SHIELDS & GIGOT
JUNE 20, 1997
This week's Political Wrap focuses on House Speaker Newt Gingrich's leadership woes and President Clinton's new initiative for improving race relations.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, for more on this and the rest of the week's politics we turn to our regulars: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, how serious are--is this rift or these rifts on the Hill among the Republicans?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
June 16, 1997:
Shields & Gigot discuss the disaster relief bill battle and its reflection on the Republican leadership.
July 3, 1997:
Join us for a special forum with members of the President's new race relations advisory panel.
For more segments with Shields and Gigot, browse the Shields and Gigot Index Page.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Among the Republicans? Maybe more serious than the ones between the Republicans and Democrats. I mean, Newt Gingrich has liked to praise Peter Drucker, the management guru. I think he ought to bring Drucker in to help the Republicans. They are not getting along, the leadership. I mean, there are a couple of problems. One is a broader point about the down side of being a congressional majority. You don't have a leader in the Republican Party anymore.
Newt Gingrich has been decapitated in some respects as the leader he was two years ago. They don't have the White House. They don't have the bully pulpit. And that's a generic problem that would afflict them no matter what happened. The other problem is management. They're really not--the leadership has ceased to function. They can't agree among themselves. They were blaming each other this week and last for mistakes. A couple of the people of the leadership told me that the leadership had become a focus group. They didn't make decisions, but they seemed to be gathered so that Newt Gingrich could bounce ideas off of, and then he'd go off and make a decision on his own when they all had thought that something else had been done. So there's no coherence.
There's not a lot of cohesion. It's not about ideology. There's no great philosophical dispute here. It's about competence.
MARGARET WARNER: So all these juries that say the conservatives are upset with Newt, that isn't really it?
PAUL GIGOT: I think that's a great Democratic spin because the Democrats want to make it look like Newt Gingrich, the radical we told you about last year, is now moderate. They're really running off the rails. But I think it's much more about can you trust the leadership to be consistent; can you trust the Speaker to stick by his story? Michael Dukakis said it's not ideology; it's competence. And in this case that's what it is.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you read it, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, Margaret, to put it in context, let's remember 1997 was supposed to be the summer of the Democrats' discontent. We had independent counsels; we had grand juries; we had Senate hearings on campaign finance high jinks, and what's the story? The story is the President of the United States is in Denver, where instead of being lectured by the G-7 countries, he's taking bows; he's crowing about the American economy, and the Republicans are in disarray here in Washington. It's a total turnaround.
It--I tink if you look at it, the Gingrich problem, the five Republican House leaders met for dinner last night, according to Paul, and just the five of them and their food tasters. (laughter among group) I think it's fair to say right now that Bill Clinton is Newt Gingrich's strongest supporter. Bill Clinton, the President of the United States, needs Newt Gingrich because he feels that Newt Gingrich can lead the Republican House. It's a--Paul's right--it's a very fractious House. It's a House that--where there are fault lines; where there has been a minority mind set for a long time, and it is tough to govern where compromise has been anathema. It's been a mantra against what you've done for a generation.
Now, in order to forge a consensus, to pass legislation, you have to do some compromising. And I think that the President understands if he's going to have any kind of a record in 1997/1998, he has to have Newt Gingrich as his leader of that House to do it; that neither--the biggest thing that he's got going for him, quite frankly, that I think in my judgment the Speaker--because he does have problems--is that there is not a plausible universally acceptable successor to him. There's no Tom Foley, as there was waiting to replace Jim Wright in 1989.
MARGARET WARNER: Wright. That is something of what Newt Gingrich said in his interview with David Broder of the Washington Post; that he didn't see a serious challenge to his leadership. I mean, is that just bravado, or does he feel that confident?
PAUL GIGOT: I think that's right. There's nobody comparable to Gingrich the way Gingrich was the challenger to Bob Michel, three or four years ago, as the Republican leader in waiting, so there's no natural successor. And in that sense, that makes him somewhat more secure. I will say this though: One metaphor that was used this week about the Republican conference was that it was like a dry field. And if there's another big mistake, it could--and a match is thrown into it--it could really take off, and you could have a rebellion.
I think the acid test for Gingrich now is the tax bill because Republicans--if there's any issue on which they ought to be good and unified and be able to be Democrats--it's on taxes. And the President is saying--suggesting he's going to veto that bill. If the Republicans don't get a bill at the end of the process that they can claim credit for and their constituents can be pleased with, it's going to be very difficult for Newt Gingrich or the rest of the leadership to avoid, I think, a rebellion.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, go ahead.
