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Capital Gang

Will the Bush-Cheney Ticket Appeal to Moderates?

Aired July 29, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: From the Republican national convention in Philadelphia, the CAPITAL GANG.

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG from Philadelphia, the site of the Republican national convention. I'm Mark Shields, with the full CAPITAL GANG. That's Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Margaret Carlson, and Kate O'Beirne.

Texas Governor George W. Bush announced energy company CEO Dick Cheney as his choice for vice president, and Democrats opened fire on Cheney's votes in the '80s as a Republican congressman from Wyoming.


SEN. THOMAS DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Now we have a Republican president ticket that's to the right of the gun lobby.



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... knew his votes, but I also know his record. And what do you expect? I mean, I'm running against people that all they do is spend time tearing people down.


SHIELDS: The former House Republican whip defended his own conservative record.


DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Go back and look at the 1980s. We had large deficits. I was committed to trying to gain control over federal spending.



CHENEY: I'm one of those people who believes that the solution to our gun problem is to enforce existing laws, not impose new restrictions on law-abiding citizens. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: This week's CNN/"TIME" poll showed two-thirds of likely voters said the Cheney selection had no effect on their votes for president, with the remainder about evenly divided.

Bob Novak, were Cheney and the Bush campaign somehow unprepared for the intense reaction to the VP selection?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": I think that's the truth. I think they were surprised. I didn't think they thought that his record was going to be a problem. Dick Cheney doesn't have a reputation as a raw-meat conservative. They were really surprised by it.

Some people think that Dick Cheney was, at least at the beginning, was a little rusty in the political game. He hadn't been in there in a long time.

But when all of that is said and done, this is a Democratic campaign that is typically augmented and expanded by a very friendly news media, which has had a heyday, a festival on it for a week.

SHIELDS: Thanks, Bob.

NOVAK: You're welcome.

SHIELDS: Margaret, have you -- have you had a festival?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": There was just a media study that shows actually the festival has been on George Bush's side as far as favorable coverage by the press.

Listen, what's surprising to me is that they weren't surprised, that none of Cheney's votes seemed to need explanation to the Bush camp before he came out. They were stunned that they had to answer for it.

SHIELDS: You mean that they were surprised?

CARLSON: That they were surprised. I mean, it's striking to me...


CARLSON: ... that -- that, you know, they wouldn't find voting against Nelson Mandela's release something that they'd have to come out and answer for. His answer that he would tweak some votes when he had about a 24-hour, 48-hour window to sell, well, listen, if I had to do it again, I see that Head Start was a great success. And in fact, he voted for an $870 billion tax cut that year. So $1 billion for Head Start would not have been a bank-buster.

So they have a more conservative guy with a more conservative record who happened to smile, unlike Newt Gingrich, so he doesn't look that way. But nonetheless, the facts are the way they are. SHIELDS: Kate.

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": The Bush campaign recognized that Dick Cheney is universally respected and admired by the Washington community. When he was -- when he was nominated as defense secretary, Senator Al Gore explained, "I like him and I respect him." Senator George Mitchell praised his record in the House.

So I think they could be forgiven for not anticipating that the relentless attack people on the Gore camp, echoed by some in the media, were going to implausibly try to convince people that this well-known, well-respected figure is some sort of a right-wing maniac.

I think those votes in the '80s all have logical explanations. Some of those gun votes, for instance, were pure symbolism and window dressing. To his credit, Dick Cheney didn't go along with the window dressing. On a lot of those gun votes, Al Gore in the House was voting the exact same way. In fact, Al Gore had higher grades with the NRA than he got at Harvard. So let the Democrats explain that.

SHIELDS: I'd just say every -- virtually every chief of police I know testified on the "cop killer" bullets. But Al Hunt...

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, I don't think they were prepared for this Mark and I don't think it matters much. I also don't think that we can say Dick Cheney's votes aren't relevant but Al Gore's votes are. We ought to have -- we ought to be consistent one way or the other.

Look, Dick Cheney is someone I respect, but he had some truly horrible votes, and his explanation that there were big deficits in the early '80s has nothing to do with voting against a resolution to free Nelson Mandela, whatever the context of that resolution. It has nothing to do with voting against -- doing away with armor-piercing cop-killing bullets. Those were just generally bad votes.

