Council on Foreign Relations
New York, N.Y.
MARVIN KALB: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School at Harvard, and it’s my pleasure to be your moderator or your anchorman or whatever you’d like to call me this afternoon. This is an unusual time for a Council meeting. We’re delighted that you have all showed up. And the event today focuses on a governor, a former governor, and the book that she has written. It’s called It’s My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America. That’s Christine Todd Whitman, the author of the book, a former governor of the state of New Jersey, from 1993 to the year 2000. She at that time participated in the [President George W.] Bush campaign, the first one. She was then appointed as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], a job that she held for two years and then, I believe, in the summer of 2003, quit. And it is explained here that there were a couple of decisions coming down the pike that she was seeing going one way or that should go one way, and she felt that the administration was going to go in another way. So rather than get in the way of the truck, she simply got out of the way and decided to resign at that particular time.
Governor—oh, let me also say some of the rules here that—please turn off your cell phones. [Laughter] And also, unlike most Council events that I’ve been to, this one is actually on the record. So the governor wants her comments to be written about and talked about. And right outside there are books to be sold. And I don’t think she would object in any way to your rushing out there after and buying a couple of those books as well. And then let me start with a couple of questions, and then we’ll go to the audience. OK?
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: Certainly.
KALB: Governor, I look at the title of this book, and to me, “It’s My Party Too,” I feel that there should be an exclamation point there and perhaps even the words “Damn it,” if you will forgive me. [Laughter] You know, “It’s My Party Too!” And so what were you getting at?
WHITMAN: Basically, what I was getting at is the fact that there are—and seems to be an increasingly—certainly vocal and increasingly influential group within the Republican Party that deems that they have the ability to define what it means to be a Republican, and that definition is becoming ever narrower. It’s a definition that says if you even begin to want a discussion on embryonic stem cells, you can’t be a good Republican; if you believe that the government has some role in protecting the environment, that’s not a good Republican; if you are—don’t support using—amending the Constitution for only the second time ever to restrict individual freedoms, you’re not a good Republican. And the list goes on and on. And those people don’t just say that’s what it takes to be a good Republican, they also feel empowered to then go after people—Republicans—who don’t feel the way they do. And we saw it certainly in the last election cycle with [Senator] Arlen Specter [R-Pa.], where, when [Pennsylvania] Congressman [Patrick] Toomey went after Arlen Specter, his supporters said it wasn’t just about beating Arlen Specter; it was about sending the message to the other RINOs, as they describe us, “Republicans in name only.”
KALB: The message being what?
WHITMAN: Sending the message that if they didn’t get with the program, they’d be next. And I’ve certainly seen this over time, again and again, where Republican officeholders, incumbents, well-respected, with no problem in their district or with their constituencies, who were fighting bitter, bitter battles in primaries from people on the far right who were just determined to take them out—take them out for political correctness and, as I refer to them in the book, the social fundamentalists, because to me, a fundamentalist—the scariest thing to a fundamentalist is option—
WHITMAN:—is more than one way to approach a problem and solve a problem is choice. And for these people, there’s only one right answer to questions, and you have to be with them a thousand percent, or you are against them.
KALB: What I find in the book—and I’d like you to straighten me out—is that when you talk about the social fundamentalist-wing of the GOP, and you describe it as a serious threat to the long-term competitiveness of the party itself, you don’t normally name names. As a matter of fact, you seem to almost try to avoid naming names. But you do have names in mind, and you do have specific people in mind. So why don’t you share those names with us now? [Laughter]
WHITMAN: Well, I’ll tell you why I did try not to name names. That’s too easy. And that’s letting the whole discussion get off. It then becomes a spitting contest between me and whomever I’ve named, and that’s what everybody will focus on. They’ll take sides. They either like the person or they don’t like the person, they like me or they don’t like me, rather than the discussion I really want to get going, which is about how we’re moving in this country. And I frankly think the Democrats have a lot of the same challenges on the left as the Republicans have on the right. And it is: Are we going to become parties that are more akin to what you see in a parliamentary system, where you have very tight party-line ideological control and if you don’t vote with the party, they can just take your seat away from you, never mind what your constituents think; or are we going to be the kind of parties, at least the party that I grew up with on the Republican side—and my father talked about it for both sides, which, as he describes it, and I describe it in the book—that are umbrella parties, not the big tent that we heard talked about a lot in the 1990s, but an umbrella party?
And the image to me just sort of clarifies things a little bit. For an umbrella, there is that central handle, the core, which represents the core philosophic values that bind you together as Republicans or Democrats, and then you have all the ribs that hold up the canopy of the umbrella, and they’re the different interpretations of those core values. Now, they’re important, obviously, to the function of the umbrella, but they’d be nothing without the core set of values. And the party that I grew up with had a left wing and a right wing and a center, and it was OK. We were able to have disagreements, but they were respectful disagreements. You could argue passionately and be on other sides, but you recognized that you did share some basic beliefs and there was a place in the party for all those different interpretations.
KALB: I could name names, for example. [Laughter]
WHITMAN: Everybody can. Everybody has a list.
KALB: And then you can tell me if I’m wrong. [Laughter] I mean, are you talking about someone like Senator [Bill] Frist [R-Tenn.]?
WHITMAN: I don’t consider Senator Frist to be a social fundamentalist. To me the social fundamentalists are those people who were behind the Toomey race, who were saying, “We’re going to take out other Republicans who don’t believe the way we do.” They are those groups of people who come together with the litmus test. And sure—and I mention—you know, I talk about the Club for Growth a bit in the book. I talk about some of those people that are affiliated with those groups. For instance, I never got the support—and it’s not the Club for Growth, it’s the other financial one. I wouldn’t ever sign the “No New Taxes” pledge.
