November 17, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot give their take on the continuing electoral battle in Florida.
LEHRER: That brings us to Shields and Gigot; syndicated columnist Mark
Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, you wrote in
your column this morning that what this is about is a political duel to
the death. Is that what this is?
PAUL GIGOT: To the political death. This is no longer about the niceties of the electoral process, and I don't think it's about what Vice President Gore said today, the will of the people. I think it's about the will of the lawyers, and this is about power and brute force and brute political force, and I think that... I frankly think the Vice President caused it when he said... he opened Pandora's box when he said the machine counts are not accurate and opened this up to the various lawsuits and the various hand counts. And I think what we're seeing is a cascade of events where both sides now are going to find that the winner is illegitimate and it's poisoning the atmosphere a great deal.
|A political duel to the death?|
JIM LEHRER: That's a bad prescription, Mark. Do you see it the same way?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't, Jim. I could not disagree with Paul more, not only who started the whole thing. We can argue about that for weeks, but the point is that the Supreme Court of Florida did George W. Bush an enormous favor today, did Al Gore an enormous favor, and that is they went a long way toward diffusing the charge of illegitimacy, that there will be and there should be after this process is concluded, a sense that there has been a full and fair vote in Florida. I can remember when David Gergen left the NewsHour to become counsel to Bill Clinton. And David Gergen -- I tried to talk him out of it. I said, David, you'll never be trusted by the Clinton folks. They'll say you're a Republican and you weren't with them and the Republicans will shoot you because they'll say you were always closet Democrat. He said, Mark, the reason I'm doing it, is we can't - we can't survive another failed presidency, and I'm immodest enough to think I can make a difference. And I think he was probably right. The point is, Jim, this is a prescription for a failed presidency, a poisoned atmosphere, if we rush to judgment on this thing. I think if we get the full, fair count, a senses of fairness, sure, there will be zealots on either side who say no -
JIM LEHRER: No matter who -
MARK SHIELDS: Exactly. There will always be those, but I'm saying that Al Gore can turn to Democrats and say we had a full fair count and we lost and this guy won. And George W. Bush could do the same thing. And I think the Supreme Court of Florida, you know, really saved us a lot of trouble today.
JIM LEHRER: Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: I disagree with that because what is the final authority? What is the full and fair judgment, and who decides? Who decides? Now, if it goes to the U.S. Supreme Court, I agree you will probably get some kind of finality. They were in Watergate. Remember the nine - nothing hearing about Nixon's tapes, and that provided a sense that everybody could agree with. But I'll tell you -- the Florida Supreme Court, seven Democratic appointees, if they overturn an elected official's judgment, that is Katherine Harris, as secretary of state, and whose discretion in the matter was upheld twice by a Democratic judge, if they overturn that, and let the hand counts go ahead and Al Gore wins with hand counts in Democratic counties, I'll tell you that's not going to be accepted by Republicans. And it shouldn't be.
MARK SHIELDS: That is one of the reasons, Jim, and I think one of the compelling reasons, why there ought to be a full, complete hand count in the entire state -- I mean, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford presiding over it with deputized U.S. marshals, and I guess if there is anything that bothers me about this, most of all is the charge, the absolute baseless charge, reckless charge that people are stealing votes. I had a misspent youth in early middle age. I did campaigns in 38 different states. I don't know how many times I heard in taverns 3:00 in the morning about the stolen votes. Jim, I have never seen any evidence of it and nobody in this operation has and yet every time a spokesman comes out for the Governor, there's all these reckless charges - oh, they're stealing votes. Nobody is stealing votes. And, I'll tell you, the world is watching. This isn't some race for county coroner in Waxahachie. I mean, this is the big time and not only - not only -- I think people do steal votes -- I think there is a strong disincentive to stealing them in this situation.
PAUL GIGOT: Divining the intent of the voter. There is so much discretion in the hand counting process. I mean is it a dimple chat, is it a hanging chad, is it a merely pregnant chad? And when these things are going to be decided by political people, why is Al Gore so bent upon making sure that the hand counts go ahead? You had Democratic officials in Broward County and in Miami Dade County resisted and said we really don't need it, and they were sued by the Democrats to insist on the hand counts. It's because Al Gore knows he can't win without those votes and he believes that those Democrats will turn the votes over.
MARK SHIELDS: The Democrats - whether they're right or wrong, Al Gore and his people and his campaign believe, and they've got strong empirical evidence to back it up, that they won this race. They believe the turnout was 54% women, and it was 15% African American, records in Florida -- and that they have no doubt that they won this race in the votes, the people who showed up to cast that day. As far as dimples are concerned....
|A stolen election?|
JIM LEHRER: Let's no, no, no. That's last week's story, but both of you have set up a scenario where if the final analysis the Gore people believe they won Florida, and whatever happens with this Supreme Court, and wherever it goes from there and it ends up that George W. Bush wins Florida, then the Gore people are going to say, it was stolen.
MARK SHIELDS: No, I don't think they will.
JIM LEHRER: You don't think they have created that?
MARK SHIELDS: No, I really don't. I'll tell you this. I think this thing is heading towards a resolution. There is obviously... There is not the impatience. The impatience... There was building impatience last week on the part of the congressional Democratic leadership against Gore for what they thought was prolonging it and that was absolutely cut off by Jim Baker's lawsuit. That gave Gore a lot more time. But there is resolution, Jim, and I do not think - I do not think that if Al Gore loses after a full, fair count, complete hand count in Florida, if he loses that, I don't think there will be any appeals.
