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Crossfire

Can Bush's Bounce Carry Him to Victory in November?

Aired August 4, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We vow to our nation we will seize this moment of American promise. We will use these good times for great goals.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm here today to serve notice. This is day one of the fight for working families, and with your help we're going to win this fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, can George W. Bush's convention bounce carry him to victory in November? And are the next two weeks make or break for Al Gore?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin.

In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic strategist Geoff Garin. And in Philadelphia, Mark McKinnon, media director for the Bush campaign.

PRESS: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

One down, one to go. With an upbeat speech by nominee George W. Bush and a downpouring of balloons and confetti, Republicans wrapped up their convention last night.

George Bush was clearly enjoying the biggest night of his life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We are now the party of ideas and innovation, the party of idealism and inclusion, the party of a simple and powerful hope. My fellow citizens, we can begin again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: No surprise, Al Gore was not exactly enthusiastic about the Republican convention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GORE: When it comes to political pageantry, I have got to hand it to the other side. When it comes to nice-sounding slogans and sound bites, I will give credit where credit is due. But you and I both know that a slogan never put out a raging fire. A sound bite never saved a child from a burning building, and political positioning will never heal sick children who don't have health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Today, both candidates were back on the campaign trail. Bush and Cheney began a whistle stop tour, through Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. Gore took his case to firefighters in Chicago, and spent more time today zeroing in on a running mate, with four senators, John Kerrey, John Edwards Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman among the leading contenders. Gore's announcement is set for next Tuesday.

But for now, for tonight, it's the Bush post-convention bounce. How far does it carry Bush, and what does Gore do to bounce back?

Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Geoff, thanks for joining us.

GEOFF GARIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Great to be here.

MATALIN: I want to start with that -- where Al Gore went, pageantry. What did he say, political pageantry? And the Gore spinners said its -- what were they saying, that Bush is afraid of letting people know what he believes? It's short on substance, covering up the differences.

This is in stark contrast to what even the most liberal papers, "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" -- both endorsed Clinton. Even though they disagreed with what it was that Bush put forward, on most of the papers, those two in particular, said that he was straightforward about the policies he would follow. They were very distinct from Al Gore's.

Why not have the campaign just say, as Lanny Davis, an old friend of Bush's said, good speech, wrong policies? Why -- I don't understand this spin. It's just an attack.

GARIN: Well, I don't -- convention speeches, in fairness to Governor Bush, aren't meant to be long expositions on policy, and this clearly wasn't. I don't think people leave the Republican convention having a clear idea what the differences are. And I -- we'll ask Mark McKinnon -- I don't think that was Governor Bush's intention.

I think what he wanted to say is he's new, he's different, he's fresh, he's going to bring more moral leadership to the White House. But he did not want to say, here's how Al Gore and I differ on Social Security, he did not say here is how Al Gore and I differ on education.

That's the next -- I think of the Republican convention as the closing of a chapter in the campaign and the Democratic convention as opening the last chapter, which is this exploration of how the two candidates differ and what the fork in the road is. That hasn't happened yet.

MATALIN: This is why I love you on the show, because you tell the truth and you're smart. And that's why I ask you again about these tactics. They're not relevant

And that segues me to Bush's observation about this campaign. One of the things he said last night, well, it references the '92 campaign about the way in which he anticipated the Gore campaign would respond.

Can we hear that now?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Their war room is up and running, but we are ready. Their attacks will be relentless, but they will be answered. We are facing something familiar, but they're facing something new.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: Let me go there. Even E.J. Dionne, liberal columnist, said that the relentlessness in the style of Gore's assaults are "a trifle old and out of sync."

Why I'm drawing on these tactics is because it's pretty clear in the primary that the way in which Gore behaved then toward Bradley, which is what it looks like they're going to do to Bush, clearly hurt him. It raised his negatives. Is this the best way for this campaign to proceed?

GARIN: I'm not sure that it hurt him. He -- Al Gore won the Democratic nomination with the enthusiastic support of rank-and-file Democrats. But I think what will serve Al Gore the best and the country the best is a good, hard discussion of the issues and how the two candidates differ.

And the candidates differ in big ways. Al Gore wants to put a trillion dollars into the Social Security trust fund, George W. Bush wants to take a trillion dollars out of the Social Security trust fund to pay for private accounts. That's an honest difference, and I think they should talk about those.

Al Gore is for $100 billion of commitment to improving public schools, Governor Bush is for a $13 billion commitment.

MATALIN: It's not all about money. We see you've got your talking points.

GARIN: So, but I think that kind of honest discussion about differences on the issues are very important, and that's what I expect the fall will be about.

PRESS: And it will come.

Mark McKinnon, good evening.