But as we said last week, this is a guy of much broader experience and capacity. In that, I agree with Kate. He is universally respected. And that counts a lot more.

This is a small plus for the Bush ticket, and that's all you can expect.

SHIELDS: I think they were totally unprepared. I'd say the following: that when Dick Cheney says, "I want to enforce the laws that are on the books," which is kind of the mantra of the pro-gun folks, he was basically against any laws being on the books. He had voted against any. And you know, you add to that the fact that Ronald Reagan requested the -- backed Head Start when he opposed it.

I mean, these are -- and I come back to Al's point. We've heard for six months about Al Gore in the -- in the House of Representatives, and rightfully so. His record is indicative of a flip-flop, of a change -- call it what you want -- an evolution. Somehow George Bush, immediately when Dick Cheney's record is mentioned, says this is the politics of personal destruction. NOVAK: Let me...

SHIELDS: I think that's calling wolf just one too many times.

NOVAK: Let me make a few points. One thing is we just had Karl Rove on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" and he says -- I haven't checked it and I will check it -- but he says there was a vote for banning cop-killer bullets. I don't know what the truth of it is.

But that -- the real point is...


No, the real point is, Al, that I love the way you say these are just horrible votes. You think any conservative vote is a horrible vote. That (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Head Start, which is not a very good program. It's a -- it's an overrated program that the liberal press has magnified. There was a need to cut down on spending.

But you know, the interesting thing is if you name somebody like, say, John Kerry is nominated for vice president and you go over his liberal record, do you think any of the media are going to sit around and say, these were horrible, horrible votes? It's that you think conservative votes are horrible votes.

HUNT: Let me tell you, you live in yesterday, Bob. There's no question that the media has given a much more favorable treatment to Bush so far this year than Al Gore. That is indisputable. And second, let me tell you something: You're quite honest about this. They -- I challenge them, if Dick Cheney agrees with you, to campaign against Head Start for the next three months.

NOVAK: These are 12-year-old issues.

HUNT: Well, but nobody -- but you say...

NOVAK: You're living in the past.

HUNT: You say Head Start is a terrible program. I disagree with you.


O'BEIRNE: But with a well-known figure like Dick Cheney, to single out these votes, you cannot plausibly argue that Dick Cheney is indifferent to the killing of police officers, indifferent to airline hijacking, somehow sympathetic to white supremacists. So I'm not sure knowing this individual, who he is, and respecting, as most people do, what the point is about these votes that he explains in every case.

CARLSON: But we know people by their votes. I mean, explain why he would vote for cop-killer bullets. I mean...

O'BEIRNE: The sale of those bullets was already restricted to law enforcement agencies. It was a feel-good symbolic vote.

CARLSON: Twenty-one people voted with Cheney on that, only the most extreme...

O'BEIRNE: Sure...

CARLSON: ... voted...

O'BEIRNE: This is what happens to you if you don't trust yourself to explain to your constituents that it was a symbolic meaningless vote.

NOVAK: Maybe you can help me with this, Margaret. Last Saturday, we had a discussion of Dick Cheney, and there was a kind of consensus that it was really going to be Cheney, it was a terrific choice. There wasn't any talk about, gee, this is a guy who had terrible votes. This is all something that is fed by the Democratic propaganda machine...

CARLSON: No, wait a minute, Bob...

NOVAK: ... and you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it up.

CARLSON: No, no, no. Mark -- Mark, this is my...


SHIELDS: Go ahead. It's Margaret's turn. Margaret's turn.

CARLSON: ... which is that, you know, I -- I was under the impression he was kind of this vaguely moderated guy, you know, the universal...


CARLSON: No. Facts are facts. There are stupid things in Ronald Reagan's book, and there are stupid things when you don't like them, Bob. But in fact, you look at the votes, and you say, boy, he operated under the radar. He wasn't glaring and gloating the way Newt Gingrich was, but he's actually to the right of Newt Gingrich.

NOVAK: Good for him.

SHIELDS: That...

CARLSON: You don't have it both ways, Bob. Yes, yes.

SHIELDS: Bob, you get the last word, sadly.

Full CAPITAL GANG will be back with the -- the outlook on Bush versus Gore on convention eve in Philly.


SHIELDS: Welcome back from Philadelphia.

The presidential candidates took final shots this week, Al Gore before going on vacation and George W. Bush before coming here.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will choose a running mate who shares my values, someone who will stand up for the people, not the powerful, willing to take on the big polluters, the big drug companies, the HMOs, and big oil.



