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JIM LEHRER: And, finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and “New York Times” columnist David Brooks. David, where do you see the cyber ads fitting into the total campaign in 2004?
DAVID BROOKS: I think the key issue is the six million e-mail addresses. We began to hear this side of the president’s reelection campaign a couple months ago when the Dean e-mail list came up. The thinking behind this is in the last couple of weeks before the 2000 election, the Republicans felt they were up by five or seven points, thought they had a decent shot of a sizable win. That all drifted away in the last couple of days. In part because there was the drunk driving issue, you may remember, but in part because they could not get the vote out the way the democrats did successfully in the last day or two. And so they decided they would spend money on getting e-mail to the six million people. So far they’ve gotten with e-mail accounts but also precinct by precinct. Their thinking goes and it’s counter to this is that the big thematic ad war will get you so far but the ground war in the last two days they’re going to emphasize more than ever before.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read this?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think one of the great pluses of television advertising and campaigns is that it’s there for everybody to see. It isn’t like direct mail where they can send it to me as a select member of the demographic group or certain economic group. It’s there everywhere, certainly they buy it, Social Security pieces on Lawrence Welk, but this is part of an attempt. Of the six million names in that bank is mine and David because in part they want to generate discussion. It’s successful. This cyber ad of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s campaign attacking John Kerry has now been seen on television. I hate to think what it would have cost to buy it. So in that sense, it’s worked. It does gin up your own troops.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think it’s going to have any effect on the way the campaign is run and is it going to be more attack ads on there? How do you– is it going to be a factor at all?
MARK SHIELDS: As we discussed earlier under the McCain-Feingold law, if I put up an ad attacking David Brooks, I have to say this campaign is paid for by David Brooks. I said John Dean. It was paid for my Mark Shields. That’s inhibiting. That says gee, that identifies me very much with the carnage — whereas this, there’s a little bit of a hit-and-run quality to this.
JIM LEHRER: To the issue that was raised in the cyber ads, special interest. How do you read whether or not there is mileage there or traction there for the Republicans against John Kerry?
DAVID BROOKS: I agree it is neutralized. If you look at Kerry’s record as I have, he did give favors. He was involved in the Johnny Chung scandal, he gave favors to a woman from the Chinese liberation Army. You go down the whole list. He has accepted more special interest money and especially a lot of lobbyists’ money. If you take the whole range of his career, he is no better or worse than most congressmen; he is no worse. He is about a normal lifetime career politician. You know, they get a donation, they send out a fax. They write — they go visit the SEC to get a special favor here and there. They try to protect a loophole for an insurance company. That’s all there in Kerry’s past. He is not worse, he is not terrible. He is not Al D’Amato. He is not pure as he is campaigning. So it sort of taints him but obviously it is not an issue that Republicans can win votes on.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: I disagree because I think David has used the term a little loosely and I think it has been used elsewhere. John Kerry, by the 15 year study he taken more from lobbyists, okay. He hasn’t taken more special interest money. There is a big distinction. He doesn’t take any Political Action Committee money from any of these companies. He hasn’t taken any soft money from any of these companies. So for that reason– no election money. It’s not special interest money. Has he taken money from lobbyists? He’s taken money from individuals. But it is not a case of his having — swimming in special interest money. He has been a fearsome fund-raiser, no question about it. But I think if you total up as was done by the institution that they cited in this ad, that the Bush-Cheney folks, I mean they just said that George Bush had taken more in one year than John Kerry had collected in 15 years.
JIM LEHRER: Could it come back and whop him?
DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think so. If people vote on that, as Mark says, the proportion, Bush has taken a lot more money. But on the other hand, you could take individual case after individual case. AIG, an insurance company had a loophole involved in the big dig in Boston insuring that. John McCain wanted to get rid of it. John Kerry wanted to make sure it stayed in. He got $30 million in soft money to help start his presidential campaign. There is story after story. It is not on the Bush proportion — there’s no doubt about that — but fur campaigning, the stories can fly back and forth and who’s better off?
