January 14, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the presidential debates, candidates' tax plans and the fight over gays in the military.
JIM LEHRER: And to some Friday night political analysis Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. First, on McCain and Bush. Both of you have spent time with their -- with both of their campaigns. Our snapshots, Paul, were those good examples of the two men at work?
|Taxes are a Republican dividing line|
PAUL GIGOT: I think they were, and I think particularly on the issue of taxes, which has emerge as a central dividing line between the two of them, Jim. You saw the nub of the argument there. And it's a classic Republican argument that's gone back 30,40 years between the tax-cutting wing and kind of the fiscal-uprightness wing, the balanced-budget wing. Now it's the debt-reduction wing. It's taken place in 1980 between Reagan and George Bush Sr., who was kind of in the McCain camp at that time. You saw it in 1988 with Bob Dole in the austerity wing versus George Bush who then had become a tax cutter and took the tax pledge. And now you're seeing it replayed again.
Every time in the last 20 years that this debate has taken place within the Republican Party at the presidential level, the tax cutter has won. And what's fascinating about this is that John McCain is saying that because of the prosperity we're having, I can maybe win this argument this time by saying Social Security and debt reduction trump tax cuts. If it happens, it will be the first time in an awful long time within the Republican Party, but that's the gamble he's making.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, do you see the tax issue the same way Paul does; that it is really the defining one between these two men?
MARK SHIELDS: I really don't, Jim. But can I just say about the excerpts we just saw, those were testimony to this campaign and John McCain's influence upon it. I mean John McCain made this campaign a campaign of town meetings. Everybody has to do town meetings now. Governor Bush, who is a fine candidate and absolutely marvelous with people, would prefer to be in a closely choreographed, scripted studio, as would most candidates. But McCain out of necessity or what, made this his virtue.
And now every candidate in both parties -- I mean Al Gore can't turn around without having another town meeting. It's John McCain's influence and it has been -- the amazing thing is that John McCain leapfrogged over everybody else in the Republican race except George W. Bush solely on the basis of this approach. Without spending a nickel on radio or TV advertising of any kind, he moved into the mid-20s in all the polls in New Hampshire after millions have been spent by the others. As far as the tax thing is concerned --
JIM LEHRER: Hold on one minute. Let me just see if Paul agrees with this, on the town meeting thing, that McCain has led the way here just as a campaign technique.
PAUL GIGOT: I think New Hampshire does that to the candidates every time. Give John McCain credit -- no, question about it. He has been the most accessible candidate I have ever seen at the presidential level of politics and he has made George W. Bush improve as a candidate by forcing him to get off of his pedestal and get down and mix it up by making New Hampshire a contest. But, ultimately, I think the voters in New Hampshire are going to make Bush do that no matter what happened.
JIM LEHRER: OK. Taxes, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: On taxes, Jim, I think that Paul has drawn the issue very classically for Republicans, and that's certainly been the truth in the past. McCain takes it and makes it -- it's a character campaign. I mean, John McCain's story is a character story. And his campaign is a character campaign. Bill McInturf, the pollster, makes a very good point. He said the Republicans have lost two presidential elections in a row -- got -- average less than 40 percent of the vote nationally And what's the knock been on them?
That is, that we the Republicans are for the rich and indifferent to the little guy and we're also going to hurt grandma with our indifference and callousness on Social Security and Medicare. What McCain does is address this by saying we're going to cut $150 billion in corporate welfare. These are sweetheart deals that have been cut by the Congress and the presidents of all administrations. And it has led to other people, ordinary folks on payroll taxes, paying higher taxes. And then McCain turns around and makes the case that what we've done is given ourselves a party, run up this debt and passed the bill on to our kids. So it is -- it's a different kind of argument. It isn't just cold showers and root canal work. It's a question of what kind of character we have as a people.
|New Hampshire up for grabs; Iowa not|
JIM LEHRER: Some Republicans have put the rap on McCain that his argument sounds more like Democrats than Republicans, Paul.
PAUL GIGOT: When you invoke the Citizens for Tax Justice as your source of intellectual argument --
JIM LEHRER: What is that?
PAUL GIGOT: That's a labor-backed think tank here in Washington which routinely denounces tax cut proposals for helping the rich. That's a classic Democratic argument. But there's one other issue that that -- of identification that Bush is trying to use tax cuts to identify, and that is, the tax cuts put you on the side of smaller government. And that's been a classic Republican principle.
JIM LEHRER: He says that over and over again about money on the table, they'll spend it.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. And it also -- I mean, John McCain has very skillfully portrayed himself as the outsider -- as Mark says, as the anti-establishment character. The tax issue and the small-government issue lets Bush come back and say wait a minute, Senator McCain, you want to keep that money here in Washington where you know, I mean, despite your best intentions, despite all the work you do in Congress to try to stop from spending it, it's spent anyway? And the best thing to do -- keep it out of Washington in the first place.
