March 5, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot analyze the fallout from the Lewinsky interview and preview the candidates for the upcoming presidential race.
JIM LEHRER: First, gentlemen, this week's Monica Lewinsky spectacle, the interview and the book. Mark, did they advance our knowledge of anything important, in your opinion?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, Jim, they did. They advanced my knowledge that the American people. The Republicans had been insisting that the American people were interested in this whole impeachment thing. The American people said they weren't, and the Republicans were right and the American people were lying, obviously they set a new record for a news show and the number of people who watched. But I don't think it changed things substantively, but still it was a big turnout.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Over 70 million, according to the surveys.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, what's your assessment?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, the President said today that the American people desperately wanted to get this behind them, and so I guess he meant all 74 million. I agree with Mark on than point. I think though that this -- it looks like Monica Lewinsky's going to trail the President's legacy around like tin cans behind an automobile. It's just got to be excruciating for him to have no know that the public is paying attention to this, because she didn't come off -- she came off as girlish and immature and I think it had to make people wonder, what was he thinking?
JIM LEHRER: And then of course, Mark, as Paul says, it's going to travel. It's going to follow him around. There he is standing there with the prime minister of Italy today talking about this terrible tragedy with the ski gondola accident, and he has to talk about this interview.
MARK SHIELDS: No. Exactly, Jim. I think there's no question. They're joined at the hip, or at least metaphorically speaking, and I think that's going to be the case.
|Does Al Gore have a lock on the Democratic nomination?|
JIM LEHRER: Yes. All right, let's talk some presidential politics of the year 2000. There's a lot of things coming up this next week, more announcements of committees and all that sort of thing. And first of all, let's go through the Democrat -- start with the Democratic race. Paul, Vice President Gore, he only has one challenger right now and that's former Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey. What's your assessment at this early date of that particular race?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think the big story of the race so far on either side is the few challengers Al Gore has. He's been able to wrap up, unlike any nominee in recent history, all of the party interest groups. There really isn't a single one right now that, whether it be labor, the environmentalists or the feminists who aren't in substantial degree at least at the elite level, the activist level, in Al Gore's camp and it gives him a real sizable advantage, particularly with his fund-raising. So I think he has as much of an advantage over the Democratic field right now as any incumbent -- non-incumbent front-runner since Richard Nixon in 1960.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, why is he getting such an easy ride?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, since Alben Barkley was Harry Truman's vice president, he was the last sitting vice president who wanted his party's nomination who was denied his party's nomination. Paul mentioned Dick Nixon in 1960, then Hubert Humphrey in 1968 in an amazingly embroiled and embattled year, still, the nomination was his. In 1988, of course, it was George Bush's. So the vice presidency is a great place to seek that nomination from. I think his strength -- I have a little different take on it -- his strength is such that it has discouraged Dick Gephardt and Senator Bob Kerrey and Senator Paul Wellstone and Senator John Kerry from making the race, but in a strange way, his strength hurts him in the degree that if he has only one challenger, then that one challenger-- in this case, if it remains Bill Bradley, the former Senator from New Jersey-- becomes the repository of all dissatisfaction with the front-runner for any reason, whether it's a role in the administration -- whether they supported the president too strongly, didn't support him enough or whatever else. So I think in that sense, Paul, I can't quarrel with the points Paul makes with his ability to raise money. He's a serious and formidable candidate and plus he has the backing, make no mistake about this, of a President, who while he has 65 percent approval in the country, has 90 percent approval among Democrats -- Bill Clinton -- who has gone all out for Al Gore.
PAUL GIGOT: Jim, if there's a chance for Bill Bradley, I think it's the double-edged sword of being locked in Bill Clinton's car, if I can confuse the metaphors there.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, wow!
