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Tensions Grow as Field Shrinks in Presidential Race

Aired February 4, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Who's up, who's down, who's in, who's out? Tonight, the latest update on campaign 2000.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin.

In the CROSSFIRE, former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer. And later, Republican strategist Tony Fabrizio. And in Chicago, Democratic consultant David Axelrod, an Al Gore supporter.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

What a week in politics! A big surprise in New Hampshire, tables suddenly turned in South Carolina, and the gloves come off in both parties.

Here's the latest. Bill Bradley stepped up his attacks on Al Gore today, accusing him of nothing but attack, deny, and destroy politics. Gore, who took the day off to attend memorial services for Democratic strategist Bob Squire, has doubled his lead over Bradley in national polls from 48-26 two weeks ago to 61-21 today.

George Bush, now behind in South Carolina, turned up the heat on John McCain today, accusing him of Washington doubletalk. McCain said he was the new Ronald Reagan. But Bush can still take comfort in national polls, which show he leads McCain 54 to 28.

As the primary ballots continue, one strong voice, however, will be missing.


GARY BAUER (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today I'm withdrawing from the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. I do that feeling good about the effort that has been made, good about how I have moved the debate in this party, and good about the American people that I have met in every state that I've traveled to.

I want to thank the incredible campaign staff that we've had and the incredible numbers of supporters around the country who've invested in what we've done.


PRESS: But Gary Bauer's not going away. In fact, he's already stepping back into the CROSSFIRE tonight.

Two political consultants will join us later to talk about the other candidates.

We start with Gary -- Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Gary, you're the one guy that's brought us together. We agree you ran a great race, and we loved your departure (UNINTELLIGIBLE). No whining -- tough.

BAUER: Well, thank you, Mary. Bringing you two guys together, this is already a presidential-level accomplishment. You know, I...

PRESS: It's only temporary.

BAUER: Well, I know it is, and it'll probably be unraveling right here before our eyes. But I have to tell you, Mary, I'm not a whiner, and I don't see any need to whine about the process. I gave it my best shot. I think we made some real progress on things. I think I have helped shape the debate. I was in it to get the nomination, I'm a little disappointed, obviously, that I didn't do it.

But, you know, when we get into the race, we all know how tough it is. We know how much money you have to raise. And it just seems to me to whine about it is not the right way to go.

MATALIN: One of the things you've consistently said in shaping the debate was that you worked for and you worked with Ronald Reagan. Today, as Bill noted, John McCain is saying he's the Ronald Reagan in this race. The Ronald Reagan I knew and worked with would be for every tax cut, would never be for campaign finance that disadvantaged his own party.

Is John McCain the Reagan in this, the real Reagan in this race now that you're out?

BAUER: Well, I still think I was the real Reagan in the race. Look, I don't want to really critique John or Governor Bush at this point. This is the first day I'm out of this, and I've done a lot of critiquing of both of them on those debate stages. But I'm going to be watching with everybody else in the weeks ahead to see which of them embraces some of, I think, the important issues that our party has to put on the table if we want to have a governing vision that can get the hearts and minds of the American people.

PRESS: Gary, there's no doubt what was the number one issue for you. You talked about it everywhere you went, you talked about it in the debates. It was -- it's the choice issue, the abortion issue. And yet you got 1 percent in Iowa, 1 percent in New Hampshire. Doesn't that indicate that for most of the American people, abortion is not the thing they care the most about?

BAUER: Bill, don't make my performance worse than it was. I got 9 percent in Iowa and 1 percent in New Hampshire.

But look, I did talk about...

PRESS: Sorry.

BAUER: That's OK. I did talk about the life issue a lot. I also spent at least that much time on the China issue, and I believe on the China issue, every day is going to prove me right, that on that issue, China is going to be our major foreign policy challenge in the weeks and months and years ahead, and that we can't trade our way out of the problem.

On the abortion issue, I made an argument based on the Declaration of Independence, that we need to set another place at the table. I think a majority of the American people are very uncomfortable with 1.5 million abortions.

