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Is John McCain Really Uniting Republicans, Independents and Democrats?

Aired February 23, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are creating a new majority, my friends, a McCain majority.



BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight: Is John McCain really uniting Republicans, independents and Democrats, or is something sinister going on?


GOV. GEORGE BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Last night I lost the liberal Democrat vote of people coming into our primary to try to hijack the election, hijack the primary, to help Al Gore.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin. In the CROSSFIRE, Republican strategist Bill Paxon, an adviser to the Bush campaigner, and in San Francisco, Ken Khachigian, senior adviser to John McCain.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Remember that Republican front-runner from Texas? He is no more. After yesterday's Michigan primary, McCain, 51, Bush, 43, coupled with a lopsided win in home state Arizona, McCain 60, bush, 36, the GOP nomination is now red hot, wide open and completely unpredictable.

Having won only among Democrats and independents, McCain immediately reached out to Republicans.


MCCAIN: Don't fear this campaign, my fellow Republicans. Join it.


PRESS: And George Bush, who blames Democrats for hijacking the Michigan primary, insisted that by one count, he was the real winner.


BUSH: Among the Republicans in the state of Michigan and among those independents who share our philosophy, our compassionate conservative philosophy, among those two groups, there is no question who the winner is in Michigan tonight, and you're looking at him.


PRESS: Today both candidates campaigned on the West Coast, getting ready for the Washington State primary next Tuesday and the giant California contest on March 7. And so you've got to love it. What once looked like a coronation is now a real horse race. Does John McCain have enough momentum to go all the way, or will the pendulum now swing back to George Bush?


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Well, Ken, thanks for joining us, and I think there's something we can all agree on. Bill press is having way too much fun in this primary.

Let's talk about this McCain majority, the one that requires Democratic crossovers, because you've been running a crossover apparatus in California; you're running the California effort. There was last night more non-Republicans voting than Republicans, and John McCain did get 80 percent of the Democrats, and while there was some mischief -- I'll get to that in a minute -- I do believe that Democrats really do like John McCain, and I've been struggling with this, but it was explained to me today, or to all of us today, by none other than the Democratic minority Senate leader when he was at the White House. Take a listen to what Tom Daschle had to say.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: By and large, John McCain picked up Democrats and independents because he is articulating much of the message that we have articulated now for the last couple of years.


MATALIN: Ken, that's quite an endorsement. You know, he is attracting Democrats, but it's on a Democratic message. That is not what Ronald Reagan did when he got Democrats into the Republican fold.

KEN KHACHIGIAN, MCCAIN SR. ADVISER: Well, Tom Daschle's operation is a joke, unless Tom Daschle all of a sudden is going to say that he supported the conference of Nicaragua and that he was a strong supporter of the Strategic Defense Initiative, that he's in favor of deregulation, that he's pro-life. This is Tom Daschle making mischief in the Republican primary, which I would expect him to do.

MATALIN: But he's not talking about McCain's record. He's talking about what John McCain has been running on, which is liberal campaign finance reform, the tax increases, the tobacco tax, lowered tax cuts, class warfare. Those are -- that's Democratic rhetoric and Democratic issues. No wonder Democrats like him.

KHACHIGIAN: Well, he's campaigning on tax cuts. He's campaigning on reforming the entire tax code, and the kind of reform he's talking about is going to really attract -- has been attracting Democrats and independents. I thought that was one of the things we should be doing as a minority party, is attracting Democrats and independents. So that's what Ronald Reagan did. Look, I was with Reagan in 1980, and again in 1984, Mary. You know that. And you know that people liked him because he crossed boundaries with straight talk, that he said what he believed, and he made people have pride in America once again and respect for the office, and those are some of the very, very important issues in this campaign.

PRESS: Bill Paxon, I am having too much fun in this primary, and Mary is having too much pain.

MATALIN: We're going to win.

PRESS: You know, and maybe someday that'll change.

But I want to ask you, you are...

