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Discusses the Race for the Presidency (Interview)

Location: Face the Nation


BOB SCHIEFFER, host: 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.

Former Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Presidential Candidate): Thank you, Bob. Gloria, thank you.

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--what do you say to that?

Mr. McCAIN: Well, I--I appreciate his opinion, but that 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 a majority of Republicans in New Hampshire, an 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 what--the coalition we're reassembling with the Reform Party, a party that--that preserves our core conservative philosophy but attracts the banner of--of independents and Republicans. That's the way you govern in this country. I'm very proud that--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--and he says, 'You have--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 that great, but I want to run this vignette and then see what you--what your response is.

Mr. McCAIN: Sure.

(Excerpt from C-SPAN video)

State Senator FAIR: I have no ex--explanation why--why some of the religious conservatives, particularly, on--are on--on board with--with that guy.

Governor GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't know.

State Sen. FAIR: I mean, you-all haven't--you-all haven't even hit his soft spots.

Gov. BUSH: I know. I'm going to.

State Sen. FAIR: Well, they need to be. Somebody does anyway.

Gov. BUSH: Exposed. Yeah. Yeah.

Unidentified Man: She wants to get a picture.

Gov. BUSH: I'm not gonna do it on TV.

State Sen. FAIR: We--we--we appreciate that, sir.

Gov. BUSH: Thanks, Senator.

(End of excerpt)

SCHIEFFER: And what he said there at the end is, 'I'm not going to do it on TV.' What--what do you think that means?

Mr. McCAIN: I don't know. Very frankly, the--the--the tenor of that conversation is as disturbing as anything else, you know? 'We will. We will.' I'll tell you what I'd 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--but not on television.' He can offer his explanations, but I have to tell you it's very disappointing.

SCHIEFFER: Well, his--his campaign says that he was talking about some sort of policy blunder or something that they made that they're--that they're going to straighten out. You don't take that--or do you take them at--at their word on that?

Mr. McCAIN: Well, they said they were going to--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--I just--I'm just disappointed. I'm disappointed in the--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.

GLORIA BORGER (CBS News): Senator...

Mr. McCAIN: 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.

BORGER: Senator...

Mr. McCAIN: And finally, could I add--could I finally just add...


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

BORGER: Well--well, Senator, wi--with all due respect, as--as you were saying, you have been engaging in this negative campaign and you did have this ad which--which you say you pulled, which you did, which 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?

Mr. McCAIN: I--he--he--it was twisting the truth when he accused me of raising taxes, when he accused me of a number of other things, but--but the point is, Gloria...

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

Mr. McCAIN: He has compared me to Bill Clinton and Al Gore from, well, the debates we had in New Hampshire. He said, 'You're just like Al Gore.' And I said, 'If you're--if I'm like Al Gore, you're spinning like Bill Clinton.' Look, it's time we--we got all 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--to take the risk associated with it because we are not going to do it.

BORGER: Ha--haven't you discovered, though, that 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.

Mr. McCAIN: No. No, we had not--we had not found that out at all. We'd found, as we are finding out today, that this is a very close race in South Carolina, and we intend it to be great. 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's 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--around the country?

Mr. 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--I'm--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 a 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 not have held a rally in Bob Jones. Would you hold a rally at Bob Jones University?

Mr. McCAIN: No, we have no plans to do that.

BORGER: Was...

Mr. McCAIN: And I would certainly condemn the policies whi--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--is not America.

BORGER: So you believe that Bush should disassociate himself from...

Mr. McCAIN: No, I believe that he should do whatever he thinks is best. I respect...

BORGER: Would you--so...

Mr. McCAIN: 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--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 anytime 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 the 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?

Mr. McCAIN: I--that means for the rest of the campaign. I was--I was very upset when Governor Bush, whose service in the Guard I have always defended, had a--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 in the country. That was very upsetting to me. But the fact is, that the events of this young boy who was disillusioned, who I am--and hope I remain his hero. Of all of the other things that 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 the--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--who said you had abandoned veterans. He said those were his views and that that the man had come to him an--and asked to endorse him. So he says he's not saying that.

Mr. McCAIN: Bob--Bob, he stood next to him at a--at a--at a Bush-sponsored campaign rally and he did not repudiate the remarks of the man that--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--look, this is--look, 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. I'm 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?

Mr. 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 detailed--more details about every specific issue than any other Web site...

BORGER: So no...

Mr. McCAIN: ...I've given two major--two major speeches on--on--on violence, on crime, on education in the last week. We've been very specific. And the--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 questions.

BORGER: So--so no in...

Mr. McCAIN: That's what we've been doing.

BORGER: So no increases on premiums and you wouldn't raise the eligibility age.

Mr. McCAIN: Not when we have a huge surplus...


Mr. McCAIN: ...that we have the opportunity to really make Social Security solvent.


Mr. McCAIN: But we can't pass it up.

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

Mr. McCAIN: You know, my--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 statement of position has been--and, look--look--OK?--Governor Bush has said that campaign finance reform was unilateral disarmament. He thinks it should be--remain legal, I guess, for a Chinese army-owned corporation to give unlimited amounts of money to a--to an American political campaign. Look, we got to fix this thing. We got to clean it up. The fact is, that I support a--an--an initiative out in California that has some vouchers to--for--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'd be a terrible shame.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, let me ask you about this. Governor Bush, on this broadcast a couple of weeks ago and in other places, has stressed what he says is his ability to bring people together and to unite people. And there's 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?

Mr. McCAIN: Same charge was made against Governor Reagan when I think he had three senators supporting him. The fact is that--that I am a reformer. I am--I am taking on the establishment in Washington. They are reacting with some alarm, to say the--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 a pr--incumbency protection act and I'm ready to take them on. But as--what--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. I thought I'd throw him in, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: OK. 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.

Mr. McCAIN: Thanks for having me on.

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

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