In the meantime, still reflecting on the big show in Philadelphia -- congratulations, Mark, by the way. You put on a great show in Philadelphia -- I'm not the only one who left Philadelphia, however, with a question about what's real and what's not. And so let me ask you about this party, the new Republican Party of inclusion we heard so much about this week.

Mark, how can you say you are the party of inclusion when seven of the state delegations to the Republican convention were all white, when only 7 percent of the delegates to the convention were African- American or Latino?

MARK MCKINNON, BUSH MEDIA DIRECTOR: You know what, we think that's wrong and we want to do much better. And the only way to do better is to reach out with a new message, cross old boundaries and old border lines, so that we do much better next convention. But you've got to start by crossing the lines and sending the message, and that's exactly what we did. And I think it was a fabulous convention, because the governor's message of inclusion did get out.

And I would just say, contrary to what Jeff said, that there was a great deal of substance. There were 23 different areas in speech where we talked about substantive differences with the vice president. And the message that we were sending out was that on these fundamental issues that are of importance to the American voters, they have not led and George W. Bush will.

On fundamental issues like Social Security reform, they had a chance to do something and they didn't do it. So this will be about ideas. And I think it was interesting. Frank Luntz did some research and showed that where the speech spiked was on issues.

So we look forward to a substantive campaign. And there are some real stark differences. But let me tell you the one thing. As you net this out, the speech last night was absolutely a hundred percent mirror of the governor's soul, his philosophy and his agenda for the country. And I think whether you like it or not, it was a hundred percent George W. Bush, and that's why we feel so good about it.

PRESS: But, Mark, again, I always look at the words, and then I look at the actions, not just of the governor, but of the party.

Let me give you a specific example. There's a man here in Washington named Bill Lan Lee (ph). Bill Clinton appointed him to the Justice Department to be deputy attorney general for civil rights. He's the highest -- it's the highest-ranking job ever offered to a Chinese-American in this country. He was nominated by the president two years ago. The Republicans in the Senate have refused to even bring him up for a hearing, so the president appointed him this week as, you know -- I forget what they call that word -- but while the Senate's out of town, the president -- a recess appointment.

Now there you go. I mean, there's a chance to show some inclusion, again the Republicans turned him down. When are we going to see the reality of the promise of inclusion? MCKINNON: I would say -- well, first of all, I'm not the best person to be talking to about the Republican Congress, Bill. But my answer would be November 8th, when we have a new president with a new message of inclusion. And I think that you're going to see on November 8th a new president and a new party.

PRESS: Do you -- are you indicating there that maybe the Republican Congress is not as inclusion-minded as the candidate?

MCKINNON: Well, you know, listen, I think the whole party is moving in a new direction, and I think that Governor Bush is the wind in the sails, and so I like where it's headed.

MATALIN: Well let me go there with you then. Polls that are coming out now show that somewhere around 30 percent, upwards of 30 percent, of younger African-Americans support conservative position, vouchers, welfare reform, personalizing Social Security. The Hispanic community is well-known to be culturally conservative.

There is a difference in the approach between the two parties. Two people who will likely serve in a Bush administration, Condy Rice and Colin Powell, were on that stage were leaders, as Paul Gigot pointed out today, who happened to be black. And the reason Condy said she changed from one -- the Democratic to the Republican Party is because she was treated like an individual, not as part of the group.

If the Republicans take their message, as George Bush has in Texas and plans to at the national level, into minority communities, he doesn't have to change that message. He just has to have a better delivery system.

GARIN: No, I think he has to change it. It's not just the message, it's the policies, and that there are some people in minority communities who agree with him on some issues, but fundamentally, that on matters of social and on economic policy, not just on matters related to racial policy, minority voters see the Democratic Party and Al Gore as much more concerned about their interests in a much more consistent way without playing politics and without playing games.

That -- it's a party that, the Democrats are a party, that African-Americans have been able to rely on to stand up for them when we've had battles over civil rights. Colin Powell talked about affirmative action. It's fine for Powell, but George W. Bush opposes affirmative action. Republicans have used this as a wedge issue.

MATALIN: Well let's actually go to Bush's record...

GARIN: So, I mean, it's fine with me...

MATALIN: We're talking about the old party, Geoff, let's talk about...

GARIN: ... I'm happy for Colin Powell to be up there.

MATALIN: ... what George Bush did in Texas and what he's talking about doing as president. GARIN: OK.

MATALIN: What he did in Texas is not count being counting quotas. He does affirmative access, which resulted in as many minorities getting into the institutions of higher learning. What he did -- and the Clinton administration said this -- closed the "achievement gap." Texas leads in closing the achievement gap. Minority students in Texas lead the country in excelling on their tests, so he is walking the walk in Texas.

