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Capital Gang

Gore Takes Post-Convention Lead in Polls as Bush Campaign Stumbles

Aired August 26, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Kate O'Beirne, with Robert Novak, Margaret Carlson and James Warren of "The Chicago Tribune." Our guest is Republican campaign consultant Mike Murphy.

Great to have you back, Mike.


O'BEIRNE: The post-convention Gallup/CNN/"Usa Today" poll gave Al Gore a one-point lead, compared with George W. Bush's 16-point lead a week earlier.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not go along with a big tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of everyone else that wrecks our economy in the process.



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We not only hear the voices in our tax plan of the entrepreneurs, we also hear the voices of those at the bottom of the economic ladder.


O'BEIRNE: Governor Bush admitted trouble making his case.


BUSH: I've got to do a better job of making it clear.


O'BEIRNE: He also fumbled three times in the same Iowa speech.


BUSH: When we carry Iowa in November, it'll mean the end of four years for Clinton-Gore. We cannot let terrorists and rouge nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.

I'm a free trader. I will work to end terrors -- tariffs, and barriers everywhere, across the world.


O'BEIRNE: Margaret, what's happened to the well-oiled Bush machine?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: It ran into a Yugo. The well-oiled Bush machine had a plan for a dead Gore, but they did not have a plan, apparently, for a living, breathing, unphony Gore, who gave a decent speeches at the convention, despite Bob calling it a complete flop, and who got an amicable divorce from Clinton, married a good guy named Joe Lieberman, and has gone on a boat trip, looking like a team and not a ticket, as far as Gore-Lieberman. And the other problem with Bush this week is that that persona of his, I like to take naps, I don't like to read books, whatever, playing into all the stumbles which we wouldn't pay that much had a tension to. If we are going parse what I said, I would have a lot of misspeaking as well. But it resonates with Bush's biggest problem, which is, are people going to think he's ready for the job?

O'BEIRNE: Is, Margaret, right, Bob, do we have a front-runner?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Yes, Gore is a front-runner, and this week didn't change the bump-off in the polls. It would have been better from Bush's standpoint if he could come out of the box very good. You know, but they've been talking, Karl Rove has been talking publicly for weeks about the -- they are going end up at the Democratic convention about even, which they are, but they weren't really ready for it. They were ready for it theoretically, but not actually, and they off their peace.

I thought the most stupid thing -- it wasn't a big story, except in the front pages of "The Washington Post," was this Republican National Committee ad which had a somewhat deceptive portrayal of Gore.

CARLSON: Somewhat?

NOVAK: Yes, somewhat deceptive.

CARLSON: It was Ollie North.

NOVAK: it was a crummy ad, and it had been approved by the Bush people down in Austin, and so George W. got a hold of it. He's smarter than the guys who are working for him and approved him, and he said, this is ridiculous, we can't have that. But it just was added to the confusion. So, but it's not the end of the world. They're still even, and what they've to do is back up and say, my goodness, let's keep our cool, fellows, we're supposed to be cool Texans.

O'BEIRNE: Time to be cool. Speaking of cool, Mike Murphy, Mike, Jimmy Carter got a two-digit bounce out of his poll -- out of his convention in 1980 and Mondale was leading following his convention, despite that, though, would you be nervous if George Bush were your candidate, looking at those polls?

MURPHY: Well, the truth is, I've always been nervous, because there's always going to be a tough presidential race in an open seat like this. I mean, there is no question that Governor Bush had the kind of week that I used to wish he'd have back in, like, the South Carolina primary.

NOVAK: You were working...

MURPHY: ... for John McCain back then.

But in hindsight, this is going to prove to be the best week he's ever had, because of it has destroyed all the bad complacency that was starting to creep into the party after our convention, with all these phony polls that showed him way ahead, and it's reminded everybody on our team that this is a tough race, we can lose. It's going to be tough fight all the way. I think the Bush campaign has always known that. And this is a actually a good thing for us, because we're able to kind of reset the clock into Labor Day and run...

CARLSON: You're worth whatever they pay you, Mike.

MURPHY: Nothing -- I'm a volunteer in the Bush thing.

But I'll tell you why up front this is good, because this is going to force the Bush campaign to focus on the differences that work for them. They've got a better education plan than anybody who's run for president 20 years of either party, a good tax plan. He's going to go out and fight for it now, and you're going to see a better, not a worse Bush out of this, and it will help him win.

CARLSON: Jim Warren, thanks for joining us.

JAMES WARREN, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": First of all, congratulations. First, Joe Lieberman, now Kate O'Beirne hosts the show, another cultural barrier is broken. Congratulations.


For starters, I found this week no small amount of media piling on of Bush. I mean, I think it's a bit of a silly season, so this plays I think to a certain kind of visceral sense that he's not intellectually competent enough. I think we're making a little too much of these polls right now. I think the basic strengths of both these guys are still exactly the same. I think it's going to be an exceptionally race.

