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Will John McCain Ever Endorse George W. Bush?

Aired March 9, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Therefore, I announce today on this fine Arizona morning and in this beautiful place that I am no longer an active candidate for my party's nomination for president.


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, John McCain suspends his presidential campaign. Will he ever endorse George W. Bush? Will Bush ever win over McCain's supporters?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, former Republican presidential candidates Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a Bush supporter, and Gary Bauer, a McCain supporter.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Two strong insurgents; for a while, two exciting campaigns; but today, two dropouts from the race. A clear-cut decision by Bill Bradley. He's out and throws his support to Al Gore.


BILL BRADLEY (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The vice president and I had a stiff competition, and he won. I congratulate him. He will be the nominee of the Democratic Party, and I will support him in his bid to win the White House.


PRESS: John McCain also stepped down today, for now, but stopped short of endorsing George W. Bush.


MCCAIN: I congratulate Governor Bush and wish him and his family. He may very well become the next president of the United States. That is an honor accorded to very few and is such a great responsibility that he deserves the best wishes of every American. He certainly has mine.


PRESS: According to campaign insiders, McCain's holding back to see if Bush will embrace campaign reform. If not, some say McCain, who insists he'll stay a Republican, might be pushed into running as a Reform Party candidate.

And one more twist, while party leaders like Bob Dole are scrambling to arrange a meeting between the two, Bush and McCain talked by phone this afternoon for the first time since Super Tuesday.

So tonight, how is it all going to play out? Will McCain take his fight for campaign reform all the way to the convention? Or will these two competitors kiss and make up? And what will George Bush have to do to get John McCain's support? -- Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Well, first, I know I speak for Bill when I say he's so happy that the Republican primary is over, right, Bill?

PRESS: No, I want you to keep fighting!


MATALIN: Let's pick up, Gary, the point that Bill just raised. Ken Duberstein was on "INSIDE POLITICS" today, and said that in the call between the governor and the senator, they were reaching for common ground on campaign finance reform.

The governor has said -- has said, after talking to John today, this about campaign finance reform, Let's take a listen.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I'm the president and John's there carrying a reform package, the fact that he has the president helping on paycheck protection would enable him to advance an agenda that he thinks is important and I think is important, and that's banning corporate and labor union soft money from politics. That would be a major reform.


MATALIN: Does that describe common ground enough to bring those two camps together on that issue?

GARY BAUER (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Mary, I think that's a big step toward bringing the two sides together. I feel strongly that the soft money in American politics, both corporate and union money that's being given without workers having any say in it, is in fact a corrupting influence. It affects things in this town and everything from the China debate to lot of other issues. And I think if you just take a look at something like gambling money, which is flowing all over the place -- I think John hit a nerve on the issue of campaign finance reform, and the fact that Governor Bush is signaling that he's willing to move further in that direction I think is a great sign.

MATALIN: I knew you'd get China in there, Gary.

BAUER: Well, I try to. It's big issue.


MATALIN: What about you? Is that -- what you have just described and heard the governor describe crank your chain? You've yet to endorse Governor Bush. What would it take for him to gain your support?

BAUER: Well, it's unseemly for me to endorse Governor Bush until the candidate that I endorsed is totally out of the race. But look, I don't need much inducement here. The only thing that I have to think about in order to know what the right thing to do is just say Bill Press' guy's name to myself a few times: Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore.

The reason I originally endorsed Senator McCain...

PRESS: Keep saying it, Gary. Keep saying it.

BAUER: The reason I originally endorsed Senator McCain is believe that he had the best chance to end the Clinton-Gore era, and I can't think of anything better to do for America than that.

PRESS: It's three to one tonight, it seems to me. Governor -- Senator Hatch, welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Senator, your bus wasn't called the Straight Talk Express, but you're known for your straight talk and you've always shown that here on this show. I just want to ask you straight: Did John McCain do the right thing today by getting out but not endorsing George Bush?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, he was gracious, and look, he ran a really tough campaign, a really tough competition. I think he deserves a lot of credit, and I suspect that the real problem was that he needs some time to just adjust to this and determine where he's going and what he wants to do.

