The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; George Bush for President
ROBERT MacNEIL: Good evening. When George VI suddenly found himself King of England, he was deeply worried about his qualifications and complained, "All I`ve ever been is a Naval officer." That is not the problem of the latest Republican candidate for President, George Bush. Mr. Bush has been not only a Naval officer but just about everything else. A week ago he decided to have a crack at one job he hasn`t had -- and that is Jimmy Carter`s. So Mr. Bush stepped up to the rostrum of the National Press Club in Washington, where so many presidential campaigns have been launched before.
GEORGE BUSH: I seek this nomination as a lifelong Republican who has worked throughout his career, in business and in public office, on behalf of the principles of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.
MacNEIL: Then, to get some media visibility, he set off on a tour of early primary states by chartered jet. Tonight, with Mr. Bush back in Houston, his home base, we examine George Bush for President.
When Bush declared, James Reston wrote in The New York Times, "By age, fifty-five; appearance, handsome; location, Texas; an reputation, exemplary; George Herbert Walker Bush is clearly justified by experience and character to challenge the older leaders of the Republican Party for its presidential nomination. Whether Bush, however, will be able to overtake his two major Republican opponents, Ronald Reagan and John Connally, is the main question for a man whose life has been a curious mixture of successes and defeats." But then, as Congressional Quarterly noted, "George Bush is one of the rare politicians whose reputation seems to improve with defeat." He`s also shown a talent for turning a silver spoon into gold.
Born the son of a wealthy Wall Street banker and U.S. Senator from Connecticut, Bush grew up with social status and wealth, but he seemed determined to make it on his own. On graduating from Andover Academy, an exclusive boys` school in Massachusetts, he enlisted, and at the age of eighteen became the youngest Navy pilot in the Second World War. He served as a carrier pilot and was decorated for heroism. Bush went on to Yale, earned his economics degree in two and a half years, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, president of his class and captain of his varsity baseball team.
Despite Wall Street opportunities, Bush headed west. "I had," he said, "an old-fashioned urge to strike out on my own." In 1948 he went to the West Texas oil fields to sell drilling equipment, and soon had made a modest fortune. He had become, as he put it, "a millionaire Texas something-or- other." In 1964 he turned to politics, running as a self-proclaimed Goldwater Republican. He opposed incumbent Democrat Ralph Yarborough for the Senate and lost. He succeeded the next time, however, when he ran for a congressional seat from Houston, and went on to serve four years. During that time Bush became a favorite of President Nixon, who considered him for the vice presidential spot in `68 before deciding on Spiro Agnew. Instead, Bush received strong White House encouragement to run for the Senate in 1970 against Democrat Lloyd Bentsen. Bush was defeated, but Mr. Nixon compensated him with the post of United Nations Ambassador. Bush`s qualifications for the job were questioned, but by the end of his two-year stint the criticism had evaporated.
In 1973 he was named chairman of the Republican National Committee. With the party in the throes of Watergate, it was a tough assignment. But when he left in September `74 the Washington Star credited him with holding the committee together during the dark days of the Nixon scandals. Then President Ford made him the first permanent American envoy to the People`s Republic of China. Once again his qualifications were questioned, and again he performed creditably. In 1976 he was appointed director of the CIA, an agency shaken by recent congressional investigations. Again Bush won praise for his performance in a tough spot. By the `76 election he was being talked about as presidential material.
Over time, Bush has become known as a conservative, interesting to the moderates. He`s been a proponent of civil rights and of law and order. He`s for what the Conservative Americans for Constitutional Action call "a firm and responsible foreign policy" -- against the Panama Canal treaty, and leery of SALT-II. He`s also a man with a sense of humor. When New York magazine called him one of the ten most overrated people in New York, he gave a party for the other nine and presented each with a blue ribbon.
JIM LEHRER: As Robin said, George Bush is with us tonight, and in a few minutes we`re going to be hearing from him. But now he`s going to just listen, as I talk with three of his key campaign leaders. First the number one man, campaign chairman James Baker. Mr. Baker is a former Undersecretary of Commerce, a Texas lawyer who ran the Gerald Ford campaign in 1976. Mr. Baker is in the studios of Public Station KURT, Houston. Mr. Baker, it`s been said that George Bush is everybody`s second choice for the Republican nomination. Do you agree with that?
JAMES BAKER: Well, Jim, I don`t agree totally with that. I like to think that George Bush is the second choice of an awful lot of Republicans out there, and that has been said. I happen to believe that he`s also the first choice of a large number of Republicans, and going into a multi-candidate race like this is really not a bad place from which to start.
LEHRER: Even the second-choice slot for some.