JIM LEHRER: Horse race question, Mark. First let's back up to Iowa. McCain is not running in the caucuses there but what's your reading on that race and where it stands at this point?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think Iowa is a lot more --
JIM LEHRER: That's January 24, about 10 days away.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. January 24, a week from next Monday. And they will debate here tomorrow. And McCain would have one hope and that is somehow the issue becomes national security commander-in-chief; it's the one place where he enjoys an advantage over George W. Bush but Governor Bush, as Ann Seltzer the pollster for the Des Moines Register told me this afternoon, he doesn't have any chinks in his armor. He is well liked; he's well regarded. I think his support in this state matches support among Republicans nationally.
New Hampshire is fascinating; it's up for grabs. It's a real horse race. That is not the case in Iowa. Steve Forbes has made an all-out effort. He has got some very good people on the ground here, and the question is will they turn up on caucus night and support his message of libertarian almost as far as government is concerned, especially as far as taxes economically libertarian, but at the same time quite traditional, even conservative, on social matters.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read the race in Iowa tonight?
PAUL GIGOT: It's similar. I mean I think George Bush is very strong. There is no question about it. No Republican in Iowa in a contested big caucus has ever gotten more than 37 percent. And the Forbes campaign would desperately love to keep George W. Bush below that number. It's going to be hard to do. But I think -- I followed Forbes around this week and I was very impressed with his organization. He has thousands of volunteers out there -- 4,000 captains in all 99 counties. I think he is going to do better than his polling suggests that he will. The question is will he do well enough to make it look like -- to cast some doubt on George W. Bush as a vote getter because remember, this is the first time George W. Bush is going to be tested as a vote getter outside of Texas. This is important for him. Meanwhile George W. Bush wants to do so well that he blows away Forbes for good and then gets some momentum and a boost going into New Hampshire.
|Trying to get a lift out of Iowa voting|
MARK SHIELDS: Now, Mark, the Democrats, Gore-Bradley, what's your reading of that in Iowa?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think again Iowa is more like the nation, where the vice president has a big edge over Senator Bradley. And I think he has, according to the Des Moines Register among caucus goers, a 21-point margin, 54-33. They did a very tight screen in the polling parlance of people who do go to caucuses. And his people are confident. The Bradley people are spending a lot of time out here low balling it -- telling, my goodness, we'll be lucky if we get 11 percent. It reminds you of the old Frank Leahy, the Notre Dame football coach who said we'll be lucky if we make a first down this season and his team went undefeated. I don't know if Bradley is going to go undefeated here but they're lowering expectations and hoping again to get a lift coming out of Iowa based upon a closer than expected outcome.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, what is your reading of what the issue is in Iowa between Bradley and Gore? What's separating them? What's getting people interested, if anything?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it is Bill Bradley's attempt to separate himself on leadership. I mean on actual issues like health care and some others, there aren't really great differences. There are differences in detail, there are differences in degree, but there aren't a lot of differences in kind. And what you see Bradley trying to do is to say, "I really mean it. I plan to do it." And he's looking for some hooks to say after seven or eight years of Dick Morris, small incremental change and poll-driven politics, I'm somebody who is going to tell you what I'm going to do and then I'm going to lead and do it. I think it's admirable in a way because he's trying to say, "I can lead and I'm going to take some risks."
Now in good times, as we have, and Iowa is a pretty prosperous place except on the farm as well as the rest of the country, you have to pare away those Democratic voters and say are you unhappy enough with the leadership you've got from this administration to do that? And he's having a harder time in Iowa because of the organization -- this is the organized Democratic Party here. He's having a harder time doing that than he is in New Hampshire where you have a much smaller union base and you have a lot more independents.
JIM LEHRER: What would you add to that, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I would add, Jim, that Bill Bradley and Al Gore have copied their campaigns respectively from previous Republican playbooks. Al Gore's campaign, which is a quick hit, very attack mode, very aggressive, is like George Bush's 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis when he ran on issues like pollution of the Boston Harbor and the Pledge of Allegiance and Willie Horton, sort of keeping that tactical advantage, playing sort of a gotcha game, keeping your opponent very much on the defensive. And Gore has successfully kept Bradley on the defensive.
Bradley by contrast, has almost a Reaganesque approach in the sense of a big, big picture, large ideas and very specific about them, just as Reagan was. What is missing in the Bradley candidacy, I have to say, is an emotional connection, a sense of we can do it as Americans, let's move on; we've done this in the past. And I think, you know, at no point do you hear what was said after Demastanes spoke, "Let us march." I mean, it's not a question of being a great speaker; it's a question of making an emotional connection and enlisting your audience and your listeners to a project larger than themselves. And I think that's what John McCain -- quite frankly -- has been able to do on the Republican side and Bill Bradley up to now has not been able to do on the Democratic side.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, we'll leave it there for tonight. We still have many other opportunities to talk about this. But as you said earlier, Paul, at least the people are about to start voting -- soon.
PAUL GIGOT: And we'll stop talking.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you both very much.