JUDY WOODRUFF: Robin, one echo of 1980 was a question posed by Mr. Reagan, is America better off than it was four years ago? Four years ago he had asked, "Are you better off?" The other best-known phrase from the 1980 debate also surfaced again, provoking the most memorable drama of the evening. It came when Mr. Mondale ignored the rules that said the candidates couldn't address each other directly after he heard President Reagan's answer to a question on taxes.
FRED BARNES, The Baltimore Sun: Mr. President, let me try this on you. Do you think middle-income Americans are overtaxed or undertaxed?
Pres. REAGAN (to Mr. Mondale]: You know, I wasn't going to say this at all, but I can't help it: there you go again. I don't have a plan to tax or increase taxes. I'm not going to increase taxes. I can understand why you are, Mr. Mondale, because as a senator you voted 16 times to increase taxes. Now, I believe that our problem has not been that anybody in our country is undertaxed. It's that government is overfed.
Vice Pres. MONDALE: Mr. President, you said, "There you go again," right? Remember the last time you said that?
Pres. REAGAN: Uh-huh.
Vice Pres. MONDALE: You said it when President Carter said that you were going to cut Medicare. And you said, "Oh no, there you go again," Mr. President. And what did you do right after the election? You went out and tried to cut $20 billion out of Medicare, and so when you say, "There you go again," people remember this, you know. And people remember that you signed the biggest tax increase in the history of California, and the biggest tax increase in the history of the United States, and what are you going to do? You've got a $260 billion deficit.You can't wish it away. You won't slow defense spending -- you refuse to do that.
BARBARA WALTERS: Mr. Mondale, I'm afraid your time is up.
JUDY WOODRUFF: To get a reading on how that and other highlights of the debate will affect the campaign, we turn to our team of regular political analysts, Republican David Gergen, formerly communications director in the Reagan White House, now with the American Enterprise Institute, and Democrat Alan Baron, editor and publisher of the biweekly political newsletter, The Baron Report.
First of all, David, did Mondale get the better of Mr. Reagan in that little exchange we just saw?
DAVID GERGEN: I thought that was Mondale's best exchange. It illustrated two things about it. One was that he was more aggressive last night than Reagan was. He was very impressive in the way he handled that. And for the most part, I thought he managed to look presidential without looking mean. I thought he was very successful in that. On the other hand, when he raised that last night, I thought he had Reagan a little bit on the ropes and he never went after him. I was a little surprised he didn't try to hit a little harder after that was over with. That was the end of that exchange, and it didn't go beyond that. So he scored a point on that exchange. You have to give him credit for that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Alan, do you agree?
ALAN BARON: Well, I think he did on that exchange, and I think he did during the whole debate. What I think in retrospect is that it was a much more comfortable debate for Walter Mondale than the debates last spring, when he was in with Gary Hart, who agreed with him on about 95% of the issues, and they had to be focusing on this 5% they disagreed about, and it was very tough. Because his difference --
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, he was pretty tough with Hart.
Mr. BARON: He was tough with Hart, I agree, and therefore he came off as more strident and petty and hard. Neither one came off well. The fact is that there are fundamental differences here, not only on issues and performance, and I think he did very, very well, Mondale. I would put him as the best -- probably better than Reagan or Kennedy in previous debates.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the question that really matters, of course, is what difference does it make? How much bearing is this going to have on the campaign, David?
Mr. GERGEN: Well, I think the other two accomplishments for Mr. Mondale last night, to give him his due, is it seems to me going into this debate he had not become a plausible candidate, he had not crossed what Pat Caddell once called the acceptability threshold that a challenger needs to cross. And I think he did that last night. He presented himself as a viable alternative for those who have doubts about the Reagan presidency. Now, that's not a majority of the country for Mondale, but it still means that he's in a better position. And I think he also rallied his troops, as I'm sure Alan can say in more detail. But in terms of the fallout for this race, I think you're going to see a little closure but not much. Reagan is still a prohibitive favorite. Reagan held him off last night. To give Reagan his due, he didn't commit any gaffes. He was warm and personable for the most part. He was nervous in the beginning, but I think he came back on better toward the end of the debate.
