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CNN CROSSFIRE

Why Did RNC Chairman Jim Gilmore Quit?

Aired November 30, 2001 - 19:30   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, the head of the Republican Party bails out, the G.O.P. in disarray and what is President Bush doing about it? This is CROSSFIRE.

Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE and a hot debate over today's big political news. First, Republican National Chairman Gilmore, in office for less than a year, announced he is stepping down. And then, New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey, head of the Democratic Congressional Committee, announced plans for new ads blaming the recession on President Bush.

Yes, the political wars are back tonight. And we have two veteran political warriors in the CROSSFIRE. President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Republican Cliff May, and former Gore campaign chair, Democrat Tony Coelho. Sitting in again on the right tonight, Jonah Goldberg, editor of the "National Review Online."

Folks, we've got a lot to cover. Let's start by getting the story on Jim Gilmore from CNN's Jonathan Karl over at the Capitol. Jonathan, he's been there, as I said, less than a year but everybody said he had President Bush's confidence. What happened to Jim Gilmore?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not only that, Bill, for the last several weeks -- the last of couple weeks, Jim Gilmore has been spending a lot of time saying that he was going to stay on as Republican party chairman through the elections next year. As a matter of fact, as recently as two days ago Gilmore went on his radio show to say that he planned to stay at least another year.

But today, at a hastily-called meeting this morning over at RNC headquarters, he said it was family considerations. He said the pressure on the job combined with his work as governor of Virginia and chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism was simply costing too much to his family, that he needed to step down, needed to get back to his family.

But Bill, that said, this comes as Gilmore has been under fire because of the Republican party's dismal performance in the last election, where he lost even in his own backyard, the Virginia governorship going over to Democrats. And the only bright spot for the Republicans last -- during the last election was in New York, where Michael Bloomberg ran basically with no help at all from the national Republican party. And we do know -- Republican sources telling CNN that Karl Rove has been working on the successor question, talking about possible successors, for at least two weeks.

JONAH GOLDBERG, CO-HOST: Jonathan, is there anybody on that list you can report tonight?

KARL: Yeah, the list is getting much shorter, Jonah. What we know now is that Mark Racicot, the former governor of Montana -- somebody who has been talked about in the past as a possible attorney general, possible Senate candidate -- has emerged as the top candidate. One top Republican adviser to president telling me, that if -- essentially it's come down to this, that if Mark Racicot wants the job it will be his. Another top adviser saying that is headed in the right direction but it's not quite a done deal yet.

Other possibilities out there: Two others to look for, too. Ann Wagner, the current co-chair of the party, and also a possibility of J.C. Watts being talked about by many state party chairmen as a possible chairman.

PRESS: All right, Jonathan Karl. Good information, as always. Thanks for joining us on CROSSFIRE. And Cliff May, let me start with you.

You've just heard the report. Let me just like sum it up, OK? You lost the governorship of New Jersey, you lost the governorship of Virginia -- a big red state -- you only won New York with a Democrat, and now, with a president with sky-high ratings, you lose the national chairmanship. To borrow a phrase, spin this as anything other than disaster for the Republican party.

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Bill, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. The guy had two jobs that took 18 hours a day, he was on the road 107 days last year.

And by the way, this was not a bad election. Look, New York City with an ex-Democrat who is now a Republican, that's fine. Reagan is an ex-Democrat who became a Republican. I'm an ex-Democrat who became a Republican.

We picked up 12 seats in the -- in the Virginia state house. It was a perfectly good election. Tomorrow -- by the way, we won half the Hispanic votes in New York City. Tomorrow in Houston, a Hispanic Republican may win the mayoral race. So that's all fine.

The guy is tired from this. You can't blame him, taking the two jobs at once plus the terrorism commission -- which I want to talk to him about -- that is way, way too much. That's all.

PRESS: Well, I just have to laugh because when I was Democratic chairman of California, when we used to lose elections I always used to say, "this was a good election!" even though we lost it. So I mean I...

MAY: I was at -- I was at the RNC four years ago when we won Virginia, we won New Jersey and we won New York. And when I was on this show, everybody said, "why is this so?" This means nothing. It's an off-year election, it has no meaning.

TONY COELHO, DEMOCRATIC CAMPAIGN MANAGER: You didn't that. You didn't say that.

PRESS: We enjoyed that.

MAY: I hope you don't have the tape.

PRESS: We -- we did enjoy that.

MAY: I don't remember.

