Q: Are you gonna run?
A: I'm leaning in that direction very strongly. I've got some bases to touch and some financial considerations to work out. But it would certainly be fair to say that it's a little better than 50-50 that I'm going to do it.
It is a wonderful pulpit, but there is enormous cost. There is physical cost and emotional cost.
It's also something that people don't like to talk about -- the fear of ridicule. That's something that's in the back of your mind that keeps people out of races.
Q: It's not the same as to fear rejection? That's what would keep me out of a race. I don't think I would like to lose.
A: Yeah, well I don't like to lose, either. But it's the fear of just looking like a Don Quixote. Kind of a, you know, "Jesus, not George again!" You know, after 1972. But my answer to myself on that -- which is the same answer I'd give to others -- that I don't feel like a humiliated loser from '72. I think the people who got humiliated were the winners. I feel fully vindicated by history after '72. I don't think I said anything I need to apologize for or did anything that was dishonest. The people that won were disgraced and driven from office shortly after the election. I don't feel like I need to apologize.
And furthermore, I don't feel like a big loser. I won that nomination, carrying 10 primaries, including the two largest states -- New York and California. I beat some really top guys. Hubert Humphrey. Ed Muskie. So I don't feel like when I say I'm going to challenge Mondale and Glenn -- I don't feel like they're the big winners and I'm the big loser. We've yet to see what they can do in national competition. And I've pretty well proved that I know how to win. I got beat in the fall, but I don't think there are very many Americans who thought it was an honorable campaign that was waged against me.
Q: That's right, but they also think of you as the big loser.
A: Fair enough. I accept that. I can't change it by any number of speeches. The only way I can change it is to do well in Iowa and New Hampshire. I've got to make a respectable showing in those early tests, or the money will dry up. The workers will become discouraged. I saw one candidate after another go down that way the last time I ran. That would happen to me this time if I didn't make some kind of a showing in Iowa and New Hampshire. I'd be out of it by the middle of March.
Q: I get the impression that if you're thinking of running for president, it's not out of a burning lust to be president.
A: I'd like to be president. And if I run, I'll make the very best effort I can to get nominated. I've never gone into a race just for the exercise. But I'm also a realist. I have to think through where I'm at and where the other candidates are at and where the country is. I know that it's going to be very much of an uphill battle. But I'm going into it with the hope that lightning will strike and that we can stir some excitement among the electorate that isn't there. Possibly, if we do well in some of the early tests, we might begin to gather strength and even have a shot at the nomination.
But I'm resolved in my own mind -- and this is what I've tried to explain to my family and my key people -- that whether we win or not it would be worth doing if we run a good campaign.
I think the campaigns which these six guys have waged who are now in the race, have all been worthwhile. Even if they don't win. Take Gary Hart. I don't know whether Gary's going to be nominated or not. He probably won't be. But talking about new industrial policy was worthwhile. And he did it very well.
Alan Cranston. There again, I don't whether he can be nominated or not. But he's elevated the nuclear war issue better than the others -- more forthrightly than the others. So whether he wins or not, that candidacy is worthwhile.
I think Mondale has been educating himself and educating the country on a lot of this. So have the others -- Hollings, Askew, Glenn -- all of them.
Well, I really believe I could do something of value. Whether I'm nominated or not. I think that I could focus attention on issues in a way that might sharpen the differences with Reagan.
Q: Is there a more mixed view of getting into it than there was in '72?
A: In '72 there was no way anybody could keep me out of the race because I was so outraged by that Vietnam war and death. I just couldn't -- I just had to run. Even after I'd been campaigning for a year, I was still only about 5 percent in the polls. At the beginning of this year, the Gallup people ran a poll and I came in third with 8 percent, behind Mondale and Glenn without even talking about any presidential race. Whereas in '71, in January, I came out with 3 percent. At least I'm beginning somewhere ahead of where I was the last time.
Q: You know it's a long shot. Does that free you somewhat?
A: Yeah, it does. I'm determined to say exactly what I think. I am absolutely not going to pander for votes. It isn't worth it. Maybe if I were running neck and neck with Mondale -- each of us at 38 percent -- I'd be very cautious about matters. But coming from where I am and at my stage in life, I will never again run a campaign for anything without having the luxury of saying exactly what I want to say. I'm just going to call it the way I see it and that's going to be it.
Q: That, to me, that has a lot of appeal. Except that it's expensive and exhausting.
A: I'm not going to run a frenetic operation. I'm not going to let some young scheduler have me in Portland, Oregon in the morning and Cincinnati at noon and Bangor, Maine in the evening. I've learned a lot about campaigning. This will be a much cooler operation than it was 10 years ago.
