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Capital Gang

Bush, McCain Stage Air War in South Carolina

Aired February 12, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to the 600th -- count them -- edition of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne.

Our guest is Jeffrey Bell, senior adviser to Gary Bauer's presidential campaign.

It's great to have you back, Jeff.


SHIELDS: Thank you.

Governor George W. Bush and Senator John McCain attacked each other in TV ads in South Carolina.


ANNOUNCER: John McCain's ad about Governor Bush's tax plan isn't true, and McCain knows it. McCain's plan? A tax cut smaller than Clinton's, and not a penny in tax cuts for 30 million Americans. On taxes, McCain echoes Washington Democrats.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Bush's campaign is getting desperate with a negative ad about me. His ad twists the truth like Clinton. We're all pretty tired of that.


SHIELDS: One South Carolina voter complained about a phone call to her son.


DONNA DUREN: He was so upset when he came upstairs, and he said, "Mom, someone told me that Senator McCain is a cheat, and a liar and a fraud." And he was almost in tears. (END VIDEO CLIP)


MCCAIN: I want this stopped, and I hope that Governor Bush will stop it also.



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our campaign isn't doing that kind of polling. If anybody is doing that kind of polling, I'm going to fire them.


SHIELDS: Yesterday, Senator McCain changed course.


MCCAIN: We are pulling our response ad off the airways. We will put up positive ads. We will run no attack, response or any other kind of negative advertising. For the rest of the campaign, we will put out positive ads.



BUSH: The senator has run an ad saying I'm like Bill Clinton, and he's left it up for a long enough period of time to have its impact. That's the old Washington-style game.


SHIELDS: A current "Newsweek" poll shows a three point Bush lead in South Carolina.

Bob Novak, who has the momentum in the Palmetto State?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, they came out of New Hampshire, and Bush was dead in the water, and McCain was really rolling. So in that sense, obviously, Bus has gained a little momentum and McCain has lost some. But nobody knows who's going to win that campaign.

The interesting thing to me is that trying to combat this war hero, who is totally detached from issues, who was campaigning on his personality and his aura, Governor Bush says, hey, he tells the he truth in ads: The guy has a lousy tax plan. He has a tax plan that is less than Clinton's. That's the fact.

And then I would say that Senator McCain comes back with a genuine negative ad, in which he compares him to Clinton, which is the worst thing you can do, compares Bush to Clinton. That's the worst thing you can do with a Republican, and then he says, OK, no more negative ads. I think the justification of it lies with Bush.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, even though Senator McCain tax plan is endorsed by a three-to-one margin according to CNN/Gallup poll over Governor Bush's in South Carolina. So I don't know if Bob's using the tax issue is really going to big a big help for Governor Bush. is it?

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL: I'm going to ignore much of the silly things that Bob.

But, Bob. I'm going to try to explain this to you now. I want you to listen carefully, because it involves numbers, and you're not very good with numbers. Here's what it is: 277,000. That's the first number I want you to remember. That's the number of people that voted in the South Carolina primary, Mark, in 1996. If that same number of votes this time or 5 or 10 percent more, George Bush will win, if that universe stays the same. If on the other hand, there is a surge of 400,000 people who vote, then it ought to be a very good night for John McCain.

Remember, Karl Rove, the chief Bush strategist said, we did fine in New Hampshire. The problem was all those darned people who should have stayed at home came out and voted for John McCain. So that's the key in South Carolina.

I do believe that McCain made a mistake in going negative, along with Bush, certainly not any more negative, probably not as negative as Bush. But Chuck Hagel told Bob and me in an interview earlier -- Chuck Hagel of Nebraska...


HUNT: On the "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" show. That was a big mistake. He's right. I think McCain probably this time has shrewdly gotten back on the positive, and I think it will probably help him.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, who's winning?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, I think Al is right, polls tell us George Bush leads John McCain two to one among Republican voters and John McCain leads George Bush two to one among independent. We don't know how many of them are going to be showing up.

