June 12, 2003 | Broadcast

Capital Report, CNBC

Announcer: You’re watching CNBC’s CAPITAL REPORT. Once again, Alan Murray and Gloria Borger.


And welcome back to CAPITAL REPORT. Alan Murray is off tonight.

In tonight’s Capital Debate, why are the Democrats having such a hard time getting their message out? Is it because the Republicans’ message is better, or is it easier for the party in the White House to get their word out there? We’re joined by Cliff May, the former communications director for the Republican National Committee, and Harold Ickes, the formity–dep–deputy chief of staff under President Clinton.

Thanks to both of you for being on CAPITAL REPORT. I’d like to play something for you that Hillary Clinton said on the “Today” show about the media and the message.

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): (From “Today”) There is a real echo chamber for the Republican philosophy and policies on radio, television and much of the press that the r–Democrats don’t have. Now having said that, we have to do a better job. We’re not doing as good a job as we should.

BORGER: Harold Ickes, are the Democrats not doing as good a job as they should be doing getting their message out?

Mr. HAROLD ICKES (Former Deputy Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration): I think they’re not doing nearly as good a job as they should be doing for two reasons, Gloria. One is I don’t think we have sharpened our message yet. I think the president, at this point, has really dominated the news with the war on terrorism and now the war in Afghanistan, etc. Two is I think the conservatives, over the past 30 years, have done a remarkably good job, and I congratulate them on it, of really developing a communications network. And by that I mean not necessarily what they own, but using radio re–in regional media markets, getting out coherent messages that are understandable. And I think they’ve done a good job, and we have fallen down on that job.

BORGER: So you’re not talking about the–Byron Dorgan’s point necessarily about Clear Channel Communications owning, you know, thousands of–of radio stations. You’re just talking about Democrats appearing on all kinds of stations and places.

Mr. ICKES: Yeah. I think we haven’t done a–we have not done a good job in that regard, and the conservatives have done a much better job.

Mr. CLIFF MAY (Former Communications Director, Republican National Committee): You–you know, I–the…

BORGER: Take a bow, Cliff May.

Mr. MAY: Well, listen, Republicans and conservatives have done a good job because–largely because they’ve been fighting uphill. Look at any newspaper in a major metropolitan area in the United States today: New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald. Every single one of them has a liberal editorial page; every one.

I would also say there is a liberal bias on ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, NPR, all the way down the line. Now what conservatives have done is just to say, ‘Let’s find another way to get our message out. We think there’s a market for it.’ And that’s the development of talk radio. It doesn’t matter who owns…


Mr. MAY: …the stations. I’m telling you that, though, because Clear Channel will buy MAL, which has somebody like Chris Core who’s here in Washington, who’s very moderate, or h–or–or will buy KOA in Denver, which has somebody like Mike Rosen who’s a conservative. They want a station that sells ads. Let’s face it.

Mr. ICKES: Well, it matter–ownership does matter. If you look at Rupert Murdoch and the New York Post, just to take exhibit A, the New York Post drives a lot of news in New York on a daily basis, and that’s just a fact. So I think that these corporations…

Mr. MAY: But they’re up against The New York Times, which drives a lot of news, too…

Mr. ICKES: Well…

Mr. MAY: …and which has a liberal bias.

Mr. ICKES: Well…

Mr. MAY: But be–let’s be clear.

Mr. ICKES: Right.

Mr. MAY: And between The New York Times and the New York Post, which has the more–more influence? Well, The New York Times does. Everybody here at this station, and every other one, reads the front page of The New York Times every day. Not everyone reads the New York Post every day.

Mr. ICKES: All right.

BORGER: …(Unintelligible).

Mr. ICKES: I–I think the Post has enormous influence on radio and television coverage in New York, which is where most people get their news, Cliff, and you know that.


Mr. MAY: I’m not putting down the New York Post. I’m just saying that if–if–if it were The New York Times or the New York Post that I can own…


Mr. MAY: …it’s like saying do I want Baltic Place or–or–or Broadway on Monopoly?

