MARGARET WARNER: The Republican establishment rallied around Texas Governor George W. Bush early and in great numbers. He's supported by 26 of his fellow Republican governors, 39 GOP Senators, and 175 House members. The picture is quite different for his rival. Senator John McCain has been endorsed by no governors, by just four GOP Senators, and only seven House members. But now the party establishment has an insurgency on its hands. And we have four perspectives on this, from two Bush supporters-- Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating and Missouri Senator Kit Bond-- and two McCain supporters, California Secretary of State Bill Jones, and former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber. Welcome, gentlemen.
Govern Keating, why is the Republican establishment so solidly behind Governor Bush?
GOV. FRANK KEATING: I never knew I was a part of the Republican establishment but now that you promoted me, I feel good about it. The reality is over a year ago I signed on to George Bush's campaign a vast majority as you noted of my colleagues have done as well, and it's because we like him. We admire him. He's flinty. He's independent. He is tough. He has been an extraordinarily successful executive and we want him to be our nominee and our president. It has nothing to do with anything except personal admiration and friendship.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Bond, how about you?
SEN. KIT BOND: Well, again, I agree with Governor Keating. I didn't know we had an establishment. I ran against the Republican establishment in '72 in Missouri. They said it wasn't my turn. I beat him, I was elected governor, and we haven't had one since. But as a former governor and one who listens to the grassroots and the rank and file of the Republican Party, I and they came to a conclusion last year that Governor George W. Bush had a demonstrated record of reform and accomplishment in Texas. He is the kind of American who has the vision that we believe can leads the Republican party to victory in November. And that's why we're solidly behind him. And we think he not only has a great record but he has the right message. He has the right medium for winning in November, and serving well as our next President.
MARGARET WARNER: Vin Weber, you are one ever the earlier McCain advisors. And presumably, you all would have liked some of these endorsements from Republican office holders.
VIN WEBER: Or even one.
MARGARET WARNER: Or even one. What is your perception of why and I won't use the word establishment I'll use office holders went so solidly for Bush?
VIN WEBER: First of all there is nothing wrong with it, Senator Bond and Frank Keating are people I've known for a long time -- I respect tremendously. There is nothing wrong with them or anybody else endorsing. I think there was an early rush to judgment by the political establishment of the Republican Party, the financial infrastructure of the Republican Party and the organizational structure of the Republican Party to get behind the candidate very early. We had lost the last two elections badly -- about 40% of the vote. There was a strong thought that we would have an attractive governor in Governor Bush of Texas and all of his Republican support -- and everybody should get behind him real quick. I don't -- I don't criticize anybody for making that decision. I simply think it wasn't necessarily in retrospect the right thing to do. As Senator Bond just said, he was an insurgent of types when he first ran. I know Frank - well, Frank's a good friend. Frank when you run for President, I'm ready to be there for you. Frank was not anointed by anybody in Oklahoma. It has not helped Governor Bush to be anointed by virtually everybody in the Republican establishment politically and financially in this campaign. And that's one of the reasons John McCain is doing well. And that is one of the reasons John McCain is today better able to say he can beat Al Gore than George Bush is.
MARGARET WARNER: So, you mean, you think actually some of the vote for McCain is an anti-establishment vote?
VIN WEBER: I believe the country - understand where I come from. I sat on election day in Minnesota with my candidate, Governor Norm Coleman, and I watched Jesse Ventura win the governorship of Minnesota. The country is in a very independent move. The country does not want the party - the country is deeply skeptical of special interests. The party that's going to succeed is the one that can tap into this sentiment of independence, of defiance, of looseness from the two political parties. Unfortunately, Governor Bush reinforced all the bad images on that early in this campaign. John McCain has a chance, as he has proven in this campaign in Michigan and in New Hampshire, to reach out and win the votes you have to win as a Republican to do better than our last two nominees have and win the White House.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Bill Jones, you are the most high-level level I might call you defector from the Bush camp to the McCain camp. Why were you originally in the Bush camp? Why did you defect and what is your view of whether this is really an establishment versus an insurgent contest that we're seeing?
BILL JONES: Well, I have great respect for Governor Bush; he's a fine individual -- as I do for Senator Bond and Governor Keating. The fact of the matter is, is that campaigns matter. And, as they progress, different programs and difference processes take shape and different evaluations are made. I looked at the reaction of the public, as Vin Weber said, to John McCain not just the crossovers. Republicans in California -- we've been losing. We've been not getting our base out for elections. I'm concerned about that. Our Republican Party should be concerned. John McCain is able to get a plurality of Republicans in New Hampshire. He consistently gets the Republicans in Arizona, and he just got them the other night. And so I looked at that plus his message, you know, reduce the debt, strong defense and also campaign finance reform, which I desperately need in California, and I've been a long time supporter of. Plus John McCain's unique personal life story, while not qualifying him to be President, what it does, it allows him to when he delivers the message to pierce that level of cynicism among the electorate that all of us fight to try and deliver a message it to the broader universe of voters -- he has been able to do that because that call from John McCain for service above self really resonates when you know his personal life story and history. All those items together in California matter because California is a candidate-driven state more than a party- driven state. You got to have a messenger and the message is good. And I think McCain is the right messenger at the right time.
MARGARET WARNER: Governor Keating, do you find any of these arguments persuasive? And also there are a lot of stories in the newspapers the last two days about the Bush supporters being shell shocked is the way the "New York Times" described it, been critical of the way the campaign has been run, that there are second thoughts. Are there second thoughts at all?