BILL PAXON, BUSH ADVISER: I think it was really generous of you and James Carville to run those phone banks for McCain in Michigan. That was nice of you. You got back in time to do the show, too.

PRESS: I'll send you another check, too.

Bill Paxon, you are a Bush pioneer. Now I have to say if I had given -- raised $100,000 for someone who was a sure winner and that candidate goes up four times against another candidate and loses three out of four times, I'd ask for my money back. Have you?

PAXON: Well, I'll tell you what, Governor Bush has won five out of eight contests so far.

PRESS: No, no, no, head to head. I'm talking about head to head.

PAXON: Because McCain chose to hide out and not compete in some, that's his problem, not ours. McCain has gotten 28 percent of the Republican vote in average in those primaries, though -- 28 percent. This isn't Reagan. This is George Dukakis -- Michael Dukakis or McGovern. This isn't a Republican campaign.

Look, yesterday proved a bunch things. It proves that George Bush can unite Republican base and win independent votes. Those two combined won him that primary in Michigan, number one. Number two, he proved, like Ronald Reagan, he could reach out to young voters, getting the majority of the young voters. He proved that he can grow his vote. His independent vote keeps going up. John McCain's Republican vote keeps going down. As long as this is fought on the right turf, which is Republicans choosing Republicans candidates, we win, and that's what's going to start happening with California. The other piece is this, this talk about Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan never divided the Republicans by talking about tax cuts benefiting the rich. That's John McCain rhetoric. Ronald Reagan never said to Democratic voters and unions in Michigan, come in and vote for us, but then go back and vote in the Democratic elections that were coming up. That's what John McCain is doing. Thank God George Bush is consistent, he's Republican; he's going to be the candidate.

PRESS: Bill Paxon, I mean my head is spinning with so much spin. I want to come back to George Bush, not Ronald Reagan. Again look, he started out with more money than any presidential candidate has ever had in our history: $70 million. He's been hemorrhaging with the spending. He's got about $10 million left. Never has so much been spent to accomplish so little. He won head to head one of four primaries. Isn't your man in deep doo-doo?

PAXON: First of all, unlike John McCain, who is running in Democratic shoes for this election and is focusing on couple of states, Governor Bush has run a 50-state campaign. That's the way you win the White House. Yes, it's more expensive. You don't have the liberal media in collusion trying to promote the candidacy, as they're doing with John McCain, but of course, John McCain has a liberal message. His first thing that's gotten him national exposure was campaign finance reform and his votes in favor of tax payer funding for campaigns. Ronald Reagan never supported tax payer funding for a campaign.

John McCain has been running a liberal Democratic race. Only last night, now that he realized he can't win the nomination, he's now starting to say, oh, don't fear me, Republicans. That isn't the way Ronald Reagan spoke, never a message of fear; he talked about inclusion and growth of our party, starting with our base.

PRESS: Here's something else I don't understand about your candidate. The entire rationale of your candidate from the beginning, everybody running, like you, with George Bush was, this guy can win. When he ran for governor of Texas, man, he got blacks, he got Latinos, he got Democrats, he got independents. Well, guess what? Now it's McCain who's getting the Democrats and the independents.

PAXON: And not the Republicans. And not the Republicans.

PRESS: That'll come.

In other words, the entire...


PRESS: Where do you think they're going to go? Let me ask my question. The entire rationale for Bush's candidacy has disappeared.

PAXON: No, not at all. And as a matter of fact, yesterday in Michigan, when voters were asked by polling organizations, who do you think will win, has the best chance of winning this fall, after looking at both candidates, studying this race, getting caught in it and voting, you know what they said? Voters who voted said Bush will win. Even though many of them voted for McCain, they believe Bush has the best chance of beating your candidate in November.

KHACHIGIAN: Can I get in a word edgewise here?

PRESS: Yes, please. Go, Ken.

KHACHIGIAN: First of all, I campaigned with Ronald Reagan in 1980 when Bill was a young man, and I...

PAXON: I was campaigning for Ronald Reagan when me came to Buffalo, New York back then.

