February 23, 2000
JIM LEHRER: First, Paul, how would you characterize what happened yesterday?
PAUL GIGOT: John McCain won a very big election. And George Bush won the Republican primary. That's not to diminish what McCain did because McCain played by the rules as they were. He didn't make it an open primary. He didn't make it three days after South Carolina. That was John Engler, the governor of Michigan, George Bush's big ally. McCain went in there, played by the rules and beat him soundly playing by those rules. Give him full marks and it moves on and changes the race. But he still has that fundamental problem which is you can't win a Republican nomination for president when you lose Republican votes by 37 to 40%. That's the problem he has to address in these coming weeks.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: That's a problem for him, no question about it. Jim, I think what's interesting is Paul is right, this was laid out by John Engler. John Engler is the self-proclaimed asbestos wall, fire wall.
PAUL GIGOT: A word they should stop using.
MARK SHIELDS: I think sponge or firewall for the lexicon in Austin. I don't think it ought to ever appear. Again, but and he chose an open primary for a simple reason - not simply because it's been a tradition, but it hasn't been a total tradition. He chose it because the fear was that George Bush, his candidate, would face a threat not from the middle of his own party or the reform side of his own party but would face a threat from where the threat had come previously in the Republican Party of the social, religious conservatives, either Pat Buchanan or Dan Quayle or even Steve Forbes. What he wanted to have available to him was George Bush who has demonstrated this outreach and appeal to democrats in his own home state and independents to be able on a primary day faced with a charge from the right to be able to reach out and bring them in and carry them over.
JIM LEHRER: It didn't work, did it?
MARK SHIELDS: No. It's unintended consequences of the worst kind for Engler and for Bush. Now, if John Engler wants to say it was a vast conspiracy and that somewhat lessens the pain and the embarrassment to him, fine. But, Jim, we know Democrats couldn't organize a two-car funeral. If you told three guys to be at the 7-11 at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, two of them wouldn't get there till 3:30. So the idea that this is a vast conspiracy of getting people who won't vote ordinarily-- we only have 40% who vote-- off their couches to get out, don't vote for the guy you want, vote for the other guy you don't like, that was just kind of silly.
PAUL GIGOT: The turnout point is an important one. We have two primaries - South Carolina and Michigan -- where turnout was double what it was in '96. You had a million people go to the polls. What's happening here -- a lot of people are whining about nobody cares about politics - and everybody is disenchanted and they have seminars on it. The truth is when you get a race and people think they can affect the race, they come out and vote. Jim, it doesn't get any better than this.
JIM LEHRER: I agree with that. I agree with that. Let me ask you this, Paul. From your perspective as an expert on the conservative movement within the Republican Party, as they move from this to the next and the next and the next, how big a problem does McCain have in trying to say, hey, I'm a conservative, I'm just as conservative as that guy?
PAUL GIGOT: He has a big problem. And he has a big problem because... Not because he doesn't have a conservative record. He does. It's because he's been running away from it in this campaign -- in part because he has been wanting to appeal to these moderates and these democrats and he's been attacking Bush on Social Security. He's been attacking Bush for tax cuts for the rich. He's been attacking some of the social con conservatives. Now he has to pivot. You noticed in his remarks the other day, he's suddenly for tax reform. He didn't attack Bush the other night for giving tax cuts to the rich. He said I want to be a tax cutter. He has to pivot that and sell that conservative record, which he has. And he's got to do it pretty fast, two weeks.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, in every primary we've had so far, the exit polls have shown the same thing. That is, John McCain's argument for shoring up Social Security is more appealing to Republican primary voters than is George Bush's of a tax cut. The tax cut is, I'm sorry, it's yesterday's news. One out of six voters say it's important to them. So I mean McCain is on to a message that is something different, that is something appealing, that really has reached out and activated and a whole constituency.
JIM LEHRER: But why isn't it working with Republicans?
MARK SHIELDS: It isn't working with Republicans, first of all, George Bush had sewed up the Republicans. There's no question about it. The Republicans, you have to understand, are a party that follows their leadership. It is no accident that over the past ten presidential elections, the candidate nominated by the Republican Party was the candidate endorsed by the Republican leadership who led all the polls a year earlier. The Democrats by contrast nine out of ten times have gone against their party leaders and against their polls and nominated somebody from the back of the room who just happened to walk in, whether his name was Dukakis or Carter or McGovern. The Republicans are a very orderly group; they're a very hierarchical group, and George Bush made a lot of sense. The argument of George Bush -- this is what has been totally turned on its ears by these elections, the argument of George Bush was he reaches out and brings in people, Democrats, Latinos, independents. He has demonstrated appeal in Texas, the support of democrats, the admiration of democrats, and he's going to win in November. Now you've got McCain running 24 points ahead of Al Gore; George Bush within the margin of error in the latest surveys and George Bush back to the base of his own party, not reaching out and with the face and albatross of Pat Robertson around his neck.
