February 11, 2000
|End-of-the-week political analysis of the presidential race and the future of the Reform party from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.|
JIM LEHRER: And now to Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, the snapshots showed them being fairly mannerly about each other, but this week things have really gotten rough, have they not, between Bush and McCain?
PAUL GIGOT: They have exactly that, Jim. I mean, after sort of a Marquis of Queensbury experience in New Hampshire, and you're a wonderful guy, you're a good friend, now we've gotten to the point that the Bush campaign in particular -- it just struck me -- they set about both -- after the defeat -- the first time George Bush had ever been behind -- they went into South Carolina and they started attacking John McCain on everything. They had a very marginal figure at the first big event down there. A fellow named Birch out of the veterans -- sort of the marginal veteran's groups -- said that John McCain had been unfriendly to veterans and had turned his back on American veterans. Then they said that George Bush is the reformer and John McCain is a hypocrite.
JIM LEHRER: The sign behind --
MARK SHIELDS: They were trying to grab -- they figure the reform mantel is hurt -- so I mean, they're just kind of going after him on each -- I think, in part, it's the old theory of elephant dust. Throw enough elephant dust up in the air and it kind of obscures things. John McCain represents an enormous threat to the Republican establishment in this important regard. He has brought in thousands and thousands of people who are not party regulars, who are independents, voted in New Hampshire, have switched parties this week in California in anticipation of that primary. They're going to vote for him in South Carolina. You depress the turnout by sort of establishing to voters that, look, he's not that much different, he's like everybody else. He's using negative commercials, and they got -- he did go for the bait -- he, McCain -- and responded in kind to Bush. So it's kind of a -- well, these are politicians, he isn't as different as you thought he was. That's the message they want to get across and possibly to provoke him into a temper outburst, which would be ideal for the Bush folks. But there's no definition to the Bush campaign. Bush has not redefined his candidacy. It's just "I want to win South Carolina."
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, last week the Bush campaign was flailing around, no question about it. They didn't know what to do, I think; they were off their game for sure. Bring in Dan Quayle; that's not going to help. The veteran's thing was bad; Bob Jones University was a mistake. But they moved back to Yennoen -- like Mao, you know, regrouped, and I think they came out with a better strategy this week and they had to do two things; they had to tarnish McCain's image, say McCain isn't what he thinks he is, and they have done that. But they also had to lift Bush's image, and they had to do two things with that; they had to show he wants the job, he wants to fight for the job, he's not the diffident soul up there who didn't have much to say and brought in dad to lay on the hands. So you see in the --
JIM LEHRER: We saw that much more aggressive than he has been in the past.
PAUL GIGOT: The pope mobile strategy is gone. No more bulletproof glass, no more closed off from reporters. Get in there, answer questions from the press, answer questions from reporters, you know, get back on the bus. You still don't do the full McCain, which is all questions all the time, but you get in there and you show that you can handle some substance. You have some wit. You show some of the charm. I think that's important.
JIM LEHRER: Did you notice, I'm sure you did, the way he referred to McCain as Chairman McCain, meaning that identifies him as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and one of the enemies, right?
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. And that's the other thing they're trying to do, which is to reestablish one of the rationales, the original rationales for the Bush candidacy, which is why so many of the people supported him in the first place. He wasn't from Washington. He was from Texas. One of the rookie mistakes the Bush campaign made was to let roll itself into the endorsements -- and in money -- and therefore taint itself with Trent Lott and the rest of these people when one of its attractions in the first place was, he wasn't them.
