October 1, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the Gore campaign move, possible Gore/Bradley debates and campaign fundraising totals.
MARGARET WARNER: For our end-of-the-week political analysis we turn to Shields and Gigot; syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, let's look at the Democratic presidential race first. Al Gore announced he is moving his headquarters in Tennessee. He challenged Bill Bradley to a series of debates. It sounds like he realizes he has a nomination fight on his hands.
PAUL GIGOT: He is the last person to realize it. He really does. There is no question about it. A smart Democrat by the name of Al Fromm who was a key advisor to Bill Clinton for a long time told me nine months ago if this campaign - he meant the primary campaign -- is about the future versus the past with Al Gore able to talk about his future, Al Gore would do well. If this became insider Al Gore the insider versus Bill Bradley the outsider or George W. Bush the outsider, Al Gore was in trouble.
And Al Gore has got himself wrapped right inside Washington. And he's got the worst aspects of the Clinton administration being draped over him. He's hired a lot of people who are Washington insiders -- his campaign manager Tony Coelho was legislative tactician, former insider in Congress. He had been playing in Bill Bradley's strategy. I'm a fresh boy from the outside, I'm an independent politician. I'm free of the Clinton scandals. His association with the last eight years is taking him down.
MARGARET WARNER: Al Gore said on "Larry King" on Wednesday night after he made this announcement, he went on "Larry King" and said "I feel like the underdog." Is it really that bad?
|A campaign on the move|
MARK SHIELDS: No. Al Gore is still the favorite and he's the realistic favorite to win this nomination. Margaret, there's a basic story line that goes to every presidential campaign, not to sound like unearned cynicism, but you have the candidates defined by their positions in the race. You have the front-runner, the favorite, the challenger, the underdog and the dark horse. Then you have to define their emotion. Is the front-runner cruising like George Bush, surging or is the front-runner stumbling or staggering or faltering? We have the faltering front-runner.
Gore's problem is, and I can't argue with Paul's conclusion -- I argue
with a few of the particulars. It's not Bill Clinton. It really isn't.
It's Al Gore. When you measure Al Gore versus George Bush as they did
in the "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll, twice as many people
think George Bush is a stronger leader than Al Gore. That isn't Bill
Clinton. Twice as many people think George Bush is inspiring than think
Al Gore is inspiring. That's not Bill Clinton. That's Al Gore. I think
probably the smartest thing he did was challenging Bill Bradley to debates,
because this is the way he has to establish who he is, that he is different,
by sharing the same platform and by debating the future and debating
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the money reports came out this week, the third quarter spending...fund-raising. How do you explain Bill Bradley was able to raise more money than Al Gore in this quarter?
PAUL GIGOT: He's got some real enthusiasm out there for him. The Bradley campaign has been saying for a while that they've been struck by how many people are willing...it's a good economy, but more people than expected are willing to write thousand dollars checks. I think there's a mood out there, Mark. There's a lot of Democrats who feel they supported Bill Clinton on impeachment because of, you know, the Republicans were doing it and they didn't want him ousted.
But they don't feel great about it. And they want to make a break. And Bill Bradley is their way to make a break. It's their way to say, you know, we want to establish a little bit different ethical and moral tone as Democrats. And they can do that with Bradley and not reward the Republicans. A lot of Democrats I talk to think that way. I think that's where Bradley is getting his... a lot of his money. The importance of that is that Bradley now looks like he's going to be able to compete dollar for dollar with Al Gore.
MARGARET WARNER: He's not spending as fast a rate so he has as much cash on hand.
PAUL GIGOT: That means he's going to be in the position that Gary Hart in 1984, or Paul Tsongas in 1992, found themselves after they staged upsets in New Hampshire which was, no money. Bradley will have money to go beyond that.
|The Bradley vs. Gore buildup|
MARK SHIELDS: I take issue with the fact that Bill Bradley... Bill Clinton still remains overwhelmingly the favorite of Democrats. Two constituencies that are supporting Al Gore right now, sustaining him are blue-collar workers and African Americans where Bill Clinton has over an 80 percent approval rating. So, sure, there are Democrats who had Bill Clinton up to their eyebrows. Just as in 1988 there were Republicans who were tired of Ronald Reagan. Different odor, no question about it. But the reality is in a different way, bill Clinton's job rating is higher than Reagan's was in 1987, a year before he left. So I don't think... I think for Al Gore, or the analysis of this race to focus on Gore's problem with Clinton Gore's problem would be there if Clinton disappeared tomorrow.
