SHIELDS & GIGOT: ELECTION WRAP
NOVEMBER 6, 1996
NewsHour veterans Mark Shields and Paul Gigot take a last look at Election '96. Their consensus: there was no consensus in this election; the electorate was at the least ambivalent, and at worst, divided; and there is no clear agenda for the next four years.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, some finally tonight words from Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, let's continue the discussion. Should we be looking forward to cooperation in moderation in the government of the United States as a result of what happened last night?
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PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Sweet reason, calm, the end of partisanship as we know it--no, I don't think so. I think there'll be some cooperation, but probably a lot less than the minuets that we're listening to now, if that's not mixing metaphors, but--(laughing)--
JIM LEHRER: That's three metaphors right there in a row.
MR. GIGOT: He is I think a lot less than meets the eye right now.
JIM LEHRER: Why?
MR. GIGOT: Because I think this--the electorate sent a kind of--seemed to send a message of ambivalence. It can't quite make up its mind, and I think that that indecision or ambivalence is reflected in the fact--reflects the fact that we're a deeply divided country right now. We have--we're divided on the role of government, in particular, and we're divided by gender, divided on that question by race, divided by region.
We had the continuing Republican realignment go ahead in the South, but they really got hurt in the Northeast and in parts of the Midwest, where government is still a little more popular. Women in particular, unmarried women seemed to feel that the government is, they like having the government as a last resort of economic security. Men are much more hostile to government. So I think those divisions are embedded in this election, and that ambivalence is going to play out in the next four years.
JIM LEHRER: A deeply divided nation, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Deeply divided, ambivalent, Jim. I mean, any time you send a mixed message, as we did, Democratic President overwhelmingly re-elected, and a Republican Congress kept--it was a continuity election--
JIM LEHRER: But what Andy was saying, it's been suggested by Henry Cisneros--less so by Sen. Nickles--is that if--it's a deeply divided--if it's deeply divided, it's deeply divided in the middle. That's not what Paul is saying.
MR. SHIELDS: No. I don't think it is deeply. I think the action in the--in the foreseeable future is not on either the left of the Democratic Party or the right of the Republican Party. The action, if there's to be one, is to be in the middle. Let's be very blunt about it. I mean, President Clinton, it was constantly asked, is he going to have the Great Society or New Deal revisited--he's constrained, Jim, by the pledge of a balanced budget as to what he can do. Spending is not--is not in the offing in any grandiose plan, uh, and the one thing that argues for accommodation is that accommodation served yesterday's winners superbly.
JIM LEHRER: Every one of them.
MR. SHIELDS: The Republican Congress was saved and salvaged by the perception that they were working and cooperating and being productive and non-extremist, going in the election from Memorial Day forward in 1996, the President was saying--the President had been stymied in the first year, working with the Republican Congress, getting through parts of his program, working with them on, on welfare reform, big issues, so the people who were penalized by that accommodation were the change people, the people who wanted change.
Bob Dole wanted to run on change, had to change the presidency, and Democratic challengers in the Congress who wanted to change the Congress, the continuity accommodation consensus folks prevailed and did pretty well at the polls.
JIM LEHRER: Take that, Gigot.
MR. GIGOT: Well, the President is also constrained by the fact that he's out there campaigning to preserve all kinds of entitlements as we know it even as he's pledging for a balanced budget. So when I say the country's divided, what I'm saying is that--I mean, it seems to be a consensus that the New Deal and the Great Society eras can't go on the way they have, but there's no consensus at all about how to proceed in the future.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. I see.
MR. GIGOT: And that's where the Republicans were trying to make the argument that there is something to a smaller government, a better society, but they didn't have a candidate, and even Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress weren't making an argument that was persuasive to enough people about why it would be a better society.
So they went with President Clinton's argument, which is, let's preserve, more or less, what we have. So there's no decision that came out of this election about where to move next. There's going to be some cooperation in the middle and some deals cut. What I'm saying is the country hasn't made a decision about where to move towards what I think is going to be a new era.
JIM LEHRER: And neither side can argue based on the results tomorrow we were elected on November 5, 1996 to do the following, that's what you're saying?
MR. GIGOT: I think the President was elected--can say I was elected to do--as Mark has said--the equivalent of valet parking-- you know, some small things.
JIM LEHRER: Mm-hmm.
MR. GIGOT: The Republicans I mean--frankly, the Republicans just got over the finish line. I mean, they don't really have an agenda either, other than the remnants of what they proposed in the last Congress, and the balanced budget, itself, so I think--I think both sides are going to be scrambling here to come up with an agenda.
