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JIM LEHRER:Now, the politics of Colin Powell’s decision as seen by three of our regulars: syndicated columnist Mark Shields, “Wall Street Journal” columnist Paul Gigot, and Cynthia Tucker, editor of the editorial page of the “Atlanta Constitution,” and a member of our company of regional commentators. They’re joined tonight by Republican activist Bill Kristol, editor and publisher of the new political magazine, the “Standard.” Mark, in pure political terms, has Colin Powell literally passed up the presidency? Did he stand that good a chance of being elected President?
MARK SHIELDS: (Miami) Oh, I think he had a splendid chance, I mean, a chance that comes to very few Americans, Jim. I mean, just look at Bill Clinton tonight. Bill Clinton had a 22-point turnaround. Last Friday’s “Wall Street Journal”/NBC Poll showed Bill Clinton running fifteen points behind Colin Powell and seven points ahead of Bob Dole. Tonight, that’s–Bill Clinton is 22 points better off. He’s got to be doing cartwheels in the White House. Colin Powell had an authentic, legitimate chance to be President of the United States.
JIM LEHRER:Do you agree, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: I think Mark is right that he has a chance, but I think he overestimates the degree of the chance. This was not going to be a cake walk. This was going to be a tough road in the Republican primaries, or as an independent. The poll numbers show his popularity before he gets into that rough and tumble which Colin Powell, to his credit, was honest about saying, it was going to face him and deserves to be faced if you’re going to become President.
JIM LEHRER:Bill Kristol, does this mean that Bill–that Bob Dole is now going to be the Republican nominee?
WILLIAM KRISTOL: (Indianapolis) I don’t think so. I think, in fact, there are 30 percent or so of Republican primary voters who wanted to be for Colin Powell, or at least wanted to consider him seriously. They’re now up for grabs.
JIM LEHRER:So it, it would be–you agree with that, Paul?
MR. GIGOT: Yes, I do.
JIM LEHRER:It’s not an automatic. Mark.
MR. GIGOT: It’s not an automatic.
MR. SHIELDS: I think Bob Dole’s a lot better off than he was last night. I mean, the race is shorter. There’s a shorter window of opportunity. Everybody else against him is in single digits. They now have until the 12th of February. For two months, Colin Powell has exhausted all the oxygen in the political world, and so all those other saplings or those little trees haven’t had a chance to grow. I mean, the Alexanders, the Buchanans, the Gramms, and all the rest of them, they’ve just been back in the truss ads in press coverage, Jim.
JIM LEHRER:Cynthia, do you see any saplings, other than a Dole sapling, growing now as a result of what happened today?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: (Atlanta) Well, if there were Republican primary voters who were waiting for Colin Powell to throw his hat into the race before they decided, I don’t think those voters now go to Pat Buchanan or Phil Gramm. Maybe those voters now go to Lamar Alexander or Steve Forbes. So there are certainly more moderate, if I may call them that, without cursing them, the Republican primaries, if there are more moderate Republican–Republicans out there who are running, Alexander and Forbes come to mind, then they may benefit a bit from Colin Powell’s decision not to run. But I don’t see how those voters now go to Pat Buchanan or Phil Gramm. It seems to me the biggest beneficiary of this is still Bob Dole.
JIM LEHRER:You, you wouldn’t dispute that would you, Bill Kristol?
MR. KRISTOL: Well, I’m not sure. I think the main effect of the Powell boomlet was to show how many Republicans really don’t want to nominate Bob Dole for the presidency. They respect him; they admire him; they don’t want him to be the presidential candidate in 1996, and I think there’s a pretty big opportunity for Lamar Alexander, in particular, maybe for one of the other candidates, to run second to Bob Dole in Iowa, compete with him in New Hampshire, and try to get Dole one-on-one. And I think someone like Alexander could beat Dole one-on-one if he can clear the rest of the field in Iowa and New Hampshire.
JIM LEHRER:Mark, what did you–what did you make of, of Powell’s announcement today, clean announcement, I am a Republican?