MARK SHIELDS: I think the Speaker's problem is deeper than just legislation. He hasn't quite figured out a way to rehabilitate himself politically. He made two moves, I thought, that worked for him. The China trip worked for him. He seemed a commanding figure, almost an international figure. He went down to the Florida Everglades. I think that worked for him. He got very good coverage, and especially in the Southeastern United States. But somehow he hasn't been able to figure out a way to rehabilitate himself. I thought the interview with David Broder was revealing in the sense that he's blaming labor. Labor? Labor--influencing the Republican House caucus approaches that of the Bolshoi Ballet, for goodness sakes.
PAUL GIGOT: Not just labor; the media. He was blaming--
MARK SHIELDS: The media. He was blaming--
PAUL GIGOT: --conservatives. He was blaming everybody but the Speaker of the House.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right, and that unwillingness to accept responsibility and accountability. I mean, there's a lot of talk, especially sort of the conservative chant about accountability and responsibility, and I think it's time that the Speaker has to acknowledge that an awful lot of the problems he faces are those of his own making.
MARGARET WARNER: And do some of his troops see it that way, that he's not taking responsibility?
PAUL GIGOT: I didn't talk to any Republicans who were pleased with the interview today. I mean, that's what came out, that and a kind of nonchalance about it all. Well, we'll get over with--you all in the media are just playing this up. And it's true; that if they get some legislative accomplishments down the road here, this last episode will be forgotten by the voters. But they do have to get their act together.
MARGARET WARNER: Let's turn to the President's major initiative of the week, which was his speech about race, Mark. What do you think--what was he trying to do? And why now?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think Bill Clinton brings special credentials to any discussion on race. I mean, this is a white Southern Democratic politician who came out the time of the civil rights movement. That's when he became active politically, who has always been comfortable in the company of black Americans, and I think there's a couple of reasons. One, Margaret, you're never going to get on Mt. Rushmore with a balanced budget.
You might get the CPA green eye shade hall of fame, but that's not going to put you there. And I think there's also lingering, more than lingering, real substantial doubts in the American liberal community and the left of the Democratic Party and the left of the country about Bill Clinton on race after his signing of the welfare bill. And so I think that--I think there's a legacy factor here but I think there's also a rehabilitation factor of proving that he really does care.
PAUL GIGOT: Want something bigger than a balanced budget, which is now favored--you know--it's out of the Perot household by about two people. I mean, it's a great accomplishment. I think Mark put his finger on it on the welfare bill, though. I mean, Brownstein, a reporter for the LA Times, who's been on this program, had a very good piece this week in which he said that race has been this issue and the President's speech were different from a lot of the progress the President has made, movement in his administration. That's so much of where he's moved. It's been to the middle, recreating the vital center to the right on fiscal issues, on tax issues, on budget issues. Race has been the exception.
In 1992, he started out not as a traditional liberal position on race. He's moved back with this speech, I think, not from the middle, back to a more traditional Democratic understanding of racial issues, which is that discrimination is the fundamental root of our problem, that the government has to be the agent of amelioration through affirmative action and racial preference.
So I don't think he's creating with that speech the dialogue that he wants. I don't think it's commission. If you look at the makeup of the commission, it didn't include somebody like a Ward Connerly, who led the fight against racial preferences in California. It's going to be a monologue, so I don't--I'm not sure that what the President's good intentions--nonetheless--wanting for racial harmony--I don't think he's quite going to get that with this commission and with that speech.
MARK SHIELDS: I think it's going to be more than a monologue, and certainly the jury is out as to what the President does--Margaret, there are three enduring issues in American politics. There is war and peace; there's prosperity; and non-prosperity; and there's black and white. And yes, there's Asia now and this Hispanic, but it has been black and white and I think a president who's the tribune of the powerless and the tribune of justice, any president has to be that to fulfill the principal job description, then I think he has to address it. And you can't hide from it.
It is there, and I think it's a time--it's awfully important to celebrate the progress we have made as a people, which is an enormous progress. I mean, we really have in this country in the past half century in large part because of presidential leadership, because of the leadership of Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, and a handful of others.
MARGARET WARNER: But, Paul, he did also, did he not, put a big idea on the table, which was to say, you know, we never saw the black-white divide, and now we have a much more complicated issue before us, that is, in 50 years, there's going to be no majority race in this country?
PAUL GIGOT: He did put that issue on the table, and it's a reality we have to focus on, and in that sense, it's useful. But in doing that, I think--and it was good to do that in California, which is Hispanics are the number 2 minority in California--the main minority in California--so it's good to confront it there. But the interesting thing is when he addressed affirmative action, he didn't point out the fact that 26 percent of African-American Californians voted for the civil rights initiative barring preferences, 30 percent of Hispanic Californians did and 45 percent of Asian Californians.
They were doing that because I think they were saying you can't solve discrimination with discrimination. Yes, diversity is useful, but it's very hard to get toward racial harmony until you address that question, that fundamental division we have in our country, about this question of government preference in hiring and quotas and the rest.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We'll be back with that subject I'm sure again. Thanks, Mark and Paul.