KHACHIGIAN: I am not accusing you of anything. I am just saying you're a lot younger man, and I think probably a lot better looking, but Ronald Reagan waved the union card in all of his appearances in 1980, including Michigan where we were. And in 1984, we kicked off on Labor Day in Hamtramck, Michigan, and precisely because he appealed to those union Democrats.

And as far as polls go, I think you need to be careful about the polls you cite, because just yesterday the Gallup/"USA Today"/CNN poll had McCain ahead, 24 points ahead of Al Gore, and Governor Bush five points ahead.

So the fact is, the bottom line for Republicans in November is that it really is more and more increasingly the case that John McCain has a much, much better chance of putting America back in the Republican column.

PAXON: Ken, did Ronald Reagan ever, ever put out a piece of literature, like John McCain did in Michigan, and through his Democrat friends who were all Democrat officeholders, the literature said: Vote in the Republican primary, but then go back and be an active Democrat, don't stay and work in the Republican party? That is outrageous. That was put out by the McCain campaign, number one. And number two, the biggest support he had and the thing that really won him that majority vote yesterday in Michigan was Democrat officeholders who were trying to send a message to a good, solid Republican governor. They should be repudiated by John McCain, except he can't do it because he only wins when he has Democrat votes. Ken, 28 percent of the Republican vote is the average vote that John McCain is getting in these primaries.


PAXON: Ronald Reagan would be appalled at a Republican who is reaching out only to Democrats and ignoring the Republican base.

KHACHIGIAN: Bill, I think you ought to take your cue from Governor Bush on Saturday night and be a generous loser. And we have got a lot of primaries going ahead in the next few weeks, let's focus on what we have got ahead and not dwell on what we have behind. I am not concerned about the fact that we had a great, broad voter base for John McCain. I think that's something we ought to be proud of, and I think you should -- you'll be proud of it in November, I think. MATALIN: But, Ken, let me just follow up on this point. It wasn't a great, broad base. He got one out of four Republicans. If only Republicans and independents voted, the outcome would have been exactly reversed, and Bush would have won 50-44.

The next coming up contest there's some -- over two dozen coming up, and over half of them only allow Republicans, or Republicans and independents. Since New Hampshire, Bush's support amongst independents has been increasing, and John McCain's support amongst Republicans is declining.

How are you going to get through with Bush's independents vote going up, McCain's Republican vote going down in these primaries where we will actually be choosing the Republican nominee, not Democrats?

KHACHIGIAN: You're asking how we're going to the primaries, or how we're going to win the general election?

MATALIN: How are you going to win -- get the nomination if you're not winning Republicans and the upcoming contests are closed to Democrats, which is where McCain's strength is coming from now?

KHACHIGIAN: Well, you have overlooked New Hampshire, where basically the Republican vote was evenly split, depending upon who you look at, either we won it by a few or lost it by just a few, but it was pretty much tied. And you've only had two other primaries in between where there have been crossover voters.

So I am confident -- look, in California, the voters here are focusing for the first time on this election on March 7. They have been tuned out pretty much. Now they're focusing. They're going to see there's two candidates.

The inevitability of Governor Bush is what drove most of the Republicans to his side. That's ended. And now we'll compare voting records and we'll compare visions for America, and we'll compare life experiences, and that's going to be important. I am not worried at all about the coming primaries, by the way.

MATALIN: Well, good. Spoken like a true campaign manager. Now, McCain has also been running on the slogan, I will never lie to you, but did he? We'll find out when we come back. Stay with us on CROSSFIRE.


MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The one state at a time ping-pong primary season is about to end as Republicans prepare to contest 29 primaries and caucuses by mid March. McCain needs to bring conservatives in and Bush needs to keep liberals out. Who will succeed and how? We ask Bush supporter, former GOP leader Bill Paxon, and McCain's California guru, Ken Khachigian -- Bill.

PRESS: Bill, just a quick question, I hope an honest answer. Let's say it's November, it's John McCain versus Al Gore. Where are Republicans going to go?

