September 15, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the presidential race and the week in politics.
JIM LEHRER: And to Shields and Gigot: syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Waiting to make a sale, Paul, is that how you analyzed the results?
|Al Gore's personal ratings up|
PAUL GIGOT: Well, certainly I was wrong earlier this summer in thinking that Al Gore, some of his negative ratings, his personal ratings, the fact that people didn't like him very much were harder, more fixed than they have turned out to be. Al Gore has achieved something I didn't think he could do this fast, which was to change his personal rating so quickly. He is now about even with Bush in terms of likeability and trustworthiness and those sorts of ratings. So, yeah, this race is fluid. And I don't think that we can write off George W. Bush now any more than we could or should have Al Gore in the summer. There are, as Mark has said, two kinds of elections: Ones that are settled before Labor Day and some that are settled afterwards. And it looks like this one is going to be settled after Labor Day.
JIM LEHRER: Do you still agree with yourself?
MARK SHIELDS: You know, Jim, it was an interesting time I said that. I'll tell you, I don't disagree with what Paul has said. I think the election is too close to call. I think Governor Bush still has great strengths as we saw in Andy's segment with Margaret. Leadership still remains there for them -- change, ideas. And he still comes up high in that in several polls. But you get a feeling that the landscape has changed under him. And there's nothing he can do about it. For the first time in 14 years today, wholesale prices went down. Now I mean, you know, those are things that, that means the Federal Reserve isn't going to tamper with interest rates. It's a little thing but the kind of thing that leads to people now thinking by a close to two to one margin, the country is headed in the right direction in survey after survey. That was after the spring when people were kind of split over whether the country was headed in the right direction. Bill Clinton has a favorable job rating of 60 percent which is higher than Ronald Reagan had at this point in his presidency or Dwight Eisenhower had in his presidency even though Clinton still has these personal problems. It's a sense, Jim, that Al Gore has done truly the unique in American politics in my experience. He didn't do what George W. Bush did in 1988 as Vice President....
JIM LEHRER: George...
MARK SHIELDS: George Herbert Walker Bush did as Vice President to Michael Dukakis, which was to savage him, was to demonize him. It was a tactical move -- made Dukakis unacceptable. Gore has done this at the time when more people are thinking he is running a more positive campaign than Bush is. And he has elevated his own personal ratings. It's an amazing, amazing achievement.
JIM LEHRER: How do you think he did this? Would you agree with Mark as to how he did it?
PAUL GIGOT: I think he has done something that I didn't think he could do. He has run to the left and he's run to the center at the same time. I mean, Andy's poll shows if you look at it, that he's winning -- he picked up among socially conservative Democrats by about 16 percent. He has picked up among new Democrats by about 13 percent even as his liberal base has come home. Usually when you run to the left, you pay a price in the center. And I think the key to this was Lieberman, because what Lieberman did was symbolic reaching out, separating him from Clinton, associating himself with God, truth, the American way, and not with the doubts about Clinton's morality and the mores, the moral values of the Democratic Party in defending him that bothered them.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, what about those who said, oh well, the political conventions don't mean anything. The Democratic convention turns out meaning quite a bit, too, does it not?
PAUL GIGOT: It does in its totality. There's no question about it. Maybe that smooch, you know, that seven-second...
JIM LEHRER: Whatever.
PAUL GIGOT: And Gore's speech certainly seemed to rally Democrats to his side. I mean some of the populism, the attacks on business seemed to bring home the base and give Democrats the sense that maybe this guy isn't the turkey everybody's saying he can win.
|Bush agrees to three debates|
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, Andy said this means -- because the race is so close -- and to use Paul's term, so fluid, Mark, that the debates now become even more important than they would have been otherwise. Do you agree with that? And just everybody knows, just in this week, the Bush campaign has agreed to three commission debates and all of that. Put all of that in context for us.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it's one more example, Jim, where the Bush folks can't catch a break. For two weeks they were running from debates instead of running for President. They got roasted in editorial after editorial, in papers friendly to Bush saying agree to the debates. What do they do? They waste two weeks, go in yesterday, the first five minutes of the meeting with the Presidential Debate Commission and with the Gore folks, Don Evans stands up and says we agree with the time, the place and the location. And so, I mean, wait a minute, at a time when he could have used a debate... In other words if George W. Bush had agreed to the debates three weeks ago, said okay, now let's have the Larry King, let's have Tim Russert before that we would have the three debates scheduled. He needed a debate now. Now George Bush is the one who would like to have a debate rather than Al Gore. I think, yes, I think the debates are important, especially among the undecided voters.
JIM LEHRER: The people Andy was talking about.
MARK SHIELDS: The people we're talking about. Right now, Paul's right, that's fluid among them. But, Jim, among the two parties, among the 80 percent of the people who are Democrats and Republicans they... nothing is going to move them. They are locked in. The debates, one out of two of those folks say the debates really matter to them and they are going to be watching: the undecideds.
