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Why Won't Jesse Run?

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


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. They met, they talked, they agreed on some issues, they still disagreed on one big one, but McCain endorsed him anyway. Two months after their bruising primary battle, George Bush and John McCain finally got together this morning in Pittsburgh. It took a lot of prodding from reporters, but John McCain finally uttered the words George Bush was longing to hear.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I endorse Governor Bush.


I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: By the way, I enthusiastically accept.


PRESS: McCain insisted he will carry on his fight for campaign reform but said he'd just rather see George Bush in the White House than Al Gore. Not everybody is happy with that choice. Tonight's guest, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, would probably rather see neither one, but who's left? Lowell Weicker? He's not running. Neither is Donald Trump. That leaves Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader. Is either one of them acceptable to Governor Ventura? Well, why not Jesse the man himself?

Would the Reform Party take him back if he decided to run, or has Jesse Ventura decided to concentrate on state and national issues like permanent trade status for China?

So much to talk about, so little time. Let's get right to it with the nation's most colorful governor, star of wrestling ring and statehouse, the Honorable Jesse Ventura, governor of Minnesota.

Governor, welcome to CROSSFIRE. Mary is up first tonight. She's in Chicago.


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Well, hi, Governor. I'm so sorry to have missed you. You are the man of the hour. Everybody wants a little piece of Jesse the power broker.

Today, your kindred spirit, Senator John McCain, as you just heard, endorsed, endorsed, endorsed Governor Bush, saying that he would restore dignity and integrity to the White House and was the most qualified to be president. What impact do you think that endorsement will have on the ultimate outcome of campaign 2000?

VENTURA: Well, I think it could probably have a large impact. You know, Senator McCain was still polling very strong even as a kind of non-candidate, or suspending his candidacy. And I met with the senator about a month ago, and I encouraged him to run as an independent because I still feel that had he chosen to do that I really believe he could have won the election.

So you're opposed to this endorsement today?

VENTURA: Oh, I'm not opposed to it. He's a Republican and he endorsed a Republican candidate. No, I don't oppose it. That's the senator's choice and prerogative to do so. You know, they will be the only two, I think, viable candidates in the race at this time. I don't think that any of the third-party candidates will have much of an impact.

MATALIN: Well, everything is going to matter in campaign 2000, very competitive race, including the second spot, the vice president. The senator was asked and did repeat his not wanting that position, but the senator and governor talked about other potential vice presidents: Governor Tom Ridge, Senator Fred Thompson, et al. Do you have a No. 2 choice, or do you have an idea, a prototype of the kind of person you'd like to see in that office?

VENTURA: As vice president? No. It a -- you know, that again will come down to the political moves that each candidate has to make, like it's, you know, it's very much a chess game to get elected in many ways. And they will have to, you know, look at maybe where their weaknesses are and seek to fulfill and make those strengths, just as I did when I ran for governor of Minnesota.

I had served as mayor of the sixth-largest city, Brooklyn Park, but I really had no background in education, and I knew that education in Minnesota is a prime issue. So I selected a 36-year school teacher to be my running mate, who solidified that for me. I think it gave me a solid educational background then of having a lieutenant governor candidate, like Lieutenant Governor Schunk (ph) is to me, someone I can rely on to make education decisions.

PRESS: But governor, you said you didn't oppose this endorsement today by John McCain, but didn't it disappoint you? I mean, you did urge him to run as an independent, and you know, the -- I mean...

VENTURA: Oh, sure.

PRESS: ... is this politics as usual to you?

VENTURA: Well, it disappointed me, because I'm an advocate of a third party. I think we need one. I'm an advocate of the centrist movement, Bill. I'm fiscally conservative, but I'm socially liberal. Well, I don't fit into these two parties then, and I think most Americans are like me.

If you take the polls in Minnesota, if you want to believe them, only 30 to 40 percent of Minnesotans identify with either of these two parties combined. That means 60 percent or better of Minnesotans have no allegiance to these two parties. That makes them the majority.

PRESS: All right. Let's talk about you then for a second. I know you've told us on this show before you're not interested, you're not going to run, but things have changed since then. I mean, Weicker's out, Trump is out, now McCain is out, not going to run for the Reform Party. Isn't it wide-open now, and isn't it a moment that Jesse Ventura ought to at least reconsider?

