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Capital Gang

Bill Bennett Discusses the Results of the New Hampshire Primary

Aired February 5, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET



I'm Al Hunt, with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and, in New York, Margaret Carlson.

Our guest is former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

It's great to have you back, Bill.

WILLIAM J. BENNETT, CO-DIRECTOR, EMPOWER AMERICA: This is the CAPITAL GANG? I must have gone in wrong door. I thought it was "Masterpiece Theater."

HUNT: You won't confuse us later.

Texas Governor George W. Bush, a 19-point loser to Senator John McCain in New Hampshire, is four points behind in the next Republican primary stop, South Carolina, according to a new CNN/"Time" poll. Among Republicans, Bush leads by 13 points, but is 30 behind with independents.

Governor Bush opened his South Carolina campaign at fundamentalist Bob Jones University.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's bad enough when Democrats use these arguments against meaningful tax cuts. It's worse when Republicans, like my chief rival in this state, use them.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I continue to be disappointed that Governor Bush is defending a system that caused such corruption in 1996 in the Clinton/Gore campaign, including the compromise of national security.


HUNT: The candidates debated over who's the insider. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: All of a sudden, in the course of debate, I'm tagged as the guy who's kind of the Washington guy, and I'm not going let that happen to me in South Carolina. Because you know what? He is the person who has been the Washington insider.



MCCAIN: I will break the iron triangle in Washington of lobbyists, money and legislation, and that's the message, that's what brought us success in the state of New Hampshire, that's what will win here.


HUNT: Kate, what will decide the South Carolina primary?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I think George Bush will win in South Carolina if he can deny John McCain the level of conservative support he won in New Hampshire. Forty percent of the people who voted in the GOP primary in New Hampshire were independents, and they went overwhelmingly for John McCain. And while it's true that 60 percent of Republicans actually voted against him, he got a significant level of conservative support.

George Bush just can't let that happen in South Carolina. Thus there attempt, the Bush attempt, to portray John McCain as the true insider, who in league with Washington Democrats and Beltway conventional wisdom, adopts their solutions on taxes, education, campaign finance reform, and George Bush's attempt to paint himself as the true outsider who's willing to take on John McCain's friends in the liberal media against the really powerful forces John McCain never criticizes, like teachers unions, and trial lawyers and big government.

John McCain needs conservatives in South Carolina.

HUNT: It is true about trial lawyers. He really does.

O'BEIRNE: John McCain -- well, his tobacco bill would have enriched all of them to go on their crusades against American business. John McCain needs conservatives in South Carolina, and George Bush has to make him unpalatable to conservatives.

HUNT: Bob, so Dan Quayle is going to deliver this one, right?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, I don't think that hurts, or it doesn't help particularly. I -- Al, I asked Karl Rove, the governor's chief strategist on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" today, what was the mistake they made in New Hampshire, and I thought his answer very interesting. He said they didn't defend themselves against these charges by Senator McCain that the -- Governor Bush would spend the surplus on wasteful tax cuts -- the Democratic line -- and not protect Social Security. That just isn't true.

But I will say, George Bush did not do a good job of defending himself. He still hasn't really explained that Senator McCain is taking money out of general fund for Social Security when people are overtaxed, hasn't done a good job of that, but he's got two weeks to do it.

HUNT: So, Margaret Carlson, it's all media, right?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Right, it's all us. He didn't just not defend himself in New Hampshire, he played to the stereotype about him. He reinforced the doubts that people other than the Republicans who anointed him have about him. He -- his campaign events were vacuous. He did not seem to be, having determination, and enthusiasm and be out there -- He was bowling. He was sledding. One of event with father, he was called a boy, and since we think he's fortune's happy child, this not a good thing. His father is a good thing. That's what launched him. But it's not a good thing at this very moment.

So he has to find something in between what he did in New Hampshire, and not being an attack dog, because somebody as genial amiable as George Bush does not look good attacking the war hero John McCain, especially with veterans. That was such a huge blunder this week, to try to turn veterans against John McCain.

