Shields and Brooks on the Democratic Field
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JIM LEHRER: And to Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the “Weekly Standard.”
JIM LEHRER: Let’s begin with John Edwards. How would you rate his candidacy? He’s the freshest one.
MARK SHIELDS: John Edwards has certain obvious advantages, Jim, and some not as obvious. In the past 44 years, the Democrats have elected three Presidents of the United States, all three were from below the Mason-Dixon Line, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. When Democrats are not competitive in the South it seems with a southern run at the top of the ticket, they don’t fair well in national elections.
He is the real thing of a southerner, he’s not a George Herbert Walker transplant from West Greenwich to West Texas. He talks the talk and walks the walk. And he is obviously adopting the Al Gore message, rejecting Al Gore as the messenger of sort of the us against them, the people against the powerful. And he has got a two-edged sword. Republicans and business types recoil at the idea of trial lawyers, yet he can make the case that for his entire life, he has been fighting for those who don’t have great resources against those who do and prevailing.
JIM LEHRER: Edwards?
DAVID BROOKS: He is really hitting this regular guy theme hard. He is a regular guy who happens to be a multimillionaire trial lawyer and a senator who thinks he is qualified to be president after four years of public service. He’s that kind of regular guy, but I don’t downgrade his candidacy. He has the magic. When you watch him campaign, somebody comes up to him and he is six inches from their face and he lets on the beam. He’s got it the way you can’t teach it, He’s got it in the way Clinton has it. He is very smart — doesn’t have the experience, doesn’t have the policy substance, doesn’t have a great record after four years in the U.S. Senate. But he has the charisma; he’s been underestimated all his life and destroyed the Republicans in North Carolina who also thought they could play the trial lawyer card against him and it failed there.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Dick Gephardt is obviously going to come in next week. What is your reading on him?
DAVID BROOKS: He is someone who has given a series of intellectually substantive speeches. I sort of love this time of year because everybody shows they have intellectual substance — they give these wonky, castor oil speeches that people like I go for. He is giving substance speeches on economic policy, on defense policy. He’s struck a liberal tone on economics, a very hawkish tone on foreign policy — siding with the President, playing a key role in getting the President’s Iraq policy passed. So on substance he is I think very impressive. The problem is — he ran before and has been a national figure for quite a long time — He has never aroused the magic. Somehow his candidacy has always been less than the substance would make it appear.
JIM LEHRER: Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Dick Gephardt brings, again, I think considerable strengths. Dick Gephardt like everybody else, and I think it is a reflection of this field, the large field really that’s emerging for the 2004 race. In 1992, when the first President Bush looked tough in the polls, Democrat after Democrat–
JIM LEHRER: Unbeatable.
MARK SHIELDS: Unbeatable; Democrat after Democrat said I’ll pass and wait until ’96 when they are going to nominate Vice President Dan Quayle. Only four Democrats did run that year and Bill Clinton won the nomination and won the White House for eight years. Dick Gephardt decided not to run in ’92 after a pretty good effort in ’88. He has got the advantage of this: He is a proven leader.
This is a man who has been a leader of his party, and rarely that someone, both a presidential candidate who comes back to the Congress and then wins the support and endorsement of his peers in the Congress, a job he has held for 13 years as a Democratic leader. In that capacity, he knows all the constituency groups of the Democratic Party–
JIM LEHRER: He has had to deal with them all.
MARK SHIELDS: Had to deal with them, ethnic, professional, labor. He has raised a lot of money. He is incredibly disciplined, incredibly disciplined candidate. And I think, David, the question is: is there going to be chemistry? Is he going to be able to make the connection as he did in Iowa in ’88 and ran out of money after that?
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, the other two officially in candidates, John Kerry and Howard Dean; what is your reading of the two of them?
MARK SHIELDS: Each is interesting in their own way. John Kerry is interesting not because of his geography, although Massachusetts gives him an advantage and a leg up in New Hampshire, just as Gephardt has a leg up in Iowa.
JIM LEHRER: Because of the New Hampshire primary–.
MARK SHIELDS: — Massachusetts and New Hampshire. But John Kerry’s credential has changed because the definition of a President has changed. In 2000, it meant nothing to voters because there was no consideration of foreign policy that Al Gore was the only–
JIM LEHRER: Tell me about it.
