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CNN CROSSFIRE

Will Ralph Nader Run For President?

Aired January 5, 2004 - 16:30   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: Will he or won't he run for president again?

RALPH NADER, FORMER GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know whether the Democrats really know how to beat Bush.

ANNOUNCER: Ralph Nader joins us to talk politics and about his political future -- today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

We're exactly two weeks away from the Iowa caucuses. Today's special guest is not, however, seeking the Democratic Party's nomination in Iowa or anywhere else. The Democrats worry, and Republicans hope, that he will run for president as an independent.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Ralph Nader, he doesn't have a chance of getting elected to the White House. But, if he runs again, maybe he can do to Howard Dean what he did to Al Gore in 2000. We'll ask him whether he's getting in right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

The left-wing activist group MoveOn.org sponsored a contest for the television ad that best tells the truth about George W. Bush's policies. The hate-Bush crowd must have loved this entry, posted on its Web site, showing Adolf Hitler ranting with President Bush's words subtitled and the Nazi dictator morphing into the American president.

The Republican national chairman, Ed Gillespie, has called an Democratic presidential candidates to repudiate this vicious ad. He's still waiting.

BEGALA: Ed Gillespie ought to be ashamed of himself.

The ad is vile, but it's not on the MoveOn Web site. It hasn't been for a long time. MoveOn.org pulled it off. Every sensible person, including me, repudiates it. But Ed Gillespie is running that ad on his Web site. Now, I'm waiting for Ed Gillespie to repudiate the ads that compare Tom Daschle and Max Cleland to Osama bin Laden, which conservative groups ran.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Paul...

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Paul, you're trying to turn this on its head. Let me give you a fact. They didn't pull it off the Web site because it was vile.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: The contest ended and they pulled it off.

BEGALA: You don't know their intentions. They pulled the ad. They should have. But the Republicans should never have compared good Democrats to Osama bin Laden either.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Well, General Wesley Clark unveiled a proposal today to make the tax code simpler, fairer and more progressive.

Clark, a Democrat as well as a former four-star general, wants to completely eliminate all federal income taxes for families making less than $50,000 a year. And he wants to cut taxes for families with children at home making less than $100,000 a year. Under Clark's plan, more than half of the families in America would no longer even have to file a tax form with the IRS. And a mere one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans, only those with annual incomes over $1 million a year, would pay a 5 percent increase on additional income over $1 million.

Now, the Clark plan will, of course, be bitterly opposed by President Bush, who is America's protector of the idle rich.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: After all, taxing hard work, while exempting inherited wealth, is what being a Republican is all about.

NOVAK: You know, I -- this -- I really feel sorry for Wes Clark. He's a poor old general. He doesn't know anything. He's got these left-wing advisers telling him what to do.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: He's increasing the graduation of the income tax. Graduated income tax was invented by Karl Marx, I'm sure you're well aware.

(LAUGHTER) NOVAK: And -- and what we have right now is a society they want where the ordinary people don't pay any taxes...

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: ... and rich...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Just a minute -- rich guys like you pay all the taxes.

The dean...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: To those who have been given much, much will be expected. That's Jesus Christ, not Karl Marx.

NOVAK: The dean of the Texas Congressional Delegation, Democrat Ralph Hall, couldn't take it any longer as a Democrat. He has become a Republican, the 174th elected official in Texas to switch since Bill Clinton came along.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: In Georgia, U.S. Senator Zell Miller stays a Democrat, but is retiring from politics at year's end. In today's "Wall Street Journal," he pokes fun at Democrats running for president, especially Howard Dean.

Senator Miller asks how Al Gore will help Dean down South. Quote: "Maybe he'll teach him how to win a Southern state like Tennessee." The message from Ralph Hall and Zell Miller, Democrats are down in Dixie, way down.

BEGALA: It is embarrassing that Al Gore lost Tennessee. It is more embarrassing that George Bush lost America. Al Gore won that election. He won it in Florida, which is a Southern state.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: And I don't take anybody making fun of Al Gore, who actually got more votes than George W. Bush.

NOVAK: You know, you can give that old -- that old -- those talking points any time you want, Paul. But the fact is, your party is in bad shape in the white South. And

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Why is that?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Why is that?

NOVAK: It's because it's a conservative, patriotic area.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: Because we're the party of civil rights.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: That's why certain people don't like us anymore.

Well, PFC John Hart was, as Mike Barnicle of "The New York Daily News" has reported, a paratrooper with the 173rd Infantry Brigade in Iraq. He was killed when his unarmed Humvee was attacked. He was 20 years old. His father was wondering why more of our Humvees aren't armored. Other moms and dads of service members are asking why, after spending $166 billion of your money, so many of our troops still lack body armor.

