Presidential Debate: Reactions
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KWAME HOLMAN: The morning after revealed an upbeat and chipper Bob Dole.
SEN. BOB DOLE, Republican Presidential Candidate: I haven’t had as much fun since last night.
KWAME HOLMAN: Appearing at a rally in Toms River, New Jersey, as part of a bus tour, Dole returned to one of his debate themes, that President Clinton is falsely labeling him an enemy of Medicare, Social Security, and other government benefits.
SEN. BOB DOLE: Now I know why Clinton only wanted two debates. We wanted four debates but he can’t say anything in two debates. He’ll finish up in two debates. All he can say is Bob Dole is against everything, he’s for everything, and I want to say one word because I know a lot of people are retired here, don’t let Bill Clinton scare you. That’s all they have. They don’t have any agenda. They haven’t had an idea in four years. They’re trying to frighten senior citizens, veterans, and everybody in America. (applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Overnight polls show the debate apparently did not help Dole close the public opinion gap with President Clinton. Still, Dole claimed his campaign is on target for election day.
SEN. BOB DOLE: This is a great way to start the post debate efforts. We’ve got 30 days to go. Don’t believe the pundits; don’t believe the polls. Jack Kemp says don’t look up at the scoreboard; the game’s still on. We’ve got 30 days. We’re going to win the election. We’re going to win the election. (applause) We’re going to win the election because I said last night when people think of Bob Dole, I want them thinking the word “trust,” trust. When they think of the word Bill Clinton, I want them to think of the word “fear,” but trust us. I trust you. You trust me. And we’ll put America back together again, and we’ll go into the next century stronger and stronger and stronger than ever.
KWAME HOLMAN: By contrast, President Clinton’s first post-debate appearance was understated and businesslike. In Stamford, Connecticut, the President picked up the endorsements of a large group of traditionally Republican constituents, leaders of major U.S. corporations.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I have wondered for years why the Democratic Party should not have at least as much or more support from American business as the other party.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Clinton said nothing specifically about the debate but once again touted his economic plan. It was attacked by Dole last night as harmful to business.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We never thought that being–or helping ordinary people live up to their full potential was inconsistent with trying to build a strong business environment. In fact, I thought it was a precondition for helping people to live out their dreams. This is a country with a strong private economy. And if it doesn’t work, then our aspirations for all the people we want to help can never, never, never be fulfilled by anything the government does. If there’s not an effective partnership that is founded on a successful private economy, the rest of our endeavors are doomed to be thwarted.
KWAME HOLMAN: And the President responded to Dole’s charge the country is worse off than it was at the beginning of the Clinton administration.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: You see here today how our country works at its best. This country is better off than it was four years ago not because of anything any of us did alone, including the President. Our job is to create the conditions and to try to give people the tools to make the most of their own lives. And we have done our best to do that. But you can see what happens when we all work together. And that is my commitment to you–to do that for four more years, to try to build that bridge to the 21st century.
KWAME HOLMAN: The candidates will have a few more days to hone their rhetoric before the next debate, scheduled for a week from Wednesday in San Diego.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now for some reaction from campaign strategists, and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: For insight into how the two campaigns assess last night’s debate and where they go from here, we have White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and the Dole campaigns’s national chairman, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. First, to Mr. Rumsfeld. Welcome.
DONALD RUMSFELD, Dole Campaign Chairman: Thank you very much…
MARGARET WARNER: Thanks for coming in. What did Sen. Dole achieve last night?
MR. RUMSFELD: Well, I think he achieved exactly that which he needed to. If you think about it, he’s had something like 75 to 80 million dollars of negative ads against him over the last 18 months. He has never had an audience of the size they did last night, and he was able to go into the living rooms of the American people and show a very different Bob Dole than they one they’ve seen on these negative ads from the Clinton campaign and the labor unions and, indeed, from his Republican opponents in the primary.
They saw a warm, a humorous, a thoughtful, certainly an extremely knowledgeable person, and the first task when you’re running for President is the American people have to be comfortable with you as President. At that point they’re willing to look at the issues, and I like the side of the issues that Bob Dole’s on, so I think that now they are comfortable. His ratings went way up in terms of favorability. He–he certainly was a winner in terms of humor. He was a winner on the issues. He was a winner in better than expectations, and I think now the issues will begin to divide the American people much more than they have previously. And they already knew Bill Clinton. They didn’t know Bob Dole.
MARGARET WARNER: And what do you think the President’s strategy was last night as you watched it?
MR. RUMSFELD: Well I think what he wanted to do was to lay out–he kept repeating almost the same words–employment, environment, and three other words that obviously have tested well in his polls or something, because he must have repeated them three or four times. And I think that’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to frightened people about Bob Dole, and it didn’t work. He’s not a frightening person. He’s a very reasonable person.
He wanted to lead people to believe, as his ads do, that Bob Dole is going to do something damaging to Social Security or something, and Bob Dole’s committed. He knows how important the safety net is in this society. And, and I think that it was a good debate. Don’t get me wrong. I thought it was a good evening, and I must say I think Jim Lehrer did just a wonderfully professional excellent job.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, Jim has warned us not to have too many compliments on the air, so let me go on from there.
