Looking Ahead to November with Shields and Gigot
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MARGARET WARNER: And that’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and “Wall Street Journal” columnist Paul Gigot. Well, Paul, we just heard what the supporters of all the candidates said. What is your view on why in the end we ended up with the two establishment candidates, why these two insurgents failed?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it’s a little different in each case. I think that John McCain picked too many fights with some of the Republican rank and file and in the end was beaten by them. For the Democrats, I think Robert Reich had it right. The seminal moment was when Al Gore attacked his health plan back at Dartmouth College in November, October – he didn’t respond. And I think that really hurt Bill Bradley; he never recovered.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Mark, is this the triumph of the establishment? Was it preordained?
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think it was preordained, Margaret, but you certainly have to say that both these candidates had remarkable establishment backing. What impressed me the most in looking over yesterday’s numbers was Al Gore’s emergence as a national leader of the Democratic Party. He averaged 65 to 77% of the vote in states– in New York, California, Missouri, Ohio. I mean, I think it’s fair to say that Gore has… leads a unified Democratic Party now and that’s a major achievement.
MARGARET WARNER: So Paul, is John McCain now in a position to demand anything from Governor Bush in return for his support? You heard Chuck Hagel say, “well, we’ve really now got two established leaders of the Republican Party.”
PAUL GIGOT: I don’t know that he is. I mean, I think that he can certainly… he certainly demands respect and can command respect. I think that Governor Bush has to show him that. And I think that you saw some of that in the excerpts we showed from Governor Bush in Texas. He has to reach out to John McCain particularly once he leaves the race. I don’t think there’s any question about that. And then I think he’s actually paved the way a little bit showing Governor Bush the appeal of the reform message — not campaign finance, per se, but the broader reform agenda saying that we want to change Washington. In the end John McCain was trying to make a case on tax reform. He was trying to make a case, however fitfully, on education reform and with Social Security. And Governor Bush was forced to pick that theme up on his own. So it’s tough once you decide to leave a race to be able to demand anything in particular. But if you’re Governor Bush, you have to think very carefully, how can you keep those McCain voters on board because you need them, you need them to win, and you have to think maybe adopt some of his agenda but also maybe think about putting John McCain on the ticket.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, how do you see that in terms of the rapprochement to come between Bush and McCain and what each has to do?
MARK SHIELDS: All the responsibility is on George Bush’s side, Margaret. As of yesterday according to the exit polls 35% of McCain voters will vote for Al Gore in November. And McCain voters had a negative impression of Governor Bush by better than 3-to-2, closer to 2-to-1. So, that’s an uphill fight for him. Now, the easy and facile answer is, “well, those are Democrats.” That’s not true because only 8% of John McCain’s voters yesterday were Democrats. So it’s a real uphill struggle. George Bush has to devote attention, energy and effort, and the McCain voters are really up for grabs. I mean, whether they will be wooed and won by each… either side who gives them voice, whose voice sounds genuine to them, as genuine as McCain’s did, that’s the competition right now that both George Bush and Al Gore are engaged in.
MARGARET WARNER: We saw Al Gore saying to the McCain people, “your campaign is my cause,” making this offer about let’s ban soft money and so on. Do you think Gore can possibly make that pitch? Who has a better shot at getting those McCain voters?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, he can make that pitch. It’s partly defensive because he’s got to defend the record of the last seven years. That’s what he’s trying to do. I think the fact that they voted for John McCain rather than vote in the Democratic primary makes them more available to somebody who is the outsider, who is the challenger. A lot of those Democrats I talk to don’t want to vote on the stump who will go to McCain events. They say they’re not going to vote for Al Gore. They may not vote for George W. Bush. He has still got to persuade them. But they’re not going to go back to Al Gore. I think the… they’re up for grabs. I think you have two candidates here who have both consolidated most of their base. I mean, George Bush, one advantage he has coming out of here is that he has become almost by default the candidate of the conservative base of the Republican Party. No question Al Gore has the union base, the institutional base. The middle, as I see it, is up for grabs. I mean, in California 34% of the voters said George W. Bush was too conservative. 35% of the voters said Al Gore was too liberal. So you’re going to have a real fight for the center, and both of them are going to be scrambling there very fast.
MARK SHIELDS: Margaret, let me dissent. Bill Bradley’s voters are really very sympathetic to Al Gore in every measurement of opinion — they intend to support him. They give him a favorable rating. That is not the case with McCain and Bush. I mean, George Bush has a tough struggle to persuade the McCain folks to come across. It was fascinating last night in their speeches. Each man tried– Gore and Bush in their triumphant addresses– tried to adopt the rhetoric of McCain, talking about terms of mission of reform and renewal and come join me and so forth, which, of course, have been the McCain sound. The question really does become, are these folks going to drop out — because they are people who came into this process because of John McCain. And the turnout, the record turnouts are traceable to McCain’s candidacy. When McCain wasn’t present, as in Delaware and Iowa, turnout was down. Where he was present, they turned out and the question is now do they turn off?
MARGARET WARNER: Paul, we heard both the representative for Governor Bush and for Al Gore, that is in the two previous segments, say, “well, these primary challenges have made them stronger candidates.” One, who do you think is the stronger of the stronger candidates? Who improved the most, but also who took on the most baggage from this primary?
PAUL GIGOT: First of all, candidates always say that. Primary – candidates always say that and almost always it isn’t true. In this case I think it’s true of both of them. A lot better. I don’t think there’s any question about it. I think George Bush got better – more because he had further go to; he was a rookie in this. Al Gore ran in 1988, remember. And he didn’t have a very good experience then. He had two vice presidential candidacies. There’s nothing to compare to a national campaign. But he was able to… when he got out on the stump, Gore was, to shed some of the Clinton institutional baggage and get out there and show his stuff a little bit, and I think that helped him. George Bush just had to learn on the job. I mean, when he came out in those early debates, he looked like he wasn’t really ready for prime time. As he’s gone onward and he mixes it up a little more, I think he’s become more comfortable. And I think you see at the press conferences and in some of the later debates that he is more confident. And I think he’s going to be a better standard bearer.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, do you agree with that? And then go on to the question of baggage from this primary campaign.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Margaret, there’s no question that George Bush is a better candidate – a better candidate professionally and a worse-off nominee than he was four months ago. I mean, he was cruising to a nomination with incredibly favorable ratings, which are a thing of the past now — and with real problems now of voters thinking that he is not anti-Catholic– I think that was resolved yesterday. It’s not a question that McCain charged that Bush was anti-catholic did not sell. It was not bought by voters in the primary states. But there is a question about his being too beholding to certain religious conservative leaders. So Paul is right. After every bruising primary we want to say, “our guy, boy, he’s battled tested now. I mean, he’s hardened. He’s ready.” And how hardened, I ask you, Margaret, was Bob Dole after Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan’s challenge in 1996? How hardened and polished and ready for work was George Bush after Pat Buchanan in 1992 or Jimmy Carter after Ted Kennedy? You don’t like primary challenges. I think you can look and say they’re better candidates but they’re more weakened nominees.
PAUL GIGOT: I disagree with this Mark in this sense. I mean Bob Dole and George Bush, the President former Bush in 1992 and 1996 both had real problems mobilizing their own base. They had a real disconsolate Republican Party. This time George W. Bush, because of this McCain challenge, which forced him into the arms of his base, I think he’s got that base unified and mobilized. Now it gives him more leeway to reach out and I think gives him more flexibility in a vice presidential choice. I think it gives him more opportunity to reach out to the McCain moderates and to floating Democrats.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thanks. You all have a great weekend.