I have no doubt that John McCain is a loyal Republican. I have no doubt that he's going to help Governor Bush. They agree on so many things, far more than they disagree on. And -- and I think John McCain -- you know, I read his book this last weekend, and I thought it was an excellent book. I commend everybody in this country to read it. I think it teaches you about what people really will do for this great country and what John did. He deserves a lot of credit for that.

He's a gutsy guy who I believe will do exactly what's right here. But he needs a little time. And heck, anybody that begrudges him that time I think is wrong.

PRESS: Well, maybe he needs a little more than a little time, senator, as one of your supporters, Chuck Hagel -- a McCain supporter, a Republican from Nebraska, of course -- said in this morning's "Washington Post." Let me just read it to you quickly. Quote: "What he's going to want" -- he, McCain -- "is going to want out of this relationship is an assurance from the governor that if elected he would have an agenda that comports with what John's campaign has been about. At the top is some legitimate campaign finance reform."

Now, we just heard the governor say he wants to ban corporate money and union money, soft money, leaving this huge hole for individuals to give soft money. That ain't legitimate campaign reform, is it, senator?

HATCH: I think he's talking in terms of everybody. But what he's pointing out is -- he mentioned paycheck protection, and that is that literally union members should not be forced to just endorse and pay their dues for one party. And that's what's happening here.

Almost a hundred percent of union money goes to Democrats even though 40 percent of union members are Republicans.

Now, look, look, to make a long story short, there's no question that all of us are for campaign reform. The question is what form.

Now, John, clearly, is not going to get his way 100 percent on campaign finance reform, because what he wants is unconstitutional. But I think John has done the country a service in making that a focal point in his campaign. It went a long way toward even possibly electing him. And I think Governor Bush understands that.

I do have to say that Bush is a reformer who really has a lot of results to show for it.

PRESS: But senator, I -- you know, we always get this paycheck protection thing. That's another debate.

HATCH: It's important.

PRESS: I'm talking about soft money. I just want you to acknowledge that on George Bush's plan, if he says he's going to do away with soft money, and he does away with corporations and unions but lets individuals give soft money, it's not real campaign reform. Isn't this right?

HATCH: Well, to be honest, I'm not sure you can keep corporations and unions away from giving soft money, because the Supreme Court has already said that that would be violative of the First Amendment.

PRESS: Not soft money.

HATCH: Yes, on soft money, it does say that.

BAUER: You know, Senator Hatch and I, Mary, we're all happy we're going to be on this show tonight because we're three Republicans and now we can begin to get together again. But I must tell you, senator, I disagree that the Supreme Court has said directly and forever what the constitutional position on this is. And the idea that a corporation or a big union has a constitutional right to pour 3 or 4 or 5 million dollars into the coffers of either party...

PRESS: Or an individual...

BAUER: ... I think makes no sense. And I think for those of us that are the conservatives, the chance of getting real conservative reform in this country will never happen as long as this city is awash in that kind of money. Inevitably, it means the average guy in this country gets the short end of the stick.

HATCH: Well, let me say this: I don't disagree very much with what you're saying except I do believe the court will hold -- look, this show is sponsored by soft money. Dan Rather is backed up by soft money.

PRESS: This is not political campaign.


BAUER: Well, sometimes, Bill...


HATCH: I've watched this show. Listen, I watch this show. There are a lot of political opinions, and nobody wants to take away your First Amendment rights. I don't, even though you're wrong most of the time. I mean, as much as I like you it's a shame that you're so wrong.

PRESS: Apples and oranges, senator. Come on.

MATALIN: Well, one thing for sure, this debate is going to continue. Of course, you're on wrong, wrong, wrong, because the senator is returning to the Senate -- will be debated.

