TOPICS > Politics

Republicans Looking Towards 2000

March 1, 1999 at 12:00 AM EST

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Now some Republican politics in California and to Jeffrey Kaye of KCET-Los Angeles.

SPOKESMAN: Good morning, ladies. Oh, you got one, great.

JEFFREY KAYE: Stung by painful defeats in the last election, California Republicans converged at their state convention in Sacramento this weekend. The debate was over the future of the party. Moderates came to try to oust the state party’s conservative leadership.

SPOKESMAN: Are we going to bring the Republican Party back to common sense?

PEOPLE SHOUTING: Yes.

JEFFREY KAYE: The convention also heard from seven likely presidential candidates, invited to lay out their visions of the GOP.

DAN QUAYLE, GOP President Candidate: And today it is so important that we work to reclaim the values that made this country great, the values for which this country was founded.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN, GOP Presidential Candidate: We should all be working toward a new American unity because we can’t afford to leave anyone behind. We need every American’s help if we are to extend our country’s greatness into the next century.

JEFFREY KAYE: There was disagreement about Republican priorities.

SPOKESMAN: We have run away from our own agenda.

JEFFREY KAYE: But all agreed the party is at a crossroads. State party official Shawn Steel.

SHAWN STEEL, State Republican Official: It’s a healthy debate. It’s a re-examination of our souls and of our future, what we intend to do.

JEFFREY KAYE: In the past, Republicans attending conventions like this were galvanized by unifying issues such as the Cold War, welfare reform, and rising crime. Now with those issues dissipated, Republicans as a party are actively debating what they stand for.

GROUP SINGING: Whose broad stripes and bright stars –

JEFFREY KAYE: Last year’s election were bad news for Republicans across the country. The party in the White House traditionally suffers losses during an off-year election, but last November, Democrats actually gained five seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans also fared badly at the state level. Since 1942, the President’s party has lost an average of 380 legislative seats in off-year elections. Last year, though, Democrats reversed that historic trend and gained 40 seats.

GRAY DAVIS: This has been a long journey, and let me tell you, it doesn’t get any better than this. (Applause)

JEFFREY KAYE: In California, a Democratic governor was elected for the first time in 16 years. Democrats increased majorities in the legislature and were elected to five of the seven top state offices. Those election results drove Bob Larkin, an insurance salesman from Simi Valley, California, to step up a campaign to change the direction of the state Republican Party.

BOB LARKIN, State Republican Delegate: If we don’t turn the Republican Party back from the cliff on the right side of the road, then we’re all going to crash.

JEFFREY KAYE: Concerned that the party’s strong anti-abortion position was turning off women voters in particular, Larkin assembled and endorsed a slate of moderate candidates. It was the first significant challenge to the state party’s leadership since conservatives took control in the early ’90′s.

BOB LARKIN: We’re losing voters. They have an image of being anti-woman, anti-minority, and anti-gay and anti-just-about-everybody, and they’re losing — we’re losing voters.

SPOKESMAN: Can I give you a John McGraw button?

JEFFREY KAYE: Among Larkin’s conservative foes was computer executive John McGraw. As vice chairman, he was expected to be the next chairman in the tradition of the California Republican Party. But he came under fire and challenge after a January interview with a Catholic newspaper in which he stated, “The most important political issue by far is the abortion issue.” He distanced himself from the remarks after opponents publicized them.

JOHN McGRAW, State Republican Official: That was a lead-in to a personal question. As a party official, my job is to support all candidates, and quite frankly, I have an extremely long track record of supporting candidates who agree with me on this issue, as well as candidates who don’t. What we need to do is be very tolerant with each other.

JEFFREY KAYE: But businessman Nicholas Bavaro, an abortion rights proponent, didn’t buy the retraction, and decided to run against McGraw.

NICHOLAS BAVARO, State Republican Delegate: We need to elect a chairman, not a pope. I believe that the Republican Party should not take that one issue and divide the party. The US Supreme Court has ruled on the issue of abortion.

JEFFREY KAYE: San Diego’s Republican Mayor, Susan Golding, another abortion rights advocate, says the party’s strong position on abortion is just one example of how the GOP is out of touch with the majority of voters.

MAYOR SUSAN GOLDING, (R) San Diego: In California, the abortion issue, I believe, has come to symbolize more than a position on abortion. It’s come to symbolize a view about the working woman versus the woman at home.

JEFFREY KAYE: Meaning what?

MAYOR SUSAN GOLDING: Well, the tone that has been adopted by a lot of statewide Republican candidates recently has really turned a lot of Republican women off and into the Democratic column. It’s lacked — it has lacked compassion; it has lacked understanding.

JEFFREY KAYE: But other party loyalists oppose any effort to, in their view, dilute the message.

SPOKESMAN: The only problem we have is we are afraid. We’re afraid of standing up before people and say, “Look, we’ve got a track record. Every single time we’ve taken a position on an issue, we’ve been right.”

