Bob Dole and Primary Fallout
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JIM LEHRER: The Dole wrap-up is first tonight. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Dole won primaries in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The 209 delegates he won, according to the Associated Press, bring his delegate total to 1,005, more than enough to win the Republican nomination. Here is some of what he told supporters at a rally last night here in Washington.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Republican Presidential Candidate: (Last Night) I think it’s safe to say now that I will be the nominee. (cheers from crowd and applause) That’s only the first step. That’s only the first step. And we’re going to need a lot of help from people in this audience and Americans everywhere as we go to work the rest of this month, and April, May, and June, July, then the convention, and then the final lap to victory which will start about Labor Day in 1996.
JIM LEHRER: Now some analysis by Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, “Wall Street Journal” columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, it’s over. Bob Dole, on paper at least, has the Republican nomination. Any surprises, anything of note that we should remember about what happened yesterday?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I don’t think it was a great surprise. I was a little surprised that Pat Buchanan didn’t do better, frankly. Once it got down to a two-man race, and you get close to the nomination, there’s often something that people calls “buyer’s remorse” sets in a bit. Jerry Brown won some primaries late. Gary Hart won some primaries late in 1984, against Walter Mondale, but Pat Buchanan just really hasn’t been able to, to mount that kind of a challenge. Even his best state, Michigan, he only got 37 percent of the vote. So these states which are critical to November for Bob Dole, he has to win these states–if he wins these states, he probably will be President–this was a good showing for him.
JIM LEHRER: Mark.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Bob Dole, putting it in perspective, Jim, four weeks ago today was bruised and battered. He had lost New Hampshire for the second time in eight years. He had fired his pollster. He appeared to be reverting to style. And he came back. He came back and won the nomination in four weeks’ time. Carl Lubesdorf of the “Dallas Morning News” said that this confirms the conventional wisdom is right, that the Republicans always nominate the front-runner, they nominate the candidate with the most money, they nominate somebody who’s run before, they nominate somebody that the party leaders like and endorse, all of that–all that worked out this year, and of course, the conventional wisdom looked pretty shaky about four weeks ago, but it’s, it’s an impressive victory for Bob Dole. You know, I guess the glass is half-full, half-empty. I thought Pat Buchanan was going to get, according to most polls, 18 or 20 percent. He doubled that in a couple of states, and I don’t–it’s certainly–Bob Dole thus far, winning the nomination, impressive, has managed only to coalesce around his candidacy the George Bush constituency, and that’s not enough.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Do you agree, he’s got a lot of work to do?
PAUL GIGOT: I believe he has work to do. There’s no question about it. I think the biggest–
JIM LEHRER: Where? On the right, in the middle, or everywhere?
PAUL GIGOT: He has problems on the cultural right, which I think is still the bedrock of the Buchanan support, and he’s got to make sure that that comes in. He can do that in a variety of ways, by bringing Buchanan into the tent, a pro-life running mate, a variety of things, and he’s also got problems among independents and Perot voters. I mean, I think that–the string of primaries for the last three weeks have all shown that Bob Dole has not done as well as he would have liked among Perot voters from ’92 and self-described independents. He does great among the Republican partisans. He even does fairly well among some Democrats. But he’s got to do better to reach out to the swing portion of the electorate, which are the, the independents.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking Perot, in the “Washington Post” at least this morning, the lead story–I wish I had–I should have brought it with me–but the lead story says Dole, you know, has won the nomination, but the sub-head says, “But Here Comes Perot,” or words to that effect.
PAUL GIGOT: Raining on his parade.
JIM LEHRER: Raining on his parade. This is a serious matter, is it not? I mean, he’s–Ross Perot is now saying–he said a couple of days ago, reaffirmed it, that if his folks, if his party, the reform party, asked him to run, he would do it.
MARK SHIELDS: If they get 50 ballots–and it looks like they’re going to in some fashion or another– some places they won’t be able to get their party on, but they’ll be able to get a candidate on, and that candidate, of course, until somebody else better comes along, will be H. Ross Perot. Jim, it is–it is a wild card challenge. The Democrats at the White House are kind of whistling a happy tune. They think it’s terrific, there’s no way Bob Dole can do it. Look what it did to George Bush. A couple of interesting things overlooked; first of all, Ross Perot’s constituency is not a static constituency. Only 45 percent of the people who were with him in 1992 are in the 16 percent who are now with him in 1996. The people who supported him in 1992 and are with him now when asked to choose between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole choose Bob Dole. All right? Their Republican profile, that’s the conventional wisdom, but the newcomers to Ross Perot, the 55 percent who weren’t with him in 1992, by a margin of six to one, when forced to choose, they choose Bill Clinton over Bob Dole, which means he’s cutting, he’s pulling right now from the newcomers to his band wagon overwhelmingly from the Democrats. And I think Democrats are very short-sighted when they think, wow, we’re home free if Perot’s in the race.
JIM LEHRER: You’re shaking your head.
PAUL GIGOT: I haven’t talked to a single Republican here, in the West Coast, East Coast, or anywhere, and frankly, not many Democrats who think that–who agree with Mark on that. The conventional wisdom, their conventional wisdom, and I agree with the conventional, but there’s a lot of polling data.
JIM LEHRER: Let’s hear it for the conventional wisdom occasionally, right?
PAUL GIGOT: Every once in a while it’s right. Everyone says Mark–as Mark suggested.