VENTURA: No, because I'll tell you why personally. The president was in Minnesota, President Clinton, a week ago, and I had a chance to meet with him. He lives in a -- in a...

PRESS: Bubble.

VENTURA: Bubble is a good way to put it, and I couldn't do that, personally. I couldn't live my life inside this bubble where only certain people get to see and talk to you, and that as you move around -- I mean, when he drove through Minneapolis, they had to block off all the exits, they had the freeway closed. And literally, no one comes in contact with you. I don't think I could take that personally at this point in my life.

PRESS: If you could bring yourself to do it, wouldn't you agree, or don't you agree it is wide open now for somebody who's not Bush and not Gore?

VENTURA: Oh, yes. Absolutely, if they have the power to do it. And I would tell you in all honesty that I believe that if I was inclined to get in this race, I could get into it with 90 days to go and have a good chance to steal it, just as I did in Minnesota.

PRESS: And to be the most powerful person on the planet?

VENTURA: I don't want it. Would you?

PRESS: Don't ask me twice.


VENTURA: No. No, I...

PRESS: That's a scary thought, Mary.

VENTURA: I don't have the desire to do that. MATALIN: Well, governor, there's not been any successful third party national movement in this century. So why do you think your entrance would be the -- would be -- well, I guess the last century, so you'd be history-making in two centuries if you...

VENTURA: Well, I think there was a very strong movement, Mary, in the early '90s when Perot first got in the race. Let's remember, before he dropped out, he was actually winning in some polls in '92, and I think he got scared that he was going to win. I don't think he truly wanted to win, and a...

MATALIN: Well, let's talk -- can I talk about this third party, because Ross Perot actually had an issue that he was running on, which was central to what Americans were concerned about at the time? The new Independence Party has taken on adds, you're recruiting candidates in Minnesota.

What is the guiding philosophy? You just repeated to Bill that your guiding philosophy is that you are a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. I can tell you're a libertarian, not a social liberal. Is that the guiding force for a third party political movement, and is the Independence Party anything more than just Jesse Ventura?

VENTURA: Oh, in Minnesota we are. We're not anything beyond Minnesota. We actually existed in 1989, and then in '96 affiliated with the Reform Party, and then up until earlier this year disaffiliated with the Reform Party. So we've been in existence in Minnesota since '89. We're still a young party, but I believe that is enough, because you've got two extremes that sit out there, the far left and the far right, and elections are won or lost by the people in the middle. We're the ones that determine who wins between the far right and the far left.

And when a viable centrist middle candidate presents itself, that candidate can win the whole thing, because I think the centrist thing is more mainstream, it's more common sense, as I like to call it. We have the opportunity to take the best from the right and the best from the left and not have to take an all agenda one way or the other.

MATALIN: So are you...

VENTURA: Pardon me.

MATALIN: Are you -- are you saying that so far, from what you've seen post primary then, that George Bush and Al Gore are running as extreme candidates?

VENTURA: I think both -- it's not them. It's their two parties are extreme. It isn't them as individuals running. It's the Democrats and Republicans. They're extreme, you're darned right they are.

PRESS: You say there is nobody else, governor. There is Pat Buchanan. Viable candidate?

VENTURA: Well, the last poll I saw he's trailing Ralph Nader.

PRESS: Is Ralph Nader the viable candidate?

VENTURA: To a certain extent, but I don't think either of them have the ability to win.

PRESS: Should either of them be in the debates?

VENTURA: Yes. Absolutely. I think that if you -- if you poll more than 5 percent, whatever -- whatever the criteria is to give you major party, you should be allowed in the debates. And when they come up with this 15-percent level -- imagine this, Bill. At the primary in Minnesota I was polling only 10 percent. Therefore, by that criteria, I wouldn't have been allowed to debate. Subsequently, I could have never won.

But I showed that you can go from 10 percent to a winning 37 percent in six to seven weeks if you're allowed to debate and allowed to take your case to the voting public.

PRESS: If neither one of these -- let's talk about Buchanan and Nader. Neither one of them get in a debate, neither one of them are -- prove to be a viable candidate, let's say, and you're left, like every other American, governor, with a choice between George Bush and Al Gore, what do you do? Do you endorse?

