TOPICS > Politics

Shields & Gigot

August 29, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: And we now get political analysis from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall St. Journal columnist Paul Gigot. So, Paul, what is Newt Gingrich up to with this road show of his?

PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: He’s up to several things. He’s got several motives, I think. One is he wants to go for the fourth or fifth personal rehabilitation. He’s tried a few before. He’s digging for the bones of a Tyrannosaurus Rex to show people that he’s not Tyrannosaurus Rex.

MARGARET WARNER: Out in Montana.

PAUL GIGOT: Out in Montana. Some of his critics and press clippings would suggest. He’s also, I think, trying to raise money. As Kwame said in his taped piece, he–Newt Gingrich right now is the single best fund-raiser in the Republican Party bar none. He really does get a lot of the faithful going. They really like his message. He has a capacity to do something in politics which is important, which he’s interesting. You can disagree with him; you can agree with him; but he’s usually worth listening to. He might say something remarkable. And he might say something–he might put the Republican agenda in a way that Republicans like. He’s out doing that. If, by chance, the personal rehabilitation manages to help him say improve that rating in a couple of years, they might help him for the White House.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: The problem that Newt Gingrich has is wholesale versus retail. There’s a wholesale impression of Newt Gingrich in the country, and he’s a brilliant retailer. He is–you can see–I think–in this position how effective he was in small groups, especially among groups of party loyalists, partisans, and he is. And what Paul said is absolutely true. And he’s a brilliant fund-raiser. He’s a very effective fund-raiser. The problem is wholesale America has already made up their mind about him.

MARGARET WARNER: So what you’re saying is you don’t think this rehabilitation can work on the wholesale level?

MARK SHIELDS: If he had a couple of centuries–you know, if he could pick–because I think he goes in, talks to 150 people, and 100 of them walk out and say, boy, that guy was interesting; he was thoughtful; he isn’t nearly as crazy as people have said he is, or as abrasive, or contentious. And the problem is that America has made up their mind on Newt Gingrich. And the Fox poll this past week was 60 unfavorable, 60 percent unfavorable. Now, Fox is not accused of being a liberal, left-leaning group. And the problem is that Newt Gingrich is not America’s cup of tea. And Paul is further right, that his only hope of ever being a national figure of importance is to solidify that Republican base. I think you can make the argument he’s not going to be deposed as Speaker, Margaret, until he becomes a liability to his party. He is not a liability to his party right now. Republicans are in better shape. The Congress is in better shape. If he wasn’t a liability in ’96 to the point of the Republicans losing the Congress then chances are he won’t be in ’98, the Republicans survive for a couple of years under his stewardship, widows and orphans are not being treated abysmally, because he is Speaker of the House, so I think that’s where he is right now. I think his position as Speaker is more solid, but I don’t think he can overall improve his wholesale position in the country, which is decidedly and sadly for him negative.

MARGARET WARNER: Unless you want to weigh in again on that, let’s switch to Vice President Gore. Some new documents came out this week detailing the fund-raising calls he made from his White House office. And it seems there were dozens in about a six- or eight-month period between ’95 and ’96. How damaging is that?

PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think that he tried mightily to make it as undamaging as possible. I mean one thing the Vice President has learned from five years of working in this White House is if you’re going to issue documents that contradict what you said a few months ago, issue them three or four days before Labor Day, when nobody’s paying attention, and issue them a week before the Senate Committee that’s investigating all of this, is going to take up your–the subject of you. So that when they finally do take this up, you can say that’s old news, and you bring together groups of reporters; you sort of brief them, you massage them, and, in fact, this news came out in this black hole, the fact that he had made a lot more phone calls than he had given the impression before, and the fact that these documents show that the Vice President wasn’t out of the loop. He helped design the loop of campaign fund-raising, the fund-raising.

MARGARET WARNER: The fund-raising.

PAUL GIGOT: He was right in the middle of this, and the documents, the call sheets that he was asked to make calls on were for people $25,000 minimum, up to $100,000 or more, and they–a lot of them said early money is critical. We’ve got to get this money for the media campaign. This wasn’t some satellite operation for the Democratic National Committee. It was right in the White House, and the Vice President was integral to raising that money to be able to run the ads that eviscerated Bob Dole so early in the campaign. So if there’s any damage that accrues to Bill Clinton, it’s also going to rub off on Al Gore.

MARGARET WARNER: But we should point out, Mark, that this money was raised for the party, not–technically anyway for the presidential campaign, and, therefore, there is a real debate about whether there was anything wrong with this at all.

