Jimmy Carter photo

Interview with Tom Brokaw on NBC's "Today Show"

August 30, 1976

Tom Brokaw. Traditionally in this country the Presidential campaigns begin next week, after Labor Day, but as we all know there has been some preliminary sparring between President Ford, the Republican nominee, and Jimmy Carter, the Democratic nominee. Mr. Carter will be making a series of campaign appearances this week. And this morning he is in Plains, Georgia, in the NBC studios there, which are not exactly weatherproof; they re in a field outside of Plains.

Mr. Carter, welcome, first of all, we're delighted to have you.

Governor Carter. Good morning, Tom, I'm glad to be with you.

Brokaw. Thank you. Well, the summer games are over now, the conventions are finished, there'll be a little time for softball there in Plains, and already we're beginning to see the campaign take shape. Right after the GOP convention your lead in the polls dropped 13 points; in your first appearance in the farm belt after the convention you were forced to revise a major policy statement; this all suggests, it seems to me, some shifting moods of the country. Do you expect this to be a close election?

Governor Carter. Yes; I've always thought it would be close. I think immediately after the Democratic Convention when we showed a tremendous unity there, I think my rating in the polls went up to about 62 percent and then, immediately after the Republican Convention, I think President Ford's went up to 39 percent. The jump was expected, but we have always thought it would be a very tough, very hard fought campaign, and we're prepared to start, as you said, next week, campaigning.

Q. One of the trademarks of your campaigning during the primaries, of course, was your absolute confidence that you would win the nomination. Do you have that same confidence now about the election?

Governor Carter. Yes; I think we'll win. We have divided up the nation among myself and Senator Mondale and our families, and I think we'll cover it essentially as well as we can. We have a good organization; I think we have the issues on our side, and we have a unified Democratic Party, and I believe that we have a good chance to win.

Q. Is there anytime that you wake up during the night and wonder about something that may happen? What worries you most of all?

Governor Carter. Well, I don't ordinarily wake up in the middle of the night and worry, I sleep well and never had any problem with that confidence during the primary season, even when nobody thought I had a chance. We make our plans very carefully, very methodically and I hope very thoroughly, and I think I've been through enough campaigning during the last 2 years to be very specific about where I stand and to make sure that we have a proper relationship with voters themselves. I never depended on powerful, bigshot political figures to put me in office. I've always stayed in factory shift lines and state fairs and up and down the streets, and in stores and shopping centers, and I think that's the best approach this fall, so with that kind of background, closeness to the people, issues on the right side, good campaign techniques and a good strong family, good running mate, good organization, I don't wake up in the middle of the night and worry.

Q. And a fairly expensive advertising campaign as well.

Governor Carter. That's right, we'll both be very careful about spending money and, of course, I have somewhat of a disadvantage in running against the President, because I think in the primary season a lot of the times the Cabinet members and others would make a long trip, charge a tiny portion of that trip to the campaign, charge a lot of it to the taxpayers, and make speeches and so forth on Mr. Ford's behalf. But I think in the general election it'll be watched much more closely, and the roughly $21, $22 million each one of us has to spend will have to be very carefully budgeted. This is probably less than one-third what President Nixon spent in 1972, so there won't be any money to waste, and roughly half of what we have in all—almost half—will go for advertising.

Q. Mr. Carter, the polls show that you're most secure in the South, that once you get out of the South it's pretty much a dead heat as a horserace between you and President Ford; the President's strategists have made it clear that they expect to run strongest in that tier of states between New Jersey and the farm belt, and then they pick out some western states as well, including California of course. Do you expect that to be the most intense battleground, say from New Jersey to Indiana, Ohio and then into the farm belt? That most of the campaigning will come down that belt of states?

Governor Carter. No, not ours. We have set up a distribution of our total time in all 50 states and we'll proceed with that plan until we can tell by the public opinion polls it needs to be shifted. We still have some flexibility during the month of October, but during September we'll be campaigning throughout the country. We have myself, and Senator Mondale, our two wives are excellent campaigners, and then I have six, my sons plus their wives, six in all, and I think with that sort of spread we can size up the whole country, but I don't think we'll narrow our campaign effort down to just a few states until much later and even then if it's necessary, and I don't think it'll be necessary.