PAUL GIGOT: There's no question that John McCain has sort of taken over that middle position right now. That doesn't mean that George W. Bush couldn't get it back. And the other thing is, McCain has to... I mean, you've got two guys with one half of a winning coalition. I mean, both of them, the contest from now through California is who can convince the Republicans that they can better fill out the other half of that coalition? And that's going to be a large part of the battle between now and then.
JIM LEHRER: So if I'm hearing the two of you correctly, McCain is going to be saying, hey, hey, look at me, I'm a conservative.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: And Bush is going to say, hey, hey, look at me, I can appeal to Democrats and independents?
PAUL GIGOT: A little bit of that although Bush is also going to say John McCain wants to be Reagan. He's Reagan without the Reaganism. And the silver lining in the Michigan outcome for Bush is that he still won among those voters who decided on issue was the most important thing - 48 to 44. McCain's big appeal still is-- I think he won it 60 to 36 is people who choose on personal qualities. Even among Republicans it's the biography and the personal qualities that is still McCain's strongest selling point. Bush can't beat him on that; he can't come close. He has to hit him on the issues and say he's not really as conservative as he now wants to sound.
JIM LEHRER: Big-picture question finally. Is George Bush still the favorite, do you believe, should be considered the favorite for the nomination after what's happened?
MARK SHIELDS: To listen to Ari Fleischer and Mike Murphy in that last segment, one was arguing arithmetic. Fleischer was saying we've got the math on our side. We've got the states, the delegation. We're in more states. We've got more money. We're deeper in our support and all the rest of it. Mike Murphy was arguing chemistry. That once this thing ignites, look out, it's going to be a prairie fire and go from coast to coast and all the rest of it. That's really, I think you have to say George Bush is the favorite today because of the deep pockets, because of his support in the establishment of the party. But if John McCain, if that thing... If he was leading by 24 points, Jim, before the Michigan and Arizona results, that's when that poll was taken, I think, can you imagine what that will be? The bounce he gets after that?
JIM LEHRER: How do you see the picture right now?
PAUL GIGOT: Bush is still the favorite based on the calendar and the math and the fact that McCain hasn't yet demonstrated even in New Hampshire that he can win a majority of Republicans. The thing about McCain, though, is that he's a super nova politically. He's just exploded here. Sometimes these things go on and on. For Jimmy Carter, it went on and he won the white house. But sometimes they flame out. The thing that's hard to predict is a phenomenon like this, when does it flame out? You really don't know.
JIM LEHRER: Well, you talk about the increased turnouts and all of that. Is McCain responsible for that?
PAUL GIGOT: I think McCain is responsible for that in Michigan, but I think that sort of....
JIM LEHRER: I mean generally. I mean since beginning with New Hampshire?
PAUL GIGOT: But he is. But in South Carolina, he created the counter turnout that Bush was able to bring up and then in Michigan it turned again. You've got... You've got this combination back and forth. They're both driving an awful lot of enthusiasm. I think it's the nature of the race. There seems to be something at stake. They both seem to be heavyweights, both plausible presidents. And they're bringing out some drama and excitement.
JIM LEHRER: Goodness, mark, we may be... If this keeps happening, everybody may end up voting some day in this country.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, the wonderful thing it is, the people are voting. They say, hey, I make... What I do this time makes a difference. That is a powerful motivator, but you cannot ignore the fact that McCain is bringing out people. I mean, Bush race in Iowa didn't excite anybody. It really didn't. Bush and Steve Forbes, spent a lot of money, Alan Keyes. The turnout was miserable. Once John McCain gets in there, whether you like him or despise him, this guy really wakes the folks up in the back row.
JIM LEHRER: You use the word despise, the Republican base came out stronger than they ever have in South Carolina and Michigan too because they were stimulated by what McCain was doing.
PAUL GIGOT: There are an awful lot of people who disagree with McCain on campaign finance reform, for example, who disagree with him on taxes and they don't want him to run the party.
JIM LEHRER: Well, it's a great story.
MARK SHIELDS: They want to win. They want to win.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you.