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Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields

Pat Robertson Discusses Campaign 2000

Aired August 5, 2000 - 5:30 p.m. ET



Now, Robert Novak and Al Hunt.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: I'm Robert Novak. Al Hunt and I will question one of the nation's leading social conservatives.

AL HUNT, CO-HOST: He is Pat Robertson, founder and president of the Christian Coalition.


(voice-over): For the first three days of the Republican National Convention, there was little said about social issues, including abortion. But on the fourth and final evening, the presidential nominee said this in his acceptance speech.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will lead our nation toward a culture that values life, the life of the elderly and sick, the life of the young and the life of the unborn.

Surely we can agree on ways to value life by promoting adoption, parental notification, and when Congress sends me a bill against partial birth abortion, I will sign it into law.

HUNT: The Republican platform also retained the conservative positions of past years on abortion, gay rights and other social questions. But openly gay congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona addressed the convention, while Pat Robertson and other social conservatives featured at previous conventions were nowhere near the podium.


HUNT: Mr. Robertson, unlike previous conventions, you and other leaders of the religious right were pointedly excluded from that podium in Philadelphia.

What message do you think the Bush campaign was trying to send?

ROBERTSON: Well, I think they sent a clear message to the social conservatives before the convention. They picked a very conservative and very competent vice presidential candidate.

They left the abortion language unchanged from the last several decades. They put in matters dealing with low taxes and smaller government and that sort of thing.

And I think at this point, this convention was attempting to reach out especially to women and independent voters. And I believe they did a successful job. I haven't seen the overnight polls to see exactly how the audience reacted, but I think it's very positive.

HUNT: Well, the polls are -- the polls are good, but the public face that they presented to do that was a disproportionate number of African-Americans, of Hispanics, of women, and they had an openly gay member of Congress address the convention. But they didn't have you or Jerry Falwell.

Why do you think they thought those people were a more attractive face to present to the public than you all?

ROBERTSON: Well, I laughed with Larry King. And I said it was like, you know, we're the good Democrats and those other guys are the bad Democrats. They were -- whether you call this Democrat-lite, I don't know.

But the whole concept was, we're trying to win a segment of the population we don't have. We've got our base. We've solidified our base. And the religious conservatives make up probably 35 percent of the Republican Party.

The Texas delegation, for example, which was pretty much dominated by Christian Coalition members, I think we had either 80 or 90 delegates in the Texas delegation. So we were well-represented and quite happy with the result.

And it was a strategic move, and it was like a scripted television show. And I understand that.

HUNT: Mentioning that Texas delegation, several members of the Texas delegation staged a silent protest when Representative Jim Kolbe, a distinguished member of Congress who is openly gay, addressed the -- addressed the proceedings.

Did you think it was appropriate to have Congressman Kolbe speak to the convention?

ROBERTSON: Well, as you know, I've said repeatedly that we love the sinner but we don't like the sin. I'm all for various types of freedom for any American, whatever their proclivities, but I do realize the Biblical standard says that homosexuality is wrong.

And so I don't think that the Republican Party needs to be actively promoting it, when in their platform they say they're opposed to such things as gay marriages and gays in the military.

NOVAK: So you think they'd have been better off without Mr. Kolbe speaking?

ROBERTSON: I think it was a gratuitous thing that didn't help much. It looked like a gimmick, and it may have offended people. But, I tell you, the religious conservatives, the social conservatives, were so delighted with the ticket and what they were hearing, that a few little glitches along the way didn't disturb anybody's tranquility.

NOVAK: Mr. Robertson, quite apart from the politics, a couple of your colleagues in the Christian Coalition told me that you were personally hurt that you weren't given a speaking position, however small, considering the very prominent role you played in past conventions. Is that accurate, that you were personally hurt by this?

ROBERTSON: Bob, I wasn't hurt at all. I think that whoever said that wasn't reflecting my view. I didn't intend to speak. I didn't want to speak. And, you know, I gave a pretty good speech in 1988, and George Bush went on to win the election in '88.

And I think the social conservatives were blamed for '92. And it wasn't the problem of the convention. What was the problem was, "Read my lips: No new taxes." I think that's what tripped up the former president in that '92 election.

But nevertheless, I was very happy to be doing a tremendous amount of television up there. I did my own show in the morning. I did a lot of TV in the afternoon and night. And I was very pleased with the response. So many friendly people up there.

