MARGARET WARNER: Thanks, Elizabeth. Watching the debate with us this evening have been two media consultants who helped a lot of other candidates prepare for debates, Republican Michael Murphy, who resigned last month from the Dole campaign, and Democrat Robert Shrum. Mike, starting with you, who do you think got the better of this tonight?
MICHAEL MURPHY, Republican Media Strategist: Well, as a Republican, I'm expected to say Dole, but I really believe he did. I thought it was the strongest debate performance ever, I thought stronger than last time, and I thought in a situation that was Clinton's format, the town hall kind of empathy contest, uh, I think that Sen. Dole showed the country's about truth and honor. I thought he brought up the character issue. I thought he pushed his tax plan, and I thought he seemed relaxed and fluid, got some laughs from the audience. I thought it was a compelling Bob Dole, and I think he did pretty well. He balanced it well. He was a prosecutor. He took the tough questions that Clinton, who didn't answer many of them, yet I don't think he was obnoxiously so, or did anything that would create a process argument that the way he conducted himself was the issue, rather than what he said.
ROBERT SHRUM, Democratic Media Strategist: Yeah. I think Dole was a little stronger than he was in the first debate, and I think Clinton clearly won. Dole's problem in some ways going into this debate is he had a choice between defeat with honor and defeat with dishonor. I mean, he was urged to smear Clinton personally, go after him in very tough terms, and he just doesn't like to do it. He isn't very comfortable with it. Given the opportunity, he refused even to appeal to anti-gay prejudice and to pluck that string that, that a number of Republicans have plucked around the country. I think Clinton largely controlled the message agenda. We heard again about Medicare, Medicaid, education, the environment. I think the won the arguments on the cuts, and we were left with no reason not to reelect Bill Clinton at the end of this debate. The big burden on Bob Dole was to come in here and make a case against the President. I don't think he did.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree that, that Bill Clinton really controlled the issue part of this debate?
MR. MURPHY: I don't think so. I found Clinton rather defensive through most of the debate. I thought he did a good idea of not being kind of weakly defensive, but Clinton was trying to kill the clock, make the debate go away, freeze time, encourage people to change the channel. It looked like a couple of audience members were ready to go to sleep at some times. I think they deserve a round of applause for staying awake. I'm not sure this is a great format for debates. I'm kind of a grump about this format. But I think what Clinton was trying to do was kill the clock, and I think if you look at Clinton's performance, on the plus side, he did what he does well, which is feel people's pain, but on the other side, he's kind of like a used car salesman. He always has the right answer. And I think people are suspicious of that. I look at the faces in the audience. When Clinton would go through his march of progress spiel, you know, everything's wonderful, we all can fly, and I didn't see happy faces there. So I thought the truth of Dole, the honor of the man showed tonight, and I think Clinton's kind of glibness and slickness and somewhat insincerity showed tonight, and I'll be interested to see how it affects the campaign.
MR. SHRUM: I don't think we'll see a lot of happy faces in the Republican Party tomorrow when the polls come back on who people thought won the debate. Uh, and I think it's great spin. I mean, I would say that Clinton was eloquent, I would say made the case very powerfully. I'd say he held Dole at least to a draw on taxes and may very well have won the taxes argument, and, and overwhelmingly again, as in the other two debates, won the Medicare argument. You can't just go out as Dole does and Kemp did and say you're scaring people, have Clinton come back with specifics and not respond.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you think, Mike, that Dole handled that issue, which is, of course, what he was on the defensive on in the first debate?
MR. MURPHY: Well, I think it is fear politics, and I think Dole called him out on the carpet on that. It is--you know, it's the me-me campaign, Medicare, environment, Medicaid, education. Me, me, me. Anything you like about the Republicans, I'm Clinton, I'm for it. Anything you don't like about it, I'm against, and I think the only way to fight that kind of demagoguery is to get out and say it's a fear campaign. So I actually think Dole did okay on that. Clearly, when they're talking taxes, Dole's winning. When they're talking Medicaid, Medicare, Clinton's winning. And I thought they both did a pretty good job of pushing their--
MR. SHRUM: See, I think Clinton does a very good job of saying we're going to have to have a 40 percent cut in Medicare to pay for the Dole tax cut, 40 percent cut in education, 40 percent cut in law enforcement, and doesn't say that on his own authority but on the authority of all sorts of people who've looked at this budget, and Dole doesn't respond.