I do think that the whole -- what's been happening since South Carolina, despite all the flailing around on the part of Bush campaign, the general debates in arguments over negative ads hurts John McCain more than it hurts George Bush. Doesn't help politicians overall, but McCain, I think, has more to lose with the negative stuff. He's running this personality campaign. He doesn't want coverage on these fights back and forth.

He did, of course, go far more negative than George Bush did by comparing George Bush, on the matter of being trustworthy, with Clinton. I assume he's pulled out, not because he's so high-minded, but because his own polls show it is backfiring. I'm sure Republican voters resent it. And it could weight out the negative ads back and forth, keep down turnout, which also helps George Bush.

He is distorting George Bush's record on Social Security and taxes, and I'm just amused at the latest -- the latest way in which John McCain does of being negative, of waging a negative, is accusing the other guy of being negative, and he's really brought that to a fine art.

SHIELDS: Jeffrey Bell, the McCain people were upset, and it was authentically so, over this "push polling," and that is I call say, whom are you for? Are you for Governor Bush or Senator McCain? And if you say Sen. McCain, I'd say, well, did you know Senator McCain, of course, has been in chapter 11, you know, he's never returned his library books and all sorts of other things. Did you see any evidence of that on the campaign?

BELL: I believe the well-funded campaigns are increasingly resorting to this method. I think it probably happened in Iowa. I can't say for sure from whom. But I don't like it, because it enables a distortion to get by under the radar screen. If you put an ad that has a distortion, you are can reply to it. Everybody can see whether its' right or wrong, you can rebut it, but it's very hard to get a handle on this thing when it's coming by a whole bunch telephone calls.

SHIELDS: OK, I have to say one thing. This race reminds me of Gerry Ford against Ronald Reagan. The establishment is all lined up one side, all endorsements to Congress, the big party givers, and all the rest with Ford, and Reagan had the endorsement of a grand total 14 members of Congress, and he reached across party lines. He reached into Democrats. He reached into independents. And what the Bush people are saying, if we keep this really small, if we can just get the 11 people that belong to country club to vote, we'll win.

NOVAK: There is huge...

O'BEIRNE: Ronald Reagan had the conservative rank-and-file of the Republicans parting with him, and they're lining up increasingly with George Bush.

NOVAK: Let's take a look at what Kate said, because you may not like to talk about this in ideological terms, but there's very little that's conservative or Republican about McCain's campaign, not about McCain now, but about McCain's campaign. It's not a Republican campaign. It's not a conservative campaign. It's not Democratic, and it's not liberal. It's highly individualistic, and based on his personality and his biography. That's not the Republicans. Republicans campaign was very ideological. Reagan's campaign was very ideological.


HUNT: I hope you give us a choice rather than an echo, Bob. So once again, I'm disappointed in you. But let me just go this point that my friend Kate and Bob both make, namely that the Bush ads, well, they're just OK, they're comparative, but the McCain ads are really negative. Wrong. I mean, let me tell you something, if you want to talk about negativity, there is no difference, and I do not think McCain has misrepresented George Bush's tax plan. In fact, it you would exceed the budget surplus for the next 10 years, no question.

SHIELDS: Jeffrey Bell, who's right?

BELL: I believe that this is a campaign not about ideology, not about issues, certainly not about endorsements, as you point out. This is a campaign about who is not Clinton, who is the least like Clinton, and when you get into the mud, and I think McCain went a little too far for the image of his campaign, you endanger your status as not-Clinton of year 2000.

NOVAK: So who's winning the not-Clinton?

SHIELDS: Last word, Jeffrey Bell. Jeff Bell and the GANG will be back with the GOP establishment on inflating the reality of John McCain, and painfully so, so it seems to Robert Novak.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

The Republican Senate majority leader made a virtual endorsement of his colleague John McCain's principal opponent.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MO), MAJORITY LEADER: All I'm saying is that I think George Bush, with his experience as an executive and his character and integrity and leadership skills, is the best man for the job.

SEN. MIKE DEWINE (R) OHIO: The fact that John McCain is doing well with Republicans, very well, but he's doing unbelievably well with independents means that he is the person who is most likely to be elected in the fall.


