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Democratic Campaign Analysis

January 23, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Some further analytical thoughts on the week now from Mark Shields and David Brooks. Mark, in general, how do you see this race going into the weekend?

MARK SHIELDS: Well in general, Jim, I think John Kerry is the acknowledged front-runner, and he has not stumbled, and nobody has landed a punch on that lantern jaw of his. One person we didn’t mention in that lineup was John Edwards. John Edwards, I thought, had a strong performance last night. And he’s had a strong performance here.

Other than his question on comparative world religion, where he kind of stumbled and vamped about Islam and his lack of knowledge there of, which I share, I thought he was quite strong, and tried to take the debate as he has in this campaign to a higher level to talking about what a president ought to be doing and what America’s business ought to be with 35 million people living in poverty.

I think the question, if Kerry is ahead and maintains that lead through the weekend, going into Tuesday, the battle becomes for second place, and John Edwards of course who has never been on his home field, he’s got three New Englanders here, before heading south to South Carolina next week, you know, if he pulls that off, as people don’t think he will.

JIM LEHRER: They don’t think he will?

MARK SHIELDS: No they don’t think he will. I don’t think they’re low balling it either, they do not think they’ll finish second right now. But then it’s a battle, can Wes Clark beat Howard Dean here. Can Howard Dean, if Howard Dean doesn’t come back and pull a good second here or even wins, he still is a wounded candidate in that his negatives have climbed highly, I don’t want to say he’s like George Wallace was, but there’s probably a 35 or 40 percent of the Democratic electorate now who have serious doubts about Howard Dean, or even negative feelings.

JIM LEHRER: What’s your overview of where things stand, David?

MARK SHIELDS: I basically agree with that. Kerry, if you just look at the polls Kerry is up by nine points.

JIM LEHRER: No reason to question the polls?

DAVID BROOKS: I never do, well not when there about six of them and they all say the same thing, that Kerry is up by nine or ten points. And I think Edwards does have momentum, and he could — I don’t know if he could finish second, but he could finish third and who ever finishes behind him has to drop out. So that’s significant.

I thought in this little clip here of John Edwards here — we saw the whole Edwards campaign in microcosm. First that beautiful thing about the homeland security, a lot of politicians would talk about some abstract — the Homeland Security Department in Washington but he does it very concretely. How would you react to a terrorist attack? That was a beautiful way to get into that issue.

But then he goes on and says there are terrorist cells here, we need to get people into them. Well, that’s easy to say. And that’s sort of the problem with him, which is that he has the too easy answer and he never really tackles the tough subjects. But you sort of saw both the plus and the minus of John Edwards right there.

JIM LEHRER: Do you feel, Mark, that Edwards and Clark will stay in this race after Tuesday no matter what the result is?

MARK SHIELDS: I’ve always maintained Jim that there’s only three tickets out of New Hampshire, first class, coach and stand by. And Howard Dean may be the exception in the sense that he does have a national fund raising apparatus, and Howard Dean if he, if his campaign does come to an end, the millions of Americans think all they ever need to know about Howard Dean they saw in that video wallpaper of that Monday night meltdown.

And they really do an enormous disservice, and I do want to say this about him. Howard Dean gave the Democratic Party back its soul on the matter of fundraising. Under Bill Clinton’s presidency Democrats kind of looked the other way and didn’t want to talk about the fact that they had gotten very cozy with corporate contributors in exchange for nights at the White House, the Lincoln Bedroom, and access to the White House.

They took these six-figure contributions in soft money. The president is still raising millions from his Pioneers and his Rangers and who ever else he has, and Howard Dean showed that somebody could really do it the way it’s supposed to be done with small contributions and for hundreds of thousands of people. And is that an enormous contribution to making Americans believe in their political system again.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?

DAVID BROOKS: I’m not quite sure I do. I sort of admire the way Dean did it, but if there’s a lesson in the past two weeks it’s that the old fashioned way worked pretty well. The experienced politicians have risen, John Kerry, the people who are the insurgents and have new ways of doing things, that turned out to be a bubble. That doesn’t mean all future insurgencies or all future grass roots campaigns necessarily will be. But it certainly suggests that they’re more unstable than the tried and true methods of a guy like John Kerry.

JIM LEHRER: Some of the pundits have suggested, David, that other pundits have suggested that the fundraising aside, the other thing Howard Dean will have contributed, whether, however this thing turns out to this campaign, is that he’s forced the other Democratic candidates to be a little more harsh in their criticism of President Bush and to take him on a little more directly and not round the corner. Do you agree with that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, I do agree with that. E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post says he was the candidate for 2003 when they needed bucking up, he did buck them up. We should be careful to mention that he’s still very much in this. I think we’re in for another cycle here –.

JIM LEHRER: You agree with that, right, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I do, but he did give the Democrats a vertebrae transplant, at a time when Democrats all over the country had lost all confidence in their leadership, to stand up to George W. Bush. We went through a campaign in 2002 where Max Cleland, a triple amputee, was condemned as consorting with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in Republican commercials.

And Democrats somehow didn’t fight back. And Howard Dean showed them, hey, damn it, we can fight back, and I think that’s important. And I think he’s forced the other Democrats to become more combative.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of President Bush, David, unless I’ve missed something, his State of the Union is only three days ago seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth. What happened?

DAVID BROOKS: I completely agree. The polls were fine, people were not hostile to it by and large, though I was. But he had no dramatic domestic program to get people excited. So he did insult some liberals, but he didn’t excite his own base, and there is deep concern on the Republican side, because of the spending of his administration.

Lyndon Johnson raised spending 4 percent a year, domestic discretionary spending; Bush has raised spending 8 percent a year, double Lyndon Johnson’s rate. There is deep anxiety about that, so when you spend a lot and you don’t have any vision, you’re going to have unhappiness at the base, and a lot of disillusionment.

JIM LEHRER: In a word, Mark, is the president’s State of the Union message an issue in New Hampshire?

MARK SHIELDS: Not really, Jim, it kind of disappeared between the two primaries, and as a personal note I just have to say, any time a president tells me I can spend my money better than the government can and, boy, indulges my vanity and my avarice, you know I really get a little angry, because he’s insulting me.

I cannot clean up the environment by myself, I cannot provide health care to others, I can’t do the Center for Disease Control no matter how much money I have. I just really think that is, that’s an insult to the American people, when any leader stands up and says that.

JIM LEHRER: You think that’s what he did in the State of the Union?

MARK SHIELDS: He did, he said you know better to do with your money than I do. I can’t hire a Marine Corps, I can’t do any of those things. I can’t build a better society for other people, for children, all by myself. No matter how much money I accumulate.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you.