PAUL GIGOT: For another reason, he had to agree to the debates now because this is what happens when you... when your lead collapses. You run out of options. You have to do debates and particularly when you're the challenger, but there's one other thing -- reason for hope for Bush and that's found in Andy's poll, where it says that by I think 46 to 48 percent of people think they're not sure George W. Bush is up to the job of President. That suggests to me that if he can get on a podium head-to-head with the Vice President, show that, in fact, he really does have his issues mastered, he really does have a vision for the country, and he's not the guy who can't pronounce subliminal the way the press has been ridiculing him; he looks like a President; that may help Bush quite a bit, because he's also pretty likeable, and going against Gore that may help him.
|The RATS ad|
JIM LEHRER: What else happened this week that you think is important in this campaign, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, what happened, Jim, I thought, was that the Bush folks -- when things aren't going well, they aren't going well. The front page story in the New York Times about a Bush TV spot criticizing Gore that for a 30th of a second the word "rats" appear on the screen.
JIM LEHRER: The last four letters of bureaucrats.
MARK SHIELDS: -- Bureaucrats or Democrats, depending upon which way you want to look at it. This becomes a whole day that the Bush campaign is explaining back and forth, you know, hither and yon, whether he is, you know, whether they're doing some subliminal advertising. I'll be honest with you, I don't think there is subliminal advertising. I think it is a great screenplay, it's a great novel, it made people thirsty in the theater and they went up and bought more cokes or if they're hungry, they bought more popcorn. But it was a whole day wasted. George W. Bush just has to get back on his message. We had Dick Cheney again, we've gone through the charitable contributions. What's interesting is even after Paul made the point about Joe Lieberman being a big asset -- I think he's made a big difference to Al Gore. Al Gore thinks he did something really important. Al Gore is lifted and energized by it. But in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, Americans think that Dick Cheney would make a better President even though they're saying people are supporting Gore over Bush by I think 6 points, isn't it, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Nine points.
MARK SHIELDS: Than would make Joe Lieberman. They picked Dick Cheney over Lieberman as a more qualified President, so I just -- I think that it's been a bad week. They hope that the debate thing's scheduled, now it's set. We're going to the Olympics, probably not, you know, they can't hurt themselves anymore this week.
PAUL GIGOT: I think the conventional wisdom is a trailing indicator here on Bush. I think he's actually -- the rats thing is a blip. It is of no great consequence; it's going to go away. It just sat on the story for 24 hours.
JIM LEHRER: But it, in fact, has gone away.
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah. I think it's going to go away. I think the Bush people have made a strategic turn though. They have decided they were uncertain for a while because their argument for change was compromised by the Lieberman choice and Gore's convention performance. Now I think they're going to try to make some contrasts on issues; they're going to try to use those issues to link on character, to say you can't believe Gore; our ideas are better than his ideas. And I think that has some promise because Gore has I mean, on taxes, 41 percent to 41 percent. If George Bush -- that's in Andy's poll -- if George Bush cannot win the tax debate, he cannot win the election. There is no question that he has got to drive that issue home. And Al Gore gave him a freebie this week.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about the attack today that he made on Gore? It had to do with a contribution to a Texas... a contribution that a Texas lawyer's group made to the Democratic Party and the allegation is that it was a quid pro quo for vetoing a bill.
PAUL GIGOT: I think that's fair game and he ought to talk about one of those every chance.
JIM LEHRER: Attacking Gore makes sense right now?
PAUL GIGOT: I think so, and undermining his credibility. I mean, the Vice President this week decided that he was going to be Tipper Gore Tipper Gore 13 years ago in attacking Hollywood. I mean this is the same Vice President who told her to keep quiet in the 80's; please don't this because you're going to hurt my 1988 presidential run. This is the same Vice President who we know from the LA Times last year assured Hollywood that the Federal Trade Commission study that the President had asked for about Hollywood marketing, don't worry, it's the President's idea; it's not mine. What does he do? This week he jumps on it, makes it his issue. If he can pull this off, he deserves to win the election because I mean this is an example of the kind of thing, of lack of sincerity and credibility that the Bush people can go after Gore on.
JIM LEHRER: Is Gore vulnerable on that kind of stuff?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, for 25 years I've wanted to make campaign finance a big.... reform a big issue politically. I've written about it tiresomely for --
JIM LEHRER: And you've talked about it...
MARK SHIELDS: Relentlessly.
JIM LEHRER: Relentlessly; that's a better word.
MARK SHIELDS: Jeff Garren, the Democratic pollster, said the biggest problem with campaign finance reform is people think both parties are guilty and they're right. Paul can make his case on the trial lawyers. John McCain said it on the campaign trail time again. There will be no patients' bill of rights reform. Why? Because my party, the Republicans are owned by the insurance companies and the Democrats are owned by the trial lawyers. That's it folks, and people's heads would nod because they understood he was speaking the truth. And I think that's what it is. As far as Hollywood is concerned I mean, Al Gore, the Federal Trade Commission report was really a strong, serious indictment.
JIM LEHRER: And on that word, indictment, we're going to leave you. Thank you both very much.
MARK SHIELDS: And many convictions -- no indictments.