WHITMAN: That was when I was governor. Now, I reduced taxes 52 times in the state of New Jersey, so it wasn’t that I was looking for ways to increase taxes; I just thought it was somewhat mindless to commit myself ahead of time that never under any circumstances would I ever increase a tax. If I could figure out a way to do it to make the system more equitable, I just didn’t want to do that. So I never got the support of that particular group, even though everything I did from a fiscal point of view was very much in line with what they wanted. We controlled the increase in government spending, but taxes made the business community more open, so that they were able to create over 450,000 jobs, all those kinds of things that the group wanted; but because I wouldn’t sign that one piece of paper, they would never support me.
KALB: But this is an undercurrent. This is an undercurrent that is philosophical, that is political, and that is organized within the Republican Party. And if it isn’t someone like Senator Frist, and if you shift it over to the House side, is it the leadership of the House [of Representatives]? Is it [House Speaker Dennis] Hastert [of Illinois]? Is it [House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay [of Texas]?
WHITMAN: Again, you see individual people who can be part of it, but they are all—again, if you just focus—
KALB: Aren’t they part of it?
WHITMAN: Well, Tom DeLay—you know it’s interesting, I did—I forget which radio show I did now, but I’ve done a number of them around the book, and he started out by saying, “I want you to tell me these people are crazy,” and the first one he started out with was Tom DeLay. And I said, “Well, crazy like a fox.” I may disagree with him on a whole host of things, but he’s not crazy.
WHITMAN: He’s very politically smart and astute. And again—
KALB: But are you talking about him [inaudible] would be helpful.
WHITMAN: I think it would be easier for them to say they fit the category or not, or others to say it.
KALB: OK. OK. The social fundamentalists will remain this unnamed group out there, but if they are as powerful as you say they are, shouldn’t you name them? I mean, I don’t mean to belabor this point, but, you know, you’re talking throughout a book that runs some 239 pages. Your attack is quite focused on a rather sort of murky group out there. And if you name them, it would be much easier for dummies, like, to understand the people you’re talking about.
WHITMAN: Well, but it’s more to understand what they’re doing and what it is that moderates need to do to combat that—
WHITMAN:—rather than to just go after individual people. I think that’s too easy.
KALB: OK, that’s fine. Let me then ask you specifically about America’s principled but pragmatic center. When did that principled and pragmatic center exist in the Republican Party?
WHITMAN: Oh, I mean, if you go back to the days of the [Representative] Hugh Scotts [R-Pa.] and the [Senator] John Chafees [R-R.I.], and people like that, they certainly—they represented that pragmatic center. I grew up in the days of [former New York Governor and Vice President] Nelson Rockefeller and [Representative] Bill Scranton [R-Pa.] as governors and standard-bearers.
KALB: The administration, for example, of Ronald Reagan—was that a principled and pragmatic—
WHITMAN: He reached out—you know, it was very pragmatic, and he had very deep principles, and he reached out to other people. He was very smart about what he did. This is, as I do say in the book, the most socially conservative president that I’ve seen in my lifetime—you know, good, bad, or indifferent, depending where you are on those issues. I do believe that this president is the most social conservative. He believes those principles deeply. I don’t gainsay him that for a moment.
But Ronald Reagan, while he spoke to a lot of those principles, didn’t reach out in a way that indicated that there was no room for others. In fact, Ronald Reagan said very, very strongly—and this is one of the things which those amorphous social fundamentalists don’t do—don’t forget: he’s the one who coined the phrase the 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill about other Republicans.” That has gone by the boards. That is no longer—for the social fundamentalists, you do speak ill of other Republicans, in a very, very personal way, very often, and a nasty way.
KALB: In one of the interviews that I read, you actually do mention names, and you talk about some of the people you think agree with you and are part of this moderate center. And you talk about [former New York City Mayor] Rudy Giuliani and [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell and [former Secretary of Homeland Security] Tom Ridge and [New York Governor] George Pataki.
WHITMAN: [Senator] John McCain [R-Ariz.], [Representative] Linda Lingle [R-Hawaii]. One of the things that I have said again and again is I—what my desire would be is that by 2008, those people could actually be considered for the nomination for president by the Republican Party. They couldn’t today because of their position on a couple of social issues. In fact, there’s the big discussion whether Rudy Giuliani will run for governor or not, and one of the things that they’re talking about is that he’s seriously considering the run for governor because he doesn’t think he could get the presidential nomination.
Now whether he’s your candidate or not really isn’t what’s important to me, as important as the fact that here is somebody who had—is—was a well-respected officeholder, has shown management capability, a lot of experience. He shouldn’t be just eliminated because he’s pro-choice. And we saw the viciousness of it—and it’s one of the things that bothers me the most—when [Republican National Committee Chairman] Ken Mehlman, after he was—became party chairman, and he nominated or he designated or asked the national committee to support [Ohio politican] Jo Ann Davidson for the vice chair, position of vice chair of the party.
WHITMAN: Now she had been speaker of the House of Representatives in Ohio. She was a woman who had been very instrumental in the president’s winning Ohio in this last election cycle, rather important to the reelection, but she also was on the board of Republicans for Choice. And when her nomination came out, the e-mails and the telephone lines just burned up with people saying, “You can’t possibly do this. It’s terrible. You shouldn’t do it. You can’t do it. She doesn’t adhere to the Republican platform, and this is awful.” To the point where, when the national committee came in for their meeting in January, the president had to intercede and bring together some of these state chairmen and some of the national committee men and women, and said, “This is going to be the person I want.”
Well, that was great, and they got her in, except that she had to agree, as part of the deal, never to speak before a pro-choice Republican fundraising group or a pro-choice group. Now that’s just not an acceptable compromise to me. And yes, I recognize that Ken Mehlman is out speaking to those groups, and that’s good. But you can’t look to the moderates to help you win elections, to help fund elections and say you want them in the party and at the same time say, “But you’re really second-class citizens, because we’re not going to let our most prominent—some of our most prominent party officials speak to you.”