PAXON: Well, I'll tell you what, I'm not -- I think many will vote for John McCain. I certainly will work hard for him. But I do believe that he is hurting his chances by spending all of this time focused on Democrat issues, when he talks about tax cuts being for the rich, when he talks about taxpayer-funded campaigns, when he goes down that litany I think that hurts him with his ability to unite our party. George Bush has proven he unites our party, gets him excited.


PAXON: In '96 and '98, Bill, listen, '96 and '98, we almost lost the House because we didn't get our base excited and out there. George Bush can do that.

PRESS: All right, but let's be pragmatic, and you're a very pragmatic politician. You have got -- Republicans have -- 40 percent of American voters are Republicans. President Bob Dole could tell us all right, you can't win if you just have conservatives, or if you just have Republicans.

Now let me look at this -- the latest CNN/"USA Today" Gallup Poll, and Ken mentioned it earlier, this was just yesterday: McCain- Gore, 59 McCain, Gore 35, over Gore by 14; Bush 50, Gore 45, which is just about a dead heat, according to our poll.

So you have got a guy who clearly can win, who can generate -- is generating a lot of excitement, doubled the turnout in Michigan that have ever voted in a primary, Bill, why won't you support a clear winner?

PAXON: Well, first of all...

PRESS: What issue...

PAXON: ... he didn't double the turnout in Michigan. Governor Bush won in South Carolina where the turnout went way up and he won. Listen...

PRESS: What's wrong with McCain? That's my question, just answer it.

PAXON: Nothing from the Democrat perspective.

PRESS: No, no, no, I'm asking you.

PAXON: He's -- the only mistake is he's not running in the Democratic primary, because he'd get more votes than Gore or Bradley.

PRESS: I'm not asking the Democrats, I am asking you, why -- you're a conservative Republican. Why can't you support John McCain?

PAXON: I -- he's a wonderful guy, he's the wrong candidate for our party, he divides our base, his issue stands are wrong for us, as we vote in the November election. How can...

PRESS: Which issue?

PAXON: What are people going to say? John McCain stands up...

PRESS: Which specific issue?

PAXON: Could I -- let me give you one example, he stands up and says, they're all corrupt, including Republicans in Washington. How can we go and take on Al Gore, when we have the head of our national campaign saying such nonsense?

Look, bottom line is simply this, we have a governor in George Bush with executive experience. Every president we have had since World War II has had executive experience, either they've been governor, vice president, or in the case of Eisenhower, commander in chief of our troops. You know what?

PRESS: Some of them were real winners, too.

PAXON: I think that -- you know what? They had executive -- American people vote for executive experience, number one. Number two, there is no doubt that Governor Bush has proven his ability to reach across and get Hispanic votes, minority votes across the board. He did it in Texas, he will do it in the country.

PRESS: But he hasn't done it since.

PAXON: Well, it's because he...

PRESS: Go ahead, Mary.


MATALIN: One second, Bill.

Can we have some reality here?

Come in if you're going to be reality-based, Ken.

KHACHIGIAN: Well, I'm nothing if not reality based, including doing what you and I have done in the past year, which is trying to get Democratic votes.

But let me go back and probably even Bill Press not going to like hearing this, but there's an overarching reason why people are supporting John McCain this year, and that is that the issue that trumps everything else this year is that people want to sweep the shame out of the White House, out of the Oval Office. And John McCain brings to this campaign life experiences and integrity and character of the type that people are going to want to have to clean up -- to rescue the presidency. That's what really this election is all about.

George Bush is a good man. He really is. I respect him. I worked for his father. And -- but this year, you've got one person who bridges the gap between all parties and does what we really need to do, and that's clean out the presidency and rescue it like Eisenhower did in 1952 and Reagan did in 1980. MATALIN: And you know what? What he's being very successful at is being the anti-Clinton. Well, who wouldn't be? Who isn't the anti-Clinton in this race?

KHACHIGIAN: Well, Al Gore's not the anti-Clinton.

