July 31, 2000
GOP platform committee chairman, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, speaks to Gwen Ifill about the 2000 Republican platform and its "compassionate conservatism" philosophy.
GWEN IFILL: Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, welcome.
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON, Wisconsin: It's a privilege to be with you, and thank you so very much for having me on your program.
|A new structure for the party|
IFILL: You have just finished, concluded successfully the GOP Party platform,
which will tell us exactly what the party platform or the party is supposed
to be about. Tell us what that means.
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON: Well, the platform really is the structure of the political party. And what we tried to do in this document [was] to be very uplifting, very visionary, very progressive, and one that really tries to solve societal problems, and one which really puts the flesh on compassionate conservatism, which George Bush talks about. We want to bring structure, and we wanted to bring in some of the details of what compassionate conservatism is all about, and this document tries to do that in many instances.
GWEN IFILL: There have been many differences in this platform from the platform four years ago, and a lot of the things are the same. Let's try to walk through them one by one - and, of course, abortion, very much the same.
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON: Abortion was one of those documents, one of those items, you know, that's very difficult, very controversial. And the Republican Party, the majority of the delegates are pro-life, including myself. And Governor Bush wanted to leave the plank just the way it was in '96, even though he has indicated he has some exceptions to what that platform is all about - namely rape, incest, and the life of the mother. He also does not believe and agrees with the fact that this statement says that there should be litmus tests for judges and for other federal appointment, because he has strongly articulated a position other than that.
But, overall, in the areas of education -- which is the centerpiece of what George Bush is all about -- brand new tone. Tone is very uplifting, very positive and exciting, but of course George Bush has done a tremendous job in Texas, especially with minority students - African-Americans and Hispanics - improving their grades. In fact, there was just a recent study put out by the RAND Corporation that said that Texas was number one in improving scores for minority children. Wisconsin was number two!
GWEN IFILL: It wasn't that long ago when your party was talking about abolishing the Department of Education, abolishing the National Endowment for the Arts, and now all of that sort of language is missing from the party document this time.
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON: I made a concerted effort, as did the co-chairmen, Senator Frist and Congresswoman Maricht, to go along with really changing the direction of the party. I wanted to have a document that was uplifting, exciting, not confrontational, not pessimistic and not tearing down government but building government, making government more of a partner with businesses and individuals across America. And that's what we try to do. We try to change the tone, just as George Bush is trying to change the tone in American politics. We try to change the tone for the Republican Party of being confrontational to being one of optimistic.
|Big tent politics|
|GWEN IFILL: Another
issue, immigration, it was very tough language in previous party platforms
about illegal immigration, which is entirely missing this time.
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON: Absolutely. We want to make sure that people that come to our country, you know, from other countries and from other walks of life feel very good about the Republican Party. We want to build a big tent. We want everybody to join the Republican Party and feel comfortable there. And that's why we took that kind of language out that was really sort of negative and sort of saying to immigrants, you know, we don't really welcome you. This document says we really do welcome you. We want you, and we want to be part of this dynamic new team under George Bush's leadership and under our Republican Party.
GWEN IFILL: As you're building this big tent, is there any concern that the most conservative members of the party - aside from abortion, where they won battles - are going to feel left out - that the Reagan revolution for them might be considered over?
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON: Well, you know, we had two days of hearings, but I want to tell you that the hearings went very nicely, that the discussion was courteous, not confrontational, and on some things the real conservative members lost and in some areas they won. They won on the area of abortion, but in regards to their education they lost. And so, you know, when you build a platform, not everybody is going to agree with every line in the platform because 107 people from different walks of life with different philosophical underpinnings have different ideas. And so you have to take the best that you possibly can, put it together, and I think we did a very good job. In fact, most people love the new tenor, love the new excitement about this new direction of the Republican Party, and feel good about it. But not everybody's going to agree with every line. And George Bush can't; Dick Cheney can't; and Tommy Thompson can't. But, overall, it's a very uplifting document.
GWEN IFILL: In your speech to the delegates on the floor today one of the things you said was no matter what is in a platform, it doesn't matter if we can't win. Is the whole point of this platform the way it's written is here a way to make sure that George W. Bush can win?
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON: You can't improve the quality of life in America without - without winning. You can't do the job that you need to do to make Wisconsin - make America - not Wisconsin but Texas and every state - better - stronger and better tomorrow than it is today - without winning. And George Bush knows that; I know that. And so I think that's one of the reasons George Bush wanted me to draft this document and get it passed through the committee because he wants, he wants something that is going to help him build this kit, build a framework, going out and getting minorities, getting individuals from different walks of life to join the Republican team, and make sure that we win in November so that we can govern and go a different direction in America, a better direction.
|A blueprint for a Bush administration?|
|GWEN IFILL: Is the
Republican Party platform really a blueprint for how he will behave, or
how he will govern it? Or is it just a bunch of words really?
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON: Oh, I think it's a blueprint, but in all instances you're never going to receive consensus on all items, you know, because a lot of different people have different inputs. But, overall, it's a document that you can feel good about, you know. In '96, you know, some of us felt, you know, do we really want to run on that document? This document is much more positive, much more, you know, uplifting, much more exciting for candidates that run as Republicans. This is our party platform; we're for education; we're for the environment; we're for women's rights; we're for women's health; we're for improving the quality of life of all of our citizens.
That makes me feel good because that's how I govern in the state of Wisconsin, and that's how George Bush governs in Texas. And this is a document that's going to allow us to run and articulate those things and say this is the new Republican Party for the future.
GWEN IFILL: Are you trying to tell us folks - this is the last question - that this is not your father's Republican Party?
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON: It never was my father's Republican Party. I'm a new convert, but what I'm saying is that the Republican Party of yesteryear is taking a page from the new decade, the new millennium, and we're moving in a new direction, a direction of togetherness, a direction of restoring our prosperity, our ability to make America stronger and better tomorrow, and we're doing it together.
GWEN IFILL: Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, thank you very much.