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Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields

Ralph Reed and Warren Rudman Discuss the Results of the South Carolina Primary

Aired February 20, 2000 - 11:00 a.m. ET

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

ANNOUNCER: From South Carolina, EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS.

Now, Robert Novak and Mark Shields.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: I'm Robert Novak from the campaign trail in Columbia, South Carolina. Mark Shields and I will question two of the leading South Carolina supporters of Governor George W. Bush and Senator John McCain.

MARK SHIELDS, CO-HOST: They are Bush adviser Ralph Reed and McCain national co-chairman former Senator Warren Rudman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHIELDS (voice-over): After a decisive loss to Texas Governor George W. Bush in Saturday's South Carolina primary election, Senator John McCain of Arizona delivered a concession statement implicitly critical of his victorious opponent.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... a choice between my optimistic and welcoming conservatism and the negative message of fear; a choice between a record of reform and an empty slogan of reform; a choice between experience and pretense...

GOV. JOHN ENGLER (R), MICHIGAN: His behavior tonight in that speech was somewhat surprising and in sharp contrast, I think, to the gracious approach that Governor Bush took after he just got pounded in New Hampshire.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHIELDS: ... late Saturday night for Michigan which holds its presidential primary two days from now on Tuesday.

Warren Rudman, former U.S. senator from New Hampshire, is the national co-chairman of the McCain campaign. We'll begin with Senator Rudman, and we'll talk to Ralph Reed later.

Warren Rudman, down in Charleston, we've been told all the way through that New Hampshire and South Carolina were the do-or-die states for John McCain. He did New Hampshire, but, in South Carolina, he died. Can he survive in Michigan? Is this over?

RUDMAN: Oh, I don't think it's over, and we'll see what happens in Michigan and Arizona.

This was a very different election in so many ways. I think the most interesting thing that I saw coming out of the exit polling last night was that roughly one-third of the people who voted here in this record turnout identified themselves as members of the Christian right, and they went 68 percent for Governor Bush. Of the remaining two-thirds, John McCain won the election, 52 to 48. The Christian Coalition and the Christian right are not nearly as important in Michigan and Arizona as they were here, and only time will tell.

SHIELDS: What does John McCain have to do differently other than face a different electorate in those two states? Obviously, he was not connecting in the same way with the conservative base of the Republican Party here in South Carolina.

RUDMAN: Well, he wasn't connecting, it seems to me, for several reasons, and one of the most important is the under-the-radar-screen campaign against John McCain here was downright vicious. I've heard it, I've seen it, I've talked to people down here. I'm not saying that Governor Bush did this. There were, as you know, all kinds of other groups in this state. Tobacco is here. The right-to-life organization spending a lot of soft money attacking John McCain. He was outspent 10 to 1. That will not happen in Michigan.

NOVAK: Senator Rudman, the exit polls show that the Republicans supported Governor Bush here in South Carolina better than two to one. Nationally, Republicans in the polls seem to support the senator -- the governor over Senator McCain about two to one. And even in Michigan, there's about a 19-point lead. How in the world, sir, can a Republican win the Republican nomination if the Republican voters, as opposed to Democrats and independents, are against him?

RUDMAN: Well, Bob, let me point out to you that many of the voters in this country do not know John McCain or what he stands for. In New Hampshire where we have good, solid Republican voters, he carried the Republican voters, he carried conservative Republican voters, he carried across the board, and I dare say, as his message gets carried across the country, that will change.

Here in South Carolina, again, he was painted as something he is not. Everyone who knows John McCain knows he is a conservative member of the United States Senate. You'd hardly know that from looking at what went on down here.

NOVAK: Well, maybe -- maybe it's -- doesn't it seem strange, though, sir, that so many Americans find Senator McCain quite an attractive new personality, but, in all the polling over the whole country, they -- the Republicans find him considerably less attractive. What is the -- what is it that they find unattractive in your candidate, that they prefer George Bush two to one over him?