BORGER: Well, let’s–let’s talk about something that Harold Ickes is starting, along with John Podesta, former Bill Clinton chief of staff at the White House, something called the American Majority Institute, right, Harold?

Mr. ICKES: Yes.

BORGER: And this is not a think tank but a message tank–Right?–or something to that effect.

Mr. ICKES: It–John is really the driving force behind this and done a–and has really put it together. Its purpose is twofold, Gloria. One is to give an arena for progressives to come together and really work out new d–issues, but most importantly how to communicate those issues, how to push them out into regional media markets, where is–which is an area that I think we Democrats have fallen way, way behind. Two is to develop a broader cadre of speakers who will come on shows like this and other shows across the country in regional media markets. And three is to focus on a–to have very focused and concentrated and effective critiques of conservatives’ ideas. And this really is a forum in which ideas can be developed and critiqued.

BORGER: Cliff, isn’t it just easier, though, when–when you happen to own the White House, and the president of the United States is there and the message is developed by the president of the United States?

Mr. MAY: You…

BORGER: And they don’t have it and you do right now.

Mr. MAY: There is noth–there is nothing, nothing to compare with having the bully pulpit, with having the megaphone of the White House. When you don’t have the White House, and I was at the RNC for four years and we didn’t have the r–White House. The frustration’s enormous. The president gets up there, he says, ‘Here’s the issue, here’s the crisis, here’s what we care about,’ and the nation cares, and you have nobody who can do the same. And it’s worse for you right now be–why? Because you don’t have a Democratic majority leader, only a minority leader.

BORGER: Right.

Mr. MAY: You don’t have the speaker of the House, only a minority leader. You don’t have a majority of governors. You don’t have a majority of statehouses. What–and you don’t have a candidate. When you have a candidate in the Democratic Party in a way it’ll be easier…


Mr. MAY: …but right now you have a lot of voices, and the Democratic Party, let’s face it, is very divided among itself…


Mr. MAY: …on a lot of key issues.

BORGER: Cliff, but you do have Hillary Rodham Clinton out there…

Mr. MAY: Oh, yeah.

BORGER: …right now. And, Harold, I have to ask you about Hillary Clinton because you’re so close to her. You were a key adviser in her Senate race. I assume if she runs for the presidency you’re going to be along for that ride, although I wouldn’t want to make any assumptions about that. Sam Donaldson…

Mr. ICKES: And the question is?

BORGER: And the question is Sam Donaldson says she could be running in 2004. What do you say to that?

Mr. ICKES: I would bet the ranch she will not be running in 2004.


Mr. ICKES: She pledged to the people of New York that she was going to serve a full term.

BORGER: And what about 2008, Harold?

Mr. ICKES: As Franklin Roosevelt once said, to paraphrase him, ‘You take one question at a time,’ and this he questioned.

BORGER: Well, what do you think? Do you think she’d be a good candidate, Harold?

Mr. ICKES: I think she–I think she would be a superb candidate, but, you know, that’s a long way off.

Mr. MAY: But–but right now Hillary’s getting a lot of attention. It’s going to be frustrating for the field of nine out there who are dying to get some kind of traction going and can’t. It’s also pretty clear right now that if she wanted the nomination in 2004 the Democratic base would give it to her. She is a–listen, she’s a fascinating character, and I think she is going to run, if not in 2004, I would bet on a run in 2008.

BORGER: Well, Howard says no in 2004, so I know it won’t happen.

Mr. MAY: That it can’t happen.

BORGER: Thanks so much, Harold Ickes and Cliff May.

Mr. ICKES: Thank you.

Mr. MAY: Thank you, Gloria.

BORGER: Thanks for being on CAPITAL REPORT.

And up next, the president is out pushing his prescription drug plan again today, but will Congress buy into his Medicare reform message? We’ll ask Congressman Ben Cardin and David Dreier.

And later, the first lady reacts to a tour of the Holocaust Museum right here in Washington. You’re watching CAPITAL REPORT on CNBC.