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Capital Gang

Republican National Convention: Colin Powell, Laura Bush Making Her National Debut

Aired July 31, 2000 - 11:30 a.m. ET


MARK SHIELDS, "CAPITAL GANG": From the floor of the Republican National Convention here in Philadelphia, the first session is over and what a session it was. Colin Powell, Laura Bush making her national debut. I'm Mark Shields with the full "CAPITAL GANG": Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, Al Hunt and Margaret Carlson.

Bob Novak, I thought I was a Democratic convention. I saw all this compassion. I heard Colin Powell, for goodness sake's, rail against lobbyists, talk about children getting medical care. What's going on with this Republican Party?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CAPITAL GANG": Mark, what we saw tonight had no resemblance to any Republican convention I've ever seen. This is my 10th Republican convention. But I'm not sure what it had resemblance to any Democratic convention. This is a new kind of thing. It's a show. It's not a convention. And these people want to win the election.

Colin Powell could have -- is a great orator. He could have read from the phone book and they would have cheered. This has no substance, but it looked good to the American people, I think. I think they finally figured out how to put on a convention.

SHIELDS: Substance for your Republican Party, Margaret Carlson?

MARGARET CARLSON, "CAPITAL GANG": I don't know that they finally figured out how to put it on. You could have switched the channel and been watching "Who Wants to be a Democrat," because it sounded exactly the same themes. And it turns out that the Republican Party has morphed for this week into such a compassionate party that it does look like the Democratic Party.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, I was personally impressed by Laura Bush. I thought she did superbly well. I thought it was well delivered. She was probably the most policy specific of anybody. She came out with "Head Start" and expanded teacher training.

KATE O'BEIRNE, "CAPITAL GANG": There were going to be some school children with us tonight but it got a little late for them. It couldn't have been a Democratic convention, let me first say that. There weren't any class warriors up there and there weren't enough public employees. I think it is a different animal. Laura Bush, if the whole thing were put to song, I think, would be "Tell Laura I Love Her." Here she is, she's reluctant, she's retiring, she's shy, and yet she's a complete natural. The audience loved her.

NOVAK: Marian the librarian.

O'BEIRNE: Well, she had some really pointed lines, though, when she talked about people bringing their children up to her husband campaigning and saying they wanted a president they could be proud of again.

SHIELDS: But Al Hunt, you have to say one thing. Laura Bush, that was elliptical even, that line. It did get a big cheer out of the crowd. This was a crowd dying to boo Bill Clinton. The Bush folks, they didn't give them any opportunity.

AL HUNT, "CAPITAL GANG": I wasn't surprised at how well she did because I read Kate O'Beirne online earlier this afternoon who told us how great she was going to do and you were absolutely right. I thought Laura Bush was authentic and I think that was her appeal. Wasn't perfect, it was just authentic. And I thought it said something probably reassuring to most viewers about her husband, that if he married this kind of a woman, there's something more mature about him. I think Bob's right. This was a convention. This was a face tonight that bears little resemblance to the Republican Party. But, Mark, I thought it was the best first night this party has had at least since Ronald Reagan. They couldn't have done better.

O'BEIRNE: I bet they agree. This is just what they wanted (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: They weren't dying to boo Bill Clinton. What they were dying to do was to give a good face to the American public. Let me say two things about General Powell's speech that was -- that are a little bit like being Republican. First place was vouchers. He did come out cautiously for school vouchers, but nobody else had come out for school vouchers either.

And secondly, he did not have in the speech, as some of his aides said he would, the in-your-face remark, pro-abortion remark, which he had made four years ago. That is something that is not on the agenda. Abortion is not on the agenda of this convention and it's not a majority opinion of this convention. And I think he showed a little bit of political finesse by not repeating what he said four years ago.

SHIELDS: Well, basically, what you're saying, Bob, is the Republicans are ignoring the platform which they had adopted, which is the strong principled, unequivocal position.

NOVAK: That's exactly correct.

SHIELDS: And they're just muting it.

O'BEIRNE: The most important line of his speech was that he was greeting his fellow Republicans. And that's really the message they wanted America to see, that this admirable, upstanding American hero is a Republican.

NOVAK: And they love him.

HUNT: I loved the line about the tax code and the lobbyists, Mark. But, you know..

SHIELD: As a new Republican...

HUNT: I finally figured it out. Bob has been telling us something we've been very slow to get it, Mark. Basically, what these Republicans are doing, they've got this very popular notion to scale back or get rid of government in a whole lot of areas of education and health care. But they're so smart, Mark, they aren't going to tell the American people about it until after the election.


NOVAK: That's about right. That's about right.

SHIELD: Margaret, Margaret, four years ago...


SHIELD: Four years ago, this party had solemnly called for the abolition of the Department of Education, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, Department of Housing and Urban Development, the abolition of the National Endowment of the Arts, the humanities...

HUNT: All good ideas.

SHIELD: ... and constitutional amendment to deprive citizenship to a child born of undocumented parents in this country. Now tonight, we're talking about the joys of immigration, the joys of government. I want to ask Martha...

NOVAK: Let me respond to that. I want to respond to that...

SHIELD: It's Martha's turn and you will have a chance.

NOVAK: I want to...

CARLSON: It's the nice party. And we want to leave no child behind so let's let Bob speak.