PRESS: We did enjoy the spin. But let me try again to see if I can get at the truth. And I think the truth was stated by a man who is by the way still the Democratic national chair and will be until 2004, when Democrats retake the White House. Here is Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We had the message. We had the right messengers, and that's why we won. And I feel bad for the Republican party. They got shut out last night. It was a horrible night for them last night because they didn't have the right message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: I guess he was talking about those elections I just mentioned on -- on November 6. But Terry was right. I mean, Gilmore did a lousy job. And if he hadn't quit he should have been fired. Right?

MAY: No. Listen.

PRESS: Be honest.

MAY: I will be honest. You know, because you have been in politics a long time. The RNC chairman has very precious little to do with these elections in an off year like that. In Virginia, the Republican candidate was way outspent by a multimillionaire. Up in New Jersey you had Bret Schundler also outspent and he could get no traction against the establishment after 9-11 because people were rightly so -- you know, had other things on their minds besides the governor -- gubernatorial election. There's no way you can pin that on Jim Gilmore, and nobody is.

COELHO: If that's true, then he doesn't have a problem with time if he didn't have really much to do.

MAY: You still have to raise money. You still have to talk. You still have to bring together the party. You still can do a lot of different things. But no, actually where the time really gets bad, when the crunch really comes on is now in this next year which is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) election year.

COELHO: But he's not going to be governor.

GOLDBERG: That's true but he may be tired from that.

(CROSSTALK)

GOLDBERG: Well, we can all talk about what Jim Gilmore is going to do next another time. The question I have for you is I know you think Gilmore didn't do it -- all that bang up of a job.

And if that's the case or even if it's not the case, isn't this good news for the Republican Party? What better time is there to get rid of or to replace your RNC chair than when your president is at 90 percent, he's a popular wartime president, you are a year out from the next election? And this just shows that unlike the Democratic Party, which is stuck with Terry McAuliffe, the Republican Party has a chance to pick someone who's really going to -- going to move this election our way.

COELHO: I think you were right when you said get rid of. You were absolutely on target. They got rid of a guy who has not done a good job at all. I mean, Terry McAuliffe and he debating on national television is a joke. Everybody knew that he got outmaneuvered all the time, out-thought and so on.

As a matter of fact, you have Republican governors begging the White House to get rid of this guy because he could not compete with Terry on national TV and in national audiences.

But the issue here is that he was not doing a good job, embarrassed the president when the president was at an all-time high popularity-wise, and in a year when he needed to set up for the 2002 elections.

So you had a president who was dinged at a time that he couldn't afford to be, and you have Republicans throughout this country who were looking at that race and saying here is a guy, the president of the United States is extremely popular, and yet these two guys are still lost in New Jersey and in Virginia? What else can we do?

GOLDBERG: Well, Tony, if that's the case, doesn't that just totally undermine the idea that this was any sort of national trend? I mean, I'm not here to defend Jim Gilmore. I mean, I'm sure he was nice to orphans and puppies and he's a great guy all around.

But the fact is, is if this really was mostly his fault, doesn't this just underscore the point that Cliff was making that this is not a national trend? The Republicans are doing fine. Your guy in Virginia actually had Republican coattails, bringing in 12 Republicans because he ran as a Republican. If Democrats want to run as Republicans, why should conservatives worry about it? COELHO: I think that's fascinating that you -- both of you talk about these additional reps and the state of Virginia who are now in your party. What about the state of legislatures that have flipped from Republican to Democrat across the country? We picked -- we picked up states..

MAY: Across the country? Look at the trend over these last few years.

COELHO: We picked up states as a result -- well -- we picked up states at the last -- in the last election. But I think that the important thing here is that everybody knows that they needed to make a change. Karl Rove got -- got his way. He made a change. Now let's see who he brings in. You know, what it should be is somebody who can work with Karl. Let's face facts. The White House runs the RNC -- as the White House ran the DNC the last eight years. But that is what is going to -- what is going to happen. So bringing in Mark -- who I happen to think is pretty good -- I think is a danger to Karl Rove, personally.

PRESS: Just one last question...

GOLDBERG: And a Democrat.

COELHO: No.

PRESS: One last question about the late, lamented Jim Gilmore. I'm reminded of George McGovern and Thomas Eagleton (ph), the famous "I'm behind you 1,000 percent" right after these -- such great victories that you described that the Republican Party had earlier this month. Here's what White House press secretary Ari Fleischer had to say about the president's confidence in Jim Gilmore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The president has faith and confidence in Governor Gilmore and the -- the job he did. As I think most analysts have pointed out, the elections were decided mostly on local issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: So you know, we do like to -- to really give our viewers the real, honest truth here. And as Karl -- Jonathan Karl reported, Karl Rove has been looking for a successor for the last two weeks. This guy was shoved off the -- pardon the word -- cliff, wasn't he?