PRESS: But you made the argument, you made it loud and clear. You did talk about China too, I'll grant that. But again, looking at your -- the response you got, doesn't it tell you that even for most Republicans, they don't want to make this election a referendum on getting rid of Roe v. Wade?

BAUER: No, I think what was significant about this, Bill, was that every other one of my competitors followed me in taking the position that I did. I was the first major presidential potential candidate to run pro-life ads in these early states. And lo and behold, Steve Forbes started running them. I understand that Senator McCain will be running them in South Carolina.

And you've seen the Democratic Party, Bradley and Gore, going at each other on this issue.

This is an important issue. It's going to stick in our throats until we get it right. And I think it goes to the nature of our liberty and who's part of the American family.

MATALIN: Let me follow up on these pro-life spots. In 1996, Steve Forbes was -- well, before 1996, he was part of pro-abortion groups. In 1996, he was very tentative on the life issue.

BAUER: Right.

MATALIN: In 2000, he ran the life spots, as you said, and he frankly pandered to the religious right, who used to be in your corner. Two questions. You're not critiquing candidates, but is he an authentic social conservative? And did he hurt your race?

BAUER: Well, I'll be sending Steve a bill for the number of lines out of my speeches over the last five or six years that he's used during this campaign.

Look, I -- he's a Steve-come-lately on this issue, and there really is no record there. In fact, he has got a great record of helping pro-abortion candidates in the past. I don't believe the position he's got now is a genuine position. I tried to argue that in the debates.

You know, we'll see what the verdict of the voters are.

PRESS: Gary Bauer, before you, Dan Quayle, Elizabeth Dole, Orrin Hatch, John Kasich, Lamar Alexander all dropped out of the presidential race. And all of them have endorsed George W. Bush. You failed to do so today.


PRESS: Why not? Is it because you think McCain would be stronger against Al Gore?

BAUER: No, I felt that it was inappropriate for me on the day that I was leaving to immediately make an endorsement. And my whole campaign was motivated by a set of ideas. And I'm not satisfied yet with the two front-runners and where they are on those ideas.

I -- my whole political life has been driven by that governing vision, and that's what's going to determine who I endorse in the days and weeks ahead.

MATALIN: Well, and that will make a difference. Gary has a lot of supporters out there, a big future in front of him. Thank you for joining us.

BAUER: OK, Mary, thank you.

MATALIN: And all your visits past and future...

PRESS: Thanks, Gary.

BAUER: Thank you.


BAUER: Thank you CROSSFIRE, because I helped -- I think it made my debate skills a lot better, so I appreciate that.

PRESS: We got you in shape.

BAUER: Absolutely.

MATALIN: When we come back, we'll continue the debate from the Democratic and Republican perspectives on the race remaining (ph).

Stay with us.


MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The field shrinks, but the tensions grow as both Democratic and Republican front-runners get less than they wanted out of the first campaign 2000 nomination contests. The GOP contenders set their sights on South Carolina, while the Democrats hop-scotch cross- country, lining up support for the mega-March 7 battles.

For analysis and advocacy unaligned with any 2000 contender, GOP consultant Tony Fabrizio and Gore supporter David Axelrod -- Bill.

PRESS: Tony, as a campaign strategist, I wonder if you can explain something to me. On his first day after New Hampshire, George Bush went to South Carolina, went to Bob Jones University.

For those who don't know, this is a university that lost its tax exempt status in 1970 because it would not admit blacks. It still today does not permit interracial dating, which means even Bush's brother, Governor Jeb Bush, were he a student there dating his present wife, a Mexican-born wife, would be expelled from the university, a university that threatened to arrest a gay alumnus if he came back onto the campus.

Here, by the way, is what Democrat Bill Bradley had to say about that visit. Then I've got a question for you.


BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Republican candidate for president yesterday goes to Bob Jones University to make a speech about what conservatism is in this country. Well, ladies and gentlemen, that is what conservatism is, Bob Jones University, and it should be rejected.


PRESS: Why would George Bush dignify that university with a visit? Wasn't that a huge mistake?

