December 8, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot examine the week in politics.
JIM LEHRER: The final words tonight are those of Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields. Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, is the Bush position as we just heard enunciated by Jim Baker, going to work, the idea that this is a terrible thing and it's the result, a sad thing because a candidate resorted to going to the courts, meaning Al Gore?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think so, Jim. In fact I was kind of surprised at the tone of Jim Baker's remarks in that excerpt. I think that there had been a consensus emerging that this decision today was key. Al Gore was prepared... every Democrat I talked to, including in the campaign, Al Gore was prepared to accept the final word of the Florida Supreme Court if it went against him today. And of course that had not been the option of Governor Bush. They still had the Florida legislature. They had the U.S. Supreme Court; they had their other options. They went to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. So, I don't think it will. I don't think that will sell.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: I think they're going to take this right to the end. They'll take it first to the Supreme Court. I think they'll ask for a stay of the recount first. If that doesn't work, they'll have a formal appeal. And at the same time, they will be counting on the legislature, which I think will act now with a 4-3 Supreme Court opinion in particular, so narrowly struck, the legislature will on its own, I think either put one set of electors or two and the U.S. Congress is likely to decide this January 6.
JIM LEHRER: We'll get back to all that in a minute, but I want to come back to how this goes down with the public. Forget the partisans on either end. I mean, we've just in the last few minutes on this program seen two different perspectives. We've had the historians -- a couple of the historians saying this is wonderful; this is terrific. This is what the founding fathers had in mind. Now we've heard Jim Baker say no, no, no, this is a sad day because of what this terrible court did in Florida, et cetera. How is that going to... how is that going to work there?
PAUL GIGOT: Put me down in the dismay camp, Jim. The Constitution is working; the Constitution is resilient -- we've built up a lot of capital on that and I don't think that there is not a sense that that is going to be bent out of shape. But I do think that sending this into the courts, particularly now at this stage, guarantees an awful lot more bitterness because there had been a perception building in the country that Bush was the winner. The polls all showed it. Al Gore has had a building unfavorable rating.
JIM LEHRER: The polls showed more people believed he won.
PAUL GIGOT: Not only that -- they thought he won and Bush's favorable-unfavorable have roughly held -- what it was on election day. Gore's unfavorable according to Gallup moved up to 52 percent, net unfavorable for the first time since 1992, since he first entered the national stage. So I think that this guarantees, I still think it is likely Bush is going to be president if the legislature acts, the House of Representatives acts. But I think that the price of getting there and the rancor and bitterness this is going to take to get there have increased enormously.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?
MARK SHIELDS: No. First of all competing polls. Let me quote Paul's own pollster to him, Peter Hart, the Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll. Peter said to me today, he said he was just amazed that there had not been a greater rush to Bush since the Monday decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. He said the country is still equally separated on this. There was a perception as you said in your question that Bush had won, but not a stampede. The American people are like a crowd at an event and there is nobody storming out of the stands like some agitated parent at a Little League game, to punch the umpire. They have been very patient about this. There is not a sense of crisis. I think they are trying to create a sense of crisis for political purposes but I don't think it's there.
JIM LEHRER: But I think Paul, correct me if I'm wrong, was talking about the attitude of the candidates, and getting to the end game now is going to be hard to get there.
PAUL GIGOT: This isn't a walk in the park, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Do you disagree with that?
MARK SHIELDS: No. But you said the original, Jim, for the record, you said partisans on the side. Sure, I mean....
JIM LEHRER: I've changed the question.
MARK SHIELDS: Most people are just looking at this and saying this is fair and Al Gore has not stayed too long at the party. If it had gone against him today and he refused to concede or whatever after saying this was the final decision, he would have stayed too long at the party. Is there rancor? Sure there has got to be rancor and Paul is absolutely right. George W. Bush got a body blow today. He has got the Florida state legislature who can operate legally and appoint electors, but there is a sense of illegitimacy to it. I mean, this is an extraordinary action on the part of a state, okay. That's the first thing. Then it comes to the House of Representatives. It's entirely possible that we could have two sets of electors from Florida.
JIM LEHRER: Like in 1876.
MARK SHIELDS: And the parliamentarian of the House's ruling is that the slate of electors accompanied by the Governor's signature carries the day. That's the preponderance of the evidence. Now the one that Jeb Bush, the brother of one candidate signs -- at that point, Jim, you further have complications for Governor Bush in the sense that....
JIM LEHRER: The other Governor Bush.
MARK SHIELDS: The candidate from Texas in the sense that the face and fingerprints of Tom DeLay, the Republican whip in the House, are all over this.
PAUL GIGOT: Which is Democrats want to take it there so they can paint Bush as a tool of Tom Delay
|A taint on the presidency?|
JIM LEHRER: How does the Republican Party, all the folks involved in this process, how do they get George W. Bush into the White House without having some taint on it if they continue... If they go to the legislature route, if they use the route that Mark laid out.
PAUL GIGOT: Mark used the sense of illegitimacy. I can tell you the Supreme Court doesn't think it's illegitimate. They said in their opinion clearly that the legislature is the body that has the final authority. Why is a legislature that's elected any less legitimate than four un-elected judges? That's the point that they're going to make.
JIM LEHRER: Let me be specific. Let's say this thing gets appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which it will be and say the U.S. Supreme Court shuts that thing down and there is no recount, okay. Say they do it by Tuesday. There is no issue over the legislature then. It's over. It's over. Is it over then do you think for Democrats?
