|A REFORMED CONVENTION|
August 10, 2000
Warring factions of the Reform Party open separate conventions after clashing over a presidential candidate.
MARGARET WARNER: A bitterly divided Reform Party split into two competing conventions today: the original convention site in Long Beach, California, was taken by supporters of former Republican Patrick Buchanan. They insist he will be declared the Reform Party's nominee when the results of a mail-in vote are announced tomorrow.
SUPPORTERS: (shouting) Go, Pat, go! Reform
MARGARET WARNER: Supporters of rival candidate John Hagelin, a physicist, who's backed by party founder Ross Perot, were blocked from entering the hall, insisting that the Buchanan forces are committing fraud, Hagelin's backers convened a rival meeting down the street. The two factions are competing fiercely for the right to head the Reform Party ticket in the November presidential election and for the right to $12.6 million in federal funds to finance the campaign. The two sides have been clashing all week, beginning Tuesday when Hagelin ally Russ Bernie was blocked from entering a meeting.
WOMAN SHOUTING: These people don't care about rules. They don't care about honesty. They don't care about truth. They don't care about people!
MARGARET WARNER: The mayhem continued yesterday as both sides set up credentials committee to certify who could vote at the convention. That's important because under party rules, a two-thirds majority of the delegates could overrule the results of the mail-in vote.
RUSS VERNEY, Hagelin supporter: The question, what happens if Pat Buchanan wins the popular vote on the mail-in ballot has already been determined by the executive committee and affirmed by the national committee yesterday that Pat Buchanan has disqualified himself from receiving any verifiable votes whatsoever.
MARGARET WARNER: Buchanan, meanwhile, appeared confident despite the disarray.
PAT BUCHANAN: Let me say this, my friends: We are here, down here in Long Beach, to capture a nomination of the Reform Party that has been won because of what you have been doing for ten months.
|The state of the play|
MARGARET WARNER: For more on the happenings in Long Beach, we're joined
by Washington Post correspondent Thomas Edsall.
THOMAS EDSALL, Washington Post: Right now, Pat Buchanan and his people have control of the party, of the mechanics and most importantly, both security and money. I mean, those are the two basic power levers here. They control the police who are sort of determining who comes in, who comes out. And they have the $2.5 million roughly the federal government gives the party to run its convention. That gives them a lot of leverage, and they have used it very effectively.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, is there any doubt that he will be declared the winner of this mail-in, this national mail-in ballot when that's revealed tomorrow?
THOMAS EDSALL: Well, it depends on how they do the counting. The executive committee, this Perot-dominated executive committee or anti-Buchanan dominated committee has ruled that he's disqualified as a candidate; if they actually did that and did not count his ballots, then he loses. Most people do not think he would lose if all the ballots are counted. On top of that, he's got the convention itself where he has more than two-thirds; he has 70% of the delegates. It takes two thirds to overturn or to assert any kind of ruling they want to make. And with that kind of power, he can do it even if he lost the ballot, which I don't think he's going to do. He could win again otherwise.
MARGARET WARNER: On what basis do the Hagelin forces contend the Buchanan forces have committed fraud?
THOMAS EDSALL: This gets really arcane. In fact, all of the debates here are very arcane.
MARGARET WARNER: Simply, if you can.
THOMAS EDSALL: Well, they claim that only certain people can be submitted as requesting ballots. Those are people who have actually supported, signed petitions, voted, been members of the Reform Party, various qualifications. They claim that Buchanan filed over 200,000 names of people who really were just past donors, Republican activists, probably from conservative mailing lists. And there is some evidence that there are people who had no idea or no interest in voting in this had been getting ballots. The problem is that the Reform Party people themselves also added names that did not qualify under their own rules. And it becomes two sides splitting at each other. And what really makes it strange is that Buchanan is being attacked for what really amounts to trying to add to the total number of people participating in a party that claims to want to have more people participating. So, it is a real mess.
MARGARET WARNER: And one more question, dealing with what's been happening the last couple of days. Why didn't the Hagelin forces stay within the regular convention and try to trump the mail-in vote.
