February 21, 2000
JIM LEHRER: Mark, is it now do or die for john McCain in Michigan?
MARK SHIELDS: It sure, is Jim. No question about it.
JIM LEHRER: Literally? He doesn't win in Michigan...
MARK SHIELDS: He doesn't win in Michigan, he might behave it on, carry on, but the zip is gone. The energy's gone. He's drawing to an inside straight now in poker. I mean, that's what he has to get... He has to get the missing seven in that four, five, six, eight, nine...
JIM LEHRER: I'm not going to ask you any follow-ups.
MARK SHIELDS: Really. That's what Michigan has become for him.
JIM LEHRER: You agree?
PAUL GIGOT: I do, in particular because after Michigan we ear running into the primaries where the vote is closed to non-Republicans. 50% of the delegates will be chosen after Michigan in those kinds of states. That's where George Bush right now has advantages of some 20 points, 30 points, 40 points in some of these states.
JIM LEHRER: This is the last big one, important one where independents and Democrats can also vote.
PAUL GIGOT: Next week in Virginia there's another one. And there are some others, but the majority of the delegates will not be chosen like Michigan where you can call on independents and Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: Now Mark, McCain kind of ratcheted up the rhetoric today. He accused Bush of taking character assassination, of trying to take the low road to the presidency. What's that all about?
MARK SHIELDS: There's no argument about what happened in South Carolina. George Bush won a big, must 46 win victory for him and he carried Republicans overwhelmingly and he carried social conservatives overwhelmingly. John McCain can comfort himself... Console himself by saying he got more votes than Ronald Reagan got in South Carolina, George Bush Sr.. He got more votes than any Republican ever had. But George W. Bush got more. But it isn't a question of what happened, it's how it happened, Jim. And there were Bush backers, make no mistake about it, that were doing things that are not Marquis of Queensbury rules. There was a flier distributed that accused John McCain, because he had met with the log cabin Republicans, a gay rights group, George Bush refused to -- under the advise of Ralph Reed -- meet with them, that he was the fag candidate. At the same time, he was accused of being... having sired children out of wedlock, of... ugly things distributed and circulated because his daughter is not white. So, I mean, this stuff really hurt and angered the McCain folks and the Senator himself. And he expressed it. Whether it's defiant or whether it's angry and ill tempered, vote centers Michigan will have to decide. But it's genuine. It's not contrived.
JIM LEHRER: Angry, ill-tempered? What words would you use, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I mean, he feels aggrieved. I don't think there's any question there were some low blows struck by people trying to help George Bush, but the truth is the stuff that George Bush campaigned, put on television and put on radio, some of it was tough. Some of it was tough contrast ads, as John McCain hit George W. Bush with. But it was completely above board. Most of the media in that state, and there was a lot of it from Bush, there's no question , they spent a lot of money there, but it was fair stuff, contrast on philosophy. It wasn't character assassination. It was about the issues. And they were trying to define him, and they did it successfully. John McCain isn't conservative enough. That's how he won it.
JIM LEHRER: All right, now, forget about South Carolina for a moment. How does what happened in South Carolina translate into what's going to happen tomorrow in Michigan, is likely to translate? I won't make you predict it.
PAUL GIGOT: The Bush campaign hopes they get bounce and momentum. In the early polling, there doesn't seem to be a lot of bounce and momentum.
JIM LEHRER: Just on the fact Bush won?
PAUL GIGOT: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: Just like McCain did when he won New Hampshire. He's supposed to have gotten and he did get a big bounce in the beginning with South Carolina.
PAUL GIGOT: Maybe with only two days difference, you I don't have enough time for the size of the victory to sink. In you had a holiday today for example and a lot of people are doing other things, not paying attention. So we don't know what kind of bounce there will be. That's what the Bush campaign hopes will happen. The other thing they hope will happen is that he can win among Republicans in Michigan the same way or... if not as large, at least large enough in Michigan to dampen any McCain appeal across the aisle.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read what McCain has to do in Michigan in order to pull this thing out? If everything rests on this for him now, what's he going to do? He has 24 hours to do it.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he does. Paul and I have a different take on South Carolina on the issues, but I mean, the exit polls, the voters side with McCain on the issue of Social Security, shoring it up versus tax cuts. They sided with him on Medicare and Social Security being the most important issue of all the issues. The most important element was moral values and family values to the voters. But it's an issue that doesn't translate into a legislative program. There's no legislative program that says George Bush has a family values agent damp so what John McCain has to do, he's got a cohort of this electorate, religious conservatives, who are 35% of the vote in South Carolina, who are one-sixth of the vote in New Hampshire. He lost them overwhelmingly.
JIM LEHRER: What is it in Michigan?
