Transcription – John McConnell Interview

Q: So you mentioned that Bush likes to start a speech basically with a list of names that he would riff on.


Q: How did Cheney like to start a speech?

MCCONNELL: Well, he would read what you had, and of course he would have reviewed all of his speeches and made his edits, as the president did. But once he had it, you know, he would read it. This was a speech draft he had approved. Sometimes he would make just quips that were in the moment, something had just happened, he had just seen something, he had just spoken to somebody. He would often start with a little joke, and almost always he would say, “I bring good wishes from the president of the United States, George W. Bush,” which is a great way for a vice president to start a speech, because the audience always applauds and there’s always a nice — it breaks the tension in the room, which always exists at the beginning of a speech [00:30:00] when an audience is newly silent and a person is standing there at something like that. That was a great way to loosen up crowds, and in a campaign setting it’s a way to get them cheering, because everything the vice president says is about re-electing the president.

Q: So when Cheney is named in 2000, do you then start writing primarily for him?

MCCONNELL: No, it was primarily for Bush in the 2000 campaign. That was our main focus. But Cheney did have a couple big speeches that I remember Matthew Scully and I worked on, but by and large, no. Kasey Pipes, who was a writer on the Bush campaign — he was there before I was — he did a lot of writing for Cheney in that campaign. I think the day-to-day stuff was really his responsibility. We were sort of [00:31:00] really really focused on Governor Bush.

Q: And speeches, was there any involvement by you and/or the other speechwriters in say the debates, preparing for the debates, writing maybe lines or sample answers?

MCCONNELL: No. I remember nothing about sample — we never did sample answers or anything like that, but I remember one time someone asked the three of us to think of some lines that might be good in a debate for him to use. So we amused ourselves and wrote a page or two of one-liners. The reaction that we got was that they weren’t helpful. (laughter) It’s funny, because, you know, weeks and weeks and weeks later we found this, [00:32:00] and it wasn’t any good. (laughter) We were too close to it to be able to tell at the time. No, we didn’t do. Mike Gerson went to some debate preps with the president. I’m not sure if he did it in 2000, but I know he did in ’04. I went to all of Quayle’s debate preps in ’92, and I went to some Cheney debate preps in 2004, but I didn’t have serious responsibilities there. It was just to be there.

Q: Before we get to election night and its aftermath in 2000, any other memories of that campaign or impressions of the candidates that come to mind?

MCCONNELL: Well, the 2000 campaign, it just was a thrilling experience. There were so many unexpected moments in that [00:33:00] campaign. I remember, of course, McCain buries Bush in New Hampshire, and then it’s all fought out in South Carolina, and then Bush has a decisive win in South Carolina. Then it’s Michigan, and Michigan is the firewall that’s going to protect Bush. I remember Mike Gerson and I went to lunch that day on Sixth Street in Austin, and we just started talking generally about the campaign against Gore. We got back to headquarters after lunch to the news that Bush was going to lose that night in Michigan, the numbers were already bad enough to indicate that we were in trouble. And then, of course, the fight with McCain was continuing in earnest when we thought it was really probably going to end that day. Then by the time it was all over, sometime in April, one [00:34:00] who’s been involved in other campaigns, one expects a lull in the action. But no, the engagement between Bush and Gore happened immediately, and it was a day-to-day battle until the eighth of November, every day. That surprised me, and campaigns have been like ever since. You know, they used to say the traditional start of the campaign is Labor Day weekend. I remember in 2003 when Howard Dean gave a speech in College Park, Maryland, or somewhere, and CNN said, “Well” — this was Labor Day, and CNN says, “Well, the traditional start of the presidential campaign, Labor Day” — and I thought, wait a minute. It’s supposed to be two months before the election, not fourteen months. But this is almost the way things are now.