JIM LEHRER: Who has the opportunity? Where are the opportunities then for leadership, to get things done? Or are there any? Is it going to be status quo meaning nothing is going to happen?
MR. SHIELDS: No. I think there are opportunities, Jim. I think first of all, you've got a--any President who wins--and there is a honeymoon. All right. I don't care who the President is--Richard Nixon in 1972--there is a sense of okay, this fellah just won, he just came back. He's been validated. He's had his ticket punched by the American people who said won--so his proposals--he's probably got a window I think as David Gergen said last night--I think he said eleven weeks--I'd say six weeks probably to--to lay out. I mean, if the--
JIM LEHRER: You mean after January, not right--not six weeks from now?
MR. SHIELDS: Six--if it isn't done by the middle of February of 1997--
JIM LEHRER: I got you, all right. Okay.
MR. SHIELDS: --big trouble. But what you have really are two rather chastened groups in charge of our two branches of government, political branches of government, our electoral branches of government. You've got a President who's elected as an agent of change in 1992, who won re-election in 1996 as sort of a protector of continuity, of the status quo--a defender of government, rather than anybody who's going to have any--you know, really cosmic change.
You have the Republicans who came here in 1994 with self-confidence so supreme they made Henry Kissinger look humble and they're chastened. They're now looking at their whole card--geez, we just won--whew--and they won on independence--they won on we can get things done. I mean, they didn't win--Paul's right. There was no agenda; there was no revolution; there was no contract on either side.
JIM LEHRER: What do you make of Henry Cisneros's statement to Elizabeth awhile ago that--that they see--he and the Democrats--he and the President see in Trent Lott opportunities that they might not have seen obviously with Newt Gingrich and whatever; that they looked to him to get things done--what do you think about that? Is that--
MR. GIGOT: I think Trent Lott right now--the most important Republican in Washington is no longer Newt Gingrich--it is Trent Lott. He has an expanded majority. He has a bunch of new Senators. He has a younger group that's coming in; there are 20, I think, 20 Republicans, it looks like, who have come into the Senate in the last four years, the last two elections. That's an extraordinarily new infusion. It's a more conservative body than it was--or a more conservative Republican Party--the Democrats, I think, are more liberal. Trent Lott will try to get things done.
He's a pragmatic fellow, but he's also a partisan, and I think that you will see him in some respects be more accommodating, less aggressive than Newt Gingrich, but he will be a formidable strategic foe in trying to increase that Republican majority in ‘98.
JIM LEHRER: Because, Mark, I mean, let's face it, the President may be working on his place in history, but there's nothing in that for the Republicans to help him have a really neat place in history, is it?
MR. SHIELDS: No, but I mean, the Republicans don't want to appear to be sniping or petty or, or all of those things either. They'll try and deck their positions and their arguments sort of high moral rhetoric, which is the opposition party's approach usually to these things. I agree that the central Republican elected figure in Washington right now is Trent Lott. The Speaker was deflated by the experiences of the past year, and, uh, and by this past campaign. He's still--there's still enormous respect for Newt Gingrich among Republicans for what he was able to achieve, but the mantel of I think--certainly of Capitol Hill leadership--has passed to Trent Lott.
JIM LEHRER: Do you look for anything dramatic on the--in the Clinton cabinet, the new cabinet for the--the second term?
MR. GIGOT: Well, I think we'll see quite a bit of new blood come in. I think it'll probably help the President to do that, though I think that, more important than some of the cabinet positions--and I would suggest it would be really interesting if the President reached over to some Republicans and brought them in, as was recommended the last time--but I think the White House chief of staff position is very important.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think it's likely he'll do that?
MR. SHIELDS: I think it'd be wise for him to do it, I really do, and I think you know, there are an awful lot of people--whether Colin Powell or Dick Lugar, Senator from Indiana, and Gen. Colin Powell, Warren Rudman, the former Senator--and there--
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Cohen--
MR. SHIELDS: --are some able--Sen. Bill Cohen of Maine--
JIM LEHRER: --a possibility for CIA-- MR. SHIELDS: There's some able people, and I think it would. I think it would serve his administration well.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Well, you know what--why don't the two of you plan to come back every Friday night, and we'll talk about all of this.
MR. SHIELDS: Well, that's a nice invitation, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.
MR. SHIELDS: Thank you.