THOMAS EDSALL: That's because they did not have the votes, presumably. If you are a loser -- they came here prepared to walk out. They had another room rented for the national committee meeting. They have another room rented today for their convention over at the Los Angeles Performing Center right in front of me right now. They really came geared up to -- in order to build the case for their lawsuit, they have to go through all of the motions of holding their own convention. It is a bit of a strain for them and I'm not sure that they are doing that well. And they don't get any of the television coverage, which was what all of these people hunger for.
|The all-important money|
MARGARET WARNER: So that brings us to the money, the all-important 12.6 million. As you mentioned and we mentioned in the show, the Hagelin forces had filed a complaint with the FEC today. What's the state of play there? Who is going to get the money and when?
THOMAS EDSALL: Well, what's going to happen is both sides are going to hold their convention. One side is going to nominate Pat Buchanan and the other side is going to nominate John Hagelin. They both will file to the FEC, and the FEC will have to determine. And that's not a clear, although you would think the odds would be on Pat Buchanan, the FEC is actually a split Republican Democratic Commission, and the Republicans on the Commission may not want Pat Buchanan in this race at all on the theory he would hurt George Bush. And then they hold it up there; then there's going to be court action. Whoever loses and they both may lose, will file suit, and they are going to fight and fight and fight. How long that -- Pat Buchanan is saying this should be a matter of days, however, that the courts will not hold up a whole election in this kind of determination.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you have been covering this fight for weeks. What do you think it is really all about? Is it simply about power or is it about this different direction that Buchanan wants to take the party on social issues?
THOMAS EDSALL: I think it is really about two things. At one level, it is power. You have the Perot people who have run this party. It is their baby; they felt they built it up over eight years. Buchanan came in here and he has played hard ball. He makes no bones about it. Buchanan says we play tough, very, very tough. They knew that they could face the situation where two-thirds of the convention could overturn any ruling and they decided we're going to win - not just win 50%, we're going to win at least two thirds of the delegates. That meant a lot of Perot backers took a hit, and they lost in state convention fights. The other real power battle though is over what ideological direction this party is going to go in. Pat Buchanan today issued a statement of his moral principles. He says he's not going to change the platform this year, but he does want to issue a statement declaring that he is still very committed as an anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, big on traditional cultural and moral values candidate. That's the heart of his campaign in his own words, and he is going to push that hard. The other side, the leader of the anti-Buchanan forces is a guy named Jim Mangia, who is a gay guy from California. He sees Buchanan as a brown shirt, to use his words. There is a cultural and ideological battle taking place here. And in the long run what really is going to be decided is can there be a conservative, really right-wing populous party in America, and does it have legs? And Pat Buchanan, if he gets this money, will decide that.
|Where is Ross Perot?|
MARGARET WARNER: Now, where has Ross Perot been in all of this? Is he trying to exert any influence at all?
THOMAS EDSALL: Well, insofar as his guy, Ross Bernie, the former chairman of the party. And he's a very active presence -- anti-Buchanan and helping to orchestrate all of. Bernie is going whole hog in this. But Perot, himself, has been sitting on his hands, has done nothing, made no appearances, no comments. For a guy who founded this party it is his baby, he has orphaned it and has left it on the doorstep, and from his point of view, may well die.
MARGARET WARNER: Is there any concern, you know this convention was supposed to be the Reform Party sort of moment in the sun between the two major party conventions. When you talk to people there, are they concerned that they are squandering it, that they're making themselves a laughing stock, that all the publicity is going to be bad publicity?
THOMAS EDSALL: Well, I think, well, it is a moment in the sun. I'm not sure it is a very good moment in the sun. But, these are not your normal politicians. And a lot of them thrive on this kind of confrontation. They had a whole deal today where the Hagelin and Mangia forces marched down saying "we shall overcome." And the whole thing was orchestrated; they planned it out so the TV cameras would have enough time. And the Buchanan people played along with it and they got out of the way so there wouldn't be any real bloodshed. They had their people clear the hall out, so that the Hagelin forces could march through and be told, no, they can't enter the convention. A lot of it is theater and these guys like theater and like acting.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, Tom, enjoy the rest of the play. Thanks very much.
THOMAS EDSALL: Thank you.