JIM LEHRER: I'm an outsider, I'm not Washington. Do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I do agree -- I agree in part. I agree that especially that they made an enormous mistake in trying, I think, brand John McCain as a non-reformer. Something happened this week that really boomeranged on the Bush folks. I mean, National Journal Magazine reported George Bush has raised 15 times as much money from loyalists and lobbyists as John McCain has, five times as much from Washington, DC. I mean, it's just kind of a silly argument that he's an outsider and McCain is an insider; but they've made the argument that McCain isn't really a reformer. This week the co-chair, Jim, of a group called Team 100, which is the Republican National Committees, big givers, the guys who come up with $100,000 every year in soft money. They were told at a private Florida meeting by the co-chair, Julie Finley, if McCain wins, we're out of business. That's a message that is so clear, so unmistakable that John McCain means what he says. And it really comes back to the great aphorism of Jess Unruh, the former speaker of the California assembly, who used to say to every freshman legislator who came to Sacramento, if you can't drink their booze, if you can't sleep with their women and take their money and vote against them, you ought not to be in politics. And John McCain has taken their money and they know he's voting against them.
JIM LEHRER: But the other side of this is, whatever, the merit of this, is it working for Bush?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it is. I think it's helping. I wouldn't say that the McCain wave has crested yet. I don't think we know that but I think it is raising some doubts among voters about whether or not McCain is what he says he is. Look, Bush should raise this issue. And he should raise it because Republican primary voters should know that Al Gore is going to raise it and Al Gore is going to take that 18-year voting record of John McCain and make it look like Bob Dole's and Newt Gingrich's and Jesse Helms, and he's going to take the fact that John McCain... I mean, George Bush hasn't used the Keating Five card yet. And you can bet that Al Gore is.
JIM LEHRER: Explain quickly the Keating Five for those who --
PAUL GIGOT: That was a scandal about one of the savings and loan executives, Charles Keating, and an attempt to... Senators met in a room with him and with regulators to put some pressure on regulators. McCain had a marginal role in that, it wasn't as big as some of the other Senators, but it was a big uproar and he was disciplined by the Senate for it.
JIM LEHRER: Now the thing that got him hot this week, the thing that George Bush got upset was a commercial that McCain ran that compared Bush with Clinton and then McCain got mad because he accused George Bush of push polling. Explain what push polling is and this whole thing about the Clinton comparison. Is this legitimate anger, or is this political anger?
MARK SHIELDS: The push polling works like this: You're sitting at home. You get a call and they say, Mr. Lehrer, who are you going to vote for, Smith or Jones for governor, and you say, I like Smith. Well, do you know about Smith, the fact that he's a wife beater and the fact that he's a deadbeat and he hasn't changed his socks for three years? And you say, geez, I didn't know that. So under the guise of finding information, what the point is, to impart negative information, to drop a dime on the other party.
JIM LEHRER: McCain has accused the Bush people of doing that. The Bush people have denied it, et cetera.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, the Bush people have acknowledged what they call advocacy in this end, do you know John McCain is running a negative campaign sort of thing.
PAUL GIGOT: They released the script.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. They released the script that their people --
MARK SHIELDS: And the allegations are that they're going far more seriously to this and far beyond this. But that's obviously -- it's a tactic that has been used -- was developed in South Carolina, quite frankly, by the late Lee Atwater. I mean, he was the guy who did it in local races down there. Add to that the McCain commercial on Clinton, comparing George W. Bush to Clinton, and that in my judgment was a serious mistake by the McCain people. John McCain only wins if he says, look, who is ready between the two of these men to be President of the United States? Who has got the courage and the character to be commander in chief? If you get into a race of -- you know -- one guy this guy, he said this, he said that, George Bush has the wherewithal, he has the establishment support, he has a strong political support. And I think he would best him. So, I don't think that was helpful to McCain at all.
PAUL GIGOT: No. I agree with that. I really do. It's a mistake for another reason. I don't think that -- you can't tell primary voters, Republican primary voters in South Carolina that George Bush is Bill Clinton or thinks like Bill Clinton. It's just not believable.
JIM LEHRER: Look, another thing on the Republican race before we move on quickly. Steve Forbes dropped out. What did he get for his millions of dollars?