HUNT: Let me ask Bill Bennett about that, and you know, anything else. But, Bill he did do that. He brought out this sort of flaky guy who said John McCain is lousy on veterans. All the Vietnam combat vets in the Senate put out a letter. There's this thing Orson swindle (ph) put out about veterans calling him -- I mean, that's not turf George W. Bush wants to fight on is it?

BENNETT: No, when I was -- it was McCain in New Hampshire. I've helped both Bush and McCain.

HUNT: Yes, you've been totally neutral in that sense.

BENNETT: When people brought up things from the sign, it wasn't copies of the campaign reform act, it was copies of "Faith of our Fathers." This guy is a hero, and he's hit a note. I think he's the anti-Clinton. I think this is a big part of it.

But is a little puzzling on Bush. In April, my wife and I spent some time with Governor Bush, found him very interesting, very engaging, quite expansive, his personality, more so in public than his father, but this crimped, cramped stuff we've seen in the debates, with very close to the notes, and looking back at the cards, and I'm the governor of Texas and I did that, and I will do the same, no real sense of who he is, no real seasons of that personality.

Meanwhile, McCain is asking, like, guys who, you know, who looked death in the eye every night for five years and is having great time, and he's engaging.

And there's one very conservative issue here, this business about who is sufficiently conservative, that McCain has engaged and that Bush hasn't, that's been overlooked, and that is: Clinton/Gore. McCain is after Clinton/Gore. I'll bet you he's going to give a speech about Clinton/Gore, and Bush hasn't touched it. This is very important to some of us.

HUNT: Let me just say one thing. I think they're legitimate issues. I think conservative liberals is a legitimate issue for Governor Bush. I think their campaign finance reform, tobacco, the tax cut is a very issue. But some of this stuff is just -- first of all, start with the Bob Jones University. It's fundamentalist. It's kind of a bastion of bigotry.

Wait a minute. Let me just finish, Bob.

And also, to raise the veterans's issue and to raise the insider issue. The fact of the matter is, the vast majority of Washington insiders are with Governor Bush. These are just kind of silly issues to bring up.

NOVAK: Bob Jones University is well thought of among people who vote in Republican primaries in South Carolina. A lot of the bigotry stuff is from old times. That is something that really bothers a liberals like you, Al, but it doesn't bother the real people in South Carolina.

What really has to be done by George Bush, is he has to really show that John McCain is not a reformer in any real sense when he has the lobbyists around him. He started to do that, and I -- pardon me for saying something bad about a war hero, but he is in with the Washington lobbyists.

HUNT: I'm just going to close on that. Ninety percent of the Washington establishment -- the lobbyists, and the -- they are overwhelmingly for George W. Bush, and on that line, we are going to...

Bill, one final word.

BENNETT: Alan Keyes is not in with the lobbyists, but these two guys are both in with the lobbyists.

NOVAK: Absolutely. You got it right.

HUNT: To suggest parity, he's absolutely wrong on that. But Bill Bennett and the GANG will be back with a look at John McCain's long-term prospects.


HUNT: Welcome back.

After George W. Bush's New Hampshire loss, he and the New York state Republican Party abandoned efforts to keep John McCain's name off New York's primary ballot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: So I'm happy to tell you the last vestiges of a one- party communist state has now been eliminated.


HUNT: South Carolina's leading McCain-backer made this forecast:


REP LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If he wins South Carolina, then he will be our nominee, because the momentum cannot be stopped then.


HUNT: But the CNN/"Time" national poll of registered Republicans taken after New Hampshire showed a two-to-one Bush lead over McCain.

Bob, with that big advantage, is George W. Bush still the prohibitive favorite?

NOVAK: Definitely not. Because of systems we have now, for some time the inmates have been running the asylum. It isn't the -- you can't have the leaders picking the candidates.

If Bush loses in South Carolina and then goes on three days later to lose in Michigan, where things are very close, I think then the whole national poll begins to change.

You cannot say that that huge lead nationally -- Republican -- he is the choice of the Republican Party right now. But that doesn't mean that he is the prohibitive favorite to be the nominee.

This is very similar to the situation that prevailed for Barry Goldwater when he was an insurgent candidate who was nominated for the Republicans in '64 and for George McGovern for the Democrats in '72.