RUDMAN: Well, I don't think they know him. I think Governor Bush -- certainly, they don't know him either, but they certainly know his name. I think that only time will tell, Bob. I mean, we'll get through Michigan, Arizona, on to the 7th of March, and we'll see what broad constituencies that don't have very heavily lobbied special interest groups within them do with John McCain's candidacy. As John said last night, he said to me before, if he loses, he loses. He's been through far worse.

SHIELDS: Warren Rudman, Governor Bush made you an issue in the South Carolina campaign in the debate. When defending his own campaign's tactics, he -- he mentioned your own attacks upon the religious right. Could you tell us -- set the record -- what -- what did you do to attack the Christian Coalition?

RUDMAN: Well, I was rather surprised at that because it was totally out of context. In the book I wrote, "Combat in the United -- Twelve Years in the United States Senate," a few years ago, I had a passage in there in which I talked about the Christian right. I said several things. I said that, in my view, most of the members of that were good people, believed in what they believed in, and I didn't have a problem with them.

What I had a problem was -- with was the leadership, including Ralph Reed, who will be on your program later. You may recall that back in 1996 when General Colin Powell -- I think one of the truly great Americans -- announced he was a Republican, he might run for the presidency, a group of right-wing organizations, including Ralph Reed's, attacked him, and they attacked him not only on his stands, but they attacked him as a military officer, and they attacked his character. I have a transcript of that. It was pretty bad stuff.

I said in the book that those people were ignorant and they were bigoted, and I stand by that statement.

SHIELDS: Well, do you think -- Warren Rudman, after watching the South Carolina campaign you've described in rather graphic detail, do you think the Governor George Bush now has such an obligation to or an identification with the religious right, it would make him unelectable in November?

RUDMAN: Well, I wouldn't say unelectable, but let me simply say that the talk around here last night amongst most of the press I talked to is some of the things that there were done and said here in South Carolina, if he is the nominee, will make it more difficult against Al Gore. I buy that.

NOVAK: Senator, last -- last night in his concession statement, Senator McCain indicated that he thought that the -- he implied, I should say, that Governor Bush was not a real reformer, that he had run a -- a negative campaign, that he was not a genuine candidate. Do you think that -- you're an experienced politician who's run and been successful in office. Do you think that was a smart concession statement for the senator to make last night?

RUDMAN: Well, I don't know if it's smart or not smart. I know it's the way John felt, and he's a guy who has a lot of principle, and that's what he felt. I don't think he said that Governor Bush was not a genuine candidate. I think that's your interpretation.

I was in the room when he made the speech. I think he simply said that he would not run a negative campaign. He was going to stay positive on his message. He felt that the fact that the governor adopted his model of being a reform candidate, in John's view, was disingenuous, and there wasn't really a solid record to support, but, you know, everybody can have an opinion on that.

NOVAK: But what...

RUDMAN: John McCain is a fighter, and he said what he thought.

NOVAK: To use his words, sir, he said that there was -- he indicated that Governor Bush was a candidate of pretense. Do you agree with that? He used the word "pretense."

RUDMAN: I don't think he said that. He...

NOVAK: Yes, he did. He used the word "pretense."

(CROSSTALK)

RUDMAN: ... Governor Bush's name.

NOVAK: Well...

RUDMAN: He may have used the word "pretense." I'm not -- I assume he was talking about Governor Bush, but I'm not going to -- I'm not going to get involved in analyzing. That's your business. You guys get paid for that.

NOVAK: All right. So the -- let me ask you one other thing then about your candidate. He said he didn't want to win the nomination in the worst way, implying -- again implying that Governor Bush had won it in -- was going about it in the worst way. What did you mean -- what did he mean by the worst way? What does that mean?