Q. Mt. Carter, as you know, President Ford wants a certain number of 90 minute debates, which is one of the subjects now being debated, on specific subjects. Your people have some other ideas, but why isn't President Ford's proposal a good one? After all, much of the criticism of Presidential debates is that they are more cosmetic than substantive, so why not take 90 minutes at a time on just a single subject, say four times during the campaign?

Governor Carter. Well, we've not been too argumentative about that, Tom. We've tried to conduct our discussions in private and not to the news media. The League of Women Voters' proposal, which was made originally and I think which will ultimately be the basis of the debates was acceptable to us and still is. I think, if we do have a couple of debates on specific subjects, the other ones ought to be completely unstructured so that we don't have such a tight definition of what we can talk about at that time, but I think there has been some rough agreement that we should have three debates, they should be about 75 minutes in length and, if we have certain subjects to be defined, they'll be looked at in proper sequence. I think that it's important that we have the debates, too, in kind of neutral territory; I personally don't favor the first debate, for instance, being in the aura of Washington where the Presidency itself, the office can be used for Ford's advantage. We're both running for President the first time, and it puts us on equal basis, but those kinds of details, I think, are best talked about among our representatives without doing it through the news media, even as good a medium as the Today Show.

Q. You object to having former Senator McCarthy and former Governor Maddox participate in these debates? As you know, they could possibly throw a monkey wrench into it.

Governor Carter. Well, I don't have any objections about it. I think that that would ruin the debate format. It would be more like a forum. As you may know, during the primary season the Democrats had, I'd say, 20 to 30 of those forum type debates on the public news shows either sponsored by Democratic groups around New Hampshire and Iowa and Florida and so forth, and it changes the whole concept from a debate to just a cross-examination by the news media, and if that should be done, I think it would require a great deal of adjustment in the present concept but I'll let the lawyers, the Federal Elections Commission and others work that out I don't want to try to. decide that myself.

Q. Mr. Carter, a strong part of your campaign appeal during the primary was your promise to reorganize the federal bureaucracy and then present a detailed plan for tax reform, I think it was in Wisconsin in the spring of this year that you said that you would have details on tax reform available after the convention. As you well know, in conference committee now there is considerable discussion going on for tax reform during the next year. When are you going to let us know what your specific proposals are on tax reform?

Governor Carter. Well, there's no way to have details on tax reform without a great deal of careful, meticulous study, which would take the office of the Presidency, and I'd say at least 5 or 6 months. If I'm elected the Executive Branch of government will be completely reorganized. We'll have comprehensive welfare reform proposals ready on Inauguration Day, the tax reform package will have to be done after I'm in office, but we'll be ready for the plans for what will be done by the time the inauguration date comes, and those are commitments that I've made that I'll stand behind. We have a real need in this country for some leadership; we have a bureaucracy that's horribly confused; we're wasting a lot of money, and we've projected that by the end of the next administration the budget will be balanced with careful management, just assuming a modest growth rate of about 4 percent per year, and if we can get the unemployment rate among adults down 3 percent or less which would be about a 4, 4J4 percent overall unemployment rate, and inflation down around 4 percent, tax reform, welfare reform, government reorganization; all those things will come together. But they have to be carefully meshed, and it's going to take some time to do them, but they'll be done.

Q. Those are all very appealing objectives, of course—I don't think anyone would disagree with them—but on the other hand this country has just been through two Presidencies in which the candidates asked the people to take them on their word, to trust them that they would end the war in Vietnam, trust them that there was no corruption before Watergate, Don't you think that the American people deserve in this election more specific proposals from you—for instance, in how you're going to bring unemployment down to 3 percent and balance the budget and do all of these wonderful things in 4 years? A specific program?

Governor Carter. Well, we have the specific programs. I just can't describe to you exactly what the final tax code will be or what the final organizational structure of the government will be, but as far as the overall thrust of what we'll do to bring the unemployment, what we'll do to bring inflation down, how we'll have a balanced budget, these will be spelled out week by week. I'm going to make a speech, for instance, to the labor convention this Tuesday— tomorrow—and some of these points will be made on economics.