And something Mike brought up about this tax plan I think is crucial for Bush. because a real problem if you're a consultant for this guy is why in the world isn't the tax plan taking? And I think one of the reasons is, is that one of the intellectual premises of it, as outlined by Larry Lindsey, one of his advisers, is that there's going to be a downturn. If there is no downturn, how do you make the case that you need this great economic stimulus?

O'BEIRNE: Given that, as you remind us, Republicans are put on this Earth to cut taxes, why is George Bush having such trouble?

NOVAK: I'll tell you why, because -- and I said this -- in this first place, Father Flannigan said, "There's no such thing as a bad boy" -- there's no such thing as a bad tax cut, you know, any tax cut. But I never liked this very much, because it's too complicated. A tax cut -- this a good tax bill, but it's not a good tax campaign program, and the beauty of Reagan in 1980 was 10 percent, 10 percent 10 percent cut. You total the whole plan in three seconds.

The good thing that Governor Bush had in the Philadelphia convention was when he said, nobody is going pay more than a third of his or her income in taxes. That is something people can understand, and that's what he ought to talk about, instead of trying to explain this complicated plan.

CARLSON: This is music to Bob, music. Now, but not everybody hears those elegant grace notes for this reason: Bush is stuck with the tax plan from thinking he might be running against Steve Forbes way back when. You know, they research everything, and say, I don't follow the polls, but they mall test every single thing. But what mall are they going to test this tax plan, because it's not selling? Forty-three percent of the benefits go the top 1 percent of earners in America, like Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Well, they pay the taxes.

O'BEIRNE: Quick question -- shouldn't it be easier to sell an across-the-board tax cut than a bunch of new spending government programs, like Al Gore.

MURPHY: I think it will be. What's really happened is the country hasn't paid attention. Gore went to his convention, drove the magic socialist, you know, powder, got all excited, went back to base, and has energized the Democratic base, got some undecided Democrats in his if corner, evened out some polls. Now Bush can go out and sell this things. He's not really spoken about his tax cut. It is a good tax cut. People want a tax cut. It's recession insurance. That's the best argument for it. And he'll start doing it now that there's no complacency, and I think he'll...


NOVAK: Don't you think he should talk about the one-third?

MURPHY: Exactly. He needs a "bumper sticker" slogan, yes?

O'BEIRNE: Bob, I couldn't end it until somebody mentioned socialist, so now I can.

Mike Murphy and the GANG will be back with the Gore-Bush military debate.


George Bush and Al Gore gave the VFW Convention contrasting views of the U.S. military.


BUSH: The next president will inherit a military in decline.

The best intentions and the highest morale are undermined by back-to-back deployments, poor pay, shortages of spare parts and equipment and rapidly declining readiness.



GORE: If anyone doubts our strength, let them talk to our pilots patrolling the skies over Iraq right now, let them meet the sailors who have kept the peace in the Taiwan Strait.

Our military is the strongest and the best in the entire world.


O'BEIRNE: Bob, who's winning the battle over the state of the military -- state of the military?

NOVAK: Kate, Governor Bush is exactly right, as anybody knows anything about the military knows -- they're stretched too thin. Generals and admirals that I've talked to privately say that the money is not spent correctly, it's too thin; we're stretched thin on these deployments, and morale is terrible. Enlistment trouble, the officers reupping. But it's very hard to make this political case that the military is in trouble when there's no war going on and when Al Gore gets out and says we've got the strongest military in the world, and the VFW veterans all cheer, it's hard to beat that. So I think it's a nonstarter and a draw, and I don't think it's a good issue for Bush.

WARREN: It's shocking to know that Bob's military friends don't think they've got enough money. The fact is that we have, by far, the most capable and powerful military in the world. We spend about 275 billion a year on it. That, Kate, is more than the next nine countries on the planet combined. We're talking about Germany, England, Japan, France and the like of that. For sure, as Bush makes clear, we're a little bit overextended. For sure, there are some problems with, like, spare parts in the Air Force.

But the fact is, ultimately, this is not a fiscal quandary, this is a strategic quandary. What do we want to have these guys ready for? For some supposed big war some bad guy out there? Or do we want to run around essentially policing democracy, going to Bosnia, going to Kosovo, going to places in Africa? That, I think, is the real challenge in the 21st century.

O'BEIRNE: Well, part of this debate will be over those kind of deployments Clinton engaged in.

But, Margaret, is Gore onto something when he sort out questions your patriotism for questioning the state of readiness in the military?

CARLSON: Well, Bush got away with saying, during his convention speech, that America wasn't ready, end then General Shelton came back and said, well, wait a minute, we are ready, and is this a good message to send to the world? And it's not, and I think that that is a good point that Gore made.