MR. RUMSFELD: I won’t say anything else.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about something that puzzled a lot of journalists and a lot of Republicans I’ve talked to, that is before the debate, you and the Dole campaign were saying that Sen. Dole had to fan the doubts about Bill Clinton’s character. Yet, when Jim Lehrer invited him to do so, Sen. Dole basically sidestepped the question. Why?
MR. RUMSFELD: Well, I think I was saying that before the debate.
MARGARET WARNER: I wasn’t saying you personally, but many people–
MR. RUMSFELD: Oh, I see.
MARGARET WARNER: –in the Dole campaign were saying that that was an important–
MR. RUMSFELD: My feeling is that the American people know Bill Clinton’s character. There isn’t a day that goes by that they don’t see there’s another subpoena, there’s another investigation, there’s another cabinet officer in trouble, there’s another White House staff person dismissed for some problem. They know all that. I don’t know what Bob Dole could do to heighten their knowledge or awareness. I mean, the papers are filled with it.
The press is filled with it. It’s a very sorry situation. And it seems to me that what he needs to do is to tell the American people–Bob Dole needs to do is to tell the American people what his hopes and aspirations are for this country and where he would like to see us go. And that’s what he is doing. When he was invited to talk about Mr. Clinton’s character, I don’t know how much more he could have added that they didn’t already know.
MARGARET WARNER: So what has Sen. Dole not yet done? If people now, you believe, are comfortable with him, what remains to be done after last night?
MR. RUMSFELD: I think now what he has to do is now that the people are beginning to pay attention to this campaign–and indeed they are–he has to position himself and make them understand his position on the issue. And I would much rather be going into this last month of the campaign in favor of tax relief to the American people than I would on Bill Clinton’s side, where he promised the people a tax cut, broke his promise, raised taxes higher than anyone ever has in the history of the country. I think that Bob Dole’s position with respect to teenage drug use is a serious problem in this country and Mr. Clinton’s record is not a good one there. He has dramatically reduced funding for the Drug Office.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you–should we be expecting any shifts in emphasis, for instance, in the message? I noticed you use the phrase tax relief instead of tax cut, a minor difference, but–
MR. RUMSFELD: Well, I think the big issues that will be talked about are tax relief for the American people. We’re paying a higher level of taxation than ever in history of 31.3 percent, federal, state, and local. It will be tax reform, changing the Internal Revenue Service, as we know it today, into a modern system that fits our society, that’s not corrupt, that’s not damaging to so many things, creating a faster rate of growth in our society, that certainly we can do a much better job. This is the slowest recovery in the post World War II period. And we need to create the kind of energy and vitality and creativity and innovation in our society that will provide more people with jobs and better jobs and more stable jobs and higher-paying jobs.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you suggesting there will be any de-emphasis off the tax cut, which–
MR. RUMSFELD: Oh, absolutely not. No. No. I mean the tax–15 percent across the board tax cut and the reduction in capital gains tax, no. That will be right there, as will the subjects of drugs, violent crimes, getting violent criminals off the streets, and education. Now that–those clusters and I think also there will be probably somewhat more discussion about foreign policy. It’s not an appropriate thing to be talking about really when there are troops engaged or when there’s a summit taking place, but for the period ahead, it seems to me, it is proper to talk about the series of so-called false triumphs that seem to be speckling the globe.
MARGARET WARNER: There were press reports before the debate, uh, saying that the Dole campaign was going to wait until the debate to essentially reassess, decide where to spend for the final month money and time and advertising. Has that process started?
MR. RUMSFELD: No, it hasn’t, but it won’t–and it won’t be a single event. In other words, what will happen is–and I suppose in both camps–what you do is you sit down and look at the 50 states. Some you know you can win and you don’t have to put your resources there.
Some you know you’re not going to win and you don’t have to put your resources there, and then there are a large number in the middle, and that’s where your best–that’s where the candidate goes and the vice presidential nominee, and that’s where the special surrogates go, and that’s where the advertising takes place. And that process will be done probably oh several times between now and the end. The reason is, is there is enormous volatility. I’ve seen numbers change in a state from five to twenty-three in one four-day period, one seven-day period.
MARGARET WARNER: Any states you’re ready to say–
MR. RUMSFELD: No, no, no, no. We’re going to look at it regularly. The interesting thing about this is if you think about it, John Engler in Michigan and Christie Todd Whitman and Mr. Jenkins down in Louisiana, not one of them was ever ahead in the polls, and they all won. Mr. Jenkins was listed five–he was fifth, and he won the next day. Christie Todd Whitman was declared a loser, so I think there’s a big opportunity here.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thanks, Mr. Rumsfeld, we’ll leave it there.
MR. RUMSFELD: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: And now for a reaction to this, White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta.
Hello, Mr. Panetta.
LEON PANETTA, White House Chief of Staff: Nice to be with you, Margaret.
MARGARET WARNER: Nice to be with you. I know you just heard Donald Rumsfeld. Would you agree with his assessment of what Sen. Dole achieved last night, which was to make the American people comfortable with him as a person and a potential President?
