SHIELDS & GIGOT
JUNE 7, 1996
Changing of the Guard: NewsHour regulars Mark Shields and Paul Gigot discuss Trent Lott's ascension to the Senate leadership, and how a balanced budget plays as an issue this election. Click here for a Kwame Holman segment on the Senate leadership race.
Look here for the NewsHours' special general election page.
And click here for coverage of Bob Dole's resignation from the Senate,and his "new image" as private citizen/presidential candidate.
JIM LEHRER: Now some end-of-the-week political analysis by Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, "Wall Street Journal" columnist Paul Gigot. First, Paul, the fact that Trent Lott is going to win on this vote on Wednesday, that's not in doubt, is it?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: No, I don't think it's really in doubt, Jim. In fact, before the vote's taken on Wednesday, I would suspect that maybe Thad Cochran will stand up in front of his fellow Republicans and say that in the name of Senate unity, umm, we ought to just make Trent leader by acclamation and I withdraw and throw my support to Senator Lott. That's what I expect to happen.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I've seen upsets before. I think Sen. Lott's the overwhelming favorite, no question about it. But I remember when Sen. Ted Kennedy lost his majority whip job to Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia in a major upset, and Sen. Kennedy stood up afterwards and said, I want to thank the 31 Democratic Senators who pledged to support my candidacy, I particularly want to thank the 23 who did vote for me. So anything can happen in a secret ballot, but I think Trent Lott's effectiveness within the Senate is demonstrated by the fact, Jim, that of the six Republican Senators from New England, and including Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and we saw in Kwame's piece, all six of them are publicly committed to Trent Lott, including John Chafee of Rhode Island and Jim Jeffords of Vermont, Olympia Snowe and Bill Cohen--
JIM LEHRER: Two of the most--these are all the most moderate Republicans.
MARK SHIELDS: Moderate Republicans.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Yeah. Well, okay, Paul, is it correct to say that this means a new generation of Republicans has taken over control of their party in the United States Senate?
PAUL GIGOT: I think, I think that's one of the things it means. You have the younger generation as Sen. Gregg said weaned in the House, hand-to-hand combat, now really that change has already taken place in the House, and now it's moving over to the Senate. It had to happen sooner or later. It also symbolizes the change South and West in the party. You may have after next year's election, you have a leader from Mississippi, you might have the whip, Don Nickles from Oklahoma, and the number three position could be Connie Mack from Florida, probably will be, and that's all sun belt politicians, that's the way the party has gone.
There will be a stylistic difference too. I think you have--Bob Dole was a leader who, he consulted people, consulted widely, but he liked to do it one on one. He liked to, umm, keep his, play his cards close, and then come to a position on his own, play strategy on his own. Trent Lott's much more of a hail fellow, well met, works the floor, if you watch the Senate, he's from the gallery, he's hitting up Senators all over the place, meets with groups. It's a different leadership style.
JIM LEHRER: But, but Mark, everybody says, in fact, it was said in the piece, in Kwame's piece, that Trent Lott's very combative, he came out of--Judd Gregg said, Sen. Gregg said this guy came out of combat, and yet, Sen. Daschle said I can work with this guy, whatever. How did--that doesn't seem to add up.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, he is--he is combative, there's no doubt about it, and he came--when you're in a minority status and Republicans in the House--I think it's during the period that Trent Lott was there from 1972 forward, were consistently a minority party. They were overrun.
I mean, they were just sort of appendages to the whole process, and, and it really did breed a certain solidarity, and here's a man who is whip, Jim, in the House, Republicans, and so little did he think of the prospects of Republicans ever taking over the House that he gave it all up, he would have been the next speaker, next--he was going to take over Bob Michels' place before Newt Gingrich got his job. He ran for the Senate, the 100th in the Senate where he'd have a chance, so I think--I really think that Trent Lott comes from a combative environment, that House experience, but on a personal basis, he is--he's likeable. He seeks out the common ground. Every Democratic Senator has told me how much they like him, even though they disagree with him.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, anything to add to that?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think Trent Lott comes out of that generation of Southern Republicans who started as Democrats. I mean, Thad Cochran is somebody who probably would have been a Republican 30 years ago. Trent Lott started as a Democrat. He worked for the chairman of the Rules Committee, the Democratic Chairman of the House Rules Committee back in the late 60's went back in 1972, changed his party loyalty, and won the seat when that--his former boss retired. So he comes out of that--the conservative Democratic movement sensibility that was seen--saw the Republican Party moving to change to become a majority. I think there's a little more intellectual self-confidence there.
There's a sense that history is on our side, that our ideas about tax policy and spending and smaller government, that the country is with us, so there tends to be more energy and more aggressiveness and a willingness to take it to the other side more.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
MARK SHIELDS: His predecessor in that seat was a segregationist Dixiecrat. I mean, that was not, that was not an intellectual--
JIM LEHRER: His seat.
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. Mr. Comer, the chairman of the Rules Committee, he was in the spirit of Judge Smith. I mean, that was when the Democrats in the House couldn't get control of the Rules Committee until Comer did leave, so that was the first national chairman they ever got.