KALB: What about Christie Whitman? Is she interested in going for the big stuff in 2008?
WHITMAN: No. Mmm. I couldn’t—part of the reason—I mean, there are a lot of reasons for that. You’ve got to want it more than life itself these days, and you’ve got to start years in advance, and I don’t have that kind of burning desire, plus the fact—what we’ve done with the book is, we’ve put a website at the end of it, www.mypartytoo.com, and have a PAC [political action committee] and a 527 [political fundraising group] to try to build momentum for reestablishing the moderate voice in the party. And that wouldn’t work if people perceived it for a minute as being just a front for personal political ambition on my part.
KALB: Right. Do you blame President Bush for the rise of the social fundamentalists?
WHITMAN: Well, certainly they have empowered them. With [White House Advisor] Karl Rove having—let’s back up. I mean, Karl was very clear, after the election cycle in 2000, that his focus for the reelection was going to be on the four million Christian evangelicals who had not gone to the polls in 2000, and he was very clear about that. And I don’t take anything away from Karl Rove, because he has done a brilliant job in what he was supposed to do. As the president’s—the person in the White House who’s the point person on politics, he delivered for the president, you know, the 2004 election. It’s only the first time since FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt] that an incumbent president has brought in additional members of their own party to add to their majority. He did all that very, very well.
My question is, at what price? Because right after the 2000 election, he started having those meetings every week with the leaders of some of the most conservative groups and really empowering and giving them a sense that they did control how the party should go forward. And while I’m not against that, again, a lot of those people—there’s room in my party for them. There’s not a whole lot of room in their party for people like me, and they’ve made that very clear. And so—
KALB: And there are fewer and fewer of you?
WHITMAN: I don’t think so. You have 50 percent of the American people self-identified as moderates. Forty percent of the American people are now independent.
KALB: But in the Republican Party, 50 percent?
WHITMAN: I don’t know. I haven’t ever seen it broken out by party. It’s just in general. And so you’d have to give it a—we certainly have a strong share of them. I meet them all the time. [Laughter]
KALB: I mean, for example, [columnist] Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times writes about something that would be close to your political heart. I mean, he talks about his fear of the rise of “extremists.” That’s his word, not “social fundamentalists,” your term. Would you regard these social fundamentalists as extremists capable, if necessary, of political assassination?
WHITMAN: I’d hate to think that we’d ever get that far in this country, but certainly you have seen some of the groups don’t gainsay that kind of action. If you look, for instance, around some of the emotional social issues, on abortion, I mean, they will blow up abortion clinics and they will kill a doctor in order to save the hundreds or thousands, or whatever they say, lives of the aborted children. So those kinds of people, to the extent that they become more and more active in the party—and they certainly are—are capable of pretty extreme actions.
KALB: In your judgment, what are the reasons for the rise of social fundamentalism?
WHITMAN: I’ve been thinking about that a lot.
KALB: And when did it happen?
WHITMAN: It started, obviously—I go into it a little bit in the book—in—after the defeat in—where a lot of the supporters of [former Senator and Republican presidential candidate] Barry Goldwater [of Arizona], who would be a moderate today, which is one example of how far we’ve gone. He was pro-choice and he was not anti-gay in the military. He was much more pragmatic than that. But when they saw that what was lacking was control of the infrastructure—they may have been able to get the candidate and they were able to get the nomination, but they didn’t have the ability to deliver on the ground, and the party took such a beating, if you look on the state-by-state basis, so they started organizing.
You’ve got to give them credit. They were very focused on what it was going to take to win elections. They got very organized at the local level, continued to focus on the local level, to take over the nominating process, to become more influential in things like that at that level. And the conservatives, the moderates—or “centrists” maybe is a better term—the centrists kind of sat back and said, “Well, you know, common sense is going to prevail. This isn’t going to be the wave of the future. We’re just not this kind of a country where we’re extreme, just we work off the extremes; we tend to work toward the center, that’s where we actually get policy done.” And so we didn’t get as organized and we didn’t fight back. We didn’t recognize the extent of the commitment on the part of those social fundamentalists to take over, to have this influence and to really drive their agenda home.
KALB: And you acknowledge in the book that you yourself were surprised—
WHITMAN: Oh, yeah.
KALB:—when you saw this rise before your political eyes. I’d like to shift to foreign affairs a bit. One of the things that you talk about here—and I’m guessing that I’m right here—that you have a problem with the foreign policy of the Bush administration, and certainly with respect to the war in Iraq. Am I correct in that?
WHITMAN: Well, I have a problem, I think, with the—well, don’t think—I know what I have a problem with, [laughter] you know, I have a problem with some, as many do, with some of the reasons that we got in there. I have a problem with the fact that there does seem to be an underlying—even though the president has reached out and we had the coalition of the willing, there was a greater commitment to a go-it-alone policy. Now, I have to say that whatever you think about how we got into Iraq, we’re there, we can’t get out, and we see fundamental change taking place in the region. And I cannot take that away from the president. I think we see things happening there that never would have happened if we hadn’t engaged in Iraq the way we have—good, bad, or evil.
I don’t believe that the way to promote democracy is through the force of arms; it is through economic empowerment, it is through other ways that have been more traditional. And so I have concerns there. But what I talk about in the book more, about foreign policy—and I tried to limit what I did in the book to things that I have verifiable credentials in. You know, I’ve been a governor; I’ve been a member of the Cabinet dealing with the environment. While I have a lot of opinions on foreign affairs because I happen to think it’s terribly important and have been involved with it on the periphery, it’s not what anybody could look to and say I have any basis for opining at all on this. The others, at least, I do have some basis for opining.
