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Shields and Brooks

January 27, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: And how it looks to Shields and Brooks. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. Mark, do you have any feel of any kind of upset or surprise in the works today?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the general consensus, Jim, was that John Kerry would win the New Hampshire primary. But the question was, could Howard Dean bounce back? I mean, would he qualify? Bill Clinton won 25 percent of the vote there in 1992 and qualified as the comeback kid. Does Howard Dean qualify if he does that well and seems to come back from having been in free fall last week.?

JIM LEHRER: In other words, the conventional wisdom is that Kerry is going to win so the only issue is how close Dean with come to him? Is that what you’re saying?

MARK SHIELDS: I’d say this. Since the modern nominating system began really 30 years ago with Iowa and New Hampshire having such influence, anybody who has won both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary has won the nomination of his party. And so if John Kerry wins, he’s got history on his side.

Secondly, does anybody emerge as a logical challenger to him because you’ve got to beat the front-runner somewhere in a contested … you just can’t pick a state and say I cared enough to come to East Overshoe, therefore, vote for me. You have to beat him some place mano o mano.

JIM LEHRER: Have you picked up any soundings that runs counter to the conventional wisdom Kerry is going to win, the only question is how close is Dean going to come to him?

DAVID BROOKS: I think that’s about right. I think there’s clear signs that Dean has rebounded. He’s been through the cauldron and he survived. He survived because of Dr. Judith Steinberg, his wife, who humanized him; second, because he’s really attacked the war hard here and elevated that issue. Third, he’s gone cerebral. There are a lot of slogans at the Kerry rallies but Dean is substantive. I think Dean has held that floor and we’ll see how strongly he’s held it later tonight.

JIM LEHRER: Now, the conventional wisdom has also been that the real race for looking beyond New Hampshire is also for third place. What is your reading now where that stands tonight?

DAVID BROOKS: That seems to be very close. Edwards and Clark were both drawing very strong crowds. They were basically doing the same speech they’ve been doing all along. There is I’d say among those two a lot of centrist support. Lieberman and Kerry, excuse me, Dean and Kerry are fundamentally battling for liberals. What happened in Iowa was that Kerry won college town liberals which was unexpected. I doubt that will happen here. But there is still some centrist in the Democratic Party. Edwards and Clark are sort of battling for that. They’ll be much more prominent in a week from now and two weeks from now.

JIM LEHRER: How important do you think that is, Mark, between Clark and Edwards, if they’re really close, they’re both still alive, if one of them comes out really stronger than the other and one of them is gone?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, it means … it’s tougher to go on. It’s tougher to raise money if you run, you know, if you’re both doing badly. And it means … ups the stakes on John Edwards. If he doesn’t do well he didn’t get the bounce out of Iowa where he really did surprise and impress people.

One interesting sort of subfight that’s going on among Democrats that David alluded to is that Ralph Whitehead of the University of Massachusetts describes as the battle between the Starbucks Democrats who are supporting John Kerry, sort of the grand double latte crowd who are worried about carbs versus the Krispy Kreme dunkin’ donuts Democrats who look a lot more like me and perhaps they’re less concerned about such matters. I think that’s really it. There’s a little bit of a class struggle. Edwards has the natural affinity I think with them. I think General Clark probably has some appeal to these folks, but I think Edwards is a natural fit. It will be interesting to see whether, in fact, as you move from what is no longer Howard Dean’s friendly territory … I mean, this is probably the friendliest territory for Howard Dean. We’re leaving that — and for John Kerry too.

JIM LEHRER: David, it was interesting what you said about the fight between Clark and Edwards for the middle in the Democratic Party because everybody has been saying there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between these major candidates — that only Joe Lieberman is saying anything really very different than the other four. Why do you say differently than that?

DAVID BROOKS: Well I think you’re right on substance. I think if you went to one rally after another you really have a hard time figuring out who was the liberal and who was the moderate. You might think Howard Dean was the more moderate of the two, but when Mark talked about Krispy Kreme donut I think you’re getting at aesthetics, a feel, a level of comfort. I actually think Krispy Kreme is very Republican donuts and those people are Republicans.

