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Could Bush-McCain Be the Republican Ticket in November?

Aired June 12, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Under no circumstances would I want to be vice president of the United States.

I don't want to be part of that process, and I've made that very clear.

I asked that I not be considered for vice president of the United States.


PRESS: Tonight, has John McCain changed his mind about running for vice president?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak.

PRESS: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

John McCain for vice president? Well, first he said no, no, no. Now, maybe, just maybe, he's saying maybe. In public, John McCain has, of course, denied any interest in running for vice president as often as George Bush has expressed his interest in running for president. But in private recently McCain said something else. According to Bob Novak's column in this morning's "Washington Post," McCain told a group of Republican congressmen, quote, "If the demographics show that in order to win the election and keep control of Congress, I would be -- I would need to be on the ticket, then I would do it," end quote.

That column prompted a conflagration of speculation, whose flames McCain has been busy all day trying to douse.


MCCAIN: Well, I may have said it, but what I meant to say was that I asked that Governor Bush not to consider me. There's a process that you go through that Dick Cheney is now heading up. I'm not part of that process, so the scenario is just not there.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PRESS: But the buzz just won't die. So will Bush pick McCain? Should he? And when McCain says no, does he really mean yes?

Tonight's guest in studio with us, Congressman Lindsey Graham, an early backer of John McCain. And also joining us, Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who was an early supporter of Steve Forbes, now supporting Governor Bush -- Bob.

NOVAK: Congressman Graham, I want to get your views on this desirability of the ticket in a moment. But I want to just lay the groundwork for some of these facts, just like a lawyer does.


NOVAK: Now, the...

GRAHAM: The moral of this story is, anything said in this town, Bob Novak knows about.

NOVAK: Now, the meeting at which he, John McCain, allegedly said these things was a meeting of three private groups of House Republicans, about 50 altogether.

GRAHAM: I was there.

NOVAK: You were there?


NOVAK: OK, now Senator McCain said, gee, if he said anything important it would have been leaked out much earlier. But isn't the fact that these groups are sworn to secrecy?

GRAHAM: Oh, I don't -- nobody swore me to secrecy. But let me tell you a little bit about the context of what happened. John has said about a thousand times, I don't want to be considered for vice president. But the main thing he told Governor Bush in Pittsburgh, that, you know, please don't consider me for this process. And Dick Cheney has got a process now. And John is taking himself out of it. Governor Bush said, yes, sir, I will honor that. Colin Powell would be a great choice, but he doesn't want to be considered. So we've got a couple of guys who would be good choices but have said, no, I think I can serve the party and the country in other ways.

And here is what John said. He was asked this question: If the free world was coming to an end, would you consider being vice president? And the answer is, obviously he would consider something like that. But to say no to that is just almost impossible.

NOVAK: But, Lindsey...

GRAHAM: But that's not going to happen.

NOVAK: ... I talked to several people, and they agreed, all agreed, exactly what he had said, that if he was presented with this, this -- not the free world coming to an end, but the Republican Party getting beat...

GRAHAM: Right, right.

NOVAK: ... that he said, I would do it. Those were the phrase, if those were the cases. Is that essentially accurate?

GRAHAM: Yes, yes, pretty much so, because Steve Horn from California is the guy who said, you know, I think he could help us in California. And John is trying to be loyal to his party and he's trying to be a good soldier, but the truth is that he and Governor Bush have a firm understanding that John doesn't want to be considered. And the good news for us is Colin Powell and John McCain can serve in other ways, and we've got a ton of other folks.

NOVAK: All right, I want to get your opinion. I know you're trying to be good friend of Senator McCain...

GRAHAM: I'm trying...

NOVAK: ... and a loyal Republican...

GRAHAM: Right.

NOVAK: ... but what would you think about -- when I talk to Democrats about this ticket, they collapse. They say it would kill them. What would you think of the strength of this kind of a ticket?