BUSH: Don't be fooled by that kind of politics where they're going to get on your TV screen and try to scare you. President George W. Bush will keep the promise to the elderly in America.


SHIELDS: As for the convention itself, will it be too boring to watch?


ANDREW CARD: If you tuned into a convention before and you got turned off by it, turn onto this one. It's going to be terrific.


SHIELDS: The U.N. -- CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, taken Tuesday and Wednesday, showed a 14-point Bush lead. The CNN/"TIME" poll taken Wednesday and Thursday showed a 15-point lead.

Al Hunt, will George Bush lead in the polls -- will that lead widen even more as a result of this week's convention? Tell us, Al.

HUNT: Mark, CNN has been awfully good to my family, but we could have increased Time Warner's profits a bit and not done those polls. They are both flawed, wrong polls. He does not have any 14- or 15- point lead now.

The important thing, though, is he had a very good week, and I think with this exciting convention that Andy Card just described, stage managed as it will be, I think he will clearly enjoy a double- digit lead by next Friday.

What that means is that Al Gore's selection of a VP, which will be a week from next Tuesday he announced today, and the tone and tenor of the Democratic convention will be critical, because if they don't eat significantly into that big lead by August 18th, they're going to have tough time in this election.

SHIELDS: Tough time, Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Yes. I think, you know, a lot of the Democrats all say, well, gee, Dukakis was 17 points ahead of Bush, of George Bush Sr. at this time in 1988. Nothing -- nothing wrong with Gore, but there was something a lot wrong with George Bush Sr. when he was 17 points behind. There's something a lot wrong with Gore. The question is I don't think George W. Bush is going to be as bad a candidate as Dukakis.

I have a feeling that for the first time Democrats are really beginning to feel a little bit of panic, because all they know how to do is to attack Dick Cheney, to attack George W. Bush, and it isn't working. Whether it's double-digit or not, Al, I haven't any idea if those polls are right. But I do believe that the Democrats are in trouble.

SHIELDS: Do you think the Democrats are in trouble, Margaret?

CARLSON: There is a -- a felling of Democrats being the attack dogs, and in the country people don't want that. And George W. Bush has done a very good job of being the "don't worry, be happy" kind of guy, and then choosing Cheney, who does have a right-wing record but smiled through it, it still looks like this kind of nice guy, moderate ticket.

So if people don't pay too much attention to what they stand for -- and this week is going to be an extended Hallmark card. Every day has a "P" word in it: prosperity, progress, pasta. And we'll, you know, we'll leave the convention, but the Democrats are going to do the same thing: totally stage-managed. And you'll come out with this kind of good feeling: Can't we all just get along?

O'BEIRNE: Is the pasta on ethnic night?



The mood here -- most delegates, of course, aren't here, but those who are already among Republicans, definitely a different mood than in 1996, where there was sort of a feeling of dread hanging over San Diego: a sense that they were up against the greatest politician of his generation in Bill Clinton and had a weak candidate.

There's a feeling now, it seems to me, that there's sort of the wind is at their back. They think they have the superior candidate. They agree with Margaret, as you talk to Republicans. What is Al Gore going to do knowing he's running behind? He has to attack George W. Bush. But people discount Al Gore attacks.

You know, in 1988, he was attacking Dukakis for abandoning the poor and Gephardt for being a phony flip-flopper, during the primaries attacking Bradley for being a quitter and taking health care away from minorities. He doesn't have a lot of credibility when he attacks. And Margaret's right: The mood at the moment is people seem to prefer the friendly "I'm going to restore civility to Washington," "I look forward to working across the aisle" message that George Bush and Dick Cheney are talking about.

SHIELDS: I don't think there's any question that if this a national election for student body president, George Bush wins big. I mean, he is a more likable guy. You'd rather have him as your -- as your running mate in your car pool than Al Gore, who's stiff and remote and you're not sure who he is. But at the same time, if it somehow becomes a more important election about a president -- I think the presidency has diminished in importance to most Americans over the past 10 years.

This is the most -- I agree with Kate completely...

O'BEIRNE: Seven years, Bill Clinton.

SHIELDS: No, it's really since the end of the Cold War in large part, and...


... certainly Clinton has not enhanced it.