MATALIN: Let me ask you act about something before we run out of time here.

KHACHIGIAN: All right.

MATALIN: He's made a big hurrah and gotten a lot of press accolades for this, and I think the reform-minded like when he says, "I'm not going to take the low road to the highest office in the land," no more negative campaigning, take down those negative ads, no more charterer assassination, stop it. Then on the eve of the Michigan primary where participate 38 percent Catholics, this telephone call takes place. Just listen to the top of it.


COMPUTER VOICE: This is Catholic Voter Alert. Governor George Bush has campaigned against Senator John McCain by seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists who have expressed anti-Catholic views.

Several weeks ago, Governor Bush spoke at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Bob Jones has made strong anti-Catholic statements, including calling the pope the anti-Christ and the Catholic Church a satanic cult!


MATALIN: Well, Ken, if that's not character assassination I don't know what is. But here's what's worse: The candidacy of John McCain rests on this. I will never lie to you. His campaign said they had nothing to do with that ad. We pick up The New York Times today: Oh, campaign manager Rick Davis says, yes, we put out that ad. When asked, "Well, why did you say you weren't putting out that ad?" and he says, because the press secretary didn't know.

They're sitting together on each other's laps on the "Double Talk Express" eating donuts. They didn't know? This is a campaign that's lying to us over their campaign tactics.

KHACHIGIAN: Well, that's your characterization. And I don't accept that.

Frankly, I think from a political point of view Governor Bush probably used some poor judgment in South Carolina, you know, winning not as pretty as we would like to do in these campaigns. And Mary, I just don't accept your characterization.

But you know, on the whole, John McCain is an honest man, and he exudes character. And we're going to make that judgment based on his life and his experience and the kind of campaign he's been running. He's... PRESS: Bill.

PAXON: Well...

PRESS: A quick last word.

PRESS: I just have to say, I'm outraged. I'm a Catholic. I've been an active Catholic -- 21 years in public office. I've never seen a Republican say such bigoted remarks and allow them to go through his campaign about Governor Bush, who is an honorable straight-shooter, who is no way anti-Catholic. I wouldn't support him if he was.

KHACHIGIAN: You know, they didn't call him anti-Catholic. They just said he shouldn't have spoken at that university.


PAXON: No, they said anti-Catholic. It was right in there.


PRESS: Gentlemen, on that point of disagreement, we have to end because we're out of time. We thank you both. Bill Paxon, doing his duty with us, thanks for coming back again...

PAXON: Pleasure.

PRESS: ... defending your man. Ken Khachigian out in San Francisco, it's all up to you now.

KHACHIGIAN: Good to be with you.

PRESS: All right. And we'll talk to you again about it, and Mary Matalin and I will wrap things up in our closing comments, coming up.


MATALIN: You know what John McCain has done for George Bush, and for this, I'll be eternally grateful: two wonderful things. First, he allowed him the opportunity to address what had been a weakness in the candidacy. Can he fight? Bush has proved that he can fight. But more than that, he has energized the conservative base for Bush. They were a little skeptical going into this, his being his father's son and all. They are energized and they are solidifying for Bush, which is what you do before you reach out.

Bush has been consistently getting more Republicans as John's been getting less, and he's been getting more independents, on a conservative message.

Thank you, John McCain.

PRESS: One out of four, Mary, he's won, your guy. That's what a great campaigner he is. He's won one out of four.

But I have to admit something tonight...

MATALIN: With four out of five Republicans.

PRESS: I am -- one out of four. I am really bummed tonight, because I was beginning to think that your party was going to be dumb enough -- right? -- dumb enough to nominate George Bush, and now, I'm starting to have second thoughts. I'm starting to worry about November.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: That made no sense to me whatsoever.

PRESS: You'll -- you'll...

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary -- I don't even know who I am anymore.


But we'll be back tomorrow night...

PRESS: Whoever we are!

MATALIN: ... with another edition of CROSSFIRE. Stay tuned for that.


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