JIM LEHRER: That report by Elizabeth Brackett. Elizabeth said, by the way, that all of that said, none of the people in the group said any of their votes changed as a result of last night's debate. Next, the official campaign views of what happened last night and what happens next and in two weeks and a day from now. Edward Rollins is the former White House political director, now the director of the Reagan-Bush campaign. Richard Leone is a senior adviser to the Mondale-Ferraro campaign.
First to you, Mr. Rollins. Vice President Bush, among others on your side today, said for all practical purposes the election is over; Ronald Reagan has been re-elected for another four years. Do you agree, sir?
EDWARD ROLLINS: Well, unfortunately we have to wait until November 6th to have, I think, the support the President has ratified, but I certainly thought the President performed extremely well last night, and we think on November 6th the potential is there for a great victory.
JIM LEHRER: Performed very well last night in what way, from your perspective?
Mr. ROLLINS: I think that he very definitely defended his own programs, he laid out the weaknesses of Mondale's record and history as a United States senator, which he had the worst record in 1969 through 1974 on defense issues. He clearly pointed out that the words really aren't what's relevant; it's what action and the actions that Mondale has taken historically have been anti-defense, not pro-defense. And I think that he really punched some holes in the Mondale rhetoric.
JIM LEHRER: I read today somewhere -- please don't pin me as to where I read it -- but that the quip of the President's that we just saw about the age question had been worked out in advance, well-rehearsed, etc. Is that true?
Mr. ROLLINS: Absolutely not. That's typical of many White House agents trying to take credit for something the President did himself spontaneously.
JIM LEHRER: I see. Do you think that, whatever, do you believe that the has put the age question behind you now?
Mr. ROLLINS: I don't think the age question was a very serious question at all. The President had one off night in the last 44 months. Walter Mondale had one good night in the last two years of campaigning. I think Ronald Reagan has been a very vigorous, very active President and I think the American public has already made that judgment that he can do the job and he will do the job effectively in another four years.
JIM LEHRER: Were you concerned at all about what the folks in Bensonville, Illinois, said, at least a couple of them did, about the President's closing statement? They never quite figured out what it is he was saying?
Mr. ROLLINS: No, I don't think closing statements really matter a whole lot. I don't think debates matter a whole lot in the big picture. I think that the job the President has done really is what the American public's going to vote on, and I think that he'll have an overwhelming vote on November 6th.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think really mattered the most last night in that debate, though?
Mr. ROLLINS: I think the President was forceful. The President was certainly had facts and figures at his fingertips. I think that he showed once again the confidence that he has in his own ability to lead this country and lead this country effectively.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Rollins, thank you. Turning to you, Mr. Leone, is the election over? Has Walter Mondale had it for all practical purposes?
RICHARD LEONE: You know, I think that that comment by Vice President Bush and a recent comment by his press secretary and, frankly, what Ed just said about debates not mattering much show a kind of cyncism about the American people. They've become engaged in this election in the last few weeks since the debate.They're going to make a decision on the most important issues before the country and the world, and I think they're going to make that decision between now and Election Day. They're going to make it themselves and no amount of wishing away that choice or hoping that they don't pay attention is going to make that process go away.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Leone, the polls show that the majority of Americans have already made a decision in favor of President Reagan. That's not campaign rhetoric.
Mr. LEONE: I think we've learned about volatility in the polls, and if you look at Lou Harris who had the race at nine points last week, and ABC, which had it closing to 10; our own polling has it under 10. All of the major states, all of the states we need to win are under 10 points. Anything can happen in two weeks. We've learned that several times this year. And I suggest that what has happened in the last two weeks demonstrates that when people start becoming interested and look at the two candidates and what they're saying, we're going to see a lot of movement.
JIM LEHRER: The experts -- and I put "experts" in quotation marks, but anyhow -- the experts said going in last night that for Walter Mondale to close this gap that still exists, and that you concede still exists, he had to score a real knockout last night or Ronald Reagan had to score a real dropdown last night. Did either happen?
Mr. LEONE: I don't believe that was necessary. We came into the first debate way underestimated with a real expectations problem, and Mondale overcame that. He crossed the threshold to leadership in a dramatic way. People began to look at this race in a serious way. Last night we had an opportunity to continue the trend which has been moving in our direction by raising issues like Star Wars and Central America and Lebanon. The President in all those areas showed he wasn't in command of the facts and didn't have a sensible foreign policy, was primitive in thinking about our nuclear weapons systems. And I think that will count heavily against him in the next two weeks, and it will accelerate this trend.
JIM LEHRER: It is your view then that Walter Mondale got the best of last night's debate?
Mr. LEONE: Yes. I think we won the debate. In addition, more importantly, this particular occasion will have consequences for the actual vote in two weeks.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe he did as well comparatively speaking as he did in the first debate two weeks ago?
Mr. LEONE: I some respects he did better. The first debate was important in crystallizing the fact that there was a real race going on. Last night we had a clean message about arms control, nuclear war, Central America and Lebanon. In all those cases the President basically made mistakes or indicated he didn't know what the heck was going on. Now, that's going to be very important in the next two weeks. We wanted a fight on that ground, we now have the fight we want.
Pres. REAGAN: What if we come up with a weapon that renders those missiles obsolete? There has never been a weapon invented in the history of man that has not led to a defensive counterweapon. But suppose we came up with that. Now, some people have said, "Ah, that would make war imminent because they would think that we could now launch a first strike because we could defend against the enemy." But why not do what I have offered to do and asked the Soviet Union to do -- say, "Look, here's what we can do. We'll even give it to you. Now, will you sit down with us and once and for all get rid, all of us, of these nuclear weapons and free mankind from that threat?" I think that would be the greatest use of a defensive weapon.
