Political Wrap with Mark Shields and David Brooks
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MARGARET WARNER: With me are syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
The president’s steel decision this week, David, let’s just look at the crass politics of it. How big a role does politics play in this?
DAVID BROOKS: Um, everything? No, there may have been a substantive issue buried in there, but it was politics mostly. Listen, he betrayed his principles and went for a protectionist steel policy because of two key states: West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
I think what the administration was surprised by was the backlash, first domestically by all the people who use steel, who make cars, who make refrigerators and all that kind of stuff, and other key states like Wisconsin and Michigan, they saw their prices go up and they were angry, and they were mobilized, much more than previously.
The second problem was international. The WTO and Europe mobilized much more than the administration thought they would and threatened retaliation, which would have gone into effect at the end of the month. And not only retaliation, which is normal, but targeted intelligent retaliation against oranges and, thus, key swing states in Florida and places like that. So the people in Europe can read our election map as well. And so it was those two political considerations which I think forced their hand to climb down.
MARK SHIELDS: Margaret, when the president put the tariffs in, I think I was one of the few people who saluted him for doing it because he was keeping a promise made in the 2000 campaign. It is very rare when a candidate, especially a winning candidate, remembers promises that might be inconvenient with his political base. He did do that; and now, there is no question. David’s point is well taken. I think the key moment in this whole negotiation is when the European Union started to playing electoral politics in this country. That the reprisals in the form of tariffs would be imposed upon citrus products — Florida, textile products — the Carolinas, and all of a sudden it became big man on campus, the trade minister of those countries that said, hey, let’s do this. I don’t think that there is any question it had an effect on the president’s decision.
But they did hold off making the decision until they had better economic news to report, so they could say a variation of mission accomplished, it wasn’t the Lincoln carrier again, but there was a sense that things have improved. But I think that David remains right in the sense that once you do deviate from your own beliefs, stated beliefs and constituency that supports those, it’s always a political risk because you don’t pick up on the other side to the same degree. I think that’s what happened with the president.
DAVID BROOKS: I’d say the larger lesson is don’t enact a policy that Mark will applaud.
MARGARET WARNER: So now if we look at say the states that are steel producing states, is the president going to pay a price there? We’re talking about West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania primarily. He won two of those three in 2000.
DAVID BROOKS: Right. And he will pay a price, but I really would not overestimate the issue. It always seems, and when you go out on the campaign trail, it is true, especially the Democratic campaign trail, trade is a huge issue. It always comes up in every meeting, somebody has lost their job — and people really have lost their jobs from manufacturing.
On the other hand, this is a service economy. The service workers like free trade. On the polling, the people who have high school degrees tend to like some protectionism. People with college degrees making up a larger part of the electorate, they like free trade. So it’s generally been a winning issue if you can tap into that silent majority that supports free trade.
MARGARET WARNER: And then, Mark, if you play the state game, if you take the four states that have the most steel consuming industries, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, does this actually help the president or does it just help neutralize a problem he had there?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, a serious problem he had there. You have to understand that unemployment has more than doubled in the state of Michigan since George Bush has become president, it’s up 80 percent unemployment rate in Wisconsin.
MARGARET WARNER: A lot of jobs –
MARK SHIELDS: A lot of jobs — the loss in manufacturing jobs and I don’t quibble with David’s point about the trade issue. The trade issue, you have to understand, I think the press is accused of bias, I think it is fair to say the press is probably more pro-abortion rights, more pro-gun rights, it’s more gay rights, and on free trade it is too. That’s because we’ve never had an 11-year-old Sri Lanken bureau chief in Washington willing to work for $40 a month. I mean, so none of the jobs have been lost there. There is a real class gulf in the country between the people who are paid –157,000 manufacturing jobs in Ohio in the last three years — it is going to have a political effect on the president. I think there is no question about it. It is tough to make the case you are better off than you were in the year 2000.
MARGARET WARNER: What about the Democrats on this issue, David? Can the Democrats exploit this at all or is it just as complicated a calculation for them?
DAVID BROOKS: For them, too. You’re fighting the auto workers on one hand and the steelworkers on the other. Though I do think the Democratic story is the interesting story. They have transitioned in two years from Bill Clinton’s party, the NAFTA party, free trade party to the anti-free trade party — mostly [because of] Dick Gephardt. He has been there all along — a principled believer in these policies, says we can’t have free trade. We have to have a much more complicated trade policy. He has been there all along and swung the party around so he and Howard Dean are not free traders at all, and the whole party has shifted.
It is impossible to imagine a Democratic president doing what Bill Clinton did, supporting NAFTA, supporting free trade agreements.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you explain that, Mark? Howard Dean actually supported NAFTA; now he absolutely says he has changed his mind and he is for fair trade, which is putting in labor and environmental standards. How do you explain that happening?
