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Shields and Lowry Weigh Republican Debate, Mideast Summit

November 30, 2007 at 6:30 PM EDT
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Republican candidates clashed over immigration issues in a heated debate this week, a U.S.-backed Mideast peace summit was held in Annapolis, Md., and Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., announced he would step down from a 35-year career in Congress by the year's end. Mark Shields and Rich Lowry offer analysis of the week in the news.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Lowry, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, National Review editor Rich Lowry. David Brooks is off this evening.

Rich, this week’s Republican CNN-YouTube debate, been a lot of comment about it, some of it negative, having to do with the questions, as well as the answers. What was your reading?

RICH LOWRY, Editor, National Review: Well, you have two big fights going on in the Republican field at the moment. One is Mitt Romney versus Rudy Giuliani. Both of them think the other one is their main obstacle to the nomination.

And Rudy, I think, has particularly been turning up the heat on Romney, because Giuliani realizes that the strategy that his people talked about for so long — “we wait until Florida, we wait until February 5th,” when there are states he can win — is not viable. He really has to do well in an early state, and the one he projects best in is New Hampshire.

And standing smack in his way there is Mitt Romney. So Rudy has been doing more retail campaigning in New Hampshire than he had been. He’s up in the air with ads finally. And he’s going after him, hammer and tongs, as only Rudy Giuliani can.

JIM LEHRER: It’s really gotten negative. Do you think it’s paying off? Are either one of these — because Romney has gotten just as negative on Giuliani, not just as, but, I mean, they’re both there exchanging some real blows, Mark.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: These fellows don’t like each other.

JIM LEHRER: I picked that up. I picked up on that.

MARK SHIELDS: They really don’t. No…

JIM LEHRER: Do you think it’s real, they don’t like each other?

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, I think it really is real. And I think, at the risk of jeopardizing both candidacies, I thought the stars in St. Petersburg were Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, and John McCain. And…

JIM LEHRER: You mean, you think Romney and Giuliani are hurting each other?

MARK SHIELDS: I think Giuliani had a bad night. Romney I thought was put away by McCain in the torture exchange. And Giuliani, when he went after Romney on immigration, I thought Giuliani gave a really terrific answer about his own policies in New York. So he got 60,000 kids, who are the children of illegal immigrants in our city, when he was mayor. What are you going to do? You’re not going to have them go to school? You’re going to have them just roam the streets?

I mean, that was not only a compassionate and just thing to do; it was a very practical thing to do. When people are victims of crime, are they supposed to report it, but risk deportation? I think that was practical. But then he goes into the sanctuary estate or the sanctuary…

JIM LEHRER: Governor’s mansion.

MARK SHIELDS: Governor’s mansion, mansion, personal mansion, actually, of Romney and, you know, got into who are you hiring? I didn’t think he came off well there at all.

JIM LEHRER: I was just going ask Rich on this. Why is the — the immigration thing, I didn’t clock it, but it seemed like there was an awful lot. I mean, it’s not just Romney and Giuliani, but there was an awful lot of talk about immigration. Is that a big thing to Republican voters?

RICH LOWRY: Oh, yes, it’s the hot-button issue, besides the war on Iraq or the war on terror, for Republican voters. And it projects it will be a pretty important issue in the general election, as well.

And what’s going on is Mitt Romney strategically needs to get to the right of Rudy Giuliani on everything. And the way he’s trying to do it on immigration is criticizing the so-called sanctuary city policy in New York.

And Mark is right. I don’t think it very strong grounds on which to attack Giuliani, because if the federal government is not enforcing the immigration laws, and you have tens of thousands of these illegal aliens in your city, as a matter of humanity and decency, they have to get services.

But as Mark points out, Giuliani then undertook this incredible cheap shot at Mitt Romney for hiring a firm that hired illegal aliens and there was no way for him to know that.

JIM LEHRER: They were working on the lawn there.

RICH LOWRY: Correct.

Huckabee rises out of the fray

Rich Lowry
National Review
As the purest social conservative candidate, [Mike Huckabee] has a built-in low 20s, mid-20s vote. Now, the thing is maybe he can grow it higher than that.

RICH LOWRY: I think net-net, the winner of the debate is Mike Huckabee, because he more or less stayed out of that fight. He turned in a more sober and presidential performance than usual and then was his usual applause-generating and laughter-generating machine.