MARGARET WARNER: Yeah. Like what about that time when he was asked by someone in the audience, tell me how you're going to balance the budget and give this tax cut.
MR. MURPHY: Well, I think Sen. Dole used some math that I think was pretty impressive, the 20 percent, 14 percent, 6 percent. They both want to increase spending; it's the rate of increase. I mean, if you want more taxes, more spending, go with Clinton. If you want a smaller rate of increase in spending and get some money back, go with Dole. I think Dole did a better job than he ever has before of making that difference. That both want an increase. It's like the truth behind this Medicaid-Medicare argument. It's a quibble over the slope of an increase. But the Democrats demagogue it as a cut, and I think Dole did some good fighting back, but still it's inherently defensive, and every time Dole is on trust or taxes--
MR. SHRUM: I assume we don't want to re-debate the debate. You're doing a better job of trying to make the argument than Dole did, and I think tomorrow morning people are not going to think Dole won that argument.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me ask you both this. Any major missed opportunities?
MR. SHRUM: No. I don't really think so. I actually thought--I'm a little grumpy about this format too--but I thought it was kind of interesting that people asked questions that might not otherwise have been asked in this debate. I thought the questions about gay rights were interesting, and, in fact, elicited from Bob Dole something that's very genuinely part of him. He just can't bring himself to endorse discrimination in any form. He's been on the other side of it for a long time. He sort of half-attacked affirmative action but then kept saying, but I really do want to do it, I used to be for it in the old form; I've learned a lot, now I don't want to do it anymore. But he has a very hard time playing those social issues hard.
MR. MURPHY: Yeah. I'm going to sound like a terrible elitist, but it looked to me like they kidnaped a bowling alley. I hate this format. I like tough journalists asking real questions. And I thought the people did a good job, but it was performance art, and that's Clinton shtick. Nobody made a big mistake, though I do think Clinton let the pardon horse out of the barn. He did not answer that question. It is hanging out there tonight as news, I think, would Bill Clinton pardon these people in these shady business deals, and he wouldn't answer it. I think that was a mistake by Clinton.
MR. SHRUM: You're hoping it's hanging out there as news.
MR. MURPHY: And we will see. I think it's a big issue. You know--
MARGARET WARNER: It's my guess anything to do with Clinton will be hanging out there--all right, Mike, last, last point here. Do you think anything happened tonight that is going to change the dynamic of this race?
MR. MURPHY: I think Bob Dole did himself some good tonight. Will this be a lightning bolt that flips the whole race around, no. Will this be a catalyst to get people to focus on having a President who will tell the truth which ought to be the big issue, and I hope will be, it might have. So definitely a good night for Bob Dole. It won't be a morning overnight poll kind of victory but it sets up a scenario where he can gain some ground, and we'll see what happens.
MR. SHRUM: I don't think it will be a three week by election day victory either. I think Clinton came into this far ahead. I think he leaves far ahead, and I don't think that Dole provided a basis for making a very solid argument over the last three weeks of this campaign.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you both very much, Mike and Bob. Elizabeth...