HUNT: Bill, who had been neutral, but tell me, who would you give the better odds to now?

BENNETT: Well, let's look at South Carolina. I think South Carolina could really be decisive for McCain.

Look, if Bush is saying that John McCain is not sufficiently conservative and he can't persuade South Carolinian -- South Carolina's Republicans of that, he's not going to persuade many other states' conservatives. So I think it's a critical state for him.

It would be interesting for McCain to, in addition to talking about Clinton-Gore, to come out and say some things about partial- birth abortion, not abortion generally but a piece of it, like partial-birth abortion, some other bright line, bright color conservative issues to assure people that at least he is conservative as far as the rank and file goes.

But what he's got now, it seems to me, is the imagination. He's caught in imagination of the American people. I've always thought politic's a little bit like romance, just a little bit like romance.

NOVAK: Little, very little.

BENNETT: All right, a little bit. But, I mean people -- the American people sort of fall for a guy. Right now, a lot of people have fallen for him. And George Bush has got to persuade the girl that they're looking at the wrong guy, that he's the right suit.

HUNT: I'm going to ask Elaine Bennett how you did it, but, Kate, I think Bill has a -- I think Bill has a point. After South Carolina, I mean, Michigan is not -- shouldn't be friendlier territory to conservative challengers, should it?

O'BEIRNE: Well either way, it's not over after South Carolina for either one of the candidates, I don't think, although Bush obviously would have stopped what some people are afraid might be a free fall, given the size of McCain's win.

A lot of people are drawing parallels between Dole and Buchanan, and how Dole was able to stop Buchanan in the South. That is simply not the right parallel. The ability -- Buchanan, Pat Buchanan only got 27 percent of that vote, and it's much harder to stop an insurgency that got 47 percent with a lot of Republican, significant Republican support.

Good news for the Bush team the end of this week is that he still maintains an eight point lead over Al Gore. But if McCain continues to win, more and more Republicans will see McCain as a perfectly competent and competitive candidate against Gore, which they never saw Pat Buchanan.

HUNT: Margaret, you're up in New York. Comments on what's happened up there and who's the favorite now to win GOP nomination?

CARLSON: Well, you know the fact that McCain is now on the ballot actually helps George Bush because he's seen as playing fair instead of just using the Republican establishment to keep this guy out.

What will happen if Bush loses South Carolina is that the premature endorsement of the Republican establishment will turn into premature panic. And everything he has lined up, you know his 50- state strategy, which I guess is his now 49-state strategy, will fall apart, because, anglers saying he solid asbestos in Michigan is not going to work. I mean, the establishment is not able, necessarily, to deliver.

HUNT: Bill Bennett, quickly.

BENNETT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ... and Kate was saying earlier, I predict McCain this week will make a criticism, an attack on the teachers' unions in South Carolina and that will be helpful to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(CROSSTALK) HUNT: Let me just make, let me just make two quick points. When Gary Hart was -- when Gary Hart got his moment in the sun, he wasn't reedy for prime time. I suspect John McCain will be.

I've talked to some House Democrats this week who called to ask to be assured that McCain would not be the nominee. They think they're going to take back the House. They're petrified of McCain as a general election candidate.

Final point I make, in four days McCain has raise $2 million over the Internet, as of tonight. That's all matchable money. That's going to enable him to compete. Whether he'll win or not, I don't know. But it enables him to compete.


HUNT: Next on CAPITAL GANG, Bradley chasing Gore,


HUNT: Welcome back.

After losing to the vice president by five points in New Hampshire, Bill Bradley resumed his attack.


BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... words 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.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He stepped down to that level of personal vilification. I did not respond in kind and I will not respond in kind, partly because I think that people want to debate the future of our country not see a personal fight.


HUNT: Democratic leaders urged Bradley to make way for the vice president.


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I do hope at some point we can mobilize behind one candidate and win the presidency and hold the presidency.


HUNT: Margaret, is the Bradley campaign merely hurting Democratic chances in November or does he really have a shot?

