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Who Should Control the Reform Party?

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


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight: Reform Party ruckus.




PRESS: The shouting continues as the Reform Party Convention splits into two factions. Who will win control, Pat Buchanan's supporters or the backers of Ross Perot?

ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, in Long Beach, California, Bay Buchanan, executive campaign co-chairwoman of the Buchanan campaign, and Russell Verney, Reform Party founding chairman.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. If you were disappointed there was no blood on the floor in Philadelphia, welcome to Long Beach.


CROWD: Reform! Reform!


PRESS: The Reform Party Convention has turned into a real old- fashion free-for-all, complete with shoving, shouting and even some slugging, just like the good old days. Pat Buchanan arrived today and immediately claimed victory, but he stepped into a buzzsaw. Reform Party members have split into two camps, one backing Buchanan, the other, led by former Ross Perot aide Russ Verney, supporting John Hagelin.

So, for now, there are actually two Credential Committees, two National Committees, two chairman, and tomorrow, there's even expected to be two different conventions. The way things are going up, they might even end up with two candidates, both of them fighting over that $12.5 million. So tonight, will Pat Buchanan win. And even if he does, what will be left of the party and who gets the money -- Bob.

BOB NOVAK, CO-HOST: Bay Buchanan, I always thought the answer in politics was addition rather than subtraction or division. And when you have this little party getting one or two or three percent in the polls, and you're dividing it in two, aren't you making a bad mistake not to make peace with these people? Can't hear me?

PRESS: Oh, yes. All right, Russ Verney, are you able to hear us there in Long Beach? Russ? All right, Russ?

Well, OK, we will take a break, Bob, and then try to fix this. We were talking them just before the show. Everything was fine. We will get it right back -- take a break. And we will right back with Russ Verney and Bay Buchanan from Long Beach.


PRESS: Welcome book to CROSSFIRE.

OK, let's try it again. We are talking about the Reform Party Convention out in Long Beach, where Pat Buchanan is claiming victory, but not all the Reform Party members are agreeing. In fact, they're split into two camps out there. We talk tonight to a representative of both camps, Bay Buchanan, Pat's sister, executive co-chair of the Buchanan campaign, and Russ Verney, founding chair of the Reform Party, now one of the leaders of the anti-Buchanan forces -- Bob.

NOVAK: Bay Buchanan, I always thought the basic arithmetic of politics was addition rather than subtraction or division. And if you have this little party, with only one or two percent in the polls right now, and you're divided, does that make any sense? Shouldn't you people get together rather than choking each other to death?

BAY BUCHANAN, EXECUTIVE CO-CHAIRWOMAN, BUCHANAN CAMPAIGN: I'm assuming, Bob, you're talking to me. That was question was for me, right?

NOVAK: That's correct.

BUCHANAN: There's no question we would have preferred that the other side recognize that they were defeated some six, eight weeks ago, when we finished up the conventions and recognized we had 73 percent of the delegates to this convention. They chose not to. That's their right to continue to fight this, but it's clear we won yesterday, we will win today, we'll win tomorrow. And Pat Buchanan will be the nominee of the Reform Party. And as you and I both know, two and a half months to general election is an eternity.

We think it's plenty of time to get those numbers up and go the distance.

NOVAK: Bay, the last time I was on this program doing a story on the Buchanan campaign, the guest was a Lenora Fulani, the Marxist, who was a remarkable supporter of Pat. And just is this week, however, she was quoted in the "Washington Post" as saying: "Pat has dealt himself out. Even if he wins everything at this convention, he is going against the grain of what the American people want" -- end quote.

Does she have a point when you're that low in the polls? BUCHANAN: You know, I can only answer the part of the question I understood, Bob, but Lenora Fulani was supporting us up to a point and when she asked us to support her for chairman of the party. When we said we could not support her who for chairman of the party, she chose to go elsewhere. That again is her choice. So now she is rather dispirited. She doesn't have a candidate that can win. And what she says is rather irrelevant to the whole process.