But my concern is that we have done a great deal of damage to ourselves by the way—our attitude, the way we have positioned ourselves relative to our allies, starting with—not just the world criminal court—that’s part of it, disengagement from that—you know, the really big one to my mind was [the] Kyoto [Protocol on Climate Change], because of course I had a more personal involvement with it. And to me, that’s the perfect juxtaposition of where this focus on the base, on those four million evangelicals who didn’t vote, has hurt us in a lot of different ways, and unnecessarily so, in that—
KALB: Were you involved, by the way, in that Kyoto decision very early on in the administration?
KALB: You were not. Were you informed that this was going to happen? Were you brought into the deliberations?
WHITMAN: You mean in our getting out? Well, the president said—
KALB: At the very beginning.
WHITMAN: The president said during the campaign he was not supportive of the protocol.
KALB: I understand. And then you were given the job, and one of the things that you talk about here are the failures, due in part to the attitude the administration took from its earliest days, so clearly illustrated by the way in which the U.S. dismissed the Kyoto protocol on global warming.
WHITMAN: Right. Right. It was the way they dismissed it. It was the fact that the message was to the base, that we are not to be involved in this thing. I mean, first of all, everybody knows this—the Congress of the United States was never going to sign the Kyoto protocol.
WHITMAN: When Al Gore took it up, 95 to nothing, you know—
WHITMAN:—riders on appropriations bills every year thereafter—don’t—you cannot implement anything that looks like Kyoto—Kyoto was dead. And the president—
KALB: But the way in which—
WHITMAN: But the way in which we did it did not distinguish between the protocol and the process. The protocol was the treaty. We could have said that it was fatally flawed and we need to continue to try to do something about it. The process was something that engaged the rest of the developed world for 10 years, and they were very vested in it. There was no understanding that to the rest of the world, climate change is a real issue, and it’s one that needs to be dealt with quickly. We don’t have the same feeling in this country, the same sense of urgency on the issue of climate change, and there are lots of reasons for that.
But if the president had simply said the protocol is fatally flawed, we are not going to be involved, and we are not signing on to it, but we recognize there’s an issue here, and we’ll continue to engage with the rest of the world to talk about it, it would have had an enormous impact. I mean, I was with President [Jose Maria] Aznar [of Spain] right before—well, before the [March 11, 2004] Madrid bombing, but before the [Spanish] elections. And the one message he wanted me to take back was how much the Kyoto protocol stance of the United States—the Kyoto stance, the disengagement from—the seeming disengagement from climate change, was hurting him domestically. It was that we were projecting an image that we really don’t care what’s important domestically to other countries; we only care about what’s important domestically to us. And that’s not really fair, in that this administration spends more than any other administration on climate-change technology and research. We have bilateral and multilateral agreements with, if not the entire rest of the developed world, most of it now. The president’s called for an 18 percent reduction in greenhouse gas intensity. So he’s recognized that there is this issue. He has put some resources to it. We are engaged, but nobody would know it.
KALB: For an administration so good [at being] on message, this would be a message that doesn’t seem to be getting across to anybody.
WHITMAN: Because it’s not a message they’re interested in getting across to anybody particularly—
WHITMAN:—because the base doesn’t like it, and so they don’t want the base excited.
KALB: Governor, there are many paragraphs—and I won’t go through all of them at all, but there are many paragraphs in here that I read and I say that 95 percent of the Democrats I know could buy that without editing a word. And do you feel that there may be a time in the United States when there could be a coalescing of moderates from both parties into a third party?
WHITMAN: You know, I’ve been asked that a lot, too, recently. And we don’t have a very strong history of third parties in this country. They’ve never done terribly well. That’s not to say that the political climate isn’t changing enough so that maybe somebody will take a run at it again. But in order for a third party to be really competitive—the big problem is particularly on the national scale, and you’d have to start it locally—but on the national scale, it costs so much to run a presidential campaign that without the infrastructure of the party to help you get out the vote, to help you identify voters, to do all those things that party organizations do, you would have to be a George Soros and have all his multibillionaires to be able to even begin to run a credible campaign on the national level. So I don’t really see a third party being a viable option at this point.
KALB: Before we go to the audience—and it’s your opportunity in just a moment to ask your questions—I just want to read part of this concluding section of the book. “So before the Republican Party institutionalizes the politics of making the red states redder and ignoring the rest of the country, it must decide whether it believes that true political leadership is best advanced by further dividing the nation in pursuit of electoral victories. I believe pursuing such a course would be a profound mistake. It would not only present a very real danger to the party’s continued ability to win elections, it would also call into question whether the party’s in fact worthy of governing the United States of America.”
But that very party that you criticize, you helped get elected. I mean, you ran the Bush campaign in New Jersey. Flipping through the book, I find an internal contradiction, almost, in what it is that you are trying to project as your political purpose here and what it is that you’re actually prepared to do, or not do, as the case may be. I mean, you have an opportunity in New Jersey not to be in charge of the president’s reelection campaign, and if you feel that strongly about these issues, why support the president who is being supported—I am going to guess now—by many of the people you describe as social fundamentalists and people you oppose so strenuously, that it’s a mistake. How do you do that?
WHITMAN: Because I believe the president’s the best person to lead the country at this time. And looking at all the issues—
KALB: How could he be? If these issues are that important to you, how could he be the best person to lead the country?
WHITMAN: Well, those issues are very important to me, but there are a lot of issues that are important to me, and we were at a time of war, and so I—
KALB: So those are not as important as the others. In other words, what you’re writing about here—
WHITMAN: Looking at national security, national security will trump, but in 2008 it’s going to be the first time since 1952 that we have not had an incumbent running for office, either incumbent president running for reelection or a vice president ready to move up. It’s a perfect time to talk about where the parties are and where they’re going. And that’s why I want to have this discussion now about those issues.
KALB: Okee-dokee. Your turn. Yes, please. Stand; name, organization, and a brief question.
