TOPICS > Politics

Super Tuesday Sweeps

March 11, 1992 at 12:00 AM EST

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Now some analysis of the Super Tuesday election results. Gergen & Shields are here, David Gergen, editor-at-large of “U.S. News & World Report,” Mark Shields Is a syndicated columnist. They are joined by three others tonight, Democratic campaign strategist Wendy Sherman, Republican strategist Ed Rollins, and Eddie Williams, head of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a research organization which focuses on black policy issues. First, on the Democrats, David, how close is Bill Clinton to being the Democratic nominee tonight?

MR. GERGEN: He’s on the verge, Jim. Next week is make or break now for Paul Tsongas. He has to win either Illinois or Michigan. It’s a very uphill battle for him in Illinois. I think he might pull it out in Michigan. That’s a pretty wide open race right now.

JIM LEHRER: Is there a strategy that Tsongas could follow, Mark, that could help him, or could he change, could he do something dramatic between now and next week to do something about this?

MR. SHIELDS: Well, what Tsongas has to do, Jim, is go back to what worked for him. And what worked for him is when Paul Tsongas could talk about the economy. Once Bill Clinton started nailing him on Senate votes, real and imagined missteps, whether he was ardent in his support of Social Security, whether, in fact, he had joined six out of the seven Jewish Senators in the United States, and once voted pro-Syrian on a foreign policy issue, Tsongas found himself In planned defense. You don’t score points on defense In American Presidential politics. And Paul Tsongas has to go back to what worked for him before and do it even better, and make it, make his own case, rather than simply responding to Bill Clinton’s criticisms.

JIM LEHRER: Wendy Sherman, as a practical matter though, is it too late for him? Has Clinton got it?

MS. SHERMAN: Oh, I don’t think it’s too late, I think one of the things that we’re seeing here is really coming to a very important turning point in this campaign. I think the Democrats have been very lucky. We’ve had candidates who have been substantive, talking about the issues. We had them sit here with you and your partner in a very substantive debate, one I’d like to see George Bush, I’d like to see him as substantive as all those Democratic candidates were. So I think we’ve got two and really three people going into this. I think Jerry Brown is very much a factor in play here. And I think that we will have a very heated and lively Michigan, Illinois primary come on Tuesday.

JIM LEHRER: How does it look to you, Ed Rollins?

MR. ROLLINS: I think that Clinton has come back from the dead through the strength of his campaigning techniques and he has a superb campaign strategy. I think he’s on his way. He has a very strong organization. We’re beyond retail politics, which is what New Hampshire is, where Tsongas obviously bad great appeal, and he just doesn’t have the strength and the organization to move forward. Too many people now have a vested Interest In Clinton winning, They have decided that he’s going to be their strongest candidate even with all the potential improprieties that might be out there. And people are betting on him.

JIM LEHRER: Eddie Williams, Clinton has come back from the dead, to use Ed Rollins’ phrase, with a lot of black votes, particularly yesterday. How do you analyze that? Why are the blacks for Bill Clinton?

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, I think the strongest thing that Paul Tsongas has going for him right now is that he has never lost an election before. Given the combination, the coalition that Bill Clinton put together, especially in the South where he brought blacks and whites under the same umbrella, even as I said the other night bringing Bubba and the brother together, that is formidable. And since many blacks consider Illinois and Michigan really to be up South, I have every reason to believe that Clinton to going to put together the same coalition in Illinois and Michigan.

JIM LEHRER: Why do they consider it up South?

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, because of the history of migration, blacks out of the South going into Detroit for jobs back in the thirties and forties, and going into Illinois. And so you have a lot of strong Southern ties in those two particular states. And if he can bring together those coalitions, working in Midwestern states, I think that is a very unique and formidable coalition that he’s got going for him.

JIM LEHRER: David, going back to the beginning and taking it up to where we are tonight, is Clinton’s doing well more attributable to the fact of his having run a terrific campaign, his being a terrific candidate, or to being a weak field or some other factors?

