Political Wrap with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot
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RAY SUAREZ: Friday political analysis now from syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. They join us tonight from Manchester, New Hampshire. Paul, what are you seeing on the campaign trail?
MARK SHIELDS: That was a terrific piece that Margaret and her crew put together. And there were three statements in there I thought were particularly salient. I agree with Paul. Tom Wrath, a George Bush adviser, he said if George Bush wins New Hampshire, he has a stranglehold on the nomination, no question about it. Warren Rudman, one of John McCain’s strongest supporters, nationally and here in New Hampshire, former U.S. Senator said if John McCain doesn’t win, it’s all uphill and they really need to win. But I thought David Carney, the independent or unattached… not very independent but conservative Republican – he’d be disappointed if I call him anything else. But he said John McCain has run a different kind of campaign. He tells people what they don’t want to hear. And I found that intriguing because it’s absolutely true. He’ll say to people they’re wrong. And David put the codicil on it that after eight years of perhaps not the most candid and direct leadership in the country, that a lot of voters found that refreshing. I would say that as of tonight, the Republican race is very much up for grabs. The Democratic race is certainly not beyond the realm of an upset for Bill Bradley. But if in fact George Bush wins the Republican primary in New Hampshire, and Al Gore wins the Democratic primary in New Hampshire, the races are de facto, over.
RAY SUAREZ: It’s interesting that you’re both saying that the stakes are so high that New Hampshire is so pivotal when if let’s say George W. Bush doesn’t go do well in New Hampshire he goes on to states where he has natural strengths, where’s he’s been organized on the ground a long time and where the party establishments, the Republican parties in those states have been in his corner for a year or more. Why is this such a big deal?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it’s especially pivotal for the challenger, Ray. I mean, that’s the problem and the challenge that John McCain has. He has to not only win here. Then he has to move on to South Carolina where Bush is stronger. He has to then move on to Virginia and Michigan where Bush is stronger. If he doesn’t win here, he is going to have that much more difficulty raising money, he’s going to have that much more difficulty persuading the public that he can be beaten. And there’s a risk for George W. Bush here because part of his appeal, and it showed up in the exit polls in Iowa, is that he is the winner. He’s inevitable and he can beat Al Gore. If he loses to John McCain here, a lot of that varnish gets knocked off, and that makes it easier for John McCain to make the case that I’m a better candidate against Al Gore because George W. Bush can’t even beat me.
RAY SUAREZ: Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: There have been three arguments for George Bush’s candidacy. I mean first of all was George Bush was the Governor of Texas, big important state — popular governor, reelected overwhelmingly. Son of the former President, well known, and third, was everybody’s for George Bush. Why is everybody for George Bush — because he’s going to win. Why is he going to win? Because everybody’s for George Bush. And that’s been the circular logic. Now the cloak of inevitability and invincibility would be pierced if he were to lose here to John McCain, plus the fact in the Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll out today we saw for the first time that Al Gore was running within the margin of error even with George Bush nationally, so that’s why a victory here would be a great, great time saver, energy saver and trouble saver for George Bush.
RAY SUAREZ: Paul Gigot, how is John McCain’s decision to sit out Iowa starting to look now?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, we’ll know for sure on Tuesday. But so far it looks pretty good. It looks like a good gamble. He survived the gauntlet in August, the straw poll when a lot of other candidates had to drop out. If, of course, he loses here, then it looks like it didn’t really matter. But right now it’s looking like he was very smart to avoid the advice of sages like myself who said it was a very bad decision he made. I want to underscore one thing about John McCain that Mark said. I was at one of his rallies today – I was at a rally today in Exeter, New Hampshire. And I talked to a lot of voters and I tell you, I have yet to find a John McCain voter who identifies any particular issue with their support for John McCain. They never say it’s campaign finance reform or… I love his Social Security plan. It’s always character and trust and his biography, his persona. It’s “I want somebody I can believe in the White House again.” Republicans are aching for that. And that is the essence of his campaign here. And it will be a remarkable thing if he can pull it off because it has no ideological basis at all that I can tell. It’s the man, not the message.
MARK SHIELDS: And, Ray, let me pick up on that because while Bill Clinton plays on the Republican side one way, on the Democratic side he’s an enormous, enormous boost to Al Gore. Among Democrats, Bill Clinton’s favorable job rating as of today is 92% favorable, 5% unfavorable. So that… Gore’s presence at the State of the Union address last night his frame within that picture while the President spoke, was no accident and was probably helpful.
RAY SUAREZ: But can we overstate what that really means, Mark, being in the frame?
MARK SHIELDS: For Gore?
