Political Analysts Assess The Presidential Campaign
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. David, what do the numbers say to you?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I’m total confusion. I’ve come to think that there are sort of four stages to this campaign in the fall; there’s the convention stage, which Bush won; the debate stage which Kerry won, and then the next two would weeks or so will be the sleazy stage where who knows what’s going to happen; then there’s the turnout stage, which is the last stage.
And so I guess what I’ve seen is that we’ve still got these last two stages to play, obviously. But I would say the first debate was just a giant thing. It was the first debate when Kerry really came even with Bush. And since then I think some people have argued that the Cheney debate, the vice presidential debate stopped that momentum and we’ve been in stasis since then, and I guess that’s what I see, this period of stasis. And then we really don’t have results from the third debate and this little Mary Cheney issue, there’s a lot of things that could play out of that. But we’re basically even going into the sleazy stage.
JIM LEHRER: Even going into the sleazy stage, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think Democrats anyway, the ones I’ve talked to have moved from decidedly pessimistic which they were two weeks ago to guardedly optimistic right now. And I think it’s because essentially three events, three, I think, defining moments of any presidential campaign after the conventions. The first obviously is the debates. The second are events, realities, the external reality, the world.
JIM LEHRER: Something outside the campaign itself.
MARK SHIELDS: Everything is crowding in on the president at this point, I mean, you announced in the news summary 13 Americans killed this week; for the first time suicide bombers have penetrated the green zone, the safety zone; the secure zone in Baghdad. And freedom is on the march, it’s limping right now in Iraq. And then you’ve got, in addition to that you’ve got, we’ve reached the spending limit, I mean, the debt limit of the country.
We can’t write a check, just in a technical sense, the deficit in the trade is the highest in history. And almost to complicate the president’s life, or the Bush-Cheney life, you have the one uncritical, most admiring, most supportive broadcast outlet which had been Fox News, and they’re now, now their star performer is sidelined and unable to make the charge that Democrats are an immoral party or whatever. I mean, so it gets –
JIM LEHRER: You’re talking about Bill O’Reilly?
MARK SHIELDS: Bill O’Reilly. So the final event I think is turnout. And I think the turnout is going to be phenomenal. I think that if you look at the turnout based upon people who watched these, I mean, the viewership of these debates is so much higher than it has been in the last two presidential elections, that I think we’re going to see a big, big turnout.
JIM LEHRER: During much of what you said David was a little restless over here.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, people filter their view of reality through partisanship; that’s just the way people are. People see what they want to see and what favors their side, that’s been true for decades and decades. I would say on whether reality is crowding in on the president, reality has been crowding in for a year or two on the president and he is still amazingly resilient because they still have doubts about John Kerry, and there’s still some vestigial like of Bush.
As far as reality in Iraq I think you could for the first time point to some small bits of rays of light going on in Iraq and Samara and Basra, Fallujah, the alliance of the insurgents falling apart a little in Fallujah. So it seems to me there’s reality on both sides. It seems to me there’s a couple of fundamental questions that we don’t know the answers to; the one is, and this is about the gestalt of the country: are people have they basically — leaning against Bush looking for some excuse to say, okay, Kerry is fine with me, or are they basically liking Bush looking for an excuse to say okay, I can stick with this guy. There’s sort of a mood swing.
JIM LEHRER: And the polls really don’t answer those kinds of questions.
MARK SHIELDS: No, to go anecdotally — I had three people I was interviewing this week told me separately that they’d move from anti-Bush to pro Kerry as a result of the debates. Now I think, you know, what that means is they were going to vote against Bush, but now there’s a comfort level and a confidence level. And I think the president, because he didn’t appear comfortable and confident in the debates, some of the voters who are undecided a little uncomfortable and less confident, and I think that in addition to that, Jim, you have to look at Kerry.
What Kerry did in the debates was he absolutely pierced what had been the Bush-Cheney charge, that he was a flip flopper. I mean people did not see that. That was not the John Kerry that showed up on the stage, and I think that was damaging to the Bush-Cheney.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, that that issue went away?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I don’t know if it went away, but he clearly did not appear as they had portrayed him. I would see the real John Kerry is the one we’ve seen for 20 years in the Senate, which is an equivocator — flip flopper — equivocator. But the one we saw in the debate, that was not a flip-flopper; that was a guy who spoke in a pretty straightforward manner. So that is one of the reasons –
JIM LEHRER: Now, you mentioned in your litany at the beginning, Mark did not mention it, which was the Mary Cheney remark, you’re referring to Sen. Kerry’s reference to Mary Cheney being a lesbian et cetera and the question about homosexuality. You think that has staying power against Kerry?
DAVID BROOKS: Oh, absolutely. The Internet is a-boil, the cable talk shows are a-boil. This is an issue — you don’t have to care about politics. This is an issue people have, can relate to very easily. And I don’t think it’s about homosexuality. I think it’s about using someone’s daughter against the father in a campaign. I think it’s just not your property in a public debate to go in and talk about somebody else’s daughter. And I know a lot of people who are going to vote for Kerry, strong Kerry supporters but who were sort of repulsed at that moment.
This is just going to go on for a few days. Then it was echoed by the Elizabeth Edwards debate which was an uncharacteristically ungracious thing; she said to the way Lynne Cheney and Dick Cheney reacted, she said, well, maybe they’re ashamed of their daughter. It seems to me when parents are upset about something you have said about their kid, the first thing you do is I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that, but they didn’t do that. And so this is going to go on; I think it’s going to have an effect.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think it’s going to have an effect, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t. I think it’s brief, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: First of all, do you agree Kerry made a mistake?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I do, I think it was a mistake, I think it was an answer that was scripted by men, because every woman I have talked to, irrespective of how they felt about Kerry, and most of them support Kerry it seems, felt really repulsed by it. It made them uncomfortable.