SHIELDS: The CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll shows Bush beating Vice President Gore by 9 points, but John McCain beating the Democrat by 22 points.

Kate, can the Grand Old Party's regulars swallow John McCain?

O'BEIRNE: Governor Bush's Republican supporters that I've spoken to this week are still hoping they don't have to decide that question. The most hopeful among them, argue that the McCain challenge has been really helpful to the governor, it gives the governor an opportunity to fight for the nomination now. Nobody will accuse him of just having inherited it -- those are the most hopeful. Others recognize the McCain challenge as a big problem.

They no longer argue, obviously, about the inevitability of George Bush, but they still argue he's more electable in the fall than John McCain. they'll tell you that. John McCain has all these vulnerable votes that he's cast as a senator, that the media that loves John McCain is bound to turn on him, that he'll have a fractured base. He certainly does have pro-lifers who are going to have a very hard time with John McCain.

But if George Bush cannot decisively beat back this challenge in the next few primaries, it's going to be harder and harder for his supporters to make the electability case about the fall. And I think an awful lot of establishment figures will begin talking themselves into John McCain.

SHIELDS: Al, George Bush's entire candidacy has been based upon personal likability, electability in Texas, big record, big victory, popular governor, and he was going to win. He was going to beat Al Gore, he was going to beat Bill Bradley, any of them. Hasn't that gone by the boards when McCain is leading by two to one.

HUNT: yes, Mark. And I'll tell you. I think one of the most provocative and prescient books about politics in recent times was written by our guest today, Jeffrey Bell, who talked about the difference between elites and populists. And if you look at this campaign, it transcends ideology. There is no question that George W. Bush is the candidate of the elites and that John McCain has captured the populist mantle -- whether Bob likes it or not. And I think that's just -- that's just undeniable.

The second point I would make is that there are more and more polls like that national poll when you look at state polls. New Hampshire to California show Gore beating Bush and -- but losing to McCain. And I don't think -- Democrats at least have no doubt that John McCain is the candidate they fear in the fall. And I think if that continues, then the Republican establishment's going to have an agonizing choice. Only two people can be elected president, it may dawn on them some day, Al Gore and John McCain. And some of them will have a tough time deciding which they want.

SHIELDS: Jeffrey Bell, are the elitists behind George Bush?

BELL: Oh, sure. But those same elitists will swing behind McCain in a microsecond if he seems to be clinching the nomination.

I think that contrary to Al -- and thank you for your kudos for the book -- but in this situation, the real thing is the desire to end the Clinton era. I believe that -- I've come to believe that ideology doesn't matter, that an agenda -- sadly, I wish it were otherwise -- doesn't matter. It's just who is likely to end the Clinton era. At one time the voters seem to think it was appropriate go back to the Bush years, have a Bush sandwich around the Clinton years. But now the McCain thing seems equally appealing.

But I do think that Al Gore is winning ugly and that people do not want to think about the Clinton era as being one-third over, with years of Gore and eight years of Hillary to come.

SHIELDS: All right, Bob Novak, I don't know if you're -- you fancy yourself a populist, but you're lined up with the elites this time. NOVAK: I'm more of a populist than Hunt is, I know that. that's the last claim I can have.

You know, Mark, the -- I cannot stress to you how much the Republicans in Congress, House and Senate, dislike John McCain. I've talked to a lot of them. And when Trent Lott, who wasn't going to endorse anybody, gives a virtual endorsement -- he says it was an endorsement -- it just indicates how frantic they are. They just don't like him. That's why they -- the Senate Republican senators go down to South Carolina.

The one conservative senator who really likes John McCain is Phil Gramm of Texas -- McCain supported him for president -- but Gramm campaigned against him there strictly on ideological grounds. He just can't -- he doesn't like his policies on campaign finance reform or taxation. But will they swallow him? I agree with Jeff -- in a minute.