JIM LEHRER: All right, guys. Let’s break it up here. Go ahead.

DAVID BROOKS: I actually think the fight is interestingly between Dean and Kerry who are both quite liberal audiences but the Kerry is a very conventional liberal, a very party stalwart type whereas the Dean crowd is not the Starbucks but it is more granola, more alternative consciousness. We are talking about these aesthetic differences because of the policy differences are so small.

And what Edwards and Clark bring to the table is an aesthetic sense of connection. First they both grew up poor. They both grew up in the South. They have some cultural send-off, some emanations that seem centrist even if in a policy sense they’re almost indistinguishable.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, do you have the feeling that if the results tonight are along the lines that you guys have been saying and that is the conventional wisdom elsewhere as well today that these four will leave New Hampshire to fight another day, that this will not be a big elimination. Could be for Joe Lieberman but possibly nobody else?

MARK SHIELDS: Well I think it’s tougher Jim because the premium you have to remember is electability. I mean, that runs through it. It runs through every discussion you have with every voter in New Hampshire, it seems, that brings up.

I had a voter tell me he was decided to vote for John Kerry. I said what determined your choice? When I saw George W. Bush spend Thanksgiving with the troops in Iraq, I felt Kerry was the only guy that could go toe to toe to him. If electability had been central in the 2000 decision John McCain would have been nominated by the Republicans and Bill Bradley by the Democrats. Instead, they chose the two conventional instead.

JIM LEHRER: That’s because of their dislike for George W. Bush.

MARK SHIELDS: I think they want to want to win. Winning in November is the overriding concern of Democratic primary voters in these first two important contests.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Almost. I think there’s one other element in play here. Dean has been through the cauldron. There’s a Civil War expression, seeing the elephant, which is seeing combat for the first time. Dean has done it. Kerry has not done it. There’s a lot of votes he’s taken and a lot of positions he’s taken. He hasn’t really seen it. I don’t think it’s going to come from the other candidates but people like us who are going to subject him to a new level of scrutiny over the next week or so. If he responds as well as Dean has responded the past week, then you’d have to say he’s the favorite to get the nomination. We’ll have to see how he does.

JIM LEHRER: What about Mark’s point of history that there’s never been anybody that won both Iowa and New Hampshire and didn’t go on and get the nomination?

DAVID BROOKS: Far be it for me to contradict history. The only thing I’d caution is that loyalty except for to Dean, loyalty to the other candidates is very fungible. It really can move from one candidate to the other because it’s based on electability and not principle. If it was Bradley versus Gore, those were two really different interpretations of what the Democratic Party should stand for. Here we don’t have that kind of fundamental fight. It’s a lot more fluid than the past fights in either party.

JIM LEHRER: In a word, David, also to, Mark, both of you have been up there. Do you think New Hampshire has proved to be a good test of these candidates in terms relating it to being president of the United States?

DAVID BROOKS: I always think that if you compare the first debate of the season to the last debate, it’s shifted dramatically. Just the whole frame of debate — I think that comes from listening to voters and responding to issues that were unexpected. I think both these two small states that start us off do actually a fantastic job.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I think that’s true. I think that Howard Dean has made the others better candidates. I mean, they learned in a hurry because of Dean’s surging. David is absolutely right. Dean had four months of scrutiny. He became the front-runner last August. He’s had four months of being the target for us and the press and for his opponents. John Kerry, if we would blow a victory tonight and next week would have had a grand total of maybe eight days of scrutiny. It prepares you for November. I had one of Kerry’s people say to me today, you know, Dean is surging for one reason: People up here have concluded what he did wasn’t a mortal sin — that there was overreaction.

JIM LEHRER: Overreaction on the night.

MARK SHIELDS: Overreaction on the part of the press to the Iowa caucuses.

JIM LEHRER: We’ll see what happens. Thank you all.