MARK SHIELDS: I think... I think yeah, the biggest concern, Jim, always has been whether the judge there, the judge yesterday in the circuit court committed reversible error. The question was whether there a timely remedy. Can they count these in time? The clock has always been working for Bush and against Gore in this sense because he had the legislature and he had the Governor and he had the secretary of state's decision. We're down to 154 votes now. The legislature is going to go in and vote on party lines to....
PAUL GIGOT: You better believe it is.
MARK SHIELDS: The point is, we're talking about legality, not constitutional... We're talking about whether the question you posed at the outset, are people going to accept this? There's going to be a cloud or taint over the Bush presidency. The honeymoon is getting shorter.
PAUL GIGOT: This has always been about from the beginning who is control of the institution that has the final say, the final authority when the music stops. And the Supreme Court made clear in its opinion that the legislature and the Congress have that final authority. It happens that Republicans have that authority. If it were the Democratic canvassing boards or the Democratic controlled courts in Florida, then Gore would win. But the Republicans control the legislatures.
JIM LEHRER: You used the right phrase, which is when the music stops. That what I was trying to get at. If the music stops at the Supreme Court, rancor goes away, or
PAUL GIGOT: It would help George Bush enormously in terms of having to not do the things that Mark and the Democrats will then say -- it makes it illegitimate or damaging and so it would help him enormously to have the Supreme Court come down and overrule the Florida Supreme Court.
MARK SHIELDS: What would help George W. Bush the most is to have the count and win. That would... that would just end it right then and there. The count is done and my goodness gracious, George W. Bush won by 154 votes, he won by 3,000 votes. That's it.
PAUL GIGOT: This is the thing. Many people have said, essentially it is tied in statistical terms. It is. So it's not just a question of the count. What are the standards of the count and are the standards of the count the rules that were in place or the dimpled pregnant chads and all of that?
MARK SHIELDS: One thing, Jim. Paul said what Democrats wanted and all of rest of it. I just wonder who the first Republican is going to be to step up and say to George W. Bush I think it is time -- you are a uniter --not a divider -- I think it's time you did the gracious thing and concede as Al Gore was going to do? When will that point come?
PAUL GIGOT: When did Al Gore ever show any signs of conceding?
MARK SHIELDS: He was ready to do it tonight.
|A double standard|
JIM LEHRER: We talked about this before but let's remind ourselves, why is it that Al Gore gets hurt for appealing and George W. Bush does not at this stage?
PAUL GIGOT: Because of how it started. The rules of the game when the votes were counted initially, and initial recount of Florida, he won. Then when the Florida Supreme Court changed the rules the first time giving authority to the canvassing boards and they had another count, he also won. So at this stage it looks to every Republican I know that it's basically the will of four judges determining, overcoming all of that and basically saying count dimpled chads and he'll win. If George Bush didn't appeal, he would be forever -- have no chance of running for president again.
JIM LEHRER: Because the Republicans wouldn't let him.
PAUL GIGOT: They'd say you're not going to fight this -- even this -- you're going to let this happen.
MARK SHIELDS: George W. Bush has always had more weapons in his arsenal. He has had the Florida legislature, which they don't want to do politically but they will do if forced. He has got the House of Representatives, but Paul is right. They don't want to fight it but if they are forced to, they will. He has a Supreme Court in Washington that is constantly pointing out there're seven Democrats on the legislature of the Supreme Court of Florida. Let's point out the seven Republican judges on the U.S. Supreme Court. So I mean he has always had that and so he has never said I will accept the decision of the Florida Supreme Court or any state Supreme Court. And it has been a double standard.
|A 50-50 split|
JIM LEHRER: As we had in our... in Kwame's piece at the top, Governor Bush was asked even before the decision this very day and said if we lose it, we'll go to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is a different situation. Let me ask you very quickly before we go. How do you read this thing in the United States Senate where you have got 50-50 and the Democrats want a little bit of this, they want to share the committees, they want equal this, equal that -- where do you think this is going?
MARK SHIELDS: You talk about history and new stories. This is the first time ever. And I really think it is going to be next to impossible to do anything in the Senate unless you put together a coalition.
JIM LEHRER: You mean in the middle of both parties.
MARK SHIELDS: In the middle and actually, you are going to probably be talking about 60 votes. So you have to come up with proposals and ideas.
JIM LEHRER: The reason you have to have 60 votes is that's to stop debate.
MARK SHIELDS: Fourty senators can stop any action, anything at any time -- you've got 40 people willing to stand up.
PAUL GIGOT: A Vice President Cheney say, 50-50 if Republicans win the White House. He could break the vote of a tie but essentially you have two minority parties in the Senate. Nobody has a majority. Tom Daschle emerges at the strongest Democrat in this city by far if Al Gore loses. And I think that it is going to be Daschle versus George W. Bush -- if he wins it is going to be one of the great dramas of the next four years, because I don't think you can get a lot accomplished unless you can either get Tom Daschle to go along or you can persuade enough Democrats through the use of the bully pulpit or negotiation to peel away. Otherwise....
JIM LEHRER: You don't think that could happen.
PAUL GIGOT: I think it could happen. It depends on the issue. I just think that you're talking about a Senate which Mark is right -- it is just going to be one big mess.
MARK SHIELDS: I would say this, that if Governor Bush did become President, Jim, he has got a chance early to score some victories and to break gridlock if he split up the estate tax; if he split up the marriage penalty tax; if he did partial birth abortion, he would have three victories in a row, then he might think about if he wanted to do something bold, do something on soft money. I think at that point he would upset the conventional wisdom. But Democrats think tonight he may never get there.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you both very much.