JIM LEHRER: About Dole.
PAUL GIGOT: Is that it’s predominantly a Republican constituency, particularly as you get above the 10 percent into the 20–10 to 20 percent, Perot got 19 percent in 1992. These are primarily people who vote on the economy. A lot of them voted for Reagan twice and for Bush, and they tend not to be socially conservative. They tend to vote mainly on economic issues, and it’s very hard if you are splitting the anti-incumbent vote to win an election if you’re Bob Dole, the challenger, and that’s what I think–the threat that Ross Perot presents.
JIM LEHRER: Is he a threat if he doesn’t go above 16 percent to anybody?
MARK SHIELDS: Sure, he’s a threat, and it depends solely where it comes from. The Democrats, Jim, in the United States over the past 20 years have never gotten more than 47 percent of the vote in a Presidential election. Michael Dukakis is the all-time champion of Democratic vote getters in the past 20 years. He got 47 percent. Democrats basically get around 43, 42. What–
JIM LEHRER: Clinton got 43.
MARK SHIELDS: 43. What Paul is looking at, I think he’s looking at through a rear view mirror; he’s looking at the Perot vote of 1992. It’s an entirely new vote in 1996, and in a “Wall Street Journal”/NBC Poll, what you’re seeing is an entirely different group. If Ross Perot spent $60 million in 1992, $60 million, he made the case so–
JIM LEHRER: That compares with say Steve Forbes, who spent 25, right?
MARK SHIELDS: Forty.
JIM LEHRER: Forty. Okay. All right.
MARK SHIELDS: But Perot spent that $60 million making the case for change against the status quo. All right. He made the case so compellingly for change that you couldn’t vote for George Bush. You could vote for Ross Perot, you could vote for Bill Clinton. Now, in–he’s got $50 million he’s going to spend in 1996; if he is the nominee, if he is going to run, he doesn’t have the personal animus toward Bob Dole that he had toward George Bush. I mean, there’s no question about that. I mean, they had that–they have a close relationship. If he would make that case, Jim, on the administration’s economic policies, on their, their dealing with China, or whatever the heck else, that changes the whole dynamic of the race when you get a three way. It changes the debates when you get a three way.
JIM LEHRER: But what does he run on?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, that’s a mystery because what was the issue that he deserves credit for putting on the agenda in 1992? The balanced budget.
JIM LEHRER: Balanced budget.
PAUL GIGOT: A government that cannot get itself under control. All right, so–
JIM LEHRER: The size of the government, shrink the size, get the–
PAUL GIGOT: Efficiency, sure, but really it was that sense of, of out of control, irresponsibility.
JIM LEHRER: You’re right.
PAUL GIGOT: Lack of accountability, that was centered on, on a runaway deficit. So he puts that on the agenda, President Clinton tries his best to put it, you know, to do something about it in the first two years, at least claimed to, and the Republicans come in and they actually vote for a balanced budget. They vote on the toughest thing you can possibly vote on, Medicare. I mean, they ran right up and put their heads on the chopping block and said, chop it off, and the Democrats are basically sawing, and where’s Ross Perot? He’s nowhere. He’s griping about gridlock. He’s saying, yeah, where was he when the really tough decisions were made, so if Ross Perot now decides to join up on the balanced budget with Republicans, that would be a help to the Republican candidate, but right now, he’s talking about campaign finance reform. He’s talking about process political questions. He shifted his entire focus.
JIM LEHRER: So how does he appeal to the folks this time?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, the desire, first of all, the anti-Washington constituency in this–in the United States of America is deep and pervasive.
JIM LEHRER: Is still there.
MARK SHIELDS: All right. Neither Bill Clinton or Bob Dole can address it. I think we have to stipulate that. They both are in the two triple O zip code somewhere. I mean, that’s where they are. They get their calls answered at 202 area code. All right. Ross Perot taps in. He has greater credentials going into that. As far, as far as the money and politics issue, you can call it a process issue if you want, there is no question, you look at soft money, and the millions of dollars that both parties have lined up and tin-cupped with, Perot has a long record and a believability and a credibility and authenticity on that that neither of these two candidates can even talk about.
JIM LEHRER: But does that sell?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, he wants to limit everybody else’s ability. He wants to limit everybody’s ability to spend money on politics apparently, except his own. I mean, he doesn’t mind spending $50 million of his own. So I think his credibility on this is, is suspect, frankly, because he’s going to go in and spend whatever he wants, and I don’t know that that issue, which is a limit issue, it’s not about the size of government, it’s not about your personal livelihood, I don’t know that that is enough to sustain a real Presidential candidacy that can get past any chance of winning. Could it be a spoiler? Yes. But winning? Hard to say.
JIM LEHRER: And it does change the, as you said, the nature of the campaign.
MARK SHIELDS: It changes–
JIM LEHRER: I don’t know how yet, but–
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I’ll tell you one thing it does. It makes Bob Dole, who’s been tagged as being old, it makes him that three-way debate, Jim, it makes him sort of a calming figure. I think as Ross Perot and everybody knows, he’s quick, he’s abrasive, he’s confrontational, he’s mercurial, Dole, Dole in that three-way would look entirely different from the way he would look in a one-on-one against Clinton.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay. I mean, it’s an entirely different dynamic once you get a three-way.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, he’s supposed to talk more about this at the end of the week. We’ll see what happens. Thank you both very much.