November 24, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot survey the political landscape as the Florida recount goes into a critical weekend.
MARGARET WARNER: For the politics of all this we turn to Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
|The Supreme Court's acceptance|
So, Paul, the US Supreme Court ruling and how does it change the situation, the politics of all this?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think first of all it's a great relief to the Bush people because if the court had not taken it, it would have been a psychological blow; it would have meant that the final word in all of this would be -- legally speaking - would be the Florida Supreme Court, which dealt them a pretty big blow last week. So I think they're relieved in that sense.
I think there's a little awkward timing, though, for the Bush people. I think some of them wish that they might have waited to file their appeal until after they saw what happened in the hand recounts, which, of course, are supposed to finish at 5 PM on Sunday, because right now at the current pace it doesn't look like Vice President Gore is going to get enough votes in just Palm Beach County and in Broward County, if present trends continue. So you can see a certification on Sunday that certifies George W. Bush the winner and yet -
MARGARET WARNER: Including hand recounts.
PAUL GIGOT: Including the hand recounts. I think that - that might happen. You can look at the - that's why the Gore team is thinking - saying now they're going to contest the whole election in these other counties and try to find a new cache somewhere of these dimpled ballots in Miami-Dade or somewhere else. But, meanwhile, you've got that Supreme Court case hanging out there, which nobody, of course, knows what would happen. So the timing is a little awkward, but I think overall they're happy with it.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think this does to where everybody stands now?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, first of all, it takes a lot of pressure off Al Gore. Al Gore was facing a lot of pressure Sunday night if he did come up short. If he came up short, the twilight zone would have been if it had come up short - 100 votes short with Miami-Dade not having been counted. But if he came up five or six hundred votes short, there would have been enormous pressure on him from Democrats building, even his supporters, to say it's time to wrap this up. This obviously postpones that. Now, Katherine Harris is once again denied her poignant place in history to stand there and proclaim and start the celebration in Austin, so that's a big thing.
The other thing, Margaret, is that this whole process has been revealing. What we've seen more than anything else is a sense that the Republicans are more anti-Gore than the Democrats are anti-Bush. The Republicans really have lost any sense of proportion. I mean, not simply - J.C. Watts, ordinarily a very reasonable man, saying, cutthroat tactics of Al Gore, of George Will saying this is slow motion larceny. Bill Bennett saying this is stealing the election. Well, if they're stealing the election, they've done such a great job in Palm Beach County that they're 14 votes behind where they started. So -
MARGARET WARNER: Gore is.
MARK SHIELDS: Gore is. So, I mean, -- I mean, the charges are baseless and unfounded and it's - it's really an intriguing dynamic because the scorched earth rhetoric of the Republicans has left them in the position of having to claim victory in a - in a process that they have debased and discredited, so it's really remarkable.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, David Boies said to Ray and he said earlier today he hoped that by the Supreme Court taking this - though probably they're not delighted - but by the Supreme Court taking this and ruling that it will sort of put an end to this kind of rhetoric - to casting aspersions on the Florida Supreme Court that everybody would accept the US Supreme Court as an authority. Do you think that's the case?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it depends - yes. Well, the Supreme Court - what the Supreme Court says will be followed by all parties, I really do - I do believe that. But we don't know what they'll judge. If they could throw it back and say that the hand recount is valid but the legislature has a role, and, you know, and we don't want to deny that role, so we don't exactly what they're going to - how they're going to decide.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that the Bush folks - Ben Ginsburg did not answer the question when Ray asked him - but do you think that if the US Supreme Court -- just as - as a hypothetical -- ruled in favor of the Florida Supreme Court, essentially upheld the Florida Supreme Court in that decision -
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, that's it.