TONY FABRIZIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Bill, I don't know that it was a huge mistake, but in South Carolina and Republican primary politics in South Carolina, Bob Jones University is symbolic, and there are a lot of people that come out of Bob Jones University, are very active in politics down there.

I will tell you that had I been there, I wouldn't have advised it, because you're going to have Bill Bradley and Al Gore running the TV commercial you just stated before we went to that video clip, you can be certain of it.

But I think that, you know, all front-runners make missteps. No front-runner is perfect. And I think George Bush has made his share of mistakes, no question.

PRESS: Maybe -- here's another one, OK? Now, look, he lost -- he got shellacked in New Hampshire. I understand. So he's got to go on the attack against John McCain. Here's what he said about John McCain today. He -- the new track -- trend, line of attack, is to paint John McCain as this Washington insider, Washington doubletalk, he said today.

But here's what he said with John McCain. Quote, "It's hard to be a reformer if you've spent your entire life in Washington." Do you think he forgot about those five years in the POW camp when he said that?

FABRIZIO: Oh, I don't think one has anything to do with the other. And I'm not here defending George Bush...

PRESS: Well, he hasn't spent his entire life in Washington, right?

FABRIZIO: Whoa, a second, Bill, calm down. One thing is that John McCain's been in Washington of 18 years. It's -- I mean, I think it's really -- it's very legitimate for George W. Bush to bring up the fact that John McCain is not an outsider. I'm not here defending George W. Bush. I'm questioning what John McCain is saying more than anything else.

So that's a very legitimate charge for George W. Bush to make.

PRESS: OK, but let's look at the facts. The fact is, for example, in the Senate, George W. Bush has 37 senators, John McCain has four. The entire K Street lobbyist, you know, ranks are all behind George Bush. The fact is, the Washington establishment hates John McCain, from Trent Lott on. You know that. So to say -- to paint John McCain as the ultimate insider is a lie in this campaign.

FABRIZIO: Well, wait a second, but you have to look at why they may or may not let -- dislike John McCain. I think it has more to do with John McCain's positions, particularly on campaign finance reform, than anything else. But, you know, I mean, John McCain in 1996 served as Phil Gramm's campaign chairman, and he was embraced with open arms in the '96 Dole campaign. So John McCain was not a pariah at that point.

PRESS: So the establishment here hates him.

FABRIZIO: Well, no, the establishment here doesn't hate him. The establishment here has lined up behind George W. Bush. And now they may be learning a lesson for lining up so early behind George W. Bush, and John McCain may teach it to them. But that remains to be seen what happens in South Carolina.

MATALIN: All right, let's go to the very aligned David Axelrod there, he's a Gore supporter. Let's take one -- let's clean up this one issue on Bradley and Gore. If they are going to attack politicians who attend the Bob Jones University, are they then prepared to attack the Democratic governor of South Carolina, who's been to Bob Jones? Are they then prepared to attack the African- American Democratic legislators who've been to Bob Jones?

Aren't you all tired of playing the race card here?

DAVID AXELROD, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Well, first of all, I can't speak for Senator Bradley. Brad -- Senator Bradley's in an attack mode right now. But there -- you guys have a curious strategy over there in Bushland. Last spring he was a compassionate conservative running against the Washington establishment, reaching out to the center. Now he seems to be lurching right. And K Street has emptied out. Everybody's headed down to South Carolin -- it's the biggest invasion from the North since the Civil War -- to try and save George W. Bush. So I think he's in a great deal of trouble, Mary.

MATALIN: That's all very clever, but it doesn't answer the question. African-American and Democratic politicians have gone to Bob Jones. You all are playing the race card again.

But let's just move on. If Gore is -- if Bradley is in the attack to say about the vice president today.


BRADLEY: The watchwords of this kind of politics is attack, deny, distort. It's the old politics that says the ends justify the means. Any means to win an election.


MATALIN: OK, these means include total self-service. Now, Alan Simpson, who is known around this town for honesty, said the other night, and we've all heard it before and we know that it's true, that Al Gore went to the leadership in the Senate and said, I will vote for the Gulf War resolution if you give me 20 minutes of prime time. If you don't give me 20 minutes of prime time, I'm going to vote against the Gulf War.