QUESTIONER: Eugene Marans of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. One of the concerns I have here is that we’re talking as though this is a top-down party rather than bottom-up. We’ve seen that one of the reasons that Mr. Rove is so successful is that there is a multitude of nonprofit, often tax-deductible, think tanks, religious organizations, which are beating the drum for their positions. And he’s responding to them, taking advantage of them. But we don’t seem to find middle-of-the-road, Heritage [Foundation], Cato [Institute], religious counterpart organizations doing the same thing.
Some of us were involved in the 1960s with an organization called the Ripon Society, which was supposed to try to drum up interest among moderate Republicans. It wasn’t tax deductible, it wasn’t a think tank, and it didn’t have, in the end, very much support. What can be done to encourage theory moderates to come in and build up these moderate think thanks and moderate religious organizations who can provide some opportunity for Republican moderates?
KALB: Thank you.
WHITMAN: Well, that’s precisely what I’m trying to do with the book and with the website and with the PAC. We’ve had over 2 million hits on the website already, and we had that within—before the book had been out even two months. And I wish we could have said we’ve sold 2 million copies of the book, but I haven’t. So it’s not that. And we’ve had groups of people—what has been very encouraging to me is groups of people from Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, who have been in touch, saying, “OK, we’ve been members of the party”—many of them are former office-holders—“we’re tired now, we’re ready to stand up, we’re ready to fight back.” And the point behind the website is to give moderates a place to go to find out that there are other moderates out there, so that they can get that reinforcement, to get some education on how to support other moderates, to have some money to be able to do that, to help them and train them on what they need to do in order to start an organization that’s similar to IMP-PAC [It’s My Party Too-PAC], which is what the PAC is called, and to try to give moderates a voice so that they can be heard at the very most basic levels at the party and so there can be an understanding that people don’t want to move away from the party totally, although there have been so many people who have come to me and said, “I’ve been a Republican all my life. I’m not going to stay there. I cannot be there for another cycle. I will not support it if we keep going the way we’ve been going.”
The interesting thing is this country is still so evenly divided. I mean, if you look at the 49 states that have bicameral, bipartisan legislatures—Nebraska being the only one that’s unicameral and nonpartisan—in the lower houses of the assemblies, Republicans control 25 [seats], Democrats 24. In the Senate, the upper house of the Senate, Democrats control 25, Republicans control 24. And of the 7,315 state legislators across the country, 50.3 percent are Republican, and 49.97 percent are Democrat. That’s a difference of four seats nationwide. We are a very evenly divided country. We are not a hard right or a hard left. And so we want to try to give—you know, centrists have, unfortunately, been too moderate and we don’t tend to get as passionate as we need to be.
KALB: Yes, please.
QUESTIONER: I’m just reading a book that I recommend, entitled God’s Politics by Jim Wallis. And he has a thesis in that book which I find intriguing and in fact which I hope to help him carry out, which is that there are many evangelical Christians and other very religious people in this country who may agree with the president on a few social issues, like abortion because they have a philosophy of life—and frankly, I think that [former President of NARAL Pro-Choice America] Kate Michelman and others on the left have made a huge political mistake, not as large as, but similar to, the mistake you describe on the Republican side. But his thesis is that if there were a candidate who was willing to be inclusive and speak the language of faith, that if you actually go to Jesus and the prophets, they speak of love and justice, and that this administration has abandoned love and justice—in practice, if not in rhetoric; and that therefore there are many evangelicals and people of faith who could be persuaded to vote for a very different type of candidate.
Now, I come from roughly the same background you do, and dealing with evangelicals, particularly high-test ones, is a little awkward. I’m being candid here with you. But don’t we have to do it? And isn’t this a huge opportunity that Mr. Wallis describes?
WHITMAN: I don’t disagree at all. Again, it gets back to my feeling that there’s room in the party that I would describe as the Republican Party for all of these people, because there isn’t any—it’s the fundamentalists that I have real trouble with, for whom there’s only one right way. I know lots of pro-life people who will say, “But you know, in the case of rape and incest, we ought to talk a little bit, there’s room to talk here.” Plus the fact—and this is where we lose as a country, which really bothers me, when we get hard right and hard left—I don’t know anybody who is pro-abortion. Now, I am pro-choice. What I would like to do is—and I did as a governor—do all that we can to try to prevent a woman from ever being in the situation where she has to make that choice. I mean, we funded sex education, and I said, “Fine, we’ll start it and we’ll end it with abstinence.”
No way to deny that the only sure way to prevent an unwanted pregnancy is abstinence. But we have to understand that kids don’t always act that way, so we have to provide enough other information that they can make good choices. But we’ll talk about abstinence.“ We put money into shelters for young women who got pregnant outside of wedlock who wanted to bring the child to term but couldn’t live at home, were scared of what might happen, didn’t know where they’d go. A place for them to go. We put in place that program that allowed new moms, if they felt they couldn’t bring up their child, to take it to a hospital or a police station and as long as there was no indication of any kind of abuse, there’d be no questions asked.
There are all these areas where we can come together to work toward something that is positive and still be respectful of somebody who is never going to come over to the fact that you should have abortion, that abortion should be an option, because it is life, or those who say there should never be any kind of restriction at any time. We lose that ability to come together to talk about those things in the middle if we say we absolutely won’t talk to people and try to work our way through things. It’s very interesting to me what the Gallup—I guess it was a Gallup poll that I saw most recently about what Congress did on the Terri Schiavo case. You would think that since this was all portrayed as being in support of a culture of life, and that clearly is not antithetical to a lot of Americans and American voters, but they didn’t like—they were able to recognize that there was a distinction between the judicial process and the legislative process, and they didn’t like what Congress did, coming back in to intercede in it. And yet a lot of people would have said initially in this discussion, this is playing to the bases, it’s what the base wants and they’re going to be very supportive. And they weren’t. And they’re not. And so the point is very well taken that you can reach out to evangelicals, and while you may never agree on some of the very basic things, there are lots of place where you can come together.