PAUL GIGOT: But I mean he's got the benefit, the good benefit of Bill Clinton that Mark says Bill Clinton really wants him to win, he's got the -- if the economy stays strong, that'll help him. But he's also had to defend the President and stay by him even all during the ethics turmoil of this presidency. And there is I think a kind of scandal fatigue on the part of the American public. I think that reflects -- you see that in the polls that show Al Gore trailing both Elizabeth Dole and George W. Bush. And Bill Bradley might be able to play off of that and say, "Look, I'm not part of this administration. I'm a Democrat, but I can do better and you won't have to worry about that with me, and I'm an outsider and I'm a grown-up."
|George W. Bush, the early leader for the GOP.|
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, look, let's talk about the Republicans here. We talked about George W. Bush last Friday night. Anything you want to add to that? He's still No. 1 in all the polls and all the lists. Do you think that's where he -- do you agree with that, first of all, Paul, that that's where he is?
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, I do agree with that, Jim. I mean he's got charisma, he's won in a big state twice. He's making an impression on Republicans who are going down to Austin, Texas, almost in pilgrimage fashion, a lot of conservatives and others who you think might be a little skeptical are coming back impressed with his instincts. They like what they hear. But I don't think this is, by all means, a done deal because he's also untested at the national level.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I think that I haven't seen a candidate in pain like this since William McKinley in Canton at the turn of the century when Republicans gave him -
JIM LEHRER: Canton, Ohio.
MARK SHIELDS: Canton, Ohio. Republicans came from across the country to his front porch there to visit him. Paul's right, it's almost a pilgrimage. It has a religious-like visit to him. People whisper, Republicans among themselves "I went down. I went down to see him. I spent 45 minutes with him." I mean, I don't know what's supposed to come -- and then there are baths in Austin I guess you take and then you leave feeling better. But there's no question, Jim, that what he has going for him, in addition to his own political skills, which are considerable, a proven record as a vote-getter in Texas and apparently a record that voters there approved of overwhelmingly, he was reelected. He has the yearning in that party, in the Republican Party, Jim. They've gone through blaming Bob Dole for 1996, they've blamed George Bush for 1992, did the Republicans, they are now blaming the customers, they're blaming the voters for our moral defects for not throwing Bill Clinton out. But now they've finally gotten to the point they want a winner. And they see the smell and the look of a winner in George W. Bush.
|Elizabeth Dole, the answer to the GOP's gender gap?|
JIM LEHRER: What about Elizabeth Dole, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, she has star quality, no question about it. There's also no question that her gender helps in a field of middle-aged white men. That's a unique trait and for Republicans who do want to win, I agree completely with Mark on that point, they see that she might have some appeal with women who they need to close the gender gap to be able to win in 2000. I think, though, that it's going to be interesting. She's doing very well in the polls now, but we're going to have to see how well she wears on the campaign trail. She tends by all accounts to be very programmed in whatever she does, down to the commas in her speeches. Everything has to be perfect. And up here in New Hampshire, when that -- when you get into the rough and tumble and Pat Buchanan is banging away at you and the press corps's yapping, it's pretty hard to keep that composure, and we'll see if she has that in her. It's going to be a difficult test.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, what would you add or subtract from that?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, Republicans have suffered at the hands of women voters and the idea of a serious Republican presidential candidate who's a woman has to be exciting to a lot of Republican women, a lot of Republican voters. Elizabeth Dole has two great strengths, as I see it: She has that institutional acceptability much like George W. Bush, I mean where the leadership of the party certainly is comfortable with her. But she also, not having ever been an office-holder in her own right with a voting record, has the opportunity to run somewhat as an outsider if she's comfortable in that pose in and in that to role. And I think that's sort of an intriguing possibility.
|Can Dan Quayle overcome the stereotypes?|
JIM LEHRER: All right. What about Dan Quayle, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Dan Quayle, for some reason, pays dearly having put family values on the national agenda. I mean it just shows how an initial impression, and the one of Dan Quayle, sadly for him at the 1988 convention as a deer caught in the headlights when he was surrounded by 3,000 reporters asking about his National Guard Service, has lingered in the American psyche. I think for Dan Quayle to prevail in this election and to overcome those stereotypes and caricatures of the late-night monologues, he needs an early big victory, and I think -- I wouldn't write him off by any means.
