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May 24, 2001

ZAHN: And welcome back to THE EDGE.

On the "Cutting EDGE" tonight: Has President Bush failed the base of voters who put him in the White House by allowing Senator Jeffords to slip.

Joining us now with reaction is former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, who is also a conservative author and commentator.

Welcome back to THE EDGE.


ZAHN: All right, a number of key Republicans are saying tonight there's an awful lot of blame to go around for this, whether you point your finger at the president or Trent Lott or Karl Rove. Who do you think is at fault allowing this to happen?

BUCHANAN: Well, if it was the pettiness of the treatment of Jeffords, probably whoever was responsible for that, Paula. But I think this is something different. I think Jeffords saw a window of opportunity here. Something sooner or later is going to have to Strom, my guess is, and he saw that, in which case he'd have been one of 49 senators. And he saw his window of opportunity, and he took it. He got himself a page in history.

ZAHN: So you see him as nothing more than an opportunist?

BUCHANAN: No, I think Jim Jeffords, just as I am -- I left the Republican Party, as well, because I don't think it represents me in terms of populist conservatism. Jim Jeffords is a liberal Republican. He is on the left wing. He's much more comfortable with Democrats. What he said is very true. I think he's been -- he would vote against them on judges. He'd vote against them on social issues. He just decided now is the time to go, rather than have a -- basically, a nasty personal relationship for the next several years.

ZAHN: How much jeopardy does this put support from the Christian right and from conservatives of all colors and creeds, when it comes to the way they approach President Bush and their support?

BUCHANAN: Well, I think the real thing this does, Paula, is the ball is in George W. Bush's court. Mr. Daschle will now dominate the Senate. He's a ferocious partisan. He will line up his 50 votes. He will try to gut what the president does, and basically take part of the president's

We're going to find out if George W. Bush is the political heir of Ronald Reagan or if he's his father's son. By that I mean this. George Bush, Sr., and Gerald Ford are consensus politicians. They believe in cutting deals, and they believe in finding a consensus. Reagan and Nixon were confrontationists.

I think the president's going to have decide whether he's going to do battle with the liberal Democratic Senate or whether he's going to compromise and cut deals with them. And that is going to determine the character of his presidency. That's Jim Jeffords's achievement.

ZAHN: Well, let me ask you this then. How does this reflect on President Bush's leadership, if this happened under his watch? A lot of people are saying he was tone deaf.

BUCHANAN: You know, I disagree. Look, Jim Jeffords is a liberal Republican and George Bush is a moderate conservative. And I think Jeffords did his own thing. You cannot blame the president of the United States for the fact that Jim Jeffords disagrees with him. If there was pettiness, those people ought to be held accountable.

ZAHN: But there are people, Pat, who believe that if the president had offered Jim Jeffords something compatible with what the Democratic Party was offering, he might have hung in there. You don't buy that?

BUCHANAN: What I buy is this. You try to get along with people that disagree with you in your party. You don't sell out or give away -- you don't do like Esau and give away your birthright for a mess of pottage or the good will of Jim Jeffords. You don't treat people like dirt, but you tell them, "Jim, this is where I'm going, but you're welcome in the party. We're moving in a more conservative direction." And the president is right to stand by what he believes and not to sell it out.

ZAHN: All right. Let's move on to some very specific things that this is going to have a great deal of impact on. A lot of folks are saying the president's ability to put forward his judicial nominations or nominees -- it will be greatly compromised.

BUCHANAN: There's no doubt, Paula. You're right on that. The federal judges, the appellate court judges -- watch Mr. Daschle and Mr. Leahy -- will hang them out to dry, will reject the conservatives and go along with the moderates. The key question, of course, is the U.S. Supreme Court. And that's the key question for Bush. Will he put up someone like Scalia or Clarence Thomas, as he said he would, or will he say, "I can't get him through. Let's go with some like Souter or let's go with a moderate or let's find an Hispanic." That's going to be the test of Mr. Bush.

Key question here, another loser, Mr. John McCain. He is knocked off his committee. The chairman of his committee is now Fritz Hollings, a good

ZAHN: Let's move on to the issue of abortion. Now that the Democrats are back in control, how do you think that issue is going to play out?

BUCHANAN: Well, the key to the abortion issue right now, or the right to life issue, as I call it, is the U.S. Supreme Court. You've got to have the Supreme Court. I believe Mr. Bush must appoint a pro-life Justice to the Supreme Court or one who will vote like Scalia. If he doesn't, I think the social conservatives will be demoralized, and I think he'll be risking his presidency.

ZAHN: Pat, before I let you go, you seem more generous towards President Bush than when I've spoken with you in the past. Do you think he doesn't bear any responsibility for how this played out?

BUCHANAN: If the president's people in the White House were petty and they stiffed Jeffords and they said, "You know, you're not getting your school teacher up here," and they did these petty little things, they're responsible. But I don't know that they've done that. But the president is not responsible if he stood up and went for what he believed in, and Jeffords simply said, "I can't go with it." That's Mr. Bush staying true to what he believes.

ZAHN: All right, Pat Buchanan, good to see you again. We haven't had you on in a while.

BUCHANAN: Well, I'm a defector too, Paula.

ZAHN: I know that! Where have you defected to? That's what we want to know! You'll have to come back...

BUCHANAN: My basement.

ZAHN: ... and explain that to us the next time you drop by THE EDGE.

BUCHANAN: Good seeing you.

BUCHANAN: Thank you.

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