do next Tuesday in order to get the Republican nomination? Stay with us on this special LARRY KING LIVE.
BLITZER: Bill Kristol, why do so many of the pundits believe that John McCain on Tuesday looks like he's in such deep trouble in several of these key states, New York, Ohio, California? KRISTOL: Well, he's behind a little bit in delegates going into Super Tuesday, so he's got to catch up. On the other hand, you know, Bush and McCain have gotten almost identical number of votes so far in the Republican primaries, about 1.7 million each, so you could argue that basically when you wash everything out they have run a very even race so far.
Super Tuesday is 13 states. It's crucial, obviously. McCain will win New England, Bush will probably win Georgia, maybe Missouri. Ohio is a key swing state. New York is a key state, though New York is going to have a mixed result, because it's by congressional district. Each, you know -- some will win -- presumably McCain and Bush...
BLITZER: It's not winner take all.
KRISTOL: Right. But that leaves California and I do think for John McCain to ultimately win the Republican nomination he needs to at least win the popular vote in California. He could lose the Republican vote and lose the delegates -- he'd prefer to win them obviously -- but what is McCain's ultimate claim? Why do you need to nominate McCain? Because he can win the general election.
If Bush gets more absolute votes in California than McCain, I think the foundation of the McCain campaign and the foundation of the claim that McCain can win a general election in a key swing state like California and Bush can't, starts to crumble. So I think the key for McCain is winning the popular vote in California.
BLITZER: But -- and just to reiterate for our viewers out there who may not know the intricacies of the California law, the Republican requirements, that only registered Republicans, the real Republicans, only their votes count as far as the winner take all delegate count in California. That gives George W. Bush a huge advantage.
MATALIN: But this is a -- of course it does. And this is a specious argument that McCain has been making, that only I can get Democrats and independents and that they are indeed going to stay with me. In fact, when they -- because he's been winning them in contests that are -- Democrats have been absent from. When he ran in Washington, he -- Bush beat him on -- in both contests. He beat him by 20 points amongst Republicans and he beat him in the overall contest.
Look, he made a big mistake here with these upcoming primaries and those on March 14 by that brave speech. I don't know how brave it was to dis people who have already dissed you, but he wrote off the South, saying that he wanted to -- by writing off these religious conservatives, social conservatives, he's going to exchange them for economic conservatives. It doesn't work that way because he doesn't have a conservative economic plan. I'm going to write off the South in exchange for these moderate states, as if there's not any social conservatives. There are, a quarter of them in Illinois and Colorado and California and Florida. And these states -- Ohio, they're all over the place. BLITZER: Dee Dee Myers, we know that you're a California girl from way back. You know your own state -- I'm not saying you're a valley girl, although you've probably been accused of that...
MYERS: I'm actually not.
BLITZER: ... at some point in your life. But tell us about California. What is shaping on the Republican side as far as next Tuesday is concerned?
MYERS: Right. I think that one of the most distressing pieces of news for John McCain in recent days was a "Los Angeles Times" poll that showed Al Gore was actually beating McCain among independents. McCain needs to do better among independents it he's going to win the beauty contest. And I agree that that's -- that is key. It's key to the rationale for McCain's candidacy going forward.
The interesting thing that's happened here so far is this is a state where reformers have always done well. The voters here tend to support ballots initiatives, for example, every election cycle that somehow promote political reform. Most of them seem to get overturned by the courts, but voters are very enthusiastic about it. And yet McCain hasn't caught fire here. People are interested in him. They're just now getting interested in the campaign, but he hasn't caught fire.
I think it's very hard to do retail politics in a state of 33 million people with a dozen a media markets. And so he's been riding the Straight Talk Express around the state a bit, trying to get something going, and I think he hasn't been able to get a lot of traction so far. And I think there's been a lot more coverage of tactics, whether it's attacking Falwell and Robertson, having to retract calling them the forces of evil, whether or not he was Clintonian in his response to that question about the Voter Alert calls, Catholic Voter Alert calls, it just hasn't caught fire yet.
Now he still has five days, so we'll see what happens, but he has to do better among independents.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to bring E.J. Dionne in minute. We have to take another quick break. He's been in California. He's been trying to get his finger on the pulse. We'll get his sense of what's going to happen next Tuesday.