MAY: I think this was Gilmore's decision. You will see him in another position very soon. And by the way, on the short list, a veteran of this program, Mary Matalin is one of the people also being talked about as possible.

PRESS: Who else is on the short list?

MAY: Who else is on the short list? PRESS: You have to admit it's -- it's going to be tough to get somebody with a big name to take this job because Tony says the White House is running the show anyhow.

MAY: Jack Oliver's a possibility because he's the day-to-day guy there. He's also a good friend...

PRESS: Not everybody knows Jack Oliver.

MAY: He's the executive director, and he's -- he's a very close Bush associate. You've got Mary Matalin, as I said, though not Jim Carville, I would say. You've got Connie Mack is somebody whose name I've heard. Rudy Giuliani if he wants to take it, I think it would be his. Henry Bonilla obviously would be an interesting one. And the other names that were mentioned...

PRESS: May I...

MAY: In other words, you've got a very deep bench here.

PRESS: May I suggest to you...

COELHO: You are fishing. You are fishing.

PRESS: No, but I want to suggest -- seriously, seriously, I think you're overlooking the best possible candidate, a man who is a proven fund-raiser. A man who is very close to the president, a man who is -- who represents the best of the Republican CEOs in this country and a man who is now out of a job. How about Ken Lay, the CEO of Enron, for Republican national chair.

COELHO: That is a great idea.

MAY: I promise I'll pass that along...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: You heard it here first.

MAY: I heard it here first. Yeah.

GOLDBERG: Tony, let me ask you -- I want to show you something. We have here a story from the front page of today's "USA Today." It says "Democrats -- Democrats ad campaign to assail," quote unquote, "Bush recession."

Nita Lowey, who is the head of the DCCC has said the Republican agenda right now is unpatriotic and is attacking Bush by name saying, this is the Bush recession. Is this the time with a president at 90 percent and we are at -- during a war, is the time to being going so negative so soon?

COELHO: I think it was the president of United States who said it is time to get back to normal things.

GOLDBERG: So if the Democrats don't go negative, the terrorists would have won?

COELHO: I think it's time to go back to politics, and that's what he wanted, so that's what he is going to get. I don't -- I don't think that she is questioning his patriotism. What she is doing is she is in effect saying look, when you push through this huge tax cut for the extremely wealthy in this country, you in effect have dried up the pool that was there to take care of a lot of our needs today. That is his problem. He is going to have to answer for that. And that is going to be a great issue in '02.

MAY: Can I just interject here very quickly? I think -- I think you're right in this sense, that this was expected, that Jim Carville wrote a memo some weeks ago saying it's time to get back to partisanship. And I know he did his focus groups, I know he did his polls and I know how talented he is.

But you know what? I think he's wrong. I think the only one who wants to get back to this kind of partisanship are professional political consultants and professional pundits. The rest of America would like to see us pull together while we're in this war and while we have this recession, which they know is from the bust of the tech bubble and is from Bin Laden and the trillions of dollars he drained out of the economy. People do not want to see...

COELHO: You're such a great spin artist. You are such a great spin artist. I mean, come on. Come on.

MAY: I'll take any compliment I can get.

PRESS: May I suggest and remind you that more people voted for Al Gore than voted for George Bush? Obviously, more people in this country disagree with his domestic policies than don't. So are you suggesting people ought to just roll over and forget those differences?

MAY: I'm suggesting...

PRESS: Baloney.

MAY: I'm suggesting that when Bill Press goes back to dangling chads, we are getting back to politics as usual and next we're going to talk about the sharks off Florida and Gary Condit. That's how back to normal we're going to get.

COELHO: We are not going to go there.

The issue is, is that the country still must function. People still have to pay their bills. People still need jobs. There are literally thousands and thousands of people, all across this country, losing their jobs. That is real.

MAY: And so what we...

COELHO: That is no joke, that is no spin, that is what we need to be talking about.

MAY: An economic stimulus package that will get this economy going again.

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO: ...help the wealthy, help the unemployed. That's what we need.

MAY: And we do it in a bipartisan way...

PRESS: You're both -- you're both wrong. What we need right now is a break and we're going to take one. Please just hold your horses there. We'll come back.

We're going to talk about the role of the president in politics in wartime. If the Republican Party is in big trouble, is it because President Bush has left his party high and dry? Back with more CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GOLDBERG: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Sitting in on the right, I'm Jonah Goldberg of "Nation Review Online." We're debating the future of the Republican Party, whose chairman quit today.