NOVAK: Let me give you one other quote, Bay, and from that is from Jim Mangia, who is the Secretary of the Reform Party -- the national secretary -- and let's listen to what he says about the process by which Pat Buchanan has gotten himself into position to be nominated.


JIM MANGIA, REFORM PARTY NATL. SECRETARY: Pat Buchanan has attempted to corrupt the primary process, steal the nomination, and make off with $12 million in federal taxpayer money and the Executive Committee of the Reform Party will not allow that to happen.


NOVAK: What's your reaction to that, Bay?

BUCHANAN: You know, he speaks as the secretary of the party, but he's chosen a candidate that cannot win. He has thrown his support behind John Hagelin. The problem with Mr. Mangia is that he doesn't want Pat Buchanan. We always knew that he was a member of a left-wing part of this party, that he would never come to our side. And he has his right to disagree. But what it's time for him to do is recognize he has lost. We have beat him in state after state after state.

He does not have delegates. You can't win unless you bring people to the table. The man has lost. It's time he start listening to that fat lady who has been singing to him for some six weeks now.

PRESS: Russ Verney, good evening, and thank you for joining us, Russ, on CROSSFIRE this evening.


PRESS: Russ, out there in California, we used to have a senator, United States senator, by the name of S.I. Hayakawa. And when he was...

VERNEY: I remember him well.

PRESS: Right. He was asked with the Panama Canal Treaty. And the idea was that we were going to give the canal back. And S.I. Hayakawa was asked whether he was for it, and he said: No, no, no, it's ours; we stole it fair and square.

VERNEY: I remember the quote well.

PRESS: Can't you say the same thing about Pat Buchanan and the Reform Party? He may have stolen, but it's his now, isn't it, Russ?

VERNEY: It's not stolen yet. It's a long way from being stolen.

There's a balloting process going on now that will be announced on Friday as to who received the most votes in the mail-in ballot process. The delegates that are physically present at the convention don't determine the nominee. It's the mail-in ballot process.

When Pat Buchanan submitted 500,000 names that they refused to demonstrate complied with our rules, when they stuffed the ballot box, he effectively disqualified himself from receiving any verifiable votes. Therefore, John Hagelin, who's only less than 1 percent behind Pat Buchanan in all the polls, is going to be the nominee of the party.

PRESS: Well...

B. BUCHANAN: May I address that?

PRESS: Go ahead. Go ahead, Bay. Go ahead, sure.

B. BUCHANAN: Listen, they make these cheap accusations. It's easy to do. There is no...

VERNEY: Bring at the proof. Where did the 500,000 names came from?

B. BUCHANAN: ... proof whatsoever. You know, the key is...

VERNEY: Prove where the 500,000 names came from.

B. BUCHANAN: The key is this, fellows...

VERNEY: Where's the proof?

B. BUCHANAN: The proof is they have -- the key is this: We did exactly what the nominating committee told us. They make cheap accusations. They have no evidence...

VERNEY: No cheap accusation. Where...

B. BUCHANAN: They have no evidence whatsoever.

VERNEY: Where is the documentation of where these 500,000 names came from?

PRESS: I'll tell you what, guys. I'll tell you what, guys, let's...

VERNEY: You've got it. Release it. What are you hiding?

PRESS: Russ, let's have...

B. BUCHANAN: You know...

PRESS: Let's have one person speak at a time if we can. Bay, go ahead. Finish your point, please.

VERNEY: Can it be?

B. BUCHANAN: All right. No, I don't think so, Russ. It's my turn.

The key is here we did exactly as we were asked to do by the nominating committee. No committee or subcommittee has ever ruled against us. No one has shown any evidence that we did anything wrong.

But the bottom line is this: If the delegates themselves feel that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not the proper confidence in this ballot -- Russ Verney is wrong -- the delegates will dismiss outright the ballots and we will nominate the candidate from the floor, as is part of their constitution and as is recognized by the Federal Election Commission.