VENTURA: No. No, I won't -- I won't ever endorse a Republican or a Democrat at this point in my career. What I will endorse is policy, which could mean I'd endorse both of them on certain things, I mean, because they would differ. So I would strictly endorse on policy. If there's something the vice president does that I like, I would endorse that policy. If there's something Governor Bush does that I like, I would endorse that policy. But I will not endorse either candidate.

PRESS: Would you encourage people to sit out this race?

VENTURA: Sit it out? No. I always encourage people to vote. But vote your heart and vote your conscience, and don't -- here's a big point about it is, we in America today have gotten too much entrapped that somehow an election is a horse race. It's not a horse race. You don't vote for someone because you think they're going to win: You vote for someone because that person best represents your philosophies, your ideals, and what you believe in.

Winning is irrelevant. You go there and you vote your heart and you vote your conscience.


MATALIN: Governor, you mentioned Ross -- you mention Ross Perot. He's not even attending the nominating convention so far for the Reform Party. As we go to break, is there anything left of the Reform Party?

VENTURA: I don't know, Mary. I left it behind when I left it in February. I have no contact with them. We're strengthening the Independence Party of Minnesota. We're working very hard to win local elections there: state representative, county commissioner, mayors and all that, because I'm a firm believer you build from the ground up.

You know, when you plant the plant, it doesn't grow from the top down: It grows from the ground up. And so, you know, to get a solid political party -- and you have to remember we're still a babe in the woods. I mean, we've only been around a little more than 10 years. That's nothing, really, in the political arena.

And I think we're going to go through growing pains, we're going to go through identity crisis of what exactly is the third-party movement. But I think with persistence and with people like myself and other leaders that are willing to stand for what the third party believes in that we can be successful 10, 15 years down the line from now.

MATALIN: All right, Jesse Ventura, he's no babe in the woods. He's a policy power broker. He weighed in on a big one today at the White House, supporting expanded permanent trade relations with China. We'll talk about that and more with Jesse Ventura when we return on CROSSFIRE.


MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The White House held a big China confab today. There were presidents past and present, and wannabes. There were Cabinets past and present and wannabes. And there was a governor Jesse Ventura. Everybody wants his support for everything. Why? We're asking him tonight -- Bill.

PRESS: Governor, I saw on television and after this meeting they all marched out, President Ford, President Carter, Henry Kissinger. I mean, I saw Tom Foley, Mike Mansfield -- I haven't seen him in a long time. And you. I mean, you're seeing -- this is an important issue, permanent trade status for China. But aren't you concerned about being brought into Washington to serve as a potted plant for Bill Clinton?

VENTURA: No, I'm not, because I believe strong enough. I've looked at this for the state of Minnesota, and this is an issue that's not only going to affect every person in the state of Minnesota depending on how it's voted on, but it's really going to affect the economy of our entire nation.

I think this is the biggest individual decision that is so far going to be made this century, and that's how important it is and I'm in full support, because if we don't develop a relationship with China, I think 10 years from now -- in fact, as the president stated, a few weeks from now we will begin to suffer from it, because of it.

MATALIN: Governor, could you address the three main criticisms of critics with expanding trade with China and enhancing global trade. They cite typically three: human rights violations, that trade would be more greatly enhanced for China than us, and the national security concerns we should have when we give more, when we enrich China. Can you address those?

VENTURA: Well, I think on national security you can look at it simply as you get a lot more done shaking hands than making fists. And virtually, that's what it comes down to. I mean, we're never going to change China per se, but that will require Chinese to change China. But our influence can have a huge impact more so than isolationism or shutting the door on it.

As far as the other issues you talked about, it's a no-brainer to me. On human rights, yes, there's human rights violations in China. But by us not talking and not trading with them, what influence will we have to change them if we're an opponent of them? And for -- as far as our economics go, if we don't trade with China, they're going to trade with every other country in the world, and we will in essence be isolating ourselves off from that trade value. And it's going to have a huge effect on Minnesota agriculture and business. And I believe that it will be all positive.

PRESS: Governor, let's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Minnesota for a second. You've done some very colorful things, said some colorful things since you've been governor of Minnesota. For example, you told "Playboy" magazine last November -- quote -- "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers." Did you regret making that quote?

