Exclusive Interview With Bush 41

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Sept. 2, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: Earlier today, as you've seen, I sat down with the first President Bush to get his thoughts on this convention, the Swift Boat Vets and his son's chances. Here's that interview.


Hume: Mr. President, thank you very much for joining us.

G. H.W. BUSH: Thank you, Brit.

HUME: What did you think of Zell Miller's (search) speech last night?

G. H.W. BUSH: On a scale of one to 10, at least 10. I mean he was strong. He was powerful. I noticed that today's summaries were overkill.

Look, he said what he felt. He's a credible speaker on all of this, I mean being a Democrat. And I thought it was an outstanding speech. Outstanding. And I had the chance to tell him so.

HUME: We are likely to hear that this speech might do for this convention what Pat Buchanan's speech did in '92 that was thought too harsh, over the top and so on. What's your thought about that?

G. H.W. BUSH: I don't think there's any parallel there. Pat was appealing to kind of a narrow band, I think, social issue people. And Zell Miller was talking to the entire country, talking about problems that affect the whole country. And it's not a single-issue thing. It was the security of our country and leadership. So I don't see the parallel there.

HUME: You've said all along that you thought George W. Bush would be re-elected. How do you see the race now?

G. H.W. BUSH: George W. Bush will be re-elected substantially.

HUME: Really?

G. H.W. BUSH: Yes.

HUME: Now, all the political experts say that the country is so divided, the undecided voters are so few that a large plural -- that a large majority or even large plurality is hard to come by. What's your thought about that?

G. H.W. BUSH: Well, first I think they know more about the demographics than I do. So if I had to be a viewer of yours out there, I might listen to more of them than me. But my gut feeling is that this country wants strong leadership, and I think there is credible doubt about John Kerry's ability to take a position on unpopular, though it might be, stay with it and lead.

I honestly believe that that is what's going to be the determining factor. And that's why I think red state, blue state, polls, whatever it is, I think you'll see a lot of this swing toward the president.

HUME: These swift boat veterans who have been so sharply critical of Senator Kerry are now being criticized in the Kerry camp as simply people who are for Bush, politically motivated, not truthful.

And it is said on all sides now that they should basically be silenced. Their ads should go
away and so on. What is your view if those guys?

G. H.W. BUSH: My view is the advertisement showing Senator Curry -- OK, Senator Kerry as a young veteran coming back and using his own words to describe atrocities committed by his fellow soldiers, or sailors, or Marines, or whatever it is, is devastating. I think it's not enough to say well, I made a youthful indiscretion. And I think Senator Kerry ought to apologize.

And these are not whackos out there criticizing him. I know they get the bio on one that said you worked for Nixon, or you did this. There's 100 and some of these people. And are we to sit here and say they are all liars? I don't think so.

Now, did John Kerry serve with honor out there? I'm sure he did. I don't see anything contradictory there.

HUME: You, of course, were a veteran of World War II, shot down on over the Pacific, decorated. What do you think about the use of those credentials in a presidential campaign?

G. H.W. BUSH: Well, I think it's how you do it. If you make it the hallmark of your candidacy, then I guess you have to expect analysis and criticism. That's the way tough Republican vs. Democrat national politics it is.

I remember, however, maybe a little kind of -- what do you call it when you review -- revisionistic thinking that talking about my war record, which was one of combat missions and all. And people would say, is this a cheap shot against Clinton? What are you doing? Trying to subliminally get to Clinton because he ran away? He didn't serve. Went to London. He
wrote the draft board and said military are immoral with a broad-brush painting.

And -- and -- but anyway, I mentioned to Bush, why this is terrible. He's talking about that. It's nothing but trying to get back at President Clinton -- then or candidate Clinton. So I guess -- I guess, Brit, things change and some of the ones that are defending Kerry the most were doing
the same thing for Clinton.

The head of the VFW, if I am not mistaken, when I was president in 1992, was a guy named Rivers. They endorsed President Clinton -- Governor Clinton over me for president, the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I'd fought in a foreign war and President Clinton, as we all know, did not fight or never wore the uniform of the United States. They endorsed Clinton. Now I see the same Rivers trotted onto some of the TV shows defending John Kerry. I'm confused. I'm confused by it.

HUME: Tell me what you think the president has to do tonight? What does his speech need to be? And what does it need to do?

G. H.W. BUSH: I think he has to make it and he will. I mean let me start by saying how many -- you are a veteran at this, but how many times have you heard this is the speech that will make or break him?

HUME: Most important speech of his life.

G. H.W. BUSH: Most important speech of his life. He's got to get this State of the Union right or the American people won't support. Over and over, throw up time when you hear that.


G. H.W. BUSH: So, it's an important speech. And he'll do well. And I hope that people will see clearly a strong leader, determined to stay with the -- stay the course and do what the United States set out to do.

And I think he's helped by great speeches by Giuliani, by Schwarzenegger, by John McCain and certainly by Zell Miller and Dick Cheney. And so I think that the groundwork has been laid.

I just want the people to see the president, not just as a strong, powerful leader, the head of the free country, greatest country in the world. See him as a warm human being, which I know he is because he's distorted.

Some of the criticism distorts him and tries to make him arrogant or not humble, or overusing his faith too much. And these are personal attacks. And I don't like them because I know him better than all his critics.

And so if they see -- the country sees him as Barbara and I have seen him and know him, and see him now proudly, he'll do just fine in the most important speech of his life.


HUME: Mr. President, thank you very much.

G. H.W. BUSH: Thanks, Brit.

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