MARK SHIELDS: The estimates vary. It's about 25% is the best estimate we have from people I've talked to. He's losing them 75 to 25: Okay. Now, if you're losing these folks 75 to 25, that means immediately you've got an 11-point deficit in the overall electorate. You're losing 18-7 -- which means you've got to make that up somewhere. It's tough to make up against a fellow like George W. Bush who is popular with Republicans, who has favorable image, who's got strong party support. He has to say, "look, this is... Paul's right, two day, what do you say. This is it, Michigan. You've got the decision. You can make history. You can close this race down now. It's going to be George Bush against Al Gore or keep this thing going.
PAUL GIGOT: Jim, he has to make some of his message, draw themes from his record and things from his message that appeal to conservatives, that appeal to Republicans. He's got to find a way. Bill McInturff, his pollster, said, we can't continue to get beat by 20 and 30 points among Republicans in a Republican primary, and there are things in his record, in his 18-year record that they could stress and bring out. He tried to do that yesterday, saying, "i'm tougher on spending. George W. Bush is a spendthrift in Texas." But towards the end in South Carolina, this campaign was only about John McCain. He had narrowed his focus so little, so narrowly...
JIM LEHRER: As you all said, Bush did the same thing, talking about job McCain and only John McCain.
PAUL GIGOT: Bush was also talking about john McCain, hitting him on campaign finance reform, hit him on tacks, hit him on matters of philosophy, whereas McCain was saying, this is about me, this is about our crusade. That's where we disagree. But his concession speech, striking to me on Saturday, because it was all about personal honor. He didn't connect it to any bigger thing or bigger issues that said, let's draw ourselves together and move ahead.
JIM LEHRER: One of the things, Mark, that has been said many, many time, that George W. Bush got beaten badly in New Hampshire and the ultimate test is could he bounce back and fight back and win in South Carolina, and he did.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. He did. Short time.
JIM LEHRER: Now same thing has happened with John McCain and the test of these two men comes something beyond a lot of things.
MARK SHIELDS: It really does. Did he personalize it perhaps too much? But let me tell you one thing, and I think Paul would agree with me, there is no interest in Washington who is at all nervous about any reform authored by Al Gore or George W. Bush. They're pretenders. They're both posers on the issue. John McCain's the real thing. What did john McCain do? He disturbed a group like the national right to life group. They went on with an issue saying John McCain was soft -- a man with a 17-year pro-life record. What was he soft on? He voted for fetal tissue research for Parkinson's disease. What was the vote in the Senate? 93-4. 93-4. I mean, you've got Strom Thurmond, all the conservatives voting with the big majority, and john McCain. But they is a, no, this disqualifies him to be president. They're doing the bidding, Jim. And it's really a pretty large question. The question is going to l sit at the table in Washington when decisions are made.
JIM LEHRER: What about my testing question? There's all kinds of wisdom, some of it is conventional and some of it isn't, that McCain's concession speech on Saturday night is his hot stuff today shows that he's not handling defeat very well. Is that... Do you agree with that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, you can certainly say that he's an angry candidate now. And I thought yesterday was a serious mistake on his part going on Meet the Press. I think Tim Russert does a great show. He did not have an affirmative message, which he should have had coming out of South Carolina. Paul's right. These are the differences between us, this is what you ought to vote for me and not for the other fellow. He went on and let somebody else set the agenda, that was the news all day yesterday.
PAUL GIGOT: In defense of McCain, it can take you a while when you're delivered a body blow, than was a body blow. Nobody expected it to be that big. He was successful with his turnout on independents and Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: He did what he said he had to do.
PAUL GIGOT: But Bush was even more successful. It took George w. Bush that whole first week... That was a Tuesday defeat in New Hampshire. He was flailing on Wednesday, flailing on...
MARK SHIELDS: You're right. He had the time to go home.
JIM LEHRER: You're right. He went home to Austin.
PAUL GIGOT: Came back, regrouped on the weekend and comb out with a much miles an hour coherent strategy, that is what in the end worked for him. McCain, knocked off their game. I don't think he responded well. I think he responded way too personally on Saturday night. Now they're struggling a bit. There's no question about it. The problem he has is this thing is coming right at them. If they can somehow eke it out in Michigan, then they may be able to fight back and right this yet.
MARK SHIELDS: One small mistake he made, the veteran's thing. Jim, if the veterans didn't vote for Bob Dole against Bill Clinton in 1996, and they didn't, they weren't going to come out as a single group. John McCain is tired. He's been a longer working candidate than George Bush. And the bus thing going all day with press people there talking to him, I think he was a more tired candidate by Saturday than he was at any point in New Hampshire.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you both very much. We'll see what happens.