SHIELDS AND GIGOT: THE DEBATES
OCTOBER 7, 1996
The first Presidential Debate of 1996 is over, and no one is quite sure who won. To sift through what was for some a surprisingly congenial affair, Mark Shields and Paul Gigot talk with Elizabeth Farnsworth.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And now political analysis from Shields & Gigot. Thatís syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Thanks both of you for being here. Mark, you heard what Donald Rumsfeld said. He said that Sen. Dole achieved what he needed to last night. Do you agree with that?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I think Don Rumsfeld is absolutely right. Bob Doleís favorables are up, but I was reminded in watching Sen. Dole last night 1969 in this city, there was a race for the Senate Whipís job, Ted Kennedy, a young 37-year-old Senator, was challenging Russell Long, an established power in the Senate, and he went--Kennedy went hat in hand to seek the vote of Jim Eastland, the legendary chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a Long supporter. And he asked for his support, and Jim Eastland listened, heard him through, and turned to Ted Kennedy and said, ďKennedy, thereís no vacancy there.Ē And that was the problem. There was no vacancy. What Bob Dole did last night was he made a very good case, I thought, for hiring him. He did not make a case, in my judgment, for firing Bill Clinton. And I think that was what his task--it was a difficult task last night. His favorables are up. Thatís good; thatís to his advantage, and itís to the Republicansí advantage who are going to share on the ballot with him on November 5th. But he did not make the case for replacing the President.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think about that, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: The Republicans who I talked to today felt that Dole did about as well as he could have, but it may not have been good enough, for the reason that Mark says. He certainly did put--raise himself up as a potential president--and thatís good, and itís particularly good because Dole had not been getting the votes of Republicans, and some of the internal polling theyíd only been getting about 65 or 70 percent of Republican voters, when a normal Republican nominee gets well over 90. So they had to bring a lot of those voters home, and the voters in particular they were after were women, the gender gap. And thatís why I think you saw Bob Dole sort of conflicted about whether or not he should really take the gloves off with Bill Clinton. To use another metaphor, not mixing too many here, he took it--it was almost as if he took out his sword, brandished it, and he didnít quite swing all the way. And I think that was because there was some fear that he would come across as mean. The problem is--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think? Do you think it would have helped if he had done that?
PAUL GIGOT: If itís a four-point race, I can understand youíre a little cautious. If itís a twelve or thirteen point race, you need to shake it up somehow. Maybe you take a risk, and maybe you really try to fluster the President; you try to make a more pointed attack on his character, not, not bringing up Paula Jones and the rest, but about how it would relate to his second term and whether or not you can trust anything that he says. On the pardon issue, for instance, Bob Dole brought it up, he raised it, and he didnít quite make the sale. He flinched a little bit when it came time to saying, look--he could have said, Mr. President, youíre dangling a pardon in front of people who could be witnesses against you. He never made the case that pointedly, and he allowed the President to say, no comment, and get off the hook. So I donít know--I think Markís probably right. He didnít make the argument for firing Bill Clinton.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But do you think that he--that Bob Dole should have done that, Mark, or would it have just led to other problems?
PAUL GIGOT: I think what Bob Dole was trying to do was he was trying to tweak and taunt Bill Clinton and hoping that heíd evoke a temper outburst, and that, that didnít happen. I think on August 1st, Elizabeth, we knew there were three major events which Bob Dole had a chance to turn this race around. First was the choice of a Vice President. He chose Jack Kemp--got positive reviews, didnít change the race. His acceptance speech, which got mixed reviews, didnít change the race, and finally the presidential debates. And right now youíre looking at your whole card tonight if youíre a Republican because that didnít change, and, you know, down to one debate, and itís in a format that Bill Clinton does very well, so I guess we can look back and say thereís a dozen things. He probably needed a Dole, rather than a Kemp, as his running mate.
He needed somebody who was going to go out and bell that cat and beard that lion and shake up this race and make the case. I mean, there are good case to be made. I mean, the President has changed his position on his own tax bill when he went down to a group of contributors in Houston and said, I think I raised your taxes too much. I mean, you donít even have to go through the scandal, near the scandal stuff. You can talk about the Presidentís position on balanced budget, ten years, seven years, five years, three years, nine years, whatever, but, you know, he didnít do that, and I think he could have done that a lot less dangerously or with the reaction that probably fooling around with the personal stuff.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about the President, Paul? You heard Leon Panetta say that he did succeed in getting his vision for the future. Do you agree with that?
PAUL GIGOT: If you define future as the word future, uh, I mean, there isnít a big agenda there. I think just about everybody agrees with that. What he did do, and what heís an enormously disciplined politician at doing is reciting his talking points and getting his message. I mean, he just kept repeating here are my accomplishments, here is what weíve done, and then using the four or five points in addition that make--that voters are nervous about with Bob Dole--Medicare, education, environment--Medicare, education, environment, Gingrich--he just--I donít know that Iíve seen a more disciplined politician at the level of a presidency ever than Bill Clinton.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about the, the--his vision for the future, do you think he succeeded in doing that?
PAUL GIGOT: I do not think--I do not think the Presidentís done it. I think heís done a very poor job of it. I think heís made this--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is it important?
PAUL GIGOT: Itís crucial to the success of a second term. We went through this with Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan--Bill Clintonís patterned this campaign to a great degree on Reaganís Ď84 campaign. Reagan in Ď84 carried 49 states by making it a referendum on the 1980 decision. Bill Clinton is making this a referendum on the 1992 decision, are you better off than you were four years ago. The minute the polls close on November 5th, Bill Clinton is a lame duck. His name will never again appear on another ballot. Power is the perception of power. Unless he comes out of this campaign with a sense that he has won running on two very crucial issues that everybody understands, that are important, that are shared, thatís the only moral imperative heíll carry into that second term. Otherwise, heís got 55 proposals out there and no consensus.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Paul, what does Bob Dole have to do now?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, one thing I think that he has to do is, is give his running mate a little boost on Wednesday and say, all right, Jack, Jack Kemp, break type a little bit, we know youíre more the sunshine politician, and break character and go after, show some loyalty to me, and go after the President. You have to make an argument. We canít just talk about tax cuts. He can do some of that in growth and so on and make that argument. We know youíre terrific at it, so make that, but also you have to really take the wood to the President of the United States because Al Gore, I can tell you, is not going to talk nice about Bob Dole. So Kemp, I think thatís one thing he has to do, and then Bob Dole has to think about his, his strategy for next week in a little bit more difficult format which is with a town hall sort of group, so you have people interacting, and itís a little more difficult. Itís not just one-on-one, but he has to maybe think about he can zero in more on, on the task of whether, of how you can fire--making the case for how you can fire Bill Clinton.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think there is anything he can do, Mark, or do you think itís over?
PAUL GIGOT: I think that Bob Dole has to look at what Michael Dukakis faced in 1988 after the second debate to figure out where I want to concentrate my efforts and energy, to help the Republican Party. I think Iíd run on tax cuts, and Iíd run on values the last four weeks, but I wouldnít make any serious plans for an inaugural ball.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Thank you both very much.