Joining us this evening are former communications director for the Republican National Committee, Cliff May, and former Democratic Congressman Tony Coelho.

Mr. Coelho, you know, this is all wonderful, jovial stuff here, but when you get right down to it, wouldn't any self-respecting, honest Democrat say that they'd much rather be in Republican's shoes right now?

We have a popular president who's closing in on 90 percent, you have every poll saying that if the election were held today, or reheld with Al Gore, Al Gore would get somewhere in the sub-zero section.

Why -- you know, this is all great talking about Jim Gilmore, who most Americans haven't heard of, but the reality is the Republicans are looking great.

COELHO: If you're talking about '04, you might be right. But '04 isn't today and there -- there is an election between now and '04. It's called '02. And that is what Republicans are worried about, is that election.

George Bush, we can't judge today whether or not he is going to win '04. We'll find out. But the thing is, in '02 these elections told you something. You basically ran on the wrong issues. You got a bunch of wingers out there in New Jersey, and in -- in -- Virginia and they both lost. You basically took a Republican in the city of New York, who ran on all of the Democratic issues, and won with no help from any Republican, which I thought was -- so if you just look at those results, you say we're in great shape...

(CROSSTALK)

GOLDBERG: Can't have it both ways.

COELHO: No, no. I just said that Jim -- I didn't say it was Jim Gilmore's fault. That's you guys' words. I've said that Jim Gilmore was a disaster as chairman. Not his fault, I just think that is what's taking place.

MAY: With -- with all due respect, I think it's way too early for you guys to be fighting the 2002 election. The American public is not ready...

COELHO: You guys are fighting '04 already. My God, you're saying -- you're arguing '04. Would you give me a break.

MAY: The American people aren't. The pundits and the...

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: That's what I'm saying. The American people have a war to fight, not an election to win.

PRESS: Let me suggest it's not too early for you to start worrying about it, because I think there's -- we used to talk about the gender gap. I think today you've got something I might call a believability gap. And let me show you where it -- where it comes down, because we just did this poll at CNN. Looking at President Bush's popularity, first of all, right? Which as Jonah says, closing on 90 percent.

MAY: He's at historic...

PRESS: He is 87 percent, based on his conduct of the war, according to our last CNN poll. This was November 26, 27. And yet most recently, when we sampled "So what do you think about the parties' congressional candidates?" Look at the results. Democrat, 43 percent, Republican, 44 percent. So Bush 87, your congressional candidates 44.

MAY: Forty-three, 44.

PRESS: Nothing is trickling down.

MAY: You are -- you are a political professional. You know very well that when it's 43-44, it's within the margin of error. When Republicans in Congress poll as well as Democrats, that is a amazingly good for Republicans. You know that historically.

PRESS: No, I'm saying that is not.

COELHO: Oh, come on. You are so good at spin. I tell you, you are so unbelievable that you are so good at spin.

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: That is not true historically?

COELHO: That is wrong. MAY: When we go to election 43-44, we win.

PRESS: Let me jump in. Number one, not true. But number two, doesn't it show that Bush is doing nothing for his party?

MAY: I will say this -- but I will say this is Bush right now during the war is the president of both parties. He is a bipartisan president, as a president during a time of war should be. And Congress will have to be on its own, they'll have to run their own elections. I don't dispute that.

Bush is not out there campaigning. He's not out there raising money every day. If he were doing those things, you would be the first to criticize him. You know what, Bill? I'd join you in that criticizing -- criticism. He is doing exactly what he should be. He's the president for all the people.

PRESS: Tony, isn't that right? We all know...

COELHO: That means the Republican party has serious problems.

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO: Go ahead.

MAY: I have heard this -- I've heard this for how many elections when we...

(CROSSTALK)

GOLDBERG: Look, we all know that if Bill Clinton were in office right now, he would be sending Gore out to a whole bunch of Afghan mosques trying to raise as much money -- soft money as he possibly can.

COELHO: That's a low blow.

GOLDBERG: Sometimes the truth hurts. Regardless...

COELHO: It doesn't...

GOLDBERG: Regardless, isn't President Bush doing the right thing right now by being the bipartisan president, by being a president for all Americans, just like Senator Daschle and the rest of the Democratic leadership has called him that?

COELHO: Well, he sure is, except we were just bragging about the mayoral race in Houston on Saturday -- tomorrow -- and President Bush is -- involved in that. And his father and his mother are involved in that. Where is this bipartisanship? He is against the Democratic mayor out there, who happens to be African American. And he's pushing this partisan candidate out there. I don't see that being bipartisan. That's kind of interesting that two of you..

