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Has the Republican Party Really Become More Compassionate?

Aired July 31, 2000 - 6:38 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: All right, Wolf, thank you. Yes, I'm here with Robert Novak. Our guest tonight is Republican strategist and adviser to the Bush campaign Ralph Reed, frequent guest on CROSSFIRE.

Ralph, good to see you here in Philadelphia.

RALPH REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Thank you, Bill. Good to be with you.

PRESS: I'm so excited for tonight's program. I mean, this great theme, "Leave no child behind," which is a nice-sounding phrase, Ralph, but your candidate, nominee is Governor Bush of Texas. Texas ranks 49 out of 50 states when it comes to kids covered by health insurance. Isn't it pretty clear that Governor Bush preaches one thing and practices another?

REED: No, not at all. In fact, the situation, as you know, has gotten a lot better since he became governor. He's...

PRESS: 49 out of 50?

REED: Well, if you could let me finish. He's greatly expanded child health-care programs. He's given increased access to the Medicaid program, for example, by expanding the number of those above the poverty line who can -- who can gain access to it. And the proof is in the pudding.

I mean, if you saw the recent RAND study, for example, it found that Texas was one of two states leading the nation in test-score improvement among -- among children, and as a matter of fact, African- American and Hispanic fourth-graders in Texas read better and perform better on standardized tests than their counterparts anywhere in the country.

PRESS: I have to tell you, with all due respect, that I know the talking points are spinning out fast out of Austin, but every guest we've had in the last five days has mentioned the RAND study and the test scores. I didn't ask anything about education. I asked about health care for kids.

The fact is that George W. Bush left $33 million unspent on the table. And then you've got Dick Cheney, who voted against Head Start. So the fact is, Ralph, both of these guys have left millions of kids behind, haven't they, in contradiction to tonight's theme? REED: No, I mentioned the child test scores because it's an aspect of his record, of progress, bipartisan progress, but I also address the issue of expanding the Medicaid program, which he has done. There are more children receiving free medical care in Texas today than at any time in the history of the state and it's because of Governor George W. Bush. And I think what this is an example, Bill, is why the Democrats are desperate and why they're in trouble: because they don't know how to put forward a positive vision for where they want to take the country. All they can do is tear other people down and distort other people's records.


And that's why I think the American people want a new kind of leader, and Governor Bush is that leader.

RALPH NOVAK, CO-HOST: Ralph Reed, I feel constrained to talk about this platform that was enacted today. It does not, as it did four years ago, call for the abolition of the Department of Education. You know and I know that the members of the platform committee and the members of that conservative are overwhelmingly in favor of the abolition of the department, but they got word from Austin that the governor didn't want that.

So I want you to look American in the eye, Ralph. Tell them what you think of the Department of Education.

REED: I think that what Governor Bush favors is allowing great local control, higher standards and accountability. And my own view is that -- is that, you know, conservatives said that they wanted to abolish the Department of Education, and what the American people...

NOVAK: Would you?

REED: I think that it would be better if we had returned it to the local level, but the reality is that department is there. And over three administrations over 12 years we made no progress in that direction, and what Governor Bush has proposed is a better answer. And that is if there's going to be a federal Department of Education -- and there's clearly going to be -- let's make sure that it's a program that institutes high standards and accountability, and makes sure that every child can read and write, and we leave no child behind.

And what does that mean? It means taking the Title I program, and instead of rewarding failure, rewarding success. That's what Governor Bush is proposing.

NOVAK: Let me talk about -- I call that a retreat. But let me talk about another issue...

REED: I think it's progress.


NOVAK: Let me talk about another retreat, Mr. Reed, and that is that the platform last time, the platform the time before that, the platform the time before that called for term limits to get these professional politicians out and to go with 70 percent of the American people in saying we should have term limits on members of Congress.

Nothing in the platform this year. Orders from Austin. Why?

REED: I think the reality is that when we were running in the early '90s, and particularly '94, we viewed term limits as the answer to the country's problem. We've had -- we've had two things that have set that back.

The first is once we had more Republicans than Democrats in a lot of these state legislatures, we found that we were turning a lot of good people out of office. Not -- not that that means...

NOVAK: You mean it's good for Democrats but not for Republicans.


REED: No, I'm still -- I'm still in favor of term limits. I'm just saying it's not a panacea.

The second thing that happened, as you know, is the Supreme Court ruled that states couldn't limit the term limits of their federal legislatures. And barring either a constitutional amendment or a new Supreme Court decision it makes it hard to achieve the changes we wanted to achieve that way.

PRESS: You see, this platform doesn't satisfy the right, doesn't satisfy the left either. So there you go.

Now, Ralph Reed, I want to ask you about...

REED: I think it satisfies everybody, in moderates, conservatives, pro-life, pro-choice Republicans. I think it's a unifying document. It's a mainstream document.

PRESS: I want to ask you about this -- this program, too, before the convention, because there's one person that I find missing. And I say this as a Democratic and I say this as a liberal. Why isn't President Bush given a prime-time speech in front of this convention. I mean, I can't understand why the Republican Party, particularly one that his son is going to leave, would snub President Bush.

REED: That isn't a fair characterization, and I think Governor Bush will be -- I mean, former President Bush is going to be honored. He's going to be honored when we honor all the previous administrations, including Reagan and Ford. And I think you can look for other times when there's going to be a real show of appreciation for the fact that this is a man who brought decency, civility and honor to the highest office in the land...

PRESS: For the sake of...

