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Shields and Brooks on Bush campaign winning strategy

November 5, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks. First, David, what did you make of Warren Mitofsky’s explanation of what the problem was with the exit polls?

DAVID BROOKS: I think that’s the most likely — that Kerry people wanted to talk to him and Bush didn’t. I’ve heard plausible people, serious people say they think there was some conspiracy, that Kerry people were told at certain precincts “Go talk to this guy.” I don’t know why you’d do that – why do you rig an exit poll — but I think that’s the most likely explanation.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: I’ve been told the other thing, that by serious people some of the Bush folks were told “Don’t cooperate with the media.”

JIM LEHRER: They’re the enemy.

MARK SHIELDS: They’re the enemy, and anything, if you, do dissemble, because that would be the count that David pointed out during that evening, Jim, to his credit, he said, look, “Bush is getting a higher favorable rating in some of these exit polls than he has support of the vote.” It was absolutely true. There’s usually a correlation between the two and there wasn’t. So you wondered if people were going through it saying “I like George Bush, wonderful guy, good family man, but I voted for Kerry”, you know, to dissemble. I don’t know. It doesn’t take an awful lot to do that.

DAVID BROOKS: The chief emotional effect was for the Kerry people who thought they’d won. One Kerry staffer said, we couldn’t only taste victory, we had it down our throat and then it was ripped out.

JIM LEHRER: Remember, Margaret Warner reported that night or the next night that Sen. Kerry went back to his house with his speech writer to write his victory speech based on these very exit polls.

MARK SHIELDS: And let’s put the other side in, Jim. George W. Bush canceled his appearance at the Reagan Center and went to the White House to be with his family.

DAVID BROOKS: To be fair, Rove sent out e-mails right away saying “this is wrong.”

JIM LEHRER: Did he do that.

DAVID BROOKS: I’ve seen that.

JIM LEHRER: I didn’t know that.

DAVID BROOKS: He understood –

JIM LEHRER: All right. Bottom line, guys, then we’ll move on here. Was serious harm done to the process by these leaked exit poll results?

DAVID BROOKS: I love having exit polls on the day of election. They turned out to be wrong and misleading. But the sub data you get during the day is very useful. It’s still useful. That’s the main effect of the exit polls. You can understand the electorate a little better.

JIM LEHRER: Not a serious problem here?


JIM LEHRER: What do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: Emotional trampling. You’re trying not to get to gloat when you get good exit polls early and later in the evening you’re trying not to look despondent.

JIM LEHRER: He did look awfully happy when – that evening —

MARK SHIELDS: I was trying to be very, very humble —

JIM LEHRER: Right. Start with you, Mark, after two days now of serious reflection, exit polls or whatever means you want to use in any kind of combination, why did George W. Bush defeat John Kerry?

MARK SHIELDS: Boy, good question. I think there’s two things. I mean, I think on the personal basis George Bush was seen as a stronger leader, he was seen as more likable, he was seen as more approachable on a personal level. And he walked that very thin line of terrorism. He was able to hold that away from other issues that did not work for him. And in a time of….

JIM LEHRER: What do you mean: hold the line?

MARK SHIELDS: In other words, to stay on that because…

JIM LEHRER: Stay on it as an issue –

MARK SHIELDS: Stay on that as an issue and to some degree sort of try and subsume Iraq under that and to say, you know, really to… I’d say give out disinformation on Iraq “things are going well, freedom is on the march. We’re moving along” — you know, which, when in fact you can believe him or believe your own eyes. But the reality was that he was able to do that and keep the focus on that. And I think, Jim, at a time when Americans are scared and nervous and worried about terrorism and legitimately so there’s a certain risk averse approach on the part of voters. And that’s what the Kerry and the Democrats were not quite…

JIM LEHRER: In other words, President Bush is known —

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: — he’s a known quantity, we’re not sure about Kerry so let’s stay with the guy we know?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. And I think there are other… the values questions I think are important as well.


