August 11 , 2000
MARGARET WARNER: Well, gentlemen, the big story of the week is obviously the Lieberman pick. How well do you think, Paul, he has handled himself and this sudden focus?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think he's handled himself very well. He has given Al Gore the best week that al Gore has had since he won the primaries on March 7. Lieberman has been an unconventional choice. It's getting a lot of credit by the media for being bold and for picking somebody who is Jewish and breaking the mold and helping to at least create the opportunity for people to look at him in a different light, to help him create an independent aura. Now can he do that... He has to continue to do this next week. The one thing Joe Lieberman has not done well and hurt him a little bit is his flip-flop on Social Security reform on private accounts. In the past he said he would entertain that idea, was intrigued by it, and this week came out pretty hard against it d said no. I think he would have better off saying look, I disagree with Vice President Gore on this, and it's to his credit that he can pick somebody strong. I don't think that helped -- the flip-flop helped Lieberman's credibility.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, how well do you think he has handled himself?
MARK SHIELDS: I think he has handled himself well, Margaret. He has bobbed and weaved and ducked a lot less often and a lot less necessity than did Dick Cheney who was explaining his votes well into the second week. I think he has handled the differences, perhaps because they learned from the Cheney- Bush example, where they stumbled and fumbled for a few days on that. I think beyond that, I agree with Paul. It has energized the Gore campaign and the other thing, it threw the Bush campaign off. They're not quite sure how to handle it. They seem a little bit off message. And what it has done is it's preempted it -- taken the message of the Gore campaign and made it the dominant news which has not been the case for a long time.
MARGARET WARNER: Paul, there are a number of columnists, though, who have raised this point and Jim asked Lieberman about this, whether the Gore-Lieberman campaign is overplaying this religion and faith card, overplaying the fact that he is the first Jew on the ticket, a major party ticket. Do you think they're overplaying it?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think they're the ones overplaying it, Margaret. I think the media has made an awful lot of it, more than I thought they would, frankly. You know, it is a breakthrough. The interesting thing is not the fact that he is Jewish, but his deep religious feeling. I mean, he mentioned God about ten times in the first 30 seconds of his speech on Tuesday, which is fascinating coming from a Democrat. If a Republican had done that, people would say he's pandering to the religious right. But Joe Lieberman can get away with that, and frankly, I welcome it as a way of bringing religious people into a kind of a balance in our public life. So I don't think they're overplaying it too much. If they keep it up, if they run that right through the election, that would be a problem, but I don't think they'll do that.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, I know you came late to the studio, Mark, but Senator Lieberman just told Jim he doesn't want people to vote for or against him because of his religion. Do you think they can walk that line between celebrating the newness and differentness of this without falling into that trap?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think he's already gotten every vote he is going to get because he is Jewish. And I think there is a little arithmetic involved as well as high principle on Joe Lieberman's part. We're talking about an electorate that is somewhere around 3% maybe 4% Jewish. And that is... I think that's maximized, that's optimized starting with most of them being Democratic to begin with. I think the Republicans have to be nervous on a couple of grounds. The first is, we saw the ugliness of the NAACP head in Dallas and, you know, the anti-Semitic remarks. There's an exposure factor which not Governor Bush and certainly not Dick Cheney or anybody in the leadership of that campaign. But if you get a Republican state chairman, county chair somewhere saying in an open microphone, "we don't need those people. It's a Christian country" - then all of a sudden, you're in a terrible position trying to prove you are not an anti- Semite. It's like running against Jack Kennedy in 1960 in West Virginia, where the Kennedy people very adroitly in state that was 97% Protestant, made the issue for West Virginians to prove their tolerance by voting for a Catholic. If that's how it is framed by late October, then it becomes a great advantage to the Democrats and a disadvantage to the Republicans and to George Bush. But I don't think that Joe Lieberman is going to win as the Jewish candidate.
PAUL GIGOT: Can I get in there, Margaret?
MARGARET WARNER: Certainly.
PAUL GIGOT: Mark is arguing against something that hasn't cropped up yet. I mean, there hasn't been any such episode by anybody in any Republican party official or the second or third or tenth degree functionary.
MARK SHIELDS: I didn't say that is... I say that's a fear you live with running against anybody in the minority who is a first. It's no respect to a party.
MARGARET WARNER: What Lieberman is getting at or what helps Gore with or wants to help Gore with is the deficit on the moral values issue which al Gore has been hurting, suffering from because of the... partly related to the Clinton fatigue, and the Clinton backlash. And he thinks that Lieberman and his straight-arrow reputation can help him with that. That's true.
MARGARET WARNER: In line with that, Paul, what did you make of the President's expression of remorse yesterday, and declaration that no fair- minded person could possibly blame al Gore for his, the President's failings?
PAUL GIGOT: I think he would have been better off if he didn't say anything. Bill Clinton helps al Gore the most when he is being Presidential, when he is doing Presidential things like trying to make peace in the Middle East. That helps Al Gore because it contributes to the good feeling about the direction of the country. When he is reminding people-- even in an attempt to kind of give Al Gore absolution-- but when he is reminding people of the things that they don't like about the administration, I don't think it helps Al Gore, particularly when he gives an apology that is just as much about him being a victim as it was a real apology.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, new topic before we go.
MARK SHIELDS: I disagree heartily with Paul on this. I think Bill Clinton owes the American people an apology. I think he owes the Democratic party, Al Gore, an apology, his staff, his cabinet, his family, Monica Lewinsky, he got part of the way there yesterday. I think it has to be in terms of what the Republicans want this campaign to be about is my, Bill Clinton's, past sins. And what Al Gore and Joe Lieberman want it to be about is you and your children's future. He is the only one who has talked about Al Gore making a declaration of independence. The only person who can declare the independence of Al Gore is Bill Clinton by accepting that responsibility which I don't think up to now he has publicly done. He flirted with it yesterday and it was better than what he did two years ago August.
MARGARET WARNER: Paul, final word to you. The likely impact of the fact that the Reform Party has split into two.
PAUL GIGOT: Probably not great, Margaret. It shows it's the old saw about faculty politics that when the stakes are the lowest, the fighting is the worst. This is a scramble for the $12.5 million. There is no great third party issue; there's no great third party candidate that can draw something the other two parties are not appealing to. So reform wouldn't exist without the $12.5 million of taxpayers subsidies. I don't think it is going to make a big difference.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, very quick response?
MARK SHIELDS: I can't argue that there's not the economic unrest that really fuels a third party movement. There's not the sense of the budget and deficit being o of control. And I would point out that our system has shown such great resiliency every time a third party has risen up that there has been a flexibility on the two parties, one of the two, often times both of them, to take those issues, as we did on the budget deficit, as the Republicans did on term limits, and really to make them part of the national agenda. There is no question Ross Perot had a major impact in this country in 1992.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Mark and Paul, thank you both. We'll see you in LA.