RUDMAN: Well, Bob, I have seen some of the letters that went to people here in South Carolina. I have seen notes of what were said to people in hundreds of thousands of phone calls. We don't know who made those phone calls. We know a lot of soft money as involved here. John McCain said he will not take the low road, and he won't.

SHIELDS: Warren Rudman, yesterday, one of your colleagues in the McCain campaign, a senior person, said in New Hampshire George W. Bush ran a campaign reminiscent of Bob Dole, but, in South Carolina, he ran a campaign more comparable to Bob Barr, the ultraconservative from Georgia. Could you respond to that?

RUDMAN: It was a very tough campaign. It was a very negative campaign on the Bush side. But, again, much of what happened happened so to speak below the radar screen. We don't know who these people were paid by. We don't know where the money came from. Tobacco, religious right, all sorts of organizations. No indication of where it was coming from. That did as much damage as what you saw on television.

SHIELDS: And your own -- your own conclusion coming out of this is that the religious right -- particularly the right-to-life committees' opposition to John McCain is based more on campaign finance than it is on his position?

RUDMAN: Oh, I truly believe that they are threatened by campaign finance position. It would put them out of business in many ways. They're concerned about that, and they did what they thought they had to do, and they did it very well.

NOVAK: Senator Rudman, thank you very much for being with us.

We'll return to question Ralph Reed after these messages.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition, is a senior adviser to Governor George W. Bush's presidential campaign.

Ralph Reed, here in South Carolina, big triumph. Now on to Michigan. Entirely different electorate. Here, two out of five members of the constituency that Governor Bush carried self-identified as Christian conservatives. Different ball game in Michigan. How about that? How are you going to win Michigan?

REED: Well, I think Governor Bush is going to win in Michigan the same way he's won four out of the first five contests and the same way he has an eight-to-one lead among delegates. He's going to talk about being a reformer with results. He's going to talk about the fact that there's two people in this race. One is a -- someone who talks about reform but is thin on actually achieving it. The other one is Governor Bush who's cut taxes, reformed education, took on the trial lawyers and lowered insurance premiums for everybody in Texas, and passed a patients' bill of rights.

And, you know, look, Mark, I've been involved in politics in Michigan, and the truth is there's -- there's a lot of pro-family and pro-life Catholics, but, in addition to that, if you look at the vote here, he split the veteran vote with a POW. He won the 18-to-29-year- old vote. Governor Bush won the women's vote. This was an across- the-board victory, and -- and I really don't think it's fair to the -- to the mammoth-size breadth and depth of this victory to try and particularize it to one constituency because it was across the board.

SHIELDS: You speak about being thin on reform You cite as part of the litany George W. Bush's patients' bill of rights. He vetoed against the legislation, knew that it was going to pass over his veto, so it became law without his signature. Now how does he get -- claim as an action reform on a very thin, passive role in a piece of legislation?

REED: Well, because, in fact, he was actively engaged in ensuring that, for example, women got the right to visit an OB-GYN without going through a gatekeeper to make sure that they had privacy and confidentiality of medical records. The main thing that Governor Bush did was he insisted that, while people could sue their HMO and appeal their insurance companies' decisions, he wanted a mandatory third-party arbitration process. That was his achievement, and as a result of him doing that, Mark, that legislation is now the model for the nation. In fact, the -- if we get a federal bill this year, it will be modeled on what George W. Bush did in Texas.

NOVAK: Mr. Reed, you've mentioned that there are -- is a substantial pro-Catholic -- or pro-life Catholic vote in Michigan. Now Governor Bush addressed Bob Jones University his first day of campaigning in South Carolina. The web site of -- of Bob Jones University refers to the Catholic religion as a cult. Would you recommend to the governor that he -- before he starts -- goes to Michigan today and starts campaigning that he disassociate himself with that characterization of the Catholic religion?

REED: Well, I think he already has disassociated himself from some of those aspects of the philosophy and theology of Bob Jones with which he disagrees. I mean, look, the fact of the matter is he campaigned in this state. He visited every college. He visited the College Charleston. He visited Presbyterian College. He visited Clemson University. And -- and this was -- this was an important educational institution, but...

