July 28, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot look ahead to next week's GOP convention in Philadelphia.
JIM LEHRER: Now, a Philadelphia preview from Shields and Gigot; syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
|The GOP platform|
|The convention of the day is the platform. Major change
from recent Republican platforms, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it's a change. It's probably the biggest change in a dozen years from what Republicans have done in the past. Part of it is tonal there. There's a lot more positive thinking in this thing. There's not as much criticism. In fact, I was told by one source there is not even going to be a single reference to Clinton-Gore. They want to put Governor Bush's themes of optimism and compassion ahead of excoriating the Clinton legacy. And I think there is also some changes in policy, some fundamental changes in policy, for example, on immigration, though the 1996 platform was very critical of immigrants, that they take jobs in America. This one says we welcome immigrants. In fact, they can help our economy if they come in here legally. This reflects, I think, the Bush idea that if you're going to have a governing majority, you really have to have significant segments of Hispanic Americans and African Americans vote with your party. So there is a change. It's a different document.
JIM LEHRER: A different document, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: A different document, Jim, a lot less of what I would call the government bashing, sort of the... what I characterize mindless demonizing of public employees, public service. There's no talk about meddlesome bureaucrats, the acknowledgment that the federal government has a role, that has an important role in the environment particularly. But at the same time on the social issues, they roped off that area, endorsed a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion with no exceptions, rape, incest, life of the mother. In addition, come out against homosexuals in the military under any circumstances. And all of these... both of these are positions that Governor Bush himself has moved away from in his characterizing as a compassionate conservative. And also urged that pro-life point of view, or view of the Constitution be a major consideration in the selection of federal judges. So I agree with Paul. Tonal difference but some substantive difference but still an acknowledgment that the social and religious right is an important and key constituency to George Bush's getting elected in November.
PAUL GIGOT: Make no mistake, Jim. This is still a conservative document and a conservative party. Mark is right about that. I think Governor Bush was smart not to get into, to open that debate over abortion because when you have a debate like this, it's probably going to end up with this language anyway since that's where the majority of the party is, and, instead, you would have a week of debating for no purpose.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, does matter; does this particular platform matter?
PAUL GIGOT: I think all platforms matter as a statement of where the parties are. They matter much less, though, than what the candidates stand for, what the candidate's agenda is. I mean some of us are doomed to have to read these kinds of things and even write about them. So, you know, I don't think most of the American people are going to get to paragraph 35. But they're going to listen to Bush on Thursday, and what he says is in part going to be a reflection of what the broad thinking is within his party. And so in that sense, the platform is worth looking at every four years.
JIM LEHRER: But, Mark, in a more general way, this convention in Philadelphia is George W. Bush's convention more than it is "the Republican Party's" is that not correct?
MARK SHIELDS: That is correct, James. And I would say the platform is important because it's George W. Bush's platform. There were no disputes. They control the platform committee, just as they've controlled everything else here, because he won and won so overwhelmingly, and this is his convention. That's what this week is about. It's introducing George W. Bush to an awful lot of Americans. The University of Michigan surveys over the past 48 years have indicated that some 22% of voters regularly make up their minds at or following the conventions, having viewed these two candidates. It's an important week, and it's George W. Bush's chance to lay down a set of principles and ideas that would give a sense of where he that are believable and valid to a majority of voters where he wants to lead the United States.
|JIM LEHRER: And, Paul, what do you think that message is?
In the ideal world, in George W. Bush's ideal world, based on your discussions
with Republican leaders and his folks, in the ideal world, what would
he want people to come away from after these four days of this convention?
PAUL GIGOT: I think he wants the people to come away with what his idea is of a governing conservatism. I think this platform and this convention is putting to rest the idea of an insurgent revolutionary conservatism. It's just not in this document anymore. It's not in the Bush message. This is what the governors, the Republican governors, the successful Republican governors in the states have done. And it's a governing conservatism that deals with problems like education and Social Security and health care that Republicans haven't been identified with solving or even caring about in the past. And he's going to say we can deal with those problems. Then he also wants to personally say, look, I'm somebody who has the stature to be able to implement this agenda. Here's my record in Texas, inoculate him somewhat against the attacks that are going to happen. I've done it in the state, I can do it across the country.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, governing conservatism?
