October 11, 2000
PAUL GIGOT: Well, the psychology shifted from a week ago. If there's any evidence, if you had any doubt that debates can influence elections, the last week has shown it. Last week Gore came in with of momentum, and sort of dominating in the polls, at least by a little bit. And that switched. I think Bush comes in with a little more confidence this time, he likes the format better, seated around a table like this where you can hug each other, where you can I think be more comfortable, and he doesn't think Gore is as effective. And Gore has to basically, no lies and no sighs, and has to somehow come across as a lot more likeable than he did last week.
GWEN IFILL: First, a disclaimer; none of the three of us have talked to Jim Lehrer; we don't know what questions he's going to ask. But who has the -
MARK SHIELDS: Never asked us for suggestions either.
GWEN IFILL: Well, I can tell you're upset about that, but you'll get over it. What - who has the most to prove of these two guys?
MARK SHIELDS: No question Gore. Paul, I want to add to what Paul said is, Gwen, that the expectations were high for a couple reasons. First, George Bush had apparently ducked the debates, Al Gore wanted the debates anywhere, Al Gore was this killer debater. It was the format that was best for Al Gore, standing there behind podiums separated. Now we're on Bush's turf. And let's be blunt about it. That night and the polls that night, the consensus of the commentators, was that Al Gore had won the debate. And within 48 hours a different opinion had set in among a lot of people, with some help from the Bush campaign, make no mistake about it, but with material that people responded to and that was that they felt more comfortable with George Bush than they had, and less comfortable with Al Gore. I disagree with Paul in this sense. He does not have to establish likeability tonight, Al Gore doesn't, but he has to raise people's comfort level with them. There has to be a sense that I can somehow feel comfortable with Al Gore in my living room for the next four years.
GWEN IFILL: How is that different?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, likeability, we're comfortable with a number of presidents. There's very few presidents who were liked. Ronald Reagan was liked. And Jack Kennedy was liked. But most presidents, if there's a comfort level, barring some sort of national cataclysm, all things being equal, Americans vote for the President they do like better.
GWEN IFILL: We know the polls have been shifting all week, but one of the interesting things is that a lot of so-called Democratic issues have been shifting toward Bush, Medicare, education. How is that happening? What happened in the last seven days to make Bush so much stronger?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think one of it is the personal side, which the honesty and trustworthiness did -- has emerged as a gap that's reemerged on Bush in Bush's favor, about ten points now on the Washington Post/ABC Poll over Gore I think that does tend to slide over into issues. But the other thing is that with - I think what Bush did -- started to do last week in the debates was he began to draw an ideological contrast, big government versus small government, for the first time really in this campaign on a consistent basis and he's done it the rest of the week. Dick Cheney reinforced that. And that I think has hurt Gore to some extent. He's now identified as favoring big government by 69% of the public in the Washington Post/ABC Poll, and I think that has helped Bush make the case for change and raise some doubts about Gore that maybe Gore is to the left of Bill Clinton. Who would have thought that, you know, from minus 18 points Bush was a month ago, on prescription drugs, now it's only two. So he's really making some headway on that argument.
GWEN IFILL: How much of that is because of the credibility question?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the credibility thing is a problem. I really -- the other surveys I've seen have not seen a similar closing of that gap, and I really think that the issue terrain of this campaign, the prescription drugs, Medicare, Social Security, patients bill of rights, still favor Al Gore. That's why he has to return that tonight. But I don't think there's any question that the issue, the honesty thing has done something very serious to the Gore candidacy, and that is up until last week's debate, this Democratic ticket was Gore-Lieberman. After that it became Clinton-Gore again, in people's minds, that there's question of, the ambiguity and lack of candor and was he more a continuation of what the definition of is is. And I think he had successfully established his own independence and autonomy at the convention in Los Angeles. I think he lost or at least compromised it in that first debate in Boston.
