TOPICS > Politics

The State of the Race

March 6, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Now the perspectives of four key Republican players in this campaign. Vin Weber, former House member from Minnesota, is co-chairman of the Dole campaign. Malcolm Wallop, former Senator from Wyoming, is national chairman of the Forbes campaign. William Bennett, former Reagan-Bush cabinet official, was national chairman of the Alexander campaign. And Gary Bauer, also a veteran of the Reagan administration, is head of the Family Research Council and American Renewal, a conservative think tank. Welcome, gentlemen. Bill Bennett, since you no longer have a dog in this fight, let me start with you. Today, Pat Buchanan said that he thought Sen. Dole’s nomination now seemed inevitable. Do you think it is?

WILLIAM BENNETT, Former Alexander Campaign Chairman: Probably. Yes, I think it is. If you look at the numbers, he’s probably got those numbers up pretty well right now, pretty effectively. Lamar Alexander’s endorsement will help. One assumes most of Alexander’s voters go to Dole. That’s just, that’s just a greater number. We’ll see what happens in New York and on, but it looks as if Republicans are saying in pretty strong numbers they want Bob Dole.

MARGARET WARNER: Malcolm Wallop, how do you think the last 24 hours have left this campaign?

MALCOLM WALLOP, Forbes Campaign Chairman: (New York City) Well, as previous sort of 24-hour periods with now Bob Dole up, for a little while he was down, and, and my candidate, Steve Forbes, was up, and early on Pat Buchanan was up. I don’t believe that it’s over, and Steve Forbes doesn’t believe that it’s over, and we have secured the endorsement of a leading American conservative, colleague of Bill Bennett’s, Jack Kemp today. So it is our view, the race is not over, nor do we feel that it should be.

MARGARET WARNER: Vin Weber, do you think that at this point Pat Buchanan or Steve Forbes can deny this nomination of Bob Dole?

VIN WEBER, Dole Campaign Co-Chairman: No. I think that Bob Dole has effectively won the nomination, unless he makes some huge, unexpected error. The question at this point is will the Republican Party unite behind Sen. Dole early enough, quickly enough, and thoroughly enough to give us the maximum chance of defeating Bill Clinton? Look, we had a long, well-contested fight for the Republican nomination. Candidates across the spectrum, from every region of the country, they challenged Dole in every conceivable way. At some point, the party has to look at its own interests and say, all right, we’ve winnowed the field really down to one effective candidate. That’s where we are today. We’re going to nominate Sen. Dole for President. Will we nominate as a strong leader who unite the party and beat Bill Clinton, or are we going to continue to nitpick him all the way till San Diego? That’s the question.

MARGARET WARNER: Gary Bauer, Pat Buchanan has said, though, that he’s going to stay in this all the way to San Diego. What do you–you have not endorsed him, but you are often advocating his policy positions. What do you think he really wants at this point?

GARY BAUER, Family Research Council: Well, I think Pat all along has been interested in where the Republican Party is on a host of issues. I think he has been very specific about the social issues, the sanctity of human life, a feeling that the party has devoted a lot of rhetoric to those things but really hasn’t done much policy-wise, and, of course, this whole galaxy of issues about the economic anxiety that working class and middle class families feel in America. I believe that Pat probably will stay in the race because he wants those things to be on the agenda. And, you know, Margaret, I actually think that Forbes and Buchanan being in the race improves Bob Dole’s chances, because it makes him sharpen his message, makes him deal with issues that I think the American people care desperately, and a party like ours shouldn’t want to fold things up in early March. My goodness, we’ve got a long time for these things to be debated.

MARGARET WARNER: You’re shaking your head.

MR. WEBER: Well, I like Gary. I think Pat has a right to stay in the case. Gary, there’s absolutely no historical precedent for what you’re saying. It’s very clear from all modern history when a party has to fight all the way to the convention, it doesn’t strengthen the front-runner. Kennedy did not strengthen Carter. Buchanan did not strengthen Bush. I mean, the parties, Pat and Steve, have a right to do whatever they want to do, but we as Republicans who care about electing a President ought to be ready to say no, it’s over, it’s time to unite behind Bob Dole. That’s the way we can win the White House.

MR. BAUER: I think there are millions of Republican voters who still want a chance to vote in primaries with choice, instead of having it decided in Washington, that the race is over.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me let both Bill Bennett and Malcolm Wallop weigh in on this point of whether it strengthens the ultimate nominee for this fight to continue and have Buchanan stay in the race or not.

MR. WALLOP: Sure it has, and we ought not to be coronating Bob Dole. I mean, this is, after all, an election, an election in which he tried very hard to keep any choice for New York Republicans off the ballot. We believe that, that Steve Forbes has a message that is resonant in this country, and Bob Dole will either have to embrace some of it, or contest the reason why we ought not to have a pro-growth, future-oriented presidency as the goal of the Republican Party.

