November 6, 2000
JIM LEHRER: And now back to Mark Shields and Paul Gigot. Paul, what is your final campaign take on George W. Bush?
PAUL GIGOT: I think he certainly wins the most improved candidate award of the two of them. I mean, this is not the George Bush of the New Hampshire primary, sort of unsure of himself, content free. He's really improved. I mean, he's gotten much, much better as a candidate, and he seems to have his paces down. He's much more comfortable on stage making that wholesale message. He was always good on one-on-one in person with people, but he's much more comfortable on a stage making his argument, and here you see him at the end of the campaign, driving pretty much the same messages he had at the beginning of the campaign, or at least they thought they'd have at the beginning of the campaign: Character and trust, and one thing they've elaborated a little more here in the final month and a half is the size and scope of government. And he's driving those messages quite clearly.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, what do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: Optimistic, upbeat. If George Bush wins, it will be the curse of every political pundit and reporter who's covered this race, because he will have won because of the debates. If there was one thing we were sure of was that Al Gore was going to win the debates and George Bush was going to duck them, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Why do you say the debates?
MARK SHIELDS: Because the race going into the debates, which Bush's campaign gave the strong indication they wanted to limit in scope and number and exposure and audience, he was behind. And he came out of the debates three weeks later ahead. So I mean, I think, you know, without being Sherlock Holmes you can look at it and say.
JIM LEHRER: You don't even have to be a pundit to figure that out.
PAUL GIGOT: It helps if you're not.
MARK SHIELDS: If he doesn't make it, I think they'll look back and a say a couple of things. One is a tactical decision, and that one is going to California. I mean, he spent two days of last week in California. Dick Cheney spent the last week in California. If he loses in a close race, Karl Rove never should have said that to Gwen Ifill or anybody else's campaign, we'll win in a walk because there's been about that last week -- you asked about Gore's last week -- there's been a certain bandwagon psychology: We're winning, we're confident, you better get on board; there's been a little bit of that message taking a victory lap.
JIM LEHRER: Is that wrong?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it's wrong. I don't think it plays to his strength because when there's a smirk or swagger in his presentation, it doesn't serve him well. I think Paul's right, he's gotten better as a candidate. But I'd say the other failure they made in this campaign was an interesting failure. They never filled him out intellectually. He never gave the commencement speech at Yale or Harvard. He never gave the speech at the Commonwealth Club at San Francisco. He never went overseas. If there is a question it would be that doubt about his preparation.
JIM LEHRER: What about Mark's point here in these last few days, did you see a swagger of confidence?
PAUL GIGOT: I saw a swagger in Karl Rove, chief strategist. I don't think I saw a swagger in George Bush. In fact, he's been urging people to get out to vote. You see confidence, no question about it, but I don't think I've detected a swagger. If he loses, Bush loses, I think the tactical mistake will be that they didn't address Social Security head on, they decided that they didn't need to do that.
JIM LEHRER: What's your reading on the drunk driving thing that everybody was talking about 48 hours ago and nobody seems to be talking about it today?
PAUL GIGOT: Seems to have melted away. Most of the polls I've seen show about 80% of the public thinks it's not going to affect their decision at all. And those that it will affect probably weren't going to vote for him anyway.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Again, don't go away.