But I would say this: the most optimistic I've seen Republicans since 1984, the most confident. And I cannot understand one thing politically, and that is why when they went after Dick Cheney's record this week, which is absolutely legitimate, why did Al Gore do it himself? I mean, you -- this is a chance to try out your candidates for vice president. Let John Kerry, Tom Harkin, Bob Graham, let them do the shots, because it just reinforces that negative perception.

NOVAK: Mark, let me add one ideological point in here...

SHIELDS: Please do, Bob.

NOVAK: In addition -- in addition to being a student body president election, in which case I think you'll agree Bush -- Bush is the winner, there's an ideological -- ideological component. This Gallup poll shows that Gore advantage among the liberals is about the same as Bush is among the conservatives, and Gore actually has an advantage among the moderates. But there are a lot more conservatives in this country.

You see, the dogs just aren't buying that liberal dog food anymore. I know that's sad news for you and all the people like you, Mark. But that is -- that is the biggest problem...


And since they won't buy the dog food, they have to put out poison.

SHIELDS: Well...

CARLSON: Mark...


SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But Bob, if that's the case, then where is the frontal attack by George W. Bush on the Clinton record?

NOVAK: They don't need it.

SHIELDS: What do they want to do? They want to give back that tax increase?

HUNT: I hope they will be...


HUNT: ... as honest Bob, and I hope George W. Bush will run against prescription drugs for seniors, he'll run against Social Security. He'll run absolutely...

NOVAK: They're not that dumb.

HUNT: ... against patients' bill of rights, he'll run against all those things, because then you would be proven right, Bob.

NOVAK: But they're not that dumb, but...

HUNT: Why would it be dumb if that's what the country -- if they're not buying that dog food, you don't want to have (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

NOVAK: That's the point, Al. Those are -- the things they're running for isn't going to sell it. It's silly to run against them.


CARLSON: Bush has kind of morphed into Clinton and left Al Gore in the dust in between Bob Jones University and now. The only mistake he may have made is by choosing Cheney, which reminds people -- the million moms are not going for Dick Cheney. The militia moms will.

SHIELDS: He picked up -- picked up Cheyenne and Laramie, though.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, the GOP votes against abortion.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. The Republican platform committee engaged in its customary debate over abortion even though George W. Bush said he did not want any changes in the strong anti-abortion plank originally adopted in 1984.


TONI CASEY, CALIFORNIA DELEGATE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION: He has not said that we as members of this subcommittee and as members of this platform cannot make language that unifies us.



REP. HENRY HYDE (R), ILLINOIS: It's left to the Republicans, the heartless Republicans, to care about the defenseless unborn. That's why I am a Republican.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: Congressman Henry Hyde and Governor Bush prevailed, and no change was made.

Margaret Carlson, did George W. Bush make a strategic mistake on the platform, on the abortion plank?

CARLSON: No, because after tonight we'll never hear about it again. It will just be this vague thing that's there that wasn't disturbed. The mistake would have been if it had been opened up and the right-wing was agitated over it. This way Bush gets to go along and kind of wiggle through this in that he winks at pro-choicers and says, well, listen, we're -- in the end, we're not going to really do anything about this. And Pat Robertson has already said, because you put litmus tests, you're not -- I'm going to go along with you. They're not going to say anything because they want to win.

So he's bought off Pat Robertson and the others, and the only way it could have become a problem for him is if there had been an abortion plank fight.

SHIELDS: Kate, the language of this plank calls -- which is a covenant with the voters and a compact for the American people, calls for the appointment of judges who are pro-life as a condition of their appointment, federal judges, and secondly, a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions regardless of life, incest, life of the mother, or...

O'BEIRNE: Right, the platform Ronald Reagan swept 49 states on. There's this quadrennial flap over this abortion language, largely manufactured for the media. This time around, conservatives are not in the mood to create problems for candidate Bush, and Governor Bush is smart enough not to cause problems for himself by not anticipating that he might open it up.

The abortion rights GOPers can never deliver. They are totally outnumbered here. And frankly, public opinion is increasingly pro- life. The opinion on Roe v. Wade is divided. The public is overwhelmingly opposed to "partial birth" abortion, and the issue time after time on single-issue voters benefits Republicans.

SHIELDS: Al, George W. Bush.

