November 10, 2000
MARGARET WARNER: That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and "Wall Street Journal" columnist Paul Gigot. All right, Mark. Where are we in this process? We've heard a lot of talk tonight about "dangerous ground," "dangerous territory?"
MARK SHIELDS: Uncharted waters.
MARGARET WARNER: Uncharted waters. I mean, are we in danger of moving... of this really spinning out of control? Where do you think we are?
MARK SHIELDS: No, do I not. I mean I think, you know, it is a good time to pause. This is not a divided nation. It is equally divided politically, but it's not a polarized nation. This isn't 1968; it isn't 1974. It's 1955 -- it's Dwight Eisenhower's America. We just finished an election where there was no defining issue so the sense of urgency... I heard Jim Baker who has been missing for 17 months and is now re-earning his bones as a consigliore for the Bush family, saying the country is really hanging in the balance as he made this case. Talk about hyperbole. There are no tanks in the street. There are no people that are at razor's edge, are standing, ready to take each other on. With three days after the election, we're four weeks away from the electoral college meeting, I mean this is a process, Margaret, where in a state where 0.5% difference triggers an automatic recount; we are talking 0.01%, one-half of 0.01% -- 327 votes. Does that deserve a recount? Sure. Does it merit litigation under the process? It shouldn't at this point, and I don't think it will.
PAUL GIGOT: I respectfully disagree about the urgency of this. We are in a political crisis, Margaret. We're not in a constitutional crisis yet, but I think we could be there, and I say that because one of the sides - that is the Gore campaign -- has said, "no matter what the recount is, we are going to pursue litigation and talked about - Bill Daley did yesterday -- injustices unparalleled in our history. If the will of the people is to be heard, Al Gore will be the next President." That's basically saying no matter what the count is, we're going to pursue a legal case. And I think that that is... that's incendiary, and that really does create some political problems about trust in government and the legitimacy of whoever wins.
MARGARET WARNER: But today in Bill Daley's press conference, he didn't talk about litigation. How did you read that? In other words, how clear is it what their intentions are?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think their intentions are certain right now. I thought yesterday that language was over the top. Today he had toned it down a little bit, and there was a little more ambiguity about where they might go. And I think that does reflect the fact that some cooler heads in the Gore campaign but also Democrats I've talked to privately and some have said it publicly, Bob Rice, the former cabinet member for President Clinton, Bob Torricelli, Senator from New Jersey, others have talked about the fact that, look, if the vote goes against the Vice President, we've got to get this decided. So I think there is some real tension in the Gore camp. But so far the Vice President seems to be sanctioning a litigation strategy.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you read the intentions of the Gore camp right now?
MARK SHIELDS: I read the I intentions of the Gore campaign to get a full definitive accounting, Margaret. I mean, I miss -- with all respect to Paul -- I miss this international looming crisis that went undebated in the last campaign. I mean, I missed it. I'm sorry. I didn't... I listen.
PAUL GIGOT: Not international, domestic.
MARK SHIELDS: I don't quite get it. I don't see that there are people in the streets concerned about this. Democracy is messy, it is time consuming, it is inefficient. Democracy must never be sacrificed to the timetable of some power grabbing, terminally ambitious politician. You talk about unseemly behavior. Unseemly behavior -- Bill Daley aside, forgotten -- how about conferring a transition meeting, trotting out Colin Powell who is the most convenient icon that George W. Bush has at any moment of crisis in his life. I mean it was just... this was... it was presumptuous and it was arrogant on Bush's part. So I think that there is tension in either... Leon Panetta said it best. Leon Panetta said, "if either of these men wants to be a leader, they're facing their first test." Right now, both have behaved pretty badly and I think that's fair to say. And I think threats of lawsuits or let's re-open Wisconsin or let's take another look at Iowa, which never crossed their minds until yesterday, as far as I can see in the Bush campaign, I think it all looks a little tit for tat.
