Political Wrap with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot
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JIM LEHRER: Shields and Gigot — syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
Mark, what would — the Democrats first — what would Bill Bradley have to do next Tuesday to stay alive?
MARK SHIELDS: Turn the world upside down, Jim. I mean, he would have to have a victory, big victory, I would say in several different places simultaneously. The New England states and New York — right now because the expectation is that Al Gore is on a roll and is unstoppable.
JIM LEHRER: So the chances of that happening you think are slim?
MARK SHIELDS: I do. I think that what happened to Bill Bradley in ironic fashion was by a switch of 6,500 votes in New Hampshire, he would have won. It was that close there. If he had won, for five weeks, Jim, the speculation would have been what happened to the Gore campaign, the Gore juggernaut. Instead, the five weeks the concentration was all on the Republicans and Bill Bradley was right. I mean he couldn’t get arrested and get in the papers. And his campaign, the enthusiasm and energy of it dissipated in the process.
JIM LEHRER: And, Paul, he made the decision to spend the five days in Washington state and got little out of that. Did he have any choice though?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it was a reasonable gamble given where they stood. I mean he needed something to shake up the campaign. He wasn’t getting any attention. He needed people to say — you know — maybe he can pull an upset. And so I think it was a fair gamble. In retrospect, it looks bad but I don’t think anything else was going to shake up the race.
JIM LEHRER: Well, this — you heard … we just heard this exchange between Eric Hauser and Kiki Moore, and there’s some bad blood there, too, is there not? It’s not just all among the Republicans.
PAUL GIGOT: No, they have been fighting and it got pretty brutal there in Iowa and New Hampshire. The great benefit Al Gore has had is that no matter what Bill Bradley says, he barely gets local press much less national press. So the only times people really are paying attention and noticing is during the debates. And if you notice the last debate in the Apollo Theater in Harlem, it was pretty rough, as rough as anything that’s happening on the Republican side.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mark, speaking of the Republicans, is there an end game in sight there as well as we sit here tonight?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think that George Bush has to acknowledge he had a trifecta yesterday and he really broke out of the mold he was found in. Last two presidential elections, Republicans have got wiped out, averaging less than 40 percent of the vote and George W. Bush up to this point had only carried states that those two weak Republican presidential candidates had carried, states like South Carolina and Virginia until late yesterday evening when his victory in Washington broke him out of any box as a regional candidate.
It was an important victory, and I think it’s really fired up his supporters. There is no question about it. The McCain folks were — I say hoping, several of them were expecting to win in Washington. Now in their defense, you put the independent vote together with the Republican vote and it was a virtual standoff between the two, but George Bush did win and the vote was reported and it was a Republican vote. So it was a big victory and it puts John McCain, who has been a high wire act all the way through without a safety net — he is now on a wire that is quite frayed. He has to win New York, in my judgment, and he has to win — at the very least beat George Bush in the beauty contest in California.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, what do you make of this development today, J.D. Hayworth just said on the air that McCain is going to make a statement tonight, he’s going to apologize — we don’t exactly know what for, specifically what for but it has to do with his statements, attacks on Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and I guess some element of the Bob Jones thing. What is your reading of what is going on there?
PAUL GIGOT: A good test of whether something worked as a political strategy is whether you’re still supporting it three days later and whether your supporters are still supporting it three days later. What we’ve seen is a big backlash even inside the McCain campaign. And J.D. Hayworth said he was upset about it; Gary Bauer was upset about it. Lindsay Graham was not pleased about it because you can make this fine distinction between saying you are attacking Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson — that isn’t how the media reported it — and praising other religious conservatives. But it came out and was interpreted and the media reported it as an attack on all Christian conservatives. That started to create real political problems for John McCain’s coalition. He’s trying to appeal. He needed appeal. His problem in Virginia was he lost Republicans 70 to 25 — two to three to one. He needs to appeal to Republicans. He was trying to with this ad — I’m a Reagan conservative — accentuating the things in his record that were conservative. And this really sent a mixed message and sat on that appeal, confused things. And I think it’s a real setback for him.