MARK SHIELDS: There’s an old Latin phrase, “post hoc, therefore [ergo] propter hoc.” Something happened after something, it happened because of that. I wear my blue shirt and the Red Sox win, is that why the Red Sox won? Well, the reality is, Margaret, that all the dire predictions of the 1992 campaign, mostly originated with Ross Perot, have come home to an awful lot of places in the United States.
The loss of manufacturing jobs, the loss of the manufacturing base, and you can make the case as long as the economy is growing, expanding, as it was in the Clinton years, 22 million new jobs, all of a sudden now, saying wait a minute, the race to the bottom has begun. And jobs that went to Mexico have now gone into Asia.
One can say this is an inevitable development and so forth, but if one is paying the price because you’ve lost the job that provides medical benefits, retirement benefits and job security, that community is affected, the state is affected, the family is affected and I think that’s why the saying now, and you see Kerrey and Edwards, no question about it and Dean, moving toward the Gephardt position, which is that worker rights and environmental rights must be included in all future trade agreements. This seems to be an emerging consensus on the part of Democrats on that.
MARGARET WARNER: There’s a lot there is not an emerging consensus on, David. Let’s talk about the Democratic field. Today there was a new poll out showing that Dean is now even ahead by a teeny bit in South Carolina. Earlier polls this week had him ahead by 30 points in New Hampshire?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, I think that is an emerging consensus. Listen, there’s a nine-person field in New Hampshire. He has got 40 or 45 percent. That is amazing.
MARGARET WARNER: In two different polls.
DAVID BROOKS: In two different polls. He has had a tremendous couple of weeks. I think he has shown his message stays fresh. He gets even more aggressive and more anti-Bush as the weeks go on. He has got all the money he can spend. He has a very impressive organization. I think the thing that has happened in the past couple of weeks is that even in this city, in Washington, some of the people who, especially Clintonites, who were very suspicious of it, the rats have started jumping on the ship. They’ve said okay, this guy is pretty much…he is not unstoppable, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but he is doing great. And they’re beginning to, the resistance is lowering.
MARGARET WARNER: How do explain, Mark, this is the two or three weeks that John Kerrey was turning his campaign around, coming on strong in New Hampshire, and instead, his numbers are just collapsing?
MARK SHIELDS: I think, Margaret, what we are seeing is, is David’s mention of Washington. I recall when Jimmy Carter was wining in 1976, people in Washington started buying Levis and going to bible meeting class. This is the front-runner’s town. You have seen that, it’s a reflection.
MARGARET WARNER: Winning outside makes you a winner.
MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely. Jacuzzi — I thought he was a congressman from Rhode Island but now I think I’ll try that. Here’s the key. What the race has boiled down to [is] everybody who is against Howard Dean, not for Howard Dean, has his or her hopes riding on one person. That’s Dick Gephardt in Iowa. Iowa is Armageddon, Dien Bien Phu, Gettysburg, whatever you want for the Democrats not supporting Howard Dean.
If Howard Dean wins in Iowa, the managers from the other campaigns and some of the candidates will acknowledge that Howard Dean will be the nominee, bar something egregious, self inflicted wound like stop lying about my record or something like that on election night. I think that’s what they’re facing is that Dean to be stopped – if Dean does win Iowa, the clear cruising in New Hampshire, it will be reflected in future polls like South Carolina, it just happens too quickly after that for anything to happen.
It is up to Richard Gephardt – if you’re for John Edwards or John Kerrey, Wes Clark, you better be, you know, wishing and hoping and encouraging Gephardt in Iowa.
MARGARET WARNER: David, the Republicans…the RNC ran an ad, these are small ads but still, against Howard Dean and this week Republican-leaning group, Republican Club for Growth said Dean wants to raise your taxes. If the Republicans really want to run against Howard Dean, they wouldn’t be doing this, would they?
DAVID BROOKS: They would, because by attacking him, they get Democratic voters seeing those Bush bad guys are attacking this Howard Dean. And this literally what is they’re thinking in part. Partly, they want to weaken him but in part they’re thinking we’re going to make it Dean versus us; we’re going to rally Democrats around Dean by attacking him in places like New Hampshire and Iowa.
MARGARET WARNER: You really think they’re that good — that good or….
DAVID BROOKS: I think that’s what they’re thinking. I don’t know if it will work but that’s what they’re thinking.
MARK SHIELDS: Margaret, I can recall, David is altogether too young and so are you. 1980, the Democrats had one hope to win, Jimmy Carter beleaguered, embattled, and that was that the Republicans nominated Ronald Reagan but they said there was no way Ronald Reagan would be elected president of the United States. They got what they wanted; 44 states later Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States because he couldn’t be elected.
DAVID BROOKS: But they also wanted McGovern to win the nomination. They wanted Dukakis. Sometimes you beat the guy you want.
MARGARET WARNER: We have to leave it there. Thank you both.