|THE DAY AFTER|
October 4, 2000
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Shields and Gigot on the political fallout from
the debate-- syndicated columnist Mark Shields and "Wall Street
Journal" columnist Paul Gigot.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, its leaves it exactly according to every measurement and every place I talked to today, it leaves it exactly where it came in: That's at the top. I mean, the undecided basically didn't watch the debate, let the truth be known, and nobody really... the impressions of both candidates did not change dramatically. There was one profound difference. And that was under the surface. That is that Al Gore in the sense of having the knowledge and experience to be president has opened up an enormous lead, almost 2-to-1 over Governor Bush. And Governor Bush's trump card which had been strong leader where he had almost a 20-point lead over Al Gore as recently as July, is now a dead heat. So, in that sense, the people's perception, voters' perceptions of the two candidates, Gore emerges from this particular event in far better shape than does Governor Bush.
MARGARET WARNER: And you're talking about the overnight polls.
MARK SHIELDS: I'm talking about, yes, I'm talking about a snapshot in time by NBC in particular.
PAUL GIGOT: I see it differently. I think Gore certainly showed his knowledge. There's no question about that. But Bush showed he had to a lot of voters who had doubts about his capacity as Mark has said for the last year or two filled the chair, that he could fill the chair, that he could go head to head against the Vice President and that he did have the knowledge. He certainly passed minimum standards and did better than that. I think there's no question about that. And the other thing that where I disagree, well, Mark didn't talk about this, but I think that Bush helped himself some --
MARK SHIELDS: You would disagree.
PAUL GIGOT: -- is on the likeability side. I think Bush did come across as a more, a regular person, and for all Gore's competence, there was also an awful lot of condescension there. And I've heard an awful lot of people today, including many Democrats, suggest if he hadn't interrupted so much, if he didn't seem sometimes to have to be the smartest guy in the class, he would have done better.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you think that makes a difference when people go to the polling booth?
PAUL GIGOT: I do because we're talking about not just somebody who is an expert on something, who has leadership qualities, but also somebody who we're going to have to live with for four years. We're going to have to listen to him an awful lot. One of the things Bill Clinton was very good at is you didn't mind listening to him because he seemed to be somebody who connected with you.
MARK SHIELDS: I don't argue with Paul's point, Margaret, but I do want to point out that by every measurement that Al Gore is seen as favorably personally as George W. Bush in every single poll. That was something that was not the case two months ago.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, let me ask you something, because as the people in the Denver group pointed out, it almost didn't matter what Jim asked in certain cases, they wanted to return to the issues that Gwen just discussed in her segment, essentially how to spend the surplus, the tax cut and the Social Security. If the audience were the undecided voters, which it was even if a lot of them didn't watch, what's the strategy behind this? Why keep returning to those issues?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the strategy for Gore is that the issues are stronger than his candidacy has been up through most of this race. I mean, he has returned, since the Democratic Convention, to the generic Democratic race. Every House Democratic candidate in the country has been running on those issues of prescription drugs and Medicare and Social Security, and patients' bill of rights. That's been the Democratic mantra. Al Gore kind of picked it up later in the game after doing several other things before that. For George Bush, last night was a little bit of a departure. He emerged as an enormously popular candidate, as a compassionate conservative, as a different kind. He was a new Republican. He wasn't like those old guys, including his father and Bob Dole, who got whomped in this decade just completed, he was a different guy. He was a governing conservative ideology and theory. Last night he sounded a lot more like Trent Lott and the Republicans. I mean when you start using the word bureaucrat instead of public employees and public servant, he started talked about we're going to have 20,000 more and so forth, everybody is against big government, but the reality is Americans are philosophically conservative but operationally liberal.
MARGARET WARNER: Yeah. Paul, explain this. We all know that one reason he got -- embraced the big tax cut initially was his that his folks thought Steve Forbes was going to come in from the right and be the big challenger in the primary season. Here's this guy who is this pragmatist. Why is he so wedded almost philosophically to this huge tax cut that most polls show a majority of voters are not excited about?
PAUL GIGOT: Maybe he believes it. Maybe he believes that it's something you have to do with the surplus because if you leave the money in Washington, if you are President, you're going to end up spending an awful lot more and it's going to be very hard to govern in this city. I've heard Bush say that personally. That's something he believes in. I also don't agree that most people don't want tax cuts. Most people don't believe they're ever going to see tax cuts but when it comes right down to it, tax cuts are popular. They're a little harder to sell now because you can't just sell them in economic terms because the economy is so... you have to sell them in values and moral terms somewhat. They're not as... they're unfair. And Bush... one of the things he didn't do well last night was break out, say, the estate tax and make an argument for it, that it's simply unfair to tax the people twice or the marriage penalty. He mentioned it once but didn't drive it home. I think you'll see him try to do that. But the tax cut is also a proxy for the philosophical division that this race is really beginning to hang on, which is the role, the scope, the size of government.
MARGARET WARNER: So you're essentially saying that Bush is much more of a true philosophical conservative?
PAUL GIGOT: I never thought he wasn't. I never said he wasn't.
MARK SHIELDS: I think he does believe it on the tax cut. I don't think there's any question about it. I don't think this is a graft upon him. The difference is, Margaret, he's the lone ranger this year. In 1978 when tax cuts were a great issue, every Republican in the country ran on it. There was a resonance. Everywhere you went, the Senators were running on it, the House members. In 1980 when Ronald Reagan ran on a tax cut, every House member and Senator was echoing it. There is not a single Senate candidate, to my knowledge, who has made a central part of his platform this year, George Bush's tax cut. Everybody is forgetting taxes and getting rid of the red tape and cutting the IRS down to size.
MARGARET WARNER: Not this big one.
MARK SHIELDS: But this one.
MARGARET WARNER: Did last night's debate -- we heard somebody in the Denver group talk about this is the first round of a three-round or the first round in a three-round fight -- does it raise or lower the stakes for the next two debates?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think it is going to have fewer viewers just by the fact that it won't be as novel. So there's no question about that. But I think it raises the stakes somewhat because, I mean, Gore could have had an expectation that being the experienced person in the race, he could knock Bush out here or knock him off his game substantially. I don't think he did that. And Bush, by surviving, by moving on, I think he now is going to grow in confidence somewhat. So, you know, one of the two might have to raise the anti- here because it looks like we're going to have one of these... unless the polls break out in the next week-- and it doesn't look like that's going to happen based on the overnight-- it looks like we're going to go the distance here.
MARK SHIELDS: I don't argue that Governor Bush probably comes back to this more confident, but last night he lost another arrow in his quiver, which is the whole national defense foreign policy. When Al Gore started listing the opposition leader in Yugoslavia whose name I don't want to try and spell right now, I talked to one of Bush's people today who said in kidding, they said you don't have to be able to pronounce somebody's name before you bomb them. I don't disagree with Paul that Al Gore last night showed flashes of the fellow in high school who reminds the teacher she hasn't given out the weekend homework on Friday afternoon.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you think it races the stakes for the next couple of debates?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there's no question that the next debate will be viewed by those of us who think this is a tight race-- and it is, it's an enormously tight race. For Al Gore last night it was ABC, for George Bush, it was pass/fail. He passed. And the question is: Did Gore get a C plus or a B -
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We'll be back tomorrow night to grade the vice presidential debate.