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Crossfire

Which Republican Candidate Would Democrats Rather Face in the Presidential Election?

Aired February 16, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You should be ashamed. You should be ashamed.

ALAN KEYES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Gentlemen.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. You ran an ad that equated me to Bill Clinton, you questioned my trustworthiness.

KEYES: Is this kind of pointless squabbling really what we want them to see?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, Republican presidential contenders beat up on each other. Can they beat the Democrat in the fall?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They can't run against the longest economic expansion in history or the lowest crime rate in 30 years or the lowest welfare rolls in 30 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour, a Bush supporter; and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn, an adviser to the Gore campaign.

MATALIN: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. The Republican presidential hopefuls gave it their all in a raucous, free-wheeling, fierce debate last night, which marked their last opportunity to appeal to South Carolinians, en masse, before their pivotal primary vote only three days from now. Today, McCain got Gary Bauer's backing, an endorsement meant to appeal to Bauer's base of Christian conservatives.

Meanwhile, the Democrats -- remember them? -- duke it out long distance. Campaigning hard in New York -- Bradley was campaigning hard in New York, a critical March 7 primary. He accused Gore, once again, of using scare tactics to discredit his health care plan while Gore stretched his campaign dollars by taking a vice presidential tour -- that's taxpayer-funded travel -- of Georgia's tornado damage.

Back on the home front, the president -- remember him? -- held his own free-wheeling and far-flung debate with the press corps, covering topics from the Social Security surplus to whether he'd surrender his law license in response to an ethics complaint. Actually, tame stuff compared to the campaign trail.

After the early contest, the front-runners hold their position nationally: Bush 58 percent, McCain 31, and Keyes 3 percent. On the Democratic side, Gore leads Bradley by a margin of 64 to 26 percent. But with many primaries ahead and already many unexpected twists and turns behind, the race for the White House remains red hot.

So tonight, what's really happening in South Carolina and what difference will that outcome have on the soon-to-follow subsequent primaries? Are the Republicans having a spirited contest or breaking up their party? And who would the Democrats rather run against? -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Of course, for the record, some of us believe that tornado victims should be helped even during political primaries. But I mean, that's beside the point...

MATALIN: Well, he said he was doing that.

PRESS: Haley Barbour, good evening. During the primaries, Gary Bauer, when he was in as a candidate, slammed, sort of, everybody during those debates. And after he dropped out, both George W. Bush and John McCain courted him. They wanted his support.

Gary Bauer chose today to go with John McCain, which certainly confirms John McCain's conservative credentials and also splits the Christian conservatives in South Carolina. Isn't that a double body- blow to George Bush two days before the primary?

HALEY BARBOUR, BUSH SUPPORTER: Well, it remains to be seen whether Gary's endorsement has any influence. I mean, in the one primary he ran in, he got 1 percent of the vote. He seems to think McCain is who he wants to be for, and that's great. It's a free country. I don't think it'll make much difference in the outcome.

I do notice that the vice president goes to Georgia at taxpayers' expense where there happens to be a primary in a couple of weeks. But you know, Bill, people are entitled to somebody to come. But it could be somebody beside the vice president.

PRESS: Well, 22 people were killed there, I would...

BARBOUR: The taxpayers could pay for somebody besides a candidate to go there.

PRESS: Twenty-two people were killed there, I think it's important enough for the vice president to go. But sticking to the Republican primary, let's talk about maybe a bigger body blow than Gary Bauer.

Bill Jones, a very attractive Republican, secretary of state in California, the top-ranking Republican, a former Bush supporter, today switched, switched from Bush to McCain. And he told the "L.A. Times," Haley, that he did it because he was upset by Bush's attack on McCain's non-Republican voters and Bush's reliance on negative advertising.

Here's what Bill Jones said -- quote -- "I don't want to see that come to California. I don't want to hear about the fact that my voters shouldn't vote. I don't want to see 70 negative ads running in California."