HUNT: No, I think -- I think he was smart to keep the platform language. The only problem he has is he is too identified with the Christian right, which does upset people. But I think Pat Robertson this week is going to be about as prevalent as a Philadelphia Philly pennant around here. They're going to keep him submerged.

I don't think the platforms much matter. I think most of these changes are style rather than real substance. But I give Republicans credit for one thing they'd groan on.

Eight years ago, they talked a lot about term limits, and now they've dropped it. And I want to give them credit for growth.

SHIELDS: They've dropped term limits... NOVAK: It's a shame.

SHIELDS: The other thing, Bob, today at the platform hearings the Republicans said, Governor Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, "The federal government does have a helpful role in education." And Bill Frist, the senator of Tennessee, a spokesman on the committee, defended Pell grants and Head Start -- Head Start, Bob.

NOVAK: I don't know if you've read the platform, Mark. It's a -- it's basically a conservative platform. Certainly, we all agree that an abortion fight was the last thing they needed. Bob Dole didn't understand that four years ago.

Let me tell you a little secret: For example, they removed the platform, beat down any amendment to eliminate the Department of Education. Now the people who are going to be meeting on that floor starting Monday are all, almost all against the -- for the abolition of the Department of Education. But they're smart enough to know it isn't good politics because the media and the Democrats contort into saying you're against education, not the Department of Education.

SHIELDS: That's what Bill Frist said. They'd abolish not the Department of Education, you abolish education, Bob. And that's a Republican...

HUNT: I talked to the Vermont delegation, Mark, and they're not opposed to the Department of Education.

SHIELDS: You're absolutely right.


"The Gang" will be back with "The Outrage of the Week."


SHIELDS: And now for "The Outrage of the Week": Yesterday, the Republican Congress before going on a five-week vacation through Labor Day refused to raise the minimum wage earned by the lowest-paid Americans from 5:15 to 6:15 an hour. That would be a modest increase, which would restore the minimum wage to what it was worth in the first Ronald Reagan administration. But the Republican members of Congress who said no to the hardest-working Americans will be paid nearly twice as much during their August recess as a single mom making the minimum wage earns in 52 weeks and 12 months -- Bob Novak.

NOVAK: So who is California delegate Toni Casey, trying to remove pro-life language from the platform in the name of Republican unity. As a Democrat, she hosted a reception for Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, she was invited to the Clinton White House several times, and as mayor of Los Altos Hills, California, organized rallies for Democratic congressman. Two months ago, she changed her registration to Republican. Is she a mole? Who cares?

The outrage is the California Republican Party put her on the platform committee. SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: When the Democrats meet in Los Angeles, Hugh Hefner will host a $3 million fund-raiser for them at his "Playboy" mansion. Vice President Gore won't attend because he disapproves of the setting, and Congressman Patrick Kennedy, head of the Democrats Congressional Campaign Committee, has denounced the shindig. But Gore and Kennedy have accepted thousands of dollars from Hefner and are engaging the political fund-raising equivalent of reading "Playboy" for the articles. They'll take "bunny money" while ducking Hefner's hutch.

SHIELDS: Better bunny money than funny money. Go ahead, Margaret.


CARLSON: Bunny money. Bob will probably be there.

In a lovely bipartisan spirit, Congress dusted off a bunch of silly pet projects this week and ran them -- rammed them through. They earmarked $134 million to expand the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Act, a quarter million for preserving aesthetically significant recordings, 16 million for promoting awareness of the Underground Railroad, and established a -- quote -- National Eat Dinner With Your Children Day. Not other days, just one day.

Earlier this month, they dealt with the emergency of their own pay raise.

But what about prescription drugs, the patients' bill of rights, the minimum wage? Not that important.


HUNT: Mark, those who don't learn from the history, the philosopher -- I don't know if it was George Santayana or Bob Novak -- told us, are doomed to repeat it. On Thursday, Common Cause and Democracy 21 filed a brief with the Justice Department demanding investigation into the illegal soft-money ads currently be directed by both the Gore and Bush campaigns. They use the political parties as mere conduits.

This is the same scam that Bill Clinton pulled of in 1996, and it's just as onerous and just as corrupting today.

Janet Reno, will you finally do something about it?

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG. "The Gang" will be back with more from Philadelphia tomorrow night at 6:30 Eastern.

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on the NFL Hall of Fame's induction of Notre Dame great Joe Montana.



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