NOVAK: On the subject of abortion, sir, Governor Bush has said that he favors exceptions: rape, incest, and the life of the mother, even though those exceptions aren't specifically listed in the platform. Does that bother you?

ROBERTSON: No, that's been my position all along. Rape, incest and the life of the mother would be a carve-out. I know some that are very strong in the pro-life position think there should be no exception, because if they figure abortion is murder, then they shouldn't have any murder.

But I have certainly been willing in a political statement to say we would make those exceptions. That doesn't offend me at all.

NOVAK: Mr. Robertson, in the clip by Governor Bush in his acceptance speech that we showed at the beginning of this program, he listed several kinds of legislation -- anti-abortion legislation -- he would support and did not mention a human life amendment.

By inference then, can we assume that that would not be part of his agenda, even though it's in the -- specifically listed in the platform, a constitutional amendment to bar abortion?

ROBERTSON: Well, you know, I'm a -- I'm a pro-lifer. I believe for the sanctity of life of the elderly and the life of the unborn, and I'm 100 percent for it. But I don't believe in my lifetime I'll ever see a Congress that's going to vote two-thirds for a constitutional amendment and then states ratify, three-quarters, such an amendment. We've never had one in our history. I do think, however, what should be done is to put in some new Supreme Court Justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, let the matter go back to the states, and then let the states decide in their legislatures how this matter should be dealt with, whether it's an absolute prohibition or some variation thereof.

But what George Bush picked were those things that are extremely popular with the American people. The American people are opposed to partial birth. They are for parental notification. Some of these other things -- they're opposed to second trimester abortions, et cetera. And so he picked the winning issues in his speech.

HUNT: Mr. Robertson, let's stay on judges for a moment.

Tommy Thompson, the platform committee chairman, said that nominating Mr. Bush would not be bound -- would not feel bound as president by that plank that said that the president -- that a president should only appoint pro-life judges.

Are you convinced that a President Bush would only appoint pro- life judges to the Supreme Court?

ROBERTSON: I spoke to him in South Carolina about the matter of judges. And he said to me what he said in public, that he's going to appoint judges who respect the original intention of the framers of the Constitution. He doesn't want judges who legislate from the bench; he wants strict constructionists. And he's mentioned judges like Scalia, who's a very brilliant scholar, and Clarence Thomas as some of the people that he admires.

But he has never said in his public statements, and he certainly hasn't said it to me, that there would be any litmus test vis-a-vis abortion for judges.

HUNT: Now, I just want to get -- are you convinced that he will only appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court?

ROBERTSON: You know, Al, I would like to think of myself as a constitutional scholar of some sort. I've studied constitutional law and I've been involved in constitutional activity through the American Center of Law and Justice for a number of years.

I think Roe v. Wade was once called Blackmun's abortion. It doesn't have any constitutional support whatsoever. It was strictly judge-made legislation that brought out of whole cloth on the numbers of the Fourteenth Amendment out of the Griswald case. And so I think -- I think that that is the problem, and it ought to be overturned.

But to say that the judges should have a litmus test that they're for or against abortion, I don't think that's the issue. The issue is will you respect the original intentions of the framers of the Constitution and those who wrote the amendments? Or are you going to legislate?

And what we've had is -- since the Warren court, we've had judicial legislation. NOVAK: Mr. Robertson, I'm going to give you a quick question and hope we get a quick answer before we take a break.

Last fall at the Christian Coalition, the convention, you just about endorsed Governor Bush, indicated he was the best candidate. Have you been fully satisfied with that decision you made?

ROBERTSON: Oh, Bob, I think it's a superb decision. And everything he's done to conduct himself has been absolutely magnificent. He had a little stumble -- he got a little confident going into New Hampshire. And I think he was -- if I could use the term -- bushwhacked by Senator McCain.

But other than that, he's conducted himself extremely well, and I'm quite pleased with him.

NOVAK: OK. We're going to have to take a break.

And when we come back, we'll talk about Pat Robertson and John McCain. Is there a truce at hand?


HUNT: Mr. Robertson, in Philadelphia the other day, you said that you had sent a letter to Senator McCain, suggesting that you both smoke a peace pipe, in essence, and forgive each other for negative comments about one another several months ago.

I talked to the McCain office. They said they've heard nothing from you. They haven't gotten a letter. There hasn't been any feeler or anything of that sort.

Have you done anything to follow up on that, sir?