BAKER: The second choice designation is good, in my opinion, particularly when you`re the first choice of a number of Republicans. I think you`re going to see a winnowing out of the competition where you have a six- or seven-man field, so it`s not at all bad to be the second choice of a number of those people.
LEHRER: All right. How well must Mr. Bush do in the early primaries in order for him to win the nomination ultimately?
BAKER: Well, I think that the psychology of presidential politics being what it is, and our standing today in the Gallup poll being what it is, I think it`s...
LEHRER: Very low, you mean.
BAKER: ...fair to say -- that`s right, yes, which I hasten to add represents only measurement today of name identification -- I think it`s fair to say that we should do well in the early primaries. We`re banking on that; we`re confident that we can pull some surprises off in those first two or three weeks.
LEHRER: Let`s take New Hampshire as an example. How well do you think you must do in New Hampshire specifically in order for him to remain viable?
BAKER: Well, I don`t think I can quantify that for you today because the figure I give you today will change; it`ll be a different figure January, February 1980. I will say this, I think that a strong third place finish, even a fourth place finish, were we to finish strongly and right under the third place finisher, would not finish us off. We would be in a position to continue from there.
LEHRER: All right, you must have a master scenario. According to that scenario, of the other major candidates who must drop by the wayside and win in order for Mr. Bush to finally get it?
BAKER: Well, I don`t think that you can pinpoint that with certainty today either, Jim. Theoretically I suppose it`s possible that you could find one or even two of the other major candidates making it to the convention for a shoot-out on an individual delegate basis at the national convention. Again, given the psychology of presidential politics, I don`t think that`s likely to happen, and I think, frankly, that everybody in this contest on the Republican side this year is going to have to show well in the early primaries. So beyond saying that obviously Governor Reagan, who is the clear front runner, has to be somehow defeated at some point along the way, I`m not in a position to tell you who else...
LEHRER: Who else must go.
BAKER: That`s right, sure.
LEHRER: What do you see as George Bush`s major problem right now, as we sit here tonight?
BAKER: Well, I`m not sure that I could pinpoint any, that I would want to pinpoint something as a major problem. I think that we`ve got a lot of things going for us that the public hasn`t seen yet; we have a strong organization that we`ve pulled together in a hundred and ten, twenty days, a national campaign staff that I think frankly is second to none; we have our political leadership in place in eight of the first ten primary states, we`ve got finance chairmen in forty to forty-seven states, something like that, and a strong finance effort under way. So I guess you`d have to say that we acknowledge the fact that we`re not a household word and we show up at two or three percent in the Gallup poll, but I would hasten to remind you that Jimmy Carter didn`t even appear on the Gallup poll this far in advance of the Iowa caucuses in 1976.
LEHRER: Mr. Baker, thank you. Now to the man who runs the press and media side of the Bush campaign. He`s the communications director, Peter Teeley. Mr. Teeley was press secretary to Senator Jacob Javits and then to the 1976 Ford committee, and was director of communications for the Republican National Committee before joining Mr. Bush. In your ideal world, what would you like for the press to be saying about George Bush right now that they`re not saying?
PETER TEELEY: That he`s a man who can lead the country into the `80s and he has the experience to do it; he`s a man of integrity; and basically that`s what we`d like them to say.
LEHRER: Why aren`t they saying it?
TEELEY: Well, I think that they are; there`s no question about George Bush`s integrity, there`s no question about his experience; there`s a question of getting his campaign off the ground, and that`s what we started to do last Tuesday.
LEHRER: Has the coverage been fair to George Bush thus far?
TEELEY: Yes. I think it`s been very fair. If you look at the returns that come in from around the country -- basically the news story is what you`re talking about, the means to write -- there are times when a columnist is going to write things that you don`t like, but that`s the prerogative of the columnist; it`s his opinion. And for people to get upset about that, I think they`re making a mistake.
LEHRER: Is the press taking George Bush seriously enough now as a candidate?
TEELEY: I think if you look at the press reports, they`re taking four people seriously in this race: Ronald Reagan, John Connally, George Bush and Howard Baker.
LEHRER: And that`s fine with you at this stage of the game.
TEELEY: That`s fine.
LEHRER: What do you see as the major obstacle for you as the press man in this campaign, in terms of getting the George Bush story over -at least, the George Bush story that you would like to get over?
TEELEY: Well, I think that there`s one thing you have to remember. If people look at a press secretary or media people in terms of instant identification for a candidate, they`re making a mistake. It takes a lot of work over a long period of time just to move a person two or three points up in the identification polls.. Jim Baker mentioned Jimmy Carter in 1976. You go into a primary and you do well or you win, and a lot of that identification is going to take care of itself.