This big wall of yours is starting to crumble, isn't it, Haley?

BARBOUR: You know, Bill, it's interesting that the Democrats want to tear down Bush, but say, oh, McCain would be the toughest candidate to run against.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: No, I'm talking Bill Jones. He's a Republican, secretary of state, Republican.

BARBOUR: I'm talking about Bill Press, not Bill Jones.

PRESS: I'm (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Bill Jones.

BARBOUR: It's fine for you to be out there and try to make a big something out of this. But look, let's face the facts. George Bush is being challenged, has a tough challenge from a strong candidate in the primaries. I think he'll win South Carolina on Saturday. This is going to go from Saturday. Whoever wins the South Carolina primary is going to be the favorite in the rest of it.

And -- but you're going to see this continue to be about issues and differences on issues. And when one candidate goes out and attacks another, as McCain did Bush, he should expect to get it back. But at least for Bush, it was always on issues. It was always on taxes, it was always on campaign finance reform, never personal. And it won't get personal from Bush against McCain.

PRESS: Pardon me, Haley, in all that answer, you never spoke to Bill Jones from California. My point is, when Bill Jones says, I'm getting off this train, because I don't like the negative ads and I don't like the attacks on the fact that McCain is appealing to Democrats and independents, doesn't that indicate that everything that George Bush has done in South Carolina, according to this top Republican, not me, is wrong?

BARBOUR: In fact, it doesn't, Bill. What it does show is that he doesn't know the facts about South Carolina. He doesn't know the facts about the fact that the press never blew the whistle. Not just Bill Press -- but the news media -- never blew the whistle when McCain went all around New Hampshire for a 100-and-something stops and said, I've never voted for tax increase. And then, in fact, some advertising had to be run for people to know the facts.

Now, when there are factual differences on the issues, the public has a right to know it. And I think if Bill Jones had seen the ads, he would have said: hey, that's fair game. People ought to know what the differences are.

MATALIN: Peter, we haven't forgotten about those for whom we are destined to be victorious over.

(LAUGHTER)

The Bush...

PETER FENN, GORE ADVISER: You're talking about Pat Buchanan here or what?

MATALIN: Bush was asked about this taxpayer-funded travel of the vice president's today. And he said he wasn't as concerned about that as he was about the vice president's spending of taxpayer dollars period. Listen to what he had to say and I'll ask you a question about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Vice President Gore will be spending taxpayers' money and promises. That's what he'll be doing. He'll be traveling around saying, you've got to vote for me, because I'm going to build this or build that, or I'll spend this and spend that. He's going to be spending the taxpayers' money all right. But it's going to be on -- if he keeps in tune with his boss, these are prolific spenders. That's one reason why we've got to give people a tax cut.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: You know, even in this age of prosperity, Gore has been profligate. He spent the surplus, plus. And today's, though, was my perfect, perfect: "Computer literacy is a fundamental civil right." He is calling for Internet access in every home.

Is Gore ushering in not just the return to the era of big government, but government like we've never known it before?

FENN: Not at all. You know what? You've got a guy here who has cut government since he's been in there. There are fewer people there than there were since 1962. And the things he wants to spend money on are education, health care, programs that help people.

George Bush's problem is that he wants to give a tax cut, 62 percent of which goes to those who make over $200,000 a year. We want to give tax cuts to middle Americans, those that really need them, not those who have had their stock portfolios triple in the last four years: which, by the way, they can thank the Democrats for, of course, too. Right, Mary?

MATALIN: The engine of prosperity. I'm just not going to go there with you. OK, let's stay on Gore...

(LAUGHTER)

PRESS: Denial, denial.

MATALIN: No, no. I just don't want to kick him around on this false point of his.

(LAUGHTER)

FENN: Kick me around, go ahead.

