November 22, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot offer their takes on the latest developments in Florida.
LEHRER: Finally, how all things look to Shields and Gigot -- syndicated
columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
First, Mark, just based on what we just heard, what are your non-medical thoughts about Secretary Cheney's heart situation?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Dick Cheney was enormously important to George Bush, Governor Bush, in a sense not that he delivered any constituency like Joe Lieberman did, for example, or that he brought a state. Wyoming was going to be carried by George Bush or any Republican. What he brought to the campaign, when there were doubts raised about Governor Bush, was a gravitasse, a sense of comfort, a sense of competence, a reassurance that almost a psychological bonus - and important support for the ticket and for the Bush candidacy. With that in doubt, it leaves Governor Bush a little bit alone. I mean, I think that people have started to think of a Bush-Cheney team.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, what do you think?
PAUL GIGOT: Jim, I think it's a big blow for Governor Bush because in this whole debate, post election I think there are two people who have been really, the governor has been relying on. One is Dick Cheney and the other is Jim Baker. And if Dick Cheney can't help, I think it hurts the governor's confidence, I think, and he needs confidence. These are momentous decisions, and very difficult ones he's having to take. And you had sort of a cool hand Cheney effect, you know, he's got that relaxed manner. And he's got a lot of experience. I think the governor was relying on him a lot, so it's a blow.
JIM LEHRER: Just for the record, now there's been no suggestion of this, and we just heard what Dr. Pearle said - he's going to be right back fairly soon -- but if for some reason, it is decided that Secretary Cheney should not remain the vice presidential candidate, under the rules, George W. Bush could pick a replacement and then the Republican National Committee would have to bless it and that would be it. If it's before, if George W. Bush and Dick Cheney should win, then it's a different matter, if it should happen after that, then the Congress would decide a replacement.
MARK SHIELDS: Both houses have to approve.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Yeah. All right. Let's move onto the vote counting in Florida. What's your overview of where that stands tonight, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I think we're involved, Jim, in a very legitimate debate about how we count ballots, in a uniquely close presidential election. Uniquely close, historical.
JIM LEHRER: It's a tie.
MARK SHIELDS: It's a tie. It's a tie election. And I think the Florida Supreme Court last night set bounds. The bounds were that by Monday, so much had to be done, if it wasn't done by Monday morning then that was the ball game. This was the last shot. And I think that as long as each candidate kind of operated within those bounds, that it would be acceptable, the only problem would be after that, I mean, if Al Gore wins by 150 votes or George W. Bush wins by 700 votes, I think there'll basically be an acceptance of that verdict. I think anybody who took it beyond that would be risking perhaps pushing for the first time that either candidate has beyond the bounds that people would find acceptable, and I think risking the patience of the American people.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Paul, that for somebody to go beyond Sunday or Monday has got a real problem on their hands, whether it's Al Gore or George W. Bush?
PAUL GIGOT: No, I think we're going probably beyond Sunday no matter what happens, Jim, I really do, and I think we're into this all the way, already up to our necks, the two candidates are, and I don't see any sign from either of them that they're going to end it. So I don't think that you can say that because a judiciary makes a decision in this very high stakes battle that that's going to end it. So I disagree with that.
JIM LEHRER: Let's be specific here, Paul. Let's say that because of all the various decisions today, Miami-Dade county decided not to do this, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, that when it all comes down on Sunday night or Monday morning, George W. Bush is still ahead in Florida, and he is certified the winner of Florida, and thus the winner of the presidential election. Is Al Gore going to go further than that?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't see anything, any indications of that, Jim, I really don't. For example, I mean, now they're suing Miami-Dade County, they're suing --.
JIM LEHRER: So you think he will proceed?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I'm just relying on the signs that I see. They're suing Miami-Dade County, which has a Democratic dominated canvassing board, for a decision not to go ahead. And you have, as the lawyers said earlier, this contest ability, to contest the election after the results are certified. I heard William Daley today say they're reserving their judgment about what happens after that. So I don't see them, any signs of them giving up.
|A message of acceptance|
JIM LEHRER: And, yet, Mark, the vice president said last night, let them count the votes and who ever wins wins. So how do you read this? We're talking about Gore specifically now.
MARK SHIELDS: Sure. I think that there's an acceptance, I mean, I think that they would obviously like to have every vote counted, especially in those counties that are under recount right now, manual recount, Broward and Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, all of which are good Gore counties. They'd like to have that. But I really think that the Gore folks, that there's been a message of acceptance from this. I don't think that has been the case from the Bush people, who have basically attacked the process and charged systematic fraud and so forth. So I think that it will be a lot easier for Al Gore to accept the verdict, if the verdict is not in his direction, say look, we had a full fair vote and that's the decision.
JIM LEHRER: And you think he might do that?
MARK SHIELDS: I think he would. I think the likelihood is greater that the Gore people will accept the verdict from Florida, rather than proceed after Florida.
JIM LEHRER: So now let's reverse the question, Paul. If it turns out the other way, as a result of all this, Al Gore is the winner on Sunday night or Monday, has George W. Bush pretty well laid out the ground work for full speed ahead to proceed somewhere else, at least probably to the U.S. Supreme Court if not elsewhere?
PAUL GIGOT: I think, yeah, I think you could see in his statement real determination, Jim, that this is a long way from over - in particular, because if Al Gore does win by Sunday, he'll have to do it with the dimpled chads or the sub-dimpled chads or the pregnant chads, because it doesn't look like he's going to get it with clearly markable, clearly identifiable ballots, because those votes aren't there. I've been down here in Miami and I was watching the process before they rolled it up in Miami-Dade, and it is a really very subjective process. There was no standard here, it was whatever the canvassing board determined was a vote.