RAY SUAREZ: The glow, the aura that rubs off of Bill Clinton?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, Bill Clinton made a presentation last night that was good news. And it was hard to argue with the good news. I mean when the only recourse left for the Senate Majority Leader was “he was there when good things happened,” you know, that isn’t the way we look at most Presidents. And Bill Clinton has been there for eight years and it’s tough to look eight years later and say that welfare rolls have been cut in half, the murder rate has been cut in half, the stock market which was 3400 is now over 11,000, 25 million jobs. I mean Al Gore gets residual benefit from that, no question about it, some fallout.
RAY SUAREZ: So, Paul, what’s the assignment for Bill Bradley?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think he has to… I mean, there is no question that Mark is right, that Al Gore wants to bask in the Clinton era prosperity. He can do that and I think he has done that because Bill Bradley has been unable to associate Al Gore with those things about the Clinton era that they don’t like. In the Iowa exit polls, for example, 44% of all Democrats didn’t particularly admire Bill Clinton as a person. But Bill Bradley was not able to win the votes. He only broke even on the votes with Al Gore. He never has made the case somehow that the honesty and the integrity and the lack of trust that has been part of this administration’s legacy, also was part of Al Gore’s legacy. And that’s why he can’t be an effective candidate for the Democratic nomination because he is going to lose to the Republicans. Or if he does win, he is not going to be able to deliver for you on the agenda items that you want. Only this week has Bill Bradley really begun to make that case. And we’ll see if it works or if it’s simply too late — if he tried too late.
RAY SUAREZ: Does he risk, by doing that, Paul, giving away one of the things that he took into the campaign, which is “I’m different. I don’t do that?”
PAUL GIGOT: He did. I mean, he does risk that. But I would have to say that wasn’t working. It was sort of a Kennedy School Seminar view of politics in my view. It was above the fray. I want to change politics. Well, people want to use politics to change their leaders if they don’t like what their leaders are doing. And you have to make that case. You have to give them a reason. And I think there were an awful lot of people in the Bradley camp who had been arguing for a long time, weeks, take the gloves off Senator. Don’t let Al Gore get away with inspecting every vote you made 15 or 20 years ago. Let’s talk about the record that’s… that people remember in this administration and why you’re a better candidate. He finally did this week.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Mark there’s also a lot of stories being filed from New Hampshire, not about Bill Bradley’s late jump into the fray, but the fact that Al Gore is a different candidate.
MARK SHIELDS: There is no question. Al Gore is a more energized candidate. The campaign has been good for Al Gore. He is a far better candidate than he was when we first him saw him months ago. Remember this, Ray, that after next Tuesday, that after February 1, 2000, candidates, whoever is surviving after New Hampshire, will not be bothered by real voters again. They won’t have to take questions from nurses, and teachers, and truck drivers, and hardware store managers. And that’s the joy and the wonder and miracle of this state. And, after this, it’s all in studios, it’s all scripted, it’s all in teleprompters. And – you know — I think in that sense, it’s made all of the candidates. I mean, George Bush is a better candidate than he was. And John McCain after 110 or so town meetings is a pretty impressive… totally impressive performer. And Bill Bradley has been energized as well. He is showing some of the same passion, combativeness that really projected and pushed Al Gore to the front of this Democratic race.
RAY SUAREZ: Is much in play over this weekend, Paul? Are there very many people left who haven’t figured out what they’re going to do next week?
PAUL GIGOT: There are quite a number of undecided out there, Ray. And the history of this state is that it really is late breaking. And fates and American political history has changed over the final weekend of New Hampshire quite often. The one thing I’ll say this time that’s a little different is we don’t see on the part of any of the candidates, a real negative assault against the other over the airwaves. I mean, the one — the dog that hasn’t barked in this whole campaign, including New Hampshire is Steve Forbes. I mean, Steve Forbes is supposed to be this ferocious negative campaigner. He is up with positive spots: Steve Forbes on the issues, Steve Forbes on character. That’s not the sort of thing that is say is going to cut into George W. Bush’s lead against John McCain and let McCain win. You almost wonder if Steve Forbes has decided he can’t win – he wants to be Treasury Secretary under the Bush administration.
RAY SUAREZ: Final thought, Mark, quickly.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I guess my only final thought would be that this weekend… and this eight days between Iowa and New Hampshire has been entirely different from any preceding it. First of all, we had the debate Wednesday night which dominated the news. Thursday night was the State of the Union which dominated it. Now we’re in the weekend, it’s Super Bowl weekend. So, New Hampshire, which has been the center of the universe, this time the only news that will probably be reported over the weekend as Paul described, an all-out assault of one the candidates by the other an endorsement by Marvin Bush of Bill Bradley, George Bush’s brother. I mean it is going to take a gaffe of major proportions to make news between now and next Monday.
RAY SUAREZ: Mark Shields and Paul Gigot. Thanks, gentlemen.