MARK SHIELDS: You know it very well. But the only presidential nominee, Jim, ever to have answered the draft call during Vietnam and served in Vietnam. I mean think about that. And George W. Bush, you know, who made about half of his reserve meetings, was carried the national security vote and everything else. But this time John Kerry is a Democrat who can match on commander-in-chief credentials as somebody who has been there, who has seen battle, who has prevailed, who is cerebral and thoughtful. Again, the question with him I think is not unlike that of Gephardt. Can he make that connection with people.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read John Kerry?
DAVID BROOKS: Kerry is symptomatic of what Mark is talking about, of the war, is the key issue, I think going to be the key issue this year, and there is a disconnect, or at least an imbalance between the Democratic candidates and the Democratic electorate. Kerry has been moderately supportive of the President on Iraq, a little more critical. But Edwards, Lieberman, and some of the others, have been very supportive — Gephardt, very supportive, very hawkish on the war. It looked as if Al Gore would be the leading opponent of the war in Iraq. He’s out. So there is only one opponent, real opponent. That’s Dean.
So you have the bulk of the Democratic candidates over here on the hawkish side — what I think is the bulk of the Democratic electorate more on the Nancy Pelosi, the more dovish side, and there is that weird mismatch. Now, it’s going to show up in the primaries, but it’s going to show up before that in the fund-raising. The trial lawyers will go with Edwards, the unions will support Gephardt by and large. I’m simplifying. The Jews if I’m really simplifying will support Lieberman. Who does Rob Reiner support? Who does Hollywood support? That’s an important base. That’s a very anti-war base. But they don’t have a natural candidate. And so how that plays out, that mismatch between the candidates and the electorate is to me one of the big stories.
JIM LEHRER: I want to come back to that in minute, but what about Howard Dean? How do you feel about Howard Dean?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, he has very little national record. He will, I believe, be the candidate of authenticity, the person who is free to say whatever he wants because he really has nothing to lose, and will go through a cycle of media favoritism. That’s important because the Democratic primaries are very truncated this year. It’s all going to happen very quickly. And nobody is going to have enough money to advertise in all the states so quickly. You need free media.
JIM LEHRER: And Howard Dean will get it along with everyone else.
MARK SHIELDS: The person I’m asked about most frequently is Howard Dean. The greatest curiosity is about Howard Dean.
JIM LEHRER: People don’t know him.
MARK SHIELDS: They don’t know him but they’re interested. It isn’t just that they’re not interested. And he has had the ability, so far, to say provocative things. And I think David is right in one crucial sense, Jim, and that is there is going to be a McCain primary. We in the press always cover the last campaign. In 1972, after ’68, we were looking for the youth vote — and, you know, who was going to be the new Clinton. Now it’s going to be who is the John McCain because independents, who are crucial to the nominating process, there is no–
JIM LEHRER: They can vote in just about every — just about everybody’s primary.
MARK SHIELDS: Especially New Hampshire. There was no reason for them to vote in the Republican– there is not going to be a fight on the Republican side. So who is the Democrat who is going to get them, if anybody is or are they not going to participate? And authenticity will be the question. Which one of these people really is different? Which one does have sort of a McCainish quality to them? We will then adopt him and write pretty good things about him.
JIM LEHRER: We’ll talk about the others in more detail once they become official. But there’s Sharpton and there’s Joe Lieberman, who we’ve already mentioned, who seems to be a sure thing, would you not agree both of you that Lieberman is definitely going to run?
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah.
JIM LEHRER: How about Tom Daschle, the Senate Minority Leader?
MARK SHIELDS: Tom Daschle – apparently this is really rare — that you would have the two Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate running for President. But Tom Daschle looks more and more– I would bet the farm against it six months ago, but I would say now he is edging more and more toward a race.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
DAVID BROOKS: I think so. You could throw in Gary Hart; you could throw in any registered Democrat in this country because without a front-runner, everybody looks at the field and says I’m as good as those guys.
JIM LEHRER: What about Bob Graham of Florida? He is rising on some lists that I read.