But let's -- let's ratchet the stud a little bit. The senator said today in his statement, has said repeatedly throughout the campaign, I love the Republican Party, it's my home, I'm not going to the Reform Party, which has been raised by the press. But his own political director quoted in the Associated Press today, John weaver says: "I can't conceive of John jumping from the Republican Party, but I certainly can conceive of John being pushed into it."

Gary, you were inside this campaign. Is this reflective of an interest, a real interest, or is this just the inertia of the Luke Skywalker faction, as I...

BAUER: Mary, I don't have any inside scoop on this, but I have to tell you, just watching Senator McCain over the last couple of weeks and his repeated references to how proud he was to be a member of the party of Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, I cannot imagine when the prospect here is the possibility of a Gore presidency that John would do anything that would be destructive to the party he's given his whole life to and that I think he's a proud member of.

And I certainly would do everything I could to urge him, and I believe he will stay in the Republican Party.

MATALIN: And those from his campaign who are sending those signals are speaking for themselves?

BAUER: I think when you've been through a brutal campaign -- and Senator Hatch and I didn't get quite as far as these guys did -- look, there's a lot of passions, not only by the candidates, but by their staffs, the people that worked hard. It's a difficult thing to go through. And I think it takes a little bit of time for people to heal their wounds.

MATALIN: One more quick tactical question out there, the vice presidential question -- John has also said repeatedly not interested, no way.

Lindsey Graham, who is not just a leader on the McCain campaign, is a leader in the House...


MATALIN: He's a leader in the Republican Party, particularly amongst those reform-minded. He is quoted today as saying: "The idea of John McCain on the ticket among Republican House members is very strong. People up here see John as a valuable asset."

Is there a point which you could see a critical mass of Republicans pushing John, telling John that's what he has to do?

BAUER: I think anything is possible. Look, I think for people that care about where we're going as a country, the first thing you ask yourself is, what is best for country? What is best for our party? If it took Governor Bush and Senator McCain together in order to win in November I think there would be a lot of pressure for that. It's happened before -- John F. Kennedy and LBJ. There aren't big differences between the two of them, even though there was a sense in recent weeks that there were a lot of differences, and I think this party wants more than anything to end the era of this man's guise.

PRESS: Senator Hatch, would -- you worked with Senator McCain in the Senate. Is he at the top of your list for vice presidential ticket?

HATCH: Actually, I wouldn't even comment about that, because that's up to George Bush. But let me just say this. John has repeatedly said throughout the whole campaign that the reason he's running is because he wants to place the interests of the country above his own self-interests. I think John will do what's right regardless. I think when he comes back to the Senate, he'll be accepted with open arms. I don't have any doubt about that. Sure, he irritate a few people. But that's a presidential campaign. And he did the best he could. And I personally believe that if it came down to that, John would accept it. But that's up to governor Bush, assuming that he is finally going to be our nominee, which I feel absolutely confident he will be at this point.

MATALIN: There's one thing Bush and Gore have in common, and that's that they both want John McCain's supporters.

When we come back, we'll find out which is the most likely route those supporters will take?

Stay with us on CROSSFIRE.


MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. John McCain tapped into the mother lode of American general politics: independent voters. Though not enough to give him the nomination, it got the attention of both presumptive nominees, who are desperately seeking the secret of his success. Was it reform? Was it antiestablishment? Or was it just John? News from two former presidential aspirants, McCain supporter Gary Bauer and Senator Orrin Hatch, big Bush supporter -- Bill.

PRESS: Let's talk about these McCain voters, senator. As you know, Senator McCain won seven states; 4.5 million voters pushed the lever for McCain. NBC and "The Wall Street Journal" poll today showed that when they polled these McCain voters, they came out 37 percent for Bush, 35 percent for Gore. So they're clearly at play, and I believe you'd agree, they're clearly at play over John's major issue, campaign reform. Now I'd like to show you how the two candidates who are left went after these McCain voters today on campaign reform. First, Governor Bush who was asked at a news conference twice what will you do about campaign reform? Here's his answer back to back.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We just have to see at the time. There's an area of agreement, is making sure Al Gore is not elected president.