LEHRER: I see. If somebody were to ask you -- which I`m about to do -- what George Bush`s public image is right now among the three percent that, as Jim Baker said, in the Gallup poll know of him, what do you think it is?
TEELEY: I think it`s a man that they see is clean as a whistle; he`s taken on tough jobs in the past and has performed them well.
LEHRER: What would you like to add to that between now and primary time?
TEELEY: I`d like to add to that a terrific organization in the Iowa caucuses that can get the people out to those polls and put us right up to the top of that ladder.
LEHRER: It depends on who you read, of course, but some have been saying that Bush`s announcement last week and the first big trip to New Hampshire and so on was somewhat of. a bust for a variety of reasons, because the press was all there and they picked up all the flaws and all of that and reported on them. Do you agree with that assessment?
TEELEY: No, I -- listen, nothing`s perfect in this world; everybody makes mistakes, and our campaign is going to make some. As I said before, if you read the returns from around the country, if you watched television when it was on that night, it was an absolute plus for us. Now, as I say, there have been some columnists who have talked about this, talked about that and the other, but they have their right to do so, and that is not going to be damaging to us.
LEHRER: And you have no regrets about last week.
TEELEY: No, none at all. As a matter of fact, I`m very pleased about
LEHRER: All right; thank you. Finally, the campaign`s main political operative, David Keene. His formal title is Deputy Chairman for political Operations. He`s held similar jobs for then-Vice President Spiro Agnew and Senator James Buckley. He was the Southern coordinator in the 1976 Reagan campaign. Have you given up on Reagan, Mr. Keene?
DAVID KEENE: Well, I worked very hard for Governor Reagan in 1976; I admire him today. I just don`t think that he`d be the strongest candidate in 1980. I think it`s extremely important that we have a change in the White House, and in assessing the candidates, frankly I think that Ambassador Bush is the most qualified and the most likely to get the nomination, and the one with the greatest possibility of winning back the White House.
LEHRER: As you know, you have a reputation for being a pure conservative, whatever that is.
KEENE: Nobody`s pure.
LEHRER: All right. Is George Bush pure enough a conservative for you?
KEENE: He sure is. I think one of his great strengths we were talking about earlier is the fact that he does appeal to a lot of people in the party. One of the reasons I think he has such great potential is that people, whether they`re pure conservatives or moderates or whatever we want to call it within the Republican Party, like his record, they like what he`s done, they respect the man. And I think as we approach 1980 what the party has to do if it wants to win against the incumbent President is come up with a candidate who has appeal to all sections of the party. And frankly, I think that George Bush is the only one of the candidates who can really do that.
LEHRER: But you would concede, would you not, that Reagan, Connally, Dole, Crane and others have more appeal to what you would call the pure conservative, the hard-line conservative right now than George Bush?
KEENE: I would dispute some of those names as people with appeal to pure conservatives. But the fact is that people don`t make up their mind as to who they`re going to support merely because of the candidate`s position on one issue, or even on two or three issues. What people want -- and frankly, nobody`s ever been able to figure out the whole equation, or the business would be a snap; we`d just go out there and say, here`s how it`s done, and we`d put it all together -- it`s a complicated thing; people are trying to determine not who stood with them on every single issue last year, but how can they determine that the men they`re looking at, from that group which man would best handle the problems of the next four or eight years? And I don`t think that they just do it that simply. George Bush has attracted the support of a lot of conservatives around the country; we have a lot of former Reagan people with us right now.
We have a lot of people who were with President Ford last time. And they share one thing today, and that thing is an evaluation of the candidate that leads them to the conclusion that George Bush is the best man for 1980 -- not 1976, not 1972, but 1980.
LEHRER: Could this broad spectrum that you`ve drawn to the campaign, as represented by the three of you tonight, become a problem, though, later on in the campaign when nitty-gritty time comes for George Bush to take positions on very controversial issues?
KEENE: I don`t think so. I don`t think that there are very many things that any of us disagree on. In fact, if you look at the Republican Party and you look at all the candidates, you find out that many times when you`re labeling people you`re talking about fights that come out of the past, symbolic fights over issues that don`t make much difference any more. I think if you talk to most Republicans you`ll find that on ninety percent of the issues that you come across you`re going to find pretty good agreement. I can think of a few things that Pete and I might disagree with, but none of them would have any importance to the campaign.
LEHRER: Mr. Keene, thank you. Robin?
MacNEIL: Yes; and listening to all this in Houston, Texas, has been the candidate, George Bush. Mr. Bush, starting off where your colleagues have just left off, in `64 you called yourself a Goldwater Republican,
then you became a Nixon Republican, you launched your campaign by invoking the names of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower. What kind of Republican do you call yourself now?
