July 31, 2000
JIM LEHRER: The bottom line, Paul, is that what would constitute a successful convention for the Republican Party and George W. Bush?
PAUL GIGOT: If George W. Bush can make majority of the American people comfortable with the idea of him as President of the United States. If you read the polls, the voters, giving him a lead, 5% to 6% in almost every poll, sometimes more, but roughly that, they're saying they're prepared to make a change from the party in the White House.
Al Gore, they know him somewhat. They don't much like him. He can't seem to pop above the low 40's in the polls, but they haven't quite... George W. Bush hasn't quite sealed the deal yet as the man who could replace him. He has to make them comfortable with him as a man, with his character and leadership ability, and then substantively show them that this is not just all cosmetic. There's also some ideas here and things he would do as president.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I would agree with Paul. I would say that in addition there can be no strident pessimism. There can be no negative message coming out of this. It has to be a smirk-free zone for George W. Bush. He cannot... There can't be in body language or appearance, there can't be that sense of sort of self-congratulatory or self-satisfaction. I would add to that, Jim, the statement made by Carl Rove, Bush's campaign strategist this morning at the breakfast with reporters, in which he pointed out that the Republicans, this has been the easy part up until now.
George W. Bush as this point has consolidated the Republican base, and that this convention is about talking to the American people. The top record in the history of American politics of any person nominated with was Ronald Reagan getting 94% of the Republicans, who voted for him on election day, which is unprecedented. George Bush now is at 89% of Republicans in the Bush zone. It's just really unprecedented, especially for this stage. And now they've got to understand, they're not going to get the bounce from Republicans. They've got to reach out to other voters.
JIM LEHRER: So they're going with... Go ahead. Sorry.
PAUL GIGOT: What Mark talks about is correct, and it's a huge strategic advantage because it means they he can use this convention, use his speech to reach out to that broad middle. He doesn't have to do with Bob Dole did in 1996 and his father had to do in 1992, which is use the convention to mobilize the base. They're mobilized.
JIM LEHRER: It will be a great show. So the Bush people have bought into the conventional, historical wisdom that this is the time that the great majority of the electorate starts paying attention. These conventions, right?
PAUL GIGOT: I wouldn't say starts paying attention, but really takes a big focus. The campaign thing has three big challenges, and people will tune in, in a more than cursory way. One was the vice presidential choice. George W. Bush passed. The third will be the debates. Those are the come in the fall -- the second is this week, and in particular... the overall message that's sent by the convention, in particular, the acceptance speech on Thursday.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that Bush has passed the vice presidential thing? There's been an awful lot of stuff about Cheney's record. How do you read that now?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think they've passed it. I have one thing based upon what Paul said. Margaret's - Margaret Warner's interview with Olympia Snowe and Gary Bauer and Vin Weber. Gary Bauer said you can't build lasting political movement on opposition to government. And boy, I think that was... that turned out to be prophetic.
JIM LEHRER: Who said that?
MARK SHIELDS: Gary Bauer said that ten years ago in 1990. This is not an anti-government Republican Party. I think that's an posh thing to understand. I think that's been George Bush's...
JIM LEHRER: Do you think that's real? Do you think it's tone?
MARK SHIELDS: I think more in the tone. I think it's more than tone. Let's abolish the Department of Education, that's gone. I think it's there in substance. When they say... George Bush's spokesman said to me at the platform committee hearings, we believe that government... Federal government can play an effective role in education. That's a difference, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Come back to Cheney in a minute. Let's stay on this for a second, Paul. The discussions we've heard beginning with the interview with Tommy Thompson and everything that's come up until now, where do you come down on this? Is the party really changed in your opinion?
PAUL GIGOT: I do think so.
JIM LEHRER: You do?
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, I do. I think... It's... For 30 years in this country, conservatism defined itself by what it was against. It was against the evil empire, against the New Deal, it was against the great society. It was rolling those things back. I think what happened... The shock of winning the Congress finally in 1994 and then coming up so short in 1996 and having Bill Clinton define the party, fairly or unfairly in many ways in my view - but define the party as extreme was a shock to the Republican Party.
And it said that we can no longer succeed, I think it taught a lot of Republicans, particularly the governors, we can no longer succeed as an insurgent conservatism. We have to show what we're for, and we have to address problems on issues we haven't been effectively addressing in the past, Social Security, health care, education. That is what Bush has done. This is not a, the tax cut, crime and welfare platform.
