FEBRUARY 20, 1996
The polls are closing in New Hampshire and soon the Republican winners and losers will be known. For some thoughts on the first primary of the Presidential election season, Jim Lehrer talks to syndicated columnist Mark Shields and "Wall Street Journal" columnist Paul Gigot.
JIM LEHRER: First, Paul, was this the meanest New Hampshire primary in recent history, as everybody says it was?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I think that our memory about meanness tends to fade with time, like all bad memories, and I think that we overestimate in the current round of any given political race the meanness that goes on now. There's no question that there's been a lot of rough stuff here.
JIM LEHRER: Rough stuff, rough stuff beyond the pale, rough stuff, too much?
PAUL GIGOT: No. I think that where it did go beyond the pale, there were some lies told. I think that Bob Dole, in particular, the ad he ran about Steve Merrill's flat tax--Steve Merrill ran, the governor of New Hampshire ran about the study was based on a study about the flat tax which simply wasn't true. There were some of those excesses taken. But I think this is--other than a fact that more of this appeared on television, I think that this was not all that much more unusual than a lot of other primaries in the past.
JIM LEHRER: So when we go from this New Hampshire primary, we will not--it will not be remembered--all remember New Hampshire, 1996--that was the meanest New Hampshire primary of all times--you don't think that will be the way it will be remembered?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't remember William Loeb, a union leader, back playing bean bag, and I don't remember when Nelson Rockefeller beat the heck out of Barry Goldwater and there was a lot of rough stuff going on before. People called Ronald Reagan an extremist.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, yeah.
PAUL GIGOT: So there was some rough stuff before.
JIM LEHRER: Mark Shields is going to join us in a moment. He's up there in New Hampshire, and hey, Mark, can you hear me?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Hey, Jim, I hear you.
JIM LEHRER: Hey, hey, we were having audio problems. Did you hear--weigh in on the mean question please, sir. Did you hear that? Is this--
MARK SHIELDS: I haven't--I've been able--
JIM LEHRER: All right. The question I just asked Paul is this. The word today is this is the meanest New Hampshire primary in recent history. Do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: Umm, boy. There have been some mean ones, but it's been mean, it's been tough. The--it's one of the few times, Jim, where I've seen candidates out in front go after those behind them. Usually, it's--the negative is somebody going after somebody up front to bring 'em back to the field, but Sen. Dole certainly spent a good part as the front-runner of the last week, pointing out the character, biographical and moral defects of Lamar Alexander and Pat Buchanan.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Mark, in general terms, as we--the people are voting now, or most of them have already voted, is it fair to say that the people of New Hampshire got a good square, clean look at these candidates?
MARK SHIELDS: I think they got a good look. I mean, I think New Hampshire probably reasserted itself as the, as the principal place where these decisions are going to be made rightly or wrongly. The two candidates who flirted with other states, Phil Gramm, the Senator from Texas, says--flirted with Arizona and Delaware, and Steve Forbes went to Delaware and both cases, it, it redounded to their detriment. Mr. Gramm never made it to New Hampshire, but New Hampshire voters take this responsibility very seriously. I mean, in spite of the negativeness of the campaign or whatever else, the turnout today looks to be pretty impressive.
JIM LEHRER: But, Paul, the question is: Did the people get--see the real Steve Forbes and what he stands for, the real Bob Dole and what he stands for, the real Lamar Alexander, et cetera, et cetera, and all down the line? Was it, was it at the retail level and other levels? Did they see the real candidate?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, this New Hampshire primary was less retail in that door-to-door sense that has grown up in New Hampshire lore than other New Hampshire primaries. There was more of it on television; there were more staged events than in the past. There was less interaction with average voters, but there was still a lot more of all of that than you'll get in most other places. And I think Mark is right, that New Hampshire has still reasserted itself as a very good betting ground and particularly in a Republican primary. I mean, you can fit the Democrats in New Hampshire in a phone booth, but at the Republican primary level, this is a pretty good test of the Republican electorate. It's a diverse enough electorate, and I think they got--they got to size up the candidate pretty well.