PRESS: Russ, let me ask you about those numbers. If it's true, as Bay says, that Pat has 410 out of 596 delegates, or 70 percent of the delegates, Russ, isn't it all over?

VERNEY: Well, first, you have to believe it, which I have a big problem believing. It's probably why there are two credential committees going on today in parallel courses right now, who are trying to figure out the disputes that were created to each of the states selecting delegates here because of some of the predatory tactics that went on. And that's going to be a big influence on how many delegates there are. I don't think under the wildest imagination there are 400 delegates here for Buchanan. More than 400 people here supporting him, but not in their wildest dreams that many delegates.

B. BUCHANAN: It's your worst nightmare, Russ. We've got the delegates.


VERNEY: We'll find out. We'll find out.

NOVAK: Bay Buchanan -- Bay Buchanan, let me ask you, if I can try to figure out what happened. As far as I can understand, Pat Buchanan was invited into the Reform Party on the grounds that there was a common thread between Ross Perot and his followers and Pat Buchanan on the question of trade, and there was a tacit supposition that Pat would not take positions, would not insist on his socially conservative positions. He almost said that on this program.

Once he gets in the living room, he decides, we must have very socially conservative positions on questions such as abortion. Is that what happened?

B. BUCHANAN: No. No, what happened is in the home of Pat Choate -- and Russ and I sat down over a year ago and we discussed the possibility of Pat coming into the Reform Party. He welcomed that. He welcomed and encouraged us. That was the purpose of the meeting.

At that meeting, I said: "You do understand that Pat Buchanan is pro-life, will remain pro-life, will take a vice presidential candidate that's pro-life, and that that is never going to change? He is an outspoken social conservative." And Russ said: We respect that, we understand that, we never would expect him to change. Obviously, there's issues on which we agree.

We both agreed to that. Pat Buchanan has not changed. I have not changed that commitment. We have been pure to it. The problem is Russ Verney thought he could maneuver this thing, that he could control it like he did...

VERNEY: Oh, that's not true.

B. BUCHANAN: ... with Mr. Lamb (ph).

VERNEY: No, no, that's not true.

B. BUCHANAN: He lost -- he lost control.

VERNEY: No, that's not true at all.


NOVAK: Go ahead, Russ.

VERNEY: Thanks.

Pat Buchanan as a candidate having those socially conservative positions is of no problem to me whatsoever, as I said to Bay that day. As a candidate, that's his business.

The problem that has occurred here is trying to inject the campaign into the party and telling the "Human Events" magazine that we're going to attach a preamble to the party's platform -- we're not going to attach it to the platform, but that's a distinction without a difference -- of our social issues.

Now, I'm not going to be defined by anybody's social issues, not Pat Buchanan's or Jesse Ventura's or anybody else's. And that's where the problem has come in: confusing the party with the campaign.

Had the candidate stuck with the issues of the Reform Party and also had those social conservative positions, no problem. It's injecting them into the party that's created the friction.

B. BUCHANAN: We have not injected them, and Pat has made very clear, gentlemen, that we are not asking for any change in the platform. We ask the delegates, all of the delegates, to affirm that platform as it is. Tomorrow, Pat will be presenting a personal statement of his beliefs, and that will relate to the social issues.

NOVAK: Russ Verney, let me ask you a question, if I could. It was you -- you have told -- you have said many times, you've told me many times that the Reform Party was a gift to the American people by Ross Perot. Ross Perot is the man who is not here. Has he abandoned that gift?

VERNEY: No, he's never abandoned it. He supports the members and their collective wisdom. And you know, like, people are not born fully mature. Neither are political parties, and they're going to go through growing pains. Right now, the Reform Party is in a position where it's subject to outside influences. It's small like the brigades are small.

Why somebody wants to divide the two apart instead of add them together is beyond me, but that's what's going on. And the members of this party will make the ultimate decision this week who's going to be the nominee and what the direction will be.

B. BUCHANAN: And there's no question Russ Verney is suffering terribly. It is clear. The problem is he will not recognize -- and I think it's time to ask the real question, gentlemen. And that is, Who is financing these dissidents? Who is pushing them to continue to do this?