NOVAK: He has disassociated himself from those remarks about the Catholic religion?

REED: Well, I'm -- I'm not sure about that specific aspect, but on interracial...

NOVAK: You think he should, though?

REED: I -- I know he -- I know he disagrees, and -- and he's spoken out against the college's policy on interracial dating, and I know that he disagrees with that characterization of the Catholic faith. In fact, he -- he enjoyed the support of the Catholic bishop of Charleston in this -- in this primary, and...

NOVAK: Mr. Reed...

REED: ... and -- if I could just finish,Bob, very quickly, I want to point out that Governor Bush, just days before going to Bob Jones, spoke to an inner-city conference of African-American ministers that are ministering to the poor and the hurting. When he went to Bob Jones, they were endorsing his agenda. He wasn't endorsing that agenda.

NOVAK: Mr. Reed, do you agree with your mentor and former associate Pat Robertson, the president of the Christian Coalition, that the Republican Part -- it would be a disaster for the Republican Party if John McCain were nominated?

REED: Well, I think Pat -- Pat's a good friend of mine, as you know, and he's more than capable of defending his own remarks. I would just say this. It's not a big concern of mine because Governor Bush has now won four out of the first contests. He has an eight-to- one lead among delegates. He comes out of here with a head of steam, and I think he'll be the nominee and the next president of the United States.

SHIELDS: Ralph Reed, you said the bishop of Charleston endorsed Governor Bush? REED: I -- I don't know if it was a formal endorsement, but I was told that he was supportive of the governor.

SHIELDS: Supportive of the governor?

REED: Yeah.

SHIELDS: The governor himself on "Nightline" just before the South Carolina primary said that the only difference -- that he had -- Senator McCain agreed on Roe v. Wade, that it was a bad decision, agreed on -- opposed to partial-birth abortion, against any litmus test for a running mate or federal judges. The only place they disagreed was on fetal tissue research. Does that justify this extraordinary expenditure of time, effort, and money against John McCain who had seven years, 100-percent actual right-to-life perfect voting record in the Senate -- to accuse him of being not a pro-life candidate?

REED: Well, look, he -- he had a largely good voting record. Nobody ever disputed that. He did have a significant difference, as you point out, on that issue, which is important to a lot of right-to- lifers.

But, Mark, you've spoken out very eloquently on the right-to-life issue as well, and it wasn't just that. It was the fact that he gave an interview to a San Francisco newspaper and said that we shouldn't overturn Roe v. Wade and then, after a couple of days of controversy, reversed himself.

He said that right-to-life leaders had, quote, "turned a cause into a business," which, if you go to people who run crisis pregnancy centers and -- in South Carolina -- was, I think, not fair, and there were some other things.

But -- but, look, the fact is this was an across-the-board victory -- veterans, women, pro-choicers, pro-lifers. Governor Bush carried the Republican vote by almost three to one, won a majority of conservative independents. This was an across-the-board victory.

NOVAK: We're going to have to take a break, and then when we come back, we'll have more questions for Ralph Reed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Ralph Reed, the supporters of Senator John McCain, such as William Kristol, are very enthusiastic about him rejuvenating the Republican Party, bringing in new people. Do you think that the Republican Party, having lost two presidential elections and declining in other elections, is just about good enough the way it is, doesn't need rejuvenation?

REED: Oh, I think it does need rejuvenation. It does need a leader that can not only unite the entire party but also build bridges and bring new people in. But the person who's going to do that is George W. Bush. I mean, he's proven, Bob, that he can energize and enthuse and unite the entire party, and then, as he's done in Texas, build bridges to Hispanics, to African-Americans, to women, to seniors. That's why so many people are excited about Governor Bush's candidacy.