CARLSON: Well, you know, it helps for the establishment candidate to actually beat somebody so that it doesn't look like a coronation. In fact, you know, when they say it's good, sometimes it is. I don't think it's hurting yet. Bradley hasn't proven to be that good a candidate. The more you see John McCain -- Bill compares it to a romance -- the more people like him. And so the romance doesn't wear off. You like him better upon seeing him.

The voters haven't respond that way to Bradley. I mean the news flash here is, by the way, Bradley lost New Hampshire. We keep acting as if he won New Hampshire and he's got the momentum McCain does, and he actually doesn't.

He lost his temper twice this week, once at a TV station because there was a technical glitch, on the plane because the oven didn't work and warm up his food. I think he's beginning to fray a bit around the edges, and it's very hard to become the attack person when you've come in being above politics.

HUNT: Kate, there are people who think, though, that Bradley would have lost a lot more a week earlier, that he closed the gap only because he did go on the attack.

O'BEIRNE: Bill Bradley has done surprisingly well in New Hampshire against what should be a very difficult task. He's a sitting vice president with an impressive administration record to be talking about.

So Bill Bradley points up -- the strength of Bill Bradley even in New Hampshire -- points up all the misgivings Democrats do have about Al Gore.

The Republican nomination fight might drag on some, but neither Republican candidate is going to emerge labeled utterly untrustworthy, which is how Al Gore, despite the fact that I think he will wear down Bill Bradley, he's going to look, based on these kinds of criticisms of Bill Bradley as utterly untrustworthy.

HUNT: But Bob, Bradley needs some sort of breakthrough in the next 30 days. I can't possibly imagine what it would be.

NOVAK: He's got to make some breakthrough. He's got to win New York, he's got to win some of those New England states. It's very tough in the Democratic primaries with all the labor union people doing as they're told, the minority groups doing as they're told, it's very tough for...

HUNT: That doesn't happen in the Republican Party, does it?

NOVAK: And particularly when you don't -- it doesn't happen in the Republican Party, that's correct -- and particularly when you don't have an issue like the war. I would say to Margaret for just a little historical corrective, Margaret that...

CARLSON: Thank you, Bob.

NOVAK: ... that Gene McCarthy and George McGovern did much -- less well than Bill Bradley in New Hampshire and got much more credit. But I would say that what the main thing that's happening -- and that's why Dick Gephardt wants Bradley to get out of the race -- is that Gore is really being touched up. He didn't look -- he doesn't look good.

HUNT: Bill?

BENNETT: Well, Bradley...

HUNT: You're an oddsmaker. You still think Al Gore's got a better prospect of being in the White House a year from now than anybody -- any other single person, wouldn't you?

BENNETT: No, no, no, the Democrats probably. But, let me -- Bradley did pretty well but Bradley's not a very good campaigner, I don't think. And he's a Rhodes scholar. He's kind of wimpy and a little disdainful. You know what a Rhodes scholar food fight is? Using the wrong fork. You know, I mean, it just -- that's not really contact...

HUNT: Somebody forgot to tell Bill Clinton those rules.

BENNETT: Yes, I know. That's right. Well, I mean, if Al Gore thinks this is tough, he should wait for the general -- at least I hope. I'm predicting something, that's true. He has not -- you know who I've really admired in this is Bob Kerrey, who has once more come forward as a truth teller in the Democrat Party.

NOVAK: He should have run.

BENNETT: Yes. His line about, Clinton remembered, an unusually good liar. Gore's problem is he's not as good a liar as Bill Clinton, and I think he can be nailed on that. Looks like he's getting the nomination, but I don't see him getting much more than the base. And you guys know better than I do, but if you're talking about a battle for independents, I don't know if McCain can get the conservative base, but I think McCain, if New Hampshire's any indication, pulls a lot more people in the middle than,,.

O'BEIRNE: And I agree with you that the kind of split John McCain enjoys is an antidote to Bill Clinton. And that is the same problem Al Gore is going to have. People are fed up with the distortions and the lying and the smearing, the kind of thing that Bill Bradley's complaining about.