Really, there's no good answer. And, according to Barnicle, who was interviewed this morning on Don Imus's radio show, when PFC Hart was laid to rest in the company of his fellow heroes at Arlington National Cemetery, one politician was there, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. He was there quietly paying his respects. Our president, of course, could have been there. Arlington is a five- minute drive from the White House in Mr. Bush's armor-plated limousine.

NOVAK: Let me -- let me tell you something. If you had done a little checking on that, Paul, you would have found the truth.

The truth is that body armor and armor on a Humvees is lacking because they thought the war was over. That was a mistake. It's not that they're holding it back. It's not that they don't have the money. They are producing those armor -- body armor and armor for Humvees and...

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: ... and sending it to Iraq as soon as possible.

BEGALA: I said there's no good reason. And that's not a good reason.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: We should protect our young men and women in harm's way.

Well, the Democrats who want to be president are slugging it out in Iowa and New Hampshire. The Democratic nominee will, of course, have to take on President Bush and his hundreds of millions of special interest dollars. But he'll also have to fight Ralph Nader. Or will he?

We will ask that question of Mr. Nader himself next.

And then later, bowling on the bayou and the most exciting things one of our CROSSFIRE hosts says he's ever attended. Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to the live Washington audience, call 202-994-8CNN or e-mail us at CNN@gwu.edu. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: As the Green Party's presidential candidate in 2000, Ralph Nader got almost three million voters, to finish third. Nader and the Green Party, however, have parted company this year. And it doesn't look like the Democrats are going to nominate Nader's favorite candidate, Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

Will Ralph Nader run as an independent? We'll ask him, as he steps into the CROSSFIRE.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Nice to see you. Thank you for coming.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

NADER: Thank you.

BEGALA: Will you run for president in 2004?

NADER: I'm going to decide later this month. I'm in an exploratory stage, which, under the rules, means that you solicit any indication of advice, fund-raising, volunteers, support. Our Web site is NaderExplore04.org, for anybody who wants to let us test the waters.

BEGALA: But you're not an indecisive man. And you're generally not thought of sort of a typical politicians, giving weaselly answers. Why not just tell the truth? Why not just say, yes, I'm going to run or, no, I'm not?

You -- I just -- frankly, I don't believe that you don't know. I think you have decided and you ought to just tell us.

NADER: Gee, I didn't know you were a mind reader. I knew you were insightful, but...

(LAUGHTER)

NADER: That -- that decision will be made before the end of the month.

NOVAK: Mr. -- Mr. Nader, let me read -- put something up on the screen from Elizabeth Horton Sheff, who is an African-American and she is a Green Party member, Hartford City council person. She said -- she of you: "His appeal is not broad enough to reach my community," meaning African-Americans. "We should run someone only if they have a proven track record appealing to a cross-section of America."

Isn't that your problem as the leader of the left, that the blacks just don't like you?

NADER: What do you do with this?

(LAUGHTER)

NADER: I mean, when he was in short pants, I was fighting for civil rights. I was against the kind of standardized testing that was racial in impact, fighting against redlining, fighting against predatory lending, fighting against these ripoffs in the inner city, against asbestos contamination, asthma. What are you talking about?

I even endorsed her at her press conference in Hartford. Now, maybe you should have Randall Robinson or Cornel West or Troy Duster or other leaders in the African-American community why they endorsed me.

NOVAK: Well, in that case, in that case, Mr. Nader, if she is that unfair, you have just about worn out your welcome in the Green Party, haven't you?

NADER: No.

I think the Green Party is waiting too long to make a decision as to whether they want a candidate, and, if so, under what conditions, whether they want to run the candidate in the close states or all-out. And that decision is going to be made in June. And it's too late.

BEGALA: Let me show you some of the states, well, two of the states, where your vote was decisive in favor of President Bush, those two being New Hampshire and Florida.

In New Hampshire, Mr. Bush, Governor Bush then, carried the state by 7,211 votes. You got 22,198. In Florida, of course, very famously, even with the rigged count, even the Republicans could only pretend that Bush had a margin of 537 votes. You got 97,488. Those two states alone are 29 electoral votes. All Al Gore needed was five. You did cost him the election, didn't you?

NADER: You left out two factors -- three, actually. Gore did win the election in Florida, as well as the rest of the country.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: But you made it close enough for them to steal it.

NADER: Just minute. Just minute. Just minute. One assumption is, all my votes come from Gores. It's completely false. The exit polls show 25 percent of my votes came -- would have gone to Bush; 38 percent would have gone to Gore. The rest would not have voted.

(CROSSTALK)

NADER: And the third thing -- and the third thing you left are four states that Buchanan swung against Bush, New Hampshire -- New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin and Oregon.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Well, we'll ask Patrick that when he comes on the show.

NADER: So -- but the point is -- the point is...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I dispute those exit polls.