MR. PANETTA: I think he’s right in the sense of Bob Dole becoming more human with his sense of humor. He’s got a good sense of humor. He’s just never shown it very much lately, but he certainly showed it last night in the debate. I think the fact that he was there and was able to counter the President in terms of the debate and be there on the issues, the American public got a chance to see him. So I think there’s no question that it helped Bob Dole. But in the end, I think people saw the difference in vision between where the President wanted to take the country and where Bob Dole wants to take the country. And I think to that extent, it certainly helped the President as well.
MARGARET WARNER: Were you gratified or relieved that Sen. Dole didn’t level more of a character attack on the President, or do you disagree with that assessment?
MR. PANETTA: No. As a matter of fact, I commend Bob Dole not only for bringing back his sense of humor but also for being restrained about the personal attacks. The President has always said that this campaign ought to be about issues, not insults. It ought to be about his record, what he’s done for the country. It ought to be about each candidate’s vision about where they want to take the country for the future. And I think to that extent it was a good debate last night because it basically did focus on issues. It focused on the difference of visions between these two candidates, and I think it was a healthy debate, good for America, and I too want to commend Jim for the way he led that debate. It was great.
MARGARET WARNER: There’s been a lot of commentary that basically all the President has to do here is run out the clock, so I know you didn’t have a huge agenda for last night, but what do you think the President achieved in terms of the dynamic of this race?
MR. PANETTA: I think it was important that the President again speak directly to the American people during the course of that debate to show what he had in terms of a very clear vision for the future. He started really in his opening statement when he talked about his record and what has happened over the last four years on the deficit, reducing the deficit, the fifteen and I thought of the ten and a half million new jobs, his ability to reduce unemployment, to deal with crime, a hundred thousand cops, but more importantly, he talked about the future and I think the big difference there in terms of the future was on the education issue.
He talked specifically about scholarships to get our kids to be able to go to college. He talked about increased investments in education. Bob Dole talked about getting rid of the Department of Education, uh, and I think as you went through it, whether it was on crime, whether it was on the economy, you could sense that at least from our point of view that American families saw in the President, uh, someone who really does care about their families and really does care about trying to educate their kids. And I think that is a very important point. And I think it certainly was an effective point in terms of the course of that debate.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about one thing that there were a number of polls done in the half hour after the debate before people had heard any pundits or people like you or me, and though the polls did suggest that basically it confirmed people’s votes going into it, nonetheless, a majority in several of the polls said they did think Sen. Dole was more honest in the debate and that they thought President Clinton exaggerated some in the debate. Is that a problem for him?
MR. PANETTA: It’s not a problem because the record is there. I mean, the American people know the facts. They–you can listen to both candidates talk, and, uh, obviously they have their own way of speaking to the American people. But the record is clear, and the President speaks to that record. When you–when we came into office, we were facing $300 billion deficits. We have cut the deficit by 60 percent. That’s fact. When we talk about jobs, when we came in the economy was coming out of a recession, jobs, few jobs had been produced in our economy. We’ve got 10 ½ million jobs. When you look at crime in the streets and the ability of the President to put 100,000 cops out there and get that passed, to the assault weapons ban, the Brady Bill, uh, these are all accomplishments–
MARGARET WARNER: Mm-hmm.
MR. PANETTA: –and I think to that extent the American people know that this is a president who doesn’t just promise things; he delivers on those promises. And that makes a difference.
MARGARET WARNER: Looking ahead to the future, one thing we didn’t hear the President mention last night was what plans he had for working with a Democrat Congress if a Democrat Congress should be elected. Why didn’t we hear anything about that?
MR. PANETTA: Well, obviously, this is about who’s to be President of the United States, and what kind of agenda is that President going to set for the future. That’s–that was the main focus of the debate last night. Obviously, the President does care about who’s elected to the Congress and whether that individual in the Congress or in the Senate supports the goals that this President has in terms of the future of this country.
He certainly doesn’t want to go through the last two years fighting the course of a Republican Congress to basically take us backwards to $270 billion in cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, and education and fight against everything the President wants to do for the future. So it’s pretty obvious that the President wants a Congress that obviously will support his vision of the future.
MARGARET WARNER: And does he unequivocally believe that would be a Democratically-controlled–Democrat-controlled Congress?
MR. PANETTA: Well, I think that is the case because he’s out there every place he goes, he’s basically on the stage supporting congressional Democratic congressional candidates, Democratic Senatorial candidates. So we think there’s no question that they support the same agenda that this President supports for the future.
MARGARET WARNER: And should be able to–should we expect coming out of last night that we’ll see more sort of wholehearted campaigning in tandem between the President and the Democratic candidates?
MR. PANETTA: Well, the President’s already been doing that. Every trip I’ve been on with the President, we have had the candidates there at the events. Many have spoken. He’s done fund-raisers for Senate candidates, for congressional candidates. He’s working very hard to try to assist them in their campaign efforts but obviously his main focus is to try to make sure the American people understand what his vision is for this country in terms of the future.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Mr. Panetta, thank you very much.
MR. PANETTA: Thank you, Margaret.