JEFFREY KAYE: California State Senator Ray Haynes, a conservative, says Republicans should not try to broaden their appeal at the expense of principle.

RAY HAYNES, State Senator: We are losing elections, and we are losing elections because we don’t stand for anything. You cannot build a party based on the fear of what somebody else is going to think about you. Part of the essence of politics is convincing people that your solutions are the right solutions for society. If you are constantly out there trying to figure out what society thinks, you’re going to be blown hither and yon. And that is the biggest problem of the so-called “big tent.” I don’t believe in big tents. I believe in big houses built on a solid foundation with solid pillars. That way when the winds come and the storms hit, the thing doesn’t blow away.

JEFFREY KAYE: State party activist Michael Der Manouel ran for treasurer as part of the conservative slate of candidates. He says Democrats have co-opted traditional Republican issues, so Republicans have even more reason to reassert themselves.

MICHAEL DER MANOUEL, State Republican Official: In 1994, the Democrats got together and decided to be more like Republicans. They said, “You know what, we better move to the right on crime; we better move to the right on welfare; we better move to the right on taxes.” They’ve been moving to the right as fast as they can, and they’ve seen some success in ’96 and ’98 as a result of that. We have to quit sitting around crying and whining about that. There are still differences we can accentuate between us and the Democrats, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to do that.

JEFFREY KAYE: The California debate over what that message should be is reflected in the developing race for the Republican nomination for US President.

STEVE FORBES: We don’t have to dilute our principles, and we shouldn’t muffle our message. (Applause) It’s very basic: No message, no support; no principle, no victory.

JEFFREY KAYE: Conservatives such as Stephen Forbes, Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes, Dan Quayle, and Senator Bob Smith brought a common message to California: Republicans can take back the White House by sticking to conservative principles.

DAN QUAYLE: Republicans shouldn’t get nervous. They don’t need to walk away from principle. They need to have a backbone; stand up for what we believe in. Values matter most, values like responsibility, integrity, courage, faith, family, freedom. These are the values for which this country was founded. These are values that keep families together. These are values that make families stronger. These are values that keep communities together, and we need to emphasize the importance of values.

JEFFREY KAYE: But other likely presidential candidates in attendance this weekend — Former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander and Arizona Senator John McCain — downplayed the importance of moral values as campaign issues. When Senator McCain addressed the convention, social issues took a back seat to the need he sees to improve the party’s image.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Of course we stand for character, integrity, decency, support of the families, but we also stand for a strong national defense, less government, lower taxes, less regulation. But look, our problem is not so much the message, it’s how we’re sending the message. That’s our challenge. We have either wittingly or unwittingly sent a message that we are to some degree an exclusionary party.

JEFFREY KAYE: The role Republicans played in the impeachment fight was another area of some disagreement. Delegates greeted Congressman James Rogan like a conquering war hero, even though he lost the battle he fought as a House Manager in President Clinton’s impeachment trial.

SPOKESMAN: How many of you think that Jim Rogan might make a good candidate for the United States Senate? (Cheers and applause)

JEFFREY KAYE: Conservatives are encouraging Rogan to run for the US Senate. Some party members see impeachment as a proud and defining issue for Republicans.

DAN QUAYLE: We have to have the courage to lead, and it does take courage– courage that was demonstrated by Henry Hyde, Jim Rogan, and the other House Managers as they dealt with the issue of impeachment.

JEFFREY KAYE: But McCain, who as a Senator voted for both impeachment articles, is not keen about campaigning on that issue.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: The polls indicate that the impeachment process hurt Republicans. I believe that the majority of Americans, Republicans and Democrats, now want us to move on. I believe the process worked, just as it worked in 1974, and it’s time now to move on to issues that are important to the future of American families.

JEFFREY KAYE: In the convention hall, after two and a half days of lobbying by moderates and conservatives, delegates cast their votes. John McGraw was elected chairman with 61 percent of the vote. It was also an across-the-board victory for the entire conservative slate. But at the end, after McGraw and his challenger, Nicholas Bavaro, embraced, McGraw’s was conciliatory.

JOHN McGRAW: All of you know that I have very strong convictions. That does not and will not mean, in this party, any intolerance. I want this party to be the party of open and honest, but when that is done, I want us to all unite and go after the Democrats.

JEFFREY KAYE: From the moderates’ perspective, their strong showing plus a declaration of Republican unity was a victory.

NICHOLAS BAVARO, State Republican Delegate: We have now come to the table, and they — the other side realizes that the California Republican Party consists of both moderates and conservatives, and the only way we can win is if we join forces together.

JEFFREY KAYE: But as the convention ended, it was clear the united front would only go so far. Abortion rights activists say they’ll challenge the party’s anti-abortion stance at the next state convention this September.