It's my opinion that if Ross Perot wants this stopped, one phone call would stop it.

NOVAK: Is Ross Perot...

B. BUCHANAN: These folks do not live by the Constitution.

NOVAK: Is Ross Perot...

VERNEY: Whoa! Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute.


We followed the constitution all the time, including yesterday's meeting. It's you people...

B. BUCHANAN: Oh my gosh!

VERNEY: ... who want to do the strong-arm tactic: throw everybody out, purge the party of everybody, and have a little fan club.

You should be adding the two together instead of dividing them apart.

PRESS: Russ...

B. BUCHANAN: You know, it's...

PRESS: Russ -- whoa! Bay, I want to get Russ to answer that question: How about it, Russ? Is Ross Perot the one who's financing your opposition to Pat Buchanan?

VERNEY: No, he's not. Ross Perot is not financing anything with respect to this convention or any activities associated with it.

B. BUCHANAN: Let -- let me have a follow-up?

PRESS: Bay...

B. BUCHANAN: Who brought those security guards that said "Perot Systems" on the sleeves yesterday?


I'm just curious about that.

VERNEY: Those are members of the Reform Party.

B. BUCHANAN: Yes, with Perot Systems being advertised very publicly.

PRESS: Bay...


PRESS: Bay, I want to ask you...

VERNEY: They are not -- and they're not employees of Perot Systems either.

PRESS: OK, Bay, I want to ask you a question...

B. BUCHANAN: They use their shirts rather freely.


VERNEY: So what?

PRESS: Bay...


PRESS: I wanted to ask you about a question about money: $12 1/2 million on the table. How soon...

B. BUCHANAN: I can't wait.

PRESS: How soon do you need it to make any kind of a credible showing, and isn't it true that if Russ Verney takes this to court and ties it up you're never going to see that 12 1/2 million?

B. BUCHANAN: No. No, no. We're going to see it. Russ Verney has no position in this party. I mean, it's like you going down to the FEC saying, I'm the candidate, I get the money. It's just not credible.

The key is this: The people who were running the meetings yesterday, today, and the people running the convention are not Pat Buchanan brigades. They are Reform Party people, been in this party years. They've supported Ross Perot, and now they say it's time to move on and to live by the constitution. They are the ones that will certify Pat Buchanan as the nominee.

And there's another interesting twist: On Saturday night, two members of the Federal Election Commission will be watching Pat Buchanan in the convention hall, paid by the taxpayers, accepting the nomination. They'll then decide who they think the nominee should be. NOVAK: Russ -- Russ Verney...

VERNEY: But the -- the issue here is that there's likely to be two separate conventions, two separate nominations, two separate certifications. Then the Federal Election Commission, which is political - three Republicans, three Democrats -- are going to make a decision as who's entitled to take custody of that money. And I'm sure the aggrieved in that is then going to look for some judicial review of it.

And you can be talking about Pat Buchanan getting out the wrong end of an old age home before they see the money.


NOVAK: Russ -- just a minute. Russ Verney, you're saying that you think you see a scenario where this $12 1/2 million never gets to any candidate of the Reform Party?

VERNEY: It's not impossible.

NOVAK: Well, what do you think? What's your prediction on it?

VERNEY: I'm sorry, I couldn't hear.

NOVAK: What's your prediction, Russ? What do you predict is going to happen to this money?

VERNEY: My prediction is that as of right -- right this moment there will be parallel conventions, nominations and a dispute over the money that will be protracted.

B. BUCHANAN: You know, it's so -- it's almost -- no, it's not almost. It is pathetic, utterly pathetic, that we have convention here, we have a convention here that is being paid for by the taxpayers, that's being run by old-time (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people...

VERNEY: And being hijacked.

B. BUCHANAN: ... and they are going to certify who the candidate is.

You've got to remember the Federal Election Commission has given money to Gerry Moan, the chairman...