NOVAK: I want to respond to that tirade, because, I mean, you're a smart enough politician. That's disingenuous, Mark, when you put all that stuff out. They made a conscious decision they're not going to be irritating. Now if you wanted a mild, very soft, northern Illinois Republican speech saying, "We're going to pass our tax cuts," you listen to Speaker Hastert who wasn't on primetime, and nobody here was paying much attention to him either. But that was a mild Republican speech. But the reason they didn't say that is not that -- it's the same reason why the Clinton Democratic Party didn't put the left wings...

(CROSSTALK) HUNT: Bill Clinton's Republican Party (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: Mild and mindless.

NOVAK: It's from the Clinton...

CARLSON: It's mild, it's mindless, and soon, they'll stand for nothing. If they get too nice and there are no differences, they'll just, you know, and they'll call for nothing (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


O'BEIRNE: Well, there are still enough differences that the Republicans are the majority party. They have 31 governors. They have a majority in both houses. As they get bigger, though, the message becomes a little more diluted. They're trying to now appeal to independents. But the country's broadly conservative and I don't think it's going to much bother people what they saw tonight. Laura Bush mentioned limited government. She was a big hit.

NOVAK: See, the real deal is there's going to be a...

SHIELDS: Limited government was very (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BEIRNE: No, I heard her. I heard her. I was listening.

CARLSON: Go the barricades.

HUNT: I was listening.

SHIELD: Al Hunt, Al Hunt, tell us truthfully, was Ralph Nader a beneficiary tonight, because these two parties, they're kind of merging into some beige middle.

HUNT: Well, I think Ralph...

NOVAK: Oh, that's baloney.

HUNT: Well, look I agree that that is baloney, Bob, but that's not -- it wasn't baloney tonight. That was baloney with the American people heard tonight. I agree that there is a difference but you certainly wouldn't have known it...

NOVAK: What's your...

HUNT: I think that tells you something, which is basically, this party -- Kate, you may think the country's probably conservative but they don't want to run on any kind of part conservative platform this year because that's not where the country is.

NOVAK: What you're going to hear in Los Angeles in two weeks is going to be very interesting, because they're going to put off the same soft and fuzzy thing or are they going to come out with class warfare, anti-tax cuts for the rich, this charitable Republican policy? I'll bet you they do the latter...


NOVAK: Just a minute. And I think it's going to be very, very harsh.

SHIELD: The question: Did Colin Powell use class war tonight?

NOVAK: No, he didn't class war but you wait.

SHIELD: He talked about special tax preferences.

NOVAK: One line: Wait till you see what's going to happen in Los Angeles. It's going to be the same kind of dribble that you put out.

SHIELD: Thank you so much, Bob.

HUNT: One line is permissible, but what, four lines is too much? Is that what it comes to in terms of class warfare?

NOVAK: I know class warfare when I see it.

CARLSON: Well, take this line: End affirmative action for lobbyists. Your friends, Bob.

NOVAK: Well, I'm...

CARLSON: Preferences in the tax cut...


NOVAK: Have I -- have you been not listening to me the past 12 years?

CARLSON: I've been trying not to.

NOVAK: That's what I'm afraid of. I've always been against the special interest lobbyists and all of that. But, you know, the thing is -- the thing that makes you the lefties in this group so unhappy is the Republicans are getting smarter and it may be working.

HUNT: And it might be working.

NOVAK: And you are devastated by it.

SHIELDS: Basically, what Bob Novak has said is the Republicans are getting smart by standing for very little and being very pleasant and having good speakers. This is Mark Shields...

NOVAK: Wait till they get in office.

SHIELDS: ... saying goodnight for the "CAPITAL GANG" and sending it to Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: And we'd like to think that every member of the "CAPITAL GANG" is smart no matter what their political leaning.

It has been a big night. Trying to be very diplomatic. Been a big night tonight at the Republican Convention.

Tomorrow night is going to be equally big. Here's what's in store.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: On Tuesday, August 1st, the Republican National Convention honors the past and focuses on the future. In the 8:00 hour local time, retired Army general Norman Schwarzkopf is scheduled to offer his perspective on the night's theme: "Strength And Security With A Purpose, Safe In Our Homes and In The World." Schwarzkopf will speak on the importance of military readiness.

Former senator Bob Dole will lead a salute to U.S. military veterans, especially those who, like him, served in World War II.

In the 9:00 hour, the Republicans will offer a video tribute to the party's three most recent presidents, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush.

During the 10:00 hour, we'll hear from Condoleeza Rice (ph), an international policy adviser to former President Bush, and some say a possibility Cabinet member of any future Bush administration. She will discuss international policy.

Later in the hour, Senator John McCain, who spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam discuss the importance of military strength. It will be the final policy address of the convention's second night, Tuesday, August 1st.


So there you have it.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed. Looking out over this floor, it seems to me tonight, Judy and Jeff, that exceptional, exceptional stage craft, framed, substance and symbols.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: And I'm wondering if over the next three nights, if they keep at this level of absolute clockwork perfection, maybe we're going to start wondering if they have been too perfect. Maybe people who tune into conventions and want to see some sign of political engagement -- did you notice there was not a single negative sign about the Democrats or Clinton or Gore? I've never seen a convention with that kind of sterility.

WOODRUFF: I've never seen anything like that but you're right about the clockwork, because once Laura Bush finished, it was quick to George W. Bush and then quick to Colin Powell. All right, that's it.

GREENFIELD: And we have to say goodnight.

WOODRUFF: We're going to say goodnight and we'll be back tomorrow night. "LARRY KING LIVE," a whole fresh, new live, "LARRY KING LIVE" coming up next. SHAW: And not one boo in the house.



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