MAY: So you're saying that he's being partisan enough, you're saying he's being too partisan. COELHO: No, no, you folks are saying that he isn't partisan at all, he's above it all. But I'm saying...

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO: Oh, now it's very little.

PRESS: Here's -- here's what I'm saying, which you have to agree with -- that in 2002 or 2004, please God, this war is going to be over, are we going to be back focusing on issues that affect the daily lives of every American, particularly the economy? And I think if you look at those numbers again, 87 for Bush, 44 for Republicans in Congress. It means that without the war, you are dead duck.

MAY: Bill, nothing affects American's lives as much is this war does. I hope you're right the war is over by 2002 or 2004. I don't think it will be.

PRESS: Well, are you suggesting...

MAY: And I don't think Bush...

PRESS: Are you suggesting then that the motivation for bombing Iraq -- as they're talking about now -- and continuing maybe to bomb other countries is to keep the war going to keep Bush's numbers up high?

MAY: No, it's to win the war we have to do that. And I hope you agree that we have to win this war, whatever it takes and however long it takes. It's beyond politics.

PRESS: I agree that we have to win the war, but not that we have to go to Iraq next. Only the war in Afghanistan.

MAY: Have me back on that subject.

We can't all bombing aspirin factories in Sudan for political purposes. But I do want to ask you about this issue of the recession working against the Republicans.

How exactly do you anticipate the Democrats putting the -- calling it the Bush recession when the recession started 40 days into the Bush presidency? That doesn't exactly seem to me like you can really peg it to him, especially since in most peoples' minds it's tied to September 11.

COELHO: Well, I think that's what you Republicans want to keep saying, that it's tied -- everything is tied to September 11, a positive or a negative. You are going to put your arms around September 11 as tight as you can. You know what? The American people see through it. Just see right through it.

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO: Let me finish my point. Let me finish my point. The issue is, is that as a result of the tax cut that you gave to the extreme wealthy in this country, you in effect eliminated the pool that had been set up there. For eight years we created this pool for the American people to have in a time of crisis. You destroyed it. You got rid of it. That is going to be something you are going to answer to in '02 and we are going win in '02. That's what's is exciting.

MAY: Leaving money in the pockets of Americans is not destroying the pool. It's leaving the pool where it can be spent. And you -- but listen. I understand, Tony.

COELHO: No, but you know...

MAY: Let me just finish my point.

COELHO: You put money in the hands or the pockets of the very wealthy.

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: No, no, let me finish my point. Listen, you blame tax cuts for the death of disco. You blame tax cuts for Kathy Lee leaving Regis. Everything is tax cuts. The fact of the matter is the economy was slowing down before Bush came into office.

COELHO: That's cute and clever but not true. That has nothing to do with subject.

PRESS: But the fact also is -- the fact also is...

MAY: ...the economy is slowing down before...

PRESS: George Bush had nine months before September 11. Why -- and it's therefore fair to call it the Bush recession.

MAY: Tax cuts do not...

PRESS: Look, I'm not talking about tax cuts. I'm talking about Bush.

MAY: The economy is slowing. You need to spur the slow parts of the economy and not do it the way they do in Japan, because for 10 years that failed. Let's find a way to...

COELHO: Reality is -- reality is this...

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO: Whoever's is in office the time something happens gets the credit or the blame.

MAY: You're looking for an issue too hard.

COELHO: No, I'm not.

PRESS: We are not going to debate the Japanese economy. We are out of time. We thank you very much, though, for debating the American political scene.

Cliff May, Tony Coelho, good debate, great fun. Thank you. We're not out of steam yet. Jonah Goldberg and I are just warming up. We'll back with our closing comments coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Jonah, I think we could admit that you can put too much significance on that departure of the national chairman. I mean, basically, who cares if Jim Gilmore's gone?

But I think if you look at the disastrous elections earlier this month and the disarray that Gilmore's departure leaves, that those are not good signs for the Republican party. I think the message to the American people is that they trust Republicans to run the war, but not to run the country.

GOLDBERG: I actually think that that's all wrong, obviously. But I think the more interesting news is that we see that Nita Lowey is calling anybody who disagrees with your kind of gitchy-goo economic policies unpatriotic. When I call people unpatriotic, you call it McCarthyism. When they do you say it's getting back to the business of the American people.

PRESS: I don't think that she did call the man unpatriotic. If she did, I certainly disagree with that and I think it's wrong. But the -- but the Bush recession is the right term to use.

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

GOLDBERG: Sitting in on the right, I'm Jonah Goldberg. Tune in next week for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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