February 24, 2004 | Broadcast

American Morning

From Washington D.C. this morning, former RNC communications director, Cliff May. He’s now with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Nice to see you, Cliff. Good morning.

CLIFF MAY, FMR. RNC. COMM. DIR.: Nice to see you. Good morning.

O’BRIEN: Thank you very much. And here in New York, Democratic strategist Julian Epstein joining.

Hey, Julian, nice to see you. Good morning.


O’BRIEN: Let’s start right with a little bit of what the president had to say last night. Here’s a chunk of his speech.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The other party’s nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group with diverse opinions, for tax cuts and against them, for NAFTA and against NAFTA, for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act, in favor of liberating Iraq and opposed to it, and that’s just one senator from Massachusetts.



O’BRIEN: A humorous line, we’ll grant him, and it got a huge laugh as you could hear there.

Do you think, Cliff, though the president have been stronger if he could have come out against one person. For example, he never actually named Senator Kerry in his speech, or Senator Edwards? Do you think it would have been stronger if he could have honed his message to just one candidate, which he didn’t do?

CLIFF MAY, FMR. RNC. COMM. DIR: No, because I think everybody understood who he was talking about there. It wasn’t just Kerry that he was directing his comments to, but it’s pretty clear that Kerry is, unless he gets hit by a Mack truck or says something unbelievably stupid, he is going to be the candidate.

I think what you had here is the president finally defending himself and defending his record. For months now, the president has been beaten up around the head by every Democrat who’s been running, and many Democrats, like Al Gore, who are not running. And even you, Soledad, if you are getting poked in the eye and kicked in the shins, eventually, you are going to respond, and I think it’s about time he did.

O’BRIEN: Julian, do you think it’s a matter of being poked in the eye and kicked in the shins, or do you think it was more a matter over poll numbers? Now the president’s approval rating at 48 percent, according to “Newsweek” magazine; that is, they say, I believe, the lowest ever for him. What do you think it was?

JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRAT STRATEGIST: Well, I think it’s both of those things that you say, Soledad. I think it is true, as Cliff points out, that the Democrats have had the stage for the past few months, although Bush did go on “Meet the Press,” and he didn’t do himself any favors, even according to many Republicans.

But I think you put your finger on the point, Soledad, the real question in any election is whether or not the public wants change. In ’92, for example, the public wanted change with the first Bush administration. In ’96, the public did not want change with the first Clinton administration.

Here, the president’s numbers have now slipped to beneath 50 percent. That’s panic time for any White House. The two big reasons, of course, are that there have been no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, and the job creation record under this administration is really deplorable. We have lost 2.5 million jobs. Compare that to the Clinton administration. That’s 22.5 million jobs that the Clinton administration created. This administration promised results, and we’re not seeing a great deal of them, and many people are saying now it’s time to maybe outsource this guy’s job.

O’BRIEN: Julian, I’m going to continue giving you the floor, because I want you to talk about Ralph Nader. You talk about panic time for the White House. What about panic time for the Democrats? Lots of Democrats do not want Ralph Nader in this race, and he’s in.

EPSTEIN: No, as a Democrat, I don’t want Ralph Nader in this race, I consider him a friend, somebody I’ve worked with for many years. Many people are referring to Ralph Nader as kind of the Don Quixote of 2004, kind of tilting at windmills.

I think the truth of the matter is that Ralph Nader will do worse in 2004 than he did in the year 2000. That will hurt his cause, the cause I think that he at least ascribes to. The problem with that, and a lot of Democrats are saying that, the problem with that analysis, though is — and I think Cliff will agree — this is going to be a close election. So even if Ralph Nader does one fourth as well as he did in the year 2000, that may be enough to play the spoiler role. So it’s a problem.

O’BRIEN: And, Cliff, you know, it was interesting to hear Ralph Nader talking to Judy Woodruff, because he was telling her that thought he could draw out conservatives to his campaign, the ones who disagree with the president over corporate subsidies and also Medicare. Laughable, or do you think he has a point?

MAY: No, I don’t think he’s going to draw conservatives. I don’t think he’s going to draw many Democrats.

Look, I disagree with Ralph Nader. I disagree with those who follow him. But I don’t think they’re stupid. They vote for him as a protest. It’s a protest against both parties, sometimes a protest against the two-party system, because they want to see a multiparty system. I think it’s ridiculous to say that Ralph Nader draws votes that belong to Al Gore or votes that belong to John Kerry. He draws his own supporters, who want something very different.

But I do agree with Julian. He’s going to probably get less than 1 percent of the vote. He got 3 percent last time. I don’t think it’s likely to be consequential. Those who vote for him, were he not in the race, would probably stay home.

O’BRIEN: That’s the final word this morning. Cliff May and Julian Epstein joining me. Nice to see you guys, as always. Thanks.