MARGARET WARNER: -- the Bush folks say that's it?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure. I mean - higher authority --
MARGARET WARNER: They wouldn't then go to - well, the House of Representatives -
PAUL GIGOT: No, no. The Florida legislature still may have a constitutional role -- if they rule that hand ballots are to be counted, then hand ballots are to be counted. I mean, but that doesn't mean the legislature couldn't play some other role in terms of if you have a contest between, say, Katherine Harris has certified the vote on Sunday and then hand ballots are counted later and you have two sets of - two different results. Maybe you have then two sets of electors and that's where the legislature could possibly play a role.
|The end for Gore's campaign?|
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that Al Gore - let's flip it around - what if the decision essentially slapped down the Florida Supreme Court and said, the Florida court shouldn't have gotten involved and we should have taken Katherine Harris' certification. I mean, does that end it as far as the Gore folks are concerned?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there will be strong pressure. I mean, the problem at a time like this -- and Paul, I can speak definitively -- is that the people who are arguing on your side for prudence and talking about your long-term interests are regarded by those most intensely passionate at the moment as disloyal, as somehow summer - sunshine patriots. They aren't the real, the real loyalists. The real loyalists say, let's go in, boss; let's take 'em on; let's take this on and, my God Almighty, we can't let the other side win.
And I think both sides will be - be hearing that - whether they heed it or not - but I think the political support is going to go. I mean, the Florida Supreme Court again, Margaret, the Florida Supreme Court we were told was stacked; it was a stacked decision. Then they refused Gore's appeal to mandate that Miami-Dade go to hand counting. Now, I don't know what happened to the stacking. Maybe they -
PAUL GIGOT: They had written expressly in their opinion that the discretion was in the hands of the counties on the recount. Even that inventive court couldn't overturn their opinion within 24 hours.
MARK SHIELDS: I see.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Give us a prediction. What do the Gore folks and Bush folks think will be the vote on Sunday? I mean, as things are - rather than getting into all the details of Broward and Palm Beach and what's happening there, in the end, what's the betting in terms of what the vote will be?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, a Bush -
MARGARET WARNER: At 5 o'clock.
PAUL GIGOT: A Bush source I talked to today that on present trends it looks like Al Gore will not have the vote, but I've learned not to trust anything in Florida in the last two weeks, so you never know if something happens over the course of the next 48 hours. I think the - what the Gore campaign expects can be inferred from the way they're talking about contesting the election. It means that they're going to try to open up the count in Miami-Dade. David Boies said Nausau County. It means that they think - I would infer from that, that they don't believe they have the votes in Palm Beach and Broward. They're going to try to find them elsewhere because the only way Al Gore can win this is if he finds a lot more dimples, a lot more pregnant chads, and they're not finding enough - got to find them somewhere else.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: Just as a one-man truth squad, there is no way you can take a ballot and put a dimple in it by waving it around, or by putting it on the table, or lifting it off the table. You have to put something to it to put that dimple in it, to push that chad in any way. It's just that simple. Now, it's the only way it can be done. It's nobody else is doing it. So, I mean, just so we don't talk in terms of -
PAUL GIGOT: You can take the stylus down the ballot and certainly press at a particular point and say, no, I'm not going to vote there, especially when you punched for Congress, for Senate, for the local ballot initiative and say, well, I'm not going to vote for Al Gore. You could be a Democrat who says, I want to vote - you know I'm a Democrat. I don't like Al Gore but I can't vote for Bush, I'm going to leave it blank, and maybe I've made an impression.
|The Miami-Dade protests|
MARK SHIELDS: I'd love to get that Temple mathematician who was on with Ray last night and talk about the likelihood of somebody voting Republican at every point for every office and just punching in George Bush and not going all the way through; it's impossible. What do the Democrats think? The Democrats basically think that Dade County left them hurting. I mean, I talked to Chuck Campion - you know, Chuck Campion is a veteran of 25 years in American politics, the Boston mayor's races - presidential campaigns.
He's down there in Florida - in Miami - for Vice President Gore. He told me that Wednesday in Miami-Dade was the most intimidating political experience he'd ever been in - when the crowd came in and threatened and took the Democratic chair, pushed him into the elevator, punched the Democratic official, kicked him, accused him of stealing the ballot - because he had a specimen ballot that they were using - both sides were using it to teach the canvasses. I mean, they were - it was organized, and ABC has already reported on that - on the air that it was organized by the Republicans. So I think there's a sense that they really got a short count there, but they are still hopeful that they - that the votes are there out of Palm Beach and Broward to get to - to get to a point where nobody knows.