But here's what usually a Republican issue, and it doesn't seem like it's going work this time, especially because you have Secretary William Cohen, a Republican, debating Cheney over military readiness and just what was spent. Cheney was involved in the cutbacks, so you don't just have the Bush administration being apart of the peace dividend, you have the very guy who did some of the cutting running and debating Bill Cohen, who is a much more likable guy, I think, than Dick Cheney in the end, and we see Dick Cheney reading the hungry caterpillar all week rather than engaging this debate.

O'BEIRNE: Mike, is Margaret right? Might the strong military as an issue no longer benefit Republicans?

MURPHY: It's a small issue now, because, unfortunately, people don't pay much attention to foreign affairs, as Bob says, in times of peace.

But the good news for Bush is, the facts are on his side, it is a disaster. So if the Gore continues to engage in this debate on that issue, it will make it a more important issue, which will help Bush. But the problem is it's to our history, it doesn't matter who's in power, we cut the military too far in peacetime. That's a long-term historical fact, and it's never the dominant issue in presidential politics.

NOVAK: I'm fascinated Dick Cheney, who everybody loves, has suddenly a bad guy now that he's vice presidential nominee, Margaret. That's just a wonderful somersault. He read Bill Cohen carefully. You notice, he said, we need more money for the military.

And the interesting thing I thought was when Al Gore and his VFW speech went on about how we had won and the fact how we won the Kosovo war, the fact of the matter is we were not prepared to send ground troops in because they were not ready. These infantry units were simply not ready.

WARREN: But this also points to, I think, a certain hypocrisy, certainly among Mike's esteemed clients. On one hand, the Republicans are saying, oh, you shouldn't be going to all these places, we shouldn't be fighting these silly skirmishes for these people, skirmishes that are not in our national interests. Then when we do it, they start whining about how we are overextended, we're overtaxed, we can't do it. Again, the prime problem here is not money; it's deciding what we want to do with these problems. MURPHY: It's not magic. You can't decide to have a force that can fight multiple small wars and say money isn't part of the issue. Money is part of the issue. And when it comes to appropriations, there's a clear as day difference between the Clinton administration and the Republicans. The Clinton administration does not want to appropriate military money.

WARREN: And do you want to save a lot of money? You can save a whole lot of money by dealing honestly for the first time with the gross overcapacity in bases, and that's never going to be dealt with. Why? Because of political turf wars on the Hill.

O'BEIRNE: Margaret, he's trying to distances himself from Bill Clinton, who as a young man loathed the military. Does being able to wear that VFW overseas give Al Gore a an advantage in talking about military affairs?

NOVAK: It would be better if it fit.

CARLSON: Yes, it would be better if it were a little bit bigger for the head that he had it on.

You know, the Republicans want a gold-plated military and send it nowhere, and the debate should be, what do we want to do with our military? And what about the hazards that the military isn't coping with now, the bombs in the suitcases, the chemical warfare, the things that are not going to be solved by...


CARLSON: No, Clinton has increased spending.

NOVAK: Democrats wants less spending and more activity.

Let me say one other thing: The Republicans I talked to, several Republicans I talked to, are really concerned about this Dick Cheney stock option question, and they really feel -- they thought it was a lot of nothing, but they really feel that it's something that is going to have to be attended to by Mr. Cheney, not if and when he gets elected vice president, but right now, and I think that's part of the little nervousness that this hasn't been handled well.

O'BEIRNE: Well, Mark is right, though, Dick Cheney could help on this fight over military spending, and it seems to me, with a line on this note, with the Clinton administration now recommending a surprise increase in military funding, that, to me, is evidence that they think they are vulnerable on this front. So George Bush could be on to something. .

WARREN: I'm shocked that Bob didn't think that Al Gore looked like Dwight Eisenhower with a southern drawl.

O'BEIRNE: That's it. That's it. Next on CAPITAL GANG: Attorney General No.


Attorney General Janet Reno rejected a recommendation for a campaign scandal special prosecutor, this time to consider whether Vice President Al Gore committed perjury.


JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Over the past four years, because further investigation is not likely to result in the a prosecutable case under applicable criminal law and principles of federal prosecution, I have concluded that a special counsel is not warranted.


O'BEIRNE: But did the vice president lie about fundraisers?


RENO: I reached the conclusion the vice president had not, based on this record, failed to describe what the role in fund-raising was.



SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: There is no doubt that the attorney general seeks to protect the president, and this follows the pattern.


O'BEIRNE: George Bush issued this statement -- quote -- "While it's clear that Al Gore engaged in a number of questionable fund- raising activities and gave the FBI statements that continue to raise the issue of his credibility, the American people are sick and tired of all these scandals and investigations" -- end quote.

Jim, did Al Gore duck a bullet on this one?