DAVID BROOKS: He has appeared on television on the Sunday shows more than any other Democrat. You don’t do that unless you’re running for something.
MARK SHIELDS: He was chairman of the Intelligence Committee and presiding over the– but there is no question–
JIM LEHRER: The one raising the most serious questions about some of the civil rights issues involved in the war on terrorism.
MARK SHIELDS: Civil liberties, that’s right.
JIM LEHRER: What about Chris Dodd? Who are the serious candidates or do we have to wait and see?
MARK SHIELDS: I think they’re all– I mean you have to look at it. As much as I like Gary Bauer and I do, there is no Gary Bauer in this race. I mean Gary Bauer was, as you may recall, run– ran the Family-
DAVID BROOKS: Research Council.
MARK SHIELDS: And had been an assistant secretary in the Reagan administration and decided to run for President in 2000. These are serious people.
JIM LEHRER: The Democrats.
MARK SHIELDS: David made light of John Edwards’s public career. You know, I think John Edwards, if he runs will have served as long as George W. Bush had served in public office. I mean so it’s not– this is a Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, these are heavyweights.
JIM LEHRER: Joe Biden – I forgot about Joe Biden as a possibility.
MARK SHIELDS: Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
DAVID BROOKS: I wake up in the morning trying to invent scenarios to make a prediction of who’s going to get the nomination and every day I come up with something new.
JIM LEHRER: Is that right — in other words, a different scenario?
DAVID BROOKS: You have to remember there is going to be a war most likely. And if the war goes badly, then Howard Dean won’t be left-wing enough to get this and if it goes well, then I think Joe Lieberman or somebody more hawkish.
JIM LEHRER: That’s what I want to come back to and ask you, David says not only how the war goes but you said earlier about who is the hawk and who are the doves in the Democratic Party, but your point is that commander in chief, rather than win or lose the war, whatever, may be more important as to who can run it–
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, from 1940 to 1988, it was inconceivable that the American people would elect anybody into the presidency of the United States who did not meet the commander in chief test from FDR to Harry Truman to Dwight Eisenhower to Jack Kennedy — all the way through, they were first of all plausible convincing commanders in chief. That ceased at the end of the Cold War.
Bill Clinton, who served in the Arkansas ROTC band, I think, beat George Bush, the youngest combat pilot of War World II. And Sunday before the election in 1992, Bush’s aides wanted to prepare him for the defeat, he said no, the American people would never elect a draft dodger and they never would have during the Cold War. And it didn’t matter in ’96 when Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole or it didn’t matter in 2000 when George W. Bush bet Al Gore, but now it is a changed definition. If 9/11 had happened 2000 instead of 2001, George W. Bush would have lost by ten points to Al Gore, no question.
JIM LEHRER: Because of who they were.
MARK SHIELDS: He was the Vice President in charge and Gore — Gore had the credentials.
DAVID BROOKS: The other thing I was going to say.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. I do. But after the war, the debate is going to look totally different. Now we have a hawk-dove debate. Should we go into Iraq? Say we go in, then the debate becomes: should we stay in, should we build a democracy there? Suddenly you get liberal Wilsonians and neo-conservative Paul Wolfowitzans on the side because they want to commit to a regime that respects democracy and human rights. You’re going to have centrist realists like Colin Powell who say let’s patch things up. Let’s not get carried away, let’s patch things up and get out. So you’re going to have totally different dynamics; that’s assuming the war goes reasonably well. If it goes terribly, we’ll then pull back Eugene Macarthy.
JIM LEHRER: Does this have the smell of an interesting race for president of the United States?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it has the smell altogether of a very interesting race, Jim, and I think where I guess I disagree a little bit with David is I think the commander in chief credential is not owned by George W. Bush here. I mean we have an army right now that by any standard is undermanned, we have an army that has not met its quotas, we have an army taking hundreds of those with felony arrests, where one out of three is not completing his enlistment as opposed to one out of ten under the draft. These are questions of leadership, these are questions of judgment which, quite frankly, are still open and I think open to debate.
JIM LEHRER: Interesting race?
DAVID BROOKS: I think it will be just because it’s so darn crowded.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you both.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.