But even if only 38 percent of your votes came from Gore, that would have still delivered Florida and New Hampshire to Al Gore, which would have made too solid a victory for Gore, even for William Rehnquist to steal.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: So you bear no responsibility for the votes that you got?

(CROSSTALK)

NADER: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Let's talk about -- Paul, you're a good Democrat. You should talk about the thieves who stole the election under George Bush.

NOVAK: He talks about it all the time!

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

NADER: Right. Right.

And talk about the blunderers on Gore's side, who didn't ask for a full state recount, which would have got him the Florida count and got him the election, and the Supreme Court, and Katherine Harris, and mislabeling ex-felons. Focus on the Republican thieves who stole the election, Democrat Paul.

NOVAK: I know -- I know -- I know both of you would love to dwell on 2000 and Florida.

NADER: Yes.

NOVAK: I think you do it at home every night, don't you?

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: I do it here every day.

NOVAK: But -- but moving -- moving forward.

You know, a lot of people, Mr. Nader, think that there's somebody out there who's nearly as good as you as being a good left-wing candidate. And I'm going to -- I'm going to read something that was said by him that sounds very much like Ralph Nader to me. And we'll put it up on the screen: "We've allowed our lives to become slaves to the bottom line of multinational corporations all over the world."

Do you know who said that?

NADER: No.

NOVAK: Howard Dean said that.

NADER: Oh, well good for him.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Let me give you -- let me give you...

NADER: So did -- so, in various versions, did "BusinessWeek" and all the other exposes of corporate crime and corporate control.

NOVAK: Well, let me -- let me give you another chance.

NADER: Yes.

NOVAK: Here's a -- here's a quote that sounds like Ralph Nader.

"In order to make capitalism work for ordinary human beings, you have to have regulation. Right now, workers are getting screwed."

Do you know who said that?

NADER: Howard Dean.

NOVAK: Howard Dean.

NADER: That a way for Howard Dean.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Why don't you endorse Howard Dean?

NADER: First -- first of all...

NOVAK: He sounds like Nader.

NADER: Those are words. We have to wait for deeds, don't we?

But look at the -- look at the facts here; 58,000 Americans die from worker-related diseases every year. Compare that, say, to 9/11. They're both preventable; 65,000 Americans die from air pollution every year. Compare that. Compare the 80,000 who died from medical malpractice in hospitals. Why isn't George Bush worried about those Americans, as he ships our industry to the despotic communist regime in China? That ought to bother you.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Howard -- Howard -- Howard...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I'm sorry, Mr. Novak.

But a friend of yours, somebody who some of our audience may be familiar with, Ronnie Dugger, the founder of "The Texas Observer," one of the great crusaders of the left and one of your strongest supporters when you ran first in '96 and then 2000, had this to say recently, though: "The only vehicle to defeat Bush next year" -- this is in '03, he said this -- "is the Democratic Party. You start there or you don't start with reality. To elect Bush at a time when he's waging war on the human race, that to me is insane. If Ralph runs again" -- that would be you, Ralph Nader -- "and tips it for Bush, it would be," he said, "a worldwide tragedy."

There's no stronger supporter of you in the past than Ronnie Dugger. How do you answer somebody like that?

NADER: You answer by two fronts against Bush is going to be more likely to defeat him than relying only on the Democratic Party, which will not take him apart, the way an independent run will.

For example, the Texas state Republican Party platform is full of positions opposed to Bush. That's his own party back in Texas, right? Why? Because a lot of conservatives and libertarians are furious with Bush over the deficits, the invasion of privacy, the Patriot Act, the civil liberties, the corporate subsidies, his comments on Taiwan, soft on corporate crime, corporate pornography affecting their kids. Why aren't the Democrats trying to get those votes?

Those are millions and millions of votes.

BEGALA: With respect, every one of those issues is raised by Democrats on the stump. Every -- I've been out there and I've seen them. They raise all of those issues.

NADER: But they don't address them to people who are conservative, because they think conservatives will never vote for the Democrats or stay home and not vote for Bush, the way the Reagan Democrats helped Reagan...

NOVAK: Mister...

NADER: ... because they're against abortion and they're against gun control.

NOVAK: Mr. Nader...

NADER: They shouldn't write off those people.

NOVAK: Mr. Nader...

NADER: And, by the way, and, by the way...

NOVAK: What?

NADER: Another thing, I can take conservative principles, Bob, and show you how Bush has been destroying conservative principles. Bush and his big-business buddies are destroying the fundamental principles of capitalism in our country.

(CROSSTALK)

NADER: Like, if you're in trouble as a business, you don't go to Washington for a bailout.

NOVAK: Mister...

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, I want to try to help you in your decision- making.

NADER: Yes. Yes.

