MOYERS: Even before John Kerry reported for duty, as it were, Republicans had opened fire. They sent Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of 9/11, to Boston to paint Kerry as a fraud. A reporter wrote it was a "brutal" message, one that said "America is in peril and only a strong leader like George W. Bush can keep her safe."
We'll hear more of this. Republicans know President Bush must run as the indispensable strong leader of the fight against terrorism. It's the one issue on which he gets majority support in the polls. Also, Republicans feel they own the 9/11 story, given the president's and Mayor Giuliani's role in its aftermath.
We'll talk about this with our regular analyst, Kevin Phillips, an old hand at politics. He wrote "the political bible for the Nixon administration" when he was just 27 and served as the chief elections and voting patterns analyst for the 1968 Republican campaign. He's written best-seller after best-seller since then, including his latest on the Bush family, called AMERICAN DYNASTY.
Also joining us is Michel Martin. Before joining ABC News twelve years ago and becoming a correspondent at NIGHTLINE, she covered politics and policy for the WALL STREET JOURNAL and the WASHINGTON POST. Good to have you both.
MOYERS: Kevin, did Kerry last night move in on the president's territory?
PHILLIPS: I think he absolutely moved in. Now, he has led several times before even on the terrorism issue. I think when George W. Bush looks inept, which has happened several times in things relating to terrorism or Iraq, he can be pulled down.
What Kerry did in his speech, which I think was an tremendous achievement, an absolutely tremendous achievement, is he took a whole lot of Democratic Party problems, image problems of Teddy Kennedy liberalism, Boston, Massachusetts, this sort of left wing of the American political system, sitting up there in this alien Northeast, and he took that and he took the military and his whole background in Vietnam. And all of a sudden, Boston became patriotism. And what you had is part of the same metamorphosis.
Is instead of being somebody who reminded people of Bill Clinton in terms of not being fully effective in his military service and in Kerry's case, it was throwing the medals away. Now he's back with John F. Kerry, another JFK. I found myself sitting this morning writing a memo. And I wrote JFK and then sort of laughed at it.
But there was another man who commanded a small boat and became a hero. The Democrats are going back to the old fighting liberalism. And if they do that, that's one of the worst things that can happen to the Republican Party. I can't imagine something would hurt them more.
MOYERS: What you're saying is that the speech really signified because you and I talked on Wednesday before Kerry spoke. And you were pretty blasé about this convention. You said it had not been an inspiring convention so far. So, the speech turned you around?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, I think you'd have to say that. The things that I didn't like about the convention in the beginning were the fact that it all seemed too pat. Everybody was sort of saying John Kerry walks on water.
And it's all nice. And the "strong" figured in like "strong, strong, strong, strong." I mean, you thought it was a muscle building ad or something.
MARTIN: It was.
Exactly. A party muscle builder.
PHILLIPS: But the Democrats are like the 97 pound weakling on the beach while we're talking about this. And for them to be talking "strong, strong, strong" and then flexing the bicep you need a magnifying glass to see could have been a boomerang. And the whole pat business about we're the party of optimism and so forth, all of a sudden this man and his daughters... I thought the daughters were fabulous.
I mean, I have kids in my 20's. I can't believe those daughters organized that did that for their father. So, I think the whole effect was to tie all kinds of things together to make him credible as a fighting, ex-military guy from Boston, the seabed of the United States.
MARTIN: I actually disagree with Kevin on one thing. I thought the whole presentation, you know, leading up to Kerry's speech was pretty effective. This was the first convention that I've actually been able to watch as a viewer for, you know, 12 years now because I've always attended.
And one of those things that happens is, you know, the constant repetition of messages when you're there can get kind of tiring. And I think that you get a little irritated by it. And it becomes kind of pat.
You know, "okay, I get it." You know, Republicans, you know, four years ago, the Republicans wanted to make a big statement about diversity. And so there was this constant stream of, you know, entertainers, policy people and so forth who were of diverse backgrounds, far more diverse than the delegates on the floor by the way. It has to be said.
And by the end of the week, you're like, "Okay, enough already. I get it. Republicans: diverse." But watching at a distance, I think that that constant repetition of message and the layering of messages is what's necessary to break through and to create a strong impression. I think that what we saw here was recasting of the traditional Republican strengths, strength in the military and the values question. Which I think we also should talk about, sort of, values as construed by the Democrats as Republicans. And to recast that in terms more favorable to the Democrats was the mission of this convention. I think they were very effective on a number of levels.
Oh, I think they were very effective too. What I'm saying is that you put all that emphasis on strength and you have Bill Clinton there as the first speaker who did a good job. And then if Kerry hadn't delivered, if Kerry had come up with some Senate speech, honking policy stuff, it would have been a disaster.
He created a context in which he could only succeed by hitting a home run. And I'm not going to say quite hit a home run because he couldn't cross the plate. He can't do that until November.