MARK SHIELDS: Governing conservatism. Yes, Jim, but I think it's a more immediate problem that he has this week-- a mission, and that is George W. Bush is liked. He is liked better, I think, by more voters than is Al Gore. If this were to be an election about national student body president, George W. Bush would win handily. But the question that all political pros when they get together talk about any would-be candidate, they always use the same language, have used it for the 45 years I've been around this business, and that is, is he heavy enough? Does he have the heft to be President? Does he fill the chair? If there are lingering doubts about George W. Bush, that's what they are. It's not whether in fact he has united his party, whether he will have enthusiasm in the hall because he will have an enthusiastic uncritical response, but whether those Americans sitting out there say is this guy the guy I'm going to feel as one Republican, Tom Rath of New Hampshire, said to me, he has got to convince people, and a Bush backer himself, that they can be comfortable for the next four years getting up every morning with George Bush and not anxious with George Bush as President of the United States.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, that's the bottom line here?
PAUL GIGOT: I do think that that's the bottom line. This is only the first stage though in doing that. Actually, his vice presidential choice was maybe the first stage. This is part two. Then I think the debate's ultimately, head to head against Al Gore where he can close that deal. But this week he does have to look as if he has a clear idea of what he wants to do and look commanding enough to implement it.
|The VP choice: Dick Cheney|
|JIM LEHRER: Mark, speaking of the vice presidential selection,
how's Dick Cheney's selection holding up after three days?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it's the first time... Jim, he got basically positive reviews but they did come back at him and pick out votes from his record, which was an extremely conservative record. And there was a sense of hurt, how can you go back and look at these, from many of the same folks who were talking about voting records, replete with voting records for Walter Mondale and every other Democrat ever nominated. It's totally fair to go back and to look at how Dick Cheney did vote. And I thought he was put on the defensive. I didn't think the Bush people truly anticipated what might happen with Dick Cheney. And I thought some of those questions were not...
JIM LEHRER: Like which ones, did he do poorly on?
MARK SHIELDS: He did poorly on the question, for example, ERA. Nobody cares about the ... I shouldn't say that. I'm sure there are listeners who care... but it's a dead issue. But he said he opposed the ERA, because he was fearful of women being drafted. Well, this from a guy who had more deferments from the community of South Boston, but at the time after the draft was abolished. You come back to, Jim, to the fact that he said he was against Head Start, voting for Head Start because of funds and funding. You know, those... I don't think those are actually going to put it to rest. It's not going to be resolved on his issue, but I think it has hurt already. His environmental record and his gun record, cop killer bullets and the plastic guns has already hurt in California.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Paul, that he has got a problem here with his record?
PAUL GIGOT: The ERA, I mean, Mark says it's a dead issue and we're redebating it.
MARK SHIELDS: Just his answer.
PAUL GIGOT: What he said is that he was worried about women in combat. I agree with Mark, that Dick Cheney's political muscles are a little bit flabby. You know, he hasn't been in the political arena for a while. And there is kind of a "gotcha" quality. What about this vote, what about that vote? And he's not up to speed on a lot of that stuff. And it did catch... he was caught off guard. But look, the caricature of Cheney and his voting record is over the top. I mean, this guy was Obi-Wan Kenobi on Monday and now he's Darth Vader. They're making him sound like Newt Gingrich, and that's because the Democrats are frustrated. They're frustrated because their base is not as enthusiastic about Al Gore as Republicans are about Bush right now. Gore is only getting about 80% of Democrats, Bush is getting 90+% of Republicans. They need to motivate that base. Right now fear is not one of those motivations. So you take Cheney and you say look at this horrible voting record and you caricature it and say he is against Nelson Mandela being released from prison, which is playing the race card, let's face it. And so you try to demonize him that way. But I don't think it going to work because it was so over the top.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, what about the vote that Cheney made on Nelson Mandela? Is that a fair shot against him now?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it was a fair shot, Jim. I mean there's no question. I mean Dick Cheney has a point of view, a point of view he represented in Congress, a point of view he believes as CEO of Halliburton and that is he is against unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States. He has been fighting, of course, and urging his party and the government of the United States to remove all sanctions from Iran. I mean, that's been part of his governing philosophy. But I think there's no question that was not about sanctions. That was about urging the South African government to free Nelson Mandela and to bargain with the ANC. And that's where Dick Cheney parted company and again was in a very, very small group of people. Jack Kemp, the last Republican candidate for Vice President was one of the champions and leaders in that whole Mandela movement and sanctions against South Africa.
JIM LEHRER: So you're not saying it's unfair are you, Paul, to raise this?
PAUL GIGOT: I think that the way it was raised, actually, is unfair, because the implication is, look, Jesse Jackson raised it as a Rainbow Coalition Operation PUSH meeting with Al Gore by his side. And it was deliberately designed to say Dick Cheney is anti-black. Everybody who knows Dick Cheney knows that that simply isn't true. This is about motivating the Democratic base, which right now is not motivated.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, we've got many opportunities next week to talk about this, and many other things, and I'll see new Philadelphia on Monday. Thank you both.
PAUL GIGOT: See you then, Jim.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.