March 10, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot offer assessment and analysis of the leading presidential candidates.
|JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, and now suddenly there are only two remaining. George W. Bush and Al Gore. What kind of campaign are they likely to run?|
|A bitter campaign ahead?|
PAUL GIGOT: I think a close one, Jim. I think it has all the earmarks of a very competitive election. You've got two parties that are at rough parity right now with one another. You have two candidates who are both -- one center left, one center right. Both have consolidated more or less, not completely in the case of Governor Bush, but more or less their bases. Now they have to reach to the middle. And I think that with no great overwhelming pressing issue, there's no war, there's no recession, there's no driving issue here -- I think -- in this election, I think you are going to see an awful tough race, often a mean race as both men go after one another and their records and their associations - President Clinton in Texas. It's going to be... It may not be edifying all the time but it might be entertaining.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree entertaining, not edifying, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I think Paul may have been easy his review, Jim. The one thing we can be sure of not that this race will be close, but that it will be long. I mean, this is going to be the longest campaign in American political history. And it will be... I agree with Paul, it will be relentlessly negative because each candidate quite frankly, having won his party's nomination by first attacking and criticizing and running against his principal opponent, will dance with the girl who brung him in the fall. I mean, that's the strategy that got each Bush and Gore to where he is today. Secondly I think the key point is when the economy is bad, the economy is the only issue in an American political campaign. And Paul's right. The economy is very good. So we're going to look for other issues. And I think one of them was raised today in a piece by Dan Balz and Tom Edsel of the Washington Post, who are frequent contributors to the NewsHour, when they quoted Congressman Tom Davis, the chairman of the House Republican Congressional Campaign Committee and he said the old Reagan coalition just doesn't get us a majority anymore. And I think that may be spreading the ugly truth. I mean, just as Democrats for the longest time were reluctant to accept the fact that the New Deal coalition was no longer operable and could no longer deliver a majority, I think that's the quandary and dilemma that confronts George W. Bush tonight and will in the months ahead.
|Gore's strengths as a candidate|
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let's go through each one of these candidates one at a time, strengths and weaknesses, beginning with Vice President Gore. After this primary run, what emerges, Paul, as his main strengths?
PAUL GIGOT: Peace and prosperity. Unless there's a stock market crash or some kind of global crisis, people are pretty happy. The electorate is fairly happy.
JIM LEHRER: And he gets credit for that because he's with the Clinton administration.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, he is going to say he deserves credit and he is going to try to take as much credit for it and Governor Bush is going to say no, it's a Republican Congress. And I happen to think, you know, that there is a lot of truth to that. But the voters usually give some credit to the person who is in office. So I think he is going to get credit for that. I think Gore probably is better in candidate skills than Governor Bush. He's more experienced. He has been through this before. He's got a more experienced team -- a very tough team. I mean the way they cut up Bill Bradley ought to give George Bush pause because they're going to come after him with the same kind arguments and the same kind of fervor. I mean, Gore is in a way incredibly disciplined, relentless, almost like a machine. You can come at him, stop him but he is relentless. And I think that that is going to serve him well as he gets into a campaign.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, what would you add or subtract in that list? We're talking about Al Gore's strengths?
MARK SHIELDS: Al Gore's strength, Jim, 4.1% unemployment versus 7.2 unemployment the last time there was a man named Bush in the White House -- a 3500 Dow Jones versus 10,000 -- biggest deficit in the nation's history then biggest surplus today. You can be sure if the unemployment was at nine today, Republicans would not be saying the Republican Congress deserves credit or blame for it. They would be saying it was Bill Clinton's fault. So the prosperity, the sense of three out of four Americans believing this is the best time in their life is a big thing going for him. He has been through the process before. Jim, everybody is a rookie at running for President. But Al Gore has been through two national campaigns, albeit not as the point man but he did run on his own before in 1988. And I think he is a more experienced and savvy candidate and he has a more unified party. Just watching the withdrawal statements of Bill Bradley and John McCain yesterday, you could see the difference. The Democrats are a more united party today than are the Republicans.
|Gore's weaknesses as a candidate|
LEHRER: All right, staying with you, Mark, on weaknesses, what are his
weaknesses coming out of this?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, his weaknesses are that basically people don't like Al Gore very much. And he's got to convince them that over the next four years you want to have him in your living room. He's also going to make a case that afflicts all Vice Presidents running to succeed the President under whom they've served, he has got to resolve that dilemma, which is things have never been better and I'm the only guy that can get out... us out of the mess we're in. In other words, he's got to have some message that goes forward. What is the difference - because people do want the Clinton era over. They don't want to the Clinton prosperity over; they don't want the Clinton policies dramatically overhauled but they want the Clinton era over. How does he do that?
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Okay. What would you add or subtract to that?
PAUL GIGOT: The Clinton albatross - the Clinton baggage - I mean, 61 percent of voters in California on Tuesday had a negative view of Bill Clinton as a person. Al Gore only got 17 percent of those voters. 80 percent of those voters went for John McCain or George W. Bush. Mark is right, voters do want the Clinton-Gore era - the Clinton years over with sort of the rancor, the partisanship and some of the ethical problems. So no controlling legal authority -- that's going to be a problem for him.
JIM LEHRER: That's what he said on the...