MARK SHIELDS: 30 million?
DAVID BROOKS: 30,000. Did I say 30 million?
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of John Kerry, is he still the front-runner as we speak tonight?
MARK SHIELDS: Until David’s savage attack upon him.
JIM LEHRER: Anything happen since Wednesday?
MARK SHIELDS: No, Democratic voters have done a wonderful thing. They’ve thwarted the party’s leadership effort to get this thing over in a hurry.
JIM LEHRER: Is that a wonderful thing? Why is it a wonderful thing?
MARK SHIELDS: First of all look back two months. Two months ago the Democrats were mostly if not despondent then at least pessimistic about the chances of beating George W. Bush. The party in the last two months is a lot more unified; it’s a lot more energized. The candidates for the most part have not gone after each other. They’ve gone after President Bush. They’ve made the case against him and I think that there is no question there is a pervasive optimism reflected in the polls or caused in part by the polls today. But the Democrats are a lot better off than two months ago and they’re a hell of a lot better off than if this had been sewn up three weeks ago.
JIM LEHRER: How does John Edwards get traction against John Kerry without attacking John Kerry?
MARK SHIELDS: It’s tough.
DAVID BROOKS: If you look at the polls in California and New York, for example, in New York, Kerry is up 66 to 14; in California it’s almost a similar margin. These are huge margins. He might try trade. His problem is and take New York as an example — he is avoiding New York City and the metro area and campaigning upstate in the more rural areas which he thinks will appeal to him. But in California and New York, you have to do quite well among African Americans and Hispanics and other minorities to do well in the Democratic primary. John Edwards doesn’t seem to be campaigning where those votes are.
JIM LEHRER: You mentioned trade. Are there any other big issues that really separate these two men?
DAVID BROOKS: Even trade once you start looking at their records and their rhetoric, the issues are one of shading. So I think Edwards has a real problem just locating issue different situation.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: John Edwards is, to repeat what David and I have said earlier, is the ultimate political talent of this campaign. He makes the case against the Bush economic record far better than any other democrat far better than anybody else in the country.
JIM LEHRER: Better than Kerry.
MARK SHIELDS: Far better than Kerry. That’s really his strength. He does it in the way that even the Wall Street Journal editorial page can’t accuse him of class warfare because he identifies with the people most hurt. It’s incredibly believable. I agree with David. It is going to be tough for him to go after Kerry without getting in one-on-one. I think if I were Edwards, I somehow would have pulled every string I could to get Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich who are now just publicly exposed as vanity candidates, out of that February 26 debate on CNN in Los Angeles. So you get him one-on-one. He has got to figure out a way to get a one-on-one stage with John Kerry because I think that’s his best and probably only hope.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that this– well, we had it in the News Summary a while ago, Edwards saying he wants three more debates in addition to the LA debate. He wants one-on-one without saying it, doesn’t he –
DAVID BROOKS: He will do very well. He had the magical moment in the last debate before Wisconsin where Kerry gave a long answer and Edwards said that was the longest answer to a yes or no question I’ve ever heard. That was a crucial moment, and he needs about six or ten more of those.
JIM LEHRER: Is he going to get them? Is Kerry going to allow that?
DAVID BROOKS: You’ve got a 50-point advantage. Why allow it? I find it hard to believe that they would allow it.
JIM LEHRER: New subject, the other side. Vice President Cheney, a lot of stories recently big long story in the Associated Press wire yesterday and others about the possibility of Dick Cheney not being on the ticket when November comes around for if President Bush continues to have problems in the polls, not so much that he would be tossed over the side but that he might toss himself over the side if it would help the president. How do you feel?
