Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks Discuss Campaign News
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Welcome to you both. I’ve missed you both terribly.
DAVID BROOKS: It’s been a long 12 hours.
JIM LEHRER: It’s been a long 12 hours, right.
The campaign for president of the United States, where does it rest tonight, Mark, in your opinion?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there’s no question that there has been movement from Kerry to Bush. Bush has not surged.
There is a poll, there’s one poll taken before the president’s speech last night, but I think that it’s fair to say –.
JIM LEHRER: The Time Magazine poll that just, in fact, has come out today?
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. If you look at the campaign, week by week, I think it’s fair to say that George Bush won most of the weeks in August and he is in a stronger position than he was a month ago, and if the Kerry — the Shields third rule of politics is you can’t sit on a lead if you don’t have a lead. And I think the Kerry campaign –.
JIM LEHRER: You might want to write that down, David.
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah.
MARK SHIELDS: I think the Kerry campaign may have been shaken by the change in the numbers –
JIM LEHRER: But you see — you feel movement, there’s a Time poll, but — Andy Kohut spoke about this also last night.
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. What I see is that where George Bush, when people are asked how you feel about these two candidates on different issues, the economy, the leadership, whatever, where the president had been stronger, he’s now stronger than he was.
Where John Kerry enjoyed an advantage, for example an economy that cares more about people like me, or in health care, his lead is less than it was. So it isn’t that the president has vaulted to a 10/12-point lead in the match-up.
It’s just that internally he is in better shape and I think therefore his campaign is in better shape and it has a better chance.
JIM LEHRER: Polls and otherwise, how do you feel about it right now?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I basically agree with Mark that Time Poll has him at an 11 point lead, which is incredible, it would be astounding…
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. It’s 52 to 41.
DAVID BROOKS: Because we’ve been so dead-even – to jump out to 11 – just – doesn’t seem credible – but a five or six point lead in this climate is a huge lead, because it has been so stable. I think a couple things have happened from these two conventions, one Bush, remember for really two years after 9/11 he had approvals in the 60s and 70s.
I think over that period of time a lot of people made some sort of emotional connection with the guy, he lost it during this horrible year of Abu Ghraib and stuff like that and I think through this political process they’ve seen that.
And so a number of those people have re-remembered why they like George Bush over those two-year period.
And then the other thing is the doubts about Kerry. There’s no question that he left himself open with two holes in his convention, his Senate career and then this whole – this flip-flop issue. And so the Bush administration did use it in their convention very effectively to fill those two holes.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about the convention and particularly the president’s speech, how many hours later this is?
DAVID BROOKS: I guess my comments at the heat of the moment were incredibly sagacious and forward looking.
JIM LEHRER: You said it was wonderful.
DAVID BROOKS: I still think that. I think there were a lot of lines that were well delivered, that was beautifully written. And I like the part that people are complaining about, which is the boring monkey part.
I really do think that, you know, when — he talked about all these ideas, a lot of them are little small ideas, but they really do amount to a new approach to government and more positive approach than we’re used to from Republicans and then he sketched out, albeit in vague terms, some really big ideas, talking about transforming our pension system, transforming health care, transforming the tax code and that really – you know, that could be big.
The oddity of the Bush administration all along has been bold on foreign policy, unimaginative and orthodox on domestic policy. But war changes things. It enlarges the scope of people’s thinking, we usually in times of war have periods of reform and I think Bush is sort of catching up.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about the speech in light of today?
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t feel any better about it, Jim, I think that the theme was things have never been worse but I’m the only guy that can get us out of the mess we’re in, which I thought was interesting because an interesting message for the president.
He tried to present himself as both the agent of change and the agent of continuity. And that’s an interesting, you know, parlay to do. I did go today and did do some reporting actually on the president’s initiatives, and the increases in the president right now we’re looking at the new fiscal year begins Sept. 30, that’s the fiscal year that we’ll be dealing with for this presidential election.
The president has asked for increases in job training as he spoke of last night, for the next fiscal year. But over the next four years, his administration and his budget calls for cuts of $1.7 billion in job training.
In other words he’s going to increase it just for this year, the same thing in elementary and secondary education, he’s increasing it by $834 million, but he will cut it by five and a half billion over the next four years. Those are the administration’s own budget documents for 2006 through 2009 –
JIM LEHRER: What does it say?
MARK SHIELDS: What it says is he made promises he can’t keep. The president got the biggest cheer in the hall when he said I’m going to make permanent the tax cuts. He didn’t address the deficits anyway.
And he said we’re going to cut this runaway federal spending. When he calls for an increase in federal spending for this election year, then he’s going to meet his cuts over the next – these are his own budget documents, David.
DAVID BROOKS: I’m confused how that could be because, the overall spending is on each of these departments is going up either 8, 10, 12 percent… I don’t know what programs, how that can…
MARK SHIELDS: It’s, by law, you’re required and administration did put it on its Web site that it did have to share it with congressional budget committees that by law you have to give not simply your proposal for the first fiscal year, but you have to give them for 2006 through 2009, and that’s to meet the budget caps the president and the White House has laid down, each of these departments has to cut these programs by this much.