MATALIN: Speaking of the leader of the false party, this is another thing. Actually, this is the best line of the entire debate last night, spoken of by George Bush. Listen to this for a second.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Well, let me say one other thing about Clinton. There's not a lot of mothers and dads naming their sons Bill Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: OK, this really has nothing to do with my question. But I did notice that the vice president...

FENN: You wanted to get it in.

MATALIN: I just loved it so much. The vice president bragged today that when he broke with the administration on the Republican nominee to the FEC, but he bragged saying: "It's the first time I've called for the defeat of a presidential nominee." Is this vice president still having that approach-avoidance thing to his mentor and...

FENN: No, no, no, not at all! I mean, look, the great economy that we were just talking about for eight years, he's working very hard to claim credit for that. And he should because he was right there at the president's right arm.

But this appointment to the Federal Election Commission is a Republican slot; the Republicans wanted it; the Republicans wanted to push this guy through; and they said, we're not going to clear your judges unless you give us this appointment. And Clinton went and put it forth. I think the guy looks like a total turkey myself. So I agree with Gore on this one.

MATALIN: I'm talking about Gore's been running out there and bragging.

FENN: I think Gore's right.

BARBOUR: Here's the thing Gore that doesn't like about him: He wants to put an end to the unions taking their members' money, to taking their members' money out of the dues treasury, people that are compelled to pay union dues. And 40 percent of them are Republicans, and this Federal Election Commissioner nominee says we ought to stop that. Now the Democrats and Albert Gore -- they talk campaign finance reform, but they'll never let that be reformed.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: This fellow says freedom to speak is freedom to spend, there should be no limits, take it off. He's totally against any kind of federal finance reform. That's what that guy's for, and let's...

PRESS: Haley.

FENN: Go ahead.

PRESS: I want to ask you about this latest charge against John McCain -- which I find so amusing -- is that John McCain is appealing to Democrats and independents. It's -- suddenly, there's something wrong with this. I remember when George Bush first started running, the big argument for him was, he can do for the nation what he did in Texas, attract Democrats and independents. What's so wrong about what McCain is doing, did in New Hampshire and seems to be doing in South Carolina, Haley?

BARBOUR: In fact, this morning in South Carolina or yesterday morning in South Carolina, George Bush made the point very clearly: We welcome independents and Democrats voting in our primaries -- they've voted in our primaries all our lives -- when their Democrats and independents who intend or will consider voting Republican in November. We want conservative and moderate Democrats and independents. They're more than welcome.

What we don't want is what we're seeing being attempted by the McCain campaign and actually being implemented in Michigan by the labor unions, where the unions are openly, publicly going out and saying, hey, union members, go vote for McCain in the Republican primary, even though we're all for going to be for Gore in November. Now that's what we don't want, Bill. And there is a big, big difference between using people who would never vote Republican in November to try to trip a primary and people who really might, who are the most welcome.

PRESS: Here's what I find amusing about this, Haley, is those of us around Washington know that this whole opening up of the process, in the South particularly, is part of the Southern primary project that was adopted by the Republican National Committee and Chairman Haley Barbour, and at that time you said -- quote...

(CROSSTALK)

BARBOUR: That's what I said right now.

PRESS: "Over the last 30 years, people who vote Republican in the primary," says Haley Barbour, "almost always vote Republican no matter what." You're contradicting yourself Haley. You're saying to Republicans who come to vote for John McCain are going to boot. That's not what you said when you developed your Southern primary project. BARBOUR: In fact, what I said in 1988, not when I was chairman, but when we did the Southern Republican Primary Project, was exactly what I just said now, that people who are Democrats and independents who typically vote Republican in November, we want them to come to vote in our primaries.

PRESS: Even if they vote for John McCain?

BARBOUR: I don't care who they vote for.

But what we don't want, Bill, is what the Democrats are trying to prove. And it's interesting to me, you've got the union saying, go vote for McCain in the Michigan primary openly. And you know what? And then they say, but of course Bush would be the easiest to beat. That's why we're trying to get people to vote for McCain.