This is what Bradley's saying, in addition to attacking and distorting and denying, he has no core conviction.

AXELROD: Bradley -- Brad -- Bradley also made a national issue of this incident, alleged incident in New Hampshire involving Bob Kerrey, and Kerrey, in which a campaign worker of Gore allegedly called Kerrey a name, Kerrey had to call Bradley up.

It's almost Orwellian to hear Bradley now attack attack politics, because for the last week, that's all he's been doing. This high- minded campaign that started off as a campaign of big ideas is now a campaign of little cheap shots. Having lost the battle of ideas, he's now joined the battle of personal insults.

And I don't think it's going to help him. You saw your own poll at the top of the show, showing that Gore has widened his lead tremendously. He's won two primaries. And I don't know anybody in America -- anybody in American politics who has become the nominee by finishing second primaf -- primary after primary. So I think on March 8, this primary -- this process is going to be over, and we're going to have our nominee.

PRESS: Tony, I don't want to give the impression that I think that John McCain is the perfect candidate either, so fair is fair. Let's look at John McCain, John McCain, whom I heard say -- if I heard him say it once, I heard him say it 1,000 times in New Hampshire, "I will always tell you the truth."

Well, there's a little ad in South Carolina that's come up that says maybe John McCain should have said "almost always."

Let's listen.


ANNOUNCER: Candidate McCain states that as senator, he has never voted for a tax increase. Yet in 1998, Senator McCain sponsored legislation backed by President Clinton to increase tobacco taxes. Senator McCain's bill would have imposed the largest consumer tax increase in history, $516 billion.


PRESS: Maybe say one thing, do another, Tony? We got a problem here?

FABRIZIO: Well, it seems to me that, you know, George Bush today obviously went after that. His comment about doubletalk certainly is probably going to get to the heart of that. And I think if the Bush campaign hopes to be successful over the next few weeks, they're going to have to make that case against John McCain.

But let me tell you one of the most impressive things I've seen about the McCain campaign is, they are agile, they move very quickly, they understand message, and they get it. They're on the ground and they're fighting every day out of the trenches. It is the former host of this show, it's the passion that Pat Buchanan generated with people without the negative baggage that Pat Buchanan generated. And that's a tough army to fight, Bill.

PRESS: Quick question, I want to show you a McCain statement today. But first, Ross Verney (ph), former executive director of the Reform Party, opined today that possibly because McCain's message is reform, that the Reform Party would name McCain their candidate, so he'd be the candidate of two parties on the ballot.

Would that present, you know, like, a formidable threat in November if that could happen?

FABRIZIO: Oh, I -- I'm sure my friend David Axelrod in Chicago may have just fell out of his chair right now just hearing that comment that Dave -- Russ Verney said.

AXELROD: You're thinking of Gary Bauer, I stay in my chair.

FABRIZIO: Al Gore cannot afford to have any Republican on two lines, nevertheless one line.

PRESS: All right, John McCain today, as Mary indicated earlier, has compared himself to the former governor of California, former president.

Here's how McCain himself put it to the reaction he was getting in South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On the way in, several independents stopped me and said -- and Democrats, and said, I'm voting for you, I'm voting for you.

My dear friends, this is what we used to call the Reagan Democrats, remember? The Reagan Democrats.


PRESS: Is that a stretch? Or his -- is he the one, not George Bush, McCain, the one who can pull in those Reagan Democrats?

FABRIZIO: I think that's a bit of a stretch. I think, in fact, it's a far stretch. I think, you know, if in New Hampshire George W. Bush had beaten John McCain with Republicans, and John McCain had won based on the strength of independents, we'd be having a much different conversation here. I think what the Bush campaign needs to do is, the Bush campaign needs to put together back together its Republican base.

The longer a Steve Forbes stays in this race, the more difficult it is for George W. Bush to do that. The Bush campaign has to figure out how to reach out to the Forbes people if Forbes is going to stay around, if he isn't going to stay around, what's going to happen? It would be tremendously damaging to the Bush campaign if the Forbes people went and sided with McCain in this battle.

