July 30, 1999
Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and syndicated columnist Mark Shields discuss the Senate tax plan, the Reform Party convention, and new campaign tactics by presidential hopeful Lamar Alexander.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, Shields and Gigot, political analysis by syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, tax cuts - in the final analysis, everyone stuck to their guns. The compromise did not work. The confrontation is now in place.
|A failed compromise|
MARK SHIELDS: The confrontation is in place, Jim, and the President as recently as has assured the Democratic leadership that nothing over $300 billion in tax cuts will see his signature at any point this year. And the analogy has been made that maybe that Bill Clinton will go back or will cut a deal like he did on welfare reform in 1996. The difference, of course, the case is made, is that this is not 1996 which is an election year and he wasn't coming off then 1994 whomping where the Republicans won the House and the Senate so that that sense of urgency or need is not present and the Democrats expect the President to stick to his guns.
JIM LEHRER: And the Republicans will stick to their guns. They don't have any reason to make a compromise, do they?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, not in the short term. They'll send a bill up. He'll veto it and then they'll decide if they'll send another bill up. But I'm not so sure that Mark is right about the final outcome here, and I say that for two reasons having to do with Democrats. One reason is Al Gore came out this week with a tax cut of his own. It's under $300 billion. It's targeted but he did come out with it. And that suggests that he thinks that there's some reason to be seen as not against tax cuts. The other thing is the Democrats in the Senate. Four of them voted for the Republican bill this time. Eight of them were working on a compromise bill that was up to $500 billion with John Breaux of Louisiana. And Bob Torriccelli told me today, a Democrat who voted for the tax cuts, of New Jersey, said that he thinks 10 to 15 Democrats would be willing to vote in the end for a tax cut up to $500 billion if it resembled -- if it was closely related to what some of the policies were in the Senate tax bill. So I don't think this is over. And I think it depends on the polls at the time that this goes to a final conclusion later in the autumn.
MARK SHIELDS: On the subject of the polls I thought it was very telling in the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll yesterday, they listed five items that they wanted Congress to address: HMO, Patients' Bill of Rights, Medicare, education, tax cuts finished last among all Democrats. Three percent of Democrats listed tax cuts. They finished first among Republicans - 32 percent of Republicans named tax cuts ahead of education, ahead of Medicare, anything else -- the point being each party's playing to its base right now. Republicans are playing to their base. It's a unifying theme for Republicans at a time when the party has been fractious and there hasn't been much unity.
JIM LEHRER: And that sets up actually something of substance for the candidates to debate in the presidential election in the year 2000, does it not?
PAUL GIGOT: It sure does.
JIM LEHRER: And that's a real difference between the two parties.
PAUL GIGOT: It is, although there is some thinking among Democrats that maybe if you could get some kind of bill signed-- this is not House Democrats who don't want anything done because they think they can win the House back-- but the Senate Democrats -- particularly some of those that are running in 2000 like Bob Kerrey think it wouldn't be so bad if you could take this issue off the table. So, again, I think that calculation has to wait and see at the time the bill goes up to Clinton or they negotiate on the budget in October.
Sold to the highest bidder?
JIM LEHRER: Well, we'll see how it plays out. Speaking of 2000 politics let's take a look at a Lamar Alexander ad that's now running in Iowa.
SPOKESMAN: This just in: The Iowa caucuses have been canceled. An auction is underway on the White House lawn.
SPOKESMAN: 25 now 30 now 45 now 50 million bid here-
SPOKESMAN: The nomination is going to the bidder with the most tax.
LAMAR ALEXANDER: (ad) I'm Lamar Alexander. The presidency ought to be about raising children and farm prices and standards, not just raising money. I've been all over Iowa because the presidency is too important to be bought or inherited. It ought to be earned.
JIM LEHRER: Now I think it appears to me, Paul, that that commercial is aimed at George W. Bush. Didn't it look like Texans there throwing their money down.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. It sure was.
JIM LEHRER: That's a very direct assault on George W. Bush.
PAUL GIGOT: It is and it's funny. It's witty. For Lamar Alexander it's an act of-- I guess you could call it unquiet desperation. He's afraid of being run out of the caucuses and the campaign after the straw poll in August, and it's picking on an issue which he thinks can work. I'm not so sure it can, frankly. Lamar Alexander would love to be in a position George W. Bush is if he could raise all the money that George W. Bush has. He's not a very good messenger for that message so I'm not so sure that it is going to work.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about that as an issue, Mark, against George W. Bush. Nobody has been able to raise anything yet. Of course we're not really into it but everything has gone his way. The only one they have is this one, is it not, whether it's Lamar Alexander or eventually somebody else saying George W. Bush is buying the White House.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it's hard to make the case. Necessity is the mother in this case of imagination because Lamar Alexander doesn't have particular credentials on this issue. After 1996 he called for raising the amount of contribution limits for individuals, he was for bringing more money in.
JIM LEHRER: Forget Lamar Alexander. As an issue against George W. Bush.
MARK SHIELDS: Against George W. Bush. I don't think it works in a Republican primary quite frankly against George W. Bush unless there's the suggestion or at least some circumstantial evidence that George W. Bush saw that money has taken a position. I don't think the idea that he has collected and raised that money is it. The problem the Republicans have, whether it's this issue or what, is, remember the children's fable about who is going to bell the cat, the mice thinking does this cat that is coming, who is going to put the bell on the cat. That's where the Republicans are right now. Who is going to bell the cat who is George W. Bush? All the others are mice. And they're terrified of him. They're waiting for one person to go in there and they're afraid he might get his head bitten off. And Alexander has taken that risk. But will it be Steve Forbes? Who is it going to be?