PRESS: Now I mean, an attack on Al Gore is not an answer to the question. Why does he duck question, senator?

HATCH: Let me just say this. The important thing that I saw in this was the amount of Republicans who actually voted. It was almost two to one over the Democrats, you know, in almost every instance. We've gotten Republicans to come out like never before. Plus, think about Governor Bush in Texas. Governor Bush's appeal to Hispanics, to minorities, to women, I think to Democrats across the board. I really believe once he's able to articulate his shoes without interference by any of us who ran against him, I think you're going to find a man that the whole country can accept.

In contrast, I happen to like Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, but the fact of the matter is, Al is very far left. and that's going to be the difference, and it's going to be defined. Plus, Al Gore comes from this White House. People are -- there are of feeling out there. I saw it among Democrats, independents, Republicans -- I saw a lot of feeling that we've got to clean the place up.

PRESS: Well, let me just tell you senator, Al Gore, he may be far left from where you're coming from, but he's not far left from where I am coming from, not near enough far left.


HATCH: I accept that.

PRESS: But by the way, these McCain voters, again, they're independent people. You know, they're not just going to follow a party line. I think they're looking for the man who is speaking to their issues.

Now I want to show you how Al Gore, how approached these McCain voters, in fact Super Tuesday night. Let's listen, please.


ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And to those Republicans and independents out there whose heroes are Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, to all of you, I say as well, join with us. Our campaign is now your cause.


PRESS: Speaking directly to them, senator -- come here, I am for campaign reform, head start, no?

HATCH: He should did a lot about campaign reform. You'd understand a lot from that comment, I'll tell you.

PRESS: John McCain learned a lot; Al Gore learned a lot.


HATCH: I have seen George Bush where he's decided very well, where he's explained what he wants to do. That isn't quite what John McCain has been calling for, but hardly anybody wants that, except Democrats. I've seen Gore make good explanations, too. I think a little lip service like that, that doesn't tell us anything.

MATALIN: Gary, let me give you some other numbers.

BAUER: Sure.

MATALIN: Sure. Bill has his numbers. I am going to tell you "The Washington Post" numbers. Those McCain voters split for Bush versus Gore 55-45. That's a 10-point spread. And Bill pulled a selective quote of Bush's today. But here's another think which I think sums up exactly why supporters of McCain's are going to tend toward Bush. Here's the other thing Bush had to say.


BUSH: What's going to win his supporters over is when they realize that Al Gore is no reformer and Al Gore is no John McCain.


MATALIN: I am just going to tee you up.

BAUER: Well, yes, look, you can't argue with that: Al Gore isn't John McCain. And look, I think part of the vote that Senator McCain was getting was a personal vote for him.

He's got a compelling life story, the years in the POW camp, refusing to be released unless his comrades were released. There were a lot of people in those crowds that I saw that were moved by his Americanism, his appeal to the fact that we've got this common ground, this great country, et cetera.

I also think that there were a lot of people that supported him that really are Reagan Democrats. I had a lot of people in those crowds come up to me and say, Mr. Bauer, I haven't voted Republican since Ronald Reagan. If you guys nominate McCain, I'll vote Republican again.

So there will be a battle for them. But I think the bad news for here Bill and his friends at the White House is I don't see at the end of the day how Al Gore can come across as a reformer after eight years of being in this administration and after all these years of defending Bill Clinton: not just the way a vice president has to defend his president, but defending Bill Clinton with enthusiasm, with elan, with energy, calling him one of the greatest presidents of all time.

I don't believe those McCain voters are going to get in line behind Al Gore. I can't imagine it.

PRESS: Well, let me...

MATALIN: Did someone say cha-ching.

PRESS: Let me guess why they might, senator. I mean, let's -- let's -- let's face it. We are living in the longest period of economic prosperity in the history of this country, nine years. It started under the Republican president. But the last seven years have been under Bill Clinton, I mean, after, by the way, his financial package of 1993 that Newt Gingrich said if it passes there's going to be a recession.

