NEWSMAKER: SUSAN MOLINARI
AUGUST 13, 1996
Was Susan Molinari chosen as the GOP keynote speaker to placate women, moderates and pro-choice Republicans? She shares her thoughts on this issue, Bob Dole's candidacy and the Republican platform with Elizabeth Farnsworth.
A RealAudio version of this Newsmaker interview with Rep. Molinari is available.
A RealAudio version of Rep. Molinari's keynote convention speech is available.
The Online NewsHour presents full coverage of the Republican National Convention in San Diego, including delegate interviews, regional analysis, interactive forums, and political retrospectives.
To win the White House, the Republicans need to attract female voters. Kwame Holman reports on the gender gap and how it's effecting the polling results.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This year's keynoter is Rep. Susan Molinari. The 38-year-old from Staten Island is in her third term in the U.S. House of Representatives. She has a B.A. and an M.A. from the State University of New York in Albany. She's the daughter and granddaughter of politicians and she won her first campaign in 1985, when she was elected to the New York City Council. In 1990, she won a special election for her father's seat in Congress. She has moved quickly through the leadership ranks and is now the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference. She serves on the Budget and Transportation Committees. Married to fellow Congressman Bill Paxon from Upstate New York, she gave birth to her first child, a girl, in May. She is with us now. Thank you very much for being with us.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI, (R) New York: I'm thrilled. Thank you for having me.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Keynoters are historically chosen to send a message. If a party has a problem in a big city, a big city mayor would be chosen. Why do you think you were chosen?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Well, I think there's a number of reasons, and obviously, Bob Dole I think is better equipped to answer this question, but I'd like to think, No. 1, I've worked very closely with Sen. Dole throughout my years in the House of Representatives when it coincided with his years in the Senate on a lot of legislation affecting women--safety issues on women, the glass ceiling, commission on women's health issues, uh, so I think that there's a relationship that's developed, and I'd like to think that there's a trust there. And I also think it has something to do with the Dole policies, and it has to do with looking forward, and I think I'm going to be representative of a generation that has really enjoyed all the benefits of our parents' and our grandparents' hard work and their dreams. And you know the theme of this convention is restoring the American dream. It's been realized for so many of us, but now as we look to our children, um, there's a lot of anxiety in this nation as to whether we can give them dreams as grand. And that's what Bob Dole's policies are all about.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The “Washington Post” wrote that your address will be a 10-minute rescue mission to save the young female vote.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: No. I mean, I think that certainly that's a huge responsibility, and that's one that's not necessary because the more that people, men and women, find out about Bob Dole and his record in the United States Senate and his plans and his vision for the future, he says it all on his own. And I can just be somebody that helps to, uh, strengthen that message and get that message out there, then that's how I see my role starting tonight.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But why do you think there is a gender gap at this point? Pollsters say that Sen. Dole can't win if the gender gap remains as great as it is now. I think it's about 20 percent, somewhere between 17 and 24 percent women voting for the Democrats. Why is it so great?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Well, first of all, it's not just Bob Dole's gender gap. It's a gender gap that is shared by the Republican Party. Running as a female Republican, I have a gender gap. So it's something that is a problem for all of us. Bob Dole should have a gender gap in a much smaller way than any of us. As I said, because of the issues that he's championed, because of the life that he's led, umm, when we get out there in this campaign and the American voters--you know, starting at convention, but really starting at Labor Day--start to focus in on what these candidates are all about, they are going to see a man who has worked and championed so many causes that are of importance to women. And then his vision for the future, his economic package, directly goes to the heart and soul of women who are trying to take care of their families and also hold down a job. So I think you're going to see that gender gap close extremely quickly once the American voter and the American woman starts to focus on Bob Dole.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do you explain women's reaction to the Republican congressional agenda? Polls show that women have not--many women have not appreciated the agenda, both the tone of it and the content of it. Polls show that women want to keep the safety net, for example.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Right.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And yet, you were the main defender of that congressional agenda as vice chairman--
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: And I would say that we kept the safety net. What we were trying to do was to make the safety net better. I don't think there's anybody that can look at welfare and say this is a good safety net, but we did things--like we said we're getting rid of welfare. Well, we're not. What we're doing is making welfare work better. We're putting programs in place that allow governors and mayors to make decisions tailored--suited to those communities, but we didn't take the time to say that. So I would submit to you that 3/4 of the Republican agenda is very positive to women. Our tax cuts are very important to women, but we can't just talk about them in terms of tax cuts. We need to talk about them in terms of the ability for women to spend a little more time at home with their families because of these tax cuts.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are you going to address these issues directly in your speech, the gender issues?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Some of them will be addressed because they are so important to all Americans. I think that an economic stimulus package, tax cuts, taking care of children or taking care of parents at the same time, which is really where a lot of us are starting to find ourselves, is a message that America needs to hear the answers to, and I think the Dole-Kemp platform really addresses that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You called the keynote speech the, the Olympics of speech-making.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Yeah. I'm not putting too much pressure on me, was I? (laughing)
