Political Wrap with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot
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JIM LEHRER: Mark, how would you describe the big McCain return?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I thought Kwame’s parting shot about next fall, and John McCain’s influence upon outcome of that election for Republicans is really right on point, Jim. John McCain came back to the Senate with an enhanced stature, with a national constituency and a public commitment to carry that reform banner and not to yield. The evidence, you wanted the impact of his campaign?
Republicans now are scurrying for campaign reform. They’re trying to get his blessing on a bill introduced by Chuck Hagel, senator from Nebraska and McCain supporter, which doesn’t pass the test of most reformers but they feel the need. Instead of simply opposing, they want to be with it. I think the final test is if you’re a Republican House member or senator, this year in a swing state or swing district, you’re not going to call Trent Lott to come in. You’re not going to call Mitch McConnell to come in or Tom DeLay or Dick Armey. You’ll be calling ands begging John McCain to come in and win that race for you, help you win it among Democrats and independents.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that? That’s where the calls are going to go?
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah. The House Republicans, the swing districts are thrilled that John McCain has said he’s going to campaign for them. There’s no question about it. The congressional leadership is not very popular and John McCain has a rare thing for a — for any sitting senator, and that is an outside sense of popularity about him, for him. Remember what Orrin Hatch said. He thought he was a big shot, House Judiciary chairman. He is on “Meet the Press” all the time. He goes out to Iowa — nobody knows who he is. He’s running for president; nobody knows who he is. McCain broke out of that pack.
JIM LEHRER: Usually when somebody loses a race for a nomination, they just disappear.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, Ronald Reagan didn’t in 1976.
JIM LEHRER: No, no, but I mean immediately afterward they disappear. I mean … yeah, they come back — you know, four years later, but this glow is unusual, at least in my recollection.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, he has a constituency. You saw the reporters up there. And that’s one of his constituencies. And he is going to get an echo chamber for what he has to say, so there are a lot of Republicans who want to get a piece of that.
JIM LEHRER: What about what Senator Coverdell said, that it is celebrity, it isn’t issue driven?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I believe that this mostly — it’s not purely celebrity — I don’t think that’s fair. I think it was about McCain and his personal biography, his character, his reputation, and then it was the way he talked. The — I’m going to cut through the baloney and tell you the truth — that was I think the bulk of his appeal. I don’t want to dismiss the idea of reform, but I think that where Coverdell is right is that there is some specific notion of campaign finance reform that is on the lips of all his supporters out there. I didn’t find one in the 200 people I talked to of McCain supporters who said, yeah, that soft money ban, that’s why I’m supporting McCain.
JIM LEHRER: Well, do you think the end result is going to be anything in terms of campaign finance reform? You said that you thought some Republicans were scurrying, but do you think anything will happen as a result of that?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there will be, Jim. And I do — I do just dissent from my good friend –
JIM LEHRER: I hear you. You disagree.
MARK SHIELDS: I disagree. Let me just put it bluntly. Jim, when the other guy wins, it’s always a triumph of his personality and charm. Democrats said that about Ronald Reagan. When Ronald Reagan won in 1980 — you know, he’s amiable, he’s really likeable. That’s why he won. That’s what Republicans said about Bill Clinton. “I don’t know what it is. He is a charming son of a gun and he apparently has bamboozled people.”
American voters know what they’re voting for. They knew John McCain — John McCain went to 114 town meetings in New Hampshire and at every one of them he stood up and he said ‘Let me tell what you goes on in Washington; let me tell you about soft money. We will not have an HMO Patients’ Bill of Rights in the United States Congress because my party is owned by the insurance companies and the other party is owned by the trial lawyers.’ And people nodded.
Now Paul’s right; that was joined by that unique story of his because that made him a believable reformer. You said this guy’s got the character; he has taken on tougher and longer odds than Trent Lott or Tom Daschle.
JIM LEHRER: Were you not as stunned as others, Paul, when he — the first day back he — at a news conference — says, the American people are not being represented in the Congress of the United States?
PAUL GIGOT: It was a little — It was John McCain at work. I mean, he is not going to be domesticated. There is no question about that. And that’s why the welcome was warm, but it’s also weary because his fellow senators in particular don’t really know quite what to do with him. And he is playing this game which he has to be careful about, too, which is not — he has got to be careful about seeming to be disloyal to the ticket and disloyal to Bush. I mean, Bush has to reach out and they have to come to some accommodation.
It is not in John McCain’s interest to make George Bush beg or to do harm to George Bush. His interest now is to be a loyal Republican — sure, stick up for his wishes and themes — but to try to do as much as he can to help George Bush win. And, if he does that, win or lose, he emerges as a formidable candidate for 2004.
JIM LEHRER: You’re shaking your head.
MARK SHIELDS: No. I mean, what he has to do, the value he will be to George Bush and the Republicans is in September and October. And that is if he is true to himself and brings it back.
PAUL GIGOT: — And deny himself?
MARK SHIELDS: No. The Bush people ought to be doing — he doesn’t all of a sudden put a Bush bumper stick on his back; he doesn’t do that. I mean, what he has to do is bring to George Bush the believability, the sense of commitment and passion about reform that he has demonstrated and he has to do that after Labor Day.
