<i>FTN</i> Transcript - Feb. 13

face the nation logo, 2009
Bob Schieffer, CBS News Correspondent: Today on Face The Nation, an interview with Senator John McCain. With just one week to go before the crucial South Carolina primary, the tight race between Senator McCain and Governor George Bush has turned mean and nasty. McCain says he`s going to return to the high road, but can he stay there? That`s one of the questions we will ask him.

Then we will talk to the head of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson. Who will Christian conservative voters support and why? Gloria Borger will be here and I`ll have a final word on Steve Forbes.
But first, Senator McCain on Face The Nation.

Announcer: Face The Nation, with Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.

Schieffer: Good morning again. Well, he has taken off from his little bus for just a few minutes and is in a hotel room in Greenville, South Carolina. Senator John McCain. Senator, welcome to the broadcast this morning.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ): Thank you, Bob, Gloria.

Schieffer: Governor Bush said this morning on Meet The Press that he is afraid that Democrats are going to vote in this open primary in South Carolina in an effort to - to vote for you, in an effort he says, to make it somehow that the weakest candidate will be selected, you, and that you`d be a weaker candidate come the fall.
What do you say to that?

McCain: Well, I appreciate his opinion, but it flies in the face of the facts. And the facts are that independents are also flocking in large numbers to my candidacy as well as Republicans. We carried majority of Republicans in New Hampshire and overwhelming majority of independents.

Everybody knows that if you`re going to win a general election, you have to have those independents and some Democrats. We called them the Reagan Democrats back during the Reagan years and that`s where the coalition were reassembling with a reform party, a party that preserves our core conservative philosophy, but attracts the banner of independents and Republicans. That`s the way you govern in this country.

I`m very proud that Libertarians or vegetarians or anybody would consider supporting me because I have a vision of reform for America that I think is taking hold, not only in South Carolina but all over the country.

Schieffer: Let me talk a little bit about a vignette on the campaign trail that your campaign has pointed us to. It was captured by C-SPAN cameras the other night. And Governor Bush is talking to one of his supporters who expresses some surprise that you`re doing so well, and he says, you have not hit him yet in his soft spot, or words to that effect. The governor then responds, well, we haven`t yet, but we`re going to. But I`m not going to do it on television.

It`s kind of hard to follow because the sound is not all hat great, but I want to run this vignette and then see what your response is.


Unknown: I have no explanation for him why some of the religious people particularly aren`t onboard with that guy. I mean, y`all haven`t even hit his soft spots.

Governor George W. Bush (R-TX): I know, I`m going to.

Unknown: They need to be. Somebody does anyway (OFF-MIKE).


Schieffer: What he said there at the end is, I`m not going to do it on TV. What do you think that means?

McCain: I don`t know. Very frankly, the tenor of that conversation is as disturbing as anything else, you know. We will. We will.

I`ll tell you what I would have said if that state senator had come up to me and said the same thing about Governor Bush. I`d have said, Look, pal, we`re running a positive campaign. We`re running on our issues. I`m not interested in going after Governor Bush or anybody else in this Republican primary. That`s not what the voters of this state want. Instead, apparently Governor Bush said, We will, we will, but not on television.

He can offer his explanations, but I have to tell you it`s very disappointing.

Schieffer: Well, his campaign says that he was talking about some sort of policy blunder or something that they made that they`re going to straighten out. You don`t take that - or do you take them at their word on that?

McCain: Well, they said they were going to straighten it out in the debate on Tuesday, and then someone pointed out that that debate is on television.

So, look, I just -- I`m just disappointed. I`m disappointed in the tenor of the attacks by his surrogates.

You know, we`re trying to break the iron triangle in Washington and they`re all coming down - now the iron triangle is trying to break me. They`re coming down by the bus load, attacking me in every possible way, in negative ads by peoples like the tobacco companies and the national right to life and others.

But look, we`re having fun. This is a great ride. I`m Luke Skywalker getting out of the Death Star, and we`re having a great ride and it`s a lot of fun, and we`re not going to let this kind of thing bother us.

Gloria Borger, U.S. News & World Report: Senator...

McCain: Finally, could I add -- could I finally just add...

Schieffer: Sure.

McCain: As you know, I have, because of an instant which I`d be glad to go into later on - but because of a terrible thing that happened, we pulled our response ad which was a hard-hitting ad hitting back at Governor Bush. We pulled it. We`ve pledged not to do anything but run positive ads, and that`s the way this campaign is going to finish up, win or lose.

Borger: Well, Senator, with all due respect, as you were saying, you have been engaging in this negative campaign and you did have this ad - which you say you pulled, which you did - whih charged that George W. Bush twists the truth like Bill Clinton, and he`s now running ads saying that that went over the line. Do you think it did?