JIM LEHRER: Can I get the two of you to agree to disagree on that?
MARK SHIELDS: Sure.
JIM LEHRER: We saw Kerry fighting back, taking on particularly Vice President Cheney.
What do you think, is that going to work for him, what’s your reaction to that, David?
DAVID BROOKS: It may — I don’t think the repetition of the five deferments is going to work, I don’t think that’s an issue that’s particularly going to work for him mostly because I think most people have heard it all before, they’ve seen Cheney in office leading war.
It’s really one of the most interesting charges he laid out and he really didn’t come out swinging in the past 24 hours. He talked about the president misleading us into war. And that’s a case that a lot of people can make, I don’t think it’s a case John Kerry can make because he voted for that resolution and he said a couple weeks ago that he’d vote for it again even knowing what we know now.
So Mark and I have talked about this in the past. I think the fact that he’s still for the war, still for the resolution just girdles him when he talks about these issues, it’s going to make this aggressive stance really a lot harder.
JIM LEHRER: And you all made the point the other night – you agreed on this — that not only does it girdle him, it girdles the Democratic Party to really take on the president on the war, right?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, John Kerry has to face a tough choice; he’s going to be accused of being a flip-flopper, but to make the case against George Bush on this war, and to back up the charge that he was misled -
JIM LEHRER: Which today he made for the first time.
MARK SHIELDS: — made for the first time –
JIM LEHRER: But he used the word…
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. For him to do that, it’s going to require standing up there and making that case that look, would I have voted against it, you better believe it.
Doesn’t make any difference how I would have voted against it, 70 United States senators would have voted against if we knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, no connection with al-Qaida, there was no connection to 9/11, of course we wouldn’t have, and the American people would have been against it as well. To make that case…
JIM LEHRER: Can he do that?
MARK SHIELDS: To make that case it opens himself up to the charge that he’s a flip- flopper.
JIM LEHRER: He’s done it again; he’s done it again.
MARK SHIELDS: George Bush baited him boldly on that question, on, in New Hampshire on the 6th of August, he said Mr. Kerry owes him an answer — would you still have voted for it, and Kerry came back with this procedural answer three days later in Grand Canyon, you recall, great visual, terrible place for the answer, in which he said, yes, I would have given the president that authority.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think it’s too late?
DAVID BROOKS: I think the flip-flop charge is the essential charge against him and anything he does to increase that just sinks him. I do think, you know, I talked about the holes in the Democratic Convention, the big hole in the Republican Convention was the year 2002 and 2003. They talk about 2001.
But they really did leave two holes open. And if the Democrats were in a position to find, you know, all the stuff that’s happened post or in the occupation period, and they could lay out a case of one misjudgment after another, as they would see it, that’s a pretty good issue for them, but, again, I come back to this thing, I just don’t think he can flip-flop on that any more.
MARK SHIELDS: Brain washed. Almost –.
JIM LEHRER: This has (all talking) – about George Romney -
MARK SHIELDS: George Romney – father of Mitt Romney -
JIM LEHRER: Spoke the other night at the Republican Convention.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. Kerry better study the playbook on that, because there almost has to be a, I was misled.
To say I was misled and not to sound like a dupe or not to sound like a weak leader is a problem.
JIM LEHRER: Politics of the job reports today, the 144,000 new jobs, unemployment rate down a tenth of a percent. What do you think?
DAVID BROOKS: I basically don’t think it changes the rate. If it had been 25,000 new jobs it would have been good for the Kerry campaign.
I don’t think this which comes in about at expectations, a pretty decent number, really changes the dynamic of the campaign.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: I think David is right. The late Bob Teeter, the late Bob Teeter, who was George Bush the first’s campaign chairman, the great Republican pollster, used to insist that it takes a full quarter, three months for economic perceptions to change, for people to think things are changing for the better or the worse.
Democrats answer of course today, as that the president is boasting over 1.7 million jobs, every one of Bill Clinton’s eight years they could produce more than 1.7 million jobs.
But I don’t think it has a great political — if it had been a downer it would have taken a lot of the wind out of the sails of the president.
JIM LEHRER: And then of course there’s the awful thing in Russia.
DAVID BROOKS: I think that’s a big thing actually. I think psychologically it just reminds you of terrorism.
I mean, who could sit in a school full of children for days and days and get killed.
JIM LEHRER: Seeing the pictures we ran earlier -
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. I think that has an emotional effect on the country, reminds people of terrorism; I’m not sure which way it cuts.
I’m not sure it matters, but it affects the mood of the country.
MARK SHIELDS: It’s just – it’s unbelievable, it’s almost like you want to believe in original sin, there’s original sin, how could somebody can do that.
JIM LEHRER: You got it. Thank you both very much. Get a good weekend’s rest.