GARIN: I don't think he is walking the walk. I mean, Colin Powell gave a very strong and meaningful explanation of why we don't have a color-blind society in America today and why Republicans are putting their heads in the sand when they pretend that we do and why affirmative action is good, solid, American values. And Governor Bush, because of his internal party politics, and other Republicans won't hear that part of the Colin Powell message.

But it's not -- again, it's not just affirmative action. It's basic things like minimum wage, it's lifting other people up. There are a whole host of policies where...

MATALIN: Educating your kids, which is what's happening in Texas...

GARIN: Well...

MATALIN: ... could be happening better at the national level.

GARIN: You know, it could be happening better in Texas. When there was a huge surplus in Texas -- and I know you say, oh, it's not money -- and you had a choice between cutting taxes and investing more money in education, Governor Bush chose there to put into it tax cuts rather than into better schools. You can say that it's not money when schools are overcrowded and when teachers aren't getting paid enough.

MATALIN: I didn't say that. I said that Texas minority students lead the nation.

GARIN: Schools can use more money and George W. Bush's priority then, as it is now for the federal government, is to put the money into big tax cuts and not into better schools.

MATALIN: OK, friends.

GARIN: And that is a pretty important reason why African- Americans don't see the Republican Party as a party that's pursuing their interests.

MATALIN: Well, Mark is from Texas, lived through that record. We'll let him respond to that when we return.

As you can see, there really are differences between the two parties. We'll talk about...

PRESS: No kidding. MATALIN: Duh, well that's what everybody's saying there is...

PRESS: (OFF-MIKE) about your conventions, but there are.

MATALIN: Yes, and when we come back we'll tell you more of the differences and what Gore can do to make up this consistent lag with George W. Bush.

Stay with us on CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

As George W. Bush pulls out of Philly, Albert Gore prepares for his pivotal introduction to America. Though he's consistently trailed Bush, he remains confident his vice presidential selection coming in four days and the Los Angeles convention will change the dynamic of the race.

What's next for Albert Gore and campaign 2000? Two brilliant veterans of many campaigns look ahead, Democratic pollster strategist Geoff Garin Bush-Cheney media man Mark McKinnon -- Bill.

PRESS: Mark McKinnon, with all the happy talk this morning there was one little cloud over the Philadelphia convention, and again it centers around John McCain. John McCain was invited by the Bush campaign to leave Philadelphia on Wednesday, which he did as a loyal soldier, and yesterday he was invited back so he could be on the stage. I mean, is that any way to treat the most popular man in the Republican Party today? Why can't you get it right when it comes to John McCain?

MCKINNON: Listen, I think it's absolutely right between Senator McCain and Governor Bush, and I think this obsession over these details of schedules and calendars -- these are two men who have come together, have enormous respect for each other, but the press seems to obsess. They just can't let go of John McCain and understand he's not still a candidate.

Ask John McCain how he felt about this situation. He called -- he called Joe Albaugh and said, listen, I'm glad to do whatever I can do, and then I'm going back to Washington. And...

PRESS: By the way, if we're obsessed, we're not obsessed. I mean, why did you invite him to get out of town if things were so good?

MCKINNON: He was never invited to get out of town. He basically indicated that he had come, he had done his speech and he wanted to go back.

PRESS: That's not what the McCain people are telling the press.

MCKINNON: You think the American people are out there wondering why John McCain left Wednesday? It's absurd. PRESS: I think the John McCain people are wondering why he's been treated so shabbily. Yes, indeed I do.

MCKINNON: I don't think John McCain does, Bill. I don't think John McCain does.

PRESS: Let's move on to...

MCKINNON: There's this obsession between the staffs and just absurd.

PRESS: Let's move on to...

MCKINNON: Ask John McCain. I don't think John McCain feels this away...

PRESS: All right, back...

MCKINNON: I think John McCain did his speech and went home.

PRESS: All right, back to the speech last night and to your campaign. I would just want to give you one quick little quote from Governor Bush last night, speaking about another politician. Quote, "So many talents, so much charm, such great skill, so much promise, to no great purpose."

So I guess I read there that you and your nominee have decided you are going to run against Bill Clinton, not Al Gore. Is that right?

MCKINNON: Well it's an administration, and Al Gore was part of that administration. He was in there when they were making decisions about Social Security and entitlements. They are a team. They were supposed to lead and they didn't. So Al Gore has got a record. His record is vice president of the Bill Clinton administration.

PRESS: Can I just point out that, you know, you ran against Bill Clinton and all the supposed scandals in 1992, you ran against him in '96, you ran against him in '98, and he beat you three times. Do you really think you can run against Bill Clinton again this year and win, Mark?

MCKINNON: He didn't beat George W. Bush, but George W. Bush is running against Al Gore and his record in the Clinton administration.