McCain: It was twisting the truth when he accused me of raising taxes, when he accused me of a number of other things. But the point is, Gloria...

Borger: But the comparison to Bill Clinton, did it go over the line?

McCain: He has compared me to Bill Clinton and Al Gore from the debates we had in New Hampshire. He said you`re just like Al Gore. And I said, if I`m like Al Gore, you`re spinning like Bill Clinton.

Look, it`s time we all got off of that. I`m off of that. We`re moving forward with positive ads. And the fact is that, win or lose, we`re not going to engage in it, and I`m very happy to take the risk associated with it because we`re not going to do it.

Borger: Haven`t you discovered, though, this affected your favorability ratings in the poll, that, in fact, you - in polls that you were going down as a result of negative campaigning?

McCain: No, no, we have not found that out at all. We had found, as we`re finding out today, that this is a very close race in South Carolina, and we intend it to be (inaudible).

Look, I`ll tell you why I did it. A woman stood up at a town hall meeting, told me about her 14-year-old son, who was a Boy Scout, who said that I was his hero, and he had picked up the phone, told the caller that he was 14, the caller alleged that I was a liar, a cheat and a thief. The young man was terribly upset.

Now we have other evidence of it, including the wife of the mayor of Greenville, South Carolina; including a woman suffering from muscular dystrophy. This kind of thing is unacceptable, and we will not have anything to do with it, and that motivated me to say, look, win or lose, my friends, no more of this, we can`t do it.

Schieffer: Do you really have any evidence, though, Senator, that it is the Bush campaign that is making these telephone calls around the country?

McCain: We have no evidence except that there was a call out of - there were some calls made out of a company in Houston.

But, look, we know that people who are supporting Governor Bush`s candidacy clearly are doing this. I hope he can prevail them, either his own campaign or others, to stop that.
And so, look, I`m really not even almost not interested in who`s doing it. What I`m interested in is us getting the campaign back to the level in which the people of South Carolina deserve.

In New Hampshire, we had the highest voter turnout in the history of that state because it was largely a very good and positive campaign. We all know what negative ads do and that`s depress voter turnout.

Borger: Senator McCain, George Bush had a campaign rally at Bob Jones University. It`s a pretty controversial place, it`s against interracial dating. Some people said he should have not hed a rally in Bob Jones. Would you hold a rally at Bob Jones University?

McCain: No, we have no plans to do that. And I would certainly condemn the policies - if I were there, I would condemn openly the policies of Bob Jones, because I would want to make sure that everybody knew that this kind of thing is not American.

Borger: So you believe that Bush should disassociate himself

McCain: No, I believe that he should do whatever he thinks is best. I respect - I respect the views anyone holds in America today, no matter who they are, but I - and I`m not trying to make a judgment on what Governor Bush should or should not do. That`s his decision.

Schieffer: Let me go back and ask you just a little bit about this negative campaigning, because I recall when I was down in South Carolina last week, you told me that any time that you were hit with a negative ad, you were going to hit back and hit harder than you had been hit because you said, that is a way to tell your opponent there`s a price to pay for these things.

Now you`re saying you`re not going to do any negative ads. Does that mean from now on or does that mean just in South Carolina?

McCain: That means for the rest of the campaign. I was very upset when Governor Bush, whose service in the Guard I have always defended, had a veteran stand there - a bogus veteran spokesperson, and condemn me and say that I had abandoned my veterans and fellow POWs. And he stood there right next to him at an event that his campaign sponsored and allowed that to be said about my service to our veterans and the country. That was very upsetting to me.

But the fact is that the events of this young boy who was disillusioned, who I - and hope I remain his hero, of all of the other things we have seen have motivated me to recognize that negative campaigning is not going to be what I`m going to be associated with. Because, win or lose, I want my kids to be proud of the campaign we ran and all of our other supporters.

Schieffer: The governor said again this morning that he did not necessarily endorse the views of that fellow, Mr. Burch, I think his name is, who said you had abandoned veterans. He said those were his views and that that man had come to him and asked to endorse him. So he says he`s not saying that.

McCain: Bob, he stood next to him at a Bush-sponsored campaign rally and he did not repudiate the remarks of the man when he alleged that I had abandoned veterans.

Now if someone stood beside me at a rally and said that Governor Bush`s service was not honorable to the country, I would immediately repudiate him, because he served honorably in the National Guard.

Look this is - I hate to get into this kind of minutia, but the fact is, those things have happened. They`re part of campaigns. We`re sticking to the message. We`ve had huge and enthusiastic crowds yesterday. The enthusiasm is there. Im going to keep on with the positive message that the people want to hear. We`re having a great time. And I cannot tell you how exuberant I am about this whole campaign.