MARGARET WARNER: So these changes that he's announced, is that going to fix Gore's problem, as you see it?
MARK SHIELDS: No. I think Gore has to find his own voice. He hasn't up to now. I mean, the American people... I was at the Reagan library this week where John McCain spoke. But the American people are not hiring a public employee, the top public employee. They are not hiring the head of government. They are not hiring someone to manage programs. They are hiring a national leader. That's what they look for in a president, is leadership. Gore's jargon quite frankly, I think has been too governmental.
PAUL GIGOT: I agree with that. He does have to find his own voice. The best thing he did this week was to say he wanted to engage Bill Bradley.
MARGARET WARNER: So you think that's a smart move it's playing to his strengths?
PAUL GIGOT: Not only strength as a debater which he's demonstrated many times in public but also the fact that he has been in government a long time, he has a grasp of some of these issues and Bradley's appeal is cross cutting Gore right now. It's appeal from the left from people who like the fact that he is thinking of big ideas like health care. And it's also independents who like the fact that he is a maverick type, he seems to be speaking in his own voice. Gore can cross cut him on that and I think you'll see him try to do that, and say, wait a minute, which is the real Bill Bradley. And I think you're going to see him also attack Bradley for some of his changes of opinion and flip-flops on things like school vouchers and ethanol in Iowa and that sort of thing.
MARK SHIELDS: One break for the Democrats is whoever does emerge from the Bradley-Gore race will come from a momentum having beaten a substantial and formidable opponent.
PAUL GIGOT: I agree with that. This is going to help him.
|G.W. Bush and the Republican House|
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's turn to the Republican side where the front-runner strategy seems to be working for George W. Bush. The first crack appeared between George Bush and the Republican leadership over one of the items in the Republican kind of budget plan as we saw in Kwame's piece. They are trying to find a way not to spend Social Security surplus money and yet fund everything. Explain briefly what it's about.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, the earned income tax credit is a tax credit program that essentially most of the time is a cash payment to the working poor, people below a certain level of income, it's a welfare program, in essence. And the Republicans find themselves with a little hole they've dug over the course of the year, having spent a lot of money as Kwame's piece reported on a lot of other bills. They find they've got to pass the last ones and they have a big hole they've got to fill. So, they are looking for ways to do it without tapping into the Social Security surplus. They went and proposed this. I think it's defensible.
MARGARET WARNER: This was to break it up so you would get 12 checks instead of one.
PAUL GIGOT: They are not cutting one dollar. They are extending it like food stamps are paid over 12 monthly payments instead of one time.
MARGARET WARNER: Meaning of the some payments would fall in the 2001 budget year which is...
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. There's no question there is gimmick about it but it's defensible as tax policy and as welfare policy. The surprise is that George W. Bush sandbagged the Republicans. Without telling them, he said, when asked about it - you know, he has had very little to say about Congress this whole time and then boom he hits them at crunch time, just when they are getting into the most difficult negotiations with Bill Clinton, just when the rubber meets the road, George Bush sounds exactly like Bill Clinton criticizing them saying don't do it on the backs of the poor. There are an awful lot of angry Republicans in the House tonight and they have a right to be not only because he didn't tell them but he didn't think this through. I think there is a real question why he who do this at such a difficult time for them.
|Debate on earned income tax credits|
MARK SHIELDS: An earned income tax credit is not a welfare program. Ronald Reagan was the principal champion. It is a return of the taxes paid by the working poor. That's what it is. Okay.
PAUL GIGOT: But you also get a check if you paid too many taxes.