WARREN: Yes, but probably justifiably. You know, it's interesting, I sat through the entire 1997 Senate campaign finance hearings, where all this came out for the first time, and there is no doubt if one sat there everyday, it's hard to believe that Al Gore one of the most disciplined politicians of our time, and well prepared, did not know what that, for instance, that Buddhist temple event was all about.

That having been said, it is very difficult to prove perjury. And also, I would think going after Gore on something like this, if you were like Mike Murphy, I don't know, the allusion might be like going after a gang member for jaywalking on his way to a riot, because of the absolute premeditated, cynical violation of the finance laws in 1996 by both parties.

O'BEIRNE: Bob, is Jim right, everyone does it? . NOVAK: No, Bobby Conrad, the head of...

O'BEIRNE: Bobby?

NOVAK: Bobby Conrad, former Clemson basketball player, all he was saying was, head of the task force on the campaign finance, all he was saying was somebody else should investigation this to determine whether there was a prosecutable crime, because there's a conflict of interest. And Arlen Specter has it right -- she's in the box with this guy, she will say no, no, no, whatever happens. and I feel sorry for this woman, and I'm so glad she's leaving.

O'BEIRNE: Margaret, doesn't it seem Al Gore's latest reinvention is the word "fund-raiser?" Isn't this what it comes down to?

CARLSON: No, here's the thing. The fund-raising laws are so porous you can drive a truck with millions of dollars through them. That's the sorry state. Senator Fred Thompson held hearings. That was a good place to have this come out and have people vote based on whether they think the Republicans, or the Democrats are more honest when it comes to fund-raising. You know what, there is -- it was an unsolicitous phrase that Al Gore used, but there is no controlling legal authority about...


CARLSON: ... no, let me finish -- about the phone you use to raise all this money.

And no, by the way, these soft money ads that Bush admitted today, he pulled an ad, those ads are supposed to be paid for by soft money, because they're independent. The Bush campaign admitted this week that they control those ads. That's illegal.

O'BEIRNE: You get the final word.


MURPHY: My head is spinning. It's like the referee in pro wrestling. You know, they're cutting each others heads off, and is just kind of staring at the stands, looking at popcorn. I want to go pull a bank job now. You get away with everything in America. So I'm glad she's leaving, too.

WARREN: She's investigated seven members of the Clinton administration, so much for being a lapdog.


CARLSON: The Independent Council Act has been discredited, it's gone. If you had an envelope stuffed with cash on video, the American people know that act is ended, and they're not in the mood, and they don't...


O'BEIRNE: ... could take the money and run. Thank you, Janet Reno. That's going to have to be it.

NOVAK: The story is, they got away with it.

O'BEIRNE: There you go, final word, Bob, and I couldn't agree more.

CARLSON: Just like they're getting away with soft money right now.

O'BEIRNE: Mike Murphy, thanks very much for being with us.

MURPHY: Thank you.

O'BEIRNE: The GANG will be back with the "Outrage of the Week."


O'BEIRNE: And now for the "Outrage of the Week."

Owing to a new executive order by the president, the federal government is now officially multilingual. Every recipient of federal funds must be prepared to serve non-English speakers. Services in English only are evidence of discrimination. Even before this order, Washington questioned a Bronx health center that didn't have a Khmer translator handy. How outrageous that Bill Clinton doesn't think a nation of immigrants needs an official language.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Thanks to CNN, we learn that the youth of the world gathering in Sydney for the Olympics will have an unwelcome teammate: the Australian tax collector. Give the Aussies credit. Nobody ever dared that before. The Australian tax office wants its cut of all money given any Olympian, even if the athlete doesn't get paid until he returns home. An American receives $15,000 for winning a gold medal, which is taxed by the U.S. Government and now by the Australian government as well. Mate, that's a blooming outrage.

CARLSON: Republican Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift has squandered the goodwill she won when she ran for office while pregnant. This week, she was reprimanded by the ethics commission for using aides to babysit her child. She countered that aides didn't feel pressure, because baby Elizabeth was -- quote -- "adorable and had learned to blow kisses" -- a little like Bob here. Swift arrogantly took advantage of her superior role in much the same way men used to have their secretaries make the coffee and buy anniversary gifts. Jane Swift, one working mother who blows it for all working mothers -- not very swift.

O'BEIRNE: Jim Warren.

WARREN: OK, so we've ridiculed Governor Bush for breaking his own record for bloopers as he fought that losing battle with the English language last week. Oh, come on, what we need is not a Bush/Gore spelling bee, but the candidates on a far off island, walking on hot coals and chucking spears, or seeing who can kiss Tipper Gore the longest underwater. After all, the final episode of survivor drew more Americans than both political conventions. Boy, ain't Democracy grand?

O'BEIRNE: This is Kate O'Beirne saying good night for a historic CAPITAL GANG.

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on the Atlanta-St. Louis National League battle of division leaders.



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