GEORGE BUSH: A national Republican.
MacNEIL: A national -- what`s that?
BUSH: That`s one who can win the primaries and go on to be nominated and beat the Democrats. I`m a national campaigner, I grew up in the East, I`ve resided for thirty years in Texas, I`ve lived abroad, I`ve had a broad experience, and I`m going to campaign not to divide and not to label -- not to let you pin me down, if I can help it -- on some little cubbyhole, but simply to campaign on the issues, being as responsive as I can to you and your questions, and let the people determine where they want to put me. I believe that I can hold this party together and go ahead and win in the fall.
MacNEIL: Mr. Baker, your campaign chairman, says that Ronald Reagan is the front runner in the Republican stakes at the moment. If it`s important to get a Republican elected this year, why don`t you just throw in your lot with him and help him get nominated?
BUSH: Because I think I`d be a better President, and I know I can work harder and win the nomination. And that`s...
MacNEIL: But why would you be a better President?
BUSH: Well, because I believe -- I`ve had more experience in business, more experience in the federal legislature, more experience in foreign affairs, and I have a deep conviction about our country, and I want to be the President. And I have respect for Governor Reagan or anybody else, and what I`m going to try to do is not respond to questions that will put me against one of them, but really tell you why I want to do something. I want to do it because I believe that I can restore U.S. credibility abroad -- and it is flagging -- and I believe I can do something about solving the tough economic problems at home. I believe I can lead; I have in other jobs, I think I can even in that tremendous job.
MacNEIL: Mr. Reagan, Governor Reagan, does have the enormous advantage of visibility. Why is it, do you think, Mr. Bush, when you have had all these important jobs which have been very widely covered in the press, you still have only three percent visibility in the country?
BUSH: They`ve been covered in the press over a long period of time, but not with the concentration of media attention that Governor Reagan has had and deserves. He`s on the radio every day, he`s a household word, he deserves to be; he was a great governor, he was a presidential candidate with all that concentration of media attention. But it doesn`t concern me, Robin; that doesn`t concern me about where you are in the polls in May of `79. What concerns me is where you are in February of 1980. And I know I`m going to be there.
MacNEIL: Well, just one more question along those lines. What did you think right after you formally announced last week and two of the most influential political writers in the country, Germond and Witcover, said many political pros in your party -- this must have been one of the columns Mr. Teeley was referring to -- said many Republican pros suspected your campaign had already peaked.
BUSH: I think they`re just as wrong as they can be. And fortunately for me, there are many columnists who look at it very, very differently. So they`re entitled to their opinion. And all it makes me do is want to go out and to prove to them how wrong they are. And I think I can do that.
MacNEIL: You took as a campaign theme "new leadership of candor," which is what you promised. Candor about what, Mr. Bush?
BUSH: About almost everything. Sometimes I would not be candid with you if you asked me to tear down some other Republican or to try to juxtapose my views against them because, as I say, I don`t want to go in a divisive way. But I will try to level with the American people. I wish the President, for example, would level with us; I`m confused a little bit because I don`t know what`s happening on all these gasoline lines out there. I think it`s the President`s responsibility to get the facts and level with the people. And I would try to do that; if I had all that information coming in, I`d try to level. That`s just a small example.
MacNEIL: Could you level with us right now about what`s really causing the gasoline situation?
BUSH: No, because I don`t have all the facts. But if I were President, I`d sure be getting them in there and leveling with the people. I wish I did. I`m confused out there, and so`s everybody else on the street.
MacNEIL: What else are the American people not being leveled with about?
BUSH: Well, frankly, I don`t know about being leveled with, but I have a real reservation about our foreign policy, and I have a real reservation about an inflation which was 4.8 percent when President Carter came in, and it`s now what, twelve or fourteen percent. And I`m not sure it`s not from leveling on that that we`re in trouble, but I just believe we need a sense of purpose and direction to solve those two major problems.
MacNEIL: I was just wondering about the word "candor," because of course that was the main theme of Mr. Carter`s campaign, too, in 1976.
BUSH: Well, but Robin, look. He made four hundred and some campaign promises. I`m going to try to make none, frankly. That`s a refreshing, candid approach. I`m not going to make promises, but I`ll say here`s what I`m going to try to do.
MacNEIL: Yes; about things that you would do, you`ve made a lot of speeches recently or been asked a lot of questions about your criticisms of the Carter administration in Iran. You said that you would have given full support to the Shah. What support?