I think he hit a triple with the bases loaded. And, you know, his patriotic image came in from third. And his leadership image came in from second base. And his family image made it from first base. I mean, it's just stunning.
Did Kerry make any progress in taking some title to the 9-11 story?
What he did do very effectively is tie the president's leadership style to failures. I mean, if the argument is, I mean, the key to Kerry all along has been biography.
I mean, he's a war hero. He's a bona fide war hero who, as his wife said, earned his medals, you know, the old fashioned way. But the question is, how do you tie that biography, which is long ago, to present circumstance?
And the way to do that is to say, "Do you like the results that you're getting in Iraq? If you don't like the results, then I have another vision about how better results can be achieved." Because remember, this is a man who voted for the Iraq resolution as did his running mate. The Massachusetts delegation split right down the middle on this question.
The Democratic candidates for president split right down the middle on this question. So the issue is not Iraq. The issue is how. How do we handle this now? And his argument is that he's a better messenger abroad. He's a better commander in chief based on his own service.
Do you think that what we heard and saw this week will excite those American out there whose choice is not, in their minds, between Kerry and Bush but between voting or just not bothering to vote?
Oh yes, what we're looking at out of the whole pattern of political alienation and uncertainty about even participating in the process, he has to have had an impact from this speech. And one of the things that the networks should watch for very, very carefully is what change there is in the universe of the registered versus the likely voters. If all of a sudden likely voters are up to 80 percent of registered voters from 72 or something, it isn't going to be because of George W.
Now, I'm not saying that he's lit this electorate fire yet. But there are lots of ways to tell. And the people who have dropped out of the system in the last 30 years have been particularly blue collar people, lower middle class, middle class, less educated. If they come back into the electorate, the Republicans are going to break out in a cold sweat.
MARTIN: I'm just not convinced that... I mean, I still think that the economy is a potential weakness for Kerry and a potential strength for Bush. In part because...
Well, because the economy is not perceived as poorly as it was when his father ran for reelection and lost. And so that's sort of the first thing, but also, I'm not so sure that Kerry's economic message has been as incisive as it could be. And if you see who the movable voters are, they tend to be people of lower income.
They tend to be people who drop in and out of voting, who are not as consistent voters as higher income people tend to be. Among, higher income people, attention is very high, you know, it's very high right now. And 70 percent of registered voters say this is an especially important election.
Two-thirds say that this is the single most important election of their lifetime. So, people are already... the people who were tuned in are already very tuned in. The question is whether the voters who are available to be captured are likely to be persuaded by the messages that they heard. And I'm not sure that the economic message was as incisive as it could have been.
Did you hear a clear economic message last night?
I heard the beginning of a clear economic message. I heard the two Americas. And I heard the problems with jobs.
And they will knit together. Because one of the least appreciated phenomena in economic watching at this point, is that for the last 10 or 12 weeks, a number of the leading indices, have shown that there's a decline in what's happening to the economy. And the likelihood is, based on a number of these analyses, that your third quarter is going to be pretty weak. That there's essentially a decline going on in the velocity, momentum of the economy. Now, this is one of the reason why the real disposable income figures have been heading south in a very major way for people who are essentially in the production industry, who are not supervisors and managers.
The money they actually have to spend?
Yeah, the money they actually have to spend is shrinking. And they will be able to understand that and figure it out. And it dovetails so beautifully with the two Americas argument. Because essentially, "Tiffany America" is a having a field day.
Tiffany America. Tiffany America, the big donors, the people whose houses are always worth $1.4 million or something. These are the heavy hitters, wonderful time. And this is why the Bush people get misled what's happening to K-mart America or Payless Shoe Store America.
They're not doing well. And the Democrats in appealing to this group are going after the people who have dropped out of the system. And this is why it's so critical whether they start to come back in.
The Ross Perot voters, right?
Ross Perot increased turnout from 50 percent to 55 percent.
Among people like this.
A lot of people, I would say, less at the bottom, lower middle class. Middle America was Ross Perot country. I would love to see Ross Perot do something in this election. I think what he ought to do is buy two or three of those half-hour, hour time slots and get into all of the details about the deficit, about all the ways the jobs are leaving the United States, about all the ways in which real disposable income is shrinking for the ordinary American.
Because 19 percent of the people in the United States voted for Ross Perot in 1992, against a Bush, against the first Bush economic package. And if Ross Perot gets up and talks about in that little voice, "I told you so," he'll be right. So, I'd love to see that. Perot back for 2004.
You know, many of us saw the convention as television viewers. We watched show on the screen. But, there was a convention we didn't see. While the delegates were living it up on the floor, the celebrities, the corporate big-wigs, the predators from Washington, they were living it up at the hip-hop joints, and the exclusive clubs. And all the elites of the political class were there.