VERNEY: No, no. He gave it to the Reform Party...


VERNEY: ... and those people acted as agents of the Reform Party, not in the Buchanan campaign.

B. BUCHANAN: Exactly. And those same agents will certify to the Federal Election Commission that Pat Buchanan is the nominee.

This is not hard. Our attorneys are working very closely with the attorney of the Reform Party. We do not see a problem here. I believe we will have this money in 10 days.

VERNEY: Well, you're claiming the Reform Party as your attorney.

B. BUCHANAN: He's not our attorney. Our attorney is different.

But the key is we'll have our money.

NOVAK: Russ -- Russ Verney, what do you think -- what do you think the people of the United States, who are watching this sweet Republican convention in Philadelphia and the sweet Democratic convention about to be held in Los Angeles -- no dissension, no bad language -- and they see you people tearing each other's throats out, that's not helpful to the Reform Party, is it?

VERNEY: Well, you know, we've had a short but turbulent history. This is another colorful chapter. People look at Philadelphia and Los Angeles next week as a drain on value, and they're looking at the Reform Party convention here -- whether they're supporters of John Hagelin, Pat Buchanan or just Reform Party supporters -- seeing passion, seeing basic democracy 101, seeing some real-life politics here.

B. BUCHANAN: And you guys have to admit: Our convention is a whole lot more fun to cover than those other two boring ones.


PRESS: Bay, let's -- let me give you a little reality check here, Bay. We see what Pat has done, and Pat may walk away with the nomination. But we also see where Pat is today.

I mean, our latest CNN/"USA Today" poll: Bush 45, Gore 43, Nader four, and Pat Buchanan one. That hasn't changed in the last two months, Bay. It may be more than John Hagelin's getting. But 1 percent. Bay, even if you win, what's left to lead?

B. BUCHANAN: Listen, that poll is a CNN poll. Doesn't surprise me. We had -- two of them last week had us at four and five. But putting those aside...

PRESS: Whoopy!

B. BUCHANAN: Look, whoopy is right, because you give us a strong convention -- you saw what we did in '92 and '96. We started at the bottom. We are always underestimated, and Pat Buchanan climbs and climbs and climbs.

Bill Press, you know as well as I do, Pat Buchanan gets in that debate, anything can happen.

VERNEY: And let's remember...


PRESS: Russ, final word...

VERNEY: Let's remember that John -- John Hagelin is within one percentage point of Pat Buchanan right now.


PRESS: On that note of optimism...

B. BUCHANAN: Which means -- which means he got zero.

PRESS: And Pat's at one. We got the message.

All right, Bay Buchanan, thank you very, very much.

B. BUCHANAN: Thank you all.

PRESS: Russ Verney, thank you.

You guys go out and have a beer together now and settle all these problems. And Bob Novak and I will be back with our closing comments on the Reform Party convention.


NOVAK: Bay Buchanan and Russ Verney will take all your questions online right after the show at Meanwhile, we're packing our bags again. Friday, CROSSFIRE heads to Los Angeles for a special preview of the Democratic convention.



Bill, you know, the American Independent Party did not last long after George Wallace left. John Anderson's Independent Party was gone after Anderson. I think the Reform Party doesn't show much hope of surviving Ross Perot.

Bay Buchanan may think this is a lot of fun. I guess it is. But I don't think it goes over with the voters that well.

PRESS: I think it's the end of the Reform Party. I really do.

You know, Pat -- Bob, I'm reading this great new biography of Richard Daley, mayor of Chicago, "The American Pharaoh." I think Daley could have taken some lessons from Pat Buchanan and his machine, the way we've seen that they've moved into Long Beach and gotten this nomination.

So they win but, what's left to govern? I mean, nothing.

NOVAK: The problem -- the problem is this party is supposed to be a grassroots party, but it was structured so Ross Perot could control it. And so once they get somebody else on the controls -- I think -- I think Pat would have been better to build his own conservative party from scratch.

PRESS: But it was also centered around reform, and he's changed the agenda. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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