BUSH: Well, what I really say is that our foreign policy evokes no confidence, and so when you get into a revolutionary situation like Iran, where, I admit, it`s difficult to fully shape events or to contain revolutionary pressures, we have a credibility problem when we say we`re going to do something. My criticism of Carter was that he sent out the wrong signals. He said, well, maybe the Shah`ll survive or maybe he won`t, but we won`t mingle in their internal affairs. Brezhnev was saying, don`t mingle in the internal affairs, don`t support the Shah. In my view, we should have had a clear presidential statement saying that we were supporting the Shah, and intervening on the revolutionary side was intervening in the internal affairs of Iran. So I would have shaped that differently at that point. I would not have had the kind of human rights pressure on Iran, held it on there, because I believe that made us unable to shape events for what followed.
MacNEIL: To what point would you have followed your rhetoric about supporting the Shah by actually supporting him?
MacNEIL: -- Any further than Mr. Carter did.
BUSH:Well, if I had mobilized the fleet on December 30th, as he did, I believe I would have moved the fleet on into the Persian Gulf, the Constellation. And there is a time, Robin, in foreign affairs when a show of force makes a difference. And you look at the editorials in the Washington Post and the Washington Star, and both agreed that there was a a kind of a furry of excitement, an3 then, in the face of a criticism from Brezhnev, we pulled back. We have the reputation today for not standing for anything. We`re going to pull out troops unilaterally out of Korea, and then we turn around and don`t do that. We talk about the neutron weapon, we`re going to deploy it; the Soviets object, we don`t do it. We give away the B-1 before we start to negotiate. We call Cubans a stabilizing influence in Africa. So our whole policy is sending out the wrong signals. And you can`t view an Iran event outside of this whole foreign policy context.
MacNEIL: Turning to one area where your career would have very specific relevance with the SALT treaty coming up, there`s been a lot of controversy over whether such a treaty could be verified. As a former director of the CIA, do you believe it can be adequately verified?
BUSH: My view is that our ability to monitor and thus verify has been severely diminshed. But look, I would wait and receive the testimony, as the Senate will do, behind closed doors, and make a determination.
MacNEIL: Will you...
BUSH: Maybe there`s something happening there that I don`t know about. I don`t have access to the highly classified information for which indeed I was responsible before. So I want to see the Senate get all the information. But when President Carter said at the time of the demise of Iran that our intelligence collection capability had not been diminished -- he eventually changed it -- that was wrong. And when Turner says it`s going to take a certain period of time before we can verify, I think that needs to be fully discussed. I am concerned, based on my own knowledge, frankly; very concerned.
MacNEIL: Do you see yourself possibly campaigning against ratification of a SALT treaty?
BUSH: I can`t tell you that until I know what`s in it. I hope I`m fairminded enough to say I`m not going to take a position till I know what`s in the treaty; and let me say this: I did prepare the national intelligence estimates for a short period of time in this country`s history, and I want to see a SALT treaty. But I don`t want to see a bad treaty. And if the treaty can`t be verified or locks in inequities or doesn`t count a Backfire bomber, or on balance if I conclude that it`s not in our interest, I would not be intimidated by the President`s view, you have to sign it or else there`s going to be a big arms race. I don`t believe it. If it`s a good treaty, sign it. If it`s a bad treaty, reject it.
MacNEIL: If you had to choose a phrase to describe how you would change America`s foreign policy or our posture in the world, what would that phrase be?
BUSH: Speak softly, but carry a big stick. I`m borrowing from a famous figure in the past.
MacNEIL: And what, in five words, Mr. Bush, would you do about inflation in this country?
BUSH: Limit the growth of federal spending; do something about regulation; do something about getting rid of programs that don`t work, keep the ones that are compassionate and do work, get rid of them through sunset laws; an optimistic, supply-oriented energy program, because energy is raising a real part of our inflationary problem; and then as confidence came soaring back -- and it would -- then I`d cut taxes. But I`d do it carefully, and I`d want to see that first step to limit the growth of spending. The major culprit, from the government`s standpoint, is spending, out of hand; deficits, seventeen out of the last eighteen years. I want to see a balanced budget.
MacNEIL: Well, George Bush, thank you very much for joining us this evening; and we`ll watch your progress as the campaign goes on.
BUSH: Thank you, sir.
MacNEIL: And thank all your colleagues -- Mr. Baker, Mr. Keene and Mr. Teeley in Washington and Houston. Good night, Jim.
LEHRER: Good night, Robin.
MacNEIL: That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow night. I`m Robert MacNeil. Good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
- George Bush for President
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- The main topic of this episode is George Bush for President. The guests are Peter Teeley, David Keene, James Baker, George Bush. Byline: Robert MacNeil Jim Lehrer
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