Jack Kemp's Message to Conservatives: Lay Off McCain

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," February 15, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Republican front runner John McCain may have a lock on the nomination, but there remains a vocal contingent of the party, conservative radio talk show hosts, who question whether the Arizona senator's truly aligned with their conservative values. Former vice presidential nominee and McCain supporter, Jack Kemp, penned an open letter to these critics. And he wrote. quote, "you gave them your best shots and he took it like a man. Now as he head toward the nomination, I urge you to continue to be critical but to do so in measured ways that will not damage his ability to win in November." Joining us now to explain further, Jack Kemp, Secretary Kemp, welcome back to "Hannity & Colmes."

JACK KEMP, FORMER REPUBLICAN VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Alan, thank you. Be careful, I've got my daughter Judith and my granddaughter Jennifer in the studio. So I want you guys to be careful with me.


COLMES: We're always careful when you're on Secretary Kemp. Are the conservatives who are attacking John McCain or differing with him, depending upon which person you're listing to, what the tone is, hurting the Republican party?

KEMP: No. I, you know, eventually, you want them to be on board a McCain campaign, I think the Bible says very clearly who "he who wrestles with us strengthens us." And I think John has been strengthened by going through this. I hope that as you pointed out, in quoting my letter, that the criticisms are measured here as he comes closer to the nomination so that when he does run against Barack or Hillary, he's not weakened to the point where we end up electing somebody who would wave a white flag to Al Qaeda or end up putting Supreme Court justices on the Supreme Court who are to the left of where the American people are.

COLMES: You said that in your letter, you used the term waving the white flag to Al Qaeda." is that what you're accusing Democrats of doing, waving a white flag and surrendering to Al Qaeda? Is that the kind of rhetoric you want to see in this campaign?

KEMP: It's a metaphor. Obviously, I didn't mean it to be empirical, but it's a metaphor for suggesting that the day they get into the office, they're going to begin the withdrawal. That would be a victory for the enemy. And I use the metaphor of a white flag with you, Alan, I would say that would be a recipe for disaster. Because you would turn over the whole Middle East to those who would mean us harm, Israel harm and men and women who love freedom harm.

COLMES: Your suggesting getting out of Iraq would be giving up the war on terror as if we only leave Iraq and would not be engaged elsewhere and that's not a fair assessment of what the foreign policy positions are of Democratic candidates.

KEMP: It may not be from your standpoint Alan, but from my standpoint right now, the epicenter of this war in Iraq, with Iran looking on, Syria looking on and Al Qaeda on the borders and in Iraq. So whether we like it or not, I was a very strong critic of going and rushing to war. In fact, I wrote several columns about being very careful. We had him pinned down. But we're there and I think John McCain is correct in suggesting that to walk away and to begin a timetable is to end up giving support and sustenance to those who want harm for the United States and our allies.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: If we're going to lecture anybody about the rhetoric, Jack, always good to see you, welcome back to the program.

KEMP: Thank you Sean, good to be with you.

HANNITY: It could be John Kerry who accused our troops of terrorizing women and children in the dark of night. It could be Harry Reid who said the surge has failed, the war is lost, Nancy Pelosi who said it's lost, Jack Murtha who accused our troops of murder without even having the benefit of defending themselves. But first of all, I want to commend you, there's been a lot of attacks against myself and my fellow talk show hosts and conservatives. I've been on the air 20 years. I have my own straight talk express and I like Senator McCain personally. But on each and every one of these issues over the years, he's been on my programs and we disagree. This shouldn't be a surprise to him on McCain-Feingold or Kennedy and immigration. I didn't like the class warfare rhetoric when he opposed the Bush tax cuts. What's wrong with us saying, we want you to reach across the aisle to us the way you would with Feingold or Kennedy? That seems reasonable.

KEMP: Sean, I didn't get into the McCain camp and the campaign until South Carolina. So, I got in after he lost Michigan and I'm not suggesting I had anything to do with the victory, but I had an opportunity to talk at serious length with John and his team and we made the point that the vote against the capital gains cut in taxes was a mistake. He's for making it permanent. He's on the right side of bringing down — we have the highest corporate income tax rate in the world, save only Japan and they're in a recession. He wants to bring that down. In my view that would also strengthen the U.S. dollar because it would strengthen the demand for the dollar here and around the world. So John is now in my opinion saying things that really have to be said. He's far more on the side of the supply sider, Larry Kudlow, Steve Forbes came on board. I think you're seeing now, after that CPAC speech, Sean, a far different attitude from John McCain. I think it's healthy, more mature, if you can put it that way, and he mentioned mistakes, and one of the mistakes was McCain-Feingold.

HANNITY: Did he say that to you?



KEMP: I told him I thought it was a mistake, though.

HANNITY: I agree. I didn't like the class warfare rhetoric on the tax cuts. He voted against the death tax. I just the want the senator.

KEMP: He wants to cut the rate of taxation to 15 on the estate tax. So that's a legitimate position.

HANNITY: We'll pick it up, more with Jack Kemp coming up right after the break.


HANNITY: And we continue with former vice-presidential nominee Jack Kemp, who is back with us.

All right. So, Senator McCain, when he spoke at CPAC, Jack, he said the following: "I have the responsibility, if I'm the Republican nominee for president, to unite the party and prepare for this great contest in November. And I'm acutely aware that I cannot succeed in that endeavor, nor can our party prevail" over the challenge that he'll face from either Senator Clinton or Obama, "without the support of dedicated conservatives whose convictions, creativity and energy have been indispensable to the success of our party."