MARK SHIELDS: But people who are working. People who are working and have not reached a certain income level. That was the appeal to Ronald Reagan. And that's why he constantly trumpeted and championed it. The key here, Margaret, is compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush was just heard. It was more than a phrase. He said "I'm not going to balance the budget on the backs of the working -- on the backs of the poor." That's a strong statement. I agree with Paul. You talk about Bill Clinton triangulation, distancing himself from Democrats in Congress who stood with him. George W. Bush just cut them off at the knees.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think this was calculated?
MARK SHIELDS: Do I think it was calculated? I do not know if it was calculated. Most things that George W. Bush does say have been run through. He is not somebody who does it at the hip or anything of the sort. I think it's important. James Carville couldn't have written this language. The Democrats hadn't used anything this purple. This was real prose. This was incredible.
As you look at it, I think you've driven to the conclusion that Republicans on the Hill have become a liability for the Republican Party. They said two weeks ago we're waiting until the 2000 election until we have got our leader. They've got the leader now and would be well served to follow them. Paul's right; they were embarrassed. David Obey read -- the leading Democrat on Appropriations read the wire copy in the presence of Tom Delay and said you have your choice, George Bush or Tom Delay. Republicans had a caucus today in which there was great resentment. They don't want to go out and vote for this because it won't go anywhere. Pete Domenici, the budget chairman in the Senate said it's going nowhere. It is an unpopular vote. Republicans don't need it.
|G.W. Bush soft on Pat Buchanan?|
PAUL GIGOT: George W. Bush has to be careful though, I think, because if he is going to be a successful president, if he wins he is going to have to do it with a Republican Congress. This is not a way to get the Republican House back in power along with you. And he's undercutting them in a big way. And I think that if he's going to be the leader of the party, he's got to think about more than just George W. Bush and that phrase compassionate conservatism. What does he want? To be a leader of a party or his own man?
MARGARET WARNER: Meanwhile, the campaign spending... fund-raising reports do show the way he's playing it is working for him.
MARK SHIELDS: It's working for him. He is not the stumbling faltering front-runner. He is cruising. He's in first place in fund-raising and everybody else together is in second place. That's everybody, all the other candidates haven't not raised as much money as he has. He is still ahead in the polls. Believe me, he doesn't have to cut deals with the House Republican leadership. I don't argue he doesn't want to necessarily antagonize them, but I think his is a general election strategy that serves him and the Republicans very well.
MARGARET WARNER: Now there is one persistent criticism of Bush and came again from Jewish leaders today and Jewish newspapers that he has not confronted Pat Buchanan or been tough on Pat Buchanan and his views. Do you think this..we ran a clip of him yesterday, and again he sort of deflected it, said he didn't agree with the views but hopes his supporters will stay in the party. Do you think this could really be a problem for him?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, the Buchanan candidacy could be. Talking to the Bush campaign, their argument is that we didn't want to give him more prominence Buchanan more prominence by going after him as the front-runner so we tried to do it with surrogates. Frankly, that sounds a little bit like a copout to me. When you're tougher on the Republican Congress for, you know, tinkering with tax policy than you are with Pat Buchanan on what Germany's role threat was in World War II, you are punting on the bigger one. It's a little misplaced outrage. I think he could have done a lot more on Mark's point of sounding like a leader, a like a compassionate conservative by taking on Pat Buchanan than he did by taking on the Republican budget machinations.
MARGARET WARNER: As some of the other Republican candidates did do.
MARK SHIELDS: Some of them did. Everything Pat Buchanan has done that is objectionable or pernicious, he said long before this book. Now this book led people to say he has got to leave. Now, again, George Bush has a great precedent to follow: That was Ronald Reagan who refused -- after the John Birch Society had accused President Eisenhower of being a communist dupe and said that Earl Warren was an agent of the Communist Party -- he said he would not reject them or their votes, that he accepted the votes of all freedom loving Americans. I think this is the same case here. It isn't George Bush to ordinary people out of the party or banish them. And it still alludes me what Pat Buchanan said in the book that he hadn't said beforehand that made him persona non grata.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. I'm sure we'll return to it again. We have got to leave it there. Thanks.