JIM LEHRER: Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: The only way Dan Quayle can get over that stigma is to win, and that means probably in Iowa or New Hampshire. He has to do it early, as Mark says. I think he's made the best start frankly, the most impressive start of all of the candidates so far just in terms of exceeding expectations. I mean, his delivery on television is much better, he's shown good instincts responding to the President's problems. He's been out front on taxes and defense, went over very well in Republican primary electorates. The problem is the Republicans want a winner and I think a lot of them are going to ask "Can Dan Quayle win?"
|John McCain, the war hero.|
JIM LEHRER: John McCain, can he win, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: I think he can. In a general election he would certainly be a formidable candidate against Al Gore but right now, the man is the message in the case of John McCain; that is, the man, the war hero, the prisoner of war of showing undoubted courage, and that personal story is going to be very powerful, particularly in the wake of this presidency. But I think what I am waiting to see is what is his distinctive message? Does he have one? Right now I just don't see that. He's sounding just like a lot of the others, and if that's your choice, then George W. Bush right now has a significant advantage.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, your take on John McCain.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, most compelling personal biography in the race, an intriguing figure, no doubt about it, runs the risk of being every Democrat's favorite Republican. I mean he's such an appealing figure personally. But I disagree with Paul, though. His message is different. I mean he goes to the Republican state convention in California last week and criticizes tax loopholes, says don't think that's tax reform -- goes after -- even though they provide a break, goes after corporate welfare. I mean this is a different kind of message coming from sort of a reform. That's where he's got to come. He's got to come -- the charisma, reform have to be the McCain message to win.
|Steve Forbes, Lamar Alexander, John Kasich and Pat Buchanan.|
JIM LEHRER: Now, Paul, quickly here, three at the time, Steve Forbes, Lamar Alexander, John Kasich.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, they're the second tier. Steve Forbes has money, he's going to have a lot of it, maybe 70 million. He's run once before. He's tried to appeal just beyond the Libertarians to the social conservatives. I think you have to take him seriously. I know Governor Bush is. Lamar Alexander is -- I mean his main asset right now is perseverance. He's been running at this since 1995 full time basically. He came close in New Hampshire in 1996, and he's parked in two states basically, Iowa and New Hampshire. But his problem I think is, again, if you want an establishment Republican with a chance to win, somebody who's held office, why not for Governor Bush? And John Kasich I think is youth energy. The problem he's going to have is a problem that John McCain and Lamar Alexander and Dan Quayle are all going to have, where do you get enough money to fight beyond the two early states?
JIM LEHRER: All right, those three and add Pat Buchanan, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay. Steve Forbes had the tax cut issue to himself in 1996, had a real saliency among voters. This year he's going to be inundated, has been inundated already with other people who want a piece of that tax cut action. And that's a great message in the Republican Party. But he has run before. That's an enormous advantage. Only preparation for running for President is to run for President. And so has Lamar Alexander. I don't know where Lamar Alexander's breakthrough will come. Jim, he came within 2,000 votes of winning the nomination in 1996. If he had finished second in New Hampshire ahead of Bob Dole, he would have become the establishment's means of stopping Pat Buchanan instead of Bob Dole. John Kasich, energy, enthusiasm, doesn't get credit for some reason among Republican voters thus far for the really terrific job he did on the whole budget and balancing the budget. But that's it. Pat Buchanan to me -- we began this decade with Bush against Buchanan in 1992. We're going to end it with Bush against Buchanan in 2000. I don't know. I'll say this about Pat Buchanan -- I like him for one reason: He doesn't go through the exploratory committee fiction.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. He just announced.
MARK SHIELDS: He just announced. He gets out there; he doesn't do the Dance of the Seven Veils. He says, "I'm in the race."
JIM LEHRER: Well -
MARK SHIELDS: And - oh, I'm sorry.
JIM LEHRER: We have to leave it there. We still haven't talked about Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes or New Hampshire's Senator Bob Smith and Paul didn't get to talk about Pat Buchanan, but we have a whole year to go.
MARK SHIELDS: I look forward to it.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.