JIM LEHRER: What about the Republican Party and the test of the Republican Party of its extremes and what it stands for and what it doesn't stand for and what these candidates stand for, Mark, how would you rate that in terms of what came out in New Hampshire?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, Jim, that the Republicans have, have a problem. They are the anti-government party, just as the Democrats have been historically the pro-government party, and when your theme is anti-government and you've spent a good part of 1995 really de-legitimizing what government has done in the past in the areas of environment or education or health and safety, it becomes a liability to have governmental experience. I mean, here's Bob Dole, who by any measurement has a long, distinguished legislative career and somehow up here last Friday night at the Christian Coalition meeting, where Elizabeth Dole, his wife, substituted for him, she went to great lengths to emphasize that in 1979, Bob Dole had appointed--opposed the creation of the Department of Education. Everybody else is calling for its abolition now, including Lamar Alexander, who was its secretary. But I mean, I think that has--it's intriguing that Dick Lugar, who was, who was a respected United States Senator, it's almost like he was carrying a burden, because he had been a public servant.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about that, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: I--there's a lot of hostility in the Republican Party to what's been going on in Washington, and to be identified with the, the welfare state that's been built up over 30 years is no great asset in the Republican Party. There's no question about it. I think the problems that have erupted, though, in New Hampshire in the Republican Party, they're a little different. I think the fissures between the economic and the social conservatives that began, you saw a little bit in Iowa, had been exacerbated in New Hampshire, with Buchanan--Phil Gramm was a candidate who could appeal to both but ended up appealing not very much to either. Bob Dole was somebody who appealed to both, but his weakness has tended to create openings for first, Steve Forbes to speak for the economic conservatives, now Pat Buchanan for the cultural conservatives, so you have those divisions, I think, showing up a lot more sharply than they have in previous Republican contests.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Mark, without--we don't know the results yet, so we're not even, not even Shields & Gigot are going to talk about the results until we have them, but is it safe to say at this point that there is going to be at least three, possibly four, candidates to continue very strongly coming out of this, right, if it runs as closely at the top as it appears to, all the polls going in say--in other words, Dole, Buchanan, and Alexander are definitely going to be there, maybe Forbes. Lugar will probably stay as well, is that correct?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don't know what Sen. Lugar will do, Jim, but I think we're reaching the point where moral victories don't count for much and better than expecteds are no longer satisfactory on a losing election night. I think if Sen. Dole were to win New Hampshire, it's a big victory for him.
JIM LEHRER: Even if he wins by just a hair.
MARK SHIELDS: Even if he wins by a hair. Pat Buchanan is not going to go away. I mean, Pat Buchanan, it was interesting, after his good showing in Iowa, came in here and got intense scrutiny, oftentimes hostile scrutiny, from his opponents and from many of the press this past week, and it may very well have stalled his candidacy here and a chance, if he doesn't win, I think that the past week probably would account for it.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
MARK SHIELDS: Lamar Alexander got less of that. He will get more, especially, I think, on his personal finances in the weeks ahead. But I think that the problem is going to be that Buchanan doesn't need money and, and Alexander does. And I think that's the difference. I think Buchanan can keep going on the land and coach tickets and a rip-and-read off a UPI wire ticker, that's the kind of campaign he has.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Paul, that it--that Dole, Alexander, and Buchanan are going to go on from New Hampshire, the--for sure--whether Forbes and Lugars and the others do is up for grabs, but those--the first three are not?
PAUL GIGOT: If Lamar Alexander is close enough to the first two to credibly say, I have a chance to win some of the primaries, he's definitely going to go on, in particular, if Bob Dole loses here. Then I think it's wide open. Steve Forbes has the money to go on elsewhere. He's got an awful lot of money, close to a $1 million invested in New York and that arcane primary maze that Al D'Amato has set up there. He's on the ballot there, so he's going to be loathe to get out before then.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, thank you, and--I'm sorry, Mark. We've got to go. We've got to go, and we'll pick up this discussion at 10 o'clock Eastern Time on most of these public television stations tonight after the results are known. Thank you all very much.