MR. GERGEN: Well, the field is weak and I think geography has helped him enormously. If Super Tuesday had been a Midwestern regional primary, we’d have a very different outcome. Right now, Bob Kerrey, for example, might still be in this race. But Paul Tsongas would be a much, much stronger candidate. But you have to say Bill Clinton has also run a superb campaign. Not many candidates, particularly people not well known to the American peoples, could come back from what he did to survive the last –

JIM LEHRER: You mean the first –

MR. GERGEN, Yes. The Lazarus analogy I think is an apt one. But one thing I think we’ve also seen and learned in the past week about Bill Clinton, once he gets off defense, because he’s been playing a lot of defense in this campaign, once he goes on offense, he’s a very formidable campaigner. He carved Paul Tsongas up in Florida. You know, he reminds me more and more of Lyndon Johnson. He has the capacity to put together Bubba and the brother, and he also has got this enormous drive and this passion about him. You know, I think there’s a lot of LBJ in him and it’s, he also leaves this lingering disquiet among a lot of voters. He hasn’t overcome that. That, to me, is a primary obstacle that now is in his path. That Is a bigger obstacle between here and the White House right now than I think Paul Tsongas is.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, how would you analyze Clinton as a candidate thus far?

MR. SHIELDS: Bill Clinton is a candidate, just looking at him as a straight horse, is as good as any I’ve ever seen. He’s a good retail politician, that is, in small groups, he remembers what you’ve written. He’ll comment on it to the press. He’s an absolute charming, disarming guy. You’re obviously impressed if he’s read what you’ve written, he must be smart, right? He remembers it, right? And he was impressed by it. He agrees with you. He is — and at the same time, he’s wonderful with people. I saw him on the campaign trail where a woman broke down, telling a story of personal tragedy and what her family had been through and he went over and comforted her in a very natural way, something that most politicians don’t do and can’t do easily. At the same time, he gives a good speech. He’s good on television. So he’s got all those skills, David touched on it. Why aren’t Democrats dancing in the streets if they’ve got this terrific talent? And it is, it’s the idea that my God Almighty, from this day forward, every day an election, if you’re on the ticket and this guy’s your running mate, You’re going to pick up the morning paper and there’s going to be a little trepidation in your hand, and you’re going to see, is it going to be a photo of Clinton, or is it going to be a story, it’s going to be a story about him, it’s going to be another story or a story when they talk about Playboy Magazine now In Washington or in politics, it just has a reference to an alleged story that’s going to appear in June involving a woman who was Miss Arkansas. I mean, Bill Safire mentioned it in the New York Times, Clarence Page in the Chicago Tribune mentioned it. I mean, so this is what it is. There’s a disquiet. There’s an unease that this guy at the top of the ticket could blow it away at any time.

JIM LEHRER: How do you analyze the disquiet, Wendy?

MS. SHERMAN: Well, I think that Bill Clinton has faced an awful lot in the press, much more than any other candidate in this race. It’s been very tough. He’s been through a trial by fire. And I think ultimately it comes down to the voters and whether the voters are disquieted enough to vote him in or vote him out. And so far they’ve been saying we hear everything you say and we still think he’s the one to beat George Bush. And I think that matters. And in the exit polling data it shows that yes, there are concerns about Bill Clinton and yes, there are concerns about Paul Tsongas’s health, but, in fact, that’s, both of those are about 20 percent, but 40 percent of Republican voters still don’t know what George Bush stands for. And I think that those kinds of numbers are what’s going to make this general election, whether it’s Bill Clinton or Paul Tsongas, and I agree, it’s Paul Tsongas’s to stop Bill Clinton at the moment. But I think that 40 percent is a very disquieting number for George Bush. My daughter would say and her young friends, George Bush stands up for the American family knot.

JIM LEHRER: Ed Rollins, Wendy Sherman mentioned a moment ago that we must not forget Jerry Brown is still in this race and he’s a factor. How would you judge that? What kind of factor Is he?