SHIELDS: Let me just tell you one thing. The key to this whole race was this week. Dan Balz, Susan Glasser, "Washington Post" piece about the Republican "team 100," the big givers who raise $100,000. Private meeting in Florida after New Hampshire, they were warned by their co-chair, if John McCain wins, we're out of business. They know it, Bob. They're scared.

BELL: That's why Phil Gramm can't stand him.

SHIELDS: That's why Phil Gramm is terrified.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, Bill Clinton begins his very last chapter.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

President Clinton beginning his last year in the White House presented a $1.8 trillion budget that raised spending 2.5 percent.


SEN, PETE DOMENICI (R-NM), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Is this an overt, conscious effort to put so many spending programs on the line that there will be nothing left of any significance to give back to the American taxpayers?

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now I am not running for anything. I am not on the ballot. I am telling you this as an American. I have waited for 30 long years to see my country in a position to pull together and move forward together and build the future of our dreams for our children. We dare not blow that chance.


SHIELDS: Al, is President Clinton really saying that big government is back?

HUNT: Mark, under this budget spending percentage as a percentage of the economy is about 18.5 percent less...

SHIELDS: Eighteen and a half.

HUNT: ... less than it was during the Reagan years. It goes down under Clinton's proposal to 16.7 percent in nine years, lowest since Eisenhower. To call that big government, as Bob would, is more Coolidge than it is Franklin Roosevelt.


HUNT: And, Mark, let me just make one other point if I can. I think there's some good stuff in here. And there are also a lot of what are called "charming miniatures," these sort of little, politically strategically placed initiatives that Clinton is now famous for. There are gimmicks and games in this budget as there are in all budgets, not nearly as many as there are in those who claim there's a $1.9 trillion non-Social Security surplus over the next 10 years. That's true only if you go and you reinstate those spending cuts and you -- those spending caps, and you cut education, you cut health, you crime control...


HUNT: You want to do that? Then you can have that tax cut that Bob wants.

SHIELDS: Bob, it's more Coolidge than it is...

NOVAK: Listen, I...

SHIELDS: I mean, now seriously. I mean...

NOVAK: I know Calvin Coolidge and Bill Clinton is no Coolidge, let me assure you of that.

SHIELDS: Thank God.

NOVAK: I'm embarrassed and ashamed that my good friend Al Hunt has swallowed that bologna because this is -- the truth of the matter is this is little government multiplied so many times it amounts to big government. The budget -- the addition in discretionary spending, spending you don't have to spend, for the next 10 years the addition is $1.3 billion. There are 83 new programs, 155 -- no, big...

O'BEIRNE: Trillion.

HUNT: That's teeny, Bob.

O'BEIRNE: Trillion.

NOVAK: Try $1.3 trillion...

HUNT: Make as much as he does you get those confused.

NOVAK: ... $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years, 83 new programs 155 spending increases. My favorite sound bite of the year -- of course the year isn't too far advanced -- is President...

SHIELDS: No, it's only February.

NOVAK: ... is President Clinton's sound bite that we showed. He is so happy to have a budget, because you always wondered what a liberal would do if he got a surplus. He will spend it, and spend it as fast as he can.

SHIELDS: Well, I have to say, Kate, that Bill Clinton came to office with biggest deficit in the history of the country and now has the biggest surplus, and Al says spending is going down. He does sound like Coolidge. Coolidge -- wasn't Coolidge surpluses and lower spending?

NOVAK: He was a tax cutter.

O'BEIRNE: Ronald Reagan was actually right. Remember when said, "I don't worry about deficit. It's big enough to take care of itself." With a great economy and tax receipts coming into Washington, Ronald Reagan was right, it took care of itself. This budget of course is exhibit a in the argument Governor Bush makes: If you leave this money in Washington, it will be spent, but the president will have a lot of friends spending the money with him.

NOVAK: Right.

O'BEIRNE: The Republicans are going to see him and raise him on education spending. They of course want to increase defense spending.

SHIELDS: Highways.

O'BEIRNE: Exactly. Mideast peace spending, veterans health care, and of course debt reduction is another; it seems to me exhibit a, and how the fallacy of debt reduction. All other these other populous spending initiatives, or those with spending lobbies, are always going to beat out the abstract goal of debt reduction. I think there will be early compromises. The Republicans do not want to be here in the fall, trying to spend their way out of town in election year. And there will be a lot of bipartisan spending going on.