Mr. GERGEN: I don't -- you know, it's interesting. We're going to be playing the media game here for the next few days, and in some ways what happens in the press interpretations may hurt him more than what happened in the debate. I think that he held his own pretty well in the debate with the public. What you're going to see with a lot of the interpretations that come out, he may slip some.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Alan, what do you think the fallout's going to be in the campaign?
Mr. BARON: I think it first of all, as David said, raised Mondale to the level that you now have two plausible presidents, and he's a plausible opportunity. So there you start with that choice. And it certainly limited the ideological differences in the debate. The major difference was who would agree with Robert Taft about deficits, and Mondale was on Taft's side and Reagan wasn't. Reagan was saying, just like Johnson did during the war, it's not a problem, we've won. Reagan was saying there's no problem with these deficits. So that issue is -- and Reagan was bragging that the number of people on food stamps had increased. So he didn't make a clear ideological case. So you get down to the third issue, which is how do they perform as president? Now, people are not going to vote for a change, I don't think, just because Mondale does well. He can get up to 45, 46 percent. They have to have some questions about Reagan's performance. I don't know whether those questions were there. You know, last spring Gary Hart was leading Reagan and Mondale was close to him. There could be an underlying question -- how people reacted to Reagan the man on there is as significant as how they reacted to Carter in 1980. And it's not something that I don't think you can put down on paper. The people that were in that old-age home that said he looked older than they thought, that Mondale looked younger and so forth -- I don't know how this affects people's minds, and I think that's an uncertainty. Reagan will have to be in real trouble to lose, but it could happen.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We're trying to force an assessment kind of early, I realize that.
Mr. GERGEN: It's good to see Alan finally really excited and energized by the Democrats. If this is what's happening around the country --
Mr. BARON: That's because I think -- sure. I like Mondale better than any Democratic candidate I've seen since --
Mr. GERGEN: Since he's the only one running now, right?
Mr. BARON: No, no, no. Well, I didn't like the last one running, when he was the only one, very much.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Somebody over at the Reagan campaign told me that even if Mondale energized all those Democrats that had left him in the last six months or so, he's still only got 40% of the electorate. Do you agree with that?
Mr. GERGEN: That's right. I think that's right. He's still substantially behind. What he has done is captured enough public attention now that people are going to start listening to him more seriously. He's got a chance to make his case more effectively now. I do disagree, with all respect, with Alan on one point, and that is I do think there are deep differences between the two candidates, particularly on taxes, particularly on the social spending -- that they are very different versions and views of what kind of future they'd like to have for the country.
Mr. BARON: Oh, I don't disagree there are differences. I'm saying there obfuscating the differences. Reagan is not talking as ideological as he did four years ago in that debate. To brag that he increased the number of people on food stamps. If the average Republican voter said, "I'm going out and vote for Ronald Reagan because he's going to increase the number of people on food stamps during his presidency and brag about it."
Mr. GERGEN: That wasn't his argument, Alan.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you this. Where do we go from here with this campaign? Does this mean Mondale now goes out and reaps some results right away? I mean, what happens next?
Mr. GERGEN: I think what you may see, Alan -- you may have a very different view -- but I think what you may see is, I think this raises the stakes for the debate Thursday night between Ferraro and Bush.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ferraro and Bush.
Mr. GERGEN: Yes, because more now rides on the outcome. If Mondale had lost this clearly and essentially the race was over, that debate would have essentially been for their two political futures, their personal futures. Now it has a lot more to do with this campaign. The Democrats have a lot riding on the outcome of it. I think you're going to see some rallying of the Democratic ranks. I think you're going to see the Republicans pulling together and trying harder, and I think you're going to see Reagan more up next time. I think Reagan basically was good, was not at his best. I think he'll be better next time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Alan, you get a rebuttal --
Mr. BARON: I think the most significant -- oh, I'm sorry.
JUDY WOODRUFF: -- next time you're back. Probably the day after the Ferraro-Bush debate. Thank you, Alan. We'll let you finish when you come back. Thanks, Alan and David. Jim?
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