PAUL GIGOT: Yesterday everything changed, Mark. I think that's the big difference. I agree with you about the transition point -- that Governor Bush should have put that all away and said, "look, until all the votes are counted, we're not going to move on here." But that's the cut-off date and I think that is the moment of decision... sorry. Go ahead.
MARGARET WARNER: I just wondered how should we read what Jim Baker said today? He not only... In fact he didn't talk much about litigation so much as recounts. He even said if these recounts continue to be requested, we're going to request recounts. What is the Bush camp saying there?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean it was pretty obvious. It was a threat by Jim Baker that we'll keep this going. We are not going to be pushed around or whatever. I mean, I thought it was an empty threat in response to no threat to him. What we're faced with, Margaret, and to be blunt about it, is we have not had a full recount. I mean, understand the magnitude of this. Six million votes almost, 327 separating them. I mean this is really... this deserves time. This deserves an honest count, and a definitive count. That's all we're talking about.
MARGARET WARNER: Is the Bush camp objecting to a full recount or a hand recount?
PAUL GIGOT: They are objecting to a hand recount, not a full recount.
MARGARET WARNER: Warner: Why?
PAUL GIGOT: They are not objecting to a full recount. We've already had a machine recount. and presumably it will be sanctioned by the secretary of state next week. We had the unofficial results that the Associated Press kept track of, but we don't have the official results. What they don't want, and with some justice, I think, is that you are going to have a hand ballot recount in four predominantly Democratic counties of Florida. Why just let it be in those Democratic communities controlled presumably by Democratic officials? Let's have a recount in every county in Florida. While we're at it, let's have a recount in Wisconsin and Iowa and New Mexico. In other words, there is a Pandora's Box quality to this, that Leon Panetta and others talked about. If you are going to hand count them, hand count them all.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you two think there is any chance that these two men would do what almost everybody in Ray's discussion was suggesting but Professor Epstein really said, which is these two men right now should pledge they're going to abide by the full recount, the recount, whatever you want to call it, when it's done -- say that in advance and take the litigation thing off the table?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think it will. It would it be nice if it happened, yes. But Margaret, coming back to Paul's point, counting your vote is a fairly elementary duty of democracy. I mean that's all we're talking about, whether in fact votes were counted. I mean that is not something that is rocket scientist. That's not neurosurgery. That's just simply validating. Are there mistakes made? No one is arguing malice here; no one's arguing deceit or treachery. All we're arguing is that there may have been honest mistakes made that could affect the outcome.
MARGARET WARNER: Same question to you and also, how long do you think this can go on and the question that Leon Panetta addressed without it undermining either Americans' faith in the whole process or the future President's ability to govern?
PAUL GIGOT: Right now it looks to me that November 17 is D-Day if you will because when those votes are sanctioned by the secretary of state of Florida, this is the result. Okay. I think up to that point while the votes are being counted either of the men can say, well, we're awaiting the outcome. But once it gets to that point, I think they begin to look like sore losers and they begin to look like they're putting the American public through something that it doesn't want to be put through, which is more of this wrangling. They want closure to this. I think beyond that, either man is going to face a real basic choice and my own guess is that despite all this rancor of this week, both of them would decide that they're going to go Richard Nixon's route and concede rather than go all the way to the Supreme Court and all the trauma that would involve.
MARGARET WARNER: Same question to you, mark. How long can this go on?
MARK SHIELDS: It can go on until there is a fully understood public recognition that there has been a full, fair count in Florida. And that's it.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that next Friday?
MARK SHIELDS: It may be next Friday, it may be the week after next Friday. There may be counties still being counted. I really enjoyed the lionization of Richard Nixon over the past 36 hours since the polls closed. Richard Nixon in 1960 lost Illinois and he didn't challenge. He didn't challenge. There were 27 electoral votes. It wouldn't have affected the outcome and Dwight Eisenhower opposed a recount.
MARGARET WARNER: This is going to affect the outcome of the show. We're going to have to cut it off there. Thank you both. To be continued.