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GOP Confronts Obstacles to Uniting Party for McCain

September 3, 2008 at 6:25 PM EDT
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During the GOP convention, the Republican party has worked to shore up its party unity and combat a fragmented image along conservative lines. Gary Bauer, a former Regan administration official and head of the "American Values" group, and former Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift measure the effectiveness of the party's efforts.

JIM LEHRER: And more on the quest for Republican Party unity, and to Ray Suarez.

RAY SUAREZ: For that, we’re joined by Gary Bauer. He served in the Reagan administration, ran for president, and is president of American Values, a conservative nonprofit group.

And Jane Swift, she served as governor of Massachusetts from 2001 to 2003.

And, Gary Bauer, let me start with you. For a long time in the early part of this year, it was said again and again that social conservatives were not sold on John McCain as a candidate. Are they now? And how much does the request for Sarah Palin to join the ticket have to do with it?

GARY BAUER, American Values: Well, I think they are sold on him now. I think the entire base — Sen. McCain admits that he’s had a challenging relationship with the base of the Republican Party for a number of years. I think that’s all basically gone now, and it’s for a number of reasons.

What happened out at Saddleback Church, where there was a tremendous contrast between Sen. McCain and Barack Obama on values issues, a solid conservative platform here at the convention.

But I do think the selection of Gov. Palin to be the running mate has electrified not only the convention, but the conservative grassroots.

And I would also add that the last 48 hours of how the American media, reading off of the talking points of the far left and the Democratic Party, and attacking Governor Palin has energized that base even more. And I believe it’s done something else: I think it’s going to drive working-class women who may think of themselves as Democrats or independents to the McCain-Palin ticket.

The McCain-Palin appeal

RAY SUAREZ: Gov. Swift, by turning his back on his own immigration plan, by tempering some of the views that had made him appeal to independents and a lot of moderate Republicans, did John McCain risk, let's say, alienating Northeasterners like yourself?

FORMER GOV. JANE SWIFT (R), Massachusetts: Well, I think that John McCain is a different kind of Republican. And it's a good thing for our party, because a run-of-the-mill Republican couldn't win in this political climate.

John McCain is a maverick, and he's a reformer, and he will take on the entrenched special interests. And one of the things that's so exciting about Gov. Palin is she has exactly that same kind of record.

She took on Big Oil in her local state to address a really important issue that so many families that I know care about, which is energy, bringing down the cost of gasoline, being less dependent on foreign oil. Those are things conservative and moderate Republicans can agree are the pressing issues of our day.

And Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin have a terrific record that they can run on, and a McCain-Palin ticket will make a difference in the lives of a whole bunch of families who are really looking for a change in our government.

RAY SUAREZ: But along with that same package with Gov. Palin, don't you get social views, political views that are anathema to many voters in other parts of the country?

JANE SWIFT: I think that, clearly, Gov. Palin and I have an honest disagreement around the issue of abortion. And for those voters who vote solely on that issue, they have a very clear choice in this election.

But for other folks like me, who sent my children to our public schools in Massachusetts today, who care about a quality education, who care about John McCain's record of experience and his ability to keep us safe, we can come together.

And I think it's a great ticket that has a lot to offer to folks of many political stripes.

Holding up GOP issues

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Bauer, a recent poll from the Pew Center asked Republican voters if the Republican Party was doing an excellent, good, fair, or poor job on following traditional Republican issues, on holding up traditional Republican issues.

Those who identified themselves as Evangelicals dropped during the second Bush administration 24 points down to much less than half. Those who called themselves conservatives dropped 30 percent in their saying that the Republican Party stands up for their values.

Have the kind of people who are members of your organization begun to feel a little left out by the Republican Party?

GARY BAUER: Well, look, I think there's the frustration that people always get in American politics when they invest time and energy and things don't happen as quickly in Washington, D.C., as they would like.

But I think the type of voters you're talking about and, quite frankly, other types of Republicans, who are more centrist and maybe even a little left-of-center, I think look at the Republican Party and when they look at the big issues, whether taxes are going to go up or down, whether government is going to get bigger or smaller, whether America is going to have a role in the world defending freedom, and then also these values issues, I think these folks are rallying back to the party banner.

I think we're going to see an energized base during the next 60 days. And I believe with all my heart that, in spite of some of the, I think, just disgusting tactics, quite frankly, by the other side that we're going to see Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin inaugurated as president and vice president in January.

And when that happens, a lot of these issues that people have been frustrated on -- we'll have another opportunity to work on those issues, including controlling the runaway spending we've seen on domestic programs in Washington.

McCain as the 'real deal'

RAY SUAREZ: Well, when a candidate has to speak to a big, broad and diverse country, if they make the Gary Bauers of the world happy, do they risk making the Jane Swifts of the world unhappy?

JANE SWIFT: Listen, you cannot appeal to a narrow band of the electorate. You have to be who you are.

Sen. McCain has a long record of being pro-life. I knew that, and I chose to support him early in this process, because there were other things about his experience, about his willingness to tell his own party and the powers in Washington when he thought they were wrong. That kind of independence appeals to me.

But anybody who looks at the electorate and these narrow bands, and says, "Oh, I'm going to be this to this person and that to that person," is going to lose, because at the end of the day what we want is someone who's authentic, who tells us what they believe, and does what they tell us they're going to do.

And if you do that, then I think you can let all of your handlers worry about which band you can put together for your electoral coalition. But, you know, John McCain is the real deal. And I think what we'll see tonight is Sarah Palin is, as well.

RAY SUAREZ: Former Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift, American Values President Gary Bauer, thank you both.

GARY BAUER: Thank you.

JANE SWIFT: Thank you.