JIM LEHRER: Was it fair?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think so, I think it was just completely whatever what those three people, and sometimes just a two to one vote, whatever they thought was in the mind of the voter. You didn't have, I saw, it wasn't just pregnant chads; you had first trimester chads. It was really a subjective process.
JIM LEHRER: And what were they doing? Give us an example of something that you witnessed where there was some kind of chad and a decision was made that bothered you.
|The way to elect a president|
PAUL GIGOT: Well, one of the people, the three people, and I don't, I mean they're probably trying to do their best, but they'd pick it up and say well, looks to me like this person wanted to vote for Gore, and down the ballot they'd have, for let's say Congress and Senate, they'd have it punched out clearly, but they hadn't voted that way for president, there might be a mild indentation, and they would make the judgment, first person would make the judgment that, well, voted down the ballot for Democrats, this looks like it's somebody who wanted to vote for Gore, and they'd say it's a vote for Gore. And the second person would say this is a vote for Gore, and the third person would look at the ballot and say gee, I'm not sure, I don't see the correct indentation here. But would it go for a vote for Gore two to one. I don't know that that's the way you want to elect a president.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, is that the way you want to elect a president?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I'd like to quote one of the great American political philosophers of all time, Richard M. Nixon, who said it doesn't make any difference whether they knock down the walls when they vote for you, or if they hold their nose when they vote for you, every one of them counts the same. And, I mean, that's what this is. Indentations in these ballots don't magically appear. I mean, there's no way it appears. I mean, there has to be something put there. And, I mean, these are people who are trying to do their best, I think Paul acknowledged that, even though the decision they made was not one that comported with Paul's perspective on the world. But these were people making the decision. And that's what the court cited last night, the Illinois policy, it has been the policy in that county to proceed that way in the past. I mean, you're not going to get a perfect, a perfect perforation and open Chad each time. It doesn't work that way.
JIM LEHRER: You know, just for the record here, as we speak now, Governor Bush still has an official lead of 930 votes over Vice President Gore in Florida. But the unofficial tally, which the AP is taking care of, as each one of these three counties has precincts, that margin is now down to 785. But now you eliminate any possibility of Miami-Dade County coming in with any changes, so it's only Broward, and Broward is almost finished and that's almost done, so that just leaves Palm Beach. So it would seem that the dimpled ballots really are important at this stage. Those are the ones that are off in a stack somewhere, right, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, they've put those aside for decisions by the canvassing board itself later. And they want to just get this advice -- if you will -- from the judge. And the Democrats are suing furiously, they really want these dimpled chads to be included. And in some of these cases, you know, we're not even talking about chads that have light in them, we're talking about things that just are indented, and it's ballots where people voted clearly for Congress, clearly for Senate, not clearly for president, but we're saying, well, they meant to vote for somebody. And, boy, if Al Gore wants to be elected president as President Dimples, he's going to, I think he's going to have his own problems.
JIM LEHRER: Is it correct to say, both to you, Mark and Paul, that each one of these men really doesn't care too much how they win, as long as they win at this stage of the game?
|Charges of systematic fraud|
MARK SHIELDS: I think that could be said more about Governor Bush at this point. I don't think there's any question that the unsubstantiated charges of systematic fraud that have accompanied, there really has been a sea change since last weekend in the Bush operation. I mean, the words hijack, I heard Congressman Sweeney -- hijacking that in the next room, and these political bosses and hacks trying to steal the election and so forth. That has not been the pattern from the Gore folks. But I don't think there's any question that Al Gore wants the White House, I mean, he's worked long and hard for it. I don't think there's any question that Governor Bush does. But I think there's a disproportionate zeal and rage in this one, I mean, there's no question that the zeal is a lot stronger on the Republican side. The idea of Al Gore being president sets more Republican teeth on edge than the prospect of George W. Bush being president sets Democratic teeth on edge.
JIM LEHRER: Would you agree with that, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think that's true at this moment, but I think that's because of the way this process has gone ahead. I have seen the Republicans here, I've covered a lot of elections and I usually can tell the difference between synthetic emotion and real anger. And the Republicans I saw here in Miami, they're furious. They believe, they believe that Al Gore is attempting to steal this election and he's doing it with less than legitimate means and inventing ballots, and so they carry away the zeal that that kind of belief causes.
JIM LEHRER: What do you make of this talk of some Republican members of Congress now saying, Paul, that they might not even show up for the inauguration if Al Gore ends up being president?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, at this stage I would say that's not helpful. We're going to end up with a president one way or another. So I would say let's fight this out. But I think, on your earlier point, do both men want to win it flat out? There's no question that they do. When you're in a street fight like this, and I think that's what we're in, we're in a political street fight, I don't think Mark is suggesting that, you know, Republicans are playing rougher than the other side is at all true. I think both sides are playing it to the hilt.
MARK SHIELDS: I'm not saying they're playing rougher; I'm saying that they've left no exit room, no wiggle room for George Bush. If Al Gore emerges this weekend with a 250 vote lead, George Bush because of what his campaign has said about the Florida process -
JIM LEHRER: He can't accept it.
MARK SHIELDS: -- he can't accept it.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, the good news -
PAUL GIGOT: He won't accept it because they don't believe it's been fair.
JIM LEHRER: Well, the good news is that Sunday will eventually come and we'll find out for sure. Thank you both very much.