GWEN IFILL: How does he use the debate to try to do that, to fix that?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think he can go after Bush, I really don't. I think he obviously has to answer Bush's charges or criticism, whatever. I think the best thing for him to do quite frankly is to begin tonight and say I understand how important trust is to the American people, I will never lie to you, I will be absolutely candid, this and that, and kind of get it out to take that issue away so it robs George Bush from the chance during the debate to say there you go again, Al, or whatever. And I think then he has to go straight for the issues and he can't tell any anecdote that aren't verifiable, documented, got -- ibids, three eyewitnesses beside them.
PAUL GIGOT: An anecdote-free zone would be a good idea.
MARK SHIELDS: Bush has to be smirk free and Gore has to be anecdotal free.
GWEN IFILL: Issues aside, what is it that these folks have to accomplish. Are they going to be the nice Cheney-Lieberman model tonight, or do we see the attack dogs?
PAUL GIGOT: I suspect Cheney -- more like Cheney-Lieberman. The Gore campaign, of course, has in the last few days has really gone on the attack with Bush, but I don't _ I think they sense that it's not really Al Gore's argument to take. It doesn't help him to do that and he won't do it. And I don't think Bush feels he has to attack that much. For Bush the big issue is simply this: competence, knowledge, experience. He's doing very well on all personal characteristics except for those and if he can make the sale that he is up to the job, that is really going to help him in this contest.
MARK SHIELDS: I look for more tension for a simple reason. 90 minutes schmooze, George Bush wins, if this is a election for the student body president, whom you like better, whom you'd rather go to the ball game with, double date with, then George Bush beats Al Gore. He beats him on Al Gore's own precipice and beats him -- maybe even Al Gore volunteers. So I think he has to establish differences, and can't in any way retreat from them and can't be cute or we agree on this or whatever. In other words, it can't be too chummy.
GWEN IFILL: Once again, without any preknowledge of the questions, assume for a moment that because of what's happened in Israel and in Yugoslavia this week that there are few foreign policy questions, or at least one of them brings it up. Who stands to benefit? Who stands to lose?
PAUL GIGOT: There's no question that Gore was better on that issue - that subject matter last week. So George Bush can only go up. And I think he has to. He has to show a - almost the answer doesn't matter so much as the ease with which he delivers it - the comfort level, the fluency. I mean, so many answers - the answers he gave us looked clipped, formulated. He looked like he wanted to run out of the room when the subject came up, and people understand that you can't have a President who does that. So he has to show more, more fluency and comfort on foreign policy.
MARK SHIELDS: I think the comfort is the key. Last week he did look a little bit like the deer caught in the headlights when those subjects were raised, and thank goodness he didn't have a watch on because he was dying for that subject to get over. And Al Gore can't sit there and start rattling the NATO countries either, just say, let me tell you, and let me tell and why - he's got to just demonstrate an understanding and a resolve and that this is what I would do and this is why we're doing it.
GWEN IFILL: Dave Broder said here last night the voters at this point are looking for the vision thing again; they're looking for someone who can just reach through all the numbers and actually appeal to them. Is that important - do you agree with that?
PAUL GIGOT: It is important to set a direction, to set a tone. I think that's right. I guess I would argue that Bush -though he lost the debate on points - or at least I thought he did - he did a better job last week of establishing that vision and in particular did very well at establishing that he - he can put together a bipartisan coalition; that they had had a chance, Gore and Clinton, for eight years to get something done on Medicare and Social Security; they didn't - he can do it.
MARK SHIELDS: I would take it beyond Social Security and Medicare and say this is what it means in 200 to be an American; this is what we owe each other; these are our rights, but these are our responsibilities and our duties; this is a sacrifice that I'm going to ask of the American people; there's going to be a better, fairer, more decent, more humane national community if we do these things. I think the candidate who taps into that will find an awful lot of Americans eager to listen and eager to follow.
GWEN IFILL: Mark Shields, Paul Gigot, thanks very much; see you later.