MR. ROLLINS: He’s a dangerous factor in this sense. He doesn’t play by conventional politics anymore. He did a year ago when he was the Democrat Chairman of California. But he’s no longer into conventional politics. And I think he’s sort of in a guerrilla type operation, the slash and burn. He’s enjoying the limelight. He has nothing else to do when this is over. So I think that lie has no qualms about going out and trashing up both Tsongas and Clinton, and obviously, if he thinks Clinton is going to win this thing, it always comes back to his battleground, which is California, and he still has strength in California. So I expect him to be a nuisance factor and I expect him to be very unpredictable. And I wouldn’t even be surprised in the final analysis if he chooses to take his movement outside the Democratic Party and just keep right on running through November as an Independent.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think about the Jerry Brown factor, Eddie Williams?

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, he can be dangerous. You know, he has gone out of his way to try to court some black support. It did not succeed in the Southern states.

JIM LEHRER: Why not? Why don’t they hear him?

MR. WILLIAMS: I think he wasn’t taken seriously. And I think there’s a strong inclination now to want to identify with a winner. I think that compared to Clinton, he did not appeal as strongly. But it was a blatant appeal to race in support of civil rights. I think also there is a widespread perception among blacks that all three of the candidates have fairly strong civil rights or social policy records, so that really is not at issue. And people can deal more with –

JIM LEHRER: Go on to other things.

MR. WILLIAMS: They can go on to other things.

MR., LEHRER: Sure. Speaking of going on to other things, let’s go on to Wendy Sherman’s subject here that she was mentioning and that’s George Bush. But on the Buchanan thing, first of all, what’s your, we talked about this last night, David, but is there any update in your mind or based on what you have in your mind or what somebody put in it since last night as to whether or not Buchanan is going to go gracefully any time? He said if he goes, when he goes, he will go gracefully. That’s what he did say today. Is he going to do it anytime soon?

MR. GERGEN: Not soon enough for George Bush. But I think it’s very clear now that Buchanan has peaked and that he is on a slide. I think the question now really is when he does want to get out. What he did say today, which was significant, was that once the President has the nomination locked up, he, Buchanan will not attack him personally. He wants to go on and raise a few issues in California, but he’s not going to go after him in the some kind of personal way he has in the past. He does not want to be a rule or ruin candidate. Clearly, Pat Buchanan is beginning to think in a more serious way about 1996 and he understands if he destroys George Bush in 1992, his chances, Pat Buchanan’s chance for the nomination of his own party to ’96 I think are sharply diminished.

JIM LEHRER: What point does be have left to make, Mark?

MR. SHIELDS: I’m not sure, Jim. I think in New Hampshire Pat Buchanan showed something that he had never revealed before in his public persona. And that was he was the empathetic, sympathetic conservative to people in economic trouble. And then when he headed South, when he got below the Mason Dixon Line, he started outlawing French kissing for married couples and all the sort of social, cultural conservatism running. I mean, he did mini Bitburgs, visiting the confederate grave sites. You know, I mean, it was sort of bizarre down there. It ran hard right on all the social and cultural issues down South. And I, to me –

JIM LEHRER: I think you just upset David.

MR. GERGEN: Mini Bitburgs?

MR. SHIELDS: I mean, he was –

MR.GERGEN: To visit the tomb –

MR. SHIELDS: He was over visiting his great grandfather. This is a guy –

MR. GERGEN: I’m sorry.

MR. SHIELDS: Well, you can be sorry. Maybe you would have voted for Pat Buchanan down there. My point is that Pat Buchanan got off his economy message. He’s going to Michigan now. It’s a state that is in economic trouble. It has a conservative governor, a governor who has made his reputation, is popular, on the fact of not raising taxes, and a very popular Republican. And so I think if he returns to that economic message, he may have, he may find some response there.

JIM LEHRER: Ed Rollins, you said here last week that the best way Mr. Bush could, well, the best thing Mr. Bush could do to combat what Buchanan is doing is to be the President and forget and ignore Buchanan. That apparently is the strategy, right? He was either listening or they had the same idea at the same time.