The key is, Margaret, nobody knows who won - and both sides really think they won. George Bush thinks they got more votes on election day; Al Gore's side is sure they had more people who went to the polls with the intention of voting for Al Gore, and that is the dilemma.
PAUL GIGOT: Margaret, I was in Miami on Wednesday, and - and the anecdote that Mark chords is unfortunate, but that had nothing to do - that was off to the side. There was not any violence or intimidation, physical intimidation of the canvassing board, itself. There was a lot of shouting; there was chanting of "three blind mice," when they took - when they decided to only partially count the ballots in heavily Democratic precincts and went behind - into a smaller room where TV cameras would have to shoot through a window and the press was going to be 25 feet away. They wanted to open up - they said count our votes - there's no question - but the idea that somehow these three canvassers were somehow afraid for their person is just not the way it was. These people were - there was no physical violence at all. Now, the incident you're talking about, yeah, that was separate from -
MARK SHIELDS: And the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reported on it and reported on that climate of fear and intimidation.
MARGARET WARNER: Didn't the - one member of the board, though, Paul, say that those protests had a lot to do with why they decided not to -
PAUL GIGOT: I think politically, politically the fact that - one thing Republicans did is they decided to play the Hispanic card; they played the Cuban-American card. Lincoln Diaz Bullard said you're not going to count these ballots - recount all the ballots in Cuban-American precincts which are heavily Bush - they stirred that up and there wasn't - the Republicans did let it be known that there were going to be Cuban Republicans coming to protest.
Now, for some of these judges who have retention elections in Miami, they probably didn't like that, but there was never - this was a Brooks Brother's revolution. I mean, these were middle class, respectable people, who just snap when they think they're getting a raw deal, but they never intimidated these people physically.
MARK SHIELDS: Comparison to Jesse Jackson who is down there and I think making incendiary remarks at many points. There was no comparison because there is absolutely no point where they went into a building and threatened public officials. So I think that's a difference in the two. So that's where the Gore people feel that that's why the count was aborted. I don't think Paul would argue that absent that protest that the count would have gone forward.
PAUL GIGOT: I think it might have. There was a real legal problem. And that is that the Florida statute says that if you're going to have a recount, you have to count all the ballots, and when they decided those canvassers in the morning, Wednesday morning to only count 10,750 that were -
MARGARET WARNER: The under votes.
PAUL GIGOT: The under votes.
MARGARET WARNER: In heavily Democratic precincts -- they began to have second thoughts about that later in the day.
MARK SHIELDS: They don't know where the 10,500 under counts come from. They don't know that they're from Democratic precincts.
MARGARET WARNER: Can I ask you both briefly -- we only have about a minute-and-a-half, what about the military ballots, that was the charge from the Republicans today -- where is that going?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Margaret, I mean what we have right now is such flexibility on both sides. Both sides want to win so desperately. I mean, the Democrats are for intention governing all of the ballots except, perhaps, the military. The Republicans are for absolute letter of the law on all ballots except for the military. So it really comes down you know who...whose side you're rooting for by your position on this issue.
PAUL GIGOT: I sympathize with the canvassers on this. Military ballots could be a real situation for fraud sometimes. I bet they have in the past. So, you know, it's understandable. They do over time eliminate some of these and have in the past.
MARGARET WARNER: In '96, there were many thrown out.
PAUL GIGOT: I think the thing that hurts Gore has been the double standard - is we're going to count, you know, dimples.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark is saying the double standard applies to both.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, sure! Of course, of course! That's why I said I think I sympathize with them. But the point is that's what hurts, it's been a terrible public relations problem for Gore because they look to have two standards.
MARGARET WARNER: On that rare moment of unanimity we're going to end this. Have a wonderful weekend.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.