NOVAK: As I understand it, the only candidate that you really approve of on the Democratic side thoroughly is Congressman Kucinich. We know he's not going to be nominated. Therefore, since none of the other candidates you approve of, either you run for president yourself or you support somebody you don't think is doing the right thing. Is that about -- is that correct?

NADER: Who's not doing the right thing? Who would I support who's not doing the right thing?

NOVAK: Dean.

NADER: No.

We're talking about amplifying the move to take apart the Bush administration before he takes apart America and embroils us in more wars based on lies. Listen, when the president of the United States refuses to trust the American people with the truth, why should the American people trust George W. Bush with the presidency?

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: All right, we're going to have to take a break. Just ahead, we'll put Ralph Nader in the "Rapid Fire" and ask him about a former prominent supporter who's singing -- this is a hint -- a new tune now.

And right after the break, the holidays are over, but the United States remains on high alert. Wolf Blitzer has the latest on the threat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Time now for our "Rapid Fire" segment, where the questions and answers come even faster than the Bush administration can give no-bid contracts to Halliburton.

We're talking with consumer advocate, former presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, your Democratic candidate for president, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, says we should pull the troops out of Iraq right now, no matter what the consequences. Agree or disagree?

NADER: I don't think he says right now.

I think with a proper transition. And they should be representing many nations. More acceptable ones would be Islamic nation troops going into Iraq. That's more acceptable. And why are we sacrificing our troops again and again, with massive injuries that don't get reported, compared to the fatalities, which do, properly? Do you know there are 1,000 soldiers sick from sandfly disease?

NOVAK: This is "Rapid Fire," Mr. Nader.

NADER: Oh, you moved from sound bite to sound bark. OK, let's go.

BEGALA: Sound nibble.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: When you ran against Al Gore and George W. Bush, you said there wasn't much difference between them. Now trillions of dollars of tax cuts for the rich from Bush, which Gore opposed, a war halfway around the world, Bush supported, Gore opposed, devastation of our environmental regulations. There was a huge difference, wasn't there?

NADER: Well, now there's a difference, because the Bush administration has gone off the rocker. They've put the corporations in charge. The people don't rule here. They have corrupted elections. They've damaged low-income people tremendously. They've enriched themselves with their own tax cut. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, they've enriched themselves with their own tax cut. They want to preserve their inheritance by getting rid of the estate tax.

They're not enforcing health and safety laws. Sure. When something gets really bad, then the mediocre looks pretty good, doesn't it?

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, your great supporter in the last campaign, Willie Nelson, is not supporting you this time. He's supporting Dennis Kucinich.

NADER: I'm supporting Dennis.

NOVAK: Are you broken-hearted?

NADER: I'm supporting Dennis.

(BELL RINGING)

NADER: I'm urging Democrats to vote for Dennis Kucinich. How's that for a short answer?

NOVAK: That's short.

BEGALA: Ralph Nader, consumer activist, possible future presidential candidate...

NADER: Thank you.

BEGALA: ... thank you for coming back to the CROSSFIRE.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, New Orleans is always a great place for a party, especially if you're known as the Ragin' Cajun. Coming up next, a prediction, a sweet victory and a truly excited CROSSFIRE host.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Finally on CROSSFIRE, that Cajun war whoop that echoed across the country last night undoubtedly came from LSU alumnus and CROSSFIRE co-host James Carville. He was no doubt celebrating even before LSU beat Oklahoma 21-14 in last night's Sugar Bowl...

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: ... to claim the BCS national championship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC SPORTS)

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: This is the most exciting thing I've ever been in my life. When that LSU band came on the field -- I've been to Super Bowls, World Series, Kentucky Derbies, championship fights. Nothing, the intensity, the emotion in this arena is like nothing I've ever seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know how the politics goes in your family. So, is Mary pulling for Oklahoma?

CARVILLE: Mary is at a Bush-Cheney fund-raising event hosted by Steve Largent and J.C. Watts, and she's wearing purple and gold. Different politics, one football team, the Fighting Tigers.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Now last week, a certain pundit was asked for his prediction about the game's outcome. Let's hope his words were sweet and soft, because he's about to eat them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Oklahoma! Boomer Sooner, they'll have that Boomer wagon running around New Orleans. All the Cajuns will be mourning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Well, Bob?

NOVAK: Well, I didn't mean it. I just...

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: I just try -- but I'll tell you what I do mean. The overlooked performance of the bowls was at the Gator Bowl. The best performance by any team was Maryland. Maryland ought to play LSU for the national championship right now.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Maryland, of course, finished 17th and 20th in two polls. They had a great bowl game. But even my beloved Texas Longhorns were higher ranked than that.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: My mighty Longhorns, they'll come back next year.

But congratulations to James, to the LSU Tigers, and the co- champions at Southern Cal.

That's it. From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's all for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

(APPLAUSE)

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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