MARK SHIELDS: But I think those… if you look at the personal victory of George W. Bush, you have to look at that.

JIM LEHRER: How would you analyze it, sir?

DAVID BROOKS: First, I think there’s just a structural stable coalition the Republicans have. We used to be a 49-49 nation. I think since Sept. 11 we’ve been a 51-48 nation.

JIM LEHRER: Party wise.


JIM LEHRER: Not just about George W. Bush but about Republicans and Democrats.

DAVID BROOKS: Deep structural coalitions. This has been an evolution that’s been happening for a generation really, the shift in party alignments. And so I think there’s something — aside from this campaign, there’s something deep and structural. The other thing I’d like to say, and I was glad Mark… and I agree with you emphasizing terrorism and all that stuff because there’s a storyline going out about this election that it was values; that we had this upsurge in people who don’t like gay marriage and wanted to come out and it was those people who pushed Bush over the top.

Every storyline about every election, that’s completely wrong. There’s no basis in fact. There was no upsurge in evangelical voters this election; there was no change in the —

JIM LEHRER: In terms percentage wise….

DAVID BROOKS: Of the entire electorate. There was no change in how voters answered abortion questions. There were no more pro-life voters. There were no more as a share of the total electorate of people who pray daily. What Bush did, he didn’t particularly well, he did well, but he didn’t make significant gains in those states where there were these antigay marriage referendums; he did about average. He did better than he did four years ago in 45 states. He did better in Massachusetts than he did four years ago, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania.

JIM LEHRER: You’re talking about the ones he lost he did better?

DAVID BROOKS: He lost but he did better. So it wasn’t just like he only had appeal in the Bible belt; he had appeal across the country, and I think it’s because of these terror issues and security issues.

MARK SHIELDS: I would say, Jim, there’s a couple of realities that have to hit Democrats and Republicans as well: The 11 states of the confederacy, which were the bulwark of the Democratic congressional majority for generations after the Civil War is now the solid Republican cell. There are 11 states. George Bush carried those 11 states by five million votes. He carried the United States by 3.5 million votes. He lost the other 39 states by a million and a half votes.

That really is the center and the base of the Republican Party and what it means for the Democrats is if they’re not competitive there at the presidential level, they basically abandon their congressional party. And it becomes an incredibly difficult uphill fight. And I just pointed out that in the states that the Democrats lost Senate seats last Tuesday, some really flawed Republican… I mean, Jim Bunting in Kentucky said he hadn’t read a newspaper for six weeks, the only news he got was on Fox. Jim Colburn in Oklahoma said that girls in high schools could not go to the restrooms by themselves because of rampant lesbianism in the high schools. I mean, you had really bizarre figures —

JIM LEHRER: So what explains that?

MARK SHIELDS: George Bush was so strong at the top of the ticket it just gives enormous cover and enormous support. And if Democrats are not competitive, the Democrats can not continue to run when they’re only being competitive in twenty to twenty-five states presidentially.

JIM LEHRER: Do you buy that?

DAVID BROOKS: I agree with Mark’s analysis where the South is going. The South is the largest region of the country and…

JIM LEHRER: Why is it going?

DAVID BROOKS: I don’t think it was because of Bush. I go back to the structural evolution. Twenty years ago the Democratic Party had a 20-point registration advantage. You have almost half the country after World War II was a Democrat; 20 odd percent were Republicans. In this election it was tied 37-37. You’ve had a gradual evolution in change in the electorate; Republicans gaining, Democrats falling, and that’s a long structural change. From 1968 to 2008 we’ll have had 40 years of Republican presidencies interrupted by two southern Democratic governors. That shows a strong Republican Party that’s gaining, gaining gradually in the country regardless of who the candidates happen to be.

JIM LEHRER: Meanwhile, what happens now to the Democratic Party? What kind of role… we talked last night on this program about the president’s agenda with a Republican Congress. What role does the Democratic Party play now in the government of the United States?

