June 30, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss Ralph Nader's candidacy and key votes in Congress this week.
MARGARET WARNER: And that's syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. All right.
First, gentlemen, Ralph Nader -- he's turning into a somewhat significant factor in campaign, isn't he?
PAUL GIGOT: For me, single biggest surprise so far of the election. Usually in times of prosperity and peace like we have, you don't see third party candidates who are making inroads -- just not enough reason to do it. But Ralph Nader is surprising. He is outpolling Buchanan by two to one nationally. He's scoring in some states -- West Coast, upper Midwest, New England -- very well, even approaching 10 points in California. So he's giving a lot of people in the Gore campaign some real heartburn because their assumption and the polling suggest they're right, coming right out of Al Gore because it reflects Gore's inability to coalesce his liberal base. He is only getting 79 percent of all Democrats, something like that; Bush is getting 90 plus percent of Republicans. It's a problem for Al Gore.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think Nader is doing as well as he is, at least at this stage?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think it's just the Green Party. It's a blue-green party. It's blue collars as well. Paul talks about the upper Midwest, you're talking about places like Michigan. And among the labor-liberal-left of the Democratic Party there is a sense of disappointment that the Clinton years have become in Ralph Nader's phrase sort of "too chummy" with the corporate powers of the country. As one Democrat said to me this week, we have two have two Republican parties divided by the issue of abortion.
So you have dissatisfied folks. When Ralph Nader makes the point that here we are in this incredible prosperity and we have higher child poverty by a significant factor than we had in this country in 1960 when the economy was probably one-fifth or one-fourth the size it is now. I mean, that strikes a responsive chord with a lot of people who consider themselves Democrats and who care about such things.
MARGARET WARNER: I was also struck by what he said to Jim and then we watched John McCain -- when they both talked about the corrupting influence of money in politics, they sound a lot alike, don't they?
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah. They both hit the theme, there's no question. But I think as voters, a lot more of those voters tend to be Democrats -- the voters who respond to that theme. And those are the people that Nader is really going right at. I agree with Mark. There's no question a lot of liberals who feel that, you know they put their principles in a blind Clinton trust the last seven, eight years, and what do they have to show for it? Welfare reform, NAFTA, capital gains cut in taxes, China -- I mean things that I support but not necessarily, you don't vote for a Democrat for President, particularly the first two-term Democrat since FDR. That's what you get. And there is that frustration that has been building.
MARK SHIELDS: I think that's right. I guess what I would add to it, Margaret is Ralph Nader has the advantage as all independent or third party candidates. He doesn't have to worry about putting together 51%. I mean, that interview he gave with Jim, he was straightforward. It wasn't a question of do I have to calibrate it for this crowd or that crowd, and so, as a result, he is a more effective candidate, contrasted with Bush and Gore who equivocate just a little bit and kind of trim just a little bit to keep this constituency happy and not alienate that one. There is something endearing and appealing about someone who just says this is what I believe.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, he was also very honest to Jim when he said my aim is to -- essentially -- to have influence on the other two parties. Do you think in this election he may have influence on Gore and the Democrats? In other words, is Gore going to feel he has to trim a little and move over to the left a little, or just let those people go?
PAUL GIGOT: He may very well. There's a lot of discussion now that I hadn't heard before that Dick Gephardt, for example, is somebody -- loved by labor, the people Mark talked about, to be a... -- could be a Vice Presidential candidate for Al Gore. Now, why is that? Because Al Gore needs to get some of those Democrats he is not now getting. Now, I don't have any inside information saying that that is who he is going to appoint, but that's the kind of calculation now that Gore has to make -- whereas before he would have been able to say let's go for a governor from Georgia; let's go for a Senator from Florida. Now he has to think maybe I need to go the to left base.
MARK SHIELDS: More than ideological, I think it is logistical. I mean, the Gore campaign -- Democratic candidacy assumed California. Now if you've got Ralph Nader out there and California becomes in play and George Bush says he is going to devote time and efforts, even if it isn't, it means the Gore campaign then has to devote more time attention and effort to California.
MARGARET WARNER: And money.
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah.
|Campaign finance reform|
All right. Now let's go to the second piece we just saw. And explain why
after resisting campaign finance reform for years, both the House and
Senate overwhelmingly passed this particular bill.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, two reasons: One, John McCain routed Tom DeLay. As one House member said, if it's a fight between John McCain and Tom DeLay, I'm going to go with McCain, by and large. Particularly, and this is a second reason, it's a very narrow thing that they passed. I mean this is one tax provision, one loophole, and it's disclosure about that. So in the end, it's not that big a deal. I mean, certainly John McCain can take credit for getting it through. But in terms of its impact politically, it's really very small. I mean, if the campaign finance system is water rolling downhill, they dammed up one little corner of it, and my guess is it will find a way to get through elsewhere.
MARGARET WARNER: So, what, a freebie vote?