HUNT: Well, let me pick up on that. I happened to respect Al Gore -- I think Margaret and I are probably alone on this panel on that -- but I think he has run -- his campaign has lacked any kind of moral compass. And it has engaged in some clear distortion. You also have to acknowledge, though, that rarely over a period of three or four months has a national politician turned things around this much. Bill, he actually runs even in a lot of national polls right now with George W. Bush, and he has had a superb three or four months, no matter what we may think of his campaign tactic.

NOVAK: He still...

BENNETT: Absolutely, absolutely. NOVAK: He still looks like a klutz when you...

O'BEIRNE: Well, maybe he has (OFF-MIKE)

NOVAK: Wait a minute. He has that laugh in the middle -- ho-ho- ho --and, you know, he's just not an attractive candidate.

O'BEIRNE: He's awkward, but he calls himself a fighter and he's been fighting and he'll fight.

HUNT: Margaret, I'm going to give you a quick final word.

CARLSON: Thanks. He only looks like an attractive candidate as compared to Bill Bradley, who makes it -- he campaigns as if the privilege is ours, while McCain campaigns as if the privilege is his. And...

HUNT: OK, final word goes to Margaret Carlson,

Bill Bennett...


HUNT: ... thanks for being with us.

THE GANG WILL BE back in a moment with "The Outrage of the Week.

ANNOUNCER: Our viewer "Outrage of the Week" is from E.C. Waltersheid from Los Alamos National Laboratory. He writes:

"The 'Outrage of the Week' is Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's announcement that he is requiring the Department of Energy labs to shut down and spend half a day on mandatory anti-discrimination training because of allegations of racial profiling. The only racial profiling that goes on at these labs is mandated by the federal government. It is called affirmative action."

If you have an outrage for next week, our address is Or call the toll free number at 1-888-847-8660. We'll choose one outrage to air at this same time next week on THE CAPITAL GANG.


HUNT: Welcome back.

And now for "The Outrage of the Week."

Every time we think politics is sinking to a new low, let's remember Richard Nixon. From the White House tapes of May 13, 1971, this is Nixon on blacks: "We're going to put those little Negro bastards on the welfare rolls."

On Greeks, quote: "Homosexuality destroyed them. Aristotle was a homo, you know," end quote.

On the Catholic Church: "The popes were laying the nuns. The church went to hell three or four centuries ago," end quote.

On the Bohemian Grove, quote: "The most faggy goddamned thing you can imagine," end quote.

An outrageous slur on blacks and Greeks. As for others, one Catholic who goes to the Bohemian Grove is Robert D. Novak.

NOVAK: There's a lot of Catholics.

The Irish Republican Army has been romanticized by Americans who should know better. It re-established itself this week as terrorists by breaking a previous agreement to hand over its arms, arms mostly supplied by Libya. That means the British will resume direct control of Northern Ireland, ending two hopeful months of Catholic-Protestant power sharing. The IRA's Gerry Adams, who has been feted in the salons of Washington, calls the IRA an undefeated army. In fact, it is a gang of murderers, and Adams is one of them.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: Outside a Gore campaign rally last week, one of the vice president's supporters called Bill Bradley ally Senator Bob Kerrey "a cripple," referring to the Medal of Honor winner's loss of a leg in Vietnam combat. Al Gore isn't responsible for the actions of every thug who is understandably drawn to his campaign, but instead of condemning the odious remark witnessed by numerous reporters, Gore denied the incident ever happened. And he's outraged that Bradley's labeled him a liar?

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: Thanks, Al.

Writer Dan Savage infiltrated Gary Bauer's campaign headquarters with one purpose: to infect Bauer with the flu virus and slow, he says, his anti-gay agenda. Savage licked door knobs and the rims of coffee cups and slobbered on a pen -- I'm not making this up. This isn't gonzo journalism, it's biological warfare. What's shocking is that "Salon" magazine printed the story and presumably paid Savage for his terrorism.

HUNT: You're right, Margaret.

And this is Al Hunt saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

CARLSON: Good night, Al.

HUNT: Next, CNN "SPORTS TONIGHT," on a college basketball battle of the powerhouse teams UConn versus Michigan State.


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