DAVID BROOKS: I would say that’s up to Bush. I think power corrupts and that could corrupt the Republicans and powerlessness corrupts and that could corrupt the Democrats. It’s easy when you have no power to go off and become irresponsible. So I think it’s very important for the president for his own sake to give Democrats some real sense that we’re involved in this government because if he doesn’t it becomes like that Tory Party England or the Israeli-Palestinian. When you’ve got no power, you just have no incentive to be responsible.

MARK SHIELDS: To take David’s analysis, to ignore the fact that for 80 years the Democrats were the prominent party in the South, the dominant party in the South as long as we had a tacit agreement with the national Democratic Party and that was that states rights cooperated on civil rights; there was no civil rights. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 and since then the South has become – it’s followed its natural conservative instincts, but in the South, the Republicans are the white party. Historically the blacks were the Republican Party in the South, every delegation or national convention.

As far as the Democrats are concerned, Jim, I think the biggest mistake the Democrats could make right now is to be despairing and be despondent. Several things worked for them on Tuesday which I think has been generally ignored and foolishly so. First of all, they won a majority… plurality of the independents. Okay? That’s important.

JIM LEHRER: Kerry won the plurality?

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. They won a majority of young voters and they brought them in. I mean, now that’s something really to build on. I mean, George Bush built an impressive but narrow victory on… based upon his constituency and a limited constituency it was. It was not a great growth constituency, it wasn’t a Ronald Reagan 1984 when he gets 59 percent. That said, the Democrats also shook and broke their dependence the narcotic dependence, on six-figure soft dollars, soft money contributions. They showed that they could… led by Howard Dean that they could raise and compete with the Republicans on small contributions. They also showed as a united party that they could literally submerge the factionalism that had afflicted the party and were committed to… John Kerry got more votes than anybody who’s ever run for president except George Bush.

JIM LEHRER: In other words, every Democrat who had any inclination to vote when out and voted for John Kerry?

MARK SHIELDS: They really did. There were good things. Now, there were other things about the party and I think that we can talk about those…

JIM LEHRER: Sure, but what now, in terms of my question to David, what kind of role is there for them now?

MARK SHIELDS: I think they have to acknowledge, Jim… the Democrats have to face the fact that they have lost — just as David described. There were 102 more Democrats in the House of Representatives than they were Republicans the day that Bill Clinton won the White House. Today there’s at least 30, 31 fewer. The Democrats controlled the Senate. They controlled governorships, they controlled state legislatures. David’s right in that sense.

So they have to say, we’re doing something wrong. I mean, what is it we’re doing wrong? I think one of the things that they’re doing wrong is they have grown uncomfortable in the language and symbols of religious faith and… I mean, why John Kerry never visited a church that provides after school services, senior services — I mean, churches do wonderful things in this country. He had to reveal more about himself in that sense and I think that’s something the Democrats have to understand, that they applauded, commended, and were inspired by religious leaders and civil rights antiwar and abolition movements.

JIM LEHRER: Former Sen. Rudman was on this program last night, former Republican senator from New Hampshire, and he said the Democrats have to be very careful the way they use the filibuster the 60-vote majority required in the Senate or they could… they can use it probably on Supreme Court nominations but everything else that isn’t going to work. Do you agree?

DAVID BROOKS: You can’t be negative. I think there are several reasons Tom Daschle lost but I think that issue was one of the issues that hurt him; that he seemed obstructionist and negative. There were other issues. So you just can’t be a negative force. You have to be a positive force.

JIM LEHRER: And you think the president will allow them to do that?

DAVID BROOKS: I hope so. I’m not confident about that.

MARK SHIELDS: One other thing George Bush lost, he lost Bill Clinton. It’s now his. He’s got a Republican Congress. It’s his ball game.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. We have to leave it there. Thank you all very much.