NOVAK: Frankly, sir, do you think any future Republican can win the presidential nomination of the party without the blessing of the Christian Coalition?

REED: Look, I think that I -- I don't want to particularize it to a single constituency. I think the way you do this and the way you do it right is by reaching out to every voter and connecting to every voter, and I think we've got to be an inclusive party. I think we need to be principled. We need -- we shouldn't stray from our core conservative principles. But we've got to be an inclusive and open party.

And, in that regard, I just want to set the record on one thing, and that is Senator Rudman suggested that I had been critical of Colin Powell in 1996. That is not accurate. I did not attend the news conference, and all we did was release a statement in which we pointed out our issue differences, but I have nothing but the highest regard for General Powell.

SHIELDS: Ralph Reed, in -- looking at this election, John McCain and George Bush agreed on one thing, and that was Bill Clinton, it was time for him to go and, like many, you have been critical and legitimately so of his reprehensible conduct in the Oval Office, his indefensible conduct.

At the same time that he was being attacked by Republicans, there was no voice more loud than that of Newt Gingrich who simultaneously as speaker of the House was carrying on, we learned, an illicit affair with a junior staffer. Have you spoken out to condemn the behavior of Speaker Gingrich as hypocritical and indefensible?

REED: No, I have not, and I...

SHIELDS: Would this be opportunity?

REED: ... and I did not do so in the case of President Clinton. I did not ever criticize his personal conduct. In fact, I wrote a book in 1996 called "Act of Faith" in which I was critical of people in politics who try and practice the politics of personal destruction by delving into people's personal lives.

I think what happened with President Clinton, frankly,is two things. Obviously, none of us condone his personal conduct in that instance, including his own family, but what he did was he did two things. He looked the American people in the eye, and he lied to them directly. And, Mark, I think you lose your moral authority to your office when you do that.

The second thing he did was in a deposition, in a legal proceeding, as someone who has passed the bar and is an attorney, he lied under oath, and he perjured himself. That was the problem.

SHIELDS: And do you -- you don't condone Newt Gingrich's personal behavior then?

REED: I'm not going to comment on anybody's personal behavior, including the president's or anybody else's.

SHIELDS: OK. Ralph Reed, thank you for your being with us.

Bob Novak and I will be back in a moment with a comment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Bob, the results are in from South Carolina, but there's no question that there's a bitterness hanging over the McCain campaign. We heard that from Warren Rudman, the tactics they felt were used unfairly against them, and they'll be arguing about this as they go into Michigan. There's no doubt about it. This is an open wound.

NOVAK: You know, it was real interesting. The -- South Carolina was described by the McCain people to me and to you as a do-or-die place. Now that they've lost, they say, "Well, this isn't really a typical state. There's too many religious conservatives here, and it really doesn't count. But I still think they have a tremendous problem in the McCain campaign in getting support from diehard Republicans.

SHIELDS: Well, you're not going to win the nomination losing two to one. Of course, John McCain did carry Republicans in New Hampshire. That's the battleground in Michigan, and this makes Michigan not simply the Super Bowl, the World Series, it's the heavyweight championship for John McCain. Lose it and I think it's over.

NOVAK: One of the most interesting things about this campaign is the supporters of Senator McCain saying that there is a rejuvenation going on in the Republican Party. We asked Ralph Reed -- I asked Ralph Reed that, and he said, "Well, the Republican Party does need to be rejuvenated, but it's George Bush who's going to do it." I think the least debatable question in America is: Is the Republican Party in trouble? They are. It's a question of who's going to get them out of trouble.

I'm Robert Novak.

SHIELDS: I'm Mark Shields.

Coming up next on "RELIABLE SOURCES," has the press already started writing obituaries for some of the presidential candidates?

And coming up at noon Eastern on "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER," all three GOP presidential candidates -- Governor George W. Bush, Senator John McCain and Alan Keyes.

NOVAK: Thanks for joining us.

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