QUESTIONER: My name’s Chuck Larson. I’m a retired four-star admiral. I retired in ’98. I was a senior member of John McCain’s campaign for president in 2000, was a Republican, always believed in a strong national defense, and am very conservative on fiscal issues, and moderate to progressive on social issues, including being pro-choice.
When I watch what’s happened to our country since 2000, it only took me two years. I gave up in 2002 and became a Democrat. There are a lot of things about the Democratic Party that I’m not totally comfortable with, but I feel more comfortable there now, in both my state and in the national level, that there’s room for discussion and for disagreement and for inclusion and for debate than I do in the Republican Party. And other than you and your book, I don’t hear anything out there or see anything out there that would convince me in any way that I would be welcome to come back.
WHITMAN: Oh, I think John McCain would say something different to that. I mean, he would want to have the kind of party that did have you back, obviously. And he’s stuck with it. You know, there will come a time—there is a time limit on the ability to keep trying to change from within, but I—maybe it’s a weakness in my background, but I have always tried to fight from within and see if I can’t make the changes there. But I don’t disagree. It’s going to be very interesting to see, because when you talk about trying to bring people together to solve problems, when you have the chair of the Democratic National Committee saying, ”I hate all Republicans and everything they stand for,“ it’s not really a good first step to reaching out [laughter], and bringing everybody together. So I think the Democrats are going to face [laughter]—didn’t name names. [Laughter]
I think the Democrats are going to face a lot of the same tension, although [Senator] Hillary Clinton [D-N.Y.] has certainly figured out where the votes are going to be and where she wants to be if she is going to be competitive in 2008. I don’t think she’s wrong. I mean, she’s going for that big American middle. And if the Republican Party thinks that it can stay where it is and continue to focus on the base it’s focused on, because the pluralities by which we have been winning—a lot of people say, ”How can you even—where do you get the votes?“ [Inaudible] anything wrong with the party when you control both houses of Congress, you have the presidency, and the majority of the governors. Well, even Paul Weyrich [chairman of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation], who was a very conservative, grassroots activist, said about two months ago, ”Yes, Republicans have been winning since ’94, but the pluralities have been very small, and if you lose any one part of your coalition, that would be the end of it.“
And if you look at this last election, I mean, the president—he got more votes than anybody else for president in the history of the country for president of the United States. So did John Kerry. I mean, that’s the nature of the increase in people voting. It was the smallest plurality of any incumbent president that we’ve ever returned to office. He only won by 2.5 percentage points. Bill Clinton won by eight, Ronald Reagan by 18, Richard Nixon by 23, and Harry Truman beat [Thomas E.] Dewey by almost five percentage points. So this was not a huge mandate to take the country in one direction or another, I don’t feel. And so that’s why I think there’s still real hope for the center of the party.
KALB: You don’t, then, feel that by the 2008 election the social fundamentalists are going to increase in strength and almost, by definition, dominate the party at that time?
WHITMAN: Well, interestingly enough—and I know there’s been some controversy—but all the studies that I have seen, all the analysis of the last election, showed that that fundamentalist vote was the same in 2004 as it had been in 2000 and 2002; it was the same percentage. Now, that’s 23 percent, which is an important bloc, but it hadn’t grown—for all the time, for all the effort, for all the focus and the outreach, it had not grown as an overall part of the vote. So again, that tells me that while I don’t believe moderates or centrists should sit back and take it for granted that they’re not going to grow in numbers, that there’s good reason to think that we can—that centrists can reassert themselves.
KALB: Yes, please?
QUESTIONER: I’m Carl Meacham. I work for Senator [Richard] Lugar [R-Ind.] on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I’m just picking up on something that you said. I share a lot of what you’re saying. I am a moderate or a centrist Republican. But the Republican Party has been winning; we’ve been winning and winning and winning. And I guess the first question is, what’s the incentive for the party to be more inclusive, if it keeps on winning the way it is? And second, do you believe that the president could have won if he would have been more moderate?
WHITMAN: I think he could have won by a bigger plurality, if he’d been more moderate. I know a lot of—I mean, the president has a better environmental record, which wouldn’t be hard, given what most people think about it, but he has a better environmental record than most people think, and that’s because the good things that were done we didn’t talk about because the base—they were focused on the base, and polls were telling them that the base didn’t care about the environment. And so we didn’t talk about it.
And there were other issues where the administration did move things forward that I was comfortable with and that others are comfortable with, but again, weren’t touted as being the most important things because they weren’t really just for the base, and the focus was on getting that base. Again, it’s happening in both parties. We’ve gone from this approach to elections—or, actually, after elections and pre-elections, of what Richard Nixon said, you know, Republicans run to the right, Democrats run to the left in primaries, and everybody runs to the middle for the general election. Well, that was fine when the right was here and the left was here. When the right’s here and the left’s here, it’s pretty hard to get back to anything that looks like the center. And so what’s happened is the parties have focused on getting the base out—the GOTV effort—the Get Out The Vote effort for both the Republicans and Democrats was a major part of the expenditures, campaign expenditures at the end of the campaign; that was what they focused on, that’s what they wanted to do. Well, if your focus is on hardening your base, that really forces an ever-more partisan message because that’s what gets your base excited, that’s what convinces your base to stay with the party. And that tends to get more divisive and more bitter because you throw—for Republicans it would be red meat for the red states; you’d keep throwing it out like that. And that makes it much more difficult at the end of the day to govern.
I mean, your boss faces problems when you try to reach out across the aisle; it’s tougher these days. Even within our party it’s tough to get consensus on some of these things and you’re having—party discipline now is becoming a much bigger part. I just did a—up at Hunter College with [former Representative] Dick Gephardt [D-Mo.] last week, and he was bemoaning the fact that on the Democrat side of the aisle, party discipline is getting to be stronger and stronger, and if you don’t vote the party line, you’re going to feel some real consequences. And he was bemoaning that as a problem for governance over the long term. And he and I were facing the same kinds of issues.