The weapons manufacturers, the tobacco companies, the big media companies, the telecom companies. The people who wanna be sure that no matter who wins in November, they don't lose in January. Now, can John Kerry take on the interests of the people who financed this convention?
The irony is that as the conventions have become less important as a news event, they've become more important as a venue for campaign contributors. Because of changes in the campaign finance laws. As the laws have recently restricted corporate donations to individual candidates, they've made it easier for that money to flow to the convention.
So, this has then become a party building activity. They kept unrestricted access. And so that's why these have become such an important venue for campaign contributors.
But as a question of, you know, to me this is an opportunity for leadership.
But John Kerry's from the very establishment and inside the beltway. You covered this. He's been in the Senate since 1984, 20 years. Little said about his political record yesterday by the way. Can he really, if he wins, take on the establishment of which he is now an embedded part?
Well, I think one might argue that you have to know the terrain to figure out how to get where you're going. I mean, remember Jimmy Carter was an outsider candidate who ran as an outsider, who was an outsider to Washington. And wasted a lot of time figuring out, you know, where the locker rooms were before he could actually get some things done.
So, I think that, you know, there's an argument to be made. And besides which, you know, elections are not you know, somebody against nobody. The election's against a candidate with a record, and an administration with a record. And so the question before the voters is not, is there somebody better than Kerry? The question is whether they prefer George Bush, and Dick Cheney to John Kerry and John Edwards.
If they win, then I think you can expect to see them do a lot more. It'll be amazing. Somebody actually fighting business seriously.
We've all survived, the three of us, a long time because we don't make predictions on the air. But, take off your journalist hat and your analyst hat. And put on a Republican hat for a moment. The convention is coming to town two blocks up the road, a month from now. How do you counter the very exhilarating response that Kerry got last night?
I'm sure they're having a lot of meetings starting already. Starting at 6:00 this morning probably, to ponder exactly that. Because, I think they're gonna have a really hard time. They've got to defuse his gathering relationship to the military. Defuse his credibility as a potentially strong leader.
John McCain, he's gonna be right there on the big conspicuous role. The man that George W. Bush beat in South Carolina four years ago.
Well, I think it'll be very interesting to see what John McCain has to say. Because, if he endorses George W. Bush with too much spirit and too much commitment, a lot of people are gonna say, you know, "I expected something better for John McCain than that." After everything they did to him in the South Carolina in 2000? After all the bad mouthing you have of McCain all over Washington from Bush loyalists when they're talking privately. So John McCain has to really watch crossing that line.
I don't see why. I mean, he's already been traveling the country in support of the administration. He's made several appearances with President Bush. I mean, he was obviously offered an opportunity to at least discuss being on the Democratic ticket. He declined it.
So, I think that he's pretty well established, you know, where he is. What they're going to do is obviously exploit the president's perceived strengths, that he's a strong leader, that he's consistent. That he doesn't govern based on the polls.
And they will also surround him with people who were intended to blunt the clear weaknesses that he has that he doesn't really understand you know, ordinary people and their concerns. You see the president already making moves in that direction by offering a proposal on flex time. Which is an answer to the argument that you know, wages have fallen, which they have.
But, instead of to say that well, you know, what workers really need is more control over their lives. So, this is the proposal that he rolled out this week. And you will see more of this as time goes on.
I wonder if either of you had this response? When I saw Teresa Heinz Kerry's sons, the sons of her first husband who was a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania who introduced her. And she then virtually nominated John Kerry, a liberal Democrat. Was she saying in affect, to all those disaffected moderate Republicans out there, like her late husband, "This is a big tent here in Boston, come on in"?
I think it's exactly that. I think it's part of the Democrats strategy. Maybe not as full blown as it should be, given their opportunity among dissident Republicans like the McCain vote and the Perot vote back in 1992. But, all the military and patriotic symbolism. I mean, I grew up in a Republican household, and I went to see John Wayne movies when I was a kid.
And you know, I don't think I thought for a long time that most Democrats in the last 30 years went to John Wayne movies. And all of a sudden, now I have this feeling that the Democratic party and I may be meeting in an old theater that shows a John Wayne movie. And they like it and I like it. And you know, ain't no way George W. Bush could ever have been in a John Wayne movie.
I mean, I thought the prominence of the spouses was aimed really at women. Who have always been more skeptical about George Bush. And they will always be more skeptical about Iraq, and the wisdom of that venture. But who are also very concerned about terrorism, and about keeping their families safe.
And I thought that presence of the spouses who were given prominent speaking roles, was meant to say that these men are trustworthy, they are consistent. But, they were also pretty cool guys who are gonna look after you, and who are partners, and who respect women, and respect women as thinking people.
To be continued. Thank you Kevin Phillips and Michel Martin for joining us on NOW.