REED: And people are hungering for a return to that. PRESS: For the sake of this discussion, I'll grant you everything you say. I think President Bush -- I disagreed with a lot of policies -- I think he's a wonderful American who served his country well.

REED: Well, maybe...

PRESS: He's basically, Ralph -- I'm talking about not being up there with Gerry Ford and other people. I'm talking about a prime- time speech in front of this convention. I really find it inexplicable that you would not give him that opportunity.

REED: Well, I haven't had a chance to discuss that with the former president or the governor, but I can tell you this: He's going to be honored. Governor Bush is proud to be his son. He's proud of the heritage and legacy of public service that he left. And I think really what you're raising is a canard, because there's going to be plenty of times when he's going to be honored.

But the focus of this convention, Bill, is not on what came before; it's what's going to come in the future. And the focus is on Governor Bush: He's going to be the next president of the United States, and I think the focus of this convention properly is on him as a new and different kind of Republican leader. And that's where we're going to keep it.

NOVAK: You know, Mr. Reed, I used to think that one of the values of the Republican Party is they were color-blind while the Democrats had a quota system. I was looking at the schedule for tonight's proceedings.

REED: Right.

NOVAK: I don't know if you've (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it.

We have tonight four African-Americans, two Jews, five Hispanics, and an Asian.

REED: Yes.

NOVAK: Boy, I thought I was in San Francisco with the Democrats, what Jeane Kirkpatrick used to call the San Francisco Democrats. Have you -- have you abandoned the idea of we're color-blind and you're having this kind of quota system?

REED: Well, I'm not sure that's an accurate characterization of the -- I think what we're trying to do is we're trying to have a convention that reflects diversity as a strength.

NOVAK: What about white people? Not too many.

REED: Well, Bob, were you looking for a spot or...


I mean, look... PRESS: No. Ralph, the future, not the past.

REED: To compare this, Bob, to compare this to the San Francisco convention, the substance of these conventions is going to be very different. We're going to be talking about Governor Bush...

NOVAK: All right. All right. I'm not looking at substance. I'm looking at appearance.

Look, let me ask you one other thing...

REED: You're complaining about -- I mean, do you think that reaching out to people who have traditionally not always felt welcome in the Republican Party is something to be...

NOVAK: It's a quota system.

REED: ... criticized and not praised? I think it's something that should be celebrated.

NOVAK: Let me talk to you about another group, a big group. It's not been very comfortable in the Republican Party over the years. Sometimes gets out. That's white Catholics. There's not one white Catholic on that ticket -- I mean, on that podium tonight. Once again, they passed over a lot of Catholic aspirants for -- for vice president. Is there kind an anti-Catholic bias in the Republican Party?

REED: Oh, no. In fact, to the contrary, I was in a meeting earlier today with folks who were going to be mobilizing Catholic support for Governor Bush. And he enjoys strong support from the Catholic community. In fact, right now, he's leading by 11 points among Catholics in the most recent CNN/Gallup poll.

And in addition to that, you've mentioned some of the Catholic governors that are going to be out there mobilizing on his behalf: Governor John Engler in Michigan, Governor Frank Keating in Oklahoma. And I think we have a number of Catholics on the program.

PRESS: Quickly, we're out of -- we're just about of time. Former wannabe speaker or almost speaker-to-be was interviewed by Frank Sesno on CNN today, and he said something I think which may sum up this entire convention. I'd like you to listen and get your reaction please.


BOB LIVINGSTON, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Because we were strident. We thought that the best way to convince the American people was to be harsh and rhetorically mean, and we frightened some people. And we're really not that way. Nobody is. But the fact is we were using some pretty tough rhetoric that frankly we've modified, put in a nicer, sweeter package.


PRESS: Nicer, sweeter package: That's really all it is, packaging. Isn't it, Ralph?

REED: No, it is, in fact, a new and different kind of leader, and it's an unconventional convention that is conveying the message of a new and different kind of Republican. And that -- that leader is George W. Bush.

So it's not just taking what was there before and repackaging it. We've got a new leader who hasn't been part of the sniping and the partisan warfare and the zero-sum politics of Washington, D.C. That's why I think people are rallying to it.

NOVAK: Ralph Reed, thank you very much.

REED: Thank you.

NOVAK: Bill Press and I will be back with closing comments.


NOVAK: Bill, I was acting as the devil's advocate on the right, a role I enjoy, by the way...


... in asking those questions of Ralph Reed. But in fact they're doing the right thing with this platform, with this nicey-nicey convention. And what they can do is bring in all these minority groups and everything, and then once they get into office they can eviscerate the Department of Education.

PRESS: Well, Bob, I just want to reassure you that you don't have to be too frightened about all those minorities that are up on the platform, because if you look at the audience, Bob, they'll talk about inclusion, you'll see them on the platform. The audience, from what I've seen, is very white, very male and very rich, Bob. I think you're going to see a much different crowd in Los Angeles.

NOVAK: Can I tell you something that the -- the politicians won't tell you, and that is that we still in this country have a country where the minority groups by themselves cannot win an election.

PRESS: Oh, I don't -- granted, they can't win an election, but they've got to be part of the process. And I think...

NOVAK: What the Republicans are doing.

PRESS: No, not by putting them on the podium, Bob, they're not making them part of the...

NOVAK: It's a start.

PRESS: ... part of the process.

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

NOVAK: On the right, I'm Robert Novak. This has been a special edition of CROSSFIRE.



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