GRAHAM: I think the best ticket in terms of what would kill the Democrats would be Colin Powell and George Bush. I think John McCain would be a great addition to the ticket, if that's what wanted to do and Governor Bush wanted to pick him, but the decision is Governor Bush's. If anybody tells you that John McCain is not popular among independents in this country, I think they're wrong.

The point that I'm trying to make is I do know John very well, and I've tried to be helpful to Governor Bush. I'm going all over the country to help House members, like John. I've done some things for Governor Bush. I'm now a Bush guy. I really believe that we need to let him make the decision, based on what he thinks best for our party and let Dick Cheney do his job. And John is not going to be in the mix when all is said and done.

NOVAK: I found, Lindsey, through all the impeachment fight...

GRAHAM: Tight.

NOVAK: ... that you tell the truth.

GRAHAM: Yes, sir. I'm telling you the truth now.

NOVAK: And I'm going to look in your blue eyes...

GRAHAM: Look in now.

NOVAK: ... and I want you to tell whether you would like -- now you can't tell George Bush... GRAHAM: Right.

NOVAK: ... what to do, and you can't tell John McCain what to do...

GRAHAM: Right, absolutely.

NOVAK: ... but would you like that to happen? Would you like that ticket to come out of this?

GRAHAM: After talking with John today, I don't think that's something -- no, because, right now John is very comfortable doing what he is doing for the party. He's going to a lot of congressional districts, he's going to campaign for...

NOVAK: So you think it would be a bad idea?

GRAHAM: I think right now -- yes, I really do. I don't think that's going to add anything to our mix right now.

PRESS: But let me challenge that, because at least it used to be that the second person on the ticket was meant to balance the ticket, geographically or demographically or however. As Bob pointed out in his column this morning, the classic example was JFK naming LBJ, who was certainly not a friend. They were totally different...

GRAHAM: They made a political decision.

PRESS: ... nothing else in common. But it was a great political decision...

GRAHAM: They made a political decision, right.

PRESS: ... It certainly paid off. Isn't that the same case here? Wouldn't this be the balance and the broadening that this ticket needs?

GRAHAM: There's so many other people that can balance the ticket that want to be considered. Colin Powell doesn't want to be considered, John doesn't want to be considered. And does that mean they can't help? That doesn't mean -- does that mean they can't help Governor Bush win? Absolutely not. But to be vice president is a job that I guess you need to want before you're chosen.

PRESS: Well, let me raise a couple of other arguments that maybe you can make that George W. Bush some day -- God forbid I'd be the one advising him -- but reform is an issue -- I saw you yesterday morning on "Face the Nation," an issue you feel passionately about. So does John McCain. Let's be honest. It's an issue in which George W. Bush is rather weak. Again, doesn't John McCain shore up that foundation and appeal to those independents that went after -- went for him in the primaries?

GRAHAM: John would bring a lot to the Republican Party, whether he's vice president or any other role, so would Colin Powell. They've asked -- they -- both of them would. That's the truth. That is. I'm trying to look in eye.


GRAHAM: There would be a lot of power.

PRESS: All right, if I can follow Bob on this issue, because one other is you mentioned Steve Horn, of course California.

GRAHAM: Right, right.

PRESS: I mean, California is the key state, 54 electoral votes. McCain is more popular -- he's a movie star in California. That's why the Republican members of Congress are inviting him out there to campaign for them. If McCain can deliver California, isn't that one reason alone why Bush ought to take him?

GRAHAM: Well, Governor Bush beat John McCain in California, but John does have appeal among independent voters, and voters I think across the country because he's a good guy. And if you put Colin Powell in that mix and polled him, he would be a good one too.

The only reason I come back to this is you're talking about a prominent person who would add value to the ticket who's saying, I don't want to be selected for this job. Would Colin Powell be a good secretary of state? Would he consider that job? I think so. Would John be willing to consider other jobs? i think so. He thinks that he could serve his party and his country better as a United States senator, pushing the reform agenda through the Congress, helping Governor Bush when he's president, and I agree with him.

