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Post Roundtable: Inside the GOP Convention
Wednesday, August 2, 2000 Post staff writer Charles Babington and assistant managing editor Bob Woodward held a recorded video conversation to discuss the proceedings at the Republican National Convention.
Part One: John McCain's Convention Speech
BABINGTON: I'm Chuck Babington at the Republican Convention in Philadelphia, joined by phone by Washington Post editor and writer, Bob Woodward.
Bob, the big speech last night was by Sen. John McCain. Obviously, he was very critical of Gov. Bush during their tough primary fight but he gave him a big endorsement last night. What did you make of that speech and how do you think it might affect the fall campaign?
WOODWARD: At least now it looks like a modest plus. It was not the negative that it could have been if McCain had gone off the reservation. Of course, McCain still looms large in the hearts and minds of many voters, the scrappiness and independence, kind of you know McCain is the bad boy truth teller of American politics I think grabs a lot of attention during the primary season.
I guess it looks like Bush got McCain 75 percent on board and kind of the question is will he be able to drag the other 25 percent there and use McCain effectively in the campaign.
BABINGTON: Right. The night before last, Colin Powell did bring up a subject that he disagrees with Bush on -- that being affirmative action. Last night McCain did not make any mention of campaign finance reform which maybe was the biggest issue that he and Gov. Bush disagreed on in the primary fight. So it sounds like they really did get into, as you say, stay on the reservation pretty much all the way.
WOODWARD: It looks like it. Now you've got to close the deal with McCain. I mean Bush needs to make or put McCain in a position where his declarations of fealty and gratefulness and support appear to be totally genuine. And I think one of the interesting questions, one of the measures of Bush's leadership skills will be whether this can be carried off. There's all that discussion of Bush in Texas including everyone. Will he able to make it so there are none of those doubts? I mean McCain, after his speech I think went on television, did some interviews and you could tell with the body language that he was taking a little bit of it back. I don't know what your impression was.
BABINGTON: I think the impression of a lot of people who watched the speech itself is that it sounded some sort of odd notes and the closing line was I'm haunted by what will come or what may come. It seemed kind of a funny line for a guy who's endorsing this guy to be the next president of the United States.
WOODWARD: I sure agree. That closing line with that, I mean literally he said, I am haunted by the vision of what will be. He tried to explain that later, but the use of the verb haunted is not one you hear at least at this upbeat convention.
Part Two: The Foreign Policy Issue
BABINGTON: I'm Chuck Babington at the Republican Convention, joined by telephone with Bob Woodward of The Washington Post.
Bob, unlike his father, I'm talking about Gov. George Bush, his father before he became president had been CIA director, had been our top diplomat in China, had really a diversified background -- especially in defense and diplomatic affairs -- that his son doesn't have. He's trying at this convention to convince voters that he can handle these types of chores. How do you think that's playing?
WOODWARD: Well, probably okay. But the one note that may not have carried into positive territory, I think, and this is a little sensitive, but Condy Rice's speech last night, Bush's chief foreign policy adviser. One of the things she said last night is that Bush had demonstrated in this campaign that he will never use foreign policy for narrow partisan purposes.
Then Condy Rice went on to a certain extent to use foreign policy for partisan purposes and spoke like a campaign cheerleader. And you know from your time covering even the Clinton White House, there is a long tradition that the National Security Adviser, and the expectation is that Condy Rice will fill that role if there's a Bush administration, that the National Security Adviser stays out of partisan politics and doesn't go out and give campaign speeches.
BABINGTON: Right. Probably a lot of Americans aren't familiar with Condy Rice. If Bush wins and she did get that job she would replace Sandy Berger in the Clinton campaign. Berger's probably a little more high profile because he's on TV a fair amount. But you're exactly right, Bob. You don't really look to Sandy Berger to carry out the partisan type of element of the Clinton administration, it really focuses on the meaty foreign and security issues.
WOODWARD: Yes, and what she spoke of last night quite eloquently are Republican principles and foreign policy and then painted Bush as kind of flawless, focused, consistent, said he had uncommonly good judgment. And, as you know, I mean Sandy Berger, the role in the White House as the National Security Adviser that Kissinger or Brent Scowcroft or even Colin Powell had, you have to go in and be the tough person sometimes and bring an academic or professional background and you have to knock some heads. And if you are an extension of a political campaign, I think a lot of people are going to say you have diminished that traditional honest broker role.
BABINGTON: Bob Woodward, thanks very much for joining us.
Today's Roundtable was recorded and produced by washingtonpost.com's Chet Rhodes and transcribed by Olwen Price of The Washington Post.
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