AXELROD: But, Tony...

FABRIZIO: But -- Yes?

AXELROD: Tony, don't you...

PRESS: Go ahead, Davis...

AXELROD: ... don't -- I -- don't you agree -- I mean, this is what's dangerous about primaries. George Bush had a general election strategy to start. He was going to seize the middle. Now John McCain has seized the middle, and Bush is left to reach out to the right, to the religious right, to the other elements of the Republican Party and on the right. And the more he has to do that to win this nomination, if he wins this nomination, the more I think we have a great opportunity to win in the fall.

FABRIZIO: David, there is always a danger that in the primary campaign, you could always go too far to the right. There's no question about that.

AXELROD: Or left.

FABRIZIO: Or left. I don't think George W. Bush has crossed that line by any stretch of the imagination, yet. I think it's possible that he can. I think it's possible that John McCain can overplay his hand by trying to be the new Ronald Reagan. I mean, I appreciate Ronald Reagan. I -- he's one of the greatest presidents we've had. But the fact of the matter is, Ronald Reagan was 20 years ago. The party has changed, the people have changed, the politics have changed. And so you have to be careful on both sides of what you're talking about here.

MATALIN: David, speaking of primaries, you're so quick to write off Bradley and his chances. He came back 14...

AXELROD: Not me, Mary, the voters are the ones who have been writing him off, not me.

MATALIN: No, now, let me give you some facts before you start spinning. He came back 14 points in less than a week by just giving one little elbow. He -- it was the closest race in Democratic primary history.

He has more money than Gore, and he has real advantages going into mega-March 7, not the least of which are New Hampshire and California, where not only did he get enough support to get on the ballot in every district, he has 9,000 Internet volunteers in New York, and he had -- he had three more -- 300 more delegate applicants in California than Gore. Why are you writing him off so soon?

AXELROD: I'm writing him off because we've had two tests. New Hampshire, you remember, you say he came back from 14 points behind. There's no question that Gore got a little bump out of Iowa that had -- made the polls a little bit unrealistically optimistic. But two weeks before New Hampshire, Bradley was in the lead. Everyone -- if you had told people two weeks before New Hampshire that Al Gore would win by five points, they would say what is the fact, which is, Bradley is in deep, deep trouble.

And I go back to what I said before. You can't finish second primary after primary and be the nominee. The -- you know, that's the simple fact of life.

PRESS: David, we haven't even talked about California. We haven't talked about New York or Michigan or Ohio. But we can't, because we're out of time. So it's got to stay there.

Thank you, David Axelrod, for joining us from Chicago. Tony Fabrizio with the new beard, thank you for coming into CROSSFIRE in the studio. Good to have you here.

AXELROD: Thank you, Mary.

PRESS: Mary Matalin and I, we'll wrap it up with our closing comments coming up next.



PRESS: Mary.

MATALIN: In addition to the aforementioned advantages that Bradley enjoys, the next set of primaries include a lot of mid- Atlantic and Yankee states. He was in Maryland today, thousands of people turned out to see him. So the primary's not over.

Secondly, the New Hampshire exit polls showed 60 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of youse, didn't like Clinton, and 71 percent of those who didn't voted for Bradley. No one's asking me, but Bradley is your better general election candidate.

PRESS: Let's tell the truth. Bill Clinton has a 65 percent of favorability rating. Let's tell the truth. Bill Bradley lost two elections. Let's tell the truth. Al Gore won two primaries. You can't win unless you win. Bradley has been losing. And the next states are easier for Al Gore because they've got a lot of minorities, they have a lot of union members.

And by the way, Mary, after New Hampshire, just remember this, all the king's horses and all the king's men can never put GW back together again. Your little daughter could tell you that.

MATALIN: Attack, deny, distort.

PRESS: It's over.

MATALIN: That is Al Gore...

PRESS: No, no.

MATALIN: ... and this -- Bush...

PRESS: Baby, that's no...

MATALIN: ... is going to beat him.

PRESS: ... distortion, that's the truth.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE, and have a great weekend.

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again next week for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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