MARK SHIELDS: I talked to someone close to the vice president today and he said he had no doubt that if Dick Cheney thought he was a liability to George W. Bush, that he would go. Cheney is one of those few people that does have a life beyond politics. He certainly has enough money based upon the five years at Halliburton to sustain him. What is interesting, Jim is the man who provided the character reference to George W. Bush in 2000. He was mature, he was experienced, he knew Washington, he was calming — he spoke with syntax; I mean everything about him was a plus.
Ironically he has become almost a poster child for so many of the problems of the Bush– the arrogance on secrecy; the rush to war, the wrong intelligence, the idea that the Iraqis were going to strewn roses in our path as we arrived there, corporate cronyism, sort of a Washington insider with Judge Scalia. There are a lot of areas where he has become a problem symbolically. Actually he is only a problem as I see it in two places. The investigation by the French and United States Justice authorities of alleged bribery paid by Halliburton between 1985-1990 to get contracts in Nigeria. If something comes on that, that could be a problem. Secondly, the increasing reports that the FBI is concentrating its investigation of the leak of the CIA agent’s identity to columnist Robert Novak on the vice president’s office. If somebody is indicted there, it will become a problem.
JIM LEHRER: What is your Cheney report.
DAVID BROOKS: I’ve done a fair bit of reporting at the highest levels. He will be on the ticket. The odds of him not being on the ticket are the odds of Bush campaigning in Aramaic for the rest of the campaign. It’s just not going to happen. The one thing he does understands is his reputation. It suffered, his approval rating.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree he is a liability?
DAVID BROOKS: That’s a strong word. He has gone– his relationship to the president is very private. No one knows what they say to each other and he almost never gives interviews, never makes public appearances. He has become the brown cloud everything gets dumped on. He appreciates the fact that he has got to come out and show himself more publicly. This was the guy, remember. In 1991 during Desert Storm, he was a very popular guy in the press and around town. He is the same person.
JIM LEHRER: He was very visible. I remember the night the war began, he came on this program and said I’ll stay here as long as you want me to to explain it.
DAVID BROOKS: He has made some mistakes. And the thing I would come among them, but he has many fine qualities which he has not shown the public. He gets the reputation as Darth Vader which is unmerited.
MARK SHIELDS: He is not the same person, and I say this because I’ve known Dick Cheney for a long time and like him. He’s had a lot of friends on the Hill. Those relationships are over. He just really, I mean he’s retrenched. Don’t forget this. History is ironic in a sense. Dick Cheney was chief of staff to Gerald Ford when Ford was president of the United States and for ford’s reelection, they dumped Nelson Rockefeller. Had they gotten Nelson Rockefeller, they offered Ronald Reagan the secretary of commerce’s job to try to get him out of the race. And Reagan was so upset, one of his principal advisers said to me if they offered him the court of St. James, Nancy Reagan would have said let’s go. But because they dumped Rockefeller and Reagan’s sense of loyalty, Reagan got in the 76 race against Gerry Ford and cost Ford the presidency itself.
JIM LEHRER: Your point David, before we go is that no matter what happens to bush in the opinion polls, no matter how far he goes, just talking about if he goes down further, that Cheney would never, ever go to the president and say I’m a liability. I need to– you just don’t think that’s possible.
DAVID BROOKS: The president would never consider that. If the president is going down, it is the president’s administration. You can’t underestimate the fact that they appreciate the private counsel that Cheney gives and the wisdom within the administration. And secondly they love the fact that they have a vice president, especially in the second term who does not someday want to be president himself. That’s incredibly important to them.
JIM LEHRER: Even if Cheney himself offers to go to the side the president would say no way.
DAVID BROOKS: He would be hesitant I suspect.
MARK SHIELDS: Cheney has the outfit but David put his finger on something. Every other Republican from Bill Kristol, Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki was thinking about running 2008 wants Cheney on that ticket because they don’t want anybody else to step ahead of them on the road to secession. Republicans promote from within.
JIM LEHRER: We are on the road to the weekend. Thank you both very much.