PAUL GIGOT: In defense of himself on campaign finance. Bill Clinton is one of our greatest -- will go down in history as one of our greatest Presidents during the day of impeachment. That's going to appear in multiple ads.
JIM LEHRER: Because that's what Al Gore said on the day he was impeached.
PAUL GIGOT: The day that Bill Clinton was impeached. And there are a lot of Americans who they like the prosperity, but they really do not want to be asked to ratify a third Clinton term. And that's in many ways what Bill Clinton wants this election to be about, is ratifying a third term for him through the vehicles his wife the Senate candidate and his Vice President.
|Bush's strengths as a candidate|
|JIM LEHRER: Okay. Let's go to George W. Bush.
PAUL GIGOT: He's likable. He's sort of a blithe spirit. Bob Dole was a more dour soul. And I think that particularly for a conservative, you got to have an optimistic outlook. That's was what made Reagan so appealing. And that's temperamentally what Bush is. He's an outsider. He is not part of this mess. He wasn't one of the impeachers. He wasn't part of the Congress. He can lay claim to an outside record to the Republicans who are the most popular Republicans in the country right now - who are not in Congress - have been governors. He can say I have a record of reform as a governor. And there are a lot of us out here. This is the kind of record in experience and governing philosophy will bring to Washington.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, he has got to recreate himself. And it's a real problem. He entered this campaign, Governor Bush, as I'm the change candidate. I am the person that's going to be different. I'm the fellow who is inclusive, I'm the person who's going to bring people together. I'm the compassionate conservative. He is no longer seen that way as we saw in the exit polls last Tuesday. He has changed constituencies in the middle of the race. He became the favorite of social conservatives. As Scott Reade, Bob Dole's campaign manager pointed out, it was bad for Governor Bush to have at 8:05 P.M., Reverend Pat Robertson virtually on every channel announcing his victory instead of the Republican National Chairman. That's not at message you want to have out front. But I think that the biggest problem he has beyond unifying his own party and -
JIM LEHRER: What about his strengths? We'll get to his problems -
MARK SHIELDS: His strengths are considerable. His strengths are that he comes from a solid state, a big state, he has a record he can talk about. He has the leadership of his party solidly behind him. He is a on a retail basis, that is a candidate dealing with individual voters in crowds and social and public situations, he's as good as anybody. He is as good as Bill Clinton which is high praise, believe me. And he does have, Paul is right, he has a resiliency, and upbeatness about him. There is not a scowl, that sort of "my jockey shorts are too tight" wince that conservatives so often effect, or grumpiness. And I think that in that sense he brings to it real strengths that his father didn't have.
|Bush's weakness as a candidate|
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Now do you want to finish your problems list?
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. The problems are, and I think the one and Paul and others and the conservative side have acknowledged it, alluded to, touched upon it, it is a little difficult, and that is when anybody runs for President, the first question that professional politicians ask about him or her is he heavy enough, is she heavy enough. That means are they a person of such heft - it isn't just intellectual but sort of a substance, the gravitasse of the person, and that is -- those are the doubts about George W. Bush that are left lingering from this campaign, especially as seen in the exit polls on Tuesday from the McCain voters. And I think that's something he has to resolve soon. I think he can.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that's his number one problem, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah. I do believe it's his biggest vulnerability. In the new ABC - excuse me -- NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, Gore beats Bush on experience 47-30. And that's really Al Gore's only big advantage. On everything else, they're very competitive and very equal. And governors often have to meet this threshold. I think he can do it by substance, talking about issues that people care about in a way that sounds credible, entitlement reforms, Social Security, education. That's one strength Bush has. He can talk about those issues -- traditionally Democratic strongholds, Democratic strengths in a way that most Republican candidates haven't been able do. But he has to do that... and there's a lot of talk right now that he should probably take Al Gore up on that offer of maybe doing some more debates.
JIM LEHRER: He has to do a lot of them -
PAUL GIGOT: To show head to head he can compete.
|The exiting candidates|
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Before we go and briefly here the two men who dropped out this week, Mark, John McCain and Bill Bradley. First McCain. What did John McCain leave as a legacy behind him?
MARK SHIELDS: There were two things I think. He has changed the language of our politics. I mean people today talk about Bush voters or Gore voters. They talk about the McCain vote. It's this new constituency that nobody really... everybody wants -- nobody is exactly sure. And, Jim, before John McCain's campaign, reform, particularly campaign finance reform was a goodie-two-shoes idealistic, naive issue. And he put it on the map as they won their nominations, Al Gore and John McCain were trying mightily to identify as reform candidates and George Bush is trying to decide right now how far can he go on reform. Can he go where his father is who wants to abolish soft money -- publicly has stated so -- to win John McCain's support and that of his backers?
JIM LEHRER: Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: He opened up the reform message, it's true. I'm not so sure, as Mark is, that it is campaign finance reform because most of the people I talked to, you know, had a more general description of that word. But I think a lot of it is personal. A lot of his legacy is personal because those five million votes he got, which are extraordinary, so many of the people were voting for him, I think, his unique character, his unique biography. I think he opened up for us this year, he showed us how much the voters really want a President again that they can admire, somebody they can really look up to. I think that's a big part of it.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We didn't get to Bradley but we will before this world ends. Thank you both very much.