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think there’s any question. I don’t think what he did was illegal. I don’t think that he’s raising soft money, which if I were king, I would abolish tomorrow. I think it’s lousy. I think it stinks, but it’s legal. In fact, some great American newspapers said money is speech, so, therefore, this is probably a way of speaking. I think that Al Gore said last March in that terrible press conference where he used controlling legal authority seven times that he’d made about 50 calls. Well, it turns out he made 46. And he connected on 46 calls, made 71, connected on 46 thank you calls. I mean, people don’t like the idea of a Vice President raising money, sitting in the White House making calls. I don’t know how we’re going to raise money politically. I mean, I would ask people, I’d like to see the system changed. It’s, I think, the risk he runs, Margaret, is that he becomes a ludicrous figure, rather than a diabolic thing. I don’t see him as anything perverse. I mean, the controlling legal authority, press conference was a bad one, and now we’re into Buddhist nuns in September, and whether that was a financial arrangement.

MARGARET WARNER: This is another fund-raiser.

MARK SHIELDS: In Hacienda Heights, California–that was held–I think that’s where he–the concern.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let’s turn to the political story that most political junkies found most interesting this week, and this is that Congress Joseph Kennedy announced yesterday he will not run for governor of Massachusetts after all. And, Mark, two months ago he vowed he would run, what happened?

MARK SHIELDS: I think what happened, the maxim that a day is a lifetime in politics and a week is forever was validated. I mean, we had Bill Weld at 3/4 approval in the state. He’s gone.

MARGARET WARNER: Former governor.

MARK SHIELDS: Former governor. I mean, the dominant behemoth on the Massachusetts stage. He’s gone. It was going to be him against Joe Kennedy. There was going to be a real 15-round Mohammad Ali struggle, and Joe Kennedy, Joe Kennedy got caught in is that politics is a family business of the Kennedys; no family business lasts to the third generation, this one didn’t make it to the second generation. What the Kennedys have had–remarkable–certainly in Robert Kennedy, and with John Kennedy and even Teddy Kennedy, was a fierce tribal loyalty, a singlemindness, when everybody in the family got together and winning was crucial; you submerged all the differences. Here’s Joe Kennedy, his own problems with his former wife–wrote a book critical of him and his pressuring her to agree to an annulment of their marriage, and which she objected to, but his own brother, Michael, charged with reprehensible conduct with a 14-year-old babysitter, and then–

MARGARET WARNER: It’s alleged. We should point out he wasn’t charged.

MARK SHIELDS: Charged.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. I mean, alleged, accused in the press.

MARGARET WARNER: Accused.

MARK SHIELDS: And further, his cousin, John, the President’s son, writes in his magazine that they’re poster boys for bad behavior. So it became, I think, a cumulative thing. It became a political problem, but it really ironically became personally devastating.

MARGARET WARNER: And yet other Kennedys have seemed to be down or have even personal trouble, but they tough it out and they prevail. Why is this–why was this different? Why couldn’t Joe Kennedy do that?

PAUL GIGOT: They’re 18 for 18, 18 victories in the last 18 elections.

MARK SHIELDS: General.

PAUL GIGOT: General elections, not counting primaries.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

PAUL GIGOT: So, yes, the track record is good. I think the deterioration of generation that Mark said–and the Kennedy family is our first great family of political celebrities in what’s become an era of political celebrity. I mean, they always brought the family, the football play, the Hyannis compound. They played on that; they played on the personal. And when that personal later becomes tarnished, as you filter down and you have, instead of four or five or six main figures, or two or three, you have ten or fifteen, the foibles, the mistakes also get played up in an age of celebrity. You can’t avoid it. Every mistake your family makes gets magnified. It’s on Court TV. And so I think all of that wore on them, and particularly with Joe Kennedy, because I didn’t see if the personal is your real rationale for running, and that personal quality, the charisma, is tarnished, what do you have left, and I didn’t see–there wasn’t much of a rationale for Joe Kennedy’s candidacy, other than the fact that he’s a Kennedy. I mean, there was nothing that he was really running on.

MARK SHIELDS: I think–the people I talked to in Massachusetts today and yesterday thought–still thought he could win. I mean, thought that he was–

MARGARET WARNER: Despite the polls–

MARK SHIELDS: Despite the polls–

MARGARET WARNER: –that showed he was in big trouble.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, he’d taken hits, and he was still in a competitive situation politically. So I think the decision may very well have been more personal than political. I mean it was–it was–politically it was a viable situation. It was a lot tougher situation than it had been in January this year, when he was at 60 percent favorable, and the attorney general, Scott Harshbarger, was trailing him badly. It was a dogfight, and it would have been a tough fight, but I don’t think anybody was counting him out.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, it’s interesting to me–Ted Kennedy in 1994, who is deemed to be invincible–had a tough race and Scott Harshbarger was willing to run in a Democratic primary, so you can see that that Kennedy aura of invincibility was fading even two or three years ago and now this is the latest proof.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it there. Have a great Labor Day Weekend.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.