NOVAK: Congressman Graham, I want you to look at some -- just one thing that Senator McCain said way back on March 1st.

Let's listen to it.


MCCAIN: The vice president has two duties: One is to inquire daily as to the health of the president, and the other -- and the other is to go to the funerals of third world dictators. I -- under no circumstances would I -- under no circumstances would I want to be vice president of the United States.


NOVAK: Now, this -- we have to remember, he said this at a time when he was still running for the presidential nomination...

GRAHAM: Right.

NOVAK: ... on March 1st. So if -- this is you again.

GRAHAM: Yes, sir.

NOVAK: If under those circumstances, at the breakfast, George Bush came to him and George Bush -- this is August, not June... GRAHAM: Right.

NOVAK: ... and he's running 10 points behind Gore -- just a hypothetical -- and says, I need you. Would you give him that line?

GRAHAM: I don't know. That would be a scenario I couldn't predict what would happen. I really don't know.

PRESS: Leaves the door open, Bob.


GRAHAM: See, now here's the dilemma. You all guys are doing a good job of keeping this story alive, but I've talked to John. He wants to be the United States senator from Arizona, helping Governor Bush get the reform agenda through Congress, and that's really what he honestly wants to do.

NOVAK: Yes, but what he said to you is, Lindsey, get me out of this.

GRAHAM: No, he didn't.

NOVAK: OK, all right, we're going to take a break.

And when we come back, we'll talk a little bit more about the future of John McCain.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

George W. Bush and John McCain surely do not look like a marriage made in heaven, but neither did John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson or Ronald Reagan and George Bush. We're talking to Congressman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who backed McCain for president and now supports Bush. We were supposed to be talking to Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, but satellite trouble, serious satellite trouble in Columbus, Ohio. Looks like we're not going to make it with him -- Bill.

PRESS: Congressman Graham, you're a team player, you're trying hard to be a team player tonight. I want to suggest you're just giving up too easily. Hello.


I mean, you ought to be in there pushing for your guy.

GRAHAM: I hope I'm not hurting ratings here.

PRESS: Fight for your guy.

Let me just say, if the object, which I think it is, is to beat Al Gore -- right?

GRAHAM: Yes, that's the goal.

PRESS: Let me just give, at my peril, a couple of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) arguments...

GRAHAM: And we're actually doing that right now.

PRESS: By slim points. But at my peril, a couple of other arguments why you might consider this and really push it. Let's just look at the favorability ratings. If you compare the three, McCain with Gore and Bush, McCain 40 -- 46 percent favorable rating; unfavorable, 14 percent. If you look at that chart, he's got a higher favorable than either Bush or Gore, and he's got the lower -- lowest unfavorable of any of the three.

I mean, this is a match made in heaven.

GRAHAM: He's not -- he's not a candidate now. People like John McCain, but I can show you some numbers when he was a candidate, his favorable...

PRESS: They were just as high.

GRAHAM: Well, people like John, I think, throughout the country.


GRAHAM: He served his nation well. And I think what John is trying to tell folks, that he can serve his party and nation well, best -- serve best -- as a United States senator, something he feels good about doing, something he's good at doing. And Governor Bush has got a deep group of people to pick from. Dick Cheney is going to have the hardest job in America to wade through these people.

PRESS: I want to talk to you about some of the others in just a second. Let me give -- we talked about campaign reform as one other vulnerability before. I think two others might be -- and -- were -- McCain could help. One is the issue of military service. I mean, certainly to put John McCain up versus George W. Bush, McCain wins hands-down military service. Gore cannot use that argument against Bush therefore.

And the second one is credibility. I mean, you know, let's all be honest Al Gore does occasionally tend to exaggerate maybe the facts to make a point. John McCain's a straight-shooter. He talks straight. You know, nobody can accuse John McCain of, you know, having a credibility problem. Right?

