August 1, 2000
JIM LEHRER: Paul, it is national security night, and it's also John McCain's moment in the convention sun. Where does he stand tonight? You've heard everything that he said and others said about him leading up until now. Where do you think he stands tonight as a figure on the political stage?
PAUL GIGOT: Probably as good as any failed challenger has stood since Ronald Reagan lost to President Gerald Ford in 1976. He's well-liked by a lot of these delegates. He has stature in the country. And he stands in a position to both help his candidate, George W. Bush, and help himself, help his candidate by giving the man he said some pretty harsh things about during the primaries, they had a big scrap. Now he can say, "look, I think he's the best man for the job. I want to support him." He can help himself with a lot of these delegates, John McCain can personally, because he lost two out of three Republican votes.
JIM LEHRER: And that's are all Republicans.
PAUL GIGOT: These are all Republicans -- two out of three Republican votes in every state except New Hampshire. That was his problem. He had great appeal to independents and in some states to Democrats, he didn't do as well as George W. Bush among Republicans. And he can help himself with them, show he's a party loyalist, and particularly on foreign policy, show that George Bush is up to the job.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, in a year when politics was afflicted with turmoil, disappointment, gridlock, scandal, John McCain has been emblematic of the year. This was a year when Americans were looking for a genuine hero and a genuine belief that the system could be cleaned up. And that's what he tapped into. That's -- the reflection is in the numbers that Paul cited.
But more important than that was the reach, Jim. I mean, he excited people. He made people believe again. I mean, Al Gore and George Bush are... the choice of their party, but there are very few people walking on hot coals in their bare feet for either man. There's strong support for them, but there isn't that intensity and that passion: This is a man who in the Massachusetts primary, 31,000 Democrats left their party, changed their registration to vote in a Republican primary for John McCain.
Now, some folks on the right say, well, that should prove this was a Democratic conspiracy. You couldn't get 13 Democrats as part of a conspiracy to do that... to follow up a two-car funeral. This guy had an appeal that is really... as he speaks tonight to this convention, Jim, he has more ears listening to him in the country because he's more favorably regarded by Democrats, independents and Republicans than the man who is President of the United States or either of the men who is going to contest that job. He'll be listened to.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, what do you think of that interview? I mean, he kind of laid down the gauntlet on campaign finance. He's talking about blood on the floor and tying up the United States Senate. That's as much a gauntlet to George W. Bush as it is to Trent Lott and the others in the Congress, is it not?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I suppose it is. It says maybe George W. Bush should name him defense secretary and get him out of the Senate. And there is some talk about that.
JIM LEHRER: Is that right?
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah. Maybe -- tonight in fact on foreign policy issues, something of an audition for the job of defense secretary. But it's a very tough talk. No question about it. But next year is next year, and, you know, there will be an awful lot of other priorities with a new President.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think he'll be a problem for George W. Bush, John McCain, always?
MARK SHIELDS: John McCain is who he is. I mean, John McCain is committed to campaign finance reform. It makes no difference if Al Gore is President of the United States, if Ralph Nader is President of the United States, George W. Bush. That is his passion. That is his... that carries conviction with him. He is intellectually engaged in the subject of defense and foreign policy -- very much so. He's committed to other issues in the Senate. But this is what drives him and defines him. And this, Jim, those of us that covered him this year, we saw him sway crowds. I mean, people all of a sudden, the light bulb went on over the head when he told them how the system worked. I don't think there's any question that he's not going to leave this issue.
JIM LEHRER: And of course this is national security and defense night, Paul. You mentioned last night that it's time now for the Bush convention to start talking about the agenda, what they're now going to do if elected President. Do you think it's going to happen?
PAUL GIGOT: They should hope so. I think... I would hope so, that that's what they have to do. They have to put some substance on the table. They have to begin to show some contrast, to make the case for change. To say that our policy... these policies that the administration has followed didn't work or hear the problems with them. Here's why ours are better. I don't think there's any accident, Jim, that two of the most prominent speakers here early on in the convention, Colin Powell and John McCain, are both well known for their foreign policy, because as the governor of Texas, George W. Bush doesn't have that. He needs and wants their imprimatur.
JIM LEHRER: And is that -- could that be a deciding issue in this campaign between Gore and Bush? Foreign policy, defense?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think so. I just don't think it came on the radar with most Americans. It is a place where... I think Paul's right, that George W. Bush is seen as vulnerable -- because he's a governor, just as Bill Clinton was in 1992, especially when he was running against George Bush's father who was, of course, as Michael reminded us, 91% favorable just 18 months before the election because of the Persian Gulf triumph. But I think the Persian Gulf War and the victory reminded us in 1992 when George W. Bush lost... George Bush Sr. lost with 38% of the vote that foreign policy has receded in the consciousness of American voters.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, we'll continue this conversation later. Thank you both.