MARGARET WARNER: Bill Bennett, what do you see as the impact of the continued Buchanan and Forbes candidacies?

MR. BENNETT: Well, you’re always being a record for the opposition. You always make your record for Bill Clinton to pick up, and when we get into the general election. Pat Buchanan has been, I think, quite good in saying he will support the nominee of the party. It now looks as if Bob Dole is the nominee of the party. In fact, Buchanan admits that. Will Pat Buchanan stop talking about Bob Dole as the bellhop of the Business Roundtable and these other things? If we hear that on and on for weeks and weeks, months and months, I don’t think it’ll help, because Pat Buchanan, whatever I think of his views, and I’m quite critical of his views, is a very effective puncher. He punches. He draws blood. He drew blood from George Bush, and he can draw blood from Bob Dole, and he wants to think about–he needs to think about the implications of his actions. Again, he has every right to stay in, but would you want a very, a docile Pat Buchanan in this race who wasn’t punching away? I don’t think so. That wouldn’t be Pat Buchanan. So if he stays in, is he really going to do Bob Dole any good?

MARGARET WARNER: Gary Bauer, do you think there’s something concrete, though, he wants–I mean, the abortion, the abortion plank in the Republican platform, something concrete?

MR. BAUER: Oh, absolutely.

MARGARET WARNER: And what is it?

MR. BAUER: I think these are very concrete things. I think he wants a clear commitment from Bob Dole or the party in general that it will not just give lip service to these social issues, but that it will really try to push policy for these things. I think he wants the platform to be absolutely clear about these matters, and I think, you know, I don’t want to leave out these issues of economic anxiety. I think they’re important issues. I think Bob Dole’s beginning to address them. I don’t think the Republican Party can win unless it has a growth message that also deals with the feelings of millions of middle class and working class Americans. I think that Pat Buchanan thought the party got that message that he would be much more likely to re-evaluate what he’s going to do as we get closer to the convention.

MARGARET WARNER: Vin Weber, respond–

MR. WALLOP: He has not had a growth message. In fact, it has been a protectionist message. The contrast between Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan, while they’re very similar on the social issues, on the issues of growth and jobs, we have the feeling that America has never been able to create jobs or protect them through government, and only you don’t have downsizing when the country is growing, and nobody is calling for growth, except Steve Forbes.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me let Bob Dole’s surrogate here weigh on this. How are you going to satisfy both of these?

MR. WEBER: Pardon me. We’re at the whining and nitpicking stage in this campaign. When you talk about economic reform and economic growth, Bob Dole, along with Newt Gingrich, was responsible for forming and choosing Jack Kemp as the head of the tax commission that has really set in motion the supply side reform of the tax code. For this, he gets Jack Kemp endorsing Steve Forbes for President, which I totally don’t understand. But to suggest that Dole has not been taking substantive, as opposed to rhetorical steps, to put growth economics on the platform of the Republican Party and on the agenda of this campaign is simply not fair, looking at what this leader has done for us.

MR. BAUER: Look, Sen. Dole’s a great guy, Vin, but when he says in New Hampshire he didn’t realize economic issues were going to be a major factor in the New Hampshire campaign–

MR. WEBER: That’s not what he said. That’s not fair.

MR. BAUER: Well, whatever he said, it’s hard to put a good spin on it.

MR. WEBER: He said he didn’t realize that trade was going to dominate the New Hampshire primary.

MR. BAUER: He said–he said economics–

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you all this. Given these differences, I mean, Vin, how does Bob Dole handle in the coming months the continued Buchanan and Forbes candidacies?

MR. WEBER: Oh, you know, certainly he has to speak as the whole Republican Party does to the concerns raised by Pat Buchanan about joblessness in industries affected by trade and certainly he ought to address Steve Forbes’ concerns about growth, but essentially, he’s won the nomination because he is the Republican candidate that can unite the party. No one is suggesting that either of these other candidates have any chance at all of uniting the Republican Party.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me ask Malcolm Wallop to weigh in on that. Do you have–does Steve Forbes have a plausible scenario for winning this thing? What is the scenario for winning it?

MR. WALLOP: We believe it would be very, very competitive in Texas and Florida, and if that is the case, then in the Middle West states and on to California there is a 09/96 scenario which we find within our campaign structure plentiful and Bob Dole, keep in mind, has a contract with the American taxpayer that says that he has only $37 million to spend, and he’s virtually spent it all now. That’s his fault and his choice, but we believe that we have a competitive message to give out that is resonating and has resonated in certain elections with the American people. Stop whining, as Vin suggests. It is an alternative to a campaign that has yet to put any real structural proposals on the table as compared to before.

MARGARET WARNER: And Sen. Wallop, is Steve Forbes committed to go all the way to San Diego fighting this?

MR. WALLOP: I have heard nothing to the contrary of that, and his public statements have all been in that direction. So I would have to guess at this moment that that’s his intention.