ROBERTSON: Well, I presume the United States Postal Service is working, but I did send the letter. And the letter said very simply that I congratulated the Senator for his statesmanlike endorsement of George Bush.

It looked like possibly he was swallowing a porcupine the day he made it, but I told him I thought it was a wonderful thing. And then I said that I thought the Republican Party needed to join together to win the White House and keep control of the Congress. And that any harsh words that I had said about him, I hoped that he would forgive me. And I in turn said that I forgave him for anything that he had said to me. And that I hoped that we could basically join hands together for the good of the Republican Party.

HUNT: Well, in order to do that -- let me ask you this -- you had said -- you did say some harsh things. You said that he was a fraud on campaign finance reform because of his involvement with Charles Keating, the S&L swindler.

And you also said -- or you suggested strongly -- that he was not emotionally balanced enough to have his finger on the trigger.

Do you still believe both of those?

ROBERTSON: Well, I don't want to dig up things when I'm trying to be at peace. I basically said a few harsh things on Meet the Press. And I later regretted it, and I just don't want to keep stirring the pot.

I think Republicans need to go into this election united. And, you know, the thing that I put in the letter -- they were two-fold. Number one, his daughter-in-law attends my daughter-in-law's Bible class in Virginia Beach. Our granddaughters both go to the Norfolk Academy in elementary school. And I pointed that out.

And he also said something about my military service, and I pointed out in a P.S. that I had served with the 1st Marine Division in North Korea, and I was entitled to wear three battle stars, so I have been in combat. Not as distinguished, perhaps, as his, but I have served and he suggested I hadn't.

But I forgive him. He blasted me hard and I forgive him, I'm a big guy. And I hope that he will do the same thing. We just can't keep a war running between prominent members of the Republican Party.

NOVAK: Mr. Robertson, one of the most well-received speeches at the convention was by General Colin Powell. It was pretty tough on the Republican Party, on one aspect of it.

And let's listen to what he said.


GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET.), FORMER CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We must understand the cynicism that exists in the black community, the kind of cynicism that is created when, for example, some in our party miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand black kids get an education, but you hardly hear a whimper when it's affirmative action for lobbyists who load our federal tax code with preferences for special interests.


NOVAK: Do you think he has a point there, sir?

ROBERTSON: Well, he's got a point in part, Bob. But you know, as I do, that the Supreme Court has ruled that racial preferences are unconstitutional.

It isn't American, if you will, to give privileges to one group because of their race or their ethnic origins. It just isn't the way to do -- and that has been voted down by the voters of California and other places. So I don't believe we should have what is known as affirmative action.

Should we do everything we can to make opportunity for African- Americans? Of course. For Hispanics, for Asian-Americans, I think the doors should be wide-open and we should do everything to encourage opportunities, certainly in education. I'm not for the privileged. I know how those Gucci-clad lobbyists work the halls of Congress and get their deals through. And it...

NOVAK: So you think he had a little point on the second half of it there?


NOVAK: You think he had a little point on the second half of it...

ROBERTSON: There's no question about it, Bob. I mean the tax code is like a Christmas tree. So are some of these bills, like that mammoth highway bill they put through. It was a Christmas tree.

And I was sort of turned off with some of my conservative Republican friends in the Congress who voted for some of that pork. I think it's terrible.

HUNT: Mr. Robertson, let me just ask you, quickly, do you think that George W. Bush has recovered from what people thought was a mistake, going to Bob Jones University back in February?

ROBERTSON: Again, we're re-hashing stuff. Bob Jones University, whether you like it or not, represents a large segment of the people of South Carolina. George Bush was trying to win a primary. And those people were crucial to his victory.

HUNT: So it was not a mistake?

ROBERTSON: And, so, I mean, do you see -- is Al Gore wrong because his wife plays drums at a gay bash in Kennedy stadium? Do they -- they pander to various social groups on the left, nobody says anything about it.

HUNT: Let me ask you a quick question. Do you think it -- change of subject -- do you think it was a mistake not to even mention impeachment at the Philadelphia convention? And does that show on the other hand that the Republicans made a mistake in going after President Clinton on that issue?

ROBERTSON: You know, Wall Street Journal had a -- are you familiar with that editorial page...

HUNT: Yes, sir, I am.

ROBERTSON: The Wall Street Journal had an editorial that it would have been a good thing to have -- at least had Henry Hyde come up because he would have brought the house down, because the base of the party admires those people very much.