All right. So here's where we are. I think you have made the strongest, best, most appealing case of anybody in your letter to us.

KEMP: Thank you.

HANNITY: I've read it a couple of times, and I appreciate the tone of it. We've been friends a lot of years.

All right. From here, what I'd like to know is how can we get pledges on issues of importance to us, like immigration, like judges. I want to know if this report by John Fund and Bob Novak is true about Alito and conservatism on his sleeve. No more class warfare rhetoric.

KEMP: Let me take one at a time here. First of all, immigration. I was in favor of the Bush comprehensive proposal which John McCain and Ted Kennedy and Jon Kyl of Arizona tried to work out. And it didn't pass because, as John McCain pointed out, the American people don't trust the government to go into a comprehensive solution to immigration until they close the borders.

So he — he modified his position and said, I will now close the border to illegal immigration, and it'll have to be certified...

HANNITY: Let's not get lost on this issue. Because we'll spend our time...

KEMP: That's a strong pledge.

HANNITY: I understand, but again, going down the list, class warfare rhetoric. He voted — he had the opportunity to abolish the death tax, went against the Bush tax cuts. McCain-Feingold which limited free speech. Judges...

KEMP: Wait a minute. Sean, do you think Steve Forbes, Jack Trent, and Jon Kyl and Trent Lott would come on board the McCain camp if he weren't right on going forward on lowering the corporate rate, expensing all investment...

HANNITY: He voted against tax cuts, Jack.

KEMP: But if he did that in the past he made a mistake, and going forward he's on the right side of making it permanent. He voted for the Reagan tax cut. He was a supporter of the Kemp-Roth bill. That was very critical, and radical...

HANNITY: I understand. Look, all I'm saying is...

KEMP: Give him a break! You've got to give him as much a break...

HANNITY: I want a break, too. Because these issues are important to me. I'll tell you what even made me more mad than voting against it. When Senator McCain comes on the program, and I'm talking to his camp, I will respectfully ask, why did you use the same class warfare rhetoric when he said, "These tax cuts will benefit the wealthiest Americans"?

KEMP: OK, you know what happened? I went down to South Carolina, and we had about an hour together in a hotel room, he and his very tight staff and [his wife] Cindy was there. I said, you know the way to soak the rich is to cut the rates. We get revenue from the rich when there's no incentive to go offshore.

And you know what he said? Jack, I agree with you.

So, I've to take him on what he's going to do going forward, not punish him for something he did in the past.

COLMES: Secretary Kemp, he may have a problem with the general election. I presume you guys want to win a general election. And his appeal to independents and even some conservative Democrats is going to be hurt by the very thing he did this week, for example, when he voted against a bill that says you use the Army field manual as a standard for interrogation techniques, even with the CIA, and he went against what he had previously said when he said the Army field manual should be the standard.

And yet he voted differently in the Senate this week, seemingly as a sop to the conservatives, to show that he's got these good conservative credentials. But that's going to hurt him in a general election. He went against everything he said about interrogation this week, in the Senate.

KEMP: Do you really — do you really think, Alan, that John is going to have a problem with people who are worried about his heroism, his courage, his being a prisoner...

COLMES: No, that's not the issue I'm talking about.

KEMP: ...and his treatment of Guantanamo prisoners

COLMES: No, I'm not talking about him being a prisoner. Everybody respects what he did.

KEMP: I'm saying the American people are not going to debate the Army field manual for interrogation purposes. They're going to look at a bigger picture, Alan. And I think that's where he can reach out to independents, Reagan Democrats and men and women of color.

COLMES: They're going to look at whether he's consistent about the things he said and now whether or not, because he wants to gain the respect, trust, and love of the right wing of the party. Is he going to change the way he votes in the Senate and veer off the Straight Talk Express?

KEMP: Well, I just disagree with you on that. He's got enough moral power and influence with both conservatives and the middle of the spectrum to make that balance, get an equilibrium, and to reach across the aisle and even attract Democrats who might have voted for Ronnie Reagan back in the '80s.

COLMES: You, in your letter, go on about, in addition to accusing Democrats of waving the white flag and socializing our health care system. People seem to want health care for those who are uninsured. And promoting, you say, income redistribution and class warfare...

KEMP: Actually...

COLMES: In my view, and perhaps many on my side, it is this administration with its tax breaks for the rich that have promoted class warfare between the rich and the poor. That's where the class warfare has come in, not from our side.

KEMP: Alan — Alan, with all due respect, the top tax rate when Ronald Reagan took office was 70. We cut it down to 28. Revenues went up, not down. So the rich are paying more tax revenues into the federal government than ever before in the history of this country. It's soaking the rich.

COLMES: But the Democrats are saying we want to not make them permanent and keep the tax breaks for the middle class.

KEMP: Alan, I spent four years, I went to Cabini Green in Chicago, Richard Allen Public Housing in North Philly, Martin Luther King in Harlem. I never met a poor person in America that was worried about the rich.

They want to get rich. They want to get out of public housing, get a job, get their children a good education and climb the ladder that we call the American dream. They don't want to soak the rich, and they don't want income redistribution.

HANNITY: Former vice-presidential nominee Jack Kemp. Kemp-Roth, it worked, it doubled revenue, 70, 28 percent. We're out of time. But Jack, we appreciate you being with us, as always.

KEMP: Thanks, guys. You, too, Alan.

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