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The Vice Presidential Debate: Analysts

October 5, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Now some final thoughts and back to syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.

Well, Paul, your suggestion that both candidates did better than their principals, got lots of amens from our analysts.

PAUL GIGOT: Which always worries me.

RAY SUAREZ: But doesn’t this point out the difficulty of this exercise, there’s a lot of down side and risk. But really what you’re there for is to build up the boss.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, sure, that helps, and Cheney did that. I mean, what he offered tonight was a kind of experience by association for Bush. I mean, a sense that his clear competence on foreign policy, defense, Middle East, Milosevic — superior to what George Bush demonstrated, but you get the sense that if a voter has any doubt about George Bush in the Oval Office, Cheney will be right down the hall. He knows a lot, he’s somebody that he’s going to be relying on and I think that helps.

The other thing that struck me about tonight was the difference between Dick Cheney in his convention speech and Dick Cheney tonight. And I think that shows what’s the big intervening event. It was Joe Lieberman’s pick and Joe Lieberman being there, and how the case for change at the convention was character, built around character, ethics and a failure to lead.

And no third term for Bill Clinton. Lieberman’s choice was kind of a cleansing for Gore, and I think complicated that strategy so much for Bush and Cheney, and you saw that tonight because there was no argument about character tonight at all. It just never appeared. And if Richard is right, and I think he might be, about the new course for a new era being a slogan, a theme, Cheney didn’t develop that theme tonight well enough. And I think Governor Bush is going to have to do that to make that argument for change.

MARK SHIELDS: If George Bush didn’t lose Tuesday, Tuesday night in Boston, he has to win next time. John McLaughlin in his conversation with Margaret, the Republican strategist, said he sets it up for Governor Bush who gets better in debates. I haven’t seen that track record in the past, but that may very well be the case.

Everyone has called it a great debate. You have to understand Gigot and I are political reporters, we’re fight promoters, that’s what we are, and it’s a disappointment.

It was a great civic lesson tonight. I do not understand why Dick Cheney did not brief George W. Bush. If George W. Bush could have spent two weekends with Dick Cheney, I think he would have done a lot better job.

Finally, echoing what Richard said, Cheney made the case for compassionate conservativism tonight. Compassionate conservativism separated George Bush from the past, from the field early in this political year and really gave him a lift and identity. It’s something he’s moved away from, and I don’t know if this signals a return to that theme.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, on a couple of issues, in his answer on abortion, rather than giving a really polarizing right wrong answer, he said that both parties would like to reduce the number of abortions and then made a distinction with his party’s approach to how that would be done. What did that show you?

PAUL GIGOT: I think that shows me that the Bush campaign would really rather not talk about abortion. I mean, they think that it is too polarizing and they believe, and I think Lieberman showed this too because he didn’t exactly run to the issue and he tried to make him say I’m for ending third trimester abortions. I think they both feel they have their partisans on that issue in their camp and they’re reaching to swing voters who vote on other issues.

RAY SUAREZ: Ditto gay rights. Dick Cheney gave a very nuanced answer.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean, we’re holding breaths – some people were – that it’s a personal factor with Dick Cheney and Lynn Cheney — his daughter. He never got personal in it. But it was compassionate. It was words of tolerance and freedom and that we must be open and accepting. It was really a very, very thoughtful and reflective answer, and totally non-judgmental.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, I want to thank you both and we’ll see you the next debate night.