With times so good and people feeling so good, what possible reason is there to make a change? Why should the American people make a change?

HATCH: Had those marginal tax rates not been cut by Reagan and the rest of us Republicans...


PRESS: Clinton gets part of it too.

HATCH: ... had we not balanced the budget, had we not cut capital gains rates, had we not done all of those things -- and I've got to give Bill Clinton some credit too, these things wouldn't have happened.

But look, I served with Al Gore in the Senate many years it. I can't name very many things that Al Gore did.

Now George Bush has been a governor for only five years. I can name a lot of things he's accomplished, from cutting large -- making large tax cuts to making educational reforms. I think this is the person we've got to have to save Social Security and Medicare.

And we've got to -- above all -- now here's one of the bottom lines: I don't see Al Gore helping to straighten out our military. And I've got to tell you, we're at now 3.2 percent of GDP going to 2.9 percent, in real trouble. I do see George Bush doing that. And we've got to get that...

PRESS: Well, here's the point, senator. Everything is down -- everything's down that ought to be down. I mean, the budget deficit is down. In fact it's gone. Unemployment is down. Interest rates are down. Mortgage rates are down. Inflation is down. I mean, why should the people risk going back to the double-digit interest rates and mortgage rates of the last 12 Republican years?

BAUER: You're still reading six months ago's newspapers.

PRESS: I am not.

BAUER: I mean, interest rates are going up. Gasoline will be at $2 a gallon by this summer.

HATCH: And this administration blew it.

BAUER: The economic issues I think are going to be important in this election. They're turning against this administration.

HATCH: Yes, look -- look, he is absolutely right. Interest rates are going up.

I have to say there have been some good things, but interest rates are going up. Gas is going to be $2 a gallon. We are going to have problems like you can't believe.

Social Security hasn't been -- there hasn't been an effort to save Social Security or Medicare. Our military has become -- from readiness of 68 percent down to below 30 percent and going lower than that, we couldn't fight the Gulf War today.

PRESS: So in these good times you guys think you're going to go out here and convince the country that the country is going to hell when we've never been better off? That your message?

HATCH: I don't -- no, no.

PRESS: It's not going to work.

HATCH: And that's a distortion of our message. Our message is, is that we need somebody who is a reformer with results who can get it done and George Bush is that person.

(CROSSTALK) And I'll tell you, if he'll have the help from John McCain and the rest of a lot of people, I think he'll make it.

BAUER: I think people want a sense of honor back in the White House, Bill.

HATCH: That's right.

BAUER; And that has been a miserable thing about this last eight years, and our nominee will bring a sense of honor back to the White House.

PRESS: And Al Gore will bring it. Thank you very much -- three against one tonight.

Senator Hatch, thank for being here. Gary Bauer, good to see you.

BAUER: Thank you.


PRESS: And Mary Matalin and I will wrap it up with closing comments, coming up.


MATALIN: You know, there's plenty of time to fight with you as the year unfolds, and I'm kind of happy this has started earlier than normal...

PRESS: Let's go!

MATALIN: But what I want to say tonight, John said something in his speech today. He said that his supporters found in his campaign an expression for their patriotism. I think they found in him specifically an expression for their patriotism.

He's a very, very special man, and much of his support, as was alluded to today, was just John, and it's a reflection of our deep- seeded patriotism and a belated gratitude for that generation.

PRESS: He did inspire people, and he's an outstanding American. And I salute him. I salute him as well. But his supporters, also very smart people and they're very independent people.

And you Republicans are crazy if you think that they're just going to march along now because John McCain is out of the race. They're not. They're going to look for the real reformer, and George Bush is not delivering.

He's phony on that issue, Mary. It's not going to work.

MATALIN: There is no Al Gore person that can say the word "phony" with a straight face.

PRESS: I just said it. Bush is phony.

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

MATALIN: From the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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