Borger: Senator McCain, you have run this campaign on character a great deal. You`ve come under some criticism for not having very well-formed domestic policies. The Bush campaign is obviously picking up on this. Let me just run a couple things by you.

One area the Bush campaign says you`re not clear about is how to fix Social Security. They say that you have flip-flopped on that, that you once said you might have to put raising the eligibility age and increasing premiums on the table. Another time you said, no, that`s off the table. Would you clear that up?

McCain: Sure. When I said that, it was some years ago before there was a surplus. Now, unlike Governor Bush, I want to put the surplus in - 62 percent of it into Social Security. Then we can make it solvent.
When I made the previous statement, we were running severe deficits. Now we have a chance, in a short period of time, if we pump 62 percent of the surplus in it and allow people to invest in their retirement savings.

By the way, my web site has more details about every specific issue than any other web site. I`ve given two major speeches on violence, on crime, on education in the last week. We`ve been very specific. And the way you get very specific, Gloria, is go to hundreds of town hall meetings and let the people ask very tough and specific question. That`s what we`ve been doing.

Borger: So no increases on premiums and you wouldn`t raise the eligibility age?

McCain: Not when we have a huge surplus that we have the opportunity to really make Social Security solvent. But we can`t pass it up.

Borger: Very quickly, they also say that on the public financing of elections, you say you`re against it, but voted for it four or five times in the Senate.

McCain: My public position, I voted against it on 10 or 11 times. I`m not going to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. But my stated position has been - well, look, Governor Bush has said that campaign finance reform is unilateral disarmament. He thinks it should remain legal, I guess, for a Chinese army-owned
corporation to give unlimited amounts of money to an American political campaign.

Look, we`ve got to fix this thing. We got to clean it up. The fact is that I support an initiative out in California that has some vouchers so that candidates can get on television. I`m for a whole variety of reforms, but the key to it is to get rid of the soft money. That`s the key to it, and everybody knows it. And right now the Bush campaign is setting up the apparatus to funnel tens of millions of dollars into this political campaign. I think it would be a terrible shame.

Schieffer: Senator, let me ask you about this. Governor Bush, on this broadcast couple weeks ago and in other places, has stressed what he says is his ability to bring people together, and to unite people. There is no question that, as governor, he did bring Democrats into his administration. He did get some things done down there in Texas.

The other part of that message is that you are someone who can`t bring people together. And they cite your record. They say, look, John McCain doesn`t get along very well with people in the Senate. How do you respond to that? As president, should you be elected president, could you bring people together, do you think, better than Governor Bush could?

McCain: Same charge was made against Governor Reagan when I think he had three senators supporting him.

The fact is that I am a reformer. I am taking on the establishment in Washington. They are reacting with some alarm, to say the least. By the way, come on down, guys. The weather is pretty nice down here. And I`m trying to reform. I`m trying to reform the military, education, eliminate waste and pork-barrel spending. I`m trying to eliminate a system that`s incumbency protection act and I`m ready to take them on.

But if I get a mandate from the American people, they will obviously follow. And the fact that independents overwhelmingly are also supporting me as well as Republicans, shows that that message is resonating and will allow me to govern with a coalition unseen in the Republican Party since Governor Reagan or Theodore Roosevelt.

Schieffer: OK.

McCain: I thought I`d throw him in, Bob.

Schieffer: All right. John McCain thank you very much. See you on down the campaign trail. I know you`re going to be busy this week.

We`ll be back in a moment to talk with the head of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson.


Schieffer: And joining us now from Virginia Beach, Virginia, Pat Robertson, of course the head of the Christian Coalition, one of the most influential groups, at least in the past, in Southern elections.

And, Mr. Robertson, thank you for coming.

You just heard John McCain there. You have spoken very warmly in the past of George Bush, but you have never endorsed him. Do you plan to endorse him?

Robertson: Well, I really am, Bob. I think that he`s going to make a superb president. I`m very comfortable with his stands on the various issues.

And you know, it`s amazing. That New Hampshire primary was a wake-up call for him. He was, sort of, sleep-walking through some of these primaries, but this thing has set him on fire. He`s thrown away the script and he`s starting to speak from his heart, and he`s coming through as a pretty tough campaigner.

Schieffer: So you are going to endorse him?

Robertson: I plan to do that, that`s right.

Schieffer: There was some thought - Governor Bush himself said that maybe there`s some kind of a plot by Democrats down in SoutCarolina - that`s an open primary, there`s no Democratic contest - that maybe they would trying to get Democrats to come out and vote for John McCain because they think he might be the weaker candidate in the fall. Do you think there`s anything to that?

