August 14, 1996
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, welcome.
JAMES BAKER, Former Secretary of State: Thank you, Jim. Glad to be with you.
JIM LEHRER: Foreign affairs is getting its mention tonight, but it seems thus far, at least, to be non-existent as an issue in this campaign, is that right? Is that how you read it?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Well, generally speaking, foreign policy, unless it's war and peace, really doesn't rise to the top ten of the issues that the American people are most concerned about. It's unfortunate because there is a relationship, particularly today, between foreign policy and domestic policy and between foreign affairs and economics, and you really can't separate the two. It's a false choice to say that you can. But foreign policy, per se, is never a big, big issue in a presidential campaign, seldom, unless it's war and peace.
JIM LEHRER: So yet the voters are called upon to judge how Candidate A versus Candidate B--
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Sure.
JIM LEHRER: --might handle foreign affairs--
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Sure, because--
JIM LEHRER: --without any debate about it.
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Because it is the--well, it is one--it is a major part of the reason we elect Presidents. But I'll tell you where foreign policy and security policy do impact presidential politics, is in the leadership equation. If a President cannot handle the job, either on the domestic side or the foreign side, it quickly shows up and affects his, his poll ratings on the leadership issue, the leadership question, which is the No. 1 question in presidential politics.
For the first couple of years, Bill Clinton was in big, big trouble, big trouble in foreign policy, foreign affairs. He's doing slightly better, but he's still not doing what he ought to be doing. And that's, of course, what I'm going to be talking about tonight when I address the convention.
JIM LEHRER: Not doing what he ought to be doing on an issue basis, or on a leadership basis?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: In some cases on an issue basis, Jim, but primarily on the overall question of, of responsible, reliable, American leadership in the world. Our word is no longer trusted out there. You can go out, and I do, as a former Secretary of State, and you can talk to our allies, and they will privately confide in you that they worry. They worry about whether America is still up to it in terms of its leadership globally. They're not going to say that publicly, and of course, they shouldn't.
But it's not just on an issue-by-issue basis but on the big question of saying what you mean, meaning what you say, making sure that your resolve matches your rhetoric, making sure that you have--that you have a direction in your policy and not just drifting along.
JIM LEHRER: Of course, elections are always a matter of choice. The choice in this election, at least at this point, is between President Clinton and Bob Dole.
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Right.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Bob Dole is way behind in the polls. Can he still win this?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Absolutely. I know I don't have to remind a veteran like you that when George Bush and I came down from the mountains during--we went up fishing in the mountains during the Democratic convention in August of 1988, we were 18 points behind, came down, George Bush had a tremendous convention, gave a great acceptance speech, and went on to take all but 10 states. Bob Dole has been involved in a campaign that came from way behind back in 1976 in the Ford campaign against Carter. We started 30 points behind in August, and it was a dead heat on election day.
JIM LEHRER: Well, as the gold standard on political tactics, what does Bob Dole have to do to win this election?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Well, he's starting to do exactly what he has to do, which is to select a good vice president, vice presidential nominee. I think Jack Kemp is an excellent pick. I think he will be a real boost, give a real to the ticket, and then he has to have a good convention. If he does those two things, that will begin to build momentum that will get him some traction, and then he's got to go out and, and articulate for the American people why we need to get back to the kind of government and the kind of country we had under Presidents Reagan and Bush, because Bob Dole is by temperament and experience, he's well qualified to carry on their legacy.
JIM LEHRER: Well, let's take these things you just mentioned. Jack Kemp--were the stories true--they've all been published in the last several days--that when you served in the Bush cabinet with Jack Kemp, he was Secretary of Housing & Urban Development and you were Secretary of State--
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Stories are blown up.
JIM LEHRER: --that he used to try to tell you how to run the foreign policy of the United States?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: The story is--that came out of Marlin Fitzwater's book, and it's overblown--Jack Kemp and I happen, contrary to the conventional wisdom, to be very good friends, and Susan and Joanne are particularly good friends. Jack Kemp, by the way, is the scheduled speaker at the James Baker Institute for Public Policy annual conference in November in Houston, Texas. That's how close we are. So you can take those stories for what they are, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. You mentioned the convention.
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Yeah.