MARK SHIELDS: No. It wasn't a freebie vote. It was - I'll tell you -- there is a sea change in my judgment on this issue. I say that for one reason, Margaret. This is the first time in 21 years that the Congress of the United States has voted to pass campaign finance reform. In 1974, when that historic bill after Watergate was passed, it did two things: it basically limited the amount an individual could contribute. And it also demanded full disclosure of that person who is making the contribution. What 527s did because of a loophole in the tax law, they not only made contributions unlimited -- they made the contributors anonymous and they conferred a tax break as well.
Now, there are limits of shame, and finally I think the Congress reached it on this one. But Paul is right. Harry Reid, the Democratic whip, Senate whip from Nevada, said John McCain deserves credit. Most people who run for President and lose, as John McCain did, are diminished, their stature, their influence. John McCain, Mike Castle, the Republican Congressman from Delaware, former governor... he said to me John McCain is now the most popular figure in the country and a force within the Congress. He switched votes. He changed votes. He drove the Republican leadership bananas, both Trent Lott and Tom DeLay in the House. And the key is there are 150 requests right now, personal requests, from the Republican candidates beseeching John McCain to come into their district.
MARGARET WARNER: There was a little bit of incumbent protection here too, wasn't it, I mean, because a lot of them are getting hit.
PAUL GIGOT: Before we get carried away with the epic scope of this. I mean, what happened was there are some Republicans who said, all right, we're going to do disclosure, let's expand the base of disclosure, not just to this one provision, but let's do it to a couple other provision in the tax code that allow people to organize and also not disclose their donors. Pat Robertson, Christian Coalition, some of the people on the Right-To-Life Committee and some of these Democratic groups called up and said wait a minute. We don't want to do that... and that's when they decided, okay, we'll go behind this narrow 527 bill. We don't want to take care of all issue advocacy, all independent expenditures, so I don't think this is a sign of the wave of the future.
MARK SHIELDS: Margaret, just one little thing, and that is 36 Republican Senators including everyone running for election, add eight, 44, changed their position on this issue. They voted one way two weeks ago -- they voted this way. Now, candidates don't do that, because if somebody on the other side, they can just say he's a flip-flop, a shilly shally. You don't want to do that; the only reason you do it is if you think you are ego going to be on the wrong side and it's going to hurt you.
|Prescription drug benefit vote|
All right. Before we go, the other big news on the Hill this week was
that the House passed narrowly a Republican designed version of a prescription
drug benefit for the elderly. President Clinton said he is going to veto
it because it's a fraud. Is this election-year politics, or do you think
we'll see something?
MARK SHIELDS: It's a sham, hoax and fraud.
MARGARET WARNER: Not quite that brief.
MARK SHIELDS: Republican pollsters were told, the leadership is boasting the fact they came up with a $40 billion Medicare and to have conservatives boasting about a $40 billion Medicare add-on is impressive and to have it applauded by all sorts of conservatives.
PAUL GIGOT: Not by me.
MARK SHIELDS: I have to say that the problem is that they've made this... tried to privatize it with private insurance. The only problem is the insurance companies don't want to write the insurance to cover it because they're scared stiff the cost is going to go through the roof, they're going to have to raise premiums, they're going to be the bad guys and there's not going to be any profit.
PAUL GIGOT: Democrats figure they lost the plus 60 vote, 54-44 in 1998. That's probably the one reason they didn't take back the House in 1998. They think the prescription drug issue is the key to taking back the House. Republicans have sensed that, and it's a very popular issue - what they told their leadership was we need to vote on something, so they came up with this kind of -
MARK SHIELDS: Jury-rigged
PAUL GIGOT: It's a jury-rig, but it's sort of entitlement-light is what it is. It's me, too, politics, and the gamble is, and they're playing with fire here, their gamble is the Democrats so much want the issue that they're not going to... that the President will not sign it. If President Clinton were smart, he would call their bluff and take what they've got and get the camel's nose under the tent in terms of policy. But the President so much wants the issue you, too, because they think it is great for Gore and the Congress, that, I think they're going to continue to fight about it and probably this is going to help Republicans because now they have this vote for cover.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think it inoculates Republicans?
MARK SHIELDS: No, I don't think it inoculates Republicans. I think they were under a lot of pressure and Paul is right. They heard from their own pollsters and Glenn Bulger among others, you have to do something. People don't think you stand for anything, you're not interested in them. So stand for something, and that's how they came up with this, and they came up with it under great pressure. I don't think it will stand scrutiny. How unsure they were of themselves -- the House Republicans -- they would not let the House vote on the Democratic plan. That's the historic -- on non-revenue bills, non-tax bills, you let the other side have their vote. They didn't. That just shows a certain nervousness and anxiety.
MARGARET WARNER: Aren't some Democrats a little nervous, though that the Republicans might have stolen the march on them on this?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think they're worried that it's not going to be as an effective an issue for them, because in fact they're going to now campaign against these Republican incumbents and try to depose them on this issue and they're going to say "hey, I voted for a plan." Now, it's different than that plan. But how many voters get down to the second and third level to say wait a minute, is it Part D and what is my 135% of poverty. It just isn't. This is the kind of politics that Bill Clinton has played very effectively on tax cuts, and a variety of other things, what the Republicans are doing on health care.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thanks Mark and Paul. Have a great weekend.