JIM LEHRER: Now, staying in the Senate, Mark, one of the last things that Sen. Dole wanted was a vote on the balanced budget amendment. He got it. It was a symbolic vote. He lost, but did he get an issue? That's what he wanted. He wanted--
MARK SHIELDS: Sure. I think he had an issue. It's Bob Dole's. That's what Bob Dole stood for. Bob Dole has to run this campaign, it seems, on one of character, constancy, conviction. I'm a man of conviction. Bill Clinton's a man of ambition. That was the way Dole would like to have this race cast, and certainly there has been no issue in which Bob Dole has been longer, stronger than that, a fiscal responsibility, fiscal accountability. You're right. He didn't have a chance. As soon as Bob Packwood resigned from the Senate, that went to a vote, and was replaced by Democrat Ron Wyden. It was an empty gesture. But that's, that's an issue and the President, President Clinton came out and said it was a gimmick, so there's--there's an issue drawn between them.
JIM LEHRER: Is it a serious issue? Is it an important issue, Paul, politically?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think, in fact, it's actually settled, and the Republicans have won the balanced budget issue. That's why I disagree with Mark that this is going to be all that useful for Sen. Dole in the campaign. But this was--two years ago this was in doubt. But over time, the President finally decided that he was going to embrace the balanced budget. Granted, the balanced budget amendment is different, it's an enforcement mechanism. But once the President's saying in every speech, I'm for a balanced budget too, let's fight over how we do it, I'm not sure this is the issue that is going to win Bob Dole the presidency. He needs issues in which there's some disagreement. He needs people to think there's actually a reason to have this campaign. Right now there are too many people who think there's no difference between 'em.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, we talked about what the Senate Republicans at least, and the Senate generally, I guess, with a new majority leader, Trent Lott, if that who it turns out to be, and it looks like it will be, umm, what does the Senate lose by the departure of Bob Dole?
MARK SHIELDS: Uh, I think, I think Bob Dole is, is an authentic giant, I mean, I really do, and I don't think there's anybody. I talked to a number of Democrats this week about him, and from former Speaker Tom Foley to Senator Bob Kerrey, the leader of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. I mean, the way they speak of him, they speak of him in just absolutely glowing terms, speaking of his, not only his ability as a legislative leader, but their admiration for him as a man. His word is his bond, that he's as solid as gold, you can bank, take it to the bank and cash it, that he's, he's just a solid guy, that he's a man of unimpeachable integrity.
Those aren't words that you hear that often, Jim, and the irony is that Bob Dole is probably more respected in the Senate than he is anyplace in the country, and yet the institution which he leads is discredited or at least held in low repute in the country, so in other words, if you say those who know him best like him best, uh, if anything, that might be a, a blight or a smudge on his record in 1996, rather than a testimonial or a credential.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, umm, I think that if you had a secret ballot of Senate Democrats right now for President, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Bob Dole won that over Bill Clinton. He really is well liked on both sides of the aisle. I think in historical terms Bob Dole goes down in history with Everett Dirksen of Illinois and Robert Taft of Ohio, who has "the" most significant post war Republican Senators.
There are--their imprint on the institution, he's the longest sitting Republican leader in that body. He was a great legislator. He knew how to keep a coalition together. He could keep the people on the left, the liberal wing of the party, together with the emerging, growing group on the right, and lasted longer in that leadership position than a lot of people thought he would have. Umm, so I think his legacy is large. He was in the minority for a lot of those years, so his legislative record imprint is not as large as, as some--would have been if he was in the majority--but he's been a towering figure in that body, and, uh, he deserves respect for that.
JIM LEHRER: But he's--both of you all have said on this program before, Mark, that a legislator does not necessarily make a great candidate or even a great President.
MARK SHIELDS: Uh, no. The--I think that's true. I think it's certainly true that a legislator, an effective legislator doesn't make a great candidate because a legislator, what he's doing is assembling, if he's successful, a majority, and that means cutting a deal here, it means coaxing, caressing, cajoling, coercing all sorts of people for--to get behind--offering somebody else a little bit different, an appointment to West Point or somebody else a postmaster's job in the old days or whatever, and, and you don't do that in a presidential campaign. A presidential campaign is about bold stands and speaking and bright colors and so that isn't, that isn't something that the legislative experience well equips you for.
JIM LEHRER: But now we'll see, will we not, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think that's why--
JIM LEHRER: As a candidate.
PAUL GIGOT: --it was so important--
JIM LEHRER: We'll see Bob Dole as a candidate cleanly.
PAUL GIGOT: I think that's right. That's why it was so important for him, Jim, to leave the Senate, and I think it's--it's all the much more important for him to put his own imprint on this campaign, uh, to put his own imprint with his ideas, as he did this week, frankly, on--he began to try to get out ahead of the abortion issue, and, uh, begin to bring both sides together.
JIM LEHRER: He wants to--he said he--he wants to keep the pro-life part in the plank but he wants to say honest people or good people can disagree.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right, and it's still going to be a very difficult issue for the party. It's "the" most divisive issue that Republicans have, but it was at least an attempt to assert some leadership and to bring the competing wings of the party together. That's the kind of thing with the proposal on taxes, for example--
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
MARK SHIELDS: --that he's got to make to put his own stamp on the--on his agenda, set his direction.
JIM LEHRER: All right. I hear you. Thank you both very much.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.