Stay with us on LARRY KING LIVE.
BLITZER: E.J. Dionne, you're one of the smart guys that we know in the news media. A year before Y2K, you predicted it would be the biggest non-story of the year. Tell us what's going happen next Tuesday.
DIONNE: That was so kind of you, Wolf. I'll now blow my record here. I think the first thing to bear in mind is that almost all predictions made so far this year a few days before the coming primaries have been wrong and that somehow there's been a twist. But my sense is the reason people are talking down McCain's chances is that basically we've only had a Republican race the last few months. And now we're going to have a lot of races that are either closed or even if they're not closed, as in the sort of beauty contest vote here in California, Democrats can vote for Democrats. I think Bradley may have hurt McCain a little bit last night by reminding people of why reform Democrats, of why they liked him. And he'll chip a little bit away.
But I think McCain actually has a shot at winning New York, and he clearly looks like he's going win New England. And, you know, but your sense out here is that the campaign didn't take off in the same way. Dee Dee's right. You can't run a Straight Talk Express campaign in California. There was a good story in the "L.A. Times" about how difficult it is for McCain to gain traction with that sort of campaign here. And I think that's why...
BLITZER: All right, Bill Kristol...
DIONNE: ... there's pessimism for him.
BLITZER: Bill Kristol, when will we know the Republican nominee?
KRISTOL: I don't know. We might not know until the convention. Every...
BLITZER: You think it could go that long?
KRISTOL: Absolutely -- I think every primary has been a surprise. I'm staying in the tank for McCain. I think he's -- five days is a long time. The truth is, what we've learned in these primaries is that voters in the state that's about to have the primary focus very late. And I think the reform message could really resonate in California. If McCain could win the popular vote in California and then win New York and the New England states and maybe Ohio, he's very much alive. Bush takes the South the next Tuesday, but then McCain comes back with Illinois and Pennsylvania, and then you really have a real race all the way through April and May, I think.
BLITZER: But if -- and I'll ask Mary Matalin this -- if Bush gets California, gets Texas, gets Florida, it looks like he's going to be getting a lot of big delegate numbers.
MATALIN: The three McCain strengths are undermined by where we are in the primaries. The first is this character thing, which he's boloxed up with all the aforementioned calling and Clinton -- the second was the process, which is closing to Democrats and independents; and the third is the press, which is getting ready to vet him as the viable candidate that he is. That's why there's a pessimism about this candidacy going on past March 14th.
BLITZER: All right, Dee Dee, before you go -- and we only have a few seconds left -- give us your sense, very quickly, on the Democratic side: Bill Bradley, Al Gore, what's going to happen Tuesday?
MYERS: Well, I think Al Gore is going to win a huge victory here, but Bill Bradley is running barely ahead of Alan Keyes in the most recent polls. So -- and I think it's, for the Democratic primary's, virtually over after Tuesday.
BLITZER: When you say "virtually over," you mean that you think Bill Bradley is going drop out?
MYERS: Well, Bill Bradley still has to get out, yes. He still has money. He could stay in if he wanted. He might want to take the contest to the following Tuesday, but I don't think so. There's already been a lot of pressure on him to get out. There's a lot of his senior aides who are saying to him, or at least to other people in the campaign, it's time. Bradley hasn't, you know, acknowledged that yet, but he's a realistic person. He knows that if he doesn't do very, very well on Tuesday, he -- it's over for him. And there's no evidence that he's going to do very, very well. So, again, he still has to get out, but I don't think there's any reason for him to stay in past Tuesday.
BLITZER: E.J., do you agree?
DIONNE: Yes, I think that if he gets clobbered, as it now looks like we will on Tuesday, my hunch is he'll say, all right, I said all along the take-off day was Tuesday, I didn't take off...
BLITZER: All right.
DIONNE: ... and he'll stick with that.
BLITZER: Unfortunately, E.J. Dionne, Dee Dee Myers, Bill Kristol, Mary Matalin, we're all out of time.
Larry King will be back tomorrow night with Bob Jones III, the president of Bob Jones University.
Thanks so much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. I'll see you on "THE WORLD TODAY" tomorrow night and on "LATE EDITION" Sunday.
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