JIM LEHRER: Setback and a mistake, Mark, how do you read it?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, a setback and a mistake — we’ll know certainly next Tuesday, Jim, but –
JIM LEHRER: Explain that why — there still a test to come.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. I mean, if today’s numbers out of New York for the first time John McCain in the Marist poll was ahead of George Bush. If he sweeps the northeastern states — if he wins Connecticut and New York and does well in California, then maybe, in retrospect, it looks like a good or an adroit and deft move.
JIM LEHRER: Excuse me. And that’s because there are not that many Christian –
MARK SHIELDS: That’s because the unpopularity of Pat Robertson that in those states, the more moderate Republicans, a far smaller component of Christian religious conservative Republicans voting in those primaries and that John McCain looks like a gutsy guy for standing up, rather than anti-religious. I mean, this is a bad argument for the Republicans to have. Any time you have the two principal nominees for your party’s nomination firing thunderbolts back and forth that you’re anti-religious, no, you’re anti-Catholic, or you’re anti-religious conservative, I mean, that’s bad news for the party. And I think that has been a consensus universally agreed to this past week.
But there is no question Paul is right. The shorthand reading and reporting in this was McCain attacks religious conservatives. And the distinctions he made were lost in the reporting and it was done in the heat of a primary in a state where that was going to be tested in a hurry. So that was a big risk.
JIM LEHRER: How does Bush come of this, Paul, this exchange over, the religious war and where it stands at the moment. How did he handle himself?
PAUL GIGOT: I think he has handled himself all right. He finally apologized and wrote that letter to Cardinal O’Connor in New York for the Catholic — for the appearance at Bob Jones University, and that seemed to have helped in New York, for example, among Catholic voters — stopped some of the bleeding there. And he has responded to the McCain attack by kind of saying, by playing the aggrieved victim — I’m a uniter, he is the divider. And I think that has worked some to his advantage, because he is saying I can put together a coalition and John McCain can’t. And in Washington state, he did put together that kind of a coalition. I mean he did beat John McCain in the beauty contest — which almost nobody had predicted — which is the combination of Republicans and independents in the open primary. That was a very significant win for Bush to show his broader appeal and electability in November.
JIM LEHRER: Now, what does he do, looking ahead to next Tuesday? How does he continue to move? I mean, Ari Fleischer said that, in fact, he has to move across the center or into the center, or whatever. How does he do that without causing problems on the right where — which helped him get where he is?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, John McCain has helped him consolidate his conservative support by attacking him in some respects on that. So he is shoring up some of this conservative support. That gives him a little more room to play out the compassionate conservative argument — in California to play to Hispanics. You know, Republicans, one of the reasons they have lost just about every state-wide election recently is because they haven’t done very well among the growing number of Hispanic voters. George Bush can say ‘I did well on that in Texas and can do that in California.’ He also has to show he is a closer. He couldn’t close John McCain in New Hampshire — he couldn’t in Michigan. He has to show he can finish now — now that he has got this advantage.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree on Bush that he has to show that he can push it over the line, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Oh, sure, Jim. I mean, John McCain has carried states, to return to that earlier point, that Bill Clinton carried. Those are the swing states. He carried New Hampshire; he carried Michigan. Those are the states Clinton carried, and I think George Bush, quite strangely, has by his letter to Cardinal O’Connor, has said the charges against me were true. I mean, I should have — I shouldn’t have stood mute in the face of an appearance, an opportunity at Bob Jones. So then Paul is right. He did grab the aggrieved party.
The irony in this whole campaign to me is George Bush was introduced to us last year in 1999 and the credentials he brought to it were enormous. They said this is a man who can reach out, as he has in Texas, to Democrats, to independents, to Hispanics, to all sorts of folks. And the irony is in 2000, the year 2000, John McCain has been the real George Bush. I mean it’s John McCain who has reached out to Democrats and independents and blocked them in and new people — brought them into the party and George Bush is back with the base of the party. And I think that’s what he has got to break out of, prove that yesterday in Washington state was not an exception but was an emerging pattern.
JIM LEHRER: All right. And we will continue this on Friday night and other nights to come. Thank you both.