Robertson: Oh, I think definitely. I think there`s evidence to the fact that people who are allied with Al Gore are indeed making telephone calls to try to encourage Democrats to vote in the Republican primary. There is no question about it. And that, of course, would send confusion into the Republican Party.

And I do think they`re looking forward with some relish to the Keating Five scandal and some of those other things that is in Senator McCain`s background. So I think that they consider him a weaker candidate than Governor Bush.

Borger: Well, let`s talk about Senator McCain for a moment. In
the past, you have said that his support of campaign finance reform makes him "unfit" - and that is your word - for the presidency. Do you still believe he`s unfit?

Robertson: Gloria, I really do. This whole thing is specious, this insurgency. The man is a 17-year veteran of the Senate, he`s a chairman of a committee that has regulated telecom, for example, and all of the cable and the media, and he has been the recipient of largess from every single corporate executive you can name. Thousands and millions of dollars have come to him, and to say that, you know, I`m going to now come in and reform the system that has taken care of me over these years, is disingenuous, in my point of view.

But this McCain-Feingold is a very bad piece of legislation. It`s unconstitutional. It would restrict citizen groups - for example, the Christian Coalition or the Sierra Club, or whoever you want to name, the NRA, et cetera - from participating in elections as many as 60 days prior, yet it would give complete freedom to the labor unions, no restrictions whatsoever and, of course, no restrictions on the media.

So the ability of the Republican Party to answer attacks would be severely crippled. That`s why his own party is opposed to this legislation. It`s not a good thing.

Schieffer: What did you think, Mr. Robertson, about Governor Bush going to Bob Jones University to make, I guess, maybe the first speech he made in this primary contest? Senator McCain said he wouldn`t go to Bob Jones University.

Robertson: I think that the people at Bob Jones, especially in Greenville, South Carolina, represent a huge segment of the South Carolina electorate. And they -- the people in that part of the state are very strong fundamentalist Christians. And I think George Bush wants to reach out to every segment of the population. He basically
needs these people to win. And I don`t think that he was in any way, shape or form, endorsing racist views from Bob Jones University.

But I`ve been to Bob Jones. I spoke at Bob Jones. Got a very warm eception sometime ago. I didn`t find any evidence of any overriding racism there.

Borger: Mr. Robertson, a minute ago you referred to Senator McCain`s campaign as "specious."

Robertson: Yes.

Borger: How do you account, then, for his popularity among Republicans and among conservatives?

Robertson: Well, Gloria, I think what happened in New Hampshire - New Hampshire is aberrational. It`s - you know, many people from Massachusetts have moved up there. It`s a different type of state than any other in the countryÂ…

Borger: But it`s a tight race in South Carolina, too, Mr. Robertson.

Robertson: I know, but he got the bounce coming out of New Hampshire as this great reformer. And I think when people - it`s like Gary Hart and Walter Mondale - Where`s the beef? I mean, sooner or later he`s got to have a legislative program, he has to have a foreign policy program, and as you`ve said, he`s developed selective amnesia about some of his votes and some of his positions. He advances something and he brings it back, then he advances something and he brings it back, because he hasn`t carefully thought through a full-orbed administrative or legislative program.

And I think this campaign finance reform - somebody comes to me who`s been there for 17 years and says, look, I`m going to reform government, I`m going to change the system, you know there`s a bureaucracy down there that`s unbelievable. He has to overwhelm all of the members of Congress and the court system and the bureaucracy, and to say, I`m going to change things and reform, by the basis of one piece of legislation, you all have been there long enough to know that won`t fly.

Schieffer: Mr. Robertson, we`re going to have to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

Robertson: Thank you.

Schieffer: And I`ll be back in just a minute with a final word.


Schieffer: And finally today, after spending five years and at
least $66 million of his own money, Steve Forbes folded his presidential campaign last week. When he began his quest in 1995, there was some interest in his flat-tax idea. But Americans have never looked on the presidency as an entry-level position, so the man who had never run for anything else never really caught on.

Who, then, kept telling him he could be president? Well, anyone and everyone in the political community who had something to sell. Be it polls, advice, commercials, whatever. When you`re the richest guy on the block, people line up to boost your ego.

I never doubted Forbes` sincerity or his patriotism, but there are no shortcuts in American politics. Americans like to see how a politician handles the lesser jobs before they trust him with the big one.

Even so, his campaign will be remembered for something positive about American politics: He is just the latest example that no matter hobig the bankroll, no one has yet been able to buy the presidency. Nor will he be forgotten by all those people and all those cottage industries that have grown up around politics. To them, he will always be remembered as one swell customer.

Well, that`s it for us. For continuing political coverage, visit our new Campaign 2000 and Face The Nation web sites on cbs.com. See you next week on Face The Nation.