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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Mark Mead, Ken Connor

Aired June 2, 2003 - 19:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: To politics now. A new CNN/USA Today poll shows nearly two-thirds of Americans approve of how President Bush is doing his job. But they're almost evenly divided over whether his tax cuts are a good idea. Let's see what CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider makes of Mr. Bush's latest numbers.
Evening, Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Anderson, you know, President Bush is riding high with most Americans, but not with Democrats. They are increasingly angry and frustrated with President Bush.

Back during his first eight months in office, President Bush's job approval rating with Democrats, you see there at the top, averaged just 30 percent. That was not much of a honeymoon. You may recall, Anderson, that there was some dispute over how he got elected. In any case, September 11 created, you see, a huge surge of unity in the country, when Democrats rallied to Bush at the end of 2001 giving the president here 79 percent support. But it wore off very quickly in 2002, after that harsh and divisive midterm election campaign.

So far this year, the president has averaged just under 40 percent support from Democrats, and the latest figure there at the bottom, 32 percent.

You remember how much the Republicans disliked Bill Clinton when he was president? Well, has the anger towards Bush among Democrats reached those epical proportions? Well, the answer is, almost. Republican's approval of Clinton when he was president averaged 26 percent. Democrats are not quite as angry at Bush as Democrats -- I'm sorry, Democrats are not quite as angry at Bush as Republicans were at Clinton, but you know what? They're getting there.

We sent people out to interview Democrats around the country, and, Anderson, the language the democrats used when we asked them, "Do you to think President Bush deserves to be re-elected," it would hurt your ears. Dangerous, divisive, reckless.

But they're frustrated because, look at this, no Democrat has really caught fire. Senator Joe Lieberman leads the democratic field by a small margin, because, of course, he's the best known. But the largest number of Democrats, down there at the bottom on the right, say they can't decide who to support. The message here, there is an army of angry Democrats looking for somebody to lead them. But they don't see anybody out there yet. COOPER: Interesting stuff. Bill Schneider, appreciate you joining us. Thanks very much.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

COOPER: Want to stay on the topic of politics for a little bit now.

In 2004, President Bush will lead his party's national convention in New York City. Now, more than just about any other Republican president, President Bush has opened the doors of his party to untraditional members, particularly gays and lesbians. "The New York Times" reports that 200 members of the Log Cabin Republicans met with top administration officials at the White House last month. And that has some other members of the Republican Party feeling, well, feeling wrathful, you might say.

Mark Mead is director of the public affairs for the Log Cabin Republicans; he joins us from Washington. And in Atlanta, we have Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council.

Gentlemen, both of you, thank you for joining us.

Ken, let me start off with you. Republicans like to say their party is a big tent. Is it big enough for gays and lesbians?

KEN CONNOR, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, in the final analysis, I think it's naive to believe you can bring in people to the party whose views and values are diametrically contrary to the provisions of the party platform. The Republican platform has been very explicit that it supports heterosexual marriage, that it's opposed to using taxpayer funding to support domestic partner benefits. It's opposed to the passage of hate crimes legislations. And it indicates that it believes that homosexuality is inimical to military service. And yet, these are the very points that are advanced by the homosexual lobby. And they run cross-grain to the provisions of the platform.

COOPER: All right. Let me bring in Mark Mead here. Mark, obviously, you feel differently. You feel that the tent is big enough, and you are part of the party?

MARK MEAD, PUBLIC AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: Well, Anderson, we are conservative gay Republicans, and we're not going anywhere. And we're troubled anytime that any group, particularly a Republican group, threatens the president, tries to blackmail the party chairman...

COOPER: Now explain that. Because you're saying -- explain who you're saying is blackmailing the president.

MEAD: Well, several groups met with Chairman Racicot a couple of weeks ago, and they now are demanding that the Republican Party take a stand on homosexuality as immoral, taking a gratuitous slap at part of the American family, gay and lesbian Americans, including the vice president's own daughter. Now, to put the party chairman in an awkward position like that is simply wrong. George Bush is an inclusive, tolerant man. He met with gay Republicans over two years ago and said he was a better person for it.

COOPER: Let my bring in Ken here. Ken, what is wrong with head of the Republican Party meeting with some gay people?

CONNOR: There is nothing wrong with that, as long as the Republican chairman makes it clear what the party stands for and doesn't seek to deviate from the provisions of the platform that it is represented to the public that it stands for. I think, frankly, that Mark's remarks about tolerance and inclusion are disingenuous. The Log Cabin Republicans were among the very first to call for Senator Santorum's resignation when he made statements about the implications of the good...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Ken, Ken, let me just interrupt here. Mark brought up the word blackmail. Are you blackmailing the president, in effect, by saying you're not going to support his re-election bid if he extends a hand to gays and lesbians?

CONNOR: We haven't said that we're not going to support his re- election. What we said is that the party should not abandon the principles outlined in the platform. That the party should be faithful to the public in terms of what it has said that it represents.

COOPER: Mark is that what they've said?

MEAD: Well, Anderson, it's important to realize that President Bush understands that you build the party by addition, not subtraction. With Mr. Schneider's earlier comments just a few moments ago, it appears it's going to be a tight race. We can't afford to lose even one loyal Republican. And Log Cabin Republicans are loyal Republicans who are not threatening to bolt the party. Do we agree with everything in the party platform? No. Are we working to change it? Yes.

COOPER: Hey, Ken, let me ask you, there are some who are saying that what President Bush is trying to do is basically triangulate, to use that old term that often applied to Clinton, trying to have it both ways, appeal to gay and lesbian Republicans who might vote for him, but also appeal to the more conservative branch. Do you think that's a fair characterization of what he's doing? Or do you think that's inappropriate?

CONNOR: I think there may well somebody cynicism associated with this. But in the final analysis, I think the political calculus is flawed. To the extent that the president or the party alienates the pro-family base, those people that believe marriage is the foundation of society, in an attempt to court the homosexual lobby, in the final analysis, I think the result of that will to be have a chilling effect on the willingness of pro-family republicans to turn out and vote in support of the president or in support of the Republican party. And that isn't addition, that's substantial subtraction, the subtraction of many more numbers than gay activists will bring.

COOPER: Let me ask Mark. Mark, since we're squeezed for time, you're going to get the final thought. Gay voters, gay Republicans, may just be a fraction of the far more conservative wing of the Republican Party. How do you counter that imbalance?

MEAD: Well, we're a million people supported George Bush in 2000. And given his embracing of being a tolerant, inclusive president, I'm sure many more will vote for him in 2004. And I can tell you one thing, Anderson, James Carville wrote a book on political loyalty called "Stickin'." And the Log Cabin Republicans are going to stick with George Bush. He may not be able to count on Ken and some other folks, but he can count on us in 2004.

COOPER: All right, we're going to have to...

CONNOR: Pro-family Republicans will stick with the platform of the party.

COOPER: All right, we're going to have to leave it there. Gentlemen, Ken Connor, Mark Mead, appreciate both of you joining us tonight. Thank you very much. An interesting discussion.

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