MATALIN: OK, Geoff, let's go to these issues. I was interested to see the Gore guy -- what's his name, the lead Gore guy? Tad Devine (ph), very smart guy, friend of yours...

GARIN: Very smart.

MATALIN: ... saying in this morning's "Post" that we're happy to run on "our issues," OK? According to the last Battleground -- Battleground poll, the top issues for Americans today are not anybody's issues. They're moral values, they're Social Security, Medicare and improving education. Those are American issues, not our issues.

GARIN: I agree.

PRESS: And on those three issues -- moral values suffice. I don't even need to say Bush is leading -- but he's tied or ahead on the other two. What is -- you know, there's no Democratic issues, and there's certainly no -- the issue is that George Bush is caught up is what I'm saying.

GARIN: Well, I think that there are differences between the candidates on the issues of education, Social Security and health care and on who's going to support, not just talk about family values but who is going to have policies that value families. I think that that is going to be a great debate. And there really are differences.

I just have to laugh at the part of Governor Bush's speech last night about to no purpose. This is an administration where if you compare where, President Bush left us in 1992 and where we are today, it's been a great purpose. It is the most prosperous America that we've ever known. Crime is down, more people are working, people are getting better educations people are being more highly educated, people are preparing for the future. America has made great strides, and to say that we haven't solved Social Security in the Clinton administration, we didn't solve it in President Bush's administration. Is he a failed leader?

MATALIN: But, you know, here's...

GARIN: And...

MATALIN: ... what the president -- the soon-to-be president was saying last night, that the private sector...

PRESS: Republican cockiness.

MATALIN: No, no, that the private sector is doing quite well, fueled by Greenspan -- that is a good thing that Clinton did reappointing Greenspan -- by technology, and advances in technology. It's the public sector of the economy, which Clinton had two opportunities, a bipartisan Medicare, a bipartisan Social Security commission. The Democrats in Congress said we don't want this solution, we want the issue for the campaign. We want to beat up on the Democrats. That's what he means about a squandered opportunity.

GARIN: Well, it seems odd to me that at the beginning of the show you criticized Democrats for not being gracious enough to give credit where credit is due for the good Republican convention, and then you don't give any credit at all to President Clinton for a good economy.

MATALIN: I gave him credit for Alan Greenspan.

GARIN: The fact of the matter is that Bill Clinton ran an administration that got the deficit down. He took tough measures to do that. Right at the very beginning, he worked with the Republican Congress to... MATALIN: Forced by the Republican Congress.

GARIN: He worked with the Republican Congress to get the deficit down. He invested in people, he invested in job training, invested in education, things that Republicans hadn't done before him.

President Bush was...

PRESS: OK.

GARIN: ... disengaged on the economy, President Clinton has been very engaged on the economy. And that's the really choice that America is facing now.

PRESS: Mark, I know we can't hold you responsible for everything that George Bush does or says, but you are the master of the image so I want to ask you this question. Don't you think that the governor should have thought twice before he picked as his running mate another oil man from Texas, giving this country the first big oil ticket in our history?

MCKINNON: Listen, I think what he did was he thought once, he thought twice, he thought three times about picking the absolute best man in this country to be vice president. And I think when you net this out, you ask independents, you ask Democrats, you ask neutral observers, you know, to look at the field of candidates that were available -- and you have to take Colin Powell at his word that he literally was not available -- but maybe even throwing Colin Powell in the mix, I think that those individuals who've looked at government absolutely understand and agree that Dick Cheney is the man most prepared to step in and be vice president of the United States and to be president if that were required. This was a leadership pick not a political pick.

PRESS: Mark, lots more to say about that, but we are out of time so we'll let you off right there. Mark McKinnon, thank you so much for joining us. Go out and get some rest now this weekend after the convention. Geoff Garin, thank you very much for coming into the studio with us.

Mary Matalin and I, as always, will wrap things up with our pithy closing comments coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Well, Mary, it was a good show and you got a good bounce. I just want to remind you it was only a show, and bounces bounce down pretty quickly. Watch out.

MATALIN: You know, I am really looking forward to the Los Angeles convention...

PRESS: So am I after that.

MATALIN: ... which of course will be, and, you know, I hope it is, a show as good as ours because there are differences and let the debates begin. But what I am really curious to see is which Albert Gore is going to show up: Alpha Al? Attack Al? Earth Tone Al? Which Al?

PRESS: It's going to be the Al Gore who's a Vietnam vet, the Al Gore who has more experience and more ready to be president than any other candidate probably that we've ever seen, and the Al Gore who fights for the people, not the oil companies. Yes, go L.A.

MATALIN: The Al Gore that nobody likes, that's the one.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. Have a good weekend.

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

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