Q: Can you get the help that you need with a less frenetic style?
A: I think you can. There is such a thing as the media. I don't think I used it very well 10 years ago. The Nixon people ran a brilliant -- maybe the better word is diabolically clever. They really did a hatchet job on me. This time, what resources I can muster I'm going to try to use more practically. If I make the move at all. That's one of the problems I'm still trying to figure out. How we can put together a viable financial operation. I'm very proud of the fact that the last time, we ended in the black. It was the only presidential campaign I know of that ever ended up with an even balance.
Q: You're willing to take the federal (matching election) money?
A: You have to get $100,000 right away. I don't have any doubt about my capacity to do that. That'll qualify me for $100,000 in matching and I think we'll go well beyond that.
Q: Do you have a PAC now?
A: I don't.
Q: What Common Sense does is provide you as a speaker?
A: That's correct. It enables me to be out on the lecture circuit.
Q: Is the lecture circuit a good pulpit?
A: It's good, except that it doesn't really attract national attention. I've been out on that circuit now for 21/2 years and I get tremendous local coverage. But as a non-office holder not running for anything, it doesn't command network attention. I make a speech at the University of Florida and I'll be on all the Florida television stations that night. I'll hit the Miami Herald, as well as the Gainesville Tribune or whatever it is. But you don't get the national exposure. I've been really hitting hard at the Reagan policies. I walk down the street here on Connecticut Avenue and people say, "Jesus, I never hear anything about you any more. Don't you feel like speaking?" That's the problem you're up against.
Q: As a presidential candidate you can get the attention in one speech that would take a year of lecturing?
A: Exactly. That's not an exaggeration. When I get in this thing I'll be invited on the talk shows. What I'd like is to have the thing catch on -- like it did last time -- and I'd go on to get the nomination. But what I'm telling you is even if I was positive that it wouldn't do that I still might get into the race.
Q: It's such a mellow attitude. It's quite refreshing to me. I meet politicians and they say "I'm gonna win!" I think they feel they have to say that. Did you feel that way in 1972?
A: I didn't say an awful lot about I knew we were going to win. What I did, I asked people to reserve judgment. Don't jump too soon. Muskie was trying to get everybody publicly nailed down. I said give us a hearing. And that's what I'd ask now. Listen to what I have to say. If I sound like an irresponsible radical, don't vote for me. But give me a hearing. Don't listen to the propaganda. Don't follow the stereotypes. If I'm not talking common sense I don't want your vote.
Q: Let's talk about some of the bases you have to touch. Your family. Are they going to go along?
A: Well, out of the five, two of them are strenuously urging me into the race. And they happen to be the two youngest ones. My wife is just worried about the physical and emotional strain of another race. Not only on me but on the family. And that's true with my three oldest daughters. But my one son and my youngest daughter are all for it. I wouldn't do it if they were adamantly opposed to it. I wouldn't. It's not worth it.
The one thing I can tell you for certain, Tom, is that I know I have to make the decision now. I'll do it on or before the middle of September. I can't let it go beyond that.
A: Well, two reasons. Number one, I'm very much alarmed about the present direction of the country. My own daughter and her husband tried to buy a little house here out in Arlington. Every way they figured that thing, they couldn't carry the charges. And they both work. They couldn't do it. A $104,000 house.
The greater danger is the policy (the Reagan administration is) pursuing with the Soviet Union. I think we ought to be very thankful that this man Andropov seems to be a reasonable guy and somewhat restrained. Because certainly the Reagan-Weinberger approach is one of intense confrontation. It's almost as thought they were spoiling for a military showdown.
The second reason is that I stayed out of this competition feeling that the other six who are now in the race would rather quickly have everybody committed to one of them. But what I have found going around the country is that that's not true. Well over half of the rank and file voters that I talk to aren't committed to anybody. They may not be committed to me either if I get in the race. But at least I think there's a major part of electorate that's still up for grabs.
What I can do is to mobilize -- I don't know how many people, but I would assume that as a former nominee of the party, that I could mobilize quite a few -- of these people that are on the sidelines. Whether it's enough to nominate me, I have no way of knowing. I haven't run any polls. But whether ittdoes or whether it doesn't, I don't want to sit on the sidelines and watch the country going in the wrong direction and then do nothing about it. At my stage in life, the best place for me to be heard is in that presidential forum, whether I win or lose.
Q: You have the sense that people are not nailed down? That they are all reserving judgment?
A: I do. A great mass of people are still watching somewhat indifferently from the sidelines. There's another band of people yearning for some greater difference.
Q: How about the pros? The people who always get into a campaign. Are they still available?
A: Most of them are committed. Most of 'em are committed. The people that worked with me in 1972 are scattered.