GRAHAM: Well...

PRESS: Adds strength to the ticket in two big areas.

GRAHAM: I think that he brings a lot of strength to our party, that if he was chosen as vice president, that would be a dynamic choice. There are a lot of people who would fit that mold.

But let me just say about what Governor Bush has ahead of him: He's leading for a reason, and it's not because who he might pick for vice president. One of the reasons he's leading is that he's acting like a leader. When he came out with a bold plan on Social Security, Al Gore's tactic was to demagogue and distort. Al Gore made a bold promise March 15th: I will not run any soft-money ads no matter what the Republicans do. This week he broke his promise.

The American public...

PRESS: Here comes the campaign -- here comes the campaign speech.

GRAHAM: I know -- I know that's not what you want to hear, but that's why he's winning. It's not because of anything else

PRESS: No, no. But saying a plan -- but saying a plan stinks is not demagoguing. It's just pointing out the facts.

GRAHAM: Then why is he winning is the question: Why is George Bush beating Al Gore?

PRESS: Don't count your chickens.

NOVAK: Let me just give you some numbers.

PRESS: Why is it?

NOVAK: Lindsey Graham, we looked -- we tried to find some polls that show Bush versus Gore, and Bush-McCain versus Gore-Bradley. We could only find one such poll that had that comparison. It was taken May 2nd through the 6th, just about a month ago, by Pew Research Center. And it showed a head-on Bush-Gore, Bush 46, Gore 45. A lot of polls show a one-point lead.

Now, you put McCain with Bush and Bradley with Gore, and it turns into 49-39, which is a landslide. Ten points is a landslide.

So we do have some credible evidence that, if you believe the polls in May -- in May of 2000, it has some significance. Do you agree with that?

GRAHAM: Yes. I think my party should be excited for a couple of reasons. One, we're winning right now, and if you put John McCain and George Bush together we win. If you put John McCain and Colin Powell together we win. I bet you, if you put John -- Governor Bush and Tom Ridge together, we'd win. I bet you, if you put Governor Bush and Tommy Thompson together, we'd win.

NOVAK: So it doesn't make any difference who you name as vice president?


GRAHAM: I think it -- I think it makes difference for different reasons, I really do.

NOVAK: What do you mean? GRAHAM: Well, a vice presidential pick, there are two theories of how all this works: somebody of national stature, like Colin Powell or John McCain, somebody that's competent, who's delivered, who does well in a region.

Dick Cheney is hired to do this job, not me. I'm telling you what John McCain wants to do, what he said about this selection of vice president. He doesn't want to be considered. I think he ought to be taken at his word.

NOVAK: OK. We have...

PRESS: I understand that Secretary of State Blackwell has joined us.

Ken, are you there?

KEN BLACKWELL (R), OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes, Bill. How are you doing?

PRESS: Hey. Good evening. Thank you very much for joining us. Sorry about that satellite problem. Lindsey Graham here has been doing an excellent job telling us why John McCain would make such a great vice presidential candidate. But I want to ask you, Ken Blackwell, seriously -- I mean, look, I'm the last person to be giving George Bush advice and it's been at least a week since he called me for advice.

BLACKWELL: I'm glad we have that settled.

PRESS: But John McCain's got to be a gift from heaven, isn't he? Why are you looking a gift-horse in the mouth?

BLACKWELL: Look here, Bill. Let me ask you one question. If -- if John McCain was on the ticket with Bush, would you vote for the ticket?

PRESS: No, of course not. But I'm just a Democrat. I mean, think of all those independents out there you need.

BLACKWELL: Look, let me tell you what I think needs to happen. With California being in play, with Florida a possibility of going in play if Gore chooses Graham, I think that it's imperative that we win Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. I think that the vice presidential pick will come from one of those states, or be a candidate that can be a big help to the Bush ticket in one of those crucial, crucial states.