MR. BENNETT: My concern, my candidate, Lamar Alexander, before he dropped out, raised some worries about the Dole candidacy, but he said today, look, the American people are choosing Bob Dole, let’s get behind him. The question now is how people spend their time. I think you can make a very good case that instead of Bob Dole having to fight rear guard actions and side actions, it would be very good for a lot of us, including Gary Bauer and Malcolm Wallop, all of us, to get together and start to think about how we’d beat Bill Clinton. And I think there is some concern among Republicans, genuinely, honestly about Bob Dole’s candidacy against Bill Clinton, Bob Dole in a debate, well, the test there, it seems to me, ought to be to help as much as people can, to try to make the arguments, to try to get everybody going in the same direction on this. Again, people have a perfect right to stay, and it’s a different argument, and it’s–to be fair to Gary–it’s a different argument to say, look, he wants to keep, Buchanan or someone wants to keep issues at the front of the American people, wants to be sure they’re part of the platform, and that’s certainly legitimate. But I think how people conduct themselves, the way they make their arguments over the next couple of months, what they say about Bob Dole, everything is being recorded, folks, that’s being said about Bob Dole.

MR. BAUER: It is, but it’s hard to say that Pat Buchanan’s been the one that has been the problem here. I mean, some of the things said about him have been unbelievable, by some of the folks on this panel, but look, let me just say, if everybody turns down the personal record and discusses the issues facing the party, the party has got to be better off because of that, and to not let Republicans in states like California have a chance to vote on a choice for the nomination I think is just silly.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me quickly ask before we go, what impact are these various endorsements from today going to have? Bill Bennett, how about the Kemp endorsement and the Alexander and Lugar endorsements? I mean, do voters really follow figures like this?

MR. BENNETT: Well, some do. I think a lot of the Alexander voters will get behind Dole. The Kemp endorsement I don’t know–obviously, pleasing to Forbes, I’m still sorting this one out. I don’t know.

MARGARET WARNER: What do you think these endorsements mean?

MR. WEBER: I think Lugar and Alexander have made the logical case. It’s time to get behind Sen. Dole. I don’t understand it. You know, I have to say, Jack Kemp, who is my dear friend, as he is all of us, referenced David Donald’s book on Lincoln today in endorsing Forbes, that’s a misuse of Lincoln. If you read that book, the person that he described as Lincoln is much closer to Bob Dole, an experienced politician, a very skillful coalition builder, very concerned about party politics, nothing of the outsider trashing all the party leadership in the course of things. It was just a mistake on Jack’s part, but it’s not going to have any impact.

MARGARET WARNER: But let me ask you this. Jack Kemp did say today that he was not going to endorse until the Dole campaign sent in surrogates into New York to criticize the flat tax. Do you think that was a mistake?

MR. WEBER: Sure, of course it was a mistake. You know, essentially, I’ll just come back–essentially, we have had the real hard-fought contests in the Republican primary fight. I wasn’t sure a few weeks ago if Bob Dole was going to win the nomination or if Pat Buchanan was going to surge or Forbes take off or Lamar Alexander come from behind, but now we know the answer to that question, and the question really facing the Republican Party is: Are we going to help elect Bob Dole President or aren’t we?

MARGARET WARNER: Malcolm Wallop, do you think you’re going to–can you count on getting a sizeable number of the Alexander and Lugar supporters?

MR. WALLOP: Well, certainly, we want to attract them, and we want to attract Buchanan voters as well, but let me just correct Vin. Lincoln did not come to Washington knowing anybody in Washington or even the positions in the cabinet. He had been nowhere in the country, nowhere abroad.


MR. WALLOP: That’s not the point. The point is that the Republican Party cannot help but benefit by a thorough debate of where it goes. I have no worry about us getting behind the candidate in the end, and Bill Clinton is going to do with his money what, what Vin is worried about Republicans doing by contesting Republican ideas. Bill Clinton will shoot at Bob Dole, if he’s the nominee, and everybody that drops out from now till San Diego, and there will be no way for Dole to shoot back.


MR. BAUER: Margaret, on your endorsement question, I think the endorsement game is the politics of the past. I think America is in such turmoil politically these days that whether somebody has endorsed the candidate or not means very little. People are looking for ideas; they’re looking for a vision for the future, and ultimately the candidate that does that is going to win.

MARGARET WARNER: Vin Weber, quick prediction tomorrow in the New York primary.

MR. WEBER: It’s going to be a big win for Bob Dole.


MR. WEBER: I, I would say I think he’ll beat the combined vote of Buchanan and Forbes, I think.

MARGARET WARNER: And Malcolm Wallop.

MR. WALLOP: I don’t believe that to be the case. I think that Forbes may be a strong second, keeping in mind that it’s been very difficult for Forbes voters to find their people on the ballot, the hierarchical structure of Republicans in New York having seen fit to try to keep any competition off the ballot for Dole.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator, thanks. I’m sorry. We’ll have to leave it there, but thank you all very much. We’ll be back.