MR. SHIELDS: Well, I think it’s a real lift to the Republican Party, Jim. I mean, if you really want to know why Americans were drawn to Colin Powell, all anybody ought to do is look at today’s game films. I mean, this was a man who had a message both in his statement and in his press conference that was disarming, that was patriotic, that was candid, that was poised, that was funny. I mean, there isn’t a presidential candidate in shoe leather who couldn’t learn from what this man did and what he showed today.
JIM LEHRER:Do you agree, Paul?
MR. GIGOT: It was a spectacular performance. It was generous; it was big-hearted, but it was also tough- minded. He didn’t say, well, Alma wouldn’t let me do it. He didn’t say like some others have said the campaign finance laws prevented me from doing it. He said, I didn’t have it in my gut, the passion and the commitment. And that’s the sort of personal responsibility–
JIM LEHRER:He didn’t blame it on anybody or any other thing, did he?
MR. GIGOT: No. It was a marvelous performance.
JIM LEHRER:Yeah. Did he sound like a Republican to you, Paul?
MR. GIGOT: Well, I think he did. He said smaller government; he said return taxes to people’s pockets; and he said–and this was I thought leapt right out at me–restore a sense of shame in the society, which is something that a lot of these other candidates have been trying to say and he hit right at it.
JIM LEHRER:Yeah. Cynthia, did he sound like a Republican to you?
MS. TUCKER: Well, he certainly sounded like a centrist. If the Republican Party is willing, in fact, to be a big tent party, yes, he did sound like a Republican. It did not surprise me that Colin Powell decided to go ahead and formally join the Republican Party. He has been identified with Republican Presidents. I think he said as he was retiring that he had not been particularly comfortable with the way that Bill Clinton made his decisions, so it did not surprise me at all that he decided to formally become a Republican. He certainly sounds like a centrist, and if the Republican Party is big enough to accommodate that, that’s very good news indeed.
JIM LEHRER:Is the party big enough, Bill Kristol?
MR. KRISTOL: Sure, and I think Colin Powell’s popularity among Republican primary voters, judging from the polls, proves that. I mean, the big debate two months ago when Powell was considering running was is he too moderate to even be competitive for the Republican presidential nomination, and the answer turned out to be no. I think primary voters, including conservative primary voters, are not as narrowly ideological as some have made them and that they are, they want someone they can respect, someone they can admire, someone who is more or less on board–certainly the Gingrich revolution, the Republican agenda in Congress–but the notion that Republican primary voters sit at home with a list of litmus tests looking at each candidate and then checking off in a box, you know, where he is on this issue or that, I think a Powell proto-candidacy may have destroyed that myth.
JIM LEHRER:What about–yes, Mark, go ahead.
MR. SHIELDS: Jim, he had precious little comfort for many of the initiatives being pushed by Republicans on Capitol Hill today. He talked about the terms of the safety net. He talked about us as a family, our responsibility to each other. I mean, he talked about the spirit of Abraham Lincoln. I mean, this was in Cynthia’s term a large tent Republican. And it was not what has been coming consistently from the Republican legislative leadership on Capitol Hill. It was Jack Kemp’s message.
JIM LEHRER:But not Newt Gingrich’s?
MR. SHIELDS: Not Newt Gingrich’s message at all.
JIM LEHRER:Is he right about that, Paul?
MR. GIGOT: I disagree with that completely.
JIM LEHRER:You do?
MR. GIGOT: I think it’s Jack Kemp’s message, but if you also listen to Newt Gingrich’s speeches and you don’t just listen to the sound bites, you know, the most partisan, I think that is a large part of the, the Gingrich message as well. I know Mark thinks that this is somehow a great offense, but that is exactly what Gingrich wants too. It’s not just to dismantle the welfare state. It’s, in fact, to try to replace it with something better.
JIM LEHRER:But when Colin Powell said today he wants to–one of the reasons he, he–one of the things he wants to do as a Republican is broaden its reach, is the leadership of the Republican Party going to allow that reach broadened?