JIM LEHRER: Keep the family out of it.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s not keeping the family out of it because -
JIM LEHRER: Family’s in it, right?
MARK SHIELDS: Let’s be very blunt about this. It looked to be a cheap shot. I mean, if he had said my very close personal friend strong political supporter Barney Frank, Barney Frank has said do you think anybody would choose to be born this way? I mean, being gay is a difficult assignment in 20th century, in 21st century America for most people who were born with it, who endure it. If he said Dick Gephardt, I admire the way Dick and Jane Gephardt have handled it, as well as Dick and Lynne Cheney; it looked like a little belt of a got you.
But, you know, let’s be very blunt about it; the Cheneys have been quite up front about this, I mean, Dick Cheney said Lynne and I have a gay daughter. Mary Cheney wasn’t outed by John Kerry. I mean, Mary Cheney has been quite open about her own sexuality; I mean, she said that she wanted to make the Republican Party more hospitable to gays and lesbians. That was her mission after 2000. And I have to say shamelessly, the Republicans have exploited the gay issue on the gay marriage amendment.
Dick Cheney, I praised him for standing up and taking on his own boss on that issue, and defending his daughter. And now there’s a little of having it both ways. Did Kerry make a mistake? Yes, he did. Was it wrong? Yes. But I think what Republicans are trying to do is to take — divert attending from the three debates, where Kerry was basically gaff-free, and where Bush did not win any of the three, to somehow make the story of the debates this — what I’d call a gaff and a mistake and the wrong thing to say about Mary Cheney.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, it wasn’t only a gaff, I was an intentional decision to remind some evangelicals that this guy had a gay daughter and maybe get some percentage of them not to vote for Dick Cheney and George Bush. And that was a Machiavellian, crude and ruthless thing to do. And I think it’s been part of a pattern in the last couple of weeks, the stupid thing that John Edwards said about that Christopher Reeve would get up and walk if John Kerry was elected which was a stupid thing.
To me the worst thing today or yesterday when John Kerry said there would probably be a draft, or might be a draft, if Bush is reelected which they know is not true. But, you know, John Kerry was hired to be a fighter. He wasn’t hired because people loved him; he has hired because he wouldn’t be Dukakis; he’d fight back. We’ll we’re seeing the fighting back; it has its good sides for the Democrats; it has its bad sides, and it’s crude and rough.
MARK SHIELDS: I think David is overstating it. But I will say this: I’ll make a prediction, which I very rarely do on this show, and that is you will see in the last two weeks, as David said, the sleaze.
JIM LEHRER: The sleaze is coming
MARK SHIELDS: And this is the permission; the permission slip was just given, well, we didn’t begin this personal stuff.
JIM LEHRER: You mean David just gave them –
MARK SHIELDS: No, I don’t mean David. They’re going to say the Kerry thing that’s it, we didn’t begin this stuff. And I will make a prediction it will be George W. Bush and Laura will be the ticket. And there will be attempts to, I think, isolate or to caricature Mrs. Kerry Heinz.
JIM LEHRER: In what way? What do you mean?
MARK SHIELDS: I just think, you tell me what way. She’s rich, she’s out of touch, she’s a lefty, she doesn’t love America. I mean, whatever it is.
JIM LEHRER: What did you mean when you said a minute ago that sleaze is coming now?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I meant to make a general statement about the way campaigns end. You know, the issues have been laid out, the debates did a great job of laying out the issues. If you were deciding on that, you lay out the issues, but sleaze happens. What you try to do at the end of the day is something that just comes out of nowhere, some sort of scandal that will maybe tilt things.
Many Republicans believe that George Bush lost a bunch of points four years ago from this drunk driving charge that came out in the last weekend of the campaign. That’s just what happens; passions get up; people decide they’re just going to fight, fight, fight and the whole world opens up.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay. Just one of the reasons, Jim, that Democrats are guardedly optimistic, and David, is the total switch in tactics on the part of the Bush vote: Going from that Kerry is a flip flopper. They’ve gone basically from saying –
JIM LEHRER: What did you say, he’s not a flip-flopper; he’s an equivocator?
DAVID BROOKS: I try to use bigger words.
MARK SHIELDS: He spent six months and $60 million saying this guy is on both sides of every issue, now they’re saying no, no, no he’s only on one side of every issue; he’s a liberal. And I mean that basically was an administration things aren’t going well. When you switch at this late stage in a campaign, that that’s your thrust against the guy: Is he a flip flopper, is he a liberal. I mean, because you basically have a contradiction there.
JIM LEHRER: So in other words both of you all are saying don’t look, unless you’re saying the liberal thing will continue, don’t look for any major themes to emerge in these last two weeks or so, right?
DAVID BROOKS: Well — George Bush will go out reading the love song of J. Alfred Prufrock; you know, be very intellectual. No, I don’t think it will. And we’ve seen cable television and the Internet whips up, there are certain issues that starting on the Internet and expand, the swift boats was one of them, this Mary Cheney thing is another of them and that’s a sort of issue that now goes up the pipeline.
MARK SHIELDS: There’s only one poll that counts. That’s not the poll on Election Day or when voters vote. That’s the poll after Election Day when the nine Justices of the Supreme Court.
JIM LEHRER: You think it’s going to be that close?
MARK SHIELDS: I think they’re still thinking 5-4, that’s the one poll that they’ve got they’ve already proved they can win.
DAVID BROOKS: Mark is convicted the Republicans of dirty tricks when they haven’t done anything. It’s like the Democratic National Committee started up a mailing list this week which said — you’re giving me the wave now.
JIM LEHRER: I’m getting you a mailing that says that’s all the time we have. Thank you all very much; I look forward to talking to you again some time.