GOV. FRANK KEATING: Well, let me say this. I'm going to support Vin Weber when he runs for President. Whenever Bill wants to run for, I'm for him too, but let me say that the reality is in New Hampshire Bush carried a majority the Republican vote. The reality is in Michigan he carried 75% of the Republican vote -- the same thing in South Carolina - some 70 percent. It's true that candidacies matter. Candidates matter. What is your message? What is your background? What do you stand for? John McCain is a hero; there's no question he's a man on a horse -- but George Bush has been heroic. As governor of Texas, he took on the Ann Richards establishment, an extraordinarily difficult political establishment south of my border, traditionally Democrat, the land of Lyndon John son. He lowered taxes, he stopped social promotion in education, he cut the welfare rolls, he did it in a bipartisan environment. He got a very significant vote -- 70% of the reelection vote -- including large number of African Americans and Hispanic Americans. That is a pretty terrific candidate. And that is a pretty terrific candidacy. I think this is good for the party. To be honest with you, I think he'll come out and I think George will be the nominee -much more muscular. He will have a focused message. He'll be tough; he'll be tenacious. He will be a very effective candidate and I think a much better candidate against Al Gore as a result of this hardening process.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, Vin Weber, you must of course think this is good for the party?
VIN WEBER: Absolutely, let me make a point on that. Insurgencies, of course, make all of us in the party who have been active for a long time a little bit nervous. But the fact is historically the only way you really grow a party substantially is through an insurgency or a good deal of internal friction. The Republican Party became the national majority through a civil war. I mean understand that. Teddy Roosevelt helped build the national majority for this party in the early part of the century. That was so fractious that he formed a separate party at one point. Ronald Reagan when he first ran in 1980 was not the choice of the "Republican establishment." He had to take him on and beat him and win a lot of primaries. And it's always a little uncomfortable but at the end of the day that's the only way that you reach out and broaden the party and build the party. And that's what we're doing here.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Bond, do you think that one, do you agree that this insurgency or this challenge is good for the party, and, two, do you think the party is still and the establish, the office holders, however you want to describe them, in the end would support either of these men?
SEN. KIT BOND: First, when you say elected officials, establishment, I think that's the problem. You are to falling into a little campaign slogan there. A lot of elected officials do support Governor Bush because we know how he works. We are familiar with him. We have had an opportunity to deal with him. That's one of the reasons that we think he is very good. But there is no question that this great fight that's coming up in Missouri on March 7 is one of the best things that's happened to our political system in the state in a long time. We haven't had a primary since 1988. Traditionally, Missouri has had caucuses way late in the spring after it's all over. We are now getting to participate and our big challenge is to get all of the voters in Missouri who may not follow MacNeil-Lehrer every night, who nay mot be totally tuned in politics, to realize that we have a choice. This fight, this contest gives us an opportunity to get our message out, focus attention and I think both candidates in South Carolina and in Michigan polled more than -- had been voted in a Republican primary in the past. That means there are more Republicans turning out because in overwhelming numbers, Republicans want to end the Clinton/Gore era. And there is no question that if John McCain were to win, I would join my friends, Vin Weber and Bill Jones and do all I can to help John McCain. And I certainly is expect that -- as I think will happen, when George Bush wits the nomination, I would think they would join us and make sure that we achieve what I think is the overwhelming goal in this country, and that is to get the country back on the right track with the person one can respect in the White House and I believe it's George Bush or John McCain.
MARGARET WARNER: Bill Jones, of course as we've been discussing all week, John McCain is moving into a lot of primaries where he is going to have to really win Republican votes, which he has not done very successfully up till now. How do you stay the see of the land in that respect -- for instance in California, where to win delegates he must win the majority of Republican votes?
BILL JONES: Well, I think that John McCain needs to talk about the fact that his record on defense, his tax cutting plan to reduce the debt, have a tax cut, work and save Social Security, he needs to talk about his record as a Reagan Republican which he is. I think one of the things that's happened in South Carolina and also to some extent in Michigan, is an awful lot of money was spent by a lot of people to tell people that John McCain was something other than what he is, which is a strong Reagan Republican. Plus, in Michigan, my understanding is that 25% of the first time voters never voted in a primary before, came out, identified themselves as Republicans. You know this is not about necessarily just bringing crossovers. This is about getting Republicans to come back -- and I saw energy in Sacramento today -- 1,500 people coming in to listen to John this morning in Sacramento -- 5,000 in Washington last night standing in the rain in Washington State. There is some energy there. And I think that's how you get Republicans to come back because he is the won that is 10 to 15, 20 points ahead of Al Gore at this point for November.
MARGARET WARNER: But you are saying you think he can do that, whether or not any senior California Republicans join you in endorsing him?
BILL JONES: Well, let me say I would love company. That wouldn't bother me a bit. And I'm taking offers. But the point is, is that Californians are independent. Prop 13 tax fighting starts here. People will make up their own mind. They don't need people telling them to what to think - me or anyone else. I would just encourage every Californian to make sure and take advantage, as Senator Bond said, right on target - the first time in California we're going to make a difference in 30 years just like Missouri. I want all Californians voting, and regardless of who they vote for - and I also would say we are about winning in November and retiring Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and I think all of are in agreement on that.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you four gentlemen very much. This is all the time we have.