MR. GIGOT: There are a lot of leaders in the Republican Party who would desperately like to do that, Jack Kemp first and foremost, but frankly when you talk to a Dick Armey or a Newt Gingrich, I mean, they would love to be able to expand the reach of the party to black Americans. Some of them have been frustrated by that, and partly it’s the Republicans’ fault for not trying and partly it’s a residue of some of the Southern strategy that started back in the 60′s to try to bring the Southern Republican–Southern conservatives into the party.
JIM LEHRER:Conservative Democrats–
MR. GIGOT: But I think the feeling now is that we have to–that Republicans have to move beyond that if they’re going to maintain and expand and extend their majority.
JIM LEHRER:Cynthia, what did you make of Colin Powell’s statement about that blacks need to have the alternative, make a choice between the Republicans and Democrats, and right now, they’re only going to Democrats, and he wants to make sure that the Republican Party broadens enough to where it is attractive to blacks? Does that make sense to you?
MS. TUCKER: Oh, absolutely. I thought he was absolutely right, Jim, when he said that he wanted to help the Republican Party broaden its base and appeal more to African-American voters. I think that would be good for African-Americans, good for the Republican Party, and good for the nation. The problem is that Colin Powell had a much, much better chance of doing that as a candidate than he will now. I think it will be difficult for him to find a platform from which to speak, having never been elected to office. It’s also true that the Republican Party has a lot of problems in appealing to African-American voters. It’s not just the residue of their Southern strategy from the past, from 1964, when Barry Goldwater ran, and it’s not just their very conservative platforms. It is also true that the Republican Party sends out signals that makes it seem hostile, antagonistic to people of color when they attack affirmative action, when they attack immigration, when they speak about English-only policies, when they talk about insisting that cocaine laws stay in place which punish crack users much more heavily than the users of powdered cocaine. Crack users happen to be more heavily black and brown, powdered cocaine users more heavily white. When the Republican Party insists on taking stands like that, African-American voters get the message that they are not welcome. And so if Colin Powell is going to work on that, he’s got a lot of work in front of him.
JIM LEHRER:Do you agree with that, Bill, he’s got a lot of work to do, Bill Kristol?
MR. KRISTOL: I don’t think Colin Powell has to do a lot of work, and he doesn’t–he can do what he wants to do. The fact is he was welcome in the Republican Party. We had polling data; we had the expression of Republican leaders welcoming Powell into the party, despite their disagreement with him on lots of issues. Several Senators and Congressmen, quite conservative ones, called me over the last week when I was getting, you know, criticized a little bit for being so welcoming to Powell by some of my conservative friends, to say, you know, keep it up, you’re doing the right thing, we don’t know quite whether we ultimately want Powell to be our nominee, but we certainly wanted to run us a Republican, we want him to be considered for the Republican nomination, and we understand that to be a majority party, we have to be a broader party, a coalition of conservatives and moderates, steering the country in a broadly conservative direction and bringing in new supporters and new members all the time.
JIM LEHRER:Mark, the practical question that Cynthia raised, how does Colin Powell now stay on the front page?
MR. SHIELDS: Oh, I think it’s a problem for him. I mean, he will be able to make speeches. I think there’s certainly a question of what the Republican Party does to take advantage of this, Jim, and I–I’m not sure other than the presidential candidates, who–they all want to be seen with him–they all want his endorsement, but I don’t know what that platform is.
JIM LEHRER:What do you think, Paul?
MR. GIGOT: It’s harder to get a forum, there’s no question about it, when you’re not a candidate, but I would suspect that there will be a lot of Republicans saying, why don’t you begin the campaign for some of us and not just–not immediately the presidential nominees but some of our other candidates.
JIM LEHRER:He’s going to be given a lot of opportunities to prove he’s a Republican, right?
MR. GIGOT: I would think so, yeah.
JIM LEHRER:Right. All right. Cynthia, gentlemen, thank you all very much.