FENN: Either one of them. Let them each come. It's Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum out there. But what's happening in South Carolina I think is very interesting, because you've got the Normandy invasion coming in there. You've got Bush going hard right, Bob Jones University. You've got Dan Quayle coming in, Rush Limbaugh coming in. You've got right-to-life guys coming in. This is the Normandy invasion in there, isn't it in South Carolina?

PRESS: All right, on that note, we do have to take a break. And when we come back, we'll ask the most important question of all: Why should anybody vote for either one of these two Republicans? When we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Two more days of shaking hands and then the voting begins in South Carolina, where the stakes are indeed enormous. If McCain wins, do the wheels fall off the mighty Bush machine? If Bush wins, is he then unstoppable? And what role will the Democrats play in upcoming Republican primaries? We analyze it all tonight with two experts: Haley Barbour, a Bush supporter and former Republican National Chairman and Democratic strategist and Gore adviser Peter Fenn -- Mary.

MATALIN: Peter, I want to give you an opportunity to be an equal-opportunity basher. I know you want to bash all of our boys. so let's switch to McCain. I thought last night he was trying to portray himself simultaneously as a war hero and a victim -- victimology is what you guys do -- was discordant. Do you think he's going to be able to maintain that kind of dual personality for the remaining primaries?

FENN: Listen I think anytime somebody comes and tries to whine about negative ads they get in trouble, and he did look to me last night like a whiner. You know, it's true that over the last month, McCain has been the flavor of the month. I think that they're going to look a lot closer now at both of these guys. They're going to see that they've got two ultraconservatives there. Their records aren't going to differ that much on the issues. One may speak to Bob Jones University and one may not. But you know, there aren't going to be a lot of Democrats who are going to and vote for either one of these guys, Haley, I hate to tell you.

MATALIN: Well, let me ask you this. Bill and I went to this Democratic thing last night. All Democrats, and they all were lining up squealing like pigs about McCain -- oh, we're so afraid of McCain. Are they really saying we're so concerned that either of these guys are going to take down Gore? Is that what they really think? Why are they so prematurely panicked over McCain?

FENN: Look, I think this thing has gone up and down, up and down. I think some people were nervous about McCain. He looks like he's surging. You know, he's written a great book. He's a hero. Other people looked at Bush at the beginning, and said, boy, this guy is going to be tough, look at all the support he's got; look at his ability to raise money; he's got $100 million to drop on us, we're going to be in trouble.

I mean, everybody does this. The Republicans are looking at us, thinking, oh, look at that Al Gore, we've got a new Al Gore. He's coming on strong. I mean, my sense of this is, look, once it gets down to substance over style, you're going to have two, as I said, very conservative guys, who don't want to continue their economic prosperity the way it's been going, who don't want to...

(CROSSTALK)

BARBOUR: ... now that's for sure.

FENN: They're going to give you tax cuts that are going to blow this whole thing out of the water. That's what they're going to do, unfortunately. You know, the difficulty with the Republicans is they can't campaign on issues right now. They don't want to talk about education. They don't want to help talk about health care. They don't want to talk about the economy. They don't want to talk about crime even.

(CROSSTALK)

BARBOUR: That's what Bush talks about all the time. And the press doesn't like to cover it, when Bush talks about having done health care reform in Texas, having done civil justice reform in Texas, having done criminal justice reform in Texas, having the two biggest tax cuts in the state's history.

(CROSSTALK)

BARBOUR: ... rural education reform in Texas that is nationally recognized as successful. But the press doesn't want to cover substance. You are right about that.

PRESS: Mr. Chairman, remember, we agreed that victimology is out. So let's move on to something. I'd like to read you a statement and put it up the screen so our viewers can read it at the same time. Quote: "We believe that the Lord God created races with distinctions, and that the races are meant to be separate from one another. We basically accepted there are three races: Caucasians, Negroes and Orientals. Caucasians can't date Orientals. Orientals can't date Caucasians. And neither of them can date Negroes."