John McCain would be an excellent vice president, but I don't think he would necessarily be the best -- the best vice presidential candidate on the ticket with George Bush.

PRESS: Well, as I recall, John McCain won the Michigan primary, and also, if you talk about California, you look at those Great Lake states, Ken Blackwell, I mean, Ohio, your state has got 21 electoral votes. Wisconsin, 11. Indiana, 12. California's the big enchilada with 54.

BLACKWELL: Pennsylvania -- Pennsylvania...

PRESS: Twenty-three.

BLACKWELL: Twenty-three. We can keep on going.

PRESS: But again...

BLACKWELL: Illinois. I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that, look, George Bush is going to run strong in California because he is good on the issues. He's taken leadership positions on crucial issues, like Social Security. But the reality is, is that I think the game is going to be won or lost in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and I think that that's where the vice presidential candidate will come from.

PRESS: Ken -- just quickly, Ken...

BLACKWELL: That's geographical bias, but that's where I am.

PRESS: Just quickly, if you look at John McCain and George W. Bush, McCain is a veteran where Bush is not -- of the National Guard -- McCain is an inspiring speaker where Bush is really not, McCain is funny where Bush is really not, at least all the time. Isn't your problem that you are afraid John McCain would outshine George W. Bush on the ticket?

BLACKWELL: Absolutely not. I tell you what, George Bush won the Republican primary. What we are looking for now is a ticket that would unite the party, solidify the base, and I think that that's going to be a key ingredient that George W. Bush will be looking for.

NOVAK: I -- Ken Blackwell, Bob Novak here, and I have a very interesting question for you, I think. You mentioned the fact that you need somebody from that little roll of states and the person mentioned most prominently is Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, Lindsey Graham mentioned him. Are you really saying that a pro -- in this pro-life party, a pro-choice Tom Ridge would be a safer pick than a pro-life John McCain? Did you say that?

BLACKWELL: I'll tell what I'm saying, I think that chemistry between the top of the ticket and the running mate is important. I think there is a good chemistry there and I think Tom Ridge has nuanced his position, you know -- I -- in a way that I think would fly with...

NOVAK: He's pro-choice.

BLACKWELL: Well, he is against parental -- I mean, he's for parental notification. He's against late-term abortions.

NOVAK: He's pro-choice, Ken.

BLACKWELL: He -- you are right, he is. And I think that one of the things that we have to be able to do is to say what's important, it's where the top of the ticket is, where George W. Bush is on that issue, and, move from there.

PRESS: All right, gentlemen, John McCain is probably happy that we are out of time.

Ken Blackwell, thank you very much for joining us from Columbus, Ohio.

BLACKWELL: Good to be with you.

PRESS: And, Lindsey Graham, good to have you here in the studio.

Only George W. Bush knows, I guess.

And Bob Novak and I will be back with closing comments on what the governor might do.


NOVAK: Bill, let me try to explain to you and our viewers what I think happened, there is a lot of members of the House of Representatives who really want a Bush-McCain ticket, and contrary to what you might have heard tonight there was nobody, according to my sources, who is more for that ticket than Lindsey Graham.

Well, at this meeting on May 17, Senator McCain misspoke himself, he tried to be a good guy, said, well, if they really need me, then I will do it. I think what happened, my writing it, flushed him out, he said no, no, no, I won't do it. We even got Lindsey Graham off his case, I think he is really out now.

PRESS: I hope you are right, because I think the Bush-McCain ticket would be a damned difficult one for Gore to beat, so I hope you are absolutely right. I think the smartest thing George Bush could have done on March 8 after the primary would be -- would have been to sit down with John McCain and say, John, I really need you, let's team up to win. It would have changed the whole dynamics of this race, he didn't do it, big mistake.

NOVAK: But, Bill, if he is behind and we come down into July, he still can go to him and grab him by the collar and say, John, I need you.

PRESS: And John McCain can once again say, maybe.

NOVAK: We'll see.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press, good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak, join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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