MR. ROLLINS: I’m sure they had the same idea. They have a lot of bright people around the President. He, himself, has surely good instincts. The critical thing, David made a point about Pat peaking. I think it’s not just a question of Pat peaking. I think it’s a question of the President’s probably bottomed out. This is, this is voters who are unhappy with George Bush. It’s in direct proportion to the disapproval among Republicans, and for those who disapprove of the tax pledge that he broke two years ago, almost direct numbers. Buchanan adds a little, subtracts a little depending on the course of this campaign. I think there’s twenty-five to thirty percent across the economy. Until the economy comes back, it probably stays there, until there’s a Democrat on the other side. But I think for the President to in any way, shape or form get into the trenches with Buchanan anymore just does himself a great disservice, does the party a great disservice. I think Pat is now finding that the game is changing dramatically. Just the press coverage yesterday, he got 30 percent a week ago and it was a great victory. Yesterday was a great defeat. He’s now to point he’s had 13 weeks of the most fun he’s ever had in his life. It now gets real tough and people start really questioning his motives, is he going to destroy the party. He’s now in a battle with the national chairman of the party and making outrageous demands. And I think that Pat wants to be always taken seriously. If he continues, he may not be taken seriously again.

JIM LEHRER: David, did you find it interesting that Mr., Bush was given an opportunity two or three times today at his news conference to disassociate himself from the remarks of his party chairman and others, the accusations that they have made about Buchanan about race, anti-semitism, and all of that, and Mr. Bush said, well, these people are defending me and that’s terrific, and et cetera, and they asked him again and he said, well, that’s terrific, and he didn’t say, he didn’t disassociate himself?

MR. GERGEN: Jim, he’s been listening to the show. He’s heading back to the Rose Garden. He’s going back to being President. And I think that’s a smart strategy, I think once he got out of the Rose Garden in the last few weeks he really got hurt. And he’ll be better off as a campaigner and I think frankly the country will be better off if be goes back to paying attention to the business at hand. I think there’s one other thing that’s going on here that should be noted, and that is the turnout on the Democratic side is down in most of the Southern states, I believe, yesterday.

JIM LEHRER: Compared to what?

MR. GERGEN: Compared to four years ago.

JIM LEHRER: Is that right? Eddie, you’ve looked at that.

MR. WILLIAMS: The turnout was down among both Democrats and Republicans, significantly more among Democrats than Republicans.

MR. GERGEN: In many, many states the Republican turnout actually went down in some, went up in others, but the Republican share of the primary vote in the South is up in almost every state. It’s up significantly in some states. For instance, four years ago among all the primary voters 40 percent were voting at a Republican primary, this time 50 percent voting at a Republican primary. That suggests even as Bill Clinton was sweeping this out from the Democratic side, that George Bush retains a great deal of strength there and indeed, I think that’s why he would still be favored in a general election against Bill Clinton.

JIM LEHRER: The other thing that happened yesterday, Wendy Sherman, was that David Duke, the big fear that everybody talked about at the beginning of all this, apparently has flopped out. What’s your analysis of that?

MS. SHERMAN: Well, I think Pat Buchanan has taken his agenda and run with it. And I think it’s also been quite interesting, as you say the President hasn’t disassociated himself with Pat Buchanan or with the ideas he’s espoused and I think he’s trying to collect Buchanan voters and –

JIM LEHRER: I misspoke. What I meant to say was that he did not disassociate himself with the attacks on Buchanan, rather than not with — maybe that’s what I, what I meant at least.

MS. SHERMAN: Well, I think when you don’t disassociate yourself with someone who is espousing things even if you are not identifying with those ideas directly–

JIM LEHRER: I got you.

MS. SHERMAN: –you’re trying to collect the voters of that candidate. George Bush does not want to lose Pat Buchanan’s voters. And I think the only agenda that George Bush has had in the last few days has been Pat Buchanan’s agenda, whether it’s firing the head of NEA, whether it’s saying my, denying my tax pledge was a mistake, everything has been really the far right agenda. And I do believe George Bush has gone back to the Rose Garden but I think the American people would say he’s the only one who’s smelling roses out of that kind of strategy. And I think he still has very significant problems. And I might add there may be Republicans who are turning out, but women are staying home in the Republican primaries. And I think that’s a serious problem for George Bush because I think they will flock to the Democratic Party.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Ed Rollins?

