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Barbour Rejects Notion of Rifts Within Republican Party

Aired February 21, 1996 4:13 pm

JUDY WOODRUFF, Anchor: The Buchanan win in New Hampshire and the weakness of the man the GOP had expected to nominate for its presidential nominee raise some big questions about the future of the Republican Party. Joining us now is one many who is uniquely qualified to answer those questions. He is Haley Barbour, the chairman of the Republican Party. Thank you for being with us.


HALEY BARBOUR, GOP National Chair: Oh, Judy, thanks for having me back.

WOODRUFF: OK, Pat Buchanan, a winner in New Hampshire. Are you in a state of shock?

BARBOUR: Well, no, not really. You know, what I am pleased about about New Hampshire is we had the largest record-high turnout in the Republican primary or in any primary in the history of the state of New Hampshire. What I am please about is you got all these people who voted for Perot in '92 and independents, working people who are worried about the growing Clinton recession, who came and voted in our primary because they know that's the first step to getting Bill Clinton out of the White House.

WOODRUFF: Well, Pat Buchanan says party elders are in a state of panic.

BARBOUR: Well, now, Judy, you know, I don't panic very easily, particularly when Pat Buchanan and I are old friends from when we worked at the Reagan White House together. I don't know who's going to win our nomination, but I do know this - millions of Republican voters are going to vote in primaries across the country over the next few weeks to choose our nominee, and I've got total confidence in Republican voters particularly when they participate by the millions as they did- as they started with a record in New Hampshire.

WOODRUFF: Well, well-

BARBOUR: So, I know this. We're better off with having bottom-up party, a nominee chosen by the Republicans of the United States, rather than somebody saying that we ought to dictate from the top down or impose from the top down. That's not what we ought to be doing.

WOODRUFF: What do you have on your hands? A three-man scramble? Do you have a race between Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan, as Mr. Dole says? Or do you have a race between Lamar Alexander and Pat Buchanan, which is what Alexander said?

BARBOUR: Well, it remains to be seen, Judy. I don't know. You know, Steve Forbes got a lot of votes. He's got staying power if he wants to have it. What we have is what I have said to the news media ever since the beginning of 1995 - and people acted like I was pulling their leg - we have an open nomination contest. And when your party has an open nomination contest like ours does, you expect it to be spirited, you expect it to be hotly contested. But in the end our party will be very unified for the simple reason that our candidates agree on so much more than they disagree on, something that is hardly ever reported is how much these candidates agree on.

WOODRUFF: Well, you say that, Haley Barbour, and yet you had Bob Dole this very morning saying, `This is a race between `my politics of hope' - Bob Dole said - and Pat Buchanan's `politics of fear.'

BARBOUR: Well, if you look at the issues, Judy, starting with smaller government, lower taxes, less spending, fewer regulations, a balanced budget, genuine welfare reform, education reform by giving parents more choices and local control, tort reform, rational regulatory reform, government reform like term limits, every one of the Republican candidates agree on all of those things. Do they agree on everything? Well, of course not. It'd be silly to think they'd agree everything.

WOODRUFF: Well, if-

BARBOUR: But you wouldn't know how much they agree on from looking at the news coverage.


WOODRUFF: If that's the case, then why does Bob Dole say `this is a contest between the mainstream and the extreme,' and he talked about Pat Buchanan's intolerance.

BARBOUR: Well, I'm going to let people characterize for themselves however they want to characterize. As I said, any time there's an open contest it's spirited and hotly contested, but the fact of the matter is Republicans are very united in our views about the direction the government ought to go and the country ought to go. And what pleases me as a Republican who doesn't have a dog in this fight - I'm not for or against any of our nominees - what pleases me is to see a record turnout in New Hampshire. You're going to see more record turnouts around the country for a very simple reason - people are worried about the growing Clinton recession. They are worried about record taxation, the highest taxes we've ever had.

WOODRUFF: But what does it say, Haley Barbour, about the status of your party when the man who people thought was going to be the front-runner barely got a fourth of the vote in Iowa, lost with a fourth of the vote here in New Hampshire? How strong- Is this the sort of beginning that your party wanted this year?

BARBOUR: Well, what it says is what I mentioned earlier and have been saying since the beginning of '95. We have an open nomination contest with a very, very powerful, attractive field. In fact, we've had two stellar candidates already get out of the race - Governor Pete Wilson and Senator Phil Gramm. It's a strong field and an open nomination.

WOODRUFF: Well, Lamar Alexander says Bob Dole should get out and leave it to him and Pat Buchanan.

BARBOUR: Well, I am sure Alan Keyes thinks all the rest of them ought to get out, too. I mean, that's the nature of politics, Judy. But look, we've got a contest that very rightly is going to be decided by the voters, and we have a process where millions of Republicans will get to participate in primaries and conventions the few weeks. I have total confidence in them, that they'll nominate somebody who is the right candidate and have no doubt we'll unite behind that candidate and that we'll be able to defeat Bill Clinton in November.

WOODRUFF: But what about- Howard Baker was interviewed on CNN earlier today, Haley Barbour, and he said he had- for the first time since 1952, he thinks it's entirely possible Republicans could go to the convention with delegates split three different ways and no one might win on the first ballot.

BARBOUR: Well, there's- you certainly cannot rule that out. People have said from the beginning that it was likely that we would know who our nominee would be by the end of March. I think it is still likely but not certain. It's just a lot less likely than people might have thought a month ago. But I don't know what's going to happen. It's going to depend on how people vote in the primaries. But if we have an open- If we go to convention without a nominee, then the delegates who are elected by the millions of Republicans in their states will have to make a decision. If that's what happens, so be it. But my crystal ball's not sharp enough, Judy, to predict it.

WOODRUFF: All right, Haley Barbour, why am I not surprised that you didn't put a very positive spin on what's going on. Haley Barbour-

BARBOUR: Judy, it's just hard for me to be disappointed when our party's growing.

WOODRUFF: Thank you very much for joining us, Haley Barbour.

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