PAUL GIGOT: Jim, there's another problem. And that is it's not really true. He's not buying the caucuses. This isn't money raised from Buddhist temples. This isn't money raised from overseas Chinese. This is money raised under the current rules.
JIM LEHRER: $1,000 a shot.
PAUL GIGOT: Maximum -- $466 is the average contribution. He's following the rules that Lamar Alexander would love to be able to exploit if he had the ability or the appeal to exploit it. So, I don't think it's going to resonate with Republican voters out there.
JIM LEHRER: What about in a general election against a Democrat, Al Gore or Bill Bradley?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there has to be the quid pro quo. There has to be the sense that George W. Bush has been soft on polluters, he's been indifferent to poor children. He hasn't -- the children of Texas are uninsured. I mean, there has to be that connection where H.M.O.'s --
JIM LEHRER: It's because he took these contributions from these people, that's why he takes this position.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. The value of the primary -- is very simple: Remember in 1988 Michael Dukakis and the Willie Horton ads that we used against him in the fall that he had given as Massachusetts governor or allowed a weekend pass to go to the rapist/murderer who did it again -- because that issue had been raised in the New York primary against him by Senator Al Gore, Republicans had a certain legitimacy in saying we're not making this up, this was raised by Al Gore in New York in April. So the issues that are raised against George W. Bush now are not dirty politics if the Democrats then revisit them in the fall of 2000.
PAUL GIGOT: The candidate, I'm assuming Al Gore is the candidate -- if Bill Bradley is the nominee, then he might have some standing -- but if Al Gore is the candidate who said no controlling legal authority and has the Buddhist temple history and raised money for Bill Clinton the way he did, you know, coming close to having an independent counsel named against him is not going to be able to carry that message against any Republican whether or not it's George W. Bush.
|Who will lead the Reform Party?|
JIM LEHRER: Still on presidential politics. The Reform Party convention last weekend, what's happening to the party that Ross Perot founded? Paul.
PAUL GIGOT: I think it's splintering, it's blowing apart, Jim. I mean, I think they're looking for a horse, somebody to carry them, somebody new after Ross Perot. Jesse Ventura seems to be the likeliest candidate -
JIM LEHRER: The governor of Minnesota.
PAUL GIGOT: -- the governor of Minnesota, but he said he's not going to run in 2000. He just won in 1998. I think you're seeing what's happening to Reform is what happens to most third parties in American history. They put an issue on the table -- in 1992 it was the balanced budget. And the parties adapt. They co-opted. We've got a surplus now. That issue is gone. There's nothing galvanizing or unifying the Reform Party right now. There's really no real message. What they've got is a great irony for a party which claims to be against money and politics. What they've got is $13 million.
JIM LEHRER: Explain why they have $13 million.
PAUL GIGOT: Because they did well enough in the last election.
JIM LEHRER: Perot did.
PAUL GIGOT: Perot did that under the campaign finance laws they are now guaranteed, their nominee is guaranteed.
JIM LEHRER: If they can just find one.
PAUL GIGOT: If they can find one. If that didn't exist, they would be as irrelevant as Howard Phyllis's Taxpayers' Party.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Mark, that a third party in this country has its moment and its issue and when that moment and issue goes, it goes too?
MARK SHIELDS: Unless, of course, it's the Republican party -- in 1860 -- which emerged out of the -
JIM LEHRER: You really reached for that one.
MARK SHIELDS: The Whig Party came asunder on the issue of slavery. And the Democrats and the Whigs couldn't merge -- the Republican Party elected the President and became the dominant party in the country for the next three quarters of the century. Nobody else won the presidency save two Democrats in that entire 70-year span.
JIM LEHRER: A lot of people forget also -- to interrupt for a second -- that Ross Perot was near 40 percent in the polls when he first pulled out that first in '92.
MARK SHIELDS: That's exactly right. Things happened. Paul is right. The issue emerges and the two parties are two parties, whether it's the populist issue, the agenda in the late 19th century which the Democrats expropriated, direct election of Senators, personal income tax, a whole host of reforms-- taming the corporations-- which the Democrats made part of their agenda. The fact is, Jim, that absent sort of a sense of social unrest or unease at an issue, there is no third party movement. In 1992, Ross Perot got one of the five votes. On the election day of 1992 by a margin of 4-to-1 people thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. Four years later the same Ross Perot got one out of ten votes. At that time people felt that (a) the deficit is going down, as Paul mentioned but the economy was better. And there wasn't that need for it.
PAUL GIGOT: Jim, the need for an electoral college majority also makes it much more difficult for us to have a multiparty system. So, unless you can blow away -- a third party can blow away one of the other two parties, it has a very hard time surviving because we have the system that pushes us to the majority and two factions which each want that majority.
JIM LEHRER: Explain to me why though every poll also shows unrest with the political parties. People don't have any - in fact, there are fewer and fewer people are identifying with the two political parties. There are more and more independents than there have ever been. You would think that would give traction to a third party.
MARK SHIELDS: I simply would say this: There is an anti-politics. You have to have two things. You have to have some ideological galvanizing point. I'd say right now it's probably conservative Republicans who are most publicly angry -- Bob Smith, and Pat Buchanan, Gary Bauer and those people. And then there's the discontent with the public, the political world - the elitism of it, the aloofness of it -- the sense of the status quo, that they're interested in preserving their own privileged conditions.
JIM LEHRER: Or they have to have a really strong candidate, right, some personality?
PAUL GIGOT: A personality could do it in this age of celebrities. I think Jesse Ventura's personality did that in Minnesota. He was the force of his personality. There's the tinder there for a third-party candidate but not the issue right now.
JIM LEHRER: And we have to leave it there.
MARK SHIELDS: Love me tinder.
JIM LEHRER: Good-bye.