JIM LEHRER: No, no, no. Let me amend my question. Let's say the Supreme Court of Florida upholds Katherine Harris and there is no hand counts allowed and they count the absentee ballots and that's it. Will the Gore people say we were robbed?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there will be a sense.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Reverse this. If it all turns out the other way and they do allow the hand counts or whatever, maybe it turns out that the absentee ballots turn out to be pro-Gore or whatever, and George W. Bush does not win, are the Republicans and the Bush people going to say Al Gore stole this election from us?
PAUL GIGOT: If the absentee ballots come in and show that Al Gore won, it's over and George W. Bush concedes and Al Gore is president fair and square. If, however, he wins it with hand counts in Broward County and Miami-Dade County and West Palm Beach County, Republicans are going to think he is President of Palm Beach and not the United States.
|Delaying vote certification|
JIM LEHRER: No matter what the Florida Supreme Court says. You're saying--
from the Republican point of view...
JIM LEHRER: Correctly in your opinion?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, we'll see what their decision is. I'm not going to prejudge them, but today they made an extraordinary decision because the Gore campaign hadn't even -- as Margaret pointed out - hadn't even made a formal request. They had the right of review next week - no question about it - but what they preempted is what I think they knew was an important political event and that is the certification tomorrow.
JIM LEHRER: The certification tomorrow.
MARK SHIELDS: I think they saved us all.
JIM LEHRER: How did they save us?
MARK SHIELDS: They saved us all, because if that had happened tomorrow, there are pictures - there were on our show, on everybody's show, of people counting votes. That gives legitimacy. People are going through and they're serious about it and they're conscientious about it and they're working long and hard. And there is no question that there were grave doubts about that and that process was going on. It would have short-circuited it. It would have been done by somebody... and I think they saved George W. Bush... if George W. Bush comes to office, Jim, under that cloud, I mean I got to tell you, the Democrats in the year 2002 will sweep the Congress. He is coming in at a time of a declining economy, of disappearing budget surpluses, whoever the president is, is not sailing into fair weather.
JIM LEHRER: We have plenty of time to talk about that. But let's say scenario number one that was on track until the Supreme Court suddenly at 4:00 this afternoon came up with its order. It was about 4:15 or something like that, the track was... the scenario was that Katherine Harris, the secretary of state, was probably going to certify George W. Bush the winner in Florida and then you're saying that if she had done that, then maybe George W. Bush might have claimed victory, and then you would never have gotten that back in the bottle no matter what happened and you think the Supreme Court protected everybody from that eventuality?
MARK SHIELDS: I think they made the next president a more chance for legitimate figure.
JIM LEHRER: You're shaking your head.
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think George W. Bush is going to feel terrific if this ends up costing him the presidency. I mean, Mark, because Mark is assuming that somehow this is going to be perceived by Republicans as a free and fair count or that the Supreme Court of Florida is going to be perceived as this Olympian body. I don't think Republicans are going to stop there. Republicans in the legislature are going to say we have two votes here. We have a vote that Katherine Harris is ready to certify and we have this hand count, which is going on, which is another one... and they may decide, interpreting different federal statutes that maybe they have the right to elect electors and then maybe it goes to the House of Representatives or maybe it is appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. But the Supreme Court of Florida is not going to be perceived by anyone on the Republican side as the final fair authority.
|Florida's Supreme Court: A fair arbiter?|
JIM LEHRER: Why should they take the word of seven Democrats?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, for one thing it's an enormously respected and regarded state Supreme Court. I mean people talk... legal scholars talk about the Florida Supreme Court and they do it with a sense of respect -- it really is. This is not a place for political stopping off spot for someone who wants to be a U.S. Senator or anything of the sort. These are serious people. There's an enormous respect for them in the legal community, there's enormous respect for them in the state. What Paul has laid out is a guaranteed formula for disaster. I mean the legislature getting in and saying we're going to short circuit this and send electors to Tom DeLay and the House and you want George W. Bush to come limping out of that? I mean this is a guy, for goodness sakes, who is surrounded in this, the most epic battle of his political life by his father's handlers. I mean, there aren't even contemporaries or colleagues of his involved in this fight.
PAUL GIGOT: The alternative for them is allowing, in their view, Al Gore to basically overrule a fair election done by machine ballots and take it away with hand counted ballots hand counted by Democrats in Democratic precincts and is that any great recipe for legitimacy? I don't think so.
MARK SHIELDS: It is - I think you ought to talk to Robert Schwartz. Robert Schwartz in a piece today by Ford Thesinger and Christopher Drew, front page of the "New York Times", a man who makes -- he is the president of the company, they scan -- they electronically scan ballots. He said the clearest fairest way to do it is by hand. It is the fairest way to do it. And, you know, this idea that somehow you cannot put any kind of an indentation into a ballot by lifting it up. The only way you can do it with a pencil or pen or some other object. But I don't think people are going to do that somewhere in Palm Beach. I mean, this is kind of the ultimate Jeffersonian argument that people in the cities of Florida, these teeming masses, would steal a hot stove and go back for the smoke. That's basically Paul's approach.
JIM LEHRER: Don't you find it interesting, gentleman, that those of you who want George W. Bush to win feel one way about hand counted votes, and those of you who want Al Gore to win feel differently about hand counted votes?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think that's true, Jim. We just had one-third of George W. Bush's margin today going into the recount at 300 votes, was from hand counted votes in Volusia County.
JIM LEHRER: But I mean your position - your position on it - and I think, look, once again we've cleared this up. Hardly wait to see -- but I think you all have demonstrated where the tensions are and where the situation is on this Friday night going into....
MARK SHIELDS: Can this marriage be saved?
PAUL GIGOT: And without strangling each other.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much for your insights.
PAUL GIGOT: Later, I'm not sure though.. (laughter)