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, first of all, Elizabeth, we went through three hours of presidential debates between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole and never once was the word "sacrifice" mentioned, uh, by either candidate. It just tells us how much our politics, our political dialogue has changed since presidential debates became a staple of our, our national political life. There was no sense of duty on the part of citizens. It was all what's going to be yours and how, how we're going to do it better and cheaper. I did think the first part of tonight's debate that Sen. Dole came out. He had an obvious game plan, was to define who ought to be President, rather than what this race was about, and to make it a contest between two individuals. And he continued to return to the character question repeatedly. And I was surprised the President never went for the bait. He let the charges kind of just lie there. He never really responded, and then at one--I thought about halfway through the, the President seem to get off the defensive and became a little bit more aggressive and seemed to hit his stride. But--and I thought that Sen. Dole--quite frankly, neither man, in essence, really answered the central charge against him. I thought Sen. Dole fumbled the age question, and I thought President Clinton never adequately objected--responded to or addressed the character question.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Paul, what are your general impressions?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, I think the format of a town hall format with citizens plays to Clinton's strengths more than it does to Dole because Clinton has that ability to react to people in their face. He seems to draw energy from them. He sees the empathy President. He has more empathy than a convention of funeral directors. I mean, he can just--he can just feel your pain, and he does that very well. Bob Dole has a harder time reacting. That--Dole started strong. He was particularly good going after the character question at the beginning. He seemed to have a game plan. I thought he lost some of his focus on that as the debate went along. There was a time when, for example, he tried to introduce the Indonesian donations to the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign but he did it a kind off-handed way that mentioned Indonesia. I bet you half the audience doesn't know where Indonesia is, much less that its people in that country have been giving money to the campaign. So I thought he didn't score--if he came in thinking I need to emphasize two things--taxes and trust--he did a lot better by taxes than he did I think scoring on trust.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that he should have taken a stronger line on character issues in the way that he did in his speech yesterday?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, if you're Bob Dole or any candidate, you have to do it in a way that makes you comfortable with it personally. I think Dole felt a lot more comfortable doing it in a speech where all the arguments are laid out where he knows what he's going to say and where he's not afraid of going over the line and going too far in a way that sets up Clinton. And I think that that's what he was frightened about, and that's why he didn't really take the gloves off all the way, as some of his advisers had hoped he would. If Bill Bennett had been in Bob Dole's place tonight, I can tell you there would have been a lot more arguments, very tough points about character.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark, what do you think about that?
MARK SHIELDS: About the character, I think--
ELIABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes. And should the gloves have been off a little more?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I have to think because the President was so restrained, so controlled in his response to the charges that he was operating on a strategic premise himself that those attacks would hurt, would hurt the attacker, in this case Sen. Dole. I don't know how that will play out, but I think that Sen. Dole is not comfortable in a frontal attack, in a bombastic attack. I think that he raised the issue very well and effectively in the early part of the debate, and he was trying to obviously elicit a response from Bill Clinton, and Bill Clinton never engaged Bob Dole on that. And I thought when he did come back, he obviously had his answer, which I think was an effective one. It didn't come, really in context in the debate, which was no attack ever created a job or educated a child, no insult ever cleaned up a toxic waste dump, uh, and probably that will be one of the lasting sound bites out of tonight's, tonight's event.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, (abortion) didn't come up as a question, but he didn't bring it up, and, in particular, he missed the opportunity of partial birth abortion veto that the President had which is a big issue with conservatives. He did mention the voluntary school prayer issue which will resonate with a lot of voters. And I thought he was quite good on--unlike Bob Shrum--on affirmative action. I thought the President gave two answers on affirmative action. He's for it, and he's against it. And Bob Dole did try to nail him, and pin him down. But I want to say something else that I was struck with in this debate tonight. Uh, Bob Dole two or three times defended the Republican Congress when a lot of Republicans have been afraid he wouldn't. And he warned about the Democratic control of both the Congress and the White House. Bill Clinton, despite a 15-point lead, and despite its clearly running out the clock strategy, never once said if we have a Democratic Congress, we can do an awful lot for this country. He never once put his own lead and his own position on the line for that kind of request, and I think that that may come back to haunt him if, in fact, Republicans hold a Congress next time.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark Shields, do you think that will haunt Bill Clinton?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't know if it will haunt him. I think Bill Clinton understands that the American people have a sense of checks and balances not only constitutionally but politically. When asked the question in the Wall Street Journal's own poll, they would prefer to have a Democratic President and a Republican Congress and particularly with a sense that things have worked pretty well these last three or four months, a partisan--partisan appeal might not have been helpful. I was reminded in watching and looking at Bill Kristol's knockout punch that Bruce Babbitt, the former Arizona governor in 1988, Democratic presidential candidate, observed once that presidential debates are like the pandas meeting at the zoo, that they enter with great expectations, uh, there's tremendous fuss and commotion, uh, but there's never any real result. And I don't think that race was dramatically changed by tonight's events, although I think that Sen. Dole did do better and won the first half.
ELIZABETH. FARNSWORTH: Well, Mark and Paul, thank you very much. And
that's it for this special edition of the NewsHour. We'll see you online
and here again tomorrow evening at our regular time with more reaction
to tonight's event. I'm Elizabeth Farnsworth. Thank you and good night.
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