That, of course, is the official policy of Bob Jones University. Their the words of Bob Jones III.

John McCain didn't say that George Bush was un-American to go there, but he said that policy is un-American. You agree, don't you?

BARBOUR: Yes. George Bush said so too. George Bush -- he didn't use the words un-American. George Bush said that that policy is offensive to him, it's wrong. I happen to agree with George Bush. That's the wrong policy.

PRESS: But you also -- do you also agree that it's un-American?

BARBOUR: Well, sure it's un-American.

PRESS: Well, if so, then do you agree with what Alan Keyes said last night in the Republican debate? Let's remind everybody what Alan Keyes said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN KEYES (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Does leadership consist in going into Bob Jones University where serious questions, in fact, do exist about religious bigotry and racial bigotry, going in, taking the applause, risking nothing because you refuse to raise the issues? That's what G.W. Bush did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Alan Keyes was right on, wasn't he? It wasn't leadership to go there and say nothing about that policy, was it?

BARBOUR: You know, Bill, I just totally don't accept that a bit. You've got a school there with 7,000 students that has been -- despite some wrongheaded policies that they have -- they have been very good citizens of upper North -- of upper South Carolina. There are a lot of -- it's a fine Christian school. Again, they've got some wrongheaded policies that I disagree with and George disagrees with. At the same time, it is a good opportunity for Governor Bush as a compassionate conservative to go in front of other conservatives and say, here's why we conservatives believe what we're doing is compassionate, because we believe the people who were on welfare before we passed welfare reform are better off now, and that the liberals who fought welfare reform for years and years actually kept those people trapped."

I think when he goes in front of a conservative group and says, here's why -- here's what compassionate conservatism is and here's why it's right, that's just what he ought to be doing.

PRESS: But Haley, you're not telling me that you would go anywhere for a vote, are you?

BARBOUR: What I'm telling you is politicians all the time speak to groups they don't agree with. I am sure Albert Gore...

PRESS: KKK rally?

BARBOUR: I'm sure Albert Gore -- look, the Democrat governor of South Carolina has gone to Bob Jones University to speak. I doubt if he agrees with everything. And I'm going to promise you: Albert Gore is going to go in front of a lot of groups this year. They're going to say things.

I mean, when Hillary Clinton was speaking in Jordan and the wife of the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization got up, you're all the time as a politician speaking to people that don't agree with you on everything.

MATALIN: We only have time to say this: Al Gore did go see that racist Al Sharpton but he lied about it and told the press he was going to go see his daughters. So end of that question.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: We have to say goodbye to our (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Good night, Peter. Good night, Haley. Bill and I will be right back with our closing comments, the truth, when we return on CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: You know what: I'm going to pick up on this theme of Al Gore and his veracity capacity, which is so minimal. He put out a new ad today called "The Fighter," which once again lies, OK. All of his other ads have been called misleading, flatly untrue. He's done it again. He went out -- despite his advantage in the polls right now, he went out and said that Bradley's Medicare plan is going to now hurt people who have AIDS, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) saying it's going to hurt people that have -- Latinos and African-Americans.

The guy just cannot open his mouth and tell the truth. And what I don't understand is why, when he's already so far ahead of Bradley, he just doesn't take the high road. That's why we're concerned about -- either of these guys are going to beat Gore. We're not at all concerned about him.

PRESS: Either of these guys are going to beat either Bush or McCain. But you know, Mary, what I think -- you talk about the Democrats. Let me talk for a second about the Republicans. What's happening in South Carolina I find is really exciting. Despite all the money, despite all the endorsements that Bush has, the GOP establishment and the Christian Coalition are getting knocked on their behind, and I'm sorry that you're with the old guard.

MATALIN: What have you prognosticated? You know what's going to happen on Saturday already? PRESS: You bet. You watch. David beats Goliath. From the left, I am Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: On the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow night.

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