And this guy, he's tied at least with Romney in Iowa, and this is why Romney is fighting a two-front war. He needs to eventually take down Giuliani, but he's not going to get a chance to do it unless somehow he escapes the Huckabee threat in Iowa.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that there is a threat from Huckabee in Iowa?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I mean, Huckabee ideally wishes it came three weeks later, because now he's got the target on his back. The two worst positions to run for president in a multi-candidate primary field are first or last.

If you're last, you'll do anything, say anything to get attention, OK? Poor Huckabee has been both this year, and he stayed within his game when he was last. He didn't do anything outrageous or indefensible just to get a camera there.

He just worked at it and had a confidence and comfort level with himself. And, you know, now Rich is right. At least in one survey, it was an interactive survey, but still it was a survey. But his movement is up, more dramatically up than any other candidate in either party in Iowa.

JIM LEHRER: And that's not just the result of this debate?

MARK SHIELDS: No, he's really -- I mean, he is connected with people. I mean, he is a brilliant retail politician, but I come back to why he and McCain looked good, I thought. That is, they know what they believe. They're not recreating themselves.

They're not, you know, explaining why in '94 they said that, or 2000 they said that, as the two leaders are, Romney and Giuliani, who are kind of recreating themselves on gun control and other issues.

RICH LOWRY: That's a huge advantage for Huckabee. There are two other things going on, especially in Iowa. If you look at Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer, absolutely marginal social conservatives in Iowa in 2000, running against George Bush, who was running as an evangelical social conservative, they got in the low 20 percent, if you put their vote together. Pat Robertson got in the low 20 percent in Iowa in 1988.

So Huckabee has that. As the purest social conservative candidate, he has a built-in low 20s, mid-20s vote. Now, the thing is maybe he can grow it higher than that.

And in Republican terms, I think Huckabee is in the sort of golden zone where Pat Buchanan was in 1992 and John McCain was in 2000, when they're just going out there on their own, running on their guts, and their instincts are pretty good and fit the times pretty well. Plus, he's having fun. And I think it's something hard to quantify, but it's very appealing to voters.

MARK SHIELDS: There is the likeability factor. He's accessible. The thing that I think separates him from the others is that, like George Bush in 2000, part of George Bush's appeal was compassionate conservatism. And that's what Huckabee really is preaching.

I mean, he was the one -- he put down Romney. Romney attacked him. Romney understands the threat he is in Iowa. Romney went after him on the fact that, while as governor of Arkansas, they had made available college at in-state rate, in-state tuition rate to the children of illegal immigrants in Arkansas.

And how could you do this? You're taking money away. And he said, "We're not a country that visits the sins of the parents upon the children." And it was just sort of a grown-up, compassionate thing to say, and a practical thing to say. I mean...

Rice credited for Annapolis talks

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
I think primarily the credit for the meeting, to the degree that it should be credited, has to go to Secretary of State Rice. I think there's no question that she's the one that pushed it.

JIM LEHRER: New subject. New subject, Rich, the Annapolis peace talks on the Middle East. Much of -- all of the credit for having gotten this together has gone to President Bush and Secretary of State Rice. Deservedly so, in your opinion?

RICH LOWRY: I think so. It's funny. If you talk to them about it, they're not overselling this. They don't have particularly high hopes for it necessarily. President Bush isn't on the edge of his seat, waiting for a last-minute deal to cement his legacy.

Their attitude, more or less, is Israeli Prime Minister Olmert wanted this, Abbas was willing to do it and -- I'm being a little flip here -- but then, therefore, why not?

And they also got the Arab states there. And they hope, over the long term, the Arab states will actually provide some political cover for the Palestinians to compromise with the Israelis in a way they haven't ever before.

But I think it pays to be skeptical on this. And...

JIM LEHRER: After 40 years of peace talks?

RICH LOWRY: Yes.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, you share the skepticism, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: I do. Jim, it was a skillful setting and pageant and a statement that omitted any mention of any of the thorny problems, the right to return, the status of the city of Jerusalem, the borders between the two nation-states, the settlements question. All of those just went...

JIM LEHRER: Hamas barely came up, as well.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. They just were not addressed. So I mean, in that sense, it was, you know, it was pretty light-lifting.