PAUL GIGOT: He got some ideas on the table, Jim -- particularly from '96. He put some ideas on the table like privatization of Social Security and a flat tax, which with the tax cut, education choice, which -- he was a bad messenger -- wasn't the right messenger.
JIM LEHRER: As an individual candidate, he didn't have that much impact, did he?
PAUL GIGOT: No, this year -- I mean, he was a message candidate in a year where people cared more about the messenger.
|The Democratic race|
JIM LEHRER: On the Democrats, they have been overshadowed by McCain versus Bush particularly with South Carolina coming up. Anything to report, any major development this week that we need to know about -- that you think we need to know about?
MARK SHIELDS: I would simply say that McCain, the mantle of reformer which he has preempted, has deprived Bill Bradley of oxygen. I mean, Bill Bradley isn't covered, and so as a consequence, you have to keep raising the ante. I didn't -- quite frankly -- did not understand why when he had Michael Jordan's endorsement for two months --
JIM LEHRER: Michael Jordan the basketball player.
MARK SHIELDS: Michael Jordan is the most famous person in the world. I mean, you never see Michael Jordan's name when he's on television, everybody assumes you know that he's Michael Jordan. The idea that Michael Jordan would save him for African American electorates is silly. He has great crossover appeal. But, no, I think that, and I think as well, John McCain's preemption on reform has led to Jesse Ventura -- the Reform Party is just out of gas.
JIM LEHRER: I want to ask about that but first what do you think, what do you want to add to the Democrats?
GWEN IFILL: Bill Bradley this week spent just about the whole week trying to carve into Al Gore's tremendous advantage on African American voters. I mean, they're coming into the state primaries where those voters are 30 and 40 and 50 percent of the primary electorate. He needs to break into that. And this is one group of the population where Al Gore's association with Bill Clinton helps him and helps him and helps him. There is no down side. Bill Clinton is extremely popular with African Americans and Al Gore, therefore, is extremely popular with African Americans. And it's tough for Bill Bradley to cut into this.
JIM LEHRER: And, yet, Bradley has had some really articulate things to say about race relations early on. I mean, for years he has been talking about it. He has no traction on this?
MARK SHIELDS: No traction. And, you know, at least it isn't working. He may have a breakthrough but it hasn't -- the problem is he's on page A-21. And McCain-Bush one is out front.
|The Reform Party|
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of A-21, Jesse Ventura's decision today to quit the Reform Party, does that mean anything?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it could potentially mean a three to five million vote swing in the fall. I say it for this reason. If in fact Pat Buchanan is the nominee of the Reform Party, he has no appeal to Democrats. His draw, according to the "Wall Street Journal"-NBC Poll, is almost exclusively from Republicans. Jesse Ventura took equally from both parties. And Jesse Ventura would have been an awfully formidable candidate, especially in the industrial Midwest. I think it's good news for the Democrats that Jesse Ventura is not running.
PAUL GIGOT: This is about the quiet, behind-the-scenes takeover of the Reform nomination by Pat Buchanan with the assistance, I think, quiet assistance of some of Ross Perot's friends. And Jesse Ventura decided not to be part of that game and decided to walk out, because he doesn't want to be part of a Reform Party that is dominated by Pat Buchanan.
JIM LEHRER: And Buchanan keeps moving in that direction. He made a statement this week saying, wondering what all the fuss was about, with the far right party in Austria and then David Duke... it was just David Duke said that he was going to support --
MARK SHIELDS: Can you imagine the Austrian remark? I mean, if there's one comment -- that's kind of like John Rocker -- you know -- attacking Fats Domino or something. I mean, it really -- it doesn't show much sense.
PAUL GIGOT: Behind the scenes, Buchanan has been working the phones to try to shore up support from an awful lot of the officialdom, if there is such a thing, in the Reform Party and to shore up his support with Perot. And he is going to break out after these primaries are over, he's going to break out try to claim the nomination. And Mark is right. He is going to try to carve into whoever the Republican nominee is.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you all.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.