George W. Bush Discusses the Second Presidential Debate on the TODAY
TIM RUSSERT reporting: Governor Bush,
you described tonight's debate in the middle of it as a love-fest,
Governor GEORGE W. BUSH: Because it was in contrast to the one we had before which was a mud-fest, I guess. I don't know. It was a—the tone was a lot different. I think it's probably because we adopted the Russert format, which was to sit down and have a discussion. And—and it was a less of a—gosh, I don't know how to describe it, less of a judo political judo as opposed to a discussion. And I enjoyed the format.
RUSSERT: After the first the debate, the conventional wisdom and some of the instant polls were that Al Gore won on points, and yet the polls since then seem to have gravitated to you. What happened?
Gov. BUSH: Mm-hmm. Well, you know, it just goes to show that sometimes the pundits aren't always correct. The people are always ahead of the opinion, it seems like in America, and...
RUSSERT: What did they see?
Gov. BUSH: I think they saw a fellow who is coming from outside of Washington, DC, with an agenda that's positive, a fellow who really trusts them. I think there's a—there's a big philosophical divide in—in this campaign. And—and it's really who do you trust? And I made the case, I thought pretty effectively, that the vice president is going to explode the size the role of federal government. I noticed today he was trying to fight back a little bit about—on that issue. Evidently, it must be taken hold.
RUSSERT: Do you think the reaction to him from the first debate had a chilling effect on his behavior tonight?
Gov. BUSH: Gosh, you'd better ask him that, Tim. I do think that, you know, I had my line ready, stop sighing about my record, and—but I didn't have a chance to use it.
RUSSERT: Is there a danger that so many times tonight you said that “I agree with the vice president,” and vice president said, “I agree with the governor” that it blurs the differences and people see Tweedly Dee and Tweedly Dum?
Gov. BUSH: Not at all. I mean, a big difference, that was on the nation-building concept, which I didn't quite understand what he was trying to explain. But if he means using troops all around the world to serve as social workers, or policeman, or, you know, school-walk crossing guards, I'm not for that. And I don't think America is for that either. I think America wants judicious use of our military. But I complimented the administration on trying to lessen the tensions in Israel. It's the right thing to do.
RUSSERT: The vice president seemed to suggest that one time President Bush, your dad...
Gov. BUSH: Yeah.
RUSSERT: ...should have gone in and gotten Saddam and not ended the war.
Gov. BUSH: I think he might have been praising President Bush's decision at that point in time, that the mission had been accomplished. I was prepared to—you know, look, one of the things I don't want to do is spend a lot of time talking about my dad, because that's past and, you know, listen, I love him. I'm not a very objective person when it comes to defending my dad, but in this case, I believe he made the right decision.
RUSSERT: Is there anything that the vice president said during the debate that was dishonest in your mind?
Gov. BUSH: No. Not really. I know there was a lot of talk about the exaggerations.
RUSSERT: Did he exaggerate tonight?
Gov. BUSH: Yeah, I thought, again, I mean, he keeps saying that only rich people—I'm going to run a deficit. I mean, he just, I thought, exaggerating my numbers. And—and I, you know, I think the people are going to just have to choose which one of us is leveling.
RUSSERT: What can we expect from the next debate?
Gov. BUSH: A town hall meeting, you know. I guess it is going to be a...
RUSSERT: Are you going to wear a watch?
Gov. BUSH: Yeah, exactly. Good one. You know, walking shoes, I've kind of got to practice my moves as I kind of move around the stage. No, tonight's format, I told this to Jim Lehrer, too, and I'm pandering, but it's the Russert format, is the best format for presidential debates, because it allows for a discussion, not a hollering contest, not a one-liner contest, not a who's fluid on the stage, but a—the ability just to rationally discuss positions. And I thought it was—I thought it was a well done event, you know, well-structured.
RUSSERT: We thank you for your time. And four more weeks and we'll be watching.
Gov. BUSH: Four more weeks and we're about to find out. I'm excited about it.
COURIC: Governor George W. Bush. It is 7:15. Once again, here's Matt.
LAUER: All right, Katie. Tim, let's bring you back in here. First of all, go back and clear that line up about the watch. Just tell people what you were referring to there.
RUSSERT: Remember, Matt, when George Bush, then president, debated Bill Clinton in a town hall setting, in the middle of the debate, the president looked at his watch. And America said, 'Oh, my God, he's tuning out.' Fairly or unfairly, that imagery, that picture really hurt George Bush in his ability to connect and identify and demonstrate empathy with the American people.
LAUER: Did you get a sense that Governor Bush was confident, bolstered by his performance last night? I know it was late at night. It's a little tough to tell, but did you think he was confident from—based on his performance?
RUSSERT: Very much. He believes that, as he kept repeatedly saying, that that format enhances his ability and plays that he thinks are his strengths. And I was quite taken by his discussion of the town hall format, about practicing being fluid on the stage. It's not one that he's particularly looking forward to because he knows that Al Gore has an ability to—to take questions from an audience and use them and turn them to his advantage. Matt, we go back to the central premise that we've talked about this entire campaign, the lingering doubts about George Bush's capacity, the lingering doubts about Al Gore's character. We saw them center stage tonight. We'll see them them center stage next Wednesday. Both candidates on best behavior during the debate, not to criticize one another, but look for today on the campaign trail for a much different tact.
LAUER: You were listening to Tom Brokaw's interview with Al Gore. Did you hear anything in the vice president's comments that struck you?
RUSSERT: Yes, a level of frustration that he is so convinced he's right on the issues and the American people agree with him on the issues. He cannot understand why don't they make the next step and say, therefore, we don't want George Bush. He knows there's a disconnect there. And whether it's his personality, doubts about his character, who knows? But look for Al Gore to continue to pound away at the so-called Texas record, pound away at what he thinks is the tax cut which gives too much money to, quote, “rich.” And I believe that Gore will continue to play those issues repeatedly all week long and then make a critical decision next Wednesday whether to go back a little bit more aggressively on the attack at the town hall debate.
LAUER: Yeah, because he certainly wasn't aggressive last night. I think it was Claire Shipman who mentioned he looked a little bit like the hockey player in the penalty box. Let's talk about one of the exchanges at the end of the debate last night. This dealt with the mistakes that each candidate has made over the past couple of week. Let's play a portion and I'll ask for your comment on the other side.
Gov. BUSH: Well, we all make mistakes. I've been known to mangle a syllable or two myself, you know but, if you know what I mean? I think credibility is important. It's going to be important to be the—for the president to be credible with Congress, important for the president to be credible with foreign nations. And, yes, I think it's something that people need to consider.
Vice Pres. GORE: I got some of the details wrong last week in some of the examples that I used, Jim. And I'm sorry about that.
And I'm going to try to do better.
LAUER: A couple of public mea culpas. Have we heard the last of those topics?
RUSSERT: Not at all, Matt. The notion of self-deprecating humor and mea culpas, as you say, are two old saws into politics that connect and work with the American people. These guys tried desperately to humanize themselves last night. But Al Gore realizes that if it's a popularity contest, decided on likability, that he may not win. Therefore, he has to get off this notion of school body president and back onto the issues. He was being obstructed by this notion that he somehow was exaggerating. He tried to deal with that with his apology last night.
LAUER: Tim Russert, Tim, thanks very much. We appreciate it.
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