I think primarily the credit for the meeting, to the degree that it should be credited, has to go to Secretary of State Rice. I think there's no question that she's the one that pushed it.

It seems that since George Bush has been president, his policy toward the Israelis and Palestinians has been to be the opposite of Bill Clinton, where Bill Clinton did get hands-on and did exercise power and influence and pressure on the two parties. Bush...

JIM LEHRER: He kind of made him talk.

MARK SHIELDS: ... and kind of imposed the United States as a player. And both sides will tell you that. And the Israelis have been pretty open about it.

The only way the Israelis are going to move is the Israeli leader has to go back to his people politically, domestically, and say, "The Americans are making us. They're leaning on us." And the same thing is true with the Palestinians. So, you know, I share Rich's lack of total optimism or rosy scenario here.

But I think Secretary Rice's closing remarks will probably be her fitting epitaph. I mean, she spoke movingly to both sides. She understood what it was like, having grown-up in segregationist Birmingham, to what the Israelis go through, a bomb threat on the way to church. And she understands what it's like to be a stateless person, like the Palestinians are, forced to go through checkpoints and treated shabbily.

Lott leaving the Senate

Rich Lowry
National Review
[Trent Lott] was very good cornering people when the tough votes came and doing just the right thing to twist their arms, to get them to do what he wanted.

JIM LEHRER: Rich, Trent Lott, announcement that he is leaving the Senate. A lot of people have said that's all about money. Is it all about money?

RICH LOWRY: I don't know whether it's all about money. I think my...

JIM LEHRER: ... go to the private sector, that's what...

RICH LOWRY: Yes, he clearly wants to make money. I think it's also just he's fed up with being in the Senate, and it's not very much fun being in the minority in the Senate without a lot going on.

There is some theory that he wanted to get out now before new ethics rules kick in that would have a two-year waiting period instead of a one-year waiting period to become a lobbyist. But the fact is, if you're a former senator, you find a way to make a lot of money, you know, whether you're abiding by that rule or not. And a lot of them become consultants instead of lobbyists, quote, unquote, "consultants."

But I think Lott's legacy -- he was a tremendous legislative mechanic. He was a whip in the House of Representatives. He was a whip in the Senate. Mitch McConnell, who was quite a good whip himself, who's now the minority leader, said Trent Lott is the best he ever saw at that.

And it didn't take a lot of inside knowledge. If you just watched Trent Lott interact with one of his fellow senators, he'd be touching his neck, shoulder, his elbows. You know, he was like one of these TSA screeners. But he was very good cornering people when the tough votes came and doing just the right thing to twist their arms, to get them to do what he wanted.

Remembering Henry Hyde

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
Henry was somebody who had the self-confidence to cosponsor legislation, Jim, with Henry Waxman, with Barbara Boxer, with Chuck Schumer, I mean, serious legislation.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mark, Henry Hyde died this week, and you probably disagreed with him on just about every issue, but you were a big fan of his.

MARK SHIELDS: I was a big fan of Henry. Henry was a very principled...

JIM LEHRER: Republican Congress from Illinois.

MARK SHIELDS: Illinois. The Hyde amendment, which prohibited federal funds being expended to provide abortions, was his named legislation. He got it as a freshman. But he was a rare...

JIM LEHRER: Led the impeachment drive against President Clinton.

MARK SHIELDS: Led the impeachment drive. Nobody on the other side was ever an enemy. They were always an adversary. Henry was somebody who had the self-confidence to cosponsor legislation, Jim, with Henry Waxman, with Barbara Boxer, with Chuck Schumer, I mean, serious legislation.

And he was passionate on the pro-life antiabortion case. But at the same time, Henry was absolutely convinced and committed to providing health care for mothers of those babies, of the babies themselves, food and nutrition and education for them. He wasn't one of those people, those strange types in Washington where life begins at conception and ends at birth.

And he killed term limits all by himself on the floor of the House of Representatives with his speech in which he turned to all his fellow Republicans said, "You're facing that neurosurgeon, and he shaved your head, and he's got the pencil there, and he's got the electric saw, and he's about to enter. And you turn to him and you say, 'I hope you're not a careerist. I hope you're brand new at this.'" That was Henry at his best.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Mark, Rich, thank you both very much.