Q. Mr. Carter, certain patterns have already developed during this campaign. The President has accused you of being an unknown and inexperienced; you've accused him of not providing any leadership to the country, you say that the country is drifting. Do you believe that the President has held this Congress hostage of sorts through his veto power?

Governor Carter. Well, you know, veto is a very useful mechanism. It was spelled out in the Constitution, and I vetoed many bills when I was governor, but die point is that the constant bickering and squabbling and argument and trying to blame one another between White House and the Congress hurts the whole country. I don't know of any substantive proposal that President Ford has put forward at all since he's been in office relating to the cutting down of unemployment, the control of inflation, the reorganization of bureaucracy, on energy or transportation or agriculture; he has stayed there dormant in the White House, fearful of taking any sort of action. The Congress, you know, 535 different people quite often in a fumbling way, quite often in a mistaken way, have tried to come forward with their tentative proposals without any influence in the White House. And President Ford, I think, so far has vetoed four times as many bills per year as President Nixon and, of course, he's had an awful lot of his vetoes overridden. But the point is not who can veto and who can have a veto sustained, but it's how well the President and Congress can work together, to iron out differences ahead of time and in the embryonic stages of developing a program to actually do something about unemployment, and inflation, and welfare mess, and unfair taxes. This is the substance or the essence of leadership. And the leadership just hasn't been there.

Q. Do you think that this country is prepared to accept one-party rule which it would have, in effect, if you were to have an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress at this time and if you were to be the Democratic President of the United States? Is that healthy, if there was give and take there between Congress and the administration?

Governor Carter. Well, there's no give or take now, and I think that there have been Republican Presidents who've done well with the Congress. I think even President Nixon had a substantial number of his proposals accepted, when he made proposals, and the same way with President Eisenhower. As you probably know, the last 24 years we've had Republican Presidents 16 years, only 8 years have we had Democratic Presidents in the White House, Johnson and Kennedy, but yes, I think the country's ready for it. Anybody that would accuse the Democrats of being homogeneous in nature, always agree with one another, just doesn't know the Democratic Party. This is a time, I think, for aggressive and hotly debated, open interrelationships between the President and Congress with mutual respect back and forth, mutual consultation and letting the people become involved in deciding the ultimate goals of the country. But government by stalemate, government by timidity, a total absence of leadership from the White House means that the country has no leadership. It's not possible for Congress to lead this country, whether they're Democrats or Republicans.

Q. This morning we heard on the news that, say, you and the President have been exchanging charges of flip-flopping on positions. Do you expect that the American people will, in the course of the next several months, see a great many changes between your positions on certain policies and the President's positions on certain policies as you both try to capitalize on the mood of the land?

Governor Carter. Well, they won't see differences in my policies compared to what I have put forth the last few years. I think by the end of the Ohio, California, New Jersey primaries I had made over 2,000 speeches, and they've all been very carefully monitored by the news media, they've been recorded by radio, television, and by the written press, and there's no way that I could change my position without having a devastating political consequence, which I don't intend to do. But I think now President Ford's been in the White House about 2 years and when we've passed bill after bill and make proposal after proposal to do something about the national park system and have President Ford object and block every possible improvement and then here in the midst of the campaign ask about $l 1/2 billion improvement of the park system that's something of a flip-flop. But I think it's a good step forward for him, and if he'll finally exert the leadership even because of the pressures of the campaign I believe it'll be good for the country. So, we'll have a chance to debate, and we'll have a chance to point out one another's positions now and in the past. This is part of the political process. I'm looking forward to it and it's not going to be a pennant campaign on my part, I'm sure it's not on President Ford's part, but we'll let the American people judge and, as I said earlier, I feel confident about the outcome.

Brokaw. Mr. Carter, thank you very much for speaking to us from a field in the outskirts of greater downtown Plains, Georgia. We had invited President Ford to be on this week as well on the Today program; he was unable to do so. We hope that he will be able to in the future.

Jimmy Carter, Interview with Tom Brokaw on NBC's "Today Show" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347653