JIM LEHRER: So it's real?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it's real.
MARK SHIELDS: I'm not sure it's real. I think Paul's right. They are addressing them. I'm not sure the solutions or the programs are real. But that's right. That's exactly right. Where there's a dominant emotion in this city among these 4,000 delegates and alternates is the great maximum Chicago City politics, which is don't make waves and don't back losers. They're not making waves, and they think they're backing a winner.
JIM LEHRER: Cheney -- let's pick up on Cheney. You were about to answer.
MARK SHIELDS: I think it was the first false start from the Bush folks. What really had to upset them is the democrats were quicker off the mark on Dick Cheney than they were. The democrats were there with the charges and specifics on his record. It took them two, three days, prying out answers and back peddling, tweak the record, backing off that. Yes, different times I would vote differently now. Yes, Governor Bush does make a case. I'd were for child locks for guns. I don't think Dick Cheney has been sure footed. Now, what works for Dick Cheney is that the persona, the public persona is not that of Newt Gingrich. Give them Newt Gingrich's voting record, but you can't give them Newt Gingrich's personality.
PAUL GIGOT: I think Mark is making tactical points. He's right, Cheney hasn't been as sure-footed. But in the end, it doesn't matter. I don't think... The LA Times poll showed that 20% of the public said they were more likely to vote for Bush because of Cheney, only so 10% said they were less likely to vote for him. 53/15, people have a favorable view of Cheney. I think that's one of the reasons that the Democrats came out so hard to try to define him because they see that that was a choice that was actually helping Bush.
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think -- I'll tell you what... why the Democrats did what they did. This is a race for the middle. We're seeing two parties rushing for the middle. The George W. Bush campaign is the Bill Clinton campaign of 1992. He's following the same route to the convention -
JIM LEHRER: They're just coming from a different direction.
MARK SHIELDS: -- all the same thing. And what the Democrats are saying to say was look -- this guy says he's a middle fellow, but look, his first choice, the first guy he chose has a voting record the right of Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich. Do you really think he is this new Republican?
PAUL GIGOT: It's not going to work because he's not - it's not true. Dick Cheney is a moderate man -
JIM LEHRER: A moderate personality.
PAUL GIGOT: A moderate personality. And his voting record of 1985 is not relevant to running in 2000.
JIM LEHRER: Before we leave this, you both mentioned Newt Gingrich. I read a wire story this afternoon that pointed out the dramatic fall of this man. He's around in one of these sky booths as an analyst for Fox Television News, and, remember, just four years ago, he was almost as popular - in fact, more powerful than the presidential nominee, Bob Dole. And that's - isn't that why they're trying to put Newt Gingrich around Dick Cheney?
PAUL GIGOT: I think that's one reason. The First Lady today attacked her opponent, Rick Lazio, saying, he sounds like a moderate but he was really Newt Gingrich's deputy whip. You know, any attachment they can make. The Democrats ran against Herbert Hoover for 20 years. They're going to try to run against Newt Gingrich for another 20.
JIM LEHRER: It's amazing how quickly things change.
MARK SHIELDS: It is. It's interesting that Dick Cheney's voting record in 1985 isn't important but Al Gore's from 1975 is -- having said that, Newt Gingrich will not be on the platform. Tom DeLay will not be on the platform. Pat Robertson will not be on the platform. They've just kept everybody. They've muted all the controversial figures. They're not getting anywhere near a microphone.
JIM LEHRER: Does that bother you, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: No. Those figures, no. I'll tell you what bothers me is that Henry Hyde is not going to be on the platform.
JIM LEHRER: That would have brought up the Clinton impeachment...
PAUL GIGOT: Jim Rogan, the impeachment managers. They didn't have to get up and talk about impeachment at all. I'm talking primetime. All they had to do was walk up there, and this place would have gone crazy. I think that would have been something that...
JIM LEHRER: Why would they decide they... They don't want to have that image? They don't want to be the impeachment party?
PAUL GIGOT: Their view of Washington is that we're trying to transcend the fights here. We're not trying to pick sides. They want to come in over the top of everybody, and they don't want to be on either side.
MARK SHIELDS: George W. Bush, this is George Bush's convention, this is not a Republican convention. This is not to rehabilitate and redeem the Republican Congress.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. We have to go. Thank you. See you later.