KALB: Yes, please. Right here. In the front. Mike.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Vivian Lowery Derryck, and I’m with the Academy for Educational Development. My grandfather in Cleveland, Ohio, was a Lincoln Republican.
QUESTIONER: And from the 1930s through the 1970s, when he passed away, he was very comfortable with the party, and he would defend it against, of course, his many Democratic friends. But as you were speaking, I was thinking he wouldn’t probably feel very comfortable with the party today. And I’m wondering if the social fundamentalists have any room for people like my grandfather or other minorities.
WHITMAN: Well, it’s hard. And the interesting thing to me is that Ken Mehlman now is giving speeches that I could give. I mean, he is out there every day, as party chairman, saying we need to broaden the base, we need to reach out to minorities, we need to bring young people into the party. There’s a recognition there of the importance of the centrists to winning elections. But you know, again, it—I don’t—I’m—and you saw during this last election there was a focus on the African-American churches. There’s a very—been a very strong religious focus to the last campaign that we hadn’t seen before.
And so you can’t say that this is just an effort—they’re not just a group of people who are biased, who don’t like people of color. That’s not it. It’s about these issues more than it is about what your background is or what your economic status is. It’s more about these social issues. And so it depends on where your grandfather would be on those. I suspect he’d be a little uncomfortable with the positions they’ve taken, simply because the positions tend to be so hard-line that they don’t allow any possibility of options. I mean, they’re—for the people who are the dedicated social fundamentalists on an issue—and I do choice just because it’s an easy one that everybody understands; it’s been so belabored and talked about so much—that those people who say under no [inaudible] there are people in the party who said this. They don’t even care if it’s incest. You have got a senator in Kansas, I believe it is—it’s Kansas—now who is working on legislation to make very clear that—you know, rape, incest doesn’t matter—a mother who is trying to get her daughter some help on this.
In Colorado, the governor has an option this week. He’s going to make a decision on whether or not to sign a piece of legislation that would allow the victim of rape to be counseled by—in a hospital that there are things that she could do to make sure she didn’t get pregnant from that rape. I mean, it’s an issue as to whether they’re even allowed to discuss it. That’s the kind of mindset that is very hard to reach out to.
But you have to—what my take—I take hope from is, there are a lot of people who are not that hard to the right, not that far out, not that unwilling to talk about options and compromise. And those are the people we have to reach. I really think it’s for the good of the country, not just—I mean, sure, I’m a Republican and want to see Republicans win, up to a point. But I really think when you look at—and you all here are far more familiar with it than I am. I mean, I’ve been in—I lived here for four and a half years after college, lived here for the two and a half years while I was head of the EPA. The partisan bitterness, the divide, the political divide, has gotten so bad that you can’t have a reasoned discussion on some of the most important issues to this country. I mean, I don’t care whether you think the president’s energy proposal was the right proposal, but we haven’t had an energy policy in this country for decades, and we need to have a discussion about it. We haven’t even been able to have a discussion about it, because it immediately got framed in terms of the partisan battle.
And then you have some of the Republicans who don’t want to talk about any kind of regulation, which would be—you need—42 of those recommendations of the 106, I guess, recommendations went to conservation and renewable resources, and they don’t want to talk about that kind of thing. But that is a real disservice to the nation. We need to have that broad discussion, and we’re finding it harder and harder to get those broad, comprehensive discussions that will move us forward, because of this partisanship.
KALB: Governor, in your vocabulary, is the social fundamentalist an extremist?
WHITMAN: Yes. Yeah.
KALB: OK. Yes, please. Right in the middle.
WHITMAN: I see a hand right there.
KALB: Somebody in the back that I’m missing, a hand that—
WHITMAN: I’ve got a hand here—
KALB: No, I know about the front. OK. OK.
QUESTIONER: It’s not easy to mobilize moderates to—
KALB: Who are you? Name, please.
QUESTIONER: Joe Grimes. I already said it. Sorry. It’s not easy to mobilize moderates to head for the barricades. Certainly a lot easier to do it on a single issue. But you certainly can’t go out to the moderates and say, ”The single issue is to be more open-minded, now let’s go out and organize and do something.“ Or [inaudible] is talking about getting religious groups who are going to be more open-minded. Frankly, it would bother me to have religious groups who are organized for any party. So where do you get—where are you going to attract people in, or what kind of organizations are going to be set up? Is it just going to be party organizations? Or is it going to be a thing—something different from the Cato Institute or the Heritage Foundation? Where is it going to come from?
WHITMAN: Well, what we’ve seen thus far is people—and again, many of them are people who were officeholders in various states—we’ve had 50—happen to be all women in Arizona—but 50 women who have come forward and said, ”We want to affiliate, we want to start an organization,“ to start—similar to IMP-PAC—in the state of Arizona to take back the party, to get the balance back into the Republican party, to get—to get to the point where we stop eating our own, where we stop forcing people out of the party.
And you’re right; it is very hard to do. As centrists, there isn’t—the easiest thing in the world is to throw out those—the one simple issue that really gets people excited, and take the hard-line position and say this is where we need to be and this is the issue we want to fight on. You don’t want to be single-issue. One of the things we’ve done with the website is that we have hyperlinked with all the other groups—the Log Cabin Republicans, Republicans for Choice, Republican Majority for Choice, all the different groups. So if someone is a single-issue person, if that’s their most important issue, they’ll know where to go. They can go and associate with these groups in ways that perhaps they hadn’t thought about before. But for those who are more interested in the more general effort to reinstitute the dialogue within the Republican party, to start to take back and focus on local issues and getting candidates who are talking about the issues about what we care about, rather than what the pollsters tell them, to get those moderates, those centrists, to give them a fighting chance against the more extreme right wing.