For John McCain to embrace George Bush now would be silly and unconvincing to most voters, Jim. Now I will say this — the Bush people have been less than inept. They have been now adroit in dealing. Just this week in Michigan where John McCain won 52 of the 58 delegate seats, they’re now playing games. John Engler, the governor, is playing games about whether the McCain people can be delegates to the Republican convention or whether they’re going to have to have Bush supporters as McCain delegates, including the governor himself. And the Bush people in Austin say we can’t do that; that’s a Michigan matter. Hey, it’s time to say, look, this guy won the state and let’s give him the due.
PAUL GIGOT: Continuing John Engler’s string of success in this –
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right –
PAUL GIGOT: But one thing Bush has done has that’s smart is he’s gotten Bob Dole to act as an intermediary with John McCain, and that’s somebody John McCain has enormous respect for.
JIM LEHRER: They’re very close. They’re very close, yes.
PAUL GIGOT: And I think that’s a smart play.
MARK SHIELDS: Phil Gramm, when he came back to the Senate in 1996, didn’t get that kind of a reception. That’s indeed rare that somebody comes in with that kind of a national following.
JIM LEHRER: Sort of broaden it out to Bush versus Gore. Anything significant beyond what we talked about on McCain that’s happened this last week that you think is significant?
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, I think a couple of things. I mean, I think both candidates are test driving their themes for the general election. They’re using sort of a tail end of the primary season, these pro forma primaries that are coming up to come out and make some of their themes. And I think one of the most interesting things so far is to see that George Bush is making education a part of his centerpiece. And it’s a way of saying ‘Look, I’m a different kind of Republican.’
This stage in 1996, Bob Dole was behind among women by 20 points. This time George Bush is about three or four points behind depending on the polls, and Celinda Lake, the Democratic pollster, says one of the reasons for Bush doing relatively well among women is he is hitting that education issue. It’s on people’s minds and he is trying to become credible on an issue that is normally a Democratic strength. And yet he is taking it right at Al Gore. And Al Gore is trying to give it back to him, but it’s interesting that he is trying to take on this normally Democratic issue.
JIM LEHRER: What would you add to that?
MARK SHIELDS: Paul is right. The move he made today going to Little Rock Central High School, a battleground in the great civil rights struggle in this country with the raid forces of civil — states rights and Governor Orville Faubus of Arkansas met the airborne troops of the United States under the command of President Eisenhower.
I mean, no Republican nominee has ever been to Little Rock Central High School. Bill Clinton has been there time and again and used it very effectively as a symbol of his commitment to civil rights. I thought it meant more than 50 photo ops. It said something very different — that he is going to compete and Paul is right. And I think that’s smart. Four years ago the Republican consensus policy on public schools was abolish the Department of Education. That was it. And he certainly has shown a marked improvement and significance and progress over that. I do think his interview with The Washington Post this week continued in a direction that he really doesn’t want to go. I don’t think it helps his candidacy in contrast to his visit today.
JIM LEHRER: Specifically what did he say?
MARK SHIELDS: The unprompted attacks. I mean, he goes in and you read the whole transcript, Jim, he makes sure that he returns to them, he brings them up. It’s not in response to questions or some severe cross-examination by his press –
JIM LEHRER: Do you feel the same way about his statements?
PAUL GIGOT: I think he has to put the criticisms of Gore into a bigger context than just sort of needling hits at Gore. He has to talk about his systematic cleaning up of Washington and the ethical problems that the administration has and that the vice president has supported. I think it would be better off if he did that in a speech somehow setting a tone and doing it that way.
But, look, he can’t just run a positive campaign. He has got to make the argument for change. And part of that is criticizing Al Gore. So I disagree with Mark in that sense, he has got to make that case against Gore and he has got to make it on character and ethics in addition to policy.
JIM LEHRER: OK. A quick thing followed from our discussion from last Friday about the chaplain flap in the House, the speaker changed course and yesterday appointed a Catholic priest. What happened?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, last week on this show, Denny Hastert signaled to the nominee, Rev. Wright, that he probably wasn’t going to make it.
JIM LEHRER: A Presbyterian minister.
PAUL GIGOT: A Presbyterian minister and then Reverend Wright came to that conclusion this week on Tuesday and withdrew graciously. The Democrats wouldn’t even meet with him. Speaker Hastert says he tried to get Dick Gephardt to get him and meet with him. He wouldn’t do it. Obviously, you can’t be chaplain for the whole House if it is polarized around you.
So Denny Hastert learned something from the first flap and said I’m going to pick the person this time. And he went to the archbishop of Chicago and said who do you recommend — he recommended the Reverend Coughlin and Denny Hastert said that’s my pick. And he caught Dick Gephardt and the Democrats a bit flat-footed.
MARK SHIELDS: Father Coughlin — Father Daniel Patrick Coughlin of Chicago is not the grandson of Father Charles Coughlin the radio priest.
JIM LEHRER: Got you.
MARK SHIELDS: Just to establish that. The Republicans have been battered by charges of anti-Catholicism. And what happened on this more than anything else, was that it became a political liability for the Republicans. Denny Hastert had to move on it. He went after Dick Gephardt in making a statement, hoping to turn Dick Gephardt into sort of a Democratic Newt Gingrich, to demonize him. It’s a great way of building your own caucus — getting back a certain sense of unity.
But I think the most revealing thing in this whole drama or melodrama was Bob Jones University. Republicans were very candid off the record to admit that once Bob Jones University and Governor Bush’s unfortunate visit to it and three-week-later apology, this became an even bigger issue.
JIM LEHRER: This taken alone wouldn’t have been that big a deal.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. It was an embarrassment — it was an irritation but it really became an aggravation and complication.
JIM LEHRER: We have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.