And to mention impeachment, I think, would have been a mistake. To just say, I'd like to introduce Henry Hyde and some of the managers, and have them get applause, would not have been a bad idea. NOVAK: Mr. Robertson, I'm going to ask you a question about one of the real big controversies of this very peaceful convention, and that's whether The Rock, the wrestler, who sometimes uses profane language, I guess, although I don't watch it very often -- do you think that was a mistake to have him on the program, introducing the Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert, who used to be a high school wrestling coach?

ROBERTSON: Bob, I think so. Of course, I didn't script this thing, and I'm sure they focus-tested every single item of it with all kinds of target audiences to try to get their votes. But I think it was cheapening, frankly, to do something like that.

You know, our station in Dallas, we used to get big ratings with pro wrestling on Sunday morning, so I'm not opposed to certain types of wrestling. But they've gone over the edge with what they're doing right now. It's absolutely disgusting.

NOVAK: OK. We're going to have to take another break. And when we come back, we'll have the Big Question for Pat Robertson.


NOVAK: The Big Question for Pat Robertson: Pat Buchanan, who has had a lot of support from members of the Christian Coalition over the years, is about to be nominated next week by the Reform Party. Will he get a lot of support this time in the election from members of your organization?

ROBERTSON: Bob, I think that among the social conservatives, the ones that I'm familiar with, the perception is that Pat sold out. I think that the Reform Party has embraced some libertinist-type philosophies that are just anathemas to social conservatives. And I just don't believe Pat's going to carry much following in.

If George Bush had appointed a pro-choice running mate, then Buchanan could easily have gotten 10 percent of the vote. But I don't think he's going to make a blip on the radar screen, although Ralph Nader might do it with the Greens in California. But I don't think Pat Buchanan will.

HUNT: Mr. Robertson, if you could have added one or two things to George W. Bush's acceptance speech, what would they have been?

ROBERTSON: I tell you, I'm not sure I would have added anything. I've talked to -- you know, the lady that does make-up here is a young woman, and she was just entranced by it. And my daughter is like 35, my youngest daughter, and she just loved the speech.

And I think they must have focus-tested those elements to the target audience, and it scored a bull's eye. And I'm not sure I should have added one sentence to it. It did a very good job for the audience intended.

HUNT: So you were totally satisfied? ROBERTSON: Well, I'm satisfied because they're going after a particular target and it hit a bull's eye with the target they were aiming for.

HUNT: Mr. Robertson, thank you very much for being with us today.

My colleague, Robert Novak, and I will be back with a comment or two in just a moment.

ROBERTSON: Thank you very much.


HUNT: Bob, Pat Robertson has bought into the act. It's all peace and harmony. He's satisfied with everything, wouldn't have changed a single thing in the acceptance speech or added a single thing.

NOVAK: You know, I was interested about Pat Robertson's views on abortion. He's for exceptions in case of rape, incest and the life of the mother. He says there's not a realistic chance for a constitutional amendment to prohibit abortion. He says that litmus tests for judges on abortion are not practical.

Al, we're going to have to start calling Pat Robertson a moderate on the abortion question.

HUNT: Bob, you're going to have start calling him a moderate.

NOVAK: All right.

HUNT: And I'll tell you, he may have sent a letter to John McCain, which John McCain didn't ever get -- had not yet to get, but the things he said about John McCain in that campaign really were vicious, and I don't think there's ever going to be a real thaw there.

NOVAK: But he is willing to apologize, isn't he?

HUNT: Sort of.

NOVAK: I thought the hardest thing that Pat Robertson said was about Pat Buchanan, when he says he has sold out. There's a libertine policy by the Reform Party.

And I just believe that is a real big problem for Pat Buchanan. If he's going to cut into the Bush vote at all, he has to have people like Pat Robertson and his followers, and he's not going to get them.

I'm Robert Novak.

HUNT: And I'm Al Hunt.

Coming up in one-half hour on "RELIABLE SOURCES," it was George W. Bush's big night. How did the media cover his acceptance speech? And at 7 p.m., on the "CAPITAL GANG," a look-back at the Republican convention in Philadelphia and ahead to the Democratic convention in Los Angeles.

NOVAK: And next week we'll be live from the Democratic convention in Los Angeles with our guest, Gore campaign manager Bill Daley.

Thanks for joining us.



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