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do you prepare for something that has so much risk associated with it? First of all, who wrote the speech?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: As I told you before going in, you prepare by, you know, not eating from the moment that--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: A great way to diet.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: I'll tell you. I actually wrote it, and I did have some help. There's a tremendously talented woman named Chris Winston who's a former Bush speech writer and helped me with the tone, but the initial ideas and I'd say I probably gave her about seven minutes of a speech that I'd like to give, and then she, along with Ed Gillespie, who now works for Haley Barbour and Chuck Green, sat down with me, and we worked different ways to say it. And that was really it. But in terms of the content and the tone, it's all Susan Molinari.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Did you run it by friends? Did you call friends and say, here's what I'm saying about this, what do you think?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Oh, sure, absolutely. I ran it by a lot of people because you want to get that outside perspective, and of course, I went to my most important critic, and that's my mother, who is, you know, the apolitical one in the family, so that when we start talking too inside the beltway, she's the one that kind of yanks on my hair and says, I don't know what you're talking about.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And the Republican leadership vetted this, I suppose.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: They've seen the speech, but there's been--it's come back with absolutely no changes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mm-hmm. And did you have to worry a lot about being too nervous to be able to give this speech? How do you keep from being too nervous?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: I think what I intend to do as the hour approaches is to just focus in on what's the main goal here, and the goal isn't to reflect on Susan Molinari. The goal is to reflect on Bob Dole. And I learned from campaigns with my father that it's always a lot easier to speak on behalf of someone else than yourself because you always find a little more courage to do for another person, and I just think so highly of Bob Dole, and believe it's so important that he gets elected that if I keep my mind on that mission, as opposed to this being, you know, a presentation for Susan Molinari, I know I'll be able to get over it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What's your main goal, aside from talking about Bob Dole on why he should be elected? What's your main goal? What do you hope people take away from this speech once you're finished?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: That the Republican Party policies, that our agenda for the future is the one that will best equip our next generation to face their challenges. It's an acknowledgment of the insecurities that a lot of families are going through right now, and a conversation with them about how these plans will make their lives better, easier, fairer, safer.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: There's such an effort here to present an image of the party as all--as inclusionary. You really--we really saw that last night with Gen. Powell.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Mm-hmm.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Will you be quite specifically doing the same thing?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: No. I mean, I don't think it would be that obvious. It's a lot more subtle, but I'm talking about issues that affect all of us, Republicans, Democrats, males, females. These are the issues that confront all of us as we wake up every morning. So in a sense, it is inclusion because I don't think there's anybody that would be watching that could say, geez, I don't have those feelings, I don't have those concerns.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you most fear about tonight? What do you think is your biggest fear at this point?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Again, being able to--I think so highly of Bob Dole, and every time in his personal life, his military life, his life as a government leader, any time we've called on him, he has been there for us and has given us a hundred percent. Now I have 10 minutes to give my 100 percent for Bob Dole. And I guess my biggest fear is that I don't do as well as I can for him.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are you--
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: But I will. But I will.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are you comfortable with how everything's going so far in this convention, the--the floor fight over abortion--you are pro-choice?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Right.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The platform is not pro-choice?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Mm-hmm.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are you comfortable with that?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Well, I mean, obviously, I would prefer not to have abortion in the platform at all. That's always been my position. I appreciate the fact, however, and I got a lot more comfortable with this party when Bob Dole stood up and spoke on our behalf and said we need to talk about tolerance and diversity and celebrate our differences and pro-choice leaders are going to be standing up there, speaking at this convention because this is the message of inclusion that he wants to share. So, umm, from a platform standpoint, I'm not comfortable. From a standpoint in terms of the way Bob Dole's conducted it and the rest of the Republican Party leadership, I'm extremely comfortable.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you sometimes feel you have an impossible job, though, and that you are--you've been chosen for all the reasons that you said and partly to reach out to young women--Republican women tend to be, uh, pro-choice--are you afraid that you can't really reach out to these women because the platform doesn't say what they wish it would say?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: No, not at all, and I think, you know, 90 percent of the American people don't vote on the--don't use abortion as a litmus test. What has hurt us as a party in the past isn't the fact that we've been the pro-life party; it's been a discussion that has surrounded it, the term of intolerance, the term of divisiveness, I think. There was a hardness to the way we discussed this issue. When you approach this issue with the level of respect and compassion, I think that the majority of people, particularly women, say, okay, as long as we can agree to disagree, which is really the tone of Bob Dole, has always been the tone of Bob Dole--I don't think anybody who knows him, who's followed him, can say anything differently, and now that has infused through the rest of the Republican Party.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And this is the tone you've been chosen to project, right?
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: I hope so.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, good luck.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: Thank you so much.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you for being with us.
REP. SUSAN MOLINARI: A pleasure.