JIM LEHRER: Which Republican Party is it that we've got here, the Republican Party--
SEC. JAMES BAKER: It's not an either/or. Now wait a minute. You see all you guys want is--you want to say it's got to be either/or. It doesn't have to be either/or in our party just like it doesn't have to be either/or in the Democratic Party.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
SEC. JAMES BAKER: We have a big tent. We have room for really hard-line conservatives, and we have room for middle-of-the-road conservatives. We have room for moderates. Why does it have to be either/or?
JIM LEHRER: You've got a delegation--I mean, a delegate population here that is by every measurement from the hard right. They have adopted a platform from the hard right, and yet, from the podium, these people have been hearing from pro-choice women, from black moderates in the party. There hasn't been one of those hard rights up there making a speech in prime time--
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Is there anything wrong with demonstrating that we are a party of the big tent and that we have all views encompassed within this party? I've always believed that you win elections by including and not by excluding.
JIM LEHRER: Pat Buchanan said the other day that right before our very eyes, the Republican Party is becoming the Buchanan Party. Is he right?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: I don't know. That's sort of a stretch, I think. I mean, if that were the case, I think he would be the nominee. If that were the case, I suppose he would have a substantial number of delegates down there on the floor which he does not have. But are there some--are there some views that he espouses that have been embraced in the platform? Yes, that's probably correct.
JIM LEHRER: Somebody suggested the other day that, for instance, the delegation from Texas is so far to the right that you and possibly even former President Bush wouldn't even make the cut.
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Well, that's--that's questionable. We don't know because neither one of us tried to make the cut.
JIM LEHRER: I know.
SEC. JAMES BAKER: But let me remind you that in 1976, Sen. John Tower, the only Texan elected statewide as a Republican since Reconstruction, was denied a seat at the Texas--at the National Convention in Kansas City by the Ronald Reagan forces. And look what happened. We all came together as one big family, and we governed this country for 12 years, and I think we governed it pretty darn effectively.
JIM LEHRER: So there should be no confusion on the part of the people, not the people here in San Diego, but the people who are independents, the people who were from the old Reagan Democrats about what the Republican Party is.
SEC. JAMES BAKER: No. I think what they ought to understand is that the--is that the party is a party of a lot of disparate and different views, and we have room in our party for people of differing views. But we are united in one single--on one single issue, and that is we do a better job of governing the country than the Democrats do. And if you take it back over a number--period of years, that's the argument we make, and I think we can prove it. And so it is very important for us to unify, as we have done, as we did in ‘76, as we did in ‘80, as we're doing this year, to defeat a Democratic President.
JIM LEHRER: Why is Bob Dole so far behind in the polls?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Well, he's no further behind than George Bush was in August of 1988. Bob Dole--if you accept the number 20, which I think is probably--I don't think he's that far behind.
JIM LEHRER: The gap has already closed the last couple of days.
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Sure. And it's going to close more, Jim. This is going to be a good--this is a good convention. It's going to close. And so I don't think the--I mean, I think that he's not that far behind if you look at it historically. Look where he was in ‘76. He was 30 points behind as a vice presidential nominee and made it up.
JIM LEHRER: Just in sheer political terms, how good a candidate is he?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: I think Bob Dole is a very effective candidate, or he would not have been elected any number of times to the United States Senate. I disagreed. I was the campaign manager in 1976 in the Ford-Carter race, chairman of the President Ford committee. I thought Bob Dole did an excellent job as the vice presidential candidate. He was criticized for making one statement in one debate, and that's the one thing--
JIM LEHRER: That was the one in Houston, the Democratic wars--
SEC. JAMES BAKER: --one thing that people--that stuck in people's minds, but I want to tell you something. He got out there, he worked really hard, and he did a good job for us.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with the conventional wisdom that he's run a terrible campaign up till now?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: I don't necessarily agree with that. I think the one mistake that was made was using up all the money at the very--in order to cement the nominee along about April, or whenever it was that he was clearly the putative nominee. That meant that he had to go dark. You couldn't see much of him. He didn't have any money to spend.
Meanwhile, the White House and the Democratic National Committee were spending a lot of money out there on television. I don't think that that was something that's going to be absolutely critical, but it would have been better if some of that money could have been saved. But look, he sewed up the nomination against a fairly tough field, and he did it fairly quickly.
JIM LEHRER: And the lights are on now?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: The lights are on now. I mean, the lights are going on big time tomorrow because he's going to--as soon as he gives that acceptance speech, he's going to pick up 74 million dollars. And someone said there's nothing wrong with this campaign that a good vice presidential pick, a good convention, and $74 million can't cure. I couldn't agree more.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Thank you, Jim.