VENTURA: No, because the quote -- you needed to read it in context of the whole article, and you need to hear the tapes of how it was referred to. And what I was referring to was that a certain element of organized religion does that. And they make their living, that they're money brokers, and that's what they're out doing. And you know, I don't make excuses for anything I say. It's just that when you make statements and they're printed in "Playboy" -- had only "Playboy" read that it wouldn't have been a problem.


But when you splatter a "Playboy" interview on the front page of the daily newspaper, then it can become more blatant a problem. No, I don't regret saying it. I should have simply said some. But we all make mistakes when we -- you know, when we, you know, you're doing 25 interviews a week.

Now, I want to come back on you.


VENTURA: Yes. We are talking about misquoting. I remember you saying when Dean Barclay (ph) was on here, Bill, you said you're tired of politicians back tracking. You're tired of them saying they've been misquoted. You're tired of them saying they were taken out of context. And then you took a quote from my "Playboy" article on Tailhook...


VENTURA: ... and you left off the first line, which was the essence of the entire quote, where I said, "I don't condone it, but I know how and why it happened." You removed that line and that puts me in a horrible light.

PRESS: Do you want to have it out right now?


PRESS: Look, of course, I left out the line "I don't condone it." I know you didn't condone what happened at Tailhook. But I just wanted to remind everybody else what the rest of the quote was, OK? In fact, you told me you wanted to talk about this. I brought it with me.


PRESS: You said -- you continued, after saying you don't condone it, on the record.

VENTURA: For the record.

PRESS: "These are people who live on the razor's edge and defy death and do things where people die." They're not going to consider grabbing a woman's breast or buttocks a major situation. That's much ado about nothing." That's the line, I think, governor.

VENTURA: Much ado about nothing is meant in the context of those people, those people. It isn't me saying much ado about nothing. When you're a Navy SEAL and you're a Top Gun fighter pilot, you have to be prepared to take people's lives and not have any bad thoughts about it. You have to instantaneously be able to make decisions like that.

And the point I was making there is that we create these people. You do, the government does, the people do. They create the Frankenstein, and then when Frankenstein malfunctions, they're appalled, they're aghast. They don't know...


PRESS: Look, I...

VENTURA: ... what -- how could this happen to us?

PRESS: Look, God bless them for their service to all of us, all right.


PRESS: But I mean then to say that because of that service, because of that training, they can grab a woman's breast, grab a woman's buttocks, and it's much ado about nothing.


VENTURA: No, no, no. I said...

PRESS: That's a signal that anything goes. I think that's a wrong signal for...


VENTURA: Well, Bill -- Bill, let me explain something to you, then Bill, so you'll understand.

In war, anything goes.

PRESS: This isn't war. This is a hotel...

VENTURA: But you've trained -- wait a minute.

You've created these Frankensteins that will go do your bidding in war. And as I said, I don't condone what they did, but I understand how and why it can happen.

PRESS: Neither one of us condone it, governor, but this was a hotel room or a hotel corridor in San Diego...


VENTURA: In Las Vegas.

PRESS: I'm sorry, in Las Vegas.

You're a veteran, I mean, I know at lot of veterans. I'm not one. My father's one. He didn't say that all veterans come back from a war zone and then can get away with any kind of behavior in any (UNINTELLIGIBLE) situation.

VENTURA: No, no, but you have to understand that it can happen, that it can get out of hand. When you get a group of these people all together in one place, and you add alcohol to it, and you add the bravado and everything else -- the adrenaline, the testosterone, and everything that it takes to create these types of individuals -- sometimes there'll be a malfunctions. Sometimes things we don't want to happen will happen. That's all I was saying with it.

Is that a person like that will not necessarily in a combat situation look at this as being much ado about nothing.

PRESS: You may understand it. With all due respect, I still don't understand it.

VENTURA: Well, because you've never lived it.

PRESS: OK. Governor Ventura, even with disagreements -- that one -- great to have you here today. Thank you, governor, for coming in.

VENTURA: Thank you.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATALIN: Well, Bill, when it comes to you, I have to agree with the governor. I feel his pain. You know, those people who say that this governor is "politainment," a combination of politics and entertainment, and that that's somehow a negative, are wrong. He has a huge impact on politics and policy, as is evidenced by his being at the China confab today.

PRESS: Well, when you see the black and blue, you'll know it's because of my rumble with Jesse Ventura. It's too bad there aren't more like him, is all I've got to say.

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

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow for more CROSSFIRE.



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