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JIM LEHRER: And to Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and “New York Times” columnist David Brooks. David, how do you read the message of Wisconsin for John Kerry?
DAVID BROOKS: Kill the wounded. We talked about this a few weeks ago. As Lee Atwater said “If you have a candidate on the mat you have to stick a bayonet through him.” And after New Hampshire, John Kerry should have gone to South Carolina and said “this guy doesn’t have the support I have, doesn’t have the money I have, but he’s a great campaigner. I have to get rid of him now.”
He didn’t do it. He sort of took a pass on South Carolina. He let Edwards live another day. And as Edwards just said, he’s a better campaigner. He wins independents extremely well and he’s got the trade issue. 75 percent of the voters in this election in Wisconsin thought their state loses jobs because of free trade. That’s a great issue for him.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel? What should Kerry take away from what happened yesterday?
MARK SHIELDS: Winning is coming in first. John Edwards says he’s done better than expected.
JIM LEHRER: Let me write that down.
MARK SHIELDS: Better than expected. I don’t know who expected is and he’s never been identified in any of these races. If it’s a two-person race you can’t do better than expected; you have to beat the other guy. There are two items of comfort for Kerry yesterday. Not disagreeing fervently with what David said. The first is that eight out of ten voters said they would be satisfied if Kerry were the nominee of the Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: Not excited.
MARK SHIELDS: Not excited, not euphoric but satisfied. So there isn’t a great… in other words for Edwards to stop him there isn’t some great natural anti-Kerry constituency.
JIM LEHRER: No “stop Kerry” movement.
MARK SHIELDS: There really isn’t a constituency waiting out there to be tapped. The other thing is that seven out of ten said that they thought he was best to beat George W. Bush — that he was the most electable in spite of the fact that Edwards did have this appeal, demonstrated appeal to independent voters.
Why is that important? It’s important for two factors. Only 60 percent of the voters yesterday in Wisconsin were democrats. 30 percent were independents. 10 percent were Republicans. So when 80 percent of them are saying they’re comfortable with Kerry that’s pretty good for him. But I think the other thing he has to face is if he gets into a two-way with Edwards that Edwards is a guy who demonstrated an ability to go into two states where he spent some time, Iowa and Wisconsin, to connect– the key word this time– which Kerry has a little problem with emotionally and secondly in both states won the endorsement of the largest and most influential newspaper in that state, the “Des Moines Register” and the “Milwaukee Journal” and really did do better than expected.
JIM LEHRER: Now how euphoric should John Edwards feel, David? Coming in second, six points behind, should he see that as a great push forward?
DAVID BROOKS: A little push forward. Still, the odds are against him. You know, you go back through history, people win states and lose the nomination: Hart and Mondale; Carter-Kennedy. Reagan-Ford. It happens all the time. It’s very rare that you win all the states and then win the nomination. You lose a few along the way. Edwards still has a tremendous problem. We have all these states, a massive national campaign in the next few days. The wonderful speech he gives is just not going to work because people aren’t going to see it.
MARK SHIELDS: I disagree with that. If it becomes a two-way race, he’s guaranteed press coverage. So, free media really does work for him. In other words, where paid media really works is in a multi-candidate field that is buying television time or when the other fellow doesn’t have, won’t be competitive. He won’t be competitive.
But I think if Edwards picks his spots, if he goes to Ohio, a state that has been hurt economically in the past four years and where his message does work, I think — what’s working for him is he cares more about people like me. It’s almost… it is Clintonian. John Kerry used Clinton in Kwame’s piece. But I mean ever since Bill Clinton left and said “I feel your pain,” I’ve been feeling my own pain. I think John Edwards is the surrogate on that.
JIM LEHRER: David, you said a while ago that Kerry should have sliced Edwards off the ticket a long time ago. But there are some people saying today– some people do the same things you all do which is pundify– are saying this is really good, this is really good for Kerry. He needs to stay out there, continue to run, continue to beat Edwards, continue to have to be tested and show what he can do, et cetera. You don’t buy that?
DAVID BROOKS: It was good until yesterday. The extended campaign was good because it got the Democratic message out. It was exciting to watch. Starting yesterday — now we’re going to have two weeks of Kerry is really not that good on the stump. Every time he asks the question he gives a dissertation defense with nine sub-clauses. Now it will be an analysis of why Kerry couldn’t wrap it up. And let’s face it — the media loves Edwards.
JIM LEHRER: Why?
DAVID BROOKS: He’s a good campaigner and we love process. He’s fun to watch. I became a deadhead. I follow John Edwards across various states because he’s so much fun.
JIM LEHRER: He was making the same speech.
DAVID BROOKS: It’s like the Grateful Dead.
JIM LEHRER: It’s not like the Grateful Dead. Did you hear what he said?
MARK SHIELDS: I did hear that, Jim. I followed but I didn’t feel like a Grateful Dead person. There were no funny cigarettes.
DAVID BROOKS: But to pick Guy Lombardo and try to translate it for you.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel like a two-person race is good for Kerry?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there’s no arguing that if you started this process two months ago the Democratic Party has prospered from this contest. I mean George Bush has suffered. I mean CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll….
JIM LEHRER: Why?
MARK SHIELDS: 12 points behind. They’ve made the case against bush. Bush is put on the defensive by other factors as well. Edwards running ten points ahead of him — admitting that these numbers are numbers written on the edge of the water as tides are changing the sands. They’re ephemeral. But they suggest that the process has worked for the Democrats. I think if it goes beyond March 2, it hurts because at that point people say Kerry couldn’t put it away. I think right now it hasn’t. It’s not bitter. It’s not ugly. There aren’t recriminations.
JIM LEHRER: Do you expect it to get ugly? Do you expect Edwards to go after Kerry?
DAVID BROOKS: This trade issue is a big issue in the Democratic Party. It’s a fissure that’s sleeping in the Republican Party. Something weird could happen because of this trade issue which is a powerful issue.
MARK SHIELDS: I think politically there’s no question. Nobody is going to pick up the free trade mantle in this election year of 2004 – nobody -
JIM LEHRER: Because of the jobs issue?
MARK SHIELDS: Because of the jobs issue and because it’s been hurt. I’m a reconstructed free trader, Joe Lieberman anybody else, will pay for it dearly at the polls.
JIM LEHRER: Don’t go away. We’ll be back in a few minutes to talk about Howard Dean.