Transcription – Robert Shrum Interview

Q:              What were [00:44:00] the odds, in your view, at 10 months out from the election, that Bush could be beat?

SHRUM:     Oh, 50/50.

Q:              And —

SHRUM:     Even though — By — He could be beaten not by anybody, could be beaten by Kerry.

Q:              Exactly.

SHRUM:     I don’t think Dean couldn’t have beaten him.  I don’t think Edwards would have beaten him.  And I don’t think Gephardt would have beaten him.  I — Certainly, I don’t know what — I mean, Lieberman agreed with him on everything.  I don’t know what — that would have been a weird campaign, except the social issues.  So, no, I thought about — I thought Kerry was potentially an unusually strong candidate.  And as I said earlier, one of these things is if you lose, even if you lose by an inch, you tend to get caricatured — which happened to Al Gore.  But I just thought Kerry would be a very effective candidate.

Q:              Let’s move to the choice of a — of John Edwards as his running mate.  How did [00:45:00] that come about?

SHRUM:     Well, it came about for several reasons.  One was John McCain wouldn’t do it.

Q:              Did you think that would have been a good idea?

SHRUM:     Yes.  We would have won the election.  I mean, I think it might have been a tumultuous four years in the White House, but we would have won the election, which, for me, is the first criterion in picking a vice president.  I know the conventional wisdom is they don’t matter; they actually do matter, and not just in the case of Lyndon Johnson.  I think there are other occasions when they mattered a fair amount.  I think Biden mattered a lot to Obama in ’08 because of his capacity to speak to blue-collar folks in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, and because of his strong ties with the Jewish community, which made him a huge asset in Florida.  So, it became a saying, though, and really it was going to come down to Edwards or Gephardt.  And I think we made the wrong choice.  [00:46:00]  And that’s just my view.

Q:              Why?

SHRUM:     I think Gephardt would have helped us a lot in a place like Ohio.  I mean, he — just as Biden could, he could speak to those voters in a way that really amplified what Kerry was saying.  And you know, I just think — and, by the way, I believe he would have done better in the debate against Cheney.  One of the most stunning things for me in the campaign was that John Edwards did not do very well in the debate with Cheney.

Q:              Now —

SHRUM:     Which stunned me.  I mean, here’s a guy who spent his life as a trial lawyer, and my assumption had always been, I mean, when Gore considered him for vice president in 2000, one of the reasons he was considered was because everybody said, “This guy’ll be great in the debate.”

Q:              Well, you say in your book that Kerry actually had —

SHRUM:     He had misgivings.  [00:47:00]

Q:              And had a better interview or better session with Gephardt than with Edwards, had misgivings about Edwards.  Your —

SHRUM:     And then had another meeting where somehow or other, those misgivings got allayed.  Look, one of the problems is sometimes, you believe your polling when you shouldn’t.  So, our polling showed that people in the Democratic Party, Democrats in general, preferred Edwards over Gephardt as the nominee, and that was true even in Missouri.  Should have ignored that poll.  I mean, what they liked was that Edwards seemed new and young and fresh, but that wasn’t, you know, that wasn’t where the game was.

Q:              Other than the debate with Cheney, did Kerry — did Edwards disappoint you in other ways?

SHRUM:     He was quite reluctant to attack Bush.  I think he was — which is his job, or was his job — and I think that was because he was planning on [00:48:00] running again in 2008, even though he had told Kerry he would not run again if Kerry lost narrowly and wanted to run.  But I think John was planning to run for president in 2008.  If he got elected vice president, great, he could run in 2012.  If he didn’t get elected vice president, he was already off to the races.  So, he was quite reluctant.  Now, the campaign would send something out, you know, an attack line, and he just wouldn’t do it.

Q:              The convention, which had a lot of elements to it, but the memorable moment was, “I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty,” which sort of bespoke the theme of his experience in Vietnam as a relevant character credential or national commander-in-chief credential?

SHRUM:     National security credential.  But look, in a way, I’m responsible for that line, for better or worse.  [00:49:00]  It was actually Max Cleland — we were coming out of the practice room under the stage and Max was coming in, and he said, “Bob, let me tell you how I’m going to introduce him.  I’m going to say, ‘John Kerry, report for duty,’” because he was introducing him.  And I said, “You know, Max, I think we should take that line, if you don’t mind.”  And he didn’t mind, and we did.  And afterwards, you know, people — some people, in fact, some people who told me at the time, speech was a home run, convention was a home run, but of course, whatever momentum we got out of it went away because the orange alert was issued on Saturday.  Every time we did something, the threat level was elevated — Pick Edwards, threat level elevated.  Hold your convention — threat level elevated.  And I know they say it was all coincidental, but there were a lot of coincidences.  And there was — there were folks who thought the convention had gone very well, [00:50:00] who, a month later, were saying, “Well, gee, it was a mistake to talk about national security so much,” because that opened up the Swift Boat possibility.  Well, anybody who believes the Swift Boats weren’t going to happen in any event is crazy.  I mean, they happened in the ’96 Senate race, except at that time, Elmo Zumwalt, the former chief of naval operations, was alive, was so incensed by the attacks that he came to Boston, stood on the State House steps, and denounced them, and that was it.  But I think that — I think Kerry had to give people the sense that he would defend the country, that he would be tough on terrorism, and that he had the credentials to do that.  And the real, in my view, the real motivating force, aside from a lot of very wealthy Republican money that went into promoting the Swift Boat ads, but for some of the people who were in them — none of whom actually were on John Kerry’s crew, by the way — [00:51:00] they’d say things like, “I served with John Kerry in Vietnam.”  Yeah, OK, they weren’t on the boat.  I — The motivating force for them, I think, was an incredible animus about the fact that Kerry had fought bravely in the war, had won the Silver Star, and then had come home and opposed the war.  You know, so…  But that was sort of the — you know, look, the convention, we went into the convention either a little ahead or about tied with Bush, so we weren’t going to get a big bounce.  This was going to be a 50/50 election, one way or another.  And Kerry might be — could have been the first nominee to defeat an incumbent president in a time of war.  But we weren’t going to get the Al Gore bounce.  I mean, Gore got a bounce in 45 minutes of [00:52:00] 13 to 15 points from his acceptance speech.  That couldn’t happen for us.  But we could, in the acceptance speech, which is kind of unmediated communication with the American people, in that speech you could pass the commander-in-chief threshold and lay out the domestic argument that you wanted to make.  And you know, that’s why “stronger at home, respected in the world,” was the argument I think we wanted to make.  We could have had a more populist argument, and probably should have.