Mr. MONDALE: First of all, let me sharply disagree with the President on sharing the most advanced, the most dangerous, the most important technology in America with the Soviet Union. I would not let the Soviet Union get their hands on it at all. The most dangerous aspect of this proposal is for the first time we would delegate to computers the decision as to whether to start a war. That's dead wrong. There wouldn't be time for a president to decide; it would be decided by these remote computers. Might be an oil fire, it might be a jet exhaust; a computer might decide it's a missile and off we go. Why don't we stop this madness now and draw a line and keep the heavens free from war?
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Leone, let's go from war to you first this time. How did Walter Mondale get the best of that exchange?
Mr. LEONE: Well, I think the President was wrong in two important respects.He was naive about the sharing of technology. The technology involved in not only recognizing a missile launched but in striking it can be used in a variety of ways in a warfare situation. If we're ahead in that technology it'd be very dangerous to give it to the Soviet Union. It's naive to think of us working for 10 years without them working and then turning the results over to them. Secondly, Star Wars itself is a foolish system. It would cut the response time to 50 seconds; the decision would have to be made by a computer. We could launch World War III without any human being playing a role in the process. There is no responsible scientist outside the administration who thinks it's a good idea to proceed, and we'd be very happy to fight the rest of the election as a referendum on whether or not we should spend a trillion dollars building Star Wars.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe that Walter Mondale made that point effectively last night to the American people?
Mr. LEONE: I think he made it in a variety of ways. He continued that process today. He started some time ago, a week or 10 days ago, and we're very happy that the debate has focused to some extent on that exchange.
JIM LEHRER: You used the word "naive" a couple of times. Is that Mr. Mondale's position, that Ronald Reagan is naive after almost four years as President of the United States?
Mr. LEONE: The President's performance was astonishing last night in a couple of respects. At one point he said, "I'm not a scientist, I don't know where they're going to put those things." Obviously this is a system which would be based in space. In addition, if you marry it to the anti-satellite systems which we're already testing, which could blind us or our adversaries, you create a more dangerous world. A president has to know about that. That's not technical knowledge that ought to be beyond the mastery of the commander-in-chief
JIM LEHRER: But what's wrong, as Mr. Reagan said at one time, well, what's wrong with just trying it? Let's try it. Nobody's ever tried this kind of approach before.
Mr. LEONE: Well, what's wrong with trying it is it's destabilizing. Multiple warheads were "let's try 'em. Let's try submarine-based missiles." What leads to an arms race is "just trying" to build more hardware. The other side responds. It accelerates the race. People begin looking for ways to break through. We've already looked at, in the United States, boosters on our MX missiles which would enable the missiles to get off quicker, so that an enemy Star Wars system wouldn't have time to respond. Now, the Soviet Union is undoubtedly doing that. Quicker missiles mean less response time, a hair trigger. People will feel the need to respond more quickly to any possible attack. They make the world more dangerous. And I think that that kind of thought, that somehow we can bridge this technology and break through, is naive.
JIM LEHRER: All right, turning to you, Mr. Rollins. Why do you and others in the Reagan camp feel that this was a good score for Mr. Reagan?
Mr. ROLLINS: Well, I think first of all Mr. Mondale showed his naivete. This is a defensive system, and when he talked in terms of computers starting a war, I've never found a defensive system yet that could ever start a war. Unlike Dr. Leone, I'm not an arms control expert, but I certainly know that, you know, fires in oil drums on something that's still very much a research project is kind of a far-fetched extreme example. I think far more important is that Walter Mondale has made nuclear freeze his major foreign policy initiative, and last night he could not even talk about which weapons he wanted to verify. Geraldine Ferraro, the other evening on another television show, made the same kind of statement, and she didn't know how you could verify warheads. Walter Mondale last night talked about 2,000 new warheads being aimed at this country in the last three years, which basically came under the provisions of SALT II, which he basically approved and wanted the Senate to ratify. So I think he certainly shows a naivete for someone who's been vice president of the United States and a candidate for more than four years.
JIM LEHRER: Well, what do you see as the major difference, then, between these two candidates on arms control and this whole area, whether it's in space or whether it's nuclear freeze or what?
Mr. ROLLINS: The key difference, I think is that the President basically wants to negotiate out of strength; Walter Mondale wants to negotiate out of a position of weakness.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about the folks, here again, that Elizabeth Brackett talked to in Illinois who came away thinking that it wasn't a good idea to share this information with the Soviet Union, as Mr. Reagan wants to?
Mr. ROLLINS: Well, I think the President basically said that if somewhere down the road -- it's purely a research proposal at this stage, if somewhere down the road the Russians were willing to basically disarm, as we would basically end up doing, and sit down and have some serious negotiations on it, that we would share the technology. I think any effort towards peace, whether it's the freeze that a Mondale wants or the efforts that we want, is certainly worth at least discussing, and that's all the President was doing last night.
JIM LEHRER: Did you feel at all -- uncomfortable is probably not the word -- odd when, here you have a conservative President suggesting sharing information with the Soviets and a candidate who is generally considered more moderate or liberal being against it?
Mr. ROLLINS: Well, I think that the President himself has basically stated over and over again that the great gole that he has in a second term is to guarantee peace for generations in the future. I think one of the most telling remarks that he ever made to me one time in 1982 when I was arguing with him that the defense buildup politically was not the best route to go from a purely political perspective, the President turned to me and he said. "Ed, if you're alive in the year 2000, which I won't be, it'll be because of my defense proposals, and the Russians know that I meant business." And I think that's a very telling remark of this President's commitment to peace.
JIM LEHRER: All right, gentlemen, thanks to you both. Judy?
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