SHIELDS: Jeff Bell, usually budgets, when one party controls the Congress, the other controls the White House. It's 11 months of posturing and posing, and then about three weeks of really concentrated work where they write a budget.

Is this going to be a political document in this campaign year 2000?

BELL: Of course it's political, and -- but rather than get bogged down into the billions and the percentages...

NOVAK: Trillions.

BELL: What is the rationale? I really, frankly, am puzzled. Bill Clinton is giving away the store on being a "New Democrat." The whole imagery of this budget is spend, spend, spend, you can't do anything for yourself, let me a government step in and do it. If I were Al Gore, I would be worried about this budget.

SHIELDS: Do you think Al Gore is worried?

NOVAK: It's a Gore budget. Gore is as big a spender as he is.

HUNT: One year ago today, Bill Clinton had either just escaped impeachment or just about to escape impeachment, and today, he's the dominant figure in this budget fight with Congress. That really is pretty remarkable, says something about the Republican Party.


NOVAK: I've got to add one thing that I -- out of all those 83 new proposals, I...

HUNT: Did you count them?

NOVAK: Yes, I did. I predict that Republicans will pass a lot of them, because they're nearly as bad as he is.

SHIELDS: Now that's the most depressing thing you've said all day, Bob, even including Coolidge. Jeff Bell, thanks for being with us.

The GANG will be back with the "Outrage of the Week."

ANNOUNCER: Our "viewer Outrage of the Week" is from Nathan Jenkins. He writes, "Republicans hurt their chances of a 2000 election victory by associating themselves with issues far from the core feelings of Americans. Any campaign identifying itself with a measure to amend the Constitution to prevent abortion will lose the support of young people and women. School prayer and posting the Ten Commandments are similar issues. Keep church and state separate. Good riddance, Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

And now for the "Outrage of the Week." American journalism has lost a true giant. For 50 wonderful years the brilliant and bold writing of Art Hoppe on the pages of the "San Francisco Chronicle" made us who were lucky enough to read him laugh and made us think. As gracious and person as he was graceful in prose, Art Hoppe had the most gentle put-downs for his angry critics. He would write, quote, "I'm sorry. If you continue to complain, I will have to cancel your subscription," end quote. Art Hoppe will be missed -- Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Great columnist he was.

SHIELDS: He was.

NOVAK: The United Nations reports that Serbs in Kosovo currently come under violent attack by the Albanian majority, seeking revenge. The report says that out of 20,000 Serbs who lived in Pristina in 1998, only 700 to 800 remain. Where are the U.N. peacekeepers? Where is the outrage by President Clinton and Senator McCain expressed when Albanians were the victims of ethnic cleansing? Nowhere. Such is the result of military force by NATO and the U.S. to end ancient ethnic struggles in the Balkans.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: This week, Hillary Rodham Clinton, or just plain "Hillary" to the voters in her adopted state, declared both her candidacy and her refusal to vote in the Senate for any Supreme Court nominee who opposes abortion. Hillary's intent to blackball antiabortion candidates, regardless of their judicial views, rules out anyone with traditional religious beliefs, an outrageous discriminatory litmus test that even Al Gore rejects.

SHIELDS: Albert Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, George W. Bush is decidedly not a bigot, but in going to Bob Jones University in South Carolina, he was pandering to Pat Robertson's intolerant right. Bob Jones Jr., former president of this college, has called the pope -- quote -- "demon possessed" -- end quote -- and the Catholic Church -- quote -- "a satanic system" -- end quote. Bob Jones is disgracefully racist, and still bans interracial dating. Any Democratic candidate who went to institution run by, say, a black racist like Louis Farrakhan would be condemned, rightly so. Bob Jones is just as offensive.

SHIELDS: Last word Al Hunt.

This is Mark Shields saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG.

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" tracks Tiger Woods, trying to keep his streak alive.


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