MR. ROLLINS: Well, first of all, let me say I think we have a great deal as Americans to be grateful to Pat Buchanan. I would hate to have David Duke out there attempting to be the vehicle for this protest vote against George Bush, and I think Pat Buchanan, as painful as it may have been for the President, he has done a great disservice by wiping this guy off the face or the political map.

JIM LEHRER: A great service.

MR. ROLLINS: A great service, yes, a great service.

JIM LEHRER: Are you suggesting, Ed, that if Buchanan had not been there that Duke might have gotten into double digits in more states than –

MR. ROLLINS: He may well, just as the messenger of protest, and I think that would have been terribly misinterpreted and would have caused great divide in the country. I think Buchanan, in spite of the differences we may have on discussing, I don’t think Pat Buchanan in any way, shape or form is a racist. I don’t think he has a prejudiced bone, in his body. He has some very strong views on some things that we all may disagree with. But he is not a David Duke and anyone who says be is doesn’t know the man.

JIM LEHRER: Eddie Williams, what’s your analysis of why David Duke flopped?

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, first let me say I don’t know Pat Buchanan or David Duke very well beyond what I think they stand for, and I find no redeeming qualities in the candidacy –

JIM LEHRER: Of either one of them.

MR. WILLIAMS: — of either one of them, except to serve as a small vessel for what may be a modest protest vote. There’s no blinking David Duke. He is there and there are people who follow him and so we are going to see that. And so I didn’t see anything wrong with his, with him running, and we will see what people think. I think in many ways it would have been better to have him run head on and be denounced than to have It sort of siphoned away by Pat Buchanan. In any case, I don’t think either one will be helpful to the President, because the Buchanan candidacy forces President Bush to push more and more to the right, And I think one thing that will do is close off any avenues for him getting support from blacks and perhaps other minorities which could possibly force him Into another Willie Morton type strategy In the fall.

JIM LEHRER: Meaning he might got In a corner you mean and panic?

MR. WILLIAMS: Yeah. He will start pushing, pushing for the kind, the voter that David Duke represented, let’s put It that way, even If Pat Buchanan did not.

MR. LEHRER: Does that make sense to you, Mark?

MR. SHIELDS: It makes sense to me I do think on the David Duke thing. American voters are pretty smart people. I mean, they weren’t going to elect David Duke President of the United States. I mean, the American voters know what a primary Is, They know what it general election is and they know when they’re picking a President and they know when to send him a message. And David Duke was a legitimate candidate for the Senate of the United States. The voters know that he’s One of a hundred and a Senator Isn’t going to do much. He’s not going to start World War 111, He’s going to rant and rave, Jesse Helms is, a perfect example. Jesse Helms can got elected to the United States Senate from North Carolina, He couldn’t be elected governor of North Carolina. )He’d get blown away, because people understand a governor has to make serious decisions, has to bring people together. But as one of it hundred, that’s fine. David Duke wasn’t going to go anywhere and I think that’s important and I think It’s Important to understand. And I think Pat Buchanan, I think Ed )Rollins Is absolutely right. I think Pat Buchanan Is not, Is not David Duke. I think that Pat Buchanan has a lot to answer for when his two political heroes are Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, both of whom opposed the landmark historic civil rights act in 1964 which said that black Americans had the same right to go to McDonald’s and have a hot dog and a hamburger and a coke as all other Americans, and Pat Buchanan still has yet to come down on that, He wasn’t sure when asked. And that’s why I say when he goes South and does all sorts of symbolic things with white groups and never visits a black voter, I think that sends a message that Is not at all Presidential.

JIM LEHRER: Very quickly.

MR., GERGEN: I don’t agree, He no more has to apologize for supporting Reagan and Goldwater than Southern people who fought In the Civil War ought to be compared to Nazis.

MR. SHIELDS. On civil rights?

MR. GERGEN: I just think those are two bad analogies, I’m sorry.

MR. SHIELDS: Well, on civil rights I think he’s got a long way to go.

JIM LEHRER: Ms. Sherman, gentlemen, thank you very much.