I think really what I’ve seen is a lot of the more extreme social fundamentalists are the ones who are the best recruiters for actually mobilizing the centrists, because they see some of this language and some of the rhetoric, they see some of the harshness, and they don’t like it. And they’re finally getting to the point where they’re saying, ”We’re about to be buried if we don’t push back and it’s time for us to push back.“ And what they need to know is that they can, and that there are ways to do it. And that’s what we’re going to try to provide through IMP-PAC, is giving them that information and reinforcing it.
KALB: Thank you, Governor. One sec. Yes, please?
QUESTIONER: Hi, Yolonda Richardson, Center for Development and Population Activities. Can you talk a little bit about where you see women among this, in the Republican Party, on the continuum of moderate-to-more fundamentalist, because my sense is that while the party did make some gains in terms of attracting more women voters, it was largely around the security issues. If that is not as big an issue, how is the party going to continue to capture that when what is perceived as lots of assault on women’s issues, particularly around the question and the thing that just comes to my mind most recently is about pharmacists, who are now empowered not to dispense legal prescriptions for women—
KALB: Well they’re not empowered, are they?
QUESTIONER: I’m sorry?
KALB: The pharmacists are not empowered to restrict drugs to women.
QUESTIONER: No, the pharmacists can say that they don’t want to fill the prescription—
KALB: They don’t want to do it—
QUESTIONER: Exactly. And so—
KALB: But I think that—
QUESTIONER: So what we’re—
KALB: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTIONER: So my question to you is kind of where do you see women on this continuum? Do you think that that is going to be a problem in the future for the party? And how—and it’s interesting that you as a woman are kind of taking the lead in this. How do you see that playing out?
WHITMAN: Well, yeah, I would say that the group that came to us from Arizona were all women. And the group in Colorado was not just women but a number of women. There are a lot of women who are enormously uncomfortable with the hard-edge either/or attitude and position on individual issues. If you start generalizing between the differences in men and women, I get into trouble just instantaneously, but—
KALB: You and [Harvard University President] Larry Summers.
WHITMAN: [Laughter] Yes. I want to be very careful. I think I’d have a slightly different position than Larry on some of those issues. But I see women as being an important part of this. And again, you look at where Hillary Clinton’s going. If the Republican Party thinks that the Democrats are going to stay where they are or going to go further to the left, I think they’re making a big mistake, and they’re making assumptions that are not necessarily legitimate assumptions.
Hillary Clinton is very, very smart politically. Whatever you think about her on issues or whatever, you cannot say that this isn’t a very bright woman who doesn’t do a lot of thinking about where politics is going in this country and where she needs to be if she wants to win. And I think she does want to win. I think she’s running for the presidency. I don’t think there’s too much question about that. And she has clearly said and thought and identified that it’s toward the center. She made a speech on choice that was very different than anything she’d said before, not necessarily contradicting what she said before but emphasizing things she’d never said and may have thought and may been part of it, her overall philosophy. So she’s an example of people in general understanding that to win, you’re going to have to be more to the center. And I think that should be a warning to Republicans that they shouldn’t assume that they’ve got this winning coalition and just hardening that base, continuing to harden that base, is going to result in victories in the future. And I definitely see women becoming ever more integral to the centrists’ ability to push back and articulate, because we just tend to be there more, as women, not to say there aren’t a lot of women behind some of these more extreme groups or in some of these more extreme groups.
WHITMAN: But I also see women as playing an enormous part in the effort to bring us back.
KALB: Thank you. Sir, and then that—
QUESTIONER: Bob Blake. You have more recently become involved pretty much in the business community, with your—I had an interesting session with some quite senior people in the business community, and I put the question that you put to them: Why don’t they—they all were saying that they really didn’t like the hard edge, but they—I said, ”Then why don’t you support, openly and with money, the kind of center that you say you like?“ They said, ”No way. We can’t. We have to have the Republican Party, and we can’t get the Republican Party without a very strong hard-edged Christian right for as long and as far up ahead. So we are staying out of it. We’re not supporting it, and we’d be afraid to do it.“ How do you get that?
WHITMAN: Well, there are a lot of people who are scared of what the push-back is going to be. I’m just delighted that we have a number of those who have come forward and have been very helpful and are being helpful right now with the outreach effort that I’ve been doing on raising money for IMP-PAC and calling people. And a lot of the business community has been willing to do that. But there’s no question—politics is a tough game, and people play for keeps. It gets—can get very nasty, and people are always covering. I mean, in my state it’s the opposite side. It’s they don’t dare say anything because they’ve got to keep the Democrats happy, and the Democrats will cut their legs out from under them in two seconds with contracts and things if they don’t toe the line the right way. At some point, though, there are those who will stand up and say, ”No, there’s a greater good out there, there is something we need to do.“ And if you look at the long term, short term, this may be good, but long term, it’s not going to be healthy for their businesses or for the country, and that’s going to affect their ability to succeed.
KALB: We’ve only got time for, I think, two questions. So right in the middle and then at the end.
QUESTIONER: Aimee Christensen. I’m a consultant with the World Bank, but this is a question in my personal capacity. I was hoping you could talk a little bit more about the Bush administration’s environmental policy—I want to push your comfort [laughter] in this conversation we’re having here, because I was struck by a few things. I’ve skimmed a little bit of the chapter in your book about the environmental leadership, and I was impressed by a lot of what you talked about business opportunities around environmental protection. And as I’m currently working at the Bank on implementing the Kyoto protocol and I’m seeing these business opportunities, U.S. companies aren’t able to take advantage of those business opportunities because we’re not part of that global agreement.
And I was just wondering if you could talk more about why the Bush administration didn’t look at the opportunity equation—the opportunity side